Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The calculation of torture

The opening paragraphy sums up the position of the no-torture-at-any-cost crowd:
Torture is wrong and ineffective. Everyone knows that. So how come it's making a comeback?
The article goes on about how various intellectuals have made it possible for torture to become acceptable through various tortured (apologies) mental leaps and tricks. In the writer's view, however, torture is wrong and not permissable.

I would argue that the public's openness to torture is that they beleive it works, at least in some instances. This view is bolstered by articles like this one, recounting anti-terror operations in Iraq. Certainly the threat of violence encouraged the captured insurgent to name other members of this cell:
A shaking Nashwan and Adel are loaded onto the Stryker. As they are placed in the back, one of the American soldiers whispers to the detainees in English: "We are taking you to the peshmerga."

Actually, Majeed's battalion, a former Iraqi National Guard unit, is mostly Sunni Arab, not Kurdish. But as they are ushered off the Stryker and toward Majeed's office, Nashwan and Adel don't know that. As far as they can tell, they're at a Kurdish base. Perhaps as a result, a transformation has come over Adel. The defiant young man who said he wanted to kill the Americans is now sobbing uncontrollably. As he passes Fox, Adel whispers something in Arabic. Later, Alleathe translates: "He said, 'I am sorry about today. I didn't mean it.' "

Inside Majeed's office, Nashwan holds his hands together in prayer. Adel looks nervous. The American officers suspect that Adel had thought relatives might persuade the police to release him. Now he expects to be beaten. "I thought we were staying with the Americans," Adel says.

Fox turns to Majeed: "Find out the information."
The people I have met opposed to torture in all circumstances always seem to argue that it is both ineffective and inhumane. If it is ineffective, why not oppose it on utilitarian grounds alone? If it is inhumane, why bring effectiveness into the conversation at all? I think that the former assertion is their wish, and the latter their belief.


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