Though the United States military may control much ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, the moral high ground, on which the federal government has historically based its use of military force, has been irretrievably lost due to the admitted use of torture in prisoner interrogations, according to a former U.S. military interrogator.
Retired Army Brig. Gen. David Irvine, a former strategic intelligence officer and now a Salt Lake City attorney, who taught interrogation techniques to soldiers for 18 years, spoke to a group of students, faculty and staff in attendance for the Monthly Ethics Forum, hosted by The Center for the Study of Ethics on Tuesday, Feb. 6, in LC 243. Irvine’s presentation was titled "Tortured Times for American Values."
"We have an admission as of three days ago that over the last three years the CIA has used waterboarding as torture," Irvine said. "And we have done it a hell of a lot."
Irvine, who made a compelling attorney-like presentation of evidence, all of which condemned the use of torture on both legal and moral grounds, said that information collected from victims of torture is unreliable and serves only to galvanize the resolve of an enemy to continue fighting.
Referring to the U.S. as a now "rogue state," Irvine said that the actions of the Bush administration have made the global community, including former allies, hostile toward the U.S. and increased the level of danger for American servicemen and women. "If an enemy combatant believes he will be tortured to death if he is captured, he is going to fight till death and never surrender," he said.
Explaining how American society started down the path to willingly accept torture as a military tactic, Irvine compared the U.S. response to 9/11 to the response by the Republic of Rome to the burning of the port city of Ostia in 68 B.C. by a motley band of pirates. In his comparison, Irvine cited a New York Times editorial from Sept. 30, 2006 written by Robert Harris, author of Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome. According to Harris, and subsequently Irvine, in the ensuing panic, the Roman Senate was cowed into granting supreme military and political power to Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus – better known as Pompey the Great. Massive military forces were built to pursue the perceived threat, and the Roman constitution was thrown out the window. These measures resulted in Rome’s transformation from the Republic of Rome into the Roman Empire, and a lineage of despotic and dictatorial heads of state followed.
"We have witnessed a similar shredding of the United States Constitution," Irvine said.
Since the first rumors of torture conducted by U.S. military and intelligence agencies began to circulate, the Bush administration has adamantly denied its use. This is not exactly an outright lie, according to Irvine, due to the ambiguity of the newly revised definition of torture, which now confines only extreme, death-like suffering and potential organ failure in its scope.
According to Irvine, the new definition of torture was taken from the statutes of the Medicare system which state that a person with no insurance coverage will be covered by Medicare if they report to their nearest hospital emergency room when experiencing extreme, death-like suffering to the point of potential organ failure.
"This provided the fig leaf under which the Bush administration could say ‘We do not torture,’" Irvine said.
In America’s folly, Irvine said we have set what he believes will be the new standard in military operating procedures. He added that since America has a government controlled by people elected by the public, the electorate is complicit in the deeds of the administration. "Sadly, torture is being conducted in our name," he said.
Institutions like Guantanamo Bay, Cuba are now an intrinsic part of America’s identity – and are now, regarding the international perception of the U.S., equal in influence to the Statue of Liberty, according to Irvine. "It’s not worth the price we have paid in the eyes of the international community," he said. "If we’re doing it, we can’t complain when others are doing it. Because if we say waterboarding is not torture, it’s not torture."
"On the definition of waterboarding, let’s be clear," Irvine said. "It’s not simulated drowning: It’s actual drowning. It’s the injection of water into the lungs. That’s drowning."
But waterboarding is just one of many different tactics that, by Irvine’s reckoning, fall somewhere between ethical interrogation techniques and the new-fangled, nebulous definition of torture. Food, water, sleep and sensory deprivation have all been frequently used by U.S. military and intelligence officers in the war on terror, the latter of which can result in irreversible psychosis after a period of 24-72 hours, according to Irvine.
"As an interrogator, my job is not to exact revenge. My job is to extract information," Irvine said.