December 2, 2005

Is "Torture" UnAmerican?

Hatched by Dafydd

Tom Bevan at the Real Clear Politics blog steered me to this Victor Davis Hanson piece, in which, while ceding virtually every point to those who advocate allowing the use of "torture" in extreme, life-and-death cases (such as Charles Krauthammer does), nevertheless ends on the McCain side of the debate thus:

But all that is precisely the risk we must take in supporting the McCain amendment — because it is a public reaffirmation of our country's ideals. [Emphasis added]

But is it really? What ideals are those?

There is of course the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against inflicting "cruel and unusual punishments." But nobody is talking about using torture as a punishment; we're discussing using it in wartime as a tool to gather intelligence, particularly in the fabled "ticking time bomb" scenario. Our "country's ideals," such as we can deduce from our foundational documents, don't even address this question.

The Fifth Amendment bans compelling people to testify against themselves in a criminal case, which of course includes the use of confessions wrung from unwilling defendants by torture. But again, we're not trying these terrorists in a criminal court, nor would we use the coerced information as evidence against them in a military tribunal (since they would just argue they lied to stop the pain). So that doesn't appear to be one of the "ideals" that Hanson meant, either.

The United States has routinely engaged in acts of "torture," by a sufficiently tortuous definition, throughout our history: in the current conflict, we take away the terrorists' liberty, which most would find pretty torturous. We allow our military captives to be questioned by infidels -- Jews, even! -- instead of restricting all contact to fellow Moslems. We often prevent them from dying as martyrs, being sent directly to Paradise, and collecting their seventy-two raisins. We might even feed them "non-kosher" food, if we don't happen to have any halal ready to hand on the battlefield. Many Islamists would consider each of these to be a war crime.

In fact, torture itself doesn't exist as a discrete thing; there is a sliding scale. As Hanson himself admits:

There is also a danger that once we try to quantify precisely what constitutes torture, we could, in the ensuing utopian debate, define anything from sleep deprivation to loud noise as unacceptable. Indeed, we might achieve the unintended effect of only creating disdain for our moral pretensions from incarcerated terrorists. They would have no worries of suffering pain but plenty of new demands on their legalistic hosts, from ethnically correct meals to proper protocols in handling their Qurans.

What strikes me as bizarre is that Hanson makes the best case I've seen for at least allowing for the possibility of torture, knocking down each and every argument that has been raised against it... yet at the end, he thinks he has trumped them all by a simplistic appeal to "our country's ideals" -- ideals he never enunciates or even identifies. It's as if "torture," however defined, violates some ritual tabu and will bring down on us the retribution of the gods.

In the first half of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein found himself very disturbed by some of the spooky implications of quantum theory. He offered what he must have supposed was a reductio ad absurdum: if the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle were true -- that (in one formulation) you could never, even in theory, reduce the measurement error of a particle's position or its momentum to zero -- then it would also have to be true that you could never reduce to zero the error in its measured energy or the error in the time you choose to measure it. Einstein thought this was absurd, hence it should prove the Uncertainty Principle was wrong.

Instead, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg eagerly embraced the supposedly "absurd" result; and most physicists agree that rather than debunking quantum mechanics, Einstein inadvertently added to its spookiness.

I'm afraid that's just what my fellow U.C. Santa Cruz alum Victor Davis Hanson has done here. In his attempt to argue in favor of the McCain amendment banning all torture under all circumstances, he has presented the best case possible against it -- even better than Charles Krauthammer's.

The first ten paragraphs of your twelve-paragraph op-ed have convinced me, Dr. Hanson: I will now wholeheartedly fight against the McCain amendment to ban all torture.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 2, 2005, at the time of 6:31 PM

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The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

Torture is a human trait.

Saddam's Shop of Horrors

That looks fairly bad, but Kevin clearly avoids the *REAL* Torture that went on under Saddam. John Mac-Whatever claims that Torture does not work, but "Naming Names" was avoided by MSM for some reason, huh.

Well, it seems that that video isn't around anymore. WorldNetDaily still has some pictures there...beatings, hand-chopping, finger-chopping, and such. The video was much to speak of moving Torture with actual sound. It was just a "4-plus-minute video clip" of *HOURS* of such and much worse; however, MSM avoided it, and still claims to know what Torture is.

America needs to be pruned...simple as that.

The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 2, 2005 7:23 PM

The following hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi

ha ha! mathspeak.
torture as a continuous distribution.

The above hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 2, 2005 7:28 PM

The following hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist

Torture has nothing to do with math, unless one plans to Torture the whole society. Making one repeat the addition tables isn't Torture...even in "Government" schools...

The above hissed in response by: KarmiCommunist [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 2, 2005 8:20 PM

The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith

I've linked from The case for torture -- Continued. Some excerpts from my post:

The end of the war against Islamic terror will come when the Islamists finally decide that we're bigger, stronger, tougher than they are and there's nothing to be gained by continuing the fight. One facet of that is that they should know we will use torture, up to and including a slow painful death under appropriate circumstances. The definition of "appropriate circumstances" can be debated but it needs to be common knowledge that under those circumstances our people will do what they need to do.   ...

... As far as I'm concerned, the only discussion we need to have about torture is to come up with a clear definition of "appropriate circumstances." ... How many lives need to be at stake before it's acceptable? Do they have to be American lives or do Iraqi women and children count? Do we have to be talking about bombs or does a hostage-rescue situation qualify? Are we so "noble" that we'd let our own people continue to be tortured rather than use torture ourselves to gain information to free them? There's room for discussion, but any meaningful discussion needs to start with the stipulation that there are times when we're going to do what we have to.

The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 2, 2005 11:10 PM

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