Whoa. I hesitate to even ask after having had this debate once already with another. But...I'm curious...at what point IS it a question of torture? I mean, there have been many things thrown around that are not torture...maybe they're unbecoming, but not torture.
Yet other reports, and even pictures I have seen, (not the well known ones) are disturbing.
Not to say any of these things have been done, but by way of definitions, what falls within your evaluation here? When is it torture? When they starve them? Little cuts? Play russian roulette? Smash fingers? Genearlly physically abuse them?
Are these things justifiable if it is "what needs to be done to get the job done as expeditiously as possible"?
# posted by Shamgar : 10/06/2005 9:38 PM
A reader posted this comment concerning my little essay on counterintelligence, in reply to Mark Shea.
These are all good questions that merit a serious answer.
1.A lot of Christians have a bad habit of opting out of nitty-gritty debates. They don’t want to get their hands dirty. The subject-matter is just too distasteful and morally compromising.
But if we sit out these debates, then we delegate all the tough questions to unbelievers to answer. That’s an abdication of our responsibilities. Christians don’t have all the answers. But with the benefit of revelation, we at least have some compass points to help us find our moral bearings. Should unbelievers be answering all the heavy-duty questions in ethics?
2.Christians are disproportionately represented in the armed forces. Out of respect and support for their sacrifice, that’s another reason we need to stay in the debate.
3.Too many Christians don’t have practical answers when the going gets tough. But if you don’t have workable answers to real world problems, then there’s something wrong with your value system. There are many forced options in life. Since we have no choice but to make a choice, we have no choice but to morally valuate our choices. Mere squeamishness is no excuse to let the unbeliever do all the heavy-lifting and make the decisions for us.
4.There is nothing wrong with debating the morality of torture. The problem is when the anti-war forces try to frame the debate by making torture the only prism through which we view the war effort. They use this as a form of blackmail to preempt a necessary debate. They use it as a conversation-stopper. And that puts us all in peril.
We really are facing a mortal peril. Whatever you think of the Iraq war, it has certainly shown us the face of the enemy—an utterly wanton, ruthless, fanatical, irrepressible enemy.
5.In ethics we’re often confronted with borderline cases—cases where our moral intuitions are too blunt an instrument to draw fine distinctions of right and wrong, or where we experience conflicting moral intuitions, a conflicted sense of duty.
In that case there may be no right answer, and it’s a question of what to do in case of doubt. To play it safe? Or to be lenient?
6.What is torture? Here’s one generic definition: “torture is the deliberate infliction of intense physical or psychological suffering to punish, or to deter others, or to extract information, or to coerce a confession of guilt, or to exact revenge, or for the sake of sheer cruelty.”
Now, that’s a broad definition. “Torture” is a very loaded word, and one reason is that it triggers all these varied connotations.
That’s because it’s a general, abstract definition, intended to cover every essential hypothetical case. But, of course, at a specific and concrete level, the definition doesn’t apply as a whole.
6.Let’s take a comparison: a physician may deliberately inflict intense physical or psychological suffering on a patient and his family as a means to an end. This may even include dismemberment or mutilation, viz., amputation or the removal of a vital organ.
Yet we don’t classify that as torture. We don’t indict him for war crimes and extradite him to the Haag.
7.What we’re talking about in context is interrogation to extract actionable intel from an unwilling informant.
The first question to ask is not, “Is it torture?” but, “Is it effective?” What are the most effective techniques for extorting intel?
The second question to ask, after answering the first question, is, “Is it torture?” There may be several methods at the disposal of the interrogator.
So one follow-up question is whether torture is necessary, or if there is some other method that will succeed short of torture.
8.Torture ranges along a continuum. You could say that any coercive interrogation is torture. That any infliction of physical or psychological suffering, however, mild or temporary, is torture. Any extraction of information against the will of the informant is torture.
And there are “human rights” groups who think it’s inherently wrong to force information out of a terrorist.
9.One of my presuppositions is that someone who breaks the social contract is not entitled to civil rights since it is the social contract that confers civil rights in the first place. The social contract is premised on a tacit agreement: I’ll respect your civil rights if you respect my civil rights. But if you game the system to sabotage the system, then you forfeit your civil rights.
10.I also draw a distinction between civil rights and human rights. Roughly speaking, only citizens enjoy civil rights. A terrorist has no Constitutional rights.
11.Coercive interrogation presupposes that the detainee is a terrorist. It would be improper to use coercive interrogation on the innocent. But the very fact that the detainee is a terrorist, that there is probative evidence to that effect, discharges the burden of proof.
This is not a question of legal evidence, of legal guilt or innocence. We’re not trying to extort a confession of guilt.
Rather, this is question of whether the detainee is likely to have useful information about those who would do us harm.
12.As I said before, I regard this as a two-step process. The first step is a screening process to sort out the high-value informant from the know-nothing.
13.Having isolated the high-value informant, it’s then a question of how to extract the intel. The techniques for #12 are not the same as the techniques for #13.
14.How far we should be prepared to go depends on such factors as the threat-level, the urgency of the threat, and the quality of the informant.
15.Remember, the detainee can spare himself any unpleasantness at any time by simply being forthcoming and telling the interrogator everything he knows.
16.This is not a license to be sadistic. We should avoid the infliction of unnecessary suffering. We should avoid the infliction of gratuitous permanent injury. And, morality aside, killing an informant is an ineffective way of extracting information!
17.I’m sorry that it has come to this, but we didn’t ask for this. We didn’t declare war on the Muslim world. Rather, parts of the Muslim world declared war on us.
Just look at the kind of enemy we’re up against in Iraq. Unfortunately, war forces good men to do things they hate to do. Not to do wrong, but to do things which would otherwise be wrong but for self-defense.