Wednesday, May 30, 2007

U.S. Torture of Prisoners Ineffective

Reports the NYT.

Jesus, there's just too much here to even deal with.

First, let me remind you that I am not one of those misguided lefties who think that torture is never justified. It is clearly justified in ticking-timebomb cases. The absolute anti-torture folks usually try to change the subject when those cases are discussed. Or they argue that they never actually happen, or that by acknowledging that torture would be permitted in such cases, we encourage it in other cases in which it isn't permissible. As we've discussd here in the past, none of those responses work. So far as we know now, torture is morally permissible--in fact, probably even morally required--in some cases. simply isn't clear that we actually face such a case. I'm skeptical, but willing to be persuaded.

And: classic ticking-timebomb cases usually stipulate that you have good reason to believe that torture will be effective. Without fairly good reason to believe that it's efficacious, it's just recreational torture.

One of the real problems with the right's approach to torture is that they're just too eager to do it. It's justifiable under certain carefully circumscribed conditions, but it simply isn't clear that many--or any--of those conditions are met. But the right seemed to be engaged in what amounted to a rush to torture.

If we (1) have good reason to believe that a person is a participant in some plan to do something wrong (e.g. kill innocent people) and (2) have good reason to think that torturing him is likely to allow us to disrupt the plan, and (3) have good reason to think that torturing is the only thing (within reason) that will allow us to do so, then we probably have an obligation to engage in torture.

(1) will vary from person to person, but it's farily clear that it's going to be met in the case of, say, KSM.

(2) may or may not be true, but this new report suggests that (3) isn't true.

If the administration had honestly tried to find non-torture-related methods of interrogation, but failed, then that would be one thing. But it seemed fairly clear that they basically couldn't wait for the chance. That's one of the most dispicable things about their actions.

And this, of course, is not even to touch yet on the mind-bogglingly preposterous idea that it's permissible to outsource our torture...and that it somehow leaves our hands clean.

Jesus. Some of these guys would have had stellar careers in the Gestapo.


Blogger Aa said...

Ticking time bomb aside I'm not about to duel a philosopher on whether something is "morally permissable" or not, but is there any empirical evidence that torture actually works? I mean tat it actually achieves the desired outcomes in terms of useful information?

6:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This place is kind of boring without Tom. ;-)

9:10 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Well you know, we COULD use this blog to keep our sanity while taking the party over to Tom's blog if we feel the need to read something that hurts the brain.

That way we can get the fun in AND we can have a sanctuary of reason back here. I've been to his blog a few times and noted that there are zero comments. Maybe it's time we give them some dissent.

It's a perfect plan. Who shall join me!?

*raises sword and points in the direction of Tom's blog*

P.S. He appears to have three blogs, but only seems to post frequently on the one that's a combined effort of his and others'. It's

9:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Torture and the death penalty are in the same boat. And Alberto Gonzales is rowing Duhbya around in both of them. (What an ugly twist on The Life of Pi!)

Certainly, there are convicts who deserve death, for whom even death may be too good. There are also easily imagined scenarios where torture is obviously and overwhelmingly utilitarian and thus has a claim to morality and even obligation.

Alan Dershowitz has argued that we need torture warrants and a legal review process to approve them sparingly and justly. I look at our attempts to administer the death penalty justly and fairly (and I'm just not relying on the banality of evil seen in Gonzo and Duhbya), and I don't have great confidence in the usefulness of a legalism that permits torture.

In fact, the central problem of torture under the Bushists is that they made it the policy of their regime. They didn't just wink at it or tolerate a few excesses; they wrote memos justifying it legalistically (note: not legally) even while, for public consumption, they claimed that 'torture' meant only 'maiming or killing', which allowed them to make the Orwellian claim that they were not, oh no, torturing. And they promoted successful practitioners from Gitmo to Iraq.

In extremis, torture may be permissible, but it's not permissible to legalize it. Those who are closest to the need must take the risk if they think it is worth it, and we must have the right to second guess them and even punish them if we disagree. That's the harsh reality. (24, by the way, even agrees, or it did in Day 4 anyway; I found Day 6 unwatchable.)

A good analogy is how we handle cannibalism. We don't legalize it and define the circumstances when it is appropriate (Alive!, say). We recognize that it is illegal or at least immoral but accept a necessity defense. So it should be with torture.

Not every act-utilitarian moral act is subject to rendering into rule-utilitarian law.

The precedent punishment for torture in pursuit of war, particularly war of choice, is the death penalty. Reason forces me to acknowledge that both Gonzo and Duhbya are eligible for prosecution, along with Rummy and Darth Cheney, among many others.

It was for reasons such as this that the Republicans during the Clinton years refused to join the International Criminal Court at The Hague. When out of office, the Bushists also might want to consider not travelling to Belgium, for example, to avoid its almost American sense of its own jurisdiction. No ex post facto problem there!

If these alleged war criminals are ever duly convicted convicted, I'd be satisfied with them receiving the same punishment as Rudolf Hess. Hell, I'd be ecstatic.

5:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Time magazine, not lately a paragon of hard-hitting journalism, published this yesterday.

The lead is:

Many of the controversial interrogation tactics used against terror suspects in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo were modeled on techniques the U.S. feared that the Communists themselves might use against captured American troops during the Cold War

This happened in 2002. Anyone who has disbelieved my assertions that torture has been the Bushists' policy can now step up to the crow buffet. Personally, though, I'm too sick to my stomach to eat.

4:12 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Yeah, that information came out of the DoD's own "Review of DoD-Directed Investigations of Detainee Abuse".

I dunno about this torture stuff. It probably is permissible to do it to save people's lives if there's a ticking time bomb situation, but it would carry some pretty terrible consequences if you ended up doing it to the wrong guy.

My only worry about making it in some way officially approved behavior is that it will be abused/misused and I'd rather be given the death penalty than undergo torture at the hands of a professional for some indefinite period of time.

It's one of those things where I can see a situation in which it would be permissible to do it, but the risks that are carried with it are so great that I doubt I would ever be comfortable with allowing it legally.

4:28 PM  

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