Pharyngula

Torture — what’s it good for?

One little post about waterboarding seems to have stirred up the mob, but at least the majority seem to agree that it is torture. How could it not be? It’s a process for causing pain and suffering, nothing more. At least the commenters here, even the ones I disagree with most strongly, are more honest than our politicians, many of whom seem to be in a state of denial.

But then the argument becomes whether torture is a useful procedure. I’m going to surprise some people and agree that torture is an extremely powerful tool. It’s just useless for gathering information. There’s just no way you can trust information gotten while ripping somebody’s fingernails off with a pair of pliers — they’ll scream anything to get you to stop.

Here is all that torture is good for: inspiring fear in a population. If you want it widely known that your ruling regime is utterly ruthless and doesn’t care about individuals, all you have to do is scoop up random people suspected of anti-government activities, hold them for a few weeks, and return them as shattered wrecks with mangled limbs, while treating the monsters who would do such a thing as respected members of the ruling clique, who are immune from legal prosecution. The message gets out fast that one does not cross the government.

So, yeah, if you’re a tyrant in Uzbekistan who is holding control through force of arms, fear is a useful part of the apparatus of control, and torture is a great idea, as are barbaric executions, heads on pikes, and bullets to the back of the head.

When the US government announces it’s support for torture, they aren’t talking about intelligence gathering: they are simply saying “Fear us.” They are taking the first step on the road to tyranny.

The real problem is that fear isn’t a good tool to use in a democratic society. We are supposed to be shareholders in our government; when a process of oppression is endorsed by our legislators and president, we should recognize that they are trying to set themselves apart from the ordinary citizenry, and it’s time to rebel…before the goon squads come to your neighborhood. Anyone who supports torture is a traitor to the democratic form of government, and should be voted out of office, if not impeached.

And I know some are going to crawl out of the woodwork to claim it’s OK in this case because the US is mainly trying to torture non-citizens, outsiders and foreigners — but then what it represents is an announcement to the rest of the world that the American superpower is not planning to be a benevolent member of the community of nations.

Comments

  1. #1 MAJeff
    December 29, 2007

    When the US government announces it’s support for torture, they aren’t talking about intelligence gathering: they are simply saying “Fear us.” They are taking the first step on the road to tyranny.

    Exactly. It’s about domination.

  2. #2 Blake Stacey
    December 29, 2007

    Exactly right (and with that comment, I destroy my chances of a political career).

  3. #3 SmellyTerror
    December 29, 2007

    Australia has traditionally allied with the US to fight the kind of people who torture. So why shouldn’t we now ally with someone to fight YOU?

    “They do it, so we can do it” only works when you and your opponent are the only people on earth.

  4. #4 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    [Torture’s] just useless for gathering information. There’s just no way you can trust information gotten while ripping somebody’s fingernails off with a pair of pliers — they’ll scream anything to get you to stop.

    OK, but what about the case where the answer is quickly verifiable, such as when asking for an encryption key? Seems to me that torture could easily be effective then.

  5. #5 MAJeff
    December 29, 2007

    A couple further thoughts. In my Race and Ethnicity classes I deal with the ways that sex is used as a means of dominating a population, and draw explicitly upon Abu Ghraib. Whether or not the sexual abuse and torture was intended to intimidate the entire population, a large part of it was about harming “those people,” and the effect was that the population learned about the abuse…news spread that the Americans were willing and able to do anything. Abu Ghraib served as a tool of intimidation and domination, and that’s it.

    Then again, it was just a “fraternity prank,” right Jamie?

  6. #6 Dídac
    December 29, 2007

    A second American Revolution is pretty needed. And, don’t forget, Blake, that when Jefferson wrote the Declaration he destroyed his own chances of developing a political career in the British Empire.

    Anyway, denialism of torture is even worst than the Bush’s defense of torture. Some European governments (like Spanish or French governments) used torture but they always denied it: through a tight control on police and judiciary institution, they can block virtually any denounce of torture.

  7. #7 Dídac
    December 29, 2007

    A second American Revolution is pretty needed. And, don’t forget, Blake, that when Jefferson wrote the Declaration he destroyed his own chances of developing a political career in the British Empire.

    Anyway, denialism of torture is even worst than the Bush’s defense of torture. Some European governments (like Spanish or French governments) used torture but they always denied it: through a tight control on police and judiciary institution, they can block virtually any denounce of torture.

  8. #8 True Bob
    December 29, 2007

    Coel, you are a monster. You are searching for excuses to torture other human beings.

    “Only” an encryption key is your entry to “only” whatever you think you want, the next time around.

  9. #9 Steve LaBonne
    December 29, 2007

    Coel- that’s just a variant of the stupid ticking-nuke “thought” “experiment” so often pulled out of their asses by torture proponents. In the real world, as opposed to, say, 24, the fallaciousness of keeping torture around as an option all the time (whereupon it will inevitably be used for purposes not openly admitted whenn the policy was adopted), just in case some highly implausible hypothetical scenario carefully constructed to “justify” it should actually come to pass, ought to be obvious.

  10. #10 gg
    December 29, 2007

    PZ wrote: “And I know some are going to crawl out of the woodwork to claim it’s OK in this case because the US is mainly trying to torture non-citizens, outsiders and foreigners…”

    Yep, we’re only doing it to shady characters like Icelandic women who once overstayed a student visa. What a beacon for hope and justice we are!

  11. #11 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    To True Bob and Steve LaBonne,
    By the way, I’m not advocating the use of torture, I just want the arguments against it to be good ones rather than bad ones. It seems to me that the claim “torture doesn’t work” breaks down when the answers are readily verifiable.

  12. #12 Steve LaBonne
    December 29, 2007

    To which I already replied that the cases where it’s claimed to “work” are always purpose-built hypotheticals. For all real-world purposes PZ is correct.

  13. #13 True Bob
    December 29, 2007

    Coel, to be able to torture someone (assuming you find a way of torturing and getting valid information) requires a proficiency in torture. Gaining a proficiency requires practice. Who are you going to practice on, and how will you simultaneously “only” torture ticking time bombs? The paradox is you need a continuous torture regime to be any good at it, which eliminates the ticking time bomb scenario. Once that machinery is in place, it will be abused.

  14. #14 bernarda
    December 29, 2007

    Waterboarding has been considered torture at least as long back as when it was used during the American occupation of the Philippines in 1900.

    It has been torture ever since. It is only the criminals in the Bush regime that think it is not. Maybe we should bring back crucifixion to please the jesus freaks.

  15. #15 Blake Stacey
    December 29, 2007

    Steve LaBonne (#11):

    To which I already replied that the cases where it’s claimed to “work” are always purpose-built hypotheticals. For all real-world purposes PZ is correct.

    Darn. I guess that rules out my “His 24 Dark Materials” scenario, severing a child from her dæmon to gain power over the Dust. . . .

  16. #16 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    December 29, 2007

    Anyone who supports torture is a traitor to the democratic form of government, and should be voted out of office, if not impeached.

    Impeached, surely. I would add that if it wouldn’t happen, the US constitution would have to be amended.

    [I suspect that the purpose is to leave it as short and powerful as possible, but it would not hurt if some basic rules were explicitly established, such as a blanket ban on torture, as it would make short (or not so short, as in the current case) transgressions more difficult.]

    but what about the case where the answer is quickly verifiable, such as when asking for an encryption key?

    AFAIK it doesn’t work that way. People who study intelligence operations have IIRC claimed to have study results that show that it is entirely useless, statistically.

    You are grasping for straws that isn’t even there.

  17. #17 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    December 29, 2007

    Anyone who supports torture is a traitor to the democratic form of government, and should be voted out of office, if not impeached.

    Impeached, surely. I would add that if it wouldn’t happen, the US constitution would have to be amended.

    [I suspect that the purpose is to leave it as short and powerful as possible, but it would not hurt if some basic rules were explicitly established, such as a blanket ban on torture, as it would make short (or not so short, as in the current case) transgressions more difficult.]

    but what about the case where the answer is quickly verifiable, such as when asking for an encryption key?

    AFAIK it doesn’t work that way. People who study intelligence operations have IIRC claimed to have study results that show that it is entirely useless, statistically.

    You are grasping for straws that isn’t even there.

  18. #18 Steve LaBonne
    December 29, 2007

    It is only the criminals in the Bush regime that think it is not.

    Actually I think they know perfectly well that it is, don’t care a fig, and as always have no qualms about lying.

  19. #19 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    December 29, 2007

    study results

    Maybe I overstated. Perhaps I’m remembering intelligence community members who have gone over their own results. Never the less, if such data exists, it should be considered, shouldn’t it? After all, “the answers are readily verifiable”.

  20. #20 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    December 29, 2007

    study results

    Maybe I overstated. Perhaps I’m remembering intelligence community members who have gone over their own results. Never the less, if such data exists, it should be considered, shouldn’t it? After all, “the answers are readily verifiable”.

  21. #21 hyperdeath
    December 29, 2007

    Whilst I agree that that difficult-to-solve easy-to-verify problems can occur, they are rare in practice. Reality is rarely as simple as the subset sum problem.

    Even the “straightforward” examples are far more complicated than they may at first appear. For example, in a ticking-bomb scenario (whereby the authorities know that a bomb has been laid, but don’t know where it is), many complications can occur. Most obviously, the suspect may not where the bomb is. Terrorists generally operate in very tight cells, with each member being given only the minimum of information; even the builder of the bomb may not know the target.

    Another major problem is that information rarely has an obvious limit. The suspect may cooperate fully with the disarming of one bomb, whilst holding back information about a second. Of course, the interrogators could demand information about a second bomb as a matter of course, but then the suspect will realize that no amount of cooperation will stop the torture, and thus stop cooperating. (There is no point telling of the second bomb if torture will then commence for a hypothetical third bomb.)

  22. #22 MexiPakiJew
    December 29, 2007

    One of the staff of an independently student-run newspaper at my school actually did a huge investigative piece on waterboarding, including testing it on himself. One of the points he made was that with saran-wrap and blindfolded, he lasted 4 seconds. CIA officers who receive training to withstand torture techniques rarely last more than 15 seconds. Their victims, on the other hand, tend to be subjected to intermittent waterboarding for up to 30 minutes at a time.

    If the people performing waterboarding on some hapless victim can’t take it, it takes a sick bastard to turn around and force another human to endure the same techniques.

  23. #23 Joe Bob
    December 29, 2007

    Here is all that torture is good for: inspiring fear in a population.

    I’d say the main use, but not the only one. It is also useful for obtaining false confessions from convenient scapegoats.

  24. #24 CalGeorge
    December 29, 2007

    What is very scary to me is knowing that there is a Blackwater or its equivalent that has been given the green light to torture, operating in secret, completely unaccountable to the people of the United States.

    That seems like the end of democracy to me.

    The 9/11 terrorists did accomplish something.

    They triggered the basest impulses in the leadership of this country. The impulse to strike out blindly at one’s enemies, to solve problems with violence, to answer mass death with mass death.

    I hope we can overcome this absolutely abysmal period in our history.

  25. #25 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Coel, to be able to torture someone […] requires a proficiency in torture. Gaining a proficiency requires practice.

    I’m not so sure, I suspect that plenty of people (such as me) would succumb to inexpert torture.

    I think, overall, that the “it doesn’t work” argument is a poor one to use: torture can work to some extent sometimes; so basing opposition to torture on that premise is open to rebuttal.

  26. #26 Norman Doering
    December 29, 2007

    PZ wrote:

    Here is all that torture is good for: inspiring fear in a population.

    It’s also useful for brainwashing and enforcing the perpetrators confirmation bias. They use to torture confessions out of witches and apparently got some people to believe they were witches.

    Some forms of exorcism seem to involve torture.

    And, in the right circumstances, you can get information from people — but your victim has to think you know more than you actually do know because that’s the information you’ll get.

  27. #27 ddt
    December 29, 2007

    PZ (if I may be so familiar), that’s not only an interesting and sustainable assertion, but leads to another strong argument against torture. If the goal of torture is indeed to install fear and compliance in a larger population, it could or should fall under the rubric of collective punishment, which is a violation of both the laws of war and the “quaint” Geneva Conventions.

  28. #28 Steve LaBonne
    December 29, 2007

    Coel, a little Googling will soon show you that the question has actually been seriously investigated, and that there is real evidence, and a large body of expert opinion, that PZ is correct.

  29. #29 Norman Doering
    December 29, 2007

    Coel wrote:

    I suspect that plenty of people (such as me) would succumb to inexpert torture.

    Not when they don’t believe you when you tell them the truth.

  30. #30 Michael Kremer
    December 29, 2007

    Excellent post. This analysis is spot on. Thanks for putting it all so clearly and concisely.

  31. #31 Laen
    December 29, 2007

    “torture can work to some extent sometimes”

    Coel

    So can astrology.

  32. #32 Globle Warren Terrism
    December 29, 2007

    We torture for three reasons.

    1. If our enemies know that if captured we will torture them to death, then our enemies will be strongly encouraged to fight to the death, and never surrender. This understanding will be strengthened if our soldiers shoot the wounded, and it will encourage more of our enemies to join the fight.

    2. Having our agents torture prisoners will eliminate whatever humanity our agents started with. Additionally, it will make our agents utterly loyal to the government, and will turn them against civilians in general, heavily polarizing them.

    3. When the national government uses torture, they invite emulation by local governments, which are the police in this country. Torture at the local level binds the police to the federal government, terrorizes the citizenry, and enhances in-group solidarity among the government forces.

    Nobody in their right mind would use torture to get at truth, and neither would most people in their wrong mind.

    @Coel

    What about torture when asking for an encryption key, you ask.

    You torture the guy, he gives up the key. You give it to me to verify and I get back to you quickly and tell you it didn’t work. So you torture him some more, and we go round and round and eventually he dies, or his mind is destroyed, in which case he’s just as useless.

    My money says you’re not clever enough to realize you’d need to check my work yourself. For all you know, I’m a two-fingered typist hiding his dyslexia, and I can’t manage the 8-character password on my own computer (which is why some systems allow passwords as short as 6 characters, for the digital dodos out there). If you are really smart, you won’t even trust your own work, you’ll have others duplicate your efforts and see if they all come up with the same result.

    People who resort to torture are too undisciplined to adequately check their own work or check on their results, and should never be trusted to do any work at all without heavy and constant supervision and monitoring. The US has no controls in place when using torture, and so all of the torturers and their support staffs should all be dragged out and shot.

  33. #33 Ben Abbott
    December 29, 2007

    PZ: “They are taking the first step on the road to tyranny.”

    Unfortunately, it is a very short road.

    It is also subjective. We will not proportionately agree on the tyranny until we proportionately experience it for ourselves. Until them many/most of those who do not call it (sic) “justice” :-(

    How ironic that America is distinguishing itself in a manner that is so inconsistent with how it distinguished itself in the past :-(

  34. #34 Steve LaBonne
    December 29, 2007

    How ironic that America is distinguishing itself in a manner that is so inconsistent with how it distinguished itself in the past :-(

    That sadly is actually far too low a standard. I’m afraid a big part of the problem is that most Americans have in their heads an absurdly unreal and sanitized version of how America has behaved in the past.

  35. #35 Ashutosh
    December 29, 2007

    There’s a simple principle: “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people”.

    In this country, this principle has been completely inverted. People are afraid of their government to a degree almost unprecedented.

  36. #36 Gene
    December 29, 2007

    Professor Myers,

    “inspiring fear in a population”

    c’est exact! The world but as importantly the American populace knows the US government will not respoect their rights. And a government which is willing to torture “enemy combatants” can easily slide into using torture on homegrown combatants of every type. All one need do is define “terrorism” as sowing discontent in the Government and then anyone who opposses your policies or has the temerity to vote against you can be dealt with…

  37. #37 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    You torture the guy, he gives up the key. You give it to me to verify and I get back to you quickly and tell you it didn’t work. So you torture him some more, and we go round and round and […]

    As PZ says, people being tortured will say anything to make it stop. In the above situation the most likely thing to say to make it stop is the truth.

  38. #38 Kseniya
    December 29, 2007

    As disturbing as these topics are, PZ, I’m so glad you posted these two blog entries.

    Here is all that torture is good for: inspiring fear in a population.

    If this is true, then torture is nothing more or less than a form of terrorism.

    (It may also be good for satisfying the sadistic urges of certain individuals, but that doesn’t undermine the point.)

    The current US administration has displayed features of a totalitarian regime. I spent years cutting Bush and the neocons slack for having had the misfortune of having 9/11 dumped in their laps, but I’ve found that to be a fruitless, thankless, frustrating approach. If anything, 9/11 was a blessing for them, for it gave them a tremendous balance of political capital with which they could finance many of the policies and actions they were going to try to implement anyway. Exhibit A: Iraq.

    I realize that one man’s opinion doesn’t prove anything, but I find this statement compelling nonetheless:

    “No presidency that I can find in history has adopted a policy of expanding presidential powers merely for the sake of expanding presidential powers… It has been the announced policy of the Bush/Cheney presidency, however, from its outset, to expand presidential power for its own sake, and it continually searched for avenues to do just that, while constantly testing to see how far it can push the limits. I must add that never before have I felt the slightest reason to fear our government. Nor do I frighten easily. But I do fear the Bush/Cheney government (and the precedents they are creating) because this administration is caught up in the rectitude of its own self-righteousness, and for all practical purposes this presidency has remained largely unchecked by its constitutional coequals.”

    Those are the words of a man who has more than a little first-hand experience with the use and abuse of executive power: John Dean, former counsel to Richard Nixon.

  39. #39 bpower
    December 29, 2007

    So Coel, would you rape the child of a suspect until they gave you the encryption key? How many times would you rape the child, when would you stop?

    Anyone claiming to be a civilized person should find torture just as abhorrent as the above scenario.

    I cant believe Im even discussing this with Americans. Truly sad.

  40. #40 IanR
    December 29, 2007

    The thing about the “encription key” scenario is that it changes nothing – the dangers of bad information and of killing the person are still present.

    if you are faced with a “ticking bomb” scenario, then it’s useful for the person to hold out until the time-sensitive information is no longer useful. And, obviously, the reward for lying is even greater since it provides temporary respite. If the info is not time sensitive, then it’s smarter to use more conventional methods.

    So no, I don’t buy Coel’s scenario.

  41. #41 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Coel, a little Googling will soon show you that the question has actually been seriously investigated, and that there is real evidence, and a large body of expert opinion, that PZ is correct.

    Alternatively, one will find a lot of conflicting claims, often by people with an axe to grind one way or the other, and nothing properly definitive.

  42. #42 RamblinDude
    December 29, 2007

    I’m reminded of an interview on NPR years ago of a young female officer who was in charge of a prison camp in Afghanistan(?). She was able to effect change by treating the prisoners fairly, giving them decent accommodations, good food, interacting with them–you know, treating them like human beings. Attitudes began to change, the prisoners started to open up and relate, etc.

    I don’t remember the details, but the army came in and changed everything; they weren’t having any of it. They put a “regular” guy in charge, and soon everything was back to normal with lots of suspicion and hate on both sides. Business as usual.

  43. #43 Steve LaBonne
    December 29, 2007

    Which means, Coel, that there is nowhere near sufficient evidence supporting your position to justify any civilized person in entertaining even for a moment the idea that torture should be an allowable option.

    You’re just tying yourself in knots here, trying to hang on to your preconceived conclusion. You remind me of the advocates of “scientific” racism in another thread.

  44. #44 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    So Coel, would you rape the child of a suspect until they gave you the encryption key? How many times would you rape the child, when would you stop?

    Who? Me? No, I wouldn’t. As I said, I am not defending or advocating torture; I am suggesting that one often-quoted argument against it is dubious.

  45. #45 Steve LaBonne
    December 29, 2007

    As I said, I am not defending or advocating torture; I am suggesting that one often-quoted argument against it is dubious.

    I’ll say flat out that I don’t believe you.

  46. #46 Steven Carr
    December 29, 2007

    Sadly, I can’t say what I think of the American regime, as Bush can authorise that non-US citizens are kidnapped from anywhere in the world and tortured.

    So a sane person keeps his mouth shut about those people in the White House.

  47. #47 raven
    December 29, 2007

    Most spies and spooks before the present thuglicans weren’t all that interested in torturing suspects.

    That is because torture doesn’t yield reliable information. Someone being tortured will say anything to stop it. Therefore, a taxi driver will know where bin Laden is, who was on the grassy knoll, where Elvis is, the location of the Lost Dutchmans goldmine, and the missing parts of Shakespeares plays. Plus anything else you want to know.

    Besides which they have questioning techniques that might not be too pleasant based on human psychology that work reasonably well. Some people especially from densely networked, high density cultures can’t take isolation for very long and so forth.

    And terrorist and spy organizations are built to be torture resistant. Cells and info on need to know basis. Most information has a short time value. Reconfiguration upon capture of members. Humans have been playing this game for centuries and only the competent survive.

    The main reason we torture people is just to torture people. It is not a means to an end, it is the end. The torturers and their masters have disgraced and damaged the US in the eyes of the world for little gain.

  48. #48 Who Cares
    December 29, 2007

    Coel wrote:

    OK, but what about the case where the answer is quickly verifiable, such as when asking for an encryption key? Seems to me that torture could easily be effective then.

    Only if the safety procedures followed are crap.
    If you have to absolutely transport data I’ve got a nice memory stick with encryption. 3 failed attempts mean bye bye data.
    If you have to store data use multiple encrypted directories. Ever read what TrueCrypt has for defenses? You torture me to get me to spill the beans on the key code. I ‘break’ and hand you one that seems to decrypt the TrueCrypt partition. How do you know I haven’t used the hidden volume trick that comes standard with TrueCrypt? How do you know I haven’t used the hidden volume trick multiple times? When do you stop “dunking” me? What about an upgraded version of TrueCrypt where there is a self destruct password?
    Never send data using push mechanisms, always use a pull mechanism. Newsgroups + steganography + smut or spam are the perfect example of this way of distributing information.

    These 3 elementary steps in data security totally block easy verification of encryption keys due either not having the data or you having to risk that the key is wrong and will erase the data you are looking for.

  49. #49 Steve LaBonne
    December 29, 2007

    So a sane person keeps his mouth shut about those people in the White House.

    I’ll say it for you-= they’re war criminals who should be hauled before the International Criminal Court.

  50. #50 Bobby
    December 29, 2007

    Australia has traditionally allied with the US to fight the kind of people who torture.

    I’ve read that after WWII some of the Japanese who were tried for war crimes were up because of waterboarding, and that more recently a Texas law enforcement agent got 10 years in prison for doing it.

    The problem is that our current Administration is a pack of soulless ghouls who have no values whatsoever, let alone American values.

  51. #51 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    OK, but what about the case where the answer is quickly verifiable, such as when asking for an encryption key? Seems to me that torture could easily be effective then.

    Torture only seems effective to moral degenerates who want to be able to torture; they are the only sort of people motivated to try to imagine scenarios in which it might work. Once you figure out that you might be able to get an encryption key by torturing a bad guy, you’ve figured out that you might be able to get an encryption key by tortuirng a good guy who isn’t providing it because he’s been told his family will be murdered if he does. You can go on to figure out other fun scenarios in which torture of just about anyone is justified for just about any end.

    People who approve of torture, in any circumstance, are bad people. But please don’t torture them.

  52. #52 Wicked Lad
    December 29, 2007

    Coel wrote (#10):

    By the way, I’m not advocating the use of torture, I just want the arguments against it to be good ones rather than bad ones.

    Coel is right. If we rely on arguing that torture doesn’t work, then if anyone can demonstrate that torture does work, even under some narrowly-defined conditions, our argument breaks down.

    Torture is immoral, so we simply should not engage in it.

    Many other arguments are valid–we disgrace ourselves by torturing prisoners, we put our own people at greater risk of torture when we torture others, etc.–but our central case must be that torture is simply wrong, and we must not do it.

  53. #53 bpower
    December 29, 2007

    “As I said, I am not defending or advocating torture; I am suggesting that one often-quoted argument against it is dubious.”

    Coel, replace the word torture with something like slavery in the above sentence and you might get an idea of grotesque you seem right now.

  54. #54 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Which means, Coel, that there is nowhere near sufficient evidence supporting your position to justify any civilized person in entertaining even for a moment the idea that torture should be an allowable option.

    You’re just tying yourself in knots here, trying to hang on to your preconceived conclusion. You remind me of the advocates of “scientific” racism in another thread.

    Amazing! One of the faults of this site is that there is often trendy PC-leftist dogma that it is considered heresy to question.

    Where did I suggest that torture should be allowed? As I said (and I really do mean it) I am not defending torture and am not suggesting it should be allowed. But I do like arguments to be good ones rather than highly dubious ones.

  55. #55 Pineyman
    December 29, 2007

    Here’s some additional thoughts:

    1. France, Isreal and the UK at various times in the past have used torture and have reported that it does not work.

    2. Our esteemed AG Mukasey and his deputy refuse to specifically comment on waterboarding because, during the Filipino insurgency (term used on purpose) at the turn of the 20th century, US Officers used it against Filipinos, it was determined to be torture and those officers were courtmartialed. Mukasey & his boys don’t want to open their mouths because they know their history and they would be put in the position of either explaining why then and not now or again courtmartialing Bush lackeys. Rock/hard place.

  56. #56 Steve LaBonne
    December 29, 2007

    One of the faults of this site is that there is often trendy PC-leftist dogma that it is considered heresy to question.Brilliant- he immediately demonstrates just how close is the resemblance I pointed out.

  57. #57 Bobby
    December 29, 2007

    It seems to me that the claim “torture doesn’t work” breaks down when the answers are readily verifiable.

    And how do the torturers know when they’re torturing someone who is lying when they say they don’t know the answer, vs. someone who honestly doesn’t?

  58. #58 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    I think, overall, that the “it doesn’t work” argument is a poor one to use:

    It’s not a poor argument, because it’s factual, and has been used repeatedly by intelligence experts.

    torture can work to some extent sometimes

    Read the thread title: “What is torture good for?” It’s not good for something that it rarely can achieve.

  59. #59 dogmeatib
    December 29, 2007

    We can use torture. Just once we do so, we can no longer claim moral superiority to the enemy, or anyone else. With the innocent civilians killed in Iraq, the Blackwater death squads, and torture, how precisely are we any better than Hussein?

  60. #60 Ex-drone
    December 29, 2007

    The neocons support torture not to save the world but to save their world. In their world, terrorists are ubiquitous and imminent. In their world, national intelligence agents know about “ticking time bomb situations” ahead of time, can discern valid threats from rumoured ones, and are confident about exact deadlines. In their world, interrogators have access to prisoners who just happen to have the information needed to thwart the threat and can distinguish that information from irrelevant information provided during torture. In their world, the correct information is actionable and can be obtained in time to stop the event. It’s a bittersweet world to live in, but it is one pre-framed to justify torture. Unfortunately, those of us in the real world have to live with uncertainty and moral limits, but at least, we do not have al Qaeda moles residing next door to all of us.

  61. #61 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    bpower writes:

    Coel, replace the word torture with something like slavery in the above sentence and you might get an idea of grotesque you seem right now.

    Why do I seem grotesque? If you are against something are you obliged to support bad arguments against it as well as good arguments?

    I have several times argued against bad arguments against creationism; that isn’t because I support creationism but because I think that using bad arguments will in the end be counterproductive.

  62. #62 Bobby
    December 29, 2007

    I’m afraid a big part of the problem is that most Americans have in their heads an absurdly unreal and sanitized version of how America has behaved in the past.

    But at least we wanted to believe.

    Now any evil at all comes pre-approved, so long as it is directed at “them”. What do you suppose people would think if “they” were waterboarding our people? No problem, it’s fair play?

  63. #63 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    As PZ says, people being tortured will say anything to make it stop. In the above situation the most likely thing to say to make it stop is the truth.

    You’re assuming he knows the truth.

    Look, this issue has been explored, in depth, many times before, by people who aren’t dimwitted. “Torture — what’s it good for?” — not for gathering intelligence information.

  64. #64 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    It’s not a poor argument [that torture does not work], because it’s factual

    Then where is the definitive evidence? (That’s a genuine question by the way.)

  65. #65 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Alternatively, one will find a lot of conflicting claims, often by people with an axe to grind one way or the other, and nothing properly definitive.

    You haven’t even looked, have you, jerk off?

  66. #66 MAJeff
    December 29, 2007

    One of the faults of this site is that there is often trendy PC-leftist dogma that it is considered heresy to question.

    Hmm, did Jamie change names?

    I love how PC and lefty get tossed out when we’re talking about a practice that is unethical, worthless for gathering useful intelligence, and used primarily as a means of domination.

    I’d rather be a PC lefty than an intellectually and ethically bankrupt “centrist.”

  67. #67 Bobby
    December 29, 2007

    One of the faults of this site is that there is often trendy PC-leftist dogma that it is considered heresy to question.

    Or maybe it’s just that reality follows a PC-leftist dogma.

  68. #68 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Steve LaBonne said

    Brilliant- he immediately demonstrates just how close is the resemblance I pointed out.

    Yes, I noticed and deliberately highlighted the close resemblence in your reaction.

    Are you struggling with the difference between “I think we should use torture” and “I don’t find this particular argument against torture convincing and would prefer that opposition to torture be on a sounder footing”?

  69. #69 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    I am suggesting that one often-quoted argument against it is dubious.

    I suggest that you haven’t the mental capacity to make the judgment. Your final fallback is the false claim that the consensus among intelligence officials doesn’t exist: “one will find a lot of conflicting claims, often by people with an axe to grind one way or the other, and nothing properly definitive”. You’re an ignorant troll.

  70. #70 raven
    December 29, 2007

    about.com:

    More important, the historical accounts, psychological studies, and case analyses of the failures and problems with coercive interrogation are legion. 12 CIA and FBI reports point out the problems of inaccurate recollection and false confessions. The use of torture in Algiers, Northern Ireland and Israel did not and have not produced desired political results.

    We are (or were) a scientific, knowledge based society. Not too surprising, the number cruncher double domes have looked at the effectiveness of torture in a quantitative and qualitative way. The actual data says it isn’t particularly useful. Put some key words in search engines and read it yourself. With any luck the government seives won’t pick your search up and you won’t be tortured to see why you are interested in the effectiveness of torture.

    Covert organizations are designed to be torture resistant. That is one of the reasons for the use of suicide commandos. You can torture a scrap of bone and a few feet of intestines for days and get nowhere.

  71. #71 Kseniya
    December 29, 2007

    Coel is right. If we rely on arguing that torture doesn’t work, then if anyone can demonstrate that torture does work, even under some narrowly-defined conditions, our argument breaks down… our central case must be that torture is simply wrong, and we must not do it.

    This is a valid point, and I’ve encountered it elsewhere, in debates about capital punishment. The argument against that relies on the (rare) execution of innocents can break down if and when it can be shown that the number of innocents executed approaches zero. A more effective, unconditional and immutable argument goes something like this: “Our central case must be that capital punishment is simply wrong, and we must not do it.”

  72. #72 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Coel is right. If we rely on arguing that torture doesn’t work, then if anyone can demonstrate that torture does work, even under some narrowly-defined conditions, our argument breaks down.

    Uh, no, the claim that torture isn’t useful for gathering information — it isn’t reliable. This is a claim widely held in the intelligence community. Coming up with thought experiment scenarios where torture might conceivably yield information doesn’t make it reliable.

  73. #73 Who Cares
    December 29, 2007

    Coel, care to address my arguments (post #45)against your “Torture works to get an encryption key”-argument seeing that you seem do demand specific counters to your arguments.

  74. #74 bpower
    December 29, 2007

    More leftist dogma.

    “Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]. . . I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause… for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.”
    – George Washington, charge to the Northern Expeditionary Force, Sept. 14, 1775

  75. #75 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    ! One of the faults of this site is that there is often trendy PC-leftist dogma that it is considered heresy to question.

    Like I said, a troll. You right wing jackasses are so predictable.

  76. #76 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    To several people,
    I’d like to say that I’m impressed by the pointers you’ve given me to definitive studies showing that torture does not work. I really would like to say that! However, so far I can’t, since there haven’t been any such pointers.

  77. #77 True Bob
    December 29, 2007

    No torture needed – yet were the prisoners traitors? No.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanns_Scharff

  78. #78 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    But I do like arguments to be good ones rather than highly dubious ones.

    Then why are you making a highly dubious argument? Not just dubious, but multidimensionally stupid.

  79. #79 True Bob
    December 29, 2007

    Crikey, Coel, do we have to google it for you? If you were truly curious and not agenda-driven, you would have already done this:

    http://www.google.com/search?q=torture+effectiveness&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

  80. #80 Don
    December 29, 2007

    I was in a similar discussion on another site a while back and an ex-forces commenter (for whom I have developed considerable regard) made a distinction between troops in combat who, say, capture an enemy combatant and want to know from him if the area they are entering is booby-trapped, and trained torture specialists behind the lines who have a long-term plan for breaking down the next subject on their list.

    His point was that there is a real difference between a soldier in combat who tells a captive (who presumably has been captured alive because he values his skin)’If you lie and get my mates killed I will beat the crap out of you’ and a government sanctioned torture centre with all the bells and whistles. He considered the first to be what soldiers will always do when their personal survival is an immediate issue(and if that meant a subsequent court-martial, so be it) whereas the second was unsoldierly and degraded whatever you were supposed to be fighting for.

    I found his point persuasive.

  81. #81 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Then where is the definitive evidence? (That’s a genuine question by the way.)

    It’s no more genuine than the same question about evolution from creationists. As you were told, “a little Googling will soon show you that the question has actually been seriously investigated, and that there is real evidence, and a large body of expert opinion, that PZ is correct.” Go educate yourself and stop trolling.

  82. #82 Cairnarvon
    December 29, 2007

    OK, but what about the case where the answer is quickly verifiable, such as when asking for an encryption key? Seems to me that torture could easily be effective then.

    My laptop has an encrypted partition. One key gives you the actual contents of the drive, the other gives you a handful of random files and shows the rest of the drive to be empty.
    I know which key I’d give you first, and I can guarantee people would have no reason to suspect there’s a second one.

    Welcome to the wonderful world of hidden volumes.

  83. #83 Steve LaBonne
    December 29, 2007

    Yes, I noticed and deliberately highlighted the close resemblence in your reaction.

    Meta-trolling- an exciting new breakthrough in trolling technology!

    What a liar. You were simply showing your true colors by dragging out that old chestnut about stifling “left-wing” PC.

  84. #84 MAJeff
    December 29, 2007

    I may have it backwards, but isn’t the impetus on those who support torture to actually demonstrate it does work? All anyone has offered is hypotheticals in support of engaging in ethically reprehensible behavior. If you’re going to be that violent, you’d better have some evidences it’s worthwhile, that it’s worth giving up your humanity. Got any?

  85. #85 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Hmm, did Jamie change names?

    They’re of a type. Yeah, John McCain is a PC-leftist.

  86. #86 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Truth machine writes:

    “Then why are you making a highly dubious argument? Not just dubious, but multidimensionally stupid.”

    What argument do you think that I’m making that is ” multidimensionally stupid”?

  87. #87 RossCG
    December 29, 2007

    Globle Warren already touched on this, but I’d like to point out there’s another very good reason for torturing: Creating a loyal group of torturers within the military and intelligence community.

    Over and over, we’ve seen the Bushies value loyalty over every other possible qualification- even competence. Alberto Gonzales, Harriet Myers, every single one of those “contractors” awarded contracts in Iraq who were just College Republicans with good connections among Karl Rove’s cadre, and the list goes on.

    I’m certainly not the first to point out that this is a Fascist mindset. I’m also not the first to point out that it’s part of the reason why the neocons and the authoritarian-evangelicals (sometimes called “Dominionists”) get along so well — the preachers offer a well-programmed flock that can be directed against enemies en masse and are already accustomed to swallowing bullshit. For their part, the neocons are happy to make the preachers rich and pander to them on their hot-button issues, usually involving subjugating women and oppressing gays.

    Anyway, to get back to the point, I think it’s safe to assume that there are people somewhere in the neocon machine putting serious thought into utilizing methods of gaining extreme loyalty from useful segments of the government or economy. Military police and intelligence agents are certainly a useful group, and the human propensity to become abusive in positions of unchecked authority is well known (the stanford prison experiment being the most famous example) and so presumably it wasn’t hard for someone to put the two together. For all we know, certain bad seeds in the military or CIA have been waiting for the opportunity for years, just as the USAPATRIOT act was a laundry list of domestic surveillance and reducing civil liberties that certain law-and-order types had been lobbying for since Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were American allies.

    Eesh, I have gotta work on these run-on sentences.

    Anyway, so now we have a group of guards and intelligence agents who have developed a taste for torture, have committed what they know rationally, and probably emotionally, to be illegal and evil acts, and who are afraid of being dragged into the public view the way Lynndie England was. They know if people who care about justice ever get to power, they’re screwed. They also know that loyalty is rewarded over any other criterion, and if they do what they’re told they can expect protection, promotion, financial compensation, and maybe even more opportunities to torture people. I think it’s safe to say that a certain percentage of them will consider their options and sell their souls to the neocons, becoming a crypto-fascist corps within the military and intelligence communities, waiting to do what they’re told. And it scares the hell out of me.

    Obviously this is all armchair-analysis, I don’t have any proof. So, yeah, maybe I’m paranoid, maybe Rumsfeld and Cheney and company are only pro-torture because they’re personally sadistic, or interested in terrorizing our (their?) enemies, but it really seems too banal and pedestrian an evil for them. I honestly think they’re more interested in having loyal minions inside this country than fearful, hateful Muslims in the middle east, as useful as those are to them. And with a little extra conspiring, they can get both.

    This is why we need to treat this whole torture-and-war-crimes mess with the gravity it deserves. Making public examples of the few torturers we can catch actually HELPS the theoretical loyal-minions plan. If we don’t root them all out, and go up the chain of command and fire/court-martial/prosecute/impeach everyone who shared responsibility for the crimes, then they’ll still be there, still worried about covering their asses, still bound to the neocons. And we’ll all be worse off for it.

  88. #88 raven
    December 29, 2007

    Coel the sadistic lying moron:

    To several people,
    I’d like to say that I’m impressed by the pointers you’ve given me to definitive studies showing that torture does not work. I really would like to say that! However, so far I can’t, since there haven’t been any such pointers.

    Several people just did. I pointed to studies by the USA FBI and CIA. You have just proved yourself to be another stupid lying troll.

  89. #89 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    I’d like to say that I’m impressed by the pointers you’ve given me to definitive studies showing that torture does not work. I really would like to say that! However, so far I can’t, since there haven’t been any such pointers.

    Raven presented you with an about.com link, you ignorant and intellectually lazy troll.

  90. #90 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Crikey, Coel, do we have to google it for you? If you were truly curious and not agenda-driven, you would have already done this:

    Why thankyou for the assistance. Most kind. Yes, I had already done it. Most of the hits are to journalistic opinion rather than something that could be called a definitive study. Can you be a little more specific in your directions?

  91. #91 MH
    December 29, 2007

    Regarding the “torture to get encryption key” scenario, Truecrypt has been mentioned, so here are the relevant details: Plausible Deniability

  92. #92 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    If you were truly curious and not agenda-driven

    Exactly right. “PC-leftist” indeed.

  93. #93 Moses
    December 29, 2007

    It’s been studied. Not only is there no scientific evidence to assert it is a useful technique, but there is much to assert that it is not a useful technique, for example:

    KEY FINDINGS FROM THE STUDY

    Torture is not an effective means to gather information.

    Torturers do not know the truth when they hear it. Torture victims understand this fact and therefore hide the truth.

    Torturers cannot make a believable promise to stop torture when they hear the truth. Torture victims understand this fact and therefore hide the truth.

    Unless you know what information you’re seeking, you can’t ask the right question. Plus, once you get the information you have to sort through the bullshit, and there’ll be a lot of that, you’ll need to be able sort the crap from the gems which takes a LOT of time and resources you don’t have.

    Also, as this study points out, there is no reason for the victim to believe you’re not going to torture him again. After all, you’ve already done it once. Nothing’s to stop you from doing it again.

    Not addressed, of course, is the timeliness and the organization response of the members of the group of the torture victim. Honestly, if Jim Smith gets picked up and his friends can’t find him, do you think they’re just going to sit there placidly? Wait for the CIA or the FBI to just show up?

    Sorry, but it’s well known in policing circles that people spook when their partners get picked up by the police. Which is one of the reasons that when they make drug busts on a cartel, they hit all the targets simultaneously in order to minimize flight opportunity.

  94. #94 Alexandra
    December 29, 2007

    Why do I seem grotesque? If you are against something are you obliged to support bad arguments against it as well as good arguments?

    Well let’s see…

    OK, but what about the case where the answer is quickly verifiable, such as when asking for an encryption key? Seems to me that torture could easily be effective then.

    “Seems to me that torture could easily be effective” sounds, to me, very much like an endorsement. An specific case endorsement based upon some carefully crafted imaginary scenario is often the thin edge of the generic endorsement wedge, you know “just in case” that special, fantasy scenario should ever develop.

    Initially it was the lack of a follow up statement that made you “seem so grotesque”. You did not say “Seems to me that torture could easily be effective then, not that that would justify what remains a disgusting practice.” If that’s what you meant, it was not clear.

    But then, of course, you started barking about “trendy PC-leftist dogma that it is considered heresy to question” and it became quite clear what your actual agenda was.

  95. #95 Steve LaBonne
    December 29, 2007

    Kseniya, where available, the “doesn’t work” arguments- which I agree are of subsidiary importance- are nevertheless of real practical value in building a political consensus against the practice in question- we need to form coalitions with people who may not be fully convinced by the moral arguments. And I think there is complete safety from backfiring on both these issues. The psychological reasons for the unreliability of torture-elicited information have been understood at least since Aristotle, and the justice system (as I can tell you from up close and personal experience as a forensic scientist), like any human institution, will never be perfect.

  96. #96 Moses
    December 29, 2007

    It seems to me that the claim “torture doesn’t work” breaks down when the answers are readily verifiable.

    Posted by: Coel | December 29, 2007 10:29 AM

    Why not find out instead of repeat tired wing-nut talking points? Seriously, it takes VERY LITTLE EFFORT to actually find out…

  97. #97 Kseniya
    December 29, 2007

    I know which key I’d give you first, and I can guarantee people would have no reason to suspect there’s a second one.

    At the risk of muddying the waters here, you cannot possibly guarantee such a thing. YOU would have reason to suspect that there might be a second key and a corresponding hidden volume, and unless you’re the only person in the world who knows something about this, surely an interrogator with a rudimentary knowledge of data storage and encryption is likely to have “hidden volume” on his list of scenarios…

  98. #98 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Most of the hits are to journalistic opinion rather than something that could be called a definitive study

    Ah, the troll seeks a definitive study that proves a negative. What a convenient standard. A consensus of intelligence officials isn’t good enough.

  99. #99 bpower
    December 29, 2007

    Ceol,The problem with this debate is “we” think that torturing someone is a total rejection of ones humanity, its that big of a deal. You seem to be at best neutral about it.

    If you want an honest debate then its up to you to provide compelling reasons why torture should be used. The burden of proof is on you.

  100. #100 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Truth machine writes

    Raven presented you with an about.com link, you ignorant and intellectually lazy troll.

    What Raven’s link said was

    analyses of the failures and problems with coercive interrogation are legion. 12 CIA and FBI reports point out the problems of inaccurate recollection and false confessions.

    Analyses of “failures” and “problems” is not the same as a definitive study that it never works. Heck, rocket engineers have had plenty of failures and problems, but also some successes.

  101. #101 JustAnOutsider
    December 29, 2007

    “The real problem is that fear isn’t a good tool to use in a democratic society.”
    That’s a problem in general, but there’s a more specific problem with our current use of torture. Torture is a foolish tool to use against religous fanatics who are motivated by hate and are willing to throw their lives away to destroy us. Knowing that we stoop to torture is more likely to encourage Islamic fundamentalists to engage in terrorism than it is to dissuade them.

  102. #102 T_U_T
    December 29, 2007

    there is no “definitive study” proving that the earth is not flat, either. So what.

  103. #103 Kseniya
    December 29, 2007

    Steve LaB (#92), I agree, and only mean to say that the argument against cannot rest solely on the claim that it “doesn’t work,” for the reason stated by Wicked Lad: the possibility of someone demonstrating that it does work in some very narrowly-defined set of circumstances is not zero. (I admit, however, that that may be nothing more than another baseless hypothetical.)

  104. #104 Chayanov
    December 29, 2007

    “In the above situation the most likely thing to say to make it stop is the truth.”

    Is this your professional opinion as an armchair psychologist? Would it surprise you to learn that people don’t always behave as expected?

  105. #105 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    At the risk of muddying the waters here, you cannot possibly guarantee such a thing. YOU would have reason to suspect that there might be a second key and a corresponding hidden volume, and unless you’re the only person in the world who knows something about this, surely an interrogator with a rudimentary knowledge of data storage and encryption is likely to have “hidden volume” on his list of scenarios…

    You miss the point (which wasn’t well stated). There is no way to know that there is a hidden volume. The first key provides information that you have no way of knowing isn’t valid. So torture yields a key, the key unlocks the volume; it has been “easily verified” according to Coel. Do you now torture the guy again just in case there’s a hidden volume? What if the hidden volume is bogus and the volume encrypted under the first key has the real info? What if there’s a hidden volume within the hidden volume? Coel’s “easily verified” scenario is a fantasy, not reality.

  106. #106 Avekid
    December 29, 2007

    Coel: I know you think you have come off as a right smart fella in this thread but, I assure you, you’ve coming off as nothing but an ignoramus. You are aware that repeating yourself ad nauseum does not a good argument make, right?

    What you have been offered here, by a number of intelligent people, are good (and, perhaps, a few not so good) arguments against your repetitious claims. What you find on this site is not, as you suggest, “PC-leftist dogma” but rational argumentation and working hypotheses that just so happen to be supported by the available evidence. You can take or leave it but, whichever you choose, stop trolling.

  107. #107 Laen
    December 29, 2007

    See look at all the time we’ve wasted. If you had just clearly stated from the start that you support torture unless someone can provide a “definitive study that it never works.” none of us would have bothered trying to converse with you. You have already made your decision, don’t try and pretend otherwise.

  108. #108 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    I agree, and only mean to say that the argument against cannot rest solely on the claim that it “doesn’t work,” for the reason stated by Wicked Lad: the possibility of someone demonstrating that it does work in some very narrowly-defined set of circumstances is not zero. (I admit, however, that that may be nothing more than another baseless hypothetical.)

    This is a stupid strawman, way beneath you. No one has ever claimed that the chances of it working in some circumstance or another is zero, and it happening to work in some circumstance does not refute PZ’s argument.

  109. #109 Moses
    December 29, 2007

    As PZ says, people being tortured will say anything to make it stop. In the above situation the most likely thing to say to make it stop is the truth.

    Posted by: Coel | December 29, 2007 11:13 AM

    People keep telling you to look it up. It’s been studied. The effectiveness of torture is nil.

    Yet, you keep repeating ignorant right-wing talking points. You’re kidding yourself if you actually think you’ve got an argument. You have an ERROR which you keep repeating.

    Fundamentally, a torture victim HAS NO REASON TO GIVE YOU THE TRUTH because he doesn’t believe you’ll not torture again!!! You’ve already shown you’ll torture him without pity or mercy. There is nothing in it for him to tell you the truth.

    Further more, as both the Imperial Japanese and Nazi German’s explicitly recognize in their interrogations manuals, any “truths” you get from torture will be so buried in the SHIT he’s given you that you’ll never action the intelligence in time. Because a torture victim will tell you anything and everything, regardless of it being true, to end the torture.

    Because it’s not that torture doesn’t produce information, it does. The problem is, beyond morality and ethics, is that it produces too much NOISE to SIGNAL in the information and is, thus, worthless. What few facts you get will be so encumbered with lies, distortions, half-truths and errors that it becomes useless. The Japanese knew it. The Nazi’s knew it. The CIA KNOWS IT.

  110. #110 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Alexandra writes:

    “Seems to me that torture could easily be effective” sounds, to me, very much like an endorsement.

    It wasn’t intended to be; it was a suggestion that one argument against torture was unsound.

    You did not say “Seems to me that torture could easily be effective then, not that that would justify what remains a disgusting practice.” If that’s what you meant, it was not clear.

    Sorry for being unclear. I hadn’t reckoned with people reading into what I posted things I hadn’t said.

    But then, of course, you started barking about “trendy PC-leftist dogma that it is considered heresy to question” and it became quite clear what your actual agenda was.

    Which was a deliberate response to Steve raising this issue with his mention of the IQ/race stuff.

  111. #111 Glazius
    December 29, 2007

    Ball’s in your court, actually, Coel. I realize most people in these parts don’t trust religious references, but:

    “Quaestiones sunt fallaces et inefficaces”. “Torture is deceptive and ineffectual”, from the “Directorum Inquisitorum”, composed by Nicholas Eyermich, chief inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition, in the 14th century. Among Eyermich’s notable accomplishments is finding an end run about the Church’s prohibition on torturing a heretic more than once. Published in the 16th century with the advent of the printing press, it became in effect the field manual for inquisitors all over Europe.

    So, can you find me some more recent work that contradicts Eyermich’s conclusions?

  112. #112 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    What argument do you think that I’m making that is ” multidimensionally stupid”?

    You’ve presented several different lines of argument to support your contention, all inane in their own way.

  113. #113 Marcus Ranum
    December 29, 2007

    Steve LaBonne:
    they’re war criminals who should be hauled before the International Criminal Court.

    I agree. At the very least, high crimes and misdemeanors.

    I can’t tell which I find more repugnant: that our administration has approved the use of torture, or that they don’t have the courage of their own “convictions” enough to confront their own actions.

  114. #114 Avekid
    December 29, 2007

    Apologies. I’m a bad precoffee typist.

    “…you’ve come…” not “…you’ve coming…” in #103.

  115. #115 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Analyses of “failures” and “problems” is not the same as a definitive study that it never works.

    Troll.

  116. #116 bpower
    December 29, 2007

    “Analyses of “failures” and “problems” is not the same as a definitive study that it never works. Heck, rocket engineers have had plenty of failures and problems, but also some successes.”

    Ah come on Ceol, I dont think you’re debating in good faith. Rocket Engineering is not a moral issue.

    You’re argument is that if its possible, through an exhaustive process of trail and error, that someday torture might be useful then it should be used. Do I need to point out whats wrong with this?

  117. #117 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    bpower writes:

    The problem with this debate is “we” think that torturing someone is a total rejection of ones humanity, its that big of a deal.

    Yep, me too. Which is why I want arguments against torture to be good ones.

    You seem to be at best neutral about it.

    No, I’m not, I’m against torture. In the above I was examining whether one argument against it is sound or not.

    If you want an honest debate then its up to you to provide compelling reasons why torture should be used. The burden of proof is on you.

    Sigh. Torture should not be used, it is abhorent. Nothing I’ve said supports torture. What I am saying is that arguing against torture using bad arguments is counterproducitve, because those arguments might be rebutted.

    Which brings us to whether “torture doesn’t work” is indeed a good argument. So far, we seem a bit lacking in definitive studies. People seem to be treating this as an article of dogma that one is not permitted to ask about.

  118. #118 Alexandra
    December 29, 2007

    Sorry for being unclear. I hadn’t reckoned with people reading into what I posted things I hadn’t said.

    No problem! So here’s your opportunity to clear up all the sad misunderstandings and confusion. Tell us all that you agree torture, even if it may theoretically deliver valid, timely, complete information in some carefully crafted scenario is still a reprehensible practice. Tell us that you agree that such hypothetical efficacy in no way justifies every actually employing torture in the real world. Explicitly agree that by accepting your argument we would instantly begin descending the slippery slope of special cases towards a general acceptance.

    Go ahead…

  119. #119 Bobby
    December 29, 2007

    I agree, and only mean to say that the argument against cannot rest solely on the claim that it “doesn’t work,” for the reason stated by Wicked Lad: the possibility of someone demonstrating that it does work in some very narrowly-defined set of circumstances is not zero. (I admit, however, that that may be nothing more than another baseless hypothetical.)

    But hypotheticals cut both ways. Under Coel’s argument, if the police decide that he has put a bomb on an airplane and has the identification of the airplane in an encrypted partition on his laptop, then it’s perfectly OK for them to torture him until they get the identification. Which will of course be “forever” if they’ve grabbed wrong man.

    Does he actually want to live in a state that operates that way?

  120. #120 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    it was a suggestion that one argument against torture was unsound.

    A suggestion? Where’s your definitive proof that it’s unsound, troll?

  121. #121 Ken Mareld
    December 29, 2007

    Waterboarding IS torture.
    If you think that the ticking time bomb info. is worth torturing for then YOU the person doing the torture should be willing to live under life imprisonment without parole because you are sacrificing moral behavior for the greater good.
    Soldiers sacrifice their lives for a greater national good. Why should not one who conducts torture suffer that smaller loss of liberty.
    This should extend to those in power and those who have high office that have the ability to condone torture. If you think the information that can be gained by torturing someone is of such great value to the nation, then you should be willing to sacrifice your liberty for it. Is that not patriotism?

    Why does this seem to be so difficult for people to understand?

    Oh, yeah. Duh! Some think they should not be responsible for their actions. Bush and company come to mind.

  122. #122 T_U_T
    December 29, 2007

    Sigh. Torture should not be used, it is abhorent. Nothing I’ve said supports torture. What I am saying is that arguing against torture using bad arguments is counterproducitve, because those arguments might be rebutted.

    could you show us your unrebuttable argument, then ?

    IMHO, there are no unrebuttable arguments at all, so, go on, give it a try.

  123. #123 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Alexandra writes

    Tell us all that you agree torture, even if it may theoretically deliver valid, timely, complete information in some carefully crafted scenario is still a reprehensible practice. Tell us that you agree that such hypothetical efficacy in no way justifies every actually employing torture in the real world.

    I agree entirely! That’s why I want arguments against it to be soundly based.

    To me saying “we shouldn’t do it because it doesn’t work” is very risky because if along comes evidence that it does work, what then? If we would be against it even if it does work then let’s say so. If the “it doesn’t work” issue is not the root of our objection then it is a red herring and best left out of the argument.

  124. #124 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Truth machine writes:

    You’ve presented several different lines of argument to support your contention, all inane in their own way.

    What contention is that?

  125. #125 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    December 29, 2007

    Coel, you’ve got your panties in a wad over nothing. PZ did say that torture works. It’s effective for the reasons that the government wants it to be effective.

    1. Inciting fear and loyalty
    2. Revenge
    3. Justifying xenophobia

    It just has nothing to do with gaining useful information.

    The justification for accepting and allowing torture is working. As Americans we are handing over our liberties piece by piece, brick by brick.

    Liberty is a quaint proposition left over from the Enlightenment. The enlightenment is being swallowed by a renewed religious quest to exert dominion, and liberty is being handed away in favor of security.

  126. #126 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Which was a deliberate response to Steve raising this issue with his mention of the IQ/race stuff.

    Such a dishonest troll. Steve said that your attempt hang on to a preconceived conclusion reminded him of the advocates of “scientific” racism from another thread. His recognition of your intellectually dishonest dogmatism is in no way an example of “PC-leftism”. You’re playing the right wing “partisan” game — anyone who disagrees with you is a partisan, even when it is you who is the partisan.

  127. #127 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Laen writes:

    If you had just clearly stated from the start that you support torture unless someone can provide a “definitive study that it never works.” none of us would have bothered trying to converse with you.

    Are you talking to me? If so that is not my position. I don’t support torture. I said so very early on.

  128. #128 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    People seem to be treating this as an article of dogma that one is not permitted to ask about.

    You’re a lying sack of trollshit. No one has done anything of the sort. Your Behe-like insistence on “definitive studies” fools no one.

  129. #129 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Moses says:

    Because it’s not that torture doesn’t produce information, it does. The problem is, beyond morality and ethics, is that it produces too much NOISE to SIGNAL in the information and is, thus, worthless. What few facts you get will be so encumbered with lies, distortions, half-truths and errors that it becomes useless.

    This may be so where information cannot be readily verified. It is not so clear when it can.

  130. #130 bpower
    December 29, 2007

    OK Ceol, so you find torture morally repugnant and you dont think it works in the real world, yet you still need more reasons why it shouldn’t be used.

    As an experiment,give us some of the reasons why you think torture is wrong.

  131. #131 Marcus Ranum
    December 29, 2007

    A thought experiment:
    Imagine you’ve been taken to the underground room and are going to be waterboarded until you agree that waterboarding is harmless entertainment.
    Answer: you’ll agree it’s harmless

    I recall that when the inquisition beat confessions out of its victims one of the terms of the deal was that they’d be strangled relatively painlessly before they were burned at the stake. So they were torturing their victims so severely that the victims figured out they were dead no matter what, and would admit to anything just so they could die with a reduction of further violation.

  132. #132 Hank Fox
    December 29, 2007

    And I know some are going to crawl out of the woodwork to claim it’s OK in this case because the US is mainly trying to torture non-citizens, outsiders and foreigners …

    Since I became an adult, I’ve felt that there’s a common humanity that goes beyond nations.

    I’m sure there are plenty of people in the U.S., and elsewhere in the world, who would consider that thinking of oneself as a “citizen of the world” is a traitorous act against one’s home nation, but much of the time, I can’t help feeling that way.

    In the best sense of who I am that I can come up with, there are no “non-citizens, outsiders and foreigners.”

    This matter of torture always mystifies me more than a little. If you’re a civilized person, a civilized society, you set the bar for what you can condone at some level you feel you can live with, and you never go lower.

    Is it okay to fool around on your wife once a year, every few months, every Thursday … or never?

    Is it okay to beat your kids never? Or is it maybe okay under special circumstances?

    Is it okay to kill people on rare special occasions? Or is it never okay?

    Is it okay for some people to strangle and electrocute dogs? Or it is never okay for anybody to do that?

    I’m not saying every moral question boils down to a dubious “sometimes” or a golden “never.” I’m saying I think there is a specific level of comfort a civilized society should get to in these situations, and then honor that, and work very, very hard to never accept less.

    Regarding which, I was under the impression that we Americans had set the bar on torture at “never.”

    If you foresee a moment when you might need to torture someone to find out where a rogue nuclear weapon is hidden in an American city, first you damned well bend every humanly-possible effort to eliminate rogue nuclear weapons.

    Because once you lower the bar, the bar is lowered.

    We lowered the bar on the offensive weapons police officers are allowed to use on citizens, and now we read reports of 7-year-olds and 80-year-olds getting tasered. Now tasers are used not just on unmanageably violent subjects, but on subjects who simply aren’t complying fast enough.

    As to permissive approaches to torture, and where it might lead, we already know. We have plenty of historical models on what can happen.

    When you begin to permit torture in urgent special cases, there is a 100% chance that innocent bystanders – men, women and children – will eventually be tortured.

    Because the people condoning torture, and the people applying it, that’s the kind of people they are. They don’t torture people because you torture them into it. They torture people because they LIKE doing it.

    Do we want to tip over onto this slippery slope? Do we want to give uniforms and power and great paychecks and health benefits — and a permanent place among us — to those people who are capable of enjoying torturing others? Do we want to come to think of ourselves as people who can think up breezily convenient excuses for torture?

    I’m damned sure I don’t.

    And damned sure I don’t want as neighbors — or leaders — the people who do.

  133. #133 T_U_T
    December 29, 2007

    Com’on, Coel, show us your 100% sure argument against torture. We are all waiting for it….

  134. #134 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    What I am saying is that arguing against torture using bad arguments is counterproducitve, because those arguments might be rebutted.

    But it’s your arguments that are bad, and have been rebutted. Meanwhile, PZ’s argument that torture isn’t good for gathering information has not been rebutted. Your inanity about verifiable encryption keys doesn’t do so. Demanding a proof that torture is never effective doesn’t do so. PZ’s argument stands, troll.

  135. #135 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    bpower writes:

    You’re argument is that if its possible, through an exhaustive process of trail and error, that someday torture might be useful then it should be used.

    What on earth makes you think that that is my argument? Where have I said that?

    My argument is that if the anti-torture ethic is based on torture’s non-effectiveness, then it is vulnerable to being undermined by cases (even if rare) where it is effective.

  136. #136 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    If we would be against it even if it does work then let’s say so.

    We have said so, at length, in the other thread, dumbass — the thread this one is a followup to.

  137. #137 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    What contention is that?

    I was going to say “don’t play dumb”, but I’m leaning toward thinking you’re not playing.

  138. #138 Ken Mareld
    December 29, 2007

    Raul Julia’s last film was ‘Down Came A Blackbird’. It makes a compelling case that a torturer’s (sp?) soul is as much destroyed as the victim’s. For this I feel for the lives of our soldiers that have been ordered to do this. Their lives will also be one of torture (PTSD anyone?). The self-destruction of ones own moral center (my conception of ‘soul’)must have a terrible consequence.

  139. #139 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    It just has nothing to do with gaining useful information.

    The moron will claim that you’re wrong because it might conceivably gain useful information in some circumstance — failing to realize that is in no way a rebuttal of what you wrote.

  140. #140 MAJeff
    December 29, 2007

    If we would be against it even if it does work then let’s say so.

    We have said so, at length, in the other thread, dumbass — the thread this one is a followup to.

    Many have said it on this thread as well. Coel is trying to say there’s only one argument to be had. We have multiple reasons for opposing it: it destroys our own humanity; it’s cruel; it’s a tool of domination and little else; it doesn’t provide useful information. The fact that this thread in particular has turned on the efficacy issue doesn’t mean all those aren’t involved. Indeed, many of us have mentioned the combination. But Coel isn’t willing to engage any of that, isn’t willing to place the burden on those who claim it does, is only willing to criticize “PC lefties.”

    Troll. Hell, we might even add racist after his “PC lefties” remark in response to the race/intelligence comment.

  141. #141 Ric
    December 29, 2007

    The only thing I can say is: well said, PZ, well said.

  142. #142 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    OK, I’ve tried being nice, but there are limits:

    Bobby writes:

    Under Coel’s argument, if the police decide that he has put a bomb on an airplane and has the identification of the airplane in an encrypted partition on his laptop, then it’s perfectly OK for them to torture him until they get the identification.

    Bobby, you are an obnoxious little shit. That is NOT my argument. It is the very opposite of what I find acceptable. Nothing I have said is remotely close to what you call “my argument”, so stop putting obnoxious words in my mouth. If you’re too stupid to have correctly interpreted what I’ve been saying that is not my fault.

    Does he actually want to live in a state that operates that way?

    No I don’t! What is why I’m arguing what I’m arguing! It is YOU who is opening yourselves to that outcome by predicating your anti-torture stand on its lack of effectiveness.

  143. #143 bpower
    December 29, 2007

    Your words…
    “Analyses of “failures” and “problems” is not the same as a definitive study that it never works. Heck, rocket engineers have had plenty of failures and problems, but also some successes.”
    I inferred the following…
    You’re argument is that if its possible, through an exhaustive process of trail and error, that someday torture might be useful then it should be used.

    I think thats fair.

  144. #144 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    This may be so where information cannot be readily verified. It is not so clear when it can.

    “no so clear”? Where’s your definitive proof that information can be readily verified, jackass? Your “encryption key” scenario has been refuted here, bozo. (And don’t ask me where — look for it.)

  145. #145 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    bpower writes:

    OK Ceol, so you find torture morally repugnant and you dont think it works in the real world, yet you still need more reasons why it shouldn’t be used.

    Nope, I find torture morally repugnant but fear that it sometimes can work in the real world. So I want arguments against it to be soundly based.

  146. #146 Steve LaBonne
    December 29, 2007

    Again, Coel, I don’t believe you. Your whole pattern of “argumentation” in this thread screams the contrary.

  147. #147 SLC
    December 29, 2007

    Prof. Myers is partly right. Torture for the purpose of obtaining information is useless in the absence of corroboration. If, however, the information obtained can be corroborated, then torture, however distasteful, can provide valuable information. As to whether it is a legitimate and moral activity, that’s clearly a subject for argument and discussion.

  148. #148 DeniedAntecedent
    December 29, 2007

    I agree with Coel: the argument that torture doesn’t work is disingenuous. Most of those who use it are opposed to torture on normative grounds, but instead of admitting it, they pretend to make a positive argument. The mirror image of this are arguments used by some religious fundamentalists that say, for example, that contraceptives should be banned because they are bad for your health. What they really mean to say is that contraceptives should be banned regardless of any health considerations, because it is their moral principle that contraception is evil. IOW, both start out with a normative statement, but instead of just taking it as given, they pretend to make a cost-benefit analysis (I say pretend because neither the fundies nor PZ are giving any reliable data).

    Here’s the problem: the claim that torture doesn’t work is an empirical one, and as such can only be verified with data. And anyone arguing that torture should be banned because it doesn’t work, in order to be logically consistent, must be ready to admit that torture should be allowed if presented with empirical evidence suggesting that it does indeed work.

    I for one am not ready to do this. And I think it’s much more honest to say that we don’t know if torture works or not; but, regardless of that, it is immoral and should be banned on those grounds alone.

  149. #149 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    M A Jeff writes:

    Coel is trying to say there’s only one argument to be had.

    No I am not. I’m saying that one particular argument is unsound.

    But Coel isn’t willing to engage any of that

    False again.

    is only willing to criticize “PC lefties.”

    One post, after Steve raised the subject.

  150. #150 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Many have said it on this thread as well.

    I know, but it isn’t the topic of this thread, and those mentions were generally non sequiturs.

    Coel is trying to say there’s only one argument to be had.

    No, I don’t see where he’s done that. He’s said that PZ’s argument is bad, and we should provide good ones instead. He’s wrong that PZ’s argument is bad, and he’s wrong in his implication that we haven’t offered others.

  151. #151 Geral
    December 29, 2007

    We all know Jesus would torture.

    I find it completely hypocritical much the same people who defend the use of torture (Frankly, I can’t believe we’re actually having this discussion) are the same people who pander to the religious right about morals and following Jesus. It blows my mind! Jesus was tortured before he died not for information but to simply ridicule him, for the Romans et al. to show their superiority over him.

    Then when they were done they hung him on a cross and watched him die.

    Now a large part of the world holds him to be a martyr.

    Ding ding ding! The people of that region see the SAME thing happening today, same thing. We, like the Romans, occupied foreign territories, flexed our powers, and then round up people we see as enemies of the state. Tortured, then what? Jesus was set as an example. We usually don’t see what comes out of American interrogation prisons.

    Do we want too? Maybe its not as ‘bad’ as we see it, but I wish the government would be more open about it.

  152. #152 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    bpower writes:

    I inferred the following…
    You’re argument is that if its possible, through an exhaustive process of trail and error, that someday torture might be useful then it should be used.

    Your utterly mistaken inference has no basis in anything I’ve actually said.

  153. #153 Steve LaBonne
    December 29, 2007

    Most of those who use it are opposed to torture on normative grounds, but instead of admitting it, they pretend to make a positive argument.

    Another lying troll. We have TRUMPETED our fundamental moral reasons for opposing torture. I myself, for example, described the doesn’t-work argument as “subsidiary”.

    It also happens to be correct.

  154. #154 bpower
    December 29, 2007

    SLC –
    “Prof. Myers is partly right. Torture for the purpose of obtaining information is useless in the absence of corroboration. If, however, the information obtained can be corroborated, then torture, however distasteful, can provide valuable information. As to whether it is a legitimate and moral activity, that’s clearly a subject for argument and discussion.”

    Can you give a hypothetical scenario that fits your criteria?

  155. #155 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    I agree with Coel: the argument that torture doesn’t work is disingenuous.

    Coel hasn’t claimed that it’s disingenuous, just that it’s a bad argument.

    Most of those who use it are opposed to torture on normative grounds, but instead of admitting it, they pretend to make a positive argument.

    That’s lying bullshit; PZ, myself, and several others who maintain that torture isn’t a good way to gather information have also argued against it — strenuously — on normative grounds. Take your stupid lying sack of shit self over to the other torture thread that this is a followup to and check it out.

  156. #156 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Steve LaBonne writes:

    Again, Coel, I don’t believe you. Your whole pattern of “argumentation” in this thread screams the contrary.

    Fine, don’t believe me then, I don’t care. Your whole pattern of “argumentation” screams of closed-minded, dogma-ridden, PC-leftist something or other … sorry, can’t be bothered with this insult trading.

  157. #157 T_U_T
    December 29, 2007

    telltale signature of a concern troll. He tells you that you are doing it wrong, but he never ever tells you how he thinks it could be done right.

    Coel keeps telling us that our arguments against torture are wrong because they are not realityproof – they potentially could be disproved. But he will never ever tell us how a correct ( irrefutable ) argument against torture should look like.

  158. #158 Steve LaBonne
    December 29, 2007

    Playing the liberal-fascism card is a Godwinesque discussion stopper. It’s a sure sigh that the troll playing it has got nothing, argumentatively speaking.

  159. #159 Geral
    December 29, 2007

    We all know Jesus would torture.

    I find it completely hypocritical much the same people who defend the use of torture (Frankly, I can’t believe we’re actually having this discussion) are the same people who pander to the religious right about morals and following Jesus. It blows my mind! Jesus was tortured before he died not for information but to simply ridicule him, for the Romans et al. to show their superiority over him.

    Then when they were done they hung him on a cross and watched him die.

    Now a large part of the world holds him to be a martyr.

    Ding ding ding! The people of that region see the SAME thing happening today, same thing. We, like the Romans, occupied foreign territories, flexed our powers, and then round up people we see as enemies of the state. Tortured, then what? Jesus was set as an example. We usually don’t see what comes out of American interrogation prisons.

    Do we want too? Maybe its not as ‘bad’ as we see it, but I wish the government would be more open about it.

  160. #160 bpower
    December 29, 2007

    Right on Steve, how the hell he can read this thread and say something like that is beyond me.

  161. #161 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    is only willing to criticize “PC lefties.”

    One post, after Steve raised the subject.

    Steve didn’t raise the subject of “PC lefties”, you lying git, he pointed out a similarity between your argumentation style and that of “scientific racist” contributors to another thread. That you equate the two shows how reliable you are as a judge of “bad arguments”.

  162. #162 Steve LaBonne
    December 29, 2007

    “Sigh” for “sign” is a nicely Freudian typo, I think. 😉

  163. #163 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Truth machine writes:

    He’s wrong that PZ’s argument is bad, and he’s wrong in his implication that we haven’t offered others.

    No, I haven’t said you haven’t offered other arguments (at least I didn’t mean to), what I’ve said is that in the “anti” case too much emphasis is placed on the “it doesn’t work” claim, when it is not the real issue and when it is a dubious claim owing more to fashion than clear evidence.

    It really is astonishing, by the way, how few cites we’ve had to any clear-cut evidence that torture is always ineffective.

  164. #164 Bill Arnold
    December 29, 2007

    Coel’s cryptographic key hypothetical has long (at least since about 1990) been called “rubber hose cryptanalysis”, aka “rubber hose cryptography” and “rubber hose cryptology”. I’ve mostly heard it referred to as a hypothetical to remind us that people are a very weak link in modern cryptographic systems. As suggested earlier in the thread, cryptosystems should be designed to be resistant to this form of attack if it (or the more benign variant that involves legal threats) is a significant possibility. As an example of a weak system, consider a 4-digit PIN on an ATM card, and consider what common criminals might do (and do do) to extract the PIN.
    This is not an apology for torture, the primary purpose of which is … torture. It’s just that the moral argument should be completely decoupled from the efficacy argument. Allowing them to be combined leads to abominable mock-utilitarian arguments like ticking-bomb scenarios. (Also consider Pascal’s wager, or other life choices made in reaction to the threat of infinite torture infinitely prolonged.)

  165. #165 Corky Ianucci
    December 29, 2007

    If Coel is not lying his ass off, then we could test his premise by torturing him to make him reveal his real agenda. I’d bet my left nut he does not know how to tell the truth in a way we would recognize, so we would be forced to continue torturing him until rigor mortis sets in. Or the flies got really bothersome.

    Yo, Coel, where in the world are you hiding?

  166. #166 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    T_U_T writes

    Coel keeps telling us that our arguments against torture are wrong because they are not realityproof – they potentially could be disproved. But he will never ever tell us how a correct ( irrefutable ) argument against torture should look like.

    Haven’t you seen quite a few of them in this thread alone? (Hint, all the ones that don’t depend on claiming it is ineffective.)

  167. #167 Kseniya
    December 29, 2007

    T.M.

    You miss the point (which wasn’t well stated). There is no way to know that there is a hidden volume… Coel’s “easily verified” scenario is a fantasy, not reality.

    True, there is no way to know – was that really the point? The commenter stated that he could “guarantee people would have no reason to suspect there’s a second one,” which I find hard to believe, particularly if the key unlocked a volume that, as he suggested, “gives you a handful of random files and shows the rest of the drive to be empty.”

    In that situation, I would fully expect an educated torturer to suspect the existence of a hidden volume, and push for disclosure of the “real” key. However, that may be a moot point, for your endless down-the-rabbit-hole argument is right on. That a key unlocks a drive is easily verifiable; that the unlocked drive contains accurate or complete information is not.

  168. #168 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Your utterly mistaken inference has no basis in anything I’ve actually said.

    I agree with this: Coel has never expressed any approval of torture. But what he has expressed, that PZ’s “torture isn’t good for gathering information” (which he has misrepresented as the strawman claim that torture can never ever conceivably produce valid information) is bullshit.

  169. #169 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Er … But what he has expressed, that PZ’s “torture isn’t good for gathering information” argument (which he has misrepresented as the strawman claim that torture can never ever conceivably produce valid information) is a bad argument, is bullshit.

  170. #170 craig
    December 29, 2007

    I also have said that I don’t CARE if torture works.
    There is no such thing as torturing to protect the innocent, because once torture is used, those it’s used on behalf of are no longer innocent.

    If torturing civilians we think might be connected to Al Qaeda is OK, then Al Qaeda flying planes into our buildings is OK. he only argument you have left at that point as to who is in the right is “we’re right because we’re us and they’re them.”

    You no longer have civilization on either size, you just have two groups of thugs, and which ever group of thugs is most powerful and ruthless wins and gets to call themselves “the good guys.”

  171. #171 bpower
    December 29, 2007

    “It really is astonishing, by the way, how few cites we’ve had to any clear-cut evidence that torture is always ineffective.”

    Dont write stuff like this on a science blog, it screams stupid.

  172. #172 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Truth machine writes:

    Steve didn’t raise the subject of “PC lefties”, you lying git, he pointed out a similarity between your argumentation style and that of “scientific racist” contributors to another thread.

    Yes, and the PC-lefties was an issue brought up in quite a few of the recent IQ/race threads, so Steve did raise it obliquely with his race comment.

  173. #173 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Truth machine writes:

    Coel hasn’t claimed that it’s disingenuous, just that it’s a bad argument.

    Oh yes I have, I’ve said both.

  174. #174 Norman Doering
    December 29, 2007

    Coel wrote:

    Alternatively, one will find a lot of conflicting claims, often by people with an axe to grind one way or the other, and nothing properly definitive.

    Prove it. Link some “torture works” experts.

    Here’s one argument against torture:
    http://dir.salon.com/story/opinion/feature/2004/06/18/torture_1/index.html

    Coel, I think you’re being honest when you think torture will work on you — and in your case, you’re probably right, you would spill everything. I’m sorry to report that this probably just means that you’re untrained and stupid, the perfect candidate for using torture on to get information.

    Alas, the untrained and stupid are not the ones we are fighting.

    Our soldiers, when they’re likely to have dangerous information, are trained to resist torture in various ways. They teach you to lie, they teach you to fake a mental breakdown before you break, and the terrorists train their people the same way.

    I can’t recall all the details, but in the news some weeks ago there was a CIA rep, John Kiriakou, who talked about working with the interrogation team that handled Abu Zubaydah. Kiriakou said they had Abu Zubaydah waterboarded — and claimed they got information necessary to prevent “maybe dozens of attacks.” And that the technique broke Zubaydah in less than 35 seconds.

    Kiriakou said that the next day, Zubaydah told his interrogator that Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate. Zubaydah might have been faking a breakdown when he said that. Islam is not a “born-again” type religion that emphasizes communication directly with the diety. Or, he might be one of the kinds of people torture works on.

    Kiriakou’s account of Zubaydah’s intelligence value contradicts Ron Suskind’s book “The One Percent Doctrine,” which claimed that Zubaydah was borderline retarded and didn’t have more than minor information about al-Qaeda.

  175. #175 Colugo
    December 29, 2007

    Former CIA operative John Kiriakou says that waterboarding Abu Zubayda yielded information that facilitated the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. As part of his training, he underwent it himself.

    http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/12/11/agent.tapes/#cnnSTCText

    “Kiriakou said he lasted only a few seconds during his training because his body felt like it was seizing up almost immediately.

    “It’s entirely unpleasant,” Kiriakou said. “You are so full of tension that you tense up, your muscles tighten up. It’s very uncomfortable.” …

    The former agent, who said he participated in the Abu Zubayda interrogation but not his waterboarding, said the CIA decided to waterboard the al Qaeda operative only after he was “wholly uncooperative” for weeks and refused to answer questions.

    All that changed — and Zubayda reportedly had a divine revelation — after 30 to 35 seconds of waterboarding, Kiriakou said he learned from the CIA agents who performed the technique.

    The terror suspect, who is being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, reportedly gave up information that indirectly led to the the 2003 raid in Pakistan yielding the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, an alleged planner of the September 11, 2001, attacks, Kiriakou said….

    Abu Zubayda reportedly told the agent who waterboarded him that “Allah had visited him in his cell during the night and told him to cooperate because it would make it easier on the other brothers who had been captured,” Kiriakou said.

    Though the information wrenched from Abu Zubayda “stopped terrorist attacks and saved lives,” Kiriakou said he opposes waterboarding. …

    Kiriakou … said that the technique was useful — even if he wanted to distance himself from it.

    “Waterboarding was an important technique, and some of these other techniques were important in collecting the information,” he said. “But I personally didn’t want to do it. I didn’t think it was right in the long run, and I didn’t want to be associated with it.””

  176. #176 T_U_T
    December 29, 2007

    But they DO depend on other claims which can turn out to be false too. So they don’t count too. If you criticize one argument solely because it depends on a claim that could be found false, then only an argument does not depend on any claims, that could be false even in principle, should count as valid. So, please, go on, show us such argument.

  177. #177 Janine
    December 29, 2007

    Coel has repeated claimed that he is morally against torture but that he fears that it sometimes works, there claiming that the “torture doesn’t work” argument is invalid. Fine, he is right on that point. But he is arguing against an oversimplified point. PZ also argued the torture has it’s main use in areas other than intelligence gathering. Plenty of people here made their cases against torture with out the “torture doesn’t work” argument by going into the ethics of torture. And yet others here points at intelligence agencies (Who can hardly be called lefty-PC) that concluded that torture is less than useful.

    Yet Coel keeps going back to his correct argument against an over simplified point. Why is that?

  178. #178 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    True, there is no way to know – was that really the point? The commenter stated that he could “guarantee people would have no reason to suspect there’s a second one,” which I find hard to believe

    As I said, it wasn’t well expressed. If “no way to know” wasn’t the point, it should have been. :-)

    particularly if the key unlocked a volume that, as he suggested, “gives you a handful of random files and shows the rest of the drive to be empty.”

    You’ve tortured the guy, you get a key, there’s nothing of use there. You suspect that there’s something else there if you have reason to think so, but you may have been fishing. What matters is that you can’t know — what you suspect is up to you, it isn’t under the torturee’s control, but not knowing is under his control if he set things up right. And one of the ways to set things up right is to put fake “intelligence” on the visible volume.

    In that situation, I would fully expect an educated torturer to suspect the existence of a hidden volume, and push for disclosure of the “real” key.

    Like I said, you can torture him again just in case there’s something else hidden.

    That a key unlocks a drive is easily verifiable; that the unlocked drive contains accurate or complete information is not.

    Which completely refutes Coel’s “easily verified” claim way up in #4, yet he’s ignored that and is still at it. Getting a key that unlocks something isn’t verification; only getting verified actionable intelligence is verification.

  179. #179 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    bpower writes:

    “It really is astonishing, by the way, how few cites we’ve had to any clear-cut evidence that torture is always ineffective.” Dont write stuff like this on a science blog, it screams stupid.

    It is everyone else who seems so sure of the claim that torture doesn’t work, while giving very little in solid evidence to back the claim.

  180. #180 Cyde Weys
    December 29, 2007

    You’ve put into words exactly what I’ve hated about our policies of torture for so long, but was unable to express. It’s not so much that I care about the “terrorists” who are being tortured – it’s that it makes me afraid of what my own government is capable of doing. When we are afraid of our own government, things are wrong.

  181. #181 Steve LaBonne
    December 29, 2007

    Suskind’s book gives plenty of ridiculous examples of the fanciful “attacks” that were “prevented” by Zubaydah’s “confessions”. Kiriakou’s claim therefore lacks credibility.
    (Don’t forget that Suskind’s sources were also CIA.)

  182. #182 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    It is everyone else who seems so sure of the claim that torture doesn’t work

    No one has claimed that torture never ever yields information, you stupid stupid lying sack of tiresome troll shit. I’ve pointed this out repeatedly and you’ve ignored it every time.

  183. #183 True Bob
    December 29, 2007

    Coel, you wanted other arguments. I pointed out that in order to be good at torture, you need a cadre of proficient torturers, which means torture is going on continuously, not solely in those 1 in eleventy billion situations where it “works”. Is that not sufficient an argument for you?

    Your “argument” reminds me of upper management.

    “Bring me a rock.”
    “Here’s a rock”
    “No, not that one, a different one.”
    “Here’s a different rock.”
    “Still not the rock I want.”
    “What kind of rock do you want?”
    “I’ll know it when I see it.”

  184. #184 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Truth machine writes:

    But what he has expressed, that PZ’s “torture isn’t good for gathering information” argument (which he has misrepresented as the strawman claim that torture can never ever conceivably produce valid information) is a bad argument, is bullshit.

    Excuse me Mr Machine, but you are misquoting PZ. What he actually said was “It’s just useless for gathering information.” That “just useless” is closer to what you call my “strawman” version than to your version.

  185. #185 MAJeff
    December 29, 2007

    Suskind’s book gives plenty of ridiculous examples of the fanciful “attacks” that were “prevented” by Zubaydah’s “confessions”. Kiriakou’s claim therefore lacks credibility.
    (Don’t forget that Suskind’s sources were also CIA.)

    Beat me to it.

  186. #186 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Truth machine writes

    It is everyone else who seems so sure of the claim that torture doesn’t work

    No one has claimed that torture never ever yields information, you stupid stupid lying sack of tiresome troll shit.

    Come now, Mr Machine, “torture doesn’t work” is not quite the same as “torture never ever yields information”, is it?

  187. #187 Janine
    December 29, 2007

    Coel, seeing that it is a little to difficult for you to read what PZ said about torture at the top of the page, I will provide a quote.

    Here is all that torture is good for: inspiring fear in a population. If you want it widely known that your ruling regime is utterly ruthless and doesn’t care about individuals, all you have to do is scoop up random people suspected of anti-government activities, hold them for a few weeks, and return them as shattered wrecks with mangled limbs, while treating the monsters who would do such a thing as respected members of the ruling clique, who are immune from legal prosecution. The message gets out fast that one does not cross the government.

    Your’s is a strawman argument.

  188. #188 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Oh yes I have, I’ve said both.

    That’s funny. you lie about what you yourself have said to make yourself look even worse. If you did say both, then you’re a lying stupid ass on yet another front, since my argument against DeniedAntecedent (which you ignored) applies to you too. No one is pretending to be against torture because it doesn’t work while hiding the fact that they think it morally wrong — people have been quite up front about the latter.

  189. #189 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    True Bob writes:

    Coel, you wanted other arguments.[…] Is that not sufficient an argument for you?

    Well, no, I didn’t want other arguments, thanks, I know plenty of them already. What I’m arguing is that people should not over-claim on the “torture doesn’t work” argument.

  190. #190 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Come now, Mr Machine, “torture doesn’t work” is not quite the same as “torture never ever yields information”, is it?

    Well that’s just it, moron — no, the former is PZ’s claim while the latter is the strawman that you demand definitive proof of.

    You’re such a troll that you’re now even making my argument and refuting your own.

  191. #191 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Janine writes:

    Coel, seeing that it is a little to difficult for you to read what PZ said about torture at the top of the page

    It isn’t at all difficult, thanks. And the point of your quoting that was . . .?

    Your’s is a strawman argument.

    Umm, which argument of mine is a strawman?

  192. #192 Janine
    December 29, 2007

    Coel, you just keep ignoring everything everyone said about torture not based on the “torture doesn’t work” argument. Why are you keeping those mental blinders on?

  193. #193 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    What I’m arguing is that people should not over-claim on the “torture doesn’t work” argument.

    Look, everyone, Coel is nothing but a troll wasting everyone’s time here. The only one over-claiming it is Coel. PZ’s argument is that it isn’t good for gathering information, not that it fails utterly — he didn’t make an over-claim.

  194. #194 DeniedAntecedent
    December 29, 2007

    Steve LaBonne (#150):

    You (and not only you) did indeed trumpet your moral disagreement with torture, so apologies for calling you disingenuos.

    My point is this: subsidiary or not, the torture-doesn’t-work argument can only be made (or unmade) empirically. Simply saying that people will say anything to make it stop is not enough. Some people will do that. Others might tell the truth. I’m not sure anyone really knows. And since we are opposed to torture on moral grounds anyway, why would we even want to know?

  195. #195 Rav Winston
    December 29, 2007

    Erm– But what can “we the people” DO about all of this?

    I mean, as the People of this country, do we not share in the responsibility of inflicting torture on others and divesting ourselves of our civil and human rights?

  196. #196 True Bob
    December 29, 2007

    Coel, you have no point in continuing this discussion. A relatively small community (i.e. people posting here) can demonstrate in numerous ways why torture should never be done. Not all the arguments are of the “it doesn’t work” variety. Your asserted dilemma of over-reliance on said argument is resolved. You can go back in your cave now (sun’s coming up…)

  197. #197 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Coel, you just keep ignoring everything everyone said about torture not based on the “torture doesn’t work” argument.

    He’s also ignored everything everyone said about the “torture doesn’t work” argument. He’s a waste.

  198. #198 bpower
    December 29, 2007

    You’re right Ceol, torture is useful for gathering information.

    Lets finish the War on Drugs right fucking now. Round up the addicts, torture them until they give up their dealers, then torture the dealers until we get the middle men, etc etc.

    I predict victory in less than 6 months.

  199. #199 Janine
    December 29, 2007

    Umm, which argument of mine is a strawman?

    I have stated that a couple of times already. You have grossly simplified what PZ said and dismissing everything anyone has to say about the subject. True Bob summed up best what you are doing.

  200. #200 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Janine writes:

    Coel, you just keep ignoring everything everyone said about torture not based on the “torture doesn’t work” argument. Why are you keeping those mental blinders on?

    Please tell me explicitly what I’m ignoring?

  201. #201 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    My point is this: subsidiary or not, the torture-doesn’t-work argument can only be made (or unmade) empirically. Simply saying that people will say anything to make it stop is not enough. Some people will do that. Others might tell the truth. I’m not sure anyone really knows.

    Argumentum ad ignorantiam. There’s plenty of empirical evidence, which has been cited here, that torture is unreliable.

    And since we are opposed to torture on moral grounds anyway, why would we even want to know?

    Non sequitur. We do know something about the effects of torture; that doesn’t mean we desire to torture to learn more. Also, not everyone accepts the moral argument — some who don’t do accept the pragmatic argument, which is a good reason for making it.

  202. #202 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Truth machine writes:

    PZ’s argument is that it isn’t good for gathering information, not that it fails utterly — he didn’t make an over-claim.

    Truthy, truthy, truthy, I’ve corrected you once: PZ’s claim was “It’s just useless for gathering information” That’s what I originally commented on. And that is closer to “it fails utterly” than “it isn’t good”, so you are the one misrepresenting a little.

  203. #203 Janine
    December 29, 2007

    nothing to say here

    my head just exploded

  204. #204 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    What contention is that?

    Umm, which argument of mine is a strawman?

    Please tell me explicitly what I’m ignoring?

    A fun game for the troll, no doubt.

  205. #205 Norman Doering
    December 29, 2007

    Coel wrote:

    Well, no, I didn’t want other arguments, thanks, I know plenty of them already. What I’m arguing is that people should not over-claim on the “torture doesn’t work” argument.

    When a broken clock is right twice a day can you still say that the clock works sometimes?

    Torture does work on a certain class of people — people who think torture works. It’s a bit like the old truth serum drug, Sodium Pentothal, it only works when the victim believes it will work. If you know how to resist it, then it only makes you feel a bit drunk and sedated.

    http://www.damninteresting.com/?p=223

    Torture, by experts, is a complicated psychological game. The psychology is easily foiled by knowledge.

  206. #206 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Truthy, truthy, truthy, I’ve corrected you once: PZ’s claim was “It’s just useless for gathering information” That’s what I originally commented on. And that is closer to “it fails utterly” than “it isn’t good”, so you are the one misrepresenting a little.

    You’re stupid. It’s useless as a procedure for gathering information, because it’s unreliable; that doesn’t mean it fails utterly.

  207. #207 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Truth machine writes:

    There’s plenty of empirical evidence, which has been cited here, that torture is unreliable.

    Well obviouisly it’s unreliable. But unreliable is not the same us “just useless”. My sister’s car is unreliable (it has broken down a couple of times) but it is not useless (it has got her places many times).

  208. #208 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    What I’m arguing is that people should not over-claim on the “torture doesn’t work” argument.

    Fine, you’ve argued it. People can make of your argument what they will. Your job here is done. Goodbye.

  209. #209 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    But unreliable is not the same us “just useless”.

    Not to stupid trolls who wish to over-argue a point based on an overly-literal interpretation. PZ said it’s not good for gathering information. He’s right. So fuck off.

  210. #210 uknesvuinng
    December 29, 2007

    “Well obviouisly it’s unreliable. But unreliable is not the same us “just useless”. My sister’s car is unreliable (it has broken down a couple of times) but it is not useless (it has got her places many times).”

    What if your sister’s car only worked in really rare, highly contrived occasions and didn’t the rest of the time, and you couldn’t know when it would or wouldn’t work? Would you still consider that car useful? If you’re gonna make the comparison, make it valid.

  211. #211 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Truth machine writes

    What contention is that? Umm, which argument of mine is a strawman? Please tell me explicitly what I’m ignoring?

    A fun game for the troll, no doubt. A fun game for the troll, no doubt.

    Well lots of people are reading into my posts plenty of things I haven’t said. Janine seems to be. That’s why I asked for clarification of what she thinks I’m ignoring.

  212. #212 Colugo
    December 29, 2007

    Sometimes moral repugnance is conflated with the issue of efficaciousness. But if something is morally wrong, its efficacy is irrelevant.

    Animal rights activists claim that animal experimentation is useless. Death penalty opponents argue that capital punishment has no deterrent effect. Opponents of torture claim that torture does not regularly yield actionable intelligence. Pro-lifers claim that abortion does not enhance the wellbeing of women who undergo the procedure, but rather is medically harmful. Whether or not these claims are correct, they have no bearing on the moral rightness or wrongness of these practices.

    For example:

    Human vivisection is always wrong without question. But it cannot be argued that it can never yield medically relevant information. In fact, some of that information (on hypothermia for example) has made its way into the medical literature. Personally, I think that information from Nazi medical experiments and Japan’s Unit 731 should have been destroyed; likewise, copies of the infamous anatomy book with illustrations based on the dissection of Holocaust victims should also be destroyed. Human vivisection: medically relevant? Definitely. Utterly wrong? Always.

  213. #213 Janine
    December 29, 2007

    Here is a question for Coen. Despite all the evidence that torture is not effective for intelligence gathering. Despite the ethical arguments against the use of torture. Despite the fact the torture is more of a tool for spreading terror and fear.

    Yes, sometimes a useful nugget comes through. So here is a hypothetical question for your hypothetical situation. How successful does torture have to be before it is alright to use it. One truthful statement per one hundred uses of water boarding? Come on, you are ignoring what everyone has to say. What is your criteria?

  214. #214 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Truth machine writes

    PZ said it’s not good for gathering information.

    I think you’ll find that his words were “just useless”.

  215. #215 Matt Platte
    December 29, 2007

    Noisy in here. truth “machine” (how apt), bpower, et al barking so loudly they can’t hear the message, any message. Here’s a hint: when you find yourself deep into ad hominem territory, you might want to stop hollering for a bit and review the earlier posts.

    • there are no links to definitive studies showing inefficacy — and how could there be?
    • the good argument is a moral argument
    • the bad argument is a practical argument
    • the Coel question suggests eliminating the bad argument simply because it’s a bad argument

    Duh, it’s not rocket science. But that’s beside my point. I wanted to fix this:

    they are simply saying “Fear us.” They are taking the first^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H another step on the road to tyranny.

  216. #216 howard hershey
    December 29, 2007

    Besides instilling fear of *being* tortured, torture also invariably gives the torturer the answers they want to hear. And those answers can be used to instill fear of the tortured person (and those perceived as like him or her) and justify anything the agency involved in torture wants to justify.

  217. #217 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Truth machine writes:

    Fine, you’ve argued it. People can make of your argument what they will. Your job here is done. Goodbye.

    Why thankyou. It was fun. I must come here more often.

  218. #218 Jamie
    December 29, 2007

    I’m sure torture isn’t as unreliable a means of extracting information as people here are pretending. Suppose your captors are trying to elicit from you the location of the Rebel HQ. You tell a lie, and they go check out this false location. They come back and torture you some more. This process can be repeated indefinitely.

    You would have to buckle, sooner or later. And if you’re smart you would realize this early on and figure that it’s better sooner than later.

  219. #219 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Oh, and this:

    PZ’s “torture isn’t good for gathering information” argument … “Excuse me Mr Machine, but you are misquoting PZ.”

    I didn’t quote him, moron, I characterized his argument — accurately. It’s right there in the title of the thread: “good”. Torture is good for producing fear, but not good for gathering intelligence. Numerous intelligence agencies agree, asshole. And since you have nothing new to say on the matter, save your effort to repeat yourself.

  220. #220 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Janine asks

    So here is a hypothetical question for your hypothetical situation. How successful does torture have to be before it is alright to use it.

    My answer is that it is never acceptable to use it, and that the acceptability does not depend on its success.

    Come on, you are ignoring what everyone has to say. What is your criteria?

    As I suspected, you are reading into me what I have not said, and have completely misunderstood my intent (even though I’ve spelt it out repeatedly).

    I’ll say it again. I am opposed to torture and do not find it acceptable. I have said that all along. Contrary to your claims, I am not “ignoring” anti-torture arguments, I agree with them!

  221. #221 Gregory Earl
    December 29, 2007

    Coel, DeniedAntecedent, you are both wrong in this case, but that is beside the point. You have disagreed with PZ, and on this blog, that is inexcusable. We keep truth machine around for the sole purpose of driving away people like you with childish insults, so that we can keep agreeing with PZ and each other ad nauseam.

  222. #222 uknesvuinng
    December 29, 2007

    And if the rebels flee the old HQ upon the capture of a member? Perhaps they have a specified location to use as a false lead to signify they’ve been captured? Now your torture victim cannot give valid information, even if he wishes.

  223. #223 Steve LaBonne
    December 29, 2007

    the bad argument is a practical argument

    except that attempts of several people to establish this in this thread have failed miserably and have degenerated into the usual trollish demands to prove a negative. It’s not the primary argument but it IS a good, and important, one. People who waver on the moral question when they’re presented with the ticking-bomb BS need to know that they’re in danger of sacrifing morality and getting nothing in return.

  224. #224 uknesvuinng
    December 29, 2007

    My post at #219 was directed to #215.

  225. #225 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    But if something is morally wrong, its efficacy is irrelevant.

    Not if not everyone considers it to be morally wrong. There are good reasons for those who accept both arguments to make both arguments.

  226. #226 Norman Doering
    December 29, 2007

    Jamie wrote:

    You would have to buckle, sooner or later. And if you’re smart you would realize this early on and figure that it’s better sooner than later.

    No, you do not have to buckle, ever. You would fail under torture because you believe in torture.

  227. #227 uknesvuinng
    December 29, 2007

    The efficacy argument does have a valid use toward the morality argument, but in an indirect and unnecessary way. Most “moral” pro-torture arguments are of the act utilitarian variety, listing off Jack Bauer scenarios in which torture could hypothetically yield useful information, and therefore declaring that A: torture is effective and B: because it’s effective, it’s ok. Now, B is already wrong because its efficacy is irrelevant to its morality. However, A is also a false premise upon which B rests, so it’s wrong even from the utilitarian point of view. Is it necessary? Not absolutely. But it does have a place is further rebutting efforts to justify it.

  228. #228 Cyde Weys
    December 29, 2007

    The scariest thing in this whole exchange is all of the people defending torture. I wish these psychopaths would clearly and easily identify themselves in real life, so I knew who to avoid.

  229. #229 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    the bad argument is a practical argument

    According to whom?

    the Coel question suggests eliminating the bad argument simply because it’s a bad argument

    Duh. But a number of people don’t agree that it’s a bad argument. Indeed it’s not rocket science, but it does seem to be over your head.

  230. #230 uknesvuinng
    December 29, 2007

    Err, in #224’s last sentence, it should be “justify torture.”

    I think I need caffeine.

  231. #231 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    The scariest thing in this whole exchange is all of the people defending torture.

    I believe the only person contributing here who does that is Jamie (several others did so in the other thread).

  232. #232 Crosius
    December 29, 2007

    There is another use for torture, related to BIG LIE propaganda:

    After a state has convinced a person to torture in the pursuit of the administration’s agenda, the torturer will be strongly motivated to continue to believe in the state’s agenda, otherwise they will have to admit that they tortured someone for a lie. This works best if the techniques employed by the torturer are particularly depraved.

    As far as the “though experiment” that shows torture can be useful:

    The problem with any hypothetical scenario which seems to illustrate that under specific circumstances torture would produce useful intelligence is simple: The opponent will adapt.

    The simplest way to defeat any imagined useful product of torture is to indoctrinate your troops to confess everything they know, with absolute accuracy, on capture.

    Then, adapt your command structure to the new paradigm.

    Your organisation will compartmentalise information to limit what any given participant knows, reducing the usefulness of this “full disclosure on capture” intelligence to a strategic minimum.

    Now, with full disclosure on capture, you have the advantage of knowing what your opponent knows. If you know your operative has confessed to everything they know, you know precisely what your enemy knows, and can change your plans to render the confessed information completely useless. This allows you to reduce the value of your torturing opponent’s accurate intelligence to zero.

    As an added bonus, your opponent will still not trust the confessions obtained from your troops without torture, (see the above need to justify torture or face the truth that one has become a monster) so they will still torture, producing information which conflicts with the captives initial statement. By the time the torturing regime realises the initial information was correct, you will already have changed the plans affected by the capture of that operative.

  233. #233 Coel
    December 29, 2007

    Cyde Weys writes:

    The scariest thing in this whole exchange is all of the people defending torture.

    Can you point out these people for us? I hadn’t noticed any on this thread.

  234. #234 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Gregory Earl

    PZ-hating creationist troll.

  235. #235 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    What if your sister’s car only worked in really rare, highly contrived occasions and didn’t the rest of the time, and you couldn’t know when it would or wouldn’t work? Would you still consider that car useful? If you’re gonna make the comparison, make it valid.

    Bingo.

  236. #236 Alicia Morgan
    December 29, 2007

    Torture works marvelously when your intent is to intimidate the population, and elicit specific answers from the torturee.

    Works like a charm, which is why the Administration will fight to the death to keep it.

  237. #237 Janine
    December 29, 2007

    Alicia Morgan, I feel the need to correct one part of your statement. This Administration will fight to your death to keep it. They need to stay alive in order to retain power.

  238. #238 owlbear1
    December 29, 2007

    IMHO, in order to argue the efficiency of torture you first have to make several large assumptions.

    You have to assume that you KNOW the victim holds in the information you seek.
    You have to assume that you KNOW the victim fully understands why s/he is being held.
    You have to assume that you KNOW the victim fears death so much they would tell the truth to avoid it.

    You have to assume so many things before you even get to, “Is torture effective?” that it becomes an empty question.

    You have to assume you have infallible judgment of the situation in order to ask the question.

  239. #239 True Bob
    December 29, 2007

    Once upon a time, our Patriotic Hero (TM) is captured by those no-goodniks, Thaxis of Evil. Our hero has planted explosives at a critical rail juncture, that will disable the bad guys’ ability to move chemical weapons to the front lines.

    So they torture our guy, who knows he’ll be killed as a spy in any circumstance. After some requisite suffering, he breaks, and tells them he’s planted an anthrax bomb outside their parliament building. So they evacuate parliament, bring in the dogs, and start searching. Two hours after he told them the bogus story, while the dogs are sniffing the cloak room, the rail junction explodes under a troop train.

    What a patriot our hero is.

    Now realize that the “evil-doers” and “terrrrsts” fervently believe in their causes, just like our stoic good guy believes in baseball and apple pie. They don’t see themselves as skulking agents of evil, they are in fact fighting evil (those very evil folks who will commit astoundingly immoral personal violations).

    Fairy tale time is now over. Have a sweet nap.

  240. #240 CalGeorge
    December 29, 2007

    Torture is wrong.

    Whether it works or not is irrelevant.

    We became the terrorists when Bush condoned its use.

    As the ACLU says:

    “The president can now – with the approval of Congress – indefinitely hold people without charge, take away protections against horrific abuse, put people on trial based on hearsay evidence, authorize trials that can sentence people to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses, and slam shut the courthouse door for habeas petitions.”

    This is a very bad place to be.

  241. #241 Dustin
    December 29, 2007

    Hi Coel,

    Great points! I stopped reading about 1/3 the way through the comments because I just couldn’t stand to watch your critics misunderstand you anymore. They’re making all the classic mistakes of a freshman in a philosophy class. The two most blatant one’s are as follows:

    (1) They mistake your rejection of an ARGUMENT for a rejection of the CONCLUSION of that argument. Why do people have such a hard time distinguishing arguments from their conclusions?

    (2) They think that if a possible situation is RARE enough it cannot be a counterexample to a general principle.

    Anyway, keep up the good work! They’ll come around.

    Maybe.

  242. #242 marijane
    December 29, 2007

    Naomi Wolf gave a talk in Seattle this fall about the erosion of democracy and creeping fascism:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjALf12PAWc

    I recommend watching the entire thing, but she discusses the effects of secret prison systems where torture takes place on a democratic society starting at 12:45. She notes that every society that has ever used torture on its enemies has eventually used those tactics against its own citizens — the citizens become the population in which fear is inspired. This has an extremely detrimental effect on democracy, in fact, Wolf explains it is one of the essential steps in the closing of open societies.

  243. #243 Moses
    December 29, 2007

    Coel’s won. Not because he’s actually done anything to obtain victory in a positive way, but has simply done what any True Believer (TM) does – refuse to accept fact and evidence contrary to his fact-less position – then engage in a pillow-punching debate where he’s not trollish enough to get told off, yet is trollish enough to provoke responses.

    We see this frequently, like when one of the gun nuts with his idiotic “more guns = safer people” when we’ve got tons of research showing that it’s not true. Or when one of the ID stooges comes in here and does his AIG cut-and-paste crap. Or any other obtuse, obdurate arse-clown who worships the sound of his own voice and refuses to address the substance of arguments or allow the facts to persuade him.

    What mystifies me though, is why people keep arguing with him. It’s well understood that torture will get people to confess — to anything. It’s well understood that torture produces information, but the quantity and quality of the information is characterized as “voluminous crap.” I think the SERE program says it best:

    “Our body of experience shows a friendly approach is most successful” in interrogation, Nance says. SERE’s historical memory goes back to the French and Indian Wars in understanding torture methods that captured U.S. troops might face and devising strategies to resist them. He relates the story of Hans Joachim Scharff, a master Luftwaffe interrogator who spurned abusive techniques used by the Gestapo (also, interestingly, termed “enhanced interrogation”) in favor of rapport-building. Scharff’s legendary success is still studied by U.S. interrogators. Unfortunately, he says, “after Guantanamo, I thought, how can anyone at SERE ever teach the Geneva Conventions again?”

    A trove of accumulated institutional familiarity with torture led to a slide that Nance shares, from an old (and unclassified) SERE PowerPoint presentation to trainees. It asks outright, “Why Is Torture The Worst Interrogation Method?” The first answer: “Produces Unreliable Information.”

    You can’t argue with a man who refuses to accept expert opinion on a subject on which he clearly has nothing intelligent to say. Well, I guess you could. But it’d be like arguing with a pillow. No matter how much you hit it, it’s still just a piece of fluff that deforms with every blow, but never really changes.

  244. #244 sduford
    December 29, 2007

    I’m afraid the American government has long been telling the world that it will not be a benevolent member of the community of Nations, or even a leader that inspires good behavior, lawfullness, and positive actions. Just take the fact that the USA has not signed the ban on land mines, has not signed-on to the International Court, has entered into an illegal war, has used torture and rendition, has incarcerated people for years without a single charge being brought against them, and has made rubbish of the Geneva convention.

    In the light of these facts, why would any nation not have an excuse to do the same?

  245. #245 True Bob
    December 29, 2007

    AFAIK, Coel wasn’t advocating torture. I didn’t see anywhere where he/she/it expressed what it wanted, beyond not relying on efficacy as an argument. Of course, when presented with other refutations of torture, it seemed to ignore them and only focus on the arguments of “it don’t work”.

    Perhaps if it was clearer in what it expected or was searching for. But that’s not the Concern Troll Way ™. Keep the audience guessing, ignore anything close to your demands, and keep leaning on vagueness.

  246. #246 Troy
    December 29, 2007

    I don’t want to get into the above other than to opine that Coel’s only point WRT the danger of saying “torture doesn’t work” is a valid counter-argument against it still stands, against a lot of huffing and puffing of heat but very little light.

    This is not to say that I disagree with PZ’s larger point, that torture is being employed now by inhuman monsters as a form of collective punishment and a CYA better-safe-than-sorry strategy against what are now non-persons.

    Anyhoo, this, by somebody else:

    A second American Revolution is pretty needed.

    caught my eye. Be very careful what you wish for.

  247. #247 Moses
    December 29, 2007

    Hi Coel,

    Great points! I stopped reading about 1/3 the way through the comments because I just couldn’t stand to watch your critics misunderstand you anymore. They’re making all the classic mistakes of a freshman in a philosophy class.

    Posted by: Dustin | December 29, 2007 3:17 PM

    He’s not rejecting an argument based on logic or evidence. He’s dismissing the evidence of an argument against his fallacious position that “torture works” with it’s implied sub-text – produces useful, actionable intelligence – even though his argument has been shown to be false. That is, like a child, he’s put his fingers in his ears and is shouting “la la la la” as loudly as he can.

    Which puts you on the “idiotic freshman level” since you were clearly incapable of understanding just what the argument is about. In short, the argument is: What is torture good for?

    Coel argues that it’s good in the so-called “ticking time bomb” scenario (which only exists on TV) and other highly improbable scenarios of which he no doubts use to fuel his S&M fantasies. He also argues that there, from his first example, must be other situations where torture will work.

    We argue, supported by the far greater preponderance of scientific, intelligence and military sources that torture doesn’t “work” in his slippery-slope, highly contrived example. Further, we assert the Zaraquai “positive” example is, literally, a bullshit interpretation as the intelligence received was, from many sources, crap.

    We also have added much in the way of primary and secondary sources to bolster our opinions. We have also shown the fallacies in which Coel has engaged. (Arguing from personal incredulity, etc.)

    Not that I’d expect YOU to find in anyway but for Coel. It’s what you are.

  248. #248 Arnaud
    December 29, 2007

    OK, let’s try this. (You’ll have to excuse me if I am a bit late to the fray.)
    Coel, the ticking bomb scenario is a misleading one. It is NOT how intelligence gathering works. IG is a painstakingly slow process. Data not only need to be collected, they also need to be assessed regarding both utility and accuracy. It takes time and people. It’s definitely not Jack Bauer in a basement. One big difference, for instance, is that the people gathering the data and the one using them are not the same; hell, they often are not in the same country! Hence the need for evaluation.

    If an intelligence agency learns of a “ticking bomb” somewhere in their territory, it will most likely be through secondary or tertiary sources, gossips, noises and such. To use torture effectively they will then have to sweep all the usual suspects and interrogate them regardless of guilt or innocence, with very, very little chance of success, to avert an event the probability of which they could not estimate in the first place. Such a useless practice is only advocated by people who want to “sell” you an imaginary quick fix so that you’ll feel safer.

    Terrorist organisations, especially Middle-Eastern ones, are built to resist torture. They originated and operate in countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Algeria…) where the use of torture is commonplace. Torture against them is useless and will bring no intelligence worth having (remember: data need to be assessed before you can use them).

    Torture was extensively used by the French in Algeria; at the same time, the very people using it would recognize its uselessness as an intelligence gathering tool. They didn’t do it to get info, they used torture for revenge and as an instrument of terror, of control. And the thing is: that didn’t work either!

    The big problem is that Saddam Hussein had it right: once you torture somebody, you better kill them afterwards because if they weren’t an enemy of your regime beforehand, they certainly will be once you have finished with them. And that’s another reason why it doesn’t work: the victims knows that whatever promises you make, you cannot hold them, you cannot afford to.

    Torture is counter-productive, which is its biggest failure. It turns an entire population, families after families, against you and ensure that, there may in all probability be no ticking bomb now, but there will be in the future. So Dustin, this is where your point #2 fails, if a probability of an event is rare enough, but your acting on that probability has negative consequences, you are wrong to act…

    The “usefulness” argument against torture is also an ethical one.

  249. #249 Dustin
    December 29, 2007

    “I didn’t see anywhere where [Coel] expressed what it wanted, beyond not relying on efficacy as an argument.”

    Finally, someone understands what you’re saying, Coel! But somehow, he amazingly went on to say:

    “Of course, when presented with other refutations of torture, it seemed to ignore them”

    Of COURSE you ignored them, as you should! Why do people have such a hard time understanding that the cogency of any ADDITIONAL arguments against torture is completely beside the point of whether the ORIGINAL argument was a good one?

    Again, people just can’t see the difference between rejecting a particular argument and rejecting the conclusion of that argument. Such people would call the following argument a good one simply because it has a true conclusion.

    Premise 1: The moon is made of cheese.
    Conclusion: Dogs are mammals.

    Such people would think that anyone who challenged this argument was a “moron” because, obviously, dogs ARE mammals!!!

    Hahaha.

  250. #250 T_U_T
    December 29, 2007

    troy, maybe you will be more reasonable, than coel, and explain it to me. What is wrong with the argument that torture doesn’t work ? If the fact that it could be refuted in principle enough to consider it wrong ? What sort of argument is right, then ?

  251. #251 Troy
    December 29, 2007

    “Torture against them is useless and will bring no intelligence worth having”

    These are the very same “PC-lefty” dogmas that Coel is questioning the validity, and wisdom, of espousing.

    The Japanese generally tortured the hell out of captured US servicemen to get information that they wouldn’t voluntarily give. I agree as a matter of policy it will prove to be counter-productive, and in the end make us no better than the assholes we’re in conflict with now, but in the general case “mis-treatment” (physical abuse, mental pressure techniques, external threats to loved ones, etc) of prisoners to pressure them for any information they have is not categorically “useless for gathering information” as PZ claims above, and to continue to claim so weakens the arguments against these already abhorrent intelligence procedures.

  252. #252 Dustin
    December 29, 2007

    “his argument has been shown to be false”

    Haha.

    Like I said, people have a REAL hard time distinguishing arguments from their conclusions.

    (If you’re still having trouble, Moses, try googling “arguments cannot be true or false”. Or sign-up for a freshman phil class. I suggest logic.)

  253. #253 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    I don’t want to get into the above other than to opine that Coel’s only point WRT the danger of saying “torture doesn’t work” is a valid counter-argument against it still stands

    What “valid counter-argument”? What part of “”Why Is Torture The Worst Interrogation Method?” The first answer: “Produces Unreliable Information” don’t you understand?

    against a lot of huffing and puffing of heat but very little light

    I refuted Coel every which way but he refused to address the refutations. His initial claim about easily verified encryption keys was refuted with a technical argument about hidden volumes (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steganography for the theory). Did you see it? Did you understand it? Did you see Coel ever address it? The huffing and puffing was his.

  254. #254 Ichthyic
    December 29, 2007

    so, uh, Dustin…

    you do seem to really enjoy concern trolling.

    I did notice that your particular position on the topic of the actual thread seems to be missing in favor of an argument about whether or not Coel’s position is presented as a legitimate argument from a technical standpoint.

    so what, exactly, do you think you are contributing here, exactly?

  255. #255 Todd
    December 29, 2007

    sduford,

    You bring up a very important point about the Geneva Convention. Military members are well aware that any disregard, or even perception of disregard, for the Geneva Conventions places them at greater risk for being tortured if they were ever to become prisoners of war. If one country captures a soldier knowing the soldier’s country conducts and authorizes torture then that soldier is more likely to be tortured. A good example is during WWII the US and Germany both abided by rules of war and treated each other’s prisoners more humanely (certainly not perfectly). On the other hand the USSR didn’t sign any agreements and their prisoners where treated as well as they treated German prisoners – not very.
    Certainly holding the moral high ground doesn’t mean your soldiers won’t be tortured but there would be more international pressure on, and less support for, the torturing nation.

  256. #256 Arnaud
    December 29, 2007

    Sorry Troy, how can it be a dogma when I give reasons for the claims?

    As for comparing oranges and apples… You may have noticed that there are a few differences between US servicemen (we are not even talking about professional soldiers here) and islamic terrorists. This is what I argued when I said that terrorist organisations in the Middle East are built to withstand the use of torture, even on a large scale. They had a lot of opportunities to learn. Those who didn’t learn… well, they at least learnt something about natural selection and the survival of the fittest…

  257. #257 Troy
    December 29, 2007

    truth, given the sheer quantity of crap you’ve thrown onto this thread I don’t want to get into the meta-argument with you, but you’re missing Coel’s counter-argument that it is indeed possible for *inherently* unreliable information to be collected and cross-analyzed so it can

  258. #258 Ichthyic
    December 29, 2007

    survival of the fittest

    uh, so they learned how to score better with chicks and have more kids?

    please don’t misuse the term so badly. it makes you look foolish.

  259. #259 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    “his argument has been shown to be false”

    Haha.

    Like I said, people have a REAL hard time distinguishing arguments from their conclusions.

    You’re clueless. Coel offered several arguments that “torture doesn’t work” is a bad argument. But Coel’s arguments were bad arguments — strawmen, argumentum ad ignorantiam, burden shifting, unsupported claims, oversimplification, etc. Coel’s arguments were refuted — “torture doesn’t work” is not a bad argument on the grounds Coel gave. Perhaps it’s a bad argument on other grounds — his conclusion isn’t necessarily false just because all his arguments to that conclusion are unsound — but there’s no reason to think so.

  260. #260 Troy
    December 29, 2007

    Arnaud, I find your claim that inhumane pressure techniques against terrorist suspects “useless” is over-broad. I agree that it is arguably counter-productive, and pushes down a slippery slope of horrific inhumanity. The problem for the terrorists, and us moralists able to look a long ways down the road, is that 9/11 gave the our politicians the blank check to pursue this brutish “boot in the ass” approach in our prosecution of the so-called War on Terror.

    If I were President I’d close the torture camps, but the people in charge of policy now are operating on different thought cycles than us. IMV to them, better safe-than-sorry — do ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING that has the merest possibility of preventing another 9/11 — and the process of creative destruction in the mideast has lead them into this policy direction.

  261. #261 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    you’re missing Coel’s counter-argument that it is indeed possible for *inherently* unreliable information to be collected and cross-analyzed so it can

    Perhaps I’m missing that argument because Coel never made it. But nevermind, you’re making it … or are you? I see no argument. What positive information is gleaned from people not getting their stories straight?

    I’m with Coel above that those arguing the moral side should have their factual arguments lined up with reality.

    Huh? Coel is complaining about those not arguing the moral side. As for the facts, they go against Coel.

  262. #262 CalGeorge
    December 29, 2007

    Four Retired Judge Advocates:

    All U.S. Government agencies and personnel, and not just America’s military forces, must abide by both the spirit and letter of the controlling provisions of international law. Cruelty and torture – no less than wanton killing – is neither justified nor legal in any circumstance. It is essential to be clear, specific and unambiguous about this fact – as in fact we have been throughout America’s history, at least until the last few years. Abu Ghraib and other notorious examples of detainee abuse have been the product, at least in part, of a self-serving and destructive disregard for the well- established legal principles applicable to this issue. This must end.

    The Rule of Law is fundamental to our existence as a civilized nation. The Rule of Law is not a goal which we merely aspire to achieve; it is the floor below which we must not sink. For the Rule of Law to function effectively, however, it must provide actual rules that can be followed. In this instance, the relevant rule – the law – has long been clear: Waterboarding detainees amounts to illegal torture in all circumstances. To suggest otherwise – or even to give credence to such a suggestion – represents both an affront to the law and to the core values of our nation.

    Sent to Senator Leahy in November 2007 by:

    Rear Admiral Donald J. Guter, United States Navy (Ret.) Judge Advocate General of the Navy, 2000-02

    Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, United States Navy (Ret.) Judge Advocate General of the Navy, 1997-2000

    Major General John L. Fugh, United States Army (Ret.) Judge Advocate General of the Army, 1991-93

    Brigadier General David M. Brahms, United States Marine Corps (Ret.) Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant, 1985-88

  263. #263 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Arnaud, I find your claim that inhumane pressure techniques against terrorist suspects “useless” is over-broad.

    Naysaying is not an argument. As Arnaud said, he gave reasons -0- which you ignore. You’re a fine one to be accusing others of dogma, and your “PC-leftist” nonsense immediately discredits you.

  264. #264 Troy
    December 29, 2007

    truth, like at least 90% of what you have contributed to this thread, your immediate above is meta-argument — noise — and not addressing anything. To analyze:

    You’re clueless.

    Personal insult.

    Coel offered several arguments that “torture doesn’t work” is a bad argument.

    Incorrect. Coel’s only point is that categorically saying “tortute doesn’t work” is a bad argument because torture can be shown to work, either by hook or crook, by its proponents.

    But Coel’s arguments were bad arguments — strawmen

    It is not a strawman to claim that PZ argues that “torture is categorically useless” — here is PZ’s original claim:

    [Torture]’s just useless for gathering information. There’s just no way you can trust information [obtained by it]

    argumentum ad ignorantiam, burden shifting, unsupported claims, oversimplification, etc. Coel’s arguments were refuted — “torture doesn’t work” is not a bad argument on the grounds Coel gave.

    Again with the heat and not the light.

    Perhaps it’s a bad argument on other grounds — his conclusion isn’t necessarily false just because all his arguments to that conclusion are unsound — but there’s no reason to think so.

    You’re good with the meta-argumentation but not with actually addressing Coel’s original, and only, point.

  265. #265 Troy
    December 29, 2007

    I’ve said my piece, truth. Good day.

  266. #266 Laser Potato
    December 29, 2007

    “because torture can be shown to work, either by hook or crook, by its proponents.”
    Two words.
    PROVE IT.

  267. #267 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    The Japanese generally tortured the hell out of captured US servicemen to get information that they wouldn’t voluntarily give.

    So what useful information did they obtain? Please document any claims.

  268. #268 qedpro
    December 29, 2007

    Perhaps if we waterboarded the children of those that are on the fence about torture, we’d get a consensus.

  269. #269 Laser Potato
    December 29, 2007

    Yeah, funny how they ALWAYS seem to know torture works, but they can’t ever seem to come up with any times it actually did outside of anecdotes.

  270. #270 T_U_T
    December 29, 2007

    My previous post got stuck in the moderation queue, so I’m asking again. Why do you think that an argument relying on potentially falsifiable claims is deemed insufficient just because it is open up to possible falsification.
    .
    Did you guys ever realize that an argument that is a priori irrefutable has to be completely fact independent, and thus either circular or empty tautology ?
    .

  271. #271 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    truth, like at least 90% of what you have contributed to this thread, your immediate above is meta-argument — noise — and not addressing anything.

    Nice, start out with a personal attack and a lie, and a bizarre misuse of the term “meta-argument”.

    You’re clueless.

    Personal insult.

    Oh, great, ignore my actual personal insults and point to something that wasn’t one.

    Coel offered several arguments that “torture doesn’t work” is a bad argument.

    Incorrect.

    Once again, naysaying is not an argument.

    Coel’s only point is that categorically saying “tortute doesn’t work” is a bad argument because torture can be shown to work, either by hook or crook, by its proponents.

    Yes, that’s a point, but it’s not an argument. He provided several arguments — bad ones — to support his point.

    here is PZ’s original claim:

    [Torture]’s just useless for gathering information. There’s just no way you can trust information [obtained by it]

    Which is true — you can’t trust it. Coel offered a scenario — verifiable encryption keys — that supposedly would allow you to trust the information. But his scenario was refuted.

    Again with the heat and not the light.

    My contribution provided a lot more light than yours, hypocrite.

    You’re good with the meta-argumentation but not with actually addressing Coel’s original, and only, point.

    I addressed Dustin’s claim with the text you quoted, and I addressed Coel’s arguments too.

    I’ve said my piece, truth. Good day.

    Good riddance.

  272. #272 Ichthyic
    December 29, 2007

    outside of anecdotes.

    or TV/hollywood movies.

    see re: the wonderful example of Dirty Harry presented in the previous thread.

    *shakes head sadly*

    not that I guess i should hold random posters to a higher standard than our own congress (all the wonderous references to Jack Bauer), or previous Vice Presidents (Dan Quayle comes to mind).

    *sigh*

    I think I’ve had quite enough of this discussion.

  273. #273 T_U_T
    December 29, 2007

    Why are my comments moderated ? Do I agree with PZ too much or what ?

  274. #274 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Two words.
    PROVE IT.

    Indeed. Troy waltzes in here, accuses others of dogma, makes a bunch of unsubstantiated claims, and then waltzes out. Gotta love it.

  275. #275 Chris
    December 29, 2007

    The troll in these comments seems to be “truth machine”

    People are reading into Coel’s comments what they want to read into them. Steve LaBonne and the other trolls are using him to get out their frustrations

  276. #276 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Broadside! A troll post by Chris if there ever was one.

  277. #277 Laser Potato
    December 29, 2007

    “The troll in these comments seems to be “truth machine”
    Ahem. Ad hominem abusive.
    You commit this fallacy if you insult your opponent instead of dealing with his argument.
    It is important to note that mere insults are not ad hominem. For example:
    “You are a fool” is not ad hominem, it is simply an insult.
    “You are a fool, so you must be wrong” is ad hominem; it implies a logical connection between the person’s status and their argument which may not exist, and also avoids answering the argument at all. It may be worth knowing this distinction, as creationists occasionally falsely accuse opponents of ad hominem.
    Point out that the fallacy user probably has no real arguments if he has to use such low tactics.
    Very well, then…

  278. #278 DeniedAntecedent
    December 29, 2007

    OK, one thing here I’m not sure I understand. What exactly do we mean when we say “torture doesn’t work?” We cannot claim that torture works always, nor can we claim that it works never, as both these claims are demonstrably false. (E.g. there are historical examples of obtaining ex ante unreliable (and false) information, as well as of obtaining ex ante reliable (and truthful) information through torture. (The cases that I’m familiar with in which torture “worked” and “did not work” are those of the gestapo’s horrendous interrogations of the members of Polish and French resistance.) To my mind, then, “torture doesn’t work” means something like “torture is inefficient” or, IOW, “the rate of ex ante reliable information obtained through torture is insufficient to justify its (economic, moral and political) costs.” The truth of that proposition rests on correctly estimating the costs and the benefits. Can someone point me to a study that looks at historical data and tries to do an explicit cost-benefit analysis?

  279. #279 Dustin
    December 29, 2007

    Truth, I think you misunderstood my last post. As I suggested to Moses, try googling “arguments cannot be true or false”.

    Ichthyic, I hope to explain to people why their criticisms of Coel are off-target. Perhaps I’ve failed in that, but I would have thought it was obvious what I was *trying* to do. Well, obvious to those who carefully read my posts and gave them a bit of thought.

    Anyway, great conversation people! I feel that your careful attention to subtle detail has really helped clarify the issues involved here!

    I can see why Coel bailed. I think I’ll follow his lead.

  280. #280 Arnaud
    December 29, 2007

    survival of the fittest

    uh, so they learned how to score better with chicks and have more kids?

    Well, I was thinking more of the terrorist organisations than the actual terrorists but yeah, I get your point…

  281. #281 Laser Potato
    December 29, 2007

    Look upthread and in the waterboarding thread, DeniedAntecedent. Some points:
    1.) Torture commonly leads to false confessions, because people will say ANYTHING to stop being tortured.
    2.) People lie. Even when being tortured. ESPECIALLY when being tortured.

  282. #282 craig
    December 29, 2007

    “One of the faults of this site is that there is often trendy PC-leftist dogma that it is considered heresy to question.”

    I’ll admit it – “torture is immoral” is pretty much dogma with me. And I’m happy to have “lefty” associated with “torture is immoral.”

    Please spread it around more. Also, please wear a t-shirt stating that you think it’s ok, and please help spread the info that righties are a-ok with torture… that “pro-torture” is a conservative position, righty dogma.

    Thanks in advance.

  283. #283 Sideways
    December 29, 2007

    Coel, Jamie and others arguing that torture can produce actionable intelligence are missing the point. They’re discussing torture as an action of an individual, not as the policy of a government.

    The possibility that torture might sometimes ‘work’ in a hypothetical, on an individual level, doesn’t mean that torture can ‘work’ in the real world on a larger scale. In the world on this side of the TV screen, you can’t tell the ticking time-bombers from the man wrongly reported by a neighbor with a grudge. There’s no way to tell in advance when torture could be useful, and even if you get useful information you have no way of knowing that it’s useful.

    Coel, Jamie et al. are also ignoring the elephant in the room: that no one in the actual chain of command, from the President authorizing torture by executive order to the troops and mercenaries doing the waterboarding, expects to save lives through torture. Our torture policies aren’t FOR intelligence gathering, except on paper. They are FOR terrifying the ‘hajis’ into submission.

  284. #284 Norman Doering
    December 29, 2007

    DeniedAntecedent wrote:

    To my mind, then, “torture doesn’t work” means something like “torture is inefficient” or, IOW, “the rate of ex ante reliable information obtained through torture is insufficient to justify its (economic, moral and political) costs.” The truth of that proposition rests on correctly estimating the costs and the benefits. Can someone point me to a study that looks at historical data and tries to do an explicit cost-benefit analysis?

    This isn’t a “study” itself, but an essay on the cost:
    http://dir.salon.com/story/opinion/feature/2004/06/18/torture_1/index.html

    Torture can’t make you tell the truth – at best it can only make you talk, and then you can lie or sound crazy. Torture has to be compared with non-torture methods.

    In general, torture inspires fear and paranoia in its victims and breaks down mind and memory. It’s easier to get at the truth by being nice to people — including crazy jihadist enemies.

    This book seems to suggest that minimalist, just make them uncomfortable, techniques work better than mind numbing pain:
    http://www.amazon.com/Question-Torture-Interrogation-Cold-Terror/dp/0805080414

    Human beings are by nature social and simple isolation, followed by being friendly gets more reliable information than fear of death.

    Adverse effects of torture can destroy the information you seek:
    http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/us_law/etn/nomarks/exec-summary.asp

  285. #285 Norman Doering
    December 29, 2007

    DeniedAntecedent wrote:

    To my mind, then, “torture doesn’t work” means something like “torture is inefficient” or, IOW, “the rate of ex ante reliable information obtained through torture is insufficient to justify its (economic, moral and political) costs.” The truth of that proposition rests on correctly estimating the costs and the benefits. Can someone point me to a study that looks at historical data and tries to do an explicit cost-benefit analysis?

    This isn’t a “study” itself, but an essay on the cost:
    http://dir.salon.com/story/opinion/feature/2004/06/18/torture_1/index.html

    Torture can’t make you tell the truth – at best it can only make you talk, and then you can lie or sound crazy. Torture has to be compared with non-torture methods.

    In general, torture inspires fear and paranoia in its victims and breaks down mind and memory. It’s easier to get at the truth by being nice to people — including crazy jihadist enemies.

    This book seems to suggest that minimalist, just make them uncomfortable, techniques work better than mind numbing pain:
    http://www.amazon.com/Question-Torture-Interrogation-Cold-Terror/dp/0805080414

    Human beings are by nature social and simple isolation, followed by being friendly gets more reliable information than fear of death.

  286. #286 John C. Welch
    December 29, 2007

    OK, but what about the case where the answer is quickly verifiable, such as when asking for an encryption key? Seems to me that torture could easily be effective then.

    That’s not an encryption key, (Those things are from 128 to 4096 bits or *more* in length. Humans aren’t remembering that), that’s a password or passphrase, and any password that you’re going to remember in that state of mind is simple enough to be sussed out with any one of hundreds of crack tools. Besides, what if they use two-factor auth? Or n-factor auth? Then the password/passphrase is immaterial, you need the physical key too.

    That kind of thinking is people forgetting that “24” is shite on every possible level.

  287. #287 Norman Doering
    December 29, 2007

    DeniedAntecedent wrote:

    To my mind, then, “torture doesn’t work” means something like “torture is inefficient” or, IOW, “the rate of ex ante reliable information obtained through torture is insufficient to justify its (economic, moral and political) costs.” The truth of that proposition rests on correctly estimating the costs and the benefits. Can someone point me to a study that looks at historical data and tries to do an explicit cost-benefit analysis?

    This isn’t a “study” itself, but an essay on the cost:
    http://dir.salon.com/story/opinion/feature/2004/06/18/torture_1/index.html

    Torture can’t make you tell the truth – at best it can only make you talk, and then you can lie or sound crazy. Torture has to be compared with non-torture methods.

    In general, torture inspires fear and paranoia in its victims and breaks down mind and memory. It’s easier to get at the truth by being nice to people — including crazy jihadist enemies.

    I can’t post too many links, so I’ll just tell you to goggle: “effectiveness of torture techniques.”

  288. #288 Ken Cope
    December 29, 2007

    There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.

    — (Terry Pratchett, Small Gods)

  289. #289 Chayanov
    December 29, 2007

    I can just see the CIA torturing a terrorist to get the password to Bin Laden’s MySpace page or Ahmadinejad’s World of Warcraft account.

  290. #290 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Truth, I think you misunderstood my last post. As I suggested to Moses, try googling “arguments cannot be true or false”.

    You keep making these vague metaclaims without any substance. I understood your post quite well and responded to (rebutted) it; you have failed to do so in return. Your “googling” comment suggests that you never even read my post, let alone comprehended it. I said nothing about arguments being “true or false” — what an absurdity. I pointed out the ways in which Coel’s arguments were fallacious. I explicitly noted that, even if all his arguments were unsound, that wouldn’t imply the falsehood of the conclusion — I understand the difference between arguments and conclusions; duh. So your comment here is ridiculous. I suspect that you know that and are playing some silly game.

  291. #291 Jonathan H. Adler
    December 29, 2007

    Torture and other forms of coercive interrogation are clearly worthless at extracting truthful confessions. Like it or not, various coercive interrogation methods (particularly those that instill fear, as opposed to those that inflict pain), can be effective at extracting useful intelligence information. Indeed, quite extreme methods have been used to obtain potentially life-saving information. This does not mean such methods should be used, but honest arguments against coercive interrogation techniques must nonetheless acknowledge their potential utility in various circumstances.

    Mark Bowden has written extensively on this. I summarize some of his work and provide links here:
    http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2007_12_23-2007_12_29.shtml#1198702060

    JHA

  292. #292 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    That kind of thinking is people forgetting that “24” is shite on every possible level.

    Indeed. It’s ignorant and delusional. On the other thread, we have Jamie actually presenting scenarios from Dirty Hairy as “realistic”.

  293. #293 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Coel, Jamie and others arguing that torture can produce actionable intelligence are missing the point. They’re discussing torture as an action of an individual, not as the policy of a government.

    The possibility that torture might sometimes ‘work’ in a hypothetical, on an individual level, doesn’t mean that torture can ‘work’ in the real world on a larger scale.

    Excellent point. “torture doesn’t work” refers to torture as a practice, not to individual instances of torture.

  294. #294 MH
    December 29, 2007

    Almost 300 comments? Still some way to go before we reach Tara’s “Mbeki: still in denial” thread at Aetiology: 1658 comments and counting!

  295. #295 Sideways
    December 29, 2007

    Re: #288:

    Torture and other forms of coercive interrogation are clearly worthless at extracting truthful confessions… honest arguments against coercive interrogation techniques must nonetheless acknowledge their potential utility in various circumstances.

    Mark Bowden, “The Dark Art of Interrogation,” from the links you provided:

    If interrogators step over the line from coercion to outright torture, they should be held personally responsible.

    Clearly, from the passage quoted and the rest of the article, Bowden believes the distinction between ‘coercion’ and ‘torture’ is of paramount importance. Judging from the way you gloss from one to the other the distinction is lost on you.

    Incidentally, the closest thing to a real-world case of torture saving lives that I can find in Bowden’s articles is a soldier’s anecdote about a Viet Cong soldier who immediately capitulated under the threat of torture rather than actual inflicted pain.

  296. #296 The Stone
    December 29, 2007

    It does not matter if torture does or does not produce information that may or may not save lives.

    Torture is not permissible nor moral because it is inhumane and violates human rights. It is those rights which have been defended by the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans, and whose mortal tribute is pissed on when we torture.

    We must prosecute those who torture, forbid the practice formally publicly forever, or risk losing society to fear.

  297. #297 AlanWCan
    December 29, 2007

    Wow, isn’t it depressing that there is even discussion about whether torture is OK or not here in the 21st century? How far backwards the neocons have dragged your country, and the rest of the world with it. At least it’s telling that they try to spin their torture methods as not really torture, so there is hope: i.e., even they fell that torturing people is wrong, so when they do it they’ll make like they’re not. So, there’s hope. But I’m really aghast that there are people anywhere who would argue that it’s OK to torture people at all. Just wow. Sad. What happened to the USA I used to hear about growing up? What’s next? Public guillotining? Stoning? Birching in football stadiums? Bread & Circus indeed.

  298. #298 sean
    December 29, 2007

    You people make me sick, you damn torture as evil, but are happy to live in a world free of wiches thanks to torture. I’ll bet one of you gives the tired excuse that all of their confessions were false and the torture made them do it.

  299. #299 Kimpatsu
    December 29, 2007

    When the US government announces it’s support for torture…
    What does “announces IT IS support…” mean anyway, PZ?
    Waterboarding for you for misusing the apostrophe!

  300. #300 True Bob
    December 29, 2007

    Torture has to be compared with non-torture methods.

    So true, and implicitly done, upthread. “Standard” interrogation methods are highly successful at obtaining accurate actionable intelligence. Harsh interrogations (or torture) are very poor at obtaining intelligence of any value.

    A few of us mentioned the world changing interrogator, Hans Scharff. His work (for the Germans in WWII) was exceptional. His contributions were instrumental in establishing the successful interrogation practices the USA used before Darth Cheney and his ilk put the Black Hat on Lady Liberty.

  301. #301 darwinfinch
    December 29, 2007

    The arguments some few here have put forth about the possible, exceptional, selected use of torture are also compelling defense for every awful activity human beings (re: Twain’s definition) have ever engaged in, whether as individuals or societies – slavery, genocide, etc.
    Making these arguments is revealing of these folks deep-down ignorance and fear of living (and dying), and nothing more. They wish to imagine having power and an excuse to abuse it.
    Really now, even if wildly successful on all other planes, they would find themselves that much more afraid. I can offer them no respect at all, and every promise of opposition to their surrender to cowardice.

  302. #302 Pierce R. Butler
    December 29, 2007

    PZ Myers: … the first step on the road to tyranny.

    (beep!) Factually incorrect.

    The first step on that road is a successfully stolen election.

    Several other steps are also found before you land on the torture square. Can anybody name one the US hasn’t already passed?

    (Cue the crickets…)

  303. #303 Alex Whiteside
    December 29, 2007

    If anyone’s not preoccupied arguing, the chapter on witch hunts from Extraordinary Popular Delusions puts the usefulness of torture in extracting information from subjects of indeterminate guilt in a very good historical perspective.

  304. #304 Laser Potato
    December 29, 2007

    “If anyone’s not preoccupied arguing, the chapter on witch hunts from Extraordinary Popular Delusions puts the usefulness of torture in extracting information from subjects of indeterminate guilt in a very good historical perspective.”
    http://skeptico.blogs.com/skeptico/2006/06/why_i_wont_read.html
    http://rockstarramblings.blogspot.com/2006/06/doggerel-19-read-my-book.html
    http://goodmath.blogspot.com/2006/05/magic-23-update-author-responds.html
    http://rockstarramblings.blogspot.com/2007/05/doggerel-89-im-going-to-show-you-in-my.html
    Nice try.

  305. #305 LCR
    December 29, 2007

    I’ve only gotten through about half of the posts, enough to follow the back and forth between Coel and others. This may have been raised in the last half of the posts, but I’m going to hold my breath here, stick my neck out and quietly suggest that a key point of Coel’s posts has been overlooked.

    Do we really need any argument against torture other than recognizing that it is wrong to treat any person in such a fashion? We simply do not possess the right to inflict that pain and misery upon anyone, especially if we still want to call ourselves a “moral” society. And I hope we would be hardpressed to find people who would argue that torture, by itself or as a means to an end, could be anything but cruel and inhuman and, all attempts at justification aside, just plain wrong. This is basic “Golden Rule” stuff and the very fact that our good Christian president (heavy sarcasm) can’t see this just makes my head hurt.

    So when we turn to any other reason, valid as it may be, to argue our point against torture, we are opening ourselves up to counterarguments, because no other reason is as clear and definitive as the issue of its “immorality” in our so-called moral nation. When you argue (correctly) that torture is morally wrong AND it is also ineffective as a means of gaining information, does anyone every argue the first point? No, they begin to point out (like Coel did in his example) that there might indeed be times when some information may be gained. The issue of effectiveness may support our argument, but it does little to slow the debate (as is revealed by this very extensive thread) and it may take away some of the “punch” of the first inarguable point. While the data supporting the other arguments again torture is valuable, as a mom of three kids who wants them to grow up free of fear, those arguments are superfluous. I think that sticking to PZ’s point, that torture has no place in a free, democratic society because it is simply wrong, should be enough. We do not need any other reason to denounce torture.

  306. #306 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 29, 2007

    Warning: it’s after 2 am, and I have to go to bed at last, so I haven’t read beyond comment 120 yet. I apologize if I’m repeating anything that has already been covered — but based on experience, I think it hasn’t been.

    OK, but what about the case where the answer is quickly verifiable, such as when asking for an encryption key? Seems to me that torture could easily be effective then.

    Apart from comments 29, 45, 48, 54, 55, 96, 102, and 116 (which are all very good answers to this question), and comment 118 (which is an interesting argument), any torture victim with some brains would find a way out of this. For example, they could claim not to know the code by heart, but to know where the written version is stored, and if that place is difficult or impossible to access, you can imagine the rest…

    This is a valid point, and I’ve encountered it elsewhere, in debates about capital punishment. The argument against that relies on the (rare) execution of innocents can break down if and when it can be shown that the number of innocents executed approaches zero. A more effective, unconditional and immutable argument goes something like this: “Our central case must be that capital punishment is simply wrong, and we must not do it.”

    I still prefer it the other way around. That way (like comments 106 and 108, and apart from comment 81) I can say that even if we completely ignore the question of whether it’s morally defensible to kill people, it still doesn’t do any good, unless we consider terrorism and totalitarianism to be good. If we only treated it as a moral axiom, we’d stay open to arguments that the axiom is, say, arbitrary and potentially harmful in some cases.

    (Which happens to be the opposite of comment 120.)

  307. #307 David Marjanovi?, OM
    December 29, 2007

    Warning: it’s after 2 am, and I have to go to bed at last, so I haven’t read beyond comment 120 yet. I apologize if I’m repeating anything that has already been covered — but based on experience, I think it hasn’t been.

    OK, but what about the case where the answer is quickly verifiable, such as when asking for an encryption key? Seems to me that torture could easily be effective then.

    Apart from comments 29, 45, 48, 54, 55, 96, 102, and 116 (which are all very good answers to this question), and comment 118 (which is an interesting argument), any torture victim with some brains would find a way out of this. For example, they could claim not to know the code by heart, but to know where the written version is stored, and if that place is difficult or impossible to access, you can imagine the rest…

    This is a valid point, and I’ve encountered it elsewhere, in debates about capital punishment. The argument against that relies on the (rare) execution of innocents can break down if and when it can be shown that the number of innocents executed approaches zero. A more effective, unconditional and immutable argument goes something like this: “Our central case must be that capital punishment is simply wrong, and we must not do it.”

    I still prefer it the other way around. That way (like comments 106 and 108, and apart from comment 81) I can say that even if we completely ignore the question of whether it’s morally defensible to kill people, it still doesn’t do any good, unless we consider terrorism and totalitarianism to be good. If we only treated it as a moral axiom, we’d stay open to arguments that the axiom is, say, arbitrary and potentially harmful in some cases.

    (Which happens to be the opposite of comment 120.)

  308. #308 Laser Potato
    December 29, 2007

    “You people make me sick, you damn torture as evil, but are happy to live in a world free of wiches thanks to torture. I’ll bet one of you gives the tired excuse that all of their confessions were false and the torture made them do it. ”
    …wait, WHAT?!
    You’re actually DEFENDING the Salem Witch Trials?!!
    That’s…..sad.
    Incredibly sad.

  309. #309 Carlie
    December 29, 2007

    Laser – read it again. I still can’t believe that no one has created a universal sarcasm tag for the internet – it would come in handy.

  310. #310 Laser Potato
    December 29, 2007

    Well, nowadays it’s so hard to tell parody from the real deal… :(
    adding (snark) or /snark/ at the end might have helped.

  311. #311 Laser Potato
    December 29, 2007

    Another common sarcasm tag is 😉

  312. #312 jeff
    December 29, 2007

    Why waterboarding? Why not strap the victim to a chair with their eyelids taped open and force them to watch all existing episodes of the Lawrence Welk show? Nobody could stand that for long.

  313. #313 Laser Potato
    December 29, 2007

    “Why waterboarding? Why not strap the victim to a chair with their eyelids taped open and force them to watch all existing episodes of the Lawrence Welk show? Nobody could stand that for long.”
    Not to mention that waterboarding can easily KILL you. Funny how no one ever mentions that.

  314. #314 sean
    December 29, 2007

    Who says I’m not defending the witch trials, again there are no witches left so torture has been proven to work. /snark 😉

  315. #315 kim boone
    December 29, 2007

    its

  316. #316 TW
    December 29, 2007

    Well obviouisly it’s unreliable. But unreliable is not the same us “just useless”. My sister’s car is unreliable (it has broken down a couple of times) but it is not useless (it has got her places many times).

    Ah, once more you fail when it comes to analogy.

    Unreliable in terms of a car is a different matter entirely. Unreliable intelligence is useless, even though sometimes it may be 100% correct. Unreliable evidence in a court of law is useless even though it may be 100% correct.

    Can you see the difference yet?

  317. #317 Scott B
    December 29, 2007

    Sorry, but I have to call bullshit. I got about halfway through reading the comments on this thread and gave up. The rhetoric is completely unworthy of the usual Pharyngula readers.

    Torture is abhorrent. Coel asserted that he though the “it doesn’t work” argument wasn’t adequately supported. The response was overwhelmingly just dogmatic assertion to the contrary. He asked for references, he got “google it yourself”.

    If Coel had been a creationist who asserted that biologists had never demonstrated “macroevolution”, it would have been met with a dozen specific examples of studies demonstrating it, not “you’re a troll, google it yourself”.

    The rhetoric, in fact, sounds much more like I would expect to find on the Discovery Institute sites, or Dembski’s blog.

    I’m generally very liberal a “lefty”. I think torture is inexcusable, and the Bush government is despicable for condoning it. I also happen to agree with Coel that nobody here (at least to where I gave up on you) has established or referenced any kind of argument that there are no circumstances in which it would be acceptable.

    Your responses to Coel have been more like religious dogma than rational analysis.

    I’m disappointed.

  318. #318 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    The response was overwhelmingly just dogmatic assertion to the contrary.

    You’re lying or stupid.

    He asked for references, he got “google it yourself”.

    He also got references … repeatedly.

    Coel that nobody here (at least to where I gave up on you) has established or referenced any kind of argument that there are no circumstances in which it would be acceptable.

    Uh, Coel doesn’t think there are such circumstances; I don’t think that’s what you meant. As for an argument that there are no circumstances where it would produce actionable intelligence — that’s the same stupid strawman that was addressed over and over and over … no one claims that there are no circumstances. PZ’s claim that it’s “useless” doesn’t entail that, any more than clock being broken entails it never giving the right time.

    Your responses to Coel have been more like religious dogma than rational analysis.

    You’re lying or stupid. Or both.

    where it’s accep

  319. #319 TW
    December 29, 2007

    Do we really need any argument against torture other than recognizing that it is wrong to treat any person in such a fashion?

    Yes. That is not an argument, it is just an assertion – one which a significant percentage of people do not agree with.

    Even those who do realise it is simply “wrong” have developed sophisticated scenarios where they can now justify the act of torture (eg. ticking bomb in a school etc).

    Simply stating “torture is wrong” and assuming it will go away is flawed. Everyone knows torture is wrong but it still goes on.

    The strange thing is that most of the developed world determined decades ago that torture was so inefficient at gathering intelligence it was useless. Since 11 Sep 2001, it seems this pool of knowledge has been pushed into a corner and ignored. The UK and US military used to teach interrogation was pointless (not just wrong, even though it is banned under the Geneva Convention of 1948) because years of experience and study has shown this to be the case.

    The argument that torture doesn’t work is not the only argument against torture but it is a strong argument. The claims by a few that in “Case X” it worked well and provided intelligence which was of use, massively misses the point. The information gained from torture is 100% unreliable. You may as well make it up yourself and save the effort. Every bit of information given by the prisoner has to be checked and confirmed – this is monstrously time consuming and in most of the scenarios people have given to morally justify torture time is of the essence. This process largely undermines the whole “speed” issue of bringing in the barrel of water.

    Yes, it is certainly true to say sometimes the prisoner will tell the truth. The problem is the interrogator has no way of knowing if this is the truth, and once the torture starts things get even more confused. For example, a prisoner may have told the truth, but the unbelieving interrogator continues to torture and now the prisoner has to say anything to make it stop. He changes his story and the interrogator thinks the new one is the truth. He goes away, spends time verifying it to find out it is false and the torture begins again. Now the prisoner is likely to think he will be tortured what ever he says – what is the point in telling the truth?

    Torture is morally wrong in all cases.

    Intelligence gained from torture is so bad as to be useless. Torture does not work as a quick way to gain “actionable intelligence.”

    Despite what Jack Bauer or Callahan get up to, torturing prisoners is wrong.

  320. #320 trrll
    December 29, 2007

    “Does torture work?” is clearly the wrong question. While it is certainly well documented that torture is an unreliable method of interrogation, it is certainly possible to envision circumstances in which torture might be the least evil. But this is a question of individual, personal morality. The question that we, as a society must answer, is “Are the benefits of a policy that permits torture justified by its cost, moral, political, and practical?”

    The potential benefit, of course, is that in admittedly very rare cases, causing harm to an individual will with a high degree of confidence avert even greater harm to other individuals who may be more numerous and less deserving of harm. Of course, in the vast majority of such cases, the potential torturers would probably choose to go ahead and torture regardless of the official policy or their own potential legal risks. So the chief benefit of allowing torture is to protect those who torture in these very rare circumstances from legal consequences.

    The costs, of course, are as follows:

    Practical (1): It is impossible to construct a policy that only allows torture in only those rare circumstances described above. It is inevitable that torture will be applied more widely if a legal defense is provided that potentially would allow torturers to escape consequences. This of course imposes costs due to the unreliability of torture, namely the costs of acting on bad intelligence, which could be disastrous.

    Practical (2): A policy that allows torture inherently places the not-insignificant moral authority of the USA behind the position that torture is acceptable in at least some circumstances. This increases the likelihood that others will also use torture, and in particular, the likelihood that our own people will be subjected to torture. It also creates a legal defense that may be employed by our enemies in war crimes trials, thereby reducing the deterrent against the use of torture by our enemies.

    Practical (3): Allowing torture harms the morale of our own soldiers by damaging their conviction that they are risking their life, not merely for a political or military goal, but for a moral cause.

    Practical (4): Allowing torture damages the reputation and moral authority of the US, and makes it more difficult to “win hearts and minds” of noncombatants in a foreign country.

    Political (1): Allowing torture impairs the moral authority of the USA on all questions related to human rights. This will reduce our ability to discourage human rights abuses around the world, and will specifically weaken our diplomatic negotiating stance with respect to prisoner abuse in particular and human rights in general.

    Political (2): Allowing prisoner abuse weakens our ability to point to prisoner abuse by our enemies as a basis for political and military action. For example, abuse of prisoners by Saddam Hussein was widely cited by the US in rallying international support for the first Gulf War as well as for the Iraq invasion.

    Political (3): Allowing torture harms the morale of the American people and weakens their conviction that they are “on the side of the angels.” This is likely to make the public less willing to support military action in the future, even where it is genuinely needed to protect US interests and US citizens.

    Moral (1): Torture is inherently morally corrupting to those who torture and to those who authorize it, either directly or by virtue of their choices at the voting booth. As such, it is likely to increase violent crime domestically.

    Moral (2): Torture is the act of a coward who is willing to violate his own moral principles to attain greater safety. Acquiescence to torture damages the American public’s conviction of their own courage and the courage of their leaders.

  321. #321 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Apart from comments 29, 45, 48, 54, 55, 96, 102, and 116 (which are all very good answers to this question), and comment 118 (which is an interesting argument) … I still prefer it the other way around. That way (like comments 106 and 108, and apart from comment 81)

    Hey, someone’s paying attention. Compare that to the idiot fuckwad asshole Scott B who asserts utterly erroneously that everyone here is spouting religious dogma except the great rational analyst Coel. In fact Coel is an intellectually dishonest git who repeated himself endlessly while dodging numerous reasoned refutations, choosing to focus instead on a few people like bpower who indeed did misrepresent Coel’s views.

  322. #322 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    This may have been raised in the last half of the posts

    Yep.

    but I’m going to hold my breath here, stick my neck out and quietly suggest that a key point of Coel’s posts has been overlooked.

    Nope. (And that wasn’t a key point of Coel’s.)

    Do we really need any argument against torture other than recognizing that it is wrong to treat any person in such a fashion?

    I answered this in #222:

    “But if something is morally wrong, its efficacy is irrelevant.”

    Not if not everyone considers it to be morally wrong. There are good reasons for those who accept both arguments to make both arguments.

  323. #323 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    That is not an argument, it is just an assertion – one which a significant percentage of people do not agree with.

    Yeah, funny how so many people think that simply stating their moral preferences is making an argument, as if morality were absolute and sprang directly from their godhead.

  324. #324 Ichthyic
    December 29, 2007

    as if morality were absolute and sprang directly from their godhead.

    or pulled from some dark, hole, somewhere…

  325. #325 Kilo
    December 29, 2007

    “Australia has traditionally allied with the US to fight the kind of people who torture. ”
    Posted by: SmellyTerror | December 29, 2007 10:16 AM

    Bullshit. Australia has traditionally allied with the US. Period. That’s the end of that sentence.

    Nowhere will you find this joint defense agreement being used to target regimes that torture. In fact if you compiled a list of notable human rights abusers since WW2 you’d be looking a long way down it to find one that Australia and the US did intervene against.

  326. #326 Shar
    December 29, 2007

    At best, from what little I have read, torture isn’t reliable. If said information is time sensitive, then all the person has to do to beat you is continue to give you misinformation and withstand torture until the time is up. Perhaps it can be effective in the case of “easily verifiable” information, but even then it’s tricky. Why torture for an encryption code when you have specialists who can crack it, even if it may take a bit of extra time? Why torture for a bomb disarming code when you have people who are trained to disarm bombs?

    If you are torturing for a code that must be put in correctly the first time or the drive wipes, then why should the prisoner give it to you? Why not just give you a false one to wipe the drive? If the information is time sensitive, then the prisoner only needs to wait you out. If that bomb code is needed immediately, all he has to do is give the wrong one.

    If you want bomb locations or base locations, again, you can be waited out, given bad information, etc. The agencies we are dealing with in this context are, from my understanding, heavily mobile and likely attentive enough or networked enough with the locals to have enough warning to move. The information of who is where becomes unreliable quickly in this kind of conflict, if the prisoner knew it to begin with. And all of that is assuming you have the wrong person. Torture doesn’t come with a lie detector, either.

    The information is gathered in bad faith, so the information itself is rather unreliable. Most instances where the information could be easily verifiable are instances in which more reliable, and less abhorrent methods can be used.

    In this context, terror cells don’t spread a lot of information around, so there’s even less to “gain.” (It feels rather slimy to type all of that).

    Beyond that, it is so morally repugnant, so soul killing, so evil, that it should never be practiced, especially when reasonable alternatives are possible. If treating someone decently can have an effect when it comes intelligence gathering, that should be preferred to an inhuman method, even when both only have a small chance of working, or are unreliable. The morals attached to why torture is bad are so hard to properly articulate, but the very idea makes me ill and angry.

    It’s efficacy really isn’t the overall point, as someone upthread said about vivisection. Regardless of its contribution, something as evil as torture or vivisection should never be used in a just society because of how morally wrong it is to do that to another human being. THAT is the core argument.

    It’s unreliability only makes its supporters both ill-informed and sick. The argument that it has a high failure rate, only serves to intimidate, and trashes any sort of rapport with prisoners are sidepoints to illustrate that we are destroying our humanity for something that doesn’t even produce what it promises to. We are doing something evil, and gaining little for it. It is as though it is being done just to cause pain.

    When dealing with fundamentalists who are taught that the West is immoral and evil, the last thing we need to do is to prove to our captives that what they were taught is correct. This is definitely a situation where I must (naively, I’m sure) believe that good, humane treatment of prisoners would have a much, much better result.

  327. #327 LCR
    December 29, 2007

    Truth Machine:

    Like I said, I only managed to get through to about #175 before I decided to throw in my two bits, so I missed your #222 post.

    However, I disagree that the point I raised was not at least part (perhaps not “key”) to Coel’s point. He kept raising the concern that the argument from the effectiveness of torture had its weak points, that it was not the strongest argument that could be raised against torture. It actually serves to weaken any argument against torture by adding a qualifier, namely a condition under which torture might be acceptable, should valuable information be gathered as a result of torture. More on that below.

    Regarding the fact that not everyone regards torture as morally wrong: Point well taken, though I would still question if there is ever a truly “good reason” to torture. Did you mean “justifiable”? However, the discussion has revolved around the role of the US in the world and PZ’s post specifically addressed how we are to be perceived in this world given our administration’s careless attitude toward waterboarding and torture in general. Historically our country has, at least publicly, taken the moral high road and denounced torture as morally wrong. I am not naive enough to assume that no torture ever occured behind closed doors, but in order to maintain that public image of high moral standards in regard to human rights, than the efficacy of torture SHOULD be irrelevant to us and to those that run our country. Take the two following statements:

    Our country should not endorse torture because it is morally wrong.

    Our country should not endorse torture because it is morally wrong AND because it doesn’t produce reliable information.

    The qualifier in the second statement weakens the first part of the statement. Its like saying that you shouldn’t steal from your neighbor because it is wrong and because he doesn’t have anything worth stealing anyway. It suggests conditions under which stealing from your neighbor, or in this case torture, might be acceptable. Our country should need no qualifiers in its arguments against torture. If we are to be a just society and reserve the right to be morally outraged when our own people are tortured by other countries, than we must take the stance the torture is wrong under any conditions.

  328. #328 Digicrab
    December 29, 2007

    I wonder how many of the outraged moralists in this long discussion support murder “for a greater cause”. I don’t see how one can adopt one moral framework for murder and another for torture and not be a hypocrite.

  329. #329 Kseniya
    December 29, 2007

    I don’t see how one can adopt one moral framework for murder and another for torture and not be a hypocrite.

    What do you mean by “murder”? You mean, like dropping an atomic bomb on a city full of Japanese civilians?

  330. #330 Digicrab
    December 29, 2007

    Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, shooting a young German somewhere in France – take your pick. If you reject utilitarianism, then what do you put in its place? Are you a pacifist (an entirely respectable – if not very practical – position)?

    As an aside, it’s sad to observe the people on this blog frothing at the mouth to match any fundamentalist. Freethinkers indeed… Those of you who jumped on Coel without taking the time to consider his argument, welcome to the land of irrationality. Now you know what motivates creationists.

  331. #331 Atanu Dey
    December 30, 2007

    There’s a moral argument that torture is wrong and that civilized societies don’t engage in it. I subscribe to that argument unconditionally. That means, I do not require instrumental arguments against torture such as the one which points to the possibility of the information tortured out being wrong most of the time or even all of the time. If that instrumental argument is used to prop up one’s opposition to torture, then if evidence is presented that some information obtained under torture is indeed useful, then it weakens the case against torture.

    Let me throw in an analogy. I think it is moral to treat all individuals irrespective of their race or ethnic origin as equals before the law. That stance should not be defended on the arguments that “all races are same,” “every group has the same endowments,” etc. Perhaps all races are the same, or perhaps they are not. Either way, my refusal to discriminate against a person based on his race is not based on the dubious claim that all races have the exact same characteristics and endowments.

    If someone justifies anti-racism on the claim that studies have not demonstrated any significant differences among various races (or even that there is no such thing as a “race”), then I would reject the instrumental support for the argument against racism, even while supporting the conclusion that racism is morally wrong.

  332. #332 CalGeorge
    December 30, 2007

    I also happen to agree with Coel that nobody here (at least to where I gave up on you) has established or referenced any kind of argument that there are no circumstances in which it would be acceptable.

    How are you going to train this special group of people who are going to inflict massive amounts of pain on others?

    How are you going to stock the torturer pool?

    Maybe give a test to people who love the Jack Bauer show and pick out all the sadists who don’t give a shit about inflicting pain on others? Will that work?

    Or maybe you pick a group of super-patriotic people who hate Muslims with a passion to be part of the U.S.A. special torture squad.

    Yeah, maybe that will work.

    Are you willing to put people in the position of having to practice torture without the option of saying no?

    Would you volunteer?

  333. #333 Andrew
    December 30, 2007

    Coel: By the way, I’m not advocating the use of torture, I just want the arguments against it to be good ones rather than bad ones. It seems to me that the claim “torture doesn’t work” breaks down when the answers are readily verifiable.

    How about: It is just wrong to intentionally inflict pain. No matter what reason. Simple eh?

  334. #334 True Bob
    December 30, 2007

    Coel’s first four posts:

    OK, but what about the case where the answer is quickly verifiable, such as when asking for an encryption key? Seems to me that torture could easily be effective then.

    Next

    By the way, I’m not advocating the use of torture, I just want the arguments against it to be good ones rather than bad ones. It seems to me that the claim “torture doesn’t work” breaks down when the answers are readily verifiable.

    Third

    Coel, to be able to torture someone […] requires a proficiency in torture. Gaining a proficiency requires practice.

    I’m not so sure, I suspect that plenty of people (such as me) would succumb to inexpert torture.

    I think, overall, that the “it doesn’t work” argument is a poor one to use: torture can work to some extent sometimes; so basing opposition to torture on that premise is open to rebuttal.

    Last

    You torture the guy, he gives up the key. You give it to me to verify and I get back to you quickly and tell you it didn’t work. So you torture him some more, and we go round and round and […]

    As PZ says, people being tortured will say anything to make it stop. In the above situation the most likely thing to say to make it stop is the truth.

    So I don’t see Coel being clear in what it wants. This is not setting the stage for the discussion Coel claims to want. Coel could have easily been clearer at any point here: “Torture is morally wrong. That should be the primary argument against torture.”

    Instead, Coel says “While I’m not for torture, it seems like sometimes it works, so saying it doesn’t is a bad argument.”

    The Peanut Gallery says “Coel, torture doesn’t work, other methods do, and torture is bad juju.”

    So if we all wasted our time obtusely agreeing here, thanks for being muddling, Coel, Oh Clogger of the Intertubes.

  335. #335 Pierce R. Butler
    December 30, 2007

    Almost all the commenters here are firmly anti-torture, and the rest are half-hearted advocates at most. 326 comments at this point, and sfaik not one calling for double Guantanamo.

    No calls on divine guidance, either. Search this thread for words like “christ” or “jesus” or “god”, and you find mockery or historo-political analysis: absolutely stereotypical verbiage from this renowned haven of godlessness.

    How can this moral passion arise in such ungodly cyberspace? Doesn’t anybody here realize that talk of right and wrong is meaningless without frequent reference & reverence to the Lord?

    In America, the more churchly a politician, the more likely he or she is to endorse the further enhancement of interrogation to defend the Home of the Brave. Pay heed, ye atheists: you have no right to your pretended but baseless indignation.

    You must find your morality and statecraft in the Holy Bible, as our President does every day.

    [Snark off!]

  336. #336 Digicrab
    December 30, 2007

    I think a lot of people here could benefit from Ethical Philosophy 101. Using my vague memories of university, I’ve scraped together the following list:
    I offer the people of Pharyngula the following multiple choice sheet for this thread:

    1. Torture and murder should never be employed because the are immoral.
    2. Torture should not be employed because it is immoral, but murder is (at least sometimes) moral.
    3. There are cases (probably unlikely and isolated) when torture should be used or murder should be used in the service of a greater good.
    4. Torture is NEVER effective at furthering the greater good.
    5. I’m a hypocrite
    6. Ethics is not rational. I’m just saying whatever I feel at the moment.
    7. My ethical system connot be comprehended by your feeble mortal mind.

    In response:

    1. A respectable position, but impractical. User is liable to be bashed on the head by the first greedy immoral bastard. Favoured by Kant if I recall correctly.
    2. How is murder different from torture morally? Further clarification is required.
    3. Utilitarianism. Internally consistent, but hard to swallow for some people. Also, perhaps like communism cannot be safely used by mere mortals.
    4. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Now where have I heard that before?
    5. Ok. Next!
    6. A fairly weak position, but perhaps inevitable.
    7. Oh please great master, bless us with your wisdom!

    That should cover it.

  337. #337 Digicrab
    December 30, 2007

    I’m not sure if #330 was being sarcastic (my meter is currently being repaired). Just on the off case that my suspicions are correct and this is meant to be a jab at my argument, I will clarify my point (you can never be sire on the net). The reason I compare some of the people here to creationists follows.

    My hypothesis for what drives some creationists is that they see this as an essentially moral argument.

    By merging claims about the operation of the universe with moral claims, religion operates in both spheres. Therefore, attacks on the reality sphere are taken as attacks on morality, eliciting the same type of responses that we have seen in this thread.

    There’s nothing that can reduce people to a mob like morality. It taps into some sort of emotional – froth at the mouth and get the pitchforks – part of our brain. Probably with good evolutionary reasons.

    The suggestion is that by participating in the wave of hysteria that is this thread, the participants have experienced something akin to fanatical frenzy.

    An interesting analysis would be how careful people are in checking facts when under the influence of moralistic excitement as opposed to when they are not. This is where I wish that I was a sociologist.

  338. #338 Pierce R. Butler
    December 30, 2007

    Andrew: It is just wrong to intentionally inflict pain. No matter what reason. Simple eh?

    Too simple. The infliction of pain is often necessary for medical purposes, even with anesthetics available. A choke hold on a violent person can save lives. And breaking up one-sided relationships would be impossible.

    More examples of justifiable exceptions and question-begging could easily be generated. For practical purposes and international law, the Geneva Conventions were a fine start (as these are now officially obsolete, advocates for their restoration are technically reactionaries, no?).

    In order to resurrect Geneva, we’ll have to restore the US Constitution and Bill of Rights first. (How long until such efforts are technically insurgency?) Then maybe we can do something about our planetary ecological crisis, if you really want to get utopian.

  339. #339 Ichthyic
    December 30, 2007

    I’m not sure if #330 was being sarcastic (my meter is currently being repaired).

    check the tag at the end of the post.

  340. #340 LCR
    December 30, 2007

    Atanu Dey #327:

    Well said. I tried to get the same point across earlier but it did not come out nearly as clear nor as eloquent as your version did.

    Pierce Butler #334:

    I prefer the physicians’ “Do no harm”, but obviously even that fails to erase the gray areas. And these days, anyone wishing to undo the damage committed by this administration over the last few years is condemned as “reactionary”… along with “liberal”, “leftist”, “unpatriotic”, “anti-American”, “elitist”, etc. The art of debate has been reduced to the level of playground name-calling.

  341. #341 Eric Paulsen
    December 30, 2007

    It seems to me that the claim “torture doesn’t work” breaks down when the answers are readily verifiable. – Coel

    Really depends on the ideology and resolve of your victim though doesn’t it? If I’m a cheese eating Wisconsinite who believes in the prosperity gospel and yelling at TV pundits is the extent of my political activism then yeah, a wet wash cloth will probably net you every bit of personal info I can remember. If I am a battle hardened religious nut (pick a flavor) who thinks god will grant him silly wishes for all eternity if he maintains the faith then no, not so much. You have to figure that a sadistic turd that is willing to torture you thinks NOTHING of killing you so why on earth would you give him what he wants if the likely reward is death or excommunication from your god?

    The problem with the pro-torture crowd (besides sadism) is that they have no idea how the minds of true believers work – which is ironic when you think about it.

  342. #342 Troy
    December 30, 2007

    So what useful information did the [Japanese] obtain [from captured US airmen]? Please document any claims.
    Posted by: truth machine

    It’s a curious example of the dogmatism “TORTURE NEVER EVER WORKS!” present here and in PZ’s original FPP that my claim that the Japanese obtained useful intelligence from their American captives via barbaric torture would be met with disbelief if not incredulity.

    FWIW, Admiral Matome Ugaki’s private war diary (published a while after the war) documents (in passing) that the Mobile Fleet learned about what ships the USN had at its disposal, sometime in 1942. I have the book, but couldn’t find the exact page reference, but I can keep looking if you really really need it spelled out to you how barbarity applied systematically can yield actionable intelligence.

    DISCLAIMERS: Treating POWs as the Japanese did was a war crime. And, IMV (oand araphrasing somebody) treating captured terrorists — suspected or caught red-handed — inhumanely is worse than a crime, it is a mistake.

    What Coel and I and others are arguing is that PZ’s original:

    It’s just useless for gathering information. There’s just no way you can trust information gotten while ripping somebody’s fingernails off with a pair of pliers — they’ll scream anything to get you to stop.

    is demonstrably incorrect as a categorical statement and is a fragile basis of the counter-argument for morality.

    Continue on, friends.

  343. #343 Helioprogenus
    December 30, 2007

    Regardless of what unethical fucking morons say, waterboarding is and always will be torture. Only in the minds of self-righteous assholes, who read the bible for pleasure, and believe they’re doing the bidding of some etheral entity that lives in some imaginary place does waterboarding constitute normalcy. For torture apologists, there is no excuse for it. Besides, there are far better methods of gaining information that involve psychological tools. For example, extreme sleep deprivation has been shown to reduce resistance without physical harm. If these assholes really wanted to gain some information, they should have just kept these “persons of interest” awake until they were forthcoming. Either way though, the information released would be the same, probably bullshit just to get the torturer to stop.

  344. #344 Digicrab
    December 30, 2007

    Besides, there are far better methods of gaining information that involve psychological tools. For example, extreme sleep deprivation has been shown to reduce resistance without physical harm.

    Why, that’s exactly the argument that proponents of waterboarding use. It reduces resistance without physical harm, remember?

    Either I’m misinterpreting your ideas or you need to have a long think about ethical foundations about now.

  345. #345 Troy
    December 30, 2007

    Helioprogenus

    I don’t know if you’re throwing me in the “torture apologist” category, but FWIW I think we should treat any and all prisoners/detainees/unlawful combatants/etc etc. exactly as how we wish and demand our own POWs be held by foreign powers.

    If I can be allowed an unsupported statement here, IMV, the history of the Geneva Conventions wasn’t that maltreatment didn’t “work”, it was to formally establish reciprocity of POW treatment standards.

    Complicating matters is that (accused) terrorists are operating outside of modern conventions and nation-state. This makes them fair game for our neocon friends to attempt to see how effective torture is in their anti-terrorist efforts.

  346. #346 DLC
    December 30, 2007

    Okay,so I came into this one way late. But, I’m going to add in my 2 pesos worth.
    First: what in the wide world of sports are we doing even debating whether or not torture is efficacious ?
    If it works or not is Immaterial! It’s just plain wrong! period, end of story! From the local police detective who beats a confession out of a suspect up to and including the President of the United States, it’s wrong.
    As much as I hate doing it… a famous quote might remind people: ” He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
    (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146
    German philosopher (1844 – 1900))
    Yes, I know Nietzsche was not the leading light of tolerant thought, but that quote, coming from him, should tell people more than an entire phillipic.
    Torturing people moves Us closer to the people who cut prisoners heads off with a knife on video and then upload it to the internet to brag about what they did.
    This shouldn’t even be an issue. We’re supposed to be better than that.

  347. #347 RBH
    December 30, 2007

    At peril of adding my name to those inaccurately accused of supporting or condoning torture (for the record, I emphatically do neither, and think heads should roll in court for it), I cannot recall the last time I read a thread in which so much emotion has been lavished on complete misreadings of a legitimate question: “Where are the data to support that claim?” If there are no relevant data and if hypotheticals (however flawed) can be constructed to give the appearance of rebutting it, it is not a persuasive argument. That’s all I read Coel as saying.

  348. #348 DeniedAntecedent
    December 30, 2007

    What Troy said (#338). If you want to make a positive case against torture you can’t just say that it never works; there are documented historical cases of “successful” torture (i.e. torture yielding actionable intelligence). To make the positive case you have to argue that torture doesn’t work often enough to be worth it.

    Btw, Troy, you were paraphrasing Talleyrand.

  349. #349 Atanu Dey
    December 30, 2007

    LCR (#336), thanks much. I am sorry I missed your comment (#323) and rephrased your argument.

    Judging by many of the comments above, I dare say that I believe that Coel has been misunderstood. I thought he made a very valuable point.

    In any event, I find reading the comments often as edifying as the original post. Thanks PZ for provoking the discussion.

  350. #350 Dangerous Dan
    December 30, 2007

    Coel writes:

    OK, I’ve tried being nice, but there are limits:
    Bobby writes:

    Under Coel’s argument, if the police decide that he has put a bomb on an airplane and has the identification of the airplane in an encrypted partition on his laptop, then it’s perfectly OK for them to torture him until they get the identification.

    Bobby, you are an obnoxious little shit. That is NOT my argument. It is the very opposite of what I find acceptable. Nothing I have said is remotely close to what you call “my argument”, so stop putting obnoxious words in my mouth. If you’re too stupid to have correctly interpreted what I’ve been saying that is not my fault.

    Ah, I finally see it (I think). Coel doesn’t believe in torture. He merely wants to see an irrefutable argument against it. While the arguments against torture being unreliable, damaging to society, just plain evil immoral illegal and unethical are strong, they are not absolutely definitive. There remains the slightest possibility that an argument for the justification of torture might, in some byzantine circumstance, exist.

    Coel:

    I just want the arguments against it to be good {infallible?} ones rather than bad ones.

    Given that I cannot even construct an irrefutable argument for the relatively obvious proposition that for every tomorrow, gravity will continue to work, I can’t imagine an irrefutable argument against every possible use of torture, despite being confident that it is evil, immoral, unethical, illegal, contrary to international agreements, damaging to society, and nearly useless for gathering information.

  351. #351 Arnaud
    December 30, 2007

    DeniedAntecedent (#344), you are clearly not paying attention. That case has been made in this thread on multiple occasions. By me, yes, but also, and more competently , by TW and Norman Doering among others.

    You are once again in your Jack Bauer scenario. Real life doesn’t work that way. Intelligence agencies need to be able to assess their data before they can act on them. The very fact that “torture may work sometimes” (the very definition of unreliable) means that IAs cannot use the material gathered that way, even if the data are correct.

    Read any book on the question of intelligence gathering and you will see that the problem is not to get info, but to separate that info from the chaff you are continually bombarded with!

    Add to this the huge long term costs of torture (regarding you middle- or long term goals of establishing democracy in, or pacifying a country) and it should be obvious that torture doesn’t work.

    And finally? No, we don’t have to argue such a thing. We have morality and humanity on our side, remember? Since they want to engage in an unethical pursuit, it is for proponents of torture to prove that it is worth the costs.

  352. #352 Chris G.
    December 30, 2007

    DLC, they aren’t debating whether or not torture is immoral. They are debating whether Coel is a troll or not. Coel, ostensibly, agrees with your point, however, he further goes to argue that the (un)effectiveness of torture should not even be mentioned because it is subject to debate, and (perhaps more importantly) suggests that if it could be made effective (or if people believed it was effective), than it is justifiable. He has repeatedly stated that the morality of torture must be separated from the practicality of it.

    A fair number of posts have apparently decided that this is equivalent (#7,#36,#40,#113,#116,#127) to supporting torture.

    I think I got Coel’s position right, if not hopefully he will correct me.

    This thread has been thoroughly depressing, and gives me little hope that the internet will ever become a home for reasoned debate.

  353. #353 Peter Ashby
    December 30, 2007

    Mention of the Inquisition and the deals made with their victims actually gives Coel an example of torture working. It worked in this situation: the Inquisition was in the propaganda business, it’s aim was that those sent to meet their makers should publicly recant their heresy and embrace the dogma first. In return for this their torture ended and they got an easier passing, either strangulation or the old bag of gunpowder round the neck.

    But then they were not actually interested in verifiable facts and it rather supports PZ’s point that torture is only good for population control through fear.

    Also do you actually want to live somewhere where torture victims are paraded in public before being executed equally publicly? I would really like an explicit denial that you wish to live in any such society because I am not convinced from your statements so far that is is the case.

  354. #354 Andrew
    December 30, 2007

    Pierce@334:

    The examples you cite are in a completely different league. After all, in those circumstances it is about restraining a violent person. We were talking about causing pain to someone because *we think* they might have information that we might be able to use.

    I see nothing wrong with restraining someone before they harm themselves or others. Don’t shift the argument elsewhere.

  355. #355 Chris G.
    December 30, 2007

    @Peter Ashby
    >>Also do you actually want to live somewhere where torture victims are >>paraded in public before being executed equally publicly?

    Good lord, where the hell did that come from?

  356. #356 Peter Ashby
    December 30, 2007

    Chris G the problem with Cole is that

    1. He has been given the evidence he initially sought. In response he moved the goalposts, now demanding absolute evidence. He has ignored the points about signal to noise ratio as well.

    2. His repudiations of the moral case have been less than ringing and hedged with caveats.

    3. His trendy leftist PC jibe.

    Now put all that together and you have someone who appears to be a troll and who is hiding behind a claim to be all rationalist yet is irrationally ignoring all the evidence and continuing to troll, moving the goalposts whenever someone gets close.

  357. #357 Peter Ashby
    December 30, 2007

    Chris G, did you read the rest of what I wrote? or does context have no meaning for you? Try reading my post again, ALL of it. Then try thinking about it and the answer may come to you.

  358. #358 A
    December 30, 2007

    The uselessness of torture to produce information was also pointed out in the recent testimony of Colonel Steve Kleinman during a House Judiciary Committee hearing of Nov. 8,2007, summarized in http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/archives/004668.php
    (“Veteran Interrogator: You Don’t Need to Torture Even in ‘Ticking Bomb’ Case”),and
    http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/archives/004670.php
    and writings and testimony by Malcolm Nance, a retired Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) program instructor quoted at http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/archives/004659.php

    So our (U.S.) experts tell us torture is useless for producing useful information.
    If there were one case where “waterboarding” (an euphemism, perhaps we should all call it ‘drowning torture’) had given info on a terrorist attack in time to prevent it, we’d all have heard of it (even if the press statement would have only referred to ‘rough treatment’ of detainee, the proponents of torture would have picked it up right away, and Faux News would have a panel of pundits to debate why it has not been used more.)–

    After the numerous memos from White House and the Dept. of Justice, one cannot claim that torture was not authorized, e.g. see http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/archives/004653.php ,
    even if use of torture and the existence of these memos is denied.
    By authorizing torture, the U.S. abandoned any moral superiority over their enemies. That perceived moral superiority was a strategic advantage in war and in world opinion, and has now been abandoned.
    The practical effect has been pointed out in that hearing:
    “Former Navy instructor Malcolm Nance said he considered it a “guarantee” that other nations now have “a legal standard to subject American soldiers to enhanced interrogations.” U.S. Air Force Reserve Colonel Steve Kleinman said he “agree[s] entirely.”
    (From http://www.tpmmuckraker.com/archives/004669.php )

  359. #359 Futility
    December 30, 2007

    Anyone who cares to find out in this world now knows that the US tortures and – even more disturbingly – the majority of the American public doesn’t appear to care much about it. Instead they buy into idiotic ’24’ style ticking time bomb scenarios whose fallaciousness has been pointed out over and over again in this thread. It is really simple: Torture is a treatment that no society that calls itself civilized should employ WHATEVER the situation is. It might be that an individual chooses to use it in (perceived) dire circumstances and this is from a human standpoint understandable (albeit weak) but this cannot be construed into a normative rule for a society as a whole. True, it might be that somebody who is tortured says the truth sometimes but it is absolutely apparent that in most cases he doesn’t (unless proponents of torture believe that the poor souls burned at the stake during the inquisition were witches because they confessed to have a pact with the devil during the ‘water-boarding’ treatment. Any sane person should now be able to conclude that torture doesn’t work in general.) But even if it worked, it would be irrelevant, for 2 reasons:
    1) Torture requires 2 persons, the one who is tortured and the one who tortures. Granted, it might be, that one wouldn’t have difficulties to find somebody who enjoys doing the dirty work. But again: a civilized society cannot, on principle, ask a person to inflict pain on another human being intentionally with the sole purpose of degrading this human without loosing its right to call itself civilized. It is as simple as that, either one has principles or one has not. Additionally, who can predict how the torturer will react to his profession in his private life? What if the resulting deformations result in abusive behavior in his home? Is this a prize society is willing to pay in exchange for some dubious information?
    2) Once a society allowed torture in certain situations, it will soon be argued to use it in other situations as well. What is the difference between preventing a terrorist crime or any other crime? it will be argued. Why not use it in kidnapping cases or why not torture some drug dealer to root out his sources since one could potentially save thousands of lives?
    Once a society embarked on this slippery slope, undoing the damage will be very hard.

    The times of the USA as a beacon of liberty in this world are over. I am amazed and thoroughly disappointed that there is no outcry in this country. People seem to be too complacent to care or misinformed. As James Madison once said:

    “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

    I can only hope that Americans will finally listen to the wise words of their past and uphold the principles that they now betrayed for some perceived increase in security.

  360. #360 Chris G.
    December 30, 2007

    @Peter Ashby

    But I did read your post. And I still don’t understand how you can infer from Coel’s comments on this thread that he apparently is desirous of “somewhere where torture victims are paraded in public before being executed equally publicly”.

  361. #361 Chris G.
    December 30, 2007

    @Peter Ashby

    Ah! I see! My pardon, you weren’t talking about Coel, you were talking about Marcus Ranum. Sorry, misread who the ‘you’ was referring back to. I’ll go look at Marcus Ranum’s posts on this thread and everything will be clear. Sorry!

  362. #362 Chris G.
    December 30, 2007

    Nope, now I really can’t see what your arguing. I checked Marcus Ranum’s posts on this board, and unless he’s previously made comments to the contrary, I can’t see how he could want to live in the world you described. Who were you referring to?

  363. #363 negentropyeater
    December 30, 2007

    I’m a bit lost.
    Nowadays, one would be hard pressed to find a government or anybody that doesn’t officially condemn torture. Nowadays, in our modern societies, torture, murder, infanticide, pedophilia, canibalism, incest are considered morally unacceptable. Why ? Because, allthough there are cases where these practices can be beneficial on the short term, history shows that on the long term, modern societies that tolerate such practices are worst off.
    The discussion therefore should not be on whether torture is acceptable in certain cases but on how to deal with the HIPOCRISY of a governement that overtly tortures people under the cover of a different name.

  364. #364 Chris G.
    December 30, 2007

    @352

    Bloody hell it’s late. If in @352 you were referring to @351, then things are making a lot more sense. My apologies.

  365. #365 Chris G.
    December 30, 2007

    Sigh. It’s late. I’m tired. This is hopeless.

    Coel is not a troll. He does not secretly support torture.

    If effectiveness of torture is brought into the equation than we allow our opponents to depict it as effective, regardless of whether it is or isn’t, and proceed to argue we should use it.

    If we get caught up in whether it is effective or not, we won’t get anywhere, as this thread has clearly demonstrated. And hell, we’re all on the same side here.

    My apologies if while writing this some very pertinent posts were made, as it stands #358 is the last thing I can see.

  366. #366 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    December 30, 2007

    Torture CAN be effective.

    As an example, I recommend an examination of the government of Elizabeth I in its war on Catholic terror. Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s chief intelligencer, was very fond of torture. He employed vicious sadists such as Richard Topcliffe and the rackmaster Thomas Norton to inflict cruel punishments on the state’s enemies. They proved effective, eliciting many confessions. Very few papists could resist racking, sleep deprivation and rape without spilling the beans.

    So we have plenty of evidence that torture served the state well in defending itself. Torture elicited confessions which would have three immediate benefits:

    (a) Evidence of terrorist plots that were useful propaganda in the battle for hearts and minds.

    (b) Evidence that could secure convictions. Evidence from torture was all the courts needed to convict a person, and have them imprisoned or hung.

    (c) Fingering other suspects. This made it far easier to convict other Catholics for whom the evidence was slim. And if anyone protested they they were innocent, well the conventional wisdom was that Catholics, by acknowledging the primacy of the Pope over the Queen, were de facto traitors anyway.

    Was the tortured information accurate? Who cares? All that matters is that torture was an efficient tool to help neutralize opponents and generate useful material for propaganda. What did ‘the truth’ have to do with it?

  367. #367 Sebastian
    December 30, 2007

    I agree that torture is undesirable, but I think it hurts your case to use blatantly dishonest arguments such as “it doesn’t work”.
    Torture DOES work. I guarantee it. If you know something, there there ARE ways of making you spill your beans. I was subjected to mild forms of torture in the (swedish) army, and it’s scary the kind of things you say after a while (like giving up the adresses to your entire family).

    You can have a problem with false positives, though, as clearly people who DON’T know anything will make stuff up. But that doesn’t mean torture doesn’t work, you just have to be careful to verify the information given (i.e. statements of the form “Person X is a terrorist” should not be trusted, whereas statements like “There is a bomb at location X” can be verified).
    That’s just the practical matters of HOW to use torture though, but I’m not sure the people who rely on it exercise the proper prudence w.r.t eliminating the false positives.

    The reason why you shouldn’t use torture is that the cost (in terms of national integrity, etc.) of torturing someone who’s innocent, far outweighs any increased effectiveness in intelligence gathering. If even just one person who’s innocent gets tortured, that’s completely unacceptable, no matter how many lives get saved by information gathered torturing others. And THAT’S why we shouldn’t do it.

    Confusing the argument by using dishonest and obviously false statements like “torture doesn’t work” doesn’t help.

  368. #368 Coel
    December 30, 2007

    Good Morning everyone. Wow, that was quite a to-do wasn’t it? I didn’t quite intend that when, in an idle moment, I decided to ask for proper substantiation of a claim that I find suspect (that torture is always useless).

    I see that Mr Truth Machine has been repeatedly asserting (when he can fit assertions between his torrent of insults) that I have been presented with substantiation of the claim. Where? I’ve seen a lot of assertions, a lot of anecdote, a lot of opinions expressed, and quite a lot of reasoning about why it might not work. However, nothing on this thread amounts to solid documentation that it is always useless, or that there are no restricted circumstances where it is useful, nor even that it is useless more often than not. (If I’ve missed it in the above 300-odd posts please feel free to point it out.)

    Instead, many people seem to be treating “it doesn’t work” as an article of faith. The symptoms are the howls of outrage when I ask for proper substantiation of the claim. Another giveaway is the large numbers who jumped from “he’s asking for evidence that torture doesn’t work” to “he supports torture”. There must be twenty such people above. To all of you: you are acting and thinking like theists.

    It seems that many adopt “torture doesn’t work” because it fits their world view so well, not because they can point me to solid evidence for the claim. So, when asked, they respond with “burn the heretic”.

  369. #369 Coel
    December 30, 2007

    True Bob writes

    So I don’t see Coel being clear in what it wants.

    I want one of (a) proper substantiation of the claim that torture could never be an effective tactic, or (b) people to stop over-claiming that torture doesn’t work.

  370. #370 Coel
    December 30, 2007

    TW writes

    Unreliable in terms of a car is a different matter entirely. Unreliable intelligence is useless, even though sometimes it may be 100% correct. […] Can you see the difference yet?

    No I can’t. I don’t accept that unreliable intelligence is useless: you just need to treat it with caution and seek corroboration before acting on it. Further, I suspect that all intelligence methods (not just torture) are unreliable. If you disagree, please name a method of intelligence gathering that is 100% reliable.

    In the real world, all forms of information in all fields need assessment as to their reliability. (That’s why data has error bars, though error bars are only estimates and often ignore systematics.) Everyone from intelligence analysts to scientists know that and cope with it.

  371. #371 Laser Potato
    December 30, 2007

    Whenever I see Coel’s name, I think of Coerls for some reason.
    http://www.ffcompendium.com/h/espmon/coeurl.shtml
    On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a spell-casting leopard.

  372. #372 Coel
    December 30, 2007

    T_U_T writes

    What is wrong with the argument that torture doesn’t work ?

    What’s wrong with it is that the evidence supporting the claim appears to be anecdote, opinion, repeated assertion, plausibility reasoning, etc — but nothing genuinely solid and substantial.

    Solid support for the claim could take the form, for example, of studies showing what fraction of tortured prisoners tell the truth. I’ve asked about such studies but been given nothing substantial. Is the percentage who tell the truth 90% or 50% or 10% or 1% or 0.1%? Does anyone know? Again, that’s a genuine question.

    Is the fact that it could be refuted in principle enough to consider it wrong ?

    No, of course not.

  373. #373 Ben Abbott
    December 30, 2007

    Coel wrote: “I don’t accept that unreliable intelligence is useless: you just need to treat it with caution and seek corroboration before acting on it.”

    hmmm, and how would your treat plain, and admittedly, speculation … you’d treat it the same, no?

    I tend to agree with TW, on this point, if intelligence is unreliable, then it does not distinguish it self from plain speculation.

  374. #374 negentropyeater
    December 30, 2007

    I’m sure one can find plenty of substantiation to the claim that torture does work, in the short term. Otherwise, it would never have been used.
    The quesion is, what happens with a nation or society that practices torture in the long term ? Especially, what happens to such nations in a world where information is getting more and more dissiminated, ie in more developped civilizations ?
    Coel is right to ask the question, as the idea that torture is inefficient to improve society is a fairly recent one. But it is one that seems to have established itself, for good reasons, in our modern world.

  375. #375 Coel
    December 30, 2007

    Ben Abbott writes:

    I tend to agree with TW, on this point, if intelligence is unreliable, then it does not distinguish it self from plain speculation.

    Then can you name a form of intelligence gathering that is 100% reliable? If not, do you want to end all police, FBI and CIA intelligence-gathering with respect to crime and terrorism?

    As for how you treat unreliable intelligence, I would guess that one aspect of being a good intelligence analyst is to judge how much credence to place on something. Likewise, one task of a good scientist is to judge the reliability of his data. In the real world nothing is ever 100% reliable.

  376. #376 Gav
    December 30, 2007

    Clearly nobody here has any evidence other than anecdotal.

    What’s needed is a controlled trial, preferably double-blind.

    A modest proposal – take some known terrorists, give them some bomb-making equipment and let them loose. After a while round them up again, mix them with an equivalent number of random people (with similar age, sex, ethnic profiles) and hand them all over to the torturers to find out where the bombs are. With a large enough sample it should be possible to assess effectiveness and, er, sensitivity of different forms of torture, likelihood of type I, type II errors and all that.

    Surprised nobody has done it. Or perhaps they have. Coel?

  377. #377 Ben Abbott
    December 30, 2007

    Coel wrote: [What] of studies showing what fraction of tortured prisoners tell the truth. I’ve asked about such studies but been given nothing substantial. Is the percentage who tell the truth 90% or 50% or 10% or 1% or 0.1%?

    “Truth”? … isn’t supposed to be an absolute? If it is only 90% accurate then it is not the truth.

    The question isn’t what the truth is, the question is whether or not torture will result in those tortured telling you what the *perceive* you want to hear.

    Because the torture will not end until the interrogator is satisfied, but if the interrogator knows the honest answer when he hears it … why is the torture needed?

  378. #378 True Bob
    December 30, 2007

    I want one of (a) proper substantiation of the claim that torture could never be an effective tactic, or (b) people to stop over-claiming that torture doesn’t work.

    a) In general, torture can be demonstrated as ineffective as a general intelligence gathering tool. I’m not going to dig up references, but I’ll agree that it can occasionally yield actionable intelligence (assuming here that “effective tactic” is not intended to be as a means of intimidation but a means of intel gathering). So, never say never.

    b) OK fine. What other arguments are against torture? Moral arguments are subjective. There are people all over that believe because torture occasionally brings actionable intel, a cost-benefit trade of lives is morally acceptable. Some of our elected representatives seem to fall into this category.

    When the claim is “torture does sometimes give us something to go on”, how do you propose arguing against that? “It’s wrong” will be met with “except when…”. How else would you push to prevent torture?

  379. #379 Alex Whiteside
    December 30, 2007

    Laser Potato: I’m sorry to say that I am not, in fact, the author of the 1841 classic “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”. You seem to have me confused with the other Alex Whiteside who spelled his name “Charles Mackay”.

  380. #380 Ben Abbott
    December 30, 2007

    What Coel wants :”I want one of (a) proper substantiation of the claim that torture could never be an effective tactic, or (b) people to stop over-claiming that torture doesn’t work.”

    hmmm, isn’t that like a Islamic terrorist asking an agnostic/atheist/alternative-theist to prove that Allah doesn’t exist and favor the materialistic manifestation of Allah’s wrath by the terrorist?

    Extreme comparison … perhaps 😉

    However, if there were *no* perceived benefit to torture, I think we would all agree it to be reprehensible.

    If it is to be used, is it not up to those who support torture to substantiate its effectiveness?

    In any event, you can try to make your case by using scholar.google.com.

  381. #381 Coel
    December 30, 2007

    Gav writes:

    What’s needed is a controlled trial, preferably double-blind.

    Good idea! So we torture Group A and don’t torture the control group B. Hmmm, I suspect we have a problem with the “double blind” bit.

  382. #382 Coel
    December 30, 2007

    True Bob writes

    What other arguments are against torture?

    There are a large number of expositions of such arguments in this thread (all the ones I’ve been accused of ignoring by people who haven’t understood what my point was).

  383. #383 Coel
    December 30, 2007

    Ben Abbott writes:

    is it not up to those who support torture to substantiate its effectiveness?

    Yes, if someone were to advocate it then it would be. Similarly, if someone confidently asserts that it doesn’t work and is “just useless” then the onus is on them to substantiate their claim.

    isn’t that like a Islamic terrorist asking an agnostic/atheist/alternative-theist to prove that Allah doesn’t exist

    No, it is more like asking a sceptic who asserts that homoeopathy doesn’t work to prove it. This is easily done (and has been done often) by controlled studies.

  384. #384 negentropyeater
    December 30, 2007

    The main problem with torture is not, in my view, that it is not efficient in actionable information gathering. History is full of such counterexamples. Otherwise, why would it have been practised in the first place ?
    I could imagine for instance that the government makes an anouncement that is has succesfully, thanks to torture, stopped a plan by a group of terrorist which could have killed hungerds of people. Now it will never state that it was torture, but waterboarding or something else instead, but ok, what would be the reaction of the people ?
    Well, I think it is quite certain that over a period of time, if the same is used repeatedly by the government, the situation of unrest would become unmanageable. Distrust in the governemnt will become such than the very act of torture will have caused more long term harm than the short term benefits.
    Morality and history are linked.

  385. #385 True Bob
    December 30, 2007

    Back to my post #330. Violent agreement, which Coel, you could have halted by being clear to start with.

  386. #386 Ben Abbott
    December 30, 2007

    No, it is more like asking a skeptic who asserts that homoeopathy doesn’t work to prove it. This is easily done (and has been done often) by controlled studies.

    ahhh, no. There is no harm to anyone except for the willing participant with homeopathy.

    Do you really think it is ok to apply torture just because *you* don’t believe the evidence that it is less reliable than alternatives?

    If you are unaware of the evidence … whose burden is it to correct your ignorance?

  387. #387 Coel
    December 30, 2007

    True Bob writes

    Violent agreement, which Coel, you could have halted by being clear to start with.

    In my second post I said “By the way, I’m not advocating the use of torture, I just want the arguments against it to be good ones rather than bad ones.” What was unclear about that? If you take that at face value it is entirely clear.

    The only reason for it being “unclear” is if people interpret “I find this argument against torture to be unconvincing” to mean “I advocate torture”. It’s amazing how many did that!

  388. #388 negentropyeater
    December 30, 2007

    Ben,
    society will tolerate a certain amount of torture, (as it is presently doing) as long as it has trust in its government. Whether torture is more or less reliable than alternatives will not be that relevant.

  389. #389 True Bob
    December 30, 2007

    Coel, your remarks were typical of torture apologists, whether you are one or not. Plain language would have served us all better.

    And the post you cite is why you came off (still come off?) as a concern troll. “Yeah, I’m on your side, but what about X?”, which is where you still leave it.

  390. #390 Coel
    December 30, 2007

    Ben Abbott writes

    Do you really think it is ok to apply torture just because *you* don’t believe the evidence that it is less reliable than alternatives?

    No, I don’t. (What makes you think I would?). Oh, and by the way, “less reliable than alternatives” is a much milder claim than “just useless”.

    If you are unaware of the evidence … whose burden is it to correct your ignorance?

    Which evidence would that be? I keep asking . . . maybe sometime I’ll get a proper answer.

    On the burden of proof, it is quite clearly upon those who claim “torture doesn’t work” to provide the evidence for their claim. If they can’t do that reasonably straightforwardly then how do they know their claim is true? Do they like the claim so much that they adopt it regardless of any evidence? Or adopt it based on a few anecdotes and assertions because it’s fashionable and fits their worldview? Or did they adopt it because their preacher told them? Sheesh guys, is thus scienceblogs or not? Am I really not allowed to ask for decent substantiation of an oft-made claim?

  391. #391 Coel
    December 30, 2007

    True Bob writes:

    And the post you cite is why you came off (still come off?) as a concern troll. “Yeah, I’m on your side, but what about X?”, which is where you still leave it.

    In the same way, on a couple of occasions when I’ve seen someone use a bad anti-creationist argument, I’ve queried it. Isn’t a lack of self-correcting mechanisms exactly what we criticise religions for?

  392. #392 True Bob
    December 30, 2007

    Coel @ 384, you are asking for perfect proof. Fine, torture very rarely works. OK, no “never” in there.

    For efficacy of other methods, do follow up on Hans Scharff. Oh yeah, and all the witches and soul-sellers found by the Inquisition, the American war criminals the North Koreans captured, etc.

    The major point here is that there are multiple reasons not to torture. Horse. Dead. Whipped.

    What you say in no way makes relative efficacy a “bad” argument. I believe that we need more than one argument for saying torture=bad. If you think only one is needed, bully for you, and I’ll disagree. And as long as mmore than one argument is needed, effectiveness will remain one of them.

    Now can you prove that the folks here are “over-claiming” that torture doesn’t work? Of course not, it’s a subjective assertion. qed, CT.

  393. #393 Coel
    December 30, 2007

    True Bob writes:

    you are asking for perfect proof. Fine, torture very rarely works. OK, no “never” in there.

    I’m not asking for perfect proof, just decent evidence. So you claim it “very rarely” works. What is “very rarely”? 1-in-3, 1-in-10, 1-in-30, 1-in-100? And what is your evidence for whichever figure you plumb for?

    What you say in no way makes relative efficacy a “bad” argument.

    Hold on, what I called a bad argument was the claim that it is “just useless” and never works. Claiming that it is less useful than alternatives is a very different claim.

    And as long as more than one argument is needed, effectiveness will remain one of them.

    I’ve no objection to an effectiveness argument so long as it is on a sound evidential footing and is not over-stated.

  394. #394 True Bob
    December 30, 2007

    Concern troll Coel, Why do you care how effective torture is? Would your arguments change if it was effective at producing valid information 80% of the time? 20%? .00000001%? I’m hoping not.

    And your second big issue, what makes you think torture ineffectiveness is “over-stated”? I don’t recall anyone saying “we shouldn’t torture only because it’s useless.”

    Later, CT

  395. #395 Galbinus_Caeli
    December 30, 2007

    Ignoring all comments just to say Wow! Thanks PZ.

  396. #396 Coel
    December 30, 2007

    True Bob writes:

    Why do you care how effective torture is? Would your arguments change if it was effective at producing valid information 80% of the time? 20%? .00000001%? I’m hoping not.

    Of course they would! If it were 80% I’d say “ineffectiveness is a very bad argument to use because it is so easily refutable”; if it were 0.000000001% I’d say “Hmm, OK, ineffectivness is a very good argument to use since it is so strong”.

    And your second big issue, what makes you think torture ineffectiveness is “over-stated”?

    The lack of solid evidence that it is ineffective! Witness the notable lack of cites to solid evidence on this thread. Witness how, when I ask about your “very rarely works” claim, you don’t actually answer!

    I’m being reinforced in my opinion that this “torture doesn’t work” claim is a fashionable meme that is readily adopted by those who want it to be true, absent any solid evidence that it is true, or that torture does indeed work only “very rarely”. If you disagree, please quantify your “very rarely” claim and present your evidence.

  397. #397 J
    December 30, 2007

    Go to PsycINFO and search for “torture” if you want to know what science has to say about the usefulness of torture.

  398. #398 negentropyeater
    December 30, 2007

    Coen #389,

    “So you claim it “very rarely” works. What is “very rarely”? 1-in-3, 1-in-10, 1-in-30, 1-in-100? And what is your evidence for whichever figure you plumb for? ”

    these are irrelevant. Indeed, how do you define “works” in this context.
    If I say “works” means torture yields the correct information and prevents crimes on the short term :
    So let’s imagine this case: we face a super efficient government that tortures a few thousand people a year, all are “pre-supposed terrorists” and torture yields the maximum available information. So the government anounces : I’ve tortured 3457 persons last year, all pre-supposed terrorists and thx to this we have stopped 340 terror plots that could have killed an estimated 15000 people.
    Would you trust such a government ? How long would it take before a government of highly efficient torture becomes a govenrnment of terror ? How do you quantify this ?

  399. #399 trrll
    December 30, 2007

    The main problem with torture is not, in my view, that it is not efficient in actionable information gathering. History is full of such counterexamples. Otherwise, why would it have been practised in the first place ?

    I am astonished that anybody would seriously ask such a question. Torture occurs in conflicts even when there is no information to be gained. Why? Anger at the enemy. Desire to retaliate for harms experienced by oneself and one’s comrades. It is natural for soldiers to want to hurt the enemy, to be strongly motivated to seize upon any excuse to do so, whether or not it actually yields information that could not be obtained by other forms of interrogation.

    Given the strong motivation to torture, a more relevant question, is: If torture works so well, why do so many veteran soldiers and officers oppose it so vehemently?

  400. #400 Coel
    December 30, 2007

    Dear negentropyeater,
    So are you agreeing with me that “torture doesn’t work” is an irrelevant and bad argument to use?

  401. #401 True Bob
    December 30, 2007

    “Torture does not yield reliable information and is actually counterproductive in intelligence interrogations. This was the conclusion released by retired senior military interrogators and research psychologists during a press conference at Georgetown University. ”

    http://explore.georgetown.edu/news/?ID=20647

  402. #402 steve
    December 30, 2007

    The only way to prove it doesn’t work is with a large scale, prospective double blinded study. This isnt going to happen. What we can say is that there is a lack of compelling evidence that torture works very well.

    There are also a lot of intelligence, military and law enforcement people who believe it doesnt work based on their personal observations and study. This does not count as proof but sometimes in science you have to deal with things that involve small numbers or events that are difficult to reproduce in the lab. Sometimes a meta-analysis of these events can help. Sometimes all you can really get is a consensus of the most knowledgeable people in the field. I suspect that torture doesnt work well since so many people involved in this field say it doesnt work and so many governments have given it up. i concede this is not proof.

    I no longer argue against torture on the grounds that it doesnt work. I ask for proof that it does and then point out that lots of people involved in these issues over a long time believe that it doesnt. There are so many moral and practical reasons for opposing torture that this isnt absolutely necessary to make ones case.

    Steve

  403. #403 Ken Cope
    December 30, 2007

    Commencing with George Washington, torture was un-American. A quote from the article:

    “The very idea of humane warfare in modern times started here in the United States,” notes Scott Horton, an international law expert who is president of the International League for Human Rights.

    This question was decided long ago, enshrined in our Constitution as the eighth amendment, prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment; several binding international agreements to which we are parties since then concur in deploring torture. The case against torture was made long ago.

    Sam Harris’s argument depends on the morality of the mission of firebombers over Tokyo or Dresden, or of the flight of the Enola Gay, which he scrupulously did not make.

  404. #404 Ken Cope
    December 30, 2007

    The blockquote tag should have been placed after the sentence ending with “Human Rights.”

  405. #405 Coel
    December 30, 2007

    True Bob writes:

    “Torture does not yield reliable information and is actually counterproductive in intelligence interrogations. This was the conclusion released by retired senior military interrogators and research psychologists during a press conference at Georgetown University.”

    Good attempt, though the next line says “The group released the preliminary findings of a research seminar held over the weekend at Georgetown University to consider the psychology of torture” (added emphasis). So a group of them have got together and reported what they’ve come to believe. They are presenting opinions among psychologists of how people might react. But that is not actual evidence of what fraction of people do react in the different possible ways. It will be interesting when their results are less preliminary and are based on actual data. Their conclusion so far is that non-torture methods are more effective, which is different from saying that torture is totally ineffective.

  406. #406 Pierce R. Butler
    December 30, 2007

    LCR @ 336: D’accord!

    Andrew @ 350: … We were talking about causing pain to someone because *we think* they might have information that we might be able to use.

    I see nothing wrong with restraining someone before they harm themselves or others. Don’t shift the argument elsewhere.

    My apologies that offline life has kept me from replying sooner, and may keep me from the keyboard for many hours after posting this. Nonetheless, what “we” (meaning you) were talking about was “It is just wrong to intentionally inflict pain. No matter what reason.”

    Your (utterly justifiable) alarm at “shifting the argument” suggests to me that you may not have thought much about what lawyers could do with/to your “simple” proposal.

    Had this thread started off on the theme of waterboarding lawyers, the howls of rejection might have been fewer and less fervent. Make that Bush-Cheney regime lawyers, and we might have heard only a token peep or two.

  407. #407 negentropyeater
    December 30, 2007

    Coel,

    if the argument is “Torture doesn’t work in making the world a better place”, then I agree with this argument.
    I think a short term cost/benefit analysis of torture is useless, but it seems the majority of the American people disagree with me as they seem to tolerate effective torture for the time being.

  408. #408 Chris
    December 30, 2007

    I can’t stomach the thought of reading all the comments up to now (which is 402), but I just have to get this off my chest (and apologies if it has been brought up already). To Coel: you ask why torture isn’t effective if you can easily verify the answer of a torture suspect, e.g., encryption code. But, how the heck do you really know that the suspect KNOWS the code? You are assuming he does. And you can’t prove that he doesn’t (i.e., you can’t prove a negative; didn’t you ever study logic?) This same stupid argument for justifying torture (because “we” are only torturing “terrorists” and not ordinary people). You people seem to be assuming guilt from the beginning. That’s another fallacy. Sheesh.

  409. #409 True Bob
    December 30, 2007

    “…retired senior military interrogators and research psychologists…”

    Coel, look at the quote. It was research psychologists AND military interrogators. Not just theory, but practice was represented as well.

    BTW do you know where we got waterboarding from? SERE courses, which train our soldiers what to expect and how to resist. These have only been from that aspect because we know what works for what purpose. Propaganda confessions and humiliation => torture. Real usable information => rapport building, relationships, and not torture.

  410. #410 June
    December 30, 2007

    Coel is AGAINST torture.
    Coel seeks the best argument AGAINST torture.

  411. #411 Coel
    December 30, 2007

    True Bob writes:

    Coel, look at the quote. It was research psychologists AND military interrogators. Not just theory, but practice was represented as well.

    Yes, they collected together anecdotes from retired torturers. They had no actual systematic data. That is indicative, yes, but is it really the best proof there is for the “torture doesn’t work” claim? And note, also, that their conclusion was mostly that other methods of interrogation work better, which is not the same as “torture doesn’t work”.

    Anyhow, Steve presented a far more sensible and defendable stance in #398 “I no longer argue against torture on the grounds that it doesnt work. I ask for proof that it does and then point out that lots of people involved in these issues over a long time believe that it doesnt.” That avoids the unsupported over-claiming that so many others here jump to.

  412. #412 Coel
    December 30, 2007

    Chris writes:

    To Coel: you ask why torture isn’t effective if you can easily verify the answer of a torture suspect, e.g., encryption code. But, how the heck do you really know that the suspect KNOWS the code? You are assuming he does.

    I’m making no such assumption. If torture is effective then, if he knows the code, then you’ll get it; if he doesn’t then you won’t. Which means that in some circumstances torture might get you information that you otherwise wouldn’t have.

    For example, if torture worked, and you tortured 10 people, only one of whom had the code, then you’d still get the code. So, please, you need a better argument against torture than that.

    didn’t you ever study logic?

    Yes I did. Did you?

  413. #413 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    December 30, 2007

    I want one of (a) proper substantiation of the claim that torture could never be an effective tactic

    You are asking this question the wrong way around. The question is not whether torture is an effective tactic, but rather, what is your tactic? What are your aims?

    If your aims are to gather evidence for conviction, and assuming the courts will accept such evidence, then torture IS effective.

    If your tactic is to secure confessions for propaganda purposes, then torture IS effective.

    If your tactic is to trump up charges on profiled suspects, then torture IS effective.

    If your tactic is to secure timely intelligence on the enemy, then its effectiveness is less proven. There are, for example, few cases in Sir Francis Walsingham’s campaign against Catholic terror where torture elicited timely intelligence on enemy intentions. Rather, it was used to trump up evidence against suspected conspirators to permit the wholesale rounding up and conviction of Catholics.

    By the act of helping destroy networks of recusants employing broad-brush allegation you might be able to argue that it helped save the nation from its enemies. But to claim that it delivered timely intelligence on actual activities is on less sure ground. Many innocents appear to have been swept up and executed as a consequence of intelligence gleaned by torture.

    The main problem with torture is not, in my view, that it is not efficient in actionable information gathering. History is full of such counterexamples.

    History is full of examples where it was a very effective tool of state oppression. History is full of examples where it was used to convict and neutralize state enemies where little actual evidence was available. History is full of examples of innocents–and of those whose guilt at most consisted of sympathy for the state’s enemies–who were tortured.

    Who will speak for Anne Bellamy, who fingered 26 people, including her parents, after a session with master rackman Richard Topcliffe? Who will speak for Edmund Jennings, slaughtered by Topcliffe in Holborn in 1591, whose only crime, elicited after torture, was that he said mass?

    History is shy of examples where it prevented terrorist acts in a timely fashion. They undoubtedly exist, but to sieve them from the many examples of innocents or those who were tortured for doing little more than expressing sympathies, is a difficult task. Much dirt is discarded to find a single nugget of gold.

  414. #414 Steve
    December 30, 2007

    A question not addressed here is”What will you accept as proof?” In answering that it is always helpful to know that person’s background. Have they ever published? Have they ever published in a peer reviewed journal? Have they any real background in statistics? Have they ever sat on a review board? What do they mean by proof? Always or never true? Even those terms mean different things as there was an old U. of Chicago(?) study showing that always meant 80-100% and never meant 0-15% (at least 20 y/o study so may have numbers slightly off).
    I have no idea if coel is a troll or not but asking what people want as proof is a good way to sort things out even in a well intentioned disagreement. If, for example, one would only accept as proof that the Big Bang theory was correct if you could speak to someone who was there and saw it then you might as well hang up the thread and go do something else. Other people have very low standards for “proof”.
    Emotional appeals really do win lots of arguments. History really is written by the victor. That doesnt mean that we cant strive for something better.

    Steve

  415. #415 trrll
    December 30, 2007

    I’m making no such assumption. If torture is effective then, if he knows the code, then you’ll get it; if he doesn’t then you won’t.

    Not entirely correct. It is a safe bet that you will get something, whether he knows the code or not. So this assumes that there is no cost to getting bad intelligence. This might apply to a decryption code, but probably not to an encryption code, as use of the wrong code could reveal your intent.

    And of course, there is no practicable way of restricting torture to only those cases where there is no cost to bad intelligence–indeed, in most real cases this may not even be known.

  416. #416 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    December 30, 2007

    History is shy of examples where it prevented terrorist acts in a timely fashion. They undoubtedly exist, but to sieve them from the many examples of innocents or those who were tortured for doing little more than expressing sympathies, is a difficult task. Much dirt is discarded to find a single nugget of gold.

    Surely the real question is not ‘is torture effective’, but ‘is torture just’? If you wish to argue that one guilty man who breaks under torture is worth ten innocents, then we are in entirely different territory. In such a circumstance you might argue that torture is effective–indeed, anything with a success rate greater than 0% is effective. You might find it harder to persuade people that such a thing is just.

  417. #417 T_U_T
    December 30, 2007

    I wonder just to what heights of absurdity will Coel’s “torture is justified unless proven otherwise” approach go.

    Solid support for the claim could take the form, for example, of studies showing what fraction of tortured prisoners tell the truth. I’ve asked about such studies but been given nothing substantial. Is the percentage who tell the truth 90% or 50% or 10% or 1% or 0.1%? Does anyone know? Again, that’s a genuine question.

    What other argument against torture is supported with “substantial studies” like that ? Can you tell me one ? Just one…

  418. #418 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    December 30, 2007

    anything with a success rate greater than 0% is effective

    I should have qualified this as ‘effective to some degree’. Otherwise one could argue that the Boulton Paul Defiant was an ‘effective’ fighter aircraft in the Battle of Britain. Whereas the truth was that its few successes were far outweighed by its many losses at the hands of the Luftwaffe.

  419. #419 Stephen Wells
    December 30, 2007

    Coel’s claim to be arguing in good faith would be more plausible if his first post had gone something like: I worry about the “torture isn’t effective” argument, it’s potentially vulnerable to rebuttal, does anyone have data? What we got instead was a standard-issue bullshit hypothetical and a “seems to me it might be effective.”

  420. #420 Helioprogenus
    December 30, 2007

    Hey, digcam, #340, you completely misunderstood what I was saying. Read the last statement where I said that “either way, the information gained is probably bullshit just to get the torturer to stop”.

    My point was that I don’t condone any form of torture, whether it was waterboarding or extreme sleep deprivation because first, it’s never shown to work properly. For example, in order to obtain much needed information, perhaps 50 people must be tortured to get 1 to confess the truth. Are all those tortured people worth it? Besides, all the other false leads from the other torturers results in misappropriation of resources. Second, we should be abiding by the Geneva Convention. Would we want our troops to be tortured in the same manner as those in Gitmo or rendition sites in neutral countries? Last of all, do we want to feed the sadistic habit of those religious dogs? Redefining torture outside waterboarding is unbelievable, but apparently, the religious are more inclined to support it because of their holier then though attitude.

    Next time, read comments thoroughly before you establish a contrary opinion.

  421. #421 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    So what useful information did the [Japanese] obtain [from captured US airmen]? Please document any claims.
    Posted by: truth machine

    It’s a curious example of the dogmatism “TORTURE NEVER EVER WORKS!” present here and in PZ’s original FPP that my claim that the Japanese obtained useful intelligence from their American captives via barbaric torture would be met with disbelief if not incredulity.

    I simply asked you to document your claims, asshole.

  422. #422 Digicrab
    December 30, 2007

    Query: how many of the anti-torture crowd here support military intervention by the UN in the case of genocide. Please factor in the possibility of innocents being killed/maimed in the ensuing fighting with the opposing forces.

  423. #423 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    I’m sure one can find plenty of substantiation to the claim that torture does work, in the short term. Otherwise, it would never have been used.

    Uh, did you read PZ’s post? At all?

  424. #424 TW
    December 30, 2007

    LCR and others feel that the only argument against torture should be that it is just wrong. This is presented as a stronger argument than saying it is wrong and doesn’t work.

    The sad truth is that there are people who do not agree that torture is always wrong (For Example). There are people who think torture is wrong, but adhere to the idea that sometimes a lesser wrong justifies a greater wrong. For these people, simply stating “torture is wrong” is pointless. They know it is but feel that its effectiveness outweighs the “wrongness of it.”

    Like it or not, outside the Church, pronouncing “Act X” as wrong carries little weight. A best it moves the argument to prove torture is wrong and why (see previous thread on subject for recent example).

    In this instance the secondary argument that torture is not an effective method of getting time-sensitive accurate information is required.

    The fact of the matter is torture IS wrong and it doesn’t work. Thinking you have destroyed one argument does not undermine the overall premise.

    However, there are some people who not only think torture “works” but think this would eternally undermine the whole argument. They are basically saying “It works really well, but don’t do it because we think it is bad.” This is not a strong argument. People will always try to find ways of justifying doing wrong.

    Troy writes:

    FWIW, Admiral Matome Ugaki’s private war diary (published a while after the war) documents (in passing) that the Mobile Fleet learned about what ships the USN had at its disposal, sometime in 1942. I have the book, but couldn’t find the exact page reference, but I can keep looking if you really really need it spelled out to you how barbarity applied systematically can yield actionable intelligence.

    No, you dont have an example of torture working. As pretty much everyone here has said when you torture you get unreliable information. If you torture enough people for long enough you will get actionable information. In this, torture is a more error-prone process than any other form of interrogation (most of which teeter on the edge of torture but that is another argument). There is no doubt that if you torture hundreds of people and have a massive staff on hand to sift through the resulting mix of data you will eventually get solid, usable intelligence. Does this mean torture “works”?

    Lee Brimmicombe-Wood wrote:

    As an example, I recommend an examination of the government of Elizabeth I in its war on Catholic terror. Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s chief intelligencer, was very fond of torture. He employed vicious sadists such as Richard Topcliffe and the rackmaster Thomas Norton to inflict cruel punishments on the state’s enemies. They proved effective, eliciting many confessions. Very few papists could resist racking, sleep deprivation and rape without spilling the beans.

    Walsingham tortured everyone. There is no way of knowing how many papists who admitted were actually Catholics. They were not effective at stamping out catholicisim. The confessions produced under torture are meaningless – if you toture a protestant enough he will claim the pope is the son of God to make the pain stop.

    Was the tortured information accurate? Who cares? All that matters is that torture was an efficient tool to help neutralize opponents and generate useful material for propaganda. What did ‘the truth’ have to do with it?

    Well said. Torture does not gather intelligence it just feeds the state’s needs. In those circumstances and for that goal you could say it works…

    Sebastian wrote:

    I agree that torture is undesirable, but I think it hurts your case to use blatantly dishonest arguments such as “it doesn’t work”.
    Torture DOES work. I guarantee it. If you know something, there there ARE ways of making you spill your beans. I was subjected to mild forms of torture in the (swedish) army, and it’s scary the kind of things you say after a while (like giving up the adresses to your entire family).

    You are missing the point a bit. Yes, when being tortured people will talk. The problem is they will say anything. The time and effort required to filter out the trivia from the valuable is the problem. Add in to this that the people you really want to torture are likely to be committed enough to their cause to to make it even less effective. While you were undgoing this training, you had no real motivation to keep quiet and, deep down, knew you weren’t going to die. A prisoner being tortured can only assume that the torturer will kill them in the end – if they are religious fundamentalists they may well view giving up the information as ensuring eternity in hell, so will almost gladly suffer at the hands of the sadist.

    Military people are taught how to give false information under duress and torturing a prisoner takes away any hope the interrogator can judge what is false so extra work has to be spent on the verification.

    Confusing the argument by using dishonest and obviously false statements like “torture doesn’t work” doesn’t help.

    It is not dishonest and not obviously false. Simply asserting your view that torture is just plain wrong doesn’t help.

    Coel joins in with:

    No I can’t. I don’t accept that unreliable intelligence is useless: you just need to treat it with caution and seek corroboration before acting on it. Further, I suspect that all intelligence methods (not just torture) are unreliable. If you disagree, please name a method of intelligence gathering that is 100% reliable.

    Sorry, you seem to have missed my second post. You might want to go back and re-read it, but incase you have trouble with that here are the bits you need to look at:

    The strange thing is that most of the developed world determined decades ago that torture was so inefficient at gathering intelligence it was useless.

    Intelligence gained from torture is so bad as to be useless.

    You are quite correct that no form of intelligence is 100% reliable, however the unreliability inherent in torture render it less useful than pretty much any other form of intelligence gathering. Teenagers and the immature think it is a wonderful, Jack Bauer-style, way of gathering really good intelligence which will allow you to thwart the enemy but the reality is very different.

    The only case in which you can argue that torture works for gathering intelligence is the same argument that everything works – consulting an Ouja board works if you treat it with caution and seek corroboration before acting on it…

    As for your disengenious demand for hard figures, it is around 50% of people who will lie, give or take 49.9%. The problem lies in the fact you dont know how many people will lie, nor how to tell when someone is lying. This is compounded by the fact that most (especially untrained or poorly trained people) assume that victims of torture tell the truth. This is why it doesn’t work.

    You dont have to believe me – you are the one claiming that the unquestionable act works so show the hard evidence. Are you demanding proof of a negative? There is no evidence to say torture works better than any other method of intelligence gathering (except mayby writing things down and throwing darts at the paper, or praying for guidance), so why do you assume it does work? Where is your evidence that it is effective?

  425. #425 Digicrab
    December 30, 2007

    My point was that I don’t condone any form of torture, whether it was waterboarding or extreme sleep deprivation because first, it’s never shown to work properly.

    I apologize for putting words in your mouth. After re-reading your post I realize that you did not suggest sleep deprivation as a realistic alternative, but merely as a “better evil”.

  426. #426 TW
    December 30, 2007

    Digicrab:

    Query: how many of the anti-torture crowd here support military intervention by the UN in the case of genocide. Please factor in the possibility of innocents being killed/maimed in the ensuing fighting with the opposing forces.

    A good example of why the simple assertion that torture is plain wrong, on its own, is not enough to justify never using it.

  427. #427 Digicrab
    December 30, 2007

    TW, #422:

    A good example of why the simple assertion that torture is plain wrong, on its own, is not enough to justify never using it.

    What disturbs me (and perhaps Coel as well), to be honest, is this. If it WAS effective, would we going around torturing people now?

    This argument in nothing new, really. Philosophers have been trying to deal with the pitfalls of utilitarianism for a while now. This is the same problem in a new guise. Or, if you want to abstract further, this is yet another incarnation of the conflict between intuition and reason. Reason is utilitarian, intuition is deontological.

  428. #428 Helioprogenus
    December 30, 2007

    That’s exactly what I was trying to illustrate. Considering that information gained during torture is useless anyway, someone would have to be insane to resort to waterboarding when they could just use sleep deprivation. Neither is ethically justifiable, but one is physical torture mixed with psychological terror, while the other is psychological torture. Either way, someone made a point that those assholes in congress who support waterboarding should be made to undergo it. Then we’ll see how supportive those chickenhawk cowards are under such duress.

  429. #429 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    Now can you prove that the folks here are “over-claiming” that torture doesn’t work?

    As I have said before, it is Coel who is over-claiming, by employing an over-literal interpretation of certain words. No one here has ever claimed that there is no case where torture yields actionable intelligence — to the contrary, people have repeatedly said otherwise. Coel harps on the words of one person — “It’s just useless for gathering information” — but that person has never returned to the thread to clarify in light of the criticism. The Principle of Charity requires that we interpret his words in a way that make his argument the best possible rather than the worst possible. But that wouldn’t serve Coel’s purpose; it is vital that he address the strawman, not the fully fleshed argument. The real argument — that torture is generally not a good intelligence tool — is not a bad argument, and complements other arguments employed against torture such as that it’s immoral, that it’s illegal under international law, if we do it to them they are more likely to do it to us, etc.

  430. #430 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    I’m making no such assumption. If torture is effective then, if he knows the code, then you’ll get it; if he doesn’t then you won’t.

    You have repeatedly ignored the refutation of this. It is common to have two or more codes, each of which appears to produce meaningful information; encrypyted information is hidden in such a way that it is impossible to know a priori that it is there. In order to verify that you got the correct code, you have to verify the information — which a hard, not easy, problem.

  431. #431 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    And in case you missed the implication: if it is impossible to know whether there is additional secret information, then you can never know that you have extracted all the information you need from the prisoner, and so you must continue to torture and torture and torture, in case you missed something. With no reward of cessation of torture by giving up information, the prisoner has no reason to give up any in the first place.

  432. #432 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    Hold on, what I called a bad argument was the claim that it is “just useless” and never works. Claiming that it is less useful than alternatives is a very different claim.

    Fine, then the argument that it is less useful than alternatives is a good argument, we can pretend that’s the argument PZ gave, and we can stop this silliness.

  433. #433 Futility
    December 30, 2007

    This thread is incredible. The question whether torture is effective or not, if it’s 100%, 60% or 0.5% effective is IRRELEVANT! (and there is lot of evidence that is not 100% effective, see, for example, posts #409,404 and others). Instead, you guys argue about whether it is logically justified to make statements like ‘Torture does not work!’. Conceded, it is not logically justified to make a ‘never’ statement in this case, but who cares?! The only question is: Do you want to live in a society that tortures? I for my part do not! (see my original post #355 or others like it(#399,359 or 409)). And before 9/11 virtually everybody would have said the same. You guys are sacrificing a fundamental human right in exchange for a perceived increase in security. The likelihood of being a terrorist victim in the US are minuscule. Get your priorities straight! Refuse to be terrorized!

  434. #434 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    Go to PsycINFO and search for “torture” if you want to know what science has to say about the usefulness of torture.

    “Torture does not yield reliable information and is actually counterproductive in intelligence interrogations. This was the conclusion released by retired senior military interrogators and research psychologists during a press conference at Georgetown University. “

    Regardless of all of the various pieces of evidence provided in this thread, it is possible to reject them as inadequate to provide “a sound evidential footing”. It might take a course or two in empirical epistemology to resolve the debate.

  435. #435 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    There are also a lot of intelligence, military and law enforcement people who believe it doesnt work based on their personal observations and study. This does not count as proof but sometimes in science you have to deal with things that involve small numbers or events that are difficult to reproduce in the lab. Sometimes a meta-analysis of these events can help. Sometimes all you can really get is a consensus of the most knowledgeable people in the field. I suspect that torture doesnt work well since so many people involved in this field say it doesnt work and so many governments have given it up. i concede this is not proof.

    Indeed, science is based on inference to the best explanation, not proof.

  436. #436 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    And of course, there is no practicable way of restricting torture to only those cases where there is no cost to bad intelligence–indeed, in most real cases this may not even be known.

    Indeed. If we want a really really bad argument, we can look at Coel’s #4.

  437. #437 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    Surely the real question is not ‘is torture effective’, but ‘is torture just’?

    Sigh. There is more than one “real” question.

    You might find it harder to persuade people that such a thing is just.

    Uh, yes, that’s pretty much Coel’s point. But I think there’s more than one good argument, different arguments are more persuasive with different people (some people can’t imagine that anyone labeled “terrorist” deserves any justice), and it’s useful to employ all the good arguments you have.

  438. #438 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    What other argument against torture is supported with “substantial studies” like that ? Can you tell me one ? Just one…

    I think this illustrates the fact that the notion being employed here of “good argument” is misleading; what one wants is effective arguments. The argument that torture is immoral and should never be used isn’t really an “argument” at all, but it is effective with those who share the underlying moral intuition. The argument that numerous intelligence officials and agencies say that torture isn’t effective is also an effective argument with many people — people who understand that such opinions serve as evidence, even in the absence of double-blind studies.

  439. #439 negentropyeater
    December 30, 2007

    Futility #429,
    “The only question is: Do you want to live in a society that tortures? I for my part do not!”

    Well, I guess the vast majority of people would agree with this. The question is then, why do so many governments still resort to it ? Is it because people disagree with it in principle, but tolerate it in some cases ? Or is it because they are sufficiently infantilized by the mainstream media so as to not recognize when it is practised (such as in the case of waterboarding) ? Or both ?

  440. #440 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    Coel’s claim to be arguing in good faith would be more plausible if his first post had gone something like: I worry about the “torture isn’t effective” argument, it’s potentially vulnerable to rebuttal, does anyone have data? What we got instead was a standard-issue bullshit hypothetical and a “seems to me it might be effective.”

    Indeed, there’s a lack of good faith from that source. See TW’s #420 for an excellent treatment of the whole issue.

  441. #441 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    December 30, 2007

    Walsingham tortured everyone. There is no way of knowing how many papists who admitted were actually Catholics. They were not effective at stamping out catholicisim.

    Point 1: Yes, Walsingham tortured almost everyone, which is why he is such an excellent case study.

    Point 2: Actually, we can feel confident that most of the tortured papists were Catholics. However, what we are less certain of is that they were enemies of the state. However, in a period where suspects were routinely profiled (much as muslims are now), this did not matter much to the state.

    Point 3: Torture was not successful at stamping out Catholicism, but then that was not the goal of torture. The goal of torture was to aid in the suppression of plots against the crown and state. Given the defeat of insurrection and Armada and Elizabeth’s long reign, it was manifestly successful at doing that.

    The confessions produced under torture are meaningless – if you toture a protestant enough he will claim the pope is the son of God to make the pain stop.

    Exactly. The point of torture under Walsingham was one related to goals other than the classic ‘ticking timebomb’. It was to obtain evidence for conviction, for propaganda, for giving the state cause to imprison Catholics against whom it had trouble finding evidence. It was also for making the enemies of the state afraid. Those subjects not tortured by Walsingham’s rackmen were often intimidated into giving up information and turning into double agents.

    The point of torture, then, is that it is most frequently useful for reasons other than intelligence gathering. Torture has a purpose. However, that purpose is less about information and more about its utility as an instrument of state terror.

  442. #442 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    You guys are sacrificing a fundamental human right in exchange for a perceived increase in security.

    Ya gotta love the arrogant gittery.

  443. #443 Alex Whiteside
    December 30, 2007

    Is it my imagination or has the author of the “Aliens Colonial Marines Technical Manual” joined this debate? What a small world it is, I just dug that out of one of the back cupboards when I got home for Christmas.

  444. #444 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    The point of torture, then, is that it is most frequently useful for reasons other than intelligence gathering. Torture has a purpose. However, that purpose is less about information and more about its utility as an instrument of state terror.

    I think someone else said that way way up at the top of the page.

  445. #445 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    December 30, 2007

    Surely the real question is not ‘is torture effective’, but ‘is torture just’?

    Sigh. There is more than one “real” question.

    Excuse the use of a rhetorical device. Still, it seems to me that discussing justice gets us to the heart of the issue.

    The point of torture, then, is that it is most frequently useful for reasons other than intelligence gathering. Torture has a purpose. However, that purpose is less about information and more about its utility as an instrument of state terror.

    I think someone else said that way way up at the top of the page.

    Yeah, but it’s always good to have a case study. Walsingham is always a good one to roll out for the torture fans, if only because his work is so well documented.

    Is it my imagination or has the author of the “Aliens Colonial Marines Technical Manual” joined this debate?

    Crikey, I’d better scarper. They’re onto me!

  446. #446 Futility
    December 30, 2007

    @#438:

    arrogant, really? Truth machine, can you provide evidence that torture did increase security, apart from official claims by the Bush admin? And you are avoiding the argument by using an argumentum ad hominem. I thought you guys are into logic and stuff. Gotta go now, will check on your reply later.

  447. #447 Troy
    December 30, 2007

    No, you dont have an example of torture working. As pretty much everyone here has said when you torture you get unreliable information. If you torture enough people for long enough you will get actionable information. In this, torture is a more error-prone process than any other form of interrogation (most of which teeter on the edge of torture but that is another argument). There is no doubt that if you torture hundreds of people and have a massive staff on hand to sift through the resulting mix of data you will eventually get solid, usable intelligence. Does this mean torture “works”?

    Yes!

    As a historical (but hypothetical since I don’t have the exact reference or details) example, say the Japanese fished 3 US navy aircrewmen (from the same airplane) after a battle and want to know which carrier they came from and which carriers were damaged in a recent battle.

    They WILL and DID torture these men until their individual stories lined up. This is a fact. The US crewmen were on occcasion successful in misleading their interrogators but on the whole the Japanese, in their inhumanity, found the information gained this way worthwhile. Same thing with Unit 731, too.

    Torture as a fishing expedition will result in Inquisition-like ridiculousness, but torture “scientifically” applied, like the Gestapo in Norway and the fictionalized presentation in The Battle of Algiers has been shown to be historically effective.

  448. #448 negentropyeater
    December 30, 2007

    Lee #437,
    “Point 3: Torture was not successful at stamping out Catholicism, but then that was not the goal of torture. The goal of torture was to aid in the suppression of plots against the crown and state. Given the defeat of insurrection and Armada and Elizabeth’s long reign, it was manifestly successful at doing that.”

    Allthough Bush’s reign will not, hopefully, be as long as Elizabeth’s, the administration does claim that it has been succesful in stopping terror plots during the last 7 years.
    It seems that it is precisely this claim that has worked, so far, in allowing them certain practices which are ethically condemned in principle, but tolerated in practice. Otherwise how can one explain what has happened in the USA ? Are people that blindfolded ?

  449. #449 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    arrogant, really? Truth machine, can you provide evidence that torture did increase security, apart from official claims by the Bush admin?

    You’re an arrogant git because your comments have nothing to do with what anyone here has said; you’re addressing the wrong crowd.

  450. #450 draghnfly
    December 30, 2007

    Fascinating conversation. I started reading last night and have only just now finished. Every post up to #444.

    Let me preface by saying I’m neither a scientist nor a philosopher but am a committed pacifist. Many of the arguments offered support my pacifist views as well.

    I reject the argument of torture’s efficacy for the same reason as LCR (?), however, I concur with TW (?) that such argument is effective with some people. Excellent analysis, I thought.

    Salman Rushdie, in an interview with Bill Moyers, stated that morality is the basis of religion not that religion is the basis of morality. I have long believed that all moral precepts are grounded in practicality. For instance, you do not kill, torture, or rob from your neighbor because this opens you to the same actions. Civilization and the Golden Rule. Do unto others is the root of what we may call the concept of humanity.

    Civilization demands a certain level of ethical behavior. This ties into the taboo on torture and into my views on war. If we are to live up to certain ethical standards as a society how can we not only condone but REQUIRE members of our society to set aside those standards and thereby their humanity?

    The dead are beyond pain. One tortured unto death has been released from pain. Death is not the reason for my pacifism. Pain is for the living. What of the person who commits the acts and the society that condones/asks/requires those acts? We, our nation and all peoples who go to war, place members of our societies into situations whereby they must shelve the golden rule, perhaps commit unspeakable acts, subvert their prior ethical teachings and their humanity for their physical survival or some “greater good.”

    Each victim has a family. Each perpetrator has a family. The ripples extend out and out and out. Those people are irreparably harmed. Society is harmed. Civilization is cheapened.

    The practical reason for the moral precept against torture is the immeasurable harm to the wide circle beyond the immediate instance.

  451. #451 matt
    December 30, 2007

    I don’t understand why this thread got so hostile. I just came across the article from reddit and started reading the comments. Coel, from the beginning, very patiently and earnestly asked people to help formulate better arguments against torture, and played devil’s advocate by suggesting potential problems with existing one. This is a *good* thing for those of us that think torture is abhorrent; much more, it is the way that science, debate, and reason itself work.

    Why do people (e.g., Steve Labonne, truth machine) not understand this?

  452. #452 T_U_T
    December 30, 2007

    matt, Coel does far more than that. He has set the bar so ridiculously high that you would need the hubble telescope to see it. Consider this :

    Solid support for the claim could take the form, for example, of studies showing what fraction of tortured prisoners tell the truth. I’ve asked about such studies but been given nothing substantial. Is the percentage who tell the truth 90% or 50% or 10% or 1% or 0.1%? Does anyone know? Again, that’s a genuine question.

    Can you tell us one argument against torture, that meets his demands ? Just single one. Oh, and remember, he puts all the burden of proof on the opponents of torture, so, if you fail, torture is justified by default.

  453. #453 Stephen Wells
    December 30, 2007

    You have a far better impression of Coel’s actions and motivations than most of us here do.

  454. #454 matt
    December 30, 2007

    Perhaps there is some history with Coel that I’m unaware of. And T_U_T’s comment (#448) does point out an extremely high bar for arguing against torture from that angle. But I thought Coel’s first was a good one: that torture might actually be useful (NOT moral, NOT permissible, but useful) if the information sought was immediately verifiable. I personally want to have a good reply to that the next time I want to make a case against torture, and it’s helpful to have a more specific argument than “torture is wrong”, which, although true, unfortunately does not always suffice.

    But I guess this is a good reason to avoid online arguments like this :) It’s very easy to misunderstand people.

  455. #455 LCR
    December 30, 2007

    TW (#420)

    I do see your point regarding the differing attitudes toward torture and I referred to this in an earlier post (#232). But I just can’t escape the idea that the logical conclusion from the use of the efficacy argument opens a back door to a more tolerant attitude toward torture.

    Imagine a debate with someone who supports torture in one of its various forms. You challenge his stance by saying that the torture is morally wrong and that we have no right to inflict harm on another person. He comes back with the argument that torture may produce valuable information that saves lives. If you merely respond that the evidence doesn’t support this argument and that torture doesn’t produce reliable information, haven’t you just implied a condition under which torture would be acceptable, namely if reliable information were gathered? You may not feel this way, but if he supports torture, I bet he will interpret your comment as a hole in your armor and I can almost guarantee that he will be back later to attack that perceived weak spot.

    If faced with someone who argues in favor of torture because of the resulting information that may be collected, pointing out that his argument lacks supporting evidence must be backed up with the statement that it should not and does not matter whether torture is or is not an effective means of gathering information. It is still wrong and should not be condoned under any real or imagined beneficial conditions.

  456. #456 T_U_T
    December 30, 2007

    matt, impossibility to obtain an information by other means than torture AND an easy and reliable way to verify it are quite contradictory demands. So all such circumstances have to be highly unlikely, and virtually unidentifiable beforehand.
    .
    For example, the password case. How would you know that the password you got is not in fact an emergency self_destruction code ?
    .

  457. #457 Moses
    December 30, 2007

    Can you tell us one argument against torture, that meets his demands ? Just single one. Oh, and remember, he puts all the burden of proof on the opponents of torture, so, if you fail, torture is justified by default.

    Posted by: T_U_T | December 30, 2007 5:57 PM

    I look at Coel’s argument as the same as NAMBLA, that they can “imagine” that consensual sex between adult men and underage, prepubescent boys is possible. Since it’s “possible” a boy could say “yes.” And that boy might be “mature enough” to make a fully-informed decision. The problem is the fact that adolescent boys are vulnerable due to their developing sense of identity and their relative level of immaturity in comparison with the average male adult. This immaturity makes it impossible for most youth to be able to give true consent to sex with an adult.

    But NAMBLA keeps up with their theoretical “mature” teen that could “consent” to sex. Therefore it’s “okay.”

    Even though reality, and the vast majority of informed, educated experts, says otherwise. Such is Coel’s argument.

    This is not to IMPLY that Coel endorses NAMBLA’s arguments. Only that he makes the same kind of argument based on his cognitive biases.

    And why I found it a bit pointless to continue on with this thread. I don’t see a rational meeting of the minds being possible with someone who’s showing massive cognitive biases to the point they’re constructing such disingenuous, narrow, phony conditions to make any debate impossible.

  458. #458 mothra
    December 30, 2007

    @447. I hesitate to get into this fray, and this will be my only comment as little constructive can be added to the debate. Coel has been shown to be a concern troll. Those most eloquent (or necessarily persistent) in illustrating his ‘disingenuous nature’ have been True Bob and Truth Machine. Read the whole thread (the complete skein) all, carefully.

  459. #459 TW
    December 30, 2007

    Digicrab wrote:

    What disturbs me (and perhaps Coel as well), to be honest, is this. If it WAS effective, would we going around torturing people now?

    Well, probably, yes. Torture is widely accepted by intelligence agencies the world over as being massively ineffective at gathering intelligence – yet it is still going on.

    Obviously neither the moral argument, nor the effectiveness argument are strong enough for some sadistic people’s tastes.

  460. #460 TW
    December 30, 2007

    Lee Brimmicombe-Wood @ 437

    Point 2: Actually, we can feel confident that most of the tortured papists were Catholics.

    I cant agree with that. We have no way of knowing nor can we ever come close to quantifying what “most” means. I agree with everything else you have said though.

    Troy @ 443

    As a historical (but hypothetical since I don’t have the exact reference or details) example, say the Japanese fished 3 US navy aircrewmen (from the same airplane) after a battle and want to know which carrier they came from and which carriers were damaged in a recent battle.

    They WILL and DID torture these men until their individual stories lined up. This is a fact.

    This runs up against the hurdle of the time and effort expended to gather the information. It is also defeated by the three crewmen being sufficiently prepared to give a coherent cover story when captured. Torture will provide information which can eventually become actionable intelligence if you have enough resources to throw at it. In the same context, not torturing the prisoners but interrogating them in a more “traditional” method will provide the same. The advantage of not torturing the prisoners is it becomes easier to get the truth.

    Torture as a fishing expedition will result in Inquisition-like ridiculousness, but torture “scientifically” applied, like the Gestapo in Norway and the fictionalized presentation in The Battle of Algiers has been shown to be historically effective.

    An interesting viewpoint. Not one that is shared by the majority of military historians but superficially valid at least. If by works you mean occasionally (more often not) provided intelligence the organisations could use to quell resistance/terrorists then yes it did work. If you mean it was an effective way of gathering useful intelligence faster and more efficiently than any other means, well no it didn’t. Not to mention both organisations were eventually defeated.

    From the words of one of France’s torturers in Algiers, Jean-Pierre Vittori:

    “As the pain of interrogation began they talked abundantly, citing the names of the dead or militants on the run, indicating locations of old hiding places in which we didn’t find anything but some documents without interest.”

    French studies of the period also show that the prisoners were mostly giving up the names of their enemies, not France’s enemies and as a result, the French spent most of their time, not killing the FLN but taking out the MNA who were opposed to the FLN.

    Most of the success by the Gestapo and the French hinged not on the torture employed but by the willingness of the local population to fall upon each other and make constant accusations about other people.

    LCR @ 451

    But I just can’t escape the idea that the logical conclusion from the use of the efficacy argument opens a back door to a more tolerant attitude toward torture.

    Possibly true, but so does the “it is wrong” argument.

    In your example, the person who supports torture in one of its forms is already immune to the basic assertion of it being wrong. He doesn’t agree, what does that leave you to argue with. Relying solely on a moral judgement call is problematical because every one has differing morals.

    Take the nonsense by Jamie on the other thread. He is of the opinion that the suffering of one suspected terrorist being tortured is morally justified because the torture is effective enough to get information that may save others (kids are a good example to tug the heart strings). No matter how often you say that torture is bad, he can argue that doing nothing and allowing the deaths of untold children is a greater evil. People who genuinely think that torture is effective will resort to it when under pressure and will leave the moral mopping up to a later date.

    The fact of the matter is torture is wrong, it is illegal under international (and most national) laws yet people think it is effective enough to perform. There are a lot of people who do actually think the ends always justify the means and asserting “torture is bad” will never prevent them. When people can be educated that torture is both bad and pointless, it may give them pause for thought.

    As it stands, the sadists who want torture to take place can muddy the waters with an argument that it is effective enough to justify its use under certain circumstances.

    If, as a certain concerned person seems to think, we are having this debate for the sole purpose of determining the most effective argument, then neither the moral argument nor the effectiveness argument fits the bill. On their own neither argument is able to prevent people from torturing and together they do not manage it. The fact of the matter remains that even though torture is and is ineffective at gathering usable, timely intelligence people still do it. Is there ever going to be an argument which will prevent sociopaths from being sociopaths?

  461. #461 TW
    December 30, 2007

    Sorry, missing a “wrong” after the first bold is in the end paragraph.

  462. #462 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    Why do people (e.g., Steve Labonne, truth machine) not understand this?

    Because it isn’t accurate.

  463. #463 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    But I thought Coel’s first was a good one: that torture might actually be useful (NOT moral, NOT permissible, but useful) if the information sought was immediately verifiable.

    But it isn’t immediately verifable even in his scenario, as I have explained several times. People like Coel invent simplistic scenarios that they think prove something, but what it proves is that they aren’t aware of problems encountered in the real world and haven’t tried very hard to think of those problems.

    I personally want to have a good reply to that the next time I want to make a case against torture, and it’s helpful to have a more specific argument than “torture is wrong”, which, although true, unfortunately does not always suffice.

    Uh, PZ gave a more specific argument, and Coel spent a lot of time trying to shoot it down by giving it an uncharitable interpretation and attacking that, and by setting the “ineffective” bar ridiculously high. Read Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s posts for some fact-based support of PZ’s argument.

  464. #464 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    You challenge his stance by saying that the torture is morally wrong and that we have no right to inflict harm on another person. He comes back with the argument that torture may produce valuable information that saves lives. If you merely respond that the evidence doesn’t support this argument and that torture doesn’t produce reliable information, haven’t you just implied a condition under which torture would be acceptable, namely if reliable information were gathered?

    But you already said that torture is morally wrong; if he doesn’t accept that, then what recourse do you have? He already believes that torture would be acceptable if reliable information were gathered; how does arguing that torture is ineffective make things worse?

    You may not feel this way, but if he supports torture, I bet he will interpret your comment as a hole in your armor and I can almost guarantee that he will be back later to attack that perceived weak spot.

    A hole in which armor? Surely not in your morality argument. And what’s the goal, to argue against torture or to avoid being badly perceived? This line of argument strikes me as intellectual cowardice. You should forth every argument that you think is valid, rather than playing soome sort of calculated game.

  465. #465 LCR
    December 30, 2007

    TW:

    [sigh] Yes, while the argument “It is wrong” certainly works for many, I recognize that it has its limitations. I certainly do wish we lived in a world where the argument would be sufficient for everyone, but my wishes don’t seem to reflect reality.

    I think there is a deeper problem at the root of this, however, that may or may not have been touched on in the 450 or so posts. I think if you start to explore why some people feel that torture is justified, you might just find that they rank the lives of some people of greater value than others. If the life of an American man is perceived by a person to have greater value than the life of a man from the Middle East, than a person with that perception would have little difficulty justifying the diminishing of an Iraqi man’s life via torture if it could arguably enhance the life of an American. Wasn’t this at least part of the attitude that led to Abu Ghraib?

    If all people granted the same value to the lives of all people, if someone could feel equal empathy with others regardless of their background, would the “torture is wrong” argument then be sufficient? Come to think of it, would we even have terrorist acts leading to the call for torture if human life was valued equally across the board? Or am I being entirely to idealistic?

  466. #466 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    Well, probably, yes. Torture is widely accepted by intelligence agencies the world over as being massively ineffective at gathering intelligence – yet it is still going on.

    Obviously neither the moral argument, nor the effectiveness argument are strong enough for some sadistic people’s tastes.

    But didn’t PZ explain this? With elaboration from Lee Brimmicombe-Wood?

  467. #467 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    Take the nonsense by Jamie on the other thread. He is of the opinion that the suffering of one suspected terrorist being tortured is morally justified because the torture is effective enough to get information that may save others (kids are a good example to tug the heart strings).

    Frankly, I think Jamie has no qualms about inflicting any amount of pain or harm to anyone he thinks is “a terrorist” for any reason whatsoever.

  468. #468 truth machine
    December 30, 2007

    I think if you start to explore why some people feel that torture is justified, you might just find that they rank the lives of some people of greater value than others.

    Yes, quite so. That’s why people so often talk about torturing “terrorists”. Of course, the mental image they want to conjure up is some swarthy Muslim.

  469. #469 LCR
    December 30, 2007

    Truth Machine, you said:

    “A hole in which armor? Surely not in your morality argument. And what’s the goal, to argue against torture or to avoid being badly perceived? This line of argument strikes me as intellectual cowardice. You should forth every argument that you think is valid, rather than playing soome sort of calculated game.”

    A “perceived” hole as in the person supporting torture would “perceive” the efficacy argument as a hole in your total argument. Not an actual hole in the morality argument. To continue the analogy, even if a real weakness does not exist in your argument, if an opponent perceives one to exist, they will continue to attack.

    And I am not worried about being badly perceived, but I am worried about what argument will most strongly support my position and not weaken it. It is not always the case that the strongest case in a debate will bring every possible argument to the table. Sometimes keeping the message simple and to the point has a greater impact.

    But I think in this debate on torture, it may be impossible to make any headway convincing proponents of torture to reverse their thinking, regardless of how many well-supported arguments you throw at them. As I mentioned in my last post to TW, this may be because the two sides are approaching the debate from two completely different points of reference regarding the value of human life. Those that tend to condemn torture also tend to find equal value in human life across cultures. I suggest that those who find torture justifiable assign different values to human life either in general (on a cultural basis) or under certain conditions (such as in the case of terrorist acts). It would be much easier to justify the torture of a person if they are seen as less human than you or those like you. Without addressing these opposing ways of assigning value to human life, I don’t think any argument in particular will succeed in eradicating the arguments in support of torture. That doesn’t mean we should stop arguing against it, of course…

  470. #470 Brian Macker
    December 30, 2007

    Some people aren’t bright enough figure out that most libertarians are for completely open borders. Shows how much they know about the subject. Most of the rest of PZ’s rant is of the same quality.

  471. #471 LCR
    December 30, 2007

    I think you’ve got the wrong thread, Brian.

  472. #472 Espadre
    December 31, 2007

    I have wrestled with this moral dilemma before and I am still confused.

    On what grounds do you say torture is unacceptable?

    Morally? From a moral equivalency standpoint, I see little difference in engaging in torture and performing an offensive maneuver that you know will result in collateral damage.

    Efficacy? How efficient, really, is the laser-guided missile you deploy that causes the aforementioned collateral damage?

    It seems you can only logically say that all forms of waging war, torture among them, are equally atrocious.

  473. #473 Futility
    December 31, 2007

    @ “Truth Machine” #445

    arrogant, really? Truth machine, can you provide evidence that torture did increase security, apart from official claims by the Bush admin?

    You’re an arrogant git because your comments have nothing to do with what anyone here has said; you’re addressing the wrong crowd.

    WTF? I am not the only one who pointed out in this thread that the question of how effective torture is, is not particularly relevant and actually plays into the hand of torture proponents (for another example see #452). Fine, you might not agree, but just because you don’t deem my comment relevant doesn’t mean that it isn’t for others. So, who is the arrogant git now? In my original post I never referenced you. Where does your hostility come from? What is your problem? The comments #456, for example, were much more illuminating than anything you could offer. (#456 is not directly related to my comments but discussing the related problem of why the assertion ‘torture is wrong’ might not be enough by itself and discussing the efficiency of torture could be beneficial in providing a stronger argument against torture – and even this might not be enough.)
    Interestingly, you conveniently left out in your quote of my reply to you the part where I accused you of using an argumentum ad hominem. Again, instead of addressing my original arguments, you still resort to insults. It appears that your screen name is a misnomer.

  474. #474 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    December 31, 2007

    From a moral equivalency standpoint, I see little difference in engaging in torture and performing an offensive maneuver that you know will result in collateral damage.

    They are rather different things. In military law, the application of force is measured by a standard known as the ‘principle of proportionality’. Is the force proportionate to the threat? Using a 2,000lb JDAM to take out one sniper may be regarded as disproportionate, particularly if there are civilians present. Using a squad of riflemen to stalk the same sniper would be acceptable, as they are unlikely to level a building and its inhabitants. The principle of proportionality assumes that efforts are made to reduce casualties amongst non-combatants. (Difficult, I know, but the Western militaries try to pay more than lip service to this. Even if they slip badly at places like Fallujah.)

    Principles of proportionality are difficult to apply to torture because the threat represented by the torture subject is unknown. You can’t make a force-on-force comparison as you can on a battlefield. The only measure of threat is a subjective one, based on whatever clear and present danger the subject or his organization represents. The measure applied to torture is ‘cruel and unusual punishment’. And though there may be a fuzzy grey area over what constitutes ‘cruel and unusual’, I regard torture like pornography, in that most people know it when they see it.

    There are many reasons why states have instituted laws against torture, but one of the most frequent excuse offered is that you don’t want the enemy to return the favour. If you torture prisoners, then the enemy will have no compunction torturing back. Torture, then, opens a Pandora’s Box. It places yourself and a torturing enemy on a level moral playing field.

    If you condone torture of your enemies then you condone the enemy torturing your own. You are comfortable with that. You are happy for the war to be fought that way. Presumably, you have the resolve to tell your soldiers that should they be captured, torture is certain, but that they can take comfort from the fact that you are torturing their prisoners back.

    I don’t know about you lot, but my experience of soldiers is that they don’t like being told such things. Just saying.

  475. #475 Jamie
    December 31, 2007

    If you condone torture of your enemies then you condone the enemy torturing your own. You are comfortable with that. You are happy for the war to be fought that way.

    It should be universally illegal, but under very rare circumstances (e.g. ticking time-bomb scenarios) it can be ethical.

    What if, in WW2, torture was the only way to crack the Enigma machine? The Allies could have been defeated if it weren’t for success in this area. Would torture have been ethically justified? Well, I don’t know…

  476. #476 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    December 31, 2007

    It should be universally illegal, but under very rare circumstances (e.g. ticking time-bomb scenarios) it can be ethical.

    I’m not sure you understand how this ethics thing works. If you introduce an ethical get-out clause, the enemy get to use it too. After all, jihadists have to suffer ticking time-bombs too. And if Private First Class Jamie gets captured, then surely it would be wrong for an insurgent NOT to waterboard and sensory-deprive and bum-rape him to get him to tell what he knows.

    What if, in WW2, torture was the only way to crack the Enigma machine?

    Then fine, but we also have to give the Nazis a pass on torturing PoWs and spies because, well, it was important to saving German lives. If it’s okay for the Allies to torture, then presumably you have no problems with Nazi torture either?

    That’s the trouble with these sorts of things. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

  477. #477 Coel
    December 31, 2007

    T_U_T says:

    I wonder just to what heights of absurdity will Coel’s “torture is justified unless proven otherwise” approach go.

    I wonder just to what depths of cluelessness some Pharygula posters will descend. I’ve not said what you attribute to me. What I’ve said is that the claim “torture never works” is poorly substantiated. If you leap from that to a conclusion on whether torture is justified then you are thinking like a theist.

  478. #478 Coel
    December 31, 2007

    TW writes:

    you are the one claiming that the unquestionable act works so show the hard evidence. […] Where is your evidence that it is effective?

    Excuse me, but I am not the one claiming to know the effectiveness of torture. It is others who claim it works only “very rarely” or in “contrived circumstances”. I don’t know whether torture works. That’s why I have repeatedly asked for proper substantiation of the claims that are being bandied about. It’s amazing what a kerfuffle one can cause by asking for substantiation of a claim made on a science blog.

  479. #479 Coel
    December 31, 2007

    truth machine writes:

    it is Coel who is over-claiming, by employing an over-literal interpretation of certain words. […] The real argument — that torture is generally not a good intelligence tool — is not a bad argument

    OK, then can we agree that people should stick to the real argument and not over-egg the pudding by embellishing it into torture “never works”, is “just useless”, works “very rarely” or only in “contrived circumstances”, all of which are dubious over-claims?

  480. #480 Coel
    December 31, 2007

    Truth machine writes:

    Hold on, what I called a bad argument was the claim that it is “just useless” and never works. Claiming that it is less useful than alternatives is a very different claim.

    Fine, then the argument that it is less useful than alternatives is a good argument, we can pretend that’s the argument PZ gave, and we can stop this silliness.

    Well now truthy, that is, at last, a quite sensible reply to my initial point. If you had made it in post 28 rather than 428 this “sillyness” might have been avoided, and your supplies of insults would not be so markedly diminished.

  481. #481 Coel
    December 31, 2007

    T_U_T writes:

    Coel does far more than that. He has set the bar so ridiculously high that you would need the hubble telescope to see it.

    What you quote is a suggestion of the sort of evidence that might be produced to support a claim that torture works “very rarely” or “only in contrived circumnstances”. I gave it merely because some people seemed unaware of what decent evidence would look like.

    Actually, I haven’t said where I set the bar at all; I’m open to looking at evidence with an open mind. So far the best bit of evidence quoted (and that only after 300 posts!) is a preliminary report of a seminar at which retired interrogators had swapped anecdotes.

    Now that is suggestive, yes, but it is hardly definitive enough to justify the vitriol and abuse hurled at anyone daring to suggest that some of the more categorical “torture doesn’t work” claims are over-stated.

  482. #482 Coel
    December 31, 2007

    Moses writes:

    I look at Coel’s argument as the same as NAMBLA [rest of this drivel snipped]

    You are an obnoxious, clueless shit.

  483. #483 Jamie
    December 31, 2007

    Then fine, but we also have to give the Nazis a pass on torturing PoWs and spies because, well, it was important to saving German lives. If it’s okay for the Allies to torture, then presumably you have no problems with Nazi torture either?

    Empty-headed moral relativism. I would only give the Nazis a pass on torture if I felt that the Nazi cause was ethical. Clearly I don’t think that, so you are completely mistaken.

    Suppose that the torture of one individual was the only thing to stop the Nazi conquest of Europe, and therefore the execution of all its Jews. Would torture be ethical? I say yes. If you say no, then apparently you think genocide is the lesser evil.

  484. #484 T_U_T
    December 31, 2007

    Coel, you have clearly stated your demands.

    Solid support for the claim could take the form, for example, of studies showing what fraction of tortured prisoners tell the truth. I’ve asked about such studies but been given nothing substantial. Is the percentage who tell the truth 90% or 50% or 10% or 1% or 0.1%? Does anyone know? Again, that’s a genuine question.

    I have already asked you to tell us which argument, do you think, rises up to your demands. And I am still waiting for your answer. If you won’t answer, I will conclude that you deliberately set the bar so high that no argument could make it thru, and thus you real aim is to discredit any opposition to torture. Because you are just a particularly nasty concern troll.

  485. #485 truth machine
    December 31, 2007

    Well now truthy, that is, at last, a quite sensible reply to my initial point. If you had made it in post 28 rather than 428 this “sillyness” might have been avoided, and your supplies of insults would not be so markedly diminished.

    All of my replies have been quite sensible, you insufferable ass, and I provided that one many times previously — as I have said, you took him over-literally and uncharitably. Quine’s Principle of Charity demands that we assume the best version we can of our correspondent’s argument — that’s the same as “let’s pretend he said it”.

    Back in #205 I wrote “Fine, you’ve argued it. People can make of your argument what they will. Your job here is done. Goodbye.” and you responded “Why thankyou. It was fun. I must come here more often.” You could have stayed away, instead of repeating the same tired thing over and over, so don’t talk to me about what could have been avoided. Meanwhile, you of bad faith still haven’t responded to my rebuttals of #4 that show that no such “easy verification” is possible.

  486. #486 Coel
    December 31, 2007

    Anyhow, everyone, I’ll stop posting soon since I’ll be without an internet link for a while. So, to summarise:

    It seems fairly securely known that torture is unreliable, that while you can indeed get correct information from it you also get a lot of incorrect information, and that makes analysing the information problematic. Further, it seems that experience says that less-aggressive interrogation techniques are more effective in obtaining higher-grade information. Further, anyone supporting torture would find it hard to find evidence showing that it is more effective than alternatives.

    The above would seem a fair summary of its effectivness based on the evidence. What does not seem supported by solid evidence (I think we’d have seen some of it in the previous 400 posts if it existed) is claims that go beyond the above and say that torture “doesn’t work” or works “very rarely” or only “in contrived circumstances” or is “just useless”. People who have adopted these mantras seem to have done so because they fit their world view, not because they’ve seen solid evidence for it. This is revealed by the vitriol with which they respond when asked for substantiation. And it is revealled especially by the leaps from reading “is this argument sound?” to concluding “he doesn’t support the conclusion” — slight logical flaw there chaps.

    It is of course, a common human trait to be less sceptical of claims that fit our world view than claims that don’t. Theists take it to an extreme, and we criticse them for it. I think some non-theists here might be just a teensy bit guilty of a slight tendancy in that regard over this issue.

    Anyhow, I’m glad we’ve settled all of that. I didn’t quite expect it to take 400 posts when I first idly queried PZ’s slightly slack wording (it is, after all, only a fairly minor point); I expected it to be sorted rather sooner along the lines of post #476.

    As I said, this was fun. I must come here more often. Tootly-pip for now chaps.

  487. #487 Coel
    December 31, 2007

    I’m trying to go somewhere, I really am, but a couple of quickies:

    truth machine writes:

    Meanwhile, you of bad faith still haven’t responded to my rebuttals of #4 that show that no such “easy verification” is possible.

    You showed that easy verification might be hard in one situation. That does not show that verification cannot be achieved sometimes, which is all that my point required.

  488. #488 Coel
    December 31, 2007

    T_U_T writes

    Coel, you have clearly stated your demands.
    Solid support for the claim could take the form, for example, of studies showing what fraction of tortured prisoners tell the truth. I’ve asked about such studies but been given nothing substantial. Is the percentage who tell the truth 90% or 50% or 10% or 1% or 0.1%? Does anyone know? Again, that’s a genuine question.

    I have already asked you to tell us which argument, do you think, rises up to your demands. And I am still waiting for your answer. If you won’t answer, I will conclude that you deliberately set the bar so high that no argument could make it thru, and thus you real aim is to discredit any opposition to torture. Because you are just a particularly nasty concern troll.

    1) Note the words “COULD take the form, FOR EXAMPLE”. I was not “demanding” anything.

    2) My question asked for narrowing down from a range of THREE ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE (90% to 0.1%). Do you really think that asking for a claim to be substantiated to better than 3 orders of magnitude is “set[ting] the bar so high that no argument could make it thru”???

    3) The arguments that I would make against torture would be moral ones, not ones of empirical effectiveness, so there is no valid comparison of the error range on the data.

    4) It really is amazing that people cannot give me a straight and supported answer to how many people tell the truth under interrogation (whether it is 90% or 0.1%) but still consider the whole issue of effectiveness so settled that it is heresy to question it and howl with outrage if the question is even asked.

  489. #489 truth machine
    December 31, 2007

    You showed that easy verification might be hard in one situation. That does not show that verification cannot be achieved sometimes, which is all that my point required.

    Hey T_U_T, look at this hypocrite!

  490. #490 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    December 31, 2007

    Empty-headed moral relativism. I would only give the Nazis a pass on torture if I felt that the Nazi cause was ethical. Clearly I don’t think that, so you are completely mistaken.

    I believe you are the one indulging in moral relativism, Jamie. You are saying that ‘if our cause be just, then torture is permissible’, which is a very slippery slope. I don’t think you can have your cake and eat it. If torture is permissible, it is permissible for everyone. If torture is evil, it is evil for everyone. Otherwise we live in a world where anything goes, provided your cause is righteous. That’s a terrible sentiment and we’ve seen the error such thinking can lead people into.

    Suppose that the torture of one individual was the only thing to stop the Nazi conquest of Europe, and therefore the execution of all its Jews. Would torture be ethical? I say yes. If you say no, then apparently you think genocide is the lesser evil.

    How about they are both evil? Why must I choose one over another?

    This is a very slippery slope. By your logic a man who was a conscientious objector during World War II is unethical because he refused to fight the Nazis. Which seems rather harsh on such gentle souls as Oliver Postgate.

    You are building a relativistic scale of evil, Jaime. You conjure up in a crazy universe where a Jack the Ripper is less than one millionth of a Hitler. Where a Pol Pot is barely a twentieth. Where we measure morality by body counts.

    I don’t think that’s a good place to be. A man of good conscience makes the decisions he has to make. If I choose not to commit evil and thereby permit another evil to flourish, so be it. Please don’t impune my ethics for taking such a route.

  491. #491 truth machine
    December 31, 2007

    the whole issue of effectiveness so settled that it is heresy to question it

    This is the same bullshit you told back in #51 with “trendy PC-leftist dogma that it is considered heresy to question” and #114 with “People seem to be treating this as an article of dogma that one is not permitted to ask about”. You’re a liar, plain and simple.

  492. #492 T_U_T
    December 31, 2007

    Do you really think that asking for a claim to be substantiated to better than 3 orders of magnitude is “set[ting] the bar so high that no argument could make it thru”

    AFAIK there are NO studies with ANY quantitative results that could support ANY argument for or against torture( though there are a legion of qualitative results, virtually all saying that it is not efficient ), so, I would say yes. I really do think that any demand for ANY numbers is too high. Further evidence that it is indeed too much asked, is, that you too fail to give an example of a study meeting your demands.

    The arguments that I would make against torture would be moral ones, not ones of empirical effectiveness, so there is no valid comparison of the error range on the data.

    At the very begining I asked you whether do you say that only arguments that do not depend any empirical evidence are the right arguments. You answered no. And now you are saying exactly that.
    Dishonest. Concern. Troll.

  493. #493 truth machine
    December 31, 2007

    I believe you are the one indulging in moral relativism, Jamie.

    “my side is always right” people like Jamie are unable to comprehend this. They’ll refer to a “false moral equivalency” if you dare to suggest that their opponents are allowed to act the same way as they do. That “sauce of the goose is sauce for the gander” is absolutist — the consistent application of standards — is impossible for them to understand when they are the goose.

  494. #494 truth machine
    December 31, 2007

    It seems fairly securely known that torture is unreliable, that while you can indeed get correct information from it you also get a lot of incorrect information, and that makes analysing the information problematic. Further, it seems that experience says that less-aggressive interrogation techniques are more effective in obtaining higher-grade information. Further, anyone supporting torture would find it hard to find evidence showing that it is more effective than alternatives.

    If this bozo had admitted this up front, we could have avoided most of this silliness.

  495. #495 truth machine
    December 31, 2007

    P.S. It’s worth noting that Coel provided no definitive study to support those claims, but for 482 posts demanded definitive studies from anyone who made any empirical claim.

  496. #496 truth machine
    December 31, 2007

    It is of course, a common human trait to be less sceptical of claims that fit our world view than claims that don’t. Theists take it to an extreme, and we criticse them for it. I think some non-theists here might be just a teensy bit guilty of a slight tendancy in that regard over this issue….As I said, this was fun. I must come here more often. Tootly-pip for now chaps.

    Pompous ass.

  497. #497 T_U_T
    December 31, 2007

    It seems fairly securely known that torture is unreliable, that while you can indeed get correct information from it you also get a lot of incorrect information, and that makes analysing the information problematic. Further, it seems that experience says that less-aggressive interrogation techniques are more effective in obtaining higher-grade information. Further, anyone supporting torture would find it hard to find evidence showing that it is more effective than alternatives.

    Oh man ! Can you cite one single study with quantitative results to back it up ? How many times, exactly is torture less effective ? It is always strictly less effective, or only on average ? Can you show us the data ? Can you prove that reasonable improvements of torture methods can not yield better efficiency than standard interrogation ? Remember, the burden of proof is
    on YOU.
    Again, you fail by standards of your own ?

  498. #498 T_U_T
    December 31, 2007

    It seems fairly securely known that torture is unreliable, that while you can indeed get correct information from it you also get a lot of incorrect information, and that makes analysing the information problematic. Further, it seems that experience says that less-aggressive interrogation techniques are more effective in obtaining higher-grade information. Further, anyone supporting torture would find it hard to find evidence showing that it is more effective than alternatives.

    Oh man ! Can you cite one single study with quantitative results to back it up ? How many times, exactly is torture less effective ? It is always strictly less effective, or only on average ? Can you show us the data ? Can you prove that reasonable improvements of torture methods can not yield better efficiency than standard interrogation ? Remember, the burden of proof is
    on YOU.
    Again, will you fail by standards of your own ?

  499. #499 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    December 31, 2007

    “my side is always right” people like Jamie are unable to comprehend this. They’ll refer to a “false moral equivalency” if you dare to suggest that their opponents are allowed to act the same way as they do.

    I did find it odd that Jamie characterised an absolutist position as relativistic. I don’t believe moral relativism means what Jamie thinks it does. He falls into the classic error of imagining that belief in one’s own virtue is sufficient to justify any policy.

    If belief in your own virtue justifies the use of torture, then it can be used to justify pillage, rapine and genocide too. After all, surely it isn’t a genocide if WE do it?

  500. #500 Jud
    December 31, 2007

    I would only give the Nazis a pass on torture if I felt that the Nazi cause was ethical.

    Quick and simple: We knew the Nazi cause was unethical because they used torture.

  501. #501 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    December 31, 2007

    Amen, Jud.

  502. #502 Jamie
    December 31, 2007

    No, what Jude said was wrong and silly. The Allied authorities didn’t condone torture, and the Nazi authorities didn’t either. The Nazis were the bad guys because they wanted to impose their fascist dogma on the rest of the world — and this included, you know, the genocide and all that. Using torture to further this evil agenda would have been horrendously wrong. Using torture to save the world from fascism would have been a different story altogether.

  503. #503 Jamie
    December 31, 2007

    This is a very slippery slope. By your logic a man who was a conscientious objector during World War II is unethical because he refused to fight the Nazis. Which seems rather harsh on such gentle souls as Oliver Postgate.

    Yes, I think the conscientious objectors in WW2 were unethical.

  504. #504 Jamie
    December 31, 2007

    The conscientious objectors on the Allied side, obviously.

  505. #505 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    December 31, 2007

    Yes, I think the conscientious objectors in WW2 were unethical.

    Then you live in a world turn’d upside down; a monstrous bizarro universe where pacifists are regarded as aiding the enemy. You do them a great injustice. Shame on you!

    You remind me of the last person I debated torture with. He became so apoplectic with rage that he jumped the shark, shrilly screaming at me that anyone who was against torture was, by extension, a supporter of jihadis. You haven’t said any such thing yet, but we seem to be trending in that direction.

    How long before we reach that place where our unwillingness to torture is cast as immoral? Where men of conscience are branded enemies of the state because they don’t have the heart to torture or kill?

    Is this really the conclusion we are headed toward, Jamie? Is that what you believe?

  506. #506 Coel
    December 31, 2007

    Back for a quick reprise:

    Truth machine writes:

    If this bozo had admitted this up front, we could have avoided most of this silliness.

    If people had just taken what I said at face value, instead of leaping to read inito it lots that wasn’t there, we could have avoided most of this silliness.

    P.S. It’s worth noting that Coel provided no definitive study to support those claims, but for 482 posts demanded definitive studies from anyone who made any empirical claim.

    I’ll cite the study linked to in post #397 as decent support for my claim. Note also how I worded my claim: “It seems fairly securely known that …”.

    Pompous ass.

    You’re most welcome.

    PS Everything I’ve said here has been honest and staightforward.

    PPS I do admit that that “PC-leftist” post was a deliberate wind-up and provocation in response to Steve’s rather amazing comparison to the race/IQ threads. He (and his ilk) deserved that wind-up for failing to take my posts at face value but instead making mistaken guesses about what was behind them.

  507. #507 Bobber
    December 31, 2007

    This is how far things have come: we are the “good guys” not for what we DO, but for what we SAY.

    Jamie wrote: “The Nazis were the bad guys because they wanted to impose their fascist dogma on the rest of the world — and this included, you know, the genocide and all that.”

    The Nazis were the bad guys because they wanted to impose their fascist dogma on the rest of the world AND because they were murderous thugs who employed torture and committed genocide. Hitler’s Third Reich (and Stalin’s Soviet Union) were able to carry out their policies precisely because they used terror to cow their own populations into acquiescence, and to characterize those who objected as no better than “outsiders” who were dangerous to Peace and Prosperity and Order.

    In other words, Fascism wasn’t evil simply because it denied people their freedom; Fascism was evil because it depended upon the exercise of evil – terror, torture, genocide – to maintain power. Any government – or society – that must depend on such extreme and inhuman methods to “protect” itself is immoral and does not deserve to continue to exist.

  508. #508 Coel
    December 31, 2007

    T_U_T writes:

    It seems fairly securely known that torture is unreliable, that while you can indeed get correct information from it you also get a lot of incorrect information, and that makes analysing the information problematic. Further, it seems that experience says that less-aggressive interrogation techniques are more effective in obtaining higher-grade information. Further, anyone supporting torture would find it hard to find evidence showing that it is more effective than alternatives.

    Oh man ! Can you cite one single study with quantitative results to back it up ?

    Excuse me, but my claim was not quantitative; I didn’t say “never” or “very rarely” or anything similar. If you want support for my claim see the study cited in #397. That adequately supports me does it not? Note how I worded it: “It seems fairly securely known that … ” and “it seems that experience says that”. You see my whole complaint on this thread has been about overclaiming, and I didn’t overclaim. Which bit of my statement do you think is not adequately supported by #397?

    How many times, exactly is torture less effective ? It is always strictly less effective, or only on average ?

    How do I know? And did I make any claim about those issues? Did I? I think not.

    Can you prove that reasonable improvements of torture methods can not yield better efficiency than standard interrogation ?

    No I can’t; but then I made no claim that they couldn’t, did I?

    Remember, the burden of proof is on YOU.

    Sure, to the extent that I made any claim the burden of proof is on me. #397 supports my statement to the extent I made it.

    Again, will you fail by standards of your own ?

    Nope.

  509. #509 libarbarian
    December 31, 2007

    I don’t understand why this thread got so hostile.

    It got hostile because one of the few things that makes me want to torture people is listening to sheltered little soulless subhuman cowards spout mindless rationales for torturing people SUSPECTED to be bad until they “confess” their sins.

    Seriously, when I hear these mindless animals spouting their shit it gives me a visceral desire to take them to a “Hostel”-like place where I could show them what torture is first hand.

  510. #510 Jud
    December 31, 2007

    jamie wrote:

    The Allied authorities didn’t condone torture, and the Nazi authorities didn’t either.

    The portion of this sentence following the comma would come as an entire surprise to a great many people I have known who have numbers tattooed on their arms.

  511. #511 Jamie
    December 31, 2007

    Then you live in a world turn’d upside down; a monstrous bizarro universe where pacifists are regarded as aiding the enemy. You do them a great injustice. Shame on you!

    You’re talking rubbish again, I see. Pacifism is laudable sometimes, as it was in WW1; and sometimes it isn’t, as it wasn’t in WW2. Defeat in WW2 would have spelled the total genocide of the Jews, and the conquest of almost the entire world by fascists. Refusing to aid the war effort was positively immoral. You’ll find no shortage of liberals who would agree with me here.

    In other words, Fascism wasn’t evil simply because it denied people their freedom; Fascism was evil because it depended upon the exercise of evil – terror, torture, genocide – to maintain power. Any government – or society – that must depend on such extreme and inhuman methods to “protect” itself is immoral and does not deserve to continue to exist.

    Let’s not obscure the facts. The Nazi regime did not advocate torture, and it was seldom practiced on their prisoners. I don’t doubt that they used it more frequently than the Allies, but this doesn’t say anything about the actual motives for the war. Our motives were ethically justified (we were defending the world from fascism), and theirs were not.

    If the torture of one individual was the only way to stop the Nazi conquest of the world, of course it would have been morally right. I fail to see how this is contestable. Now if people stop ineffectually challenging this elementary moral reasoning, I will shut up about it.

  512. #512 Jamie
    December 31, 2007

    The portion of this sentence following the comma would come as an entire surprise to a great many people I have known who have numbers tattooed on their arms.

    The Nazis didn’t advocate torture of PoWs, and I wasn’t aware that they advocated torture of the Jews either. Persecution and extermination, yes; torture (by standard definitions of torture), I don’t think so. If can refer me to any sources that say otherwise, pray do so.

  513. #513 trrll
    December 31, 2007

    My question asked for narrowing down from a range of THREE ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE (90% to 0.1%). Do you really think that asking for a claim to be substantiated to better than 3 orders of magnitude is “set[ting] the bar so high that no argument could make it thru”???

    I think this is a perfectly reasonable standard. After all, if we are going to engage in tactics that are morally repugnant to the entire civilized world, we certainly should have evidence that confirms to better than THREE ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE (p < 0.001) that torture is significantly superior than other information-gathering methods. Oh, that wasn’t what you had in mind?

  514. #514 Bobber
    December 31, 2007

    “The Nazi regime did not advocate torture”

    See this particular story. Concentration camps were not only places where so-called undesirables were eliminated; they were also places where those persons were first tortured and suffered all manner of torments and humiliations. Now, you may claim that torture for the purpose of extracting information is different than torture for the sake of merely inflicting pain – which leads me to:

    “Our motives were ethically justified (we were defending the world from fascism), and theirs were not.”

    Noble motives do not justify ignoble actions, especially when there are alternative, less ethically ambiguous means to obtain one’s goal. Motives may differentiate the democrat from the fascist, but what is the PRACTICAL difference between the democrat and the fascist if they BOTH engage in terrorism and torture in the furtherance of their goals? High-minded claims to liberal democracy and human rights ring false when they are advanced by the use of the dictator’s tools.

  515. #515 TW
    December 31, 2007

    LCR @ 461

    I think there is a deeper problem at the root of this, however, that may or may not have been touched on in the 450 or so posts. I think if you start to explore why some people feel that torture is justified, you might just find that they rank the lives of some people of greater value than others.

    I couldn’t agree with you more here. It seems that the basic assumption the justification of torture relies upon is that the victims of the barbaric acts will be Middle-Easterners, with the implication they are “less” then equals.

    Would these people be as quick to call for the testicle clamps if the victims were white, northern European, Catholics (for example)? While some may protest that they would support it as much, the reality is even the slightest hint of mistreatment of (again for example) IRA prisoners in the 1970s and early 80s caused public outrage all over the western world.

    On the “moral” front, as you can see, Jamie has found this thread and joined in with his reasons why it can be ethical… Sadly, while his cluelessness can be entertaining, there are a scary number of people (ie, more than 0) who have this idea.

    One problem with the equivalency argument (it is wrong because it will be done to us) is that often the people advocating acts like torture (Jamie for example) are safe in the knowledge they will never be subjected to it themselves. Politicians can happily advocate the crazed sadists in their employ torture people on the off chance it provides something of value, knowing it is very, very unlikely they will ever be put in the same position. For example, none of Saddam’s gang of mad *******s were tortured…

    Equally, the moral equivalence stumbles when you face an enemy which will not follow the rules of war. The Geneva Convention binds all its signatories to abide by its rules irrespective of the choices made by the opponents – however, there is often a strong argument that if your enemy does BADTHINGS? (torture etc), becomes acceptable for your side to do them in retaliation. If you aren’t going to retaliate there is no equivalency justification for saying the otherside are “wrong.”

  516. #516 targitted
    December 31, 2007

    See my URL. The goons are already loose in the neighborhood. Don’t for a minute think they wouldn’t do it here.
    http://www.freedomfchs.com/unwarranted_surveillance.pdf

  517. #517 TW
    December 31, 2007

    Jamie @ 507/508

    The Nazi regime did not advocate torture, and it was seldom practiced on their prisoners.

    And

    The Nazis didn’t advocate torture of PoWs, and I wasn’t aware that they advocated torture of the Jews either.

    Well, this speaks volumes. While it is true that Germany, under Hitler, rarely tortured the Americans and British who were taken prison (well, the white ones at least), the same certainly is not true about the rest of their prisoners – prisoners of war and simple prisoners.

    Obviously you are under the assumption that experimenting on living, unwilling people is not torture (or is justified because it gave us a great insight into the human body which may have saves a few more lives than it cost), and that concentration camps were not by their very nature a form of torture. You have an unusual world view.

    You claim that tortuing a prisoner for information is ethical if the information saves lives. How do you know before you begin the torture if it will be successful? If it isn’t should the torturer be punished in accordance with his crime?

    Anyway, until these posts of yours, I had tried to assume good faith and that you were actually trying to debate. Now I have to agree with everyone else and have realised you are just coming out with crap you think will offend and inflame.

    Well done.

  518. #518 targitted
    December 31, 2007

    See my URL. The goons are already loose in the neighborhood. Don’t for a minute think they wouldn’t do it here.
    http://www.freedomfchs.com/unwarranted_surveillance.pdf

  519. #519 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    December 31, 2007

    You’re talking rubbish again, I see. Pacifism is laudable sometimes, as it was in WW1; and sometimes it isn’t, as it wasn’t in WW2.

    From the man who threw accusations of moral relativism around, this is rich. The men who battled through WWI did not consider that they fought in an unjust war. And the horrors planned by the Kaiser–such as the ethnic cleaning of western Belgium and a ‘Year Zero’-style reduction of France to an agrarian backwater–are no less terrifying than anything the Nazis dreamt of. Indeed, the trenches became the crucible of Nazi ideology.

    World War I was certainly the product of a blind dash to war, a war madness that engulfed nations and movements. But were the efforts of the Allies against the Central Powers any less vital a defence of freedom than those of the Allies against the Axis? There is a tendency to mythologize the World War II into a great crusade, but if you read Vernon Kellogg’s Headquarters Nights, recounting conversions with officers of the Kaiser’s army, many of whom were fervent social Darwinists, you might regard the Great War as no less important a battle for civilization.

    Refusing to aid the war effort was positively immoral.

    Similar sentiments were raised against conscientious objection during World War I. The question is: who made you the moral arbiter as to which conflict was worthy of fighting and which wasn’t? Why is it acceptable to be a pacifist in one war and not the other?

    It seems to me that they were either both just wars for the Allies to fight, or they were both not. Anything else is Jesuitical thinking.

    If the torture of one individual was the only way to stop the Nazi conquest of the world, of course it would have been morally right. I fail to see how this is contestable. Now if people stop ineffectually challenging this elementary moral reasoning, I will shut up about it.

    For a moment, let’s ignore the fallacies underlying this bad-faith argument, such as the a priori knowledge of the results of torture. The fact remains that if an act is immoral, it remains immoral regardless of any wider good that it may do. Now, people may decide that it is a desirable to sacrifice one person for the wider good–the Christians have built an entire doctrine around this sort of thinking. But it does not make the act moral or just.

    I view this thinking as fundamentally immoral because it leads people into error. If you construct a model in which it is virtuous to do evil to one person in order to save many, you are on a slippery slope that will only draw you into committing greater and greater crimes.

    Once you cross the line, where do you redraw it? What if it takes two torture sessions to save civilization from fascism? What about three? Four? Twenty? A hundred? A thousand? At what point do you say ‘Stop! Here and no further!’?

    Jamie, our narratives are full of stories of idealists who meant well but went too far. You appear to be one of those. I do not trust you to make wise decisions about these things and I pray you never get to hold such a power over another human being.

  520. #520 LCR
    December 31, 2007

    TW says (#511):

    “One problem with the equivalency argument (it is wrong because it will be done to us) is that often the people advocating acts like torture (Jamie for example) are safe in the knowledge they will never be subjected to it themselves.”

    I may be missing a point here, but that is indeed a problem if that is how you define the “equivalency argument”. Your definition is a reactive one, namely “I will condemn torture because if it can happen to someone else, it may happen to me as well.” When I consider the issue of equivalency, I am really looking at it from the other way around. Torture is not something I would condone for myself or my loved ones, and since I see (or do my best to see… I have my failings) all others as possessing equal value, I could never condone torture of others. Any other action would be hypocritical on my part. Its a positive, proactive action born of a need for justice rather then a negative, reactive action born of fear. Its the positive that we are missing… there is plenty of the negative going around. I hope the difference is apparent. I’m having trouble putting it into words.

    And your comment about Jamie feeling safe from torture is interesting. I’m pretty sure that before Hitler came on the scene, there were plenty of Jews who felt safe from the danger of becoming a victim of torture and genocide. For those who feel safe from the dangers of torture, such that they can tolerate the torture of others because they are convinced it will never happen to them, perhaps a history lesson is in order. Any nation, even a democracy, can fail with a few bad apples running the country, leading to the atrocities so many of torture’s proponents feel they can never experience. My fear is that the growing acceptance within our government and its administration toward torture is one step toward the failure of our own democracy.

  521. #521 anonymiss
    December 31, 2007

    These ticking time-bomb scenarios are doubly stupid when you consider that the people most likely to be entrusted with “the codes” are those with great motivation and loyalty to the cause, who are exactly those least likely to give up this information under direct torture.

    I’m always moved to consider the case of Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic who smuggled Jewish children out of the ghetto and hid them. She always intended for them to be reunited with their families, so she would make lists of their real names and their fake identities & locations, and she buried this information in glass jars in her garden. She was captured by the Nazis, who tortured her to find out where she’d sent the children. She didn’t tell them, and they sent her to be killed (she was rescued on her way to her execution).

    All fascist and dictatorial regimes torture, but not because it’s wonderful at getting information. It’s the fear tactics above.

    Also, as a bonus, if you’ve proven yourself incompetent at your mission–as the Nazis were with finding innocent children, and as George Bush has been at capturing the criminal Osama bin Laden–torture provides a wonderful cover for your organization’s incompetence.

    You can claim you “did whatever it took,” and pretend that because your opponents would never do such an immoral and counterproductive thing, that they wouldn’t have done any better. Because, you know, they do not have the will to protect the nation, because they won’t torture.

    It moves the debate from “what tactics should we be using to win” to “who’s less moral?” One proves one’s fitness to lead by how quickly one embraces immorality and vilness–regardless of how effective it actually is at achieving your objectives! The cruelty in torture becomes a feature, not a bug, and it doesn’t matter any more that you’re not getting any information–by just torturing people, you’re winning the domestic political debate and keeping control.

    It’s disgusting, it’s destructive, and it’s anti-American. If we won the fucking REVOLUTIONARY WAR against the world’s greatest superpower without torturing, if we won the Civil War without torturing, I think we as a nation don’t have to destroy ourselves to capture a handful of dipshits in caves.

  522. #522 Troy
    December 31, 2007

    The Nazi regime did not advocate torture, and it was seldom practiced on their prisoners

    Ge-sta-po

    look it up

  523. #523 TW
    December 31, 2007

    LCR @ 516

    I may be missing a point here, but that is indeed a problem if that is how you define the “equivalency argument”. Your definition is a reactive one, namely “I will condemn torture because if it can happen to someone else, it may happen to me as well.”

    You are quite right here and I was being very simplistic in my example. I was, clumsily, addressing the issue that is often put forward which runs along lines of “we shouldn’t commit war crimes because if we do, the opposition will do them to us.”

    You explained yourself very well and did so in less ambiguous terms than I did.

  524. #524 truth machine
    January 1, 2008

    PS Everything I’ve said here has been honest and staightforward.

    Self-serve much? The facts indicate otherwise.

  525. #525 truth machine
    January 1, 2008

    How long before we reach that place where our unwillingness to torture is cast as immoral?

    He’s already done that, repeatedly, in the other thread.

  526. #526 truth machine
    January 1, 2008

    If the torture of one individual was the only way to stop the Nazi conquest of the world, of course it would have been morally right. I fail to see how this is contestable.

    As I have noted repeatedly, this pure utilitarianism implies that we must torture people even if innocent if it’s the only way to achieve some end. I can contrive examples where it would be necessary to anally rape a dozen 5-year-olds (each time you prove you’ve done it you’re mailed one character of a password) in order to avoid some great evil. That you fail to see how your utilitarianism is contestable, despite having the slippery slope problem pointed out to you over an over again, simply illustrates your arrogance, intellectual dishonesty, lack of moral intuition, and stupidity.

  527. #527 truth machine
    January 1, 2008

    look it up

    One can simply google nazi+torture … if one isn’t an intellectually dishonest piece of garbage like Jamie.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/01/AR2005120101637.html

    On May 3, 1941, when Mr. Seel was 18, he was arrested by the Gestapo and tortured for 10 days. In his 1994 memoir, “I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual,” he described how he and other suspected homosexuals were beaten, had their fingernails pulled out and were raped with broken rulers.

    Mr. Seel was sent to Schirmeck-Vorbruck, the only German concentration camp on French soil, where he said he was “tortured, beaten, sodomized and raped.” He was forced to build crematoriums and to stand as the camp staff tossed syringes at him as if he were a dartboard.

    The worst experience, he wrote, came when German troops marched a prisoner into the center of the yard, stripped him naked and placed a bucket over the man’s head. Mr. Seel recognized him as his 18-year-old friend and lover.

    According to Mr. Seel’s book, German shepherd dogs were unleashed on his friend, tearing him apart and devouring him before hundreds of witnesses.

    “Since then I sometimes wake up howling in the middle of the night,” Mr. Seel wrote. “For fifty years now that scene has kept ceaselessly passing and repassing through my mind.”

    Legitimize torture in any way and you will get this sort of use of it.

  528. #528 Ichthyic
    January 1, 2008

    The Nazi regime did not advocate torture, and it was seldom practiced on their prisoners.

    LOL

    how on earth do you take this guy seriously?

    he just gets more and more ridiculous as he goes along.

    I’m convinced he’s been trolling from the start.

  529. #529 Jamie
    January 1, 2008

    From the man who threw accusations of moral relativism around, this is rich. The men who battled through WWI did not consider that they fought in an unjust war. And the horrors planned by the Kaiser–such as the ethnic cleaning of western Belgium and a ‘Year Zero’-style reduction of France to an agrarian backwater–are no less terrifying than anything the Nazis dreamt of. Indeed, the trenches became the crucible of Nazi ideology.

    Thinking you’re right doesn’t mean that you are right. You are advocating moral relativism of the most ditzy variety. I don’t care that the Nazis felt they were doing right — I say they were wrong. And I would torture someone if that were the only way to prevent their conquest.

  530. #530 Jamie
    January 1, 2008

    Maybe the Entente Powers in WW1 were morally justified in going to war. I think it would have been better if we tried to make peace and weren’t so eager to fight. Bertrand Russell was of this opinion, and I have always thought his position wise and noble. But maybe he was wrong.

    This doesn’t make any difference to my argument. It doesn’t imply that anyone who thinks he’s doing right can ethically use torture.

  531. #531 TW
    January 1, 2008

    Jamie:

    Thinking you’re right doesn’t mean that you are right.

    Priceless. If only you could follow that line of thinking a bit further. However,

    I don’t care that the Nazis felt they were doing right — I say they were wrong. And I would torture someone if that were the only way to prevent their conquest.

    Says you dont.

  532. #532 TW
    January 1, 2008

    Jamie:

    It doesn’t imply that anyone who thinks he’s doing right can ethically use torture.

    For once I agree with you. Nothing implies that anyone who thinks he is doing right can ethically use torture.

  533. #533 Jamie
    January 1, 2008

    #524,

    You “LOLed” at my statement that the Nazi authorities didn’t condone torture and used it rarely. No accounts I’ve seen of the Nazi treatment of PoWs mention torture, except in the horrific (albeit rare) “scientific” experiments that were carried out on some. I don’t believe it was used except in rare cases. If you’re privy to any historical sources which say otherwise, then do share them.

  534. #534 TW
    January 1, 2008

    Jamie – you replied to post 524, but did you read 523?

  535. #535 Jelperman
    January 1, 2008

    I Dream Of Jeannie gives us a much more realistc way to deal with “terrorism”:

    http://daltonator.net/durandal/blog/?p=102

    When someone announces that he can justify torture, he has exposed himself as being every bit as depraved as someone who tries to rationalize child molestation. I appreciate their honesty, but I don’t want those sick fucks anywhere near a schoolyard. Maybe Chris Hansen can do a new show: To Catch a Torturer

  536. #536 Futility
    January 1, 2008

    @Jamie, #507

    The Nazi regime did not advocate torture, and it was seldom practiced on their prisoners. … Our motives were ethically justified (we were defending the world from fascism), and theirs were not.

    The first part of the statement is correct, they did not openly advocate torture, because they knew it is immoral and the whole world would see it the same way. For the very same reason, the US government tries to argue that water-boarding is not torture in defiance of the facts.
    The second part of the statement is transparently false to the extend that one has to wonder about your motivations for even uttering such nonsense. Torture was used regularly on prisoners in concentration camps and in the cells of the Gestapo, as was pointed out in other posts already. Correct, often torture was not used to find information but just to degrade the victim or allegedly for ‘medical research’. Mengele probably thought that his research is ethically justified since the victims were ‘inferior’ anyway and the results could help in curing ailments of a more important ‘race’. In these cases, the immorality of torture is blatantly apparent. The simple truth, however, is that torture is ALWAYS immoral. And not only ethically but there are strong practical arguments why a civilized society should never use torture if it wants to stay a civilized society where humans are respected. (see #355 and other posts).

    Your last statement also exemplifies your moral relativism and the resulting romanticization of the true motives. (Your reasoning is actually logically indistinguishable from somebody like Mengele who might argue his ‘research’ is usful in saving lives.) America did not enter the war because it thought it necessary to defend the free world from fascism (that was a welcomed side effect). It did it because it was attacked.
    Had the moral imperative to defend the world from fascism been the real motivation to enter the war, America would have done it much earlier since the criminality of the Nazi regime was apparent long before that. A lot of people profited from Nazi Germany (e.g. Ford) too well. And to make it absolutely clear, being a German myself, I am very grateful for the American effort to get rid of fascism. Pointing out the above complications does in no way diminish America’s heroism.

  537. #537 Ichthyic
    January 1, 2008

    No accounts I’ve seen of the Nazi treatment of PoWs mention torture

    your “accounts” consisting of episodes of “Hogan’s Heroes” no doubt.

  538. #538 Bride of Shrek
    January 1, 2008

    Jaimie,

    I’ve been to a concentration camp, one that still has many of its facilities intact. Amongst other horrors, there was one building that was a medically styled facility, complete with steel beds and straps. Along one wall is a cabinet filled with all the instruments that were used, most of them purpose-designed. Now, I used to be a nurse and even with my limited theatre experience I’m telling you, they weren’t performing tonsillectomies in there. You are kidding yourself if you believe they didn’t indulge in torture.

  539. #539 Jud
    January 1, 2008

    Jamie –

    On the chance that you are open to educating yourself on the subject of whether concentration camp inmates were routinely subjected to conditions that ought to be described as torture, I’d suggest you begin with a movie: http://www.eurekavideo.co.uk/moc/catalogue/shoah/

  540. #540 truth machine
    January 1, 2008

    Had the moral imperative to defend the world from fascism been the real motivation to enter the war, America would have done it much earlier since the criminality of the Nazi regime was apparent long before that.

    And let’s not forget the U.S. declared neutrality during the Spanish Civil War but de facto support of Franco, transferring support through … Nazi Germany.

  541. #541 truth machine
    January 1, 2008

    It doesn’t imply that anyone who thinks he’s doing right can ethically use torture.

    That includes YOU.

  542. #542 truth machine
    January 1, 2008

    Jamie – you replied to post 524, but did you read 523?

    Especially the “One can simply google nazi+torture … if one isn’t an intellectually dishonest piece of garbage like Jamie” part.

  543. #543 DeniedAntecedent
    January 2, 2008

    Jamie wrote:

    No accounts I’ve seen of the Nazi treatment of PoWs mention torture, except in the horrific (albeit rare) “scientific” experiments that were carried out on some. I don’t believe it was used except in rare cases. If you’re privy to any historical sources which say otherwise, then do share them.

    You could start here. Then, you could move on here. You could read the Nurenberg Trial files concerning, say, Hans Frank. You could read the trial files of any gestapo and ss officer tried and convicted after the war in France, Yugoslavia, Poland, the Ukraine, Belarus, Russia.

    Prior to doing all that, you could also stop talking about things you have no idea about.

  544. #544 Janine
    January 2, 2008

    Jesus Fucking H Christ, Jamie!
    All you need to do is crack open “The Nazi Doctors” by Robert Jay Lifton. There is enough material there to keep you absolutely ill for many days. How Robert Jay Lifton could keep interviewing these doctors with getting violent is beyond me.

    Jamie, there is all sorts of information out there. It is up to you to know what the fuck you are talking about. You are arguing from ignorance.

  545. #545 Jamie
    January 2, 2008

    No, the problem is not that I’m ignorant; it’s that you are stupid. The vast majority of PoWs were not tortured, and the Nazi authorities did not condone torture. My assertion was perfectly valid.

    It’s so easy to accuse people of ignorance and pretend that you’re in possession of superior knowledge. You PC-fundamentalists seem to be the worst culprits.

  546. #546 Jamie
    January 2, 2008

    The vast majority of the Nazi’s PoWs were not tortured, I intended to say. Can any of you provide citations that disprove this claim? No, so shut the fuck up.

  547. #547 Jamie
    January 2, 2008

    I don’t doubt that the Nazis tortured many people, so cut it out with the strawmen. My claim was statistical.

  548. #548 MAJeff
    January 2, 2008

    I’ve never seen someone self-Godwin in order to take the moral high ground before.

  549. #549 Janine
    January 2, 2008

    Here you go, dumbass.

    http://www.historynet.com/wars_conflicts/world_war_2/3037296.html

    Now kindly go fuck yourself.

  550. #550 Jamie
    January 2, 2008

    Sorry, but where does it mention torture? You didn’t provide any quotations from that big long article.

  551. #551 Ichthyic
    January 2, 2008

    Sorry, but where does it mention torture? You didn’t provide any quotations from that big long article.

    you’re too lazy to read it, just like you’re too lazy to research any of these things yourself.

    you constantly expect to shift the burden away from your asinine ignorance.

    frankly, I see nothing left but to just laugh at you.

    go back to watching Hogan’s Heroes for your WWII history lessons.

  552. #552 Jamie
    January 2, 2008

    I already knew that millions of Soviet soldiers were starved to death. Not to apologize for the Nazi crimes against the Soviets, but in all fairness it’s highly contestable whether the Wehrmacht could have prevented this. At any rate, starvation generally isn’t considered tantamount to undergoing torture.

  553. #553 Jamie
    January 2, 2008

    Give me a quotation from the essay which alleges that most Soviet troops were tortured. I’ve looked through the essay, and I’m telling you I don’t see anything which surprises me.

  554. #554 Janine
    January 2, 2008

    So, as long as the prisoners die, it was not torture.

    Jamie, guess what, as an intelligence gathering operation; the Gestapo sucked. Their use of torture was for the reasons PZ pointed out in the post previous to this. It was to create obedience through fear.

    As for the Wehrmacht not being part of torture and terror, I would point you to “Ordinary Men” by Christopher Browning and “The Masters Of Death” by Richard Rhodes. And yes, I do think acts of genocide is a form of torture.

  555. #555 Futility
    January 3, 2008

    @Jamie, #541

    The vast majority of PoWs were not tortured, and the Nazi authorities did not condone torture. My assertion was perfectly valid.

    If you mean by PoWs American, British, Russian, etc prisoners of war, the first part of the statement is likely to be correct, even though a lot of them died due to other forms of mistreatment and neglect. However, that’s not what you said earlier:

    The Nazi regime did not advocate torture, and it was seldom practiced on their prisoners

    (post #507 to which I replied in #532)
    The normal interpretation of the word ‘prisoners’ encompasses inmates of the concentration camps and the cells of Gestapo prisons. Here torture was used regularly.
    You should not be surprised that people here have little patience with such obviously false statements and react accordingly. Only in your narrow interpretation of the word (which you supplied later) is it a somewhat ‘perfectly valid’ assertion.
    Also, the statement that ‘the Nazi authorities did not advocate torture’ is banal and therefore dishonest. Of course, no government has ever openly admitted that it used torture, because even the worst dictator knew that it is immoral (Which is why, as I already pointed out, the US government tries to convince everybody that ‘water boarding’ is not torture). That they did not condone torture openly does not mean anything. And that they didn’t use it (or only seldomly) on PoWs doesn’t mean much either since the Nazis did torture. The historic record is unequivocal about this. So, why bother mentioning it and stirring up confusion about this by formulating sloppy statements, to what end? Are you trying to relativize their atrocities?

  556. #556 Jamie
    January 3, 2008

    No-one can produce any quotations from reliable sources which disprove my assertions. Of course I don’t doubt that the Nazis practiced torture on many occasions. This doesn’t change the fact that (a) it was done only on special occasions even in Nazi Germany, and (b) the Nazi authorities did not publicly speak in favour of it. (Hitler didn’t acknowledge the rights of the Soviets under the Hague Convention, but this in itself isn’t equivalent to encouraging torture.)

    If you think I’m trying to relativize the atrocities, I suggest you read my earlier posts before impulsively confronting me. I was merely refuting the claim that the Nazis were the bad guys in WW2 because they did torture more frequently than us. If you read the earlier exchange, you’ll see that it was those arguing against me who were trying to relativize Nazism. They seem to think that ethically approving torture to save the world from the Nazis inevitably ethically approves torture to save the world from the Allies. This would only hold if you think neither side in WW2 was “right” in any non-subjective sense — and I don’t think that. I think the ethical asymmetry was very real, and the Nazis’ occasional use of torture was not the main reason why.

  557. #557 TW
    January 3, 2008

    By Toutatis, Jamie, you are priceless. Not only do you have <0 idea about ethics you dont really understand logic. Amazing.

    @541

    No, the problem is not that I’m ignorant;

    Actually you are, and that is the problem here.

    The vast majority of PoWs were not tortured, and the Nazi authorities did not condone torture.

    Interesting assertion. It is true in the limited circumstances that lots of American and British POWs were not tortured – but compare that to the countless thousands of Russian, Scandinavian, French (etc) prisoners who were – and that the Nazi authorities did not official approve “torture” of certain classes of prisoner. What you woefully fail to realise is that the people you hold as an example are a minority. There were more Jews tortured than there were Anglo-US PoWs. There were even more Russians. Significantly, the Nazi authorities had a very different definition of what was, and what wasn’t torture.

    I await your citations which prove the vast majority of Nazi Prisoners (or even PoWs) were not tortured. Until then, stop making this claim.

    Do you really not understand the problem with your claim that torturing people to stop something you see as wrong is a GOODTHING™.

  558. #558 LCR
    January 3, 2008

    Jamie said regarding torture:

    “This doesn’t change the fact that (a) it was done only on special occasions even in Nazi Germany…”

    I think you need to define “special occasions”. Birthdays? Christmas celebrations? The birth of a first-born male child?

    I’ll have to keep this idea in mind for our next family reunion. It should really liven up the party…

  559. #559 Jamie
    January 3, 2008

    This point is completely tangential, and my original argument doesn’t even depend upon it. The reason we’re debating this is that people were pretending I made ignorant remarks. What I said was really factually correct.

    Interesting assertion. It is true in the limited circumstances that lots of American and British POWs were not tortured – but compare that to the countless thousands of Russian, Scandinavian, French (etc) prisoners who were – and that the Nazi authorities did not official approve “torture” of certain classes of prisoner.

    Countless thousands? Would you care to produce statistics showing that thousands of PoWs were tortured by the Nazis? Starvation doesn’t count as torture.

  560. #560 Janine
    January 4, 2008

    Someone should starve you and record your non-tortured state.
    Guess what, you are using the same argument Holocaust deniers use. You cannot provide an exact count, therefore the Holocaust did not happen. Your logic is tortured and fucked.

  561. #561 LCR
    January 4, 2008

    Jamie says:

    “Starvation doesn’t count as torture.”

    Well, apparently the U.S. Army considers it to be torture. From a CBS news article from 2006, here is a portion that pertains to your comment:

    “…the new Army Field Manual was released Wednesday, revising one from 1992. It also explicitly bans beating prisoners, sexually humiliating them, threatening them with dogs, depriving them of food or water, performing mock executions, shocking them with electricity, burning them, causing other pain and a technique called “water boarding” that simulates drowning, said Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence.”

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/09/06/terror/main1976599.shtml

    Well, what do you know… the starving of all of those thousands of prisoners in the concentrations camps DOES count as torture, at least to the U.S. Army. Or does it only count if the torturers themselves officially call it “torture”?

  562. #562 truth machine
    January 4, 2008

    Starvation doesn’t count as torture.

    Cretin. Intentional starvation is torture:

    “the deliberate, systematic, or wanton infliction of physical or mental suffering by one or more persons in an attempt to force another person to yield information or to make a confession or for any other reason”

  563. #563 Colugo
    January 4, 2008

    Chris Kelly, The Huffington Post, 12/3/06:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-kelly/stalag-911_b_35476.html

    “In real life, bombing Germany killed a half million civilians, but interned American and British airmen were generally treated according to the Geneva Conventions. They weren’t systematically tortured. They weren’t deliberately humiliated.”

    ——————-

    Imprisonment as a rite of passage
    Ian Thomson reviews POW: Allied Prisoners in Europe, 1939-1945 by Adrian Gilbert
    The Telegraph
    11/26/06

    “Neither Nazi Germany nor Fascist Italy fulfilled Geneva stipulations for food provision, and the POW’s hunger was often the chronic hunger unknown to free men. … In the notorious Stalag VIIIB at Lamsdorf, little could still the inmates’ gnawing hunger (though sometimes cats were eaten). … German attempts to segregate Jewish from non-Jewish POWs were often met with outrage.”

    —————————

    Wikipedia: “Berga is a town in the district of Greiz, in Thuringia, Germany. It is situated on the river Weiße Elster, 14 km southeast of Gera.

    In World War II a Labor camp was operated here to dig 17 tunnels for an underground ammunition factory. Workers were supplied by Buchenwald concentration camp and from Stalag IX-B. The latter was in contravention of the provisions of the Third Geneva Convention. Many prisoners died as a result of malnutrition, sickness and beatings.”

    New York Times, 2/27/05, ‘The Lost Soldiers of Stalag IX-B,’ Roger Cohen

    “Of the 350 young G.I.’s sent there [Berga], at least 73, or 21 percent, died in the space of 10 weeks, the highest rate of attrition among American prisoners of war in Europe.”

  564. #564 Jamie
    January 4, 2008

    OK, if you regard starvation as torture then I’m wrong. I personally wouldn’t call it torture. If one does, then one should consider the proposition that we Westerners are personally responsible for the torture of millions of people due to our not giving our excess money to charities.

    Incredible that these hypocrites here would be prepared to risk millions of lives rather than torture one terrorist — and yet in their own opinion, they have the chance to save dozens of people from torture every day, and they don’t take it. Apparently, they think the torture of one stranger is so bad that preventing it is worth the lives of millions of people — but not worth enough to keep them from their DVDs and chocolate.

  565. #565 ConcernedJoe
    January 4, 2008

    Dear Jamie, Honing in on “our” alleged shortcomings as charitable human beings coupled with a touch of the ole straw man (torturing prisoners is saving our butts – appreciate it and respect it) is cute. However the former has NOTHING to do with the conduct of a nation on the world stage and the latter has yet to prove its veracity in aggregate. Responsible citizens need to demand that their world leading nation follow laws and use effective strategies that are also as free as can be from deleterious repercussions. We are not hypocrites when we ask that our nation do this because it is responsible that we do. Further, at least speaking for myself, I do not claim to be totally unselfish, perfect, and chivalrous.

    I’ll put aside any argument about our asking our nation to be respectful of law and humanity because it supposedly represents the best of us and also the impact of its mistakes far exceeds the individual’s and carries through posterity, to ask you this: what proofs (peer reviewed studies, scientifically accepted sustained and statistically relevant results, etc.) do you have that say our playing at the lower end of the noble scale is saving our butts now and for the future?

  566. #566 David Marjanovi?, OM
    January 4, 2008

    From the man who threw accusations of moral relativism around, this is rich. […] And the horrors planned by the Kaiser–such as the ethnic cleaning of western Belgium and a ‘Year Zero’-style reduction of France to an agrarian backwater–are no less terrifying than anything the Nazis dreamt of. Indeed, the trenches became the crucible of Nazi ideology.

    The following poem by Erich Kästner is from 1931. It starts with “If we had won the war, with [sound of waves crashing against rock] and [sound of storm], Germany would be FUBAR and would be identical to a soul asylum” and ends with “fortunately we didn’t win it”. In between he makes fun of the militaristic ideology before and during WWI. I’ll translate it later, maybe — I don’t have time.

    Well, here’s the fourth stanza: “The women would have to have litters of children. One child per year. Or prison. The state needs children as conserves. And blood tastes to him like raspberry juice.” And the next stanza ends in “And God would be a German general.”

    Die andere Möglichkeit

    Wenn wir den Krieg gewonnen hätten,
    mit Wogenprall und Sturmgebraus,
    dann wäre Deutschland nicht zu retten
    und gliche einem Irrenhaus.

    Man würde uns nach Noten zähmen
    wie einen wilden Völkerstamm.
    Wir sprängen, wenn Sergeanten kämen,
    vom Trottoir und stünden stramm.

    Wenn wir den Krieg gewonnen hätten,
    dann wären wir ein stolzer Staat.
    Und preßten noch in unsern Betten
    die Hände an die Hosennaht.

    Die Frauen müßten Kinder werfen,
    Ein Kind im Jahre. Oder Haft.
    Der Staat braucht Kinder als Konserven.
    Und Blut schmeckt ihm wie Himbeersaft.

    Wenn wir den Krieg gewonnen hätten,
    dann wär der Himmel national.
    Die Pfarrer trügen Epauletten.
    Und Gott wär deutscher General.

    Die Grenze wär ein Schützengraben.
    Der Mond wär ein Gefreitenknopf.
    Wir würden einen Kaiser haben
    und einen Helm statt einem Kopf.

    Wenn wir den Krieg gewonnen hätten,
    dann wäre jedermann Soldat.
    Ein Volk der Laffen und Lafetten!
    Und ringsherum wär Stacheldraht!

    Dann würde auf Befehl geboren.
    Weil Menschen ziemlich billig sind.
    Und weil man mit Kanonenrohren
    allein die Kriege nicht gewinnt.

    Dann läge die Vernunft in Ketten.
    Und stünde stündlich vor Gericht.
    Und Kriege gäb’s wie Operetten.
    Wenn wir den Krieg gewonnen hätten —
    zum Glück gewannen wir ihn nicht!

  567. #567 David Marjanovi?, OM
    January 4, 2008

    From the man who threw accusations of moral relativism around, this is rich. […] And the horrors planned by the Kaiser–such as the ethnic cleaning of western Belgium and a ‘Year Zero’-style reduction of France to an agrarian backwater–are no less terrifying than anything the Nazis dreamt of. Indeed, the trenches became the crucible of Nazi ideology.

    The following poem by Erich Kästner is from 1931. It starts with “If we had won the war, with [sound of waves crashing against rock] and [sound of storm], Germany would be FUBAR and would be identical to a soul asylum” and ends with “fortunately we didn’t win it”. In between he makes fun of the militaristic ideology before and during WWI. I’ll translate it later, maybe — I don’t have time.

    Well, here’s the fourth stanza: “The women would have to have litters of children. One child per year. Or prison. The state needs children as conserves. And blood tastes to him like raspberry juice.” And the next stanza ends in “And God would be a German general.”

    Die andere Möglichkeit

    Wenn wir den Krieg gewonnen hätten,
    mit Wogenprall und Sturmgebraus,
    dann wäre Deutschland nicht zu retten
    und gliche einem Irrenhaus.

    Man würde uns nach Noten zähmen
    wie einen wilden Völkerstamm.
    Wir sprängen, wenn Sergeanten kämen,
    vom Trottoir und stünden stramm.

    Wenn wir den Krieg gewonnen hätten,
    dann wären wir ein stolzer Staat.
    Und preßten noch in unsern Betten
    die Hände an die Hosennaht.

    Die Frauen müßten Kinder werfen,
    Ein Kind im Jahre. Oder Haft.
    Der Staat braucht Kinder als Konserven.
    Und Blut schmeckt ihm wie Himbeersaft.

    Wenn wir den Krieg gewonnen hätten,
    dann wär der Himmel national.
    Die Pfarrer trügen Epauletten.
    Und Gott wär deutscher General.

    Die Grenze wär ein Schützengraben.
    Der Mond wär ein Gefreitenknopf.
    Wir würden einen Kaiser haben
    und einen Helm statt einem Kopf.

    Wenn wir den Krieg gewonnen hätten,
    dann wäre jedermann Soldat.
    Ein Volk der Laffen und Lafetten!
    Und ringsherum wär Stacheldraht!

    Dann würde auf Befehl geboren.
    Weil Menschen ziemlich billig sind.
    Und weil man mit Kanonenrohren
    allein die Kriege nicht gewinnt.

    Dann läge die Vernunft in Ketten.
    Und stünde stündlich vor Gericht.
    Und Kriege gäb’s wie Operetten.
    Wenn wir den Krieg gewonnen hätten —
    zum Glück gewannen wir ihn nicht!

  568. #568 Jamie
    January 4, 2008

    Talk about strawmen. I have not once tried to endorse the American government’s use of torture. I think what happened in Guantanamo was immoral, and a diplomatic fiasco. What I’ve been saying is that under very restricted circumstances torture might be ethical.

    The only sane objection you can raise is that it’s pointless to discuss these unrealistic “restricted circumstances”. However, the hysterical, mobbish reaction I elicited in merely mentioning them suggests otherwise. Many liberals won’t listen to any moral argument that has the whiff of being politically incorrect. They abide by immutable moral axioms, whose sacrosanctness is not to be challenged. This is a dangerous, faith-based ideology, and I don’t like it.

  569. #569 Jamie
    January 4, 2008

    My last post was addressed at Concerned Joe.

    Another important point is one Sam Harris underscores well in The End of Faith. It’s hard to imagine how torturing a terrorist could be justified now, but maybe in 50 years’ time the world will be substantially different. Maybe if the new Al Qaeda is armed with nuclear and biological weapons it will be ethical to torture someone just to find out the whereabouts of the syndicate HQ. At the very least, it’s something that should be given thought.

    (Note that no-one is suggesting that torture should be legal. Ethical and legal are two different things.)

  570. #570 Janine
    January 4, 2008

    Look out everyone, he has the ‘ticking time bomb scenario’.

  571. #571 Tulse
    January 4, 2008

    Maybe if the new Al Qaeda is armed with nuclear and biological weapons it will be ethical to torture someone just to find out the whereabouts of the syndicate HQ. At the very least, it’s something that should be given thought.

    Jesus Cthulhu Christ, Jamie, what do think we’ve been doing here if not giving this issue some thought? People have provided extremely well-thought out arguments here and in the other thread, and you go and simply repeat the above scenario as if the arguments never happened.

  572. #572 Jusef, Oakland,Ca
    January 4, 2008

    The so-called argument over whether or not waterboarding constsitutes torture is disingenuous and morally and ethically indefensible. The very simple and very obvious, common sense litmus test is, “Is it something we would be outraged about if it were done to my child by another government?” This particular litmus test is derived from your Bible and bespeaks the so called christian message of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
    Come on now..your not backing away from the Bible now are ya?

  573. #573 Jamie
    January 4, 2008

    Jesus Cthulhu Christ, Jamie, what do think we’ve been doing here if not giving this issue some thought? People have provided extremely well-thought out arguments here and in the other thread, and you go and simply repeat the above scenario as if the arguments never happened.

    “[E]xtremely well-thought out [sic] arguments”? Are you kidding me? Most of the supposed arguments that were trotted out against me don’t even make sense. I’ve easily rebutted all the ones which were in part coherent, and I don’t intend to repeat myself.

  574. #574 TW
    January 4, 2008

    Jamie, have you read a different blog than this one to come to your conclusion? You certainly haven’t “rebutted” (easily or otherwise) any of the ones made in this universe.

    You think that your constant assertion of something counts as a rebuttal. You ignore everything said against you and weasel your way out of questions. Well done.

    Now, importantly, you haven’t presented a time when torture could be ethical. Your closest example, your cherished ticking bomb scenario, is not self-consistent. For it to be “ethical” in the manner you demand, you need to know enough information for torture to be unnecessary. Even with a self-Godwin, you haven’t rebutted anything.

    You are clueless. You are doubly clueless about just how clueless you are.

    Wonderful. Have you got an agent lined up for your stage show yet? You will be a hit.

  575. #575 Jamie
    January 4, 2008

    You think that your constant assertion of something counts as a rebuttal. You ignore everything said against you and weasel your way out of questions. Well done.

    “Constant assertion”? Don’t make me laugh. The “arguments” used against me are hardly worth addressing. Here are the more coherent ones:

    Someone pointed out that my scenarios are all unrealistic. This is irrelevant, as many people here have given unflinchingly explicit descriptions of what they would do even if the scenarios I posited came to pass. Another imbecile (perhaps it was you) tried to argue from the reality of intrinsic human selfishness. No, I wouldn’t torture my family to save a million people — this hardly means that doing so wouldn’t be ethically justified. Even more ludicrously, people have tried to resort to a sort of dopey moral relativism — if Jamie can use torture to do what he feels is right, what’s to stop Nazis from torturing to do what’s right in their view? One could use exactly the same silly line of reasoning to prove that the law shouldn’t be able to punish criminals.

    Those were the main “arguments” against me, and they are all intellectually bankrupt. Actually, there was some valueless equivocation about the putative unreliability of torture — no-one can explain how unreliable, or even why it’s unreliable. (The victim lies to his captors to gain temporary relief. So what? He’ll be tortured again, maybe worse, when they find out he’s lying.) The only “evidence” that it’s “unreliable” is the personal opinion of a few politically-motivated bureaucrats.

    You think that your constant assertion of something counts as a rebuttal. You ignore everything said against you and weasel your way out of questions. Well done.

    I have no intention of responding to every part of all of the dozens of posts addressed to me. I’m not weaseling my way out of anything. If you have a question you feel is relevant, tell me what it is rather than ever vaguely referring to something off-stage.

  576. #576 ConcernedJoe
    January 4, 2008

    Jamie Jamie Jamie .. you never addressed my question — not even close – and your so called rebuttal was like so a denial of your own words … oh let me stop trying ..

    JUST ANSWER MY OBJECTIVE AND SIMPLE QUESTION FACTUALLY: “what proofs (peer reviewed studies, scientifically accepted sustained and statistically relevant results, etc.) do you have that say our playing at the lower end of the noble scale is saving our butts now and for the future?”

    If you have legit studies that actually assess risk-reward and suggest the risk-reward is assuredly worth it then you can intelligently discuss it here on those grounds. Else you are postulating an extremely unlikely scenario to support a course of action with unsubstantiated effectiveness. Hardly an argument. You may be right in your GUESS or INTUITION. But don’t say you well present your case. I have backed off any case I might make.. I leave you to answer the question and use data to show us the error of our inclinations.

  577. #577 Laen
    January 4, 2008

    It’s very simple Jamie.

    1. Present your credentials for being an expert on torture.

    Do your’s somehow out weigh the multiple examples from experts(CIA, FBI, British, French intelligence agencies) claiming it’s not effective? If so what is your evidence? The plural of anecdote is not data. Are there hard numbers? Nope, not that I’ve seen, but I’m far more inclined to believe the people who have actual knowledge of torture over the guy on a blog who uses movies as examples.

    2. All of your examples assume knowledge that you wouldn’t have before starting the torture. You assume the person you are torturing has the information you want and just as important you know what information you are looking for. The real world isn’t that simple. For example in Iraq, the guys that place the bombs don’t make them, don’t know who makes them, and don’t know where they are made.

  578. #578 truth machine
    January 4, 2008

    OK, if you regard starvation as torture then I’m wrong. I personally wouldn’t call it torture. If one does, then one should consider the proposition that we Westerners are personally responsible for the torture of millions of people due to our not giving our excess money to charities.

    “the deliberate, systematic, or wanton infliction of physical or mental suffering … for [some] reason”, moron.

    Everyone here is wrong but Jamie. Everyone here is an imbecile but Jamie. Hey, that’s plausible.

  579. #579 TW
    January 4, 2008

    Jamie, I notice you are proficient in using words you dont understand. Well done.

    You avoid answering any questions with self important dismissals (“The “arguments” used against me are hardly worth addressing”) and you say it with almost every post – which is why it is a constant assertion.

    You accuse others of moral relativism without understanding your own position is relative.

    You were funny a while back, you actually had a chance with your stage show, but now your material is old and boring. Come up with something new.

  580. #580 Tulse
    January 5, 2008

    there was some valueless equivocation about the putative unreliability of torture — no-one can explain how unreliable, or even why it’s unreliable.

    I would think that the person advocating actions contrary to the Geneva Convention and all civilized behaviour would bear the burden of proving that torture is reliable.

    The victim lies to his captors to gain temporary relief. So what? He’ll be tortured again, maybe worse, when they find out he’s lying.

    In the case of the “ticking time bomb”, which is the scenario continually hauled out, lying accomplishes the terrorist’s goal — the bomb goes off before the authorities determine he’s lying.

New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.