TCS Daily

The Logic of Torture

By Keith Burgess-Jackson - November 29, 2007 12:00 AM

During the past few years, in the wake of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay, much has been written about torture, almost none of it, regrettably, philosophically edifying. May I help?

Three Types of Question

The most important thing to keep in mind as you reflect on torture is that there are different types of question one can ask about it. Different types of question call for different types of answer (and therefore different types of expertise). First, there are conceptual questions. What is torture? How does torture differ from such things as torment, punishment, harsh treatment, cruelty, vengeance, sadism, and violence? Can torture be accidental? Must it involve physical (as opposed to mental) pain? Can deprivation or confinement constitute torture? Conceptual questions such as these are about the concepts, ideas, categories, and distinctions we use. Answering them is the province of philosophy.

Second, there are factual questions. Given a conception of torture, how widespread is it? Is there less of it now than there used to be, and if so, why? Who practices it, and why? What forms does it take? Is waterboarding torture? How much pain or suffering does a particular form of torture typically inflict? How much pain or suffering does a particular instance of torture actually inflict? Is torture effective as a means of gathering information? If so, how effective? Factual questions such as these are about how things are. Answering them requires investigation, consultation (with relevant experts), and observation. Philosophers, as such, have no expertise in this area. This doesn't mean philosophers can't make factual claims, for they can and do; it means their philosophical training doesn't make their factual claims more likely to be true. In other words, philosophers have no comparative advantage in ascertaining how things are.

Third, there are evaluative questions. Given a conception of torture, is torture permissible? If so, in what circumstances? Is torture ever obligatory? If so, why? Should the law permit torture? If so, how should it be regulated to prevent (or minimize the likelihood of) abuse? Perhaps torture should be illegal even if it is, in rare cases, morally permissible. Law and morality are different institutions, after all, with different purposes, standards, and limitations. A thing can be morally permissible but legally impermissible, just as a thing can be legally permissible but morally impermissible.

It is important to distinguish questions about what the law is from questions about what the law ought to be. Whether torture is legally permissible is a factual question about the law. (Not all factual questions are easy to answer, obviously, and some answers to factual questions are controversial. For proof of this, see science.) Whether torture should be permitted by law, and if so in what circumstances, is an evaluative question about the law. If you want to know whether torture is legally permissible, consult an attorney who specializes in that type of law. You would not consult an attorney if you wanted to know whether torture should be legally permissible, for that is an evaluative question, and attorneys, as such, have no evaluative expertise.

Not all facts about torture are relevant to its moral permissibility. What makes a fact relevant is that it connects up to a moral principle. For example, suppose I am a hedonistic utilitarian. My principle (of utility) mandates that I maximize pleasure (or, put negatively, that I minimize suffering). This makes the amount of suffering inflicted during torture relevant. How much suffering torture inflicts, both quantitatively and qualitatively, is a factual question about which reasonable people can differ. Many facts about torture, such as where it takes place, on whom it is inflicted, and how many people administer it, are morally irrelevant, and therefore of no interest to those who are interested solely in its moral status.

Three Types of Normative Ethical Theory

Just as two or more people can support the same presidential candidate for different reasons, two or more people can oppose torture for different reasons. Some people oppose torture solely because of its consequences. These are known as consequentialists. Utilitarianism is a species of consequentialism (and hedonistic utilitarianism a species of utilitarianism). To a consequentialist, no type of act is intrinsically wrong, i.e., wrong in and of itself. Lying is not intrinsically wrong; cheating is not intrinsically wrong; stealing is not intrinsically wrong; torturing is not intrinsically wrong; even killing innocent people is not intrinsically wrong. Each act, to a consequentialist, must be evaluated on its own merits. Acts that maximize the good (e.g., happiness) are right, while acts that do not maximize the good are wrong. Consequentialists have no principled objection to torture. When an act of torture is wrong, it is wrong solely because, qua act, it fails to maximize the good. When it maximizes the good, it is not wrong.

Some consequentialists prefer to focus on rules, practices, or entire moral codes rather than concrete acts. They say that we should adopt whatever rules, practices, or moral codes maximize the good when generally adhered to (or followed), and then act in accordance with those rules, practices, or codes. We should not evaluate acts individually, on a case-by-case basis. Since only rare cases of torture maximize the good, these theorists would adopt a rule that prohibits torture. This means that we should refuse to torture even if, in a particular case, it would maximize the good. Act-consequentialists accuse rule-consequentialists of "rule-worship." Why (they ask) should one follow a rule even in those cases where it is known that breaking the rule would maximize the good?

Deontologists reject consequentialism. Deontologists believe that certain types of act, such as torture, are intrinsically wrong. There are two types of deontologist. Absolute deontologists believe that no amount of good could possibly justify torture. Even if torturing X were the only way to save the lives of a million innocent people, it would be wrong to torture X. Even if torturing X were the only way to prevent Y from torturing a million innocent people, it would be wrong to torture X. Absolute deontology is a hard doctrine, as you can see, but it has (and always has had) its adherents.

Moderate deontologists agree with absolute deontologists that certain acts, such as torture, are intrinsically wrong, but disagree that nothing could possibly justify them. Moderate deontologists have thresholds. Here is an example of a high threshold. A moderate deontologist might believe that torture is permissible only if it saves the lives of at least 1,000 innocent people. A low threshold might require that 50 innocent lives be saved. An even lower threshold might require that five innocent lives be saved. Moderate deontologists agree with consequentialists that consequences count, but disagree that only consequences count. Moderate deontology comes in degrees, depending on where the threshold is set. Think of it this way. Consequentialism is 0; absolute deontology is 1; moderate deontology ranges from .000001 to .999999. Moderate deontology with a low threshold is close to consequentialism on the spectrum. Moderate deontology with a high threshold is close to absolute deontology on the spectrum.

You can now see that normative ethical theorists of different stripes can oppose—albeit for different reasons—a given instance of torture. An absolute deontologist can oppose it because it's a case of torture, which is categorically prohibited. A moderate deontologist can oppose it because (1) it's a case of torture, which is intrinsically wrong, and (2) it will not produce enough good to justify it. A consequentialist can oppose it because it does not maximize the good. When I hear that someone opposes torture, I want to know why. Is he or she an absolute deontologist? A moderate deontologist? A consequentialist? Once I get an answer to this question, I can probe for inconsistencies.

Another point to keep in mind is this: That two or more normative ethical theories converge on certain cases, or even on many cases, does not mean that they're identical. All it takes to make two normative ethical theories different is one case—actual or hypothetical—in which they produce different results, and that is the situation here with respect to absolute deontologists, moderate deontologists, and consequentialists. There are cases (if only hypothetical) in which both types of deontologist condemn an act of torture while consequentialists commend it. There are cases in which absolute deontologists condemn an act of torture while moderate deontologists and consequentialists commend it. Morality, like politics, makes strange bedfellows.

Law and Morality

One difference between law and morality is that law is practical. Law must attend to such things as efficiency. Laws are addressed to classes of people, not to individuals. You've probably heard the expression that hard cases make bad law. This is another way of saying that just because a given act is morally permissible doesn't mean that the law should permit acts of that type. Take euthanasia, for example. It may be that in a particular case, it is morally permissible for someone to engage in mercy killing. It doesn't follow from this that mercy killing should be permitted by law, for people might misapply the rule and end up killing those who don't want to be killed. The law errs on the side of caution, for practical reasons.

The reasoning just used in the case of euthanasia can be applied to torture. Even if torture can be justified in particular cases, such as when it is necessary to learn the location of a bomb, it might be dangerous for the law to allow it. Certainly we don't want torture to be routine, for that opens the door to abuses. The best policy might be to prohibit torture (having carefully defined it), while allowing as a defense the claim that it was necessary to save many innocent lives. This is only a sketch of an argument, but you can see how it might be developed. The idea is to create a strong legal presumption against torture, while allowing for the possibility of rebuttal in a court of law.

The Role of the Philosopher

Some people think philosophers have their heads in the clouds. It's an old but false complaint. Most philosophers—even those who work in metaphysics or epistemology rather than ethics—care very much about public affairs, and their training in conceptual analysis equips them to contribute to it. We must be careful, though, about the nature and scope of philosophical expertise. Philosophers, as such, have neither factual nor evaluative expertise. (I would argue that nobody has evaluative expertise.) Philosophers can be as wrong about the facts as anyone else, and the fact that X is a philosopher does not give X's values any greater weight. What philosophers can contribute to public affairs—and perhaps ought to contribute—is conceptual clarification. As a result of their training, philosophers are adept at sorting things out, identifying fallacies (understood as characteristic errors in reasoning), uncovering hidden assumptions, spotting inconsistencies, and showing why one thing is or is not relevant to some other thing. Philosophers are technicians, not sages.

Nothing I have said implies that philosophers can't argue. But notice what that involves. Every argument with an evaluative conclusion must, in order to be valid, have at least one evaluative premise. (This is known as Hume's Law.) To persuade somebody to accept a conclusion, you must use only premises that he or she accepts. If your interlocutor rejects one of your premises, including the evaluative one, your argument gets no grip on him or her (although it might get a grip on someone else, with different beliefs and values). You will to have to back up, as it were, and argue for the premise that your interlocutor rejects. This new argument will also need to have at least one evaluative premise. If your interlocutor rejects it, you will have to back up and argue for it—and so on, until you find common ground. The idea is to show your interlocutor that he or she has inconsistent beliefs. The only leverage a philosopher has is the principle of noncontradiction.

Argumentation is hard. It requires time, patience, energy, charity, and intelligence. Could that be why there is so much yelling and so little arguing when it comes to important matters such as torture?

Keith Burgess-Jackson, J.D., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Arlington, where he teaches courses in logic, ethics, philosophy of religion, philosophy of law, and social and political philosophy. He blogs at



What does the flag stand for?
The problem with torture does not rely on careful definitions of the term. Forms of torture routinely employed by US forces is less severe than that once employed by Hitler or Stalin, or Saddam. So what?

Torture is used to achieve goals. When its use becomes counterproductive (negatives outweigh the positives) it should be dropped. And it has not been dropped or disavowed.

As I see it, we are engaged in a battle of ideologies over the hearts and minds of the Arab world. We are supposed to be convincing people our philosophy will be better for them than that of Osama. Or Saddam.

To that end, we refurbish and reopen Saddam's worst prison and start torturing people in it. Good God in Heaven. Do we seriously suppose this is helping the cause?

How many "ticking bombs" would you suspect were averted through this routine use of torture, humiliation and abuse? One? I haven't heard of any.

Yet tens of thousands of ordinary Iraqis went through Abu Ghraib back in 2003-04 and were grilled, beaten and in time returned to freedom... because we had found insufficient evidence to hold them. The figures published at the time were 43,000 prisoners processed and only 700 actually indicted for anything-- while the program was still running at its height. Average stays were 2-3 months inside.

All these people went home to tell their friends and neighbors how things went for them in the dungeons of the Americans. Do you think this made us lots of friends? Did it help the cause of Freedom? Exactly what did it really do?

The Geneva Conventions only apply to wars between nations
The Geneva Conventions only apply to wars between nations. They do not apply to civil wars. They only apply when you are fighting a government that can surrender (end the war) or be held accountable for violations.

Al Qaeda does not qualify.

Hezzbolla does not qualify unless they take over the government of Lebanon.

Hamas only recently qualified, when they became the de facto government of Gaza.

The 1929 version was better than the 1949 version in one key aspect. The 1929 version had tougher sanctions for violations. It said that if you violated a section, they you could no longer expect to receive protections of that section. This sanction was removed after German cities suffered terribly after Germany bombed London and Canterbury.

The problem with expecting Western Civilization to extend Geneva Conventions to Al Qaeda, etc. is there is no way to make organizations like Al Qaeda accountable for their violations.

Torture doesn't usually produce information you can rely upon without verifying it through other sources, plus it has PR downsides. But this whole discussion is counter-productive.

I believe in playing fair.

If everyone is not playing by the same rules, why have rules?

If Islamo-fascists kidnap and behead prisoners, why are we even talking about protecting their rights?

More productive discussions would be:

1. What is constitutes "providing aid and comfort to the enemy"?

2. Should Fifth Columnists be arrested and held for the duration?

Simple Ethics
I'm not sure about the ethics of giving people the arguments they need in order to defend torture - a practice that is universally condemned, except, it appears, in some certain political circles - but I'll be they're not good.

In any case, this superficial and facile argument is an example of simple ethics at its worst: poor and shallow philosophical reasoning used to defense the indefensible. It would be nothing more than an annoying exercise, except that it appears that some of the readers of this site really believe some of this nonsense.

let's begin with the ridiculous division of the world of normative ethics (ie., ethics that tells you what you should or ought to do), deontology and consequentialism. The presumption here is that there are only two reasons for saying an act is wrong: because it breaks some rule, or because it has negative consequences.

The supposition that "deontologism is a hard position" displays a naive misunderstanding of rule-based theories. In the first place, it ignores the basis for the formation of rules altogether: rules may be based on religious beliefs, on agreement or contracts, or on practicality. Moreover, there may be many rules or few rules, and rules will interact with each other in often subtle ways. Far from being a "hard position", deontology enables a wide variety of ethical positions raging from strict theologically-based ethics (such as the Ten Commandments) to variations on the social contracts described by people like Rawls (justice as 'fairness') to forms of hedonism ('I do it because I feel like it').

The core of Burgess-Jackson's argument comes from the provision that there are "degrees" of consequentialism in most ethical position, thus suggesting that most people will have to admit reasoning such as the following: "When an act of torture is wrong, it is wrong solely because, qua act, it fails to maximize the good. When it maximizes the good, it is not wrong." Even if we agree that ethical theories divide neatly along a range, as he suggests (implausibly), his depiction of consequentialism is naive at best.

First of all, there are many ways to describe consequences. When we consider a specific act, the consequence may be only the damage it directly causes, indirect harm, intentional and unintentional harm, the influence it creates in other people, the example it sets, and more. It is naive - and wrong - to calculate the consequences of an act simply in terms of the number of lives lost or saved.

Secondly, there are many things that can have consequences other than *acts*. The position described by Burgess-Jackson is known generally as 'Act Utilitarianism' and is contrasted with 'Rule Utilitarianism'. The problem with Act Utilitarianism is that it focuses on short-term and immediate consequences, with no thought at all regarding the example it sets, or the utility of having a rule in general. In some cases, the importance of a rule to society is so great that no matter how justified a particular violation may appear, it never outweighs the rule itself, because the consequences of losing the rule itself would be devastating.

We have many rules like that in society, of which the sanction against torture is one. One argument for such a rule is that people require security in order to be able to function in a society. The possibility of torture, however slight, undermines that sense of security, with enormous consequences to society as a whole. Society itself cannot function without the non-arbitrary application of rules, as Solon, so long ago, argued in Athens.

Third, the consequentialist defense of torture is inherently contradictory. Torture is the willful inflicting of pain and suffering, thus creating a consequence that is, by most anybody's definition, a 'harm' or a 'wrong'. In other words, torture *itself* is one of the consequences we would like our system of ethics to avoid. The consequentialist position must begin with the *presumption* that torture is wrong. That is why consequentialist defenses of the act seem so, um, tortured.

Look at this argument, for example: "The best policy might be to prohibit torture (having carefully defined it), while allowing as a defense the claim that it was necessary to save many innocent lives." We can see the weasel words already creeping in to even the broad statement of the argument. We're going to 'carefully define it' (thus allowing some acts to escape the letter of the law). We're going to allow a 'claim' as a defense (rather than the 'fact' - because the 'fact' is essentially unprovable). We're going to save only 'innocent' lives (because the life of your church-going civilian defense contractor is worth so much more than that of the poor uneducated Palestinian boy who grew up in a shack and one day threw a stone).

Citing Hume, Burgess-Jackson suggests that one cannot derive an 'ought' from an 'is'. What should also be mentioned is that Hume did not accept that anything simply 'is'. Our understanding of cause and effect, our understand of diety and the divine, our understanding of the self, and even our understanding of the world - all these for Hume are "fictions", created by "habits of the mind". Hume himself argued that morality is a sense, an "impression" that we get of right or wrong.

That's why it appears so subjective. There is indeed nothing concrete on which we can pin morality - not even 'consequences', which were the target of Hume's harshest sceptical attacks. In the end, the best argument against torture is the one we all feel inside, that feeling of sickness at the idea of torture, and an especial revulsion toward the one who would suggest, through whatever dissembling, that torture can be defended.

Abu Ghraib was about humilation not torture
The soldiers who were court-martialed were not convicted of torturing prisoners, they were convicted of violating regulations against humiliation of prisoners.

None of the humiliated prisoners bragged about what happened. The news of what happened was not known until pictures were leaked by soldiers involved.

It is standard procedure for our enemies to claim torture when there is none. Those who want to believe, will believe, and there is nothing we can to about it.

When our soldiers abuse a prisoner, they get court-martialed. Can you name any example of any of our enemies since 1774 where that is true?

Careful definitions? Start with properly defining "we"
Anything that results in trials, convictions, and serious punishments implies that the nation involved, "we" in your formulation believe that what happened was wrong. Abu Ghraib led to trials, convictions, punishments and thus is an indictment of US torture only for Al Queda propagandists. The waterboarding early on of AQ prisoners like Khalid Sheikh Muhammed is a better case.

But isolated waterboarding without other combined techniques is problematic because we consider it a suitable form of training in our SERE military courses. It's one of those techniques that apparently is or isn't torture based on the duration and the frequency of its application. And how often and how hard were we waterboarding prisoners remains information we do not have to make a proper judgment. We do know that the US took the issue seriously enough that we had personal, periodic reviews and signoffs by the President that things weren't getting out of hand. That level of supervision is remarkable when compared to other nations' interrogation practices. It marks us as a nation that's willing to go up to the line on hard interrogations but not purposefully cross it to torture.

Not So Simple
I enjoyed your spirited reply, but I do take issue with some of your presumptive statements, most noteably, "Torture is the willful inflicting of pain and suffering, thus creating A CONSEQUENCE THAT IS, BY MOST ANYBODY'S DEFINITION, A 'harm' or a 'WRONG'. (emphasis mine). To state such is to presume what isn't necessarily true, and is therefore constructing a Straw Man; MANY people are willing to inflict a level of pain and suffering on an individual if those people believe that the resultant pain and suffering are inflicted in the name of achieving a justice on a grand scale -- the classic example is torturing a terrorist who knows the location of an explosive which will destroy millions of innocent people. To say that in such a circumstance the willful infliction of pain and suffering is believed "wrong" by "most anybody's definition" is a premise I take issue with -- MANY people would say that particular circumstance warrants the infliction of pain and suffering on one individual in order to prevent the deaths of millions. The hinging element is the imbalance of SCALE.

War rules problems
Look up the Thirty Years War. Prior to that, it was not only nations that could war. The result was much more common war. This limit to warfare is not inherent and seems to be breaking down. The rules need to be extended because AQ and Hamas and Hezbollah and FARC et al seem hell bent on wiping out the distinctions. If we don't seriously address this, we're in deep trouble even if AQ is completely obliterated.

Missing signposts
It would have been extremely helpful to map out common labels to translate for the ordinary guy. Are Catholics consequentialist or deontologist and of what type? How about Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Communists, *****, et al? It would have added little to article length but a great deal to understanding.

What message does it send?
The issue I'm raising is its effect on the Arab world, and specifically on the Iraqi population. They could care less that all the higher ups were never prosecuted, and only a couple of grunts took the fall. That's not much different from the way it was when Saddam was in charge.

It only makes a difference to folks who want to sweep it all under the rug,and can say Oh well, justice was done. But the principle still remains that we uphold the government's right to snatch anyone on earth, US citizen or not, fly him to an undisclosed location and do anything we want to him, for as long as we want, with no judicial intervention.

I think that goes against the American grain. You are entitled, of course, to your own opinion. But until this pattern is reversed it leaves me with no country left to uphold.

You comment "None of the humiliated prisoners bragged about what happened. The news of what happened was not known until pictures were leaked by soldiers involved."

This is not just flimsy but mendacious. Yes, the many thousands of arrestees interned at Abu Ghraib and other prisons (Bagram in Afghanistan comes to mind) certainly told their relatives and neighbors what happened to them, on their return home. Would you have done so? The fact that it was withheld from gullible boobs in the United States for a while doesn't mean anything. My comment went to the image we maintain in the Arab world.

lies have an affect. Thanks for helping to spread the lies roy

in roy's world, anything the US does is defined as torture

simple logic
some people want to define everything as torture.

Not purposely crossing the line
We are not being graded by the Arab world on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. We are being graded not only on the general practise of arresting and assaulting large numbers of ordinary citizens but on the many hundreds of people being blown up casually and routinely without even an apology, by our representatives acting without constraint in countries under our occupation.

Just in the current week, since the Blackwater business, we still find private contractors shooting up carloads of people with impunity. Everyone knows nothing will happen to them. They have a license to kill.

And there have been several incidents, also just this past week, where groups of people have been blown up from planes, wrongly. Nothing will ever happen to those pilots. This is constant and never ending.

I would like to hear from you just what your position would be if you were, say, an Afghan villager living under those circumstances.

And if you think torture is just the very occasional use of mild techniques like waterboarding, I'd like your view on all the prisoners we've had die in custody. They are swept under the table and forgotten. I'm sure you would prefer to forget they ever existed. But I assure you that the Afghans and Iraqis take that issue very seriously.

Not purposely cross the line to torture? But we've been doing that for years now, with occasionally fatal results. Back in 2004 when the story first broke, researchers were easily able to locate no fewer than 37 prisoners who had died under interrogation. I have no idea how many there have been since.

Please read this before responding:

It's not that complicated
The US is part of the Geneva Convention and is currently in violation of that convention.

There are international standards and practices. The US has officially signed on to these. If the US government condones practices classified as torture, then US administrators responsible for those actions are criminals. If George W Bush condones violation of the international treaties, then he is a criminal by international legal standards. And since the US government has agreed to abide by this standards, a legally-binding, then Mr Bush, the Commander in Chief of the US armed forces, is also a criminal within national laws.

The only question is whether or not the remaining US government are willing to risk internal or external crisis by allowing the president to remain in office.

Stalinist thinking
The Geneva Conventions apply to nations occupied by foreign powers. And the United States has repeatedly violated the clauses prohibiting mistreatment of prisoners and collective punishment of local populations. You can, and should, look it up.

The question is absolutely NOT one of our right to torture "Islamo-fascists". My point is that the overwhelming majority of prisoners being abused have been found to be guilty of nothing. They're just people caught up in sweeps, detained and abused-- sometimes fatally.

That's because the occupying forces have no serious constraints on their behaviors, and zealously believe that all these crowds of people whose language they don't even understand must be dreadful enemies of America.

This is not good PR for the American cause. That's my point. It is not a productive tactic. It does not endear us to people. And it does not promote the long-term goals of America in this highly riled up part of the world, to force ordinary people to hate our presence.

We should set ourselves the task of being a bit better than our enemies. But of course, for even suggesting such a course, I suppose I should be considered a Fifth Columnist, and be arrested and held for the duration, presumably forever.

I know you can't see how impossibly Stalinist that kind of thinking is.

The moral high ground
Interesting perspective. But just issuing rules of war doesn't automatically bind the other side to them.

At the start of the Afghanistan invasion we made a big to-do about the fact that the people shooting at us weren't wearing uniforms. Thus they weren't following the rules of war. Of course, they couldn't afford uniforms. And in any case didn't recognize that as being a rule. However they did still oppose us with armed might. That fact alone made them something like an army.

Much was also made of the fact that many had come to Afghanistan from other countries. Ths also somehow made them "illegal combatants". Forgotten, of course, was the fact that these fighters were imported with American help back in the 1980s, when they were fighting the Russians. Okay then, not okay now, I suppose, even though they were often still the same guys fighting the same fight.

Meanwhile we had volunteers on our side who weren't American citizens, and had signed up with the promise of citizenship for joining our armed forces. Our first casualty in Afghanistan in fact was a young fellow from Panama. But of course, the rules are different for our side.

So what about my point that the United States should follow the rules-- even if, and maybe especially when, no one else does?

The point is there is a greater fight. And that is to convince the world that OUR way is better than THEIR way. If that point is lost in the minds of the average world citizen, we have lost the war no matter how many battles we win. A narrow, legalistic approach just doesn't cut it.

The end justifies the means
Wasn't this brand of thinking thoroughly repudiated back in Stalin's time?

No one has claimed that our continuing torture of an unknown number of nameless people has stopped even a single ticking bomb. Even the celebrated torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed only elicited his confession to every crime committed during the last century-- including I think the kidnap of the Lindbergh baby. The guy obviously just wanted them to stop doing what they were doing. And, just like the psychologists tell us, he only told us whatever he thought we wanted to hear. This is a poor way to gain intelligence.

So there you have the positive good it has done us. What are the negatives again? Oh yes. The conviction being promulgated to the world that the Americans are as bad as anyone else who has ever sought to rule the world.

Which statements are lies?
Don't just say all of them.

"...the higher ups were never prosecuted"
Sort of true -- Karpinsky and Sanchez were drummed out. Now they're darling victims of the Left. Karpinsky's giving lectures on how she was unfairly targeted cuz she's a gay woman who 'didn't know nothing' and Sanchez is a talking puppet for Pelosi and the Democrats!!!

all of them
you know roy, either you are denser than I thought, or you just enjoy pretending to be.

Especially when you don't understand the difference....
...between a treaty and rule of law. Do some homework, please.

charming naivete re torture
That's americans for you, always looking for another way to hobble themselves. But in their self-righeous hypocracy re toruture, if you tell them that you also think it's toruture, in addition to child abuse, to torture children in state schools, then they'll just say that in their definition, that's not torture no matter what the victims say.

Also re war torture, most westerners ignore the various goals of torture. For example in the medieval inquisition, it was ofter to illicite confessions, and may oriental cultures used it for the same way. But if torture is used instead to get information, then experts know it works, unlike that for confessions. Did the French use toruture in Algeria after the war with techniques learned form the naazzis, because it didn't work, and they were just sadists? I don't think so. Just ask some old guys who did ops based on actionalbe intel based on torture and you'll find that the accuracy was very high indeed. But I know that modern Americans will say that anything less than colour TV, internet and the gitmo diet is torture; your enemies laugh at you for it.

re Stalinst thinking
When you say that:
'the occupying forces have no serious constraints on their behaviorsu say that;" do you mean that they really don't have all those lawyers they have to consult with first? Like the time they found a bunch of know terrorists at a funeral and the lawyers wouldn't take them out. Or all the other stupid rules of engagement that hobble them, like not firing on a mosque, why muslims themsleves regularly do. The US forces are about the MOST constrained forces in the history of warfare. No wait a minute, I guess the modern Brits are even more hobbled.

The fallacy in resorting to the trope of "ends don't justify the means" is that it overlooks a more basic truism: The Ends ALWAYS justify the Means; if ends don't justify means, what DOES justify them? For example, if one's preferred End is a society mired in "Social Justice" (to invoke the Socialistic lingo), wouldn't one's Means include an attempt to persuade the populace to embracing a more Socialistic society? Would that not be a legitimate use of Means justifying Ends to you?

The contention here is between WHAT means justify WHAT ends. I would agree that the Ends don't always justify ANY Means -- and that is where the very heart of the debate resides. There are ALWAYS prudential considerations to be included when making decisions regarding Ends and Means -- not simply a dismissive reliance on a platitude like "ends don't justify means." There's much more to it than that.

And here I thought it was we political Rightists who were suppose to be mired in strict, black-and-white philosophizing....

As I read it, the thrust of your post is essentially that all torture is (or at least SHOULD be, if one is an actual human being) considered empirically wrong. You expend much verbiage and philosophical musing to defend that position, as though it were the universal truism from which the TCS piece was aberrant. In that regard I find your stance that the TCS piece is somehow misguided for "giving people the arguments they need in order to defend torture" a bit ironic, in that your own reply merely consists of supplying arguments for considering torture as unequivocally wrong. Thus you present the same argumentative technique for an opposite side of the topic, yet you position your argument as though it carries the moral weight simply because you presume as the default one your stance that "all torture is wrong," that there IS no credible other side to the topic. This is evident in your closing sentence, "In the end, the best argument against torture is the one WE ALL FEEL INSIDE, that feeling of sickness at the idea of torture, and an especial revulsion toward the one who would suggest, through whatever dissembling, that torture can be defended."

Sorry to disappoint you, but you don't speak for everyone -- not all of us feel inside that the very concept of torture is empirically wrong and inflicts us with revulsion, nor the idea that torture being defended is some kind of empirical anomaly. Discussing the concept of turture includes discussing what constitutes it, what circumstances would warrant its implementation, etc -- just as the TCS article lays out. Torture isn't simply a blanket subject which can be bluntly dismissed as repugnant -- there are indeed many nuances involved which can and ought to be discussed rationally when it comes to when and how implementing a defined torture may result in a larger positive outcome. But your philosophical meandering dismisses that aspect, based as it is on a presumed absolute: that torture as a very concept is wrong. And that base presumption is what I take issue with.

For many of us there is a practicality that is tertiary to the philosophical mish-mash that so often results in mere sophistry, and that practicality is that there may possibly arise some circumstances which warrant torture. Where those circumstances lie depends on each of our own personal opinions, and that concept can credibly constitute a basis for a discussion of torture. You apparently would dismiss that notion. You may not agree with the practical, preferring to wallow in the abstract philosophy of it all in order to somehow extract some subjective pronouncement as Universal Law, but there are many who prefer the concrete which is based in the pragmatism of real life.

The freaks come out at night
Haven't heard that Karpinski was gay-- although that's a typical slur. However she was derelict in her duty.

She ran the prison by day, but was told she should stay away from it at night. For security purposes, of course.

That's when the guys with no uniforms and no name tags would come around, telling the grunts what kinds of interrogation techniques they were authorized to administer. You can look at the bottom grade personnel who got caught in the mess and figure out that they were gullible kids of sub-average intelligence. They couldn't even say who had given them orders.

So in that instance, the buck stops at... no one.

Torture is evil, at the extreme…
No one I would want to be associated with would agree with beating a person to death, breaking bones, drilling teeth without novicaine, cutting off limbs and stopping the bleeding with hot tar and a blow torch, or any of the hundreds of other techniques I know of, are "good" under any circumstances. They are torture and require a true sadist to carry them out. Those are torture techniques!!

And I definately agree that torture, especially extreme torture, should not be tolerated. The question is, what constitutes torture? Regardless of the defination given by the U.N. or any marshmellow civilian court, that question has never been fully answered.

At one extreme, the rules some want to apply, would define your average Jr. High basketball practice as torture. That is as wrong as extreme torture.

Abiding by the rules of humanity
No I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is that the continuing practise of torture is counterproductive to our greater aims in the Arab world. Not to mention being morally offensive when applied with such a broad brush to ordinary detainees. Illegal detentions, secret renditions. suspension of due process, "aggressive" interrogation techniques, collective punishment, the jailing of relatives and the like just remind people of the Whirlwind, when Stalin pushed millions down the drains of history.

The Untied States needs to take a resolute stand against that kind of thing. It sends the worst of messages and undoes all the positive work we're trying to accomplish out there.

Defining torture down
Of the techniques you describe, United States personnel only employ the first two to my knowledge-- beating and kicking a person with fatal results, asphyxiation from over-zealous "stress" techniques and breaking bones. Bodies have all been generated by our forces using those "torture lite" techniques. So I guess that doesn't make us as bad as the very worst of them.

What a great way to inch our way along, further and further into that grey area. I will recommend to you the same article I posted above, from that den of lefties, MedScape:

They are identical
Treaties-- or mutually binding agreements-- are the basis for all international law. When any country breaks a treaty, including our own, the rule of law is destroyed.

means and ends
The phrase "the ends don't justify the means" is exactly the same as the point you're making StinkHammer. Your comment that "WHAT means justify WHAT ends" is right on, I read it to mean the same thing as the phrase.

"For example, if one's preferred End is a society mired in "Social Justice" (to invoke the Socialistic lingo), wouldn't one's Means include an attempt to persuade the populace to embracing a more Socialistic society? Would that not be a legitimate use of Means justifying Ends to you?"

The answer is no. Because "an attempt to persuade the populace" is not a means. The methods of persuasion would be the means.

I think your wider point is incorrect. I assume you agree torture is immoral. Yet, you're using an example of an ends to justify it. If we have a person in custody that knows where a bomb is located, that is going to go off soon, you're saying that justifies using torture on that person. That is using an ends to justify a means. You're right that the WHAT matters, that there's much more to it than that. Yet you're still only using an ends to justify a means as if there is not more to it.

The problem is that torture is unreliable. Using torture in that situation would yield nothing. The guy could tell us the bomb is anywhere, and would just to get the torture to stop. We know torture is unreliable, so in what way could it possibly be justified?

"And here I thought it was we political Rightists who were suppose to be mired in strict, black-and-white philosophizing...."

Thats a good one. This is indeed an example where left and right roles are reversed. The left IS absolute in its view that torture is wrong and should never be used. The right IS equivocal in stating that torture is wrong but we should still use it in certain circumstances. Your perspective with this argument StinkHammer is fundamentally a liberal perspective. Its just wrong on its face, and wrong from a moral perspective.

Liberals have morals?

How enlightening that torture is the subject that highlights these differences. It says a lot about the philosophies. Doesn't make political Rightists look very good. But, reality is what it is.

Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.

"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

The story of Mr. Dilawar's brutal death at the Bagram Collection Point - and that of another detainee, Habibullah, who died there six days earlier in December 2002 - emerge from a nearly 2,000-page confidential file of the Army's criminal investigation into the case, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times.

[the story continues]

Legal evaluation
If attorneys, as such, have no evaluative expertise to render an opinion on whether torture should be permissible, then one ought not heed their warnings that giving the state the carte blanche right to torture its prisoners enhances the risk that the state will abuse that right.

Way to miss every point
Thinking requires technical skill, careful, thorough training, and lots of practice, rb. That was the core claim of the professor's article, which you conveniently missed. This is why posts re torture are intellectually futile.

What makes some forms of torture worse than others? The total physical/mental pain caused? Which is worse - the physical or mental pain? Lasting physical/mental deformity? Which is worse - the physical or mental deformity? Should the worse one be banned outright and the other permitted? How about the duration and timing of torture? If torture ends in death, is that the worst kind of torture; then what about the deformity issue?

If torture is used to achieve goals, and if it ought to be dropped when it becomes counterproductive to those goals, then you're a consequentialist, which means for you torture is not wrong per se, but only when it becomes counterproductive. Then you go on to argue that torture is counterproductive to America's goal of winning Arab hearts and minds while missing obvious problems in that argument, such as (1) if torture is not wrong per se, then why should America, who tortures on that basis, try winning Arab hearts and minds by claiming that torture is wrong per se and America doesn't do it - do you really believe Arabs are that stupid?; and (2) if Arabs don't believe torture is wrong per se, then why would they respect America for believing that torture is wrong per se, that is, for not believing the same things they themselves believe? Wouldn't they instead hold us for smug, self-righteous prigs too weak to withstand even a mild existential challenge, and wasn't that OBL's preliminary prognosis of us?

See, rb, we can go on like this, but I think you get the point: Emote all you like, but leave the thinking to others.

We did NOT torture
I don't think we've tortured. Abu Graib didn't amount to torture in my opinion. Nor does waterboarding. Plus, the other posters are correct that the Geneva Convention doesn't apply. Senator McCain is wrong when he says it does.

And Old Judge Roy Bean is totally laughable in asserting that they just couldn't afford uniforms.......

We're waging a physical war and a PR war. Winning the physical war will win the PR war. Bowing to whiners is the REAL way to lose the PR war. Lose the PR war and the 'will to win' and the physical war evaporates. Look at Vietnam.

War is a dirty business. Politicians who authorize armed conflict should grow some cohones when they make the authorization, or don't vote for violence.

There is nothing pretty about war. Nothing precise about war. Nothing perfect about war. It is a confusing, error-prone endeavor.

Really study WWII or the Civil War. Mistake after mistake cost thousands of lives on all sides. Yet, finally the formulas for victory were discovered, implemented, and brought to eventual success. It's so easily forgotten how many mistakes led to eventual victory.

Wanting every decision of military leaders to be right and successful is wishful thinking. It just cannot and will not happen.

If war and violence are decided for, then don't quibble with the path to victory. If you lose the stomach for it short of victory, then what ensues is far worse than any pain that comes from sticking with victory as the goal..

When the stomach for the violence necessary for victory is lost, then things like the aftermath in Vietnam is the result. Ron Paul is so shortsighted when he says look at Vietnam, 'they're now our trading partners'. He forgets the 1000's killed or imprisoned as the North took over the South. He ignores the horrors in Cambodia and Laos. It took decades for the situation in SE Asia to stabilize after the US left.

We are in Iraq. Leaving now, short of victory and short of stabilizing the region, would lead to another huge human tragedy like Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the late-70's and 80's. The human suffering in that eventuality will make what is going on now in Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention Palestine, Iran, etc.) pale by comparison.

I would not have sent our troops to either Iraq or Afghanistan. Now that we are there, though, we have to finish the job. Backing out now will lose us more with the Arab and Muslim 'street' than them thinking we are torturers.

Look, we are still in Germany and Japan for exactly the same reason we need to now stay in Iraq and Afghanistan -- regional security. It's been 62 years since the end of WWII. How many 62-year peaceful intervals can you find in either Europe or between Japan and its neighbors? They are few and far between. Our presence in those places has had a stabililzing effect for 6 decades. We spend our money and human energy by still OCCUPYING those countries so we don't have to spend more money and energy going to war there again.

Same with the Middle East, now that the US Legislature authorized the US to wage war there, we have to finish the war job and stay to accomplish the peace job.


Just ask some old guys?
Every single comment or story or report I've seen or heard or read from Americans, who work in the industry of intel, etc., has been that torture does not work. I refer to Americans because I don't know what the French think of it.

I mean, some Americans still think torture works, so why couldn't the French in Algeria think the same thing? Doesn't mean they were just sadists.

I haven't asked any old guys myself, so maybe I'm just missing out on that resource. But its pretty easy to say that and not easy to prove its true. It contradicts everything else I've seen so its easy to dismiss that sentence. Especially when you follow it up with such a silly comment about color tv and internet.

Its also interesting that you'd equate morality to "hobbling" ourselves. No contradiction is too BIG for righties these days.

Losing the PR war
The part of the incident report I find most interesting is where it says "Men arrested with Mr. Naseer were beaten, kicked, whipped, slammed against the wall, and immersed in cold water. Their toenails either fell off or were torn off. Eyewitnesses report that Mr. Naseer suddenly fell to the ground, seized, and died. He was bleeding from his ear. The clinical history suggests that he died of a basilar skull fracture, an injury caused by severe head trauma with a hard object. His death was not mentioned in the Pentagon's updated list of 39 detainee deaths in July 2004."

Apparently they were interrogated with such zeal that their toenails spontaneously fell off.

Next of kin asked that their bodies be returned for burial. Naturally, this request was not honored.

Do you think this kind of thing might be bad for our PR war?

A lesson from our history
Why is it that George Washington could understand this issue better than we can?

"After capturing 1,000 Hessians in the Battle of Trenton, he ordered that enemy prisoners be treated with the same rights for which our young nation was fighting. In an order covering prisoners taken in the Battle of Princeton, Washington wrote: "Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to Complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren…. Provide everything necessary for them on the road."

John Adams argued that humane treatment of prisoners and deep concern for civilian populations not only reflected the American Revolution's highest ideals, they were a moral and strategic requirement. His thoughts on the subject, expressed in a 1777 letter to his wife, might make a profitable read for **** Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld as we endeavor to win hearts and minds in Iraq. Adams wrote: "I know of no policy, God is my witness, but this — Piety, Humanity and Honesty are the best Policy. Blasphemy, Cruelty and Villainy have prevailed and may again. But they won't prevail against America, in this Contest, because I find the more of them are employed, the less they succeed."

Even British military leaders involved in the atrocities recognized their negative effects on the overall war effort. In 1778, Col. Charles Stuart wrote to his father, the Earl of Bute: "Wherever our armies have marched, wherever they have encamped, every species of barbarity has been executed. We planted an irrevocable hatred wherever we went, which neither time nor measure will be able to eradicate."

This is more like over-thinking. For what purpose?
All those questions you pose in that post are good questions. But you don't need answers to those questions to answer whether you support or reject torture.

I think you raise those questions for the very purpose of not having to answer the simple question. Do you support or reject the use of torture? Its a moral question. You can think about it all you want, all that does is delay your answer.

Why would you do that? Well, probably because you support the use of torture, but even you rightfully recognize what that says about you, so you'd rather not answer. What better way to avoid a question than to ask more questions.

The purpose of the professor's article, in my opinion, is the same purpose. To make complexity of a simple moral question, to avoid answering the moral question and to promote the use of torture.

Frankly, its unbelievable this debate even exists. Torture is always counterproductive. Its unreliable AND it creates hatred for the people who do it. If we torture, we're telling everyone else in the world that its ok if they torture our guys too.

This is just another giant mudpie in the face of everyone who actually believed that the Bush Administration is a good example of morality. Talk about people who don't have the skill of thinking. Ouch. That shame will never go away.

Yeah, that must be it
Being gay is a slur and the prison guards at Abu Ghraib were retarded and couldn't help themselves. Yeah, Roy, you've got it all figured out for yourself.

Maybe they couldn't say who gave the orders because no one gave any orders. Maybe they were just sick, American phucs. Maybe that's the truth of it.

Who enforces?

sure roy
I have little doubt that some prisoners died in captivity, it happens even in the gentlest of prisions. For those who employed any type of serious and fatal physical torture, my they never rest in peace.

But, again, what constitutes torture. If I keep a guy a wake for three days and question him continuiously, is that torture. How about 24 hours? If so that police all over the world are guilty of tourture.

Are threats of serious or fatal violence torture?

Is it torture to make someone listen to loud muisc for hours?

Is basic low-level water-boarding torture?

I've said it before, water-boarding, at low intensity, is a frat prank. Yes, it is scary as hell, but the purpose is to trust your frat brothers.

Our services have used the technique for decades in training special forces, if done correctly there is no real danger of serious physical harm.

Is keeping someone is a 120 degree room and having them work out and sweat for four or five hours torture? Then I guess boxing and wrestling are torture. And people should be arrested for torturing themselves by using saunas.

There is a minimum acceptable limit to what should be called torture; and there will always be a way around it to make someone uncomfortable enough during questioning to claim they are tortured.

The reasonable limit is to not do anything that will guarantee, or have a reasonable expectation of causing, lasting harm or disability either physically or mentally. Anything that breaks bones, uses mind altering chemicals with serious side-effect or that create long term physical or mental problems, or techniques that have a high probability of long-term physical or mental damage (don't be hitting people in the head with hard objects) should be considered torture.

Properly monitored techniques that create a fear response, anxiety and emotional distress without a high risk of death or disability are fine.

Reading the reports
During the investigation into Abu Ghraib they naturally interviewed the lower ranks who were acting as guards there, asking them who gave the orders. And that is what was reported to them. That everything changed at night, and that men with no insignia and tape over their names, men they didn't know, gave the orders.

They seemed to be unaware of their duties regarding the chain of command and possibly unlawful orders. They didn't give a very good account of themselves. And in fact it turned out that the people being assigned to prison guard duty didn't turn out to have been the best and nrightest of our young people in uniform.

If you had read the actual reports you would have known that. But I suppose you really don't want to know.

International enforcement
International law is only enforced by voluntary compliance. Obviously some countries do much better than others. When a nation ignores its treaty obligations it's up to the others who have signed to that treaty to enforce compliance or live with the lapse.

Tell me... how about theft? Do you refrain from stealing from others because of the consequences, the punishment? Or do you not steal because it's morally wrong?

Unlawful combatants
Thanks for finding the passage. Yes, leadership had something to do with it.

Here's a couple of paragraphs that may shed some light:

" Nor were the rules of engagement very clear. The platoon had the standard interrogations guide, Army Field Manual 34-52, and an order from the secretary of defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld, to treat prisoners "humanely," and when possible, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. But with President Bush's final determination in February 2002 that the Conventions did not apply to the conflict with Al Qaeda and that Taliban fighters would not be accorded the rights of prisoners of war, the interrogators believed they "could deviate slightly from the rules," said one of the Utah reservists, Sgt. James A. Leahy.

"There was the Geneva Conventions for enemy prisoners of war, but nothing for terrorists," Sergeant Leahy told Army investigators. And the detainees, senior intelligence officers said, were to be considered terrorists until proved otherwise."

In fact I think it's the Third Convention that treats unlawful combatants. In a definition that distinguishes acts of soldiers from acts of criminals in unsettled conditions, it states that persons considered to be unlawful combatants must be treated as enemy soldiers until they are found to be unlawful by some regular court process, i.e. a hearing or trial. Prior to such a finding by a duly constituted authority they are to be treated as POWs.

Mr Bush appently was not aware of that section.

I agree to a point. However, I see parallels with this and WW1. If you study WW1 you see 19th century tactics with 20th century weapons, a slaughter.

Now we have 21st century culture (and weaponry) mixed with 7th century theocracy which advocates openly all forms of human death.

How do we reason with that on our terms? For that matter, has our modern approacg to crime improved crime or in fact, created institution for crime?

Now were going to play without morals with 7th century attitudes?

I doubt it.

As to friends, I really doubt all the MSM stories. Even in WW2 we didn't treat people like you state, even if the deserved it. I have yet to see a US soldier toss a baby on a bayonet?

If someone says they will kill you, you will not know when and how but I will kill you I suppose roses are in order?

Even more tthe conventions only apply to uniformed combatants.
In the past we shot people out of uniform or in the wrong uniform.

Great clarity on “torture”
This is probably the best discussion of torture that I have ever read. The current Zeitgeist finds anything that can be advertized as torture to be repugnant, which puts the decision in the hands of the advertizers or the current public mood. (An example might be the throwing of a copy of the Koran into a toilet in front of those who follow Mohammed’s ideas.) It is a little like the reasoning that leads statuette-makers to put brassieres on statuettes of mermaids sold to tourists. Emotion and inculturation are the dominant players. I am glad to see a reasoned analysis of the issue, an analysis which ought to be the foundation for rational policy on torture. - Theedrich

The Big Difference
You know, it is really fascinating how you equate the right with Tyranny. Gee, is Chavez a rightest? Was Hitler, Stalin rightist?

No Mr. Jone's, you are totally ignorant of the reality of the right. I am all about free will and self determination. PC, all that is crap, the right I know and love is about total self determination, self reliance and equality of opportunity. Work hard and live good.

The Big Difference is if someone breaks down my door and threatens my family I am going to ask why. Get it? You liberals placate and blather about why they hate us and I don't give a damn. I have expectations that you will respect my domain and unlike the left, on the right respect is earned, not assured.

I leave people alone but some people simple will not like you. So what. Leave me alone and I will reciprocate. Screw with me and expect me NOT TO BACK DOWN.

Define Torture first
There are all sorts of ways to continuously irritate, rap music for one is a great example or listening to Hillary's cackle over and over and.....

Sensory deprivation is a good one. No light, no sound. Is that torture?

TCS Daily Archives