Torture is to Our Disadvantage

Two articles from Newsweek.

The first one deals with how implementing torture has made us hardened.  For example, ten years ago, you would’ve thought that water boarding is torture, just plain wrong.  But now, most Americans find water boarding acceptable, perhaps not even torture.  The pics from Abu Ghraib were demeaning and horrible, but because we’re so used to it, we find these practices simply interrogation techniques instead of torture.  From the article:

Less than two years after we learned of the goings-on at Abu Ghraib, Congress had passed legislation legalizing most of the “alternative interrogation tactics”—the stress positions and sexual humiliations—that had so offended us months before. Some of the prisoner abuse that had flattened us in 2004 had been normalized to the point that it was legal a year later.

With torture coming up in our culture, we now longer ask, “is it moral?” but now we ask, “is it effective?”  Philosopher David Luban warned us that simple abuse would lead to torture which would then lead us to a torture culture where we find it “normal.”  Thus, if you want to implement torture in this torture culture, you really have to up the ante to make it tortuous.

In the second article, it talks about how Ali Soufan–one of the FBI’s top interrogators, can speak fluent Arabic, and knows the ins and outs of al-Qaeda–has started to speak publicly against torture.  Soufan did something that was considered backwards: he treated the terrorist with respect.  But from that action, Soufan got names, information, and other plots of al-Qaeda members.  Torture just makes the detainee clam up and won’t want to talk.  Or if the detainee does talk, it’s bad information.  With torture, it plays into their game by having an attitude of “this is how America is?  Fine, I won’t talk.  I’ll even give you bad information just so that America will go off course.”  But if one treats these criminals with respect, they learn to respect you.  Soufan’s argument is something I’ve taught to my class before.  The argument basically says that if you allow torture, you’re basically telling the rest of the world that if the enemy captures our soldiers, it’s ok to torture them.  Of course, people always say that we should use torture in these ticking time bomb scenarios.  First of all, I’m skeptical of these scenarios.  I find it just an intellectual, academic exercise.  Secondly, these detainees aren’t criminals that has information of a ticking time bomb scenario.  The ticking time bomb suggests that time is running out.  But with these criminals, time isn’t an issue.  They’re off the battlefield and so torture just makes things morally worse.  To get a good glimpse of this argument, go here from an interview of an interrogator from the Daily Show.

Of course, Dick Cheney wants memos to be released to suggest that these interrogations have worked.  Until those memos come out, Soufan and Alexander from the Daily Show have the argument sound: there are other ways to get information besides torture.

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
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4 Responses to Torture is to Our Disadvantage

  1. Aubrey says:

    I find that while I don’t think that America will fall into a slippery-slop situation with torture. I do think that If it is legalized then there will a precedented norm that will only encourage international animosity and ruin foreign policy. Even if the ticking-Time Bomb scenario were to happen, which is unlikely, then I stand that it would still not be permissible and that the effects of the bomb would have a less devastating effect then allowing torture and probably getting faulty information only to have the bomb go off anyway. Torture is wrong no matter the enemy we are fighting. No matter how different people would have us believe they are.

  2. shaunmiller says:

    Exactly Aubrey. Not only would torture ruin the idea of human rights, but it would give everyone the idea that this is what America does. It would ruin foreign policy among our allies, but at the same time, it would allow our enemies to get more “pepped” up to fight us. Indeed, I’ve read that after the situation at Abu Ghraib, al-Qaeda gained more members because of it. Torture is seriously to our disadvantage.

  3. aubreycierra says:

    Now if only the rest of Americans would come to understand that its better to not torture and as such, take away the reasons to fight us, If we do nothing wrong it will be harder to convince new members that we are really the ‘bad guys’. However people are so blinded by muddled politics and have no interest in learning the reality of the situation. It is sad that this is the case a frightening majority of the time.

  4. shaunmiller says:

    Feelings often get in the way of reason. Interviews with interrogators here suggests that the “ticking time bomb” case are so rare that it can’t happen. Most are skeptical that this situation can ever happen. Indeed, Alexander suggests that torture brings out little information, instead of the assumed benefit from torture.

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