Friday, December 12, 2008

Let's Emulate Europe on Torture

Opponents of torture have long argued that besides being inhuman, torture doesn’t work and prisoners lie or just tell what they expect the interrogators want to hear. Europeans in particular voiced some of the most stringent opposition to the use of torture for interrogation.

In an article by John Rosenthal published in Policy Review this debate is presented with a concrete case that occurred in Germany and was eventually supported by The European Court of Human Rights (echr). The article juxtaposes the case of a kidnapper, Magnus Gäfgen, and the policy of The Pentagon concerning torture. Furthermore, this case shows that under the threat of pain suspects do provide valuable information.

Here is a summary of the article that was posted by James Taranto in Best of the Web:

In the Frankfurt police headquarters, the atmosphere is tense. Deputy
Police Chief Wolfgang Daschner is losing patience. On the previous day, his
officers arrested one Magnus Gäfgen, a 27-year-old law student. Gäfgen is
suspected of having kidnapped 11-year-old Jakob von Metzler, son of the banker
Friedrich von Metzler. Two days earlier, Gäfgen had personally collected a
1-million-euro ransom payment. But there is no sign of the boy and Gäfgen has
refused to give police interrogators accurate information about his whereabouts.
A police psychologist, observing the questioning, describes Gäfgen's responses
as a "pack of lies" [Lügengebäude]. Deputy Police Chief Daschner fears that
Jakob's life may be in danger. In a memorandum, he writes: "We need to ascertain
without delay where the boy is being held. While respecting the principle of
proportionality, the police have an obligation to take all measures in their
power to save the child's life."

Daschner decides to act. He dispatches police inspector Ortwin
Ennigkeit to the office in which Gäfgen is being held for interrogation.
Ennigkeit's assignment: to make Gäfgen talk--if necessary by threat of torture.
Indeed, Daschner has resolved not only to threaten Gäfgen with pain, but to
carry out the threat if his prisoner is not otherwise forthcoming. A doctor has
been found to supervise the proceedings.

In the interrogation room, Ennigkeit tells Gäfgen that a "special
officer" is on his way. If Gäfgen does not tell Ennigkeit where the boy
is, the "special officer" will "make him feel pain that he will not forget." On
Gäfgen's own account, the formula is still more menacing: the officer "will make
you feel pain like you have never felt before." "Nobody can help you here,"
Ennigkeit tells him, according to Gäfgen's testimony. "We can do whatever we
want with you." On Gäfgen's account, moreover, Ennigkeit already begins to rough
him up: shaking him so violently that his head bangs against the wall and
hitting him in the chest hard enough to leave a bruise over his collarbone.
Gäfgen's testimony is consistent with the tenor of Daschner's instructions,
which, on Daschner's own admission, called for the "use of direct force"
[Anwendung unmittelbaren Zwangs].

Gäfgen broke and told police where he had buried Jakob's body. That was
October 2002: In June 2005, the child-murderer and law student Magnus Gäfgen
lodged a complaint against Germany with the European Court of Human Rights
(ECHR). In his complaint, Gäfgen accused Germany of having violated his rights
under the European Convention on Human Rights and, more specifically, of having
violated the prohibition on torture contained in Article 3 of the Convention.

On June 30, 2008, the European Court of Human Rights rejected Gäfgen's complaint and cleared Germany of the charge of tolerating torture.

Also in October 2002, interrogators at Guantanamo Bay asked for permission to use similar methods on al Qaeda terrorist Mohammed al-Qahtani. The Pentagon said no. Now that Barack Obama has won the presidency, perhaps it is time for American interrogators to revise their practices to bring them into line with European ones.

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