Donald Trump and other conservatives want to bring back torture to fight “barbarians”–overlooking the fact that we too have become barbarians along the way.
Last week Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump said that he would “absolutely” bring back waterboarding as an acceptable form of interrogation. Characterizing waterboarding as a “strong interrogation” technique that is “peanuts” compared to the tactics used by ISIS, he stated:
I think waterboarding is peanuts compared to what they do to us. What they’re doing to us, what they did to James Foley when they chopped off his head, that’s a whole different level and I would absolutely bring back interrogation and strong interrogation.
I keep hearing from other conservatives who tell me that torture is actually the only correct method of interrogation. They claim that our only option is to use severe torture because we are fighting “barbarians.” But what they really don’t seem to understand is that now we are also the barbarians. So much for their boasts of “American exceptionalism.”
The favorite Conservative talking point used to justify and praise torture is their claim that our horrific techniques are what ultimately led to the killing of Osama Bin Laden. The problem is that this is patently false. As last year’s Torture Report shows, our brutal interrogation methods have proved completely ineffective, and this favorite Conservative talking point is just an outright lie.
According to Conservatives, there were 12 prisoners who provided us with information about Bin Laden. But in fact, the report shows that of those 12 detainees, 5 of them actually provided information BEFORE they were ever handed over to the CIA. The report also says that 9 of the 12 were subjected to outright torture. There were actually only 4 detainees who gave up information after they were tortured. But the CIA admits that the information they obtained following the torture was proven to be “fabricated” and “intentionally misleading.”
Of course we could easily argue the illegal and inhumane factors or quote the Geneva Convention. But the real fact of the matter is that it has been proven time and time again that torture simply does not work. Now the big problem that we are left with is that we still need a competent alternative way to interrogate enemy prisoners of war.
Well, as it turns out, when we take a look back at American history we can find some extremely effective methods of interrogation. One of the best enemy interrogators of all time was Sherwood F. Moran. Moran was a Marine Major back in WWII, and he is legendary because of his methods of extracting valuable information from Japanese prisoners. And he did it all without ever using torture. In fact, he did quite the opposite…he was actually nice to them.
Moran wrote about his techniques back in 1943, and until recently his writings were considered the gold standard. Moran’s philosophy, which has been proven extremely effective for more than 70 years, was basically to know and understand the enemy’s culture, be fluent in their language, and treat the enemy prisoner as a human being.
Moran’s method basically had five directives:
1. Maintain a Human to Human Attitude.
Moran considered himself and other interrogators “interviewers,” and he believed that it was better to coax out information rather than using torture to force confessions. He wrote that the most important thing to always be mindful of was the interrogator’s attitude toward the POW. He claimed that it was equally important to have both empathy and understanding of the prisoner’s culture. Moran found out first hand that a superior or demeaning attitude did nothing but produce intense antagonism and resistance.
2. Speak the Language of the Prisoner.
Moran also believed that it was extremely important to be able to speak directly to the POW in his own language. He was strongly against the use of translators. He felt that the best way to get into the mind of the prisoner was to speak to him directly using common idioms and phrases that were familiar to him.
3. Have a Hidden System.
Although Moran believed that it was necessary to be able to relate to the prisoner, it was equally important to always maintain a hidden agenda. He warned that the interrogator must always be aware of exactly what information was needed and that he must be relentless in his persistence to achieve the end goal.
4. Be Able to Short-Circuit Patriotic Defensiveness.
Moran knew that if the interrogator emphasized American superiority over the captor’s military or nation that the whole thing would be counterproductive. He believed that if the prisoner felt that he was talking to a harsh conquering enemy that prisoner would have absolutely no desire to hand over any useful information.
5. Break All Uncooperative Obstinate Prisoners.
Moran also knew that even the best interrogators would come up against stubborn, uncooperative prisoners who would absolutely refuse to give up any useful information. But he felt strongly that any use of torture in these cases would produce nothing. Instead he found that he was often able to shame the prisoner into cooperating.
One of the great things we can learn from Moran’s technique is that interrogators must be inherently tough, but also have the confidence to know that they always have the upper hand….even when being humane. Now I suppose that today’s torture enthusiasts on the right would find these techniques wimpy or too soft. But the fact remains that Moran’s tactics have been proven to be some of the most effective methods of interrogation that we’ve ever seen.