"Under coercive conditions". Excuse me, but what does that mean in English? Try: Because they got intelligence from torturing people. Coercion means force. It means they forced "information" out of them. Not coax, trick, lure, force. That means the victims had no choice. And the only way in which human beings can seriously have no choice at all is by subjecting them to such severe mental and physical pain and suffering that they have no option as human beings but to tell their torturers something.
This is the defining line of torture: not some arbitrary comic book technique, but a psychological and physical fact: pushing another human being to the point where choice becomes unavailable to him or her. You can do this in any number of ways; it can take three seconds of electrocution or it can take two months of sleep deprivation, hypothermia and darkness. But the line it eventually crosses is the same line. Throughout human history, human beings have known what that line is, and the West was constructed on a disavowal of ever crossing it again. Why? Because a society that endorses torture commits itself not to limiting, but to extinguishing human freedom. And a protection of human freedom in its most minimal form is what our entire civilization is premised on.
Once that force is unleashed - and it is pure evil - it is almost impossible to stop it destroying your entire system of government. Maybe Europeans like me, who grew up in a land where torture was practiced by government widely in the distant past, and had that history dinned into us, understand this more acutely than those who have never known anything but a New World. But trust us Old Worlders passionate about the New: America and torture are mutually exclusive as ideas and realities. You can have one or the other. You cannot have both.
So when I read an American use the meaningless euphemism - "under coercive conditions" - as if force can be a condition that hovers in the air without anyone accountable for it, I shudder. When I read him tiptoe around what we are actually talking about, and express sympathy for those who tortured, illegally and secretly and against their oath of office, I shudder some more. Because we are numbing ourselves from moral responsibility and the only true protection we have from tyranny: the rule of law.Even the word "torture" can be too vague and abstract a term. So let us state in plain English...
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