Mike the Mad Biologist

Helmut is one of those bloggers who doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Well, helmut spoke to Congress about torture which hopefully makes up for that (bold original; italics mine):

More likely than the time bomb case of torturing one person in order to save many is the case of torturing many innocent people in order to find the one [guilty] person. It is to torture in search of what might justify the act of torture, an act made even worse through the torture of innocents.

When we rearticulate the more realistic scenario, torture as an instrument of information-gathering collapses under the gravity of what it entails.

Torturing for information requires the institutionalization of torture. Several other commentators have noted as such. There must be trained interrogators/torturers and thus also trainers, a legal and administrative apparatus, a cadre of doctors and lawyers and data analysts, and others, all of whom would be required to suspend their moral decency.

Further – and this is crucial – given that information from an individual torture victim is notoriously unreliable, and given the dispersed organizational structure of terrorists, morally significant information is unlikely to be gained from the individual victim. Torture must be used broadly.

That last point has been completely overlooked in the whole torture discussion: torture as a strategy can never be an isolated or extremely rare case. For it to be effective, it must be used routinely.

Go read this smart guy’s whole testimony.

Comments

  1. #1 Helmut
    December 14, 2007

    Thanks, Mike.

    I think the final version on the Helsinki Commission site is better than the version I posted, if interested.

  2. #2 Helmut
    December 14, 2007

    Oh, and you’re one of the very few who have homed in on the point I think is most important: the logic of information gathering from torture entails that torture must be used broadly, and that means torturing many innocent people.

  3. #3 Dunc
    December 20, 2007

    There must be trained interrogators/torturers

    This is a point that deserves more emphasis. One major problem with inexpert torturers is that they have an unfortunate tendency to kill their “subjects” (or rather victims), so you obviously can’t afford to let them practice on anyone who might actually have anything useful. What most of the juntas of South America in the ’70s and ’80s did was to just grab random homeless people off the streets and practice on them. The most appalling thing I have ever read in my life was an account written by a survivor of one of those training programmes – unfortunately I can’t for the life of me remember where.

    So, if you favour the institutionalisation of torture, you must also supoort the not only the torture of the innocent, but the torture of people who you know are innocent, and who cannot under any circumstances do or say anything to make you stop, because you’re not torturing them for any reason other than to see how much suffering you can inflict without killing them. If that doesn’t plumb the ultimate depths of moral depravity, I really don’t know what does.

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