I know it's election season but this is an issue that needs attention. Currently, the issue of detainees at Guantanamo has subsided since now the focus has been on deaths from CIA drones but it's worth keeping in mind that the few hundred or so prisoners are just the tip of the iceberg; it's estimated that around 27,000 people are held in CIA secret prisons around the world.
Indeed, the moral depravity of using torture is one that was embraced by both sides, as Jonathan Alter stated in Newsweek, "we can't legalize torture; it's contrary to American values...[but]...we'll have to think about transferring some suspects to our less squeamish allies, ever. If that's hypocritical. Nobody said this was going to be pretty."
What underpins this idea of necessity is the idea that torture, despite being a moral depravity, can be used to get information to prevent further attacks.
While this might come of as a "natural" idea it is anything but and was only created a few decades ago. As a recent neurological study pointed out:
the use of such techniques appears motivated by a folk psychology that is demonstrably incorrect. Solid scientific evidence on how repeated and extreme stress and pain affect memory and executive functions (such as planning or forming intentions) suggests these techniques are unlikely to do anything other than the opposite of that intended by coercive or 'enhanced' interrogation.
So where did this folk psychology come from? How did an idea as contradictory as this become "natural" to a significant portion of the population and indeed to almost everyone sitting in power?
We must first begin with a history of torture; for centuries, the only point of torture was just that, to torture. It was to inflict punishment and repression to a person or population.
Then something changed, in the 1950s with the creation of Project MKULTRA came an effort to develop scientific "brainwashing" and torture methods designed to extract information. As Alfred W. McCoy and Naomi Klein point out, the idea out of these programs was that torture can break someone down and then extract information from them.
Indeed, this would have even seemed absurd to the Soviet Union, which administered torture on the basis of false confessions and repression, not any fanatical belief that it works as a truth serum. Nonetheless, the idea grew, it was used by the 1960 novel Les Centurions and expanded in the wake of 9/11.
What's particular striking about this is there's no hidden motive for repression involved. It would be incorrect to say the people in Guantanamo or CIA secret prisons are there to be repressed and "punished" for resisting the US. Rather it's a sincere belief that extreme stress from torture results in reliable information.
The lesson to be learned here is that sometimes, sincere and "natural" beliefs are anything but, they are imposed and lead to the disaster that's occurring to many people away from the public eye.