A Response to Sebastian Holsclaw on Waterboarding
This is a response to Sebastian Holsclaw’s response to my hypothetical about waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In case you missed my original hypo, here it is:
Let’s assume the following hypothetical facts are true. U.S. officials have KSM in custody. They know he planned 9/11 and therefore have a solid basis to believe he has other deadly plots in the works. They try various noncoercive techniques to learn the details of those plots. Nothing works.
They then waterboard him for two and one half minutes.
During this session KSM feels panicky and unable to breathe. Even though he can breathe, he has the sensation that he is drowning. So he gives up information — reliable information — that stops a plot involving people flying planes into buildings.
My simple question is this: based on these hypothetical facts, was the waterboarding session worth it?
The hypo assumes that waterboarding is the least coercive way to obtain the information, and that there are no legal obstacles to performing the waterboarding. It is purely a moral question.
Sebastian starts by giving a clear answer to my hypo: yes. I think that is the only reasonable answer. I don’t mean to insult the people here who have answered no. I just happen to think that a “no” answer to my carefully phrased hypo reveals such an incredibly ideological mindset that I can’t relate to it. It’s 2 1/2 minutes of a mild form of torture with no lasting physical effects, performed on an undoubtedly evil terrorist and mass murderer, to obtain information certain to obtain thousands of lives. When someone says that such mild torture would be morally unjustified, that answer to me lacks common sense. And when it’s coupled with a smug self-righteous attitude, — well, I find it insufferable.
My first question to Sebastian is this: what do you think of the opinion of people who would answer that question “no”? I bet that is not an uncommon feeling on the left. But, Sebastian, given the assumptions of my hypothetical, isn’t a “no” answer indicative of a highly ideological view of this subject — one that would alienate most of the American public? (It will take courage for Sebastian to answer my question, because he risks offending some of his readers, who are among the ideological people I describe above. But I think he’s a man of principle and will say what he thinks.)
On to Sebastian’s objection. In a nutshell, he argues that we can’t trust government with the authority to torture, because once government has that authority, it will abuse it. As he says:
I don’t trust the government to be able to fairly and nimbly navigate the rules that would be necessary to make certain that it only used a legal right to torture when it was the right choice.
That’s not a bad argument. It feeds into the general conservative mistrust of government. I certainly don’t want to see torture become commonplace. And I have recently blogged about the trouble the U.S. Government gets into when it too readily employs coercive techniques such as threatening a suspect’s family. My post on the Higazy case illustrates the concerns I have about that — especially concerning the danger that coercive techniques will result in bad information, as it did with Higazy.
At the same time, we entrust to government far more grave responsibilities than deciding whether to waterboard terrorists. On the high end of the scale, the President has his finger on the nuclear trigger. Decisions about going to war are made by government actors. On a smaller scale, prosecutors decide whether to charge defendants with the death penalty, or with crimes that could imprison them for life.
So if the argument is merely that waterboarding is too significant a decision to entrust to government, because government screws everything up, then I don’t think the argument ultimately prevails. Sebastian raises a valid concern, one which may militate in favor of the decision being made at a high level, or subject to greater procedural protections. But, while there may be other valid arguments against waterboarding terrorists, I can’t agree that we can forego it simply because government could screw it up. Governments screw up wars, too, but that’s not a valid reason to take away government’s ability to wage war.
Sebastian supports his argument by asserting that we have actually tortured innocent people. He doesn’t provide links to any specific cases — and I bet that if he did, it would be to cases where someone claims to have been tortured and the U.S. government denies it — but he may be right. I’m not sure he’s proved it, but he may be right. We have also imprisoned innocent people, waged wars that proved to be a mistake, and made plenty of other errors. I need a better argument than that to deprive government of a tool that might be necessary to save thousands of lives.
But Sebastian doesn’t seem to agree that waterboarding could be necessary to save thousands. He says:
Your hypothetical doesn’t speak to the question of what the policy of our government ought to be, because no important part of the hypothetical actually has anything to do with the empirical reality of governmental torture.
The extent to which my hypothetical is grounded in reality depends on the accuracy of a Brian Ross report on ABC News, which I referenced in my original post on the subject. You can view a video of Ross discussing his findings with Bill O’Reilly here. The blog Conflicting Opinions transcribed some of the relevant parts:
ROSS: They start with a slap, then a slap on the chest, and then the cold room, sleep deprivation, which seems to be the most effective. But for some, the water boarding is what it took.
O’REILLY: OK. Now you say the guy who held out the longest was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is the alleged mastermind behind 9/11.
ROSS: That’s right.
O’REILLY: How long did he last?
ROSS: About two and a half minutes, according to our CIA sources.
And what did the 2 1/2 minutes of waterboarding reveal, according to Ross?
O’REILLY: So in all 14 cases, coerced interrogation methods, being debated in the Senate right now, were used. And in all 14 cases, according to your report, they gave it up.Now the opposition, you just heard it. Human Rights Watch, ACLU, they say it’s garbage. They told them what they want to hear. It wasn’t truthful. Is that true?
ROSS: That has happened in some cases where the material that’s been given has not been accurate, has been essentially to stop the torture. In the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the information was very valuable, particularly names and addresses of people who were involved with al Qaeda in this country and in Europe. And in one particular plot, which would involve an airline attack on the tallest building in Los Angeles, known as the Library Tower.
O’REILLY: Well, in fact, you say in your report that more than a dozen plots, a dozen al Qaeda plots to kill people were stopped because of the information they got from coerced interrogation?
ROSS: That’s what we were told by sources.
O’REILLY: Do you believe that?
ROSS: I do believe that.
I didn’t pull this hypothetical out of thin air. It is grounded in Brian Ross’s report.
Now, do I know Ross’s report is accurate? No. But O’Reilly asked him: “Couldn’t they be misleading you?” and Ross replied:
Well, Bill, in some of these cases, people talked to us because they actually opposed the techniques. They didn’t like them. But nevertheless they recognized that they worked. . . . [T]here are also some CIA officers who don’t like it at all, and they were our sources as well.
Maybe Ross was duped. But as the quotes above show, Ross’s report discusses instances of waterboarding leading to bad information. That tends to show that he wasn’t talking to fans of waterboarding, posing as concerned opponents.
So although lazy commenters on my site and others have condemned my hypothetical as purely manufactured and utterly divorced from reality . . . it ain’t necessarily so.
So my second question to Sebastian is this:
What if Brian Ross’s report is accurate? Does that mean that you have supported a real-life case of waterboarding?
Sebastian Holsclaw, have you sanctioned torture??
I throw the same question open to any commenter who answered “yes” to my original hypothetical.
UPDATE: A commenter at Obsidian Wings (a sensible sounding one, not one of the ones wishing that I die a painful death in a fire!) says she can disprove Ross’s report. I’ll be interested to read that, and will certainly link it sometime tomorrow.
UPDATE x2: My post originally contained the line: “What would you say to my commenter ‘Stace,’ who said to me: ‘If you say yes, you disgust me.’?” I apologize to Stace; I misremembered the content of her comment and thus completely distorted it. I promise it was inadvertent. Her comment about being disgusted did not relate to simple waterboarding, but rather to a much more extreme example in which someone chops off KSM’s fingers and toes. Again, my apologies.
Check out my comment on your previous post for my views regarding torture. For my piece, I’m skeptical of Ross’s report–coming as it does from someone clearly pro-Bush. Here’s one reason why (with regards to KSM confessing to murdering Daniel Pearl):
You’re going to have a hell of a time proving the efficacy of torture if Billo is your only source.
If the report is true, then I suppose the waterboarding might be justified. We have to weigh its efficacy against the damage done to America’s reputation and the risk it places our troops under. I’m not convinced.Russell (a32796) — 11/14/2007 @ 10:36 pm
Obsidian Whinge certainly lives up to its name based on a trip through the comment section. Maybe you’ll have some new visitors.daleyrocks (906622) — 11/14/2007 @ 10:43 pm
The problem with the scenario is that torture is justified if innocent lives are at stake and the person being tortured is evil & responsible.
Considering that much of the opposition to torture believe we are reaping what we sowed, they can’t get on board with torture here.
They just don’t want to admit they believe the US is the evil bad guy and the mass murdering thug is the good guy. So instead they criticize torture itself.jpm100 (b48b29) — 11/15/2007 @ 2:56 am
— Sebastian raises a valid concern, one which may militate in favor of the decision being made at a high level, or subject to greater procedural protections. —
The legal system strives to adjust burdens to effect this sort of judgement. In criminal cases, the standard of proof is higher than for civil cases, for example. Why? Because (Schiavo-like cases being the exception) the only thing hanging in the balance is property. And in the criminal law regime, the burden is higher when the penalty is death than it is when the penalty is 2 years in the pokey.
But putting the decision at a high level, without more, isn’t enough. Saddam’s use of cardboard shredders was likely subjected to some procedural control. I.e., if a local PD did that, he’d see to it the offending cop was punished.
The “what’s more” that ought to be in play is transparency. Without transparency, there is no accountability — or the accountability is tenuous, uncertain, and perhaps too far removed in time. If it is to to be the policy of the US to waterboard, then say so, and set up a system that describes the checks in place to minimize error in application.cboldt (3d73dd) — 11/15/2007 @ 4:00 am
Patterico, you owe me an apology, for misconstruing my argument and making me a poster child for your screwed up vision of what you think is “not an uncommon feeling on the left”.
Note that this is only my third comment on your blog. The first is the one you link to, where I simply answered your question and opined that waterboarding to the described extent is torture, from what I read and understand about the procedure, and thus not something the U.S government should do. I implied that whether in fact U.S. Government administered waterboarding is torture is debatable, with me thinking it is but allowing that reasonable people may conclude differently. That’s actually why I set forth a counter hypothetical, with gruesome bloody dismemberment involved, to get people thinking how far they really want to press the torture versus imminent terrorist danger scenario. Waterboarding is a grey area on the border of torture, as I admit, so to get to the real moral center of the question I think you have to have a hypothetical blatantly and appallingly torturing the guy to really get to the central question of “Is US government torture OK when the stakes are high enough.”
Any fair reading of that post would show that I meant the “you disgust me” line to refer only to those who would consent to the barbaric and bloody finger and foot chopping out of control brutalism hypo I posed, not your waterboarding hypo. Yet now I am the one you single out as the lunatic who is disgusted by people who answered your hypo differently.
This despite the fact in the same thread, my second ever post to your site, post number 25, I said, “I will agree that whether waterboarding constitutes torture is fairly debatable by honest people with different views. I come out on the torture side, but I can see how someone could put the line in a different place and include waterboarding with acceptable coercive techniques.” I know you read that one, you responded to it.
So, please stop making me the one who is disgusted by people who answer yes to your hypo about waterboarding. And stop extrapolating my views, someone who only posted twice (now thrice) on your blog, to what you imagine is the left.
I quit posting on the original thread because you and the gist of the argument tried to twist it into two pointless diversions as “follow ups” to the original question of whether it is worth it for the U.S. government to torture.
The first was personal inquiries of what one would do if a loved one was in danger and someone with critical knowledge was under control. That was your initial response, asserting that you’d do more than chop of limbs if your daughter was at stake. Well, duh. I think almost anyone would exceed the bounds of civilized norms, laws, and morality to extract the necessary information. Myself included, I would be blowing off whatever kneecaps and applying jumper cables to whatever genitals I needed to.
That’s not answering the question of what a free people living under the rule of the U.S. government should allow the government to get away with, though. I thought the question was one of U.S. policy, not individual response.
The second was trying to diminish waterboarding by limiting the duration to see when it became an acceptable form of interrogation, to see if some stupid liberal would say that five seconds of a wet washcloth on someone’s face is too much. This is a pointless diversion from the question of whether the U.S. should torture. Based on the circumstances and individuals, different times under the treatment could vary greatly. Someone under it for 10 seconds isn’t going to spill the beans, because they aren’t being tortured yet, they are barely being discomforted. Such a silly diversion, unworthy of you Patterico. Let’s just agree that at some point it goes from a simple wet face to an excruciating ordeal that has the victim experiencing the reptile-brain panic response that he is on the edge of death, which to my mind is torture.
Getting back to the central question, because I think waterboarding to the extent described in the hypo constitutes torture, it was wrong.
Look, if you want the President and government to be able to do everything possible to save people from terrorism, you are setting your sights way to low by focusing only on torture. If you want to give the Executive free hand to protect us best, allow him to put Congress and the Supreme Court under house arrest, suspend the Constitution, give him an absolute free hand to do what is necessary to round up everyone on the watch lists into camps and allow spot inspections of everyone’s papers and property. You can’t argue that this would better protect us from terrorist plots than our current system.
The reason the above paragraph sounds insane is that no one would give up democracy, liberty and civilized society simply to lessen the threat of terrorism. Most people understand that an unchecked governmental power is even worse than terrorism. I can’t think of a stronger indication that I no longer live in a civilized and free society than the idea that the government is allowed to torture people.
That is what disturbs me with the idea that it is OK for the U.S. government should sometimes be able to torture when it appears the stakes are high enough in a terrorist situation. As scary, traumatic, and catastrophically deadly as a terrorist strike may be, to me it is even worse to think that it is accepted that the U.S. government is free to torture. We are a strong free society who can recover from terrorist attacks. I don’t know how we will recover from a government given the leeway to torture people.
If the U.S. government is free to torture anyone, in any case, what can’t it do? If the government is allowed to torture people, don’t start whining about confiscatory land use takings or sloppy traffic stops or internet surveillance. You just gave the nod to the government physically torturing people, if they have that power it’s kind of hard to argue they don’t have ultimate power over us.
And don’t give me the argument that we are only talking about horrible murderous terrorists who don’t deserve rights or compassion when we decide to torture. The only way universal human rights free from governmental interference can be guaranteed is if they apply to everyone, including the worst. They aren’t universal and guaranteed to everyone, in fact, if they aren’t applied to the very worst.
Wow, this is 10 times longer than I intended. All I really set out to do was to get Patterico to admit he unfairly characterized my earlier posts.Stace (2ca426) — 11/15/2007 @ 4:22 am
If it is to to be the policy of the US to waterboard, then say so, and set up a system that describes the checks in place to minimize error in application.
nonsense. we can trust the government.
we can trust that they’ll only ever torture the right person; that they’ll only ever get useful, timely and true information; that they will never use it for anything but vital national security issues and that the definition of national security will never change to include anything broader than investigation the actions of Muslims who know a guy who once met OBL at a conference somewhere; it will never include peering into the actions of political parties who oppose the administration, for example. and we can trust them to do this even if there is no accountability, legal mandate, or oversight.
and surely this kind of trust is right at the very core of conservatism: i’m from the government and i’m here to torture you.
the fact that the current administration (and its more vocal supporters) already considers opposition to its political plans to be a blow against national security, and that its supporters now consider the act of announcing that you failed to vote for Bush to be outright sedition shouldn’t trouble anyone.cleek (0f7a25) — 11/15/2007 @ 4:33 am
— The reason the above paragraph sounds insane is that no one would give up democracy, liberty and civilized society simply to lessen the threat of terrorism. —
Not in one swell foop, but the unique American experiment of “government by the people” can be (and eventually will be, if it isn’t already) rendered a hollow shell, a charade, naught but a trite saying, having no real-world effect. The key is to implement the change as a form of natural evolution of government. And the threat of injury from an outside force is a time-tested effective device for governments to strengthen their sway over individual liberty. Sure, we’ll have “free elections,” “freedom of speech,” “independent courts” and all the other trappings that are designed to blow off steam and prevent internal uprising.
At some point, there’s a limit to the extent of government control that the people will put up with, but we haven’t gotten there yet. Not even close. And if the people get uppity, that will be all the more reason to strengthen government as against the uppity ones.
There are examples of civilized dictatorships, monarchies, etc. — “Democracy” and “Republican form of government” don’t have a monopoly on being capable of being a just government.cboldt (3d73dd) — 11/15/2007 @ 4:43 am
Heheheh to the notion that we can trust the government to work well in secret.
The fact that secrecy is urged for an action against a single individual ought to be a clue.
A clue that whoever is taking that action against a single individual knows the action is
outside of some generally accepted norm.
Whether or not that norm is appropriate is debatable – but the US government is avoiding
the debate via denying involvement [Arar, al Masri] or culpability. “We didn’t mistreat
Arar, the Syrians did.”
Note carefully, action against a single individual. I have no quarrel with secrecy
on general defensive and offensive military capability, diplomatic efforts, battle
plans, criminal investigations, grand juries, etc. There is plenty of place for
As to whatever treatment is deemed “within bounds,” I see no principled way to
exclude a person from said treatment, on the basis of being a citizen. Hypo – you have
one of the DC snipers. You know there is more than one, and suspect there may
be as many as five. Hypo – you catch a citizen with unequivocally clear intention
and plans to pull a Breslan at a large rural school. In either case, the citizen/perp
asserts his rights and stays mum.
At some point, international terrorists will recruit citizens. It’s inevitable.cboldt (3d73dd) — 11/15/2007 @ 5:05 am
I’ve been following this since your initial post on the subject and find it fascinating to think about. I’ve particularly enjoyed seeing various people expound high sounding ideals.Fritz (724b86) — 11/15/2007 @ 5:22 am
“Special Agent Randall Bennett, the head of security for the U.S. consulate in Karachi…”
I thought the State Department was responsible for its own security via the Diplomatic Security people and the USMC.davod (5bdbd3) — 11/15/2007 @ 5:33 am
— I can’t think of a stronger indication that I no longer live in a civilized and free society than the idea that the government is allowed to torture people. —
The “civilized” part of that judgement call will be driven by the forms of “punishment” and “coercion” that the government will sanction.
But I think secrecy is a bigger enemy of the “free” part, than drawing the “punish and coerce” line on more toward “cruel and unusual.”
Speaking of “cruel and unusual,” check out this historical penalty for parricide, one of my all time favorites. I happened to bump into this about 12 years ago, cruising through the law library stacks.cboldt (3d73dd) — 11/15/2007 @ 5:42 am
Part of what I dislike about this whole situation is the apparent drive by some to semantically define down what consists to be torture.
Even if proponents lose the debate which is really not about this issue at all, in fact they could care less of the issue itself, but just political war gamed wedge issue politics the legacy will be moving yet again the goal post on what it considered torture.
For the most part the ones that play the high moral ground card should be dismissed out of hand because they are playing with empty logic that bears absolutely no correlation to the real world and as a note of the position these are likely to be the same people that say the death penalty must be painless, peaceful and high minded rosy for even the most depraved of vicious killers and in all likely hood support abortion but would never characterize it as a form of torture no matter what the circumstance.
When they reject abortion in all but the case of medical necessity, rape and incest then I might listen more closely to their ideas, but without that their stance is contradictory in the highest order.daytrader (ea6549) — 11/15/2007 @ 5:48 am
And yet you completely avoided that thread after what, your second post? A shame you and your “disgust” didn’t show back up to even try and defend your position.Scott Jacobs (425810) — 11/15/2007 @ 5:54 am
Sorry, I accidentally hit a wrong key and posted before I finished. Anyhow, the underlying questions is, what is moral behavior?
When you think about it, whether it concerns waterboarding or other forms of enhanced interrogation, what should we accept as proper moral behavior in order to protect ourselves as a nation? My solution is to ask the question differently. Is it proper moral behavior to allow others to kill me or other citizens of my country simply because they want to do so?
By breaking the question down to its simplest form, it is much easier to understand and answer. You eliminate all the emotional baggage associated with the term waterboarding or torture, and your own personal feelings about Pres. Bush or any other politician.
After thinking about this for several days I can give you my answer. I would find it morally repugnant to not use whatever means necessary to defend myself and my fellow citizens. This does not mean that I think we should run around killing and torturing everyone in sight in order to keep us safe, but it does mean that in limited circumstances I would find it morally wrong not to use such techniques as waterboarding, and I would not limit its use to citizens of other countries.
Having reached that conclusion, the question then becomes how to define the conditions under which such techniques are acceptable, and Patterico’s hypothetical is certainly one under which I would find it morally acceptable.
I suspect that I am going to have a lot of people disagree with me on this, but those are my thoughts on the subject.Fritz (724b86) — 11/15/2007 @ 6:08 am
Stace, you’re absolutely right. I do owe you an apology and I do apologize for completely misremembering what you said.
Let me try to fix it in the post.Patterico (bad89b) — 11/15/2007 @ 6:16 am
I have done an update, Stace. I promise it was completely inadvertent. I just remembered your comment wrong. Again, sorry.Patterico (bad89b) — 11/15/2007 @ 6:23 am
Patterico’s hypothetical is certainly one under which I would find it morally acceptable
Patterico’s hypothetical is worthless as a guide to tell you what you should do in an arbitrary situation: it is a post-mortem analysis of a situation which was chosen so that it’s easy to reach the conclusion he wants you to reach. in reality, you can’t see the future so you can’t say “yes, a couple of minutes of torture is justified here because it will save X lives”.
in reality, you don’t know what information the suspect has (if any); and you certainly don’t know if he will give it up with 2.5 min of torture. you might think you know, but unless you can both read minds and tell the future, you actually don’t know.
and when you’ve secretly and extra-legally tortured the wrong guy to death, even though you were sure he had the information you thought you knew he had, what happens ? you bet his pain, suffering and life against your gut feeling – and he lost. what does your moral reasoning tell you to do when you’ve brutally killed an innocent man but will not suffer any legal penalties ?cleek (33a0f1) — 11/15/2007 @ 6:42 am
I still think, given the limitations of the hypo, that a no answer is kinda nuts. Despite your articulate comment above.
To me, it’s like saying “it’s wrong to use other people’s things without permission” and someone asks “OK, but a mass murderer is on the loose and shooting dozens right now, and you run into a gun store and see a gun there but the owner is gone. Do you take it” and the person says “Nope. It’s wrong to use other people’s things without permission.”
At some point a rigid adherence to principles makes you look silly. A no answer to my hypo, I think, crosses that line.Patterico (cdd31f) — 11/15/2007 @ 7:12 am
You’re wandering off point in your own hypothetical, at least to some degree. Don’t change the variables; and the variables are fixed here.
You know – with certainty – that the terrorist has information; you know – with certainty – that without obtaining that information, thousands will die.
Do you “torture” the twit?
Any “yeah, but” or “what if” commentary may be interesting philosophically, but doesn’t answer the question.
By the way, there are two obvious factors in the discussion that ought to make any clear thinking person feel much better.
First, the liberals are lying. They may not know it. They may even be lying to themselves. But put them in the right circumstances and give them the choice, and they’ll make the only moral decision. And make no mistake – they can pretend self-righteousness all they want, but avoiding torture in the hypothetical is deeply, unequivocally immoral.
Put Stace in that situation and she’ll pull out the hedge clippers and start chopping fingers. I guarantee it. She can deny it all she wants while blathering on a blog, but in the real-world, she’s clipping away at those digits.
You’d have to be insane not to.
And her primary defense seems painfully immoral: she seems to be suggesting that she wouldn’t commit torture for strangers, yet make it the life of her child and she’s willing? Or is she letting her child die to avoid inconveniencing the terrorist – I’m still not clear on that point?
If you’re trying to argue with a straight face that your decision to torture will be based primarily on your emotional connection to the potential victims of the terrorist … it’s you who are engaging in the worst sort of immorality.
And the second reason to feel better? That one’s easy. Bloggers and lawyers and politicians and armchair philosophers can argue this back and forth all they want, they can pass (or not pass) whatever litigation they deem fitting (or popular).
None of it matters. None of them (none of you) will be the one actually faced with this decision.
This decision will end up in the hands of some man or woman, a soldier or Marine or an FBI agent. Not a talker. A doer.
And they’ll do what’s necessary. I guarantee that, too.
Thus the whole conversation is moot. The only helpful aspect of the debate is in deciding what to do with the poor bastard who had to actually make the decision.
We’ll probably crucify him. Society doesn’t often treat well those who make the tough choices.
Most of us just want to talk about it. Thank God nobody here – on either side – will be the ones actually facing the dilemma.
I have faith in those who will.PB (df860b) — 11/15/2007 @ 7:22 am
Cleek’s comment is just right: the problem with introducing a formal structure sanctioning torture, is that any such structure abandons your hypothetical. If your suggestion for a law is: “If you’re right–both that the subject at hand is a criminal with knowledge that will help you, and that only by torturing can you efficiently get that information–then torture away,” then I’m willing to agree with you, but then no one can tell for sure whether a given act of torture is going to be legitimate, whether they’ll be subject to prosecution. Incidentally, this is why appeals to Jack Bauer don’t help–he always knows, and, if nothing else, it always works out for him. His stories are literally scripted. I don’t want CIA agents who are trying (and of course, because they’re real and he’s fictional, failing) to be Jack Bauer.mhicks (2e100c) — 11/15/2007 @ 7:25 am
If you’re keeping score, that is to say, I’ll accept the hypothetical, and, if the story concerning KSM is true, I’ll grant that it was a case where the torturers ended up doing the right thing (I share the skepticism that this is true). However, so far as I can tell, that isn’t the hypothetical that you have to accept to be willing to endorse laws sanctioning torture. You have to accept cleek’s hypothetical–the case where everything goes wrong, and you torture an innocent man to save no lives, but with the best intentions. That hypothetical I don’t accept, and so I can’t see any argument to justify a policy of torture.
Well, at least Stace proved my point: her chest-thumping morality is wholly dependent on how she is directly impacted.
That is mind-bogglingly inconsistent.
And I repeat: thank God that the people actually making this call … are who they are, and not blog commenters and lawyers and politicians.PB (df860b) — 11/15/2007 @ 7:25 am
Patterico: you’re still giving them an out using the word torture (and they are still using it in their replies).
The government (counting Democratically controlled Congress) has not condoned water-boarding to torture. Only the loosest reading of ‘severe pain and suffering’ could get waterboarding to fit into that premise.
Instead of asking them that, ask them if it would be ok to ask hard questions to a terrorist if that would get him to talk; since it hurts him just as much as waterboarding does…Lord Nazh (899dce) — 11/15/2007 @ 7:28 am
Do the ends justify the means? Slippery slope, that: using evil means to achieve a good end. (if it weren’t evil you would not have posed the hypothetical).
Virtue is habitual. So is evil. If we use evil we become evil and suddenly we can no longer recognize the difference between good and evil. At that point we have become the enemy and he has won us over.
Patterico recognizes this too or else he would not have said that
is a good argument.
We must all fear the torturer because eventually his aim will drift and any of us could be the target.quasimodo (edc74e) — 11/15/2007 @ 7:45 am
PB is spot on, as is Lord Nazh. Fortunately, for the time being, the adults are in charge.JD (a248f3) — 11/15/2007 @ 7:58 am
Cleek, your argument is dishonest since you refuse to stay within the hypothetical.Fritz (5add79) — 11/15/2007 @ 8:02 am
Taking the moral highground means nothing when you’re dead.
My survival instincts are a bit too keep to simply die because I don’t like the idea of hurting some poor, poor man who has planned my death.Scott Jacobs (425810) — 11/15/2007 @ 8:06 am
The hypothetical is dishonest, because it doesn’t reflect reality. It doesn’t accurately reflect what waterboarding is, which is holding someone under water until they start breathing in water. It is partially drowning someone. It is torture, as defined in the Geneva Conventions and our own war crime trials in Japan after World War II.
Second, the hypothetical assumes things certainties that don’t exist. How do we know for certain someone knows about a plot? If the plot’s so “imminent”, like a ticking bomb, what’s to prevent them from lying for a short while, long enough until it’s too late? What’s to prevent them from telling us whatever they think we want to hear, just to get us to stop? How do we tell if their information is accurate? How do we know we even have the right guy? How do we know two and a half minutes of drowning will make someone talk? What if it takes ten minutes? Or what if it takes more than waterboarding? And we still won’t know if the information is right.
None of these things are things we can be certain of. Even at trials, we end up putting the wrong people on death row fairly often. So even if we’re absolutely sure about this guy, how about the next guy? Or the next? Because once it’s “worked”, then of course people are going to say “Well, it worked that time, so we should use it here!” and so more people will be tortured. And then it will be used on people who we suspect know something. And then people who are suspected of suspecting something.
So no, we should not torture people, full stop. Not just because the hypothetical being indulged in is cherry-picked and unrealistic. Not just because it never has stayed just on people who were “sure” to know something. Not just because it then puts our soldiers at more risk of being tortured. Not just because the information extracted by torture can’t be guaranteed correct. Not just because it’s illegal. Not just because it’s immoral. Not just because it feeds the recruitment of terrorists.
The fundamental reason to not torture people is because it makes us less than we should be. It stains our country’s honor, and is another step down the path of becoming the kind of people who would blow up innocents without a care. It turns us into the same kind of people that we’re allegedly at war with. And it doesn’t do us any good to “defeat the terrorists” if in doing so we become just like fanatics who blow up civilians and terrorize populations.Nate (5591d7) — 11/15/2007 @ 8:29 am
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the – Web Reconnaissance for 11/15/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…so check back often.David M (447675) — 11/15/2007 @ 8:30 am
Even at trials, we end up putting the wrong people on death row fairly often.
Got any statistics to support this claim? What is the percentage of people who didn’t actually commit the act being sentenced to death in the past twenty years? (Reversed via a technicality doesn’t count.)aunursa (1b5bad) — 11/15/2007 @ 8:56 am
Ido love the people who believe that any type of action the US undertakes that they do not approve of (Nate & Stace) makes the USA “unworthy.” Boo-hoo. Its the usual lets not descend to their level sort of mentality that argues if a robber uses a gun to reek havoc it would be immoral to use violence to end such behavior. In an imperfect world we have to use imperfect methods to deal with people who place themselves knowlingly and delibertly outside the laws of conventions of mankind.
Using Stace’s dictim that we have to extend rights to even the worst of the worst, we do. Nothing is done till they break the laws that bind mankind, so we see the same kind of mentality that blames society for the sins of murderers.
If history teaches us anything it is torture works where nothing else does. Few can resist such treatment, and the few who do usually die doing so. This doesn’t eaxactly encourage many to follow suit. The military recognized this truth in revising its code of military conduct. And countless governments over the ages use the same methods so we know that people like Stace and Nate must have unique insights and knowledge that have eluded the rest of the world.
As far as the arguement that we can’t trust the government about half the country wants to elect candidates who wish to errode our individual liberties so the government can grow and have greater powers. Its usually the same people who tell us torture can’t be entrusted to the government, just to Hollywood. The argument that terrorists deserve the same protections as the rest of us is so much bildge. These people are not citizens, are not in a court of law, and have been judged under the Geneva Convention. I wonder how many of them would admit that they will not endorse the treatment mandated for illegal combatants.
The bottom line is this is a simple test for those who detest America and what it stands for. It has nothing to do with torture and everything to do with tearing down America utilizing an avenue that allows these saints to hide their true colors. None of them will state yes torture that saves lives is a useful tool. Such insufferable sanctimony that serves their moral sensitivities while built on the graves of Americans is just another example of the feral insanity that dominates the Left today. This sanctimony is best demonstrated by Stace whose agitprop views on torture depends on whether it impacts directly upon his lifeor not. How quaint and what a display of virtue.Thomas Jackson (bf83e0) — 11/15/2007 @ 9:05 am
Where did you get your description of waterboading?davod (5bdbd3) — 11/15/2007 @ 9:08 am
I just happen to think that a “no” answer to my carefully phrased hypo reveals such an incredibly ideological mindset that I can’t relate to it.
I’m not sure he’s proved it, but he may be right. We have also imprisoned innocent people, waged wars that proved to be a mistake, and made plenty of other errors. I need a better argument than that to deprive government of a tool that might be necessary to save thousands of lives.
Right. What if you had a terrorist who resisted waterboarding? Are you therefore in favor of breaking the bones in his hand, one at a time, until he confesses and saves “thousands of lives”?
You’ve posed a hypothetical that a lot of commenters found to be so unrealistic as to be unfair, and many of them answered it. Here’s mine.
Are you okay with the government flaying the skin off Khalid Shiekh Mohammed’s testicles to save thousands of lives? I’ve only switched the examples here because one is more graphic. They’re interchangeable.
Can you also “not understand” how some people would not want their government to inflict severe physical pain and permanent injury as a policy to suspects who have not gone through a judicial process? Can you?
Some people don’t see a significant difference between testicle-flaying and waterboarding. How can you be willing to deprive the government of one tool and not the other? What kind of distinction can you be using that has any logical backdrop?glasnost (b7ddae) — 11/15/2007 @ 9:17 am
Nate – “The fundamental reason to not torture people is because it makes us less than we should be. It stains our country’s honor, and is another step down the path of becoming the kind of people who would blow up innocents without a care. It turns us into the same kind of people that we’re allegedly at war with. And it doesn’t do us any good to “defeat the terrorists” if in doing so we become just like fanatics who blow up civilians and terrorize populations.”
Your common lefty refrain sounds just like another hypothetical. What evidence do you have to support it?daleyrocks (906622) — 11/15/2007 @ 9:19 am
Fritz @15 – Good comment and good summary of what Patterico was trying to do, take all the extraneous garbage and emotion out of the decision.
Stace – I’m having trouble understanding why you are criticizing Patterico for your inability to comprehend his hypothetical.daleyrocks (906622) — 11/15/2007 @ 9:22 am
For the moment I accept the patriotism of those opposed to water boarding because it’s torture. As a patriot I’m sure you would want to save American lives as this hypo unfolds so how would you do it?
Plea bargain? Quid pro Quo with visa’s for his family in exchange for information? How do you elicit information from KSM, who’s killed scores of people already and intends on upping his count, without coercion?whocares (f7470d) — 11/15/2007 @ 9:27 am
Obviously those saying waterboarding is torture under this scenario are suffering from mental dissonance. I urge you to travel to China, Russia, most of Africa, you know places where physical, mental and dismemberment torture is not only practiced, its state policy and legal. Maybe you all need some cognitive dissonance.
It is indeed interesting that one of the strongest objections from the left to the government’s continued use of coercive interrogation methods or torture or whatever words they choose to describe the procedures, is that they don’t trust the government and the government does not have the best interests of its citizens at heart and will screw things up and wildly expand the scope of any procedures. Remember, this is the same government that they want to give ultimate life or death power over us through universal health care. Makes no sense.daleyrocks (906622) — 11/15/2007 @ 9:28 am
Please lead the movement to apologize to the Japanese guards we sentenced to hard labor for waterboarding (among other abuses).
The Japanese thought the adults wer in charge too. Turned out, they were sick adults.Andrew J. Lazarus (7d46f9) — 11/15/2007 @ 9:31 am
Fantastic idea AJL. The Dems favorite position is on their knees. The party of appeasement.daleyrocks (906622) — 11/15/2007 @ 9:36 am
whocares @ 34,
Obviously those saying waterboarding is torture under this scenario are suffering from mental dissonance. I urge you to travel to China, Russia, most of Africa, you know places where physical, mental and dismemberment torture is not only practiced, its state policy and legal.
To be fair, the fact that some nations practice extreme forms of torture does not address the question of whether waterboarding itself constitutes torture, albeit a milder form (relatively speaking.) Nor whether such a method should be legal by American standards.
Moreover, the particular method, not the scenario under which it is used or justified, determines whether it constitutes torture.aunursa (1b5bad) — 11/15/2007 @ 9:46 am
I.e. Either waterboarding is torture or waterboarding is not torture. The definition does not depend on the scenario … although the justification might.aunursa (1b5bad) — 11/15/2007 @ 9:48 am
Actually, this one reflects reality perfectly.Scott Jacobs (425810) — 11/15/2007 @ 9:51 am
“The fundamental reason to not torture people is because it makes us less than we should be. It stains our country’s honor, and is another step down the path of becoming the kind of people who would blow up innocents without a care. It turns us into the same kind of people that we’re allegedly at war with. And it doesn’t do us any good to “defeat the terrorists” if in doing so we become just like fanatics who blow up civilians and terrorize populations.”
This sounds like you assume the motive of a terrorist and the motive of one having to resort to waterboarding to save an innocent are one and the same?
By far what would stain our country’s honor and make us something less would be to not take whatever measures were necessary to protect those innocent lives you want us to believe you care about.
It also seems that those who oppose waterboarding assume that those who favor it have made their decision lightly, cavalierly and with a smirk in place. Are you kidding? Obviously no one makes the decision to use the method without understanding, and assuming a significant burden that comes with said decision – but in a world where evil is continually perpetrated against innocents, it certainly does not negate the unfortunate need for it.Dana (b4a26c) — 11/15/2007 @ 9:58 am
It also seems that those who oppose waterboarding assume that those who favor it have made their decision lightly, cavalierly and with a smirk in place.
Having participated in a recent “torture” discussion on a predominantly liberal blog, I found that my opponents falsely assumed that if I favored a particular method of interrogation, that I favored it under any circumstances and to be applied to any detainees, no matter how low on the totem pole.
I find the slippery slope argument to be uncompelling. Why stop at torture … one could take that line of reasoning to ANY policy matter.aunursa (1b5bad) — 11/15/2007 @ 10:24 am
PB, I don’t think this is a matter of “liberals lying” as much as a matter of looking at different moral issues.
As long as we’re dealing with hypotheticals (and I agree that it’d be difficult not to answer “yes, I’d do that” to Sebastian’s original hypothetical), suppose that you’ve captured a suspect who, according to intelligence gathered from a tribal leader ostensibly working with your forces, is a mid-level Al Qaeda operative whose associations mean he must know information about past and possibly future terrorist activity. You torture him, and he gives you information.
This information sounds good at the time, but it doesn’t lead anywhere. Meanwhile, new intelligence you get casts the original intelligence that led you to torture this suspect in the first place in serious doubt.
Do you consider what this suspect has been put through — that we have, from all appearances, tortured someone who is innocent — to be an acceptable cost?
To me, that question is at least as important as the original hypothetical.Watts (1d7f12) — 11/15/2007 @ 10:53 am
suppose that you’ve captured a suspect who, according to intelligence gathered from a tribal leader ostensibly working with your forces, is a mid-level Al Qaeda operative whose associations mean he must know information about past and possibly future terrorist activity.
I wouldn’t consider the lone word of a tribal leader to be enough to establish with absolute certainty the culpability by a prisoner of terrorist acts or the possession by said prisoner of knowledge that could disrupt future attacks. Compared with the original premise, that’s a particularly low threshold of evidence.aunursa (1b5bad) — 11/15/2007 @ 11:06 am
This wasn’t directed to me, but I’m gonna chime in because Salvage is being a moron in the other thread…
I believe it is an acceptable cost. You have, at the VERY least, found out that the tribal leader’s information should be treated with suspicion.
You stop torturing the one guy, that’s a given.Scott Jacobs (425810) — 11/15/2007 @ 11:08 am
Brian Ross talking to Bill O’Reilly is considered to be “reliable” information?r78 (fac3cd) — 11/15/2007 @ 11:32 am
aunursa: The Innocence Project has lists of more than a hundred people convicted and sentenced, then later exonerated by DNA and other evidence. The sentences were up to and including death row. Here’s a story of how Texas likely put an innocent man to death.
Which is largely irrelevant from the entire point of my post, of course.
davod: The New York Times, for one. There’s also descriptions of it involving people being strapped down and having water forced into their lungs through a cloth like here, or of using cellophane to cover their mouth so they can’t breathe, and then pouring water on their face. It looks like there may be several different ways of doing it. Still torture.
daleyrocks: Because torture did spread beyond just people we were “sure” had information. Witness Abu Ghraib, for the very tip of the iceberg. It has totally eroded our standing in the world. And because we have people who are spending the time trying to justify why it’s okay we can torture people, based on limited hypotheticals.
And it’s quite interesting that the conservatives who say they don’t trust government to be competent to mail out checks are willing to trust the government with abducting and torturing people without evidence or trials. Or with armies and nuclear weapons for that matter. Or vice versa, if the government can be trusted to matters of life and death like war and torture, why shouldn’t it be trusted to matters like health insurance?
But that argument is a distraction from the original matter which is that even if it weren’t morally repugnant and disgusting, torture still isn’t a reliable enough way to get information to make it worth the many many many downsides, like I listed above. It ruins our reputation. It puts our soldiers in danger of being tortured themselves. It’s some of the best propaganda Al Queda could ask for. It has horrible effects on the people who do it. It makes enemy soldiers more likely to fight to the death rather than surrender, which puts our soldiers in more danger.
Scott Jacobs: Cherry picking a single incident, from a non-reliable source like Bill O Reilly and then creating a hypothetical about that specific case doesn’t reflect reality. There are many more cases where torture was used, which don’t come at all close to this hypothetical. Abu Ghraib, for one. The Iraqi general whose family we held and threatened unless he’d turn himself in. And then he was beaten and tortured and had his head stuffed in a wet sleeping roll until he suffocated.
Katherine destroys the hypothetical here.
Or how about a different hypothetical?
The US military has YOU in holding, and are absolutely sure YOU have information to a plot that would blow up thousands of people. They’re absolutely sure that YOU would tell them if they tortured YOU.
Is torture justified in this case too?Nate (3c88d6) — 11/15/2007 @ 11:33 am
When you go beyond your hypothetical to Brian Ross’ report, well, there’s some problems.
Not just because you’re concluding that Ross’ reporting of facts was accurate (and it may or may not have been), you’re also concluding that his conclusions were: even if he’s right that information waterboarded out of KSM did allow the rolling up of a plot/group of plotters (and he may or may not be), you’re assuming that there was no other way that the plot would have been stopped.
That’s fine for a hypothetical, but it’s just an assumption, not a fact.
Let’s assume, for the purposes of argument, that it’s a false assumption.
Hypothetically, if the waterboarding merely confirmed a decision to roll up an already identified Al Qaeda cell, was it worth it?
Beyond that, the soda-straw look at a single incident fails to look at the other real problems with waterboarding and/or torture, which commentators have pointed to (as well as the bogus problems — the notion that waterboarding and/or torture can not produce actionable information, which is just as bogus as the notion that it will necessariy produce actionable information).
If it sounds like I’m neither ready to accept that giving the government the authority for waterboarding and/or torture is always acceptable or never acceptable, then I’ve been clear.
I was — and remain — very suspicious of both those who claim that, as a means, it must be utterly rejected under all circumstances, no matter what, just as I am of those who accept that, all evidence to the contrary, there’s not serious costs in permitting it even in exceptional circumstances.
Beyond that, as many people have noted, in the real world, what we get in advance of something happening is, at most, certainty of belief, not certainty of facts.Joel Rosenberg (677e59) — 11/15/2007 @ 11:38 am
Hypothetical question of the day:
It’s just as reality-based as the KSM question and it can’t be any less effective than a prayer meeting.Oregonian (f0b582) — 11/15/2007 @ 11:53 am
daleyrocks # 35
(my caps) ….same government that they want to give “ULTIMATE LIFE OR DEATH POWER ” over us through universal health care.
– haw haw haw what kind of soap is in your box daleyrocks?EdWood (c2268a) — 11/15/2007 @ 11:56 am
“Not just because youre concluding that Ross reporting of facts was accurate . . .”
How many goddamned times have I said in this series of posts that I don’t know whether his report is accurate?
My kingdom for commenters who dón’t distort what I say!
I could save so much time if I didn’t have to go around correcting people on what I actually said, in posts that are right there for anyone to read.
You want to know if it’s accurate? Ask Oregonian. She pretends to have firsthand knowledge . . .Patterico (f1ea4a) — 11/15/2007 @ 12:01 pm
EdWood @49 – What’s the problem with government giving thumbs up or thumbs down on life saving medical treatments under universal healthcare, Ed? What if the government decides the treatments aren’t worth it? Who do you appeal the decisions to? Do you trust them to get it right?
What was in your bran cereal this morning?daleyrocks (906622) — 11/15/2007 @ 12:05 pm
Daleyrocks #51- universal health care….EdWood (c2268a) — 11/15/2007 @ 12:26 pm
Wrong thread to talk about that big D- I was just laughing at the hysterical rhetoric in your post in an ongoing thread where one running theme is people up on their high horse. The “ULTIMATE LIFE OR DEATH POWER” part just struck me as particularly funny.
If we could end the drought in Georgia by waterboarding Sonny Perdue for 2 1/2 minutes, should we do it? -Oregonian
And thats reality based how?G (722480) — 11/15/2007 @ 12:35 pm
G, you’re forgetting how that guy’s mind works…
It’s reality as he experiances…Scott Jacobs (425810) — 11/15/2007 @ 12:38 pm
That’d be my take on it, too (that you can’t establish the word of the tribal leader with absolute certainty). But I think Joel Rosenberg put it pretty aptly above: “what we get in advance of something happening is, at most, certainty of belief, not certainty of facts.” Suppose the tribal leader had been trustworthy at least once before. Suppose his intelligence indicated a near-future attack that made this extremely time critical.
…and I know, “suppose you keep piling on hypotheticals to tweak the scenario.” But my point is that “we know that torture will absolutely work to save lives” isn’t going to be nearly as likely as “we think this guy has information that we could use and we think that information might be so time critical that using less invasive interrogation techniques is a risk,” and the latter case strikes me as a lot more troubling.
Scott, obviously at that point you’d stop torturing the one guy, sure. But I find it both ethically and pragmatically dubious to justify torturing someone who might be guilty of little more than pissing off somebody we thought could trust because it led us to discover our trust was misplaced. (The pragmatic side being, of course, that one can’t possibly imagine a more definite way to lose hearts and minds than to give the impression that we torture innocent people for information. At the very least, I think we’d owe him a hell of a lot more than “oh, we’ll stop torturing you now.”)Watts (1d7f12) — 11/15/2007 @ 12:41 pm
I must be. How are such reality-challenged individuals able to exist? Nah, don’t answer that, I know the answer. To his comment though, yeah, pretty silly for Sonny to do what he did, on the other hand, its not as if he isn’t doing all the other things he needs to do. Plus, to top all that off, it did rain here in Georgia last night, which was nice, not enough, but nice. But futhermore, waterboarding Sonny couldn’t change the weather.G (722480) — 11/15/2007 @ 12:46 pm
But my point is that “we know that torture will absolutely work to save lives” isn’t going to be nearly as likely as “we think this guy has information that we could use and we think that information might be so time critical that using less invasive interrogation techniques is a risk,” and the latter case strikes me as a lot more troubling.
I tend to agree with you. In determining how far to go, I would consider the rank of the prisoner, his level of culpability in terror acts, the amount and reliability of the evidence, and any other information that would determine the likelihood that he possesses information that could disrupt terror groups or prevent an attack. I wouldn’t reflexively support the same level of invasiveness for one prisoner as I would for another. It’s a gray area that alas, in my experience, both conservatives and liberals tend to see as black and white.aunursa (1b5bad) — 11/15/2007 @ 12:58 pm
Patterico: “Sebastian Holsclaw, have you sanctioned torture??
I throw the same question open to any commenter who answered “yes” to my original hypothetical.”
Speaking for myself and not Sebastian Holsclaw: yes.
But to approve of some torture in some cases is not to approve of torture generally.
It is not to say that we don’t need standards on torture.
It is not even to deny that to hold up against the slippery slope, the rule has to be: don’t torture at all.
In fact I don’t go that far. I’m prepared to carve exceptions out of my general prohibition on torture. If the problem may be a nuke, and if you have the kind of specific information that would justify a judge in giving you a search warrant on that basis, then I think it’s right for a judge also to be able to give you a warrant to torture, or for a judge to be able to give you a warrant to torture me.
But that’s just my opinion. It’s not entailed by having answered “yes” to “have you sanctioned torture??”
A “yes” answer to that questions commits you to very little as to what rules you think should apply generally when it comes to torture.David Blue (4273b0) — 11/15/2007 @ 1:06 pm
Admittedly a bit off the thread and a bit allegorical (slightly altered from the original source):
Cheney and George W. are in a bar. Bartender is surprised. Asks what they can possibly be doing there.
George W. explains that they are planning the start of World War III. “Unfortunately,” Bush says, “A lot of civilians will be killed, Along with a beautiful blonde with big tits.” The bartender responds, “Why kill a beautiful blonde with big tits?”
Cheney responds, “See, I told you they wouldn’t worry about the civilians.”nosh (53dd5b) — 11/15/2007 @ 1:10 pm
Ed – Your fellow travelers don’t trust the government to interrogate terrorists, but you are willing to trust them to make life or death medical treatment decisions about your lives through universal health care. That’s a disconnect for me.daleyrocks (906622) — 11/15/2007 @ 1:19 pm
The problems with torture do not end with the idea that we shouldn’t trust the government.
If that was the only problem, farming torture out to private contractors might be a solution. Does anyone think that solves the problem?
I think the special problems with torture are so grave that they justify unusually sweeping and inflexible rules to prohibit it.
One problem is that most people’s sense of who can legitimately be tortured and how and how much and for how long might have a lot to do with how innocent they perceive that person to be, and how vulnerable, and in what ways. Even to prevent a really bad terrorist attack, you might say: to stop this we should be willing to torture Osama Bin Laden but not to torture Osama’s (hypothetical) infant daughter, even if that would be the most effective way to get information out of him.
These judgments of innocence, of vulnerability, of morally warranted immunity, are vital but they are also about as subjective as anything gets. One moment of eye contact might change everything, not only about your feelings but how well you think you know someone and what you think you know about whether it would be morally admissible to torture them for information.
(As an illustration I’ll probably regret offering, in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), in a moment Max’s view on the Blaster goes from “this is an enemy I must kill” to “this is a child I must not kill”.)
Do you really think we can make a law that will cover these judgments adequately, other than a law that basically says: “don’t do it”?
And that’s just one problem. There are others I think may be more severe (but more controversial and not as easy to explain clearly and concisely).David Blue (4273b0) — 11/15/2007 @ 1:32 pm
David Blue #61 Yes indeed. “Torture” as policy vs “torture” as necessity. Are the persons who want it to be policy with specific rules (subject to interpretation of course, you can’t have a rule for every possible scenario….) more idealistic about human nature than the persons who think that allowing “torture” will somehow unravel or put the lie our democracy?EdWood (c2268a) — 11/15/2007 @ 1:53 pm
you might say: to stop this we should be willing to torture Osama Bin Laden but not to torture Osama’s (hypothetical) infant daughter, even if that would be the most effective way to get information out of him.
Would it be different if we were to coerce him by threatening to torture his daughter, without actually doing the deed?aunursa (1b5bad) — 11/15/2007 @ 2:02 pm
This HYPO takes me back to Gov. Mike Dukakis’s answer to a HYPO thrown out during a debate while running for POTUS against George Bush Sr in 1988. Remember the question? Goes like this, Mr Dukakis, would you still be against the death penalty for someone convicted of raping your wife? His answer killed his campaign then and there, because he said “YES”.whocares (f7470d) — 11/15/2007 @ 2:05 pm
Now every thinking man and woman knew right there that Mr. Dukakis was too detached from reality to be POTUS.
For those thinking waterboarding is torture and hence illegal, I ask you a variation of the Dukakis conundrum. If you are the American officer in-charge of debriefing KSM and he told you that there was a WMD hidden in the city where your family lived, would you still be against waterboarding? Would you be against torture to elicit that information?
The trouble with an ‘ethics’ in which the ends are used to justify the means usually is that the noblest ends can be made to justify vilest means, and usually are. So, when I read folks’ little ‘thought-games’ of the sort played above, with the Sheik, I always wonder what will be the NEXT thing that can be forgiven in the name of the ‘end’ of security. Such theories ALWAYS tend in the directon of “final solutions.” Pattyclack does not disappoint; she just hasn’t gotten that far yet.woody, tokin librul (b28933) — 11/15/2007 @ 2:28 pm
Yes, Patterico. The repetitive hypothetical thread that is based on false assumptions and is designed to bring out and applaud those favoring torture… Yes, you disgust me.
It is all “ends justify the means.” No matter how fallible the connection.
All dressed up in “I want to hear from the (self-righteous) liberals.” How disingenuous. And here you are representing “The People of the state of California” in criminal court as you try as hard as you can to justify and legitimize torture. You disgust me.
[I am not trying to justify and legimitize torture. And questioning my fitness for my job based on my blogging — based on a distortion of my blogging, no less — is grounds for banning. You have been warned about this before and violated the rule deliberately. You are accordingly banned. — P]nosh (53dd5b) — 11/15/2007 @ 2:50 pm
whocares: I wouldn’t believe him without other evidence. People who are willing to blow up innocent civilians could certainly stoop to other kinds of skulduggery, like lying. Especially when lying about having WMD in all sorts of places could easily distract law enforcement from other real threats they had planned, while we were hunting for WMD that didn’t exist.
Also, my other long post replying to several other people doesn’t seem to have posted.Nate (71012a) — 11/15/2007 @ 2:53 pm
aunursa: Would it be different if we were to coerce him by threatening to torture his daughter, without actually doing the deed?
It is not the same as torturing her, it is a different case.
Patterico recently discussed a case like this. (As I recall, threatening a man’s family with an abominable fate to get him to say what you want him to say did not meet with Patterico’s approval.) Patterico has not treated that story and this this series of hypotheticals as being the same thing, he has dealt with them separately, and I agree with that.David Blue (4273b0) — 11/15/2007 @ 3:03 pm
Well, sure, but it’s based very soundly on something that actually happened.
But besides that yeah, totally false.
How about if you brought her into the same room, strapped her to a chair, and cocked a gun while making that threat. Still ok?Scott Jacobs (a1de9d) — 11/15/2007 @ 3:21 pm
However, we are getting near now to hypotheticals that are on slippery slopes, where one thing readily shades over to another, and moral confusion, error and inconsistency are more or less guaranteed. If you agree with me on this, I think it should lend weight to my argument that to avoid the slippery slopes we should just say no to torture, or say no with only bright line exceptions that we can rationally expect will hold up well in the long run.
Here is an example of what I mean. Suppose you tell Osama Bin Laden you will torture his daughter, and he laughs that off because he thinks you don’t have her. It will be effective to show him you have her, and more effective to work on his feelings by showing her in distress. It might be distressing for her simply to know that she is being used to break her father’s will. If might be even more effective if she held fears – completely incorrect fears, we are not going to molest her – about what treatment she was going to get.
According to the rules of the inquisition (of course I am speaking loosely about “the inquisition” but that is not to my point), the five stages of torture were:
1. the threat
2. taking to the place of torture
3. the showing the implements
4. stripping and binding (e.g. on the rack)
5. physical torture.
All stages were important, and great success, for example the recantation of Galileo or the breaking of Saint Joan of Arc, might arrive at any stage.
Yet a lot of people would feel that only the fifth stage was torture – that thing that of course we would not do to an innocent child – and plenty of people think that waterboarding is not torture, and a lot of things that aren’t very nice are not torture even in my, conservative opinion.
Well then, that gives us lots of leeway! Lots of wriggle room, if I can put it that way.
Or does it?
How far should we walk down this road, given that the the very next step, which will not of course be torture, may be the one to give us great success?
Just think about it, while you repeat the mantra: “Failure is not an option. Failure is not an option.”
Remember that if you stop just short of success, whatever has been done will be judged as a series of vain actions, and it may look pretty bad, while going just one teeny tiny nuance further may justify everything with such brilliant success that the questions about how that success was obtained may not be asked forcefully by those with the power to follow up on them.
My view is: don’t even start that stuff.David Blue (4273b0) — 11/15/2007 @ 3:26 pm
Scott Jacobs: “How about if you brought her into the same room, strapped her to a chair, and cocked a gun while making that threat. Still ok?”
Where are you getting the “still” in “still ok”?David Blue (4273b0) — 11/15/2007 @ 3:29 pm
I love the Leftist troll refrain not to do what our enemies do that make us less worthy of respect or meeting their sancitmonious sense of honor. Didn’t we all adopt Nazi policies after firebombing all those Germany cities and didn’t we forge an empire after dropping an A bomb on two Japanese cities?
Such squalid statements display a moral dyslexia that seeks to handicap the US at every turn while ignorning the consequences of such actions.Thomas Jackson (bf83e0) — 11/15/2007 @ 3:34 pm
Goes like this, Mr Dukakis, would you still be against the death penalty for someone convicted of raping your wife? His answer killed his campaign then and there, because he said “YES”.
The answer was not what killed his campaign; it was the way he said it … in a mechanical, emotionless manner:
“Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?”
“No, I don’t, Bernard. And I think you know that I’ve opposed the death penalty during all of my life. I don’t see any evidence that it’s a deterrent, and I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime. We’ve done so in my own state.”
Given his position on capital punishment, Dukakis should have responded to the question something like this:
“Bernie, God forbid if that happened, I would be so filled with rage, I would want to strangle the killer with my own bare hands!”
“But the United States justice system is not a system for personal vengeance, it’s a system of justice. No matter how horrific the crime, and no matter how much you and I may wish to see a killer suffer, it’s fundamentally wrong for the government to be killing someone, no matter how depraved the crime…”aunursa (1b5bad) — 11/15/2007 @ 4:33 pm
Assuming the hypothetical, what if we waterboard and it doesn’t work? We know for fact that he has the information. We know for a fact that many will die if we don’t get that information. But the waterboarding is not working, what do we do next?
Would you support upping the ante? Bring out the cattle prods? They don’t cause permanent damage after all. I think the logically, within the terms of the hypothetical, you would be required to use them. From there if a cattle prod doesn’t work then we start pulling fingernails. No permanent damage there either.noen (d50af5) — 11/15/2007 @ 5:44 pm
I’m enjoying the pretzel logic from the libs arguing that the hypothetical Patterico proposed was not real world and that we can’t allow torture. The standard lefty conventional wisdom comes out in abundance but really isn’t persuasive.
The hypothetical assumes perfect imformation and was after the fact – Fine, you probably never have perfect information. We knew KSM was a senior leader in Al Queda and the organization had threatened additional attacks. He had previously given an interview to Al Jazeera acknowledging his role in 9/11 and other attacks. If the goal is to prevent additional mass casualties, you find out what he knows.
Torture or coercive interrogation doesn’t work – No hard evidence to support this contention and plenty of evidence going the other direction. See the Israeli experience overall.
If we allow torture in limited circumstances it will become widespread – Just guesswork and lefty conventional wisdom.
Waterboarding is illegal – Legal citations notably missing.
Rampant gasbaggery IMHO.daleyrocks (906622) — 11/15/2007 @ 5:50 pm
I had real difficulty with Patterico’s hypo and couldn’t muster up a response until I read Sebastian’s post. All that I could envision was some smirking monster reveling in his knowledge that his cohorts were about to unleash horrific death on my loved ones.
On a purely utilitarian basis, I have to agree that 2 &1/2 minutes of waterboarding (which I consider torture and potentially life-threatening–aspiration pneumonia and the like) would be worth it. However, I realize that I must ultimately answer to my Lord.
Sebastian does not trust the government with a policy allowing waterboarding. I would not single out the government. I, as a conservative Reform Christian, believe in the total depravity of man in our rebellion against God. I believe that if I were given such awesome power (sanctioned by civil government) that I would be sorely tempted to sink to the level of abusing this power.
I saw comments by Scott Jacobs and others claiming that they would have no problem with killing innocent children of suspects and saying that they did not care if “they” were maimed as long as we were not harmed. I cannot condemn those who make these comments because I know that I, too, would be tempted to do the same if my family members were in danger.
Thus, I believe that fallible and sinful human beings should not be given power by the goverment to torture (including waterboarding). I can’t support a situation where government sanctions this behavior. I believe that any person engaging in this behavior should be judged by our civil authorities. If justification is found, so be it. But sanctioning this and, thereby, immunizing the perpetrator from scrutiny and judgment is not something I can support.
Patterico, I hope that you don’t think that only liberals oppose waterboarding and torture.Jerri Lynn Ward (bf2d8c) — 11/15/2007 @ 5:55 pm
What is it with folks like you?
You don’t know the truth, so you *manufacture* a scenario in which you do. Then you complain when people call it manufactured.
Which is it? Don’t you realize that when you make assumptions that you can’t support by reliable evidence you’re manufacturing the scenario? Or do you realize that, but refuse to admit it?
Look, it’s really simple… you don’t know the truth. So, when you speculate about possibilities, you are, in fact, manufacturing your scenario. And it’s not touching on reality because you’re asking people to use knowledge gained in the future to justify actions performed in the past. In reality, people can’t see the future with 100% certainty.
Note that I didn’t raise those specific objections originally… but they are fair and valid objections.
You *think* that the waterboarding *in that one case* (but maybe not in others), saved lives. But you’re creating a hypothetical certainty that simply does not exist.LongHairedWeirdo (4a66a0) — 11/16/2007 @ 9:56 am
Waterboarding it torture. It has been since the middle ages when it was used in the Inquisition. It was torture when the Nazi’s used during the holocaust.
The Bush administration has admitted to using waterboarding. They do not admit that it is torture, yet it is. This criminal administration has committed crimes, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Patterico and the others here who condone the form of torture known as waterboarding are filth and deserve nothing but contempt from all mankind.noen (d50af5) — 11/16/2007 @ 11:45 am
I have a couple of other hypos for ya. What if you waterboarded Mohammed, and he did not give you the intel (god, I love the mil-abbrev lingo!) you were looking for? But you think breaking a few fingers would do it. I mean, what’s a few terrorist fingers in exchange for saving thousands of lives? So you break break a few fingers, and chop off the rest, and he still is mum. Are we still justified? Any reasonable person would have to say ‘yes’ I think. And the clock is ticking… It seems we can’t do anything to the tough old goat himself to make him sing. The only way to prevent those planes from flying into those building is for him to hear the cries of his five year old daughter as we break her fingers one by one. I mean, there could be thousands of little girls in that building, at least as innocent as the terrorist’s daughter… Well, it looks like we have no choice by start breaking the little fingers…Bob Gordon (5ac283) — 11/17/2007 @ 6:27 am
fm3-24fd, COUNTERINSURGENCY, section 7
7-25. A key part of any insurgent’s strategy is to attack their domestic and international opposition’s political will. One of the insurgents’ most effective means to undermine and erode political will is to portray their opposition as untrustworthy or illegitimate. These attacks are especially effective when insurgents can portray the opposition as unethical by their own standards. To combat these efforts, Soldiers and Marines treat noncombatants and detainees humanely and in accordance with America’s values and internationally recognized human rights standards. In COIN, preserving noncombatant lives and dignity is central to mission accomplishment. This imperative creates a complex ethical environment that requires combatants to treat prohibitions against harming noncombatants as absolute. Further, it can sometimes require combatants to forego lethal solutions altogether. In practical terms, this consideration means that mission accomplishment sometimes obligates combatants to act more like police than warriors. That requirement imposes a very different calculus for the use of force.
…Lose Moral Legitimacy, Lose the War
During Algerian war of independence between 1954 and 1962, French leaders decided to permit torture against suspected insurgents. Though they were aware that it was against the law and morality of war, they argued that (1) this was a new form of war and these rules did not apply; (2) the threat the enemy represented, communism, was a great evil that justified extraordinary means; and (3) the application of torture against insurgents was measured and nongratuitous.
This official condoning of torture on the part of French Army leadership empowered the moral legitimacy of the opposition, undermined the French moral legitimacy, and caused internal fragmentation among serving officers that led to an unsuccessful coup attempt in 1962. In the end, failure to comply with moral and legal restrictions against torture severely undermined French efforts and contributed to their loss despite a number of significant military victories. Illegal and immoral activities made the counterinsurgents extremely vulnerable to enemy propaganda inside Algeria among the Muslim population, as well as in the United Nations and the French media. These actions also degraded the ethical climate throughout the French Army. France eventually recognized Algerian independence in July, 1963.General Petraeus (890dc8) — 11/20/2007 @ 4:05 pm