Monday, November 21, 2005

Interrogation or torture?

Last month I did a couple of postings on the difference between interrogation and torture which generated some comment.

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2005/10/interrogation.html

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2005/10/counterintelligence.html

That particular thread was interrupted and overtaken by something Al Kimmel wrote in response to something else I wrote, and the commentary generated by his article.

Just to tie up the loose ends, I’ll now revisit the old debate. According to Shamgar:

“I said two things in my last post: Torture is wrong, Coercive interrogation is at best a grey area, at worst, wrong.

Just because I define both as being wrong doesn't mean I think they're both the same thing.”

Shamgar is welcome to his opinion.

Suppose we nab a well-connected terrorist. He’s not going to volunteer to disclose his plans or drop the dime on his comrades. Left to his own devices, he will stay mum.

That’s where coercion comes in. The only way to extract information from an unwilling informant is to make things unpleasant for him. That can take many different forms. Some forms are more brutal than others. Some forms are more efficient than others.

The alternative is to let a terrorist plead the Fifth and never tell us anything about plans to, say, stage a biochem attack at the Superbowl.

We now have “human rights” groups that want to extend to unlawful combatants all the protections which, historically, were never extended to unlawful combatants, and for good reason.

The whole point of something like the Geneva Conventions is to discriminate between those who abide by the laws of warfare and those who don’t.

So it’s like a contract. It is binding on both parties if both parties keep up their respective end of the bargain.

“All men were created equal. Yet, in the case of these evil men, these terrorists, we're suddenly willing to go back to that and make them less of a person, such that we can get around the idea that we should treat them as human beings.”

This is fallacious on a couple of grounds:

i) It’s precisely because the jihadis are human beings that they are morally answerable for their actions. Coercive interrogation does not assume that they are subhuman. To the contrary, it assumes that they are moral agents who are plotting to do us harm for no good reason. As such, we have a perfect right to treat them differently than we would an individual who was not plotting to do us harm. Equality only applies all other things being equal.

ii) Their humanity is a secondary issue. If there were a rabid dog loose in the neighborhood, I’d shoot it because the dog was a threat.

“They are using our rights and freedoms to convince us to deny ourselves our rights and freedoms.”

No, they aren’t trying to convince of anything. They’re trying to kill us, plain and simple.

“You know, everyone wants to use the scenario of some militant raging muslim captured in Iraq trying to murder children as their picture. Yet we have held, and continue to hold, many american citizens (naturalized or no) in the same manner. They are named as "enemy combatants" and stripped of their rights and face the same potential end as the most rabid muslim ‘terrorist’.”

And the problem with that is what, exactly? Sounds fine to me.

“It could very well be used against you and I as christians in the coming years. Imagine the irony as you sit there being tortured to reveal the locations of your evil co-conspirators in the christian faith that you were one who endorsed such behavior when it's ‘for good’.”

This is the same kind of simple-minded moral equivalence we’ve seen before. As I said, equal treatment all other things being equal.

The idea is that if we play by the rules, the other guy will play by the rules. But regimes like Red China never reciprocate, so the analogy is self-refuting.

“Yes it [the law] protects us from our enemies, but not by giving a free hand to abuse our enemy.”

This begs the question of whether coercive interrogation is “abusive.”

“I wonder. Did you get upset when you witnessed the atrocities done to our soldiers overseas? Does it sadden you when you consider the men who went to war in Vietnam and were POW of the enemy, tortured and abused for years? Does it anger you that some are still over there, mistreated daily?

If so, why? On what basis do you do this? Do we have rights they do not? Is it ok for us to abuse and torture prisoners for information but not them? Is there something special about us that makes us superior? Does the evil that taints them and their actions not taint us? On what basis? Because it's us? Because we're "good guys"?”

Again, more of your blind equivalence between the Viet Cong and us, the jihadis and us. An elementary failure to distinguish between a worthy and unworthy cause, self-defense and sheer cruelty, interrogation and mere sadism. With such moral confusion, there’s scarcely anything left to say.

This isn’t a question of whether some men are worse than others, but whether their actions are worse.

“I would rather that 10 guilty men go free than one innocent man be punished.”

You never fail to miss the point. This is not primarily an issue of convicting the jihadis of a crime, but extracting actionable intel to save innocent lives.

“Wait...are you seriously suggesting that because the Hebrew people in their time and context used these things to punish sin under God's direction and law, that we today should be able to crush someones fingers until they tell us what we want to know? “

Crushing someone’s fingers is your illustration, not mine. Once again, you consistently fail to ask the right questions. The question to ask is not, “why is torture?” But, “what is the most efficient way of extracting intel from an unwilling informant?” One doesn’t start with examples of torture, but examples of interrogation. What’s the best way to do it?

“I have never said that liberty, or choosing to do right come without a cost. For me, I am willing to pay that price. I would rather that I and my family die in pain and suffering doing right, than do evil that good may result.”

You’re welcome to pay any price you please. But don’t make my family pay for your scruples. To say it’s evil is just the umpteenth example of your incorrigible question-begging.

Truth is, you have a duty to protect your family. Evil lies in the failure to do so.
“I'm confused about your first sentence. Did you mean to say the ends do sometimes justify the means? If so, I simply cannot agree with that, particularly in this instance. I agree that the ends participate, but they cannot be the sole justification. If the end is to detain a suspect, then it certainly supports the means of using handcuffs. BUt handcuffs are justifiable means of detaining on their own.”

No, it would be wrong to cuff someone just for the sake of cuffing someone.

“And into this hand, you would put such a tool as torture of others, guilty or not, for the possibility of an increase of your own safety, and the safety of others?”

I don’t render myself artificially ignorant by pretending not to know something I know perfectly well. I don’t make-believe that Gitmo detainees are boy scouts or choirboys. I don’t give somebody the benefit of the doubt when the evidence is stacked against him.

“You here continually advocate doing evil, so that good may result. I find this morally, and biblically reprehensible.”

No, what is morally and biblically reprehensible is your unteachable spirit, your engrained habit of making unreasoning assertions.

“I do not understand how one goes from loving those who hate you, and doing good to those who persecute you, to torture those who mean you harm.”

I don’t hate the jihadis. I’ve never met a terrorist. Nothing personal here.

But we can’t be equally loving to everyone. We can’t be equally loving to a child and a child molester. That is where moral priorities kick in—for those capable of exercising a modicum of moral discrimination, that is.

13 comments:


  1. No, what is morally and biblically reprehensible is your unteachable spirit, your engrained habit of making unreasoning assertions.


    Wow. That's quite an assertion to make. On what basis am I to bow to your philsophical ramblings? While (to my recollection) I have not made chapter and verse references my position here is well reasoned and based squarely on God's word, and the view of Man it puts forward. It is based on the teaching of both Christ and Paul in regards to how we should act as Christians and what should govern our behavior. It is based on a full belief in the sovereignty of God.

    You have countered with fearmongering, and vain philosophy, arguing from a position of fear to support your need to interrogate and even torture prisoners to provide your own safety and the safety of your family, and I am the one who is unteachable? You may not accept my reasons, but they are there. You may not agree with me, and that's fine too.

    And if you should happen to find an actual, exegetically based, argument from scripture that indicates we should, as christians, be advocating that our government torture people to provide our safety then I will be instructed by scripture.

    But no, I will not simply bend on your say so. Honestly, I think perhaps you need to check your ego a little.

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  2. I have little patience with Christians who can't decide which side to take in the war on global jihad; Christians who suffer from moral paralysis in the face of palpable evil; Christians who lack elementary moral priorties and reduce both sides to moral equivalence.

    Christians ought to be more discerning, not less so.

    You have offered no exegesis of Paul or Christ.

    Yes, you've given your reasons, and I've replied to your reasons, and when I reply, all you do is to repeat yourself as if nothing was said by way of reply. Repeat the same question-begging assertions as before. That is not an argument.

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  3. Shamgar,

    Isn't it rather embarrassing to have to ignore every single point of Steve's point-by-point rebuttal? What, do you really have nothing to say to his specific arguments?

    You're seemingly offended by some isolated sentence you've cherry-picked from Steve's reply. Well, look at what it was a reply to: your claim that Steve's advocacy is "morally, and biblically reprehensible." In other words, Steve simply returned the favor on that score.

    Looks like you can dish it out, but you can't take it. Meanwhile, Steve's arguments stand without any meaningful challenge from you.

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  4. Steve,

    You accuse me of question begging, and you accuse me of merely repeating myself, and to some extent the latter might be true.

    It is true because you fail to listen. You have a pair of blinders on, and you have decided to look at the problem from one particular point of view. Demonstrated even here in this reply.


    I have little patience with Christians who can't decide which side to take in the war on global jihad;


    You see, you have determined that there are only two sides in this conflict. That either we support the war on terror, or we support terrorists. This is a false dilemma.

    I have not in any way equivocated in this forum. I suffer from no moral paralysis. I do not lack elementary moral priorities, and I have not reduced both sides to moral equivalence.

    However, I have taken a position different to your own, therefore, I must be a long-haired commie hippie leftist who endorses terrorism in your already demonstrated with-us-or-against-us mentality.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that Christians should be more discerning and not less so. This is why I bothered to even post here, because from the other things I had read from you I believed you to be one of those. I'm disappointed by what I have seen demonstrated instead.

    I have not offerred exegesis, nor did I claim to have done so. I heard your response, I considered it, but it was nothing more that the typical reactionary expansionist republican groupthink that I hear being spewed out in other corners. There was nothing new or unique. I had hoped that if I phrased it differently I might help you to see, but I see now that I was likely misguided in that.

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  5. Jus,

    I had no need to ignore it. I have plenty to say, but it has already been said. In fact, it was said by better men than me for generations before I was born.

    I have spent a fair amount of time attempting to put my position forward before, and I had no desire to spend more of it in a fruitless effort to get him to see it.

    I don't know if I would say I was offended. I was disappointed in Steve and his condescending response. I spoke directly to Steve's position. Steve spoke to me personally. There is a difference there in our comments.

    It was not my plan to spend more time on posting on this topic in this forum, but reading your comment I think I will offer one final bit of commentary, providing a little bit more background on me and what I believe and why, hopefully without going overboard, and boring everyone with needless details.


    I am a classical liberal. No, that does not mean I'm a liberal. It means I follow in the footsteps of men like Adam Smith, John Locke, Lord Acton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Frederick Bastiat.

    So what does this mean? Well, pertinent to this article, it means I believe that man is fallen. That his tendency, when unregenerate, is always towards sin. It means that even when regenerate, that sin is ever present. As a result, power is an ever-corrupting influence on most, if not all, men.

    This means that government should be tightly restricted and controlled. It means that individual liberty and private property are important. One of the guiding principles that undergird the position is that the initiation of force, is wrong.

    However, while all of this undergirds my thinking, I don't think you even have to agree with me on these points to see the flawed reasoning that supports torture as a means of obtaining information.

    The classic supporting argument is to paint a scenario where we know a guy has planted a bomb, it is ticking, and he won't tell us where it is. This is the scenario that is all too commonly used to try and push us into moral relativism. They (supporters) paint us a picture of women and children about to die, and we can stop it, all we have to do is this distasteful thing, and all you have to do is look the other way.

    Well, that's not reality. First of all, how do they know he planted it? It is assumed that we know, yet if we knew with that kind of certainty, would we not have to know where the bomb itself is, and have demonstrable physical evidence that he planted it? Or eyewitness accounts to him planting it? More likely he was acting suspicious or ran when police yelled at him.

    So how we have this guy in a chair and we are being asked to approve the use of torture to extract information. Our next question is, what is torture. Well, I have already stipulated in earlier conversation that I do not believe things like flushing the koran, or depriving prisoners of comforts for periods of time (eating in front of hungry prisoners, etc) is torture. Words have meanings, and torture is no exception. We are talking about tangible, physical, pain.

    Our next question is, will it be effective? Will we get information? Yes, we will probably get information. But will it be reliable. One of the reasons we went to war was on the basis of testimony extracted via torture (by egypt) which later turned out to be wrong. I don't know about you, but if I was being tortured for something I had no clue about, or maybe even something I did, I might be inclined to say whatever they wanted to hear to make them stop.

    So now you're going on a wild goose chase looking for a bomb that isn't there while (possibly) there is a real bomb ticking away unlooked for. Torture is easy. Investigating is hard. Sometimes, torture is quick, certainly more so than an investigation. Why bother going through all the effort of investigating when you can just torture this guy for what you need to know?

    Perhaps you think me uncharitable. I would hope not. As christians, particularly calvinistic ones, we should be very cognizant of the fatal tendencies of man. History and indeed simply looking around us will tell us the truth of the matter.

    Of course, we're also dealing with religious zealots in this particular context, and they are more likely to keep their mouths shut, particularly with a believed promise of reward in the hereafter. This also has been demonstrated through a man named Manadel al-Jamadi. The CIA tortured him, (actually tortured him, he was asphyxiated in a form of crucifixion. According to reports it took about 45 minutes for him to be killed. Apparently without giving up a single iota of information.)

    These truths are the reason we have the sixth amendment. Perhaps you feel that such an amendment does not apply to anyone but americans. However, I will again remind you that the contemporary writings of the founders will paint a clear picture that rights were not granted by the constitution but only recognized. They existed prior to, and without, the bill of rights, or the constitution. They are inherent by the very nature of our existance.

    Further, I challenge you to find anywhere in the bill of rights that suggests these rights are limited only to those with american citizenship. All it says is "the accused". I would also note that this theory that it applies only to americans is what has led the current administration to declare american citizens as enemy combatants and basically strip them of their citizenship, and thus the rights that supposedly go with it. No honest student of history can believe that it was the intent of the founders to put this sort of power into the hands of the government.

    One of the charges levelled against me is moral equivalency. I do not believe that there is always a moral equivalent between two sides of a dispute, or two sides of a war. I believe in the concept of a Just War. I'm not inclined to believe this is one. However, I think the issue of torture is irrespective of that.

    For those of you who accept Steve's line of reasoning I have a question for you. A man kidnaps a girl, and hides her away. We don't know where, but we "know" (in the same way we know the terrorist planted the bomb, whatever that is) we have the man who did it. He won't tell us where she is, and she has been gone for days. She could be dying of thirst, or starving to death. She might even be suffocating wherever he has hidden her away. She could be hurt, and dying from injuries.

    Is it morally and legally acceptable to torture him to obtain the location of the girl? Can we beat him? Partially drown him? Why not? Because he's an american citizen? Is that the only reason, because of the sixth amendment? Is there no moral reasoning or foundation behind that amendment?

    What if there was no sixth amendment? Would you advocate it then? Why not? Because it's only one little girl? What if he'd kidnapped 2? 5? 10? How many lives have to be in the balance before it is justifiable? What is your moral foundation for establishing that dividing line?

    Steve, I'm sure as before you are unswayed by this. I appreciate your not simply deleting my posts and pretending I don't exist but allowing me to respond to the positions you put forward. I have been encouraged and edified by things you have written in the past, and hope to be so again, but on this point, I cannot agree with you.


    To the rest of you, I hope this presents a more rounded summary of my arguments and position in this matter. It is not a lack of thinking that brings me to this position, but what really amounts to what is probably too much study on these issues. It is my hope that even if you disagree with me, that you can see this.

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  6. Frankly, I don’t even care if they torture a known high ranking terrorist that may have information about an impending attack. If someone is deliberately killing woman and children and beheading non-combatants then they have forfeited any rights to be treated as humans. I believe in capital punishment for those who commit heinous murders, so why should physical punishment be considered wrong for those who are committing some of the most heinous crimes of all.

    Furthermore, I tell you this. If anyone is in my possession and this person has put my family’s life in danger and can alleviate this danger, then I would do any and everything to this individual to make them alleviate the danger. Yep, this include physical pain of all sorts.

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  7. Shamgar,

    Thanks for making this conversion more useful, and less one-sided, by finally coughing up some specifics. I'm glad we didn't have to be too rough on you! ;-)

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  8. Ronnie, allow me to point out again, you assume as a foundational premise that the people in question ARE the same people who have committed those acts.

    Or are you really willing to say that any and all people of muslim faith or middle eastern descent have forfeited any rights to be treated as humans?

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  9. Shamgar said:
    Ronnie, allow me to point out again, you assume as a foundational premise that the people in question ARE the same people who have committed those acts.

    No, I don’t. I’m not claiming that this should be done to each and every *suspected* terrorist that is caught. However, there maybe times when we catch a known terrorist who may have information(e.g. Zarqawi himself ). As a matter of fact, some of the terrorist we capture in their arrogance may admit to killing the “infidels”. It is these individuals that I could care less if they are tortured, because they have forfeited their rights to be treated humanely. Let me ask you this. If an individual had captured your family and was planning to kill them. In the meantime, you captured this individual and he could lead you to your family. He brags about how he plans to kill your family or how they will die a slow death of dehydration and starvation. Of course he tells you how this is fitting for the infidels. Would you tell him he had the rights to remain silent or would you do whatever was necessary to make him tell you where your family was? You know my answer :)

    Shamgar said:
    Or are you really willing to say that any and all people of muslim faith or middle eastern descent have forfeited any rights to be treated as humans?

    Of course not. I’m speaking of *terrorists*. You know the ones that blow up women, children, journalists, or anything that does not submit to their beliefs about Islamic law. How you could question that to include all people of the Muslim faith or middle Eastern descent is puzzling. Oh, by the way, this also goes for those of other nationalities or beliefs whose credo is that all are expendable to advance a belief system.

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  10. Ronnie,

    Those two points were related. You can't take the second point out of context like that. It is tied tightly to the issue of knowing the guilt ahead of time. There was no slight intended, and the point was exactly that I knew you would NOT agree with the second point.

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  11. Shamgar said:
    Those two points were related. You can't take the second point out of context like that. It is tied tightly to the issue of knowing the guilt ahead of time.

    Reply:
    Yes, but in some case we know the guilt of those we have captured. As a matter of fact they will often boldly and arrogantly speak of their acts for the glory of Allah. Above you spoke of torture being easy as compared to investigating. I’m not arguing for torture in each and every case. I’m not arguing for torture alone. I think torture should be the exception; however it should be available especially when dealing with the likes of these terrorists. They have forfeited their rights to be treated humanely. When we are dealing with a real Army that adheres to some code of standard or convention then I could agree with you. Torture doesn’t always work, but it does work sometimes just as with any other means of getting information.

    Above you asked the following questions:

    Shamgar:
    “A man kidnaps a girl, and hides her away. We don't know where, but we "know" (in the same way we know the terrorist planted the bomb, whatever that is) we have the man who did it. He won't tell us where she is, and she has been gone for days. She could be dying of thirst, or starving to death. She might even be suffocating wherever he has hidden her away. She could be hurt, and dying from injuries.

    Is it morally and legally acceptable to torture him to obtain the location of the girl? Can we beat him? Partially drown him? Why not? Because he's an american citizen? Is that the only reason, because of the sixth amendment? Is there no moral reasoning or foundation behind that amendment?

    What if there was no sixth amendment? Would you advocate it then? Why not? Because it's only one little girl? What if he'd kidnapped 2? 5? 10? How many lives have to be in the balance before it is justifiable? What is your moral foundation for establishing that dividing line?”

    Reply:
    I would say yes, it is morally( maybe not legally based on our government) acceptable to treat him in a way equal to how he is treating the little girl. Is it OK to take his life in the end if the little girl dies? Yes. So if we know he has done this, because he admitted it, in addition to the evidence, then yes! Let me ask you this. If the little girl was your daughter and you captured this person after he had hid your little girl. Would you just make him uncomfortable or would you do any and everything possible to make him talk?

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  12. I guess I would need to know how we know that the accused has information which we can subsequently extract via torture.

    If we found a terrorist whom we knew had a secret bomb planted somewhere, I guess I would be comfortable with the idea of torture. But what judge oversees this? Where is the evidence? Is it possible to torture someone who should not be tortured? A murder sentence could not be exercised without two or more witnesses. What is the standard for evidence?

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  13. Any change in Triabloguers' opinions now that it's come out that a course on interrogation techniques taught at Guantanamo Bay in 2002 came from a 1957 Air Force study of interrogation techniques on U.S. prisoners during the Korean war titled "Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions From Air Force Prisoners of War"?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/02/us/02detain.html?_r=3&pagewanted=1&hp&oref=login&oref=slogin

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