Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Not a Difficult Concept

Today's New York Times contained a revelation that was not, exactly, all that revelatory:

The senior Pentagon official in the Bush administration’s system for prosecuting detainees said in a published interview that she had concluded that interrogators had tortured a Guantánamo detainee who has sometimes been described as 'the 20th hijacker' in the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Official confirmation of what we've all known for a while - the outgoing (damn, that sounds good) administration got us into the torture business. Ain't that grand?

You would think that the moral and legal issues surrounding torture were somehow undeveloped or unresolved. If they were, maybe we could give Duhbya, Dead-Eye Dick, Yoo, etc. the benefit of the doubt. Sadly, that's just not possible.

Ever heard of Friedrich von Spee? Neither had I, until I read this diary over at Kos. von Spee was a 17th Century Jesuit priest. During the Thirty Years War (a religious conflagration that left Germany in shambles), von Spee became involed with witch trials and, in particular, with the torture of "witches" to gain confessions.

Although he continued to believe in witchcraft, von Spee had some honest to goodness relevlations about the process of condemning and executing them. In a book,Cautio Criminalis, he laid out several arguments against torture. Like:
To immediately presume that the prisoners are just guilty, and therefore one may do to them those things which it has been said some priests do do to them, is completely intolerable.
The tortures customary everywhere are by their very nature great and cause grievous suffering beyond measure. However, it is the nature of the greatest suffering that we do not fear meeting even death itself in order to avoid it. Therefore there is the danger that many women, in order to extricate themselves from the agony of the rack, might confess to crimes they have not committed and fabricate any crimes for themselves, either whatever the inquisitors suggest or what they themselves have previously planned to confess.
How about that? "Innocent until proven guilty" and "coerced confessions are unreliable," all 150 years before the Bill of Rights was a twinkle in Madison's eyes.

If it was that obvious to a 17th Century witch hunter, shouldn't the Duhbya and his buds been able to figure it out?

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