Torture

by Kieran Healy on March 13, 2005

Two good posts on the continuing slide towards routinized and euphemized torture by the U.S., one at Body and Soul and one at Respectful of Otters. Jim Henley notes a couple of recent domestic crime cases where the obvious suspects turned out not to have done it, asking “Couldn’t we have tortured the “right” people into confessing to both these crimes?” (That real-estate arson last year in Maryland was in that category, too.) Meanwhile, Juan Non-Volokh might be trying to talk himself into it through the latest version of our old friend, the ticking bomb.

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03.15.05 at 11:53 am

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1

ASteele 03.14.05 at 12:07 am

Yes, they could of tortured out of him another urgent report that the administration would of ignored.

2

David Sucher 03.14.05 at 12:35 am

One problem with this (classic) scenario is that it assumes that the good guys have so much information as to have placed the bad guy in their clutches but lack just “one little fact more” to be able to locate the ticking bomb.
It’s a silly scenario.
The more likely scenario (bureaucracies being bureaucracies) is that we roundup a thousand people of the correct demographic and just start processing them on the likelihood that someone will make up a good story.

3

bad Jim 03.14.05 at 5:02 am

The latest edition of extraordinary rendition has less to do with techniques of interrogation (torture) than keeping detainees beyond the reach of our quaint notions of due process. It’s a habeus corpus shell game. Apparently we are so afraid of some people that we cannot allow them to come to justice.
It’s bad enough that we’ve beaten prisoners to death. There are others who have simply disappeared, and it looks like we’re becoming increasingly reliant upon unaccountable, summary methods. Why, if our cause is just, can’t our acts be permitted to see the light of day?

4

Mr. Paiyn 03.14.05 at 7:36 am

Common sense and history shows that the real players are in isolated cells and never have direct knowledge of other cells or even specifics of their own cell’s activites. The man who built the bomb would not know who the person was who placed it. The person who placed it would not know who developed target sites. In all reality, the one who placed the bomb would detonate it and go out in a blaze of glory, so he couldn’t be captured and the bomb defused. That and the fact that coercion elicits any response the victim thinks will end the pain, pretty much rules out this notion that it is a widespread practice in the so called war against terrorism. It is of course used in 3rd world countries to crush political resistance against a regime. The right to legal representation has relegated the rubber hose to the history bin in all Western nations.

5

abb1 03.14.05 at 7:50 am

No sense to fight this anymore, folks, just try to avoid being tortured yourselves.

6

Steve LaBonne 03.14.05 at 8:35 am

The fascinating and disturbing thing is that so many people, so far from being reluctanctly forced to support torture by the (basically nonexistent) evidence, seem actually to want to talk themselves into believing that torture is an effective tool. That says something unpleasant about the human psyche.

7

Matt McGrattan 03.14.05 at 9:12 am

Steve:
Yes, I think you’re right here. An awful lot of people seem to be stumbling over themselves to justify the practice.
These attempts at justification are also deeply hypocritical, as well as revealing, as the same individuals wouldn’t hesitate to use the allegation of torture as evidence for the ‘wickedness’ of others.

8

CKR 03.14.05 at 10:24 am

Would it have made sense to “render” Atta to a place where he could have been interrogated in a way that might have prevented Sept. 11? That’s not a simple question for me to answer, even as I share the conviction that torture is always and everywhere wrong.

This assumes that it was known that Atta had something dreadful in mind. The state of intelligence on September 9, 2001 was such that, while it could have been anticipated that al-Qaeda had something in mind, it was not clear that Atta was the keystone person.
It also assumes that torture would in fact produce “the truth” instead of what Atta thought his questioners would be satisfied with, and that he knew the full details of the plan.
Quite a few assumptions.

9

John Isbell 03.14.05 at 10:24 am

There is a comity of civilized nations. We’re on its edges.

10

Katherine 03.14.05 at 10:54 am

THe most charitable reading of Ignatius and Juan non-Volokh is that trying to say that you’d want Atta to be arrested and interrogated, not tortured, and rendition might’ve been the only way.
But that’s bullsh*t of course. He could’ve been held on immigration charges–he’d been out of status for a while, overstayed a tourist visa. Also, while I couldn’t quote chapter and verse from the INS regulations on this, I’m also pretty fucking sure that even if he hadn’t been out of status, you can revoke someone’s student visa for plotting a terrorist attack.

11

Elliott Oti 03.14.05 at 11:11 am

With all this torture and extraordinary rendition taking place, there must have been an extraordinary number of nuclear attacks defused the past couple of years.

12

Thomas 03.14.05 at 12:08 pm

Katherine–That’s a bit much, isn’t it? I mean, if Atta had been held on immigration charges, all of the current administration’s political opponents would have opposed that detention, wouldn’t they?
Steve–I confess that I don’t know whether torture ‘works’ or not. But it seems to me that opponents’ assertions that it doesn’t are vulnerable to the same charge–that they’re assuming it doesn’t work to avoid the harder question of what to do assuming it does work.

13

Andrew Reeves 03.14.05 at 12:14 pm

I think that a huge problem behind the American reactions to the torture business has been the way it appears in action movies. After all, in action movies, we know who the Bad People are, but they are Gettng Away With It, smirking at the cops who are hamstrung by all kinds of pansy rules that let crack dealers et al roam free. You spend enough time watching movies and TV shows with such premises, and at some level you start to internalize them.
Imagine if you had more blockbuster action movies in which the tough, streetwise cop realizes he needs to crack a few skulls and instead winds up beating the shit out of and killing a man who is perfectly innocent. Even Vietnam movies which supposedly flaunt their gritty moral ambiguity usually have the subtext of, “You can’t moralize about what goes on with the troops if you weren’t there.”

14

Elliott Oti 03.14.05 at 12:33 pm

But it seems to me that opponents’ assertions that it doesn’t are vulnerable to the same charge—that they’re assuming it doesn’t work to avoid the harder question of what to do assuming it does work
It is astounding how discussions of torture revolve round hypotheticals (‘ticking nukes’) which have absolutely nothing to do with the numerous, readily-available, non-hypothetical actual cases of torture happening at this very moment.

15

Matt 03.14.05 at 12:41 pm

Thomas,
Rest assured that people are held on immigration charges all the time- and not just immediately after sept. 11th. When you are picked up on immigration charges you can be detained until a hearing is granted, and detained afterwards until you are deported. This happens fairly regularly with anyone who is thought to be a threat to the safety of the community, and often with people seen to be flight risks. So, it would have been both possible and unexceptional to detain Atta on immigration charges if there was reason to think he was a threat. The idea that rendition was the only option is, as Katherine points out, a smoke-screen at best. And surely you exadurate when you say “all of the adminstration’s opponents” would have been opposed to holding Atta on immigration charges. I, for example, am an opponent to this administration, and think that if we had legitimate reason to suspect Atta was involved in a terrorist plot (I don’t know if we did or not), and he was in violation of his visa status (which I guess he was), that it would be perfectly right and reasonable to hold him on immigration charges.

16

Elliott Oti 03.14.05 at 12:44 pm

That’s a bit much, isn’t it? I mean, if Atta had been held on immigration charges, all of the current administration’s political opponents would have opposed that detention, wouldn’t they?
Is this supposed to be a coherent argument for torturing Atta instead? “The outcry over Atta’s detention was such that the government was forced to torture him, in order to appease the critics”.

17

Ginger Yellow 03.14.05 at 12:55 pm

“But it seems to me that opponents’ assertions that it doesn’t are vulnerable to the same charge—that they’re assuming it doesn’t work to avoid the harder question of what to do assuming it does work.”
We’re not assuming anything. The FBI memos obtained by the ACLU make it quite clear the agents thought that a) there was torture going on at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and b) they didn’t think it was effective. This is on top of countless quotes from interrogators, US, Israeli and others, about how effective interrogation is based on building trust, not bludgeoning someone into submission physically and mentally.
There’s a strange and telling double standard at play with the torture apologists who go on about the ticking nuke, which is a corollary of the one mentioned by Elliot Oti. We’re supposed to suspend all norms of decent and humane behaviour to allow for this unrealistic hypothetical, but we’re supposed to ignore the very real fact that torturing innocent people makes a ticking nuke scenario more likely.

18

Steve LaBonne 03.14.05 at 1:00 pm

Thomas, both common sense and analysis of historical examples seem to suggest that a torture victim will simply say whatever s/he thinks the interrogator wants to hear. This, combined with other considerations broached in this thread (such as the unlikelihood of any one individual, who is part of a cellularly-organized terrorist group, knowing full details of a plot), suggest that torture proponents would have a heck of a lot of work to do to even begin to mount a serious moral defense of torture on the grounds of necessity. Given that, the paucity of empirical support for their position is pretty striking. Everything that I know of points to the truth of the proposition that torture is a great tool for intimidation, but quite lousy for gathering accurate information. A government that makes use of torture is, to the extent that it does so, simply reducing itself to the moral level of a nasty dictatorship.

19

Matt McGrattan 03.14.05 at 1:01 pm

“But it seems to me that opponents’ assertions that it doesn’t are vulnerable to the same charge—that they’re assuming it doesn’t work to avoid the harder question of what to do assuming it does work.”
There’s no need to avoid the ‘harder’ question. Torture is wrong. Countries that practice torture ought to be treated as international pariahs, people who believe that torture is OK ought to be shunned. That is all.

20

Anderson 03.14.05 at 2:05 pm

Torture is wrong. Countries that practice torture ought to be treated as international pariahs, people who believe that torture is OK ought to be shunned. That is all.
Maybe the Single Most Telling Thing about America’s adventures in torture is that Matt’s response is not the automatic reaction of 98% of the American population, or of the Republican Party.
Instead, we get all these utilitarian arguments, would you torture Saddam Hussein to save a busload of 11-year-old schoolgirls, etc.
The principle that “there are some things you just don’t do, even if it’s to your advantage to do them” has evidently become an absurd notion to America. Maybe it always has been. But I don’t really see how there can be such a thing as “morality” if that principle’s excluded.

21

Uncle Kvetch 03.14.05 at 2:12 pm

Anderson: ‘The principle that “there are some things you just don’t do, even if it’s to your advantage to do them” has evidently become an absurd notion to America.’
And to compound the irony, bear in mind that those who oppose torture unequivocally are often the ones most frequently tarred with the brush of “moral relativism” when it comes to any hot-button social issue.

22

Steve LaBonne 03.14.05 at 2:42 pm

Sorry, I’m not willing to go _quite_ that far. If 1) the ticking-nuke scenario came true and 2) there existed good reasons to think that torture or some other normally prohibited practice might avert the catastrophe, I would say “go for it”. It’s just that in the real world, as opposed to the movies or TV, that set of circumetances is vanishingly unlikely to arise. Which of course is also why the ticking-nuke scenario is so drastically irrelevant to discussion of what he Bushies are actually doing.

23

Thomas 03.14.05 at 3:34 pm

I guess I should be clear: I oppose torture, in every case. But, then, I’m not a utilitarian. (Being a utilitarian isn’t the same thing as being a relativist.) (And I should say that I expect I disagree with many on what “torture” means in application, but that there’s disagreement at the edges doesn’t mean there’s not substantial agreement on core cases.)
I’m wondering how we’re so sure that torture doesn’t work. See, for example, the “Dark Art of Interrogation” article in the Atlantic Monthly (October ’03)(at least that’s my recollection of it–it’s been awhile). And consider respecting the rationality of those who torture, whether they’re engaged in a moral wrong or not. I assume they’ve tried less troubling modes of interrogation and found them wanting; further, I expect that there is a feedback effect of sorts at work in the present controversy–that torture does work, to an extent, and that brings more torture, to get the desired results.

24

jet 03.14.05 at 3:44 pm

Anderson you state that
The principle that “there are some things you just don’t do, even if it’s to your advantage to do them” has evidently become an absurd notion to America.
But I’m not sure that that is a fully ethical position. It is unethical to forgoe a small injustice that would have prevented a larger injustice. Society condones murder if that murder serves a purpose, like preventing even more murders. Yet you would advocate that condoning toture, if that torture could prevent murder, is unethical. So society shouldn’t condone torture if there is a high probability that the torture will prevent murder in the future? We allow police to murder escaping suspects if their is a high probability they will murder in the future. What’s the difference?
It appears to me that torture is perfectly reasonable in the right circumstances. So the debate should be on what are the right circumstances.

25

abb1 03.14.05 at 3:57 pm

“So the debate should be on what are the right circumstances.”
The right circumstance is when you can find a judge who will issue a lawful torture warrant and under-the-fingernails needles have been properly sterilized.

26

jet 03.14.05 at 4:21 pm

Abb1,
If there was so much time for a judge to issue a warrant it would appear that torture would be of little value and a gross injustice. But I guess that’s your opinion, which remains of the same quality of crazy as usual.
I on the other hand would go with the real life example that makes sense. If a US patrol comes upon an unlawful combatant laying bombs in front of schools, it would seem, at least at first glance, ethical to torture him for the other schools he had mined, and the areas his friends were mining. This is information which should be easily verified so that undue torture (what a phrase, “undue torture”) isn’t administered.
Since, in my scenario, the cost of a seperate bomb going off is so high, and likely enough to present a reality, the torture of one individual caught in the act would be the lesser of the unethical choices. The least ethical choice would be to not torture the unlawful combatant and allow for the possibility that Iraqi school children will be bombed (as they have in the past).
You just can’t allow innocent school kids to be bombed because you don’t want to dirty your soul with the screams of their bomber.

27

abb1 03.14.05 at 4:24 pm

Right. It’s for the children.

28

jet 03.14.05 at 4:36 pm

Abb1,
But it is a real enough scenario. And in my case the torture is justified. Which is my point that in some cases torture is justified. So the real arguement should be when you replace the word “children” with “US Soldier”, “Iraqi Police”, or “innocents at the market” does the same hold true? I don’t know the answers to those, but I do know that those questions should be the debate.
Argueing that torture is never justfied is unethical in the extreme. Argueing that torture is rarely justified is obvious. Hammering out an ethical line of when and when not it is justified is just too scary for those on the left.
So we are left with Bush doing what he thinks is right and those apposing him taking a line easily argued against (All Rush has to do is bring up the Captain who fired his pistol near the ear of a captured roadside bomber and got a full admission of where many more bombs were). Which puts us with no balance to what Bush thinks is right.

29

mpowell 03.14.05 at 5:18 pm

Based on prior observation of this site, I’d better come out and say that I think that what the Bush administration has done on this issue is wrong. Intentionally or not, their memos created an atmosphere where a lot of stupid and immoral things were done.
That being said, their is no clear cut line of what torture is. This is obvious to any reasonable person. If you keep someone seated a table while asking him questions, this is obviously not torture. But what if the room is a little warm or a little cold? What if you keep him there for a long time? What is a long time? 3 hours? 6 hours? 1 day? What if you threaten him w/ violence during that time? What if you expose him to loud, annoying music? How about barking dogs? What if you make him sit nude, so as to humiliate him? These things range from obviously not torture to probably torture. I feel like most of the discussion on this issue is pretty silly b/c it treats torture like an open or shut case. How can you say torture is always clearly wrong when it is not clear what actually constitutes torture? Is it anything that makes the person you are interrogating uncomfortable? This standard does not square w/ the policy of detaining people at all, so I can’t accept it as a reasonable starting point.
Basically, since torture comes in different shades, I don’t see how the discussion can’t. I also want to point out that when Juan non-Volokh wrote that Atta couldn’t have been held before 9-11 he wrote that people who worked for the CIA and FBI had made that claim. If you distrust his motives or dislike his example, fine- but part of his point is legitimate: it is possible for the CIA or FBI to strongly suspect a foreign national of being involved in a terrorist plot w/o having sufficient evidence to have them lawfully detained by a US court. Of course, this is how it should be. And since I believe in the presumption of innocence, I think its a bad idea to violate the rights of foreign nationals by rending them to 3rd world countries. This is where the argument should lay. Not over some petty disagreement of whether Atta could or could not have been arrested and detained in the US prior to 9-11.

30

Anderson 03.14.05 at 5:59 pm

[Tried to post this before, but there was a glitch; if it double posts, mea culpa.]
(1) Jet appears to conflate law with morality; but the former by its nature is obliged to be practical, the latter’s reason for being is the assumption that practicality ain’t everything.
The classic statement is Dostoevsky’s, which has been cited on many blogs in this context. You can secure lasting peace and justice for the world, just by torturing a small child. Do you? That is the difference between morality and expedience.
(2) Thomas, it’s said that the Army’s own interrogation manuals (written presumably by its better interrogators) reject torture on pragmatic grounds, including the “tell-them-what-they-want-to-hear-so-the-pain-stops” problem. Haven’t read them myself, so anyone who can contradict me, please do.
(3) Spaces between paragraphs would be pleasant, wouldn’t they?

31

Donald Johnson 03.14.05 at 7:03 pm

What’s annoying about these ticking time bomb scenarios is that in the real world, people who start using torture generally aren’t cold-blooded rational utility-maximizers (which might be a little terrifying in itself), but people who invariably end up torturing innocent people, including children who might go to those schools Jet wants to save.
So yeah, if someone uses torture in some extreme situation, they should be put on trial for it. And if I’m on the jury I’ll take their good intentions into account when recommending a sentence after I’ve voted to find them guilty.

32

kasei 03.14.05 at 7:21 pm

Jet, you said “Society condones murder if that murder serves a purpose, like preventing even more murders.”
Generally, most societies tend not to support this line – leaving aside the morality here – because there is no way of really knowing if such killing will really save lives in the future. This is not too dissimilar from the Iraq war: there was a “threat” that Iraq might have posed in the future, therefore (IMO unjustifiable) means were used to deal with the “threat” in the present.
And this is the real point of the torture debate – we have no way of knowing what will happen, but we are aware of what we are doing. So a guess about the future justifies an unpleasant reality in the present? Not an argument I find convincing.
A second point to make is the legal status of this – the moment the legal system concedes torture is acceptable in limited circumstances, the precedent becomes available for widespread abuse of detainees and you can be sure the circumstances it is ‘justified’ under will be widened drastically.

33

jet 03.14.05 at 8:22 pm

Kasei,
Most societies allow for murder all the time. If someone breaks into your house and appears to be a threat, you can kill them. Some US states allow that the mere presence in your house represents enough threat for deadly force. I would take for granted that most societies allow for some type of deadly force against a person before that person actually uses deadly force themselves. If you don’t believe me, point an empty gun at a state highway patrol officer on a Saturday morning at 2:30am (don’t really do this, it would be extremely dangerous).
And your point that “A second point to make is the legal status of this – the moment the legal system concedes torture is acceptable in limited circumstances, the precedent becomes available for widespread abuse of detainees and you can be sure the circumstances it is ‘justified’ under will be widened drastically.” doesn’t make sense. The state allows citizens to murder other citizens and that hasn’t turned into a slippery slope of condoned shootings for fender benders. Somehow we managed to allow citizens to take the law into their own hands in extreme cases and that has worked out well with few ambiguous cases.
Attacking torture because it is impractical to implement and oversee is a much more valid argument than torture is never necessary. But there are many cases where torture has saved lives.
And eschewing torture because it is so “dirty” seems an awful lot like Chamberlain in 1938 talking about his peace being better than war. Sometimes a bad choice is the best.

34

Walt Pohl 03.14.05 at 10:29 pm

Jet, your logic is the logic of a coward. Sometimes doing the right thing means that you might die, and some things are wrong, even in war. If during World War II we invented a virus that would kill every German (but no one else), we would have been wrong to use it, even though it would have ended the war almost immediately.
It’s eerie how suddenly the government, the same government that apparently can’t be trusted to run our health care or our retirement pensions, can be trusted to distinguish the guilty from the innocent, and to only torture the guilty. It only takes a little fear to turn many libertarians into believers of big government at its worst.

35

Ginger Yellow 03.15.05 at 5:25 am

“If you distrust his motives or dislike his example, fine- but part of his point is legitimate: it is possible for the CIA or FBI to strongly suspect a foreign national of being involved in a terrorist plot w/o have them lawfully detained by a US court.”
So what you’re saying (or what Juan non-Volokh is saying, if you prefer) is that it is right there should be a lower standard of proof for torture than for detention. Forgive me if I disagree.

36

jet 03.15.05 at 8:32 am

Walt Pohl,
Logic of a coward? So, you are trying to make a counter-argument and you start with that. Let me tell you, I’m deeply impressed. Absolutely brilliant opening line. But all joking aside, you need to get a grip. If you can’t have a calm rational discussion about torture, then what can you have a calm rational discussion about (and yes for those dry humorless souls who haunt this place, that was tongue in cheek)?
And what the hell are you talking about? We trust our government with far worse than torture every day. Or did you think it was some grand jury deciding where those bombs fell at night? But I can think of a quick and dirty way to implement torture. Give it immediate Senate oversight. Make each case has to go before a JAG criminal investigation. Give some hard, detailed, rules on when it is okay. Make the officers criminally accountable. Only allow military officers the ability to make the decision (no CIA). And make each case’s details public after one year. That should limit the cases to only the extremes that most people would agree with, ie, almost never. But since that is the only way I’d agree with torture, it is obviously better to ban it as impractical.
On a separate note, Dostoevsky must have been too deep into the fire water. The most ethical choice is to kill the small child. Dostoevsky was interesting (I’ve read most of his stuff, but have not studied him), but he didn’t reduce the decision to its most simple form ie, it is a choice to kill one or a choice to kill millions, there was no third choice.

37

Matt 03.15.05 at 9:19 am

Jet,
Perhaps this is a pedantic point, but the cases you cite above to indicate the “most societies allow murder” are not, in fact, murder in either a legal or a moral description. Murder is the unjustified killing of a human being, but the cases you described above are, at least arguably, not unjustified. If not, they are not murder.

38

Anderson 03.15.05 at 11:18 am

Jet: “On a separate note, Dostoevsky must have been too deep into the fire water. The most ethical choice is to kill [sic; torture] the small child.”
“Ethical”? I don’t think that word means what you think it means. Got any kids, Jet?
Not to come down on Jet; Jeremy Bentham, presumably, would’ve made the same pick. Which is why most of us aren’t really utilitarians all the way down.

39

abb1 03.15.05 at 11:44 am

Torture is an essential tool for defending ourselves against barbarity and savagery.

40

Katherine 03.15.05 at 12:00 pm

On the Dostoyevsky thing, I wrote this a month or two ago:
“Terrorism and torture and certainly war in an unjust cause, are worse than terrorism and torture and war in a just cause. But the ends and means cannot be so neatly separated.
The thing is, everyone always claims that their ends are just. One of the best ways to determine whether their stated ends are honest, or whether their stated ends will really be achieved, is to look at their means.
If you abstract it out enough, bin Laden and Torquemada and Martin Luther King and Rabbi Hillel and a Quaker hiding a fugitive slave in her basement all shared an ultimate end: serving the will of God on earth. But bin Laden proposes to get there by means of the slaughter and, if the Taliban is any indication, enslavement of innocents, and Torquemada wanted to get there by the torture of Jews and heretics, and King and Hillel had very different means. It is by looking at their means, that we judge whether they are really serving God or the devil. (or what is best or worst in man.)
That’s perhaps too extreme an example. Here’s another one: Yasser Arafat’s cheerful willingness to see Israeli teenagers blown up in coffee shops cast doubt on his claim that his desired end was a two-state solution and not the destruction of Israel.
I would actually argue that in evaluating self-described liberation movements throughout human history, the means chosen are a better predictor of what happens than the stated ends. I think it’s pretty clear that an Irish Catholic in 1917, a Russian peasant under the tsar, just about every African in the 1950s, a black citizen of Ian Smith’s Rhodesia, a Palestinian today–they all probably had stronger grievances than the colonists did in 1775. I mean really, tea and stamp taxes? They have a point about “No taxation without representation”, but that’s the slogan on the D.C. license plates. The Boston Massacre was four people–it’s more on the scale of Kent State than the Potato Famine.
And yet, things turned out very well here. They were worse in Ireland, and incomparably worse in the U.S.S.R, and really just about the entire continent of Africa. Look at Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, and look at Mandela’s South Africa. And do you realize how unbelievably lucky we were, black and white alike, to have the civil rights movement led for so long by a man like King? It’s not that the stated ends don’t matter. Of course they matter. But the means predict the actual ends far better than the stated ends do.
This isn’t an original insight of mine, either. You can find it in novels from 1984:

(‘You are prepared to commit murder?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘To commit acts of sabotage which may cause the death of hundreds of innocent people?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘To betray your country to foreign powers?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘You are prepared to cheat, to forge, to blackmail, to corrupt the minds of children, to distribute habit-forming drugs, to encourage prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases — to do anything which is likely to cause demoralization and weaken the power of the Party?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘If, for example, it would somehow serve our interests to throw sulphuric acid in a child’s face — are you prepared to do that?’ ‘Yes.’)

to The Brothers Karamazov:

(That’s rebellion,” murmered Alyosha, looking down. “Rebellion? I am sorry you call it that,” said Ivan earnestly. “One can hardly live in rebellion, and I want to live. Tell me yourself, I challenge your answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature- that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance- and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.”
“No, I wouldn’t consent,” said Alyosha softly.
“And can you admit the idea that men for whom you are building it would agree to accept their happiness on the foundation of the unexpiated blood of a little victim? And accepting it would remain happy for ever?”
“No, I can’t admit it….)

to Lord of the Rings (too many examples to quote one. It’s 1/3 of the damn plot, or more: the Ring cannot be used to do good, even for the wisest person or the strongest person or the person with the best intentions. “That is where it would begin, but it would not end there, alas!” Or words to that effect.)
Alyosha’s answer is the right answer, and Winston’s is the wrong answer, even if you’re a pure utilitiarian. If someone tells you that the way to achieve human happiness or liberation or God’s will is to torture an innocent child to death–whether it’s a voice claiming to be God, or the party leader, or the leader of the resistance, or anyone else–they’re almost certainly lying, whether deliberately (as in 1984) or not.”

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mpowell 03.15.05 at 1:46 pm

Ginger Yellow- this is what I am talking about w/ respect to a knee jerk reaction to even the bare discussion of the issue. The statement that I made that you quote is obviously true, but it does not imply a subsequent course of policy. And in my original posting I followed that quote with: “Of course, this is how it should be”. Making clear my position on the issue- that people should not be arrested w/o adequate evidence, even foreign nationals. I can only speak for what Juan non-Volokh has said, not what else he might think. My take is that his position is consistent w/ the claim that foreign nationals have a reduced set of rights in the United States and that national security justifies the occasional rendition of a foreign national.
Now I disagree w/ this position and I think you can make a counter-argument w/o ad-hominen attacks or cruel innuendos. I think there ought to be a discussion of what the boundaries of torture encompass and how we should regulate and administer different agencies (CIA, military, FBI, police) to insure that the appropriate boundaries are not crossed. But a productive discussion requires somewhat less grandstanding than is typical for this issue.

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Ginger Yellow 03.15.05 at 2:11 pm

I agree a rational discussion is possible and desirable. But we’ve already had it. And the conclusion that pretty much the entire world came to is that torture is never, ever justified as policy. To the extent that countries are able, indeed legally obliged, to exert universal jurisdiction over acts of torture. The boundaries of torture are laid out in the convention on torture, signed decades ago and ratified by the US a decade ago. The problem with torture is that boundaries are always, always crossed. Torture is by its very nature extremely vulnerable to the slippery slope, on both a personal and a political level.

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Doug K 03.15.05 at 3:33 pm

katherine observed: “If someone tells you that the way to achieve human happiness or liberation or God’s will is to torture an innocent child to death—whether it’s a voice claiming to be God, or the party leader, or the leader of the resistance, or anyone else—they’re almost certainly lying”.
God instructed Abraham to sacrifice his son. Of course the sacrifice was not consummated, but it was nonetheless ordered. If you’re a sufficiently loony fundamentalist Christian, then there is scriptural justification for child sacrifice. To go from child sacrifice to torture is not a difficult step. Just saying..
Thomas: On a merely pragmatic note, I worked in military intelligence for several years, and it is well known that torture does not work. Someone who’s being tortured will tell you anything you want to hear. This information is actually counterproductive, since intelligence then has to waste time investigating false leads. Torture is about revenge and punishment, not intelligence.
As a (conscripted) military man, I’d also note that using torture has as a side effect that of endangering serving military. If they should be captured, we have no moral right to demand that the Geneva Convention be obeyed for them.
The nightmares I had when living in the apartheid state are now back: sometimes I am torturing, sometime tortured. Evil is being done in my name. This is not what I signed up for when I took the oath of allegiance.
The Medium Lobster of course is on top of this:
http://fafblog.blogspot.com/2005_03_13_fafblog_archive.html#111083623740001599
“For every bomb plot foiled by cleverly sodomizing a prisoner with a chemical light, there surely must be a dozen more dirty bombs and anthrax attacks waiting in the wings. The forces of freedom need more boots on the ground, and they need those boots to be kicking emaciated prisoners in the groin.”

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