To Torture, Or Not To Torture…

http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2008/12/hitch-on-cheney.html

This issue ought to be settled by now.water-torture

Michael Smerconish, an otherwise levelheaded pundit, becomes completely monstrous, arbitrary and illogical on the issue of torture, withstanding cognitive dissonance to the absurd point of claiming a moral and legal double-standard based on pure nationalism.  When America does it, it’s A-OK.  When anybody else does it for the same reasons that America does it, Hang ‘em!

Christopher Hitchens is hardly the most vociferous opponent of barbarism himself.  He’s cavalier and relativist on the question of torture.  But even he, who supports the promotion of Democracy with bombs and bullets, acknowledges the moral, legal and practical dangers of culturally normalizing torture by codifying it into law.  

Basic logic and a huge wealth of evidence overwhelmingly suggest torture is totally unreliable and ineffective at eliciting anything useful for intelligence purposes.  Torture is consistently good at compelling false confessions and disinformation from mentally destroyed individuals.  It is good for solidifying the political power of tyrannical regimes and keeping its population subjugated and terrified.  This is the unmitigated consensus of actual experts in intelligence gathering, interrogation and political history.  There are no credible experts on the subject who grant even the fantastic hypotheticals used by torture proponents any credence.

Let’s have a brief exercise in logic.  Ostensibly, the purpose of torture (so say the apologists) is to get truthful information from the victim when other methods aren’t working.  But torture as a method of determining the truth is fatally unreliable except in cases when the interrogator already knows the truth.  Why?  Because without external verification of the information extracted with torture, there is absolutely no way the interrogator can objectively determine if the information is truthful without assuming so and committing resources to confirm it through some kind of additional substantiation.  If the interrogator already knows the truth, the torture is obviously unnecessary except to determine whether the victim tells the truth when tortured.  I suppose that knowledge could be useful for the integrity of future torture sessions…God help us.

As for the popular “ticking bomb” scenario, the rhetorical ace of the torture apologists, there is great irony in that this specific scenario, thought to be the best example for why we need torture, is most likely to demonstrate why torture is literally self-destructive. In fact, disinformation procured from torture in a ticking bomb scenario is an obvious opportunity for a terrorist to “run out the clock” by sending the authorities on wild goose chases until the bomb explodes.  As a diversionary tactic, no terrorist mastermind would overlook the subversive power of giving the good guys a false sense of control.

There is absolutely no incentive for a hardened, brutal, monstrous, savage, martyrdom-seeking terrorist (who decapitates people) to tell the truth about a “ticking bomb”, when telling lies will basically ensure success.  A government, a nation, a society with a torture policy is an open book to its enemies.  The State’s cards are on the table while the enemy’s are hidden.  The Torture State becomes a blind Goliath that doesn’t realize its blindness.  The endemic flaws of such a policy fatally undermine real security by giving terrorists a powerful tool to manipulate the inept and predictable bureaucracy.  

Any fool can understand this.  Those who can’t, or won’t, are worse than fools.

Leaving the impracticality of torture aside, it is traditionally the measure of a civilized society that torture is legally prohibited.  Torture represents the opposite of due process and individual rights under the rule of law.  The cultural acceptance and legal validation of torture as a routine mechanism of “information retrieval” is not only a ominous sign of social decline and moral bankruptcy, but more importantly, turns our most illogical visceral urges into the  standard operating principles of our institutions.   

So either proponents of torture don’t know, or don’t care that this is the case; they are either inexcusably ignorant, or something much more disgusting–so blinded by seething hatred and fear, they go beyond supporting ad hoc employment of torture in outlier scenarios, into advocating for it’s codification into law as a routine policy, DESPITE its counter-productive, and self-destructive consequences.  They are worse than fools.  In their irrational hysteria over an enemy they can’t understand, they have become the enemy of reason itself and a danger to all of us.

*Update*:  http://www.truthout.org/122008Z

I rest my case.

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1 Response to “To Torture, Or Not To Torture…”


  1. 1 stonecutter December 20, 2008 at 6:14 am

    This is one of the most trenchant expressions of the torture debate I’ve read anywhere. It should be published on as many sites possible, and submitted to newspapers and magazines as well. I completely agree with its premise that a hardened terrorist would use the opportunity of being subjected to torture to mislead, and ultimately bamboozle his captors. It’s one thing to react physically to pain or extreme discomfort by begging for mercy as it were, and another to respond to the cessation of that pain or discomfort by automatically telling “the truth”. Balderdash. A trained operative might indeed offer his captors information in return for the cessation of torture, but the odds of it being accurate information are roughly equivalent to hitting the weekly lottery.

    Anytime I see a politician defending the “ticking bomb” scenario publicly, as was the case recently with Duncan Hunter on MSNBC, I feel like I’m watching Eichmann at his famous trial in Israel defend his actions during WWII as “just following orders”. The moral component and basic human decency, let alone rational common sense, the law and the probability of desired outcomes, simply don’t exist for these people. In this context, it is truly the banality of evil.


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