I dropped the ball on the debate in the middle of the week on the idea of torture “working” raised by my response to Josh Marshall’s brief post over at TPM. Despite my promises to engage, I learned once again the eternal truth: the last week or so of the school year is, how shall we say it, interesting to students, and hence a touch crowded for their teachers. So, apologies, all.
Many of the commenters and then mistermix argued that I seriously misread Josh’s point. That would be that torture as a policy is always and everywhere wrong, even if one can imagine that an incident of torture might every now and then provide a bit of timely, useful information. To those folks, Josh was making (somewhat clumsily) a strong case against torture, and not a rhetorical concession to the monsters in our polity who have already done such damage to our country.
Because this has been chewed on pretty good around here, I’m not going to do my usual 4,000 word logorrhea game here, so I’ll just make two quick points.
1: I believe I am in violent agreement with mistermix et al: torture is a disastrous policy, and Josh concurs with that claim. But I do think that it is a real problem to make even rhetorical gestures to the wrong side of this argument. Once you say that it is conceivable that torture “works” — even in the limited sense that Josh may mean it here, as a (very) occasional source of bits of actionable intelligence, then IMHO you have tiptoed onto that often invoked, much more rarely encountered political sasquatch, the slippery slope.
That is: I think the concession allows the bad guys to return to scenario mongering, talking 24 nonsense and muttering about bombs in Times Square…and adding zombie lies about how sustained torture got something good out of Khalid Sheikh Muhammed or whatever, ramping up until the “vanishingly rare” of Marshall’s implied formulation becomes so critically important that it becomes (again!) unpatriotic not to perform the water torture on every detainee, just in case.
2: That leads to my larger point, and it is again one upon which, I think, both sides of the Balloon Juice discussants at least basically agree.
And that is that the use of the word “works” here obscures the reality that torture, in fact does not do so for any reasonable definition of the word “works.”
This is important because if you don’t get that, then in fact you can come up with a formally coherent (even if BS) argument that torture is morally acceptable. That’s the problem with slippery slopes, after all. Eventually you slide to the point of some ham-fisted utilitarian argument, where the harm done to a few people is outweighed by some hypothetical good.
Yes — obviously — there are lots and lots of logical as well as practical flaws in that cartoon of reasoning. But it illustrates the problem with making good faith concessions to bad faith argument.
The real argument that Josh was trying to make (assuming, as I’m willing to, that those who read him kindly are correct) is that it doesn’t matter whether acts of torture work, because summed over the policy, torturing does much more harm than good.
That’s true. Torture throws tons of bad info into the system; it puts our own people at risk, it utterly wrecks hearts-and-minds attempts; and so on. All this we know. It’s wrong, because it does more damage to the individuals who practice it and the societies that adopt it than any conceivable gain — I’m not trying to diminish the moral argument. But, again, to the question of how to conduct the campaign against the pro-torture thugs, we cannot, IMHO, allow them to define, even partially, the frame of the argument. It never is, or should be, about what happens in the dungeon where one luckless victim is being broken — except as illustration of the fact that the use of the vomit-in-the-mouth Orwellianism (really anti-Orwellianism…) “enhanced interrogation technique” is itself sin against any attempt to imagine a moral regime.
Rather, the argument over torture has to be about what happens summed up over the full range of consequences of a decision to ask the CIA to do what we hung Germans and Japanese for perpetrating. You can’t capture the moral catastrophe without demonstrating that the logic of torture evokes more torture to “remedy” the inability to extract “useful” knowledge from each prior attempt — and all the other evils that flow once it becomes possible to think of torture as an occasionally valuable practice. Whenever we allow the Cheneys and Yoos of the world to bullshit their way into a “debate” over whether water boarding KSM did or didn’t help lead to Osama, we’ve already conceded much more than we should, or is safe.[Quick update: Commenter J argues that it’s important not to be absolutist on torture never working in the small sense — which tells me that I still wasn’t clear about my argument. I’m saying it’s meaningless to assert that torture can work on that scale. Look at it this way. On Monday, you torture ten people. Nine of them give you no or bad intel. One gives you a piece of valid data. You act on the results of all ten interrogations. Did the one valid one work? No, IMHO.]
That Josh may have been making this argument, I concede. That he did so in a way that opens the door for the wrong interpretation is a problem. I ended my last post on this asking for eternal vigilance; it is too damn easy to fall into habits of speech and arguments that concede much more than we intend to people who have already done immeasurable harm to our country and its security.
And with that belaboring of what was already hashed out in a few hundred comments. I’ll deliver my promised extra treat on 17th century English torture and the law as soon as I can, perhaps in 2011. Happy Mother’s Day, y’all.
Image: El Greco, Portrait of a Cardinal c. 1600. This is a portrait of one of two cardinals, each head of the Spanish Inquisition.
Tom, great post! I concur on all points and love the use of El Greco. Always look forward to your posts.
Off-topic: Whenever I see a painting like this I’m reminded (and surprised again) that eye glasses have been around for some 700 years or so. For whatever reason, I tend to think of them as a modern-ish invention (within that past 200 or 300 years). The Cardinal’s glasses are even quite stylish.
The perpetrators of the torture should thank those who did not prosecute them for their kindness.
Quite agree with the thrust of point 2, but it’s vitally important not too stake out a position that torture could never ‘work’ as one’s first line of defense, which might be falsified by the evidence. I don’t know, but it is sometimes claimed that torture worked for the French in Algeria (in the short run). That torture is an ineffective system for gaining useful information should be the supporting argument behind the argument that it is wicked.
Couldn’t agee more. I’ve read 1984 with high school seniors the last two years. I don’t think I’ve been shocked so much that initially they are favorably predisposed to torture, almost universally. I probably was too as a teenager. It was almost a playground lesson in my generation: torture (child-play style) works. But what is striking is how totally immovable they are on the subject, especially in contrast to their general openness to new ways of looking at other topics. I know these students – I first taught them as eighth graders – and I can look them in the eye and say you know it doesn’t work and it’s immoral and it doesn’t work either etc and it doesn’t seem to make a dent. This year I tried to begin with ya know if I had a terrorist and I knew he had a nuclear bomb in blah blah blah I just might… and I felt before I even finished the thought that I’d lost them. I was saying See what I mean? and they were saying Yeah we see, but not what you mean.
I will just say that George Bush put us on the slippery slope of torture as policy, and the question is how to get off of it. Maybe you are right that the only way is to just bow up and say no to whatever the wingnuts argue to why we haven’t had another 9-11, and dismiss out of hand any and all practical arguments, and just stick with immorality and illegality of torture. That would be my druthers, but I am not certain it is the best way to win the three dimensional argument that includes public perceptions.
Yeah, um, Happy Mother’s Day…
I know some people who’ve gone through SERE school and been “tortured” as part of their training, and they all say the same thing, “Everybody talks. Eventually, everybody talks.”
I think that was Marshall’s point. You are right to point out that while they may be talking, they are also likely lying.
But what has struck me about the torture enthusiasts these past few days is how ardent they are to have torture be part of American policy. They have a deep seated need for torture to be as American as the death penalty and NASCAR pileups.
Is this because they are hoping for some sort of absolution for their own sins?
Or is it because they secretly tingle in the loins when they smell the searing of the electrodes and the screams of the damned.
If so, they will feel right at home in hell.
Just want to point out that slippery slope arguments are a notoriously poor form of reasoning (at any point on the “slope” you can choose not to continue down it, it is *not* inevitable), you’d be better off framing what you’re trying to say in propaganda terms i.e. we shouldn’t give any ground to these guys at all.
If you do a rain dance every morning, and once in a while it rains, that doesn’t mean your rain dance worked.
If you torture people, they’ll say stuff. Once in a while, it might be true. That doesn’t mean torture worked.
I wanna know why WE ended up on the side of having to prove a negative (“torture never works”) instead of the John Yoos of the world having to do it (“torture gets information we COULDN’T have gotten any other way”). I guess a lot of Americans just wanted to cause brown people pain.
I’ll just note that I agree with these sentiments and that a big problem with JM’s original post was saying that such and such info could have been “easily” obtained via torture. This is leaning WAY too far towards the rationalization of torture, imo.
This is the key to the argument for me, because I’m convinced that the people who are justifying torture aren’t going to be reached by moral arguments against it. Let’s be serious–the people at Free Republic don’t think Arabs are human, so they feel no more compunction about torturing someone they perceive as Arab than they do about stomping on a roach. Talking to them about the morality of torture is a fool’s game.
Okay, talking to them at all is a fool’s game, but my point is that there are some who aren’t as far gone as the Freepers who might be willing to listen to arguments about the efficiency of torture, especially when you extrapolate the damage done by following up on false intelligence. Let’s say we followed up on all ten pieces of intel we got from those ten tortured people, and in nine cases, we threw drones into areas filled with civilians. Hell, let’s go over the top and say we shot them into orphanages run by nuns who care for amputee puppies in their spare time. Does the one thing we stopped make up for the bad will we’ve incurred from the rest of the world because we ran with bad intel in 9 other cases? We’re in a worse place than we started in even if we’d knowingly let the one bad thing happen to us. Torture isn’t just immoral, it’s a net loss to us as a strategy.
I don’t think Tom and I have a major disagreement here, but it struck me that this thread doesn’t have enough Glenn Greenwald, and I thought he got it about right the other day:
Glen Greenwald? Who is That?
I do not think the word ‘quick’ means what you think it does.
Nonetheless, there’s infinite space in the blogosphere for excellent posts making important points, so thanks for the post.
Unfortunately, paramilitary and military organizations have a strong bias toward aggressive action against guilty, probably guilty, might be guilty, and why would I be in contact with this person if there wasn’t some reasonable possibility that they did something wrong even if it’s just shoplifting a stick of gum and it’s my sworn duty to get to the bottom of it and make sure they don’t do it again just in case and so tasing, torture, and indefinite detention without judicial review or interference from lawyers asserting their undoubtedly felonious client’s rights to get off on some minor technicality like innocence, when we know nobody is ever really innocent.
And besides EVERYBODY likes shortcuts, doing the job takes so long, when torture is so much quicker. You either get the answer you want or the person’s brain turns into a bowl of jello. It’s a win-win proposition.
Here we have the age old problem, ends v. means. It seems to be entering wingnut territory to deny, even make “rhetorical gestures,” that immoral means can lead to moral solutions. We just need to keep that in mind. Acknowledging that torture may work while embracing the notion it is always wrong seems rational. Refusing to acknowledge that seems supremely irrational.
Here’s a quick post.
Apparently the ticking time bomb scenario was meant for a ticking time bomb that lasted from 2003 to 2011.
Ha! But couldn’t you at least have thrown in a pretty painting?
The Economist this week has a great post on how the OBL operation succeeded because it was all Lester Freemon from The Wire, and no 24–careful following of paper trail, no torture. Love that comparasion.
The utility and morality arguments will fail to persuade those whose goal is just to hurt someone they feel has it coming. Intel is just gravy, and cover for brutal acts. There’s a wicked streak in humanity and if you give it an inch…
Mike in NC
Hasn’t that battle been pretty much lost? This past week the networks were giving unlimited access to Bush henchmen like Cheney and Rummy to spout their vile “enhanced technique” propaganda, and cranks like O’Reilly and Krauthammer were busy doing the same thing in print. Have seen little or no pushback.
It’s an end around game to claim credit where in my estimation no credit is due. They sent the talking points out right when the news broke about the death of Bin Laden. I tried listening to 1 show this am and turned it off just when the torture was why he was found and eliminated came up.
My own thought in hearing how someone in our forces was vigorously trained as far back as the early 1960s is we prepared for this occurrence of being tortured by the enemy. Do we doubt the enemy is not prepared as well?
Also, it’s important to note that torture is not solely used to elicit factual information. A big part of the torture game is furthering the POV of the institution conducting torture. Hence the role of torture in the SovUnion in the 20’s and 30’s: The goal wasn’t to uncover conspiracies against Stalin, the goal was to show that those conspiracies existed, and were widespread. The willingness of torture victims to say anything to make the torture stop was key in following the script. Victims were guided to tell a certain story. The same with the witch trials damn near every where, the Spanish and Roman Inquisitions, the French in Algeria, the Gestapo, etc, etc, etc.
Torture is about maintaining control first, and getting factual information comes in a distant second. Allowing the policy debate about torture hinge on information gathering is therefore to become distracted. If people want to do invasive things to find “facts”. chemicals are usually much more effective than brutal physical torture anyway. But you don’t see the thugs arguing for the use of drugs, no do you?
@General Stuck: Your ignorance of his name is clear evidence that there’s been a lack of Greenwald links. I’ll work to correct that deficit.
Just curious because I’ve stopped reading him, but where does Sully come down on the torture issue?
oohhh…you want to be MasterTroll now? How will m_c know who to stalk? Let the games begin…
@RossinDetroit: My reading, no, no, no to toture.
Thanks for all the comments–and for all those snarky about my idea of quick…at least I kept it shorter than the health care bill. I gotta drop out of the conversation because I’m just embarked on the ny to Boston car run.
@Jazz Superluminar: I’m not sure it matters. Herpes is, after all, an opportunistic infection.
In a nutshell, that’s why the “torture definitely works in some cases” argument that Marshall was making as a factual matter (not the hypothetical assumption that his defenders tried to put into his mouth) is completely wrong.
@Ross in Detroit
Pretty much the *only* thing to be said in Sully’s defence is that he’s been consistently anti-torture for a long time now, and is probably the highest profile voice on the blogosphere arguing against it. I sincerely hope this is the last word on any post or comment about the man, however I’m just not that naive.
And we as a culture, unfortunately, have a strong bias towards paramilitary and military organizations.
@Mike in NC:
Torture does not ever “work,” if by “work” you mean “produces actionable intelligence.” Refusing to “acknowledge” a false conclusion just keeps one in the reality-based world.
@Jazz Superluminar: M_C, and her other nom de guerre, seems to have vanish, even before E.D. Did our hoast make her go away?
In the last post I wrote what I take to be the most important reason to not concede even the small claim that torture works under any circumstances: that granting that tiny bit of space gives torture advocates their entire argument. They then work their way out backwards, so to speak, to the general claim that torture is a useful general policy.
The counter to this is to realize that even in the most favorable scenarios imaginable, torture still doesn’t satisfy the practical requirements necessary to justify its use. Consider the ticking bomb scenario. In this case, the suspect/torture victim knows the timeline too well and can delay or deliberately mislead on his own terms, rendering the entire effort useless. (If someone doesn’t see this they need to imagine the scenario without the Hollywood-feelgood trappings.) Now surely, someone could still assert, and remain convinced, that torture ought never be off the table as an intel tool even despite its impracticality. But their reasons at this point cannot be because it is a reliable, predictable, measurable, successful method for gathering useful information. At best it’s because their are no other (rational) options.
So, in my view, granting even the tiny space that torture can be effective concedes the fundamental premise upon which the entire policy position is based: that it’s a useful governmental tool employed in national self-defense. The argument is just silly, but all too many people accept it on principle even tho it’s an empirical matter that seems to have been decisively denied by those with actual experience in the matter. Even the best case ‘thought experiments’ fail to support the practical utility of torture.
And I would add – as some others have – that torture is best understood as a punitive action against ‘evil doers’, rather than a preventative action to do good.
Now that’s teh funny! (I’ve stopped going there myself)
My go-to guy on waterboarding & torture is Jesse Ventura:
The fact that nine cases produced bad information don’t invalidate the tenth case that did produce good information. You can’t say “it never works”, because I will always have the one counter-example to hand. With that one counter-example I can beat you to death if you want to argue that torture never works—all I have to do is pull that one instance out of my pocket and say, “See? Right here? Worked, dinnit?” And then I can start beating you up on how you don’t want to acknowledge that hey, sometimes, maybe rarely, but sometimes, we did get a good result.
If you want to argue that statistically, nine bad out of ten isn’t good, then I can find reasons why the one good result is better than the nine bad ones: “Well, so it didn’t work nine times out of ten. So what? We weren’t any the worse off for having tried it. And the results of the tenth case were so zowee! good! that it outweighs the null results of the other nine times.” And there we go on another ride that diverts us from the point: torture is bad. Period.
But, if you say that “torture can never work”, and it actually did get useful intel in some cases, you leave your case open to being blown apart by them accusing you of lying.
I gotta side with Josh here. But at the same time, I agree that even acknowledging that it could work sometimes opens doors that would best be left closed forever.
anyone here watching the Bush celebration on the Sunday shows? Cause I don’t have that kind of fortitude.
@Valdivia: Why would I want to poke myself in the scrotum with a sharp stick?
I know, just curious what idiocy/talking point is being peddled without push back this am. If I were having something stronger than Guatemalan coffee I would, don’t get me wrong, but as you say, it’s too early for that kind of masochism.
Ironic, given their obsession with the liberalness of Hollywood and how we liberal libs should stop getting our liberally biased liberal worldview from liberal Hollywood … that most of their torture arguments come back to “I saw Jack Bauer do it on 24.” (I wish I was kidding when I said that’ actually an argument they make on a recurring basis).
M-C or Hermione or Atreides was E.D. Kain. He stalked himself.
7 years of guys who learn lessons from “24” = Bin Ladin comfortably living in plain sight
2 years after Cheney warned us how Obama was putting us at risk because he was afraid to “take the gloves off” = Bin Ladin sleeping with the fishes
pretty difinitave I say
I actually think the Right’s refusal to engage the issue of torture at it’s moral level isn’t an indication that they don’t care, I think it’s an indication that it makes them uncomfortable.
I think this silence is telling for a number of reasons, one of which I will illustrate by way of a short digression. Recently, I’ve been reading the first volume of Taylor Branch’s majestic history of the civil rights movement, and there is a section in it that I find relevant. In the early 1950’s, Martin Luther King Jr. was at Crozer seminary taking classes on oratory technique, and it was in one of these classes that he learned about a particular method aptly called “shooting the bushes”. Briefly put, it is a hunting metaphor whose logic goes like this: if you are out hunting and hear rustling in the bushes, there is probably a rabbit there, and even though you can’t see exactly where it is, you better start shooting before it gets away. The metaphor is easy enough to apply to the pulpit: that is, when a preacher hits a note that causes a stir amongst his flock, he needs to hit it again, and again, and again. I think that this reasoning provides a useful lens for looking at the topic at hand, though, it must be said, I will be applying its logic in reverse.
Namely, when individuals of supposedly classically liberal dispositions discuss an issue of such moral depth and consequence as utilizing interrogation techniques found in Cambodia’s museum of torture, and supporters of that program are barely able to mumble a whispers breath in defense of its morality, there is something there. Or, more accurately, there is a lack of something there.
There is the profound weakness that is concomitant with deep anxiety and doubt.
The pro-torture position is fundamentally grounded in anxiety; and while I can grant that this anxiety is often a genuine reflection of the real threat that terrorism poses, it is also surely a projection of the inner turmoil of torture advocates as they mull over the inevitability of their own judgment (whether it be the judgment of History or of God, if not of the law rightly executed). One of Christian (at least Pauline) theology’s most important truths lies in its recognition that anxiety is one the root causes of human sin; and even if man inevitably falls short of perfection, he is morally bound to resist those inner demons that find succor in his most panicked moments. Torture advocates have renounced that obligation, they have given into their worst elements and demand the same from everyone else. And to be sure, their moral midgetry is only made more pronounced by the fantastic heights they are willing to rise in order to perpetuate and exacerbate those conditions which challenge the survival of our better angels.
They talk of realism without understanding that a realism too consistently applied becomes indistinguishable from cynicism. And that unrestrained cynicism doesn’t make you smarter; it makes you more befuddled, more insufferable, and more insulated from the implications of your ideas put into practice. In the words of Reinhold Niebuhr, there is only one small step between historical pragmatism and opportunism, and that it is essential to resist crossing that line.
In my opinion, it is the wry paradox of our democratic faith that its benefits also extend to those who may least deserve them. Torture advocates began their exodus from that tradition when they first entertained unserious thoughts about mythical ticking-bombs and torture warrants; and they became alienated entirely when they treated their dystopic reveries as if they represented reality more clearly than reality itself. They are now following that line because they have burned all their bridges back to civility. *Torture* needs to be vindicated if *they* are to be vindicated, and that means imposing upon the United States the same burden of shame that every torture nation in the modern world must bear. They seek, in the end, to beguile the immensity of their own guilt by making us all share in it.
I think they are profoundly vulnerable to moral arguments, and their refusal to engage in them is evidence of that fact.
@Feudalism Now!: I always thought it was DougJ.
Well that really would be the sound of one hand fapping.
Treating prisoners badly dosent make people afraid to fight you … I makes them afraid to surrender to you
In WW2, Americans wouldnt surrender to the Japanese, and Germans wouldnt surrender to the Russians
If you did you were screwed, better take you chances and try to fight your way out
But if your a German and the Americans have you surrounded, surrender aint so bad
Villago Delenda Est
The point is, one in ten bits of information is true. OK, smart guy (not you, Bobby…John Yoo and Alan Dershowitz, sooper geniouses), which one do you act on? Say you’ve got ten extracted by torture city names for where the bomb is. So, do you search all 10 cities in the 15 minutes you’ve got left before it detonates, to find the one out of ten where it is?
The entire scenario is deeply flawed, based on something that works in fiction because it’s written to work. Real life is not so cooperative as to follow a script. It’s how Player vs. Environment and Player vs. Player in Massively Multiplayer Online games are so very different. The PvE opponent pretty much follows a script, therefore is pretty predictable. The point of the encounter is to solve the puzzle. The PvP opponent on the other hand is unpredictable…he may do something very stupid that gives you an opening, or just as likely, does something you never even thought of before.
Quite aside from the moral revulsion that you should feel (unless you’re dogshit like Dick Cheney) over torture, there are practical reasons why not to trust the result. The guy you’re torturing may very well send you on the wildest of goose chases.
@TD: Jack Bauer as scared little boy? Classic!
Seriously, thanks for that comment.
But still not reliable.
It’s always wrong and it’s always bad. Wingnuts compartmentalize their brain incredibly well; that’s why they focus on the One Time It Worked; they are mentally ill.
But this is also why their brains simply do not work that well. At all. If they only knew how much easier their life would be with an actual working brain that understood concepts and logic, they might go for it.
But you’ll have a great deal of difficulty with them understanding it… because.. their brains don’t work.
I have given this a great deal of thought and observation and actual testing; and this is what I’ve come up with.
Amanda in the South Bay
My MOS in the Army was 97E, and thankfully I never got deployed to Iraq/Afghanistan (book title: “How I spent five years in the Army during the Bush years and avoided both wars”), but not wanting to get dragged down the possible moral abyss of torture was the reason I sorta looked at Canada and the soldiers who went AWOL there. I guess…I really didn’t want to be in any position where I compromised my principles. It really freaked me out.
Torture is wrong. Torture is high noise to signal, so it is ineffective. Even if we got info out of KSM through “enhanced
s&m foreplayinterrogation it is as valid as Ronaldus Maximus astrologer’s predictions. It can only be validated after real detective work is done. So, in the end, it is superfluous too.
James E. Powell
While it was the Bush/Cheney Junta that made torture official U.S. policy, it was the American people themselves who embraced the policy. And who regarded anyone who challenged the policy as weak.
But this is exactly what I was saying WRT slippery slopes – it’s dodgy argumentation, we shouldn’t allow it in the first place! It may well be better to argue that torture is a mistake without qualification, but that’s a political argument, not an honest one.
@Comrade Scrutinizer: I don’t know about Jack Baur, but I bet John Yoo is.
@TD: I think they are profoundly vulnerable to moral arguments, and their refusal to engage in them is evidence of that fact.
Agreed. Which is why (IMO) there is such a great insistence on thought-experiment evidence (or empirical evidence ftm) to justify its use in very narrow cases. If it can be legitimized in even one case, then the general moral prohibition, one that all non-broken people feel, doesn’t hold and away they go galloping down the slippery slope to advocating for a general policy that isn’t rational, practical, useful or moral.
@Jazz Superluminar: “Just want to point out that slippery slope arguments are a notoriously poor form of reasoning (at any point on the “slope” you can choose not to continue down it, it is not inevitable), you’d be better off framing what you’re trying to say in propaganda terms i.e. we shouldn’t give any ground to these guys at all.”
True, except when we are actually *on* that slippery slope. Note that we’ve gone from ‘we don’t torture’ to ‘torture is Godly [to the GOP base]’.
In addition, the administration officials who did this remain both unprosecuted and unshunned; they
*will* be back in the next GOP administration.
One of Bin Laden’s greatest victories. Turning a large swathe of Americans into torture happy Nazis.
@Jazz Superluminar: Re: slippery slopes…
I don’t think the criticism (or at least my criticism) is an effort to prevent movement down a slippery slope, since as far as I’m concerned there isn’t one.
On my view, torture is a) morally wrong, and b) fails to satisfy the practical requirements upon which its advocates justify it. So for me, the effort isn’t to counter its utility in narrow cases to prevent the slippery slope, but to (hopefully) demonstrate that even the initial cases giving rise to slippery slopes haven’t – and I think cannot – be made.
Maybe the best way to say it is that I’m not arguing that the big worry here is the slippery slope (since as you correctly point out in principle you can stop the ball rolling any time you want): it’s that there is in fact no slope to slide down.
Villago Delenda Est
Yup. Mission Accomplished.
Yes! Yes! And you could go further: Whether the information elicited is true or not is really incidental. It seems to me very likely that the Spanish Inquisition really did discover a lot of ostensibly converted Jews illicitly celebrating the Sabbath, but this is not what made their torturing “effective”–that was its furthering of the narrative that the Inquisition wished to impose on the popular understanding, which could have been done even if all the arrested conversos had been sincere Catholics. Probably no women who confessed under torture to flying on their broomsticks to the Harz and having sex with the devil were telling the truth, but that torture was equally effective in this sense.
In this sense it is OK to ask the question whether torture “works” or not without separating from the question whether it is morally allowable or not. Torture certainly does “work”. It works at getting people to say what you want them to say. If you want them to tell you the truth, you must be ready to accept hearing something you don’t want to hear, and in that case torture is not a good technique–your victims may well tell you the truth, but you have cut yourself off from knowing whether they are or not. But getting people to say what you want regardless of whether it is true is in itself immoral; torture is just doing it in a cruel and violent way.
Actually what I fucking love is that it was never one or the other.
It was always “we’re not torturing. But we should if we have to. Not that we are. But even if we were, what would be wrong with that?” Hence the ridiculous argument that waterboarding isn’t torture so it’s all good, followed five seconds later by an argument that we HAD to torture when it was necessary. (If waterboarding isn’t torture and what we have to do is torture, why are we waterboarding…?)
And believe it or not, the “not true, but it could be, though it’s not, but even if it were” slide back and forth is one that I’ve also read on wingnut blogs as applied to the “no war for oil” argument.
I think that’s an excellent point.
There is no slope; once you’ve done it once, you’ve tortured.
@Villago Delenda Est: But you’re assuming that all ten bits of information are all of the ticking timebomb variety. Ticking timebombs are bullshit distractions.
Let’s say that all ten of out torture sessions resulted in names of supposed close associates of terrorist leaders. All ten of these supposed associates are placed under intense scrutiny as a result. Over time, nine of these supposed associates are found to be just regular guys who aren’t important. One, however, turns out to be The Real Deal ™. After a couple of three years, surveillance on The Real Deal leads to a successful operation in which Terrorist Enemy #1 is assassinated.
That’s not ticking timebomb stuff; with a couple of changes, that’s what the torture fetishists are asserting happened with bin Laden.
For all I know, some version of that may be true. My point is that it doesn’t matter. Torture wrong. The death of Terrorist #1 doesn’t suddenly make it ZOMG! The best ever! It’s still wrong, and the development of intel by the use of torture, whether or not the intel is valuable, is morally unacceptable.
Very insightful line in a very insightful post.
Since I believe all the folks arguing this point are basically on the same side (anti-torture) and are just disagreeing about rhetorical tactics, I don’t know that I have much to add to the discussion. I do believe that tactics must be flexible and adaptable to different situations and different audiences.
We would do well to understand the differing motivations of the pro-torture crowd and develop specific arguments for each.
@TD: That was a great comment and deeply profound. Thanks for being so thought provoking.
And yea, John Yoo, Dick Cheney especially and all the rest are chicken-livered cowards.
As has been pointed out several times above, intel is not the point of torture.
These folks just like to torment people, and they think it will enhance “American” power.
And it isn’t like this country was a “torture” virgin, deflowered by the evil Bush Administration. Our heritage, sadly has often been hate. And mostly, hate of the non-“white.”
@J: I used to believe this too, but now we have the evidence before us that every statement by conservative republicans is in fact falsifiable and yet despite this they are still a viable force in American politics.
I agree with you on most everything, my concern was that you were (unwittingly) allowing our opponents to use a kind of reverse slope (ramp?) on this issue. But I’m sure continued debate shall clarify further.
The desired answer. Think about that. To be the desired answer you have to know what that answer is. You have to have the information. All one is looking for there is conformation. That’s not information. That’s not the truth. That’s not obtaining anything. That’s confirming what you think you already know or what you want to believe. With a bit of twisting of words to plant the seed and a little torture to get the words regurgitated, the torturer has the conformation of what they thought they knew. And it doesn’t have to be any kind of “truth”
Torture is a totally ineffective way of getting information. It is a wonderful way of proving that torture proponents are sick, perverted fucks who shouldn’t be allowed to breathe, let alone attempt to govern. I would have thought we’d have learned that from history.
You were persuasive in your last post, Tom, but I like your clarifications here too. We need to stop letting Republicans drive the conversation. End of story.
Republicans have relied on the poo-flinging strategery for so long now that their entire arsenal is poo. And even in those rare instances we can manage to swat it away, we still end up with a bit of splatter. Better for us overall if we just acknowledge the existence of the poo, shun the poo-flinging theatre altogether, and then shift the battle onto our own battlefield.
In other words, I’m finally being brought onboard with Obama’s PR strategy. Not because I think it works, necessarily, but because it’s really the only strategy we have left. We have to make it work. There are no other options available to us. Bring on the Ulysses pact; I’m ready to sign.
That torture “worked” in Algeria is a lie easily refuted by anyone who does the briefest google search. It is also odd that conservatives invoke the example of Algeria when they otherwise hate the French, and also (not as surprising) are using the example of a brutal, repressive French government trying to reclaim a colonial empire.
It is also useful, perhaps, to note that one of the people who revealed the useless depravity of French torture to a public that didn’t want to know was Gaston Gosselin, a member of the Ministry of Justice. He had some personal knowledge of what torture is really all about.
It is just astounding to hear pundity heads on the Sunday news shows talking so glibly about the need to reopen the question on the use of torture.
The same thing can be said of the Left though. One thing I don’t understand about the torture debate is why is it that the Left, in general, doesn’t argue what’s obviously behind the impulse to torture people. Once in a while we hear some blogger talk about how they can’t deny they sort of feel good knowing that some accused terrorist somewhere is suffering in captivity. That’s the mostly unspoken truth about the torture debate. Torture has always been about dominance, humiliation and cruelty, sometimes disguised by a cloak of self-righteousness that allows people to tell themselves they are doing something Good, while indulging in some primitive impulses of terrorizing the Other.
We know that torture advocates know that on some level, thus the bullshit arguments about how “it’s not torture if it doesn’t kill” or “it’s not torture if it’s an American who does it” or that it’s only “enhanced interrogation.” They know it’s wrong.
And we know the impulse to protect our nation doesn’t lead to one’s decision to torture people, as we know that our armed forces as a whole doesn’t condone cruel and unusual punishment. No, the impulse to torture comes from a fantasy of imagining oneself acting tough in a 24-style frame montage. The notion that they’re doing it for the good of the country is just the cover they need to indulge their impulses. They are very human impulses, but they are still perverse. And it takes the weakest and most depraved among us to start indulging themselves and spreading fear about ticking clock scenarios for our collective lizard brains to start responding to the same vicarious release.
Torturers are perverts. Are we avoiding making that point because we are afraid other Americans who have been seduced by fear will lash out against the notion that they are perverts too?
I asked the other day how you could argue morality with people who have no frame of reference. This is just such a way. You can argue for ever that it is wrong and get no traction at all. How about arguing that in the end because torture is ineffective, it will not make you safer?
I agree with Tom, these guys are shrewd salesmen with a strong personal interest in making the sale. They know their ethos, logos and patos and they never hesitate to play the full hand in defense of lying the citizenry to war & torture. They can’t walk it back now; they’re commited and can only try to either win or accept the public shame that has been long due.
That’s been true ever since they first made the choice to go to Iraq in the way they did, and to introduce (extraordinary) rendition and torture as foreign policy tools.
Since those policies break with precedent from the full history of the republic and are deeply corrosive to the moral fabric of our country, we should not be ashamed to use every trick in the book to fight them.
Concede nothing. The burden of proof is on them to prove the specific case where torture produced results and that conventional modern interogation tools wouldn’t have. If they go about asserting things without proof, they should be called on it.
If they succeed in producing a case, the burden of proof is on them to show why the piece(s) of information retrieved was instrumental in achieving the result; that the piece of information wouldnt have been retrieved by conventional means during the same time frame. It took us 9 years to get Bin Laden – how many years if any do they estimate we saved by torturing, and what is their basis for claiming that.
And it’s not only torture thats up for discussion:
– If they used superior tools, how come they failed to deliver and the current administration didn’t fail? How come they could never catch Bin Laden?
– If they had the name (or alias) of Bin Ladens courier in 2004 already, how come they couldnt track him down in 4 years time? By all appearances, he was living out in the open, walking on the street, buying groceries in a middle class suburb to Islamabad. How come it seems nothing else happened before the Obama admin took office?
Those are the questions they want to get ahead of by claiming victory for themselves, and for torture.
When asked about the (media created) “renewed” debate this morning on ABC, Thomas Ricks made no concessions. He expressed disbelief that he’d found himself living in a country that would even debate sanctioning torture.He didn’t concede to the euphemism, the possibility of value or anything else. Uninterrupted, Liz Cheney dismissed him out of hand and regurgitated all the usual lies. George Wills provided the good people can disagree perspective. Proper framing seems to pretty useless against zealots and the 24 hour news cycle, but we have to try.
I think you have put your finger on it.
When I think through these scenarios, my conclusion is always the same: I would rather be dead by terrorist bomb than saved by torture. But there’s a small moment when I feel the pull: the appeal of the victory, the heroism, the utter dominance, the cruelty. Recognizing those things as a part of my monkey heritage, I am ashamed of myself, and I move on.
But being able to acknowledge one’s darker nature is hard. It’s so much easier to let the self-justification machine run. Easier at first, anyhow. It’s a shame how long it takes to realize that it isn’t easier in the long run.
Would you have any pointers to this discussion? As an atheist I’m only passingly familiar with the various theologies, but it’s a pleasure to find people who have thought sincerely and deeply about the roots of misbehavior.
Bringing Bush admin failure to deliver Bin Laden into the conversation would work.
But Obama admin aint gonna do it. They probably figure it’s in their best interest having all the old Bush crew doing morning shows and pitching torture with the elections coming up next year. They’d love to run on ObL and against Bush and torture in ’12 and grabbing bipartisan cred now by being more reasonable than necessary. Staying above the fray and playing the long game, as always. Saving ammo for the debates. And they’re absolutely right in doing that.
But that doesnt mean that progressive pundits and grassroots also have to play nice.
Echoing Tom (with whom I agree 100%), the simplified version of this point is:
1) The goal of torture (aka enhanced interrogation), its supporters argue, is to elicit information more quickly and more reliably than regular interrogation methods.
2) But because people will say anything to make intense pain stop, and because people will withhold and lie more readily and with better self-justification to interrogators they resent for causing them pain — here’s where it gets inefficient — the intelligence received from torture will always be more unreliable and will always take much longer to extract and verify.
3) Therefore torture fails on efficiency grounds as well as moral grounds. Whether or not any particular piece of information is extracted, it is always the case that more information will be extracted more quickly and more reliably without torture. Always.
So far – to my knoledge, here no one has actually defined ‘Torture’. It is rape, pure and simple. We can not get off that slope until people say no to rape and half of this country is OK with rape. What a mindfuck that is huh?
Torture is a lot more useful as a psychological weapon, that as a interrogation weapon. it as a big message that says “Don’t mess with us”. Why nobody can understand this point? Do you really think that the prisioner in Guantanamo still have any amount of valuable information? They are still detained since it is a memento.
I suspect that approach to utility is correct, but it seems to me that it’s still disputable. A lot of people have a naive intuition that torture would work, and trying to talk people out of intuitions is hard. Could a different approach be more effective?
There are two I find more persuasive. One is the appeal to expertise. E.g., “Professional interrogators X and Y, who have accomplished A, B, and C, say torture is much less effective.”
The other is to point out that we wouldn’t really torture just for information. The justification isn’t knowledge, it’s knowledge that makes us safer. But in becoming known as torturers, we make ourselves so much less safe than any possible gains from torture are inevitably wiped out.
Of course, persuading me isn’t the problem, so maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree.
Is this trolling? Because I can’t quite believe that you’re saying that the lesson we should learn from history’s torturers (e.g., Saddam Hussein, the North Vietnamese, the Soviet secret police, the Nazis) is that if we just create enough fear, things will finally start going our way.
@300baud: As someone who only dabbles in theology myself, I can only offer a clumsy account of the role of anxiety in St. Paul’s teaching (note: it is heavily filtered through my reading of Niebuhr). As I understand it, the Pauline perspective argues that to sin is to turn away from God, and man turns away from God through pride. In this sense, pride is the ultimate foundation for sin, though anxiety inevitably leads to pride.
Anxiety about one’s future (or the future of one’s tribe) is the impetus for certain types of action, particularly actions that seek to guarantee its participants against the unknowable course of History. Seeking such impossible guarantees is a possible pathway to pride, as it transmutes the source of redemption into something earthly.
While anxiety is a source of vitality –it spurs man to create and destroy– in this clouded state he runs the risk of losing sight of God. The sense of God is what moderates man’s imperfectibility, and makes possible his return to morality even as he inevitably strays.
St. Paul doesn’t necessarily begrudge humanity their attempts at influencing the future. Humans are, after all, creatures of the earth too (though creatures with limited claims to transcendence). But this is where the role of imperfect resistance to the inevitability of sin comes into play.
For a better interpretation however, I’d recommend: The Nature and Destiny of Man, V I; by Reinhold Niebuhr. Or possibly even these: http://www.jstor.org/pss/40018203; http://www.hts.org.za/index.php/HTS/article/download/639/540
Yes it does. Because you don’t know ex ante which one is right. Or that any of them is right. Or that any of them is wrong. That means that the information is not actionable or useful, which means that the policy didn’t work.
If the best you can say about your predictive method is that it produces results that can be recreated through a random walk, it’s not a workable method.
@300baud: I’m not advocating the use of torture at all. I’m saying: to talk about the efectivity of the torture to extract information is nonsense. The real motivations that the wingnuts have to defend torture is threaten potential enemies. So, the real argument to attack torture is morality; to use, to even accept to discuss any other argument is to implicit renounce to the morality reasons to do not torture.
In fact, I live in a country that used torture in the last civil war in a way more scarier that Hussein and NK did. And they were trained by American Military Personel. A lot of friend of my fathers died that way. If it is trolling, so be it.
I am unshakeably opposed to sanctioning torture, but that is an argument against it that I do not find persuasive at all. A torturer chooses to torture, and given the real, physical harm done to the victim, I find it very odd to be concerned about harm that might be done to the perpetrator.
There’s a sense in which this argument can be seen as extremely self-involved. It’s as if proponents of this argument think “I wouldn’t torture anyone because of the harm it woud do to ME, and you shouldn’t torture because of the harm it would do to YOU.“ The victim, the one party who is inarguably harmed, is wholly left out.
No, I just misunderstood what you meant. I thought you were suggesting that the creation of fear in enemies was a reason we should allow torture. Bringing up your actual experience with the legacy of torture is definitely not trolling, and I’d encourage you to post more about it. I think a big part of the reason that so many Americans are pro-torture or indifferent to it is that they can imagine being a victim of terrorism, but can’t imagine being the victim of torture. 9/11 is much fresher to them than something that happened when John McCain was young.
Thanks! I had heard Neibuhr’s name before, but knew nothing about him. Wikipedia’s bio is really interesting, and I’ll definitely check out his work. Just the title “Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic” is immensely appealing to me.
@sneezy: “A torturer chooses to torture, and given the real, physical harm done to the victim, I find it very odd to be concerned about harm that might be done to the perpetrator.”
If you aren’t concerned about them, I can live with that, but think larger: these are people that come home, they get married and raise children, they (often) get jobs in law enforcement. Like Frodo being stabbed on Weathertop (nerd alert!), shards of that evil will impact them–and their loved ones–forever.
I find this argument persuasive in that a policy of torture means that it’s no longer a choice for the torturer. You thought you were a soldier or an investigator or a cop doing important work protecting people, and now it’s torture or quit.
Even in the case when a torturer chooses freely, I think that one should not put the torturer beyond compassion. Yes, the victim is the one we should mainly focus on. But it is worth understanding how somebody can get so fucked up that torture seems like a good idea to them. E.g., I understand a lot of abusers were abused themselves. That does not excuse their abuse, but it is an opportunity for compassion of the “there but for the grace of God go I” sort, and it is certainly a reason to double down on preventing abuse.
@Amanda in the South Bay:
It’s 35M now. My fascination with the torture debate was one factor in me choosing that mos. The language dependency was a nice bonus.
Fort Huachuca… what a dreadful place.
Wingnuts think in bumperstickers. This needs to be said loud and often.
What I find circulating is a sort of willfull naïveté about when we started torturing people. You talk about the North Vietnamese, but what about the torture conducted by the South Vietnamese, with our tacit approval?
The innovation introduced by the Bush administration was that we, ourselves, would be carrying out the torture with American hands, and that official cover would be provided rather than plausible denial when the acts of torture were discovered.
However, condoning torture has been part of American policy for decades. We simply outsourced the procedure, until Bush-led reactions to 9/11 prompted a bunch of Serious Debates in Atlantic Monthly about whether torture could be carried out in a properly American way.
I think that you need to know a lot more American history before you start slinging accusations of willfull naïveté around.
Consider the history of waterboarding:
And even though it reeks of political expediency, President Theodore Roosevelt had a general dismissed from the Army over the use of torture.
Wrong again. US military and intelligence personnel not only used torture on people, but they also sent detainees to other countries to be tortured.
Interesting how that works, isn’t it?
I hadn’t heard that we used waterboarding back then. What I’d heard was that we’d gotten it from the French, who used it during the Algerian War calling it “la baignoire.” The French, in turn, had gotten it from the Gestapo… which used it on resistance and suspected resistance and anyone suspected of being able to inform on the resistance during the occupation of France.
As I looked through the archives, wondering how this blog changed from a crazy conservative blog into whatever it is now, I noticed that probably the one thing that was there at the beginning and has survived this radical change is good ol’ fashioned Catholic bashing. I count the use of that particular painting (given that I correctly understand the rhetorical work it was meant to perform)as a relatively subtle instance of same.
Don’t concern yourself with the fact that the Church unqualifiedly rejects torture as an intrinsic evil that is never justified. God forbid you take history seriously and recognize that ignorance of context and lack of sufficient care to avoid anachronism is every bit as destructive as ignoring history simpliciter.
I get the mocking of fundies. But the anecdotes of lapsed Catholics who probably never paid attention in catechism class notwithstanding, Catholicism does not require loony political views (though obviously there are lots of loony Catholics out there). Read the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church and then explain to me how it makes political sense to drive Catholics away from the Democratic Party.
Lumping Dorothy Day in with Billy Graham is as absurd and as bigoted as the teatard habit of lumping all Muslims in together.
And for those who seem to think that somehow “seeing the light” of atheism will cure people of their noxious political views, I implore you to explain to me how Ayn Rand sells so many books.
@Chris: Waterboarding has been around for a very long time. Variations were used as far back as the inquisition, though it probably precedes even that. The modern American method wasn’t actually derived from the Nazis, but rather it was used fairly frequently in the 1920’s by various police departments in major American cities: Chicago, San Fran, New York, etc. It spread from there to the South, where racist law enforcement agents used it against blacks. (See: the Wickersham Commission)
I don’t think it is trolling. Even those close to the topic or torture will agree quickly that it’s a fast track to terrorism. My earlier equivalance between rape and torture is based on this observation. The quickest way to arouse abject terror is to use force to violate another person. Overwhelming power is the tool of the thug be that the sexual preditor or the state. Be that the guy who raped 1/4 of your sisters in college or Bush/Cheney.
I like this response today on the topic of waterboarding and torture, from the Obama NSA.
I think that statement clearly and concisely makes both points on dissing the utility of torture, while also addressing the moral wrongness of it.
@Bobby Thomson: First of all, it’s not “my method”. Second, the results as described weren’t random: ten people were tortured, nine gave bogus names, the tenth gave a good name. After the names were obtained, they were treated as intelligence leads, not as received truth. In that process, nine were found to be false, one was found to be true.
This is not a random walk, it is treating information given as a result of torture as potential intelligence which, like all potential intelligence leads, no matter how developed, needs to be evaluated and followed up, If it’s true that everyone talks under torture, it’s not inconceivable that some of those talking will provide information that is factual, and, if properly evaluated and followed up on, may turn out to be key in identifying and eliminating threats.
Too many people make the argument that from a moral standpoint, torture is wrong and besides, it’s not productive. That’s misguided. If torture is wrong from a moral perspective, and we want public policy to reflect that morality, then that’s all that need to be said, “We do not want torture to reflect our national character” is a necessary and sufficient statement to ban torture as an instrument of public policy. Once you start adding qualifiers (“Besides, torture is never/rarely effective”) then you are allowing the debate to subtly shift. If one can find a way to make torture a more reliable and efficient tool, then it’s easy to say, “Well, the damned thing works, so let’s be practical.” The moral argument starts to fade into the background.
Torture is wrong. Torture is unacceptable as a tool of public policy, no matter how effective it may be. I don’t care whether we can get one good result out of a hundred, or whether we can get 99 out of a hundred, it is unacceptable.
I wasn’t offended by the pic, but I actually agree on both your points. While the Church is obsessively conservative on abortion and gay marriage, its stance on war, foreign policy, the economy, the welfare state, and yes, ugly things like torture are all very liberal in the U.S. political sense of the word. (Though I do think the USCCB and other Catholic organizations could be doing a hell of a lot more than they are in that respect).
And yes, I also have never understood people who felt that if the religious component of the GOP was PWNd, the party would get better… and for the same reason. We already know what Republicans minus religion would look like, it’s called Objectivism. I’m quite sure it wouldn’t make things better, and I’m not sure it wouldn’t make them worse.
You really want to go there? The church is OK because it has written down that it abhors torture? And yet it condones condom use, which can save numerous lives by stopping the spread of disease? The church that condones the sexual assault of children and protects the perpetrators? The church which subjugates women to be dirty and only there for procreation? The church which elected as it’s leader a nazi? Was he the only person they could have picked? Or was he the best one they could find?
You want to be catholic because you like the faith, OK. But religion, especially the catholic church, has been beating the world over the head with the message of how great it is, all the while hiding that they are there to collect money and build the church, not serve their members, let alone the rest of the world. And no that does not relegate all the members of the church including priests and nuns as vile humans, but the church as an entity, ain’t a very nice place. And knocking a picture painted by a famous artist of one of the cardinals heading the Spanish Inquisition only goes to show exactly what I’m talking about. Never admit that the church has a sorted past or even present. It’s like never being able to admit that bush tortured people. It isn’t real, it doesn’t further your cause and it’s stupid.
@Ruckus: Well, clearly I never “knocked” the painting. I merely responded to what I speculated its rhetorical usage might have been. Nor did I say anything to imply that the Church’s history has been free of sin.
But your response does in fact reflect the kind of hatred and misinformation that characterizes most Catholic bashing and so, even if the original post didn’t intend it, the use of the painting did serve as a sort of wink to those who share your prejudices.
I thank you for giving me permission to be Catholic so long as it is an entirely personal decision. Perhaps you don’t realize, however, that that very individualistic conception of religion is the essence of Protestantism. The “facts” that you cite, maybe because you were concerned that I just hadn’t heard about them, also sound very much like something one might read in a Chick pamphlet. Thank you for the restraint you show by only calling the Holy Father a Nazi and stopping short of calling him the antichrist.
The Church is made up of humans, many of whom have utterly failed to live up to Christ’s teachings. There are regrettable periods in Church history largely because there are regrettable periods in human history. But if you think that somehow the Church’s official teaching is now completely invalid because a few hundred years ago some very powerful Catholics didn’t follow that teaching, then I urge you to register for a course in methods of reasoning, or whatever is the equivalent at your nearest college.
Does the Catholic Church hold unpopular views on birth control? Yes. But, you might be shocked to learn, they actually have REASONS for holding this view. Is the Church fiercely pro-life? Yes, for obvious reasons. You seem to think that these difficult questions have answers so obvious that one should reject everything the Church has to say just because of that. Again, I’d urge you to study some informal logic.
But the very fact that you could actually write that the Church “condones” sexual assault of children is so monstrously absurd, and shows such strong evidence that you might lack the cognitive capabilities to appreciate the nuances of actual grown-up moral reasoning, that I worry that even a long study of informal logic may be of no help to you.
Again, I see very little in your vitriolic post that differentiates your attitude from the anti-Muslim attitudes of the teatards. I am sorry that abortion has so successfully been employed as a wedge issue by the GOP that good liberals like yourself would rather send millions of Catholics off to vote Republican even while holding their noses, than stomach the idea of a pro-life Democrat. We would have had universal health care in this country a long time ago if minor concessions had been made to bring the Bishops on board.
But, most of all, I would urge you to actually take up a serious study of history rather than spouting lyrics from a Dead Kennedys song. I get it: I was 13 once myself. The world is a very complicated place full of all sorts of contingencies and one will never learn from history without doing the work it takes to actually understand events in the contexts in which they occurred. That applies to all history, and not just Church history.
If you actually care at all about making the world a better place, then I think you need to seriously consider what will happen if all practicing Catholics were finally driven to the GOP. Real progress requires compromise and coalitions.
If there was a nuke hidden in a major U.S. city which was timed to go off in 24 hours, and you had a suspect in custody who wouldn’t talk, would you support torture of this individual to find out where the bomb is so you could defuse it and save hundreds of thousands of American lives?
It’s a serious question, and I wonder if any of you have the integrity and honetly to say “yes.”
I’m certainly not denying that. But the tacit nature of that, plus our willingness to distance ourselves from the torturers as soon as it was expedient, was a sign that people broadly understood that torture was wrong.
I think the occasional moral failure is part of being human, and I can accept a little hypocrisy if it’s a sign that people mean to do better down the road. On a broader scale, I think the occasional misuse of power is a necessary consequence of power. Fighting that serves to remind us why we need to pay attention to our government. I think it’s all part of America’s history, our unending search for a more perfect union.
That’s why I’m horrified by the current public push for torture by political elites, supported by the supineness and/or outright support of major media. A failure to live up to our principles is survivable. But I don’t know that’s the case for the erasure of our principles.
@Caz: 24 is not reality. Your question fails on the premise that someone could A) haul a nuclear bomb into a city undetected (they’re not exactly small or light) and B) you have only one suspect to work with. And since the suspect can send you on false flags until it’s too late, torture in this situation is useless. TORTURE DOES NOT PRODUCE ACCURATE INFORMATION. But I doubt that’ll sink into your brain since you’ll just scamper off into the night after shitting a turd on the porch again.
To the best of my knowledge I’ve never even heard a Dead Kennedy song and sure don’t know their lyrics. Maybe I’ll try listening, sounds like I might like them.
I’m not getting into a war with you over the catholic church or any other, it’s a waste of my time. You are willing to use an amazing amount of energy to protect your beliefs. I always wonder when someone does that if they really believe or are having real doubts and just can’t stand to be wrong. But I’ll bet that no amount of discussion will sway you. And my anger over the decades of religious bullshit that I’ve had to put up with just makes you totally defensive. You are a true believer. I hope it makes your life better, I know that it has not for a great number of people through out history.
My opinion is based upon several decades of study and exposure to many religions including the catholic church.
I came to the conclusion that religions are all a giant con game. I’m not playing. YMMV.
So, Yutsano, you’re simply refusing to answer my question because you know the answer would not comport with your position that torture is wrong no matter what. You know inside that the right answer is yes, so you’re not fooling anyone by making cute little remarks about 24.
@Caz: Since you don’t seem to demonstrate the first understanding how an investigation actually WORKS, your statement:
is a lie. You’re not serious, you’re just flinging poo in an attempt to be cute and garner attention for yourself. And I did answer your question, you just chose to dismiss my answer because it wasn’t simple. So here, I’ll dumb it down: NO. Does NO work for you? Now go away and stop shilling for the Koch brothers.
@Ruckus: Very well. I am not trying to make you a Catholic, nor am I defending my faith. I am merely responding to a mindset that says “Catholics not welcome.” I’ve been liberal far longer than I’ve been Catholic and I’ve had very little problem reconciling the two.
I am very concerned, and thus somewhat defensive, about liberals just accepting that the GOP is the proper home for Christians. Practically speaking, it would be disastrous for Democrats to drive Catholics away.
@David Moyes: To briefly touch on your original complaint about the pic, I would suggest that you notice that it is of a person who headed the Spanish Inquisition. Around 1600. It is my understanding that, during this timeframe, the Spanish Inquisition used torture. It is also my understanding that it is rather famous for that sort of thing. Perhaps such a comparison should have been expected, but I guess your surprise is warranted since nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.
@Omnes Omnibus: Father Guido weeps.
The Mme must have had you busy. I haven’t seen you all day.
@Yutsano: I went up to central Wisconsin bearing flowers for a day with Mom and Grandma. Mme Omnibus stayed home to work on a paper due this week. I was sad at the separation, but, without someone who gets carsick sitting in the passenger seat, I got to drive the Saab like I stole it.
That comment reminded me of this, which means you might need the, “I don’t drive fast, I just fly low” bumper sticker. Also.
@Omnes Omnibus: Thank you. I’d not realized that it was as simple as all that. I guess I’ve just spent so much time recently trying to get students to understand that there is no neat way to distinguish the content of a text from the way that it is presented that I just forgot that really pictures presented alongside texts are just for decoration and don’t complicate the meaning in any appreciable way. I thought that the specific painting represented a conscious choice of the author, but I guess maybe it doesn’t really add anything.
Decent build-up to the Python line.
@David Moyes: Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
You can’t avoid the slippery slope by being dishonest or disingenuous. I have no problem accepting that torture will work in certain circumstances for certain people. That seems so obvious as to be uninteresting. The opposition to torture shouldn’t be on the basis of its effectiveness. If one claims or implies, like Digby, that torture never works, then as soon as a single instance in which it does work is presented, the argument is lost.
If you want to stay off the slippery slope, you do so by simply rejecting torture as morally wrong in every instance. It is also incompatible with our Constitution prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Further, it is unreliable, even if occasionally successful, but there is no dependable way to sort out which is which. Just as torture may sometimes result in accurate information, it may also result in inaccurate information that could lead to disastrous delays and confusion in pursuit of terrorists. Once torture is admissible for worst case scenarios, it is virtually inevitable that it will become acceptable for lesser cases. For all anyone will know, there may always be a worst case scenario lurking, as yet unseen, behind the simply bad scenario.
One of America’s most important claims in world leadership is to be a moral leader. We can’t torture and be a moral leader — the two are mutually exclusive. Of course, we can torture and still pretend to moral leadership, but we won’t be taken seriously — the current situation. (Note: the gulf between our actions and true moral leadership is and always has been huge. The world would be a better place if we were less hypocritical.)
Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. Yeah, we tortured people before Bush, but at least we had the decency to deny it, not be proud of it.
Oh sure, it’s all the fault of abortion. Seriously, the stupid, it burns.
@David Moyes: Of course the author of this post (that would be me) made a conscious choice in presenting this piece of art alongside an argument about torture.
That choice had a number of sources. The fact that I had just seen this painting in the flesh (again!) the day before was one. More important, as Omnes tried to point out to you, the association of the Spanish Inquisition with torture seemed an obvious connection to me, and not just for the blunt juxtaposition, but because the Inquisition was explicitly an exercise of state power, both that of the asserted temporal power of the Papacy, and that of Spain (see, e.g. the Duke of Alba). Then there is the association of inquisitors in general with coercive use of power (calling Mr. Dostoevsky, that noted Catholic…) Not to mention the role of spectacles in the debate on whether or not lens convey true perceptions about reality in the context of Galileo’s telescopic observations (which I wrote about in a book I published more than two decades ago).
But of course, the correct interpretation is that the author callously chose to express anti-Catholic bigotry…
@Tom Levenson: I certainly did not intend to accuse you of anything particularly heinous. My post was predicated on my having correctly understood the rhetorical use to which you were putting the painting. I am more than happy to accept that I did not correctly understand it. No harm, no foul.
Nonetheless, my concern is that I see more and more Catholics finally accepting the argument that abortion is such an important human rights issue that it trumps everything else. I am troubled that more and more non-Catholics in the liberal blogosphere seem willing to just write them all off.
I am also just a little bit creeped out by (and so possibly oversensitive about) certain ant-Catholic rhetoric used by liberal bloggers (again, not you) that very closely resembles things one might read in an anti-Irish screed from the late 19th Century or an anti-Mexican screed from the early 21st.
I do think that it’s important that liberals don’t drive the Bidens away because they hate the Boehners.