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