Saturday, November 3, 2007

Under Over

Apparently I can't win. Over at Mark Shea's I got reamed for saying that not every form of coercion is necessarily torture. A lot of people were very angry with me. Over the last two days, I've gotten yelled and screamed at over at Dean Esmay's for saying that if waterboarding is torture then we shouldn't do it. It doesn't matter whether we do it to one or three or however many people, whether we do it to our own troops with their consent, or whether it leaves a physical mark.

As far as I can tell I'm not arguing two contrary positions. I'm saying that not all coercion is torture and that if something is torture (and I'm inclined to think that waterboarding is) then we shouldn't do it. Torture is wrong, but not everything that seems like torture necessarily is. When it comes to something like torture, I'm sympathetic to what Jimmy Akin calls (in the last line of his post) the Deerhunter Principle: unless you know it's right then don't do it.

My thinking is that we shouldn't do evil, even when our goal is to prevent a greater evil. Any evil, great or small, has a way of coming back to bite those who do it (good does this, too). Kind of like karma, which although a Hindu term is more-or-less present in Christianity as well. It's my belief that the end result of our doing evil to prevent what we see as a greater evil will be worse than if we declined to use wrong means; in other words, that the short-term benefit is outweighed by the long-term loss. We're the United States. We have two very big things going for us: our science and technological superiority on one hand and that we're generally the "good guys" on the other. We can't afford to sacrifice either one, but we especially can't afford to lose the latter quality. It's what separates us from mere bullies, such as (most of) the empires that flourished in centuries past. We abandon the high ground at our peril, and we do it for something as questionably useful as waterboarding at our own stupidity. Can't those who think we should sell ourselves find a better price?

UPDATE: The equivalent of the "chickenhawk" argument has been leveled against me: namely, that I've never been to SERE school and been waterboarded. True. As always, I thank those who serve and have served our country by volunteering to be put in harm's way. However, I have to believe that there's still a difference between super-intense training done by your countrymen and the same acts done by your enemy. John McCain, who actually was tortured, says that waterboarding is torture. There are many things on which McCain and I disagree, but I'm pretty sure he has as good or better of an understanding of torture as just about anyone else out there.

[The title song is by the now-defunct group Doctor Manette; the words are good but the ending is my favorite part, with it being almost-but-not-quite the same thing over and over.]

10 comments:

Jack said...

You do know this is the internet don't ya Hoke? Meaning you can please some of the people some of the time, almost nobody all of the time, and somebody who has an axe to grind will always be willing to ream out your canyons on the dark side of the moon.

That's life on the world wide web.

And whereas I don't agree with ya either, on both accounts, I'm just telling ya, don't sweat the creampuffs. It's just the internet.

Long after it's gone, somebody will still think you're an idiot, or a genius, and maybe they'll be right, and maybe they'll be wrong, but will it really be so important that they're willing to say something like that on something as inconsequential in the big scheme of things as a blog?

I think not. But that's just me.
And what do I know?

By the way, I'm going to my blog right now and give ya a darn good working over for your ridiculous ideas.

Nah, ... not really.
I don't care that much.

By the way, if you want to get yelled at constantly and it still come to nothing, just get a steady girlfriend.
Sure it'll cost ya a lot more money than a blog comment, but some of what she says might actually stick.
And there ya go...

Keep your powder dry Hoke.
And if your worst defeat is a double reverse take down on the internet, then you're doing okay as far as I can tell.

By the way, just as a mind game. Riddle me this.

Would you shoot a man trying to kill ya? Or trying to kill your neighbor or friends? I mean if you had your gun with ya to defend yourself?

Think that's evil? Killing a murdering man to defend the innocent who ain't?

Now would you beat the living crap out of a guy to prevent him from killing you or a friend or family member? Or would you beat the living crap out of him to prevent yourself from having to kill him?
Would you hold him underwater till he passed out to prevent him from getting back to his weapon to try and finish what he started?

Now would you waterboard the same guy to prevent him from killing you, or a neighbor, or a friend, or your mom?
Now would you waterboard him to keep him from killing a stranger? Or is shooting him, or beating the crap outta him, or holding him underwater only important at the moment it's happening if he's gunning for you and somebody you know?

It's something to think about, ain't it?
Course, you'll probably never really have to.

Which is a very good thing, that most people never have to choose between what they would do to prevent evil versus what evil they will allow by default to be done to another because, well, they never tried to prevent evil.

But if it ever did happen to you, do you think you'd catch more bad karma at moonless midnight, when nobody else is around, for the harm you did, or for the harm you never prevented?
Course, I'm not asking for an answer. And I hope you never need one. And chances are you never will.

Like I said though, it's something to think about.
Just in case.

By the way I admire your convictions. I was young once too ya know. A long time ago.
It was a different world back then, and I was a different fella, if you understand what I'm driving at.
And if ya don't that's okay too. Every man to his own best wisdom. And his own best way of gettin there.

See ya around.

HokiePundit said...

Hey Jack,

I appreciate your thoughts, and your constant civility as well. Sometimes there's too little of both out there, you know?

To my mind, the thing that sets self-defense apart from torture is that when we take someone prisoner, we take them into our custody. As custodians, it's our duty to protect them. You raise a good point (one which I got attacked for raising over at Mark Shea's, btw): what if he's already started something and innocents will be harmed if we don't make him stop it?

The problem is that we ask the torturer to debase himself. If we were telling him to get physically filthy or even to lay down his life that would be one thing (although I'm pretty sure we can't order "suicide attacks"), but do we have the right to ask young men to lay down their humanity? I don't think that we do. Even if you and I are never in a situation where torture is an option, the nature of our democracy is such that we bear responsibility for what our elected officials do. If they order torture, it reflects on all Americans. We have a right to demand that they refrain (and others have a right to say that we should).

To my mind, it would be okay to smack around (and worse) someone we capture if they're fighting back or we haven't actually taken them into custody yet (and no games on this front). Once they've been subdued, though, torture must be forbidden. I'm fine with lying, cheating, stealing, or whatever to them, but not torture (and if lying, cheating, and stealing involve methods that would count as torture, they're forbidden to that extent as well).

Again, though, I appreciate the comments.

Jack said...

"To my mind, the thing that sets self-defense apart from torture is that when we take someone prisoner, we take them into our custody. As custodians, it's our duty to protect them. You raise a good point (one which I got attacked for raising over at Mark Shea's, btw): what if he's already started something and innocents will be harmed if we don't make him stop it?"


You got a point. I'd have to be assured that they were actually guilty, and that torture would yield information likely to save lives.

But I've got no problem personally with torture to save lives, anymore than I personally have a problem with killing in self-define or to defend another. In my opinion, when it comes down to these two classes of people, the guilty men I've helped destroy versus the innocents I failed to save, I almost never give a second thought to the former, but I'm still bothered from time to time by the latter.

So if it's up to me, I'll sacrifice my own honor to save the life of another. Hell, I'll sacrifice whatever I've got if it'll work.

But that's just me.

By the way, I was once asked about how I would go about torturing a fella. This was my personal recommendation.

Get the body of the target's dead comrades and put them in a room. Then take the target to a second location and let him watch through a two way glass a man he didn't know being dismembered and tortured in the most gruesome fashion. Doesn't really matter how, as long as it was gruesome, horrendous, and very graphic and the torment on the part of the person being tortured was shocking. Sickening even (though you gotta remember now, if you've never run into a fella like this then you might not believe it, but some men very much enjoy watching others be tortured and murdered, and if you got one of them, they have different weaknesses, and so you play a different game).

Then take the target to view the bodies of his dead comrades, some of whom had apparently been dissected. Or vivisected.

Now in the first room the person being tortured wasn't actually being tortured, it was special effects and he was an actor, long as it looked absolutely real though, it doesn't matter. In the second room the bodies of his dead friends had been autopsied, but the target probably wouldn't know the difference in outcome between that and a dissection or vivisection. Point is you tell him his buddies died slowly and whining by being cut apart by people who knew exactly what they were doing. Realism is everything in the modern cinema of the mind.

Let the target sit through that a couple of times being told that he was scheduled for the same in about five days. If he gave over valuable information which could be confirmed within three days then he would put off his day at the meta-market for an extra week or thereabouts. And so on and so on till you had basically fished him for all he's worth. Finally you tell him he's either reprieved from torture, or he's gonna be transferred to someone else's custody, and there you go. He's then remanded to the custody of whatever military tribunal or law enforcement court that will deal with him. He's never the wiser about what really happened. Long as he loses his water, then the joke's on him.

Of course, fear of torture or real physical danger, it has been my experience, is as good a motivator as the real thing, if done right, and the fella getting done is sure he's not gonna escape it. And of course you gotta be sure that you got the right man, you don't wanna take that approach with someone who might be innocent, or with whom you have nay real doubts. There's more than one way to skin an cat and more than one way to interrogate, so you got Plan A for the possibly innocent, Plan B for the possibly guilty, and Plan X for the man who absolutely has the plan you most want to know about. But if you got the right man, then the more fear the better as far as I'm concerned. And that might not work with a suicide bomber you say, but it has been my experience that when a man can choose the moment and cause of his own death, he can be awfully brave. But when you keep the knife at his neck, without him being able to control anything, not the time of his death, or the manner, or the method, or who is around him, or who is doing the killing, well then, it takes a special kinda fella not to be more than a little likely to have an accidental bowel movement. Not necessarily because of the destination of your inquiries, but of the trip getting there.

To my knowledge though, my recommendations were never acted on. A shame, if you ask me. A little fear goes a long way as a motivator for reform. The amount of physical pain a man can endure before the endorphins kick in and he loses his concern cause he knows where this is headed goes so far, but the amount of fear a man can endure is a threshold worth poking around with, if you got the right man, and the right man for the job.

And you might think I'm kidding, but I'm actually serious. To my knowledge my recommendations were never kicked upstairs. There's just no accounting for tastes I guess.

Still to me the best way in these kinda matters is the scariest way.
You'd be surprised how many guilty men are scared of being really scared.
I suspect that's usually because they have so much to be scared of.

See ya.

TS said...

Since torture is essentially psychological, despite its physical trigger, I'm not sure how it can ever be defined. Everyone's ability to suffer is different.

Jack said...

"Since torture is essentially psychological, despite its physical trigger, I'm not sure how it can ever be defined. Everyone's ability to suffer is different."


Very true, and that's why I think torture should be psychological in nature, not physical, expect under very extreme circumstances (you have to race to prevent a nuke from going off, or some such thing).

You put the living fear of God in most people and they will talk and most will talk mostly honestly. When a man realizes he's gonna die from torture, he's just ready to get it over with, he knows there is no escape, and he becomes resigned. But when a man is really and honestly afraid, so that he thinks death is coming, but he hasn't yet been physically harmed (so that he still has some doubt in the back of his mind, some instinct that he might yet escape death and torment if he is willing to offer the right incentive to those who might spare him) then most will talk, and talk to everyone's advantage.

When you've got one of those rare men that won't talk no matter what, well then torture is of little use anyways. But if torture is to be really effective on those guilty men who hold really valuable information then the target of your probe should be the mind. Break the body and the mind may not follow, as the Martyrs prove, but break the mind and pretty much everything else follows.

So if you can scare the living hell out of a man then that's more effective on the vast majority of people than beating the hell out of them.

So I'm with you, the mind is the target. As a matter of fact the mind is the target, but the soul is the salvation. That is if you can both convince a man in his mind that real torment is coming, and yet retain hope in his soul that he may yet escape through honest cooperation, then you never really have to drastically harm the body (juts deprive it of sleep, and rest, and some food and water for awhile, but not really harm it) to achieve your end. So it's kinda like bad cop, good cop. Your techniques should set out to break the mind, but offer hope to the soul. Deprive a man of the hope of living and he knows it doesn't really matter. Give him the hope of extending his life while terrifying his mind that he won't unless he helps, and most guilty men are only too happy to cooperate.

But I also agree with hits point you made. The debate should not be over what is torture and what is not, that is merely a legalism (and I know lawyers think that's a big deal, it isn't at all to a man murdered by someone - to the murder victim all that matters is did the law help prevent murder, not what are the technicalities of the law, that's just talk for theorists - justice consists of one thing, and one thing only, the prevention of evil, all else is just second rate never-catch-up) and does not address the real matter, which is how do you go about effectively extracting useful and life-saving information from guilty and evil men in the fastest and most beneficial way while doing the least harm.

The debate should have always been: What actually works, and what doesn't. Physical torture rarely works well, psychological manipulation, done in the right way, almost always does.
Affective definitions are almost completely unimportant when compared against practical and real world effects.
To everyone except to the theorists.

Jack said...

"The equivalent of the "chickenhawk" argument has been leveled against me: namely, that I've never been to SERE school and been waterboarded."


You know, I'm not sure that name calling and classification in that way helps people with little to no experience understand the experiences of others. And I've never thought that expertise necessarily conveys righteousness. An expert and a man with experience can be right on a thing, and he can be wrong, but I'm not sure saying you're wrong because you have no idea of what you're talking about is a good way to argue, anymore than saying "you're an expert, so you always must be right."


"However, I have to believe that there's still a difference between super-intense training done by your countrymen and the same acts done by your enemy. John McCain, who actually was tortured, says that waterboarding is torture. There are many things on which McCain and I disagree, but I'm pretty sure he has as good or better of an understanding of torture as just about anyone else out there."


It is possible though for one soldier to have one opinion on some matter and other soldiers to have a different opinion on the same matter.

I know plenty of soldiers, marines, airmen, Intel officer and agents, lawmen, naval personnel, airmen, and even a few coast guard officers and many have widely divergent opinions on the same natters, what constitutes torture being one of them (and a few I know have probably been tortured by most definitions).

That is to say that because some one is in the military is no guarantee they will either think or feel about the same matter in the same way. So I don't think anyone, on either side of the argument, should necessarily fall into the, "it is absolutely this way or that way" stance based upon a person's given profession, or even experience.

I disagree compete with McCain about waterboarding being torture, and whereas he has every right to his opinion, it doesn't mean he's right (or wrong for that matter), it just means it's his opinion derived from his own experience. But others with the same experience can derive conflicting or even completely opposite conclusions.

People just have to do the best they can with what they know and feel and have experienced and different people will reach different conclusions (and sometimes same person will even reach different conclusions based upon different ages in their own life).

I guess what I'm saying is that generally speaking because someone does or does not agree with you on some matter does not necessarily make them either right or wrong, or good or bad, just sometimes different.

HokiePundit said...

Apparently we stopped waterboarding people in 2003; it's not clear to my why we chose to stop (I can understand why we started).

I do have concerns about using "does it work?" as a test, though. If it's wrong, it's wrong whether it works or not (being allowable is more subjective, I think, and without spilling a page of words on it).

I think I'm just baffled that I'm being called a chickenhawk and a pacifist on one side and am accused of disingenuously seeking to fit theology to my own preconceived ends in order to "tiptoe up to the line" on the other.

Then again, being an Episcopalian meant having both the Evangelicals and the Roman Catholics perennially ticked-off at you, so I guess I should be used to this kind of thing by now.

Jack said...

"I do have concerns about using "does it work?" as a test, though. If it's wrong, it's wrong whether it works or not (being allowable is more subjective, I think, and without spilling a page of words on it)."


Here I probably have to explain something to you about my personal, pragmatic definition of "does it work?"

To me if something is really wrong it doesn't work. Yes, it may, and often will enjoy momentary success, which deludes many people into confusing momentary success with real workability.

For instance both Nazism and Russian Communism enjoyed momentary success, but were not workable in the long run. That is, in the long run they did more harm to both their enemies and themselves and that led to self-destruction, rather than long term survivability.

Martyrdom on the other hand, led to immediate death and apparent defeat but in the long run overthrew the Roman Empire and led to organizations and cultural precepts which long outlasted the Empire. Martyrdom works, despite appearances to the contrary. So a thing can look good, and very successful, and be unworkable in the long run, and a thing can look very bad, even self-destructive and self-doomed, and yet succeed in the long run. Fascism looked good, but failed, because it was wrong. Martyrdom looked bad, very bad, and a natural path and logical route to failure, but was right and worked in the long run. That's what counts, that it works in the long run to do the most good for the most people, or prevent the most harm to the most innocents. If it works though it will work because it is right, if it fails, it will fail because it is wrong.

To me if a thing works it works for the long haul, it does not just achieve momentary success, and it does not lead to self-destruction. Waterboarding won't, and doesn't. Those undergoing it live, and more importantly, the innocents we save by the information gained, live.

American torture works, though personally I wouldn't call it that (I'd just call it effective interrogation - I'm only adopting the pop culture terminology, and that's what most of the public debate is, a pop culture debate on what may or may not constitute real torture, but just for fun I'm gonna call it torture), because it has far different objectives and ends than what is normally and historically considered torture. We do not torture for pleasure, that is, like the Nazis and Saddam did, merely to inflict suffering, or for the enjoyment of either the leadership or those executing the torture. We do not torture to kill, we have only one rural objective, to save lives (that is why we employ the methods we do). We torture only as long as is effective, to gain the desired objective of information to save lives or prevent disaster.

It is very much like this scenario. If you went into battle, who would you rather be fighting against, Americans, or the Taliban. If the Americans gained the advantage in a battle then what would they do? Suppress, disarm, and capture those who surrendered or were beaten. If the Taliban gained the advantage then what do you think they would do? Treat the survivors leniently, or hang them in a soccer stadium for sport?

If the Americans captured you, would you rather be tortured by them, or by the Taliban (or by the Chinese or Russians or by FARK or by the Sudanese, for that matter)?

What do you think of both the odds of the torture actually working, and of you surviving the torture. might be in these varied cases?

Being as objective (and honest) as I reckon a human can be in my position, I suspect that the American torture would actually likely achieve it's end(s) (assuming I was guilty, was an actual candidate for torture - and not many people are) and that everyone, including me, would survive it without any real permanent scars. In other words it would actually work.

As for torture by others, well, that's more problematic in my mind.
But that's just me.

The devil I know is really normally not much more than a lamb, the devils in the other corners of the world, them I'm not always so sure about.

In any case, if somebody has gotta shear me, then let the shepherd be American.
I think I could probably lose my coat without losing my skin.

And all things considered, that would work better for me than the other way round.

HokiePundit said...

I think we're abandoning the moral high ground when we do it, though. It's not just between us and the terrorists: there are those who are observing what each side does. Osama bin Laden was "on our side" during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Although perhaps it's quixotic to try and make Americans the "good guys," rather than relying on the Body of Christ, it's worth the shot.

Tertium Quid said...

You can't win on whether torture can be self-defense. As you know from law school, self-defense is a complete defense but must be proven to the finder of fact.

Judging from the intense debate about Hiroshima that continues today, any dozen people in this world can form a jury and judge history. Some refuse to see the desperation of the times. Some will be smug. Some will be intelligent. A handful will be humble.

Likewise with torture. Torture can only be justified as self-defense, but its justification and proportionality cannot be proven.

If I were Harry Truman and had to justify one million casualties to invade Japan, I would have ordered the atomic attacks. If I were an intelligence officer interrogating a known terrorist and having reasonable belief of an imminent attack, I would not sit on my hands.

When is violence proportional and justified? It is often hard to tell, and as human beings, sometimes we don't want to think about it.

http://burketokirk.blogspot.com/2007/11/bombing-by-numbers-and-mess-of.html