Wednesday, November 30, 2005

More from the "anti-anti-torture" camp

I fully agree with John Cole: this is an outrage. Some in the "anti-anti-torture" contingent are using the fact that John McCain broke under torture when held captive by the North Vietnamese to rebut McCain's own anti-torture argument -- ostensibly as a demonstration that "torture works," but also, I suspect, to subtly impugn the Senator's character. Either way, it's repulsive, and as Cole rightly points out, it's also nonsensical: what McCain gave his captors was some totally useless information (e.g. the name of the ship he had served on) and a signed "confession" to war crimes.

As Cole says, more colorfully than I would:

People like the author of this piece, Carl Limbacher, should be put in a small room and beaten with a cane and waterboarded until they confess to being unmitigated assholes. This isn’t a defense of torture for use in extreme cases (the ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario)- this is a call for legalized sadism and brutality.

Or, as Andrew Sullivan says:

Just when you think the pro-torture right cannot sink any lower, they do.



Indeed. The torture debate is having a seriously degrading effect on the moral caliber of discourse among War on Terror supporters (of whom I count myself as one). It's not doing much for the intellectual caliber of discourse, either. Even the eminent Thomas Sowell lapses into cliché, asking:

If a captured terrorist knows where a nuclear bomb has been planted in some American city, and when it is timed to go off, are millions of Americans to be allowed to be incinerated because we have become too squeamish to get that information out of him by whatever means are necessary? What a price to pay for moral exhibitionism or political grandstanding!

Sorry, but I think that trotting out the extremely improbable "ticking time bomb" scenario comes awfully close to "grandstanding," too.

Charles Krauthammer, meanwhile, has a more thoughtful and nuanced article on the topic in The Weekly Standard. He agrees that "torture is a terrible and monstrous thing, as degrading and morally corrupting to those who practice it as any conceivable human activity," but he also argues that some forms of this monstrous activity must remain permissible in extreme circumstances, and that our leaders must take this burden on their conscience in order to save lives. He outlines two exceptions: the "ticking time bomb" scenario, and the high-value, high-level terrorist who possesses a treasure trove of information about the terror network and the plots it's gestating.

Unlike others in the anti-anti-torture camp, Krauthammer gives a specific example of a case in which torture "worked" and could have saved a life:

In 1994, 19-year-old Israeli corporal Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. The Israelis captured the driver of the car used in the kidnapping and tortured him in order to find where Waxman was being held. Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister and peacemaker, admitted that they tortured him in a way that went even beyond the '87 guidelines for "coercive interrogation" later struck down by the Israeli Supreme Court as too harsh. The driver talked. His information was accurate. The Israelis found Waxman. "If we'd been so careful to follow the ['87] Landau Commission [which allowed coercive interrogation]," explained Rabin, "we would never have found out where Waxman was being held."

This is the kind of scenario that must be contended with when we argue about the absolute impermissibility of torture. (Though the eventual outcome -- Waxman was killed by his Hamas captors during the rescue attempt, as was an Israeli officer -- does, I think, raise more questions than Krauthammer allows. Could a subtler, less aggressive approach, such as using informants and surveillance, have resulted in a more effective rescue?) What would we want done in such a situation?

But Krauthammer's argument, I think, has several weaknesses.

(1) In my opinion, he greatly overestimates the plausibility of the "ticking time bomb" scenario:
Sure, the (nuclear) scale is hypothetical, but in the age of the car- and suicide- bomber, terrorists are often captured who have just set a car bomb to go off or sent a suicide bomber out to a coffee shop, and you only have minutes to find out where the attack is to take place. This "hypothetical" is common enough that the Israelis have a term for precisely that situation: the ticking timebomb problem.

But Krauthammer gives no examples in which the Iraelis were able to defuse the "ticking time bomb" by using torture or "phsyical coercion." It seems to me that if the attack is to take place withint minutes, coercive or painful methods will be particularly useless: the captured terrorist will tell the interrogators a fake story (possibly pre-planned in the event of capture), and by the time they realize they've been duped the bomb will have gone off.

(2) Accepting what Krauthammer calls "torture-lite" (presumably exposure to heat and cold, perhaps even waterboarding) in order to garner life-saving information raises a disturbing question: what if the "lite" version isn't enough to break the detainee, and he still possesses highly valuable information? What then? Do we start pulling fingernails and administering electric shocks to genitals? Where on the slippery slope do we stop?

(3) Krauthammer criticizes McCain for citing Israel as an example of how one can fight terror without resorting to any degree of torture (physical coercion in interrogations was formally banned by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1999). In fact, he argues, since the start of the second Palestinian uprising in Israel, coercive tactics toward detaines have been commonly used under the radar, with widespread acceptance from the public. In this, Krauthammer relies on a June 2004 Washington Post article by Glenn Frankel. But the article demonstrates two things:

(a) While interrogations have become harsher since the start of the uprising, there has been no return to pre-1999 techniques that included physical abuse and borderline torture; today, Israeli interrogators rely primarily on psychological pressure and manipulation (including sleep deprivation).

(b) Allegations of physical abuse toward detainees in Israel in recent years -- at least the ones mentioned in the article -- involve abuse by soldiers, not interrogators (which, elsewhere in the article, Krauthammer himself says should never be permitted). The allegations, if true, are highly troubling, and suggest that acceptance of abuse "for a good cause" is likely to create a climate that fosters abuse with no tactical or information-gathering purposes.

4. Krauthammer opens his article by saying:

During the last few weeks in Washington the pieties about torture have lain so thick in the air that it has been impossible to have a reasoned discussion. The McCain amendment that would ban "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment of any prisoner by any agent of the United States sailed through the Senate by a vote of 90-9. The Washington establishment remains stunned that nine such retrograde, morally inert persons--let alone senators--could be found in this noble capital.

Now, John McCain has great moral authority on this issue... His position deserves respect. But that does not mean, as seems to be the assumption in Washington today, that a critical analysis of his "no torture, ever" policy is beyond the pale.

Toward the end of the article, however, Krauthammer turns around and discovers a great irony: McCain's position is not really "no torture, ever."

According to Newsweek, in the ticking time bomb case McCain says that the president should disobey the very law that McCain seeks to pass--under the justification that "you do what you have to do. But you take responsibility for it." But if torturing the ticking time bomb suspect is "what you have to do," then why has McCain been going around arguing that such things must never be done?

As for exception number two, the high-level terrorist with slow-fuse information, Stuart Taylor, the superb legal correspondent for National Journal, argues that with appropriate legal interpretation, the "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" standard, "though vague, is said by experts to codify . . . the commonsense principle that the toughness of interrogation techniques should be calibrated to the importance and urgency of the information likely to be obtained." ... Or as Evan Thomas and Michael Hirsh put it in the Newsweek report on McCain and torture, the McCain standard would "presumably allow for a sliding scale" of torture or torture-lite or other coercive techniques, thus permitting "for a very small percentage--those High Value Targets like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed--some pretty rough treatment."

But if that is the case, then McCain embraces the same exceptions I do, but prefers to pretend he does not. If that is the case, then his much-touted and endlessly repeated absolutism on inhumane treatment is merely for show. If that is the case, then the moral preening and the phony arguments can stop now, and we can all agree that in this real world of astonishingly murderous enemies, in two very circumscribed circumstances, we must all be prepared to torture.


All right, so maybe McCain makes his position sound more absolutist than it really is. Maybe a "no torture, ever" stance makes for a better sales pitch, and for nobler rhetoric, than "no torture, ever, except for some very rough treatment in some very extreme circumstances." I can see why a real anti-torture purist would have a problem with that, but why does Charles Krauthammer? His article is titled, "The Truth About Torture: It's time to be honest about doing terrible things." But what -- again, from Krauthammer's point of view -- do we have to gain from being honest? (And could this insistence on absolute honesty be a form of "moral preening," too?)

I am more strongly opposed to torture than Krauthammer; but I am also enough of a realist to recognize that a firm "no torture" stand is likely to be qualified with some tacit acknowledgment that, under some strictly defined circumstances, some unpleasant things will happen under the radar. I find that vastly preferable to starting with the admission that "we must all be prepared to torture." If we start with a "thou shalt not torture" moral absolute, we are likely to be extremely vigilant about lapses from this commandment, limiting them only to absolute necessity. If we start with the idea that torture is sometimes acceptable, that slippery slope is going to take us pretty low.

And finally, two more questions.

1. Does Krauthammer support or oppose the McCain legislation?

2. If, as Krauthammer apparently concludes, the McCain legislation would generally outlaw detainee abuse without completely tying our hands with regard to "coercive interrogation" in extreme circumstances, then what excuse did nine senators have to vote against it? And why shouldn't we regard the Pro-Torture Nine as "morally inert" -- or, to use John Cole's phrase once again, as "moral cretins"?

More: Ramesh Ponnuru makes another excellent point at The Corner. If we adopt the position that torturing a terrorist in the hope of saving a city from nuclear destruction is okay, what's to stop us from using the same moral calculus to justify torturing an innocent person? Responding to the argument that the torture of an innocent could never conceivably be required, Ponnuru points out: "But it is not at all hard to imagine guilty parties who would not break under torture but would break under the threat of someone else's torture. This kind of scenario is not exactly unknown to the history of torture." Are we prepared to achieve our objectives by using "coercive" techniques on a terrorist's child?

80 comments:

WhiskeyJuvenile said...

I'm fine with a law against torture, and I'm fine with breaking that law should the highly improbable timebomb situation ever arise.

Dean said...

Quoting Cathy quoting Krauthammer:
But if that is the case, then McCain embraces the same exceptions I do, but prefers to pretend he does not.

Krauthammer misses an important point: McCain isn't saying that torture should never be used. He's saying it shouldn't be legal. There is a big difference.

As in: it is illegal to shoot a man. But if a man is coming at me with a knife, I'm going to shoot him and worry about the legalities later.

This is a fascinating discussion, Cathy, and while I disagree with you on the utility of the 'War on Terror', I agree with your take on this aspect of it.

The thing I find most intriguing about this whole discussion is that it is happening at all. We are actually talking seriously about torture. If someone had told me on Sept 10, 2001, that four years hence torture would be a serious topic for lawmakers and pundits, I'd have laughed in their face. Yet here we are.

smilerz said...

Isn't the fact that McCain "confessed" to war crimes sufficient evidence that torture is not a valid method for retrieving information?

Cathy Young said...

Dean, interesting point about the distinction between Krauthammer's and McCain's position.

smilerz -- bingo!

Anonymous said...

I truly sympathize with Dean's dismay, but I am not so surprised that we are having this debate. Many of the same voices that are calling for torture have also called for harsher punishment for criminals, greater policing powers, etc. It all extends from this Rambo/VanDamm style attitude where:

1. Compassion = weakness
2. Laws get in the way of getting the bad guys
3. It doesn't matter what abuses you perpetrate, the ends always justify the means.
4. As long as you are one of the good guys, you have nothing to worry about.

Honestly, I think when compassion and concern about the abuses of power were more in vogue, the only outlet these folks had was Hollywood (which is ironic) and video games.

It is, in my opinion, a short-sighted view for two reasons.

a. When you let the authorities do horrible things with little oversight, you end up punishing the innocent as much (if not more often) than the guilty. Abu Gurab was fine example of that.

b. Unless you really earn the right to be despised, your enemy doesn't stay your enemy forever. How many of our mortal foes from the last 60 years are still our mortal foes? (Even Cuba is more of a joke than a threat.) No propaganda machine, however efficient, is effective in the long run.

I suspect (and I hope I am proven wrong) that for even posting this, I will be accused of all sorts of terrorist/criminal coddling silliness. Nothing can be further from the truth. We CAN do what is necessary to win this war and protect our country without being torturers and without throwing out all the safeguards that protect the innocent. Justice should be harsh, but not sadistic or stupid.

Z

protein wisdom said...

If you're interested, I dealt a bit with the distinction Dean raises in my piece here.

Excerpting the relevant portion:

"Krauthammer’s argument is that it would be better to acknowledge this and pre-describe the conditions wherein we would allow certain specific types of coercive behavior (much as I described a desire to define what those specific actions might be) rather than pretending to a degree of feel-good self-righteousness—that we then codifying it into law—that would put in legal jeopardy those who perform the very actions the majority of us agree we’d expect them to perform if the conditions dictate.

This is simply a way of lying to ourselves. And worse—it is a lie that has the effect of shutting down a rigorous debate on the topic.
"

Revenant said...

ostensibly as a demonstration that "torture works," but also, I suspect, to subtly impugn the Senator's character.

What's subtle about it? McCain is openly lying -- he knows better than anybody that toture works. If he had character, he'd admit that torture works and say that it should be banned anyway. He'd be in a great position to do just that.

I don't think people are trying to say that his character is defective *because* he broke under torture. The whole point is that people break under torture whether they want to or not, and give useful information whether they want to or not.

The people arguing that torture doesn't work are being dishonest, and undermining their own side in the process. If they succeed in convincing people that torture should be banned on the grounds that it doesn't work, what are they going to do when people learn the truth? Say "oh, it should be banned anyway, just 'cuz"?

No. The case against torture is a moral one, not a pragmatic one. Torture works. McCain's problem is that he doesn't trust the American people to make what he considers to be the moral choice if they know all the facts. So he lies to them.

Richard Bennett said...

OK, torture is bad. But war is not a nice thing, so it's not at all clear that there are no circumstances in which torture (or "aggressive interrogation" if you prefer) should be used. Torture critics themselves offer confused arguments against it, refusing to establish a definition that distinguishes torture from interrogation and then arguing against it on a variety of contradictory fronts.

If it were the case that torture never worked and that torturing makes the US equivalent to a genocide, the discussion would actually be quite brief, but we all know that neither claim holds water.

We like to pat ourselves on the back about how moral we are, don't we?

Revenant said...

Isn't the fact that McCain "confessed" to war crimes sufficient evidence that torture is not a valid method for retrieving information?

No. The North Vietnamese weren't torturing McCain for information on the war crimes he had committed -- they were torturing him to get him to "confess" to war crimes they knew he *hadn't* committed.

Revenant said...

Sorry to keep spamming the comments, but:

As in: it is illegal to shoot a man. But if a man is coming at me with a knife, I'm going to shoot him and worry about the legalities later.

It's legal to shoot someone in self-defense.

Now, if we made self-defense shootings the same as first-degree murder and simply trusted juries to "do the right thing" and ignore the law, then the parallel would hold. I have no faith that juries will do the right thing. They seldom do.

People say "well, if government agents need to use torture to save lives, they will, even if it means going to jail". Oh, will they? On the one hand they're facing a prison sentence in exchange for possibly saving lives; on the other, they're facing no penalty for not saving those lives. A lot of them, perhaps most, will pick the second option. What if they torture the guy and he doesn't crack in time for them to find the bomb? Then the agents won't be the heroes who resorted to torture to save lives -- they'll be the screw-ups who let people die. The jury will crucify them. Knowing that, a lot of people will take the safer bet and just let the bomb go off.

The people who say that a ban on torture won't cause torture to NOT be used in cases when it needs to be are, I think, being disingenuous. It would indeed reduce justified torture as well as unjustified.

Rick said...

Revenant,
Would you mind supporting your claim that "Torture Works" with some EVIDENCE, rather than just averring it?

Anonymous said...

whiskeyjuvenile says:
I'm fine with a law against torture, and I'm fine with breaking that law should the highly improbable timebomb situation ever arise.

So laws are only worthwhile until they need to be broken?

Or an agent, serving this country, needs to go to jail because he tortured someone in an earnest attempt to avert an attack?

This is like ticketing the police for speeding during high speed chases- either they play the game or they do not.

Most anti-torture folks admit the practical necessity of occasional, rare, torture.

More complete thoughts here.

rick said...

Or an agent, serving this country, needs to go to jail because he tortured someone in an earnest attempt to avert an attack?

Do you honestly believe that if a catastrophic attack was avoided because an interregator used information acquired through torture, that that interregator would actually be successfully prosecuted?

Revenant said...

Would you mind supporting your claim that "Torture Works" with some EVIDENCE, rather than just averring it?

McCain talked.

One of the following statements is, therefore, true:

(1): McCain is a traitor.
(2): Torture works.

Try this thought experiment: suppose someone wanted the PIN number for your ATM card. If you give him a phony number he'll know, because it won't work when he tries is. Who here is honestly going to try to claim that they wouldn't give up their PIN under torture? I sure as hell would. The torture wouldn't even have to start. You could just wave a hot iron at me and I'd sing like a bird.

Do you honestly believe that if a catastrophic attack was avoided because an interregator used information acquired through torture, that that interregator would actually be successfully prosecuted?

How is the defendent going to say "I had to use torture to get information" without admitting he used torture? If he admits to using torture, he can't plead not guilty. There is no such thing as justifiable torture, in our legal system.

If the aftermath of 9/11 and the anti-torture hysteria have taught us anything, it's that the consequences of apathetically doing your job and letting attacks happen are nonexistant while the consequences of using extreme measures to prevent attacks are severe. If you think career government employees haven't absorbed that lesson, you don't know government employees.

David said...

"anti-torture hysteria," this is the world we live in.

Revenant said...

"anti-torture hysteria," this is the world we live in.

"Anti-torture hysteria" seems like a fair description of people referring to smearing fake menstral blood on a person's face, or having dogs bark at them, as "torture" and "war crimes" requiring vigorous investigation and prosecution, yes. The point is, we've seen that people are demanding the persecution of interrogators for using NON-torture interrogation tactics to prevent terrorist attacks -- so the idea that we'd clearly give them a pass on REAL torture just doesn't hold water.

Richard Bennett said...

The crazy antics at Abu Ghraib weren't really torture, and they had no real purpose either. War should not be an excuse for misbehavior.

Cathy Young said...

Revenant:

The North Vietnamese weren't torturing McCain for information on the war crimes he had committed -- they were torturing him to get him to "confess" to war crimes they knew he *hadn't* committed.


But that's precisely the argument, isn't it? That torture is good mainly not for extracting the truth, but for getting the subject to tell the interrogator something the latter wants to hear.

Richard Bennett said...

But that's precisely the argument, isn't it?

Is it? If we're going to ban torture in all cases on a lack-of-usefulness principle, we have to establish that it never provides good information, a hard hill to climb.

Anonymous said...

Revenant:

McCain "talked" by lying to his torturers. They asked for the names of his fellow soldiers and he provided the roster of a favorite sports team. He "talked" by giving them a mixture of useless and untrue information to make them stop torturing him.

In more recent news, it was recently disclosed that among the many garbagey rationales for invading Iraq, one--that Saddam had been training Qaeda terrorists in the use of biochem weapons--was a similar fable cooked up by a detainee who couldn't stand getting the waterboard torture anymore. So he just up and lied, and the government used the lie as evidence, and now we're in Iraq. Hooray for torture!

Revenant said...

But that's precisely the argument, isn't it? That torture is good mainly not for extracting the truth, but for getting the subject to tell the interrogator something the latter wants to hear.

I agree that torture is useful for getting the subject to tell the interrogator what he wants to hear. But what if what the interrogator wants to hear is truthful answers? If the interrogator wants to hear the truth and has some means of confirming the answers you give him, in short order you'll be giving honest answers.

It depends a lot on the question, too. "Name all your co-conspirators!" is a lot more likely to yield bogus or misleading results than "what is your account password?" is. If interrogation is conducted by beating some hapless randomly-selected Arab male until he names some names and then adding those names to the Terrorist Watch List without question, well, yeah, that's pretty definitely not working. Catching a guy with a load of pipe bombs and beating him until he leads you to the place where they were made, on the other hand...

Revenant said...

McCain "talked" by lying to his torturers. They asked for the names of his fellow soldiers and he provided the roster of a favorite sports team. He "talked" by giving them a mixture of useless and untrue information to make them stop torturing him

"Eventually, I gave them my ship's name and squadron number, and confirmed that my target had been the power plant." -- John McCain.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's what I had in mind when I typed the word "useless."

Revenant said...

This is becoming tiresome.

If I held a blowtorch to your crotch, could I get you to tell me your your ATM pin number?

If "no", then I admire your Herculean resistance to pain, which nearly unrivaled in the history of human suffering.

If "yes", you admit torture works.

Any questions?

Anonymous said...

Yes, actually. What if I don't have an ATM card? You have now tortured me, and I'll tell you anything to make you stop. Compare what you have gained to what we both have lost.

Considering how many of our detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq have been useless scrubs or total innocents, this is far more relevant and topical than the so-called "ticking timebomb" scenario.

peter hoh said...

As for the ticking bomb scenario, what makes anyone think that al-Qaida would be using a timer? They seem to have no shortage of operatives willing to push the button themselves.

Revenant said...

Yes, actually. What if I don't have an ATM card?

My questions assumes I already know you do -- for example, that I found one in your pocket with your name on it. Now answer -- yes? or no?

Compare what you have gained to what we both have lost.

Well, in a worst-case scenario, you'd be dead and I'd have lost nothing.

Your problem is that you equate "torture sometimes yields useless information" with "torture doesn't work". By that standard, no form of interrogation works. Police investigation doesn't work. Scientific inquiry most definitely doesn't work. In fact, no form of knowledge-gathering, including looking at something with your own two eyes, works.

Every person in this thread knows full well that there are any number of things we'd reveal under torture. That's why I say that it is dishonest to claim torture doesn't work. Every last one of us knows it does. For crying out loud, hardened criminals regularly sell out their friends and family and blab about every crooked scheme they've ever heard of just to get out of JAIL TIME. The idea that the threat of having their eyes gouged out by hot pokers can't inspire truthfulness is inherently ridiculous.

Cathy Young said...

Of course you can sometimes extract truthful information with torture; the problem is that you don't know what is reliable and what isn't.

Richard Bennett said...

So now we have an epistemological objection to torture to join the moral and utilitarian ones?

I declare, this debate is starting to smell kinda fishy.

Nobody has yet refuted the necessity of torture in the "ticking bomb scenario", and as long as we can find one example where torture is justified the sweeping ban doesn't hold up.

Revenant said...

Of course you can sometimes extract truthful information with torture; the problem is that you don't know what is reliable and what isn't

Why is it a given that you can't know what's reliable and what isn't? Sure, many claims can't be verified, but some can. You can try the PIN number and see if it works; you can look in the location you were given and see if there's a bomb there. Etc, etc. In either case, you reach the truth a lot faster than you will by trying every possible PIN number or searching every possible bomb hiding spot.

Dean said...

Once again, I must point out how bizarre I think this whole discussion is, and how at odds it is with the American self-image of the US as the good guys.

The good guys don't torture people. If you're torturing people, you aren't the good guys. Seems pretty simple to me.

And yeah, I'm being flip, but I'm dead serious at the base of it. I cannot believe that mainstream America is having this discussion. I cannot believe that people are actually considering this even for a second.

Anonymous said...

Revenant: "Well, in a worst-case scenario, you'd be dead and I'd have lost nothing."

Except the ability to say that you had never tortured and/or murdered an innocent human being.

Torture makes people say things. Whether you'll get actionable intel out of it is a crapshoot; we've already seen numerous examples in this thread of how you likely won't. Hey, since we're all just fantasizing about a 'ticking timebomb' scenario, maybe as part of that fantasy the terrorists have decreased the countdown time while also torturing each other in order to build up enough resistance to hold out until detonation.

The utility of torture has not been demonstrated by any examples so far discussed, and certainly is not "known" by anyone in this thread.

Cathy Young said...

By the way, I do agree with one criticism of the McCain people: "degrading treatment" is a rather vague concept.

One issue that often gets brought up in this debate is the infamous incident of an Al Qaeda captive being questioned by a female interrogator who pretended to smear him with menstrual blood. I don't think that's "torture." On the other hand, Jeff Jacoby, my conservative colleague at the Globe, thinks it's totally outrageous and impermissible. I think a lot of us are missing the point that this is a religious issue, not a squeamishnes issue. To the Al Qaeda guy, being smeared with menstrual blood meant that he was now "unclean" and, unless allowed to perform the proper ablutions, would not be able to pray. Jeff very strongly believes that violating someone's religious taboos as a psychological pressure tactic is totally unacceptable. I don't feel very strongly about that, perhaps because, unlike Jeff, I am not religious.

Anonymous said...

Well, in a worst-case scenario, you'd be dead and I'd have lost nothing.

Nah. Worst case scenario:
You die. Eye witness accounts of your disappearance implicate our Revenant. Your relatives, friends, colleagues, neighbors demand an investigation and justice, because they all know you happen to be innocent. It gets picked up by the local press, then the international press. The condemnation is world-wide. Revenant's enemies have an easier time recruiting. What's more, unsavory characters notice than when names get turned in to Revenant, the named disappear. As there is no due process, the unsavory characters can turn in anyone who they have a land or other dispute with, regardless of whether they are a terrorist, without penalty. However, because the innocent keep disappearing, most locals are unwilling to work with Revenant at all, because they don't trust his group and they think he is nearly as bad as the terrorists. So, Revenant has not only killed and tortured innocent people yielding only bogus information, but he has alienated the very people who could point him to real terrorists, and allied himself with criminals. Now THAT is the worst case scenario.

Z

Cathy Young said...

Z--excellent points!

Anonymous said...

Cathy said "Jeff very strongly believes that violating someone's religious taboos as a psychological pressure tactic is totally unacceptable. I don't feel very strongly about that, perhaps because, unlike Jeff, I am not religious."

In another words, Cathy approves of torture as long as it does not bother her sensibilities, correct?

The point that Krauthammer makes, and I support, is that since we all agree that torture at some point in time, pick your scenario, can and should be used, we must, for the sake of limiting it, write it down as law. (For those of you that right now though that you would never approve of torture simply think of your most beloved as being tortured. The person what can set them free is right in front of you. Proceed.)

It is unfair of us, and I believe will result in more and not less torture, to codify torture as illegal and then expect others to use it on a 'must need basis'. Clear guideless should be developed of what can and can not be done. Clear lines of responsibility should be drawn of who authorizes what and when. Review boards should exist to determine why torture was used and to learn whether it was useful or not. Not to do this, would simple result in hiding it or in the creation of exemptions for it. Exemptions that the Pres. has already asked for, the CIA, and that I predict will get.

McCain's position and the senators who voted for his amendment, are, I think, simply avoiding the responsibility they have. In that way they will have no blood in their hands, while those that make them safe will.

mgalactico@yahoo.com

Revenant said...

Revenant: "Well, in a worst-case scenario, you'd be dead and I'd have lost nothing."

Except the ability to say that you had never tortured and/or murdered an innocent human being.

You're assuming I place a higher value on being able to say that then I do on, say, preventing terrorists from killing my friends and family. That is not a correct assumption.

Unless you oppose all wars of any kind, defensive or otherwise, you accept the fact that we will kill and/or inflict horrible pain on innocent people. It is unclear to me why accidentally torturing an innocent man is worse than accidentally killing one with a missile, bullet, or bomb.

Anonymous said...

Revenant:

And you, in turn, are assuming that torturing anybody is likely to keep terrorists from killing your family. Which is an unproven, and unproveable, assumption.

As for the difference between accidentally bombing an innocent man and accidentally torturing him, I should think it would become pretty glaringly obvious after, oh, the first minute or so.

Revenant said...

Z, I was discussing the gains and losses to the torturer himself. If you want to talk about the big picture, fine.

The empiricial evidence is that terrorists don't much care about torture of innocent people, and the torture of innocents doesn't significantly help terrorists recruit. Indeed, many of the major users of torture in the world are allies of the terrorists. There's no indication that Al Qaeda's ranks swelled after Abu Ghraib, for instance.

But still, your scenario could hypothetically happen, I suppose. But what's the hypothetical downside to NOT using torture when it is necessary? Well, in the "hidden nuclear bomb" scenario, it is hundreds of thousands of dead Americans, followed by millions of dead Muslims when we retaliate, plus who knows what loss of civil rights here at home. So if you want to talk about the big picture, there are still scenarios where using torture is still sometimes the smart play.

McCain's position and the senators who voted for his amendment, are, I think, simply avoiding the responsibility they have. In that way they will have no blood in their hands, while those that make them safe will.

That's it exactly. Their position appears to be something along the lines of "torture is always wrong and never works. But when you need to use it (which, strangely, you will, even though it "doesn't work") we promise to look the other way". It's moral cowardice dressed up as moral outrage. I want to hear one of these senators honestly stand up and say "it is better that a thousand innocents die than that one guilty man be tortured".

rick said...

How is the defendent going to say "I had to use torture to get information" without admitting he used torture? If he admits to using torture, he can't plead not guilty. There is no such thing as justifiable torture, in our legal system.

revenant,
I said that a person who tortured a terrorist and used that information to save a large number of lives would not be prosecuted for the torture. In your response, you assumed that the torturer is already on trial, and thus being prosecuted. Your casuistry is becoming increasingly more apparent, and undermining your already tenuous case.

Revenant said...

And you, in turn, are assuming that torturing anybody is likely to keep terrorists from killing your family. Which is an unproven, and unproveable, assumption.

Torture increases the yield of verifiable data. Better data lets us better prevent attacks. So the reasonable prediction is that it would, in fact, make my family less likely to be subjected to a terrorist attack.

But in any case, your logic applies to every aspect of a war. When a soldier fires his gun, it is unproven and unprovable that he is doing anything to help end the war, or bring peace, or protect his family, or indeed have any positive effect of any kind. On the other hand, there is a clear risk of him hitting an innocent. Should all our soldiers henceforth refrain from firing their weapons?

As for the difference between accidentally bombing an innocent man and accidentally torturing him, I should think it would become pretty glaringly obvious after, oh, the first minute or so

I should think so too. After the first minute or so the first man would be dead, and the second merely in pain. Tell me, which would you rather be -- dead, or in pain?

Revenant said...

I said that a person who tortured a terrorist and used that information to save a large number of lives would not be prosecuted for the torture.

I'm sorry, I missed that you thought he'd never be prosecuted. He clearly would be. All it takes is one holier-than-thou activist (and this thread has shown they exist in abundance) to bring charges before a grand jury.

Your casuistry is becoming increasingly more apparent, and undermining your already tenuous case

Whatever. At least I'm presenting a case. The anti-torture side's case consists of "torture doesn't work" (a lie), "it'll probably never be useful" (yay, wishful thinking is fun!) and "well if it comes up we'll just hope everyone ignores the law".

The difference between my position and that of most of the anti-torture side is that I say we should make torture legal in predefined circumstances, while the anti-torture side says we should make it illegal in all circumstances but go ahead and allow it sometimes anyway. Please.

rick said...

I'm sorry, I missed that you thought he'd never be prosecuted. He clearly would be. All it takes is one holier-than-thou activist (and this thread has shown they exist in abundance) to bring charges before a grand jury.

Really? Thats all it takes? Well gee, if its that easy, and torture has been practiced in the military in this war, why hasen't been there any prosecutions? Could you explain that to me?

Anonymous said...

The empiricial evidence is that terrorists don't much care about torture of innocent people, and the torture of innocents doesn't significantly help terrorists recruit.

I hate to keep pounding on you, Revenant, but what empirical evidence?!? After the US's big torture scandal at Abu Ghraib, support for the US went down, bombings went up, and if Al Qaeda didn't view US torture as a big propaganda opportunity for them then what was this news story about:

Insurgents attack Abu Ghraib prison
Car bombs, rockets and mortars used in audacious assault

Rory Carroll in Baghdad
Monday April 4, 2005
The Guardian

Scores of insurgents mounted an audacious assault on Baghdad's Abu Ghraib jail over the weekend with a barrage of rockets, mortars, car bombs and small-arms fire that wounded at least 44 US troops and 12 prisoners.

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An internet statement purportedly from al-Qaida's wing in Iraq, which is led by the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility yesterday and said its members had fired more than 39 Katyusha rockets. "Then the merciful brigades and Muslim soldiers clashed with the infidels."


Z

Revenant said...

Thats all it takes? Well gee, if its that easy, and torture has been practiced in the military in this war, why hasen't been there any prosecutions?

First of all, there have been prosecutions -- several of the Abu Ghraib torturers have been tried, I believe.

But you are correct, so far as I'm aware, that no charges have been brought in US civilian courts. The reason for that is that no torture has taken place in areas where those courts have jurisdiction -- it has all taken place overseas, in areas controlled by the US military. You cannot, so far as I'm aware, convict a US soldier, in US court, for torturing an Iraqi in Iraq. The Iraqis could convict him (in a civilian court), or the US military could convict him (in a military court), but so far as I know you couldn't bring charges in a US court unless you somehow tied him to crimes committed in the USA.

I hate to keep pounding on you, Revenant, but what empirical evidence?!?

The two big pieces of evidence are:

(1): The Abu Ghraib scandal had no measurable effect on terrorist recruitment or anti-American terrorist activity. Further torture revelations have, similarly, had no apparent impact. You are correct that the frequency of terrorist attacks increased after Abu Ghraib came to light; what you miss is that (a) they had been increasing already beforehand and (b) the increase was in attacks on Iraqis, not Americans. Indeed, the rate at which American troops were killed actually dropped in mid-2004, following the Abu Ghraib revelations.

(2): The biggest torturers of innocent Muslims are nations like Egypt, Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, who torture easily hundreds or thousands of times as many innocent people as we do. Yet they aren't the targets of terrorism that we are, or that Iraq is. The major target of Muslim terrorists today is Iraqi civilians, who haven't done anything to anybody.

Anonymous said...

Having just seen Revvy proclaim the moral equivalence of soldiers shooting armed soldiers on the battlefield, and captors torturing prisoners in jail (including potentially innocent ones), I'm bailing. I don't want the abyss looking back at me one more moment.

Revenant said...

Having just seen Revvy proclaim the moral equivalence of soldiers shooting armed soldiers on the battlefield, and captors torturing prisoners in jail (including potentially innocent ones), I'm bailing.

That's an intellectually dishonest misrepresentation of my position, as well you know. The equivalence I am drawing is between having a policy of shooting at deserving people (soldiers) and sometimes accidentally killing innocents (civilians), and torturing deserving people (terrorists) and sometimes accidentally torturing innocents (civilians).

Many people are acting as if it is obvious that accidentally inflicting pain on the undeserving is worse than accidentally inflicting death on the undeserving -- that the former is some horrible "abyss" of evil and anti-Americanism while the latter is just a regrettable but unavoidable part of war as usual. Well, it isn't obvious. You should explain your reasoning.

Cathy Young said...

Revenant, I think there's a lot of evidence that support for U.S. troops among the Iraqi population has dropped considerably in the wake of the Abu Grahib revelations.

As for your other point: Under civilized norms of warfare, civilian deaths as a result of bombings etc. are seen as regrettable but unavoidable, while torture is seen as completely unacceptable. I'm happy to allow these norms to stay in place.

"Would you rather spend some time in pain or be dead" is not really a valid question. For one thing, some people have killed themselves to avoid torture. For another, the morality of an injurious act is not necessarily measured by the degree of its undesirability to the victim. If I had a choice between being kidnapped and repeatedly raped and beaten for two days, or being run over by a car and killed, I'm pretty sure I'd choose the former. That doesn't mean the rapist is morally superior to the reckless driver.

Revenant said...

Under civilized norms of warfare, civilian deaths as a result of bombings etc. are seen as regrettable but unavoidable, while torture is seen as completely unacceptable. I'm happy to allow these norms to stay in place.

That's an argumentum ad populum fallacy, though, not a moral argument against the use of torture. At one time the "civilized norm of warfare" was to kill any inconvenient prisoners of war you didn't feel like dealing with. At yet another time, the civilized norm was to fight in strict formation, not from trenches or from behind walls. We now recognize the former as morally wrong and the latter as a pointless (and harmful) adherence to tradition. In other words, history shows us that "civilized" and "moral" aren't synonyms.

I'm pretty sure I'd choose the former. That doesn't mean the rapist is morally superior to the reckless driver.

You're comparing a deliberate crime to an accidental crime, though. A person who knowingly harms an innocent may be worse than one who accidentally kills an innocent -- but is a person who accidentally harms an innocent also morally worse than a person who accidentally kills one?

Also, you say that we consider torture "completely unacceptable" and that you're happy to keep it that way. But unless I've misread your posts (which is entirely possible), you do tolerate the idea of torture in situations which, while perhaps highly unlikely, are nevertheless possible. If I read you correctly, aren't you tacitly acknowledging that torture is, at least hypothetically, sometimes the right thing to do?

htom said...

Torture is illegal, NOW. It says so in the US Code. Here, I'll quote it, save you the trouble of Googling; don't let that stop the argument, though!

TITLE 18 > PART I > CHAPTER 113C > § 2340A
§ 2340A. Torture
Release date: 2005-08-03

(a) Offense.— Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

(b) Jurisdiction.— There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a) if—
(1) the alleged offender is a national of the United States; or
(2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender.

(c) Conspiracy.— A person who conspires to commit an offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties (other than the penalty of death) as the penalties prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.

Cathy Young said...

Revenant: to be honest, at the moment I can say only that the notion of torturing an innocent person strikes me as infinitely more repulsive than killing an innocent person as "collateral damage" in a bombing. Perhaps it's the systematic, methodical nature of the act. Perhaps because while pain is preferable to death, torture degrades a human being and strips him/her of human dignity in a way that death does not. (By the way, I recall reading that in ancient Rome, Roman citizens could face the death penalty for a variety of crimes but were legally exempt from torture, which could be applied only to slaves and non-citizens.)

As for my position: I think that in wartime, we may sometimes be faced with the necessity of doing unacceptable things. I explained in my post why legalizing them is likely to make it worse.

Revenant said...

I think that in wartime, we may sometimes be faced with the necessity of doing unacceptable things. I explained in my post why legalizing them is likely to make it worse.

I agree that your concerns are legitimate. But I think you're less likely to find yourself on a slippery slope if you have fixed rules for the use of torture (or "aggressive interrogation") and punish interrogators who violate them, than you are if you have a tacit understanding that it is ok to violate the rules if it is "really important". Individual people often have wildly inflated ideas of what "really important" is.

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