Thursday, September 28, 2006

Torture, Power Tools, And Machining

The faint of heart may want to skip this one--there's a picture of my finger, and an unpleasant quote from a history book about Japanese torture.

This is a weird posting--a mixture of political commentary and machining. I heard a news report about the increasing number of bodies that are being found around Baghdad that were not just kidnapped and murdered--they were tortured to death with power tools. For those who think that listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers is torture, or having a pretty woman touch you is torture, consider what torture really means. It means someone uses an electric drill. (And yes, I will concede that waterboarding is, to my mind, on the other side of the line that separates torture from aggressive interrogation techniques.)

This is a subject of concern to me because of a mishap a couple of weeks back with a power tool. The Sherline vertical mill and lathe that I have are very, very cute. Their motors are also so weak that as long as you don't do something really stupid, the chances of injuring yourself with either tool aren't enormous. I think I've managed to get one cut that bled from using these tools.

However, the floor drill press that I bought recently is another matter. It has enough power (one horsepower) that the same level of caution that works for the Sherline is insufficient for this bad boy. I was using an end mill in the drill press to produce a nicely finished edge on a piece of aluminum. The end mill had not come to a complete stop when I tried to knock some shavings off the edge of the aluminum. Ouch! It has been about two weeks now, and my finger has still not completely healed.

Torture as a method of extracting information has a long and not very reliable history; people will say almost anything to stop torture. Even aggressive interrogation techniques need to be focused on obtaining operational intelligence--not something that will be used in a court of law. If operational intelligence can be verified (hopefully, by preventing a terrorist action), it can be justified because of the lives saved. If the use of these techniques doesn't produce any lifesaving information, it serves no legitimate purpose.

The Stalinist show trials demonstrated the uselessness of torture as a technique for obtaining material for use in a criminal court. Defendants confessed to crimes that they could not possibly have done. At least partly, the Soviet government's goal on this was not just to extract confessions to justify executing Stalin's political opponents, but also to remind everyone in the country that:

1. We can make you say anything--you won't be strong enough to fight it.

2. We don't care that what defendants are confessing to is ridiculous. It doesn't matter to us that the confessions are completely unbelievable, because we aren't particularly concerned with what anyone thinks of us.

I can imagine a few truly horrifying circumstances where the use of torture might be rationally justifiable, and nearly all of them read like scenarios that might be used in an episode of 24: the ticking nuclear weapon, hidden in a big city, and you have someone that you know beyond any reasonable doubt, was involved in placing it.

These situations are few and far between, and as I have pointed out in the past, these are so rare that we should not institutionalize such practices. If one of these doomsday scenarios comes about, I'm sure that the security forces will use whatever techniques they deem appropriate to get the information that they need--and they will throw themselves on the mercy of the President for a pardon. If the scenario is truly that extreme, and the evidence establishing that the suspected terrorist has this information is truly convincing, I have no question that such a pardon would be granted. The prospect of it not happening, and the consequent punishment that came from it, should act as a restraint on any decent law enforcement officer. (The others, I'm afraid, aren't likely to be restrained by anything.)

But torture isn't just for extracting information. Much of the torture being done in Iraq right now by these death squads involves people who could not possibly have any useful information. Unfortunately, there are people who just like to inflict suffering. David Bergamini's Japan's Imperial Conspiracy pp. 679-80, describes tortures performed simply as part of training others in interrogation techniques:
A young Manchurian accused of being a Communist was then brought into the interrogation chamber which served as classroom and beaten up with fists. He was burned with cigarettes on cheeks, lips, and eyelids. A mixture of water and red pepper was poured down his nostrils to give him a taste of burning to death and drowning at the same time. He was hung up and whipped. Attendants burned pits into his privates with their cigarettes. A Japanese doctor of evident education and contempt for the proceedings entered the room bowing and smiling and resuscitated the victim with an injection. The young leftist's fingernails were torn out, then his toenails. Strips of flesh were cut from his body with a knife. His teeth were knocked out. Finally Instructor Kato, "using his favorite tool, the cigarette, methodically burned out his eyes."

"Then, thank God," wrote Oleg, "he died."
That injury above was a fraction of second glancing blow from a 3/8" diameter end mill--and boy did it hurt! I have learned, to paraphrase the instructions at Disneyland, "Keep your hands in your pockets until the ride has come to a complete stop."

The prospect of someone intentionally using a power tool to inflict pain fills me with rage. If the cut and run crowd of the Democratic Party gets their way, we will be granting control of Iraq to people who consider this not just a necessary evil to obtain information, but people who do this for fun. That is not acceptable.

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