Torture seems to the be the hot topic of discussion today.

  • Ms McArdle offers an interesting alternative way to object to the notion torture even granting its effectiveness.
  • Mr Kuznicki continues to hold on the notion, which seems more and more likely to be incorrect, that torture is actually ineffective.
  • And … Mr Fernandez points out a big reason why it is likely that torture works and that those who think it isn’t actually effective live in ivory towers wearing rose tinted glasses. It has to effects, it can extract information and it can terrorize a population. Both work, i.e., torture can get information and can terrorize a population.

Torture is almost certainly effective. To isolate the one of the points Mr Fernandez raises:

But I didn’t need Mr. Cheney to tell me that. When I ran safehouses in the anti-Marcos days the first order of business whenever a cell member was captured by the police was to alert the surviving members, move the safehouse and destroy all links to the captured person. That’s because everyone knew that there was a great probability that the captive would talk under duress, however great his bravery and resistance. Nobody I know, or have heard of who has had experience in real-life situations has ever said, “our cell should continue as usual and the safehouse should remain open, despite the fact that one of our own is being tortured by the secret police, because I read in the New York Times that coercion never works.” The probability is that torture works and for that reason its use constitutes a moral dilemma; and the reason why Jacoby believes he is expressing a noble sentiment when he forswears it even as “a last and desperate option” in the War on Terror.

This is not a isolated reaction of a resistance movement in the Philippines … resistance in France in WWII and elsewhere in modern and ancient eras had to react quickly after one of their companions was captured. Why? Because under torture, the threat that the person held would talk was more likely than not. Mr Kuznicki would have it that the notion that the gestapo and/or the Marcos regime might extract under duress valuable information is not likely. He would not (apparently) “alert the surviving members, move the safehouse and destroy all links to the captured person”. Doing those things takes effort and entails risk. According to the “torture doesn’t work” theory that would be counter-productive, expensive, and risky. According, alas, to the real world … it may be expensive and risky … but it is also necessary. And the reason why it is necessary is the erroneous assumption that torture doesn’t work. Torture it seems in the real world, doesn’t always work … but very often does.

However that being said, Ms McArdle’s proposed argument has merit. We are not and have not been a people that condones torture. My contention is that torture and methods of torture should be known and understood by our state agents. But that when and if they use it, they should understand that it is illegal. We ask our soldiers to lay their lives down for the benefit of their country. The existence of effective torture techniques means that we may also ask our operatives and agents to lay down their career and possibly their freedom and good name for the benefit of the country. To put in in the parlance of popular theater, Mr Baur may use torture (effectively even) to save (many?) American lives … but in the aftermath he should go to jail for it … absent a (rare) Presidential pardon. We should remain a people and an nation that never systematically employs torture as a method. It may be that making it illegal is a way to do that. It may also be that there are other, just as effective ways of doing that.

I am no lawyer and I have no idea how the law stood and the law stands now. Apparently waterboarding and similar techniques as were used recently has been used on occaission as a method of extracting information in times of need for over 50 years by our country. If Mr Bush and Mr Cheney and their administration is to be now tried for the methods they employed should not the previous 6-8 administrations be vetted and tried too?

Filed under: Ethics & MoralityGovernmentMark O.

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