Skip

The 20th hijacker?
June 12, 2005 11:34 PM   Subscribe

How the US tortured the 20th hijacker (and others). According to the logbook, which covers al-Qahtani's interrogations from November 2002 to January 2003, the Time article reports that daily interviews began at 4 a.m. and sometimes continued until midnight. Was the torture effective? A senior Pentagon official told Time the Defense Department wasn't sure how effective such treatment was. At times, the logbook notes that al-Qahtani was more cooperative when interrogators eased up on him, according to the Time report.
posted by caddis (140 comments total)

 
I wear pictures of scantily clad women around my neck now.
Who do I sue?
posted by Balisong at 11:43 PM on June 12, 2005


You might want to (actually) read the article.
posted by cytherea at 12:02 AM on June 13, 2005


Nope, it requires registration. I'll just put my trust in heresay.
posted by Balisong at 12:04 AM on June 13, 2005


Balisong, hope u aint holding a newly purchased butterfly knife as well hehe.....interesting post caddis....im still reading...
posted by Laszlo at 12:10 AM on June 13, 2005


you know I am..
posted by Balisong at 12:20 AM on June 13, 2005


Different article. I was going to post this one when I started reading it on Saturday, but after getting partway through I did not think it coherent enough. The pictures on the NYT Magazine cover and accompanying the article really drew me in. Too bad they are not online.
posted by caddis at 12:24 AM on June 13, 2005


See? Torture works! You just need to loosen up on the testicle shocks enough to let him confess in between screams.
posted by AlexReynolds at 12:37 AM on June 13, 2005


I feel so much safer these days. Nudie picks on the terrorists. Hoowah!
posted by bardic at 2:07 AM on June 13, 2005


I hope they killed the bastard.
posted by acetonic at 4:36 AM on June 13, 2005


My god, they're allowed to "poke in a non-injurous way".

Fucking Monsters!
posted by Mick at 4:45 AM on June 13, 2005


Doesn't the "suspect cooperates when we stop beating the wits out of him" aspect only work because of the preceding wit-beating?

Relief should not be confused with general good-naturedness and eagerness to help.

I don't support torture in any way, but this appears to be disingenuous evidence
posted by NinjaPirate at 5:11 AM on June 13, 2005


"He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. When you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you."

frederick nietzsche
posted by nola at 5:39 AM on June 13, 2005


did you have to attribute it?
posted by mek at 5:52 AM on June 13, 2005


The photographer for Cytherea's NY Times article: Is that the same Serrano of Piss Christ fame?
posted by horsewithnoname at 6:42 AM on June 13, 2005


I find myself wondering why it's acceptable to treat the "detainees" any differently than the police or the FBI would treat an American on American soil. The cops can't torture or physically coerce me whatsoever. The case would never hold up in court.
The intelligence community at Gitmo must have absolutely no concern about the confessions holding up to the scrutiny and standards of any legitimate legal system. The detainees aren't intended to get any semblance of a fair trial whatsoever. It's pretty clear that the interrogators (and those ordering the interrogations) were banking on keeping all of this under wraps.

I can't understand how torture can be excusable. Not under any circumstances.

on preview: I think it is the Andres Serrano
posted by Jon-o at 6:59 AM on June 13, 2005


Torture by . . . poking? Render unto me a break. Let's go talk to people in El Salvador and Guatemala and Chile and South Africa about their experiences with torture. I have no doubt they'd settle for poking and wearing photos of women over necklaces and rape by cattle prod.
posted by gsh at 7:24 AM on June 13, 2005


Actually, gsh, as one of the people in Chile who had relatives tortured (as part of the "War on Communism"), I can tell you that all forms of torture are abhorrent, and nothing can justify them.
posted by signal at 7:33 AM on June 13, 2005


now what exactly did the "20th hijacker" hijack again?
posted by quonsar at 7:45 AM on June 13, 2005


Jon-o: I can't understand how torture can be excusable. Not under any circumstances.

signal: I can tell you that all forms of torture are abhorrent, and nothing can justify them.

A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb somewhere in New York City that will go off in 2 hours and kill over 5 million people (including himself). He has been captured. Would torturing him to extract information about the location of the bomb be "excusable" or "justified"?
posted by pardonyou? at 7:49 AM on June 13, 2005


A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb somewhere in New York City that will go off in 2 hours and kill over 5 million people (including himself). He has been captured. Would torturing him to extract information about the location of the bomb be "excusable" or "justified"?

Also, Up+Left+Triangle Button gives you the rocket launcher cheat.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:53 AM on June 13, 2005


Would torturing him to extract information about the location of the bomb be "excusable" or "justified"?

Of course not, because we did something to deserve having those 5 million people killed, and taking steps to prevent it is just wrong.

I eagerly await the story about how American gym teachers are torturing our children. THINK OF THE CHILDREN!
posted by darukaru at 7:56 AM on June 13, 2005


lol @ "taking steps"
posted by dreamsign at 7:58 AM on June 13, 2005


Also, Up+Left+Triangle Button gives you the rocket launcher cheat.

It's called a hypothetical. It deliberately distills thorny problems down to simple, extreme scenarios to test absolutes like "torture can never be excusable" or "torture can never be justified." If it's not an absolute, then it's line drawing.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:03 AM on June 13, 2005


A madman is going to set off a nuclear bomb in the middle of New York unless you murder your parents. Slowly. Let's learn about your capability for murder.

A lunatic is going to torture and murder your family unless you rape your sister. Let's learn about your potential for rape.

Shall I go on?
Your hypotheticals are the type that appear in an Intro to Philosophy class -- by the hand-raiser in the (hip) fifth row -- certainly not the prof.
posted by dreamsign at 8:10 AM on June 13, 2005


a dipshit has planted a nuclear irrelevancy somewhere in metafilter that will go off the wall immediately and amuse over 20,000 members (including himself). he has been ridiculed. would torturing him to extract information about the location of his brain be "excusable" or "justified"?
posted by quonsar at 8:15 AM on June 13, 2005


Whatever prevents you from having to answer the question.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:22 AM on June 13, 2005


I pray they're not using one of these on the detainees. That'd be fucked up.
posted by horsewithnoname at 8:33 AM on June 13, 2005


My hypothetical was not intended to be some sort of philosophical conundrum. It was intended to find out whether signal and Jon-o are willing to stand behind their absolute statements (if so, more power to them). The answer to my hypothetical tests those claims. I find it amusing that people are expending so much time and effort talking about the fact that I posed a hypothetical, but can't be bothered to take two seconds to answer it.

(and dreamsign, your hypotheticals are false analogies. To be analogous, I would have had to make the claim that killing or forced sex would be unacceptable under any circumstances. I would never take that position).
posted by pardonyou? at 8:35 AM on June 13, 2005


NYT should investigate fraternity hazing. I recognize many of the techniques describe in the article from my misspent youth. Sounds like they may have recruited a bunch of KAs for work at Gitmo.
posted by Carbolic at 8:50 AM on June 13, 2005


pardonyou? re: the hypothetical

How do I know that this man is the terrorist who planted the bomb, or that he knows the location of the bomb?
posted by Ptrin at 8:58 AM on June 13, 2005


Ptrin, assume he admits it.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:00 AM on June 13, 2005


The torture probably wouldn't work anyway. You have two hours and the terrorist is already prepared to die. It probably would let the interrogators vent some of their anger on the terrorist though.
posted by caddis at 9:08 AM on June 13, 2005


Patron 1: Nono, I got a better one: Would you have sex with your mother… to save your father's life?
Patrons: Wooo, yeah.
Patron 2: Oh, like if someone had a gun to your father's head and said, "Have sex with your mother or else I'll shoot him"?
Patron 1: Yeah.
Patron 2: Oh, that's a tough one.
Patron 3: Hmmm.
Mr. Garrison Sr.: No no wait, uh, you don't understand.
Blond: How about if someone made you have sex with your mother and father to save your own life?
Patrons: No, no, no way. No.
Patron 6: But if it was to save my mother's life, uh-I think I would have to have sex with my father.
Patron 7: Yeup.
Patron 8: Me, too.
Patron 9: Well, I think that goes without saying.
Mr. Garrison Sr.: Weh actually, I'm just… talking about a… son.
Patron 8: Well, pesonally, I would have sex with my son to save to save my mother's life. It depends, uh- how big a gun are we talkin' here?
Mr. Garrison Sr.: Uh, he doesn't have a gun.
Blond: The father doesn't have a gun?
Mr. Garrison Sr.: No! Nobody's got a gun!
Patron 3: I think if someone said, "Have sex with your mother or else I'm gonna kill your son," but he didn't have a gun, I wouldn't do it
Patron 2: He could have a knife, though.
Patron 1: Yeah.
Patron 3: Sure.
Patron 1: Yeah, a knife.
Bartender: If a killer put a knife to my throat, and said, "Have sex with your father or else I'm gonna kill your mother while having sex with you," …I would have sex with myself.
-SP
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:12 AM on June 13, 2005


pardonyou? writes "A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb somewhere in New York City that will go off in 2 hours and kill over 5 million people..."

I hope you enjoyed that steaming wank.
posted by clevershark at 9:17 AM on June 13, 2005


pardonyou?: your sophmoric hypotheticals show a much greater familiarity with current television neo-fascist TV shows than with the reality of torture.
Torture is not the last resort of good guys, that they only pull out when the clock is down to 30 seconds and the director has pulled in for a close up of the scared childrens faces.
Torture is an everyday tool of tyrants, used mainly to intimidate their opponents and stifle dissent, "this could happen to you". It's not an effective means of extracting information, it's an effective means of scaring the crap put of anybody who opposes you.
Unless, of course, you're watching "24", then it's a cool, macho thing to do.
posted by signal at 9:21 AM on June 13, 2005


caddis, that may be true. The question is, do you try? Would torturing this person be "justified"? I'm not even saying I have an answer that makes sense both as an abstract proposition (torture is bad), but can bend in certain scenarios.

on preview: oh, yes, clevershark, I enjoyed it very much.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:22 AM on June 13, 2005


Hmm, signal. That suspiciously sounds like a non-answer.

My hypothetical wasn't anything. It wasn't TV, it wasn't real life. It was a fucking question. Strange that nobody answers it.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:23 AM on June 13, 2005


Strange that nobody answers it.

Maybe it's a dumb, loaded question, which assumes — incorrectly — as an absolute that torture always yields information.
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:27 AM on June 13, 2005


Strange that nobody answers it.

Because it's fucking stupid. If convincing yourself that the collective refusal to dignify your nonsense with an answer automatically means you've proven something, by all means, enjoy the day. Go buy yourself a balloon and run around the park or something.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:30 AM on June 13, 2005


pardonyou?:

The answer is no. The person could stop the torture by giving a wrong answer and he and you die anyway while you're looking in the wrong place. You're better off fitting every member of the NYPD with a Geiger counter. Torture is not effective for information extraction.
posted by graymouser at 9:31 AM on June 13, 2005


I did answer your question, pardonyou?, you just didn't like the answer.
Can I spring a hypothetical on you? If somebody had raped your aunt, and some asshat asked you a hypothetical about whether or not you'd rape somebody else's aunt to save 5.6 Trillion people, what would you answer?
posted by signal at 9:32 AM on June 13, 2005


The real questin is whether torture is justified at Gitmo and the answer is NO.
posted by caddis at 9:32 AM on June 13, 2005


So, let's ask an actual and non-snarky series of questions this time.

What level of coercion is acceptable? Is it ever? Where does coercion cross the line into torture? Is it possible to glean information from uncooperative people without the use of any coercion whatsoever? If so, how? And how, assuming that such information is necessary, can it be obtained without crossing the line, wherever it may be drawn?
posted by darukaru at 9:35 AM on June 13, 2005


pardonyou? : I don't know about torture, but I can't think of a single situation where I wouldn't classify forced sex as "wrong." Even if it's one of those crazy hypotheticals that you set up wherein it saves the rainforests, it's still violent and wrong.

Back to the article :
Afterward, interrogators began their sessions with al-Qahtani at midnight and awakened him with dripping water or Christina Aguilera music if he dozed off, the magazine article reported.

[...]

Hagel said such treatment should offend the sensibilities of "any straight-thinking American, any straight-thinking citizen of the world."


I don't know, man. The millions of people who bought Aguilera's albums might disagree. Then again, I don't know if these citizens can be qualified as "straight-thinking." I'm sure most of them are gay.

(I'll be here all week. Try the veal.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:40 AM on June 13, 2005


Maybe it's a dumb, loaded question

Because it's fucking stupid.

Oh. Thank you for enlightening me, you fonts of all wisdom.

I did answer your question, pardonyou?, you just didn't like the answer.

I don't like or dislike any answer -- I don't even know that there's a "right" answer. graymouser answered it just fine, with a clear and direct "no." The point was to see if people really believed this is a black and white area. Some do. Great. And some people are just douchebags who are just so wise that they don't even have to deign to put their absolute assertions on the line.
posted by pardonyou? at 9:45 AM on June 13, 2005


darukaru:

Those are hard questions. I'm not sure I could formulate answers I was happy with if I thought about it for the rest of the day. However, I *do* think it's something the people who make the policy of how prisoners are treated should be thinking about a good deal.

My gut feeling for the third question, is that it is possible to glean information from uncooperative people without the use of any coercion. But the people in charge of Gitmo don't seem to believe that. I think it is more likely that they are not willing to formulate complex, complete answers to questions like yours, than that they have fully considered the problem and determined that coercion/torture is the only way.

Granted, if you start from the premise of "bad people deserve to be treated badly", as Cheney seems to believe, then I think the answer to your first question is: Any level of coercion is acceptable because by doing something bad the person has forfeited their right to humane treatment.
posted by ddf at 9:53 AM on June 13, 2005


I'm not sure which is worse, the Guantanama Bay Goulag or this hodge podge of hemming and hawing about hypotheticals and how certain techniques of torture are laughable.

You really don't know how creative people can get with something like a non-injurious poke. Something like that can be used for sexual abuse and long term sleep deprivation. And really, words don't sum it up. It's about the loss of dignity and constant pain and suffering and humiliation, and god dammit, if your only frame of reference is when your thumbs start to hurt after playing GTA for 12 hours straight, you really don't have any place to post snarky comments.

Human suffering. Snarky comments. Fuckin the 2 great tastes that go great together.
posted by nervousfritz at 9:54 AM on June 13, 2005


And if "bad people" deserve to be treated badly, then it's a frickin moral meltdown, because in my book, treating people badly makes you bad people. Fuckin 2005. Yay.
posted by nervousfritz at 9:55 AM on June 13, 2005


another perspective on the same article from James Lileks

"If you’ve read accounts of the Soviet gulag you may recall the tales of men forced to march ten miles to a labor site in shoes made of cardboard and frozen spit, and digging hard dead beets from permafrost with hands that hadn’t seen mittens in three years. “Light pushing” in this context was a rifle butt to the chin, twice. Did the 19 methods in the Bill of Cruelty itemize “poking in the chest with the finger” as a separate method, or was it folded into a general go-ahead for acting like a high-school gym teacher?"
posted by cbjg at 9:56 AM on June 13, 2005


Torture is wrong.
Under any hypothetical condidtions.
It is dehumanizing.
Two wrongs do not make a right.
The Bushistas are WRONG to torture prisoners.
Torture is a very ineffective means of extracting information.
Persons who torture and kill damage themselves by commiting these atrocities.
May Dante be correct and there be a Hell with a very special place of eternal suffering for those who commit (and approve of) atrocities.

Now, can the 101st Fighting Keyboarders come up with yet another rousing defense for these torturers?
posted by nofundy at 10:06 AM on June 13, 2005


A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb somewhere in New York City that will go off in 2 hours and kill over 5 million people (including himself). He has been captured. Would torturing him to extract information about the location of the bomb be "excusable" or "justified"?

I'd ask an intelligence expert what the probabilities of extracting good and bad information were within the timeframe for this scenario. Since I'm not an intelligence expert, my opinion is worse than useless.
posted by mosch at 10:07 AM on June 13, 2005


pardonyou?: In answer to your hypothetical question, I'd have to say I'd never let it get that far. I'd have had Jack Bauer on the case long before :)

But, as graymouser states, what's to stop the terrorist simply giving you completely the wrong answer? If you don't have some clue already, you're wasting your time. And if you do have some clue, there are very possibly other avenues open to you...

I'd have to completely agree that torture - any torture - is morally indefensible. Full stop. But hey, I'm a liberal :)
posted by kaemaril at 10:08 AM on June 13, 2005


Try the veal.

veal is animal torture.
posted by quonsar at 10:13 AM on June 13, 2005


Does anybody have any background references that discuss the general effectiveness of the interrogation methods used here?

I'd like to see some primary sources (Studies? Anything along these lines, I suppose) on these specific methods, rather than just broad statements of "torture works" and "torture doesn't work."
posted by event at 10:17 AM on June 13, 2005


My hypothetical wasn't anything. It wasn't TV, it wasn't real life. It was a fucking question. Strange that nobody answers it.

I would not.

First off because, as has already been mentioned, it is extremely unlikely to provide useful information in a short enough time to be useful. So the world will still end up with five million people fewer people and I would have done my part to drag society down a quite immoral slippery slope.

More importantly, five million dead in one city because of a bomb would not significantly reduce humanity's chances of survival. However, allowing people to continue to believe that threats of this magnitude are best addressed by attempting to identify and control the few individuals who make them is something that will significantly reduce our chances of survival in the long run.

Yes, I do hold the victim responsible. You should absolutely be free to do whatever you want (that does not harm others) without fear of any kind of injury. If you are injured by anyone their punishment should be completely independent of any legal behavior you might have been engaging in. That being said, perhaps it would have been better if you had not worn that dress.
posted by prak at 10:22 AM on June 13, 2005


veal is so tender because they put them in little cages and poke them in the chest for months.
posted by quonsar at 10:25 AM on June 13, 2005


For the record, I might engage in torture in the hypothetical outlined by pardonyou?, but I would fully expect to wind up in prison, assuming that I survived past the aforementioned two hour time limit.

I can say this because I don't believe in any sort of God or afterlife. If I did, I probably wouldn't be so willing to go to the grave with my last living act such a violation of my personal and religious ideals.
posted by Ptrin at 10:29 AM on June 13, 2005


pardonyou? here's one for you:

men claiming to be agents of a u.s. federal agency -- they're vague about which one when they bother to answer you're questions -- storm into your house, beat you severely, and take you to an undisclosed location. there, you're accused of having planted a nuclear device in new york city that will explode in 2 hours and kill 5 million people, including yourself.

you, of course, did no such thing, and you repeatedly tell the men that you did not, you have alibis, character witnesses, etc.

they don't believe you. when you ask for a lawyer, they don't answer you, they just gather around you and poke you in a non-injurious way.

would you be ok with them torturing you to make absolutely certain, to their satisfaction, that you're not lying?
posted by lord_wolf at 10:38 AM on June 13, 2005


There are 2 incredibly different questions swirling around. One about whether torture is justified, and another about whether it is effective.

pardonyou: noone will answer because they know they are spouting bullshit.

The correct answer is that of course everyone is against torture. And it should never be used. Except...

See, the except is what makes everyone so uncomfortable. Because, almost everyone would authorize any means necessary, and I mean any means, to retrieve information that would save themselves or save their loved ones.

If anyone on here says they wouldn't pull a man's teeth out with wire pliers or grind lye in his eyeballs to get the location of their child who was buried alive, they are fucking liars.

Basically, they want to say that you are creating absurdly extreme hypotheticals, and that OF COURSE in those absurd hypotheticals torture, of any means, would be justified. But, your hypothetical is too extreme, so therefore you should be mocked and humiliated.

What they are really saying is that in "normal circumstances" torture is inexcusable. But, of course, we don't need torture in "normal circumstances" do we?

The fact that the PURPOSE of torture is generally not to gain information is irrelevant to its effectiveness.

I guarantee in 15 minutes a seasoned torturer could force anyone in this thread to divulge any piece of information they hold. Anything. Except for the possible case of those wiith prior, and specific, military training, they wouldn't last 5 minutes.

People gritting their teeth and "holding up" to inhumane torture is what is taken directly from Hollywood.

The "torture doesn't work" people tend to confuse broad, sweeping, general "fishing expedition" torture (say the Gestapo) versus extremely specific information gathering from a specific individual.

Gathering everyone in the neighborhood up and asking them, under torture, "Do you know any insurgents?" is quite different from taking a specific person and forcing them to tell you where they personally hid a bomb that morning.

Those who think you couldn't be forced to give up what you know flatter yourselves. The real and tangible threat of torture generally makes the follow through unnecessary.
posted by Ynoxas at 10:53 AM on June 13, 2005


event, The Times article gives a lot of anecdotal evidence regarding the efficacy of torture, and seems to conclude that while in most cases, non-torturous methods of interrogation are as effective of more effective, there are cases when torture is the best solution. Nevertheless, perhaps the question shouldn't be "Does torture work?" but rather "Is torture more effective than other interrogation methods, and does that increase efficacy by enough justify it?" (on preview, Ynoxas makes some good points along these lines)

However, the article seems to be more concerned with regulating coercive force than taking an absolute moral stance. The American government is going to use torture, and many Americans see it as acceptable. Israel's solution is interesting (clear descriptions of what is acceptable and not acceptable, a chain of command, and a tacit understanding that as long as the line isn't pushed too far, there won't be convictions). Interrogators are well-trained, and interrogations are well-documented.

I don't agree with the non-injurous poke method (torture is torture), but much of the problem stems from the fact that interrogators are answerable to no-one. Regulating interrogations would be a good first step to preventing abuses.
posted by asnowballschance at 10:59 AM on June 13, 2005


would you be ok with them torturing you to make absolutely certain, to their satisfaction, that you're not lying?

No. And my answer wouldn't be different if I wasn't the torturee. As I tried to say above, I'm not "pro torture." I was only making the point that taking a position that something is "never justified" -- while a nice, neat platitude -- can be difficult to apply in practice.

(oh, and thanks, Ynoxas. But I've already seen the light that my hypothetical was too stupid to even be answered).
posted by pardonyou? at 11:10 AM on June 13, 2005


I guarantee in 15 minutes a seasoned torturer could force anyone in this thread to divulge any piece of information they hold. Anything.

nope. a "seasoned torturer" (good god, what a horrible concept) could make anyone here tell the "authorities" what they wanted to hear.

let's say i am a member of some evil conspiracy. as far as i know, the bomb is in warehouse 1. after i'm captured, my colleagues move the bomb to warehouse 999, on the other side of the city, a location i've never seen and am completely unaware of.

i'm going to tell your torturer that the bomb is in warehouse 1. the good guys go and search warehouse 1 and radio the torture chamber to say it's not there.

well, fuck. now what? i screamed so loudly and begged so piteously, they were sure i was telling the truth -- and i was, insofar as i knew it.

now they have to torture me again, and they can't even be sure any information i reveal will be truthful and helpful. me, at that point, i'm going to try to tell them whatever it is i think they want to hear.

so, no problem gets solved, but, hey, at least they don't have to worry that they're being hypocritical or soft on evil, inhuman monsters who deserve to be tortured.

any agency that relies on torture for key information couldn't tell its ass from a hole in the ground with a flashlight, a map, and a 5 minute head start.

with regard to torturing someone who knew the location of my abducted child, how am i absolutely certain that i have the right person? b/c if i'm going to pour lye in this person's eyes, i had better be 100% certain...and if i know this thing 100%, how is it that i'm unable to obtain other information about my child's location?
posted by lord_wolf at 11:12 AM on June 13, 2005


lord_wolf: nope. a "seasoned torturer" (good god, what a horrible concept) could make anyone here tell the "authorities" what they wanted to hear. [subsequent long hypothetical removed]

A "seasoned torturer" might ask some questions to which he already knew the answer so he could test the success rate of his interrogation methods.
posted by event at 11:23 AM on June 13, 2005


Gathering everyone in the neighborhood up and asking them, under torture, "Do you know any insurgents?" is quite different from taking a specific person and forcing them to tell you where they personally hid a bomb that morning.

It's different insofar as the first example involves many people and the second example involves only one, but other than that I don't see what you're getting at.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:28 AM on June 13, 2005


Strange that nobody answers it.

As pointed out, you're a wanker. The very definition of threadjacking, you pose a lame and inapposite hypothetical and then demand that each poster to the thread address it. Such arrogance.
posted by norm at 11:36 AM on June 13, 2005


A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb somewhere in New York City that will go off in 2 hours and kill over 5 million people (including himself). He has been captured. Would torturing him to extract information about the location of the bomb be "excusable" or "justified"?

Here's your answer.

To allow the bomb to detonate is, essentially, suicide.

However, torturing someone is another form of suicide. It's not the destruction of your physical self, rather, to torture someone requires that you destroy your own humanity. Torture also requires that you disregard the humanity of your prisoner. So, when is that justifiable?

But realistically, your hypothetical situation is completely ludicrous. There are extreme (hypothetical) situations in which I would surrender my own humanity to save the life of my loved ones. I'm not saying that my actions would therefore be morally correct, by any means. They'd be abhorrent. But that's not what the discussion is about. I'm just one man, with my own actions to live with. I'd be acting alone, out of my own madness and desperation. And, unfortunately, be forced to live the rest of my days in your self-serving land of outrageous hypotheticals.

What this discussion is about is the systematic, sanctioned abuse of prisoners who (if this Government believed in what America stood for),by all rights, should be completely Constitutionally protected. This discussion is about torturing people who should be considered innocent before proven guilty through due process as well as protected under the Geneva Convention. Offering alternative definitions of "torture" and "prisoner of war" are just weak, malicious attempts at creating loopholes and exceptions by which we can dehumanize and control individuals, entire segments of the society, and entire races of people.

Currently, citizens, green-card holders, tourists, illegal-immigrants, and anyone else who is detained on US soil are all entitled to Constitutional protection. Even if a US agency apprehends someone overseas, under US jurisdiction or custody, they're entitled to all of the legal protection that you and I enjoy. But these people in Guantanamo and Abu Graib, for some reason, are not. They're in US controlled territory in the custody of a US agency, aren't they? If we deny these people Constitutional protection, all of our rights are in jeopardy. Remember, it's not just a legal system that can be manipulated, it's a code of inalienable human RIGHTS that our founding fathers believed all people to be entitled to. If we deny these people their human rights, we are effectively labeling them as "not humans." Once that occurs, we can not occupy any kind of even remotely righteous moral highground. By dehumanizing them, we are dehumanizing ourselves.
posted by Jon-o at 11:39 AM on June 13, 2005


Well put, Jon-o. However, I have a question about your last paragraph; exactly what law or document provides for the rights or someone apprehended by a US agency overseas? I've been in discussions like this where people don't bat an eyelash at the idea that someone we "detain" as a terror suspect gets afforded no human rights, and it's often difficult to explain to them why this shouldn't be the case.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:10 PM on June 13, 2005


But realistically, your hypothetical situation is completely ludicrous. There are extreme (hypothetical) situations in which I would surrender my own humanity to save the life of my loved ones. I'm not saying that my actions would therefore be morally correct, by any means. They'd be abhorrent. But that's not what the discussion is about. I'm just one man, with my own actions to live with. I'd be acting alone, out of my own madness and desperation. And, unfortunately, be forced to live the rest of my days in your self-serving land of outrageous hypotheticals.

Sorry, I had a little trouble trying to parse through your answer, what with all your attacks on the question. But I think your answer, stated more succinctly in a way that would not have allowed you to mount your soapbox, is: "No, torture is never justified or excusable." Thanks. I was just curious.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:24 PM on June 13, 2005


...To be analogous, I would have had to make the claim that killing or forced sex would be unacceptable under any circumstances. I would never take that position).

I have to know what circumstances forced sex is acceptable under. This ought to be good.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:30 PM on June 13, 2005


Ynoxas,

You make a lot of assumptions and none convince me in the slightest. Not everyone believes torture works or is good for anything but destroying your own humanity. Sitting around thinking up hypothetical situations that would get someone to to condone it is sickening.
posted by john at 12:43 PM on June 13, 2005


I have to know what circumstances forced sex is acceptable under. This ought to be good.

I would find it morally justifiable to excuse someone who had forced sex with someone else in order to prevent greater harm, such as the killing of a family member (just as I would find it morally justifiable to excuse someone who killed someone else to save the life of more than one person). Not saying there wouldn't have to be consequences for the sake of society, but I couldn't say the person who made such a choice was "unacceptable."

A piece of advice to those of you offended by the mere presence of hypotheticals: Avoid law school. Judging by this thread, the first day of crim law alone would send you over the edge.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:55 PM on June 13, 2005


Ynoxas -

Your testosterone-laden diatribe about torture is put to the lie by actual results of torture, which no experienced torturers will attest to as yielding consistent truth. It is well-known that torture produces what the victim thinks the torturer wants, not necessarily true information. The utilitarian case against torture is sound, regardless of what one thinks of the moral argument.

(That said, I do think there's a moral case against torture as long as your ethics are based on acts and not intention. As shown in the perverse Ender's Game, intention-based ethics are capable of condoning genocide if done for the right reasons.)
posted by graymouser at 1:02 PM on June 13, 2005


pardonyou?: That was just as ridiculous as I had hoped. You've really cheered me up.

"Law school." High-larious. Yeah, they're all freaked out by your hypotheticals and law-school-fu.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:19 PM on June 13, 2005


Okay so far pardonyou? has been attacked for posing a "sophomoric hypothetical", the kind that certainly no philosophy professor would pose; it has been labeled as "dumb", "fucking stupid", and "nonsense", while pardonyou? himself has been called a "wanker".
Then you have defenses of why pardonyou?'s post was so crappy:
--how do you know the hypothetical terrorist is really guilty?
--hey, what if it were you pardonyou? what if you're innocent and the feds have framed you?
--torture in this case would not work anyway: you don't have enough time, the guy could lie, torture is ineffective for information gathering (in fact it is really "just a tool of tyrants")
--the hypothetical is specious for it "incorrectly assumes torture always yields information"

People go back and read what Pardonyou? wrote.
He's pressing a couple folks on their absolutism. The fact is that a scenario in which the torture of one individual could save the lives of millions is perfectly possible (whether it is probable is a different question). Maybe the scenario concocted by pardonyou? is less then perfect. So what? Assume we have the right guy, assume we'll have enough time to save lives if we get the information out of him. Quibbling about such details misses the point entirely as does bemoaning the ludicrousness or improbability of the scenario.

Is torture unjustifiable in these circumstances? Hard question, but you don't need any contentious assumptions here (like "torture always yields information") to make the hypothetical worthy of consideration. Just presume a rate of effectiveness reasonable enough to make the question interesting. And if you think torture is never effective for the purpose of information extraction, back up the latter claim. Then consider another hypothetical: If torture were reasonably effective for information extraction would it be justifiable in the aforementioned scenario? --The point of the exercise being to help us gain clarity on our moral intuitions.

Perhaps pardonyou? could have formulated his hypothetical in less agitating terms. Perhaps he should have used better judgement and simply ignored the "neat platitudes" that prompted his post in favor of keeping the thread on topic. I don't think he's guilty on either count, but I wouldn't blame anyone for getting mildly peeved at him for that. But to berate and call him names? I don't get it.
posted by crack at 1:19 PM on June 13, 2005


...how am i absolutely certain that i have the right person? b/c if i'm going to pour lye in this person's eyes, i had better be 100% certain...
posted by lord_wolf at 11:12 AM PST on June 13 [!]


lord, life is guided by probabilities, including moral behavior. You can't be 100% certain that the doctor about to cut up your child in order to fix him won't screw it up. However you rely on certain data (the fact that she has the right kind of training, has conducted hundreds of previous surgeries, etc.) and conclude that she is likely not going to screw it up. The argument that torture is never justifiable because you don't have 100% guarantee that you have the right person or that it will be 100% effective does not fly for this reason.
posted by crack at 1:34 PM on June 13, 2005


the first day of crim law alone would send you over the edge.

I just want to help out everyone else who isn't as smart as pardonyou?. "crim law" is an abbreviation for "criminal law." Thanks!
posted by odinsdream at 1:36 PM on June 13, 2005


The fact is that a scenario in which the torture of one individual could save the lives of millions is perfectly possible...

That's not a fact, and no, it isn't possible.
posted by odinsdream at 1:38 PM on June 13, 2005


odinsdream, it is both logically and nomologically possible. Why do you say it is not?
posted by crack at 1:41 PM on June 13, 2005


ludwig_van

I don't know of any specific doccument that provides for the rights or someone apprehended by a US agency overseas. However, I'm assuming that not only is there adequate oversight (usually) of such an agency, it is likely beholden to US law in addition to the laws of the land in which they're operating. Also, if they apprehend someone overseas in order to bring them back to the US for trial, they have to adhere to US laws in order to prevent the case from being thrown out of court as a result of the agency's misconduct.

pardonyou?
Your contributions to this thread have been really unproductive. How about you go split hairs and pose your impossible hypotheticals elsewhere.
posted by Jon-o at 1:42 PM on June 13, 2005


crack, I'm very interested in your opinion on forced sex. Tell me some of the circumstances in which you feel it would be OK to force sex on someone.

I'll be generous with the scenario. You get to pick who you are going to force sex on, what appendage or implement you will use, and how many lives are at stake.

Let your imagination run wild.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:46 PM on June 13, 2005


pardonyou?,

"...the mere presence of hypotheticals..."


No one in the thread has expressed any problem with their mere presence here. No one said, "Don't use no darn hypotheticals, you dirty varmit!"

It's the obvious leading of some hypotheticals that's sickening. Once convinced that torture can work, they try to draw others there by such means and by openly accusing anyone that doesn't admit to having a situation that would turn them to torture a liar. All the moral mind puzzles in the world won't convince me that torture works and is worth it. So I don't even make that all-important first step some find so inevitable.
posted by john at 1:48 PM on June 13, 2005


pardonyou?
Your contributions to this thread have been really unproductive. How about you go split hairs and pose your impossible hypotheticals elsewhere.


Thanks, MetaFilter Master. I will, of course, do as you say. I will look forward to receiving your future guidance as to the threads in which I can and cannot post, and what posts of mine are or are not "productive."
posted by pardonyou? at 1:50 PM on June 13, 2005


I think you should probably start working on your thesis re: forced sex. Don't you think that's a fruitful topic?

I can already tell your profs will be pleased. You've made such strong arguments here today.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:55 PM on June 13, 2005


I just want to help out everyone else who isn't as smart as pardonyou?. "crim law" is an abbreviation for "criminal law." Thanks!

Oh yes, I was trying to display my intellectual superiority by using the word "crim" in place of "criminal." I figured no one would ever figure that out! Curse you, odinsdream, for exposing my obscure inside reference!

(p.s., thanks for the help, crack. Logic and rhetoric aren't MeFi's strong suit)
posted by pardonyou? at 1:58 PM on June 13, 2005


ALSO

Regardless of issues of morality or justifiability, I'm sure that we can agree that torture and coercion are completely unconstitutional and illegal.

The actual context of this discussion has much less to do with preventing an immanent terrorist attack that it has to do with investigating criminals. Torture cannot be a part of any legal investigation because, by its very nature, it violates the prisoners 5th Amendment privileges. Statements given under duress are inadmissible as evidence.

pardonyou?'s hypothetical illicits the response, "Well, ok, I guess that maybe in some extreme circumstance, you've got to break a few eggs."
My question is:
If it's OK to torture people in an emergency and for the safety of the country, who decides the conditions of "emergency" and who gets classified as a "threat" to the nation? Is it ok to decide that minority opposition to the government is a legitimate threat and then start torturing suspects? What about gays? Can we torture them?
posted by Jon-o at 1:59 PM on June 13, 2005


sonofsamiam,

If you have a point (which I think you might) please unmask it in all its transparency as I would prefer not to engage in the event that you have no point.
posted by crack at 1:59 PM on June 13, 2005


I can already tell your profs will be pleased. You've made such strong arguments here today.

Instead of preening all over the thread, why don't you counter my argument? Make sure you're defending the absolute premise: "Forced sex is never acceptable under any circumstances." Please explain how my statement "I would find it morally justifiable to excuse someone who had forced sex with someone else in order to prevent greater harm, such as the killing of a family member," with the stated proviso that there would have to be consequences for the sake of society, is "ridiculous." Go!
posted by pardonyou? at 2:03 PM on June 13, 2005


Torture cannot be a part of any legal investigation because, by its very nature, it violates the prisoners 5th Amendment privileges.

5th amendment rights. But yeah.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:16 PM on June 13, 2005


Exactly.
posted by Jon-o at 2:18 PM on June 13, 2005


lord, life is guided by probabilities...

i like the way it sounds, but you can just call me wolf, provided i'm not in a thread with wolf daddy [no relation!] or some of the other mefi wolves. ;-)

all i have to say is this: in my mind torture is never justified. it simply doesn't work with the efficacy you advocates imagine it does. i cannot think of a situation wherein the intelligence appartus of the united states or any law-enforcement entity cannot obtain the desired information via other methods.

once citizens give a goverment the go ahead and torture "under some circumstances," it's over. you're proper-fucked. b/c the govt can then torture anyone it wants to and "cook the books" to make it seem as though the torture was justified under those special circumstances you, the noble citizenry, approved.

what on earth has any government in the history of this planet done to make you think it could be trusted to wisely and fairly wield that power? any entity that could be so trusted wouldn't need to use it.

i know that in some situations, i would, emotionally-charged, want to torture someone or allow others to do it. but i have faith that after the moment passed, i would regain my understanding that torture is wrong, and that there is a due process we have to follow if we want to rise above our animal nature and claim the stars.
posted by lord_wolf at 2:22 PM on June 13, 2005


crack, if something is logically possible, it does not make it realistically possible.

My assertion: It will never, ever be possible for the torture of one individual to result in the saving of the lives of millions. This is realistically impossible. It will never happen.

Do you have any evidence (really, any at all. please.) that there's been anything even reasonably close to what you assert as a "possible scenario" aside from references from action movies?
posted by odinsdream at 2:23 PM on June 13, 2005


lord_wolf: it simply doesn't work with the efficacy you advocates imagine it does.

Can you back this up?
posted by event at 2:26 PM on June 13, 2005


Can you back this up?

I think the burden of proof is on the torturers to show a consistently high rate of effectiveness.

But even a %100 success rate doesn't make it legal.
posted by Jon-o at 2:31 PM on June 13, 2005


crack:
Let's talk some more about rape, because it's a lot harder to hide behind than torture. I assert that there is no argument that justifies torture that does not also justify rape, unless we are prepared to say that the psychological component of torture weighs more in our moral calculus than the physical component.

----
pardonyou?:
The entire line of inquiry you have raised is a huge waste of time. We might as well say, "Would you skull-rape your mother if the WHOEL WORLD DEPENDED ON IT@@!@@"

Yeah, we're really getting somewhere now. We've found out something about ourselves, and where we really stand on the issues. Thanks for the illumination.

I've been probably too rude to you, but what can I say.
Having read the large majority of your posts, I just don't think your motivations are pure. I think you are trying to justify reprehensible actions with the pettiest of semantics, and I don't think that that's a respectable thing to do.

Of course I can't prove an existential or universal predicate. No one can. Everyone knows this ;) So why do you think it's interesting?
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:32 PM on June 13, 2005


The thing is, to ignore py? for a sec, torture is by it's very nature abhorent, like rape, murder, etc. Questions about degree of torture are tantamount to asking "but what if I only raped your daughter just a little bit? Would that be o.k.?"
Torture is a tool only used by tyrants and despots. No "western" democracy should even consider applying it to any degree. It's a form of terrorism (understood as "the use of terror as a political tool"), and should be shunned by anybody with any sense of morality whatsoever.
Torture is wrong, m'okay?
posted by signal at 2:43 PM on June 13, 2005


As far as apocalypse scenarios go, I'm pretty sure that nobody got tortured (or even killed) in order to end the Cuban Missile Crisis...
posted by Jon-o at 2:44 PM on June 13, 2005


So why do you think it's interesting?

What I thought was interesting -- many, many hours ago -- was testing absolute assertions. I believe absolute assertions are cheap and easy to make while typing on a keyboard, but often very difficult to execute in the real world. "War is bad," "Torture is inexcusable under any circumstances," "Save the environment." Whatever platitudes you care to think up. Making such claims allows people to feel good. But the dirty reality of life doesn't lend itself well to such absolutes, and they tend to break down pretty easily when exposed to difficult scenarios (or, if they're firmly held, they don't). What I find most ironic in this thread is the apopleptic rage directed at me for posing the question in the first place. One can only conclude that the answer made people uncomfortable (otherwise, presumably, the question would have been easily answered with "No, torture would never be excusable even under those circumstances," or just ignored ).

Unfortunately, I felt obligated to move from a specific question to defending the rhetorical utility of hypotheticals themselves. (Why I felt obligated to do that in response to "You idiot, your question is stupid!!1!" responses is the only real mystery here).
posted by pardonyou? at 2:47 PM on June 13, 2005


wolf, okay. That's a different argument from the one I found to be problematic. Efficacy is hard to measure but as i said, if there is a reasonable chance (probabilities again) that millions could be saved by way of torturing an individual for the purpose of information extraction, then I have to give pause. As far as endowing governments with the authority to torture, my gut reaction is: no f'ing way! I won't attempt to cash that out. Too hard. But my intuition is the same as yours. I'm not an absolutist about it however, nor am I confident that I'm right.

odinsdream: if something is logically possible, it does not make it realistically possible
ahh. okay I see where you are coming from. I maintain the scenario is logically and nomologically (physically) possible. I think you'll agree. By "realistically possible" I take it you mean probable (even remotely probable) .

As I said in my original comment, the question of probability is a separate question. It's not pertinent to hypothetical considerations in moral thought experiments. I think this because I agree with Alan Donagan when he says that whether a moral position "is true or false depends on whether its implications for all possible worlds are true."
posted by crack at 3:12 PM on June 13, 2005


sonofsamiam: Let's talk some more about rape, because it's a lot harder to hide behind than torture. I assert that there is no argument that justifies torture that does not also justify rape
Agreed, rape is a form of torture. I don't know what you mean by "hide behind."

pardonyou? I think you are trying to justify reprehensible actions with the pettiest of semantics.
Okay that explains what you mean by "hide behind". Pardonyou is not trying to justify torture.
He was responding to a couple of blanket statements about torture. What he was trying to do was question moral absolutism.
posted by crack at 3:27 PM on June 13, 2005


Oh, God forbid that we make the blanket statement that "torture is always bad."
No matter what positive (or ethically righteous) results it may yield in whatever hypothetical scenario you can produce, it's still a malicious and illegal activity, birthed from violence and dehumanization.

Also, don't confuse moral absolutism (which has fundamentalist connotations) with moral objectivity.
posted by Jon-o at 4:10 PM on June 13, 2005


Jon-o: What's the difference?
posted by Snyder at 4:28 PM on June 13, 2005


Hmm. I'm confused. The title of the thread is "The 20th hijacker?". Is pardonyou? the 20th hijacker referred to? 'cos he's certainly being jumped on rather a lot...

(I kid, I kid. For any NSA types "listening" in : I'm kidding, OK?)
posted by kaemaril at 4:32 PM on June 13, 2005


Personally I'm a utilitarian. If torturing me prevents greater harm, then the decision to torture me is justified. That's a tautology, under utilitarian philosophy: justification = prevention of greater harm = promotion of greater good. What I as victim and you, as torturer think about it is irrelevant, if it is justified. This is the concept of duty, which has fallen out of fashion lately.

However, any duty is surrounded by a whole bunch of caveats: greater duties. Firstly, is there a better method than torture to achieve the goal (getting information)? Examples include, in the long term, not pursuing a criminally stupid foreign policy. In the short term, using hypnotism, drugs, and EEGs to ensure the validity of answers to questions. Ideally the victim should experience no fear at all about giving up his deepest secrets - he should think he is speaking to his closest, dearest friends. This is one of the aspects of the Abu Ghraib/Guantanomo Bay scandal that irritates me most: the techniques these stupid bastards use could have come straight from high school bullies and street thugs. (Which makes sense, considering the recruitment demographics and training methods of the US army.) All of it is based around humiliation, physical fear and physical pain, there is absolutely no consideration for the idea of being told what the interrogator wants to hear, there is no clear oversight or guiding plan, there is absolutely no plan for dealing with innocent people swept up due to the stupid methods of acquiring captives, and much of it is designed to stroke the sexual sadism of the torturers.

Secondly, is the goal itself actually a greater good? That is, is the information actually needed, and the goal it is needed for, actually useful? Utilitarianism does not lend itself to action-hero problem-solving, because real life doesn't. The questions are difficult, requiring much factoring down into smaller questions. One of those questions is, how much time can we take over our deliberations? The trap of over-thinking must be avoided, and to do that, we must set time limits, and recognise that there will always be a possibility of error in what we do. Alternate plans must be made: in the case of pardonyou's example, it is highly likely that the person arrested is an innocent who knows nothing, or a decoy who knows false information. For example, the terrorist leaders may have anticipated the capture of their men, and sent out a number of men with bombs (or fake bombs, which the planter is unaware is fake), each man thinking he is the only one. Awareness that the enemy is gullible, vicious and dumb provides a massive tactical advantage.

The typical fear-filled, brainless, selfish, so-called-conservative American, as found on LGF and FreeRepublic, completely confuses "the greater good" with "what suits themselves". As such they are prepared to justify torture, or anything else, to continue their way of life, their nation's military and political dominance of the world, and their strong desire for people not like themselves to be made to suffer, however possible. They are the greatest danger that the USA faces.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:54 PM on June 13, 2005


What's the difference?

Um, well... I know that there's a small but crucial difference between the two but I've narrowly overstepped the boundary of my knowledge of philosophy. It'd be better if someone else fielded that question so I don't screw it up.
Any takers?
posted by Jon-o at 5:10 PM on June 13, 2005


What's the difference?
A moral theory can claim moral truths are objective without being absolutist. For example Utilitarianism is such a theory.
posted by crack at 5:26 PM on June 13, 2005


odinsdream: if something is logically possible, it does not make it realistically possible
ahh. okay I see where you are coming from. I maintain the scenario is logically and nomologically (physically) possible. I think you'll agree. By "realistically possible" I take it you mean probable (even remotely probable) .


Alright, listen up. I am not dealing with a magical fantasy universe in my answer, I am dealing with this universe and this reality. If you want to put it in terms of probability, then I assert that it is ZERO PERCENT probable. Okay? It is absolutely, completely improbable given our universe. Does that make it easier to understand my position? My answer deals in reality. Questions that don't are not useful, even hypothetical ones. Hypothetical questions that deal with realistic situations may be useful, this one is absolutely not useful. Torture is never permissible. I will defend this position in any scenario, realistic or not, but the only ones that matter are the realistic ones.
posted by odinsdream at 6:22 PM on June 13, 2005


aeschenkarnos, the problem with utilitarianism is very basic; the concept of "greater good" is completely relative. In the same way Einstein's theory of relativity changed physics forever, similarly recognising that something's utility can never accurately be calculated is the death of utilitarianism. Without recognising this, utilitarianism remains a fundamentally self-serving philosophy, whereas recognising it honestly would force you to abandon it as fundamentally flawed.

For example, is the greater good for all of society? Some would think so, but what if the greater good is the survival of the planet? In such cases where that conflicts with the survival of human society, we've created a mass of confusion.
posted by odinsdream at 6:29 PM on June 13, 2005


aeschenkarnos: The typical fear-filled, brainless, selfish, so-called-conservative American, as found on LGF and FreeRepublic, completely confuses "the greater good" with "what suits themselves".

You've just described the critical flaw in utilitarian ethics. Who gets to judge what is the greater good? I'm quite sure the Bush executive feel justified in authorizing torture. Pardonyou? has also tried to construct a scenario in which the ends outweigh the means. They're both ignoring the fact that their inherent bias makes them unreliable judges.

*continues search for moral foundation*
posted by Popular Ethics at 6:44 PM on June 13, 2005


post-preview: or what odinstream said.
posted by Popular Ethics at 6:45 PM on June 13, 2005


Can you back this up?

I think the burden of proof is on the torturers to show a consistently high rate of effectiveness.

But even a %100 success rate doesn't make it legal.


I was specifically addressing lone_wolf's claim that torture "doesn't work with the efficacy you advocates imagine it does." This is a bogus claim: lone_wolf has no idea what the efficacy of torture is. This claim has been made repeatedly in this thread (the reverse claim, as well) but the fact is that nobody here has any idea whether torture, and specifically the torture described above, works or not.

If there are any primary source studies out there that would answer this question, nobody has been able to produce them thus far. (See the lack of responses to my query earlier in the thread.)
posted by event at 6:49 PM on June 13, 2005


event, the very training U.S. interrogators go through specifically addresses torture. It clearly states that torture is not only illegal, but discouraged because it is highly ineffective. This is according to The Interrogators, written by a U.S. Army interrogator stationed in Afghanistan.
posted by odinsdream at 6:59 PM on June 13, 2005


digby: Isn't it interesting that the bad apples who were just having some kicks on the night shift at Abu Ghraib came up with similar kinky sexual humiliation "hijinks" to those the interrogators down at Gitmo were using on orders:
...

posted by amberglow at 7:06 PM on June 13, 2005


Okay? It is absolutely, completely improbable given our universe.

Straw man. No one has said it was anything less than near-totally improbable. But it's not impossible. And for this theoretical instance, the devil lies in that .00001%. What? You've never talked with friends about what you'd do if you won the lottery? Realistically, that's never going to happen either, but that doesn't mean it's a worthless theoretical discussion.

You're framing the argument in a way that avoids answering the question.

OK, so, we're in the magical fantasy universe. There's a bomb about to go off that's about to kill a helluva lot of people. You know you have the guy with information to stop the bomb, but he ain't talking. You can sacrifice your some of your humanity or a lot of lives. Both options suck. If you're willing to do the latter, what's the body count you're willing to accept?

(FWIW, I don't belive in torture. But I don't believe that absolute moral claims made without duress have much credence, either.)
posted by Cyrano at 7:09 PM on June 13, 2005


Could you elaborate, odinsdream? The blurb you linked to specifically states that U.S. Army interrogator used "stress positions and sleep deprivation," which are exactly the things claimed in the original article to have been used on Al-Qahtani.
posted by event at 7:13 PM on June 13, 2005


Re: Interrogators:

I didn't read the blurb, I read the book. Yes, the interrogators do use techniques that could be, and have been, called torture. That wasn't my point. What I was answering was event's question about concrete examples of source documents that state that torture is ineffective. This book clearly explains the training used in the U.S. military interrogator schools, and part of that training involves explaining why torture is wrong. The focus of this explanation is that it's an ineffective information-extraction tool, while the secondary explanation is that it's illegal under our laws. So, there's the documentation. It doesn't make it true or not, but it is a data point, and from the military, no less.

The fact that the interrogators still engage in torture even after this training (though most of the torture is probably not done by actual interrogators) isn't relevant to event's question. I would guess it's an inevitable result of waging an illegal war, rounding up mass amounts of people not even remotely classifiable as "the enemy," and asking soldiers with very little real-world experience to extract as much information as possible from them, when, in reality, there is no such information to extract. Thus, frustration...fear of hypothetical doomsday situations, and a war against a faceless enemy give us what we have today.


Re: hypotheticals: Arguments made requiring fantasy don't have much credence, either. You're purposefully not understanding what I'm saying. I am saying that it is completely impossible (that is, it will never, ever happen) that you would be able to save millions of people by torturing one person. Never. Completely impossible.

Winning the lottery? Completely possible. Some people have even won it twice.

Please really listen to what I'm trying to get across: There will never be a case of what you claim is possible, because it is completely illogical (despite your claim). Others have detailed why this is so up-thread, but without a "yes" or a "no", neither you nor PardonYou? is happy. So, here you go:

No.
posted by odinsdream at 7:24 PM on June 13, 2005


re:platitudes. I actually have family members who have been tortured (by US-trained and paid operatives, in fact). I have mobilized (and succeeded, along with millions of my countrymen) to overthrow the regime which ordered these tortures.
So my stance on torture is not a platitude. It's a life-experience. Torture. Is. Never. Acceptable. Under no circumstances. Clear enough?
Why don't you armchair warriors get up from your computers and back to the TV? I think "24" is on.
posted by signal at 7:49 PM on June 13, 2005


So, here you go:

No.


Was that so hard? And kudos for being a better person than me.

Why don't you armchair warriors get up from your computers and back to the TV? I think "24" is on.

Why the fixation with "24"? You're the only one who has mentioned it in this thread (twice).
posted by pardonyou? at 8:04 PM on June 13, 2005




py?: I like how you completely sidestep the substance of my post.
posted by signal at 8:20 PM on June 13, 2005


Fetch ... THE COMFY CHAIR!
posted by darren at 8:41 PM on June 13, 2005


Please really listen to what I'm trying to get across: There will never be a case of what you claim is possible, because it is completely illogical (despite your claim).

You're under the impression that I fundamentally disagree with you about torture. I don't.

I guess it's your claim to know the breadth of all possibilities I take issue with. If someone had asked you how terrorists were going to attach the U.S. on September 10th, 2001, you would have said...?

(And that is NOT an endorsement of the view that "September 11th changed everything." I strenuously disagree with that.)

And kudos for being a better person than me.

Maybe that's just what it comes down to.
posted by Cyrano at 8:47 PM on June 13, 2005


"attack the U.S." erk.
posted by Cyrano at 8:48 PM on June 13, 2005


video of an imbecile, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) refuting claims of torture at Guantánamo Bay while displaying various foods.

"So the point is that the inmates in Guantánamo have never eaten
better, they've never been treated better and they've never been
more comfortable in their lives."

posted by amberglow at 8:51 PM on June 13, 2005


Cyrano, it is not a magical fantasy to imagine hijacked planes being flown into buildings, despite what Condi, Cheney, and others may want desperately to believe. I was horrified by the attack, but not in an "oh my god what unthinkable genius!" way.

The whole "lone terrorist mastermind with millions of lives in the palm of his hand" scenario is a fictional fantasy. It is a plot device of action movies and thriller books. It is not reality.
posted by odinsdream at 9:48 PM on June 13, 2005


odinsdream, your obtuseness on this front is baffling. pardonyou?'s original scenario, and any of the inumerable similar scenarios, may not be the slightest bit probable, but it they are certainly possible.
posted by event at 9:59 PM on June 13, 2005


odinsdream: I can't make all your comments mesh into a coherent position. Your tone suggests that the fault is mine. Well so be it. Let me briefly just say why I think entertaining unrealistic (albeit possible) scenarios in making moral judgments is legitimate. In asserting a moral theory, I am obviously not simply purporting an empirical theory about the way the world is. So moral theories are obviously not merely descriptive of the actual world. They are however, tied down to reality in so far as they are understood to apply to the actual world. But this cannot be the end of it. A Moral theory, if true, must hold true in counterfactual situations as well. One way to think about counterfactuals is by constructing possible worlds/scenarios different from our own. They are possible variations of the actual world because they operate under the same laws (the counterfactual scenarios don't contain ghosts or anything else that violates the laws of physics). Some possible scenarios are more likely to occur in the actual world than others. Some are not likely to occur in the actual world at all (for example the counterfactual in which hitler was never born). Hence some may eventually be realized in actuality, some cannot be realized at all. The point is that all are possible. They all fit into the logical space in which anything that qualifies as a moral theory must be operative. So even if pardonyou's example is impossible (in the sense that it could never happen in the future of our universe--this is just false by the way), it still falls within the purview of any moral theory, and as such is potentially useful in assessing the merits or plausibility of said theory. (This is not to say that thought experiments ought to play a decisive role in assessing moral theories). Apologies in advance if that was grossly unclear. This is complicated stuff.
posted by crack at 10:14 PM on June 13, 2005


Egads, what has happened to this thread?

Some bull-headedness on both sides, I think.

Look, these hypotheticals -- yes, they can boil down an issue to challenge a statement (like: torture is wrong in all circumstances). In such a case, you take the facts for granted and deal with the moral issue.

The problem here -- and the source of so much resistance, I think -- is that it's transparently not a morally neutral game to play. The admin in many ways has been proposing hypotheticals. Hey, what if there was a mushroom cloud? We're not saying there are nukes, but what if? Hypotheticals get people thinking about eventualities that may bear little resemblance to the actual situation at hand, especially if you manage to trigger fear/racism/anger at the same time.

"Hey, what if some madman was going to bomb New York? Wouldn't torture be ok then? Well that's what we're facing" is a message that we can see broadcast daily in not so many words. I mentioned the Philosophy Intro class because this (and in law school) is where we see this method in its pure form (ok, you invite your prof over for dinner and poison his food, but then he trips down the stairs and breaks his neck...). Yet judges don't indulge this kind of speculation in the courtroom. Why? Because it is prejudicial more than it is probative. It interferes with a clear appreciation of a situation when an actual fact pattern is present. One of the (few) great things about our judicial system is our understanding that human rationality is fallible. So arguments that stray too far from reality get left at the door, and this one should, too.
posted by dreamsign at 10:21 PM on June 13, 2005


What if he's got a pointed stick?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:08 AM on June 14, 2005


crack, the reason it may appear obtuse is that I'm not willing to qualify all the statements I make in my life with little disclaimers like "except in cases where <insert scenario with 0% probability>"

It is not useful conversation in that sense. You ought to know that when I say "torture is never acceptable," that pre-supposes we're talking about realistic situations. Any other situation is useless to discuss, despite your feelings on moral theories and how they must be proven. Of course things break down if you break down the very idea of our society in your scenarios, which is what is required for the lone-terrorist-plot thing, but that doesn't disprove the statement that torture is always wrong, because it still is always wrong. Why is this complicated?

Moreover, and dreamsign touched on this, your hypotheticals are more than just useless, they're downright dangerous. If you actually get people to believe in a worldwide terror network run by a comic-book-style Evil Villain who holds 5 million lives in his hands, you allow people to dehumanize an entire culture and permit senseless killing. I don't take it lightly when such rhetoric is used, not only because of the conversational uselessness of it, but because of exactly this danger.

It is this exact same line of reasoning that leads to things like "the terrorists want to destroy our way of life." There are people living in America who really, truly believe that it's possible to see Islamic fundamentalists marching in their streets, taking over their towns, and "destroying their way of life." This is insane. It truly is. Terrorists aren't going to land boats on our shores and march through the streets, raping our women and installing their governments. It's sheer nonsense, yet this fear the fundamental motivation for the support of a "war on terror." How else do you get people living in civilized, stable societies to support this nonsense? The answer is, by making exactly this kind of hypothetical bullshit into their reality. I'm absolutely serious about this.

You can take your hypothetical and extend it, as someone else upthread mentioned, to something like "well what if the terrorists were going to start a worldwide nuclear winter, then would you torture someone?" In your mind, this is actually a useful question. In my mind, it clearly isn't. That is where our disagreement lies, and I don't see how we can really press on any further as long as that's where we stand.
posted by odinsdream at 10:15 AM on June 14, 2005


Oh dear, I'm afraid nobody might still be reading this.

IMO, it is the set of assumptions in this hypothetical (that you could *know* that *this guy* is the guy who can tell you what you want to know, and *will if tortured*) that are such nonsense. As dreamsign points out, this is not so much a hypothetical as a rhetorical device.

But, to deal with this nonsense once and for all, especially for py?, here's three relevant links.

1) A comment on the rhetorical, slippery-slope nature of this hypothetical at crooked timber.

2) The truly relevant question here -- let's say you do torture, in the belief that, what then? -- is also addressed at crooked timber. If you are ever in this position, and so perfectly certain of your facts, then sure, go ahead -- and then take your just desserts. Any utilitarian would gladly face jail or death in this scenario for the greater good, after all.

2) And just to reveal how ridiculous the notion is that one *could* ever satisfy all the premises in this scenario, as opposed to how things tend to work in reality, see fafblog's take on the question.
posted by cps at 11:47 AM on June 14, 2005


As dreamsign points out, this is not so much a hypothetical as a rhetorical device.

That part is true. It was always intended as such.

And the discussions on crooked timber and fafblog aren't really instructive, since I was not using the hypothetical to argue in favor of torture (I don't believe it's right). As I have stated about 100 times, I posed the hypothetical to get people -- specifically, two people -- to think about their absolute positions. I still believe it's easy and cheap to type "X can never be Y!" on your keyboard, without regard to the complexity and chaos that is real life. But whatever. That point was subtle, and got quickly trampled by the vitriol about my evident lack of intelligence in even asking such a question.
posted by pardonyou? at 12:28 PM on June 14, 2005


Thank you odinsdream, dreamsign, and cps for filling in the details of which I could only express my disgust, especially after seeing how so many of these "torture threads" turn out.

on preview:pardonyou?, you were not the sole user of the hypothetical in this thread.
posted by john at 12:40 PM on June 14, 2005


...You ought to know that when I say "torture is never acceptable," that pre-supposes we're talking about realistic situations.
...but that doesn't disprove the statement that torture is always wrong, because it still is always wrong
...your hypotheticals are more than just useless, they're downright dangerous. If you actually get people to believe in a worldwide terror network run by a comic-book-style Evil Villain who holds 5 million lives in his hands, you allow people to dehumanize an entire culture and permit senseless killing. I don't take it lightly when such rhetoric is used, not only because of the conversational uselessness of it, but because of exactly this danger.

Okay, so by "never" you don't really mean never. But you insist on speaking in dogmatic or absolutist terms because you think the alternative is a serious danger to society. Hence I and pardonyou? have engaged in "dangerous, "disgusting" and "nonsensical" contemplation and conversation, nevermind it also being thoroughly useless. By challenging absolutist talk (if not the position itself because obviously people who use the word "never" with respect to torture are only talking about "realistic" situations and are not really absolutists) we pave the way for grotesque arguments like those offered by proponents of torture in the current terrorism conscious climate.

It's a shame that hypotheticals, esp insanely unrealistic ones, (and all manner of rhetorical devices for that matter) can be (and are) used to justify atrocious behavior. But to censor hypothetical challenges to absolutism, to malign anyone who does so, whilst sticking to dogmatic proclamations is itself a slap in the face to the socratic method and the quest for intellectual clarity and rigor.

Now I'm thinking that you and others probabaly do not see pardonyou's comment and my defense of it as sincere intellectual probing (outrageous hypotheticals just don't count as intellectually respectable and by default are indicative of arrogance and corruption?). People have read it as culpable on the level of snark all the way to disgusting and dangerous. I cannot fathom why for neither of us said anything about torture being acceptable in our present socio-political atmosphere. Perhaps the disgusted folks think the mere raising of the hypothetical in this context is enough to indicate insincerity/snarkiness/moral irresponsibility/etc. I disgree and think it a detriment to the dialectical process.
posted by crack at 3:40 PM on June 14, 2005


Well, just to clarify then, py? :

If the hypothetical situation were possible (which I do not agree it is), would I say it is justified to torture?

No. I don't think it is ever justified.

I think it is always and forever, in every single case, absolutely, etc., wrong to murder, torture, rape. And it should never, under any circumstances whatsoever, have legal sanction (in practice, it does, e.g. "justifiable homicide", IMO an oxymoron).

This does not, however, mean I would never do any of these things, and I can imagine others doing such things. One can make a clear, conscious, and reasoned decision to do evil, in the name of preventing a greater evil. This still does not make such an act not evil, and those who do evil should be prepared to pay the price (spiritually, legally and in whatever other way applicable) -- and if they really are preventing a greater evil (in their eyes), then they should be willing to pay that price. That is what the crooked timber piece suggests.

You may perhaps read this as saying I do think these things might sometimes be justified (I might do them); I would disagree. At that point we could get into a discussion of what, exactly, you meant by the words "excusable" and "justified" in your original question. Rather a lot hinges on that. I read it as "legally sanctioned or pardonable" (cf. "justifiable homicide"), as apparently many on this thread have, whereas you seem to have shifted ground to "can you categorically state that you would personally never".

Of course we cannot make absolute statements about what we *would* do in various scenarios. We can, and through creating laws do, make absolute statements about what we *should* do. Absolutism at the law-making and ethics-designing stage is not so unreasonable, IMO. The necessary freedom to adjust how absolute black-and-white laws are applied in a complicated world exists in the leeway prosecutors, judges and juries have after the fact.

The reason you were jumped on with such vitriol, BTW, is undoubtedly that the ticking bomb scenario is such a tired old favorite of torture apologists. I'd be surprised if you didn't know that before posing it -- and if you did know this, you could have reformulated it in a way less guaranteed to provoke such a backlash. E.g., I know this question is a favorite of torture apologists, but I am not bringing it out for that purpose: I am asking, if we were to seriously consider this hypothetical wouldn't we see an absolute stance against torture as unreasonable?

Same way I wouldn't try to initiate a discussion on how come the Jews run Hollywood. There might be interesting conversations to have about the percentage of Jewish ownership of major studios and talent agencies (I have no idea) but putting the question in the exact same form preferred by anti-semites is not a way to engage in civilised discussion.
posted by cps at 3:48 PM on June 14, 2005


crack, a word to the wise: using the exact same form of hypoothetical done to death by torture apologists just might make people think one is a torture apologist.

It just doesn't look like sincere intellectual probing, Socratic or otherwise. It looks like using a hackneyed rhetorical device favored by freepers, LGFers and others with a demonstrated glee for riding this particular slippery slope all the way down.

Like hypotheticals being (alas!) misused, such an unfortunate misinterpretation of purely innocently motivated Socratic questions does from time to time happen.
posted by cps at 3:56 PM on June 14, 2005


crack, my basic point was this: Since it is useless to talk about fantasy situations, and what we would do in them, the answer doesn't matter. It would be like multiplying both sides of an equation by zero, then claiming we balanced it. Sure, we can do it, but it doesn't get us anywhere. We're back where we started.

So, let's say we answer your hypothetical situation. Where are we? Now we know what each of us would do in a fantasy. Great. Now can we get back to discussing practical things?

I somehow doubt people currenty being tortured by our government will really care whether or not we 'rigorously prove' our absolutionist position or not. They just want to stop the torture. So do I. It's always wrong.
posted by odinsdream at 7:23 PM on June 14, 2005


crack: But to censor hypothetical challenges to absolutism, to malign anyone who does so, whilst sticking to dogmatic proclamations is itself a slap in the face to the socratic method and the quest for intellectual clarity and rigor.

Amen.
posted by event at 7:35 PM on June 14, 2005


(A: Here's a hypothetical, answer it, or your point isn't real. B: No, that hypothetical is useless, so my answer doesn't matter.) != (A: Here's a hypothetical, answer it, or your point isn't real. B: BAN HYPOTHETICALS!! CENSOR!! I MALIGN YOU!!)
posted by odinsdream at 12:10 AM on June 15, 2005


Also: someone disagrees with me != IVE BEEN CENSOREMERATED!
posted by cps at 10:48 AM on June 15, 2005




« Older Billboards   |   Spooky paper toys! Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post