Comments: My Torture Memo

A bit long, but well written. makes the point very well which I've believed for some time.

To wit:
If, in fact, torture WOULD benefit national security/safety/lives, then have at it.

However, torture remains illegal, so if you must torture, then be prepared to pay consequences.

Posted by Xboxershorts at May 7, 2009 01:14 PM

This is the kind of reasoning that leads people to do really fucking stupid things like go to comic book movies or vote for democrats. Torture (in your make believe fantasy situation) is "heroic." Really? Gutlessly, cowardly, cravenly choosing the lesser evil is heroic? No shit?

Really, this black/white - on/off - one/zero only bullshit is getting really fucking thick. Wake the fuck up already. There are ALWAYS more than two options and torture should NEVER BE ONE OF THEM.

Jazuz Fucking Christ On A Pogo Stick but dualism sucks.

Posted by AlanSmithee at May 7, 2009 02:03 PM

"Gestapo torturing was highly effective in dismantling resistance cells all across Europe."

While I agree with the thrust of your point Bernard, I think its prudent to note that Darius Rejali thoroughly rejects claims of Gestapo torture effectiveness. In writing about 5 Torture Myths a few years back he stated:

---
1 Torture worked for the Gestapo.

Actually, no. Even Hitler's notorious secret police got most of their information from public tips, informers and interagency cooperation. That was still more than enough to let the Gestapo decimate anti-Nazi resistance in Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, France, Russia and the concentration camps.

Yes, the Gestapo did torture people for intelligence, especially in later years. But this reflected not torture's efficacy but the loss of many seasoned professionals to World War II, increasingly desperate competition for intelligence among Gestapo units and an influx of less disciplined younger members. (Why do serious, tedious police work when you have a uniform and a whip?) It's surprising how unsuccessful the Gestapo's brutal efforts were. They failed to break senior leaders of the French, Danish, Polish and German resistance. I've spent more than a decade collecting all the cases of Gestapo torture "successes" in multiple languages; the number is small and the results pathetic, especially compared with the devastating effects of public cooperation and informers.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/13/AR2007121301303.html

Posted by BenP at May 7, 2009 02:04 PM

Normally I enjoy reading your stuff Bernard, but Point 2 is just confusing and smells a bit like a straw-man. I think you can do a better job of offering a stereotypical situation that torture-fans love to raise in justification of torture.

For example, I'd say that torture would be argued as "required" for the "dancing Arabs" (read: MOSSAD agents) in NYC on 9/11/2001, because their "dancing" proved they supported the events of that day, and therefore their support must be rooted in knowledge of who is guilty. Hence, they must be tortured to find out who was guilty.

Of course the "dancing Arabs" were MOSSAD plants so the torture of those MOSSAD goons would have to be done by Shin Bet goons for parity's sake.

Posted by blue ox babe at May 7, 2009 03:41 PM

Bernard, this "need to punish" sentiment in the later paragraphs seems remarkably out of character for you.

Posted by ethan at May 7, 2009 04:11 PM

...and I meant to add, to make my comment less entirely weaselly, that I find myself unable to agree with that sentiment, no matter how sound I find (most of) the rest of your reasoning.

Posted by ethan at May 7, 2009 04:14 PM

AlanSmithee: Yes, choosing the lesser evil and be willing to serve a long prison sentence for it is heroic in the homeric sense of the term. It's not a matter of opinion but semantics.

BenP: But doesn't Rejali's piece precisely prove my point? His research reports a small (but nonzero) number of torture successes. So he agrees with me on both counts: Torture is mostly ineffective but sometimes it works. (His graf header contradicts his own text, but WaPo editors wouldn't be bothered by that, would they?)

ethan: Yes completely out of character for me. You're right. But I am caught in a dilemma. I cannot argue both that torture is the worst evil on the face of the earth AND that torturers should be treated extra leniently. Shouldn't my taste for leniency extend for crimes less vile than torture. Which by my reasoning would include would just about any crime.

Put it differently. When Obama says he wants to move forward and not pursue prosecutions for torturers but he is unwilling to extend the same leniency for say drug dealers, then he is de facto saying that, in the interest of the state, drug dealing is more evil than torture. I can't accept that.

Now if you can find a way for society to enshrine its rejection of torture in a way that is consistent with a lenient system of justice, then I might change my mind. Maybe I haven't given it enough thought.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 7, 2009 04:39 PM

i think all that is more or less spot on, but i actually don't think it's all that useful to argue about the Dershowitz ticking bomb or similar questions outside the national security context. the real problem lies deeper.

of course we don't have to make torture legal across the board to make it permitted in some unusual circumstance. the law can easily make exceptions for unusual or unique situations--that's routine. when guys as smart as dershowitz repetitively say dumb things, something more is going on

I don't think most people think what Dershowitz says about torture is really so intelligent--they're just not going to second guess their own country, i.e. "the good guys", without feeling certain that they're right. and they don't know enough to feel certain and never will. That's a big problem, and it underscores why the government's position matters. If the government says torture is wrong, period, most people will probably take that position too. If the government tells people we need, for national security reasons, to give people a dose of sensory deprivation and scramble their brains,a lot of people will unfortunately go for that too (at least if we don't gouge their eyes out or do anything really gross).

Here's the deeper problem. i think the neocons, for lack of a better word for that group of ex cold warriors, didn't and don't want guantanamo and agu ghraib and torture in general primarily because they think torture and brutality are effective. in fact, i'd say it probably has little or nothing to do with torture getting results. Sure torture can get results, but it looks pretty clear to me that we're not all that concerned about that. Just try to make a list of what great useful info they've gotten from waterboarding ANYONE. It's all so important that it's classified. The various members of the Cheney family likes to yammer with impressive seriousness about how much has been accomplished, but we have to trust them, because they can't tell us any details. hmmmm.

So what does torture accomplish? Well, what did the Moscow show trials accomplish? What did opening Dachau in 1933 accomplish? What did it accomplish to disappear people in El Salvador in the 80s or Buenos Aires in the 70s? etc. etc. etc. What do these things ever accomplish?

Cheney openly and publicly bragged back around 2005 that we were going to employ "the Salvadorean option" in Iraq, and then we promptly got to see what that was, though very few people were willing to put two and two together. If you rip a society apart with violence without any conscience at all, it can be possible to reimpose order on different terms. the nazis were in fact extremely good at that. For example, few people want to hang around with collaborators or freedom fighters when that will mean the execution of their entire town. (see lidice and rudolph heydrich at wikipedia or elsewhere for details) Fascism as a term has been discredited, the practices not so much. In the united states, everyone has to some extent to pretend to believe in democracy and human rights and the rule of law, but it's often obviously empty rhetoric (see freedom is on the march)

All this blood lust, including for torture, are about strength, and in particular national strength. We can make all the five-pronged arguments we want and argue about ticking time bombs all we want, but that will never settle the issue. Sebastian Haffner's cogent memoir Defying Hitler provides a very clear historical examination of why.

Another aspect of Haffner's book that makes it worthwhile: The rule of law and democracy are more tenuous than we might think. When push comes to shove, not so many people are willing to die for them. A lot more people are unfortunately willing to kill somebody else just because someone told them to. And huge numbers of people, including virtually all politicians, will remain complacent in the face of even the most outrageous horrors. they will, in fact, not even acknowledge anything that is risky to acknowledge. There seem to be a lot of ostrich genes in homo sapiens sapiens, which i think geneticists really should take a look at.

So if i have any correction to this very fine post, it would be that "torture is evil, period." And people better be ready and willing to fight evil with some backbone, because it's ready and willing to fight them.

Posted by Not Exactly at May 7, 2009 05:00 PM

You can go to jail for pouring blood on a nuclear missile silo, protesting at a political convention, or disrupting a Senate hearing on health care - all heroic actions, ethical, and moral. These examples are in line with Thoreau's _On Civil Disobedience_. Bernard's point is the same, I think. Let the torturers pay the same price for believing in their actions that the nuns pay.

Is bird flocking related to particle swarm optimization? Or is it just the time of year when it's fun to look at birds in New Jersey? How many birds died to get you this information?

Posted by Aaron Datesman at May 7, 2009 05:01 PM

Bull-fucking-shit. Going to jail because you're an incompetent fuck is not heroic. Torture is the tool of incompetents, moral cretins, psychopaths and record industry executives. People who torture are cowardly assholes who should be dragged into prison for the rest of their fucking lives and people who condone torture should be dragged out into the street and beaten with crowbars.

Posted by AlanSmithee at May 7, 2009 05:55 PM

You're alternative to Chazelle's scenario Alan?

Posted by Nikolay Levin at May 7, 2009 06:12 PM

Every case is different, so the alternatives are different, so don't give me that condescending smug helpless little pwoggie-bloggie copout. Lesser Evil = Evil = Fuck Off.

Posted by AlanSmithee at May 7, 2009 06:34 PM

Alan - what is the difference between being beaten with a crowbar & torture?

BenP - I would guess that part of the efficacy of torture to the Gestapo was that its very existence terrified others into public denouncements of resistance members. Torture creates a climate of fear & acquiescence which helps regimes like the Gestapo stay in power.

Posted by erik at May 7, 2009 07:17 PM

Not Exactly: I am not exactly sure where I disagree with you. Do I? Maybe not. "Torture is evil. Period" works for me. But if people ask me if it's some kind of axiom I read in a holy book, I'll say no: I read it deep in myself.

The other point you make is different and worth its own thread. If I understand you correctly, you're saying that the Bush-Cheney torture promotion was all part of affirming, projecting strength, sapping democracy, etc. I agree.

AlanSmithee: I can't tell if you're just here to rant or if you're trying to say something. The heavy use of words like fuck and pwoggie is fun, but it does not clarify matters much. I honestly don't understand what you're trying to say. I don't mind if you disagree with me, but your comments suggest you didn't understand what I wrote.

The situation has nothing to do with incompetence, nothing to do with being a cretin, and nothing to do with cowardice. Why do you even bring these things up? You say it's evil. Well, so do I. You write the equation "Evil = Fuck off." Sorry, but I need a translation.

Aaron: particle swarm. Exactly! I would not hurt a bird in a million years. They're the most amazing animals on the planet.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 7, 2009 07:27 PM

To those who state that torture "never" works or is merely a tool for cowards, consider the need,as outlined in the OLC memos, to extract a veneer of legitimacy for the pending invasion of Iraq.

The torture, it seems, was not pursued to extract specifically truthful information, but was needed to extract and probably record, an admission of collusion between Iraq and Al Queada. In spite of the fact that no link existed between the two, it was the agenda of our torturers, in this case, to have a record of admission by an "enemy" that this link existed.

Actionable intelligence in pursuit of an agenda.

In this instance, Cheney is being factual, yes, torture worked. The information extracted did, in fact, provide legal (tenuous, I know) justification for that which, otherwise, was unjustifiable.

It was also, cowardly and evil. Yes. As well as, sadly, not an isolated incident in American history.

Posted by Xboxershorts at May 7, 2009 09:07 PM

Playing an association game with the bird flocks, I immediately thought of the part of Goedel, Escher, Bach where Hofstadter talks about ant colonies and how their movements are a personal (to the ants) form of communication, and not just between individuals but between groups. Group consciousness that would be.

Then I thought about how people think you're stupid if you say trees communicate with you; but hey: waving leaves = its windy yo; droopy leaves = parched yo. Never claimed that it was iambic pentameter they use.

Also, looking at leaves is much more stimulating than reading emotional rebuttals to a logically sound article. I mean:
Jazuz Fucking Christ On A Pogo Stick but dualism sucks.

And then you go paint it as black and white as you possibly could. And just to throw a monkey wrench in whatever mocking rebuttal you just came up with, how about self torture? Should I be beaten with a crowbar for advocating a little self torture now and again?

(I said self torture not self abuse you perverts)

Posted by tim at May 7, 2009 10:32 PM

I disagree with your assessment of point 2, because it includes an assumption that torture is a good way to get information - and that the information thus obtained is, as such, good information.

Let’s unpack that scenario: the criminal has tried to harm the child and was caught – with the harm continuing automatically, without his supervision.

There are two possibilities: either the criminal wants the child to be harmed MORE or LESS than he wants to bargain for leniency. His original plan was to escape, obviously, but that plan was foiled, so we’re in plan B territory, here.

If the criminal wants the child to be harmed MORE than he wants leniency, his information will be tainted or flat-out wrong, because the harm continues automatically. In other words, he can easily buy time in which the clock ticks on. Torture would yield lots of inaccurate clues.

If the criminal desires the child’s harm LESS than leniency in his own case, torture is unnecessary – he’ll give information faster and better as part of a bargaining process. So torture would delay the conveying of important details.

In neither case would it be the best and quickest way of obtaining reliable information. In both cases, there are faster ways of getting reliable information.
In both cases, slugging the bastard would feel really good. It would come at the cost of allowing torture to happen.

Now, take another look at the first case: it is an "ideological" crime, where the ideology is "harm the child". If the ideology is more general (and more generally shared) there are far more accomplices to entrap into divulging important clues) - making torture useful primarily for one thing: deterring people from acting with that shared ideology.

And while that may work for a while, we humans don't do well with being told which ideals we can or cannot believe.

For this reason, I disagree with your analysis of case 2. There's a kid in danger? Use ALL other tools in your toolbox, including sodium pentathol and other pharmaceuticals, elicitors, solicitors - anything. But do not use torture, because it will endanger the kid's life for too long.

Posted by Dena Shunra at May 8, 2009 01:26 AM

After reading the initial essay and then the comments, I'll simply note that you lose me when you start comparing the "heroism" (in the Homeric or whatever sense) of the torturer with that of the person who commits an act of civil disobedience. There is a very fundamental level at which pouring blood on a nuclear missile silo and engaging in an act of organizational and/or structural violence (or perhaps in simpler parlance, "state terrorism") are qualitatively different behaviors. In the case of those committing acts of civil disobedience, a great deal of thought goes into the behavior (including the consideration of future consequences, such as being jailed). In the case of torture, I'd offer that there is a dearth of thought given to the act or its consequences (maybe we're in need on a refresher course on Hannah Arendt's notion of the banality of evil). In the case of civil disobedience, the goal is to challenge injustice, rather than to perpetrate an injustice; to challenge the dominance of the state rather than to impose the dominance of the state over others. In the case of torture, all one has is the perpetration of an injustice, be it ostensibly for some purported "noble cause" (which is usually what we of the unwashed masses receive as the official propaganda) or simply for the sake of imposing dominance.

Another commenter referred to torturers as psychopaths and cretins. My initial response to that is "dare to dream." Decades of research in the social sciences, from the Milgram Obedience Experiments and Zimbardo's infamous Stanford Prison Experiment to field research and case studies on former torturers suggest something a bit more chilling - torturers are strikingly normal in terms of personality and intelligence. The main common thread among torturers is a tendency to fail to think about what they are doing, to simply go with real or perceived established norms for those particular situations that invite torture to occur. One tragedy of torture other than the devastating human cost for the victims is NOT that the torturers necessarily believe in what they are doing, but rather in the torturers' failure to reflectively think through their behaviors or to question the legitimacy of the orders of their superiors (or for that matter the legitimacy of an organizational culture that would permit torture to occur). The tragedy is one of the banality of the evil act in question.

Posted by James at May 8, 2009 02:22 AM

Point 2 makes the assumption that the man WOULD talk and there's NO OTHER way of making him talk. It's not a logical chain at all, it's just stated and taken for true. In the same vein, I could say you have to feed him gummy bears and that's the only thing that will make him talk, so gummy bears are important to national security.

Also, something that works in 5% of the cases can't be said to work at all. Would you take a drug that works only in 5% of the cases and has a risk of worsening your condition? (ie. giving bogus information to make the torture stop, setting you for a trap and destroying the morale and external support for your organization/country?). Such a drug would never get approved nor be said to be "working".

I love this site, but I feel there are a set of not so great assumptions and inferences in the article that harm your stance more than further it.

Posted by Zanchito at May 8, 2009 03:39 AM

This essay and the comments point up the fact that all of you are much younger than I. I remember a time when the very idea of a "discussion" of U.S. institutional torture would have been puzzling. I'm not saying torture didn't exist, only that most of the populace would have found it hard to believe our country would engage in it.
Is it better to have it in open forums as it is now? I'm not sure. On the one hand, people are more aware and that's usually a good thing, but on the other, talking and writing about it and mulling it over seems to give it a kind of legitimacy, whether that's intended or not. I'm not generally nostalgic for the old days, but in this case, I am. I'm sorrowful that torture is now coolly debated like any other of the trivial topics we'll forget next week. Of course, it's better than just letting the barbarians rage without notice, but still--.

Posted by Rosemary Molloy at May 8, 2009 06:57 AM

I think the beef many of the commenters have can be solved by the following transformation applied to Bernard's argument: imagine that Bernard does not actually believe that torture is ever necessary, but that SOME people do. In this case, the argument can be put to them to justify why such a person should, if confronted by the "need" to torture, nonetheless be held criminally liable for it.

Framing the argument this way is, I think, a very effective way to short-circuit the "moderate" (i.e. far-right, as opposed to fascist) pro-torture position. These people will agree with you that torture is in general a terrible thing, but that once in a great while, in exceptional circumstances, one must violate deeply held principles in order to save a great number of innocent lives, even if the damage to the social fabric is great. One should respond to THOSE people by saying: "But, if it is so exceptional and so tragic, then why not avoid the damage to the social fabric by heroically choosing to perform this "necessary" torture and then submitting oneself to criminal punishment? Society then gets to affirm its normative repugnance to torture, the social fabric is unharmed, the lives are saved, and only a single heroic martyr comes out behind. Would you be so selfish as to demand that society reconcile itself to torture simply to save you a little jail time? What does that say about your priorities?"

Posted by Picador at May 8, 2009 09:41 AM

The only problem with torture is that it's barbaric.

Things like beheadings, hand-amputations, branding people with the word "thief" across the forehead, stonings - all these things could (arguably) be effective as the means to an end (whatever it is), - but they are barbaric, they make civilized people feel disgusted, and thus they become taboo in a civilized society. This is, pretty much, the definition of "civilized".

The fact that merits of torture are being considered and discussed is an indication of the society having taken a few steps back to a barbaric state.

Shit happens. Individuals, groups of people, and even whole societies fall into barbarism easily; civilization is only skin deep and requires constant reinforcement.

Posted by abb1 at May 8, 2009 11:20 AM

dena Use ALL other tools in your toolbox The case assumes that we have. My example was also carefully designed (which is why it's a little long) so that the torture can be calibrated with the results, which can be checked in real time. The kidnapper can be taken to the site with the cops. Finally, your mistake is to take into account what the kidnapper wants. The whole point about torture is to make him do what he does not want. Truth telling is meant to be reflexive not intentional.

zanchito point 2 is conditional. So yes you could use gummy bears if you wanted. It would not make it untrue. Only uninteresting.
Second point: Would I take a drug that works only 5% of the time? No. But I would never claim that it "never works." And here's the proof: if that were the only drug available, I would take it. Which proves that 5% is not the same as 0%.

rosemary Your silence is also a statement, but let me quickly argue why "debate" is preferable to silence.

If the topic was "killing babies because it's fun" then I'd agree with you that there's nothing to debate. But torture is different:

1. The majority of Americans believe in torture and torture has been part and parcel of US foreign policy for ages.

2. All of us here are viscerally opposed to torture, to any kind of torture, and yet we would torture under some circumstances. No one on this blog has yet to make a persuasive case that they would not. If this is not worth exploring then frankly what is? I've proposed a legal & moral solution. Ethan, alone it seems, picked up the fact I am being inordinately tough on torturers. He put his finger on something that is, to me, the least though-out part of my post. And I wish there had been a discussion about that.

I don't see how the anti-intellectual position "too unseemly to talk about it" is going to help. Has it helped in the past? Perhaps we're discussing it NOW because it was not discussed enough earlier?

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 8, 2009 11:57 AM

abb1 I disagree with you and Rosemary. It's a good thing that it's being discussed in the open.

Yes, torture is barbaric. But sometimes the alternative is even more barbaric. Some say no: there is always a less barbaric alternative. That would be great and would resolve the question, except for that tiny minor problem that they can't prove it! They can't because it's false.

So their next line is: "How unseemly of you to bring up such an unpleasant topic!"

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 8, 2009 12:09 PM

All of us here are viscerally opposed to torture, to any kind of torture, and yet we would torture under some circumstances.

Right. Just like the survivors of the Andes flight disaster had to resort to cannibalism. All of them.

Posted by abb1 at May 8, 2009 12:11 PM

Right, but normally we don't discuss the merits of cannibalism. We just assume that we don't do, unless there's no other choice. So, what's to discuss?

Posted by abb1 at May 8, 2009 12:14 PM

abb1 There's a world of difference with cannibalism.

First, it's not commonly practiced by our government and it's not supported by half the population.

Second, like torture we would all eat a dead human if we had to for survival. Nothing evil about it (unless we killed that person). No law should ban that, and no moral code (in my view) should declare the act evil. That's what makes torture unique: it's always evil. Cannibalism is not necessarily evil.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 8, 2009 12:25 PM

Smithee's on point here. Bernard's being morally equivocal, which isn't surprising, since moral equivocation is the domain of the Ivy League academies, who pretend they're splitting fine hairs while they're offering subtle coverup justification to the nascent still-forming callous Process Maven -slash- "intellectual" student mind.

Oh the superiority of the Ivies. The utter superiority. How wonderful it is.

Posted by blue ox babe at May 8, 2009 12:36 PM

PS: yes, I'm quite familiar with Socratic dialogue and its uses. that's not what I'm talking about.

Posted by blue ox babe at May 8, 2009 12:38 PM

So James just figured out that most people are moral cretins. Well, smell you, Nancy Drew. Did you have to go through all of Zimbardo's footnotes before you figured that out?

Truly, the artificial contortions you have to go through to finally reach Bernie's "tortured hero" scenario would be mildly entertaining (in a logic puzzle sort of way) if the rationalization purpose wasn't so fucking repugnant. But look, if you want to make a hero out of an incompetent thug who couldn't be bothered to do thirty minutes of police work, be my fucking guest.

Oh, and if I'm offending your coral pink little ears, fucking ban me. That's another thing you do-nothing lesser-evil pwoggies share with your freeper counterparts (aside from makeing up bullshit scenarios to justify torture.)

Posted by AlanSmithee at May 8, 2009 12:52 PM

Don't be mean, bob. Argumentum ad verecundiam is all they've got...

Posted by AlanSmithee at May 8, 2009 12:55 PM

I am sure Smithee's on point. If only I knew what his point was.

Morally equivocal? I am saying that torture is always evil and should always be illegal and should always be prosecuted. Yep, very equivocal.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 8, 2009 12:58 PM

I dunno, that the government practices it, that doesn't mean much. Governments do many bad things: murder, terrorism, what have you.

The fact that half of the population supports it, that, I think, means, like I said, that the society slid back a little. Like others said, it probably wouldn't have happened 10-15 years ago.

And, I think, for a civilized person to torture someone, it has to be a matter of survival as well.

And what's 'evil'? Extremely repulsive?

Posted by abb1 at May 8, 2009 01:24 PM

Bernard: When Obama says he wants to move forward and not pursue prosecutions for torturers but he is unwilling to extend the same leniency for say drug dealers, then he is de facto saying that, in the interest of the state, drug dealing is more evil than torture. I can't accept that.

Ah. Yes, in that context what you said makes more sense and I'm inclined to agree. As for your challenge to find a way to "enshrine...rejection of torture in a way that is consistent with a lenient system of justice", and your desire for a discussion on that topic, I don't know. I haven't thought it through enough either. Right now I'm inclined to say I might not be capable of thinking it through enough.

And yes, birds are amazing creatures.

Posted by ethan at May 8, 2009 01:26 PM

Apparently I'm inclined. Ignore my silly writing, I'm a bit distracted.

Posted by ethan at May 8, 2009 01:28 PM

It seems to me that Bernard is being misread by the critics here. He's getting very abstract and intellectual about this issue in a way that I and others find repugnant, but it is a tactic that has been made tragically necessary by the astounding fact that most of our countrymen actually think torture is a-okay.

Like Bernard, I can't say that I'd never torture anyone, ever. Just like I can't say that, if someone, say, threatened my loved ones, I wouldn't commit an illegal act of violence against that person. Perhaps I would even feel that was I was doing was "right". But in no circumstance would I feel that I should not be punished by the state for what I'm doing.

We are not perfect in our ability to predict the outcomes of our actions. I agree with Bernard that torture could be effective at e.g. saving innocent lives in some hypothetical circumstance that may or may not have ever actually arisen in this universe. It's easy to come up with (more or less absurd) thought experiments in which all sorts of heinous acts -- torture, rape, genocide -- might save more lives than they would ruin. But that is not enough to make those acts less than evil, or to justify making them legal, ever, under any circumstances.

I might not go as far as Bernard in stating that 1) everyone is like me and Bernard inasmuch as they might torture under some conditions, or that 2) torture would definitely be effective in circumstances that have actually occurred in history. But I think that these two points are unnecessary to the point Bernard is trying to make: the consequences that follow from the argument are the same regardless of whether you agree or disagree with those propositions.

Posted by Picador at May 8, 2009 01:38 PM

Sorry, AlanSmithee, but your emotional reaction reminds me of the Bush-Cheney crowd.

You want to beat people who condone torture with crowbars! That's how strongly anti-torture you feel. You're even willing to torture to make your point. I know this was a joke. Rush Limbaugh always makes the same kind of jokes.

You also say that a torturer willing to go to prison is a coward. Isn't that what Bush said of Mohamed Atta? And what Bill Maher lost his job over?

The notion of a tragic hero implies a complexity to the moral world that you reject -- just like Bush and Cheney. It's all black and white, isn't it?

PS Please don't insult other commenters and don't call me Bernie. My name is Bernard.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 8, 2009 01:45 PM

Its illegal, torture is a crime.
ARREST and JUDGE&JURY TRY the torturers, ALL of them.
Just like YOU would do with ANY other criminal.

Posted by Mike Meyer at May 8, 2009 02:23 PM

Isn't the REAL QUESTION " Will WE continue to let POTUS commit heinous CRIMES without accountability or retribution?" (torture, illegal invasions, not going after perps like Libby, Cheney, O.B. LADEN,et.al., politicizing DOJ, etc., and the laundry list goes on&on)

Posted by Mike Meyer at May 8, 2009 02:36 PM

Alas, O Muse! Let me sing of the poor homeric hero who just had to torture and now must pay the homeric price for his homeric heroism because he was too fucking homerically stupid/lazy/morally impaired to do the work! Pity him, O Muse! And don't call me Shirley!

Posted by AlanSmithee at May 8, 2009 03:30 PM

Picador makes a good point. All of us (ok, most of us) might do horrible things if we thought it was the only way to prevent, say, the death of our children. The normal temptation for people would be to say, "It's OK, you did the best you could under the circumstances. Don't feel bad about it." My point is that one should resist that. One should not only feel very bad about it, but one should go to jail, if that involved torture.

By any standard, this is the most anti-torture stand imaginable. Certainly stronger that Rosemary's fear to engage the issue. The heroic part is that one may have done the best possible thing under the circumstances and sacrificed for it, and yet done a fully evil thing all the same.

Maybe it's the true definition of an infantile culture, one that goes and pretends such "tragedy" is not part of the human condition.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 8, 2009 05:08 PM

Don't be dense, Smithee. You know as well as I that Chazelle needs his hero-torturer for his lame construct to work at all. But since he's starting calling you "emotional" and "infantile" - next he'll either call you a "purist" or start censoring posts.

Posted by MediaGhost at May 8, 2009 08:30 PM

AlanSmithee, of course, has written you off and isn't trying to convince you of anything, but in what follows, I'm going to lay out the argument I think he'd make if he were interested in discussing with you, because I think the position is worth stating. Given my incomplete understanding of his points, some parts may be stronger than others.

In situations where you have an "evil" and a "lesser evil," the "moral" choice is not the "lesser evil," but to reject the question.
I.e.: Given a choice between Obama and H. Clinton, morally speaking you should vote Gravel. Given a choice between Obama and McCain, you should vote Nader or McKinney. Given a choice between torturing someone and necessarily saving a child and not torturing someone and necessarily not saving a child, you still shouldn't torture him. The "lesser evil" is never the "moral choice" because it's still evil. Pwog donklebot are inevitably lesser-evilists, and they vote for more and better Dems and hope to move boots from Iraq to Pakistan (after regretfully but oh-so-necessarily bombing the living fuck out of it).

The situation doesn't come up in reality anyway. Further, even bringing up these hypotheticals serves the pro-torture crew in the debate. The "hypothetical virtuous torture" is these people's stock in trade, and even conceding its potentiality is a mistake because it means you're arguing on their terms.

And your "complexity to the moral world" is rationalization. It's not enough to say torture is universally and unalterably evil, you need to categorically reject it as ever being the "moral choice," even if it is the "lesser evil" or you're still, even against your own intentions (I'm not sure he'd extend you that courtesy), an apologist for torture.

Posted by Save the Oocytes at May 9, 2009 01:21 AM

Also (and I'm no longer speculating, this is me talking), your fifth point is too complex and counter-intuitive to be used on the people it's intended for. The idea that it can be sometimes the "moral option" and still should be prosecuted includes too much nuance for that mindset. "Because America is a moral nation, we do not torture," stated as a goal, not an understanding of history, would actually be a better argument for moving moderate Republican supporters, if they still exist, against torture.

Posted by Save the Oocytes at May 9, 2009 01:25 AM

STO:

Given a choice between torturing someone and necessarily saving a child and not torturing someone and necessarily not saving a child, you still shouldn't torture him. The "lesser evil" is never the "moral choice" because it's still evil.

That's precisely what I said. I said even though people might choose to torture as the lesser evil (even Rosemary would) that's not a moral choice. That's evil. (Which is why they should go to jail.)

So what exactly are we discussing here? I am sorry if people don't understand what I write, but that's their problem.

PS My story is a variant of something that actually happened in Australia and is taught in law schools down under.

So it's really a brilliant debating strategy to hang one's entire argument on the implausibility of a hypothetical that your opponent can validate in one second.

Look, there's another point, that making the evilness of torture an a priori judgment requires one to entertain the hypotheticals of the other side. But explaining this would be lost on this crowd, so let's call it a day.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 9, 2009 02:16 AM

Yes, the ignorant unwashed masses are far too stupid to understand the oh-so-deftly nuanced reasoning of their masters and betters.

Posted by MediaGhost at May 9, 2009 08:49 AM

So how many Smithee sockpuppets do we have in this thread?

Posted by Upside Down Flag at May 9, 2009 09:28 AM

Sure, let's ignore the fact that Herr Professor based his oh-so-rational argument on an Australian thug and talk about Smithee. You first.

Posted by MediaGhost at May 9, 2009 06:11 PM

Me: "Use ALL other tools in your toolbox"
You: "The case assumes that we have."

I disagree. Your case ignores a variety of information gathering options that do not involve direct questioning.

You say: "the whole point about torture is to make him do what he does not want. Truth telling is meant to be reflexive not intentional."

I disagree, even more so in this case. Truth telling is not necessarily reflexive under pain (wine works better; sodium pentathol is rumored to work better) - what people do under pain is either say ANYTHING to stop the pain, or (if the ideological commitment is stronger than the desire for physical comfort), either say nothing or say anything but the truth.

The problem is the belief that *truth* is what people say when they're under stress/duress. Military interrogators don't seem to agree.

Posted by Dena Shunra at May 9, 2009 07:01 PM

To summarize, torture, though, sadly, it cannot be ruled out as always unnecessary,

Allow me, an Army interrogator for 16 years, and interrogation instructor for 14, to disagree.

The fundamental flaw in this line of thinking: My starting point is that the occasional necessity of torture cannot be denied. The kidnapped-child scenario has, indeed, happened -- though no national-security equivalent ever has (as far as I know). But that's no reason to discount its possibility. Philosophically, one cannot ignore the moral ramifications of a situation just because it is exceedingly rare. If you wonder why, consider the following argument: "The kidnapped-child scenario happens only in the movies, so let's declare torture universally unacceptable." The trouble is that I can use the same argument to reach the opposite conclusion: "If I say torture is acceptable in the kidnapped-child scenario, what do you care anyway? Remember, it just happens in the movies!"

No. I know the case you refer too (Germany, kidnapped child, cop tortured the guy, he told them where the kid was, only said kid was already dead). Right at the outset we have a failed example. We don’t have a case where torture saved the day. We have a guy who was getting off on the uncertainty (is the kid alive, dead, dying) and told that he’d suffer. Well there was no percentage in his suffering for a dead kid. We don’t know what he might have done were the kid not yet dead.

That’s fallacy the first (that we have an example of torture working).

Fallacy the second is we can know when this is the case (that the subject has certain knowledge). With very rare exceptions we can’t know; at the time of the interrogation, that the source had access to the information we seek. How did the cops know that guy had the kid? He confessed. His confession is why the Polizei member was willing to torture him.

Prior to that he was just another suspect. What if the confession was falsely given ( ask any cop, there are people who will confess to anything)?

At that point torture becomes counter-productive. Torture will get an answer. Resources will be spent chasing up those false leads, resources better spent looking for better leads. Good interrogation will more quickly prove the confession to be false; and resources can be put back to productive lines of investigation.

That’s for cops; where the supporting role of preliminary investigation gives grounds for more certainty. In military settings you don’t have that. The source was grabbed up by MPs at a checkpoint, or grunts after a firefight, or turned in by someone who knows the Americans offer rewards for “x”, or arrested off a tip.

None of those has the supporting context of a police investigation. All but the grunts have an agenda, and those agenda may be not at all congruent to the interrogator’s interests.

Torture will get information. It will reliably get false information. Assume you are arrested by MPs. The MPs saw something they saw as suspicious, and turn you over to me; with a quick write-up of what they suspect. You get brought to me with ten other prisoners. All I know is what the MPs said.

I ask you a question; based on the MPs suspicions. You honestly don’t know. You tell me so, and I don’t believe you. Maybe I don’t believe you a little. Maybe I don’t believe you a lot. You can’t tell.

So I give you a little slap. You insist you don’t know. I give you another little slap. You maintain your ignorance. I decide to test it one more time. I give you a bigger slap; or I look really mad and bounce you off the wall. Are you going to maintain your ignorance, or decide I’m likely to really hurt you? If the latter what will you say?

What if instead of little slaps (because I didn’t believe you a little), I gave you shot to the solar plexus (because one of the other prisoners said he thought he saw you planting a bomb when I gave him the bounce off the wall, so I don’t believe you a lot)? How much abuse are you willing to put up with for the truth, when a lie will make it stop?

So I will get a corrupted information stream. I will go chasing after false leads. I will get confirmation (because torture is really good at that). I will be rewarded for getting false information.

In short, torture will so corrupt the information stream that the system is guaranteed to get false data. If it’s really humming along, real data will be ignored, because it won’t fit the structure of the false data.

So, quite apart from your correct statement that "Torture is wrong; therefore...",the extrapolation that some sort of “occasional” justification from results is allowable, even in theory, doesn’t hold up.

Posted by Terry Karney at May 9, 2009 07:38 PM

dena/terry: Australia, not Germany. Sorry, different case. I think you're missing the premise of the scenario. It is that torture is the least evil alternative as far as the most well-meaning interrogator can tell from his knowledge at the moment and that he is willing to pay a price for it.

So, whether it is the least evil or not is entirely irrelevant. It is in his mind, as honestly as he can judge the situation. So yes Dena, maybe sodium pentathol works better. But what if he does not have that handy? What if he's never heard of it? Maybe he's not a cop. Maybe he's incompetent. But that is completely irrelevant to the morality issue. Moral standards are not higher for incompetents. Usually in fact they're lower.

So either you have to say "this scenario will never happen" or you say I hope it does not and will therefore ASSUME it will not. So you make it conditional. Let's examine both viewpoints briefly.

In the first case, you have to allow me the acceptability of torture since I will restrict it to a case you believe cannot happen. So what do you care since it never happens anyway? If I tell you how we should treat martians with antennas, would you care? Same thing here. Maybe you'll argue "it sends the wrong message." Perhaps it will. But I am talking about nonconsequentialist morality. I made it clear I refuse a utilitarian approach to this. So messages are irrelevant.


In the second case, you add conditionality to your statement. You weaken your anti-torture stand tremendously. In effect you are saying, well I don't think it can happen but I won't arbitrate in case it does. In fact you might even concede that, should it happen, your entire premise was wrong.

Trouble is, your assumption is both unprovable AND falsifiable. It's the WORST POSSIBLE philosophical position from which to hang your argument.

Again, let me put it in simple terms. By denying the existence of ticking-bomb scenario you are tremendously weakening your anti-torture stand.

Maybe my post should have developed this more clearly. By accepting the scenario and then banning it unconditionally and declaring it evil under all circumstances I am taking a much stronger anti-torture stand than all of you, who are conditioning your position on some unprovable proposition that can be falsified any minute.

Isn't what I am saying quite obvious? To me it is.


Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 9, 2009 08:12 PM

To both of you. By the way, I really appreciate the civil tone in which you express your disagreement. It's a refreshing change.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 9, 2009 08:15 PM

Thanks so much for responding to the line of thought - which Terry made so very much more clearly than I have. And thanks, Terry, for chiming in!

The point of disagreement is not the existence of ticking time bombs - it is the question of where to rank torture in the list of tools used in defusing them.

Popular culture is doing a very large push toward claiming that torture is a good, effective, and fast way of getting information, and that the main reason to avoid it is civilized squeamishness.

What I'm trying to say (with no experience in interrogation but three decades of thinking about torture) is that torture tends to produce questionable information. When obtaining good information is critical (dying child; city under threat of dirty bombs), we can't afford to get bad information from an ideologically-motivated terrorist who wants to stall.

Posted by Dena Shunra at May 9, 2009 08:47 PM

Jose Padilla couldn't shit a dirty bomb no matter how many YEARS he was tortured. No matter how hard he was beaten he could NEVER tell us where it hidden. He may have "confessed" 10,000 times but STILL NONE could be found. Jose Padilla IS AN AMERICAN. THAT'S what torture gets YOU and that's ALL ya got from it, a tortured AMERICAN.

Posted by Mike Meyer at May 9, 2009 09:29 PM

Dena: I couldn't agree more with your last comment.
That's why torture should be banned -- unconditionally.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 9, 2009 10:27 PM

Bernard: You are missing several of my points. First, I am that well-meaning interrogator of whom you speak. I am not missing the premise of the scenario. It’s as scenario I am intimately acquainted with. I’ve been responding to it argument, and in practice, for 16 years. I’ll go down your response piece by piece; reserving the flaws in the “ticking bomb/buried baby/imminent disaster of your choice scenario” for last.

Maybe sodium pentathol works better: No, it doesn’t. Sodium Pentathol merely makes the subject want to co-operate more. If it’s kicked in, the least sign of desire on the part of the questioner will get a positive response. If the subject thinks you want to hear about a bomb... he will talk about a bomb. It doesn’t matter if there is a bomb, that’s what you want to hear about; that’s what he’s gonna talk about.

So either you have to say "this scenario will never happen" or you say I hope it does not and will therefore ASSUME it will not. So you make it conditional. Let's examine both viewpoints briefly.
Trouble is, your assumption is both unprovable AND falsifiable. It's the WORST POSSIBLE philosophical position from which to hang your argument.
Again, let me put it in simple terms. By denying the existence of ticking-bomb scenario you are tremendously weakening your anti-torture stand.

I am not denying that there are scenarios where getting the information now is crucial. What am denying (from the painful annals of experience) is the utility of torture in getting the information.
First, we have to assume the certain knowledge of the suspect. How did you get that knowledge? What proofs do you have? Because if the subject is absodamnlutely possessed of the knowledge, torture is (as explained above) worse than useless. It’s counter-productive.
So we have to assume a large body of corroborated information. If you have enough to make it certain this is the guy who knows, then you have enough information to fix the problem without torture (at the very least you can evacuate the area/post preventatives against the threat).
But lets move on. Posit some scenario where we have proof this guy is the one who knows, and none of the information which proves; beyond all (because reasonable isn’t enough) doubt, is sufficient to find the baby/foil the threat. Ok.

Now you have a time sensitive requirement (otherwise non-torture will work). How long? Twenty-four hours? Seventy-two? Where is the time-sensitive point at which torture becomes the lesser evil?
Lets say it’s 72 hours. Well, pretty much anyone can hold out for 72 hours, which means the odds are he won’t break. If it gets to be too much, he can spin a yarn. That will buy him the time it takes to give the story, and the time to disprove it. If that doesn’t stop the torture, then what we are saying is we don’t believe anything he says. At that point there is no point for him to tell the truth.
Regardless, the dedicated subject will be able to hold out until the result the torturer is trying to prevent has come to pass.
Then we have the question of “creep”. Israel used to allow torture in exigent circumstances. They Army finally said no, and filed briefs against the practice in a case before the Supreme Court there. Why? Because 1: it didn’t get the information, and 2: everyone became a “ticking bomb” subject. How?
Well see, the guy who planted the bomb. He was fair game. What about the guy who saw him plant it.? The one who helped him make it? They guy who got the dynamite? Let him work in his basement? All of them could be seen as part of a string of people, and if you got them to talk, you’d end up at the bomb.
So the problem with the ticking bomb is: the well-meaning interrogator won’t do it, if she does, it won’t work, and if you allow an exception; no matter how small, the grounds for which torture will be implemented grows to the point that it’s institutional; with all the problems that presents.
When you argue that someone ought to be willing to face the music, when they decide to use torture, you are weakening your statement that it’s wrong; full stop: unconditionally, because you allow that it isn’t. You argue, that: push come to shove, sometimes a reasonable person has admit to the utility/needfulness of torture.
Well, as a professional, I can tell you this is wrong. Not only does torture not do what you think it does (resolve ticking bombs), it degrades the entire process of interrogation. You can’t argue that torture is to be banned, unconditionally, because it’s wrong, and then say that it could save peoples lives, and is the lesser evil.
That means you are arguing the greater evil must be borne for the greater good.
Which is counter to the argument against torture from a position of morals, which is where you started.

Posted by Terry Karney at May 10, 2009 01:47 AM

Well, I heard that in Russia in the 90s it was quite customary for gangsters to grab a businessman, shove one of those travel water heaters into his ass, plug it in, and ask politely for his ATM card PIN.

This is all anecdotal and I don't have any statistics, but I assume it worked in 100% of all cases and within the first 5 seconds.

So, if there is any truth to it (and I believe there is), that seems to prove that torture does work under some circumstances. No?

Posted by abb1 at May 10, 2009 04:33 AM

Look, Terry, you're arguing with a brick wall. You can be as polite or as mean as you want - Chazelle will never give up his "lesser evil" rationalization. He's invested far too much in it to give it up now.

Posted by MediaGhost at May 10, 2009 10:33 AM

abb1: First its "WE'll save the world", now its "lets hit some ATMs", the basic story of the Spainish Inquistion. If WE, as a nation, are going to torture then that's OUR story too. Other than the CRUCIFIXION of JESUS when has the world or even just a few people been saved by directly by torture? My guess is ONLY in Deadeye's dreams. How many innocent people have been robbed and/or killed by torture? Deadeye's got one hell of a looong list himself. Since armed robbery is really the reason for U&I to be in the Middle East then I suppose torture is quite useful to further OUR cause. Add childrape, regular ole rape, sodomy, and murder to the list of tools and next thing ya know WE are looking pretty and the Middle East looks raped, robbed, tortured, and murdered.

Posted by Mike Meyer at May 10, 2009 12:53 PM

Right, ATM, but it could be a password, or an encryption key or something. I'm not arguing that torture is justified, only that it can be effective.

Posted by abb1 at May 10, 2009 03:15 PM

Somewhat relevant is Digby today, speaking about Guantanamo etc:

"American foreign policy is weakened in dozens of different ways until it is made very clear that America has repudiated what was done. The administration has many different interests to serve with this issue, but none are more important than that."

None are more important than that, she says. Christ.

Posted by ethan at May 10, 2009 04:17 PM

Digby, quoted by ethan: "American foreign policy is weakened in dozens of different ways until it is made very clear that America has repudiated what was done."

She says that like it's a bad thing! If American presidents find it more difficult to get international support for their criminal enterprises, the world could be a marginally better thing.

Posted by Duncan at May 10, 2009 05:58 PM

Yeah, there's that excellent point, too. And I usually think of her as one of the smarter ones.

Posted by ethan at May 10, 2009 06:44 PM

I missed this (because I was addressing the post, and not reading comments until today:

I am sorry if people don't understand what I write, but that's their problem. Actually, it's your problem, if what you are doing is actually trying to persuade.

Before I joined the Army I was a reporter (I joined at 25). I studied communications theory. One of the axioms of ComTheory is, "The meaning of the message is the message that's receieved." Translated it means, what people understand you to have said, is what you said.

There are a lot of reasons what you meant may not be what you got across. The simple model of communication is this: Sender-message-(noise)-Recipent. The communication cycle adds feedback.

To map that to blogging: If I make a post, I, (the sender, take a message (the post), find a means to tranmit it (the web), a recipient reads it.

That's the simple model. Add comments, and you get feedback (which is a new message, with all the attendant issues of noise). Noise is the big factor. It can be simple, or complex. Simple noise renders the communication unintelligble.

"So I took out a DA-6 and added him to the bottom," is a fine message; if the recipient knows what a DA-6 is. If she doesn't, well it's gibberish.

More complex noise comes when there is partial understanding of the concepts. Lots of people refer to a D-214 as a "discharge". It's not. It's a release from active duty. That misunderstanding is irrelevant in most contexts, until someone tries to say they got an Honorable Discharge by pointing at a DD-214.

The most common source of noise in discussion is that the sender means one thing, and the recipient understands another. Barring lots of feedback, in both directions, the recipient will understand it, in their terms. The sender's intent will fail, mis-communication has happened.

Is it possible to be perfectly clear to everyone? No. However, if a large number of people consitently fail to "get it," then the sender has a problem. If they end up with a consistent idea of what was said; which is at odds with what the sender thought was said, the odds are the sender doesn't understand the concepts as clearly as he thinks he does, or that the sender doesn't understand how to convey it.

In either case, when dealing with a broadcast medium, the expectation is more people will 1:read/hear the initial message than provide feedback and 2: will fail to hear/see others' feedback, or subsequent attempts at clarification.

Which means such failures are most certainly the problem of the person trying to be understood.

Posted by Terry Karney at May 10, 2009 09:15 PM

Bernard, I'm irritated that you felt my comment lacked a civil tone, because I had thought it was civil. I'm also upset that you ignored the rest of my posts after expressing befuddlement that I misunderstood you.

Now, the part you did respond to was the following:

Given a choice between torturing someone and necessarily saving a child and not torturing someone and necessarily not saving a child, you still shouldn't torture him. The "lesser evil" is never the "moral choice" because it's still evil.

You replied that that was what you had said, and asked why it was so hard to understand you. I had attempted to express the essence of what you had said in my own words, but I evidently failed, so I'll quote the exact words that concerned me: "People will be ethically -- but not legally -- entitled to engage in it."

To me, having an "ethical entitlement" to do something makes that thing a (if not "the") "moral choice". I'm sorry I mangled your wording, but I think this is an obvious paraphrase. That's important, because it seems to me like this idea of "ethical entitlement" to do something you call evil is the source of most of the confusion about your argument.

Smithee's position (I think), which I never had seen explicitly expressed, and I agree with, is the black-and-white one, that torture is never an "ethical entitlement." Not only is it evil, but you're not ethically entitled to do it. There, you can see, we disagree. In cases of great evil like this, you're not even "ethically entitled" to the "lesser evil."

I'd appreciate it if you'd reread my posts and respond to them.

Posted by Save the Oocytes at May 11, 2009 07:49 AM

bernard --

Morally equivocal? I am saying that torture is always evil and should always be illegal and should always be prosecuted. Yep, very equivocal.

As I said in my first comment here, your Point 2 is nothing like the sentiment I've just quoted. Perhaps it's your high-falutin' Ivy Prof way of writing that obscures the supposedly obvious uncategorical disapproval of torture. Perhaps it's just when others do it. Perhaps academically you're opposed as long as nobody's looking at your secret torture lab where you torture lesser college students from lesser schools that aren't of your high hair-splitting calibre.

What exactly do you teach, Bernard? Obfuscation?

Posted by blue ox babe at May 11, 2009 11:13 AM

Of course, in a thread where people cite the cement-headed Digby as something/-one worth reading, it's obvious that clarity of thought and expression long ago left town on a high-speed maglev bound for Liberal Valhalla, where they'll vacation and rest well, never being put to use.

Posted by blue ox babe at May 11, 2009 11:18 AM

It seems to me that Bernard is being misread by the critics here. He's getting very abstract and intellectual about this issue in a way that I and others find repugnant, but it is a tactic that has been made tragically necessary by the astounding fact that most of our countrymen actually think torture is a-okay.

That's rich.

Translation:

You who disagree with and criticize Bernard, you're too stupid to understand his argument.

Typical Pwoggie Liberal -- the polite putdown. Once again, the Superior Condescenders prove that when they are in the mix they serve as clouders of otherwise transparent water.

Bernard isn't doing anything but splitting hairs that are irrelevant to the hairshirt of torture. He's not going over my head. He's nowhere near my head. He's just playing around with constructs, like the RePug NeoCons he hates so well. He's just being Karl Rove.

Some feat. Matching Rove and Emanuel play-for-play in the use of distortive pseudo-logic... that's no feat. That's as reprehensible as the torture here being excused.

Amazing how the Mossad/Shin Bet mindset controls among the Ivy League Excuse-Mongers.

Posted by blue ox babe at May 11, 2009 11:32 AM

You know, after observing this discussion all the way through, I think everybody here, whether they noticed it or not, agrees on the same thing. Torture should be punished. So I think that point has been moot long ago.

The only two reasons one could not recognize this is either A) One didn't read the "feedback" from the beginning or B) ego.

Posted by Nikolay Levin at May 11, 2009 11:57 AM

STO: not you i had in mind in my civility comment. sorry if there was confusion.

no one is "ethically entitled" to torture outside 2 . and it's never a moral choice (all of this is in my post). what i am saying is an anti-torture stand is weakened by turning a blind eye to the ticking bomb scenario. it's not an easy concept, but with folks like blue ox and the screen name guy, who can't even tell the difference between "A" and "if A" this discussion is a waste of everybody's time.

i will publish my thoughts on the subject in a different venue. i'll let you know. so long.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at May 11, 2009 12:43 PM

I probably shouldn't bother, but I really, really, really didn't bring up that Digby quote to show how awesome she is.

Posted by ethan at May 11, 2009 03:20 PM

"...this discussion is a waste of everybody's time."

Translation: How DARE you unwashed hoi-polloi disagree with me! Off with your heads!

Posted by AlanSmithee at May 11, 2009 03:30 PM

ethan, no, there's no point.

Nikolay, I understand Bernard is against torture, but Point 5 still bothers me.

Posted by Save the Oocytes at May 11, 2009 10:02 PM

Oh for fuck's sake, AlanBlueOxMediaGhost, are you really that obtuse? I'm not even that much of a fan of Bernard's writing, but I can see what point he's making here.

We're all impressed already. By your incessant histrionic shrieking in high moral dudgeon, you have proven that you see more clearly and care more deeply about the downtrodden of the world than anyone else. Sure, spamming comment threads with predictable vitriol doesn't amount to jack shit in the real world, but it makes you feel self-righteous, and that's the important thing here.

And yes, you look like a complete fucking tool posting under several different names to agree with yourself. You already got hilariously busted for sockpuppetry, so why would you bother doing it again?

Posted by Upside Down Flag at May 12, 2009 10:01 AM

I was wondering when one of the brown nosers would pitch a tiny fisted little hissy fit. Right on time, UDF.

Posted by AlanSmithee at May 12, 2009 12:58 PM

Allow me to suggest, by analogy, why the "extreme circumstances" argument does not actually imply "torture sometimes works".

Suppose you have ants in your back yard. Dropping a bomb on the entire area, wiping out your house and your neighbours houses, would get rid of the ants. But that's not what torturing people on the "ticking time bomb" scenario is like. That's what invading Afghanistan is like. Torturing people to get accurate, time sensitive information is like setting fire to your house in the hope that enough falling debris will fall into the garden that you will get rid of the ants too.

Note: this plan may, in fact, work. You may get rid of the ants. But nobody would ever do it because it's boneheaded. It probably won't work, and it's too costly even if it does. Anyone who burns your house down to get rid of ants isn't making a "tough decision" to solve a problem, they're committing arson and using the ants as a flimsy excuse.

Posted by McDuff at May 13, 2009 06:35 AM

There are a lot of comments here, and I'm trying to catch up on two weeks of various posts on various blogs, so forgive me if I already covered this...

The correct thing to do with the captured criminal in point 2 is to point out that he may gain some measure of leniency if he tells where the boy is, but won't see a bit of it if he holds out. Something along the lines of "would you rather have two murder counts and a kidnapping one, and maybe be eligible for parole in 25 years, or would you prefer three murder counts and a kidnapping charge, plus resisting arrest and anything else we can think of, and a D.A. pursuing life without parole?"

Torture is wrong, even if the intent is to save a child.

Besides, if he's been buried for an hour, the poor child has probably suffocated by now.

Posted by Dayv at May 14, 2009 02:50 AM