Friday, May 15, 2009

The SERE Is Not Torture Therefore Waterboarding Is Not Torture Argument (Reprise)

Krauthammer recently seemed to concede that waterboarding is torture (upcoming concessions: two is a number; blue is a color; trees are plants). That apparently turns out to have been a mere terminological convenience; he says he doesn't believe it. (via Sullivan)

His argument is our old friend...

The SERE Argument:

(1) We do not torture the participants in the SERE program
(2) We waterboard participants in the SERE program
(3) Waterboarding is not torture

I've already given what I take to be a weighty refutation of this argument here. In short, the SERE argument is akin to arguing that an actual and unequivocal case of rape is not rape, because some people have acted in similar ways while acting out consensual rape fantasies.

That constitutes a decisive refutation of the SERE argument so far as I can tell.

Here's a similar refutation of the argument, using a different example:

(1) I have never been assaulted in a chop socky class
(2) I have been punched, kicked, thrown to the ground and choked into unconsciousness in chop socky classes; I've also had my nose broken, ribs separated, a disk in my neck (very) badly herniated, and had innumerable sprains, bruises, fat lips, etc. inflicted on me.
(3) If someone on the street attacks you and does any of the above things, he does not assault you.

There are obvious and crucial differences in the two cases having to do with intent and consent. A broken nose inflicted accidentally in a responsibly-conducted and consensual sparring match in a martial arts class and a broken nose inflicted with the intent to harm by a stranger on the street are two completely different things. The brute physical similarity of the bodily movements involved in the actions counts for nothing here. No one thinks that the nature of an action is determined by the overt bodily motions involved in it. To think that you would have to hold, for example, that there is no difference between murdering someone and killing them in self-defense.

The SERE argument is not patently absurd...but it isn't far off from that. It certainly doesn't take that much thought to see the point. Accepting this argument early on may have been excusable--but by this point its invalidity should be clear. (Although few read this blog, surely someone must have noticed when Saletan made a similar point.)

So let's have no more of that SERE argument, shall we?


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