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 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?

  4. #4 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.

  5. #5 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.

  6. #6 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. . . .

  7. #7 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.

  8. #8 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”.

  9. #9 Laen
    December 29, 2007

    “torture can work to some extent sometimes”

    Coel

    So can astrology.

  10. #10 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.

  11. #11 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.

  12. #12 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.

  13. #13 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.

  14. #14 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?

  15. #15 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.”

  16. #16 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.

  17. #17 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.

  18. #18 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?

  19. #19 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.

  20. #20 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.

  21. #21 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.

  22. #22 Avekid
    December 29, 2007

    Apologies. I’m a bad precoffee typist.

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

  23. #23 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?

  24. #24 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?

  25. #25 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.

  26. #26 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.

  27. #27 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.

  28. #28 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.

  29. #29 Steve LaBonne
    December 29, 2007

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

  30. #30 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.

  31. #31 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.

  32. #32 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?

  33. #33 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.

  34. #34 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.

  35. #35 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.

  36. #36 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.

  37. #37 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.

  38. #38 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.

  39. #39 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.

  40. #40 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.”

  41. #41 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.

  42. #42 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.

  43. #43 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?

  44. #44 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.

  45. #45 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”.

  46. #46 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.

  47. #47 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.

  48. #48 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.

  49. #49 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

    Gregory Earl

    PZ-hating creationist troll.

  50. #50 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.

  51. #51 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.

  52. #52 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.

  53. #53 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?

  54. #54 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.

  55. #55 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.

  56. #56 Laser Potato
    December 29, 2007

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

  57. #57 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 ?
    .

  58. #58 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.

  59. #59 truth machine
    December 29, 2007

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

  60. #60 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?

  61. #61 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.

  62. #62 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.

  63. #63 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”.

  64. #64 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.

  65. #65 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.

  66. #66 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.)

  67. #67 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.)

  68. #68 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.

  69. #69 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.

  70. #70 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?

  71. #71 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.

  72. #72 Ichthyic
    December 29, 2007

    as if morality were absolute and sprang directly from their godhead.

    or pulled from some dark, hole, somewhere…

  73. #73 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.

  74. #74 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.

  75. #75 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.

  76. #76 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.

  77. #77 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.

  78. #78 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.

  79. #79 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.

  80. #80 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.

  81. #81 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.

  82. #82 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.

  83. #83 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.

  84. #84 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.

  85. #85 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.

  86. #86 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.

  87. #87 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.

  88. #88 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.

  89. #89 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.

  90. #90 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.

  91. #91 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?

  92. #92 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.

  93. #93 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.

  94. #94 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?

  95. #95 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.

  96. #96 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.

  97. #97 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.

  98. #98 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?

  99. #99 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.

  100. #100 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.”

  101. #101 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.

  102. #102 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.

  103. #103 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.

  104. #104 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.

  105. #105 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.

  106. #106 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.

  107. #107 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.

  108. #108 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.

  109. #109 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?

  110. #110 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…

  111. #111 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.

  112. #112 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.

  113. #113 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.

  114. #114 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…

  115. #115 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.

  116. #116 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.

  117. #117 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.

  118. #118 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.

  119. #119 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.

  120. #120 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.

  121. #121 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.

  122. #122 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 ?

  123. #123 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    December 31, 2007

    Amen, Jud.

  124. #124 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.

  125. #125 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.

  126. #126 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.

  127. #127 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.

  128. #128 truth machine
    January 1, 2008

    It doesn’t imply that anyone who thinks he’s doing right can ethically use torture.

    That includes YOU.

  129. #129 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.

  130. #130 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.

  131. #131 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.

  132. #132 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.

  133. #133 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.

  134. #134 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.

  135. #135 MAJeff
    January 2, 2008

    I’ve never seen someone self-Godwin in order to take the moral high ground before.

  136. #136 Janine
    January 2, 2008

    Here you go, dumbass.

    http://www.historynet.com/wars_conflicts/world_war_2/3037296.html

    Now kindly go fuck yourself.

  137. #137 Jamie
    January 2, 2008

    Sorry, but where does it mention torture? You didn’t provide any quotations from that big long article.

  138. #138 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.

  139. #139 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.

  140. #140 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.

  141. #141 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.

  142. #142 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?

  143. #143 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.

  144. #144 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™.

  145. #145 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…

  146. #146 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.

  147. #147 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.

  148. #148 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”?

  149. #149 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”

  150. #150 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.”

  151. #151 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.

  152. #152 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?

  153. #153 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!

  154. #154 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!

  155. #155 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.

  156. #156 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.)

  157. #157 Janine
    January 4, 2008

    Look out everyone, he has the ‘ticking time bomb scenario’.

  158. #158 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.

  159. #159 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?

  160. #160 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.

  161. #161 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.

  162. #162 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.

  163. #163 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.

  164. #164 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.

  165. #165 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.

  166. #166 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.

  167. #167 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.

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