No, It Still Doesn’t Justify Torture

No.

The news of how Osama bin Laden was finally tracked down and killed has caused a predictable outbreak of consequentialism. It appears that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed provided some of the key intelligence that led to the successful operation in Pakistan while he was undergoing “enhanced interrogation” in CIA prisons in Rumania and Poland. “See?” Dick Cheney’s fans are saying today. “Rendition and torture work. We wouldn’t have killed Bin Laden without them. So what do you think of those tactics now?” The opponents of torture who foolishly argued against it based on pragmatic considerations—“Torture doesn’t work!”—rather than ethical ones–-“It is absolutely wrong!“—set themselves up for this.  Now what should they say?

They should say this: Torture and rendition remain betrayals of the humanistic values and democratic principles that the United States was founded upon, and the fact that they are sometimes effective and can occasionally achieve objectives in warfare and intelligence that would be difficult to achieve otherwise in no way mitigates their essentially unethical nature. The use of those methods, in violation of international laws and American dedication to the cause of human rights and dignity, has done immeasurable harm to our nation’s integrity, credibility,  national culture, and moral authority, and if I had to choose between Osama bin Laden still living on the earth, and America having to surrender its core and founding values in order to kill him, I would choose to let the terrorist live in a heartbeat.

Where torture by a nation dedicated to preservation of each human being’s inalienable rights is concerned, the end can never justify the means—even if the end is the death of Osama bin Laden.

21 thoughts on “No, It Still Doesn’t Justify Torture

  1. I have two problems with water boarding and its defenders . First is that its ineffective. Almost every expert on interrogation will tell you that you get better and more reliable information by not using torture. My father, a retired Marine Corps General with 34 years in the Corps once told me that by using water boarding he could get me to admit to asassinating Lincoln. He was very familiar with it as he prosecuted Marines during the Vietnam War for using it on members of the NVA.

    The problem I have with its defenders who say it isn’t torture is that they don’t know what they are talking about. It is clear defined as torture by the Geneva convention , the code of conduct and the UCMJ.

    • He was very familiar with it as he prosecuted Marines during the Vietnam War for using it on members of the NVA.

      Which violated the Geneva Conventions (because the NVA were entitled to POW protections) and the UCMJ, which binds the Marine Corps even in situations where the Conventions do not apply.

      This does not apply at all to interrogations of persons not entitled to POW protections when conducted by third party vigilantes and allied governments. (Although allied governments are of course bound by their own laws.)

      • Hiding behind the euphamism of “unlawful combatant” vs. “POW” is blatantly dishonest. It is the behavior that is in question, not the status of the person being acted upon. -1 for you Mr. Ejercito…

        • Hiding behind the euphamism of “unlawful combatant” vs. “POW” is blatantly dishonest. It is the behavior that is in question, not the status of the person being acted upon. -1 for you Mr. Ejercito…

          Christopher C. Morton explained it best

          None of which apply to Al Qaeda.

          We could interrogate them with pinking shears and then feed them
          through a wood chipper.

          No harm, no foul.

  2. The ethical argument is certainly the more persuasive, but that doesn’t render the pragmatic argument irrelevant. The AP reports that “Mohammed did not discuss al-Kuwaiti while being subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, former officials said. He acknowledged knowing him many months later under standard interrogation, they said….” So there is no “ends justifies the means” argument to be made, even if one were legitimate.

  3. There’s probably a lot more benefit from mind-games and carrot/stick than from torture anyway. Give them better food or a better cell if they talk, for example. Or bring in a series of very “angry” interrogators speaking a langage the perp doesn’t understand, then when they’re at wit’s end from confusion, bring in a “sympathetic” interrogator who speaks Arabic. There are better ways than torture.

    • Vigilantes, eh? How about foreign governments? It seems to me that you’re essentially describing extraordinary rendition. I’d advise you to very carefully weigh the ethics of claiming that it’s wrong to do something, but not wrong to let that same thing be done.

      • Yes, this is the old trick of letting someone else do your dirtywork so you can claim clean hands. There is no ethical difference between torturing and allowing someone to be tortured by someone else.

        • There is no ethical difference between torturing and allowing someone to be tortured by someone else.

          What if that someone else said they will resist with lethal force if someone attempts to arrest them? Would we want to tell a woman that she is a widow, and children that their father will not be coming home again, because someone who was torturing terrorists did not want to go to jail for it?

          • Once again you are missing the point Mr. Ejercito. Al Capone was not present nor did he participate in the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, yet he is just as guilty as the trigger men who were because he issued the orders which the hit men acted on.

            • Once again you are missing the point Mr. Ejercito. Al Capone was not present nor did he participate in the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, yet he is just as guilty as the trigger men who were because he issued the orders which the hit men acted on.

              Note what I said upthread.

              But if terrorists were to fall into the hands of vigilantes who threatened to kill anyone who gets in their way, we can not be responsible.

              The key word is “vigilante”. Vigilantes, by definition, do not act under color of law.

  4. Waterboarding, first of all, is not torture. If you’re looking for examples of that, I’ll point you to some medieval dungeons, Soviet gulags or Iranian prisons for examples. Enhanced interrogation is mainly psychological. It involves putting the fear of God into a lowlife with vital knowledge. There need be no body injury. Only the fear of it. The fear of drowning is elemental in the human psyche. Waterboarding is a way of drawing that fear out without actually doing harm. True torture, as others have noted, is often ineffectual as the subject tends to say whatever he can to escape it. Enhanced interrogation employs a number of mental devices simultaneously for the necessary effect to derive useful information.

    • Stephen. Come on. It’s torture.

      Before the Bush Administration started its word games. nobody seriously pretended otherwise. This is exactly like Bill Clinton’s defenders arguing (along with Bill), that oral sex isn’t sex…or even adultery. When that first was floated by the Clintonites, there was widespread hilarity—now most 7th graders believe it. Your argument about torture is the worst kind of legalistic deceit. The tough position is defending US use of torture, not ducking the challenge by defining it out of existence.

  5. Jack: For the reasons I mentioned, I don’t defend actual torture. I’m just saying that this isn’t it. Hard interrogation passes into the realm of torture when, through anger or sheer perversity, you inflict physical injury upon another. In such circumstances, it becomes a matter of twisted emotion rather than a psychological procedure to an end. I’d liken this to the difference between spanking a child and beating one. Many can’t see the difference there, either. But it’s there.

  6. Steven you can say its not torture all you want but that doesn’t change the fact that it is. If you are so sure it isn’t then let’s meet and I will arrange for a person trained in how to do it to perform it on you. Then you can make an informed decision.

  7. I misplaced your comment, Bill. I don’t fault you or Jack for your stances regarding torture. I share your revulsion, as torture is inherent to the mentality of what we’re fighting against. Nevertheless, when dealing with a hardcase terrorist leader who has vital information which is needed immediately, one has to be prepared to use measures that will put the fear of God into him. Again, I acknowledge that actual torture serves mainly to get a subject to say anything he believes will bring an end to his misery. The medieval practice of torture was mainly used to induce “confessions”; the extraction of useful information being a secondary bonus. (Note the Hanoi Hilton.) However, “grilling” a suspect and subjecting him to such methods as threats (subtle and actual), multiple interrogators (good & bad cops), sleep deprivation (some call this “torture”, too!), personal indignities (effective with those who are used to being feared by others), etc. and the fear of actual torture are effective measures.

    • You share his revulsion about torture, yet you are willing to use torture if you think you have sufficient reason to. Hypocrisy is not ethical…

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