The exhaustive report of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA's torture program came to the conclusion that torture doesn't work for the gathering of intelligence. They also pointed out that many in the CIA knew (and know) this. For one thing, they weren't able to extract one recorded otherwise unknown fact about enemy/terrorist plans, movements, and etc. from its use. Yet, with the blessing and shoving of Vice-President Dick Cheney they continued to use the technique in the treatment of many prisoners
So the question must be asked: why did the CIA develop the program and why did they continue to use and surely attempt to perfect it?
Well, as I have said in the longer essay from which this one is drawn, while torture serves no useful purpose in intelligence gathering, it does have a wide variety of other uses. First and foremost it is a major instrument of terror that can be used against a government's own population: it is a really good repressor of dissent. A principal tool of Gestapo control in Nazi Germany was to pick up someone who had been making mildly anti-Hitler remarks, give them a good session or two of torture downtown, and then send them back to the neighborhood. You can bet the neighbors got the message.
Torturas en el campo de concentración nazi de Terez-n (República Checa)
(Image by loco085) Permission Details DMCA
Second, it is indeed very useful in extracting information from politically active civilian regime opponents who have no military training or training in resisting torture, such as the civilian opponents of the Pinochet Regime in Chile and the civilian targets of the Argentine "Dirty War." Third, it is a very good tool for extra-judicial punishment, just as long as the regime using it makes sure that its details leak out, in a totally deniable way of course, to its own citizens. Fourth, it is a very useful tool for civilian repression in military-occupied territories. Just ask the Japanese Kempeitai that operated in Korea (1910-45) and Occupied China (1931-45). Fifth, it is very helpful when a regime is out to change the culture of its country, and to wipe out historical memory of anything that went before it came to power. Once they had restored corporate-clerical control of the country, doing so was perhaps the next principal long-term goal of the Spanish fascists, the Francoists. Torture was one of their stocks-in-trade to achieve that goal.
Sixth, it is really good at extracting false confessions, then to be used in show trials, such as those of the Soviet Union of the late 1930s that killed off so many of the good Communists who were already challenging Stalinism as the way not to try to build socialism. (As Lev Bronstein [otherwise known as Leon Trotsky] famously said, "Stalin will be the grave-digger of communism" [in the Soviet Union at least], and how right he was.) Seventh, in countries that use it but try to re-define their way out of it convincing no-one but themselves (guess who?), it helps to establish a record of lawlessness, of total disregard for the rule of law and in the case of the United States, provisions of its Constitution, as long as the government says things like, "We are doing what we are doing to keep our people safe and fight terror." This was likely a major objective of BushCheney, et al: to change the culture here. "Torture [except of course we don't call it torture, just 'enhanced interrogation'] is OK, that is as long as we are doing the Deciding as to who gets it." No rule of law, no adherence to international treaties and our Constitution of which they are a part, just as long as they say there's a good reason for it.
Finally, to have torture as a useful instrument of national policy, there has to be a cadre of torturers, most likely another reason for the BushCheney torture program. Until they came to power, Americans didn't do such things, officially at least. So there weren't very many, if any, trained torturers amongst our armed and intelligence forces. But now there are, or at least were. And you can bet your sweet pitootie, once you learn how to be a torturer, you don't forget what you learned. So, don't tell me torture isn't useful. It's just not useful for what the current torturers tell us it's useful for. Down the road, however, there may be a different story.