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Walter Rodgers

Survivors know best: Torture is always wrong

It’s immoral and it doesn’t make anyone more secure. Just ask those who’ve been tortured.

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Of the dozen survivors I interviewed, people from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, each said torture doesn’t work. In 2008, Mary from Uganda was beaten, gang raped, and terrorized in prison. Her crime? Being a member of the opposition party. “When they torture you, two things happen,” she says. “First they make you crazy. Next, you believe you’re going to die, so there’s no point in confessing.”

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Given the harshness of the interrogation techniques his administration authorized, former President George W. Bush was disingenuous when he insisted in 2006 that the US doesn’t torture. He should first have consulted his father, a former CIA director, about the effectiveness of torturing an enemy.

An Ethiopian named Thomas spoke to that. “Instead of breaking you, it [torture] hardens you,” he says. Security forces threatened to shoot him, saying, “We’re just going to kill you. No one can save you. We’ll say we shot you trying to escape.”

“You think you are losing your mind,” he recalls. But, the former nongovernmental organization worker adds proudly, “I never revealed anything.”

It was the same with Miguel. Drunken soldiers walked him to a beach, pointing guns at him and asking, “You want us to bury you here six feet deep or out there 10 feet under water?” He collapsed in a faint.

The waterboarding technique used by American interrogators this past decade is little different: It’s an implicit threat to kill suspects through drowning – Russian roulette played with a wet towel. To see for yourself, watch journalist Christopher Hitchens (voluntarily) get waterboarded on YouTube. Last year, President Obama banned waterboarding.

Fortunate torture survivors sometimes get asylum in the US. By word of mouth, they learn of TASSC. Officials Miguel and Daoud, both torture survivors, shepherd the newcomers, finding them psychiatric help and shelter. In group counseling, perhaps the most difficult question they deal with is, “Why did this happen to me?”

A 2006 survey showed that a third of the world supports some degree of torture to combat terrorism. Yet we deceive ourselves pretending it does not also destroy our own decency and humanity. Support for torture was highest in Israel, at 43 percent; it was 36 percent in America. The fallacy of torture is the notion that terrorizing others makes us more secure.

Walter Rodgers, a former senior international correspondent for CNN, writes a biweekly column for the Monitor's print weekly edition.

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