In a tacit admission that all his previous arguments fell flat, Victor Reppert had made the prudent, face-saving move of changing the subject. That’s the best way to extricate yourself from a losing argument—change the subject.
There are two basic ways to oppose waterboarding:
i) The de jure objection: waterboarding is immoral.
That was Reppert’s first move. Having failed on that front, his fallback is:
ii) The de facto objection: waterboarding is ineffective.
This would be a legitimate objection if it were true. The basic contention of the article he links to is that information which we extract by “torture” is unreliable since anyone will say anything under torture to make it stop. Therefore, we should use carrots instead of sticks.
But one of the problems with this objection is a lack of internal logic. If an informant will lie to avoid sticks, why wouldn’t he lie to get carrots? The only incentive he has to tell the truth if he’s well-treated is the threat that if he lies, he will get sticks rather than carrots. Shouldn’t a philosopher be asking the same questions? And I’ve mentioned other problems with this objection.
Incidentally, I’ve never argued that we *should* waterboard a terrorist. Rather, I’ve argued against those who say we *shouldn’t*.
I don’t have a professional opinion on whether it’s effective or not. I’m happy to leave that to the experts. My problem is with those who make categorical claims in opposition to waterboarding, and say that we should prosecute interrogators who use that technique.
5:55 PM , Victor Reppert said...
“Just one more point. This is supposed to be effective because it is so distressing to the victim that they will talk in order to put a stop to it?? That's why it's so effective. The infamous tough guy KSM could only put up with 2 1/2 minutes of it before he started singing like a canary? But it isn't torture??? And you're the guys who impeached Clinton for saying he didn't have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, on the grounds that Clinton was using a tortured conception of ‘sexual relations.’ And then you voted for Bush to restore honor and integrity to the Presidency of the United States. If you want to defend this as moral, call it what it is. It's torture.”
This paragraph is riddled with sophistries:
i) To say the denial that waterboarding is torture is comparable to the denial that oral sex is sex is an argument from analogy minus the analogy. Reppert is very fond of this alleged analogy, but he has yet to offer a supporting argument that his alleged analogy is, in fact, analogous. Is that too much to ask of a professional philosopher? Throughout this thread, Reppert has been long on assertion and short on argument. Lots of choice adjectives and tendentious assumptions in place of sound reasoning.
ii) He also doesn’t bother to define his terms. Why doesn’t he define “torture.” Aren’t philosophers supposed to define their terms? So why doesn’t he offer a philosophically stringent definition of “torture”? Perhaps because there is no philosophically stringent definition of “torture.” It’s a rubbery term that stretches and contracts depending on who is using it.
iii) I supported the impeachment of Clinton for the same reason I’d support the prosecution of Capone on tax evasion. We indicted Capone on tax evasion, not because that’s the worst thing he did, but because that’s what we could get him on, and it was a way of getting at him for the other, far worse things he did. Same thing with Clinton.
iv) I didn’t vote for Bush to restore honor and dignity to the US presidency. I voted for Bush because he was better than the two alternatives—Kerry and Gore.
v) This whole line of objection is a morally and intellectually frivolous exercise on Reppert’s part. He’s accusing supporters of waterboarding of hypocrisy. But even if the charge is true, that ad hominem attack is irrelevant to the merits of the case. Why does a trained philosopher resort to such a blatantly illogical argument?
At 9:44 PM , Victor Reppert said...
“What do you guys make of the claim that waterboarding isn't simulated drowning, it is drowning. If you stimulate my brain in such a way that I experience what I would experience if someone were to put me on the rack, would it be any less torture than if you put me on the rack?”
My, what a silly objection. What’s the difference between simulated drowning and real drowning? Hmm. Maybe the difference between simulated dying and really dying. I happen to think there’s a material difference between merely imagining that you’re dying, when you’re not, and actually dying. Does Reppert think there’s no philosophically significant difference between those two outcomes? If you had to choose between undergoing a real execution or a simulated execution, which one would you opt for? Hmm.
Clearly Reppert isn’t trying very hard.
“And what do you think torture is?”
Why do I have to come up with a comprehensive taxonomy of “torture” to evaluate the morality of waterboarding? Does Reppert have a comprehensive taxonomy of “torture”?
Why to I need to classify the practice to evaluate it? Why should I frame the issue in terms of “torture” in the first place?
Notice that Reppert makes no attempt to justify his operating assumptions. But isn’t that what a philosopher is suppose to do? Examine his presuppositions?
JIM LIPPARD SAID:
“Permitting these ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on declared unlawful enemy combatants means that they will be used against *suspected* terrorists. In practice, that appears to mean a less than fifty percent chance of being an actual terrorist, and a vanishingly small chance of being someone guilty of a crime for which a conviction can be obtained (just looking at Guantanamo Bay detainees ' record to date).”
i) There’s a winnowing process to determine who’s a high-value informant.
ii) You’re treating counterterrorism as an issue of criminal justice. That’s a category mistake.
“Perhaps you are comfortable having a government that gives power to its chief executive to unilaterally declare individuals to be unlawful enemy combatants to be held without trial or judicial oversight and subjected to these techniques. I don't.”
“No, the difference is that I’m equally distrustful of both the executive and the judiciary, whereas you distrust the executive while abiding childlike faith in the judiciary.
v) And what does this have to do with waterboarding or torture or coerced interrogation? Are you admitting that if a judge declared a detainee to be an illegal combatant, you would not be opposed, in principle, to waterboarding the detainee? Or is this just a diversionary tactic on your part.
“Regarding your Dawkins question, I believe in basic human rights, though I'm uncertain as to the best metaethical justification or explanation, but I think there are multiple good options available. Just pretend I'm an advocate of the ideal observer theory; at the level of the current argument it doesn't really matter unless we identify conflicting reasons which differ in their available metaethical support.”
No, you don’t get a free pass on secular ethics. You’re a very judgmental blogger. You need to be able to justify your moralistic pronouncements. You need to choose and defend a particular secular theory of values and show how that specifically underwrites your political positions.
“Steve: The 8th Amendment specifically protects *convicted* criminals, not just the accused.”
I see you ducked my question. You’re presuming that the 8th amendment was meant to cover a foreign terrorist.
To repeat my original question: “You seem to be assuming that the Framers of the Constitution and the states that ratified that document intended the Bill of Rights to protect a terrorist from the American people rather than protecting the American people from a terrorist. I’m waiting to hear your historical argument.”
I’m still waiting.
Why do you think we need the Geneva Conventions if the Bill of Rights had always applied to a foreign terrorist (assuming, for the sake of argument, that a terrorist is covered by the Geneva Conventions)?