“U.S. policy to Brazil shifted significantly only when President Jimmy Carter (1977-1980) took office and prioritized human rights standards in foreign policy considerations. By then, human rights had become a household term in the United States, and Amnesty International had been recognized as a world leader in the campaign against the use of torture. Lina Penna Sattamini’s call that we must never forget is not merely a convocation to remember the past. It is also an appeal to denounce the ongoing uses of those techniques of interrogation that almost took her son’s life.”
Ok, admittedly, there’s a lot wrong with all that. Like, of course the US didn’t want to distance themselves from Brazil because of human rights violations – we were sponsoring them! Duh. We could start there and talk for hours about how f*ed up that all is. But that’s not what this post is about; I’ll leave that discussion for the essay I have to write for class.
This post is about my personal beef with the above quote.
– Yeah, I’m that important (to myself).
I’ve mentioned this once or thrice in this blog before, but I don’t talk about it a lot. There’s not much to talk about, really, but if you aren’t in on the secret, you might disagree. See, I used to be an interrogator for the US Army. It wasn’t that long ago, and it wasn’t for that long. I was in five years (and one month, twenty days, but who’s counting?), and only did one deployment. I was a Sergeant when I got out, but I was just a Specialist when I was deployed. In civilian-ese, that means I was pretty low-ranking. That worked out in my favor, as I saw it. The way the Army works, the higher you get in rank, the more time you spend behind a desk instead of doing the fun stuff. During my one year in Iraq, I conducted over 300 interrogations. (Whoa! Sounds like a lot of yelling, eh? Not really.)
So anyway… Whenever I hear interrogation being conflated with torture, I get a little testy.
I’m not going to address specific historical instances of the US’ involvement in or use of torture, because I can only speak for my own experience. I know full well that, historically, we’re not necessarily the good guys. I mean, see above for goodness’ sake – we were teaching the Brazilians how to do it!
What I am going to address is this (repeat after me):
Torture is not a technique of interrogation.
Torture is torture.
And if we could just get that through our thick national skulls, it would settle a lot of these pesky “enhanced interrogation techniques” questions that we just can’t seem to figure out.
Interrogation is a methodical questioning of a subject, to get information.
Even the dictionary agrees with me!
There is NOTHING about ‘causing harm for the sake of getting them to say something’ – because, you know, torture doesn’t even work as a form of interrogation (occasionally and in very specific short-term situations, sure, but, just – no, for any number of reasons, it doesn’t work). It works great as a scare tactic, because it’s f*ing scary.
Wanna know what I’ve found works best in an interrogation? Talking to people as though they were actually people. Being honest with them. Being kind. If they come in there thinking you’re an enemy, show them you’re human, too. That works really well. In my book, the “enhanced interrogation techniques” involved me being kind and bringing the subject a fatty cake.*
*Fatty cakes, in civilian-ese, are any of the American delicacies which fall into the “Twinkies & crap” category.