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Torturing in our name
November 14, 2005 8:25 AM   Subscribe

"We do not torture" (Bush, Nov. 7)
In an important clarification of President George W. Bush's earlier statement, a top White House official refused to unequivocally rule out the use of torture... (Hadley, Nov. 13) -- The fate of a House provision to ban the torture of prisoners in U.S. custody is in doubt, strongly opposed by the Administration. And don't call it torture: the preferred talking point wording is now enhanced interrogation techniques.
posted by amberglow (109 comments total)

 
This is yet another point proving that the terrorists are winning. Or as we say in America, "Everything changed after 9/11".
posted by Balisong at 8:28 AM on November 14, 2005


An important issue, but repeated posts about the same issue over an over and over again are in and of themselves a form of torture.

I am now willing to provide useful intelligence.
posted by CynicalKnight at 8:28 AM on November 14, 2005


If at first you don't succeed, redefine success.
posted by Malor at 8:31 AM on November 14, 2005


the preferred talking point wording is now enhanced interrogation techniques

Perhaps this now means date rape is an enhanced courting technique?
posted by CynicalKnight at 8:33 AM on November 14, 2005


"We don't torture."

I firmly believe the president in this regard. I find it very unlikely that W or Cheney have ever laid a finger on a single prisoner. They are very busy men.
posted by freebird at 8:44 AM on November 14, 2005


Are there any opinion poll results that show "most Americans approve of Torture/Enhanced Interrogation Techniques"?
posted by gsb at 8:48 AM on November 14, 2005




Here you see George W. Bush's National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley bravely attempting to pat his head, rub his belly, and simultaneously try to both renounce and condone torture.

This photo was taken just seconds before his head exploded.
posted by insomnia_lj at 8:50 AM on November 14, 2005


CynicalKnight: "An important issue, but repeated posts about the same issue over anover and over again are in and of themselves a form of torture."

Isn't it important to point out an issue that needs improvement until it actually is improved?
When should you stop criticizing?
(This is not meant as dig, I'm really curious: where would you draw the line to indicate sufficient probing has been done?)

Also, I think the point here is not so much the "we want to go on torturing" as the "we say one thing and do the other, and don't you dare point that out!" stance the government is taking.
A democratic society relies on informed voters, and if the elected officials don't supply correct information as to which political yourse they're steering, they need to be called out on that.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 8:53 AM on November 14, 2005


Are there any opinion poll results that show "most Americans approve of Torture/Enhanced Interrogation Techniques"?

From my 2nd link: ...Americans at large don't seem to have a clear-cut position on the use of torture. The latest Newsweek opinion poll found that 58 percent of the public would support torture to thwart a terrorist attack.
But the same survey showed that 51 percent of Americans believe it is rarely or never justified, while 44 percent said torture is often or sometimes justified to obtain important information.

posted by amberglow at 9:06 AM on November 14, 2005


Isn't it important to point out an issue that needs improvement until it actually is improved?

There's some saying about how the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. I think we can safely conclude by now that postings on MetaFilter have no effect on White House policy. That's not to say topics like this shouldn't be posted - just that effecting change shouldn't be the reason for doing so.
posted by scottreynen at 9:09 AM on November 14, 2005


My belly is full of disgust. Can't they rally US troops to tell their boss that this gives everyone a bad name and can only make things worse?
posted by furtive at 9:11 AM on November 14, 2005


Come on. We do this every day. It's getting tiresome. Torture's bad and the Bush administration are hypocrites on the issue. There, we've settled it.
posted by xmutex at 9:17 AM on November 14, 2005


"I think we can safely conclude by now that postings on MetaFilter have no effect on White House policy."

... or maybe not.

MetaFilter is the first place I shared that article, just minutes after it was passed on to me from a soldier who served in Fallujah.

That article, btw, is the same one cited in the US State Department's retraction of their previous denial of white phosphorus not being used against Iraqis in Fallujah, which they released the very next day.

Too bad MeFi pulled the post and all the attention for breaking the story went to DailyKOS instead.
posted by insomnia_lj at 9:18 AM on November 14, 2005



Come on. We do this every day. It's getting tiresome. Torture's bad and the Bush administration are hypocrites on the issue. There, we've settled it.


It's not settled until it has stopped. What have you done to stop torture by our governent today?

It isn't enough to claim that there's nothing one can do about it; not anymore.
posted by Cycloptichorn at 9:21 AM on November 14, 2005


"Come on. We do this every day. It's getting tiresome. Torture's bad and the Bush administration are hypocrites on the issue. There, we've settled it."

Simply pointing out that something is bad doesn't settle an issue. Bringing awareness to issues until they are improved settles an issue.

Frankly, I can't see how your call for silence really helps that.
posted by insomnia_lj at 9:25 AM on November 14, 2005


"Fearful of future terrorist attacks and frustrated by the slow progress of intelligence-gathering from prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, officials turned to the closest thing on their organizational charts to a school for torture. That was a classified program at Fort Bragg, N.C., known as SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. Based on studies of North Korean and Vietnamese efforts to break American prisoners. SERE was intended to train American soldiers to resist the abuse they might face in enemy custody, but the Pentagon turned the program on it's head."

There's plenty, plenty more to say about the fact that the United States has a policy of torture.
posted by xammerboy at 9:34 AM on November 14, 2005


scottreynen: "That's not to say topics like this shouldn't be posted - just that effecting change shouldn't be the reason for doing so."

In speech act theory this would, I guess, qualify as an perlocutionary act.
It's like when I say "It's cold in here" when you're sitting next to an open window. I don't expect you to agree with me that, yes, it is indeed cold in here, I expect you to get up and close the window.

In other words, it is a polite way of pointing out that you would like the recipient of the message to do something; since I'm not an American, I, like the rest of the world, have no way of influencing the American government except by influencing Americans, which presumably the majority of MeFi readers are.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 9:36 AM on November 14, 2005


Washington Post on Cheney's role in all this: ... The vice president has been a prime mover behind the Bush administration's decision to violate the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Convention Against Torture and to break with decades of past practice by the U.S. military. These decisions at the top have led to hundreds of documented cases of abuse, torture and homicide in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Cheney's counsel, David S. Addington, was reportedly one of the principal authors of a legal memo justifying the torture of suspects. This summer Mr. Cheney told several Republican senators that President Bush would veto the annual defense spending bill if it contained language prohibiting the use of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by any U.S. personnel.
The senators ignored Mr. Cheney's threats, and the amendment, sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), passed this month by a vote of 90 to 9. So now Mr. Cheney is trying to persuade members of a House-Senate conference committee to adopt language that would not just nullify the McCain amendment but would formally adopt cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment as a legal instrument of U.S. policy....

posted by amberglow at 9:37 AM on November 14, 2005


A perlocutionary act is a speech act that produces an effect

Does it still count if it's not producing the effect? Because it's not.
posted by scottreynen at 9:50 AM on November 14, 2005


scottrey: This stuff is important. It's important to talk about, it's important to examine, it's important to fight like crazy.

Politics IS TALKING, and that's what we're doing here.... conversation via web. What we do here MATTERS.

How the hell do you think so many important changes in America have happened? By groups of citizens being outraged. What we are doing here IS the political process.

Your assertions that our outrage doesn't matter are bullshit. This is how change happens. If you don't happen to like it, then go the fuck away.
posted by Malor at 10:04 AM on November 14, 2005


Well, given that his top aide lied about his conduct relative to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame and that he must have gotten the heretofore-secret knowledge from Dick himself (Rove wouldn't have gotten direct access to CIA personnel files, because he wasn't an official at the time, only a political advisor), an annullment of the ban on torture might make Cheney himself available for torturing, wouldn't it?
posted by clevershark at 10:06 AM on November 14, 2005


We don't torture... we outsource it.
posted by StarForce5 at 10:10 AM on November 14, 2005


I prefer the term "freedom discomfort."
posted by S.C. at 10:14 AM on November 14, 2005


... an annullment of the ban on torture might make Cheney himself available for torturing, wouldn't it?

And this, from fafblog: ...It is deeply disappointing then, that Mr. Cheney is willing to allow only the CIA to utilize this vital anti-terror tool. Indeed, given the recent explosion in global terrorist activity, America needs as many torturers as it can get to track down this mysterious new wave of Islamist recruits. Torture shouldn't just be the tool of the CIA or even the armed forces. It should be the legal right - no, the duty - of every American citizen.
It's time to combine the good old-fashioned tradition of American volunteerism with the brand new traditions of forced sleep deprivation and genital electrocution. ...

posted by amberglow at 10:15 AM on November 14, 2005


Sadlyno has an interesting argument. It would in fact see that people like Libby and Cheney, having known no military service, no field experience and no preparatory training on torture would be ideal people to torture in order to obtain information.

You'd certainly need less torture to get them to speak than you would of a grizzled al-Qaeda veteran who's spent months lying in dirty, unsanitary caves to escape notice. So in fact it would be very efficient to torture the rich old white guys.
posted by clevershark at 10:23 AM on November 14, 2005


enhanced interrogation techniques

Sounds doubleplusgood to me.
posted by Mr_Zero at 10:25 AM on November 14, 2005


insomnia_lj, etc: Yeah, the daily circle jerk over the torture stuff is really making inroads towards affecting change in the White House.

Give me a break. Being a broken record doesn't change or affect anything, neither does preaching to the choir. That is what these threads are and nothing more.

So everyone get their torture posts all lined up for the week. I'd hate to miss a day.
posted by xmutex at 10:25 AM on November 14, 2005


xmutex writes "So everyone get their torture posts all lined up for the week. I'd hate to miss a day."

So why do you waste your time reading and commenting on them? It's not like the headline is ambiguous.
posted by clevershark at 10:29 AM on November 14, 2005


scottreynen: "A perlocutionary act is a speech act that produces an effect

Does it still count if it's not producing the effect? Because it's not.
"


That would be a failure to communicate. The equivalent in my example above would be the response "I don't care" or "I like it cold" or silence.
It would be considered impolite, and generally a rebuke to the initiator of the conversation who took pains to phrase his request as neutral as possible.

@xmutex:
Dropping this topic from active discussion on MeFi would cause it to vanish as soon as it leaves the front page. By continued postings about it it is not only kept alive in the eyes of the readers, the rest of the world is also made aware that not all Americans condone the actions of their government; and I'd consider that showing to the world that the average American is not as "ethically challenged" as his elected representatives is more important than having to read yet another posting on that topic.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 10:35 AM on November 14, 2005


If certain MEFI readers are annoyed by posts on topics, why don't they simply NOT READ and above all NOT RESPOND to the topic at hand? It doesn't seem like that would take very much work on their part and it would contribute to an overall more interesting MEFI in every thread because there are ALWAYS people uninterested in any given topic.

I get the strong impression that some people want interesting discussion on MEFI and others just want to be entertained by shiny objects. Political discussion has never been and never will be entertaining. Maybe MEFI needs a filtering mechanism so that people looking for shiny objects can find them.
posted by muppetboy at 10:47 AM on November 14, 2005


Malor wrote: Politics IS TALKING, and that's what we're doing here.... conversation via web. What we do here MATTERS...What we are doing here IS the political process...If you don't happen to like it, then go the fuck away.

Very nice. Now could someone be so kind as to point me to a website where I might find the Best of the Web?
posted by rocket88 at 10:51 AM on November 14, 2005


Give me a break. Being a broken record doesn't change or affect anything, neither does preaching to the choir. That is what these threads are and nothing more.

So everyone get their torture posts all lined up for the week. I'd hate to miss a day.
posted by xmutex at 10:25 AM PST on November 14


I get most of my in-depth news from MeFi. The NYT and BBC rarely have links to government documents and such. The people here are better than those posting to every goddamn blog on the planet.

If you don't like news, don't click on the links, and don't incessantly post in them about how much you hate them. In return, I won't post in your favorite threads about how much they suck, okay?

Very nice. Now could someone be so kind as to point me to a website where I might find the Best of the Web?
posted by rocket88 at 10:51 AM PST on November 14


http://butts-lol.info
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:57 AM on November 14, 2005


I’m with insomnia_lj (et.al) on this. We need to read about it. We need to talk about it. We need to look at the angles and get an understanding of the situation. Clarity is important, on this issue it’s critical.
That said, in as much as I don’t buy the: Mefi, love it or leave it argument, I see how overexposure can lead to numbness.

On the whole though, I’d err toward wealth of information. If you don’t like it, no one’s putting a gun to your head to read it. Well, at least until Cheney’s changes go into effect.

SERE school isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I think it’s necessary training. I dislike the tacit implication that these techniques should be taught to be used on the enemy. But anyone with half a brain can recognize that part of it is bullshit.

I understand the concepts behind the desire to enhance the interrogation techniques used by intelligence agents. Tactically, I think they are useful. This is not to say I think torture is useful. There are methods other than torture that can be used to gain information.
One does not use a tactic however that does not serve the greater strategy and the ultimate goals of one’s country.
I believe that in the long run a strategy that includes fairness, order, and transparency will be far superior to one that requires working in the shadows.

What frightens me is that this kind of abuse does foster the “teach them their story” sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.
We can, for example, torture someone into telling us a cell is going to bomb New York and then use that ‘information’ to arrest, detain, and otherwise limit civil rights in an area in New York.

I see little use for torture other than this. If this is the case - I’m not saying it is, but I’m sure most of us have insurance of some kind (car, home, what have you) - it is vital to maintain communication to expose this for what it is.
Even if it is definitely not the case, it is still vital to communicate this information to foster understanding of human rights and prevent abuses. I would think we can all agree that such things must be defended on principle or at the very least given the simple courtesy shown to those who post on amusing but less heavy subjects, cute dogs for example.
(Not that I have anything against cute dogs, I’m a leg man, gimme four!)
posted by Smedleyman at 10:57 AM on November 14, 2005


"So why do you waste your time reading and commenting on them?"

"If certain MEFI readers are annoyed by posts on topics, why don't they simply NOT READ and above all NOT RESPOND to the topic at hand?"


Maybe because "Politics IS TALKING, and that's what we're doing here.... conversation via web. What we do here MATTERS."?

Unless you mean politics is talking to only people who agree with you, but I think that's more likely defining a circle jerk.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:00 AM on November 14, 2005


/derail
I suppose the term I was looking for was: consensual validation.
Sorta checking each other so as to re-validate the reality where such inconsistiencies in thought as: “We don’t torture....but we want an exemption to torture” don’t hold true.
As opposed to the Orwellian picture the average couch potato ...excuse me, potatoe, seems to be buying into whether tacitly or otherwise.
I think many of us just need that “Hey, is it just me or is this nuts?” sort of re-affirmation every day, since the alternative world picture is cranked out every hour of every day.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:03 AM on November 14, 2005


There's a difference between political speech and disrupting other people who are discussing something. If you have a dissenting point of view, it's more than welcome. But you don't seem to be interested in that.
posted by muppetboy at 11:09 AM on November 14, 2005


{raises poorly scribbled sign}

NO MORE TORTURE!
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That's it, everybody!

NO MORE TORTURE!
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posted by Witty at 11:15 AM on November 14, 2005


“Unless you mean politics is talking to only people who agree with you, but I think that's more likely defining a circle jerk.”
posted by mr_crash_davis

And of course, some people like to contribute alternative perspectives to that consensus to have those considered and validated or critiqued, as opposed to just pissing on the whole process and attempting to justify that refusal as some kind of political statement instead of recognizing it for the useless tripe it is.
But that’s just my opinion. Mileage on posting: “this is a circle jerk” may vary in other blogs. Perhaps elsewhere it’s profound.

---
/back on

I'm less urbane than McCain. If this becomes policy I would actively seek to overthrow this administration, peacefully and lawfully of course, but it would gain all my attention. I wouldn't rest until Cheney, Bush and anyone who condoned this type of action were executed as war criminals, at the very least jailed for a very long time. I would even ask for U.N. assistance. Instituting this as policy would make the United States an outlaw nation.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:18 AM on November 14, 2005


I wish people would stop using torture to force xmutex to read this thread.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:19 AM on November 14, 2005


I get most of my in-depth news from MeFi.

A tragic statement.
posted by xmutex at 11:22 AM on November 14, 2005


witty: not.
posted by quonsar at 11:23 AM on November 14, 2005


I think most Americans support torturing suspected terrorists. Going against it is a losing political cause, unless you have someone like McCain who can clearly explain why it's no good.
posted by cell divide at 11:23 AM on November 14, 2005


offtopic:

Very nice. Now could someone be so kind as to point me to a website where I might find the Best of the Web?
posted by rocket88 at 10:51 AM PST on November 14


What makes a good thread post to MetaFilter?

A good post to MetaFilter is something that meets the following criteria: most people haven't seen it before, there is something interesting about the content on the page, and it might warrant discussion from others.


Can we finally put the ridiculous "best of the Web" complaints in the trashbin? Whenever someone makes that ridiculous complaint, it's a clear sign of a troll. And I fell for it. :(
posted by mrgrimm at 11:24 AM on November 14, 2005


Witty: you know, I think I'm against torture in general. But like anything in the real world, it's just not that simple. I think it should be illegal and there should be really serious repercussions for any act of torture, no matter how motivated.

But there are times when the law just doesn't matter and Thoreau's idea of a "higher law" comes in. That ought to be how any sort of torture comes about... as a personal act of civil disobedience. The torturers would need to accept their punishment for the act. An act of torture might be morally justified even though the torturers should still go to prison.
posted by muppetboy at 11:26 AM on November 14, 2005


enhanced interrogation techniques

An enhanced technique? Sounds like something good I'd pay extra for in DVD player...Sign me up!

That said I think I speak for all Americans when I say I'd support torture of terrorists that had knowledge of eminent attacks but certainly not of innocent civilians.

The problem with that (and again I speak for all Americans on this) is that you really never ever know if you've got your hands on a terrorist that has knowledge of eminent attacks and as the saying goes you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs...

What diehards like Cheney, GW and any other chickenhawk that has never been in combat don't get is that the difference between torture as a philosophy and torture as a reality are orders of magnitude apart. Once is a nasty but potentially justified act of violence where the ends may justify the means the other is a horrible human atrocity that usually manufactures more of what you are trying to prevent.
posted by aaronscool at 11:35 AM on November 14, 2005


I'm against torture too. I will vote "no" on torture when the opportunity comes to my town.
posted by Witty at 11:36 AM on November 14, 2005


What REALLY bothers me is that some people want to be able to commit an act of torture and not accept the consequences for that act. They want to stand outside the law. That is wrong. The need for something this cruel should be so great that the consequences of serious time in prison should seem unimportant by comparison. If a case can be made for extenuating circumstances, the court would consider that at a trial. But torture should NEVER be legal. That doesn't mean that you or I or anyone would never do it under any circumstance. People are capable of anything, and situations in this world can make anything, even torture, moral.
posted by muppetboy at 11:39 AM on November 14, 2005


ontopic:

What happens if on September 7th of 2001, we had gotten one of the hijackers and based on information associated with that arrest, believed that within four days, there's going to be a devastating attack on the United States?"

Well, we'd investigate further, no? How did we get the information that there was going to be a "devastating attack"? Follow that fucking thread, dimwit. How do we know that this is one of the hijackers?

All these bullshit hypotheticals are just bullshit hypotheticals (how about that from an anti-objectivist?).

What if there was an alternative method for producing mass quantities of energy without harming the planet, and only one man knew about it ... but refused to tell? TORTURE!

What if a missing child's mother locked him in an airtight storage unit somewhere in the city of New York, and the toddler only has 2 days of air at most? TORTURE!

What if a bigfoot creature is captured in the Sierras, and signs indicate that he/she is not the only yeti in the area. The bigfoot speaks English, but refuses to divulge info about any other creatures. TORTURE!

What if a deepsea diver stumbles upon the lost continent of Mu, filled with priceless artifacts of an ancient civilization, but refuses to give its location? TORTURE!

Unfortunately, I do think most Americans would agree with Hadley. The best argument against torture is that it doesn't work and that it will likely result in torture against "our team."

On preview: aaronscool hits it well:

The problem with that (and again I speak for all Americans on this) is that you really never ever know if you've got your hands on a terrorist that has knowledge of eminent attacks and as the saying goes you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs...

The information you need to make torture justifiable in itself makes torture unjustifiable. Or something like that.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:43 AM on November 14, 2005


Have people gone mad? You don't fuck with the law to make your present-day problem more convenient. The law is what holds our free and democratic society together in the first place! The equal protections of the law underpin everything.

I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said "people willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both." It is the same with law, whose equal protection of our rights is the very basis for any freedoms that we enjoy. When we talk about reworking it in the name of security and expediency, we take a bold step down a long, slippery road to tyranny.
posted by muppetboy at 11:50 AM on November 14, 2005


A tragic statement.
posted by xmutex at 11:22 AM PST on November 14


It is if you can't understand the concept of "in-depth." There are few places where the smart-to-idiot ratio is so high; this is one of them. Again, I ask: if you hate it so much, if you think that the contributions of the members here are so bad, if you think that you haven't learned anything worthwhile here, why not get the fuck out and leave the commenting to people who like this place?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:53 AM on November 14, 2005


mrgrimm: read the first of the criteria you posted.

Most people haven't seen it before

Do you think it applies here?

...and I thought calling someone a troll was a clear sign of a troll...
posted by rocket88 at 11:55 AM on November 14, 2005


“An act of torture might be morally justified even though the torturers should still go to prison...
That doesn't mean that you or I or anyone would never do it under any circumstance.”
posted by muppetboy at 11:26 AM

Being a person quite capable of anything and a wholehearted believer in the maxim that circumstances in times of war dictate action, I disagree.
I would never torture under any circumstances, given that I am in my right mind.
In any case I would never torture as an active agent of the government. Torture is never morally justified.

I agree with your Jefferson and Thoreau references, but I take a different tack. I prize liberty above life. Any loss of life is justifiable to preserve liberty. One aspect of that liberty is the right of the individual not to be tortured by the state. Any individual. Any state. Any time.

If someone had harmed my wife or my kids I would torture him so long and hard it would be my new career.
But at that point I would be a madman anyway. Madmen do not have morals.
We are not far apart in position though. We seem to have arrived at similar conclusions from disparate paths.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:30 PM on November 14, 2005


An important issue, but repeated posts about the same issue over an over and over again are in and of themselves a form of torture.

And repeated comments about the issue of repeated posts (although with different links that are, in part, subject to temporal factors) are also a form of torture.

Except of course, we have the option of not reading them and thereby, letting others who have interests that differ from our own read and comment as they please.
posted by juiceCake at 12:39 PM on November 14, 2005


muppetboy: Well said.

In any court case, there is the concept of extenuating circumstances. If authorities are facing a "ticking A-bomb" situation that they feel the need to torture someone, then surely they will be exonerated when the case comes to court.

Torture, or whatever clever euphemism one uses for it, should always be illegal. Those who would torture should be so damned well certain that what they are doing is right that they are willing to face the concequences of their actions.

Any other standard simply invites a misuse of power.
posted by moonbiter at 12:54 PM on November 14, 2005


"One aspect of that liberty is the right of the individual not to be tortured by the state. Any individual. Any state. Any time."

The same could be said for murder. And yet we have war. If you prize liberty above life, there might be situations in which murder, torture or other actions would be more important in preserving liberty than your own life. That's my point.
posted by muppetboy at 12:55 PM on November 14, 2005


"If authorities are so certain they are ..."
posted by moonbiter at 12:55 PM on November 14, 2005


That torture is being carried out by an allegedly civilized nation in this millenium is indeed news that should be discussed and discussed and discussed until it permeates the conscience of every person on the planet. The people who say, "Ho hum, I already knew this so what's the point? I want to read more posts about bunnies and technology here, not rehashed stories about boring torture," may, in my humble opinion, go fuck themselves, stick a hot poker up their collective bums, and shut up. Not necessarily in that order.
posted by leftcoastbob at 12:58 PM on November 14, 2005


"I agree with your Jefferson and Thoreau references, but I take a different tack. I prize liberty above life."

I really don't get how these are in opposition. I think both Jefferson and Thoreau prized liberty above life. The Jefferson quote even implies this.
posted by muppetboy at 1:00 PM on November 14, 2005


We don't torture. We Freedom Tickle.
posted by drfu at 1:12 PM on November 14, 2005


[hsif lacirtemmys]

If you don't like this FPP, write to your Representatives!

The only way the USA is going to get its mojo back is if people start demanding better of it.

There are about 20 000 American MeFi members. If each and every one of you wrote to your city, county, state, congress, and senate representatives protesting the use of torture and demanding the government make it clearly illegal to use torture, there would be change. If each and every one of you were to find five friends to do the same, the effect would be collosal.

The only way the USA is going to get its mojo back is if people start demanding better of it.

If you don't like this FPP, write to your Representatives!

[symmetrical fish]
posted by five fresh fish at 1:24 PM on November 14, 2005


The Torturer-In-Chief himself is coming to Kyoto of all places today and tomorrow before heading to a summit in Korea.

We've got a chilly unwelcome planned for him.
posted by planetkyoto at 1:28 PM on November 14, 2005


What have you done to stop torture by our governent today?

Nothing. By choice.
posted by a3matrix at 1:37 PM on November 14, 2005


Your assertions that our outrage doesn't matter are bullshit. This is how change happens. If you don't happen to like it, then go the fuck away.

Outrage only matters if you do something with it. I don't count posting onMetaFilter as doing something. I think it mostly makes us all feel better, but accomplishes little. I don't see much evidence of change happening, and I don't see any correlation between what little change is happening and MetaFilter posts.

It's not that I dislike posts that criticize the Bush administration. Much the opposite, they make me feel good. But my feeling good doesn't end war or torture. It's easy to say "Bush is bad" or "torture is bad" or "war is bad" and think that accomplishes something, but I see no reason to believe that. If you think any number of posts to MetaFilter will prevent one act of torture, I think you're just fooling yourself.

Go ahead and post here, but then go do something productive. On preview, what a3matrix said.
posted by scottreynen at 1:38 PM on November 14, 2005


Hearts and minds, Scott, that's what it's about. We share information here, and use the information as tools to influence others. It does matter. My pro-Bush siblings are starting to crack.
posted by planetkyoto at 2:11 PM on November 14, 2005


“I really don't get how these are in opposition. I think both Jefferson and Thoreau prized liberty above life. The Jefferson quote even implies this.
posted by muppetboy”

Perhaps I misread. I was assuming torture to save lives.

“The same could be said for murder. And yet we have war. If you prize liberty above life, there might be situations in which murder, torture or other actions would be more important in preserving liberty than your own life. That's my point.”
posted by muppetboy

The same could not be said for murder. I am, for example, opposed to capital punishment.
Only murder under limited circumstances - for example in self-defense is excusable by the state because it aims at preserving life, an eqivalent goal. I would further argue that war is an inherently immoral act whatever it’s practical necessities. Acts in war are determined by circumstance because one is trying to kill in order to ultimately achieve the cessation of war under whatever the overall strategic goal is. e.g. American independance.
We are not still at war with the British.

One cannot violate a principle in order to preserve it. One cannot torture in order to make the world safe from torture.
I agree with your argument that for the most part one can take the hit and serve a higher moral end, but - again, to me - there is no higher value than liberty - which is, ultimately, the right to think as one chooses, which torture abates.
I suppose I’m to the ‘left’ of John Stuart Mill on this issue.
http://www.victorianweb.org/philosophy/mill/liberty.html
But I don’t believe the state has an inherant right to tamper with an individual’s freedom even in the interest of self-protection (that is, of the apparatus of state, not humans).
In the instance of preventing harm to others of course, it does. But I would argue that this extends only to acts or active participation, not knowlege, which is a passive state.

I would further assert that I am responsible for my acts, agents of the state for theirs. I am not responsible for non-action, neither are agents of the state, and neither should we be held accountable for such a thing.
That is - if I harm someone to get the code to disarm a bomb, I am responsible for harming that person.
If I do not harm that person to get the code and the bomb goes off, I am not responsible for the damage to life that bomb does. Only the bomb maker and the person who withheld the code are.

In some respects I think we’re violently disagreeing. I agree to your premise, I even agree with your conclusions. What I do not agree with - and perhaps I’m misreading you here - is condoning as a moral act, torture, despite it remaining illegal.
This would make a hero out of someone commiting a reprehensible act whether they’re doing time in the joint or not. Perhaps more so if they’re doing time for it.

Even in the instances where I argued against the condemnation of troops as a matter of practical necessity using white phosphorus for example, I don’t condone it as a matter of course. It’s use is reprehensible. While it saves lives in the short term, the amount of damage it ultimately causes is self-defeating.
I would argue torture is equally deleterious in it’s effects however useful it might look at the time.
It is appealing to take the hit and torture someone, but the effect on society, humanity in general, is too great a cost to condone as morally correct.
If that makes any sense.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:12 PM on November 14, 2005


(argued in other threads that is)
posted by Smedleyman at 2:15 PM on November 14, 2005


I have the numbers of my congresspeople on speed dial. I call them at least once a week. I also email them. I have written letters to the editor decrying this. I talk about it to who ever will listen (and a few who really won't.) Please don't lecture me on how writing about people who write about torture on MeFi are actually doing nothing. (see my above post.)
posted by leftcoastbob at 2:26 PM on November 14, 2005


mrgrimm: read the first of the criteria you posted.

Most people haven't seen it before

Do you think it applies here?


Yes, I think it does. From yesterday:

"a top White House official refused to unequivocally rule out the use of torture, arguing the US administration was duty-bound to protect Americans from terrorist attack."

I was busy all yesterday and I only skimmed Google News this morning, but it's the first I'd heard of Hadley's speech, and I'd bet most of the MeFi members hadn't either.

If you want to knock the post for being NewsFilter, go ahead, because it is. But we long ago decided that was OK. Enough with the "best of the web."
posted by mrgrimm at 2:33 PM on November 14, 2005


My problem with torture is a more practical one. How do you know that the information that you have cut/water boarded/prised or whatever out of the "terrorist" is worth anything?
If I had planted a bomb that will go off in one hour and was being tortured to reveal its location, would it not be in my best interests to give you spurious information for an hour until it went off? As a torturer, how do you know truth from lie?
Military interrogation should be a long, careful process where information is cross-checked (both with the person and with other people and then backed up by research (documentary and operational)).
There are no quick solutions to getting information you know is accurate from a person who is unwilling to divulge it.
posted by dangerousdan at 3:13 PM on November 14, 2005


exactly, dangerousdan--there's no way of knowing if the person being tortured is telling you the truth, or just saying stuff so you'll stop torturing them.

I think what's most reprehensible and evil about this policy is that it's being used indiscriminately and under cover of darkness. We still don't know who's being held where or why, and that's just the beginning. It's also probable that if Cheney succeeds in making torture an instrument of US policy, then we can all be tortured too. Is that what's happening to Jose Padilla, another American citizen being held without charges or trial? Haven't the terrorists really won (sorry for the cliche but it fits) if we're changing our laws and policies to more fully emulate those that some like to call evildoers? To more fully be like Saddam's Iraq?
posted by amberglow at 3:25 PM on November 14, 2005


more on SERE from digby: ... It's not just that torture doesn't work generally, which it doesn't. And it's not just that torture is morally repugnant and stains all who are involved with it. It does. The most amazingly thing about this (Commie) torture regime is that it's specifically designed to extract false confessions for propaganda purposes. Dear gawd, can they really be so incompetent that they didn't understand the difference between creating propaganda and gaining intelligence? ...
posted by amberglow at 4:03 PM on November 14, 2005


'We Do Not Torture' and Other Funny Stories (repost of a Frank Rich column)
posted by amberglow at 4:14 PM on November 14, 2005


How to lose friends and alienate people
posted by homunculus at 4:40 PM on November 14, 2005


“Military interrogation should be a long, careful process where information is cross-checked...”
posted by dangerousdan

Used’ta be SOP. Now, not so much.
-----
Er, I think you guys have the wrong ideas about SERE school. It’s about not eating. Crapping carborundium. They dump folks off in bumblefuck, hunt them down and rough them up. And don’t feed them. It’s mostly pilots, aircrews. There are several levels. Level C is for special forces. F’ing duh. It’s rougher.

What happened to worrying about the school of the americas? Or did the name change confuse people?

Far be it from me to be the first to cast the tinfoil hat, but c’mon. That’s not what’s going on there.
http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0IAX/is_6_86/ai_n6220836
(couldn’t find anything on NAS Brunswick)
http://www.fasolant.navy.mil/ACE_Credits.htm
D-2D-0032 - what an ominous name. Ooooh!
Scary communist mind control techniques!
We have thousands of years of torture and opression to draw on, not including Torquemada, and we need to go to SERE school to learn how to control people through brutality?
People have been watching too much Manchurian Candidate and not
using their faculties of reason. Meh. I have fun with shutting off my brain too. It’s just soo silly though.

Pentagon man A: “Saay, Joe. Did you know that not feeding people and beating them up reduces their resistance to questioning and weakens their will?”
Pentagon man B: “My God! Despite countless of examples by governments, not to mention cults, I didn’t think it would work - until I visited this obscure school that formerly only some military folks including aircrews knew about that, referencing, might make some people seem informed! Wow!”

What a bunch of horseshit.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:47 PM on November 14, 2005


Smedleyman: Funny you should as about the School of the Americas.

JOIN CODEPINK AT THE SCHOOL OF THE AMERICAS PROTEST NOV. 18-20 TO HONOR THE VICTIMS, CLOSE THE SCHOOL AND CHANGE OPPRESSIVE U.S. FOREIGN POLICY!
posted by leftcoastbob at 6:45 PM on November 14, 2005


For many years the U.S. Army has been accused of running a "torture school" as part of its training of Latin American officers at its School of the Americas (lately renamed the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation"), located first in Panama and later, after Panama's full independence, at Fort Benning in Georgia. This accusation was denied, and most Americans, including this one, were inclined to doubt that it was really so. But the routine use during the war on terror of techniques that according to international law (and common-sense judgment, here and abroad) are clearly torture suggests that it may have been true after all.

What We've Lost: George W. Bush and the price of torture

Following the terrorist attacks in September 2001, explicit proposals to authorize torture circulated in the administration and in the Pentagon and CIA, even though there was no one yet to torture.
posted by mrgrimm at 7:01 PM on November 14, 2005


Smedleyman: My point has nothing to do with condoning torture or making it legal. My point is that there are probably circumstances under which an individual would decide to break the law and do it, just as there are circumstances under which we kill people (which is arguably equally reprehensible). One can even imagine situations where torture would be a moral imperative. When an individual does something like this, they should do it as an act of civil disobedience, knowing that they will be expected to serve a prison term for it. This is not condoning torture. It's illegal and reprehensible, just as murder is. But it might occasionally be the lesser of two evils. The individual and the court system have to sort this out on a case-by-case basis. There are no hard and fast rules to live by because life is never simple.
posted by muppetboy at 8:09 PM on November 14, 2005


"My problem with torture is a more practical one. How do you know that the information that you have cut/water boarded/prised or whatever out of the "terrorist" is worth anything?

If I had planted a bomb that will go off in one hour and was being tortured to reveal its location, would it not be in my best interests to give you spurious information for an hour until it went off? As a torturer, how do you know truth from lie?"

It seems to me that it would depend on the exact situation. If someone had definitely planted a nuclear weapon in downtown Tokyo on a short fuse, I think it would be worth torturing them just to see if the information would help. In all likelihood you're right. It would fail. But are you really going to let millions of people die (many would die far more prolonged and painful deaths than torture) without trying? I personally think it would be immoral to let Tokyo be vaporised to preserve some twisted sense of moral purity. The really important fine point here is that I believe such an act MUST be an individual decision to disobey the law. And I do think the person doing the torturing in such a case should (A) turn themselves in and (B) face trial for a serious prison sentence (even if they saved Tokyo).
posted by muppetboy at 8:19 PM on November 14, 2005


I dunno, muppetboy--as much as I hate to imagine it, I can imagine that there would be circumstances where I could kill a person. I really hate to think that there would be circumstances where I could torture a person, though. I, personally, think that death would be preferable to me than that. There are worse things than dying; are there worse things than living with the fact that you purposely tortured someone? I dunno.
posted by leftcoastbob at 8:22 PM on November 14, 2005


The scary thing to me is that there is a huge difference between willful disobedience of the law by individuals acting in an extreme circumstance and *sanctioned law breaking*, which is the end of civilization. I'm not sure that the current administration really has the wisdom to comprehend this.
posted by muppetboy at 8:27 PM on November 14, 2005


leftcoastbob: Of course we hate to think it. It's unthinkable. But occasionally life makes the unthinkable happen. What is worse? Living with the fact that you tortured someone OR living with the fact that you failed to torture someone resulted in millions of deaths, many of them far worse than the torture you would have inflicted? Children missing limbs, babies born with radiation sickness... it's a terrifying dilemma. I hope that I would have the guts to do it. Even if it failed. And I would turn myself in for judgement regardless. If it isn't a crime to do it, we don't have a civilization.
posted by muppetboy at 8:33 PM on November 14, 2005


What is worse? Living with the fact that you tortured someone OR living with the fact that you failed to torture someone resulted in millions of deaths, many of them far worse than the torture you would have inflicted? Children missing limbs, babies born with radiation sickness... it's a terrifying dilemma.

Why is that the comparison? Why isn't it ever (the far far more likely and realistic scenario) that you tortured someone OR nothing happened since they weren't terrorists at all to begin with? We know they swept up all sorts of people and still are. We know in Afghanistan money changed hands and people were imprisoned. We know that we're not now allowed to know who is held or why or on what basis. There's not at all any kind of real evidence that we're actually holding any real terrorists who are capable of anything like an event that you describe. In fact, there's real and growing evidence (see the Adel post for just one example) that many if not all of the people we're holding or have held are innocent, and not at all terrorists. Many have been returned to their home countries without charges at all.
posted by amberglow at 6:10 AM on November 15, 2005


More enhanced interrrogation techniques:
"They took us to a cage — an animal cage that had lions in it within the Republican Palace," he said. "And they threatened us that if we did not confess, they would put us inside the cage with the lions in it. It scared me a lot when they got me close to the cage, and they threatened me. And they opened the door and they threatened that if I did not confess, that they were going to throw me inside the cage. And as the lion was coming closer, they would pull me back out and shut the door, and tell me, 'We will give you one more chance to confess.' And I would say, 'Confess to what?'"
posted by kirkaracha at 6:44 AM on November 15, 2005


Like Josh Marshall said, the fact that we even are having a conversation on torture says a lot about how bad things are and how far the US has fallen.
posted by nofundy at 8:20 AM on November 15, 2005


“One can even imagine situations where torture would be a moral imperative”
posted by muppetboy

Ok, I got it. I suppose this is where diverge. I can’t imagine a situation where torture would be a moral imperative. Even the nuclear bomb thing. Because again, it’s my choice whether to torture, but the bomber’s choice whether to bomb. You can’t be held responsible for someone else bombing someone. I suppose it’s the corollary of power, responsibility. I don’t recognize torture as a legitimate power. And again, that’s because I recognize torture as a violation of something integral to humanity and I place that above saving lives. A million lives, a billion. The world would end before I deliberately torture someone.

It’s a fine point. But I concede there are no hard and fast rules.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:02 PM on November 15, 2005


Smedleyman - "The world would end before I deliberately torture someone."

vs.

"If someone had harmed my wife or my kids I would torture him so long and hard it would be my new career."

Not trying to draw you into an argument at all but these two statements seem to be at odds. I fully understand where you are coming from in both instances but I can see that some might be confused by these two comments which appear, at first glance, to be incompatible. You might want to restate your principles just in case someone meaner than me attempts to take advantage.
posted by longbaugh at 1:15 PM on November 15, 2005


"...it’s my choice whether to torture, but the bomber’s choice whether to bomb. You can’t be held responsible for someone else bombing someone. I suppose it’s the corollary of power, responsibility. I don’t recognize torture as a legitimate power."

Doesn't this strike you as a cop out? "Ah, well, it was his decision to blow up the world, don't look at me just cause I might have stopped him *at great personal cost*..."

Murdering someone isn't a legitimate source of power either. But there can be a moral imperative to kill in extreme circumstances that goes beyond law.

"The world would end before I deliberately torture someone."

Far too convenient. Think HALF the world wiped out and the other half dying a slow painful death.

It all seems like one big gray zone to me.

Would you yell at this person? Would you restrain them from leaving? Would you harass them? Would you really do NOTHING whatsoever? "Have a nice day!"

When a billion lives hang in the balance, what really is the difference between yelling at the known perpetrator and breaking their fingers?

What we do is ALWAYS an individual decision. And humanity will end as surely as we all will die. But I question whether you would really be able to retain such a rational grip on things at such an extreme point. What you're really proposing with this moral absolutism is the suffering of great numbers of people in order to preserve your own sense of moral superiority - which might be very short lived in any case. Sounds like a viewpoint that is completely solipsistic and/or nihilistic to me. It's an act of denial of your own life and your place in the universe. Moral absolutism of this sort denies any possibility of the sacrifice of the hero. Do you think you are a god? Because in my opinion, men don't have the option of moral absolutism.

BTW, I completely agree with amberglow IF the discussion is about LEGALITY of torture (as opposed to the MORALITY of it). Torture should never be legal or condoned under any circumstances. If torture appears to be a moral imperative to an individual, they should still stand before a court and answer for the crime.
posted by muppetboy at 1:16 PM on November 15, 2005


Think HALF the world wiped out and the other half dying a slow painful death.

It all seems like one big gray zone to me.

Would you yell at this person? Would you restrain them from leaving? Would you harass them? Would you really do NOTHING whatsoever? "Have a nice day!"

When a billion lives hang in the balance, what really is the difference between yelling at the known perpetrator and breaking their fingers?


but that presupposes you know who it is who's going to do something like that, and that you have them already in custody--the implications of that mean that you'd have to capture and hold every single person even remotely having that potential forever (and that's millions and millions of people, both citizens and non).

This is not just a legal argument, but an argument about morality and decency and respect for other human beings and their essential rights. Torture is not just illegal, but immoral and evil--always--because it denies the essential humanity and dignity of both participants.
posted by amberglow at 1:23 PM on November 15, 2005


"but that presupposes you know who it is who's going to do something like that"

Yes, that's exactly my point (and I do admit it is a fine point). The YOU in this equation CANNOT be a government. It MUST be an individual in an extreme circumstance and with unusual knowledge DISOBEYING the law of a government.

You're correct that you can't KNOW what people are going to do. You can't KNOW, to draw a smaller example, that a guy with a gun to a child's head is going to pull the trigger. But should you stand by and find out what's going to happen if you're holding a rifle and trained as a sniper? There's no easy answer. Killing the guy might be a terrible and immoral act. You don't know them. You can't read their mind. You don't even know if the gun is loaded. The guy might be developmentally disabled. But you're going to have to ACT. And that act will have to take place without some kind of absolute moral calculus.

My point is that there are no absolutes when it comes to morality and that INDIVIDUALS may have to stand up and do something terrible in extreme circumstances. This in no way suggests that governments should be allowed to circumvent the rule of law. And it doesn't make torture moral. But that may be the lesser of two evils, which makes the choice to commit an immoral act a moral imperative.

Was shooting a bunch of badly armed and untrained 15 year old german kids at the end of WWII an immoral act? Who can say, but it had to be done because the war had to be won.
posted by muppetboy at 1:37 PM on November 15, 2005


PBS Frontline: The Torture Question

There are absolutes when it comes to morality--that's why we define certain things as moral or immoral, as good or evil, etc. There are immoral and evil things that have to be done sometimes, but there are also ALWAYS alternatives to those things--those german kids could have been imprisoned and tried instead of shot, for instance. If we pretend to be better than dictatorships and "evil regimes" and Saddam's Iraq, and Nazis, etc, then there are things we absolutely don't--and won't and should never--do, unlike them.

Molly Ivins: Some kind of manly: Bush administration, dead to morality, says torture is the American way
posted by amberglow at 2:11 PM on November 15, 2005


I don't agree that there are always alternatives. In the example I gave of the sniper and the child being held hostage... are you going to take the shot or not? If you take it, you do commit an immoral act. But from certain perspectives, that might be considered moral. What if you don't take the shot and 10 seconds later, the child's head is blown off? What if you KNOW this guy and you have a strong reason to believe he will kill the child. There may be no alternative to an immoral action. Life isn't a textbook.

Killing is immoral. To the moral absolutist, doesn't that make World War II immoral? What was the morality of our delay in entering the war? What would have been the morality of the US staying out of it altogether? What would our world be like?
posted by muppetboy at 2:32 PM on November 15, 2005


/long. Sorry.
“You might want to restate your principles just in case someone meaner than me attempts to take advantage.” posted by longbaugh

Fair enough. Thanks. Ok - to restate. As a matter of principle I would not torture. Were I in my right mind I wouldn’t torture. I believe it is always wrong. That I might lose my mind and torture someone who harmed my family out of dispair or rage and recognizing that such a thing might tilt me into madness is vastly different than admitting it as a potentially moral tool.

So, to clarify, even if the lives of my family were directly threatened by “the bomb,” I would not torture. That is given I retained my sanity.

“Doesn't this strike you as a cop out? "Ah, well, it was his decision to blow up the world, don't look at me just cause I might have stopped him *at great personal cost*..."”

Nope. It’s not personal cost. It’s a matter of humanity. I refuse to take anyone’s humanity. I refuse to reliquish mine. Period. I am in fact a moral absolutist (that conservative thing) some things are wrong, always wrong.
You seem to be saying there are things we do even though they are wrong. I’ve conceded that point.

The difference here is that I value humanity - liberty - above life at any cost. The number of lives is therefore not a factor.
Again - to put it simply - it’s why Batman doesn’t just finally kill the Joker. We can attempt to stop someone or extract information with all of our resources. I don’t recognize torture among them.

“When a billion lives hang in the balance, what really is the difference between yelling at the known perpetrator and breaking their fingers?”

Intangibles. A multitude of them. I don’t accept the Kobyashi Maru scenario. Sorry. And I’m not talking about breaking someone’s fingers. And I doubt someone committed enough to kill a billion people would crack. My compass for committment is me, but I’ve seen much tougher men, not to mention fanatics. You could burn my testicles right off with electricity and I’d reveal nada. And, although I’m in the ring, I’m a lightweight in comparison.

“My point is that there are no absolutes when it comes to morality”

Which I’ve conceded. I simply see no scenario where torture is the lesser of two evils. To me it is among the greatest evils. It is to me where the classification of “greatest evils” starts.

Are there then some scenarios where raping a child could be the lesser of two evils? Why then not rape your prisoner’s child to get him to talk? That would be torture.
Is there a scenario where ending the world might be the lesser of two evils? (Actually, summoning Cthulu comes to mind, but that’s fantasy, not reality)
I embody the individual you are talking about, doing something terrible in extreme circumstances. And I’m telling you, there are lines you must not cross. Killing someone with a rifle? Walk in the park. 15 year old German kids? I’d go through them like Pac-Man.
In your scenario I’d probably aim for the kids shoulder. Depending on the rifle I’m using (I’d prefer an M-14) it could blow the kids arm off. But if the guy’s holding a gun to the kid’s head, that’d be center mass. I’d head shot him if I could. But that assumes I’d want to save the kids life and there aren’t other considerations.

But we’re not talking about a cop hitting a guy with a phone book here or breaking a couple fingers. At least I’m not. That stuff is bad. It’s not torture. I’m talking about acts which render a human being into something other than. Something you would rather commit suicide and go to hell - than face.
(I’m obliquely referencing the prisoners in Gitmo who attempt suicide - Islam condemns suicide as a way to hell and damnation. The Koran says 'Do not kill yourselves' and warns that those who disobey will be 'cast into the fire.' The Prophet Mohammed is reported to have said that a suicide cannot go to paradise, etc. etc.)

Killing is indeed immoral. It is less immoral than some other things, so again - your point on that is conceded.
I’m arguing that some things are of infinite value or infinite evil. That life is not of infinite value, I believe liberty (as formerly defined) to be, but torture is in that infinite class of evil.
The only thing worth torturing for would be something that had a value of infinity plus one.
(Just trying to put it in simpler terms).
posted by Smedleyman at 3:58 PM on November 15, 2005


"I simply see no scenario where torture is the lesser of two evils."

That's because you're a man and not a god. Who can say for sure what extenuating circumstances might exist? Wasn't Hitler's germany pretty close to something you'd torture to stop? It seems to me that global fascism is pretty close to the negation of liberty.

I'm not arguing for torture. I'm just arguing against the idea that morality and law are the same thing or that morality is in any way computable. I just see no simple (or complex) method for computing the answers to the moral questions of life! You can't just plug variables into an equation and come out with right or wrong.

You're struggling to create some sort of moral rule book for being a human being when no such thing can possibly exist. We have LAW, but that is an arbitrary social contract that defines some common standards based on agreed principles. But MORALITY is and always will be gray and personal. Case-by-case stuff. Nobody will ever sort it out. It's just impossible.

"I am in fact a moral absolutist (that conservative thing) some things are wrong, always wrong."

Actually, you're not. I'd argue that nobody achieves more than hypocrisy when it comes to living a moral life. You just told me you'd kill 15 year old kids in the right circumstances!

I feel like you're making my point left and right. You're confused about moral absolutism because it simply doesn't work outside being an arbitrary (and often unfair) framework for organizing civilization. Our essential humanity is just this: that we struggle through and do our best. NOBODY can take that from any of us.

"It’s a matter of humanity. I refuse to take anyone’s humanity. I refuse to reliquish mine."

The desperate sort of people who would bomb a city, someone like yourself who admittedly might torture someone who hurt their family... THAT is humanity. WE'RE NOT PERFECT and never will be. And it's NOT OUR FAULT because perfection is not possible in this world.

"The difference here is that I value humanity - liberty - above life at any cost."

Death is better than life without liberty. We do not disagree on this. It's the whole idea that morality is rationally computable in some absolute sense that flies in the face of the very experience of life in this world. We're not here to be perfect. All we can do is struggle through as best we can as individuals. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail and sometimes it's hard to tell.
posted by muppetboy at 5:12 PM on November 15, 2005


I understand the feeling you have overall... we all want to believe that we're good people, that there are some lines that we would never cross... but it's just not true. Even good people are capable of anything in the right circumstances.
posted by muppetboy at 5:27 PM on November 15, 2005


"I’m arguing that some things are of infinite value or infinite evil."

I'll concede that this may be true for you or for any given individual. But I think that also makes my point. Some people have moral absolutes (or at least they believe that they do) while some people don't... which means that for HUMANITY, morality is not universal. It is personal and specific to the situation.
posted by muppetboy at 5:30 PM on November 15, 2005


I fear I'm already beating a dead horse and that we may be splitting hairs here on an issue that is more theoretical than practical. But there is something important at stake: What I'd like to get back to is how to strengthen the argument for making torture illegal. I think the whole idea that torture is an absolute evil is inherently a weak argument. The reason that Batman doesn't kill the Joker is not because he believes in absolute morality (he doesn't, he's The Dark Knight and full of contradictions and moral flaws... he only fails to MURDER his parent's assailants because someone else kills him first!!). The reason Batman doesn't kill the Joker is because doing so would destroy the fabric of the CIVILIZATION he's fighting to save. This is a really key point! I think we should take a clue from Batman and argue against torture not because it's an absolute immoral act (which is weak because many people don't believe in moral absolutes - especially the kind of utilitarians in the military who want to use it), but because a civilization that permits or condones torture IS NOT A CIVILIZATION - IT'S BARBARISM! The real question is: are we CIVILIZED or are we BARBARIC?
posted by muppetboy at 5:44 PM on November 15, 2005


If the Joker succeeded in destroying Gotham (and therefore any possibility of civilization or justice), does anyone doubt for a moment that Batman would split his fucking head open? Of course he would, he's HUMAN. Batman is heroic because he is totally capable of destroying the Joker, but he is able to hold back his terrible desire and capacity for vengeance for the greater good - because he needs to stand up for what Gotham needs: JUSTICE. But Batman's MORALITY is personal and only barely held in check. If it was just him and the Joker, with nobody else to think about, Batman would do the thing we all FEEL he ought to do. Thanks for bringing up Batman, BTW. It's such a great story about the struggle between personal morality and civil justice.
posted by muppetboy at 5:51 PM on November 15, 2005


Smedleyman: You could burn my testicles right off with electricity and I’d reveal nada.
How on earth do you know; how could anyone know how they would react in such circumstances?
posted by olecranon at 6:00 PM on November 15, 2005


How on earth do you know; how could anyone know how they would react in such circumstances? posted by olecranon

Yes, I was being hyperbolic there. But, training. Willingness to accept that my life is over. Given that I believe in what I'm defending my limits are pretty wide. That and some real world experiance. Chicago cops can be nasty. Didn't phase me. Anyone can be broken though. Just a matter of time and application.

Wasn't Hitler's germany pretty close to something you'd torture to stop? - muppetboy
Nope.

And the Batman stuff is fiction. Just for sake of analogy. Perhaps a poor choice on my part.

I'd argue that nobody achieves more than hypocrisy when it comes to living a moral life. You just told me you'd kill 15 year old kids in the right circumstances!

Never said I was living a moral life. Trying perhaps, but it is my life. And I said I'd torture someone who hurt my family only if it drove me mad. Not as an accepted act.

I'm just arguing against the idea that morality
and law are the same thing or that morality is in any way computable.

I agree morality is not law. Morality is informal.
Morality is used descriptively to refer to a code of conduct put forward by a society other group such as a religion or accepted by an individual as their own behavior.
Or used normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons. To take “morality” to refer to an actually existing code of conduct leads to some form of relativism.
In this case, your position, appears to be is moral skepticism. That there is no code of conduct that, under any plausible specified conditions which would be put forward by all rational persons.
I disagree.
I'm not accusing you of being a nihilist. Not do I think you're completely dismissing normative ethics. I think we see eye to eye on quite a bit.
But given morality as having as it's objective the lessening of evil or harm - we have to make distinctions between the value of certain acts.
To me I am intrinsically a human being, but only extrinsically a torturer. One has greater meaning and value than the other.
It rankles to say this, but I suppose I'm closer to Kant on this topic. *shudder*
Deontologists and consequentialists have been debating on this level for quite some time. I doubt we'll be able to settle the matter here.
But, in essence: I don't see torture as a duty or moral obligation. You do. So get someone else to do it when it comes up. I choose not to.

"I am what I am
And what I am needs no excuses
I deal my own deck
Sometimes the ace
Sometimes the deuces
Its one life And there's no returning, no revising
One life and so its time to open up your closet"


The real question is: are we CIVILIZED or are we BARBARIC?


Fair enough.

"Not to go on all-Fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
"Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
"Not to eat Flesh or Fish; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
"Not to claw the Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
"Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?"
posted by Smedleyman at 10:37 PM on November 15, 2005


"I don't see torture as a duty or moral obligation. You do."

Not quite. I think under extenuating circumstances, an individual might feel their own personal moral obligation to do something terrible for the greater good. After the fact, others might agree or they might not. That's not the same thing.

I think we basically agree on most of it, but on the finer points we disagree. I fundamentally don't accept the abstract idea that there are ANY moral principles or rules that work ALL the time.
posted by muppetboy at 5:27 PM on November 16, 2005


"And the Batman stuff is fiction. Just for sake of analogy. Perhaps a poor choice on my part."

It might be fiction, but it's mythic fiction and it's truth. I think it's not a poor choice, unless all you want is to win the argument. Batman is a wonderful metaphor for man. He's a hero NOT because he's strong or good, but because he's willing to SACRIFICE for the other. THAT is what makes a hero.

"Never said I was living a moral life. Trying perhaps, but it is my life. And I said I'd torture someone who hurt my family only if it drove me mad. Not as an accepted act."

You of course have a right to your own self-determination. But I think that the application of absolute moral principles can be a selfish act in extreme circumstances. The hero yields to the needs of the other and makes his decision based on that, not the needs of his SELF.

Imagine a monk who refuses to kill under ANY circumstance. This appears noble, and I can respect that choice. But is it really noble? Under EVERY imaginable circumstance? I don't think so.
posted by muppetboy at 5:52 PM on November 16, 2005


the application of absolute moral principles can be a selfish act

Exactly. Living is a selfish act. Killing and eating animals or vegetables is a selfish act. But point conceded on your ANY circumstances position.

Let me put it like this. I can't imagine the circumstance. It's akin to mathematics. It's not zero, but it's smaller than any possible number that can be expressed.

But I still disagree on Batman.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:49 PM on November 17, 2005


ex-CIA chief and Ambassador Stansfield Turner: Cheney 'vice president for torture'
posted by amberglow at 9:18 AM on November 18, 2005


Imagine a monk who refuses to kill under ANY circumstance. This appears noble, and I can respect that choice. But is it really noble? Under EVERY imaginable circumstance? I don't think so.

Of course it's noble. Having clear and strong lines in the sand beyond which you will not go is important. It says that your life is not worth more than another's. That your dignity is not worth more. That abusing, torturing or killing others demeans yourself and them, and that you will not do it--no way, no how. I won't kill--ever, even if in moments of anger i say "i wanna kill that asshole" or stuff like that. Even if it was kill or be killed. Torture by a government as policy--what we're doing now--does not at all fall into anywhere near that category tho. No matter how much they lie about who we're holding, there's no proof they're all terrorists who would kill us, altho us torturing and abusing them will surely make them into that.
posted by amberglow at 9:23 AM on November 18, 2005


What's pretty stupid about all this is that most everyone is perfectly aware that signing the treaty doesn't actually mean 100% upholding the treaty.

Theoretically you could end up in a situation where torture would result in a positive outcome. Practically, it is so close to impossible that you never will, so you might as well sign the treaty.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:43 AM on November 18, 2005


Ignoring the Horror: Now, We Are All Barbara Bush
posted by amberglow at 3:11 PM on November 19, 2005


"Let me put it like this. I can't imagine the circumstance. It's akin to mathematics. It's not zero, but it's smaller than any possible number that can be expressed.

But I still disagree on Batman."

On the first point, I agree. I can't imagine a circumstance (or don't want to try), I just suspect that such horrific circumstances exist because I distrust absolutes.

On the second point (Batman), I don't understand your difference. It may be that I'm thinking of The Dark Knight Batman (who was well represented in Batman Begins) and you're thinking of some of the other Hollywood caricatures of Batman which reduce him to a goody-two-shoes hero like Superman.
posted by muppetboy at 7:43 PM on November 19, 2005


What's just fascinating to me about Batman is that he's a flawed hero, whose flaw is no mere Kryptonite - he's got real passion and a very strong potential for evil in him. In Batman Begins this is so clear because he WOULD HAVE killed his parent's assailant. Batman is a would-be murderer. AND a hero. That's great stuff in my opinion.
posted by muppetboy at 7:46 PM on November 19, 2005


I can understand where you're coming from amberglow, but I don't agree. I see nothing wrong with promising not to do these things and holding fast to that as long as possible. That's noble. What would be innoble (in my opinion) is holding so fast to these self-promises that you allowed terrible harm to come to others. That would be selfish and therefore innoble (in my opinion). I think there can easily be circumstances where killing someone is an act of compassion for some endangered other as opposed to a mere act of anger. A lot of World War II troops would agree with that. I have no doubt that killing a bunch of german teenagers at the end of the war was a horrifying experience. But if they had not been willing to go to war and win, Hitler might have finished developing the bomb and we might be living in a terrible fascist tyrrany now. The human cost had Hitler's Germany achieved their goal might easily have been unthinkably vast. Refusing to fight in that PARTICULAR war on moral principles would have been pretty selfish when you get down to it.

On our present government, I think we're in rough agreement. The Bush administration is pretty scary.
posted by muppetboy at 8:01 PM on November 19, 2005


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