Patterico's Pontifications

11/14/2007

A New Hypothetical

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:26 am



While we wait for Oregonian and Semanticleo to answer my previous hypothetical, which was based on a news report by ABC’s Brian Ross, let’s fill the time with another hypo:

If we could have prevented 9/11 by waterboarding Osama bin Laden for 2 1/2 minutes, should we have done it?

Standard assumptions apply. It’s a moral question, not a legal one, so assume that the waterboarding is legal. Assume that the waterboarding is the least coercive method of obtaining the information. Assume that the information obtained is reliable.

I don’t see why the answer to this question would be any different from the answer to the last one. It just sounds different because 9/11 actually happened, so maybe it will be harder to be flippant about the consequences.

Bonus question: is the morality of waterboarding dependent on its reliability? In other words, if your objection to my hypotheticals is that waterboarding won’t necessarily reveal reliable information, then is your moral objection based on the practical question of whether it will work? (I don’t mean to suggest that a yes answer is wrong. I’m just throwing it out there for discussion.)

186 Responses to “A New Hypothetical”

  1. Yes.

    No. Acts are neither good nor bad, it is the intent.

    Scott Jacobs (e3904e)

  2. “we wait for Oregonian and Semanticleo to answer my previous hypothetical,”

    As I wait for your answer to mine…………..

    Thanks for pointing out the nanodifference between your two hypotheticals

    Semanticleo (edcd09)

  3. Some bad acts are worse than others.
    Waterboarding is not physically disabling.
    Waterboarding has been shown to work reliably enough.
    It should be used selectively.

    Menlo Bob (bb0302)

  4. Comment by Semanticleo — 11/14/2007 @ 8:34 am

    That’s such B.S., Semanticleo. Just answer his. Then, if there’s one of yours he hasn’t answered, beat him over the head with it and embarrass him.

    But the way you commented in “2” is an embarrassment to yourself.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  5. Like the first one, an unqualified Yes. See Miss Cleo, it is not that hard to answer a question.

    Yes or no. Pick one.

    JD (33beff)

  6. yes

    I suppose this hypo is supposed to test the boundaries of the people who oppose waterboarding etc. and find out their limit, their price tag for altering their principles in exchange for utility or for some “greater good”, but its the same hypo really. I bet you get the same same evasions from the same people.

    Idealogy and principles are all fine and good as “policy” that affects, guides, or controls “people” but adherence to idealogy often seems to change when it affects someone personally or when it stands in the way of something that a person or group really really wants. At what point does a rightfully admired person of principle begin to be perceived as a dangerous, or foolish, unyielding idealogue?

    EdWood (c2268a)

  7. I’d guess that for all but a very few the answer is clearly yes (it certainly is for me). I’d guess that the only people for whom the answer would really be no are strict followers of specific belief systems which place the following of a specific religious code above any real world consequence (a similar mindset to the refusal of some groups to take critical medical care).

    On the related question about how morality is linked to whether something works it’s more complicated than a simple yes or no.

    My take on morality (allowing that i’m not religious) is that a particular scenario should be evaluated in terms of overall consequences both for oneself and for ones’ view of how the world should be. The fact that positives are weighed against negatives on a case by case basis makes the justifiability of torture dependent both on its usefulness in providing accurate information and the importance of that information in acheiving (or preventing) some outcome. Thus preventing 9/11, being of vital importance, makes torture more justifiable than preventing a bank robbery (which would also be more justifiable than preventing someone from drinking underage, say). On the flipside, torturing random people in the hope of finding information is the least justifiable use of torture while it becomes increasingly justifiable the more certain we are that we’re torturing people who have the information we need.

    Somewhere between those two variables a scenario falls into either my ‘yes’ or ‘no’ category and, while noone breaks their unconscious thought down consciously, i’m sure that’s the way it works for everyone (which is why apparently upstanding moralists behave less appropriately the greater the rewards for doing so… the basic political problem).

    Bernard (08fd8d)

  8. YES! YES! YES! I don’t ever worry about “morality” anymore because the secular-progressives and the tinfoil hatted leftist loons did away with that completely back in 1992!!

    Sue (818e60)

  9. Yes, to the previous thread, BTW.

    1: Yes.

    2: Yes. (My first inclination was to flippantly answer, “Of course!” and then hit the Submit button. But that won’t work here.) If waterboarding isn’t reliable, then it is torture. If it is reliable, then under limited, prescribed situations it’s “harsh interrogation” (or whatever the euphemism is).

    Viktor (6c107f)

  10. Question #1 – Yes.

    Question #2 – Its a despicable but necessary tool to be used in order to prevent an even greater evil from being perpetrated. War is an awful matter and it forces us by its very nature to get down and dirty.

    I’ve been keeping up on all 600+ comments on this hypo and thought to ask my dad who is an old school Marine vet who was in Korea:

    ‘Its a grim business. You do what you have to do. If it means saving one American life or 50, you do what you have to do, no matter how ugly. That is what we were trained for.

    You start with the left foot, and shoot. If he doesn’t talk, you move to the right foot, and shoot. If he still doesn’t talk, you move to a hand…’.

    Dana (b4a26c)

  11. On this website, I listened to a linked audio file of 911 tapes of 9/11 listening to a man who was clearly going to die, new it, was in terror and if memory serves me correct, pain due to the heat of a fire. I also remember listening to the exact same scenario with a young women who was younger than the man and her whole life was ahead of her. I remember people jumping off those buildings and the casualty count. Trivially, I remember it cost me a date that day and I didn’t get laid.

    So Osama bin Laden really pissed me off and if he had to endure some waterboarding — something I consider to be so minor I’d agree to do it as part of military training without thinking twice about it — to prevent all of the above, especially the serious things, not the selfish one as of the typical AoSHQ mentality, I’d say yes, in a heartbeat, and would do it myself.

    Part of me wishes I could have been on one of those planes to inflict death and destruction on our enemy (who killed 24 of my countrymen, including one of my friend’s friends) and another part is so glad I wasn’t so I had a chance to meet the woman I love and bask in her beauty… beauty far greater than depicted in my shocking previous shallowness above. And women equally as lovely as her died in terror in this thing.

    Yes, I would subject the architect of 9/11 and the previous attacks against the USA to 150 seconds of really shitty experience to prevent this. Then, I’d help him clean up, give him some of his favorite food, and put him back in his cell all warm, dry, and cozy.

    As my Pakistani-raised, now British, Muslim lesbian medical student friend would say, “Poor muffin.”

    And you know what, Semanticleo? Even she would sign the damn order to waterboard bin Laden.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  12. *knew

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  13. #8 Sue, LOL!

    Pablo (99243e)

  14. sure, tis a no-brainer.

    hypothetical in the other direction: waterboarding OBL or any other terrorist in order to prevent a terrorist attack of vastly lesser impact than 9/11, for example, an attack which destroys only property and property with little value? again, sure, a no-brainer, as terrorists who would harm me, my family and my friends are lower than the proverbial pond s**m and have forfeited any right to being treated nicely.

    steve sturm (40e5a6)

  15. My answer is the same as it was to the other hypothetical: if it was the only way to prevent 9/11, or if all other ways to prevent 9/11 involved inflicting greater evil (eg, we could prevent 9/11 only by nuking jalalabad or by waterboarding osama bin laden), then yes, we should have done it.

    If, however, there were other paths open, then we should not have done it.

    ——-

    The *morality* of waterboarding is not dependant on its reliability.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  16. For once I have to agree with Aphrael :)

    “The *morality* of waterboarding is not dependant on its reliability.”

    As water-boarding causes no physical pain, no lasting harm I don’t consider an immoral act :)

    Yes to waterboarding in each of the hypos. Yes to kiling the dog if that works out (ok maybe not the dog, the cat though)

    Lord Nazh (899dce)

  17. As to query #1 and #2, my answer to both is yes, whatever works. We are at war to the knife with these people, so I would use far worse tactics if necessary.

    Jim Gerwick (a83a1a)

  18. your hypotheticals illustrate a common fallacy in decision analysis. a decision is distinct from an outcome, and it must be evaluated in the context of the information known to the decisionmaker at the time. suppose you have a coin, and you’re gonna let me bet a dollar on calling the flip, and you’re gonna give me 10-1 odds! you flip, i call heads, it lands tails, i’m out a buck. bad outcome for me, but still a good decision for me. that’s the difference.

    once you guarantee for me an outcome as favorable as saving the lives of 3000 people, then yes, i’m in for the waterboarding, heck, i’d probably castrate him first as a tangible demonstration of my disapproval. the problem is, your hypotheticals are unreasonable because real life so rarely guarantees to us the results of our actions. i have two other concerns; will the techniques we embrace be used reciprocally on our own soldiers who get captured by the enemy, and what of our collective moral standing in the world? for a long time, other countries looked up to us, not because we were well-armed, but because we set an example that they wanted to emulate. would you rather be feared and admired, or just feared?

    assistant devil's advocate (ecbb33)

  19. This is silly. The answer is still yes because there are still no unknowns. This is another form of “would you do a bad thing to accomplish a good result.” All you’ve done is lower the amount of bad and raise the amount of good.

    1. You know that you have a terrorist.
    2. You know that he has info you need to prevent an attack
    3. You know that there is no other way to get this information
    4. You know that if you don’t get this info people will die
    5. You know that waterboarding will work
    6. You know that the water boarding won’t kill or permanently injure him

    In the real world you only suspect those things. And you have to do so with various degrees of certainty. If you use torture as a standard tool than you’re very likely to torture (water board, Chinese water torture or whatever) innocent people who aren’t actually terrorists.

    I get that you’re trying to make certain people admit that they would do an immoral thing to accomplish a good result. It is fun. In the last thread I found out that one of your regular commenters would murder an innocent child if there was a good chance to get useful information that might prevent an attack.

    joe (6dd049)

  20. Dana, I think I would like your father…

    Scott Jacobs (e3904e)

  21. On a tangential note: I’ve often considered a disturbing alternate timeline in which the 9/11 attacks are prevented. Bin Laden and Al Qaeda don’t receive much attention (see the non-responses following the failed Operation Bojinka plot to blow up 12 airplanes in 1996 and the failed Millenium plot to blow up LAX). Instead, they are able to acquire nuclear weapons, which they use against American cities.

    If I could have prevented the 9/11 terror attacks, would I have? The answer is not necessarily as simple as it seems.

    aunursa (1b5bad)

  22. Wouldn’t waterboarding imply that we have bin Laden in custody, aunursa, so his planning and leadership days are over? Further, are we not waterboarding him to gain intelligence to then go after and kill those plotting against the USA? Does this not degrade their capabilities?

    “If I could have prevented the 9/11 terror attacks, would I have? The answer is not necessarily as simple as it seems.”

    Are you joking? You think you have any claim to the moral position?

    You are a leftist and you do not. That’s one of the most disgusting things from an American I’ve ever seen written on any public forum.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  23. Christoph, you misunderstand. My scenario has nothing to do with waterboarding. In this alternate timeline, we don’t have bin Laden in custody.

    If we could have prevented 9/11 AND disrupted Al Qaeda, then of course it would be the correct thing. But what if only 9/11 were prevented, but Al Qaeda was able to continue to develop even more deadly plots to kill not thousands, but millions?

    You are a leftist and you do not.

    Clearly you are not familiar with my numerous prior posts here and at LGF, Michelle Malkin, HotAir, and elsewhere.

    aunursa (1b5bad)

  24. Interesting post from anusura, it brings up the subject of certainty again doesn’t it? WInston Churchill allowed the bombing of an entire city to hide the fact that we had the german codes, ie. we had them by the balls as long as they didn’t know we had thier codes. He was pretty certain that it would allow us to win the war.

    Anursa’s post brings up a similar theme but is more repugnant not only coz it happened to us, recently, but perhaps because it provides less certainty as to what, exactly, AlQuaeda’s trajectory of power would have been had a horrific event not brought it to our attention.

    maybe the new hypothetical should be
    You are GWBush and you know from Bill Clinton’s people that Al Quaieda is becoming and incredibly powerful and dangerous organization that in the near future, you are fairly sure, will have the money and influence to buy a nuclear weapon. You percieve that there is no political will or good excuse (yet) or evidence enough to go after them on a global scale, at will. But then you find out about the 911 plot. If the plot is carried out then you will have some concrete reason to go after terrorists globally, wherever they may be.
    Do you allow the attack to go forward?

    EdWood (c2268a)

  25. Oh crap, I just put forth a “truther” scenario didn’t I. Sorry.

    EdWood (c2268a)

  26. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

    If we did not mean it, we should not have signed it.

    We have a choice here: civilization or barbarism. Not “civilization except barbarism for us in an emergency”.

    Those of you who support torture, would, under different circumstances of birth, support terrorism.

    JTFR, Patterico, you can keep modifying the hypo (“You have captured Hitler”… “You have captured Judas Iscariot”… “You have captured Sauron…”) and my answer will be the same. This should save us some typing time.

    Andrew J. Lazarus (fbbbca)

  27. “Clearly you are not familiar with my numerous prior posts here and at LGF, Michelle Malkin, HotAir, and elsewhere.”

    Clearly. Without evidence to the contrary and I have none, I accept your belief I am mistaken as fact. I apologize.

    Yes, if we were positing scenarios like nukes or skyscrapers falling, I’ll take the latter. But it’s not much of a basis for action. If I knew skyscrapers were gonna fall, I’d act. I’d expect our security forces to do no less. I don’t want them to hold back on the theory that a successful attack will increase their budget and resources plus steel the national will.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  28. 1. Yes
    2. Cleo, are you done pouting yet? Have a cookie and answer the question.

    jamrat (ffec61)

  29. AJL,

    The Convention depends on what constitutes “severe pain or suffering”.

    aunursa (1b5bad)

  30. Christoph,

    Apology accepted. You simply misunderstood my position.

    Agreed that security forces should do all to prevent even the smallest attack. My scenario is merely a hypothetical fantasy: Suppose I came to know on September 10, 2001 the precise nature of the attacks to be taken on the following day? What steps would I take? My conclusion is that I would attempt to get the WTC upper floors and Pentagon evacuated (presumably by calling in a bomb threat), but allow the flights to take off … and therefore sacrifice the passengers and crew, but save most of those on the ground.

    aunursa (1b5bad)

  31. Andrew,

    Waterboarding isn’t torture. Calling a bagel a donut doesn’t make it taste any sweeter. Patterico is right to pose these hypotheticals — they expose those who want to live in a society of pushovers, such as yourself.

    The great Abraham Lincoln once violated the law to maintain the integrity of this country. Why would it be wrong to do so now?

    H2U (81b7bd)

  32. Severe pain and suffering would include reading the preening of AJL.

    JD (33beff)

  33. Does anyone remember a television show that explored an alternate timeline in an even worse event happened because the assassination of President Kennedy was prevented?

    aunursa (1b5bad)

  34. AJL:

    Those of you who support torture, would, under different circumstances of birth, support terrorism.

    So we are either with you, or we are with the terrorists (save for fortune). Sounds familiar.

    Viktor (6c107f)

  35. The great Abraham Lincoln once violated the law to maintain the integrity of this country. Why would it be wrong to do so now?

    You know, this is pretty exaggerated. At the time Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, it was not really clear whose Constitutional responsibility that was. And later Congress authorized that suspension, which at least made sense given that there was a state of rebellion.

    I must confess that I find it hard to rank The War on Terror with either WW2 or the Civil War. Are you sure your desire to be involved with something truly great and important isn’t coloring your desire for a torture-permitting emergency?

    Andrew J. Lazarus (fbbbca)

  36. #33:

    I recall a Greg Benford novel “Timescape” where (SPOILER ALERT) all peace breaks out and lions lay down with lambs, etc, because we were able to contact the past and stop the assassination. I think angels sing, too!

    Don’t recall a tv show.

    Off topic, sorry.

    Viktor (6c107f)

  37. Those of you who support torture, would, under different circumstances of birth, support terrorism.

    Terrorism, by definition, targets the innocent.

    aunursa (1b5bad)

  38. Profile in Silver
    A 1985 episode of the second Twilight Zone series, was about a time traveller from 2172 who prevented Kennedy’s death after being sent merely to film it. The result is an escalating series of events, all combinations of which end with the total destruction of humanity in a nuclear war. The time traveller resolves the paradox by sending Kennedy forward to his own era, and by taking Kennedy’s place in the motorcade, dying in his stead.

    aunursa (1b5bad)

  39. Andrew, at 26: that’s a legal position.

    Unless you are taking the moral position that anything we have ever agreed to binds us forever.

    In which case, it would be more interesting to amend the hypothetical to presume that we haven’t agreed to not torture, thereby removing that element from the question.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  40. I am going to post this link again:

    http://www.reason.com/news/show/117073.html

    “Here’s another poser: Suppose you’re an innocent suspect whom your captors are convinced is a terrorist. They don’t believe your protestations, so they decide to torture you into a confession. The more you protest your innocence, the more frustrated they get that you won’t “crack.” What do you say to get them to stop? How do you get them not to decide they need to hurt you even more?”

    Who is to say that torturing bin Laden would have actually produced legitimate information,

    AND,

    Should authorized as an instrument of state policy at the highest levels of the US government, what are the moral implications?

    The problem with your hypothetical is that it relies entirely on hindsight and is assured about the efficiency of torture. It is impossible to assume that the information that might be obtained would be accurate or reliable.

    You have constructed a hypothetical that is almost too perfect in order to justify waterboarding, whereas in reality the situation would be much less certain.

    Why you then take your rigged hypothetical and use it as an argument *for* the legalization of torture and waterboarding is not clear to me. I fail to see the point of this exercise.

    Torture is torture. Why is it that we seem to have become so morally corrupt that “the nature of torture” is even a matter of debate?

    anon (f21849)

  41. In my post above it should read:

    “Should torture be authorized as an instrument of state policy at the highest levels of the US government, what are the moral implications?”

    anon (f21849)

  42. Aunursa, at 37: there’s a fairly good argument that it’s impossible to tell in advance whether or not the people who are being tortured are guilty. That is to say … Patterico’s hypotheticals are one thing, but in a real world situation, the risk is quite high that, if torture is allowed as a matter of policy, innocent people will be tortured.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  43. aphrael – “but in a real world situation, the risk is quite high that, if torture is allowed as a matter of policy, innocent people will be tortured.”

    Although those we have previously identified as holding leadership positions in various terrorist organizations certainly reduce the chances of being innocent, wouldn’t you agree?

    daleyrocks (906622)

  44. Yes.
    .
    If waterboarding GWB for the same time would accomplish the same end, same answer.
    .
    I wonder if penalizing an official (e.g., by waterboarding them) for failure to prevent an attack would make them more attentive, and thereby result in fewer successful attacks.

    cboldt (3d73dd)

  45. daleyrocks: we’re wandering a bit off the hypo here, but i guess we can go down this road until patterico asks us to stop. :)

    it reduces the chances, yes. but i have the following reservations:

    * the fact that someone is “identified as holding leadership positions in terrorist organizations” does not mean they *do*. our intelligence is hardly infallible. and, since identification tends to be taken at face value by the public, there is an incentive to over-identify … it’s not as though there is a price to be paid for “identifying” someone who isn’t actually holding a leadership position in a terrorist organization. so there’s a risk there.

    * i’m not convinced that a policy which restricts torture to those identified as holding leadership positions in terrorist organizations will hold to that line. i think it would be far too easy to gradually broaden it over time … and that would dramatically increase the risk, if it were done.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  46. Joe #14

    1. You know that you have a terrorist.
    2. You know that he has info you need to prevent an attack
    3. You know that there is no other way to get this information
    4. You know that if you don’t get this info people will die
    5. You know that waterboarding will work
    6. You know that the water boarding won’t kill or permanently injure him

    revised a bit:
    1. I only believe I have a terrorist
    2. I only believe he has info
    3. I don’t know that there isn’t a different way
    4. I’m only guessing that people will die if I don’t get this information
    5. I’m guessing waterboarding will work
    6. I don’t know (nor do I care) if waterboarding will kill or permanently injure him.

    And I still say it’s a no-brainer.

    There are usually no guarantees, whether in war or in life in general, we have to act based on limited information and best guesses. Will we sometimes guess wrong and, as a result, torture some ‘innocent’ party? Sure. But just as I’d let our military shoot first and worry second, and unlike that criminal law adage of letting 10 guilty go free, in wartime, I’d rather submit 10 terrorist suspects to harsh interrogation than run the risk that the one who has information is allowed to keep that information secret. It all comes down to what one is willing to do to protect friends and family.

    steve sturm (40e5a6)

  47. is the morality of waterboarding dependent on its reliability?
    .
    Off the cuff, and purely from the principle of the golden rule, I think the morality of any coercive action depends on something resembling reliability. We prefer to not incarcerate innocents, but the system makes that deviation from intended process from time to time. But if the analysis is utilitarian, guilt/innocence and justice are disposable. It’s not immoral to kill 200 random innocents (shoot down a hijacked plane) in exchange for saving 3000 random innocents. One would prefer to not have to make that choice, but the world is far from perfect, and far from moral.
    .
    But that Salem witch treatment worked every time. Only the witches drowned. Them who didn’t, weren’t witches.

    cboldt (3d73dd)

  48. Semanticleo:

    Answer my hypothetical questions and I’ll answer yours.

    You asked them as a dodge. You use the fact that I haven’t answered them yet as another dodge.

    I asked you first.

    Patterico (dbb127)

  49. Andrew J. Lazarus,

    “If we did not mean it, we should not have signed it.”

    Sigh.

    From my post:

    “It’s a moral question, not a legal one, so assume that the waterboarding is legal.”

    We could really have a much more productive discussion if you people would read what I write.

    Patterico (7e0037)

  50. “In which case, it would be more interesting to amend the hypothetical to presume that we haven’t agreed to not torture, thereby removing that element from the question.”

    That’s why I did that in the post.

    Patterico (c914ca)

  51. We could really have a much more productive discussion if you did not have oatmeal for brains.

    There, fixed that for you, Patterico.

    😉

    JD (33beff)

  52. “will the techniques we embrace be used reciprocally on our own soldiers who get captured by the enemy”

    I think we know the answer to both of your concerns.

    pataz (56a0a8)

  53. Sorry, Patterico, I could not resist.

    pataz – Given what our enemies currently do to our soldiers, and non-soldiers, I would think that waterboarding, sleep deprivation, loud music, and the other forms of torture that folks like AJL object to would be an exponentially better alternative to being beheaded with a dull rusty scimtar, and then being lit on fire, and hung in effigy from a bridge.

    JD (33beff)

  54. aphrael – “since identification tends to be taken at face value by the public, there is an incentive to over-identify”

    Fortunately, even with all the leaks to the NY Times and Washington Post of national security secrets, I have not yet read any accounts of the public being in a position to determine which detainees are to be coercively interrogated. I was always under the impression that was left to professionals who were better informed.

    daleyrocks (906622)

  55. If we could have prevented 9/11 by waterboarding Osama bin Laden for 2 1/2 minutes, should we have done it?

    Yes.

    And nevertheless, I’ll repeat what I said before. For reasons I gave and won’t repeat, I say waterboarding and equally harsh or harsher methods should be forbidden by law and prevented in practice. What is right in an individual case may not be right as a rule.

    Bonus question: is the morality of waterboarding dependent on its reliability?

    No.

    Reliability is relevant, because it the information you obtain is wholly unreliable it’s hard to make any sort of case for waterboarding even in individual cases.

    But that is not the reason I object to allowing waterboarding and other coercive interrogation methods. In addressing the hypotheticals, I assume that the information obtained is 100% reliable, but I still say such methods should be prohibited.

    David Blue (635616)

  56. “Bonus question: is the morality of waterboarding dependent on its reliability?”

    – Patterico

    Why are we talking about morality? This is an issue of practicality (my answer is to the first question is still “yes”, by the way).

    No matter what, torturing someone is immoral. Unfortunately, it’s occasionally necessary, and you get to take a hot shower to scrub off the guilt.

    Leviticus (43095b)

  57. is the morality of waterboarding dependent on its reliability?

    More thoughts on this topic. My answer (#9) is yes to both parts. That being said, I think it’s obvious that morality is always dependent upon the situation.

    A man walks out of a room with a smoking gun. There is a dead body with a bullet hole in it’s head inside the room. I suspect Patterico would know better than I, but there are several explanations possible: murder, self-defense, manslaughter, accident, suicide, etc. Whether the person was correct to kill the other person (if that’s what happened!) depends upon the situation.
    Applying this to the question at hand, if waterboarding is not a reliable way to extract information, then it’s the infliction of pain/discomfort/anguish for no good reason. That’s immoral. If it is reliable, then it’s use can be morally justified in limited circumstances.

    Or so it seems to me.

    Viktor (6c107f)

  58. I’ll go a bit further…

    Should we waterboard Osama Bin Laden if we catch him now, to see what he knows?

    Yes.

    Just the chance that we would get information from a man who has professed his desire to kill all Americans should be enough to make that a moot point.

    reff (bff229)

  59. You know, this is pretty exaggerated. At the time Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, it was not really clear whose Constitutional responsibility that was. And later Congress authorized that suspension, which at least made sense given that there was a state of rebellion.

    Exaggeration my rear-end! Desperate times call for desperate measures, Andrew. I hope that concept is easy to grasp.

    I must confess that I find it hard to rank The War on Terror with either WW2 or the Civil War. Are you sure your desire to be involved with something truly great and important isn’t coloring your desire for a torture-permitting emergency?

    Then you are deluded. The battle between the Islamic world and the Western world is a world war. To deny this is folly.

    H2U (81b7bd)

  60. Should we waterboard Osama Bin Laden if we catch him now, to see what he knows?

    Yes.

    As a “first resort”? That puts us right at the bottom of the slippery slope.

    Viktor (6c107f)

  61. If waterboarding is the moral act in this case, then failure to waterboard is immoral.

    If the subject in this hypo were a US citizen, then all that stands between the moral act (preventing a horrific crime) and the obtaining of information from the subject through waterboarding is something like the subjects’ 5th amendment rights against self-incrimination.

    In this case, wouldn’t the investigators always have to make the immoral choice? Can they be depended-upon to always make the immoral choice?

    If the morality of the waterboarding is not dependant on its subject, the questioner is now in a terrible predicament; he is caught between being immoral (observing the subject’s constitutional protections) and the moral (extracting information about the impending horrific crime through near torture).

    But all of that would probably only matter if the questioner thought there was something bad about near-torture. It seems as if these discsussions of morality with respect to near-torture are exercises in cauistry devised to make it seem less awful (mind you, sometimes you just have to do awful things, but I would argue that you shouldn’t feel good about it).

    JSinAZ (e71b0b)

  62. Steve at 44, Thanks for responding.

    There are usually no guarantees, whether in war or in life in general, we have to act based on limited information and best guesses. Will we sometimes guess wrong and, as a result, torture some ‘innocent’ party? Sure. But just as I’d let our military shoot first and worry second, and unlike that criminal law adage of letting 10 guilty go free, in wartime, I’d rather submit 10 terrorist suspects to harsh interrogation than run the risk that the one who has information is allowed to keep that information secret. It all comes down to what one is willing to do to protect friends and family.

    Here’s a hypo for you. I hope you don’t find it too far fetched. It’s a variation on the ticking time bomb that I think would be more likely of the real life choices someone will face.

    You have reliable data that a suspected terrorist is planning to stage the public murder of a civilian to influence US policy. You have a good idea that the attack will take place between 8:00 and 9:00 am and involve either a small bomb or a fire arm. You expect between 1 and 20 people could be killed, mostly women. You’ve contacted the most likely targets and none of them are willing to alter their schedule. They refuse to give into intimidation. You can’t make them, or take them into custody. You can’t guarantee that you know who the target is. A representative DHS has asked your boss if there’s anything you need and the sense of urgency to you has been raised.

    You know that the terrorist took a cab into the city driven by a member of their organization. You know that it was one of 2 possible cabs. You have reasonably good information about BOTH cab drivers and there’s nothing in either’s history to make one more likely than the other. Both claim to be ignorant of the plot and willing to help in any way that they can. You can’t tell if either is lying. It would be a coin toss to you as to who was the more likely suspect. Both have families and ties to the community. All of your standard approaches have failed and it’s 6:00 am. Even after you get the information you’ll need time to respond.

    What do you do?

    If both drivers are citizens of another country working here illegally does it change your answer?

    If water boarding doesn’t work do you continue with more extreme measures?

    Does it change your answer if either/both invoke their civil rights?

    joe (6dd049)

  63. joe – that’s an interesting hypo. You can’t intimidate the possible victims into altering their schedule to avoid risk, so you ponder waterboarding a different innocent person (one of the two cabbies) instead.
    .
    Why not waterboard the putative victims of the terrorist in order to make them change their schedules? They’re better off waterboarded than dead. Okay. That’s extreme. Just lock them up for as long as it takes for the heat to die down. For their own protection, of course.

    cboldt (3d73dd)

  64. cbolt, you didn’t answer the question.

    joe (6dd049)

  65. “Suppose I came to know on September 10, 2001 the precise nature of the attacks to be taken on the following day? What steps would I take? My conclusion is that I would attempt to get the WTC upper floors and Pentagon evacuated (presumably by calling in a bomb threat), but allow the flights to take off … and therefore sacrifice the passengers and crew, but save most of those on the ground.”

    I’m sure Ted Olsen would think you’re a hero.

    That was sarcasm indeed and not the light humorous kind. aunursa, there’s conservative… and then there’s nuts.

    In that situation, I would let the terrorists get to the airport and take them all out, captured alive if possible, for interrogation. And I wouldn’t let one innocent die unless I knew doing so would prevent a larger tragedy. Then I would let them die, very reluctantly, as did Churchill when he fed misinfo to the Germans so the V-2s would strike East London and avoid Whitehall, Ministry of Defence, and the Admiralty, et cetera.

    But for goodness sakes. If the only think you knew was terrorists were going to attack planes, you’d take them out as the British did with relatively recent plans to blow up airliners over the Atlantic.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  66. What do you do?
    .
    As long as we’re mistreating innocents, I go for the gusto and lock up the ones who won’t change their schedule. I keep watching the two cabbies from a distance.
    .
    But, if the choice is between “one to 20 innocents *WILL* die” and “one innocent will be waterboarded but for sure zero innocents will die,” and I have ONLY those two choices, I dunk the innocent cabbie to save the innocent life or lives.

    cboldt (3d73dd)

  67. Does anyone remember a television show that explored an alternate timeline in an even worse event happened because the assassination of President Kennedy was prevented?

    Comment by aunursa — 11/14/2007 @ 11:06 am

    I doubt it’s the one you’re talking about, but an episode of Red Dwarf covered that. Something about all his affairs coming out, turmoil in the US, Russia attacks.

    Like I said, doubt it’s the one you’re talking about.

    Scott Jacobs (a1de9d)

  68. Standard assumptions apply. It’s a moral question, not a legal one, so assume that the waterboarding is legal.

    I don’t know if I would have a moral obligation to torture in order to protect a society that legalizes torture. Of course, I think it would be reasonable to assume that there would be altogether more torture in OBL’s perfect world, so I would be obligated to stop that.

    Rather dicey, I have to tell you.

    Fritz (d62210)

  69. As a “first resort”? That puts us right at the bottom of the slippery slope.

    Comment by Viktor — 11/14/2007 @ 1:33 pm

    I would use extremely aggressive interrogation methods with him very quickly, subject to the advice of experts. His intelligence value would rapidly diminish with time and I’d want to know as much as possible about his organization, including who is who and where, so we could surge enormous intelligence and military resources — including at higher than normal risk to U.S. forces if necessary — to strike a hard, crippling blow to al Quaeda.

    I would stand on the organization’s neck and press down, hard and repeatedly.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  70. Joe:

    not dodging, but have to run to pick up a kid at dance. will respond later tonight.

    steve sturm (40e5a6)

  71. It really doesn’t take long to say yes or no, steve sturm. In the hypo, I’d say, “Yes.”

    If you want to say the hypo is unlikely, sure, it is. If you want to posit other hypos, cool. I did too.

    But in the scenario exactly as outlined with two options, yes and no, which would you do? Surely you could have squeezed that little tidbit in

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  72. steve, I’m sorry, I was wrong. I see you’re responding to joe’s new hypo, which is elaborate. Look forward to seeing your answer to him later.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  73. take your time steve I look forward to reading your response.

    joe (6dd049)

  74. Answering Patterico’s opening question: yes, and the bonus: yes (if it is known to never produce reliable information, it’s not a useful interrogation technique and using it for such would immoral.)

    htom (412a17)

  75. Even if it took 2 1/2 months, the answer is still YES. I have absolutely no moral reservations about doing anything and everything to people who want to KILL me just because I’m an American. The morality of your actions are not dependent on results. Actions are moral or not moral because of the action itself and the reasons (justifications) for those actions. When some terrorist wants to kill me, I am morally justified to stop that terrorist. Period. Now, if that terrorist will only target liberal idiots and their tinfoil hat wearing Senators and Congressmen, then maybe waterboarding should be illegal and unethical. JUST KIDDING. Even moonbats have a right to life – even before they’re born.

    Paul (d7bbf4)

  76. okay Joe, I’m back, here goes.

    I presume your hypothetical dictates that there is no way to tell which is lying (lie detector tests, checking their cab logs, etc.) and that there is no reasonably effective way of providing protection to the potential targets. I don’t know why your scenario precludes my taking the potential targets into protective custody, but I’ll play along. I also presume your scenario has the cabby consciously taking part in the plot, that he was no innocent bystander.

    First, if the cabby is an American citizen, no torture, no questioning without counsel present and so on. The American people have decided torturing Americans is off limits and I am going to respect their decision (yeah, even to the point where bombs go off).

    If they’re not American, they have don’t have the rights afforded to Americans, so it doesn’t matter if they start screaming for a lawyer. Nor does it matter whether they are here legally or not, but it does matter what nationality they are as I’m less willing to subject citizens of truly friendly countries to the same treatment I am willing to subject citizens of less-friendly/hostile countries. If they’re citizens of unfriendly countries (Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, France pre-Sarkozy, etc.), then it’s pretty much anything goes in order to save American lives. So yes to waterboarding, pulling off toenails, electrodes to the genitals and so on until I get the information from the guilty one and/or am convinced the other truly doesn’t know anything. If they’re citizens of friendly countries, I still would approve of harsh interrogation, but not as severe (waterboarding, knocking them around, some shock treatment, drugs, sure, cutting off their fingers one at a time, no). (for those who wonder, my rationale is that we sometimes need to take a hit for our allies, but we owe nothing to those from countries who are, at best, antagonistic, if not outright hostile).

    A follow up: if I screw someone over and it turns out that person is innocent, then I (America) owe them big time. It won’t make them whole, but if we harm someone who hasn’t done something wrong, we need to step up and do more than say ‘oops, sorry’.

    stevesturm (d3e296)

  77. “If they’re not American, they have don’t have the rights afforded to Americans, so it doesn’t matter if they start screaming for a lawyer.”

    You don’t know what you’re talking about.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  78. Christoph: he asked for my view and I gave it to him.

    stevesturm (d3e296)

  79. You need to give some tough hypos going the other way. You are abusing your power of the pulpit. And you’re not intellectually honest. Tata.

    (I still haven’t cursed.)

    TCO (79f88a)

  80. Yes, if your hypothetical is true, then that’s another no-brainer. Absolutely. Just like it would be similarly moral, if it could have prevented 9/11, to shoot an elderly grandmother in the head.

    I’d like to point out, Patterico, that the vast majority of your liberal commenters did answer your question straightforwardly. We didn’t evade “every time.”

    I fail to see the point of your hypotheticals. You can set up something like this where torture is moral, but that never applies in the real world.

    I agree with this guy:

    As a former Master Instructor and Chief of Training at the US Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School (SERE) in San Diego, California I know the waterboard personally and intimately. SERE staff were required undergo the waterboard at its fullest. I was no exception. I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people. It has been reported that both the Army and Navy SERE school’s interrogation manuals were used to form the interrogation techniques used by the US army and the CIA for its terror suspects. What was not mentioned in most articles was that SERE was designed to show how an evil totalitarian, enemy would use torture at the slightest whim. If this is the case, then waterboarding is unquestionably being used as torture technique.

    I concur strongly with the opinions of professional interrogators like Colonel Stewart Herrington, and victims of torture like Senator John McCain. If you want consistent, accurate and reliable intelligence, be inquisitive, analytical, patient but most of all professional, amiable and compassionate.

    Who will complain about the new world-wide embrace of torture? America has justified it legally at the highest levels of government. Even worse, the administration has selectively leaked supposed successes of the water board such as the alleged Khalid Sheik Mohammed confessions. However, in the same breath the CIA sources for the Washington Post noted that in Mohammed’s case they got information but “not all of it reliable.” Of course, when you waterboard you get all the magic answers you want -because remember, the subject will talk. They all talk! Anyone strapped down will say anything, absolutely anything to get the torture to stop. Torture. Does. Not. Work.

    Yeah.

    Russell (a32796)

  81. My answer:

    Yes and no.

    Paul (not the one in comment #73; the regular that came up with the name “Staunch Brayer” for a certain commenter)

    Paul (ec9716)

  82. I’ve responded to your first hypothetical from a conservative position here. The answer to your second to be useful would have to be something like would it be worth it to torture 15 innocent people AND Osama bin Laden….

    To which I would say, ‘no’.

    Sebastian Holsclaw (0b541d)

  83. You can set up something like this where torture is moral, but that never applies in the real world.

    Of course it applies to the real world, just not as neatly as the hypothetical framework implies. Patterico’s exercise illustrates perfectly the disconnect many people have when it comes to extracting information.

    Desperate times call for desperate measures. There is a word that aptly describes a society/culture who is unwilling to cross the line of decency to prevent disaster: suicidal.

    Topics such as these always remind me of a line delivered by the great Leonard Nimoy:

    Were I to invoke logic, however, logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

    H2U (81b7bd)

  84. Steve, what Christoph means is that most of the Constitution, including the right to counsel in a criminal proceeding, applies to non-citizens too. (It would sort of defeat the purpose of the Civil War if the 13th Amendment, for example, had a non-citizen exception.)

    Andrew J. Lazarus (fbbbca)

  85. Why must people re-frame the question in their own terms, and then answer a question not asked?

    Russell – Not everybody agrees with him.

    JD (33beff)

  86. Patterico, at 48: fair enough. I was trying to imply, in understated fashion, that the person I was speaking to should make that assumption and then discuss the hypo under that assumption. My skills at implying in that fashion could evidently use some work. :)

    Daleyrocks, at 52: at the end of the day, though, the people running the country are responsible to the public, and it would be foolish to assume that they are not to some degree influenced by public reaction. this is as it should be.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  87. If we could have prevented 9/11 by aborting the fetus which became Osama bin Laden, should we have done it?

    Standard assumptions apply. It’s a moral question, not a legal one, so assume that the abortion is legal.

    Sorry, I know it’s been said, but I just had to ask.

    Semanticleo (edcd09)

  88. If we knew with 100% certainty? Absolutely.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  89. Still evading, Semanticleo?

    Paul (ec9716)

  90. Steve, thanks for answering. I’m surprised you’d knowingly maim a person you knew was innocent.

    I’ll have more after the kids are in bed. Anyone else want to answer.

    joe (c0e4f8)

  91. He’s still evading, Paul.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  92. Personally, I have to say I can add a big YES to the question.

    What if we could get into the “Wayback Machine” and see that Saddam did not have WMDs; Would you abort the NON-9/11 related Iraq invasion to save the lives of 4000 American troops?

    Semanticleo (edcd09)

  93. It’s as though he thinks it doesn’t look like he’s evading if he’s a smartass about it.

    Come on, Semanty. I’ll answer your hypo if you answer mine.

    Patterico (b25bce)

  94. Patterico – Apparently PRE traumatic stress syndrome prevents Miss Cleo from rational thought, or responding directly to a question.

    JD (33beff)

  95. Personally, I have to say I can add a big YES to the question.

    What do you mean? Is that an answer, or what?

    What if we could get into the “Wayback Machine” and see that Saddam did not have WMDs; Would you abort the NON-9/11 related Iraq invasion to save the lives of 4000 American troops?

    If Saddam didn’t have WMDs as a comply with all the UN resolutions on Iraq after the Gulf War and the years afterward, Resolution 1441 would have been unnesscessary.

    Saddam had his chances to comply…for 13 years, Semanticleo.

    Paul (ec9716)

  96. unacceptable.
    We should invade Pakistan and
    he should be hunted down and captured alive (damn the cost in American lives that would take)
    Maybe a precision cruise missle strike could be acceptable to me, but only if no Muslims die and we can ensure bin Laden dies instantly and suffers no pain.

    Unless he is wearing real fur, in which case 38 seconds of suffering before death would be ok

    SteveG (4e16fc)

  97. Patty;

    OK, I’ll play. But I’ll be interested in the way you play the results of your attempts to paint people into a corner.

    If I have no problem with Aborting OBL, it’s a sure bet I would waterboard him.

    Semanticleo (edcd09)

  98. If I have no problem with Aborting OBL, it’s a sure bet I would waterboard him.

    “If?”

    Is that a yes or no?

    Paul (ec9716)

  99. I guess Sematicleo went to the Bill Cinton school of question-answering.

    Paul (ec9716)

  100. Lets see.
    Dismembering innocent in once secure womb vs. 150 seconds of water on the face of known mass murderer to prevent further mass murder.

    Answer: Clearly we should dismember the baby since it is an invader into a womans body. Whereas murder of little eichmanns is socially cathartic

    SteveG (4e16fc)

  101. If we could have prevented 9/11 by aborting the fetus which became Osama bin Laden, should we have done it?

    Yikes! If my grandmother had wheels, would she have been a shopping cart? I love the razor-keen reasoning of our lefties.

    nk (09a321)

  102. Semanty, if you want answer to your question, you must answer my KSM hypo with a comments that begins with one of three sentences:

    Yes.
    No.
    I don’t know.

    You can follow it up with whatever cutesy bullshit you want.

    No real answer from you? Then no real answer from me.

    Jesus Christ, this question scares you.

    Patterico (673daf)

  103. Joe: where did I say I’d maim someone I knew to be innocent? what would be the point of doing that, why wouldn’t I focus my efforts on, by default, the one who was guilty?

    stevesturm (d3e296)

  104. Patterico, I don’t think you should take our (or my) Lord’s name in vain.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  105. I have done the same things many times I admit, which I am not proud of. Just commenting and thinking out loud. Of course, you can if you want.

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  106. Holy Moly. Do you want an affadavit?

    “If we could have prevented 9/11 by waterboarding Osama bin Laden for 2 1/2 minutes, should we have done it?”

    Yes, Yes. A thousand times, Yes…………….

    Will that do?

    Semanticleo (edcd09)

  107. How about the other question, Miss Cleo, the one that you have most studiously avoided?

    JD (33beff)

  108. Yes, Miss Cleo, the KSM question is still unanswered.

    Yes, no or I don’t know?

    Just pick one of the three, then beat us over the head with a self-righteous shovel if you like.

    Paul (ec9716)

  109. Steve in 74 wrote:

    if they’re not American, they have don’t have the rights afforded to Americans, so it doesn’t matter if they start screaming for a lawyer. Nor does it matter whether they are here legally or not, but it does matter what nationality they are as I’m less willing to subject citizens of truly friendly countries to the same treatment I am willing to subject citizens of less-friendly/hostile countries. If they’re citizens of unfriendly countries (Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, France pre-Sarkozy, etc.), then it’s pretty much anything goes in order to save American lives. So yes to waterboarding, pulling off toenails, electrodes to the genitals and so on until I get the information from the guilty one and/or am convinced the other truly doesn’t know anything.

    I bolded the part where I thought you said you’d maim them both until you either had information or knew which one was guilty. One of them is almost certainly a conspirator, the other is even more certainly just a guy that drives a cab.

    Basically what the question boils down to is whether you would torture an innocent person, for the chance to get the guilty to give you info that might be able to stop and terrorist. This is really the trade off that we’d be looking at if we allow torture as an interrogation technique. If we put in safe guards for the innocent we slow down the questioner, and likely still torture innocent people. We execute the innocent on occasion, and we as a society bend over backwards, rightfully so, not to do that. If we leave it to the discretion of the questioner we get more torture of innocent people.

    If i misinterpreted your response please I’m sorry, can you clarify? No snark, i’m looking forward to your response.

    Patterico, i’ve answered all of your questions (so far as I know. Will you take a shot at mine?

    joe (c0e4f8)

  110. It’s in comment No. 60.

    joe (c0e4f8)

  111. Yes.See,it’s not hard

    corwin (24a85b)

  112. Joe:

    All of your standard approaches have failed and it’s 6:00 am.

    What do you mean by “standard approaches?”

    Paul (ec9716)

  113. Paul, by standard I meant that you’ve done everything typically allowed when question prisoners in the US. I said that it was 6:00 to leave time for torture, but not enough time for much else.

    joe (c0e4f8)

  114. Paul, by standard I meant that you’ve done everything typically allowed when question prisoners in the US.

    Thanks, joe.

    My answer is the same as Steve Sturm’s in #74 except for this:

    I would put out a high-level alert for suspicious activity if the cabbies are American citizens. What else can you do?

    Paul (ec9716)

  115. Semanticleo,

    Do me a favor and confirm that your answer would be the same for the KSM hypo and then tell me which hypo you want answered. I’ll even answer two, since you’ll be answering two, although really they’re the same.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  116. We’re almost down to Oregonian as the sole holdout.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  117. Patterico, would you say if you’re not going to answer mine? It’s your blog so I don’t feel you’re obligated. I’d just like to know.

    joe (c0e4f8)

  118. “Yours” is Semanticleo’s, and he never answered the original question.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  119. Once he does, I will.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  120. Patterico – Cleo is still nursing that case of PRE traumatic stress disorder. Holding joe to account for the erratic and unpredictable moods of the psychic Cleo hardly seems fair. lol

    joe – That you and Cleo came up with the same hypothetical should be of great concern to you.

    JD (33beff)

  121. If it becomes obvious that he never will can declare it a time out and move on? You’ve made your point on their moral seriousness pretty well.

    I’ve got to admit I’m shocked anyone couldn’t come up with an answer to these. I can only conclude they’re so resistant to feeling like to scored a rhetorical point on them that they’ve frozen.

    Also, i couldn’t find your previous post on the subject, can you provide a link or the title.

    joe (c0e4f8)

  122. that should be like *you* scored a point

    joe (c0e4f8)

  123. “If we could have prevented 9/11 by waterboarding Osama bin Laden for 2 1/2 minutes, should we have done it?”

    Duh. How many people wouldn’t we waterboard to prevent 9/11?

    whitd (10527e)

  124. joe, your cabbie hypothetical would make a good outline for a script for a law enforcement TV series. Are you a writer?

    Paul (ec9716)

  125. “if they’re not American, they have don’t have the rights afforded to Americans, so it doesn’t matter if they start screaming for a lawyer.”

    I don’t think that’s right. Not for people here in the US.

    whitd (10527e)

  126. JD at 117, not really. Neither of us came up with it. It’s an a new form of a very old question. My guess is that patterico knows that.

    Knowing what patterico does for a living I assume both that he’s well educated and naturally intelligent. Plus it’s obvious that he puts some thought into what he posts.

    So I’m expecting a very good answer.

    joe (c0e4f8)

  127. Paul, nope. I’m an engineer. Thanks for the compliment though.

    A show based around uncertainty would be interesting though.

    joe (c0e4f8)

  128. joe,

    Give me one that Semanty didn’t ask first.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  129. If the one at 60 isn’t his I’ll answer it.

    I just remember you trying to get me to answer one of his by saying you’d ask it yourself.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  130. I find it disturbing that this is even an issue fit for debate among sophisticated people. To some extent, I understand a lot of liberal positions on issues of terrorist interrogation and (relatedly) criminal procedure. There are truly legitimate concerns at stake, even though I think the liberal positions are clearly incompatible with maintenance of reasonable levels of order.

    But this issue is different. Even after hearing what liberals have said in debate after debate, even after reading what they’ve written in argument after argument, I still don’t see–in fact, I still can’t even imagine–what it is, deep down, that could drive a person to say that we shouldn’t waterboard bin Laden to save the lives of three thousand Americans.

    Alan (f1706f)

  131. Russell says:

    Yes, if your hypothetical is true, then that’s another no-brainer. Absolutely. Just like it would be similarly moral, if it could have prevented 9/11, to shoot an elderly grandmother in the head.

    Wow. To Russell, shooting an elderly grandmother in the head is “similarly moral” to waterboarding Osama bin Laden for 2 1/2 minutes.

    Want to rephrase?

    Patterico (bad89b)

  132. Alan,

    It is pretty amazing, isn’t it? Check out Russell’s answer highlighted in my previous comment. What’s going on there??

    Patterico (bad89b)

  133. The cabbie hypo’s mine. I like it better anyway.

    joe (c0e4f8)

  134. My guess is that there is some kind of internal discord when their concepts of “for the greater good” and their own feelings of wanting to be able to maintain their self-proclaimed moral superiority collide. Kind of like atoms at FermiLab. Except the quarks are useful. Folks like Cleo and Russell, not so much.

    JD (33beff)

  135. I think (hope) he meant that both would have been the moral choice and thus, are similar.

    joe (c0e4f8)

  136. Wow. To Russell, shooting an elderly grandmother in the head is “similarly moral” to waterboarding Osama bin Laden for 2 1/2 minutes.

    Too many liberals are masters of moral equivalence. Too many wish to remain on their moral soapboxes and lecture the rest of us.

    Paul (ec9716)

  137. For an explanation of the irrelevance of this hypothetical to any sort of policy, you might check here. Some comments from that link

    And that is what Patterico has done here. He has created a hypothetical that would never exist in the real world. It may give him some satisfaction to think he has made liberals uneasy, but it shows that this is only a game to him.


    Generally speaking, hypotheticals that posit that we possess knowledge we’re not capable of possessing aren’t apt to be terribly useful when applied to reality. This is an oft-overlooked distinction between fiction, and non-fiction.


    And after a couple minutes of waterboarding, KSM spews out the location of a terrorist cell plotting an attack in two days. SWAT teams converge, arrest them, and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. Two days later, there are two terrorist attacks in two different cities. KSM chuckles to himself that by giving up one of the three attacks, the Americans thought that torture had worked, the two-thirds of his plan were left in place.

    Or wait, how about this one? KSM gives out false information he has ready in case he’s tortured. After two days of tracking down false leads, the real attack proceeds as planned.

    Or how about this one? KSM is tortured and gives out the plan to his torturers. But they figure he’s lying so they keep torturing him. Eventually he gives out more information, false information, anything he can think of. Eventually there is a pile of information to sift through, some real, some not.

    Hypotheticals are fun. So is ’24’ is a detached-from-reality way. ’24’ is like James Bond — it would be way cool if all that stuff really happened, but none of that stuff does.

    To wrap yourself into a “torture would be morally OK in *this* case” hypothetical, you have narrowly define parameters so specifically that it approaches, and surpasses, fiction.

    The affection for torture shown here arises in abnormal psychology, not patriotism.

    Andrew J. Lazarus (fbbbca)

  138. He has created a hypothetical that would never exist in the real world.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    Did they even read the post, Andrew?

    Paul (ec9716)

  139. Paul – They define the real world differently than the rest of us.

    JD (33beff)

  140. JD – apparently they’ve never heard the phrase “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

    Paul (ec9716)

  141. Semanticleo,

    I have been referring to you as a woman based on a long ago thread where I thought you said that you were the wife of a disabled veteran. I see here that Patterico is referring to you as “he”. Please set the record straight and accept my apology if I misunderstood your sex.

    nk (09a321)

  142. joe 106: Not knowing which was innocent and which was guilty, given the time constraints and not having any basis for suspecting one more than the other, I would aggressively go after both… so yes, if this is what you’re asking, since they both aren’t guilty, I would be torturing someone who was innocent. If, on the other hand, you’re asking me if I would torture someone who I knew at the time was innocent, the answer is no, there wouldn’t be any point to it.

    stevesturm (d3e296)

  143. Paul and JD, Patterico’s hypothesis key difference from the real world is that we have perfect knowledge before we make our decision. This point has been made repeatedly.

    joe (c0e4f8)

  144. Steve, that was what I was getting at. Is there an upper number of non-US cabbies who are almost certainly innocent that you’d be willing to torture to possibly prevent the death of between 1 and 20 people in the US?

    joe (c0e4f8)

  145. joe – I cannot come up with an exact number, so how about this for an answer. Were I one of the innocent cab drivers that was “tortured” in pursuit of this information, I would understand why it was done, and accept it, as my temporary discomfort would certainly be outweighed by the greater good being sought.

    JD (33beff)

  146. I don’t know Semanticleo’s gender. I had been trying to call him/her a “s/he” but I may sometimes slip and say “he” — on blogs, the odds are with you if you presume the commenter is male.

    Heck, I called DRJ “he” or “him” for a long time.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  147. joe – The basis of this entire post is the reporting of a real world event. That it does not reach 100% certainty is no concern of mine. Demanding such purity is sacrificing the excellent for the perfect.

    JD (33beff)

  148. I still have a fundamental problem with the definition of torture that is simply accepted for these hypothetical situations.

    JD (33beff)

  149. Andrew 136: it doesn’t matter if such clean-cut hypotheticals don’t exist in the real world. It’s not necessary to have perfect knowledge before one takes steps to protect friends and family, having a reasonable suspicion that someone is in possession of information is good enough for me to start the flow of water.

    As for the example, even if we were only able to prevent one of the three attacks, that is one more attack that we would have prevented by treating KSM with kid gloves. Likewise with his giving a combination of false and accurate information, yes, there’s a lot to sift through but I would rather have too much rather than not enough. As I’ve said before, still tis a no-brainer. To those who would pass because we wouldn’t be sure we had a real terrorist planning a real attack, I argue that as Cheney said, when smoking guns are mushroom clouds, reasonable suspicion is enough to start taking action, whether it be in Iraq, Iran or in an interrogation chamber.

    stevesturm (d3e296)

  150. I still think blah is female, but gender really doesn’t matter if your points are well-made. If they aren’t well-made, my theory is you must be a dumb blonde. And I can say that because I’m a blue-eyed, blonde.

    DRJ (9578af)

  151. when smoking guns are mushroom clouds

    steve, just a minor quibble, but at that point, it is already too late.

    JD (33beff)

  152. And I can say that because I’m a blue-eyed, blonde.

    And a bright one at that, DRJ.

    Paul (ec9716)

  153. JD, three points
    1. Steve said that he’d get out the electrodes and pliers if chinese water torture didn’t work. Does this change your answer?

    2. I’m not demanding 100% certainty in real life. But it’s absence must be a factor in what you do. How you handle that uncertainty is key part of any policy.

    3. Yeah, personally I’m not sure waterboarding is torture. I’m not sure it’s not. There’s plenty of debate by a lot of respectable people (and loud asshats) on whether it’s ‘really’ torture, only torture on paper (a treaty) or neither. For the purpose of the hypothetical I’m assuming that it is. I am pretty sure that if it’s not, it’s right there on the line.

    joe (c0e4f8)

  154. AJL is still pathetically clinging to the fiction that torture, even though he has not proved waterboarding is torture under the definitions of international conventions, does not work or produce reliable information as an interrogation tool. That is why precisely why nations around the world have continued to have aggressive interrogation techniques in their inventory of tools for centuries according to the liberal mindset. The tools don’t work or are overwhelmed by false information, which is why people keep using them. I’m sure that the Israeli’s would love to hear AJL’s expert opinions on these matters.

    daleyrocks (906622)

  155. I think blah is female too.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  156. I like this joe guy. Where’d you come from, joe?

    Patterico (bad89b)

  157. Detroit.

    But I found you from instapundit a while ago. I check in every once in a while. Lately this place has been a blast.

    I like that for the most part it’s polite.

    joe (c0e4f8)

  158. I like that for the most part it’s polite.

    Yeah, that ain’t easy.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  159. OK, I’ll take a break from blogging a response to Sebastian Holsclaw to respond to your hypo, joe. Maybe I can even work it in to my response to him.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  160. If Joe Wilson was a cabbie it’d be OK to waterboard him?

    Reductive methods like the ones we are seeing used on this thread end in absurdity

    I can’t find a hypothetical where I wouldn’t waterboard bin Laden.
    I wouldn’t have waterboarded Tim McVeigh though even if I thought he knew of second group planning a follow up blast…. US citizen, due process.

    Adam Gadahn is a former US citizen (and his citizenship should be revoked) that I would waterboard… particularly if I caught him offshore.
    But if the pre capture legal ruling team said no, I’d try to get the Pakistanis or Afghanis to detain and take custody of him. I’d pay their fuel bill to rendition him anywhere they had a bucket of water. And sleep soundly.

    SteveG (4e16fc)

  161. joe

    1) That would not change my answer. As an aside, the terms waterboarding and chinese water torture are tossed around a lot, and often interchangably. I always thought that they were quite different actions.

    2) In the given hypotheticals, as 100% certainty is never possible, good faithed belief and action would be enough for me.

    3) Given historical definitions of torture, or accepted meanings of torture, prior to the new and ever expanding meanings, waterboarding does not fit. I was waterboarded in SERE school. It sucked. It is not torture. You get up, dry yourself off, and walk away.

    daleyrocks – Well said. Coercive interrogation is likely to result in some false claims, that is a given. However, that quickly changes when the prisoner finds out that the claims are being checked in the real world for their veracity, and there are unpleasant consequences for not telling the truth. The idea that these techniques result only in false confessions is pure unadulterated BS.

    There is a country song about a guy named Joe. A good guy. He helps somebody change a tire, who in turn gives a big tip to a waitress, who is married to Joe, and they need the money. Something like that. Point is, Joe was a good guy.

    JD (33beff)

  162. If Joe Wilson was the cabbie, people would likely line up to waterboard him.

    JD (33beff)

  163. joe’s hypo:

    You have reliable data that a suspected terrorist is planning to stage the public murder of a civilian to influence US policy. You have a good idea that the attack will take place between 8:00 and 9:00 am and involve either a small bomb or a fire arm. You expect between 1 and 20 people could be killed, mostly women. You’ve contacted the most likely targets and none of them are willing to alter their schedule. They refuse to give into intimidation. You can’t make them, or take them into custody. You can’t guarantee that you know who the target is. A representative DHS has asked your boss if there’s anything you need and the sense of urgency to you has been raised.

    You know that the terrorist took a cab into the city driven by a member of their organization. You know that it was one of 2 possible cabs. You have reasonably good information about BOTH cab drivers and there’s nothing in either’s history to make one more likely than the other. Both claim to be ignorant of the plot and willing to help in any way that they can. You can’t tell if either is lying. It would be a coin toss to you as to who was the more likely suspect. Both have families and ties to the community. All of your standard approaches have failed and it’s 6:00 am. Even after you get the information you’ll need time to respond.

    What do you do?

    If both drivers are citizens of another country working here illegally does it change your answer?

    If water boarding doesn’t work do you continue with more extreme measures?

    Does it change your answer if either/both invoke their civil rights?

    Well.

    For one thing, you haven’t said that we get to create our own laws, or answer the question without regard to law. So that makes it pretty easy. First and foremost, I have to follow the law.

    With no probable cause to arrest, the best I can do is to forcefully interrogate these people, and threaten them with the possibility that they could face severe legal consequences if someone is killed. I can tell them that if someone gets killed, and we can prove a conspiracy that they joined, they could go down for murder.

    Then I put the targets under surveillance and hope for the best.

    Waterboarding the cabbies is right out.

    If they’re working here illegally, I’d try to use that as part of the interrogation. If I got no help I would have them both deported regardless.

    I don’t know what “invoke their civil rights” means.

    Patterico (bad89b)

  164. Cleo…I assume you think that aborting OBL would be acceptable, and the difference is that conservatives DON’T think it is acceptable. Aborting OBL would be immoral under the circumstance that abortion is immoral, that it is the taking of an innocent life. His future is still in doubt, he is not a terrorist, yet. That may or may not come with his upbringing, which we cannot control. And, even if he were born in America, where he has the freedom to think what he wants to think, if he were to go out then and swear that he will kill Americans all over the world, he can do that in our country as long as he doesn’t ACT on that, which he has.

    I believe that America is on the moral high ground here. We will allow people like KSM and OBL to think the way they think as long as they don’t act on that. They can preach their hate, put their beliefs out for all to see. But, they’ve acted, and now we must also act to protect America from them. So, an act like waterboarding is a morally acceptable act, because it will not take innocent life, it will protect innocent life.

    But, waterboarding OBL, even now, would not be an immoral act because it would be done to PROTECT INNOCENT LIFE, not to take it, as OBL has sworn he will do again and again if given the chance. That is why we have the moral high ground to do things like waterboarding, which will only harm the criminal, not the innocent, since we know that KSM or OBL are both criminals and will do more harm.

    Joe, your hypo is too easy to answer: just order the people involved that they cannot do their meeting. You say in your hypo that you can’t, and they won’t be intimidated, but, yes you can. Your hypo is simply not realistic under the circumstances. The government can and must act in such situations. They do it every day, when they, for example, cancelled all flights around the country after 9-11. Yes, that is an extreme example, but, in today’s world, if they know what you say in your hypo, the answer is to stop the meeting.

    But, if you want an answer: waterboard both of the drivers; if they will help in any way they can, then they’ll do it voluntarily, since you gave that as an option. It would not be any different than a lie-detector. Now, before you go off, you said both will help in any way they can, so, you opened the door to the answer in your hypo.

    That’s why they call it a hypothetical….hypothetically, that is the exactly correct answer…..

    reff (99666d)

  165. Patterico:

    Wow. To Russell, shooting an elderly grandmother in the head is “similarly moral” to waterboarding Osama bin Laden for 2 1/2 minutes.

    You misunderstand me. I’m not trying to draw a moral equivalence between waterboarding OBL and riddling old ladies with bullets. I’m saying that these kind of hypotheticals aren’t shedding any light on the torture question. You can use the prevention of 9/11 to justify damn near anything. If I had to personally kill 2,999 people to save the lives of 3,000 others I would do it. People don’t get that chance.

    Russell (a32796)

  166. Patterico, OK, you wiggled out of Joe’s hypothetical by answering it as a legal question, but how about answering it as a moral question?
    Or maybe putting up a more carefully crafted hypo with the same kind of uncertainty as to who is a “terrorist” or not, built in?

    EdWood (9ad80b)

  167. Patterico,
    civil right meant right to counsel etc.

    what if any form of torture you think is morally acceptable were legal?

    what if you can reasonably assume the president will pardon you and anyone else that breaks the if it stops the terrorist?

    joe (c0e4f8)

  168. reff,
    the targets are US citizens that are often threatened with death or violence. They’ve decided not to give in to intimidation. Also you not exactly sure who the targets are, you just have a general idea.

    While both cabbies say they want to help. They both also say they haven’t got any info. Neither is willing to be to tortured.

    do you want to answer the question? Or are you going to try to play word games? There’s no point in getting into a debate on linguistics so please let me know.

    joe (c0e4f8)

  169. Patterico, thank you for answering.

    joe (c0e4f8)

  170. Dear Joe,

    To answer your Hypothetical:

    What do I do? I get them to talk by any means that does not cause actual lasting physical damage. Waterboarding, Cold room, slaps, all fair game.

    If both drivers are citizens of another country working here illegally, does it change my answer? Sure it does. Now it’s just methods that don’t kill him.

    Someone’s about to kill a US Citizn. Fuck their civil rights. An Innocent Civillian’s right to keep on living trumps their civil rights any day of the week.

    Scott Jacobs (a1de9d)

  171. Joe, I took your hypo exactly as you wrote it…and now you change it…

    But, I’ll play….

    The meeting is cancelled, because, as I assume, I am the government, and there won’t be a gathering….

    The cabbies, who are a part of the organization, as you said, will be waterboarded, because you said they would “DO ANYTHING”….

    Now, I’ll change what you wrote, to clear up your words….they have been subjected to questioning, and their lie detector doesn’t give us any reason to disbelieve them, neither does the sodium penothal, so, I have nothing…no, they do not get waterboarded, because I have no evidence to the contrary….

    Want to change your hypo again?

    reff (bff229)

  172. “Aborting OBL would be immoral under the circumstance that abortion is immoral, that it is the taking of an innocent life. His future is still in doubt, he is not a terrorist, yet.”

    -reff

    “waterboarding OBL, even now, would not be an immoral act because it would be done to PROTECT INNOCENT LIFE, not to take it, as OBL has sworn he will do again and again if given the chance”

    -reff

    Aaack. C’mon.

    ASSUME that bin-Laden would grow up to be the same terrorist he is today. ASSUME that aborting him would PROTECT INNOCENT LIFE. Then give a real answer.

    It’s the same cost-benefit analysis.

    Leviticus (43095b)

  173. Christoph
    In that situation, I would let the terrorists get to the airport and take them all out, captured alive if possible, for interrogation. And I wouldn’t let one innocent die unless I knew doing so would prevent a larger tragedy. Then I would let them die, very reluctantly, as did Churchill when he fed misinfo to the Germans so the V-2s would strike East London and avoid Whitehall, Ministry of Defence, and the Admiralty, et cetera.

    That’s the heart of the dilemma — whether or not the prevention of one catastrophe would allow an even greater catastrophe.

    I’m sure Ted Olsen would think you’re a hero.

    No doubt Debra Burlingame and Lisa Beamer would feel the same way.

    For what it’s worth, I live in California, which has the intended destinations of all four aircraft. I have more nightmares about being stuck on a hijacked airplane than I do about being stuck in a burning building above the fire line. Next month the Bay Area will be dedicating the only California memorial specifically honoring the passengers and crew of Flight 93.

    aunursa (1b5bad)

  174. Reff, Thanks for answering. I’m sorry if I didn’t word it clearly the first. I was trying to say that the cabbies (one of whom is almost certainly NOT involved in any plots) were both protesting their innocence, not that they were willing to be tortured. Sorry if I didn’t write it clearly. The
    point was if you were willing to torture one who is innocent to try to get info from the one who is guilty.

    Scott, thanks for answering.

    joe (5250bd)

  175. Asst Devil:

    I suggest you ask the veterans of the Hanoi Hilton and our veterans of the Korean War about the treatment they received and how badly they were tortured. Perhaps you might ask the parents and families of Americans who had their body parts removed if they were tortured in Iraq.

    Perhaps you would inform me of the North Vietanese who were punished by the World Court or other international tribunals for their actions.

    It gets awfully dull hearing that if we do something that others engage in with glee we may encourage it? The issue of torture is a litmus test for those who hate America. They realize that it is effective and useful but they also realize it allows them to continue their endless attacks on the US without sohowing their true colors.

    As for the reliability of torture if one studies the activities of Gen Massu and the 10th Paras in Algeriers it is a textbook case in how torture broke a highly effective terrorist organization in a very short time.

    Thomas Jackson (bf83e0)

  176. Leviticus #169,

    The problem with Semanticleo’s hypothetical is it imagines that we are gods. Anything is possible and permissible to a god. If I were wise enough to know that a baby in the womb would grow up to be Osama bin Laden and powerful enough to abort it, I imagine that I would be wise and powerful enough to find a solution other than aborting it.

    This kind of fuzzy thinking is nice enough for Philosophy 101 but meaningless in the context of how we want our spies to behave towards our enemies.

    nk (09a321)

  177. Leviticus…you cannot make that assumption, because it is not even close to real life, and you know it….being against abortion and for waterboarding to protect innocent life is exactly the type of parallel that separates liberals from conservatives….

    The cost benefit analysis….touchy feely type response….is not even close to a good analysis because we cannot see ever make that assumption….

    reff (bff229)

  178. Joe, I can’t assume that an “innocent” person as your picture your cabbies would be waterboarded in this hypo….the actions of the government and the cabbies in your hypo would not reflect this in my mine…

    Leviticus…and, just for good measure, if you would abort OBL 45 years before he became a terrorist, what does that say about you?

    reff (bff229)

  179. nk,

    The same problem holds true if you try to draw inference from Patterico’s hypothetical regarding KSM: that is, if I were already well-informed enough to know that a specific individual a) was a terrorist and b) had extremely pertinent information, and powerful enough to torture that individual, I imagine I would be well-informed and powerful enough to find a solution other than torturing that individual.

    Patterico’s (non)hypo is fine, and makes it clear that there are instances where torture is necessary and justified. However, we won’t usually be in such a privileged position (where we have a living captive that WE KNOW has extremely pertinent information: usually, we’ll be torturing to find out whether or not an individual a) is a terrorist and/or b) has ANY information, whatsoever).

    So, as long as we get to assume godlike powers in the one scenario (where we know whether or not an individual is a terrorist with useful information), we get to assume godlike powers in this one (where we know that OBL-Fetus will grow up to be OBL-Terrorist).

    You got us to admit something unsavory. We just ask that you return the favor.

    Leviticus (68eff1)

  180. “if you would abort OBL 45 years before he became a terrorist, what does that say about you?”

    -reff

    Something along the lines of “I’m the Future”…

    …”and you’re not”.

    Leviticus (68eff1)

  181. Leviticus…in your future, you get to decide who lives and dies based upon what?

    No, sorry, you are not the future….and I thank God for that….

    But, of course, you don’t respond to the post either, do you? Your “assumption” that he is a terrorist 45 years ahead of his time is exactly the type of argument you would make….

    And, you can’t respond to the concept that abortion of OBL would be immoral, but waterboarding him to protect innocent life is…

    Dang….your version of the future sure sucks….

    reff (bff229)

  182. Waterboarding him to protect innocent life is a moral act….

    Legal too…

    Sorry, I forgot to finish the sentence….

    reff (bff229)

  183. Reff…

    He was saying “what he would say to OBL”, not that HE, right now, was teh future…

    I’d say the same thing if I could go back in time to kill the SOB.

    Levi’s actually, if I’m not mistaken, on the side of “torture would be ok”…

    Scott Jacobs (425810)

  184. Reff, for some reason we’re mis communicating.

    In my hypo you have two cabbies
    You know that one of them is almost certainly involved in the plot.

    You know that one of them is just as certainly NOT involved in the plot, or any other illegal activity. (I pose a follow up that changes the later part.)

    Nothing you’ve done so far has been able to help you guess which is which.

    The only way to possibly stop the attack is to get information from the guilty cabbie. Even with the info it’s not certain the attack will be stopped.

    Is that more clear?

    joe (c0e4f8)

  185. Joe, no, actually it doesn’t help. You’ve got a simple case of an investigation that has not given you enough information to go to the waterboarding. I think I said earlier that if you used lie-detector/sodium penothal and it didn’t work, I would not waterboard the cabbies. If I have two people, one of them is innocent. In the OBL/KSM hypos, I have a single criminal I know enough about, based upon their own statements.

    So, in your hypo, I would not waterboard the cabbies. I would, however, go as far as to possibly arrest those who want to go to the meeting. If I have that much info, that I know a time/place, I can act “MORALLY” in another direction, by limiting the “freedom of association” of those people, without harming them.

    There are often other ways to solve the problem…I know in your hypo you said they would not yield to intimidation, but, they have to yield to the restrictions that the government can put on assembly to protect the public, and this would fall into that realm. They can meet somewhere else….even if the risk is that one of them is the killer, and I don’t know that yet….

    reff (99666d)

  186. Scott, Leviticus…If I have misunderstood your meanings, please accept my apologies….I hate it when I am wrong….

    But, I would not abort OBL 45 years ago, because abortion is wrong….I can only hope that if I know that then, I might be able to convince him during his upbringing that he might not be right…

    Then watch his ass like an “American Eagle”

    reff (99666d)


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