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Semi-concrete proof that America resorts to torture?
March 7, 2003 6:38 AM   Subscribe

Does America Torture? "The men's death certificates, made public earlier this week, showed that one captive...died from 'blunt force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease' while another ...from [a] blood clot in the lung that was exacerbated by a 'blunt force injury'." What steps are we taking in our "war on terror"? What if other countries decide to treat our civilians as "enemy combatants"? Is the Pax Americana so important that we must resort to torture, or, as is most often the case, giving up prisoners to countries that are known torturers?
posted by taumeson (113 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
From the article:

"US officials previously admitted using "stress and duress" on prisoners including sleep deprivation, denial of medication for battle injuries, forcing them to stand or kneel for hours on end with hoods on, subjecting them to loud noises and sudden flashes of light and engaging in culturally humiliating practices such as having them kicked by female officers."

I don't think that's so bad. So what if it sucks? It turns out that these methods (humiliation, sleep deprivation) are the best at getting information out of suspects. I don't care what Human Rights Watch says, but the only thing these POWs are gonna go home with is some embarrassment, no scars or anthing. It's not even painful, really.

What's worrisome is that we're handing prisoners over to countries like Jordan that we know tortures suspects. And the fact that these prisoners had problems exacerbated by "blunt force trauma" makes our methods suspect.

So, my position...a resounding "NO" on painful torture, but embarrassment, stress, and depredation is not torture to me.
posted by taumeson at 6:45 AM on March 7, 2003


If those whingey afghans don't like it, they can go back where they came from!

Hey, waitaminute...
posted by spazzm at 6:46 AM on March 7, 2003


And I would classify withholding medication for battle injuries as torture, depending on the battle injuries.

Having a leg blown off and being denied morphine, for example, would clearly be torture in my book.
posted by spazzm at 6:48 AM on March 7, 2003


What's worrisome is that we're handing prisoners over to countries like Jordan that we know tortures suspects

That's why it's illegal for countries in the EU to extradite people to the US if they face the death penalty.
posted by brettski at 6:54 AM on March 7, 2003


Remember the opening of 24, season 2?
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:57 AM on March 7, 2003


That's why it's illegal for countries in the EU to extradite people to the US if they face the death penalty.

It sounds like 2 different issues to me...
posted by stifford at 6:58 AM on March 7, 2003


but the only thing these POWs are gonna go home with is some embarrassment, no scars or anthing.

No scars, taumeson? There is severe and lasting psychological damage associated with sleep deprivation. We're not talking the typical student "pull an all-nighter or two" deprivation, either. To get someone to "crack" as a result of sleep loss involves weeks on end of this sort of torture.

Do you really believe that it isn't torture just because there are no physical scars? And in either case, do you really feel that it is right to do this to people who have not been given due process in any court of law?
posted by Qubit at 6:58 AM on March 7, 2003


And, you know, torture doesn't really work, if your goal is to get correct information about your enemy. When a human is tortured enough, they will say *anything* to get you to stop. If you tell them "Confess, and I'll stop crushing your fingers.", you'll confess.

Of course, this isn't useful if you weren't the one who should have confessed. All it does is dehumanize us -- it doesn't get us information we need.

Never mind the sheer repugnance of it. But if someone says "Would you torture someone who knew where a nuclear bomb is in the US?", I'd answer "No." Not only is torture morally wrong, it's likely to get the tortured prisoner telling me anything to make me stop torturing him -- example, "It's in San Francisco, under blah blah blah -- and, while I'm looking, the bomb goes off in Seattle. The tortured doesn't care what it true or not. All they care about is saying whatever they need to say to make you stop, right now -- even if their "confession" is easily disproved, subjecting them to more torture later. They want the pain stopped, now.

And, for the record, I am completely and unambiguously against the use of torture to get information from suspects, period. The fact that it doesn't work merely strengthens my objection. If the US Government is either torturing or torturing-by-proxy , that would be one of the most egregious crimes that this administration has committed, and they should be brought before courts to answer for it.
posted by eriko at 7:00 AM on March 7, 2003


In a recent CNN poll, 63% of nearly 100,000 voters answered yes to the question Is torture ever justified in coercing information from suspects?
posted by misteraitch at 7:03 AM on March 7, 2003


This sounds bad. The government is admitting it was homicide.

The Independent muddies the water by talking about the Predator attack on al-Qaeda members in Yemen, which, to my mind, is entirely unrelated: it's no different than killing enemy soldiers in wartime.

But torture is just not acceptable. It must not happen.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 7:04 AM on March 7, 2003


It's all torture, as far as I'm concerned. If somebody is being deliberately made to feel pain, be that sharp and immediate or dull and drawn out, then they are being tortured. I include psychological torture in this as well.

Under normal circumstances any sort of torture should not be tolerated, but in war time things change. How do you make somebody give up the information they have? How, for example, did they get any information out of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? I'm sure that he didn't say, "Well, you got me! Jolly good show! Here's the information you want, now where's the TV and the women?" The question is, what are the limits? If these Afghanis were indeed killed by the treatment they received from questioners, then the questioners went too far and should themselves (or the people who gave them their orders) be punished. The prisoners, IMHO, should not have been subjected physical torture...at all.

Ultimately, what do I know? I would hope that in the same circumstances I would act in a humanitarian manner. The thing is, I'm not in that position and I have a very hard time picturing my actions in such a case. Nor do I know if I could authorize these sorts of actions. Once again, I can't even imagine myself in such a position of authority.

If you were a high ranking official with such powers, what would you do? Could you possibly kill one person while extracting information in order to save hundreds of thousands?
posted by ashbury at 7:04 AM on March 7, 2003


And, you know, torture doesn't really work, if your goal is to get correct information about your enemy. When a human is tortured enough, they will say *anything* to get you to stop. If you tell them "Confess, and I'll stop crushing your fingers.", you'll confess.

Well, not to try and take the "Pro-Torture" side of things, but I would imagine it's not like you let the guy go once he tells you anything. I would imagine the way it works is that they still hold on to them and if the guy gives false information, they get tortured worse maybe?
posted by stifford at 7:09 AM on March 7, 2003


These people are "suspects" they've been found guilty of exactly nothing so far - they may not actually have anything to tell you.....
posted by brettski at 7:19 AM on March 7, 2003


I keep forgetting; is torture a war crime, a crime against humanity or both?
posted by spazzm at 7:19 AM on March 7, 2003


But is not a war crime if they're not POWs, and not against the law if they're not within anyone's jusristiction... Isn't that the reason they're in Cuba in the first place?
posted by brettski at 7:22 AM on March 7, 2003


I do believe torturing civilians would be a war crime, but that's besides the point.

Legal technicalities does not mean it's a-ok to do horrible things to other humans.
posted by spazzm at 7:27 AM on March 7, 2003


spazzm - both. (but only in my book). torture is evil any way shape or form. all hail truth serums!
posted by dabitch at 7:31 AM on March 7, 2003


(does anyone know if truth serums actually work and if so - why they aren't used instead?)
posted by dabitch at 7:31 AM on March 7, 2003


guys, shit happens in a war. love it or leave it!
posted by mcsweetie at 7:33 AM on March 7, 2003


I was actually thinking about this issue yesterday evening. Why wouldn't the US torture the guys they think they can get information out of? They have no intention of trying the prisoners for crimes in civilian courts, and there's no reasonable expectation that any US agent would ever be held accountable to any international court. The deterrent against torturing suspects in regular police cases is that the case might get thrown out if illegal methods are used or in really bad cases, the agent might be prosecuted, but remove those deterrents, and what's left? The executive branch has traditionally been allowed a huge leeway on declaring what "secrets" need to be kept, and anyway, I doubt most Americans would be pissed about torturing these guys anyway, much to my dismay.
posted by daveadams at 7:35 AM on March 7, 2003


Yes, we're the shining light of freedom; the veritable incarnation on earth of all that's good and right; the epitome of Christian values. And if a few people get tortured-- physically or psychologically-- along the way by our direct action or by complicity with less upstanding nations, well, it's all for the Greater Good, dontchaknow. God hates them anyway, so it's no loss.

Yeah, that's dripping sarcasm in case you can't tell.
posted by Cerebus at 7:35 AM on March 7, 2003


These people are "suspects" they've been found guilty of exactly nothing so far - they may not actually have anything to tell you.....

You really don't think that applies to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, do you?
posted by Cyrano at 7:37 AM on March 7, 2003


mcsweetie: It's a fscking WAR CRIME you complete and utter tard.

Or were you being sarcastic too? I couldn't tell.
posted by Cerebus at 7:38 AM on March 7, 2003


My understanding is that sleep deprivation and other disorienting actions do not yield unreliable information the way that sharp infliction of pain does.

To my view sleep deprivation is a far cry from applying electric shocks to genitals, etc. I would not classify it as torture.

p.s. depredation NOUN:
1. A predatory attack; a raid. 2. Damage or loss; ravage: “[Carnegie Hall has] withstood the wear and tear of enthusiastic music lovers and the normal depredations of time”.

I believe taumeson meant deprivation.

posted by alms at 7:40 AM on March 7, 2003


Or were you being sarcastic too? I couldn't tell.

I was, but I went ahead and posted it to save someone that actually believes it the time that would otherwise be spent on teasing war protestors.
posted by mcsweetie at 7:41 AM on March 7, 2003


US Army conducts criminal investigation {WaPo, cookie req'd} into the deaths. [CBS/AP version].

US Military Investigating Death of Afghan in Custody: source article for other reports; highly detailed on discomfort and duress techniques, but little corroboration of widespread policy of beatings.

Under the Geneva Conventions, and more recently the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, torture is potentially a crime against humanity {Article 7 (1) (f) and (2) (e)}, a war crime {Article 8 (2) (a) (2)}, or both, depending on outside factors. Presumably the former applies mainly to repressive governments, and the latter to invading armies. In either case, the law only kicks in when the signatory party fails to punish its own.

dabitch: Truth serums are, mostly, fiction. Alternet and Slate both looked into this post-9/11. Some drugs might lull a prisoner into being more pliable, or simply chattier, but they aren't usually effective against (for example) disciplined soldiers, or fanatics.
posted by dhartung at 7:43 AM on March 7, 2003


Cyrano - I'm no defender of these guys - if there's so much evidence (as it seems there is), and the due processes are followed, I'm sure he'll be found guilty by the jury when he comes to trial.
posted by brettski at 7:45 AM on March 7, 2003


International Criminal Court .... the law only kicks in when the signatory party fails to punish its own.

The US aren't a signatory, are they?
posted by brettski at 7:47 AM on March 7, 2003


"Does America Torture?" A: Yeah, duh!

The rather limited subterfuges being used for "deniability" (like "rendition" to third parties) are themselves proof of this. There's a long history of organizing torture, training others in its use, being present for it/directing it, protecting it. (Latin America, Southeast Asia, who knows where else, probably almost everywhere you find allies and adversaries.) That you step back for a moment while someone else wields the instrument doesn't mean you aren't doing it. I wouldn't bet on any limitation to less outrageous forms.

Only the naiveté of Americans about our government allows the question to be asked with slack-jawed incredulity, or dismissed as absurd.
posted by lathrop at 7:47 AM on March 7, 2003


The rationalization here is that there are two different kinds of torture. The first kind is based vengeance-hatred and low morale, which is forbidden by the US, because it accomplishes nothing. The second kind is the "time sensitive" interrogation, that is, "the killer has buried the victim alive and their oxygen is running out" motive.

(There is a third kind of rationalization, which really stinks, that is being reviewed by the SCOTUS right now (Chavez v. Martinez), but that is a side issue.)

However, even for the flimsy second excuse for torture, if they are going to use timeliness as an excuse (the military uses the 48-hour rule for tactical information), then their means of torture must reflect that timeliness.

That is, drugs are the fastest means, especially endorphin blockers, then you would just need tiny amounts of something discomfiting to produce agony, such as ordinary electrical shocks that wouldn't typically hurt very much.

But if this homicide is ruled to be of the first type of torture, then it is distictly that, homicide, and the torturer should not only be punished for murder, but also for wasting a potential intelligence resource.
posted by kablam at 7:48 AM on March 7, 2003


brettski: Acknowleging the ICC would be embarrassing to the US given our denial of previous findings against Israel; so no, the US doesn't recognize the authority of the ICC.
posted by Cerebus at 7:49 AM on March 7, 2003


It's the classic ethical question, debated in university classrooms everywhere: if you KNEW someone had information that would save the lives of [insert number here] of innocents/cevilians/children/etc, would you do whatever was necessary [to wit: torture] to get it? It's a question that is beyond legality (a meta-question, if you will); invoking whether it's legal is simply divesting oneself of the responsibility for the answer of what YOU would do.

Keep in mind also that studies have shown that being a *torturer* has long-lasting psychological effects as well (although I can't imagine they are as far-reaching as being a torturee). Also remember that the victors in war arae only rarely subjected to issues of war crimes (again, the question goes beyond legality).

So what would you do? You have in custody a man you know and can prove is a terrorist. He has set in motion plans to kill [insert number again] people. Do you torture him to get that information and save the people?

I would. The lives of the [number] are inherently no less valuable than the life of the one; therefore, it is better to sacrifice one life to save the many, even if penalties may accrue to the torturer [me] later on, even up to the loss of my own life.

The ultimate problem is that torture as traditional considered only works up to a point - there are decreasing returns after passing a certain point, where the torturee will say anything to make the torture cease. That point is difficult to assess and easy to pass. Physical torture is not a great tool for interrogation.
posted by UncleFes at 7:49 AM on March 7, 2003


brettski: And I can respect that. I'm all about due process. I just sometimes have a hard time rationalizing the discomfort, no matter how extreme, of a known accessory to mass murder against the possible loss of thousands of lives. My rational mind says torture is always bad but my gut can sometimes accept it.

On preview: kinda like what UncleFes said.
posted by Cyrano at 7:53 AM on March 7, 2003


I have honestly tried to see the downside to torturing Al Qaeda/Taliban members (frankly, I wonder how come so many have been captured vs. killed). I can't see it. I can't feel sorry for these guys. With someone like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the sort of things these yahoos have done and plan to do, I don't see why anything should be off the table.
posted by owillis at 7:56 AM on March 7, 2003


mcsweetie: My apologies, then.
posted by Cerebus at 7:59 AM on March 7, 2003


taumenson said:

I don't think that's so bad.

I almost puked after reading your post. Boy, I hope you'll never have to experience by yourself if being softly tortured is so bad or not.

As we say in catalan, "t'has begut l'enteniment?" (have you drank your own understanding?")
posted by samelborp at 8:01 AM on March 7, 2003


owillis: How about "because it's wrong?" Morally wrong, ethically wrong, legally wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.

If you *really* don't think it's wrong in the limited case, you simply lack morals. That scares me; you are therefore no better than they are in that regard.
posted by Cerebus at 8:03 AM on March 7, 2003


The concept of having rules of any sort in a war has always seemed to be self contradictory to me. Have there been many cases where the countries/people who won* the war have been found guilty of war crimes.


[the concept of a war having a winner also makes me scratch my head]
posted by DBAPaul at 8:08 AM on March 7, 2003


you are therefore no better than they are in that regard.

Yes, there's no difference between a geek in Boston and a member of a terrorist network that's killed thousands. Right.
posted by owillis at 8:10 AM on March 7, 2003


When in Rome...


good luck people of baghdad.
posted by specialk420 at 8:11 AM on March 7, 2003


How about "because it's wrong?" Morally wrong, ethically wrong, legally wrong.

You're right. But letting thousands of people die who you could have saved is wrong too. So, some people here are just saying in that case torture is the lesser of the two evils.
posted by Cyrano at 8:14 AM on March 7, 2003


You're right. But letting thousands of people die who you could have saved is wrong too. So, some people here are just saying in that case torture is the lesser of the two evils.

Sins of commission versus sins of omission, and degrees of magnitude thereon. Thus, I think, is this question determined.
posted by UncleFes at 8:19 AM on March 7, 2003


samelborp:

Boy, I hope you'll never have to experience by yourself if being softly tortured is so bad or not.

Well, I don't know if it counts, but I've gone through OCS for the Marine Corps, including such fun events as the "Endurance Run" and the "Combat Conditioning Course", not to mention the 3-day Crucible. Walking in a circle for a week is a lot more tedious, and would be incredibly aggravating, but it's not really PAINFUL IMHO...and you always have the option of breaking down and telling your story.

alms:
I believe taumeson meant deprivation.

Ah yup. I typed it a bunch of times, but one time I thought "depredation". Go figure.

Qubit:
To get someone to "crack" as a result of sleep loss involves weeks on end of this sort of torture.

Actually, it can take much shorter! Putting 4 guards on 6 hour shifts 24-hours a day, making the prisoner do exercises and walk around non-stop, without food and with limited water, with physical punishment as a result of stopping, will get someone to crack within a week!

Hmm...I don't think that torture needs to be stopped ALTOGETHER, morally. It's like the "24" question. How far would you go to stop a nuclear bomb? I don't like the tyrany of the majority any more than you, but I believe millions of lives versus discomfort for one individual weighs on the side of the millions.

On preview, yeah, UncleFes has boiled down this discussion pretty well, I think.
posted by taumeson at 8:24 AM on March 7, 2003


owillis: When the geek in Boston is spouting off repugnant nonsense like "I don't see why anything should be off the table," you're damnned right there isn't.

You sir are morally crippled. Period.
posted by Cerebus at 8:34 AM on March 7, 2003


Not much time to post here, but the ethical question that this is being boiled down to ("Would you kill one person to save a hundred thousand?") is not very applicable to this discussion. Why?

- First, it assumes that there is an event that has been planned
- It's predicated on the false assumption that this particular prisoner definitely has accurate information about that event
- It also depends on a belief that torture will produce reliable information

A better way to phrase the question would be, "You have two hundred prisoners. There is a chance that one or more of them has information about a planned terrorist attack, but you have no way to tell which one, if any, has the information you need. Would you torture all the captives in order to attempt to gain that information?"

Not as easy to answer, is it? Factor in that none of these prisoners has been accused of any crime or given any counsel whatsoever, and it gets even uglier. Factor in that we've been hopping around like a one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest trying to respond to false information that the prisoners have been giving us (probably to avoid or delay torture), and that we appear to have gained very little useful information from these prisoners in the year or more that we've had them, and it doesn't look so good, does it?
posted by UKnowForKids at 8:34 AM on March 7, 2003


You sir are morally crippled
If that means I don't believe in moral equivalence, then I suppose so.
posted by owillis at 8:39 AM on March 7, 2003


Factor in that none of these prisoners has been accused of any crime or given any counsel whatsoever

you make some excellent points, but let me address this one: keep in mind that no one but US citizens has, afaik, any recourse to the rights enumerated by the US Constitution. if anything, their treatment would be convered under the Geneva Convention, although I'm not sure about that either, since I don't know if the Guantanamo prisoners are technically combatants. Ethically, I would think the tretment of these prisoners would be dicatated at least in part by the personal codes of the officers trusted with their care, but I don't know that they have any legal standing at all. They are effectively rightless, legally, as far as I can determine.
posted by UncleFes at 8:42 AM on March 7, 2003


UncleFesyou make some excellent points, but let me address this one: keep in mind that no one but US citizens has, afaik, any recourse to the rights enumerated by the US Constitution.... They are effectively rightless, legally, as far as I can determine.

Sure, I realize that. I didn't bring up the fact that they have not been accused of any crime or had access to counsel as a legal point, but as a moral/ethical one. The fact that they are "effectively rightless" frightens me.
posted by UKnowForKids at 8:49 AM on March 7, 2003


Err, put a colon and a space after "UncleFes" there at the beginning. That'll teach me not to make little changes during "Preview," I guess.
posted by UKnowForKids at 8:50 AM on March 7, 2003


owillis: No, it means you've stated that you are willing to use any methods against people you find offensive-- to include torture and murder-- and, since you yourself said that you don't see why any method should be "off the table," I would assume this includes other more repugnant methods we have not yet discussed.

The fact that this position is morally equivalent to the methods of terrorists is a matter that is completely outside your personal belief or non-belief in the matter.

If you don't actually feel this way, I suggest that you examine your belief structure and make changes accordingly.
posted by Cerebus at 8:53 AM on March 7, 2003


UKnowForKids: but that's not the ethical dilemma facing interrogators in Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's case. Does anyone think Al Qaeda isn't planning more attacks? As Al Qaeda's head of operations, Mohammed is bound to know about most if not all of the planned attacks, at least the large scale ones. Whether he would actually give an accurate information is the only real debatable point of the three.

Again, in his case you come about as close as you are ever likely to get to the "you have someone you absolutely, positively know has information that will cost people their lives, what do you do?" scenario.
posted by Cyrano at 8:57 AM on March 7, 2003


UncleFes: No, actually that's wrong. Non-citizens in the US have all the rights enumerated in the Constitution; the exception being that non-citizens can be deported. Nothing in the Constitution sets foreigners aside.

The courts have held this principle repeatedly over the years. Foreigners are granted trials, afforded representation, freedom to congregate, freedom to worship, etc. This all stems from the framer's belief that the rights enshrined in the Constitution and its ammendments are not *granted* by the document, but *guaranteed*. They believed that these rights were innate, a necessary part of being human, and that the government can not revoke them but only guarantee them.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator certain inalienable rights..."
posted by Cerebus at 8:58 AM on March 7, 2003


I'm all for torture if it keeps us safe!

Uh, unless police start using it.

Ok, unless police in my state start using it. Or I ever get pulled over in Louisiana.

Or if the FBI has a file on me for attending a protest.

Or someone doesn't like me and tells The Man I'm a terrorist.

Waaaaait a minut...these dreamy lefty ideals about human rights have real world applications!
posted by mecran01 at 9:00 AM on March 7, 2003


Cyrano: Good point, as the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed capture is certainly a different case with its own moral questions. I was discussing the torture of the Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners, however, which I think should be discussed separately, as the circumstances are quite different.

mecran01: Beautiful!
posted by UKnowForKids at 9:04 AM on March 7, 2003


The fact that this position is morally equivalent to the methods of terrorists is a matter that is completely outside your personal belief or non-belief in the matter.

The goal and purpose of Al Qaeda is the mass homicide of innocents. I want everyone in Al Qaeda, who would commit mass homicide of innocents, dead. If wanting mass murderers dead somehow makes me the moral equivalent of a terrorist in your world view - then... okay, I guess.
posted by owillis at 9:04 AM on March 7, 2003


Ah, the slippery slope argument. Look, this isn't the same slope. This isn't even the same mountain. It's hard to fathom how anyone could link in even the most tenuous way a mass murdering terrorist who has knowledge that could prevent future deaths to rolling a red light in Shreveport.
posted by Cyrano at 9:05 AM on March 7, 2003


What if the Iraqis capture a pilot who they think knows where bombing raids will be that will kill their people. Are they right to torture him to save their civilians?

This is why this arguement will decend into a slippery slope - somewhere along it there's a grey zone that you can find....
posted by brettski at 9:10 AM on March 7, 2003


As enemy combatants, the Geneva Convention definately SHOULD apply to them. It states that you may work enlisted POWs pretty hard, but torture is right out.

The fun part is that the US is a signatory to the convention, so we can't physically or mentally torture prisoners. I guess we can drug them, and we can create quasi-legal "stress and duress" situations for them to deal with.

But when it comes to torture, we can just give them to countries that aren't Geneva signatories.

The document in question.

Check out:

1. Article 4, Section A Para. 5 & 6. "Who's a POW?"
2. Article 13 "What can I do with my POW?"
3. Article 17 "No, you can't torture anybody, you dummy."
No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.
posted by taumeson at 9:13 AM on March 7, 2003


TORTURE IS NOT ALLOWED
TORTURE IS NOT ALLOWED
posted by eustacescrubb at 9:13 AM on March 7, 2003


"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator certain inalienable rights..."

Jefferson waxing rhapsodic, imo, in light of Locke's social contract (in that rights are a political construction and coupled with responsibilities) but I concede the point, making only two questions: do the rights extended by the Constitution extend even to foreigners on foreign soil who have taken up arms against us, or only to those foreigners who are on American soil and are not our de facto state enemies? To answer that it does could be argued that Jefferson, et al wrote not the Constitution of the United States but the Constitution of the world. Second: is there not some instances (and the KSM question may be the classical form of this) where it is in the best interests of the people the constitution was designed to protect to violate the rights enumerated thereon?

Which is why I believe, in the end, legality must give way to individual ethics on this question. The Constitution simply isn't a sharp or personal enough tool to spur to action, since it inherently assumes as the baseline the sin of omission to greater magnitude (not torturing the KSM to save the [number] on the sole reason that it's illegal).
posted by UncleFes at 9:14 AM on March 7, 2003


If that means I don't believe in moral equivalence, then I suppose so.

I would say that believing torture to be wrong in all cases is the opposite of moral equivalence.
posted by Summer at 9:15 AM on March 7, 2003


So, if nothing is off the table....let's go find their wives and children and torture them in front of the rightless and unentitled-to-any-mercy-terrorist-pigs. Hmm. Maybe there's a limit in there somewhere? Maybe? Would it be justified even if you knew that these terrorists would do EXACTLY THAT to us if they had the chance?


I realize that's a reductio ad absurdum -- but it's a necessary one. There is a line to be drawn morally between them and us. I think that line should stop at torture. Others say differently.
posted by dragstroke at 9:18 AM on March 7, 2003


No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.

That seems very clear as far as the military aspect, thanks Taumeson. And yet: it again assumes the sin of omission. One cannot use torture to extract information to save the lives of many by law, but is it not the ethical course to do whatever is necessary to save [number] lives? As dragstroke posits the opposite, are we willing to sacrifice [number] lives in order to say, "we are not as you are"? How many lives on the other end of the equation - women and children as well - are the market price of our personal moral opinion?
posted by UncleFes at 9:25 AM on March 7, 2003


brettski, taumeson, Summer, dragstroke: It's fun when other people make my point for me. 8)

UncleFes: Part of the reason why the prisoners in question are being held at Guantanamo is to create a grey area; US bases overseas are sorta-kinda US soil and sorta-kinda not. Thus, it can be argued-- and will be, should it ever come to a public court rather than the secret courts-- that by not being on US soil the rights we would normally extend to foreigners in US custody do not apply.

In regarding foreigners on foreign soil who have taken up arms against us, there is another legal category for them-- Prisoners of War-- to whom apply a different set of rights and responsibilities outlined by the Geneva Conventions. The US is a signatory of these agreements and is bound to uphold them.

Which all hearkens back to what I've been saying since the beginning of Camp X-Ray-- either the people incarcerated there are POWs entitled to the rights of POWs (which, BTW, includes legal representation in accordance to the laws of the holding country), or they're not-- in which case we've just taken hostages.

As for the postulated ethical dilemma-- do I violate the principles of human rights I hold dear in order to save human lives-- I believe it to be a false dilemma. If the precepts of human rights are less dear to you than that of human lives, then you don't actually have any human rights. I can equally argue that I can save more lives by instituting a police state where *no one* has any rights-- and since saving lives is more important that human rights, anything and everything I do to enforce that state is justified.

In short, human rights trump everything else. If anything else trumps human rights, *any* abuse can be justified.
posted by Cerebus at 9:36 AM on March 7, 2003


How many lives on the other end of the equation - women and children as well - are the market price of our personal moral opinion?

This is what comes of viewing people as units in an equation. People are not units in an equation, nor is there a "market price" for human life (not since 1863, anyway).
posted by eustacescrubb at 9:38 AM on March 7, 2003


UncleFes: in reply to your suggestion that Jefferson's intent was perhaps a universal constitution, I'd counter that it might be more useful to view the thought in terms of Kant's Categorical Imperative. Or, in other words, both sides are right.

On moral equivalence: equivalence is precisely the principle that any activity which is wrong when one party engages in it is wrong when any party engages in it. It scares me that a nation like ours could consider acts as immoral as torture on the entirely specious grounds that some moral superiority excuses the lapse. The end does not, at least in this respect, justify the means.

Moral equivalence, indeed, addresses the same set of moral components as does Kant.

That Categorical Imperative, again, would be: Act only on such a maxim as you can will that it should be a universal law.

Seems apposite here, to me.
posted by Nicolae Carpathia at 9:56 AM on March 7, 2003


i don't know how many of you know people who've been tortured. i know one person. it changed his whole life. the worst part, at least for him, appears to have been psychological, not physical. having a revolver held to his forehead, the trigger being pulled. that kind of thing. it may not sounds as nasty as electric shocks to the genetials, but i can destroy someone mentally. honestly.

(on a lighter note, i also met someone, a few years ago in paris, who had tunnelled out of prison - they (it was a big group) used tubes made of coca-cola bottles pushed together to keep the air fresh while they worked. kind of ironic, a bunch of commies, relying on coca-cola ;o)
posted by andrew cooke at 10:03 AM on March 7, 2003


"So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!"

Sorry, but I don't think I could get very involved in this discussion without resorting to the typical cliches about destroying villages to save them, trading liberty for security, terrorists winning etc.

Alleged criminals (alleged, Cyrano-- despite whatever opinion you may have, truly just laws must remain impartial. "Known accessory" indeed.) carry within themselves certain rights independent of where they are, how you feel about them, or what television shows you take civics lessons from.

The prisoners from the link weren't merely inconvenienced; they weren't just shaken up with no lasting effects; they are dead. Anyone care to abandon their clean-cut hypothetical scenarios and explain to me why the linked investigation is unjustified in calling it homicide?
posted by tyro urge at 10:17 AM on March 7, 2003


tyro urge: Excellent link to 'Seasons'. I'll remember that one.
posted by Cerebus at 10:22 AM on March 7, 2003


Which all hearkens back to what I've been saying since the beginning of Camp X-Ray-- either the people incarcerated there are POWs entitled to the rights of POWs (which, BTW, includes legal representation in accordance to the laws of the holding country), or they're not-- in which case we've just taken hostages.

yet the legality of these combatants is still in question, since they were not part of a state but rather the armed band of undefined people. So perhaps a third category should be "criminals."

If the precepts of human rights are less dear to you than that of human lives, then you don't actually have any human rights. I can equally argue that I can save more lives by instituting a police state where *no one* has any rights-- and since saving lives is more important that human rights, anything and everything I do to enforce that state is justified.

I'm not sure that such a thing as inherent human rights exists. Jefferson proposed that these are from God, most people today seem to assume that rights are sort of a portfolio of benefits that accrue automatically at birth, but I always assumed that rights are inherently political structures, delineated and (in this case) guaranteed by the Constitution. But I would challenge the inherent aspect - what right to life does a man in the middle of the ocean have? What right to counsel the man dying of cancer? None whatsoever.

This is what comes of viewing people as units in an equation. People are not units in an equation, nor is there a "market price" for human life (not since 1863, anyway).

yet you seem willing to trade, or at least endanger, the lives of many to ensure the safety, or at least comfort, of one. That is at its core a value assessment. You may equate my term "market price" with a dollar amount, when that is not what I'm saying - I'm saying that each side of this choice has an cost, and that cost is one that the chooser determines. That is a fairly substantial responsibility. I don't know that I could stand in front of the family of a person who was killed because I didn't torture the person who set in motion or had information about the activities that result in the person's death and say with certainty that I did the right thing. or even the ethical thing. I envy you the surety of your convictions.

The prisoners from the link weren't merely inconvenienced; they weren't just shaken up with no lasting effects; they are dead. Anyone care to abandon their clean-cut hypothetical scenarios and explain to me why the linked investigation is unjustified in calling it homicide?

Well, if you would use the law on behalf of one side, then you must also do so for the other, so perhaps "alleged homicide" would be more appropriate. Then the evidence gathering process might begin.

Good point on the Kant, Nicolae.
posted by UncleFes at 11:01 AM on March 7, 2003


The White House argues that al Qaeda prisoners are “unlawful combatants” and enjoy neither constitutional rights nor the protections of the Geneva Conventions, which govern treatment of enemy soldiers.

Bush administration lawyers acknowledge only one legal restraint: the United Nations’ Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which the Senate ratified in 1994 after adding several reservations limiting its scope.
~ How do U.S. interrogators make a terrorist talk?
posted by Orb at 11:12 AM on March 7, 2003


We are (probably) all lucky enough to live in a stable environment free from quotidian threats of random violence (despite what you may hear on the television news). Most of us live in countries that have not had war on their soil for very many years (I'm thinking North America, Central/North Europe, Korea, China, Australasia - did I miss anybody?) so we know what relative safety/peace feels like, and want to protect it.
By using commiting any actions which violate human rights we increase the amount of suffering in the world, which cannot be a good thing. 'We must torture them to save us all from terror' has a hollow ring to it.
The idea that Khalid Sheik Mohammed would have information about specific 'future attacks' is wishfull thinking IMHO. If Al Qaeda are anything like the organisation they are promoted as being then he will have been left 'out of the loop' when cells are planning these supposed attacks. If Al Qaeda are anything like the organisation they are being presented as then they will have distributed information so that nobody knows the whole story. But then excessive secrecy can be hazardous.
So maybe they aren't as efficient as the portrayal we are presented.
Either way Khalid would only be of use regarding the 2001 terrorist attack on US soil.
*must eat*
posted by asok at 11:36 AM on March 7, 2003


yet you seem willing to trade, or at least endanger, the lives of many to ensure the safety, or at least comfort, of one. That is at its core a value assessment. You may equate my term "market price" with a dollar amount, when that is not what I'm saying - I'm saying that each side of this choice has an cost, and that cost is one that the chooser determines.

And I'm saying that if you start comparing the lives of humans beings against the lives of others in terms of "costs" then you've already dehumanized everbody.

I don't know that I could stand in front of the family of a person who was killed because I didn't torture the person who set in motion or had information about the activities that result in the person's death and say with certainty that I did the right thing. or even the ethical thing.

If you torture some people with the hope of protecting others, all you have done is replace the foreign monsters with domestic ones. Instead of terrorists who live in other countries and sometimes come and bomb ours, we'd have torturers running the country. I think that's a fabulous exchange. Far-away monsters with limited access to us go away; close-by monsters with the authority over our own law enforcement take their place.

Just so you know, I have been a victim of violent crime. Were I given the option to have someone else tortured so that I might not have to had suffer that crime, I would not take it, for if I took it, I would be complicit in the torture. You're proposing that we make the families of potential victims indebted to torturers and the beneficiaries of torture's work.

I linked to this above:

"If you're unfortunate enough to be a student in an undergraduate ethics course, you will at some point be confronted with a clumsily Manichean hypothetical involving the use of torture, Nazis, terrorists, a nursery school filled with innocent children and puppies, and some Hitchcockian menace such as a time-bomb.

IF you express a reluctance to employ torture on your hypothetical evil doers, you'll find that the adjunct professor teaching the course will continually ratchet up the hypothetical until every response other than the one he is seeking -- i.e., the approval of the use of torture -- is eliminated as an option.

(NOTE that any expressed reluctance or lack of enthusiasm for a violent solution will usually result in someone committing hypothetical atrocities and hypothetical violence to your loved ones. Learn to expect this. The spouses and children of death-penalty opponents, for example, will likely be hypothetically raped, tortured and killed nearly every time the subject comes up. Poor Kitty Dukakis was hypothetically assaulted repeatedly on national television. Death penalty advocates commit these hypothetical crimes in order to demonstrate the fundamental decency of their position.)

Back to the classrom ...

YOU MAY be tempted to argue that the exercise seems to have more to do with the adjunct professor's skill in creating perverse hypotheticals than it does with the moral question of torture. The professor may even say, "Yes, but what if your only choice is ...?", which renders the whole exercise absurd. But he won't see this, so don't bother pointing it out."
posted by eustacescrubb at 11:46 AM on March 7, 2003


From WSJ via cantonrep:

U.S. authorities have an additional inducement to make Mohammed talk, even if he shares the suicidal commitment of the Sept. 11 hijackers: The Americans have access to two of his elementary-school-age children, the top law-enforcement official says. They were captured in a September raid that netted one of Mohammed?s top comrades, Ramzi Binalshibh.

Oh yeah. No slippery slope there. "Not even on the same mountain" my ass. Once you start rationalizing torture, there's nothing you won't stoop to, is there?
posted by Cerebus at 11:55 AM on March 7, 2003


I truly do envy you all your surety. For I simply do not know what I'd do.
posted by UncleFes at 12:00 PM on March 7, 2003


Uh, no. I would draw the line at doing anything to his kids or family. See? That wasn't so hard.
posted by Cyrano at 12:00 PM on March 7, 2003


Apologies for the snarkiness. I'm pretty much with Fes on this. .
posted by Cyrano at 12:03 PM on March 7, 2003


UncleFes: I'm not sure that such a thing as inherent human rights exists.

Your counter-examples are specious. Just because I'm dying of cancer doesn't mean I'm not entitled to a fair trial. Frankly, I think you fail to understand your own counter-argument.

If you employ Kant's imperative, natural human rights can be derived quite easily. This is left as an exercise for the reader. 8)

However, even if human rights are nothing but a political construct (instead of a natural part of the human condition), they still trump all. If human rights are nothing but political theory, it doesn't vitiate my argument. (Namely, that once you allow for anything to trump human rights, those rights are meaningless-- they can be rationalized away by using that trump.)
posted by Cerebus at 12:09 PM on March 7, 2003


Remember the Babaylon 5 episode: Intersections in Real Time.

In an exploration of human rights abuse Sheridan is tortured an inquisitor of President Clark's EarthGov, which bears a remarkable similarity to the current Bush cabal.
posted by mfoight at 12:27 PM on March 7, 2003


How many of us here are armchair philosophers and ethicists? I see a lot of hands going up...

I don't think many of us can really say what the right thing to do in regard to torture since none of us are in the position to make the ethical decision as to whether we will torture somebody or not. We can insist until we are blue in the face that we will or will not torture a human being, but it's only when we are faced with the reality of causing deliberate and horrible pain to somebody who is unarmed and no longer an immediate danger that we can truly measure ourselves.
posted by ashbury at 12:28 PM on March 7, 2003


Just because I'm dying of cancer doesn't mean I'm not entitled to a fair trial.

Not the point; your right to a fair trial, in this case, is predicated on your ability to use it, and their applicability to the situation. The point being, there are no universal trump cards - it's all situational, and as such modified by myriad unknowable factors.

causing deliberate and horrible pain to somebody who is unarmed and no longer an immediate danger

or standing by on possibly inapt principle and/or the crutch of legality while allowing innocents to be put in harm's way because we are, deep down, unwilling to do a dirty but necessary job.

I don't know what the answer is. It's ugly business all around, and rarely do pragmatism and idealism meet.
posted by UncleFes at 12:39 PM on March 7, 2003


if the americans and israelis can torture? why cant they?
posted by specialk420 at 12:49 PM on March 7, 2003


yet you seem willing to trade, or at least endanger, the lives of many to ensure the safety, or at least comfort, of one. That is at its core a value assessment. You may equate my term "market price" with a dollar amount, when that is not what I'm saying - I'm saying that each side of this choice has an cost, and that cost is one that the chooser determines. That is a fairly substantial responsibility. I don't know that I could stand in front of the family of a person who was killed because I didn't torture the person who set in motion or had information about the activities that result in the person's death and say with certainty that I did the right thing. or even the ethical thing. I envy you the surety of your convictions.

And I envy you your perfect foreknowledge and faith in a one-sided act utilitarianism.

For starters, how exactly does one gain a legitimate foreknowledge that the torture and/or death of a few human beings will save many more?

You may want to consider the tenets of rule utilitarianism: an act of harm by torture may be morally acceptable ONLY if we know that, as a rule, torturing leads to a greater number of beneficial than harmful consequences. In other words, in addition to your perfect foreknowledge about a linkage between your torture and the salvation of the many, you also require a damned good foreknowledge of all sorts of potentially unintended consequences of the torture. For example, if you're going to do that pesky "cost" thingie, be sure to ring up other things you buy, like:

- if one uses torture in "ticking bomb" scenarios as described above, it becomes more likely to be used in other cases and risks becoming standard operating procedure. Why not just a little mild torture (needle under just one fingernail and/or forced viewing of the Prez smirking while describing how the U.S. will effect the 21st century's Pearl Harbor) to ferret out neighborhood drug dealers, eh?

- legitimizing terror. If one is willing to torture a human in order to bring forth a glorious world free of some perceived malady, how exactly are you different from the terrorists who sacrifice a few thousand humans in the name of bringing forth their vision of a more heavenly world for their millions (or for that matter, trading the certain deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children for the specious benefit that no more jets may fly into American skyscrapers - where exactly is the legitimate foreknowledge there)?

- the unreliability of information extracted under torture. If in an effort to halt torture, a suspect lies and names three other potentially innocent people as possessors of "ticking bomb" information, what do you do next? Send out for Chinese food and three more thumbscrews -- then hope this doesn't become an exponential series?

- torture, invariably done secretly, increases the need for secrecy and information hiding - anathema in supposedly democratic societies.

- the perversity of the torturers. What kind of law enforcement community and citizens do we create when torture is sanctioned, even in supposedly "rare" cases?

- reliance on "after the fact" information, instead of preventive information. For example, evidence exists that a wealth of knowledge was available to U.S. intelligence agencies that could have prevented the "ticking bomb" of 9/11. In other words, the information you're looking for in torturing some human was most likely obtainable through other less drastic and draconian means, where resources should be or should have been concentrated. Don't come home a-torturin' , when a-preventin' shoulda been on your mind (apologies to Loretta Lynn....)

One can go on, of course, but naive utilitarianists will continue to spout that "some ends justify evil means". Along those lines, therefore, and armed with a perfect foreknowledge similar to their very own, may I note that if Americans were to start sniping routinely with high-powered rifles at certain public figures, we will eventually strike gushers of oil (cue theme from Beverly Hillbillies), thus relieving us of much of this debate and debacle over "evildoers". Big good consequences from small bad acts, dontcha know.

~QED~
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 12:53 PM on March 7, 2003


And I envy you your perfect foreknowledge and faith in a one-sided act utilitarianism.

Something I never claimed to have.

And with that, I consider myself dismissed.
posted by UncleFes at 1:05 PM on March 7, 2003


For starters, how exactly does one gain a legitimate foreknowledge that the torture and/or death of a few human beings will save many more?

Purely hypothetically, how about if you have a group of people who have already killed thousands of innocents and are on record as saying their goal is to destroy a certain civilization that you happen to be part of? How would you gain a "legitimate foreknowledge" that they are not actually going to do what they say they are going to do, in light of the fact that they have attempted to do so repeatedly in the past?

I mean, I realize this scenario has nothing to do with reality, but just think about it for a moment...
posted by kindall at 1:24 PM on March 7, 2003


UncleFes: Something I never claimed to have.

But you did. You claimed, effectively, that it was better to select the lesser of two evils (torturing a prisoner who has knowledge of an impending act) in order to prevent the greater (deaths of innocents).

The point I failed to make-- and that fold_and_mutilate makes so succinctly, for which I thank him/her/it-- is that you assume you know for certain that the person to be tortured has the information you seek-- i.e., perfect foreknowledge.

Since you can't know this short of reading it directly out of the brain of the prisoner (technology that would make this discussion moot), you risk committing an evil act with no resulting benefit.
posted by Cerebus at 1:32 PM on March 7, 2003


F & M brings up a valid point...torture brings with it a host of other problems unrelated to the act. I find the idea that a government is starting to condone (or IS condoning) torture scary, if only because it means that there is going to be increased secrecy in our democratic society.

Like I said before, I think Fes has the right of this discussion.

It's ugly business all around, and rarely do pragmatism and idealism meet.

And that pretty much sums it up. Even if one has the moral flexibility (thank you Gross Pointe Blank) to allow the usage of torture (even in limited amounts), how can you say that any rights are unalienable? Once you put security above those rights, you've justified a police state..and it's going to take a whole lot of idealism to keep that pragmatic view from happening.
posted by taumeson at 1:32 PM on March 7, 2003


kindall: Don't be facetious. If that's your stance, kindly name names, places, and specific acts.

No?

So you don't actually have foreknowledge. You have suspicion. Reasonable suspicion, perhaps-- but you're still taking the risk that those in custody don't know anything of value and as a result they will have been tortured without purpose or gain.

Better hope you're never held on similar suspicion, hmm? Recall Kant's Categorical Imperative recounted above-- always act as if the principle you are acting on will become universally accepted.
posted by Cerebus at 1:38 PM on March 7, 2003


Thought I would include this, found elsewhere:

(When asked, a CIA PIO replied that the most recent prisoners are being detained at an undisclosed location, nicknamed "The Hotel California" by the CIA. On reviewing the lyrics of the Eagles' song of that name, the
double-entendre creepyness scale pegs out.)


The Hotel California
The Eagles

On a dark desert highway
Cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas
Rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance
I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy, and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night
There she stood in the doorway
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself
This could be Heaven or this could be Hell
Then she lit up a candle
And she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor
I thought I heard them say

Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place
Such a lovely place (background)
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year
Any time of year (background)
You can find it here
You can find it here

Her mind is Tiffany twisted
She's got the Mercedes bends
She's got a lot of pretty, pretty boys
That she calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard
Sweet summer sweat
Some dance to remember
Some dance to forget
So I called up the Captain
Please bring me my wine
He said
We haven't had that spirit here since 1969
And still those voices are calling from far away
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say

Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely Place
Such a lovely Place (background)
Such a lovely face
They're livin' it up at the Hotel California
What a nice surprise
What a nice surprise (background)
Bring your alibies

Mirrors on the ceiling
Pink champagne on ice
And she said
We are all just prisoners here
Of our own device
And in the master's chambers
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives
But they just can't kill the beast
Last thing I remember
I was running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
Relax said the nightman
We are programed to recieve
You can check out any time you like
But you can never leave
posted by kablam at 1:48 PM on March 7, 2003


Remember the opening of 24, season 2?

...and indeed, virtually every subsequent episode of the Jack Bauer Torture Hour.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 2:56 PM on March 7, 2003


If I may nitpick for a moment, UncleFes, I don't think that the mere identification of a crime as such requires the "alleged" prefix. It's when someone gets charged that that person receives the constitutional benefit of the doubt. O.J. Simpson may have finagled his way out of a conviction, but that doesn't make Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman any less stabbed to death. When they point the finger at someone then "alleged" it is: until then...

what right to life does a man in the middle of the ocean have? What right to counsel the man dying of cancer? None whatsoever.

Which is why it's perfectly legal to buy a rifle, hop in a yacht, and go out shooting anybody you find lost at sea, right? And of course anyone can kill the terminally ill with no fear of legal repercussions.

Human laws don't magically supercede nature, no-- but the situation at hand is well within the realm of human-to-human interaction, and is thusly subject to our rules. It's not like these people would've been sitting around torturing themselves even if we weren't there; the United States is (allegedly) playing an active role in the matter. I have to agree with Cerebus regarding that argument's validity.

I don't think I have a particularly high level of certainty about what I'd do in the event of a personal ethical dilemma, but I do believe that whatever choice I make should make sense at all times, not just in the heat of the moment. Once you throw away someone else's rights, how do you justify your own?

Eh, eustacescrubb voiced most of my opinion much better than I could. I'll just slink out now.
posted by tyro urge at 3:09 PM on March 7, 2003


Let me talk to them. Alone.

*cracks knuckles*
posted by hama7 at 3:41 PM on March 7, 2003


*cracks knuckles*

Don't you ever have any desire to be better than the people you hate?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 4:15 PM on March 7, 2003


Nah, hama7 is just a troll; he never has anything to add to a discussion other than vitriol.
posted by Cerebus at 6:32 PM on March 7, 2003


damnit...6 trackbacks, which is a personal best (and i think among the highest all time!) but i haven't hit the 100 comment mark yet. SO CLOSE....twice now.

Once you throw away someone else's rights, how do you justify your own?

And that's the crux of the matter. It sounds like the majority of comments says that it's not worth throwing away your principles to save many lives because you're throwing away a lot more that you just don't realize.

And on preview...MAN ALIVE does hama7 post a lot.
posted by taumeson at 6:34 PM on March 7, 2003


Don't you ever have any desire to be better than the people you hate?

Hate has nothing to do with beating the pants off sworn murderous enemies of the civilized world.

Here's a scenario:

1. You have a terrorist in custody who has plans to kill countless innocent civilians. How far would you go to obtain that information?

This has been discussed before, and although there are no easy answers, there are situations in which the hypothetical "better than the people you hate" is just not an option that is going to save lives.

However, at this point it is safe to say that Americans are forbidden by law to torture, and they don't, so the answer to the question is; no.
posted by hama7 at 7:21 PM on March 7, 2003


Hate has nothing to do with beating the pants off sworn murderous enemies of the civilized world.

That's funny, I thought they hated America. But seriously. (oh, stop. He started it.)
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:33 PM on March 7, 2003


damnit...6 trackbacks, which is a personal best (and i think among the highest all time!) but i haven't hit the 100 comment mark yet. SO CLOSE....twice now....Taumeson

Give yourself a break! It was a fantastic thread.....A good night's reading/pondering. Why not rate posts (in the rating game, that is) by the amount of textual response they evoke? - your desired metric is energy. Keystrokes amount to energy - count keystrokes....and this metric does not even raise the issue of the quality or thoughtfulness of posts....

Clearly far exceeding the textual bulk of 100 average Mefi comments. Sleep well tonight.
posted by troutfishing at 8:06 PM on March 7, 2003


hama7: Do you read the threads you post to, or do you just jump in the middle and re-state the obvious points that were covered waaaay back at the top?

Does this pass as thinking in your world?

It's so hard not to feed the trolls. They're so cute.
posted by Cerebus at 9:42 PM on March 7, 2003


Hey, taumeson-- 100 posts. Congrats. 8)
posted by Cerebus at 9:43 PM on March 7, 2003


Troutfishing:

Hmm...interesting theory.

Using no other metric than cutting and pasting the entire text of the page into MS Word and doing a no-spaces count of keystrokes (plus metafilter text [not html] and trackback text), this thread is at 52,904. Have we stumbled on an interesting metric for mathowie to keep track of?

Word.

CB sez:

Hey, taumeson-- 100 posts. Congrats. 8)

YAY! ahem.
posted by taumeson at 10:13 PM on March 7, 2003


taumeson - I think so: One sentence quips vs. five hundred word essays? - some posts draw out the thinkers and authorities. Other posts pull in the "1 liner kingz"....but they are all fun.
posted by troutfishing at 10:45 PM on March 7, 2003


d00d, that Hama7 guy is a troll, man! His worldview is different than mine, and when he talks I just want to, like, put my hands over my ears! Hey, I like celebrating diversity as much as the next guy, but this guy is just totally weird and junk! Matt, can't we ban him, pleeease? He always ruins the best circle jerks!

*toke*
posted by Karl at 11:35 PM on March 7, 2003


owillis seems like a real jerk :(
posted by kv at 12:03 AM on March 8, 2003


*toke*

Ha ha! What a perfect comment. You have an enviable way with words, Karl.

owillis seems like a real jerk :(

I'm not so sure if that's meant in jest, but I agree with owillis (owliss :)), jerk or not, that when dealing with bloodthirsty irrational thugs, no methods should be completely ruled out.
posted by hama7 at 2:10 AM on March 8, 2003


Hama7, why spludge a pretty good discussion by throwing up some talk radio tidbittery? You wanna talk about ethical utilitarianism, then talk about it - or, study it and then talk about it - but don't just wander in picking your nose.
posted by Opus Dark at 2:31 AM on March 8, 2003


The arguments on both sides have been well put, and I have nothing more to add to them.

I'd just like to say to everyone on this thread who has been justifying the use of torture: fuck you all. I'm glad I don't know you in meatspace. You are sick puppies.

That is all.
posted by salmacis at 2:47 AM on March 8, 2003


nope, it wasn't meant in jest. i don't know how anyone could condone torture and be absolutely, positively 100% sure that those people who are tortured are guilty, and if you can't be 100% certain, then you better be prepared that it could happen - due to some terrible error, of course - to you one day.
posted by kv at 6:36 AM on March 8, 2003


Cliff Notes Version:

The use of torture by the U.S. in the "War on Terror"? - Necessary, some say. Deplorable, say others. "Whatever it takes" arguments vs. "Slippery slope" arguments: Teleological vs. Deontological thinking. Means vs. Ends.

"You ____ (expletive)!....No! you're an _____ (expletive)!"

End, Cliff Notes Version
posted by troutfishing at 7:57 AM on March 8, 2003


give owillis a break, man. his writing is killing stupid like britney kills bob dole.
posted by quonsar at 1:43 PM on March 8, 2003


The New York Times has a fairly long article today about the use of torture against the prisoners. It is a chilling, but fascinating read.

I am 100 percent against torture, myself. But the question that arose in my mind after read this article was, when does interrogation cross the line into torture? That to me is far more murky. Some of the practices described in the article seemed clearly to fall into the category of torture. Others seemed like legit interrogation techniques. A lot were in a grey area for me. Take this paragraph:

Routine techniques include covering suspects' heads with black hoods for hours at a time and forcing them to stand or kneel in uncomfortable positions in extreme cold or heat, American and other officials familiar with interrogations said. Questioners may also feign friendship and respect to elicit information. In some cases, American officials said, women are used as interrogators to try to humiliate men unaccustomed to dealing with women in positions of authority

The standing or kneeling in extreme heat or cold (b/t 10 - 100 degrees apparently) strikes me as pretty close to torture. Black hoods? Not sure. Deception and humiliation? probably not, but does raise its own ethical can of worms doesn't it? Also, who is making these decisions about what is and isn't permissible? If the interrogators themselves or their immediate supervisors are making the decisions, one would except them to err pretty strongly on the side of using questionable tactics rather than showing restraint. If they signed up to be interrogators, they obviously don't have many moral qualms about the job they're doing. But it sounds like a public debate over tactics would not be very productive either since 63 percent of Americans seem to have no problem with even explicit forms of torture.

All in all, very depressing.
posted by boltman at 3:21 PM on March 8, 2003


All in all, very depressing.
posted by Opus Dark at 5:17 PM on March 8, 2003


Cyrano wrote: " Ah, the slippery slope argument. Look, this isn't the same slope. This isn't even the same mountain. It's hard to fathom how anyone could link in even the most tenuous way a mass murdering terrorist who has knowledge that could prevent future deaths to rolling a red light in Shreveport."

for some odd reason, there is a preponderance of activities that could be defined as "torture" in our beloved Southern states:

From http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/059/oped/Thomas_s_cruel_view_of_prisoners+.shtml


"One of these years, before he dies, Thomas might explain to us why prisoners disgust him to the point of approving the very human rights violations we lecture China, Iraq, and other nations about. We have no explanation because Thomas has never conducted a major interview since being appointed to the court by the first President Bush.

Back in 1992, just after joining the court, Thomas dissented in the 7-2 decision that upheld a $800 award for damages for a Louisiana inmate who, from behind his locked cell, argued with a prison guard. Three guards took the inmate out of his cell, put him in handcuffs and shackles, and dragged him to a hallway where they beat him so badly that he suffered a cracked dental plate.

The lower court ruled that the beating had nothing to do with acceptable prison discipline. But Thomas all but laughed off the beating, saying the injuries were ''minor.'' Thomas said the ''use of force that causes only insignificant harm to a prisoner may be immoral, it may be tortious, it may be criminal, and it may even be remediable under other provisions of the Federal Constitution, but it is not `cruel and unusual punishment.'''

Last year Thomas was one of three dissenters, with Rehnquist and Scalia, in the 6-3 decision that found that executing the mentally retarded was ''cruel and unusual punishment.'' Also last year, Thomas dissented from a 6-3 decision to ban the practice in Alabama of chaining prisoners to outdoor ''hitching posts'' and abandoning them for hours without food, water, or a chance to use the bathroom. While the majority also called that ''cruel and unusual,'' Thomas said the hitching post served ''a legitimate penological purpose,'' encouraging a prisoner's ''compliance with prison rules while out on work duty.''
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posted by mecran01 at 12:51 PM on March 10, 2003


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