Blogs > Cliopatria > Our New Battle Cry

Jul 15, 2005 7:51 am


Our New Battle Cry



Here’s another, ho hum, report on our nation’s systematic use of torture. The article also contains more evidence of our nation’s systematic effort to lie to itself about our use of torture by mangling the language. In this case, and it is clever, the Bush Administration has created a continuum of interrogation techniques and limited the world “torture” to the point where the bones are broken and the guard dogs bite. Techniques that blur this line are called “’creative.’” The one psychological technique they have defined as torture seems to be threatening to kill the victim’s families. That’s nice.

Note I said “our nation” and not the Bush Administration. Sure Bush & Co. are responsible for corrupting the populace in this regard, but the American majority has made it awfully easy. The people in that majority are silent partners, to be sure. They would not have done it, but they willingly accept it and the dubious profits made. I think most understand that torture has been redefined in a way that makes it easier. Some defend it, believing that nation’s always do what we are doing now. Many, perhaps more, feel sort of uncomfortable about it. But they accept it.

Why? Because my friends,
Better a thousand people tortured than a single American civilian killed!
That is our nation’s new battle cry.

It’s a battle cry that betrays our core ideals; it’s a battle cry that betrays the many good men and women in our military and intelligence services who have resisted this corruption; it’s a battle cry that the rest of the world sees very clearly, even though we do not cry it aloud; it’s a battle cry that hollows out any claims we make—whether true or not—about the blows of freedom we have struck.

Why don’t we cry it aloud? Well, that would be uncivilized. It would also undercut the lies in the language that allows so many people to say, along with Senator Pat Roberts, that none of this is worth worrying about.


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Ralph E. Luker - 7/16/2005

Miraculously, you conclude something by analogy which is not at all what I had intended. The proper conclusion from what I said is -- not "if torture occasionally produces inaccurate information ..." -- but "if torture occasionally produces accurate information ...." That follows from what you had earlier said and from what I had earlier said. If you can't follow the logic of an analog, it makes conversation almost impossible. My argument has been that a free people, who expect their enemies to treat prisoners with minimal decency, will not subject prisoners of war to torture. Period. Your argument leaves no room for the United States to object when our sons and daughters are tortured by their captors.


John H. Lederer - 7/16/2005

And your point would be that if torture occasionally produces inaccurate information, it would be morally better that people be murdered than to commit the offense of torture?

Oscar Chamberlain has it right: the moral issues are not simple. Yet discussion of the issue always seems to devolve into something simplistic.

Perhaps a starting point is to apply the same analysis that most of us, I think, do with killing:

1. Killing is wrong
2. There are circumstances where the killing of someone prevents a greater moral wrong.
3. Therefore deciding whether to kill depends on the circumstances.

Some cases are easy, most are hard.


Pretending that the decision is always easy and that proposition 1 is in and of itself an end of the analysis is not particularly useful.

So with torture. Torture is a moral wrong. But that is not the end of an analysis. I have not seen for instance a satisfactory explanation of why torture is morally wrong in the "ticking bomb" scenarion (terrorist is captured after placing bomb with timer in unknown crowded place, should he be tortured to reveal location before bomb explodes?). I have noted that discussion of the example problem by those opposed to torture almost always involves denying the premise.






Ralph E. Luker - 7/16/2005

Your point would be that torture occasionally produces accurate information, I suppose. Would you tolerate the repeated rape of your daughter because it occasionally produced a satisfactory heir?


John H. Lederer - 7/16/2005

Sorry, meant to post the URL:
http://www.lincolntribune.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=1676


John H. Lederer - 7/16/2005

This story seems to suggest that "torture" does work on occasion:

WASHINGTON, July 14, 2005 - A sworn supporter of Osama bin Laden being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has provided valuable intelligence into al Qaeda operations and the planning before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a top U.S. general told members of Congress July 13.
***

"He described the facilitators he met along the way, the methods of financing the (Sept. 11) operation, the way he obtained his U.S. visa, and the logistics involved in traveling to the United States and communicating with his handlers along the way," Craddock said.

***
y the fall of 2002 Kahtani had successfully resisted all interrogation techniques for eight months, so interrogators at Guantanamo requested, and received, permission to use more aggressive techniques. Craddock said officials were particularly interested in information about any possible attacks on the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The application of these more aggressive techniques between November 2002 and January 2003 "led to breaking Kahtani's resistance and to solid intelligence gains," Craddock said.

Some aggressive techniques used against Kahtani were reviewed in an internal investigation into alleged abuses at Guantanamo Bay. Craddock and other senior officers were on Capitol Hill to discuss the results of this investigation.

Investigators ultimately found that the cumulative effect of "creative," aggressive interrogations over the course of several months amounted to "abusive" behavior, but that it did not amount to torture or "inhumane" treatment since Kahtani suffered no injuries or was never denied food, shelter or medical care.
***
"He admitted to being the 20th hijacker, and he expected to fly on United Airlines Flight 93 (which was hijacked and crashed in rural Pennsylvania on Sept. 11). He proved to have intimate knowledge of future (al Qaeda) plans."
***

Craddock stressed that these "special techniques" were only used on Kahtani. At one point interrogators requested to use them on another detainee, but that detainee subsequently began to cooperate, and the plan was never implemented.



Ralph E. Luker - 7/16/2005

So you would attach electrical wires to my testacles in order to make me lie to you instead of remaining silent?!


John H. Lederer - 7/16/2005

"But that's not what is happening here. It seems to me that the Bush administration has become enamored with torture for its own sake, as a way of showing toughness and resolve as well as to gain information."

I find very little to suggest this.

"Your slogan, which you rightly called extreme, assumes that one can know which person to torture to save the 3,000."

The reality, because of the problems with torture, is that you might have to torture many so that you could sift accurate information out of the result -- a factor that certainly should enter the moral equation.

"Life is rarely that simple. When someone is tortured, a wrong is committed before one can know with any certainty that any wrong will be prevented"

Well, yes. Life is not simple and that is the case. Nothing is certain. Again, grist for the mill of moral reason.


I am not just being argumentative. Nor am I necessarily supporting torture. I am merely suggesting that "never torture" as a quick reaction, much like "never kill", is a morally flippant posture because life, and morality, is not simple.

As you suggest there are "real issues" that need real thought.



John H. Lederer - 7/16/2005

"Mr. Lederer, There is no evidence that torture extracts more accurate information. "

Compared to silence?


Jonathan Dresner - 7/15/2005

That is not the opposite view, just the converse phrase.


Oscar Chamberlain - 7/15/2005

John,

Yes, there are real issues, and if I saw a populace really trying to grapple with them I would be less angry. That might even be true if they were coming up with different moral conclusions from my own.

But that's not what is happening here. It seems to me that the Bush administration has become enamored with torture for its own sake, as a way of showing toughness and resolve as well as to gain information. But they have done this by redefining it; by blurring its meaning into absurdity. In so doing they make it easier to accept as an every day occurence.

And far too many people I see are willing to do just that, to accept it without thinking about it much at all.

PS Your slogan, which you rightly called extreme, assumes that one can know which person to torture to save the 3,000. Life is rarely that simple. When someone is tortured, a wrong is committed before one can know with any certainty that any wrong will be prevented.


Ralph E. Luker - 7/15/2005

Mr. Lederer, There is no evidence that torture extracts more accurate information. That being the case, your point sounds like high-minded rationalization of perverse instincts to me.


John H. Lederer - 7/15/2005

is of course the opposite view.

Both reduce something complicated --morally and in execution--to a simplistic jingle.

In some circumstances it is probably wrong not to torture, in others it is very wrong to do so. The simplistic jingles avoid examining the real issues.




Caleb McDaniel - 7/15/2005

Thanks, Oscar. The only thing to do in response to such a battle cry is to cry out against it.


Melissa Ann Spore - 7/14/2005

Thank you for an important post.

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