April 27, 2009

'Coercion' is just totalitarian torture

Richard Saccone pooh-poohs all this needless talk about "torture" ("Confusing coercion with torture," Commentary, April 22). He speaks dismissively of water-boarding and of keeping "a terrorist awake 15 minutes past his bedtime."

Mr. Saccone is either intentionally reading the torture memos selectively or confused about the difference between democracy and totalitarianism.

Consider the following chilling parallels.

In Stalinist Russia, sleep deprivation was regularly deployed against political prisoners. During the famous show trials of the 1930s, seven to 10 days of sleep deprivation was often all it took to get prisoners to sign whatever false statement was placed before them.

During the Bush administration, as we learn from the torture memos, sleep deprivation was authorized for up to 11 days. And it also produced false information.

In Stalin's Russia, if you were an "enemy of the people," as declared by the state, that is exactly what you were: No legal process existed to let you prove otherwise. Trials were a joke.

During the Bush administration, if you were an "unlawful enemy combatant," as declared by the executive branch, that is exactly what you were: No legal process existed to let you prove otherwise. Detainees had no right to learn what the charges against them were, much less rebut them.

Mr. Saccone is wrong. The torture memos close the case.

And if our elected officials don't know what to do in response, then by God let's get bipartisan in the only truly appropriate sense: Let's kick out all the Democrats and all the Republicans and start over again from scratch.

Paul Grenier, Kensington

Trivializing torture corrupts the polity

It seems reasonable. There are some pretty nasty folks in our world, and some among them would like nothing more than to harm us. So why not use torture to get information that would help stop these nasty people before they do their evil deeds?

That seems reasonable - but it isn't.

Yet Richard Saccone, in his column "Confusing coercion with torture" (Commentary, April 22), suggests that as long as we call torture something else - i.e., "coercion" or "interrogation techniques" or "coercive techniques" or "enhanced techniques" - we should continue to do such things "within limits."

He's not clear as to what such limits should be.

In the real world, torture by any other name is torture.

George Orwell was right. Changing the label we place on abhorrent behavior makes it no less abhorrent but does corrupt our discourse.

But that is not the only price we pay. Those who would harm us have used our own unrestrained behavior to recruit further members to their organizations.

Indeed, many of our own, experienced interrogators have said that the use of torture is not necessary and can be counterproductive.

All of this leads to the conclusion that President Barack Obama was right to refuse to continue along that dangerous path.

Stanley L. Rodbell, Columbia

Others convicted on such scant basis

How interesting that drug charges were dropped in a case in which the police "only saw the defendant pay money in exchange for 'a small object' before searching a car and its occupant" ("Drug charges dropped against Baltimore man," April 22).

While one should applaud the restraint of unjustified searches, one must also wonder how many other defendants, who are not as well-connected as those involved in this incident, have been convicted on the basis of just such an observation in an area police describe as a hotbed of illicit drug activity.

Bill Burnham, Baltimore

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