Is this torture?

Protestors in Texas are handcuffing themselves to construction equipment in order to block the XL Keystone Pipeline.  The pipeline's developers asked police to get harsh with them.  The protestors eventually agreed to remove themselves after they found a combination of pepper spray and tasers unendurably painful.

Is this torture?  I don't call it torture unless they're in custody.  Personally I'd have preferred to get some hydraulic snippers to chop the handcuffs loose, but I don't think people have a right to expect an official paralysis in the face of a forcible sit-in.  I'm trying to imagine if I'd feel differently if, say, the sit-in had been in aid of keeping Elian Gonzalez in the country.


Grim said...

It's not torture if you're free to leave? That's an interesting test; I don't think it would have occurred to me. Let's test it.

Presumably there are limits to that. What are they? Can I drop boiling oil on them? Surely not, since it would cause severe injury or death (and being handcuffed, they aren't actually free to leave in an immediately practical sense).

Could I shoot them in the shoulder? How about threatening to shoot them in the shoulder if they don't go away?

Could I beat them with a stick until they agreed to go away? It's not appreciably more harmful than tasering, which is pretty traumatic (and can cause death, actually; so can pepper spray, though it's rare).

Eric Blair said...

Maybe they should get all Chinese on them.

(Do not google the term "Man Crushed by Steamroller On Orders of Chinese Officials" You have been warned).

Grim said...

I don't need the warning. I've been to China.

MikeD said...

Point 1: At a minimum they are trespassing. While you do have a Constitutional right to protest, you do NOT have a right to do so on someone else's property without permission. Hence, they were engaged in criminal activity. This establishes that their premise for being there is "Constitutionally protected" is a lie.

Point 2: Police arrive and lawfully order them to disperse. They are engaged in criminal trespass, and the order IS lawful, so they are now are committing a further crime.

Point 3: Police attempt to arrest them, but they refuse to comply and actively resist arrest. They are now engaged in a third crime, and one that authorizes police to use non-lethal force to bring them into compliance.

Point 4: The instant they decide to stop resisting, the use of force ceases. This is the key. They are no longer engaging in unlawful resistance, and the use of force ceases immediately.

Regardless of how the lawbreakers and their friends wish to portray this as "torture" or to portray themselves as being within their rights, their statements amount to nothing more than lies compounded with more lies.

Now, what would I recommend to force compliance in this particular situation? This:

It causes intense pain in anyone who does not flee the area, but no lasting damage. Admittedly this would be complicated by the protestors handcuffing themselves, but I think given the option to comply after a three second exposure (perhaps two if they pull the "I'll comply! No I won't!" game). They'd still whine about "torture", but again, prove it in a court of law, dirty hippies. Prove it.

Grim said...

That complicates Tex's test in another way, though, Mike. If they're under arrest, they aren't free to leave.

MikeD said...

Oh and further, I would NOT support this kind of lawlessness to support any cause I can think of. If you wish to non-violently protest legally, I would support that (even if I do not empathize with the cause). If you wish to non-violently protest in an unlawful manner, but one which does not involve police use of force (in other words, lawbreaking that does not include resisting arrest which can put police both physically and legally in harm's way), then I will be less supportive, but perhaps a bit more respectful of your conviction. But the instant you cross the line and put the lives and well-being of others in harm's way, I am done with you, regardless of your cause.

Grim said...

In addition, I don't think we'd want to say that it is impossible to torture someone who is resisting arrest. I'm pretty sure that we can think of cases where that standard wouldn't hold.

Merely nonviolently resisting arrest may justify some force, but surely it doesn't justify any force.

Texan99 said...

If I were resisting arrest, I'm pretty sure the cops would exert physical pressure on me to subdue me, even if it hurt, until I complied. I might complain of police brutality, especially if they used more force than necessary. I still think it's loose language to call that torture. It makes the word mean nothing more than inflicting pain on purpose. Doctors do that. It's like expanding the word "murder" to include all killings under all circumstances: it fuzzes up the debate, which ought to be about whether the cops used more force than was necessary, and whether there really was a necessity. The cops twisted arms and used pepper spray and tasers. These are tools that don't normally shock us. Why is this situation different? Is it because the protestors were not throwing rocks or otherwise presenting a violent threat?

I don't think the cops here used more force than was necessary, although they may have been tempted to enjoy it a bit too much. I haven't much patience with people who hold themselves hostage, so to speak. They assume they can get away with anything, because their opponents won't be able to bear seeing them in pain. It's ugly. It's whiny.

MikeD said...

"That complicates Tex's test in another way, though, Mike. If they're under arrest, they aren't free to leave."

Sorry if I was unclear. "Leaving the area" in this case means "cease resisting arrest and be taken to the squad car". I'm sure if they had left the area before it became necessary to arrest them, then everyone (probably) would have been satisfied. Once you have been arrested, then it's a bit late to decide "ok, in that case I guess I will comply." You had that chance prior to them telling you that you were under arrest.

To me, the key is they were refusing to comply with what is a completely lawful order. The use of force came about because of decisions they made. If their resistance ceased WITHOUT the use of force being discontinued, then yes, I'd have more sympathy. And I'm not sure where the line at torture can be really drawn any more than you. But I'd be hard pressed to say that you can be tortured with your own consent. Because doesn't torture at least imply it is non-consensual?

I am reminded of my friends disciplining their two year old this past weekend. She did not want to obey her father's order, and he said "you will, or you will go sit in time out." She responded that she did not want time out either. He then pointed out that that was truly a shame, because those were her only options. Being two years old and having her will thwarted resulted in a meltdown, of course. But she DID go to time out. Now, was that really a choice she made of her own free will? Not especially. But she didn't NEED to go to time out, she could have chosen compliance with her father's wishes.

These protestors had the same choices, they didn't want to be arrested, and they didn't want to depart peacefully. But there was no other options available. And I think that if we just let them sit there, and did not allow the police to use force to compel compliance, then we'd be rewarding unlawful behavior. They simply were not going to move until forced. The overwhelmingly sympathetic article made that abundantly clear. And the truly stupid thing is, that if pressed, I'm sure the author would admit they got the next best thing they could have hoped for (next to being allowed to prevent progress on construction) which was to have force used against them in order to garner sympathy. In light of that, I can hardly consider their choice to resist to be anything other than an affirmation that they wanted to have force used upon them. Thus (in my mind) negating the viability of calling it "torture".

douglas said...

Torture? I guess that's why the punks who got themselves pepper sprayed at UC Davis ended up winning a lawsuit through settlement which will get each of them $30k, plus lawyers fees and some other funds set up.

I thought the whole point of pepper spray, tasers and other 'less-than-lethals' was to give a step up from verbal commands that was short of full physical contact with it's inherent risks. More stuff like this and cops will just go back to using sticks and pain holds I guess.