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September 19, 2006

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I don't think you get to reclaim the "practical" argument from the Left. It has been our argument of choice in our attempt to forge a broader consensus on this issue. :)

The strange result of this has been that, in response to the argument that "torture doesn't work," the administration's defenders have adopted the position that if they can identify even one case in which torture has provided useful intelligence, then somehow they win the argument. Needless to say, that's not how it works, or I could deem my Ouija board a useful tool in the fight against terror.

Via Crooked Timber, a statement that the empirical evidence doesn't support that the use of torture is effective from Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence Lt. Gen. John Kimmons:

GEN. KIMMONS: Let me answer the first question. That's a good question. I think -- I am absolutely convinced the answer to your first question is no. No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tell us that.

And moreover, any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress, under -- through the use of abusive techniques would be of questionable credibility. And additionally, it would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. And we can't afford to go there.

Some of our most significant successes on the battlefield have been -- in fact, I would say all of them, almost categorically all of them have accrued from expert interrogators using mixtures of authorized, humane interrogation practices, in clever ways that you would hope Americans would use them, to push the envelope within the bookends of legal, moral and ethical, now as further refined by this field manual. So we don't need abusive practices in there. Nothing good will come from them.

But the practical concerns are what should peak the ears of anyone serious about fighting this war.

And the practical concerns include not making unnecessary enemies.

Unjust imprisonment makes enemies; the US does that. Torture and murder - and then declining to prosecute those who committed those crimes (lest that lead to prosecuting those who gave the orders for those crimes to be committed, lest that lead to, ultimately, impeaching the President of the US for supporting torture and murder)

If the war you refer to is the "war on terror", the US's chief weapon was never the massive military machine: it was a supposed moral difference between itself and the terrorists: a moral difference which Bush & Co have been obliterating.

The "practical argument" for torture is "We do what works" and that is - or ought to be - instantly obliterated by "No, it doesn't, and by claiming it does you prove you know nothing about interrogation." It is as foolish a claim as asserting that the "practical argument" for another moon landing is "We need more cheese!"

The practical arguments against torture include the moral arguments: if the US claims to be fighting a war against terror, it cannot afford to adopt terror tactics.

Unjust imprisonment makes enemies; the US does that. Torture and murder - and then declining to prosecute those who committed those crimes (lest that lead to prosecuting those who gave the orders for those crimes to be committed, lest that lead to, ultimately, impeaching the President of the US for supporting torture and murder)

I think I just spluttered to a halt, right there, wordless with indignation. I need coffee.

von,

First, the word is "pique", not "peak".

Second, as Steve said, the defenders are claiming that it does provide good results. And unfortunately, since the information given under torture is classified, we have no way of disproving that claim directly.

On the other hand, the information to date, with the wild number of color-coded alerts in 2002-03 describing fantastic plans which no one was near accomplishing suggests the information is certainly not reliable.

Torturing someone who doesn't know anything isn't going to work, no matter how badly you want it to.

More important, from a practical perspective, is that while torturing one guy might get you something -- hell, it probably does some of the time -- the price in voluntary cooperation from other people may be really steep. Put yourself in the place of a Pakistani villager. Rather than allow yourself to come to the attention of US authorities as someone who might know something, you'll just keep your head down and your mouth shut. Because if you did come in with some information, the authorities might get the idea that you're not telling them everything you know. Or something you tell might not prove out, in which case they'll think you were engaging in misdirection, and bring you back for renewed 'questioning.'

Another price is that you give people in the ME the ability to say of our enemies 'he's a real SOB, but he's our SOB.' Which undercuts the whole project, in a way that living our actual values would not.

This whole debate shows, again, that the government cares a whole lot more about winning Mississippi than winning Mosul.

This whole debate shows, again, that the government cares a whole lot more about winning Mississippi than winning Mosul.

"Missouri" would preserve your alliteration while staying in closer touch with the facts. The Republican Party is not the least bit worried that it will lose Mississippi in the foreseeable future. I mean, we're not Christian enough here to oppose torture.

Moral because we should not adopt the tactics of our enemy, lest we blur the distinction between us and them.

Why is this idea the strongest moral argument? I keep seeing this, not just here, but on many blogs discussing torture. How about this: Moral because it is just plain WRONG to torture. Moral because it violates the Golden Rule. One's enemy may not necessarily use bad methods (although killing innocents is definitely a bad thing), so using their methods is not necessarily bad--but torture is heinous. Those who use it, or allow or encourage its use, are heinous. It is among the worst of moral wrongs that exist, because not only does it violate the victim's human dignity, it violates our own, making us less human.

In the first Gulf War, enemy soldiers who surrendered were amazed that they were a) not killed outright, b) fed and cared for humanely. It contradicted everything about us that they had been told by Hussein. It made them question his morality. His rightness. (Of course, there were a lot of questions about that anyway...) It made them wonder if maybe we weren't bad people, and if maybe we had something worth emulating. In this war, our administration has aroused the worst suspicions about our morality to the world, and the public's failure to throw the idiots out of office has confirmed it.

The problem with focusing on the practical side of the case -- does torture work or not? -- is that even considering the question is already heading in the direction of saying "if it works, we should use it." Well, that is wrong. Even if it works, we shouldn't use it. And so the question of whether it works or not ought to be moot.

What would the "advantage" gained through torture profit us, if we lose our soul in gaining it? That to me is the rock-bottom issue here, not whether it "works" or not.

the practical concerns are what should peak the ears of anyone...

I haven't run into this expression before. Do you mean "pique the interest of"? Or "prick up the ears of"? (which last I am unable to read or write without thinking of Joe Orton...).

I think Von's crossing "pique one's interest" with "prick up one's ears," but I am willing to be enlightened.

peak the ears

i think that means "to bring out your inner Vulcan" . cause, you know, they're all logical and stuff.

At this point, I have no objections to using whatever arguments are most effective, as long as the decision to use those arguments is tactical.

That is, as long as the person working to end torture understands that torture is wrong across the board: morally wrong, spiritually wrong, legally wrong, politically wrong, strategically wrong, pragmatically wrong.

Being wedded to the last, which is among the least of the arguments, does carry the risk that damon mentions.

von: Moral because we should not adopt the tactics of our enemy, lest we blur the distinction between us and them.

As another commenter points out above, this is not a moral argument, but simply another pragmatic one.

The moral argument has to do with the inherent dignity of the person, the idea that there is a human right not to be abused.

The spiritual argument rests on the idea that there is that of God in every person, or the many other expressions of this idea (this is the Quaker articulation).

This change to von's argument makes it into a moral one: we should not adopt the tactics of those who torture, lest we become them. A recognition that torture destroys the torturer as well as his/her victim has both moral and pragmatic dimensions.

At this point, I have no objections to using whatever arguments are most effective, as long as the decision to use those arguments is tactical.

I'm not disagreeing, but this holds the door open for the concern troll, who says 'gee, I could vote your candidate if they just did xxx' It seems the good guys have been far too tactical for their own good.

this holds the door open for the concern troll

You might be right; I'll count on you and others here to slam the door shut quickly enough so that the c.t. is left on the other side. (Rather than catching his/her toe painfully in the process, 'cause that would be... wrong. Metaphorically wrong.)

"But the practical concerns are what should peak the ears of anyone serious about fighting this war."

"...peak the ears..."?

Even "pique" doesn't work here. Interest can be piqued. Ears, not so much. Were you suggesting people should have reconstructive surgery to appear Vulcan?

"Via Crooked Timber, a statement that the empirical evidence doesn't support that the use of torture is effective from Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence Lt. Gen. John Kimmons:"

I liked Kimmons so much that I went back in time to last Thursday to quote him to make the same point.

Of course, if I say it, it doesn't matter.

No matter how many times I discuss it.

"Katherine questions (below) whether the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" are effective."

Unfortunately, these techniques are just as effective at identifying satanic alien slug people and their plots against decency. They also let you obtain directions to where the leprechaun's pot of gold is hidden. The real stuff, not the gold that turns to leaves when you wake up the next morning.

Gary writes: "Of course, if I say it, it doesn't matter.

No matter how many times I discuss it."


What you have to do is, before you post, lean out the window and shout "DIBS!" as loud as you can.

von writes: " You can't know whether you're hearing the truth, a lie"


"lie" suggests willful deception, but in this case, the victim is being forced to say something the torturer demands to hear.

That doesn't seem like a lie, to me. The lies happen in the offices of Heritage and the AEI, when exiles come to visit.

"What you have to do is, before you post, lean out the window and shout 'DIBS!' as loud as you can."

No, no; I simply must make sure that it is illegal for you all to not read my blog regularly.

It couldn't be more simple. And educational!

This week we have a special on free ASCII. Both crunchy and smooth are available!

I think Von's crossing "pique one's interest" with "prick up one's ears," but I am willing to be enlightened.

Nahh, I'm just confused & without much sleep.

Even "pique" doesn't work here. Interest can be piqued. Ears, not so much. Were you suggesting people should have reconstructive surgery to appear Vulcan?

And even more confused now, because Gary has an excellent point. My mangled cliche doesn't improve upon further inspection. I think I'll call it a night, and not try to improve it any further.

My mangled cliche doesn't improve upon further inspection.

well, i thought it did. oh well

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