Recently, Republican presidential candidates have been debating “bringing back torture.” Much of the discussion has centered on the use of waterboarding, which is a form of mock execution dating back to the Spanish Inquisition. Water is poured over a victim’s covered nose and mouth, depriving victims of air, causing a drowning sensation. Waterboarding victims endure crippling fear and pain, and they may suffer from severe lung injury, brain damage, and sudden death.
As a physician who evaluates asylum seekers for forensic evidence of torture and ill treatment, I’m saddened that Americans vying for our country’s most important leadership position continue to entertain US policy allowing the use of torture.
Fortunately, Senator John McCain, a torture survivor, has continued to speak out against torture. As he pointed out in his Senate floor speech on the 100th anniversary of the New Hampshire primary, “it has been so disappointing to see some presidential candidates engaged in loose talk on the campaign trail about reviving waterboarding and other inhumane interrogation techniques.” He went on to say, “It is important to remember the facts: that these forms of torture not only failed their purpose to secure actionable intelligence to prevent further attacks on the US and our allies, but compromised our values, stained our national honor, and did little practical good.”
On December 9, 2014, the United States Senate Intelligence Committee released a report addressing the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques under the Bush Administration. In its report, the Committee concluded that the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective way to acquire intelligence or gain prisoner cooperation. The report found that even the CIA acknowledged that coercive interrogations – torture tactics – “do not produce intelligence.” There was no clear evidence that the terror tactics saved lives. The Committee also found that the techniques were far crueler than what had been disclosed to policymakers and the public. Waterboarding resulted in vomiting, seizures, loss of consciousness, and near death. Some prisoners were interrogated 24 hours per day while they “cried, begged, pleaded, and whimpered.”
Aside from being completely unethical, torture – like other forms of violence – is not an effective way to secure peace.
As it turns out, we could learn a lot about leadership, cooperation, and peace promotion from wolves to bonobos.
Unlike the characteristic typecast, alpha male wolves are not vicious. Carl Safina, a scientist who has observed wolves in Yellowstone National Park, points out that the leadership style of wolves does not rely on force and is not domineering or aggressive. Instead, ranking male wolves are quietly confident, self-assured, and centered on calming others in their pack. They lead by example. Like dogs, they help raise, care for, and play with their young ones. As wolf researcher Rick McIntyre pointed out to Carl Safina during his visit to Yellowstone, “Imagine two wolf packs, or two human tribes. Which is more likely to survive and reproduce? The one whose members are more cooperative, more sharing, less violent with one another; or the group whose members are beating each other up and competing with one another?” Perhaps the presidential candidates should take note.
More and more, we’re learning how the evolution of social play and cooperation in animals could have paved the way for the emergence of peace. Even after conflict, many animals are able to console each other, reconcile, and calm aggressors. As one example, a recent study showed how male bonobos from different communities can come together and play, setting a path toward tolerance, cooperation, and peace.
If other animals can learn how to pave a way toward peace without violence, can’t we?