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Tuesday 15 March 2005

Debating Torture

I was listening to NPR this morning, whilst half asleep and there was a balanced-type news article, one that talks to both sides of an issue. The subject was torture. The question: does it work?

Ok, sure, they said "extreme interrogation methods," which, it should be noted, violate the quaint Geneva conventions. We don't do this in domestic prisons . . . yet. But,um, I'm appalled. How did torture become a debate? And how on earth could the debate have gotten over to whether or not it works. The debate should be, "torture: total evil or complete evil?"

Ok, so we have a guy who knows where the ticking time bomb is. Torture him! Ok, we have this guy that we're 90% certain knows where the ticking time bomb is. Torture him! Ok, we have this guy who is 80% certain. Torture! Ok, we have 3 guys and we're 90% certain that one of those three guys knows where the ticking time bob is. Torture all three! We can sort out the innocent later! Ok, we have this guy and we're 90% sure that his brother in law planted a bomb. There's an 80% chance that this guy knows where his brother in law is hiding. But when we ask him, he keeps saying "I don't know." Torture him too, right? Ok, you might know where your best friend, the brother in law of the bomber, is hiding. You're innocent. The brother in law is also innocent but is scared out of his wits knowing that chemical lights are destined for his anus. The bomber is completely uninnocent and has found an excellent hiding place. We torture you, right? Innocent people might die if that bomb went off. It could go off at any second. We need to torture you, right? Because when you say "I don't know," you might just be protecting you innocent best friend. But, whoops, we failed to catch you. You took off when you heard we might torture you. We just caught your spouse, whom we have no choice but to torture . . .

Ok, so this was a problem, but we would still torture the bomber, right? Because the bomb could go off at any second. However . . . he holds out for two days. That's not unreasonable. In the mean time, the bomb has either gone off or the bomber's co-conspirators noticed that the bomber is missing and have moved the bomb. Our "intelligence" isn't so valuable then, is it?

Meanwhile, you, your spouse and the terrified chemical-lighted brother-in-law, all of whom thought the bomber was a lunatic, have realized that the government really is a bunch of torturers and have started working to overthrow it.

However, even if torture did "work," it would still be wrong. If we always caught the right guy and he always confessed in the nick of time . . . Because our soldiers have knowledge about coming bombs, knowledge that is valuable to the societies we destroy. Soldiers know what their orders are. They know what houses might be raided next. If we torture, why shouldn't our targets torture? Or is it only ok if we do it? What if we're at war with another state, not an insurgency, the war with Finland? Why would they abstain from torturing our soldiers if we are documented torturers?

And finally, What kind of monsters are we for torturing prisoners? All other concerns aside, it's just wrong. Evil. Bad. Wrong.

At some point in this country, morality came to mean objecting to what other people do in bed and how well others conform to ideal gender, class, religious, national and racial identities. Healing the sick, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, clothing the naked, examining your own conscience and trying to be a "good Samaritan" have all fallen out of favor. Torture isn't immoral unless it's a consentual SM scene in the East Village (which isn't actually torture). Darwinism is bad, unless you're talking about ruthless social darwinism, in which case, survival of the fittest is god's law. Torturing evil folks is a-ok, and those Iraqis are not conforming very well to being white American Christians, so they're excellent targets.


Fafblog explores the moral quandry of torture: "There's a bomb on the streets of Hypotheticopolis - a ticking bomb! - and only Giblets can stop it! But time is running out and in order to find it Giblets may have to resort to the first weapon of last resort: torture."


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