Posted by: Ken Homer | April 15, 2008

Some Questions About Torture for The President

If you are following the news you may be aware that:

It is 2008 and several ‘leaders of the free world’, meaning the highest ranking officials in the government of the most powerful nation on Earth – as they like to refer to the country they were elected or appointed to govern – are locking themselves inside of secure rooms and personally approving which methods of torture can be used on ‘detainees.’ – source ABC News

The President of the United States is aware of this.

The President of the United States approved of this, and admits it openly on national television.

I’ve been trying to get my mind around this.

Under what conditions would it be possible to create a sustainable conversation around torture?

A conversation where no one erupted into violence or became so frustrated that they left the conversation?

I honestly do not know if I am up to the task.

Still, I will offer what few ideas I do have and hope that other readers of this blog might be able to add to them so that something new and useful can be fashioned among us.

A core tenant of the dialogue work I do is that all perspectives are valid, and that depending on where we want to go together, some perspectives are more useful than others.

Valid in this context is not to be confused with condoned.

Valid means something exists in a particular way that shows up as real for someone and informs their actions as a result.

Torture is real.

Torture is here now.

Torture is being practiced in numerous countries around the world.

Torture is being practiced by certain agencies under the aegis of the United States government with the full support of the President.

The torture being practiced by these agencies is funded by the money collected from the citizens of the USA via taxes.

Torture shows up as a useful perspective in the mind of the President of the United States, and informs his position that torture is, and will remain, a policy and practice of his administration.

Whether you agree with the President or not, his perspective is valid – remember to grant validity to his view is not the same as agreeing with or condoning it.

I submit that denying the validity of his position, raging against it and/or pointing out its moral flaws is of very limited use in bringing about effective change.

The national discourse on torture is stuck.

It is polarized around the rightness or wrongness of its use in certain situations.

Questions about whether it is right or wrong are useless in moving us past the stuck place.

It is the nature of poles to be magnetic – when you are close to one its power is nearly irresistible and its lines of force set up a field that repels any attraction to the other.

Arguing the superiority of one pole against the other only reinforces the dynamics of polarization.

That’s how we end up with poems that begin with: Nothing has changed. [see previous post]

We need a different approach to get unstuck.

The two ways I am experimenting with to change historical discourses are to widen the context – get a larger perspective by exploring it from new perspectives – and to include the excluded voices – which is a different way of introducing new perspectives. 

If we are to do either one, we need questions that can help us think differently and that can source new information.

So the rest of this post is devoted to some questions that might be able to help us think differently and change our conversations around this troubling issue.

Note: Ideally, we’d be able to sit down with the President and his senior staff and ask these directly, but even though the chances are slim that that will happen, it can still be a useful exercise to ask these of yourself and a few friends.

As always I welcome your comments, but most especially I’d love to read questions you would add to this list…

Questions for widening the context for torture:

What is the function of torture?

What is torture in service to?

Who is served by torture? 

Who benefits? – let’s include both direct and indirect beneficiaries.

Who suffers? – let’s include both direct and indirect sufferers.

To what ends is the torture being employed?

How effective is torture in achieving those ends?

What documented evidence is available to justify the efficacy of torture?

And to whom is it available?

For example, how many people who have been waterboarded, or placed in stress positions, have given up useful evidence that solved or prevented crimes?

Is that evidence openly available to judicial and journalist scrutiny? And if not why not?

What percentage of people tortured have yielded such useful information?

What percentage of people tortured have failed to yield useful information?

How do those two figures compare?

If you were a business person about to invest millions of dollars on something with a similar track record of results would you sign the proposed contract or look for other prospects?

By what criteria are the victims of torture selected?

And who exactly can be tortured?

What are the effects and consequences of its application to both the torturer and the torturee?

How are torturers selected?

What kind of training do they receive?

Do they practice on “dummies” similar to the ones the Red Cross provides for CPR training, or are novices turned loose on victims and if they happen to make an ‘oopsie’, that is just figured in as the cost of doing business?

Speaking of the cost of doing business, how much are torturers paid?

Do they receive extra wages similar to combat pay?

What kind of psychological and spiritual counseling is provided to them for working in such high stress jobs?

How many of them breakdown after a while and require expensive rehab efforts?

How many excel in their chosen field and what kind of job opportunities open up as a result?

What kind of homelife do they have?

What kind of ‘work – life’ balance issues do they face?

How does their profession affect their children?

Do they make good parents?

Would you want your daughter to marry one?

Would you trust one with your grandchild? – or even your pet?

Where do torturers come from? Are they drawn from the ranks of  government service employees, the military or private contractors? Or some combination of all three?

What is the cost to our reputation and standing in the world community paid by our employment of torture?

What other ways are open to us to achieve the goals we are aiming for when we employ torture?

What prevents us from using them?

Questions for including the excluded voices:

Where is your voice in this conversation?

With whom do you speak about this issue?

What changes and shifts for you as a result of those conversations?

Where do you get the information that informs your position?

In the national debate about the use of torture where are the interviews with the victims who have been on the receiving end of torture?

How are their perspectives represented in this conversation?

Do they get equal time and coverage in the media?

Are there people in your local community who have undergone torture and are willing to speak publicly about their experience?

If their voices are not present, why is that?

Who benefits from the absence of their stories?

What are their stories?

How was it for them to be placed in stress postions?

What is it like to be waterboarded?

Did they come to respect their torturers as ‘simply doing a nasty job in service to a noble cause’?

Or did they experience their torturer as having something personal against them?

Do they feel the use of torture against their person was justified?

What was it like for their families while they were incarcerated?

What is it like now that they have been released?

What kind of healing and care is afforded to them now that they are back home?

Did they give up any useful information to their torturers?

Why do they think they became target for and victim of torture?

Have they seen the error of their ways?

Are they willing to forgive and forget?

Where do they plan to be in five years?



  1. There is some hope:

  2. I feel the only way to get to the bottom of this issue and REALLY heal ourselves once and for all is to look at this with exactly the kinds of questions that are being posed here. How can this end if we never have the nerve to look at it?

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