TORTURE AND THE COLD WAR

An emailer asks why we didn’t deploy torture during the Cold War, when our entire existence was on the brink:

Is there any evidence that torture actually generates a net positive effect for the side doing the torturing? It is easy to spin out scenarios about terrorists with nuclear weapons, etc., but scenarios are not evidence.

Consider the Cold War. Here was a lengthy struggle with a determined and ruthless adversary. Intelligence gathering was a big part of the struggle. Certainly, the risks to both sides were far greater in that struggle than in the current “war on terror.” And clearly torture was used (e.g., against American prisoners of war in Korea and Vietnam). Yet I am unaware of even a single instance from the beginning of the Cold War through the end, where torture generated any valuable information for anyone. I would like to challenge torture proponents to point to even one authenticated example.

By contrast, if you look at the most effective spies on both sides, the ones who did the most damage (or good, depending on your perspective), you will see that they were motivated by two forces: idealism and money. And if you look at the really effective spies, it was mostly idealism. (I’m thinking, for example, of Kim Philby on their side and Oleg Penkovsky on ours).

Now I can’t think of anything better calculated to prevent an idealistic young Arab who might want to cooperate (at the risk of his life and his family’s lives) with our side in this current struggle from doing that than the knowledge that the torture of young Arabs is approved American policy. So what our current policy stance amounts to is weakening or throwing away a method in the gathering of intelligence that has proven in the past to be of enormous value in favor of a method that has proven to be of no value. As Talleyrand once said, that is “worse than a crime; it’s a blunder.”

No, it’s a crime first and a blunder second.

CATHOLICS, DRUNKS, GAYS: An emailer adds a little more nuance to the debate:

Regarding your “translation” posted on Friday that “if you’re straight and had some fleeting same-sex desires in adolescence…you’re ok,” please do not forget the other examples of “transitory” homosexual tendencies given by Cardinal Grocholewski in his interview on Vatican radio:

“For example, some curiosity during adolescence or accidental circumstances in a state of drunkenness, or particular circumstances like someone who was in prison for many years.”

“Accidental circumstances in a state of drunkenness?” So if you’re a repressed alcoholic man who only acts on his same sex desires when drunk, you’re eligible to be a priest, but if you’re a well-adjusted celibate gay man, you’re not? By the way, what on earth does “accidental” mean? You accidentally pulled your dick out and got it sucked by another man? Or accidentally put your mouth on another man’s dick? Or accidentally jerked someone off? What on earth is the Cardinal talking about?

How about “Someone who was in prison for many years??” So if you’re a felon who only got buggered in jail you’re morally superior to a law-abiding openly gay man? Besides making not a lick of sense, the Vatican is resurrecting the most cliched stereotypes imaginable regarding homosexuality. I spent years trying desperately to believe that my sexuality amounted merely to “some curiosity during adolescence,” and found plenty of books in my public library that reassured me that my desires would pass as soon as I reached full adulthood. No doubt all those books were written by straight people.

One day, the Church will get serious about ministering to gay people as they actually are. But we have to get past all this denial and prejudice first.

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