Why Torture Is a Complete Failure

"Former war crimes prosecutor: Legally, morally, and practically, ‘enhanced interrogation’ does not work."
A different perspective: Tortured Reasoning (Thomas Sowell)

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The whole topic raises important questions. Jonah Goldberg and others have observed that as a culture, we just about universally care more about the "why" of violence than the "what," and classifies violent methods of interrogation as sometime-acceptable violence.

Sowell seems to lean toward utilitarian ethics in his post, though I haven't yet read all of it. 

What should be clear in all this is that while the consequences of not having information--measured in numbers of lives lost--cannot be ignored, Christians cannot accept utilitarian ethics either.   (Utilitarianism: "whatever produces the greatest good for the greatest number." Christianity: "Some things are just wrong, regardless of the hoped-for or actual results.")

If you have links to other thoughtful looks at this topic, do please post.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Interesting discussion there. I don't think our view of torture as Christians has anything to do with how we feel about persecution though. "Persecution" has to do with the why of the violence, not the what. That is, we're opposed to even a kick in the shins  because of a person's beliefs but we are not opposed, for example, to locking them in a small cell for years because they killed someone.   So it's still the because, the why, that is usually pivotal. I haven't yet seen a self-consistent view that opposes all harsh interrogation methods under all circumstances.  ... though just about everybody holds that there are methods that should not ever be used. 

... which is interesting in its own right. If the worst method imaginable is not suitable even to get the location of a nuclear bomb from someone we know has that info--when we know the info will save hundreds of thousands of lives--we really don't believe in "the greatest good for the largest number," do we?

So maybe there are almost zero true utilitarians in the debate, just as there are very few real "absolutely no torture ever" proponents. Almost everyone has some kind of qualified view.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bert Perry's picture

http://www.jewishworldreview.com/michael/reagan121814.php3

Now Reagan's account is not a well backed account, but this would appear to be something that would back the idea that if you're pretty sure that somebody has the information you want, the threat of pain is a great way to get it.

Victor Davis Hanson on this:

http://www.jewishworldreview.com/1214/hanson121814.php3

I'm thinking that it would have been very, very interesting to see what Osama Bin Laden would have said after being waterboarded, and it's worth noting that a great portion of the troubles we're having in the Middle East and elsewhere is because we've killed a fair number of innocents with drone strikes.

So it appears to me that Sowell and Hanson ask the moral question best.  If the alternative is physical pain (or the threat thereof) vs. the death of participants and innocents, what do you choose?  

Another note regarding the "study" done by Senator Feinstein is that her committee didn't collect any evidence from the agency doing the waterboarding.  so the report has precisely zero information on the actual moral tradeoff to be made.

Verdict; the Democrats on that committee ought to be waterboarded.  That said, the consequence of waterboarding is confusion, so who would notice?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

josh p's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

http://www.jewishworldreview.com/michael/reagan121814.php3

Now Reagan's account is not a well backed account, but this would appear to be something that would back the idea that if you're pretty sure that somebody has the information you want, the threat of pain is a great way to get it.

Victor Davis Hanson on this:

http://www.jewishworldreview.com/1214/hanson121814.php3

I'm thinking that it would have been very, very interesting to see what Osama Bin Laden would have said after being waterboarded, and it's worth noting that a great portion of the troubles we're having in the Middle East and elsewhere is because we've killed a fair number of innocents with drone strikes.

So it appears to me that Sowell and Hanson ask the moral question best.  If the alternative is physical pain (or the threat thereof) vs. the death of participants and innocents, what do you choose?  

Another note regarding the "study" done by Senator Feinstein is that her committee didn't collect any evidence from the agency doing the waterboarding.  so the report has precisely zero information on the actual moral tradeoff to be made.

Verdict; the Democrats on that committee ought to be waterboarded.  That said, the consequence of waterboarding is confusion, so who would notice?

Hi Bert,

In the bolded section you ask an interesting question. I see the tension but it still seems better to kill someone by accident than to torture someone on purpose. Granted it gets a little more difficult when the accidental killing was something that was foreseen or even accepted as "collateral damage."

Bert Perry's picture

Josh, I differ with you for a simple reason; you can minimize "collateral damage", as the euphemism reads, but as long as you're using remote bombs to attack terrorists, you're pretty much guaranteed to injure or kill an innocent or two because terrorists live with their families, not in barracks.  Even if you go all Ehud and sneak into their home with a dagger, you've got the risk that Eglon is going to put his wife or child between himself and that dagger, no?

So your choice is to kill innocents intentionally, or inflict pain on terrorists intentionally.  I think the trick--and the key to the moral question--is how you make sure that the person you're interrogating is likely to have data of interest, and that you use methods that are likely to help him "crack".  In other words, along the lines of Augustine's rule of "probability of success" as a criteria for just war, there are crtieria for "just interrogation."  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

Jim wrote:

"... there’s no debate; watching “The Interview” is torture from almost start to finish."

INTERVIEW them!!

‘The Interview’ Review: Misguided Missile

OK, I'm OK with inflicting pain when it's justifiable under the laws of war, but even I think that this would be a clear violation of the Geneva Convention.  :^)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

josh p's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Josh, I differ with you for a simple reason; you can minimize "collateral damage", as the euphemism reads, but as long as you're using remote bombs to attack terrorists, you're pretty much guaranteed to injure or kill an innocent or two because terrorists live with their families, not in barracks.  Even if you go all Ehud and sneak into their home with a dagger, you've got the risk that Eglon is going to put his wife or child between himself and that dagger, no?

So your choice is to kill innocents intentionally, or inflict pain on terrorists intentionally.  I think the trick--and the key to the moral question--is how you make sure that the person you're interrogating is likely to have data of interest, and that you use methods that are likely to help him "crack".  In other words, along the lines of Augustine's rule of "probability of success" as a criteria for just war, there are crtieria for "just interrogation."  

I see what you are saying and I am still thinking through this. I guess I would say I don't really like either option from a moral perspective.

Bert Perry's picture

Josh, I agree with you 100% about not liking either.  Put gently, if either of us liked the idea of doing what the Italians did to the Red Guards, we would be sick puppies, no?  The deal is not that we like these things, but rather that they (like the discipline of children) are less terrifying than the alternative.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

josh p's picture

Let me be more clear. It sounds rather pragmatic to approve of something because it is better than the alternative. 

dmyers's picture

The article about torture being a failure has no credibility.  He cites the Senate committee report as if it's gospel.  Not only did the writers not interview anyone at the CIA, as someone noted above, it was a purely partisan report and a number of others who ought to know have directly disputed the report's claim that the enhanced interrogation techniques never obtained any information that helped to prevent additional attacks.  As an attorney/former prosecutor, and as a Christian, the author should know better than to write a piece that glosses over the problems with his source material and ignores contrary allegations.  He should at least have noted that others claimed otherwise and attempted to explain why they're wrong.  In failing utterly to do so, he makes himself unbelievable.

Bert Perry's picture

Per dmeyers' comment, it's worth noting that a party line vote on a report like the one mentioned is a clear sign that at least one of the parties is simply playing partisan politics.  I suggest that the first suspect is the party that didn't allow the CIA to speak on its own behalf during the so-called "investigation."

Or, put in sort of philosophical terms, it would appear that the Democrats have succumbed to the postmodern impulse to try to "make truth" instead of telling the truth.   Not that this lets the GOP off the hook, but with nonsense like this, I can't see why anyone would fill in the circle by the D on election day with this kind of thinking.  

And to build on something I said earlier, it would be really interesting to see what the Democrats on this committee would admit when waterboarded.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Sean Fericks's picture

...noted atheist and enemy of Christianity.

However, he presented a useful concept of "the perfect weapon".  The "perfect weapon" is a fictitious one that destroys all that it is intended to destroy without fail, and it never creates any collateral damage.

The "perfect weapon" allows us to set aside all pragmatic implications and study the morality of some particular tactics.  For instance, let's say we want to discuss which is the moral side in the Israel / Hamas conflict.  If Israel had the "perfect weapon", what would happen to the Palestinians?  If Hamas had the "perfect weapon", what would happen to Israelis?  I think this simple mental exercise makes it apparent to most observant people that Israel is the better (not perfect) actor in the conflict.

Now, let's consider the "perfect torture".  The perfect torture causes enough pain (even to death) to accurately produce the needed information.  Also, the "perfect torture" guarantees the guilt of the one being tortured.  Take a minute to do a mental exercise.  Put a nuke in Times Square, and put a known Jihadist with information on the bomb's location in the custody of the NYPD.  If the guilt of the Jihadist is certain enough, the need for the information is urgent enough, and the consequences of failure are catastrophic enough, then the interrogating police officer is morally required to use any means necessary (including torture) to gain the information that can save a million innocent people.

I say that the "perfect torture" reveals that torture is sometimes justifiable, and may even be morally required.  The only remaining factors are the certainty of the guilt of the one being tortured, the urgency of the needed information, and the consequences of failing to acquire that information (all pragmatic considerations).  Thus, torture should be limited to situations where the guilt of the tortured is established, the urgency of the situation requires it, and the consequences of failure are catastrophic.