I didn't read this Phillip Carter piece because it seems designed to support the conclusion to which the left has leapt that the photos from Abu Ghraib and the "I was following orders," defense prove that torture is systemic throughout the military and the CIA. Secondly, it starts out by restating the obvious, that information obtained through torture isn't very reliable and is illegal. I don't think that the inadmissability of such information in Federal Courts is of much concern to military tribunals, although that depends on what the rules of evidence in those tribunals happens to be.
It also tends to pale in importance during interrogations when you're trying to prevent more terrorist attacks.
It's certainly a problem for people dealing with prisoners that the constant hostility and resistance wears on one's patience and self-control. It's said that it's easier to brutalize someone if you dehumanize him. Prisoners who are defiant, disorderly and threatening dehumanize themselves and become obstacles more than fellow human beings. That's a problem in every prison system in the world. Add to this the fact that jobs with authority and opportunities to bully unarmed people attract individuals with those propensities.
For these reasons I think the charge that torture is systemic in detention systems and interrogation settings is fairly safe as an allegation. However, there's a difference between coercion and torture. The 'water boarding' technique he describes certainly sounds inhumane, but it is hardly to be compared with cutting off various body parts, putting out eyes, killing one's family or torturing them in front of him. It also seems less offensive when someone with the background of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who by the way is not covered the the Geneva Conventions, since he is an illegal combatant, himself in violation of them.
The real question in these cases boils down to reliability of the information obtained. If the detainees don't produce, I'd be just as happy if we publicly thanked them for their cooperation and released them in Gaza. It seems to me that the problem for interrogators is how to elicit useful, accurate information. The problem with torture is that it may induce a subject to say anything to stop the pain. In the Abu Ghraib situation, the method seems pretty crude. If the defendants were indeed following orders such as "soften him up," the officer giving such orders must be as depraved as the subordinates or very stupid.
I've been trying to figure out how those photos were supposed to be used. I can't quite see it, unless they were to be used as threats for other prisoners to demonstrate the horrors of being treated "like a woman." Perhaps the hoods would prevent the prisoner from seeing his abusers, but when they're in the photos, what good does it accomplish? If you're trying to humiliate the prisoners and threaten them with the photos being shown to their peers, wouldn't you want to show their faces?
I read the Mark Bowden piece on interrogation in the Atlantic Monthly and found it surprisingly balanced. Bowden basically informed my ideas in this post. Basically, Carter's argument is that using torture could prevent information obtained being introduced as evidence against the subject or someone else, such as Zacarias Moussaoui. He concludes:
As a nation, we still haven't clearly decided whether it's better to prosecute terrorists or pound them with artillery. But by torturing some of al-Qaida's leaders, we have completely undermined any efforts to do the former and irreversibly committed ourselves to a martial plan of justice. In the long run, this may be counterproductive, and it will show that we have compromised such liberal, democratic ideals like adherence to the rule of law to counter terrorism. Torture and tribunals do not help America show that it believes in the rule of law. But if CIA officials continue to use tactics that will get evidence thrown out of federal court, there will increasingly be no other option.An answer might be, "And if courts insist on granting animals like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or al Zarqawi the civil rights they denied their victims, they may just not be given trials at all.
The Iraqi people seem to know what kind of people these prisoners are. They may be officially offended because that's what's expected of Muslims, but on their normal operating level, they probably can think more clearly than American lawyers about the handling and care these criminals deserve. We don't use torture in this country in part because we fear losing out own humanity, but there must come a point where one might conclude that to treat people who take hostages and behead them on video the same as ordinary criminals is lacking in humanity as well.
Bottom line: this is war, folks. I'm not offended by firing a gun near a prisoner's head, if it gets reliable information. I'm not offended by the water boarding, or other means of frightening a prisoner, such as bringing in some Mossad interrogators, or using sexual humiliation, but not with actual prisoners. Use porn actors, they need the work. Use trickery, psychology, disorientation, undernourishment, sleep deprivation, heat and cold, what ever it takes, but don't inflict physical injury or pain to a point where the subject will say anything to make it stop.