Hitchens under torture

Christopher Hitchens' views on war in the Middle East often infuriate me, even while I greatly enjoyed his views on religion. My respect for him goes up, though, because he has done something I wouldn't: to determine whether it really was torture, he had himself waterboarded by the US military (and if you relish the thought of watching Hitchens actually being tortured, it was recorded on video).

You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it "simulates" the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning--or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure. The "board" is the instrument, not the method. You are not being boarded. You are being watered. This was very rapidly brought home to me when, on top of the hood, which still admitted a few flashes of random and worrying strobe light to my vision, three layers of enveloping towel were added. In this pregnant darkness, head downward, I waited for a while until I abruptly felt a slow cascade of water going up my nose. Determined to resist if only for the honor of my navy ancestors who had so often been in peril on the sea, I held my breath for a while and then had to exhale and--as you might expect--inhale in turn. The inhalation brought the damp cloths tight against my nostrils, as if a huge, wet paw had been suddenly and annihilatingly clamped over my face. Unable to determine whether I was breathing in or out, and flooded more with sheer panic than with mere water, I triggered the pre-arranged signal and felt the unbelievable relief of being pulled upright and having the soaking and stifling layers pulled off me. I find I don't want to tell you how little time I lasted.

The answer is clear.

I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong." Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.

It is a dreadful act to perform on the subject, and it degrades those who do it. I'm ashamed to admit that I would like to see all of the proponents of torture in this awful war subjected to this treatment; it is by an act of conscience that we have to say it must not be allowed to happen to anyone.

(via Cycle Ninja)

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and i would happily waterboard pelosi, reid, hoyer and the rest of the now-majority dems who stood by and let this happen in my name. they had their mandate. they failed.

It's all about interpretation, don't you know.

All you believers in matter think that evidence should decide these things. But when you have a god about whom nothing is known (except via the Bible--that's always implicit) upon whom definitions of design and torture depends, then you can't say that waterboarding is torture or that evolution fits the evidence.

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

Hitchens has been wrong about Iraq and a lot of other things, but by God he's got a pair.

to determine whether it really was torture, he had himself waterboarded by the US military

Your respect for him went up? Guess what? The rest of us with more than four sober brain cells already frigging knew it was torture. Call me when he stops foaming at the mouth about how great the war is.

I'm ashamed to admit that I would like to see all of the proponents of torture in this awful war subjected to this treatment; it is by an act of conscience that we have to say it must not be allowed to happen to anyone.

Conscience? Not gonna work with the current White House occupants. Check this: interrogators at Guantanamo were directly taught from a study of Chinese interrogation techniques that were used to elicit false confessions from American prisoners:

link

Basically the unprincipled pricks in our government decided we would, after all, do unto others what had been done unto us.

By minimalist (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Saw this earlier today after an email from a mate - it's deeply deeply disturbing to watch - but should be shown as widely as possible. I agree with Tom #3 - he surely has got some cojones on him.

As a rather beleaguered lefty Brit, might I suggest Bush, Blair and Brown as our next contestants...

I infuriates me when someone blithely insists that treating people in this manner is somehow our sovereign right in matters of "national security." There is a pragmatic reson we punish cops for physical coercion and abuse - because the information it illicits is unreliable.

Nice post, PZ. I think Hitchens summed it up nicely when he offered that a man with nothing to give up - an innocent man - would quite literally go insane.

All the proponents of this treatment like to use the "known terrorist" qualifier to their hypothetical questions, as in "If you had a 'known terrorist' who knew where a bomb was..." The problem is, with the competency shown by this administration, no one should have a shred of faith in the fact that all 750+ detainees on Gitmo are actually "known terrorists."

(In fact, recent investigations have shown that many of them are not, in fact, terrorists.)
http://www.mcclatchydc.com/detainees/story/38773.html

The simple fact is that - like the death penalty - until we perfect the means of determination, any finite or horrific act upon a detainee or prisoner cannot be legally defended as justifiable punishment by law. In some cases, such action may very well be justified - pragmatically, if even though completely ignorant of the moral debate. But until we can be sure it will not be wrongfully applied, it cannot exist as a national policy of action.

I was hoping you'd pick this up, PZ. I got an email from a crazed, Bible-spewing, fundy blog-reader of mine who completely skipped the whole bloody message Hitchens was trying to point out, and was simply overcome with glee at the video of Hitchens being tortured.

This lunatic sounded like he was straight out of the inquisition, and I damn near lost my lunch reading his email.

I imagine that Hitchens getting tortured is about as close to Christian porn as you can get for these sick fucks.

Anyway, that was a horrible thing to watch, and I don't understand how we, as a nation, can get away with this. It's disgusting, and it makes me ashamed to be an American. We almost deserve the bombs dropped on us for allowing actions such as these.

I'll never forgive my country for being so vile.

@brokenSoldier, #7:

Even /if/ the means of determination are perfect, they still are human beings and /every/ human being has certain inalienable rights, to his dignity, for example. Death penalty, torture, whathaveyou are wrong, no matter what.

Even if you could theoretically save other lives, their human rights do not count more than those of a criminal.

By AnonCoward23 (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

First drink of water he's had in decades! I think he was shocked.

Kudos to Hitchens for putting his views to the test and being honest about the result. But there is still part of me that screams, "Duh, you couldn't figure out that it would be terrifying?"

Trying to downplay waterboarding is a brand willful ignorance that the Bushies have relied on for years, and Hitchens has played his small part.

If we torture an innocent person, we can be damn sure he will seek redress by any means necessary. If we torture a guilty person, we lose moral authority and our complaints will fall on deaf ears when 'our own' are tortured, or when we try to criticize torture in despotic nations like Burma.

I have come to the conclusion that come Novermber you Americans have a choice.

OK, you already knew that of course, but I mean a choice between whether your country can continue to be considered part of the civilised world. Elect Obama and I think you will. He will have some work to do, repairing the damage done by Bush but I think many will be prepared to wait for him to do that. If McCain gets elected though I think Europe should really consider its relationship with the US.

By Matt Penfold (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Even if you could theoretically save other lives, their human rights do not count more than those of a criminal.

Posted by: AnonCoward23 | July 2, 2008 4:38 PM

Which is why I stated in my post that their type of pragmatic justification (saving others' lives) was "completely ignorant of the moral debate" on that subject. I in no way insinuated that their justification was supported, but I'm sure if you go back and read it again, my post clearly stated that I'm opposed to such conduct. But just in case, I'll leave you with the first sentence again, just to show you (again) that I don't give any credibility to the government's justification:

I infuriates me when someone blithely insists that treating people in this manner is somehow our sovereign right in matters of "national security."

(misspelling included...I should be It)

In short, you're preaching to the choir. I was simply pointing to one of the gaping holes in their legal arguments, since a court is where this fight will actually take place.

Disturbing video to watch,sure is.....
The man has balls,esp given the 15ooo cigs a year he's got in him,wasnt without risk for him either !
@BrokenSoldier :
Can one ever be sure that any given practice of treating detainees of a government or country will not be wrongfully applied? Therefore youre better off,if you want to make sure,to not have torture practices or the death penalty in the first place.

One reason I oppose torture is that I would not be willing to torture anyone myself. And I cannot ask that someone does something on my behalf unless I am willing to it myself. I feel the same way about the death penalty. I would not be prepared to execute someone, so I cannot ask others to do it for me. I often think that selecting an executioner from the list of voters, like you do juries, could well bring an end to the death penalty. If the public want it, they have to do it.

By Matt Penfold (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Wow, I think I would crack if they just made me listen to that music for 5 minutes.

Why is this such an abstraction for people? A friend and I tried this on each other two years ago and within ten minutes we knew all that we needed. Go out and try it yourself, and invite others to try. You don't have to go for any endurance records, and you can do it unrestrained (and without a hood) so you can always move away from the water. Just have the experience once and that's the end of the discussion.

OK, let me add a countervailing point of view. As far as I can see, it is legal and morally acceptable to perform atrocities like burning people alive with phosphorus or napalm, dismembering them with bombs or shells and leaving them to bleed to death in the desert, burying them alive by running over their position with a tank or collapsing a building on top of them, etc, etc.
However, once they are in custody it's not legal or morally acceptable to safely terrify them into thinking they are going to die, or, for that matter, even to seriously humiliate them. Why is this?

I also find the pragmatic argument - that the information gained from torture is unreliable - a bit dubious too. Didn't the Nazis have great success rounding up the French Resistance because of information gained through torture? Hasn't torture been used with success by pretty much everybody throughout time?

By devil's advocate (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

"Elect Obama and I think you will. He will have some work to do, repairing the damage done by Bush but I think many will be prepared to wait for him to do that. If McCain gets elected though I think Europe should really consider its relationship with the US."

And the UK parliament never did hold a vote of no confidence against Tony Blair because....??

I kept waiting for that shoe to drop and it never did, much to my disappointment.

Well, kudos for Hitchens for putting himself to the test, and kudos to him also for admitting that waterboarding is torture, something so many of his fellow war propagandists and Bush enablers deny.

Awful as it undoubtedly was for him, though, the usual recipients of this form of verschärfte Vernehmung can't make it stop by giving a pre-arranged hand signal. Hitchen's "torture" : genuine torture by the Americans :: S&M play involving a safeword : rape by a psychopathic sexual sadist.

Hitchens does well to emphasise that he would have cofessed to anything and the information obtained through torture is "not all that reliable". But further than that, the whole idea behind guantanamo and the secret prisons and the terror scares is to induce a climate of fear to prevent people lynching those who are happily plundering the public koffers. False confessions are just fine if there's no real threat, and the government's desire to use torture reinforces the idea that the threat is real.

meanwhile, the wars crank on, the oil flows, the opium production soars, and innocent people get frozen, cooked, waterboarded, humiliated.....

I'm surprised Hitchens did this. I thought he was just a war-mongering windbag. Courageous.

The FOX reporter who had himself waterboarded reached an entirely different conclusion.

Go figure

Torture is excellent at generating information; it is terrible at discerning true information from false. The Nazi's were able to get results in fighting the French Resistance because they didn't much care about their false positive rate. Ditto the Inquisition, the witch trials, and other torture-using regimes.

I tip my hat to Hitchens; I imagine he suspected it would be awful, but he was willing to put himself in that position to experience it firsthand and report the results. Good for him.

Can one ever be sure that any given practice of treating detainees of a government or country will not be wrongfully applied?

Posted by: clinteas | July 2, 2008 4:54 PM

My short answer would be no, we can't. And actually, my long answer would be about the same. In my opinion we, as humans, are still too irrational and emotional as a whole to be capable of ensuring such a thing. And I don't think our society, considering who and how we are as individuals, will ever advance past the point which the possibility of individual greed can occasionally surface and corrupt.

But that wasn't the point of my post. Just because I'm making a specific argument as to why this aministration should not use something does not mean that I advocate its use by any other group. And simply because my argument was limited to the pragmatic and legal aspects of their arguments does not mean that I don't hold a position in the moral context as well, even though I left it out of that particular post.

Sorry, but I just can't get myself all worked up with outrage over a few piece of shit terrorists that are left breathing after this procedure was used on them... They certainly wouldn't leave any of you enlightened ones breathing if they had a chance to get their hands on you infidels.

"And the UK parliament never did hold a vote of no confidence against Tony Blair because....??

I kept waiting for that shoe to drop and it never did, much to my disappointment."

Actually the palimentary Labour party kind of did have a no-confidence vote. It was not a formal vote but it became clear he no longer had the support of the majority of his MPs. Of course that is not the same as a no-confidence vote on the floor of the house, and all parties should be ashamed of that. Personally I would be happy to see Blair stand trial at the Hague for what he did over Iraq.

By Matt Penfold (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

It is a dreadful act to perform on the subject, and it degrades those who do it. I'm ashamed to admit that I would like to see all of the proponents of torture in this awful war subjected to this treatment; it is by an act of conscience that we have to say it must not be allowed to happen to anyone.
You would like to see waterboarding done on them, yet it's an outrage if it's done on fanatics who want to behead all infidels and no doubt apply torture themselves with even greater zeal? I hope that isn't white guilt speaking again.

Torture is horrible when it's done on anyone. Regardless of their crimes. Full stop. Of course, I doubt you were serious with that incredible statement.

He would have lasted longer if they used a good cognac instead.

Torture is excellent at generating information

Let's be more precise about this:

"Torture is excellent at generating confessions."

"Confessions" is a more accurate description of this. "Information" suggests intel, the word "confession" lays the truth of this information bare.

By Lee Brimmicombe-Wood (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Hi Matt Penfold,

I understand your argument, but I think it falls flat in some respects. It's likely you are a meat eater, but my best guess is that you are unwilling to butcher each cow you eat. You might have an aversion to cutting people open to perform surgery, even if you were trained in medicine. I guess what I'm trying to say is that you can't say an action is amoral because you aren't comfortable performing it.

I'm completely with you on torture and the death penalty though!

Sorry, but I just can't get myself all worked up with outrage over a few piece of shit terrorists that are left breathing after this procedure was used on them...

How do you know they are terrorists? How can you be sure that they are not innocents who have been terrified into a confession?

By Lee Brimmicombe-Wood (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

If we torture a guilty person, we lose moral authority and our complaints will fall on deaf ears when 'our own' are tortured

We've already lost it. Given the discussion of waterboarding, who can keep from feeling queasy when they recall Bush's insinuating that Iraqis televised display of captured US troops was a "war crime"? OMG waterboard me, but don't put me on TeeVee?

Against enemies that are willing to cut a bound man's head off and televise it, it's kind of ridiculous to say "now that they know we torture, they're going to be really mean to any of us they capture." Sorry, but it's not capable of getting much worse. The remaining "moral authority" we can reach for is a statement along the lines of "if you torture one of us, we'll repay you one hundredfold - and we'll be as indiscriminate as you are." We've already demonstrated that we're the only motherfuckers on earth that are so hard-assed we'll nuke a city full of civilians and that we'll assemble a sham coalition to follow us in wars of aggression. I don't think there are any P.R. points left for us to lose, really. :( We're fooling ourselves if we think it's respect, rather than fear, that affects most of the world's response to us.

I am left with respect for Hitchens' putting a wet rag where his mouth is. He appears to have more balls than all of Congress, The Justice Department, and the National Security Council.

There's got to be a joke about scotch-and-soda-boarding in here but I just can't make it.

"Sorry, but I just can't get myself all worked up with outrage over a few piece of shit terrorists that are left breathing after this procedure was used on them... They certainly wouldn't leave any of you enlightened ones breathing if they had a chance to get their hands on you infidels."

You despise the terrorists yet you seem to use them as your benchmark for what constitutes moral and ethical behaviour. A "what we do is ok as long as it is not as bad as what they do" attitude. Personally I set my standards a bit higher.

We can leave aside the fact that we cannot be sure all those tortured are terrorists. That much should be obvious even to you.

By Matt Penfold (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

@#29:

They certainly wouldn't leave any of you enlightened ones breathing if they had a chance to get their hands on you infidels.

Posted by: Sandy

And we should imitate them because......?

This is, IMO, a morally and ethically bankrupt point of view.

The waterboarding thing makes me sick to my stomach. I was raised on the belief that our country stood for something, and I joined the Army and served under this obvious misconception. I always felt that our handling of the Iraq war was atrocious, but I figured it was just bad decisions and general ignorance.

Then the waterboarding thing. I hang my head in shame with the knowledge that our government would ever condone this type of treatment of ANYone. Absolute shame...

By Jeff Arnold (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Wow, he lasted less than 30 seconds. The music was annoying, though.

By Splatador (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

"I understand your argument, but I think it falls flat in some respects. It's likely you are a meat eater, but my best guess is that you are unwilling to butcher each cow you eat. You might have an aversion to cutting people open to perform surgery, even if you were trained in medicine. I guess what I'm trying to say is that you can't say an action is amoral because you aren't comfortable performing it."

Actually I have a small holding and have killed my own chickens. I have also reared lambs for slaughter, and was involved when the were slaughtered on site. I did not carry out the deed myself becuase I lack the skill and experience not to cause unnecessary suffering.

Also it is not just a case of feeling uncomfortable. I have done a number of things that I did not find it comfortable doing. It is a matter of not being willing to do something. I would, I hope, simply refuse to torture someone.

By Matt Penfold (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

#21:I also find the pragmatic argument - that the information gained from torture is unreliable - a bit dubious too. Didn't the Nazis have great success rounding up the French Resistance because of information gained through torture? Hasn't torture been used with success by pretty much everybody throughout time?

No, they didn't. They had much better success with getting people to turn in their neighbors. And has been pointed out already, the Nazis didn't care too much about false positives.

The Soviets didn't torture for information. They tortured as punishment, or to make an example, or just for the hell of it. But it didn't produce reliable intelligence.

It's not too difficult to break someone. The problem is, they say anything they think the interrogator wants to hear, just to make it stop. It's great at producing confessions, not so much at reliable intelligence. So it depends on what you mean by "success."

As far as I can see, it is legal and morally acceptable to perform atrocities like burning people alive with phosphorus or napalm, dismembering them with bombs or shells and leaving them to bleed to death in the desert, burying them alive by running over their position with a tank or collapsing a building on top of them, etc, etc. - devil's advocate

Actually the first of these is generally held to be contrary to the laws of war, specifically section 2, article 23 of the Hague convention of 1899, which among other things forbids belligerents "To employ arms, projectiles, or material of a nature to cause superfluous injury". I think the same may be true of some of your other examples, but the point is that even in war, it has not been held at least since 1864 (First Geneva Convention) that everything is permissible.

Another point not yet raised is what permitting torture does to the torturers, both individually and as a society. clearly this was not a consideration for the Nazis or for Stalin, but it should be for a democracy. Once you permit torture, you need a corps of torturers, rules about who may torture whom, when, and how, and people to decide these rules, and torture equipment manufacturers - you create a torture industry. Actually, I believe most large states have one already, if primarily for export - but this is something to be fought!

By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

BTW - welcome back brokenSoldier!

By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

How do you know they are terrorists?

Indeed. There was an hour-long session on BBC earlier this week ("the interview") with a Saudi man who had been sold to the americans by the Pakistani secret police. He spent 6 years in Gitmo. The BBC interviewer was very sympathetic and accepted at face value his story of having been in Pakistan for innocent purposes and the interview closed with the man claiming that he had been tortured but was too ashamed to talk about it or give specifics.

Without having heard any evidence, it's impossible to form an opinion of his guilt or innocence even if I wanted to - so I am left assuming that the whole thing was a monstrous mistake on the part of the US Government. From listening to the interview, I am absolutely certain that the vast majority of people around the world who hear it will believe that the man was wrongfully incarcerated and tortured. The P.R. damage has been done and even if we ever start to deny it, nobody'll believe us.

Send Bush and Alberto Gonzales to The Hague!

Sandy - we're supposed to be the good guys. Whatever you feelings towards terrorists, if you want to stay being a good guy you have to walk the walk, not make excuses.

I have mostly liberal views, but I can see torture being justified in cases were there is very good reason to believe someone has knowledge about an imminent attack. That said, I don't know that I truest intelligence agencies to make the "very good reason" call.

"It's great at producing confessions, not so much at reliable intelligence."

I'm sure many reliable confessions have been induced by good cognac.

Sandy #29": Sorry, but I just can't get myself all worked up with outrage over a few piece of shit terrorists that are left breathing after this procedure was used on them...

What terrorists? The persons who are being subjected to waterboarding are people who have only just now won a court case asking that the government show the evidence that they are indeed terrorists.

By Chiroptera (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

It is interesting to note that in the second world war, when the UK's survival as an independant nation was as stake, at least in the first part of the war, there no recourse to torture as a means of extracting information. Instead prisoners were studied, and those though ameniable were slected for interrogation by skilled personnel. Those interrogators used to spend hours preparing for just a single hour of interrogation.

The US does not even have the excuse its existance is at stake.

By Matt Penfold (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

I think things like this happen because their is such enormous public/political pressure for results, but unfortunately directed in a destructive direction. To say the military hierarchy is unethical or unprincipled is a bit facile and absurd. Their job specifically is to aggressively pursue American interest; considering the enormous pressure for results placed upon them, adding to the turmoil of guerrilla warfare, it is no surprise that all means available would be exercised, and that human rights infractions occur. It is nearly obligatory to respond to such a mountainous burden in such a way. It is the inevitable nature of war.
The atrocities that have happened are certainly regrettable but they are just symptoms of the root crime here: the military was put in Iraq, fundie central, without a plan, without it's homework done, with faulty intelligence, minimal international support, and no clear just cause. Not to mention the entire world demanding smooth success. Such circumstances guarantee desperation. Blame Washington for placing us in this debacle, not the military.

They certainly wouldn't leave any of you enlightened ones breathing if they had a chance to get their hands on you infidels.

Ah, that makes torture all right, then.

'We can only win by being as barbarous as they.' Is that how the Great War on Terror should be prosecuted? Not least when other wars have shown torture to be counterproductive.

For example, it's notable that the Portugese, who in the '60s and '70s kept a lid on insurgency across an empire in three widely disparate African nations, and did so on a shoestring compared to America's expenditure in Vietnam, managed to do so without recourse to torture. They regarded it as unreliable and counterproductive, as atrocity tends to turn hearts and minds from your cause, not towards it. Compare the Portugese experience with that of the torture-sanctioning French in Algeria, where malfeasance was rife, and you have a salutary lesson in the ineffectiveness of torture as a tool.

It was interesting that one of the few exceptions to the Portugese no torture rule was an anomaly, when in 1971 a brutal Colonel, Armindo Vidiera, was installed in Tete district in Mozambique. His systematically applied terror program came to the attention of the authorities and he was dismissed following the tragedy at Wiriyamu in 1972. But the damage has been done and Portugal never fully regained the confidence of the population there.

By Lee Brimmicombe-Wood (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

@#5: I read about this today in several papers; most articles quote Senator Carl Levin. This one, for example:
http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/07/02/america/02detain.php
I'm still stunned by his statments. First he says that

after reviewing the 1957 article that "every American would be shocked" by the origin of the training document.

As if the origin of the document is what makes torture so horrifying. Would the methods be any less terrible and shameful if they were an invention of the US?

"What makes this document doubly stunning is that these were techniques to get false confessions (...) people say we need intelligence, and we do. But we don't need false intelligence."

Like several people have been saying: There is no form of torture that produces accurate information only, end of story. When you do something to people that makes their first priority to make the pain stop, they'll say anything to make it stop. Otherwise, why would so many people have confessed to practising witchcraft under torture?

It doesn't matter who invented the method. It's wrong. It wouldn't be any less wrong if it produced 100% accurate information -- assuming that what the victim is asked can even be answered with total accuracy, and I suspect that it can't.

Horrible!!! Same thing almost as witch dunking. Welcome to the dark ages.
I love Hitchens debates, but hate his politics. Maybe this will change them.
#11 - I'd appreciate an upgrade in your vocabulary. Thankyou.

"It's great at producing confessions, not so much at reliable intelligence."

What's the evidence for this?

If one assumes that torture is part of a general intelligence-gathering operation in which confessions can be somewhat cross-checked and the results fed back to the torture chamber, one should be able to meter the punishment against the accuracy of the information received and train subjects to tell more of the truth.

By devil's advocate (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

As I have stated elsewhere, have been waterboarded. I think I lasted about 20 seconds using every bit of will power.

Can torture result in useful information? Yes, it can and this is the justification for using it. The idea that 10% of useful information is produced makes some people think it is worthwhile. I do not. Like being a slavemaster, being a torturer degrades a person, unless they are already so degraded that torturing an Arab because he is a "raghead" is ok. Simple racism/bigotry makes is easy to torture or hold a slave.

I want my country, my USA to stop using torture because it is wrong, it is always wrong, it demeans us as much as it does the victims. I grew up thinking my country was great because we did try to spread our ideas of right and wrong, our sense of democracy around the world. OK, don't really think that anymore. I do not really believe we need to export our system, certainly not now when it is broken. However, the US of my youth was against torture. It was not just illegal, it was wrong. It is still wrong, even if Bush and company have tried to spread a fig leaf over the utter nakedness of its wrongness.

Is war wrong, bombing and shooting? I am sure somewhere above in a post not yet read, this will pop up. Yes, war is wrong. Sometimes it is necessary, but should never be first choice. Iraq is wrong in so many ways. It was absolutely unnecessary. I think Afghanistan was necessary, but then Bush and company pulled out of a certain victory to crush Iraq. We are still fighting a war in Afghanistan. Maybe there will never be peace there, but the power of the Taliban should have been broken forever and would have if that war had been finished before Bush decided do daddy one better by crushing Iraq and Saddam. And yes, I have worked in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The fact that the question of torture even arises is repugnant, disgusting, so very wrong. I do not think Obama is a savior, but he has to be better than McCain. I hope Obama will try to pull us back from the abyss of 'might makes right and the devil take the hindmost'. Obama has my vote, my money, my work for his campaign. He also has my letters and emails and calls filtering into his people asking him to help restore my country and my world to something akin to justice.

Ah hell, I am tired and this is stream of consciousness, more emotion than reason, but will let it stand.

Ciao

All throughout history we have had examples of moral and humane situations that have never been resolved even to this day. Opinions, solutions and feelings vary as they have in the past. But let's not condemn the person whose maybe partial character we do not like, but continue to address that part similiar to our own. Sure, I do not agree with Hitchens stance on the Iraq war, but he is a sincere atheist and so my support is unequivocally with him. Newton was a religionist, but how the hell can you dislike him for that when gravity, light and mathemitcs are much more weightier than that which he will never prove? If we don't like a particular opinion of a person, but they possess those that we do, then it's a simple case of I like that about him, but don't like that. I like Hitchins a lot, and I think that if he and Gore Vidal teamed up against the shitbunch of demented morons that we can name with one puke mouthful, together they make mincemeat of that slime.

"The atrocities that have happened are certainly regrettable but they are just symptoms of the root crime here: the military was put in Iraq, fundie central, without a plan, without it's homework done, with faulty intelligence, minimal international support, and no clear just cause. Not to mention the entire world demanding smooth success. Such circumstances guarantee desperation. Blame Washington for placing us in this debacle, not the military."

That excuse does not wash, certainly not for senior officers. Unless US military training is seriously lacking all personel will have been given training in the Geneva conventions. (It is actually a requirement that they are under the conventions). There is also a poor historical precedent for claiming to have just been following orders. Personally I think it is time Europe started to think about issuing arrest warrants for those known to have been involved this torture.

By Matt Penfold (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Marcus Ranum @45,

Send Bush and Alberto Gonzales to The Hague!

I have disagreed with Marcus in these threads before, and now I have to do so again. His list of defendants is much too short.

(In all seriousness, it is unlikely to the point of practical impossibility that US law would ever compel the handing over of the current lot of war criminals for trial at the Hague. But I think we can realistically hope that a number of people currently or till recently in power in Washington will see their choice of prudent holiday destinations abroad materially restricted. Spain in particular would be an unwise move, at least as long as Garzon is in office.)

Once you permit torture, you need a corps of torturers, rules about who may torture whom, when, and how, and people to decide these rules, and torture equipment manufacturers - you create a torture industry.

You mean like the 150 US companies that sell shock batons, tasers, and stun belts? Amnesty International already listed the US as one of the chief exporters, worldwide, of devices used for torture as part of their call for trade restrictions on electro-shock weapons. Stun belts are already in use in US prisons and courts.

http://www.rightsforall.amnesty.org/info/report/r08.htm

Create a torture industry? Business is already booming.

By the way, I do NOT recommend electro-shock, if you're curious about whether it's really useful for torture. I was farting around with a cattle prod once and discharged it into my foot and I've got to say it was unbelievably unpleasant for something that "caused no damage." I'm sure that President Bush and Alberto Gonzales, etc, would all agree that it's not torture, either, as long as it's being done to a criminal or someone who's not, uh, oh, crap... where was that line drawn again?

Some interesting points at a site that couldn't be called "anti-war": http://tinyurl.com/5ex5bp

When those young German soldiers were eventually released, they went on to become thousands upon thousands of ambassadors for the United States. It is difficult to convey how good it made me feel when old Germans would tell me that Americans, our grandparents, were honorable people, far more honorable than the Nazis who committed industrial-sized genocide. Atrocities occurred on all sides, but at least we considered atrocities to be war crimes, even when committed by our own people. When our soldiers were convicted of rape, they were executed. Still, our "Greatest Generation" harbored ill feelings toward the "Japs." These feelings lasted long after the war was over. Why? Because, the Japanese had tortured and murdered our people after they were captured. And no doubt partially because of these crimes, we detonated two nuclear weapons over Japanese cities.

When this war is over in Iraq, we do not want a generation of Iraqis thinking that all we did was invade their country and torture and kill people. We want them to know that, despite whatever mistakes we made, we have no ill-feelings toward Iraqis. A lot of people call this type of thinking "naïve," but I would argue it is the opposite of naiveté. Wars like Iraq and Afghanistan are fought not over land, but for the will of the people. If it was the land we wanted, and if we lacked goodwill and honor, these wars would have been simple matters. Yet we want something better for these nations and the world, as we did following World War II. Honor is never easy to uphold and savage behavior begets savage behavior. That's why it's important to remember that when we give up the moral high ground, we lose a fantastically important battle. And we have defeated ourselves.

By Inflatable Rub… (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

"Sorry, but I just can't get myself all worked up with outrage over a few piece of shit terrorists that are left breathing after this procedure was used on them... They certainly wouldn't leave any of you enlightened ones breathing if they had a chance to get their hands on you infidels."

Leaving aside the moral bankruptcy and pragmatic untenability of your position, are you actually sheep-stupid enough to believe that no one held at Guantanamo Bay may be innocent?

I suppose if you've had almost 8 years of "must fear and hate the brown people" pumped into you, like Sandy has, by this inept and dishonest administration, you're pretty much not only willing to commit these atrocities on your fellow human beings, you're champing at the bit to do so because you somehow believe it will make you safe.

I'm sorry, Sandy. But, I refuse to dehumanize people in such an embarrassing and disgusting way as you have.

Good luck finding your conscience.

Matt Penfold: OK, you already knew that of course, but I mean a choice between whether your country can continue to be considered part of the civilised world. Elect Obama and I think you will. He will have some work to do, repairing the damage done by Bush but I think many will be prepared to wait for him to do that. If McCain gets elected though I think Europe should really consider its relationship with the US.

This kind of statement really gets in my craw. Where have the Europeans been for the last seven years?

Yes, we Americans have a moral culpability for allowing this kind of thuggery to continue --- but so have you!

Your governments have cooperated all the way! You don't have to "cut off relations", but how about not cooperating with "renditions" from your soil, across your soil, or of your citizens? How about actually making a public stink in international fora?

How about acting like sovereign states, for once? This episode has shown that either that European states have no interests outside of their local short term interest -- have learned nothing from the dissolution of their empires -- or else they are functionally colonies of the US.

Which one is it? If the former, you are culpable. If the latter, well get of your asses and fight for your independence! If dirt poor Africans have the chutzpah to fight off hegemons, why don't you?

Mrs Tilton,

Well if there was an European arrest warrent issued for Bush once he leaves office (whilst in office he has diplomatic immunity when travelling I think) would make it hard for him to visit any EU country, as such a warrent places a legal obligation on all EU countries to arrest the subject should the chance arise.

Have the International Criminal Court issue a warrent and it becomes unwise for Bush to travel to any nation that has ratified the treaty that set it up, which is some 100 odd nations.

I don't hold out any hope of Bush ever facing trial, but the thought of his retirement being made that little bit more difficult is a nice one.

By Matt Penfold (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Historically, there have been two successful strategies when it comes to counterinsurgency. The first is what I'd term the 'Roman Method': liquidate the population and salt their land. Barbarous, but it works. The United States slaughtered somewhere between 100,000 and a quarter million Filipinos, and it was largely successful. Saddam and numerous other dictators have had victories with this scheme. In such a war torture can coexist alongside butchery. Its effectiveness may be limited, but it has the requisite intimidatory effect, which is arguably more important than any information gleaned.

If you don't have the stomach for that, the other successful counterinsurgency strategy is far softer: to improve the physical, political and economic security of a population. This has been the favoured method of Western nations in the last 60 years. Britain made it work successfully in Malaya and Kenya. The Portugese in Angola, Mozambique and Guine right up to the Carnation Revolution.

Sadly, this 'Hearts and Minds' strategy is completely incompatible with the Roman Method. It has been notable that where atrocities have taken place, it set back the cause of the counterinsurgency. As the French in Algeria and Indo-China, and the Americans in Vietnam found out, torture is one of those forms of atrocity that turns a population against you. It will ultimately contribute to the loss of the war.

Historical precedent is against torture both as a tool of intel gathering and of pacification unless you are prepared to go the whole hog and become the butcher you despise.

By Lee Brimmicombe-Wood (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Maybe "they" have a motive other than extracting false confessions. If we aren't so sure that our leaders feel constrained by mere conventions and laws, it just might help domestic tranquility along.

We followers might develop the vaguest feeling that, should we somehow become suspects of something or other, we could end up being interrogated by "alternative" methods. So, blowing the whistle, going to a "free speech" zone, or otherwise doing our bit to unhinge the plutocracy may not happen the way it would if we felt we were living under a government of law.

By dubiquiabs (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

I did not need Hitchins allowing himself to be water boarded to know that the people running this campaign are moral monsters.

By Janine, Dising… (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Against enemies that are willing to cut a bound man's head off and televise it, it's kind of ridiculous to say "now that they know we torture, they're going to be really mean to any of us they capture." Sorry, but it's not capable of getting much worse.

The enemy can justify their actions by saying they're acting as poorly as we are. Torture means losing the moral high ground. As Owen said "We're supposed to be the good guys."
Not torturing may not keep the next Daniel Pearl from being barbarically murdered, but it does remove the excuse, "we're killing this guy because Abdul and Ahmed were tortured in Guantanamo."

The remaining "moral authority" we can reach for is a statement along the lines of "if you torture one of us, we'll repay you one hundredfold - and we'll be as indiscriminate as you are." We've already demonstrated that we're the only motherfuckers on earth that are so hard-assed we'll nuke a city full of civilians and that we'll assemble a sham coalition to follow us in wars of aggression. I don't think there are any P.R. points left for us to lose, really. :( We're fooling ourselves if we think it's respect, rather than fear, that affects most of the world's response to us.

I'm not going to get into a discussion on why Hiroshima and Nagasaki were nuked, other than to point out that more people were killed in firebombing raids in Japan than died because of nuclear weapons.

Torture is outlawed by both U.S. and international law. The United States is supposed to be a national of laws. We brag about the that. So if our government is torturing people, it is automatically showing itself to be a criminal organization. Pretty well everyone distrusts criminals. Being justifiably labeled a criminal country is a major PR hit. Being seen as a bully is another PR hit.

After 9/11, the U.S. had the sympathy of most of the world. That sympathy has been systematically pissed away by Bush and his handlers.

Frog,

I agree Europe has not done all it could or should have done to oppose the US. However you seem to have forgotten the extent to which France and Germany opposed US and UK actions in Iraq. You also seem to be ignoring the numerous condemnation of illegal detainment at Guantanamo that have been made by the UK government. Other EU governments have made similar condemnations. The only EU government known to have co-operated with reditions is Poland. There is evidence that the US used British terrority, both in the UK and Diego Garcia for rendition but it seems the US is not being forthcoming to the UK authorities. The refused to coperated with the police.

If you had bothered to read what I wrote, you will also be aware I think Europe should be tougher on the US. Whoever gets in will inherit a situation not of their making. It therefore would seem to be fair to give the new president some time to decide how to procede.

By Matt Penfold (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

I have mostly liberal views, but I can see torture being justified in cases were there is very good reason to believe someone has knowledge about an imminent attack.

If you already have knowledge the person knows about an imminent attack, then you already have knowledge that there is an imminent attack, and it's more effective to prepare for it. Especially if the attack is imminent - because the person being tortured only has to feed the interrogator enough information to keep them busy beating someone else up until the attack happens. That's the problem with the "imminent" scenario.

Torturer: "tell me about the imminent attack!"
Subject: "ow. sure. tomorrow they are going to blow up the creationist museum."
(the next day)
Torturer: "damn it! you lied to us! we were busy defending the creationist museum and instead they blew up the DI headquarters!"
Subject: "they must have changed plans when they learned you captured me and they realized you were going to torture me."

Another scenario:
Torturer: "who are the other members of your cell?"
Subject: "they go by the internet aliases 'phil plait' and 'PZ Myers'"

If the person being interrogated can queue up some BS ahead of the truth, the BS will come out when they break. Then the torturer is in the horrible position of having to come back to the subject with another round of more "forceful interrogation" in retaliation for the lies, etc. And by the time you've retaliated for a lie told under torture you've joined the torquemada club.

As much as I dislike Hitchens, the video was so evocative for me. Listen to those down-home accents and that American can-do attitude from those American guys. Brings a tear to the eye, don't it!
I don't care what any of you atheist, scientific, liberal elite nabobs say Americans are the best damn torturers in the whole world! And I'll fight any bastard who wants to say different!

By Mooser, Bummertown (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Amen JefferyD!

I, like PZ, don't agree with Hitchens on the war, but the only thing that I could think when this happened was: "Damn, that takes balls."

For Hitchens to try something like that and admit to the psychological damage and the physiological sensation is really incredible, and I wish that more journalists would do it, because it would open alot of eyes to how horrible this stuff really is.

I applaud Hitch for doing it and I'm interested to hear everything he has to say, beyond just the soundbites.

If I'm ever waterboarded I intend to finger Sandy.

By Lee Brimmicombe-Wood (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

BTW, Folks: IT'S NOT TORTURE IF THEY'LL STOP WHEN YOU ASK THEM TO!!

Just a little S&M fun. Goll, imagine having Hitchen's impaired psychology and his alcoholism. Jesus, what a burden.

By Mooser, Bummertown (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Mrs Tilton writes:
I have disagreed with Marcus in these threads before, and now I have to do so again. His list of defendants is much too short.

I think I put ", etc." after listing Bush and Gonzales - mostly because I didn't want my posting to go on too long. Not only are there the torturers at CIA and Gitmo, there are the co-conspirators who destroyed tapes of evidence, the command chain that oversaw it, etc., etc.

Personally, I'm not sure which angers me more - that our government condoned torture, or that our highest executives and commanders act like a bunch of ball-less sissies when they're asked about it. Someone with the guts to order a man broken by torture should have the guts to look a congressman (I mean, come on congressmen are pussies, too!) in the eye and say "yeah, I gave that order." So they're not only criminals, they're criminals of the most cowardly and dodgy variety - the kind who'd push someone else in front of the lights to take the blame.

That would be a good question for Obama and McCain: "If elected, are you going to pardon the torturers or are you going to pursue an investigation and see that justice is served?"

IT'S NOT TORTURE IF THEY'LL STOP WHEN YOU ASK THEM TO!!

No, it is torture. That's the way torture works. Punishment and reward. I shall reward you by stopping the torture if only you sign this ickle bitty confession...

After all, it worked handsomely for Sir Francis Walsingham. Just look at all the Papist plots he uncovered with the aid of skilled racksmen such as Thomas Norton and the sadist Richard Topcliffe. Both managed to secure many convictions thanks to their talent for pressing and racking.

By Lee Brimmicombe-Wood (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

@ 66
The salting of the earth only happened at Carthage. The Romans were smart enough to kill or enslave the most rebellious while making mercenaries of many of the conquered. Looks kinda like what the US did with the Sunni awakening. Then, the problem is only pushed back for a while. Those non-Romans in the army were the fighting force for many usurpers to the imperial throne. The people remaining in the provinces often saw some advantages to their situation, even though they wanted to be independent. As Reg says to the PFJ:

All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

The US hasn't even come close to that in Iraq.

And for those keeping score, Hitchens lasted 15 seconds.

By natural cynic (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

I wonder if Sam Harris, the other advocate of torture for the good side would have the same amount of courage.

Holy Shit. Respect.

I've loved Hitchens since I read God is Not Great, and never stopped despite his atypical views. I watched him debate his brother once, and I have to say out of anyone who defends the war, he can make me stop and think twice.

By davidstvz (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

As far as I know, the USA has ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which clearly stipulates, amongst other things ;

- ensuring that torture is a criminal offence (Article 4)
- establishing jurisdiction over acts of torture committed by or against a party's citizens (Article 5)
- ensuring that torture is an extraditable offence (Article 8)
- establishing universal jurisdiction to try cases of torture where an alleged torturer cannot be extradited (Article 5)
- Parties must promptly investigate any allegation of torture (Articles 12 & 13)
- It establishes the Committee against Torture (Article 17)
- and empowers it to investigate allegations of systematic torture (Article 20)
- It also establishes an optional dispute-resolution mechanism between parties (Articles 21)
- and allows parties to recognise the competance of the Committee to hear complaints from individuals about violations of the Convention by a party (Article 22)

So, may I ask, what's happening with this Convention, and especially with this Committee Against Torture (CAT), is it investigating or for the moment just doing nothing on this waterbording case ? Has nobody alerted them or made any formal allegations ?

The CAT is chaired by a certain Myrna Kleopas. Never heard of him.

By negentropyeater (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

@58

You completely missed the point. It is not an excuse, it's an inevitability. To expect any military ever would pass on any opportunity for advantage just reeks of asinine idealism. Any officer would bend the rules if it could potentially save soldier's lives. I promise you they each know the rules of engagement succinctly, and each consider them heavily. Worrying about the enemies well being however is a peacetime consideration. This is war. It is horrible, but that's why they call it war.

The key point here is that torture/whatever violation can only be avoided by never entering (or in this case creating) a situation where the tactic presents itself as an attractive option. It is almost economic in nature. No incentive, no violation. If peaceful solutions were exhausted, such a situation would never have developed.

And Europe is not a country. You cant just say a continent should just start arresting American military personnel because you differ in their ideology, that's completely ridiculous. Our military bases or the equipment we provided have stabilized European internal conflicts for decades. Get real.

A lot of people crap on Hitchens for supporting the war in Iraq. But if you read his works or listen to his debates you can at least appreciate he's looked into the issue and formed an opinion by looking at the situation and evidence. It's much harder to do that than automatically say the war in Iraq was unjust just because you're anti-american or anti-war.
PS: For the record I am (and always have been) against the war, but don't lump Hitchens in with the Bushite-war supporters. He supported the invasion for security and safety purposes (albeit with some imperialist undertones) but certainly not how its been conducted. Or at least that's how his position has come across to me.

By Adam Morrison (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

I totally had this idea months ago, but I lacked the necessary contacts within the military and intelligence communities to make the necessary arrangements.

I guess it probably helps to be a world-famous journalist like Hitchens rather than a local independent rag journalist like me.

On the bright side, now I don't actually have to go through with it. Awesome. I doubt I would have enjoyed it very much.

By BoxerShorts (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Radio Pharyngula

FUCK I missed my deadline this AM, slept in.

Anyway I have the Pharyngula YOO Torture mix done, here it is:
http://acksisofevil.org/audio/yoo.mp3

I'll play it tomorrow night.

Thanks for the one-liners, yall are great.

And thanks PZ for the link to Hitchens being tortured. How much would he charge to let my ferret eat his penis, I wonder.

Negentropyeater

The CAT has never even tried a case against the US. Instead it spends its time making decisions on cases in well known hotbeds of torturous activities such as Austria, Norway, Sweden, Canada and Australia. Basically they're one of those waste of time groups that exist for the sake of existing but really do SFA in practical terms

http://www.worldlii.org/int/cases/UNCAT/

By Bride of Shrek (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

"If I'm ever waterboarded I intend to finger Sandy."Posted by: Lee Brimmicombe-Wood

To each his own...mixing torture and pleasure may be YOUR kink, Lee...

I doubt you will find anyone here to disagree with you PZ, but short of armed insurrection just what ELSE can we do that hasn't been tried? Rail against torture from withing a tiny "Free-speech zone" located far away from anyone who might hear us? Write letters to "Representatives" who live in the pocket of big business? March on Washington so the vaunted Main Stream Media can marginalize us as kooks and unpatriotic idiots?

What else can we do short of taking back our government by force?

By Eric Paulsen (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Devil's Advocate @55 asked:

What's the evidence for this?

Does the phrase "burn her, she's a witch" ring any church bells? Unless you're willing to posit that your advocee was dancing with unpopular medieval crazy cat ladies, I think there is sufficient evidence that torture produces false information.

It doesn't take much historical knowledge to know that the KGB was interested in false confessions and show trials, and that's what their torture techniques were intended to supply. Sleep deprivation, stress positions - these are designed to torture without leaving a mark, to make it easier for the population to deny that torture is ongoing.

If one assumes that torture is part of a general intelligence-gathering operation in which confessions can be somewhat cross-checked and the results fed back to the torture chamber

You should also not presume that your torture victim will still be functional by the time the information is checked. And torture feeds on torture - if your "cross-checking" involves torturing the people that your first victim pointed toward, it's not hard to predict what cross-checking will reveal.

It does appear that the effectiveness of Gestapo torture is a myth.

You also need to educate yourself a bit more about the people that the US has tortured - I don't think anyone would argue that it's OK to drop a napalm bomb on some guy in Bosnia, for instance.

I'd have to give you a 1/5 for doing the devil's work. Poor show.

By FungiFromYuggoth (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Adam @ 85:

I personally do not lump CH in with the other war-mongering champagne swilling chickenhawks that pushed the Iraq invasion. I think Hitchens is perhaps the only person that could ever make a cogent argument that going in there would've been smart, although he has been disingenuous about some of the facts in the past (on Maher's show on a few occasions).

I do not begrudge CH his extreme level of distaste for unwarranted power and anti-democratic forces around the world. I just begrudge his support for actions that are little more than thinly-argued opportunism, and wish he'd spend less furor on working harder instead of smarter. As much as Saddam needed to be unseated, it just was not worth the hassle, as we can see, and the objectively moral arguments for unseating him were unrealistic as even our own leadership said in the 90s. CH's argument about control of oil makes some amount of economic sense, but glosses over problems that would've come up sooner or later anyhow, and using a war against a country that didn't attack us to secure our own economic future is morally reprehensible on too many levels. This is on top of the fact that it appears we're not likely to be able to appropriate what we went in there for anyways, making the effort that much more tragic and stupid.

I'll say it again, I do not begrudge CH his lust to do away with humanity's worst traits. But it's the irony that the worst actions and the most bull-headed thinking that must take place in order to accomplish it. And in the end, it's still not working. CH just strikes me as someone who is really angry at the situation, but can't help himself from supporting reckless policies because it means what he dreams of just might be achieved. He's the William F. Buckley of the Iraq issue, which is ironic, since Buckley actually changed his position on that issue. He can make the case better than any other, but that can't help fix the fact that it was a bad decision no matter what.

By BlueIndependent (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Torture is entirely unacceptable on moral grounds, but since some have raised the matter of its alleged effectiveness or pragmatic value, here are some snippets from Steven Miles' 2006 Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror (pp. 13-18):

THE CASE AGAINST INTERROGATIONAL TORTURE

Torture Harms Intelligence Collection and Analysis

The CIA's 'Human Resources Exploitation Manual' of 1983 came to the same conclusion [as the declassified CIA 'Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual' resulting from the findings of MK-ULTRA]: 'Use of force is a poor technique...However, the use of force is not to be confused with psychological ploys, verbal trickery, or other nonviolent and non-coercive ruses'. The 'Army Interrogation Field Manual" of 1987 reiterated these same conclusions.

The governments of Nazi Germany, China, North Vietnam, Great Britain, and Israel also found pain to be an unreliable interrogation technique. As prisoners disintegrate, harden, or dissociate under pain, they tend to give inaccurate, useless, or misleading information. Although American POWs subjected to psychiatric stress by Korean, Chinese, or Soviet captors seemed to be more willing to make anti-American statements while in captivity than those who were tortured with pain, there is no evidence that psychological torture improved the ability to get the truth from a prisoner.

Advisors to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld informed him of the research showing the inefficacy of harsh interrogation. The secretary then authorized the same harsh techniques that had been discredited by the research and experience of the United States.

...

False information elicited by pain floods the limited analytic capacity of intelligence agencies...In this way, harsh interrogation can make it more, no less, difficult for analysts to find the 'ticking time bombs'. Torture seeks and tends to elicit information that exaggerates the size and nature of the threat. Such false information can lead to misguided government policies...

...

Torture alienates persons who might otherwise be recruited as informants. As the CIA's 1983 'Human Resource Exploitation Manual' put it, 'Use of force...may damage subsequent collection efforts'. Many FBI reports of interrogations with prisoners in the war on terror tell of prisoners who refused to cooperate with interrogators because of harsh, abusive, or degrading treatment meted out to fellow prisoners or themselves. Some prisoners even experience torture as validating their sense of importance, the rightness of their cause, or, conversely, the evil of their torturer. For example, some Palestinian prisoners tortured by Israelis experienced torture as a rite of passage that bonded them to their cause, confirmed the evil of Israel, and proved their trustworthiness to comrades.

Abusive interrogation fosters an 'arms race' between interrogators and prisoners. As targeted groups learn the techniques that will be used against their members, they prepare their colleagues for what to expect. They take measures to limit the amount of damaging information any individual can disclose...

Effective interrogation seeks to build rapport, articulate common interests, exploit a subject's jealousy of comrades, or offer, in exchange for information, something that the prisoner sees as being in his or her interest. Torture destroys the possibility of this kind of interview. The abuse hardens the prisoner's political commitment and perception of the interrogating authority. an interrogator who abuses a prisoner forfeits the emotional self-control that is necessary for effective interrogational interviewing.

Torture Is Strategically Counterproductive

Coercive interrogation is especially ineffective in asymmetrical warfare between a regular army and guerrillas living among an indigenous population of sympathizers who are familiar with the insurgents' factions and social organizations. Terrorist profiling cannot identify the key persons in such communities. Hundreds of citizens have mere bits of knowledge. Dragnets for coercive interrogation are expensive and ineffective. Military Intelligence personnel estimate that from 70 percent to 90 percent of the tens of thousands of Iraqi prisoners were either innocent or ignorant. Proponents of interrogational torture cite the occasional tactical success of French soldiers who used torture to learn of terrorist attacks during Algeria's war for independence from France. However, those same abuses alienated the Algerian population and fueled the resistance. France lost the war.

A similar pattern is unfolding in Iraq. The revelations of abuses in U.S. prisons are followed by a dramatic decline in international respect for the United States and a sharp increase in anti-American sentiment, especially in the international Muslim community. U.S. government polls found that Iraqi support for U.S. forces fell from 63 percent to 9 percent upon the release of the Abu Ghraib photographs. It seems probable that interrogational torture in Iraq boosted insurgency recruitment and resulted in far more attacks than it could have prevented.

Torture Harms the Society That Employs It

Torturing societies harm their courts, their militias, and the officials who torture on their behalf...

Torture psychologically traumatizes the soldiers who perform it. soldiers who passively witness atrocities, as well as those who commit them, suffer more severe post-traumatic stress disorder than those who kill during combat. Abu Ghraib medics were providing Prozac and starting Alcoholics Anonymous groups for soldiers in the abusive units. Those wounds will burden their lives, their families, our neighbors, our society, and the Veterans Administration for years to come.

If one assumes that torture is part of a general intelligence-gathering operation in which confessions can be somewhat cross-checked and the results fed back to the torture chamber, one should be able to meter the punishment against the accuracy of the information received and train subjects to tell more of the truth.

How, pray tell, would that work, exactly? Specifically, what mechanism would be used to identify how the subject is telling "more of the truth", versus providing outdated or deliberatly false information? If a subject's information could be false or unreliable, what mechanism is there to determine which of the following scenarios is true:
a.) the subject was withholding valuable information, and providing false information.
b.) the subject's information was correct at the time of his capture, but is no longer current or relevant.
c.) the subject has no useful information, but has already been "trained" that any "information" he provides will grant a reprieve from torture.

Any 'cross-checking'/verifying strategy only illustrates the underlying weaknesses of arguing for torture: if you already have the information needed to verify the accuracy of the information gained from torture, you don't need to torture to gain the information!

In terms of 'training', I will simply point out that even one 'false positive', where the subject recieves a reprieve from torture by saying what he believes the interrigator wants to hear rather than what the subject knows to be true, and all 'training' goes out the window. And, of course, the prelude would be repeated 'false negatives', where the subject is telling the truth ("I am just a cab driver, not a terrorist" or even "I've already told you all I know"), but is subjected to torture anyway; this establishes and reinforces to the subject that the cause-effect relationship is between what the interrigator wants to hear, and what the subject says, and not between the questions asked and an honest answer.

Bride,

well, it does appear that Sweden and Switzerland have been particularly torturous lately, ooooh these evil countries.

This is complete joke !

But just a question, are we certain that the CAT is refusing to try this case against the US, or that nobody is making the allegations ? To be specific, who is making the allegations ?
So if the CAT does fuck all, and the dems do fuck all in congress about this issue, basically how is this crime supposed to get punished and stopped ?

By negentropyeater (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Another point not yet raised is what permitting torture does to the torturers, both individually and as a society.

Aww c'mon, all you need is white middle class college sophomores and one authority figure and you can get a whole lotta torure goin on.

Milgram anyone ?

I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong."

Is this why he beats Darwin?

By Feynmaniac (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Of course, if Hitchens was really serious about experiencing the results of his own stupid and despicable warmongering, he'd arrange to have a fucking hugh bomb dropped on his house, thereby pulverising everything dear to him. If it wasn't for the inevitable damage to the innocents in the vicinity, I'd be tempted to say 'go for it'.

You're welcome, Dr. Myers.

My feelings on this issue are pretty straightforward: torture is illegal, immoral, and ineffective. And if there was a god, and he granted me one wish followed by immediate death upon granting it, I would have a war crimes tribunal convened by the international courts in the Hague, Netherlands.

Open letter to the Democratic party: I know that you're all about winning the election this year and that everything is political in DC. But your failure to impeach Bush and Cheney because it's the right thing to do makes me as contemptuous of you as the Republicans make me sick.

Negentropyeater

Ok, I did a quick spot of research and basically complaints can be put before CAT by two methods. Either by individual complaint by the interested party ( or a 3rd party on their behalf- presumably a lawyer or human rights body of some sort) or by complaint by another state who also must be a signatory to the Treay.

To be able to investigate a complaint by an individual the complained against state must have agreed to complaints being brought against them by individuals under Article 22 of the Treaty. Guess who hasn't accepted Article 22 when they signed the Treaty?? You betcha. So basically no complaints can be made by indivduals, scratch that method.

Ok, so now we look to the 2nd method, complaints by another state. The Article that allows this, Article 21 has indeed been signed by everyone in the Treaty ( except Bahrain weirdly) but CAT specifically says this method of complaint has NEVER been used and probably NEVER will be used. Probably because its kind of hostile for states to complain against each other.

So there you have it, a useless Treaty with no teeth (and that by the way, pretty much describes almost all declarations etc brought about by the UN). Even if a complaint was able to be made do you think the US would take any notice of the UN wagging its finger saying tsk tsk.( which is essentially their ultimate punishment). Sorry to sound so downtrodden about Treaties but I did public international law for years and, quite frankly, I'm tired of it. It's such useless bullshit because ultimately its up to the countries to be self regulating regarding adhering to any provisions and we all know how well THAT works.

By Bride of Shrek (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Damn, you've got to admire Hitchens veracity as a reporter, it's good to see he's willing to put himself on the line to make such a distinction. If only the politicians and military personnel who condone this practice would be willing to do the same before trying to justify it's practice.

Guess who hasn't accepted Article 22 when they signed the Treaty?? You betcha.

So that's probably why the only countries who appear on that list are countries such as Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Germany, France, Austria, etc... who have actually signed article 22.
And of course, the US never signed this article, it seems nobody probably knows about this (or sorry less than 0.0001% of the American population) or gives a fucking shit about it, the media neither, anyway, as the saying goes in America, the UN is just a bunch of incompetent losers, so, nothing happens.

By negentropyeater (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

"Basically the unprincipled pricks in our government decided we would, after all, do unto others what had been done unto us."

The problem being, of course, that they are not doing it back to the same people. Ditto the state of Israel doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to them.

By Paul Murray (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

It seems the American government learns very well from the Israeli's. Let them perfect the various means of sedition and torture, and then borrow a page from their massive volume of oppression of a people's civil liberties because they look like they're guilty. This whole farce must stop, and any of these supposedly enlightened countries must recognize that civilized behavior and discourse cannot be maintained when tortures such as waterboarding are practiced. Fuck these "noble" states if all they're playing the universal game of semantics. Thomas Jefferson is rolling in his grave at 5000000 rpk.

By Helioprogenus (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

chigurh:

Any officer would bend the rules if it could potentially save soldier's lives. I promise you they each know the rules of engagement succinctly, and each consider them heavily.

Yeah, its the ones that don't understand what they're reading that get us into trouble. Ask Calley how My Lai worked out for him in "bending" the rules to save his soldiers from attacks from the village. The rules in combat concerning Rules of Engagement are quite restrictive (for good reason), and in no way do those rules allow for your "bending." An officer may take his or her own interpretation of the rules in the heat of the moment, but once the dust settles, they still have to answer to their higher command.

And as for this "I promise you" shit, until you know each of the soldiers you speak about, you'll be better off not trying to speak for them in a broad generalization. Being a soldier, I know more than a few soldiers who had to be constantly reminded of the restrictions we operated under. The reasons varied, from pure zeal to frustration, but such variations are inevitable when you put a young mind into a situation like that.

Worrying about the enemies well being however is a peacetime consideration. This is war. It is horrible, but that's why they call it war.

Besides the fact that no one has shown why the people being tortured are enemies or even criminals, your argument is severely flawed. War, by definition, is open combat between two armies. That definition does not include torture. There are plenty of things horrible enough about war, but torture is not war - it is a war crime.

A soldier's mission in a firefight is to remove the enemy's means and will to resist. Sometimes that ends in death, but not always. When an enemy soldier is completely incapacitated and is no longer fighting - i.e., wounded - it then becomes the responsibility of that officer in charge to ensure that person is taken prisoner and to see that their wounds are treated. If you knew anything about actual war, you'd know that enemy combatants are to be treated as exactly that - not as a database of information waiting to be drawn out, not as an expedient tool for cheap labor, or anything else of the sort.

The war you speak of is war, Bush style - romanticize the "noble" parts and brush away the atrocities as situational inevitabilities. No matter where it occurs, no matter what context it occurs within, torture will never be justifiable. It is a relic from our barbaric past that needs to be erased completely, and certainly not justified - however tenuously - in our legal system.

You completely missed the point. It is not an excuse, it's an inevitability. To expect any military ever would pass on any opportunity for advantage just reeks of asinine idealism. Any officer would bend the rules if it could potentially save soldier's lives. I promise you they each know the rules of engagement succinctly, and each consider them heavily. Worrying about the enemies well being however is a peacetime consideration. This is war. It is horrible, but that's why they call it war.

There's two problems with this.

1. Torture is unreliable (see posts 93 and 94).

2. Torture violates Article 93 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice: Any person subject to this chapter who is guilty of cruelty toward, or oppression or maltreatment of, any person subject to his orders shall be punished as a court-martial may direct..

It is a requirement that all military personnel only obey lawful orders. The Befehl ist Befehl defense got shot down during the Nuremberg trials over 60 years ago.

All U.S. military personnel receive training in the Law of Armed Conflict, which delineates lawful and unlawful behaviors during armed conflicts, and is derived from the Geneva Conventions, a subset of international law. This training is designed to ensure that US military personnel are familiar with their military, ethical and legal obligations.

As someone who has committed both atrocities and war crimes, a long time ago, and has had decades to both learn to live with them and understand there is no living with them, if it will make you feel any better, the people who did these things have many years of long, dark nights with nothing to cling to ahead of them.

"God", of course, does not answer your cries. The dreams and faces come back. And honestly? I only killed. I never tortured. The price you pay is endless, unmeasurable, and ultimately it costs you more than you are.

How many nights will they sit, in the dark, tears and sweat streaming down their cheeks, pistol in their lap, trying to just make the decision to end it? How many nights have I?

There's no mercy in a world without mercy.

May we someday become something better.

mikey

Sandy:

Sorry, but I just can't get myself all worked up with outrage over a few piece of shit terrorists that are left breathing after this procedure was used on them... They certainly wouldn't leave any of you enlightened ones breathing if they had a chance to get their hands on you infidels.

You seem pretty certain the current administration can tell terrorists from innocent victims. Their record shows them capable of lying whenever it suits their purpose, and overall incompetence telling truth from fantasy in every case. Where are those weapons of mass destruction?

So folks... since there seems to be a fair amount of agreement on the issue:

Who should we write to to have the greatest chance of seeing the criminals in this administration held accountable? Let's see some links and addresses. I don't see many other ways to see our country and it's reputation redeemed any time soon other than to show the nations of the world that we're just as disgusted and angered as they are and hand the fuckers over for trial.

@ Mikey 110:

Thank you for your honesty. I will not ask you for details of your actions, but it seems clear to me that you live with significant pain as a result of them. I have never been in war, so I am unqualified to give you comfort, but please know you have my sympathy. I hope you find some veterans groups to whom you can go for companionship. My father never spoke much of his WWII service, either, and I sense he took a great deal of grief to the grave with him.

Again, my sincere thanks.

Actually the first of these is generally held to be contrary to the laws of war, specifically section 2, article 23 of the Hague convention of 1899, which among other things forbids belligerents "To employ arms, projectiles, or material of a nature to cause superfluous injury".

Three words; Full Metal Jacket.

There is a reason hunters use hollow/soft point bullets. And come to think of it, if you were "hunting" something the size of a human, I don't think you'd use 5.56mm ammunition (standard battle rifle caliber) either.

Obviously the military doesn't use 5.56mm FMJ to be cruel, they use the smaller ammo so soldiers can carry more (300 5.56mm vs 100 7.62mm), and they use full metal jacket rounds because expanding projectiles are banned, under the Hague convention I believe.

Nonetheless, there is a reason soldiers are instructed to put several shots (and possibly one in the head) into the enemy if they can.

Ask Calley how My Lai worked out for him in "bending" the rules to save his soldiers from attacks from the village.

In terms of actual time served? Not so badly.

#110 WHOAAAA that was intense. I'm going to save that when I get home, I hope I never have to share that with my son.

Thanks for sharing that.

In terms of actual time served? Not so badly.
Posted by: SC | July 2, 2008 9:48 PM

True, his trial and confinement was a mass of politicians and high-level officers covering their ass, which was a travesty. Still, I doubt he's going to be placed on anyone's list of humanitarians anytime soon. His crimes rightfully took his career and credibility away from him, and I don't think he'll be getting them back in his lifetime.

The punishment for anyone on any side who committed an act of torture or mutilation was death....

.... under Ghengis Kahn

brokenSoldier,

I thought your previous comment implied that the concrete penalties for war crimes, including torture, by members of the US military have been swift and severe. Damage to one's reputation, although this may have been difficult for Calley to take (though not for some shameless others, I imagine), or the loss of a military career aren't exactly the same thing. If this isn't what you meant to imply, then my mistake.

#110 - Mikey - Sadly, it won't ever go away. My father is 77 years old, he's a Korean war veteran. I grew up listening to his night time dream screams, speaking in a horrible voice in a foreign language that scared the crap out of me and my little brothers, and shouting orders in the wee hours of the morning that would frighten us into crying.
He left Oregon a healthy young man, and came home with jungle rot. It's so lovely! He gets nothing from the VA. My husband is a Viet Nam era veteran. He got sent to guard our Army bases against the Black September Movement...anyone remember that? Stand at the gate, with a gun - but no bullets allowed. Military Intelligence. :)
I could go on, but I won't - it makes me want to rip out my OWN eyeballs.
There is a very good veterans talk show on KBOO.fm radio out of Portland, Oregon - give it a listen Mikey. I send you an internet *hug*.

Been there, done that. Suburban gang initiation. No safe words.

If done properly it can break your fight or flight response so you can handle the panic better. It's not pleasant, but it can produce some amazing crisis handling skills.

By wildcardjack (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

SC:

I thought your previous comment implied that the concrete penalties for war crimes, including torture, by members of the US military have been swift and severe.

I can see that, though that's not where I was heading. As much as I would wish for the above to be true, the plain fact is that people still do have a tendency to try to cover shit up, and we get information that is filtered at best. The only thing I was getting at in my post was that making a conscious decision to defy the published RoE - no matter how you cut it (or how you bend them)- is a war crime.

One quick note - if you've ever seen someone being abused or tortured, you quickly lose the righteousness displayed by so many who have not. We occasionally ran across this in dealing with the Iraqi military, and as American officers we could do nothing about it on the spot - Iraq had no laws preventing such treatment of prisoners. It's disgusting, and has no place in our national conduct.

Um, nice of Hitchens to undergo the waterboarding and all,and I'm sure it was a distressing ordeal for him, but his experience was nothing like that of an actual victim of torture.

A true victim is held against his will and doesn't know he can call off the perpetrators at any time and waddle home and find a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label waiting for him in his comfy office.

If done properly it can break your fight or flight response so you can handle the panic better. It's not pleasant, but it can produce some amazing crisis handling skills.
Posted by: wildcardjack | July 2, 2008 10:47 PM

(italics mine)

...and some lovely mental illnesses and savory psychoses, possibly some night terrors and post-traumatic stress disorder, and maybe - just maybe - some irreparable neurological damage to go along with everything else.

Seems to me a class in crisis-handling skills would rate better on the old cost-benefit analysis.

A true victim is held against his will and doesn't know he can call off the perpetrators at any time and waddle home and find a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label waiting for him in his comfy office.

Posted by: bargal20 | July 2, 2008 11:03 PM

Hitchens addressed that very fact in the article:

It goes without saying that I knew I could stop the process at any time, and that when it was all over I would be released into happy daylight rather than returned to a darkened cell.

But it stands to reason that in a true detainee's situation - much less comfortable than that of Hitchens - the stress would be exponetially greater, which is what he was trying to point out when he said at the end of the article that an innocent man put into that situation would lose his mind very quickly.

Then again, Hitchens never attempted to portray himself as the "true victim" that you claim he is not, so I wonder exactly what point you were trying to make.

#72 - Fuck you, you retarded piece of bubbahtard shite. Bare breasted, behind the barn I can bitch slap you into the hog pen where you can suck up to your mother and your egg sucking father, you ball-less chillidog, slop swillin, christian.
You ain't an American, you yellow bellied, magical underpants wearin SISSY.
You ain't fit to to drink Jack Daniels, sing God Bless America or sniff one breast of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

My point, brokenSoldier, is that PZ's increased respect for Hitchens is unwarranted.

Hitchens, who has spent the last few years spitting bile at anyone who dared question his beloved Mesopotamian adventure, got paid a lot of booze money by Vanity Fair to be very uncomfortable. Big fucking deal. He hasn't begun to atone for what he's said and done.

Screw Hitchens.

Posted by: bargal20 | July 2, 2008 11:38 PM

My point, brokenSoldier, is that PZ's increased respect for Hitchens is unwarranted.

How quaint. I'm sure PZ will now see the error of his ways and publish a retraction of his statement of repsect for Hitchens. You might not want to hold your breath, though.

Hitchens, who has spent the last few years spitting bile at anyone who dared question his beloved Mesopotamian adventure, got paid a lot of booze money by Vanity Fair to be very uncomfortable. Big fucking deal. He hasn't begun to atone for what he's said and done.

Screw Hitchens.

See, if you'd just come out and said that you didn't care what was in the post or Hitchens' article, but instead wanted to trash him under the umbrella of a previously held opinion of yours, we'd know exactly why you posted from the beginning, instead of wasting time thinking you were wanting to contribute to the discussion in some way.

Seriously, I disagree with Hitchens' positions on the Iraq War too, but I find that being perpetually angry and snarling everytime one of his stories surfaces is a little overboard.

#72 - Fuck you, you retarded piece of bubbahtard shite. Bare breasted, behind the barn I can bitch slap you into the hog pen where you can suck up to your mother and your egg sucking father, you ball-less chillidog, slop swillin, christian.

You ain't an American, you yellow bellied, magical underpants wearin SISSY. You ain't fit to to drink Jack Daniels, sing God Bless America or sniff one breast of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Posted by: Patricia

I love your work, Patricia. I really do. But, I can't get behind this one. I'm not sure why. I mean, you started strong and you finished strong, but it just doesn't flow well.

I think that once you said bare-breasted, my mind was immediately taken out of it.

So, in the end, it was good, but it wasn't your best.

Oh, bummer.

Not fit to drink Jack Daniel'S.

Oh, hell.

Good thing I'm a scotch drinker, is all I'm thinking.

Huh?

mikey

It may have taken "cojones" to do what Hitchens did, but remember this - it was simulated waterboarding, NOT the real thing. In the real thing, nobody's going to stop on your signal, they will continue until they get you as near drowning as they can. They want to break your sense of control over your own life. So any admiration I might have for his bravery is tempered by the fact he wasn't in Gitmo getting it done to him there, where he would have no control over how much of this torture he would have received. I hope he considered that as well, and that he speaks to a man (or boy) that did receive such treatment.

What is it with the people who hurry to point out that Hitchens didn't get the "real" waterboarding treatment? Is it vindictiveness or just petty pedantry?

Hitchins proves that even an atheist can be a real dick. I don't know how much scotch I'd have to drink to swallow the whole Bushie agenda.

Damn, Patricia!
I hope Mooser remembers his safety word!

Even if it wasn't "real" waterboarding, Hitchens' account of the experience is nonetheless compelling. I might add that even his controlled experience is A FUCK OF A LOT CLOSER TO THE REAL THING than what virtually anyone and everyone in the public sphere who has seen fit to express an opinion about waterboarding, or about torture in general, has undertaken to experience first-hand. Sure, it wasn't as brave as jumping into an erupting volcano to save a kitten, but what do you want?

Really. That's a serious question. WHAT DO YOU WANT?

What is it with the people who hurry to point out that Hitchens didn't get the "real" waterboarding treatment? Is it vindictiveness or just petty pedantry?

Posted by: Rey Fox

I don't know. I think even if you're being waterboarded by your buddies, at some point panic, no matter how irrational, will kick in, and you will start to think "Hey! There's a good chance I could die here."

Nonetheless, it could have been much worse for Hitchens, but I still think what he went through was a horrible ordeal. I think people who quip that it wasn't "real" are just trying to belittle the man for no genuine reason other than their own kicks at trying to prove Hitchens wrong no matter what he does or says.

The fact remains, when people are waterboarded, some reflexes take over, and that in itself can be quite terrifying. And, it doesn't matter if it's your friends are dumping water on your face or some hardened inquisitor, when you gasp uncontrollably and your lungs start collecting water, it's going to scare you, and it'll feel pretty fucking real pretty fucking quick.

Waterboarding is torture?

Thanks, Christopher, for pointing out what any sensible person already knows.

If you hope to change the minds of the sadistic wing-nut crowd, good luck.

Lots of people before you have tried and failed.

By CalGeorge (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

Waterboarding is torture?

Thanks, Christopher, for pointing out what any sensible person already knows.

If you hope to change the minds of the sadistic wing-nut crowd, good luck.

Lots of people before you have tried and failed.

Posted by: CalGeorge

Yeah. Sadly I don't think he'll open anyone's eyes with his piece here. Still, the next time he debates that impish, little, elfmaid Dinesh D'Souza, I imagine things could get interesting.

Elfmaid?

Is that supposed to be an insinuation of weakness?

I am offended.

Dear Sir/Madame,

  • .
  • .
  • .
  • By Galadriel (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Wow, only simulated. Shouldn't that speak even greater volumes against the real thing then?

    At the risk of diving into a distracting or gratuitous semantics argument, and I'm not picking on you specifically Kel, but I must insist that Hitchens' experience wasn't "simulated". It was a controlled demonstration. That's an important distinction.

    A simulation, by definition, isn't real. No actual waterboarding takes place in a simulation. In a simulation, there's no chance of getting water up your nose, of running out of air, of going into the blind, visceral panic of utter powerlessness in the face of mortal peril. And yet Hitchens experienced all of this.

    The only difference between his experience and "real" waterboarding was that he had the opportunity to cry uncle, and make it stop. And yes, that difference is hugely significant, and does speak volumes about the nature of waterboarding as experienced by those who lack the control over the situation that Hitchens had. This difference makes his account all the more powerful, IMO.

    Ah, Gentlemen, I'm sorry to let you down. I shouldn't have 'assumed that you would just flow with me passed the bare-breasted'.
    #72 - you fuckwitted christian, eel sucking moron. I can bust your momma pig swilling chops on any Sunday you wish to worship your weinie less, ball less, festering, leg humping torturing religion.
    I'll meet you, bare breasted, skirt hiked, and tight laced, you yapping, puddle pissing puppy!

    At the risk of diving into a distracting or gratuitous semantics argument, and I'm not picking on you specifically Kel, but I must insist that Hitchens' experience wasn't "simulated". It was a controlled demonstration. That's an important distinction.

    Yeah, my comment was just in response to the simulation comment a few above mine. The sooner the internet gets sarcasm tags, the better.

    Elfmaid?

    Is that supposed to be an insinuation of weakness?

    I am offended.

    Dear Sir/Madame,
    # .
    # .
    # .

    Posted by: Galadriel

    Ooops...

    I would like to take a moment to offer my most heartfelt apologies to the elfmaid community, as well as lovers, friends and families of the elfmaid community.

    In retrospect, I find my remarks to be not only poorly chosen, but words whose substance is far beneath that which I myself have come to consider both decent and acceptable for a human being.

    I only hope that no one was injured as a result of my poorly thought out comments. I will strive with all the passion and strength my heart can muster to be a better man and a much better friend of the elfmaid community.

    Again, please accept my apologies and let the healing begin.

    I've read a couple of accounts of people who undertook controlled demonstration waterboarding. In each instance they know they can stop at any time and they will not die. But, a point is reached where your lizard brain panics and you are drowning. This point is reached very quickly. One guy said, even though it was a demo, he was a sobbing wreck curled up in the corner of the room after about 30 seconds. I've read some in the military are trained in anti-torture techniques and can last as long as one minute.

    How the fuck does some poor slob in Gitmo, or anywhere else for that matter, cope after something like that? Innocent or guilty any person or regime that can inflict this on another person is a... I have no words... Patricia @ #143 might be better equiped to describe these fuckers.

    Captain Dan FTW!

    By Galadriel (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

    That was horrifying. I'm in tears. That we would do that to any human...makes me wonder who the terrorist really is. Terrorism in response to terrorism is not something I want my children to learn.

    Arguably Nazi Germany's most effective interrogator was Hanns Scharff, who never laid a finger on a prisoner, and upon whose methods post-war US interrogation has traditionally been based.

    frog,

    Your governments have cooperated all the way! You don't have to "cut off relations", but how about not cooperating with "renditions" from your soil, across your soil, or of your citizens? How about actually making a public stink in international fora?
    How about acting like sovereign states, for once? This episode has shown that either that European states have no interests outside of their local short term interest -- have learned nothing from the dissolution of their empires -- or else they are functionally colonies of the US.
    Which one is it? If the former, you are culpable. If the latter, well get of your asses and fight for your independence! If dirt poor Africans have the chutzpah to fight off hegemons, why don't you?

    A bit of an over generalisation. Chirac described Poland as a vassal of the US, but Chirac's France certainly wasn't.

    The European Parliament (EU) and the Council of Europe (not EU) have both concluded that their respective member states' territory has been used for the extraordinary rendition programme of the US, as has Amnesty International. Not all member states pay any attention. The British government wasn't co-operative.

    France and Germany may have defied the US over Iraq, but their current governments have made a policy of rebuilding relations with the US gov. In a sane world, it would be the US gov trying to rebuild relations after having fucked up so badly.

    It looks to me as though the US is able to intimidate European governments, and that only formal federalisation of the EU would give European leaders the confidence to stare down the US gov.

    Our military bases or the equipment we provided have stabilized European internal conflicts for decades.

    If it weren't for the US, Angela Merkel's Panzer divisions would be rolling through Belgium as we speak.

    Prat.

    This gives me another opportunity to waffle about European integration. During the 1990s and the Balkans instability, the combined military expenditure of the EU was around 2/3rds that of the US. The US had a win two, hold two (simultaneous major theatre wars) doctrine at the time, but the EU couldn't intervene in Bosnia. Last I heard, the EU had about 1/2 the US budget but (EU Commission estimate, a hotbed of federalism so probably biased) 1/20th the capacity.

    The US is able to benefit from substantial economies of scale. The EU has been attempting to replicate this. Clearly it is in the interests of Europeans not to have to rely on outside actors, and it is in the interests of US taxpayers not to have to pay for European security. If the US gov were motivated by strengthening the "Free World" then it would welcome this. If it were motivated by strengthening itself, it would oppose this.

    It has always opposed this.

    "Hitchins proves that even an atheist can be a real dick. I don't know how much scotch I'd have to drink to swallow the whole Bushie agenda."

    He hasn't. He's been pretty critical of the way the 'Bush agenda' has been implemented. At best he seems to consider Bush a useful idiot.

    Speaking of consistently, I find that CH's critics on blog comments haven't really read much of what he's written. I have, and while I don't agree with all of it, it's almost always well-argued and rarely doctrinaire conservative.

    By Steven Sullivan (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Indeed. "Doctrinaire" is one of the last words that comes to mind when I consider Hitchens.

    I do not agree with everything Hitchens have to say, so it's a good thing that's not necessary. I do agree that waterboarding is torture though. And I think torture is wrong, it may be the last desperate resort for the at least somewhat noble and sophisticated, an emotional and primal outburst of sorts, but it seems to be a natural thing for the barbaric and the savage.

    If we are to be the good guys, representatives of the most advanced civilisation so far, then surely it's inevitable that we behave accordingly. Right? So why don't we...?

    By Dr Strangelove (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Well, this thread lowered Earth's IQ by 200 points.

    Posted by: Douglas Watts

    So sorry the conversation is beneath you. The internet must be a painfully tedious place for someone of such brilliance.

    However, thank you for stopping in to point that out. I'll pass around a memo or something, okay? Would that make you happy?

    Sorry, but I just can't get myself all worked up with outrage over a few piece of shit terrorists that are left breathing after this procedure was used on them...

    What that tells people of conscience is that you are a piece of shit. We know very little about the people that you blithely label "a few piece of shit terrorists", including whether they are guilty of any crime, but we do know quite a bit about you, from your lack of conscience and humanity to your gullible acceptance of Bush administration labels -- which in some cases were applied as a favor to the Chinese government to some inconvenient rebels.

    As we saw in the long torture threads a while back, there are some very sick human beings, and a few of them have, predictably, surfaced here. All the points made there of course still apply, so I won't bother to repeat them.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

    and i would happily waterboard pelosi, reid, hoyer and the rest of the now-majority dems who stood by and let this happen in my name. they had their mandate. they failed.

    You're an even lower piece of garbage than Sandy, and even more ignorant.

    By truth machine (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

    "I'm ashamed to admit that I would like to see all of the proponents of torture in this awful war subjected to this treatment; it is by an act of conscience that we have to say it must not be allowed to happen to anyone."

    You would like to see waterboarding done on them, yet it's an outrage if it's done on fanatics who want to behead all infidels and no doubt apply torture themselves with even greater zeal? I hope that isn't white guilt speaking again.

    J once again demonstrates a complete failure of comprehension and logic. PZ stated that he is ashamed of his desire, and that conscience demands that it never be acted on. Sheesh.

    By truth machine (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

    frog@64. Well said!

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I have mostly liberal views, but I can see torture being justified in cases were there is very good reason to believe someone has knowledge about an imminent attack.

    Would it be justified to torture some innocent person who had that information but was unwilling to give it up because they had been told that their kidnapped family would be killed if they did? If no, then exactly what is sufficient to justify torturing someone? Slapping a thought-stopping "terrorist" label on them?

    As for "I have mostly liberal views", refer to Phil Ochs' song, "Love me, I'm a Liberal".

    By truth machine (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I think things like this happen because their is such enormous public/political pressure for results, but unfortunately directed in a destructive direction.

    You're wrong. Recall that Dick Cheney said of public opinion against the war, "So what?"

    By truth machine (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I love Hitchens debates, but hate his politics.

    Hitchens' politics are complicated. Recall that he used to be a regular at Zmag along with such people as Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, and wrote a book about the crimes of Henry Kissinger. But he went a bit nuts about Islam after 9/11.

    By truth machine (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

    "It's great at producing confessions, not so much at reliable intelligence."

    What's the evidence for this?

    If one assumes that torture is part of a general intelligence-gathering operation in which confessions can be somewhat cross-checked and the results fed back to the torture chamber, one should be able to meter the punishment against the accuracy of the information received and train subjects to tell more of the truth.

    What pathetic hypocrisy. First you ask for evidence, and then blather on ignorantly about what "should" happen if one "assumes" things. In fact, there is no evidence for your absurd claims, but extensive literature and expert testimony on the unreliability of the fruits of torture. Do any investigation and you will find this confirmed.

    And you're misusing the phrase "devil's advocate" -- it doesn't apply to views you actually hold.

    By truth machine (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

    That would be a good question for Obama and McCain: "If elected, are you going to pardon the torturers or are you going to pursue an investigation and see that justice is served?"

    There's a striking tendency of people to assume that, if they aren't aware of something, it hasn't happen. This leads to a very distorted view of the world, especially when the media is so selective in presenting information. (Consider, for instance, how the candidate with 8 homes and whose wife drops $750,000 on her credit cards in one month isn't the one who is viewed as "elitist").

    In fact, this question has been posed to Obama and he has answered it:

    http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/attytood/Barack_on_torture.html

    What I would want to do is to have my Justice Department and my Attorney General immediately review the information that's already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued. I can't prejudge that because we don't have access to all the material right now. I think that you are right, if crimes have been committed, they should be investigated. You're also right that I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt because I think we've got too many problems we've got to solve.

    So this is an area where I would want to exercise judgment -- I would want to find out directly from my Attorney General -- having pursued, having looked at what's out there right now -- are there possibilities of genuine crimes as opposed to really bad policies. And I think it's important-- one of the things we've got to figure out in our political culture generally is distinguishing betyween really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity. You know, I often get questions about impeachment at town hall meetings and I've said that is not something I think would be fruitful to pursue because I think that impeachment is something that should be reserved for exceptional circumstances. Now, if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in coverups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law -- and I think that's roughly how I would look at it.

    By truth machine (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I thought Christians were supposed to have morals.

    I wonder if Sam Harris, the other advocate of torture for the good side would have the same amount of courage.

    Harris is rather sickening on this matter, as he pretends that he's just exploring an abstract question independent of actual situations -- (paraphrase) "Sure torture is wrong, but you pansy liberals are just being intransigent ideologues if you refuse to admit that there's some situation in which it would be justified". It's the same position that dungeon dweller Jamie took in the famous torture threads here. Alan Dershowitz is another in that camp.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

    You completely missed the point. It is not an excuse, it's an inevitability. To expect any military ever would pass on any opportunity for advantage just reeks of asinine idealism.

    This claim and the rest of your blather reeks of ignorance coupled with undue arrogance.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

    It saddens me how so many people in this thread are on the extreme-left side of politics. That's the image that most people get of atheists these days, and it's really not the case. I just hoped there would be more moderates here on PZ's blog.

    As for torture... it's probably acceptable in some circumstances, e.g. nuclear bomb is about to go off and only the person sitting in front of you knows the abort codes... but I don't know about common day-to-day usage.

    Damn, you've got to admire Hitchens veracity as a reporter

    Not when he reporting on, say, Michelle Obama's thesis. Or much of anything else having to do with that family. But he's done a service here -- it's enough that he gives some credit to Malcolm Nance, who already did all this and much more, including giving his expert testimony before Congress: "Waterboarding is not simulated drowning -- it is drowning" --
    http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2007/11/09/nance/

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Is it wrong of me to think that Chris Hitchens getting waterboarded ought only to be the aperitif before the main meal - which is, of course, his vile brother having the soles of his feet beaten?

    Our military bases or the equipment we provided have stabilized European internal conflicts for decades. - chigurh

    Really? Examples?

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

    It saddens me how so many people in this thread are on the extreme-left side of politics.

    It saddens me how so many people are sheep-stupid enough that their mental concept of "far left" is in many cases slightly to the right of center.

    As for torture... it's probably acceptable in some circumstances, e.g. nuclear bomb is about to go off and only the person sitting in front of you knows the abort codes...

    And you torture someone who you THINK knows the codes, they don't, they say whatever they think you want to hear to make you stop, you enter the codes they give you, the bomb's internal software recognizes the failed code entry and detonates prematurely, giving you somewhat less time to evacuate at least some of the people in the blast radius...

    What part of "TORTURE DOES NOT PRODUCE RELIABLE INFORMATION" do you peabrains not get?

    #150 falsely astated

    Well, this thread lowered Earth's IQ by 200 points.

    What a crock, you haven't heard about the conservation of points theory?

    It saddens me how so many people in this thread are on the extreme-left side of politics.

    How touching. But for me, it's sad that you're an ignoramus and concern troll who tosses around a phrase like "the extreme-left side of politics" without the faintest idea of what that means, or any indication of what is actually wrong with that view (or of the views expressed here, which don't fit that description).

    That's the image that most people get of atheists these days, and it's really not the case.

    PZ isn't just an atheist -- he's a smart, informed, liberal atheist. Of course there are other sorts of atheists -- like you, apparently.

    I just hoped there would be more moderates here on PZ's blog.

    It's hard to know how many there are when the term goes undefined. But it's good to keep in mind what Jim Hightower says: "All you find in the middle of the road is yellow stripes and dead armadillos".

    As for torture... it's probably acceptable in some circumstances, e.g. nuclear bomb is about to go off and only the person sitting in front of you knows the abort codes...

    As has been discussed extensively, in this thread and others, such scenarios do not occur.

    but I don't know about common day-to-day usage.

    There's obviously a lot that you don't know about.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 02 Jul 2008 #permalink

    It saddens me how so many people in this thread are on the extreme-left side of politics.
    I think that's because they're mainly American atheists. As much as I try to defend them, Americans are a confused bunch, it seems. If an American isn't a homophobic, xenophobic Christian, the high probability seems to be that he or she is an ultra-leftist fanatic bordering on a communist, who despises the West with the fire of a thousand suns, and reacts hysterically whenever a primarily non-white-skinned group is assailed.

    Maybe that's somewhat of an overstatement, but their politics is considerably too "black-or-white" for my liking.

    Harris is rather sickening on this matter, as he pretends that he's just exploring an abstract question independent of actual situations

    Truth Machine, I am wary of going up against your formidable skills on this question, but my past encounters with Sam Harris haven't led me to that impression of pretense at all. I felt he was completely honest, sincere and earnest about approaching the idea of torture any time he has mentioned it. He dislikes the idea very much, but he wants an honest discussion on the subject, rather than hysterics.

    e.g. from this post http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-controversy2/
    "For what it's worth, I do too. It would be much easier to simply be "against torture" across the board and end the discussion"

    My position is similar to his, in that I can conceive of absurdly unlikely hypothetical scenarios in which torture would be the ethical choice, but I don't believe that there has ever arisen -in all history- a real-life scenario in which torture was ethical, and I highly doubt that such a scenario will ever arise.
    You may think he is being naive in advancing such arguments given the current political climate, but I don't see a strong case for him having malign intentions.

    As is his thing, Harris seems to want to keep the discussion rational instead of based on reactionary or emotive arguments. I don't see the need to vilify him for that.

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    no general informations were harmed when #165 stated:

    I thought Christians were supposed to have morals.

    You rode the short bus to school, huh?

    Lee Brimmicombe-Wood,
    I don't know about the Portuguese, and I think you're right about Malaya, but the British certainly used torture in Kenya - see for example the Wikipedia article on the Mau-Mau uprising.

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    all you need is white middle class college sophomores and one authority figure and you can get a whole lotta torure goin on. - scooter@98
    I don't see how that goes against the point I made. If it's easy to get ordinary people to act as torturers does not mean that doing so does not damage them. Also, while both Milgram's experiment, and the Stanford Prison Experiment of Philip Zimbardo support the implication that it's easy to get people to torture or abuse others, a partial replication of Zimbardo by Haslam and Reicher carried out in Britain in 2003 (which unlike Zimbardo resulted in peer-reviewed publications) gave very different results. These kinds of experiments are very difficult to do both methodologically and ethically, and we should be cautious about extrapolating from the few that have been carried out.

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Thomas Jefferson is rolling in his grave at 5000000 rpk. - Helioprogenus

    What, Jefferson the well-known and respected slaveowner, rapist and hypocrite?

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Didn't the Nazis have great success rounding up the French Resistance because of information gained through torture? Hasn't torture been used with success by pretty much everybody throughout time?

    No. Most of the Nazi successes against the Resistance were the result of French traitors, intercepted radio messages and normal police-style investigative work. See, for example, the stories of Jean Moulin and "White Rabbit".

    Torture has been used successfully, in the sense that it produces compliance and confession. If you think it is a good way to produce truth, you then have to argue that there really were large numbers of women in the 16th and 17th centuries who had met Satan face to face.

    silent santa said this about Harris:
    #176

    You may think he is being naive in advancing such arguments given the current political climate, but I don't see a strong case for him having malign intentions.

    REALLY?

    You have stumbled upon a basic paradign, is he an idiot, or a liar?

    Harris pretends to be an equal religion basher, but hasn't uttered a really stinging attack against any Jew born after Levitacus was written, despite their Warsaw Ghetto approach to the Palestinian problem.

    He confuses Saudis with Iranians (not arabs) and Syrians and equates 9-11 with Palestinian suicide bombers.

    He rants about the stoopidity of Christianity, but whenever pressed he resorts to Muslim Bashing and 'honor killing' and genital mutilation, and goes all weepy over Hirsi Ali.

    Hirsi Ali was born in a backwater African undeveloped shithole, not unlike Mississippi 75 years ago but had the privelege of not being raped by her siblings and neighbors and pregnant at twelve.

    As far as the concept of honor killing, one needs to collect data on the numbers of young American women TODAY who are murdered by their drunken trailer trash fathers for being whores. These would be westerners, with televisions and iPods, children of the Enlightenment.

    Then one should collect data on the treatment of two million American Prisoners, highest per-capita in history
    and how they are faring.

    Then one should compile data on the probabilty of being slaughtered by law enforcement accidentally as compared to the threat of a terrorist attack.

    Then one should compile data on how many Muslims have been slaughtered in the past five years compared to his fictional boogey-man terrorist Islamic threat.

    That would be about a half a million to ten thousand ratio.

    This fraud pretends to represent rationality and reason against the inevitable forces of evil religion, always exemplified by the the Islamic threat in the end.

    He has a good stand up act, but anyone who would mistake this con-man as actually quoting anything like real data does not understand basic scientific principles or simple mathematics

    ALL of the evidence is against him. ALL of the figures prove otherwise. Anyone who is buying his bullshit is a VenomFangX class moron.

    J,

    If an American isn't a homophobic, xenophobic Christian, the high probability seems to be that he or she is an ultra-leftist fanatic bordering on a communist, who despises the West with the fire of a thousand suns, and reacts hysterically whenever a primarily non-white-skinned group is assailed.

    What nonsense you can come up with sometimes !

    I think indeed this ultra-leftist American fanatic exists only in your imaginary world of far right wing propaganda.

    I don't find any of what is being written here by these American atheists that surprising, nor hysterical, nor ultra-leftist compared with what I can read everyday in some of the more intelligent french or German or even british press. Obviously, you probably automatically filter this out from your reading spectrum, so for you, what's being said here on this blog is just ultra-leftist fanatism.

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    It saddens me how so many people in this thread are on the extreme-left side of politics. That's the image that most people get of atheists these days, and it's really not the case. I just hoped there would be more moderates here on PZ's blog.

    As for torture... it's probably acceptable in some circumstances

    Moderate (noun): Person who favours torture in some circumstances.

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    mikey at #110, hang in there. I resisted seeing some one a long time, but it has been worthwhile working with a professional. It has not made the dreams go away, but has made them easier to deal with. PTSD is a real thing, both my brothers and I, all Vietnam era, suffer it.

    Patricia - I hope you are never angry at me, but would like you at my back in a bar fight. (smile)

    Matt - your scenario is not realistic. I can see me sliding into torture on a very, very slightly more plausible scenario: a known child murdered admits to having abducted one of my granddaughters but refuses to say where she is hidden. This is the "Dirty Harry" scenario. Do I advocate torture in this case or torture him myself if the situation allows? If I am honest with myself, pretty sure I would take the blow torch to his feet. That is wrong, that is why law has to take precedence, because many of us would stoop to torture in such cases. It is always wrong to torture and it is difficult to know, in every case, when people are really guilty or even have the information you need.

    Depressing thread, need coffee and cigs. Ciao

    I think indeed this ultra-leftist American fanatic exists only in your imaginary world of far right wing propaganda.
    On the contrary, there are many people I consider "ultra-leftists" even on this blog. The fact that you label me a far-right-winger for merely disagreeing with a few "lefty" views indicates that I'm correct: there definitely is an extremist leftist climate here.

    Nick,

    I think the correct translation for this guy and many others (J,...) is more generic :

    extreme-left side of politics : anybody who openly criticizes or in some cases cannot tolerate some of the morally bankrupt policies followed by successive American administrations (eg in this case torture)

    moderate : anybody who acquiesces, shuts his mouth and stays happy (eg in this case torture)

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Truth Machine, I am wary of going up against your formidable skills on this question, but my past encounters with Sam Harris haven't led me to that impression of pretense at all.

    This was discussed extensively in the previous torture thread. I find your lack of impression unimpressive.

    I felt he was completely honest, sincere and earnest about approaching the idea of torture any time he has mentioned it. He dislikes the idea very much, but he wants an honest discussion on the subject, rather than hysterics.

    You and Harris rule yourself out as honest discussants by labeling a principled stance as "hysterics".

    Other than to oppose it, why should Harris or anyone want "an honest discussion on the subject"? Do you actually believe that his animus towards Islam and his insistence that U.S. foreign policy has nothing to do with the violence in the ME and his repeatedly castigating "liberals" for suggesting it does ... has nothing to do with his position on torture? (If you're ignorant of his position or think I have misstated it, seek out his editorial in the L.A. Times where he laid it out.)

    My position is similar to his, in that I can conceive of absurdly unlikely hypothetical scenarios in which torture would be the ethical choice

    What makes it "ethical", as opposed to merely utilitarian? See my question in #160. I dare you to answer it, and honestly delineate the character of the person being tortured that would make torturing them "ethical", rather than implicitly assuming that anyone labeled "terrorist" is fair "ethical" game if there's some sufficient (which people like you and Harris refuse to delineate) utilitarian benefit of the torture.

    And what purpose is served by concocting such scenarios and insisting that those who oppose torture in real life admit that there are such "ethical" choices and claiming that those who refuse to admit it are "hysterical"? I can tell you the practical effect -- it acts to undermine the principled opposition, it serves to label those who disagree with Harris's political stance as "hysterical", it allows people to blur the distinction between these hypotheticals and real scenarios, it allows people to justify torture ... with all the qualifications omitted.

    You may think he is being naive in advancing such arguments given the current political climate, but I don't see a strong case for him having malign intentions.

    It is you who is being naive, perhaps out of ignorance of Harris's broader political stance on the ME and Islam. And it is always in that context, and always with talk of "terrorists", that people like Harris discuss these matters and propose these scenarios. Harris engaged in a political fight but pretending that it's something else; that's dishonest.

    As is his thing, Harris seems to want to keep the discussion rational instead of based on reactionary or emotive arguments. I don't see the need to vilify him for that.

    What self-serving and hypocritical pap. Harris, like Hitchens, is quaking in his boots over "the Islamic threat".

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    extreme-left side of politics : anybody who openly criticizes or in some cases cannot tolerate some of the morally bankrupt policies followed by successive American administrations (eg in this case torture)
    I've already indicated that I think torture is an abomination. Obviously I don't think it should be used by the American administration, and I haven't given you one reason to believe otherwise. What you're doing is coming up with lies and hoping you'll get away with it.

    A tentative definition of "extremist leftist": someone who reacts wildly and irrationally to any view which even vaguely appears unlefty.

    J, define "extremist leftist"?

    Then provide some evidence (if you would be so kind) of these "extremist leftist" views, placing them in to political, cultural, and historical context, please?

    Thanks. I look forward to what should be an "interesting" reply.

    Here's that Sam Harris editorial, which only a very dishonest person could describe as not based on "reactionary or emotive arguments":

    http://articles.latimes.com/2006/sep/18/opinion/oe-harris18

    And here's his view of those silly liberals and their "imagined" causal relationships:

    Given the degree to which religious ideas are still sheltered from criticism in every society, it is actually possible for a person to have the economic and intellectual resources to build a nuclear bomb - and to believe that he will get 72 virgins in paradise. And yet, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, liberals continue to imagine that Muslim terrorism springs from economic despair, lack of education and American militarism.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    J,

    The fact that you label me a far-right-winger for merely disagreeing with a few "lefty" views indicates that I'm correct: there definitely is an extremist leftist climate here.

    How was that to be avoided ? All you have done so far on this thread is to attack people for being "ultra far leftist" and you haven't even yet made one substantial comment about what it is you exactly disagree about on this issue of torture.

    So please stop just confronting people with nonsensical statements and start making comments that have some substance, if you do have some disagreements let's hear them first, before the snark attacks, ok ?

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Moderate (noun): Person who favours torture in some circumstances.

    And as for one who believes in human rights? An ultra-left extremist.

    By Grammar RWA (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    A tentative definition of "extremist leftist": someone who reacts wildly and irrationally to any view which even vaguely appears unlefty.

    As I noted, these fools have no idea what such terms actually mean.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    "I think indeed this ultra-leftist American fanatic exists only in your imaginary world of far right wing propaganda."

    On the contrary, there are many people I consider "ultra-leftists" even on this blog.

    That's not "on the contrary", that's confirmation. I've known ultra leftists ... Trotskyites, members of CPUSA, anarcho-syndicalists ... none of them are posting here, and they would laugh at the absurdity of thinking that anyone here fits that description.

    At the same time, I don't think J is "far right wing" ... he seems to be a run-of-the-mill American imperialist, despite not being American.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    The fact that you label me a far-right-winger for merely disagreeing with a few "lefty" views indicates that I'm correct: there definitely is an extremist leftist climate here.

    That's devoid of any logic. All it indicates is that one person thinks you're a jerk of a certain sort, but perhaps inaccurately labeled what sort.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    What is it with the people who hurry to point out that Hitchens didn't get the "real" waterboarding treatment? Is it vindictiveness or just petty pedantry?

    Even if it wasn't "real" waterboarding, Hitchens' account of the experience is nonetheless compelling. I might add that even his controlled experience is A FUCK OF A LOT CLOSER TO THE REAL THING than what virtually anyone and everyone in the public sphere who has seen fit to express an opinion about waterboarding, or about torture in general, has undertaken to experience first-hand. Sure, it wasn't as brave as jumping into an erupting volcano to save a kitten, but what do you want?

    There's another plausible reason, besides vindictiveness or pedantry, to hammer on the difference. That's to remind people that while what we are seeing here is horrible, and no one doubts that Hitch's terror was genuine, the acts the US military is engaging in are even worse, and so there's that much more of an imperative to end it.

    By Grammar RWA (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    A tentative definition of "extremist leftist": someone who reacts wildly and irrationally to any view which even vaguely appears unlefty.

    a) define an "unlefty" view then
    b) I don't see many wild and irrational reactions here, quite the contrary, so there can't be that many "extreme leftists"

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I don't find any of what is being written here by these American atheists that surprising, nor hysterical, nor ultra-leftist compared with what I can read everyday in some of the more intelligent french or German or even british press. Obviously, you probably automatically filter this out from your reading spectrum, so for you, what's being said here on this blog is just ultra-leftist fanatism.

    Even though you're probably right that J filters it out, he must surely be aware of it, as opposed to most Americans who are rarely exposed to anyone to the left of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    That's devoid of any logic. All it indicates is that one person thinks you're a jerk of a certain sort, but perhaps inaccurately labeled what sort.
    That would be the case if only one person here has called me a far-right-winger. In fact, many people have.

    At the same time, I don't think J is "far right wing" ... he seems to be a run-of-the-mill American imperialist, despite not being American.
    Oh yes, you're a real machine, you. Let's try feeding in this tidbit of information: I've always been against the Iraq war. Does that compute?

    That's not "on the contrary", that's confirmation. I've known ultra leftists ... Trotskyites, members of CPUSA, anarcho-syndicalists ... none of them are posting here, and they would laugh at the absurdity of thinking that anyone here fits that description.
    In which case there are neo-Nazis and social Darwinists who would laugh at you and your chums calling Republicans far-right-wingers.

    Enough of these futile attempted proofs that I'm using "extremist leftist" in the wrong way. You think you're dealing in cold, hard logic, but the truth is such jejune "rebuttals" are patently self-defeating for your cause.

    Let's try feeding in this tidbit of information: I've always been against the Iraq war. Does that compute?

    So have plenty of run-of-the-mill American imperialists ... Pat Buchanan, for instance. But perhaps "American exceptionalist" is more accurate ... your knee-jerk swipes at critics of American foreign policy certainly fits that mold ... coupled with the smell of another familiar agenda, as you repeatedly self-describe yourself as assailing certain non-white populations. But hey, you have no axe to grind, heh heh.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    In which case there are neo-Nazis and social Darwinists who would laugh at you and your chums calling Republicans far-right-wingers.

    Hey, cretin, did you fail to notice when I wrote I don't think J is "far right wing"? No, of course you didn't, you're just a dishonest pustule wielding a tu quoque argument. That calling you a right winger is laughable doesn't rebut the point that you calling people here ultra leftists is laughable ... they are of the same sort.

    Enough of these futile attempted proofs that I'm using "extremist leftist" in the wrong way. You think you're dealing in cold, hard logic, but the truth is such jejune "rebuttals" are patently self-defeating for your cause.

    That's a rather longwinded way of saying that I'm obviously right and you're obviously full of shit.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    TM,
    aware that it exists ? most probably.
    aware of its relative influence ? most probably not. He just ignores it. They are all just a bunch of communists remember.

    In the end you're right, J may be british, but it doesn't make much of a difference, he's quite similar to the run-of-the-mill American imperialist who prefers to isolate himself and go his own way under force of arms and bellicose threats. He completely refuses to see that when finally, economically, politically and morally bankrupt, the US finds herself prostrate at the feet of an angry world, there's going to be a cost required of her. And that cost only gets higher.
    (I stole that line from Mikey, comment #110 who has a very nice blog)

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Whatever else you can say of Hitchens, he had something serious and important to say, and said it in a very dramatic and affecting way. As nothing of the sort can be said of this pathetic "J" troll, I'll leave him to stew in his own juices. Ta ta.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    And by the way, as one may have noticed, J still hasn't mentionned anything with regards to the issue at hand, torture, but of course, Pharyngula hosts a majority of communists.

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    J @175,

    If an American isn't a homophobic, xenophobic Christian, the high probability seems to be that he or she is an ultra-leftist fanatic bordering on a communist, who despises the West with the fire of a thousand suns, and reacts hysterically whenever a primarily non-white-skinned group is assailed

    Whew; you'll want to sit down and catch your breath after that. And, oh: you're wrong. Really, really wrong.

    There is a far left in America, but it is vanishingly small and without the remotest hope of attaining political power. "Liberal", even in the American sense, isn't really very "left". It's all relative, I suppose. The broad spectrum of mainstream American politics, from left to right, maps pretty comfortably onto the spectrum of centre-left to hard-right, not of German politics as a whole, but of the CDU/CSU (Germany's mainstream right wing party). The mainstream political spectrum in America (i) is significantly narrower than in most other developed countries and (ii) skews noticeably rightwards (i.e., it's not that I'd call Obama "rightwing", but he and even people like Edwards would scarcely be considered leftists in other lands).

    As an aside: wow, but TM is on a roll today. Don't know what he had for breakfast, but I need to get some.

    If an American isn't a homophobic, xenophobic Christian, the high probability seems to be that he or she is an ultra-leftist fanatic bordering on a communist, who despises the West with the fire of a thousand suns, and reacts hysterically whenever a primarily non-white-skinned group is assailed.Maybe that's somewhat of an overstatement, but their politics is considerably too "black-or-white" for my liking.

    Wow. This "J" fellow isn't much on introspection or self-awareness, is he? In his honor, I shall call what he does "hypocrony", a dissonant blend of hypocrisy and irony.

    As an aside: wow, but TM is on a roll today. Don't know what he had for breakfast, but I need to get some.

    You really haven't seen much of me ... this was a relatively light effort. Check out those previous torture threads, or the global warming troll-bait thread, with about 1200 posts, 1/4 of which were mine.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Wow. This "J" fellow isn't much on introspection or self-awareness, is he? In his honor, I shall call what he does "hypocrony", a dissonant blend of hypocrisy and irony.
    The truth hurts, doesn't it?

    Oh sorry, he did mention this ;

    I've already indicated that I think torture is an abomination. Obviously I don't think it should be used by the American administration, and I haven't given you one reason to believe otherwise.

    So, what's he doing in this particular thread accusing everybody of far left wing extremism ?

    Does this mean that even when he agrees with what is written on this particular thread, he'll just come up with the snark attack of "ultra far left extremism" for the sake of it, just in case we forget, you know, it might help ?

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Hey, cretin, did you fail to notice when I wrote I don't think J is "far right wing"? No, of course you didn't, you're just a dishonest pustule wielding a tu quoque argument
    Hey, cretin, did you fail to notice that I didn't say you called me a far-right-winger?

    That's a rather longwinded way of saying that I'm obviously right and you're obviously full of shit.
    No, it's rather longwinded way of saying that I'm obviously right and you're obviously full of shit.

    Funny,
    On the several occasions I've visited the US (between 1984 and 2004), I haven't come across anyone who appeared to fit either of J's stereotypes. Must just have been lucky I suppose.

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Also funny,
    J characterises Americans as per #175, but thinks I'm anti-American!

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    So, what's he doing in this particular thread accusing everybody of far left wing extremism ?
    Matt (#168) commented that he's disappointed to find so many extremist leftists on Pharyngula. I agreed with him on that particular point.

    If your complaint is that I shouldn't have brought this up, get off my nuts so as not to not derail the thread any further.

    There is a far left in America, but it is vanishingly small and without the remotest hope of attaining political power.
    The people you're talking about I'm not taking into consideration, any more than neo-Nazis are borne in mind when people here call Republicans far-right-wingers.

    J characterises Americans as per #175, but thinks I'm anti-American!
    The difference between us being, of course, that I'm not habitually posting my "anti-American" observations.

    Anyway, fuck this. What a pointless waste of time.

    The people you're talking about I'm not taking into consideration

    ...

    an ultra-leftist fanatic bordering on a communist

    Enough said.

    By truth machine (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    What a pointless waste of time.

    And to think that PZ said he wasn't self-aware.

    By truth machine (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Come on, J is just a kid.

    Who else could on one hand claim that they believe that torture is an abomination and that it shouldn't be used by the American administration, and yet make as his first comment in this thread a snark attack about the fact that people in this thread are a bunch of hysterical ultra-leftist fanatics bordering on communists ?

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    yet make as his first comment in this thread

    You have it backwards. But his statement that torture is an abomination was used as club to bash PZ and yet another excuse to inject his racism. Note my response at #158.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    It's also worth noting J's attribution of actions of one set of persons to another set that is common in justifications of torture or indefinite detention of "terrorists":

    it's an outrage if it's done on fanatics who want to behead all infidels and no doubt apply torture themselves with even greater zeal?

    Shades of Sandy. It has not been established that this is true of all of those whom the U.S. has waterboarded. Whether or not J is "right wing", it is certainly something he has in common with those who are.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    ... and yet make as his first comment in this thread a snark attack about the fact that people in this thread are a bunch of hysterical ultra-leftist fanatics bordering on communists ?
    Not very good with facts, are you? Once again, you get them "arse-backwards". My first post in this thread was #31, in which I said:

    Torture is horrible when it's done on anyone. Regardless of their crimes. Full stop.

    I couldn't have been more explicit about that. The contradiction engendered by my later "snark attack" is an item of your fantasies.

    J,

    Matt (#168) commented that he's disappointed to find so many extremist leftists on Pharyngula. I agreed with him on that particular point.

    No J, you can't read !

    This is what Matt wrote :

    It saddens me how so many people in this thread are on the extreme-left side of politics.

    You see, it says, "in this thread". SO that means you agree with him, that the fact that people in this thread have been condemning torture and what this administration has been doing puts them on the extreme-left side of politics.

    Which makes of you a complete imbecile, because you yourself, have admitted in your own post #189,

    I've already indicated that I think torture is an abomination. Obviously I don't think it should be used by the American administration, and I haven't given you one reason to believe otherwise.

    So please read, before you start your horses and your irrational comments ok ?

    Grow up !

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I've known ultra leftists ... Trotskyites, members of CPUSA, anarcho-syndicalists ...

    The POUM was not the CNT-FAI. Statists do not qualify as ultra-left (though some may lean far in that direction).

    none of them are posting here

    Ahem.

    Wow. This "J" fellow isn't much on introspection or self-awareness, is he? In his honor, I shall call what he does "hypocrony", a dissonant blend of hypocrisy and irony.

    The truth hurts, doesn't it?

    I've never written this before, and generally oppose its usage, but...LOL!

    Post #221 is pathetic in its intellectual dishonesty even by your gutter-dwelling standards, Truth Machine. Very conveniently, you leave out what I wrote immediately after the "behead all infidels" sentence.

    Don't take this wretched, demented obsessive's interpretation on faith. Read post #31 for yourself and see if he's being fair.

    What J is, is a racist.

    What J is, is a racist.
    Yes, because by the SC Theorem we have the equality

    anti-Islam = racism.

    The result follows.

    Very conveniently, you leave out what I wrote immediately after the "behead all infidels" sentence.

    What you wrote immediately after that is "I hope that isn't white guilt speaking again.", which I had quoted previously, but had no bearing on the point in #221.

    Don't take this wretched, demented obsessive's interpretation on faith. Read post #31 for yourself and see if he's being fair.

    Who do you suppose you're talking to? All those "ultra leftists"? There isn't anyone here who hasn't concluded on their own that you're a pathetic jackass troll.

    By truth machine (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Matt #168

    Left or Right, Up or Down, who gives a shit? Torture is inhumane regardless and the only label that needs be applied to those condoning torture is Evil.

    That it takes such an extreme situation for you to even consider condoning it makes you not quite as evil as the "anything goes" crowd, but it certainly makes you more evil than the "leftists" you're loathe to keep company with on this blog.

    The POUM was not the CNT-FAI. Statists do not qualify as ultra-left (though some may lean far in that direction).

    I'm not going to get tangled in your molasses again.

    Ahem.

    My apologies if my overgeneralization excluded you.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I thoroughly enjoy reading Hitchens and listening to him speak, especially about religion. His opinion on Iraq doesn't necessarily correspond to mine, but you've got to respect his willingness to subject himself to torture so he can legitimately denounce it. You don't see anyone in the Bush administration volunteering for it to show that "it's not so bad". It is bad, and it is torture.

    What J is, is a racist.
    Yes, because by the SC Theorem we have the equality
    anti-Islam = racism.

    Funny how J characterizes himself as "anti-Islam" but claims he has no axe to grind.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    regular use of phrases such as "and reacts hysterically whenever a primarily non-white-skinned group is assailed," regardless of their relevance to the subject under discussion

    +

    constant use of the word "savages," especially when referring to Africans, Middle Easterners, etc.

    +

    positive attitudes repeatedly expressed toward imperialism

    =

    racism

    + references to "white guilt".

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I'm not going to get tangled in your molasses again.

    I'll take that as a compliment, though I doubt it was intended as such :).

    My apologies if my overgeneralization excluded you.

    No worries.

    I approve of the work you've done here.

    And what purpose is served by concocting such scenarios and insisting that those who oppose torture in real life admit that there are such "ethical" choices and claiming that those who refuse to admit it are "hysterical"? I can tell you the practical effect -- it acts to undermine the principled opposition, it serves to label those who disagree with Harris's political stance as "hysterical", it allows people to blur the distinction between these hypotheticals and real scenarios, it allows people to justify torture ... with all the qualifications omitted.

    I'd say you just earned that Molly, truth machine.

    By Grammar RWA (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I'll just correct a few more lies before I go.

    regular use of phrases such as "and reacts hysterically whenever a primarily non-white-skinned group is assailed," regardless of their relevance to the subject under discussion
    This can be lumped in with my use of "white guilt", which I believe is a real thing. I don't believe I'm superior for being white, but I'm also not going to feel guilty either. And I'm not going to give non-white-skinned groups special treatment, as I believe many liberals do.

    constant use of the word "savages," especially when referring to Africans, Middle Easterners, etc.
    The truth is, I've only called Islamic fundamentalists "savages". That includes the white converts to Islam who subscribe to its barbaric precepts.

    positive attitudes repeatedly expressed toward imperialism
    A barefaced lie. I haven't once expressed a positive attitude toward imperialism or aggressive foreign policy -- let alone "repeatedly".

    I'd say you just earned that Molly, truth machine.

    Thanks. But I believe I was awarded it largely because of my efforts in the previous torture threads where I engaged at length with Jamie, who was later banished to PZ's dungeon, and where I addressed Sam Harris's arguments; this is just a lightweight repeat of that effort.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    If you are new to the blog and wish to determine the veracity of J's protestations @ #237 for yourself, please search under "posted by: J."

    Scooter: "Then one should compile data on how many Muslims have been slaughtered in the past five years compared to his fictional boogey-man terrorist Islamic threat.

    That would be about a half a million to ten thousand ratio."

    OK, Scooter, but let's forget about Western victims of Islamist terrorism for a moment and just ponder Muslim victims of militant Islamism - in Darfur, Southern Sudan, southern Thailand, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Somalia, Somalia, Iran, whether by terrorism or state persecution. Pakistani Shiite mosques bombed by Salafist fanatics, black Darfurians being murdered by fanatics and having their Korans destroyed, Iranian gays and women executed under "morality" laws and so on. Is militant Islam still a "fictional boogeyman"?

    And I'm not going to give non-white-skinned groups special treatment, as I believe many liberals do.

    I believe that one must be racist to reach that conclusion .. that racism infuses the reasoning and the selection of evidence that leads to the conclusion.

    I haven't once expressed a positive attitude toward imperialism or aggressive foreign policy

    Your attacks on criticisms of U.S. foreign policy amount to such.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    It is interesting that many on both left and right fail to distinguish between the categories of 'Muslims in general' and 'militant Islamists.' Is it really so difficult a cognitive task? This inability to realize that these are not interchangeable categories leads to a host of consequent errors, the specific nature of which depends on ideological orientation.

    Is militant Islam still a "fictional boogeyman"?

    You seem to be implying that someone claimed otherwise. Perhaps you should read what you quoted again ... how ever many times it takes you to spot the difference.

    I would note that current U.S. foreign policy is not aimed at addressing any of the ills you named.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Is it really so difficult a cognitive task?

    That's peculiar after you just demonstrated a similar confusion, and then offered a ridiculous equation between the left and right. The claim that the left fails to distinguish between "Muslims in general" and "militant Islamists" is an absurd slander.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Is it really so difficult a cognitive task?

    Viewing it in those terms "leads to a host of consequent errors". Here is Sam Harris from the LA Times editorial I cited:

    A cult of death is forming in the Muslim world - for reasons that are perfectly explicable in terms of the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. The truth is that we are not fighting a "war on terror." We are fighting a pestilential theology and a longing for paradise.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    TM:"The claim that the left fails"

    I said "many on both left and right" not the whole left (or right) in general.

    Scooter was not arguing that Harris' view of the Islamist threat is actually a "fictional boogey-man"? What does Scooter think about that?

    Your rehabilitation here is well on its way, truth machine, now that you are using your powers on the side of the angels (against bad guys like me) rather than shotgun spray-style gratuitous insults.

    I may have to qualify my earlier characterization of J. I've suspected for a while now that the ideas he's expressed here may be less rooted in pre-existing attitudes than the result of a powerful boy-crush on Sam Harris.

    Still not sure.

    I should add that one could reach similar conclusions about "the Christian world" if one were to make inferences solely from literal readings of the bible, while ignoring all the political and environmental factors that interact with and manipulate religious attitudes.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Scooter was not arguing that Harris' view of the Islamist threat is actually a "fictional boogey-man"?

    You kept "fictional boogey-man" but changed what it applied to, you dishonest git.

    Your rehabilitation here is well on its way, truth machine, now that you are using your powers on the side of the angels (against bad guys like me) rather than shotgun spray-style gratuitous insults.

    Fuck your pompous ass.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    And yes, Harris' view of the Islamist threat is a fictional boogeyman, whereas militant Islam is not a fictional boogeyman.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    To be accurate, scooter referred to "the terrorist Islamic threat".

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    TM: "one could reach similar conclusions about "the Christian world" if one were to make inferences solely from literal readings of the bible, while ignoring all the political and environmental factors that interact with and manipulate religious attitudes."

    TM, let me quote myself from a couple of months ago:

    "Whether the issue is honor killings or extreme fertility, citing verses from religious texts (Torah, New Testament, Koran, Book of Mormon) is of limited utility in understanding why these behaviors are being manifested.

    Within religious communities think of religious texts as the DNA of religious behavior. Must be directly determinative, right? Not at all. Just like genes are differentially epigenetically silenced and have their transcription induced by steroid hormones that bind to DNA, so can cultural DNA be differentially expressed in vastly different ways. Think of the phenotypic diversity of cell types, all genetically identical, within an organism. It all depends on the epigenetic context and the current cellular environment.

    Changing the cultural, economic, and political context of a religious community will have a massive impact on the way any religious text is interpreted and its injunctions realized."

    Given that, would anyone argue that the brand of Orthodox Christianity represented by the Legion of the Archangel Michael (Iron Guard) was NOT a death cult? Same with the war jihad brand of Salafism championed by Qutb and Zawahiri.

    My views are not synonymous with Harris'. For one, he's into mystical goofballism. And he paints Islam with too broad a brush. But the same is true with some of the anti-Christian polemics floating around.

    Note: My auto-quote is a remark I showed some friends based on one of my scienceblog thread comments; I don't recall whether it differs from the original comment.

    I'm going to quote and highlight scooter to make what he was saying clear, and then I'm out of here:

    Then one should compile data on the probabilty of being slaughtered by law enforcement accidentally as compared to the threat of a terrorist attack.

    Then one should compile data on how many Muslims have been slaughtered in the past five years compared to his fictional boogey-man terrorist Islamic threat.

    That would be about a half a million to ten thousand ratio.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    "The claim that the left fails to distinguish between "Muslims in general" and "militant Islamists" is an absurd slander."

    One of many, in fact. The political left of today is not nearly as guilty as the political right of today convinces itself it is. I've never heard a liberal openly call for the protection and appeasement of militant Islamic groups. They wouldn't, because those groups oppress women and other minorities, among other revolting things. Further, there are no openly communist Democrats in government. This was nearly true even decades ago. One of the biggest mistakes the Democrats made in the 60s was letting the right define their narrative, instead of fighting back and showing how much better they were.

    The left today is still considered weak, most unfortunately, even though it has been the biggest agent for positive change in our society. Everything from workers' rights to the protection of freedoms (even for those slandering them from the right), civil rights, etc. I personally would be considered a liberal today, simply because pretty much all of my political stances happen to be things the right in the US has walked away from wholesale, even some issues that were once theirs or were pioneered by their presidents. I have never once been a member of the Democratic Party, and do not intend to join them any time soon. I just tend to vote for them because well, they're so much less insane than the alternative. But because the times happen to label me a liberal does not make me a communist, a socialist, a terrorist sympathizer, a gun hater, or any other false negative construct the right persists in fearing wantonly. Quite simply, the political left in the US needs to find a real pair of stones and start getting scrappy. There are signs this is starting to happen, but WTF happened to the Democratic juggernaut of the 40s, 50s and 60s?

    And the left is correct on the terrorism issue: it's a policing and intelligence effort, not a mass-scale military one. What never ceases to amaze me is that the people of this country bought Bush's "unconventional war" meme, but then apparently didn't make the connection that, even leaving the real reasons for going into Iraq aside, he and his administration was fighting this "21st century unconventional war" so conventionally. If it's an unconventional war, why do we have 150,000 troops and accompanying equipment occupying another country? Why don't we have increased investment in ME experts and native speakers loyal to the US? Why don't we have massive friendly diplomatic efforts with ME countries? Why aren't we plying them with economic benefits for helping us? Why are we throwing rocks instead of holding out carrots?

    Why, why, why?

    But we're left with things as they are, and America's image utterly soiled for the barbarism that we as a people seem mostly unwilling to put our lives and well-being on the line to stop, even when it's in our name. And on that I'm as guilty as anyone else.

    By BlueIndependent (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Colugo:

    Your rehabilitation here is well on its way, truth machine

    Who the hell died and made you the judge of that? Or anything at all, for that matter?

    As is his thing, Harris seems to want to keep the discussion rational instead of based on reactionary or emotive arguments. I don't see the need to vilify him for that.

    -Do you think there are theoretical scenarios in which suicide bombing can be morally justified?

    -What would you think of a Middle Eastern intellectual who wants to start a public discussion about this subject, but says that this has nothing to do with any real-world suicide bombing that may be going on?

    Waterboarding has been used on a very very very very limited number of terrorist captives... Furthermore, it hasn't been used for over 5 years. At this point, many more journalists and commentators have undergone waterboarding than terror detainees.

    This is simply a side-show, a distraction, and a broad-brush defamation by leaving out important details such as how often and in what circumstances the procedure has been used.

    TM:"The claim that the left fails"

    I [i.e.,. Colugo] said "many on both left and right" not the whole left (or right) in general.

    So what your original comment really meant was "an unspecified percentage of people with an unknown distribution between left and right"? And that's useful to the conversation because... ???

    Either the claim that TM attributed to you was included within your comment, or your comment was vague to the point of uselessness. What's your pleasure?

    By Bill Dauphin (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I luv Windy. (Even though she called me a moron ... but I deserved it.)

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    eddie (#258)

    Go the fuck away, you worthless catamite of a diseased shitweasel.

    . What's your pleasure?

    Weaseling, apparently. My point was about a false equivalence. Colugo's only instance of these "many" on the left was scooter, whom he grossly misrepresented.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Waterboarding has been used on a very very very very limited number of terrorist captives - eddie

    How do you know? Are you the head torturer, perhaps?

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Waterboarding has been used on a very very very very limited number of terrorist captives

    1. You don't know that.
    2. Are these the terrorist captives that are terrorists on say-so only?
    3. If you don't torture all that often, it's okay? That is what you are saying, right?

    a broad-brush defamation

    Of whom, if not those who approved and applied torture, and apologists for same?

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    If torture is wrong then why does it matter how few people it has been carried out on ? Does that somehow minimise the damage done to the victim, the torturers, the public and world opinion of the US ?

    By Matt Penfold (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    you worthless catamite of a diseased shitweasel.

    I had to look up "catamite" -- and now I wish I hadn't. Blast your eyes.

    What would you think of a Middle Eastern intellectual who wants to start a public discussion about this subject, but says that this has nothing to do with any real-world suicide bombing that may be going on?

    Actually ... I said "Harris is rather sickening on this matter, as he pretends that he's just exploring an abstract question independent of actual situations" but in the link that silentsanta gave, which I hadn't read at the time, Harris is quite specific:

    My argument for the limited use of coercive interrogation ("torture" by another name) is essentially this: if you think it is ever justifiable to drop bombs in an attempt to kill a man like Osama bin Laden (and thereby risk killing and maiming innocent men, women, and children), you should think it may sometimes be justifiable to " water-board" a man like Osama bin Laden (and risk abusing someone who just happens to look like Osama bin Laden). It seems to me that however one compares the practices of "water-boarding" high-level terrorists and dropping bombs, dropping bombs always comes out looking worse in ethical terms. And yet, many of us tacitly accept the practice of modern warfare, while considering it taboo to even speak about the possibility of practicing torture.

    This is what I call the "It's not as bad as Hitler!" justification of evil. It's simply a fallacy to justify something on the basis that something else is worse -- whether or not it is worse, and I think Harris's comparative ethics are arguable, to say the least.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Harris (as quoted by truth machine @268):

    It seems to me that however one compares the practices of "water-boarding" high-level terrorists and dropping bombs, dropping bombs always comes out looking worse in ethical terms.

    It seems to me that this is rather horrifyingly 180 degrees out of phase from any ethical terms I could agree with. I believe there are circumstances that justify the use of force — up to and including lethal force (e.g., dropping bombs) — but those circumstances never justify gratuitous physical cruelty.

    Somebody here (brokenSoldier, perhaps?) recently made the point that torture isn't war, it's war crime. Harris seems to be saying that a little war crime now and then is ethically preferable to war. I think he's got that exactly backwards.

    By Bill Dauphin (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Eddie,

    Waterboarding has been used on a very very very very limited number of terrorist captives... Furthermore, it hasn't been used for over 5 years.

    Think you moron, it shouldn't be a big deal then, that's what you're suggesting isn't it, then why does the US government still insist on not recognizing that waterboarding is torture ? Why does the US government still refuse to sign article 22 of the UN convention on torture and allow individuals to make allegations of torture against the US government and to try perpetuators as criminals ?

    Come on, if you have so much inside information about what's going on, give us the explanation.

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    @180,

    Well, he was a product of his time and as arcane as his beliefs were regarding slavery and emancipation, he was also far ahead of his time in libertarian philosophy. Go back far enough, and I'm sure plenty of our ancestors had thoughts and actions that would never cut it in this modern day. This doesn't mean that they were amoral, indecent people. It was just the Zeitgeist of the time. Isaac Newton's personal deistic belief may be laughable to us, but it doesn't make the Principia Mathematica less relevant to us. Don't get me wrong by the way, I'm not an apologist for idiotic thinking regarding the classification of certain human beings as property, but what I was referring to was in the realm of platonic thoughts and ideals.

    By Helioprogenus (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I have mostly liberal views, but I can see torture being justified in cases were there is very good reason to believe someone has knowledge about an imminent attack.

    But don't you wonder, in that circumstance couldn't you perhaps just use the same techniques that you used to determine that there was an imminent attack on the way and that this person knows something about it? Apparently, whatever methods were used for that were highly successful.

    Don't get me wrong by the way, I'm not an apologist for idiotic thinking regarding the classification of certain human beings as property, but what I was referring to was in the realm of platonic thoughts and ideals. Helioprogenus

    I'm sure that would have been a great comfort to Jefferson's victims. Quakers and others were already opposing slavery in the 17th century. Jefferson died a slaveowner in 1826, despite knowing very well slaveowning was wrong.

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    those circumstances never justify gratuitous physical cruelty.

    To be fair to Harris, he's not talking about gratuitous cruelty. Presumably he would argue that no more cruelty should be applied than is absolutely necessary (none, if possible) to stop the ticking bomb.

    But there's a fundamental emotion-based cheat going on when he talks of torturing bin Laden or "terrorists". No one (except Jamie and the most radical utilitarians) claims that it's ethical to torture innocent people, yet that could be necessary in order to stop the ticking bomb (see #161). So torture being "ethical" doesn't rest just on the utilitarian benefit of stopping the ticking bomb, but also on the view that terrorists are more deserving of torture than non-terrorists. And that gets us to the same problem with "gratuitous" cruelty -- cruelty applied out of animus. And of course it gets us to the quite arbitrary and self-serving way that the word "terrorist" is applied as an ad hoc justification of torture. (cf. "witch")

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    The major flaw with the "ticking time bomb" scenario is that it presumes that the tortured terrorist will tell the truth. Torture is simply about control and dehumanization, not about national security.

    Black 47's "Fanatic Heart" is a great, harrowing song about torture:

    Then they took me inside, threw me up against a wall
    They put electric prods on my chest and my balls
    And they told me to sign things that I knew weren't true
    And in the end I did what they told me to do
    Then they locked me up and threw away the key
    And left me there with just your memory.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7v8zp8oMNLs

    By Longtime Lurker (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Lee Brimmicombe-Wood,

    your high opinion of the fascist Salazar regime is irritating, to say the least. I don´t know if your claim that the Portugese used no torture to get informations is true, but they certainly used physical punishments that I would consider torture to break people. As for Portugese military success, well, they were quite successful in Angola and Mocambique, but they were pretty much beaten in Guinea - Hamilcar Cabral seems to have been a general worthy of his Carthagian namesake (perhaps he was a little bit too competent for stalinist tastes, for he was murdered under suspicious circumstances, perhaps by his own subordinates)

    J,

    What you criticise are fairly mainstream liberal views, not the ones of the radical left.
    Having a grudge against the west and the modern world (often accompanied by feeling the need to identify with some noble savage*) does not mean you are a leftist, leave alone a radical leftist, or a communist. It is just middle or upper class rebellion against modernity. Right-wingers - from the jacobites of the 18th century to the fascists of the mid 20th century, and from the Vendee to the islamists of today - can do this stuff much more efficiently than leftists. If you hate the idea that blacks and women are allowed to drive cars, you will have problems to hold this views and to be a progressive at the same time. You will end up with some strange dialectic bends in your ideology, to say the least.
    Note that Hitchens is pro-war not in spite of being a radical, but because he is. Thirty or even twenty years ago, most radicals dreamt of civil war and revolution by force of arms (although probably not the arms of the US). Hitchens just staid true to his old dreams, while most of his peers made a about-face and adopted a Metternich- or Kissinger-like position of maintaining the status quo.

    *Before somebody claims that I am calling non-western
    people savages here: I´m speaking of the largely imaginary
    noble savages of (racist - "positive" racism is still
    racism -) white fantasy.

    > Ditto the state of Israel doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to them.
    # 106,

    Crap. Usually I don´t feed trolls, and like some other commenter aptly said, life is to short to discuss this topic, but this is too gross. Comparing a conflict that causes losses of human life comparable with normal crime in cities like Lagos, Caracas or Sao Paulo with the Holocaust is just obscene. Perhaps we need an über-Godwin for comparisions of Jews with Nazis.

    scooter,

    the same holds true about comparing a place like the territory administrated by the palestinian authority, were the main causes of death are cardiovascular diseases caused by obesity, with the Warsaw ghetto (this said, I think #106 is a troll. and scooter is not). As for the question wether islamism or djihadism or however you can call that thing is a boogeyman or a real threat, well, that depends where you live. It might be a fictional boogeyman in suburbia. It is a threat, if not (always) a deadly one, if you live in a french banlieue and are a goth or an emo. And it is most definitly a deathly threat if you live in Dafur.

    # 107,

    Yeah, blame the Jews for American war crimes. This will help :-(

    On the contrary, there are many people I consider "ultra-leftists" even on this blog. The fact that you label me a far-right-winger for merely disagreeing with a few "lefty" views indicates that I'm correct: there definitely is an extremist leftist climate here.

    You wouldn't know "far left" if it walked up and shook your hand. Give me a break.

    It really comes down to a very simple idea. Put yourself in someone else's shoes for a minute. Imagine that our government finds something they consider odd about someone you love's actions. Make it one of your parents, or spouse, daughter, son, grandparent, grandson or daughter, whoever you love the most (yourself if you're feeling narcissistic). Imagine there's no solid proof that they have committed a crime, but there was a suspicious event they were loosely connected to.

    Do you feel like it would be justified to haul them off without proper (or sometimes any)legal representation for an undetermined time and do the things our government is doing to some of these detainees? Are you cool with them being sleep-depriving, cut off from contact with the outside world and then waterboarded? If your answer is yes, OK, I disagree with you and think you aren't being honest with yourself, but you are at least being consistent. If the answer is no, you'd better be fighting these kinds of actions.

    Personally, if this was done to my wife, one of my parents, or similar, I'd be trying to think up ways to hurt that government in the most painful of ways. I doubt I'm alone in this.

    Ahhh, I love the smell of Pharyngula in the morning. :)
    #249 - Truth Machine,OM - Tut, tut...you shouldn't invite the idiot to 'fuck your pompous ass' unless you know the idiot is a citizen of the state of Washington, wherein it is perfectly legal to fuck an ass, pompous or humble. Quizzling point perhaps... ;)
    #261 - Graculus - "you worthless catamite of a diseased shitweasel." Such elequence, so early in the morning. Thankyou for putting the stars in my eyes today. :)

    eddie @ #258:

    Waterboarding has been used on a very very very very limited number of terrorist captives... Furthermore, it hasn't been used for over 5 years. At this point, many more journalists and commentators have undergone waterboarding than terror detainees.

    [citation needed]

    And where did you hear this? From the voices in your head? From known liars? Make no mistake, the very people who ordered torture in the first place claimed, on national television, that they were not doing so, knowing that they were lying.

    And even if these totally unsupported claims of yours were actually true, it doesn't make it right. It's still torture. It's still wrong. It's still illegal. It was still done, in our names, to innocent people.

    More of eddie's idiocy:

    This is simply a side-show, a distraction, and a broad-brush defamation by leaving out important details such as how often and in what circumstances the procedure has been used.

    What details? Where did you get these details? From the sworn testimony of the voices in your head?

    Do you agree that burning people alive is wrong? Would it be okay if it were only done to a few people? Would you like to be one of those people? If not, maybe you've got a chance of understanding why torture is wrong even if it's limited to a small group. Of course, it will require some thinking, which may be a new concept for you.

    By phantomreader42 (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Having a grudge against the west and the modern world (often accompanied by feeling the need to identify with some noble savage*) does not mean you are a leftist, leave alone a radical leftist, or a communist. It is just middle or upper class rebellion against modernity.

    Yeah, right, Pharyngulans are in rebellion against modernity, blah blah blah etc.

    As for the question wether islamism or djihadism or however you can call that thing is a boogeyman or a real threat

    Good job on ignoring #254 and related posts. That isn't the question.

    # 107, Yeah, blame the Jews for American war crimes. This will help :-(

    #107 doesn't mention Jews. As a Jew, I'm sick of the scum who justify the crimes of the state of Israel with bogus claims of anti-semitism, which allies them with real anti-semites who employ the same false equation, blaming all Jews for those crimes.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Post #221 is pathetic in its intellectual dishonesty even by your gutter-dwelling standards, Truth Machine. Very conveniently, you leave out what I wrote immediately after the "behead all infidels" sentence.

    Oh, you mean the bit about "white guilt?"

    This is supposed to help your case how?

    "I have mostly liberal views, but I can see torture being justified in cases were there is very good reason to believe someone has knowledge about an imminent attack."

    What makes you think the information they tell you would be real or useful? People'll say anything to make the pain stop, including lies. Their information is not reliable. If it were "imminent", by the time you found out the info wasn't true it would be to late. Factor in that as soon as an operative is grabbed, plans are either scrapped or changed completely by any even remotely competent cell or group in almost all cases, and all your torture did was dehumanize yourself.
    Life isn't like TV or the movies...

    Tut, tut...you shouldn't invite the idiot to 'fuck your pompous ass'

    You have a reading comprehension problem ... although that's minor compared to your general worthlessness.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    And I'm not going to give non-white-skinned groups special treatment, as I believe many liberals do.

    And if our culture hadn't had a de facto "affirmative action" policy in favor of white males for the entire duration of its existence, continuing in many circles to this day, there might be something to that complaint.

    Oh, you mean the bit about "white guilt?"

    This is supposed to help your case how?

    I think he was actually referring to "Torture is horrible when it's done on anyone. Regardless of their crimes. Full stop." -- but it has no bearing on my point, which was about stereotyping.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    You have a reading comprehension problem ... although that's minor compared to your general worthlessness.

    No doubt that was unduly harsh ... but I don't take kindly to being "tut tut"ed, and I didn't "invite" anything.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    #273

    You can go back far enough, even before the quakers and the Byzantine Emperor Justinian was also opposed to slavery. Quaker's weren't the first and it wasn't until the a general public started to view slavery as amoral in the United States that politicians also changed their views. Throughout history, you've had periods of slavery followed by periods of general emancipation, and it wasn't until the rights that were inalienable were applied to people of color have things changed unalterably. Yes, it's true that when Jefferson thought of liberty, he was thinking of European ancestry, no indians or africans were in consideration. Yet, we can go further and apply those standards that stood so well to every race. That is progress, and Jefferson was an essential part of it, albeit arcane for our time. This isn't even just about Jefferson but anyone who had views that we now see as hypocritical. They may not have the evolved sensibilities we do now, but things had to start from somewhere.

    By Helioprogenus (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    #249 - Truth Machine,OM - Tut, tut...you shouldn't invite the idiot to 'fuck your pompous ass' unless you know the idiot is a citizen of the state of Washington, wherein it is perfectly legal to fuck an ass, pompous or humble.

    Now, now, Patricia, let's leave Enumclaw out of this...

    truth machine, OM:

    There's that shotgun scatter again. You totally missed Johannes' point and you attacked someone on your side (and bashing me) who was making a joke. Direct your fire at me (and the cliché-spouting J), not your allies.

    As a half-Jew, it's a bit tiresome to see people begin their arguments with "As a Jew..."

    I'm just yanking your chain, TM. Hell, I've missed you. These threads are too sedate without you and He Who Shall Not Be Named (but to fair Cal was commenting too much).

    "Waterboarding has been used on a very very very very limited number of terrorist captives... Furthermore, it hasn't been used for over 5 years. At this point, many more journalists and commentators have undergone waterboarding than terror detainees."

    These assertions require sources to prove them.

    "On the contrary, there are many people I consider "ultra-leftists" even on this blog. The fact that you label me a far-right-winger for merely disagreeing with a few "lefty" views indicates that I'm correct: there definitely is an extremist leftist climate here."

    Then you seem to have terribly poor indicators for detecting "ultra-leftism", or maybe you don't really know what "ultra-leftism" even is, beyond associating it with another term, communism. This blog is not "extremist leftist" in any way shape or form. It does not harbor a multitude of communists, or even socialists. You certainly seem to have bought wholesale into the right's incessant carping about something that no longer exists, i.e. the Cold War and the non-existent communist threat. I'm liable to think you're not even sure what communism is, but throwing around Rush Limbaugh's vocabulary feels fun, so you keep doing it, even if you sound like a complete moron.

    The right's standards for someone being an "ultra-leftist", "extremeist leftist", communist, socialist, whatever, are so freaking low there is no discerning between moderate positions and non-conservative ones. This is mendacious intellectual fallacy intended to drive the all positive discussion into conservative camps, and away from any other positive viewpoint.

    By BlueIndependent (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Why thankyou sir, I'll try applying more powder to that blemish. Your right - tut, tut is a bit cheeky this early in the morning. However, my general worth isn't yours to value.

    Colugo, Did I bash you?! I do beg your pardon, I certainly didn't mean to.
    I must need more coffee.
    Honestly, sorry! Now I do feel the twit & will tut, tut myself till I figure it out.

    those circumstances never justify gratuitous physical cruelty.

    To be fair to Harris, he's not talking about gratuitous cruelty.

    Yah, I agonized over that expression, and almost left it out. Probably should have, as you're certainly correct that Harris would argue the cruelty he's advocating isn't gratuitous, because it's in service of a higher goal.

    I guess the (admittedly not-fully-baked) idea I'm struggling to articulate is that I think using pain, per se, as a tool is always gratuitous and inhumane.

    To put it more concretely, I can imagine circumstances under which I would be ethically justified in punching you, or knocking you out, or even killing you; I cannot imagine circumstances under which I wild be ethically justified in bending your pinkie 'til it broke or running needles under your fingernails for the purpose of causing you maximum pain. Nothing you might have done, nor anything I might want to compel you to do, would justify such action in my mind. I confess I don't yet have a cogent argument — beyond a Potter-Stewart-esque declaration that I know inhumanity when I see it — to support the indwelling certainty I feel about this... but Harris (or anyone else) will have to work pretty damn hard to change my mind.

    BTW, it is of course nearly impossible to know what sort (and how much) torturing we've actually done (the torturers have precious little incentive to talk), but I tend to doubt much of it has been done in "ticking-bomb" scenarios, anyway. I have a sense that this administration has tortured people simply because they believe (often without any evidence or judicial oversight) that they're "evildoers," and thus must know "stuff." Besides, evildoers aren't really people anyway, right?

    By Bill Dauphin (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Patricia: "I do beg your pardon, I certainly didn't mean to."

    Please don't worry about it; I probably deserved it. :-) I, idiot? Yeah, sometimes.

    Different topic:

    I can certainly think of circumstances for which subjecting someone to waterboarding is justified; in fact, it routinely occurs and that was the case even before Bush became president.

    Special operations forces training. These and other tortures, hardships, and deprivations have long been features of POW survival training. But, importantly, trainees have effectively volunteered for such treatment.

    Make of this what you want:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7229169.stm

    "CIA head Michael Hayden told Congress it had only been used on three people, and not for the past five years.

    He said the technique had been used on high-profile al-Qaeda detainees including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. ...

    The two other men Mr Hayden said the CIA had also used waterboarding against are also top al-Qaeda suspects, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, both from Saudi Arabia."

    I can certainly think of circumstances for which subjecting someone to waterboarding is justified;....

    Special operations forces training.

    I'm sure you can't be suggesting that training volunteers to withstand being tortured is morally similar to using torture... can you?

    "The two other men Mr Hayden said the CIA had also used waterboarding against are also top al-Qaeda suspects,..."

    The key word there is "suspects." Should we, under the guise of interrogation, do to people who have not been formally charged (let alone convicted) of any crime that which no court in the land (or in any even vaguely civilized land) would allow us to do as punishment if they had been convicted?

    My fear is that real evildoers will forever escape justice because we've so comprehensively fucked up their capture, detention, and trial (if we ever get around to having trials, that is).

    By Bill Dauphin (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Scooter @182

    "Harris pretends to be an equal religion basher."

    I don't think he makes that claim at all.

    "but whenever pressed he resorts to Muslim Bashing and 'honor killing' and genital mutilation, and goes all weepy over Hirsi Ali."

    I am reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali's autobiography at the moment. I'm only a few chapters in, and I'll decide how to think about it after I have read it.

    "As far as the concept of honor killing, one needs to collect data on the numbers of young American women TODAY who are murdered by their drunken trailer trash fathers for being whores. These would be westerners, with televisions and iPods, children of the Enlightenment"

    I am aware of the massive chasm between what people perceive as a threat, and what is actually threatening. Security expert Bruce Schneier has some interesting things to say about that.
    Regardless, this is strong incentive to keep the discussion rational, which I am thrilled appears to happen here so far

    Truth Machine @188

    "You and Harris rule yourself out as honest discussants by labeling a principled stance as "hysterics".

    Don't be absurd. There are people that make considered ethical judgements, and there are other people that will dismiss some activity (such as torture, but another example might be abortion) by arguing by assertion, etc without providing a justification for their position, or relating it back to (say) explicitly specified moral axioms that they consider foundational.
    It is an obvious truth that not every human being has a strongly thought-out position on such activities as 'torture'- why would they? Presumably, most of them would not encounter it frequently in their daily lives. If you're suggesting that the only response we receive is thoughtful argument, you must be new to the internet :)

    "Other than to oppose it, why should Harris or anyone want "an honest discussion on the subject"?"

    For the same reasons I do. Namely, because I am interested in ethics, and -quite apart from any contemporary politics - I hope to see the moral progress of civilization advanced further through rational discourse (whether by me or those who disagree with me).
    Basically, when I cast off the shackles of my religion several years ago, -because I found it irrational to have the unnecessary axiom 'Jesus was who he claimed', I needed to find a new ethical system.
    In order to choose one I need an honest discussion of all ethical systems. At the moment, I am inclined towards a form of negative utilitarianism, but I can see there are places where it falls down, repugnant conclusions and the like, and I don't like what it indicates about torture. However, there are drawbacks with the deontological route that as well.

    I can't really speak for Harris, but the way I read him, it sounded as though he sees many people in the world operating as if they have an unassailable, categorical argument against torture in all circumstances, but when pressed they either don't seem to have it, or are unable to enunciate it clearly. Why would we want "an honest discussion" on the subject? So that afterwards our ethical positions are well-founded, and that we are able to defend them when pressed. Surely such an outcome would be the greatest defense against potential catestrophic failures in ethics.

    Your question at 160, which I will answer without hesitation.
    "Would it be justified to torture some innocent person who had that information but was unwilling to give it up because they had been told that their kidnapped family would be killed if they did? If no, then exactly what is sufficient to justify torturing someone? Slapping a thought-stopping "terrorist" label on them?"

    I cant see how that wouldn't depend on the information. If it was to save 5 people, no. If it was to save 100 people, probably no as well. But suppose it would prevent 5 and a half billion people from dying horribly, I would have to say that it isn't quite so goddamned clear to me anymore. And my thinking goes that if I concede that scenario, then I have already established that it appears to be a matter of the degree of things, rather than a categorical yes or no. Then, to be consistent, if it is indeed a matter of degree, then I wish to understand what the variables to consider are and how to balance them better- hence I advocate an 'honest' discussion of the matter.
    Please note: This is an absurdly unlikely scenario, and as I have said earlier, I don't think torture has ever been justified in real life, either historically or in contemporary circumstances. I will refuse to engage discussion with anyone who infers from it that I support the behaviors of the bush administration or similar reigimes.

    "And what purpose is served by concocting such scenarios and insisting that those who oppose torture in real life admit that there are such "ethical" choices and claiming that those who refuse to admit it are "hysterical"

    Don't latch onto my use of the term hysterical. As I have said earlier, some people will back up their conclusions with an argument, or analogy, or hypothetical scenario as you have given me, and others will argue by assertion. You have to understand that with (I suspect) the majority of the opinion against me on such an emotional issue, the discussion often degenerates into disbelieving indignation instead of discussion of the issue. Please believe us when we say we have encountered 'hysterics'. But the very fact he (and I) are continuing to engage in this discussion indicates that we don't expect that from everyone, and please don't think I am accusing you of it.

    "I can tell you the practical effect -- it acts to undermine the principled opposition, it serves to label those who disagree with Harris's political stance as "hysterical", it allows people to blur the distinction between these hypotheticals and real scenarios, it allows people to justify torture ... with all the qualifications omitted"

    You may be entirely correct on this one- I'm not a citizen of a country engaged in such practises (to my knowledge) and I don't have any useful data on the practical efffects of such discussions. But people make claims about Harris' intentions, and -as I have said- I consider the point of this discussion to ensure sound, strong arguments for the ethical conclusions we draw- not some political point.

    Windy @257

    Do you think there are theoretical scenarios in which suicide bombing can be morally justified?

    Let me see, if there are scenarios in which any kind of bombing are justified, and given my position on voluntary euthanasia, then I don't see why suicide bombing would be less ethical than bombing of a non-suicide category. I don't see any relevant distinction between the two. And are their scenarios in which normal bombing is justified?
    I couldn't rule it out if I concede the idea of a 'just' war. Eg, I think it was a tragedy that the UN didn't go into Rwanda, whose outcomes would almost certainly have been vastly improved- the actual path taken seems to me a crime of negligence. I'm not certain whether there are any current wars I consider justified, though.

    What would you think of a Middle Eastern intellectual who wants to start a public discussion about this subject, but says that this has nothing to do with any real-world suicide bombing that may be going on?

    I would certainly be suspicious to begin with, but would base my opinon on his responses to any well-supported coherent arguments for and or against that were submitted to him. If he acts with integrity, and is not negligent (say in allowing his points to be skewd and misused in the conflict) then all is well.

    I'm going to stop here as i'm late for work, will hopefully add more later

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Took a while to work up the fortitude to take a gander. I forced myself in the end to go ahead and watch it.

    Patricia #54 is right. Horrible.

    For many of us, if there had been only the report to READ (and I had read about it earlier), without the video, one might have quipped that Hitchens had

    at least done a bit of penance for having been such an assinine war-monger.

    Unfortunately, Patricia, while I hope this experience will encourage him to change his tune, I doubt it.

    But this is WAY too serious for any wisecracks, which just compounds the obscentity of it. Against the evidence served to the eyes and ears from the video, any such pokes become as insensitive as the monsters who adore how their banner/logo looks with that lurid bandaged skull on it.

    Reminder: these one-crack-mind assholes (and other concerns, like the well-known "private" schwarzwasser who cultivate similar hateful ideologies, not far removed from any garage-based skin-headed Nazi-glorifying sonsovbitches) are funded by taxpaying American citizens. Every freedom and liberty-loving American must agree they need to be stamped out.

    By Arnosium Upinarum (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    TM @268

    Harris: " It seems to me that however one compares the practices of "water-boarding" high-level terrorists and dropping bombs, dropping bombs always comes out looking worse in ethical terms. And yet, many of us tacitly accept the practice of modern warfare, while considering it taboo to even speak about the possibility of practicing torture."

    TM: "This is what I call the "It's not as bad as Hitler!" justification of evil. It's simply a fallacy to justify something on the basis that something else is worse -- whether or not it is worse, and I think Harris's comparative ethics are arguable, to say the least."

    Harris does no such thing. He against what he percieves as an inconsistency; he wants us to provide solid reasons why we accept one (warfare) and not the other (torture), when they are often similarly brutal in their application. To his mind, we are left with three choices- either
    a. the equivalence is false, OR
    b. torture should be as acceptable as this kind of warfare OR
    c. this kind of warfare should be as unacceptable as torture.
    He seems to indicate that after searching he still hasn't come across a compelling argument for 'A' as yet, which leads him to the other two alternatives. In no way does he invoke Hitler as the sole definer if the boundaries of ethically unsound behavior, and I haven't the faintest idea where you got that idea from.

    Just so I understand where you are coming from, which angle (a, b, or c, or, something I have missed) do you take? And if it is A (which I believe you implied), can you describe what distinguishes the two?

    TM @ 274
    But there's a fundamental emotion-based cheat going on when he talks of torturing bin Laden or "terrorists".

    I think he is using terrorists as the simplest way to get people to consider his arguments. What choice does he have? Suppose his arguments (as in this Jamie discussion you mention, which I read some of last christmas) involved hypothetically torturing one's own mother. That would be a good way to get people offended and upset and refuse to continue rational discussion.

    Bill Dauphin @269
    "Somebody here (brokenSoldier, perhaps?) recently made the point that torture isn't war, it's war crime. Harris seems to be saying that a little war crime now and then is ethically preferable to war. I think he's got that exactly backwards."
    This is a discussion of ethics, not discussion of legality - laws can be unethical (casual example: ban on mixed-race marriage) can therefore cannot be used as a description of what is ethical or not. Additionally, it seems that something should generally be ethical unless we can provide a cogent argument for why it isn't (hence why Gay marriage should be allowed). We therefore need a solid, clearly expressed ethical refutation of torture and cannot defer to legal documents.

    I would be a much happier person if I had such a refutation. But as it is which Christians, wishing something were existed does not make it so.

    I hope this discussion gives me such a refutation, and that I can walk away with it, and spread it and live by it.
    Gentlemen, (and ladies) let loose with your refutations of torture (categorical preferrably- we all already concede that in all but the most extraordinary circumstances it is unethical, the dispute is over extraordinary circumstances).

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    This is a discussion of ethics, not discussion of legality

    I'm not sure we're disagreeing, but just of the sake of clarity let me say that my reference to the term "war crime" was not intended in any legalistic sense. That is, I hold torture to be a moral "crime," regardless of what statutes may exist.

    Additionally, it seems that something should generally be ethical unless we can provide a cogent argument for why it isn't...

    FSM forfend that the moral status of torture should stand or fall based on the cogency of the opposing rhetoric! Does Potter Stewart's artful inability to precisely define obscenity mean no such thing exists?

    There's a legal term of art that I've heard a few times (though I don't pretend to have mastered): "Shocks the conscience." Would it be sufficiently cogent to declare that torture is immoral because it shocks the conscience of all decent people?

    By Bill Dauphin (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I'm pretty sure this isn't enough, but a start?

    1) War works - as expressed in "Cobra Event" (Fiction) about biological warfare, you may not like the result, but it works. It is effective at seizing land or people or preventing others from doing so (and sometimes to get rid of people). It isn't clear that torture works at obtaining reliable information - it might get confessions, but not necessarily good information. If it doesn't work, it hasn't a point.

    2) Intention matters a lot. Acts whose sole intention is to cause pain and suffering are unacceptable, while those that may cause it but do not intentionally do may or may not be, depending on intention (for example, some medical procedures hurt, but are better for the ones undergoing them than less painful alternatives, while firebombing cities to minimize an enemy's military capacities is good or bad depending on who's bombing (/sarcasm)). Torture is pretty close to the firebombing end, and when its lack of efficacy is factored in, it looks solely like a way to hurt people you don't like.

    3) War does this as well, but it seems (but I don't have good evidence other than posts above) that participating in actions to intentional cause pain and suffering changes people in ways that make them less human. Being nonproductive and turning its perpetrators into morally and emotionally crippled people seems like killing two birds with one stone - but the birds are yours.

    Other than working, war doesn't have anything to recommend it. What it works at may be horrid, but we can't seem to get over what makes us desire dominance in ourselves yet, and so it goes on.

    FSM forfend that the moral status of torture should stand or fall based on the cogency of the opposing rhetoric! Does Potter Stewart's artful inability to precisely define obscenity mean no such thing exists?

    Yet it is exactly the same requirement that we like to make of all other ethically disputed things. We are not free to assume that interracial marriage, gay marriage, contraception, and masturbation are wrong and then await arguments to the contrary. Unless something can be tied down to its effects on human suffering, dignity, autonomy, justice, privacy, I think we have no basis to class it as unethical.
    Yes, it is sometimes unpleasant, but the onus is on us to explain (for example) why slavery is wrong, which it undoubtedly is. But the default position should be that of liberty, even if it seems that "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance".

    There's a legal term of art that I've heard a few times (though I don't pretend to have mastered): "Shocks the conscience." Would it be sufficiently cogent to declare that torture is immoral because it shocks the conscience of all decent people?

    Was this argument not also used against woman's suffrage, then interracial marriage, and presently gay marriage?
    Therefore, while 'Shocking the concience' is a useful indicator of whether something is emotionally powerful, it cannot absolve us of the responsibility of mounting a coherent rational defense of our position.

    Please do not mistake me- I am allowing for the possibility of- (in fact, hopeful for) a rational, categorical dismissal of the practise of torture. But I don't have one yet and would like to borrow yours and or TM's. But it should be out in the open, widely known and accessible where it can do the most good. And it should be as solid and iron-clad as we humans can make it.

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Helioprogenous (#289) -

    Yes, it's true that when Jefferson thought of liberty, he was thinking of European ancestry, no indians or africans were in consideration.

    Although it bears consideration that the original rough draught of the Declaration of Independence contained the following clause (which was eventually struck out by the Continental Congress):

    he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it's most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

    Far from being a complete modern progressive on this issue, however, Jefferson espoused for a long time the view that black slaves should be freed and then peacefully deported back to Africa. But to say that Jefferson didn't view "liberty" as being an inalienable right of Africans and Indians is simply not true.

    By AtheistAcolyte (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Hap, I'm going to give you some more ammunition- here is an interview with a North Korean who was a torturer, and reading it, I find it's pretty heartbreaking how easily we humans adapt to this monsterous behavior.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/this_world/3440771.stm

    And regarding your 3 points, I fully agree that if torture is ineffective at eliciting information, then I cannot think of a single (even extraordinary hypothetical) scenario in which I would consider it remotely ethical to apply.

    "Acts whose sole intention is to cause pain and suffering are unacceptable"
    Agreed. Although I should qualify this by saying I think people should be legally free to insult each other verbally, although it is a minor ethical infringement to do so.
    But in all 'ticking timebomb' scenarios, intent is to reduce pain and suffering (of a significantly larger group) not to cause it arbitrarily or as a 'sole objective'. I think that suggesting causing pain and suffering is the 'sole objective' is incorrect.
    In cases where that is the sole objective, I am sure we both agree that torture is absolutely unethical.

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Hitchens is not quite clear: if "drowning" is strictly defined as an avenue to death, the waterboarding IS a "simulation of the feeling of drowning". One is NOT "being drowned, slowly". It isn't exactly true that he has, in fact, drowned. He's still alive.

    I would have thought that Hitchens would have been one guy astute enough to have made it clear that the "feeling" that one is being "drowned" - completely at the mercy of strangers (ESPECIALLY under circumstances considerably more dire than a trial simply to test the experience, when one already knows the controlling authority does not respect one's best interests) is NEVERTHELESS completely sufficient to deliver the scare. In that respect, any survivor of this inhumane treatment is actually WORSE off than a person who has died of drowning - the survivor not only retains the memory of it, they possess a severe dread of it happening again, perhaps repeatedly. A dead person (by drowning or any other avenue) has no such worries to fret over. But then, it could very well be that the experience rattled Hitchens up quite a bit. Who could blame him?

    The point I'm trying to make is that it doesn't just feel like you're drowning. It feels like you are DYING. That's the whole idea of it. Incorporating the word "simulation" to it is an obfuscation of obnoxious proportions.

    Torture is a means of scaring the victim into revealing whatever secrets they allegedly hide. The most effective and powerful means of scaring anyone, deep to the bone, is to produce the sensation (yeah, a "simulation", for whatever it's worth) that they are in imminent peril of death. As Hitchens says, alluding to a bit of Lincoln as a source for an extension of "moral casuistry": "Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture."

    I would amend that statement this way: "If torture does not constitute the threat of death, then what the hell is torture good for?"

    Merely inflicting pain isn't quite good enough: that tends to leave potential evidence.

    "Feeling" something IS. "Simulation" of a feeling IS. Why bandy about a non-existent difference? Why the obfuscation?

    At bottom, it's because monsters need the excuse, since they need to be able to do it (on orders from those other monsters who want it performed) and continue to get well paid for it. By us.

    The music played over the festivity is positively pornographic. These bastards obviously need it to get into it and their proper measure of jollies out of it. It's unthinkable to any ordinary sane human being, but they obviously ENJOY it.

    It's also fascinating that no physicians seem to be present during a potentially life-threatening "ex-uh-sahz aynd day-mohn-stry-shun". But then, I guess these guys consider themselves experts in the, ahem, art...and with vigorously acted empathy, dutifully ham it up, asking him if he's breathing, and helping the victim up to a position on his side so he can better breathe.

    This is insanity of the first order. And we're bankrolling it.

    By Arnosium Upinarum (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Harris does no such thing. He against what he percieves as an inconsistency; he wants us to provide solid reasons why we accept one (warfare) and not the other (torture), when they are often similarly brutal in their application. To his mind, we are left with three choices- either
    a. the equivalence is false, OR
    b. torture should be as acceptable as this kind of warfare OR
    c. this kind of warfare should be as unacceptable as torture.

    c with reservations: the stupidest part of Harris's thesis may be the fact that he assumes that most people "tacitly accept the practice of modern warfare". Indiscriminate bombing absolutely is a stupid and inefficient way to try to "kill Osama bin Laden".

    But while I don't find warfare as currently practiced justified, there are situations in which I do find war justified, and civilian deaths are probably unavoidable in those. This is still not an argument for torture, unless you can show that torture prevents wars. Factory farming is worse than drowning kittens, but how is that an argument for drowning kittens?

    I'd actually have respect for Hitchens if he hadn't spent the last 5 years claiming that waterboarding wasn't so bad and that anyone who said differently was a dirty traitor. Do the words, "I'm sorry I was a fucking jerk for the last 5 years" appear anywhere in that article? No? Color me shocked.

    the stupidest part of Harris's thesis may be the fact that he assumes that most people "tacitly accept the practice of modern warfare.

    I agree that this is a little weak, although you may recall that during the invasion of Afghanistan, but before the debacle that was Iraq, Americans (in general) seemed far more accepting of 'the practice of modern warfare'.
    But both you and I have indicated we accept the possibility of a 'just war', so it would be disingenuous of us to labour this point.
    Presumably we each have some idea about some very strict criteria that should be met before even considering the possibility of engaging in war and this seems to be the sensible way approach to the topic.

    "This is still not an argument for torture, unless you can show that torture prevents wars."

    What it is shows is that: if war nearly always wrong, but still justifiable in some set of circumstances S, and torture is indeed "equivalent to" ie "not ethically worse than" war, then we must allow for the possibility that torture could in some set of circumstances (T similar to S) be justified.
    therefore
    C. It makes no sense to rule out torture categorically while allowing exceptions for equivalent (or worse) actions.

    I find such a conclusion repugnant, and my only defense thus far has been that I don't think that such circumstances have ever occurred. But I find my defense flimsy and it bothers me.

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I should address your analogy:

    Factory farming is worse than drowning kittens, but how is that an argument for drowning kittens?

    In this case, if there is an exceptional circumstances S in which factory farming is justified (say, to feed starving children who would otherwise die), and factory farming is worse than drowning kittens, then we should consider that the same exception might apply to drowning kittens (if circumstances arose that meant this would somehow feed starving children).

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Windy, I should address your analogy
    Factory farming is worse than drowning kittens, but how is that an argument for drowning kittens?

    It means that:

    P1. if there is some set of circumstances S in which it is ethical to allow permit factory farming (say, to feed starving children who would otherwise die) and
    P2. Factory farming is worse than drowning kittens
    therefore
    C. Given that same set of circumstances S, it would be ethical to drown kittens (eg if somehow this fed starving children).

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    What it is shows is that: if war nearly always wrong, but still justifiable in some set of circumstances S, and torture is indeed "equivalent to" ie "not ethically worse than" war, then we must allow for the possibility that torture could in some set of circumstances (T similar to S) be justified.

    Who has shown that torture is equivallent to war ? This is riduculous.
    If an alien species tries to colonize the earth and eliminate mankind, you'll see if we don't find it very ethical to justify warfare.
    But torture, no, never, I can't see one set of circumstances when it's justifiable, it doesn't work to achieve its intended goal. The two are evidently not equivallent.

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I don't think he makes that claim at all.

    I think I recall him making something very similar to that claim in response to a challenge by Hedges that he focuses excessively on Islam.

    I am reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali's autobiography at the moment. I'm only a few chapters in, and I'll decide how to think about it after I have read it.

    You may also want to give this a read:

    http://www.alternet.org/rights/66830/

    For the same reasons I do. Namely, because I am interested in ethics, and -quite apart from any contemporary politics - I hope to see the moral progress of civilization advanced further through rational discourse (whether by me or those who disagree with me).
    Basically, when I cast off the shackles of my religion several years ago, -because I found it irrational to have the unnecessary axiom 'Jesus was who he claimed', I needed to find a new ethical system.

    In order to choose one I need an honest discussion of all ethical systems. At the moment, I am inclined towards a form of negative utilitarianism, but I can see there are places where it falls down, repugnant conclusions and the like, and I don't like what it indicates about torture. However, there are drawbacks with the deontological route that as well.

    You have a very strange approach to ethics. Ethical systems are not constructed on an individual basis through the abstract, mechanical application of logic. If you "need an honest discussion of all ethical systems," then get reading. There is an immense literature on torture, particularly since Voltaire and Beccaria. This literature, extending to the present, intersects with that on human rights. I can assure you that you will not find precise, mathematical categorical refutations of torture there. What you will find are reasoned arguments that have generally developed in the context of societies that have witnessed torture. Despite what you seem to think, emotions like human compassion and the abhorrence of cruelty are not contrary to reason. The human conscience, the product of evolution, is central to our ethics. To reject the importance of compassion when formulating your ethics does not make you more rational. It makes you a monster.

    I can't really speak for Harris, but the way I read him, it sounded as though he sees many people in the world operating as if they have an unassailable, categorical argument against torture in all circumstances, but when pressed they either don't seem to have it, or are unable to enunciate it clearly. Why would we want "an honest discussion" on the subject? So that afterwards our ethical positions are well-founded, and that we are able to defend them when pressed. Surely such an outcome would be the greatest defense against potential catestrophic failures in ethics.

    You are woefully naïve if you think that Harris or his supporters on this issue are interested in a polite, rational debate on torture in the abstract. Has the political context escaped you completely? We are witnessing a catastrophic failure in ethics. The best defense against its expansion is the continued recognition of fundamental human rights and action in their defense.

    ...then I wish to understand what the variables to consider are and how to balance them better- hence I advocate an 'honest' discussion of the matter.

    Please note: This is an absurdly unlikely scenario, and as I have said earlier, I don't think torture has ever been justified in real life, either historically or in contemporary circumstances. I will refuse to engage discussion with anyone who infers from it that I support the behaviors of the bush administration or similar regimes.

    If you don't think it's ever been justified in real life, and isn't in the case under discussion here, then your "absurdly unlikely" scenario, the actualization of which you yourself do not acknowledge, is just as much intellectual wankery as is any theologian's babblings, and bears as much relation to what Harris is talking about as their arcane piffle does to the actual practice of religion. It is, however, far more dangerous.

    I couldn't rule it out if I concede the idea of a 'just' war. Eg, I think it was a tragedy that the UN didn't go into Rwanda, whose outcomes would almost certainly have been vastly improved- the actual path taken seems to me a crime of negligence.

    The UN was in Rwanda. Have you not heard of Romeo Dallaire?

    Suppose his arguments (as in this Jamie discussion you mention, which I read some of last christmas) involved hypothetically torturing one's own mother. That would be a good way to get people offended and upset and refuse to continue rational discussion.

    I love how easy it is for some people to "see like a state" - a completely abstract human invention - and view themselves as rationally considering matters from this standpoint, but the idea of putting yourself in the place of another human being, a victim of torture or relative of one, is thought to derail discussion qiute unreasonably. Read the writing on torture from people who have lived in countries where it was widely practiced or who were its victims, and address their concrete arguments.

    This is a discussion of ethics, not discussion of legality

    Says you. Fortunately, you do not get to define the terms of the public discussion. The recognition of the right not to be tortured has long been part of national laws/constitutions, and is recognized as part of international law as embodied in covenants and treaties which the US has ratified. If the US government is torturing, it is in violation of international law.

    We therefore need a solid, clearly expressed ethical refutation of torture and cannot defer to legal documents.

    Stop telling us what we need. The recognition of the basic human right not to be tortured, the product of centuries of discussion and struggle, is the basis for those documents. You may not be impressed by the arguments that have made against torture for the past several centuries (though I doubt your familiarity with them - your description of the ethical debate appears to come straight from Wikipedia U.) and which have taken concrete form in those documents, but that's irrelevant to whether or not they are binding.

    I hope this discussion gives me such a refutation, and that I can walk away with it, and spread it and live by it.

    Gentlemen, (and ladies) let loose with your refutations of torture (categorical preferrably- we all already concede that in all but the most extraordinary circumstances it is unethical, the dispute is over extraordinary circumstances).

    What makes you think this blog exists for your personal edification or satisfaction?

    Unless something can be tied down to its effects on human suffering, dignity, autonomy, justice, privacy, I think we have no basis to class it as unethical.

    Indeed. And torture has so been.

    Yes, it is sometimes unpleasant, but the onus is on us to explain (for example) why slavery is wrong, which it undoubtedly is.

    No, the onus isn't on us to do so. This has already been explained, fought over, and made part of the most basic global understanding of human rights. Would you like the US government to reinstitute mass slavery, so that "civilization" can advance by the philosophical debate over the ethics of it?

    But the default position should be that of liberty, even if it seems that "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance".

    It is. The liberty of the human being not to be tortured or treated cruelly. States have NO default liberty.

    That said, you'll get no further discussion from me. I couldn't care less whether you find the argument you're looking for.

    negentropyeater:

    Who has shown that torture is equivallent to war ? This is riduculous.
    If an alien species tries to colonize the earth and eliminate mankind, you'll see if we don't find it very ethical to justify warfare.
    But torture, no, never, I can't see one set of circumstances when it's justifiable, it doesn't work to achieve its intended goal. The two are evidently not equivallent.

    The comparison was drawn up by Sam Harris, from the link in my comment #160, and my point was in the context of discussing his arguments. If you dispute that the effects of warfare could be equivalent to -or worse than- torture, you may wish to consider all of the gruesome and varied individual tragedies that are often glibly dismissed as "collateral damage".
    As to whether torture 'works' at say retrieving information, I can honestly say, I don't know. Though, I do have an unpleasant feeling that it might, seeing as I suspect it would work on me.

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    As to whether torture 'works' at say retrieving information, I can honestly say, I don't know. Though, I do have an unpleasant feeling that it might, seeing as I suspect it would work on me.

    Moron.

    (OK, now I'm done.)

    If the Khmer Rouge used it, it's probably torture.

    Anyone who says that the Khmer Rouge and the Nazis breathe oxygen and ate food gets smacked with a trout.

    Gee, what's a controlled demonstration? To simulate the results of the real thing without putting the (subject/object) in real-life danger. Not all simulations are just going through the motions without actually doing the steps required e.g. just simulating every step required. Since I come from software development, maybe my view of simulations are different than those in other fields, but my simulations were done to stress test software, so were quite realistic in what could happen. And far more dangerous to the software than to people.

    Some folks here are rather good at splitting hairs into infinite strands. What I was saying is that I know what Hitchens went through, but it was gratuitous and unnecessary to see the truth, except to warmongering fools. Anyone who understands the steps of waterboarding needs no more information to see it as torture. I may be no fan of the besotted Hitchens, but if he wished to go through it for his own understanding, fine. He's not telling me a damn thing I didn't already know. Now as I said, if he interviewed a man or child who had to endure that from our government forces, that might show some courage. He perhaps could walk through the nation he cheered on to destruction and interview those who were tortured, beaten, and families of the dead. Again, that would require real courage, far more than that of a "controlled experiment". Then he may be worthy of respect.

    You're comparing stress-testing software to waterboarding a journalist? Interesting.

    C'mon, if you're in software, then you should know that a closer analogy would be a demo. It was a waterboarding demo, not a full-featured version. Hitchens was allowed to play with a stripped-down version just enough to get a sense of what the look, feel, and capabilities of the full-blown product would be.

    There was nothing "simulated" about it. Go ahead, accuse me of splitting hairs. You're the one saying his experience wasn't "real" - as if anyone watching the video or reading an account doesn't already know that it's not identical to what gets done to alleged hostiles, who don't have the option of shutting it down when they start to get uncomfortable. That's the point - it's terrifying even for someone who does have control over what's being done. Why dilute that important message with a pointless complaint about the controlled nature of Hitchens' experience?

    Examine your motives.

    He's not telling me a damn thing I didn't already know.

    I could say exactly the same thing - but neither you nor I are among those who need to hear it. Are you really that self-centered? I sincerely doubt it. So what's up? There are millions of "war-mongering fools" out there - and they vote. Don't you support any efforts to change their minds about this? If not, then why not?

    Anyway, that's a good point you make about him interviewing actual (not simulated) victims. That's something I'd like to see.

    Torture may well achieve its goal.....if the goal is not to provide accurate information (though this would be the excuse/justification/rationalization for it), but to intimidate people allied or affiliated with the torture victims, into behaving in some way to the advantage of the torturers. "Do what we tell you/tell us what we want to know/keep to your place or it could be you up next on the rack!"

    Which is no more defensible than if it were actually being done to gather information.

    Gentlemen, (and ladies) let loose with your refutations of torture (categorical preferrably- we all already concede that in all but the most extraordinary circumstances it is unethical, the dispute is over extraordinary circumstances)

    Eh, almost anything can be justified in sufficiently extraordinary circumstances. Murder, slavery, genocide.

    I agree that this is a little weak, although you may recall that during the invasion of Afghanistan, but before the debacle that was Iraq, Americans (in general) seemed far more accepting of 'the practice of modern warfare'.

    I'm not American, but yes, that invasion was widely accepted. That doesn't mean that the practices there are necessarily ethical.

    C. It makes no sense to rule out torture categorically while allowing exceptions for equivalent (or worse) actions.

    It does, if the exceptions in the other situations produce a benefit and the exceptions in case of torture don't or produce less of a benefit.

    if there is some set of circumstances S in which it is ethical to allow permit factory farming (say, to feed starving children who would otherwise die) and
    P2. Factory farming is worse than drowning kittens
    therefore
    C. Given that same set of circumstances S, it would be ethical to drown kittens (eg if somehow this fed starving children).

    Why the same set of circumstances? The point is, factory farming is not an "exception", it's an unethical practice we already engage in. So you already have X, should you allow unethical practice Y just because it's "not worse" than X? Isn't X + Y worse than X?

    If you dispute that the effects of warfare could be equivalent to -or worse than- torture, you may wish to consider all of the gruesome and varied individual tragedies that are often glibly dismissed as "collateral damage".

    Car crashes result in a lot of death and suffering, too, so why the comparison with warfare? If it's because torture and war are assumed to be different ways of achieving the same goal, then someone should be able to show how torture can prevent the suffering caused by wars - real wars, not fictional time bomb scenarios.

    What would be a valid excuse to deal with Iran? This:

    http://religionclause.blogspot.com/2008/07/proposed-iranian-law-would-t…

    Either they do what China did and simply block everyone, or they will do the opposite and start insisting that PZ and anyone else calling religion idiocy be tried and executed in Iran. The crazies over their just get more and more fracking insane. This was, after all, the morons that figured that, if the US did attack them, they could "learn from" Saddam's mistakes, drive the US and its allies out using terror tactics, then pop up when everyone left, to take over again, even stronger. And, horrifyingly, they might be able to pull that kind of #@$#$# off.

    Not that I am advocating bombing them tomorrow, but unless something "internal" turns their hell hole on its ear, its pretty much inevitable that we will either fight them, or get dragging into a fight with them, at this point. The only question, sadly, is going to be if its going to be a Bush vs. Iraq style idiocy again, or a, "Well, some of us think the Palestinian mess sucks too, so we kind of agreed, at least right up until Fuhrer Osama Bama Llama, or who ever is running things at that point, invaded Spain."

    The best we can hope for with this bunch of crazies is that one of their own shoots the leader and the rest die trying to scramble to fill the vacuum. But, I am not holding my breath for that to be how this plays out. :(

    I think I recall [Harris] making something very similar to that claim in response to a challenge by Hedges that he focuses excessively on Islam.

    I can't say I know the Hedges text, but he specifically uses the example of a 'fundamentalist Jainist' to argue that while he thinks all faith is bad, not all faiths are equally dangerous.
    "Fundamentalist Jainism and fundamentalist Islam do not have the same consequences, neither logically nor behaviorally."
    from http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Sam_Harris/Q&A_Sam_Harris.html

    I am reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali's autobiography at the moment. I'm only a few chapters in, and I'll decide how to think about it after I have read it.

    You may also want to give this a read: http://www.alternet.org/rights/66830/

    Thankyou for that. I have now read it, and will certainly keep it in mind. I think it is uncharitible to view Hirsi Ali's arguments as only relating to honor killings and FGM, however. Although I do find her dismissal of 'talking with Iran' alarming. I rather like honest discourse...

    For the same reasons I do. Namely, because I am interested in ethics, and -quite apart from any contemporary politics - I hope to see the moral progress of civilization advanced further through rational discourse (whether by me or those who disagree with me). Basically, when I cast off the shackles of my religion several years ago, -because I found it irrational to have the unnecessary axiom 'Jesus was who he claimed', I needed to find a new ethical system.

    In order to choose one I need an honest discussion of all ethical systems. At the moment, I am inclined towards a form of negative utilitarianism, but I can see there are places where it falls down, repugnant conclusions and the like, and I don't like what it indicates about torture. However, there are drawbacks with the deontological route that as well.

    "You have a very strange approach to ethics."

    You mean in that I demand solid reasoning and firm foundations, backed by an investigation of the benefits and drawbacks of the best ethical systems humanity has so far mustered? Yes, you make a convincing argument that my approach is not as widely appreciated as I had hoped.

    "Ethical systems are not constructed on an individual basis through the abstract, mechanical application of logic."

    Ethical systems presumably allow us to describe, reason, and argue about ethical problems, and if they were unconcerned with internal consistency, I fail to see how they could be much use. You seem to be pretty dismissive of logic when it comes to ethics- when surely we both realise that we need some foundational moral axioms (to get around Hume's is-ought problem) and once we have those, logic should be as applicable to ethics as any other sphere.

    If you "need an honest discussion of all ethical systems," then get reading. There is an immense literature on ...to reject the importance of compassion when formulating your ethics does not make you more rational. It makes you a monster.

    Could you point to where I reject the importance of compassion? The very fact that a problem is ethically interesting at all indicates there are multiple ethical considerations in opposition to each other. The real world is rarely so cut-and-dry as you make out- compassion often applies to both sides of an ethical issue.

    I can't really speak for Harris, but the way I read him, it sounded as though he sees many people in the world operating as if they have an unassailable, categorical argument against torture in all circumstances, but when pressed they either don't seem to have it, or are unable to enunciate it clearly. Why would we want "an honest discussion" on the subject? So that afterwards our ethical positions are well-founded, and that we are able to defend them when pressed. Surely such an outcome would be the greatest defense against potential catestrophic failures in ethics.

    You are woefully naïve if you think that Harris or his supporters on this issue are interested in a polite, rational debate on torture in the abstract. Has the political context escaped you completely? We are witnessing a catastrophic failure in ethics. The best defense against its expansion is the continued recognition of fundamental human rights and action in their defense. Has the political context escaped you completely?

    Of course it hasn't, in fact I have already acknowledged it in my previous posts. I will address your 'fundamental human rights' soon.

    ...then I wish to understand what the variables to consider are and how to balance them better- hence I advocate an 'honest' discussion of the matter.

    Please note: This is an absurdly unlikely scenario, and as I have said earlier, I don't think torture has ever been justified in real life, either historically or in contemporary circumstances. I will refuse to engage discussion with anyone who infers from it that I support the behaviors of the bush administration or similar regimes.

    "If you don't think it's ever been justified in real life, ... then your "absurdly unlikely" scenario... is just as much intellectual wankery as is any theologian's babblings, and bears as much relation to what Harris is talking about as their arcane piffle does to the actual practice of religion."

    I have already expressed unhappiness with my assertion that it's never been justified in real life. I view it as a cop-out. I would much prefer instead to have a categorical argument against torture, which you have alluded to but have so far refused to spell out, instead preferring to ridicule me.

    "The UN was in Rwanda. Have you not heard of Romeo Dallaire?"

    Of course I have. So, does negligence not apply if the UN gave token efforts to avert a genocide, rather than address the problem seriously? I am not dismissive of Dallaire's efforts, but his mandate was weak, the UN was not present in substantial enough force, and the support from UN tiers above him was pathetic.

    I love how easy it is for some people to "see like a state" - a completely abstract human invention - and view themselves as rationally considering matters from this standpoint, but the idea of putting yourself in the place of another human being, a victim of torture or relative of one, is thought to derail discussion qiute unreasonably.

    I imagined myself being tortured only a few minutes ago, you know, at the point where you called me a moron.
    What I was arguing was that it is useful to make any hypothetical argument as strong as possible, both when supporting and also when criticising, therefore discussion of torturing terrorists rather than your own mother is the norm. This is just the principle of charity from critical thinking 101. Here's wikipedia U's version,
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_charity
    seeing as you appear to have missed it.

    Read the writing on torture from people who have lived in countries where it was widely practiced or who were its victims, and address their concrete arguments.

    I have been doing this ever since I read 'Wild Swans' by Jung Chang many years ago. But I note that your suggested alternet reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali takes the position that someone subjected to FGM and domestic violence is not necessarily in a position to discuss such issues rationally. Like all critical thinkers, we have to investigate the arguments on their own merit, not on the attributes of those who make them. To do otherwise is Ad hominem.

    This is a discussion of ethics, not discussion of legality

    Says you. Fortunately, you do not get to define the terms of the public discussion. The recognition of the right not to be tortured has long been part of national laws/constitutions, and is recognized as part of international law as embodied in covenants and treaties which the US has ratified. If the US government is torturing, it is in violation of international law.

    As noted earlier, the law can be wrong. Your constant assertions of rights are inadmissible to an ethical argument as well; as my ethics lecturer says: a right is a conclusion, not an argument. Any ethics essays that assert rights without backing them up would be given a failing grade.

    We therefore need a solid, clearly expressed ethical refutation of torture and cannot defer to legal documents.

    Stop telling us what we need. The recognition of the basic human right not to be tortured, the product of centuries of discussion and struggle, is the basis for those documents.

    Are you arguing by pointing to a magical text instead of making an argument based on merits or faults? I hope this tactic gets you as much respect as it deserves. I believe PZ Myers does not share my opinion on torture, but he's been pretty dismissive of those who point to scribblings instead of arguing. Anyway, am I to take by you contesting this point that you think we do NOT need "a solid, clearly expressed ethical refutation of torture"?
    Of course we do. Why are you arguing with me on this point?

    I hope this discussion gives me such a refutation, and that I can walk away with it, and spread it and live by it.

    Gentlemen, (and ladies) let loose with your refutations of torture (categorical preferrably- we all already concede that in all but the most extraordinary circumstances it is unethical, the dispute is over extraordinary circumstances).
    What makes you think this blog exists for your personal edification or satisfaction?

    This is what I am talking about. You make nebulous claims of the existence of many strong, (presumably categorical) arguments against torture, but when all you need to do is produce even a single one to end the discussion and shut me up entirely, you accuse me of arrogance instead.
    You appear to be well read, I invite you to divulge one. There is some benefit to you in that I might enter the military in a few months, and if you want to spread your categorical refutations of torture to somewhere where they might potentially have real effects, it is in everybody's interests for you to lay out your argument. For better or for worse, I am likely to have some influence on my peers. I am actively interested in this issue and how best to resolve it.

    Unless something can be tied down to its effects on human suffering, dignity, autonomy, justice, privacy, I think we have no basis to class it as unethical.

    Indeed. And torture has so been.

    As has war, and yet many people allow the concept of a 'just' war- although you haven't indicated your own stance on that issue. So for an action to be unethical it is necessary, but not sufficient to impact on such aspects- we need strong arguments.

    Yes, it is sometimes unpleasant, but the onus is on us to explain (for example) why slavery is wrong, which it undoubtedly is.

    No, the onus isn't on us to do so. This has already been explained, fought over, and made part of the most basic global understanding of human rights. Would you like the US government to reinstitute mass slavery, so that "civilization" can advance by the philosophical debate over the ethics of it?

    So we can rest on the conclusions of our ancestors over what is ethical and what is not? That's too close to faith, for me- I am not prepared to drink the kool-aid of ethical dogma, secular or otherwise. It's too close to the Catholics with their decoupling of ethics from human suffering (eg contraception). Make no mistake, if our ancestors *arguments* are available to us, we can use those instead, and we need not be afraid of opening them to examination and inquiry. This closely follows the approach in science, and -I think- is the basis for this 'scientific' morality that Harris proposes, though I dislike the term.

    But the default position should be that of liberty, even if it seems that "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance".

    "It is. The liberty of the human being not to be tortured or treated cruelly. States have NO default liberty."

    Is what I was saying too subtle? A default-permit argument for ethics is fairly widely accepted. Therefore, we need to argue that a given behavior is unethical, not start from a point of default-deny and argue that a given behavior is ethical. Consider what a community would be like if it followed the second approach.
    Therefore, if you want to claim something is unethical, even torture, you have to back it up.
    Just because the burden-of-proof is advantageous to us atheists in religious discourse, doesn't mean the burden-of-proof is advantageous to you, in ethical discourse.

    That said, you'll get no further discussion from me. I couldn't care less whether you find the argument you're looking for.

    You sound very upset for someone who claims they don't care what I think. I'm having an earnest, sincere discussion on this topic, and am not only willing to -but desiring to- change my mind if I encounter a convincing argument against my position- I have already established why I think the burden of proof rests with your side. Maybe someone will do a better job than you have - I will continue to discuss this with whomever opts to.
    (Assuming that PZ Myers is not offended by my inflammatory position- it is his website, and if he wishes me to take this elsewhere, I will)

    As to whether torture 'works' at say retrieving information, I can honestly say, I don't know. Though, I do have an unpleasant feeling that it might, seeing as I suspect it would work on me.
    Moron.

    And here, my honest and sincere assessment of a difficult point that (presumably) neither of us has detailed knowledge of is somehow grounds for puerile name-calling. Forgive me if I choose not to return in kind.

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    What would be a valid excuse to deal with Iran? This:

    http://religionclause.blogspot.com/2008/07/proposed-iranian-law-would-t…

    Don't say "deal with".If you mean invade, then grow a pair and come out an say it. Anyone advocating either war (or torture, like me :) shouldn't hide behind euphemisms. If you're going to take that position, then own it.

    Either they do what China did and simply block everyone, or they will do the opposite and start insisting that PZ and anyone else calling religion idiocy be tried and executed in Iran. The crazies over their just get more and more fracking insane. This was, after all, the morons that figured that, if the US did attack them, they could "learn from" Saddam's mistakes, drive the US and its allies out using terror tactics, then pop up when everyone left, to take over again, even stronger. And, horrifyingly, they might be able to pull that kind of #@$#$# off.

    I don't really understand what makes Iran so much more dangerous now than it was 5 years ago, or 10 years, or 15.

    "Not that I am advocating bombing them tomorrow, but"

    well, you pretty much are. If you consider war inevitable, the smart way to reduce casualties on your side would be to end it quickly. I still think your position is irrational, racist, and insane, though.

    The best we can hope for with this bunch of crazies is that one of their own shoots the leader and the rest die trying to scramble to fill the vacuum. But, I am not holding my breath for that to be how this plays out. :(

    There was the racism I was talking about. Do you talk to any Iranians often? Seem like bad people to you?

    Why don't you visit Ahmadinejad's blog and express yourself:
    http://www.ahmadinejad.ir/en/

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    silentsanta, as an example of what you are looking for, can you present a categorical argument against slavery? One that isn't vulnerable to a fictitious "starving children" scenario?

    I'm not American, but yes, that invasion was widely accepted. That doesn't mean that the practices there are necessarily ethical.

    but we've both agreed that war can be ethical in some circumstances. I would agree wholeheartedly with you that most (perhaps even all) current wars are unethical.

    It does, if the exceptions in the other situations produce a benefit and the exceptions in case of torture don't or produce less of a benefit.

    Absolutely, I agree, this is my thinking as well. But this leaves me with the uneasy position that whether torture is justifiable does depend on the [expected] benefits, and I would be much happier if it didn't :(

    Why the same set of circumstances? The point is, factory farming is not an "exception", it's an unethical practice we already engage in. So you already have X, should you allow unethical practice Y just because it's "not worse" than X? Isn't X + Y worse than X?

    But we've already established that there can be (but usually aren't) exceptional circumstances that allow factory farming (read: war) to be ethical.
    And the point was that given that we allow this exception S for X (war) and deem this ethical, then (Y given S) is also not unethical but rather ethical instead.
    I think the most sensible defence is the one you raised above, that the exceptions might not provide the same benefits in both cases.

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Windy:

    silentsanta, as an example of what you are looking for, can you present a categorical argument against slavery? One that isn't vulnerable to a fictitious "starving children" scenario?

    It should be an interesting experiment- I hope to construct one soon but have to log off right atm.
    p.s. thank-you for your patience in dealing with my inflammatory opinions. It is a pleasure to engage in civil discourse over such an emotionally charged issue.

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 03 Jul 2008 #permalink

    thanks, I will be away for a while too.

    Concerning the ticking bomb scenario:
    After the hearing, Conyers noted that no witness was able to describe a "ticking time bomb" scenario which would make extreme interrogation necessary.
    "Radio silence was the response when today's witnesses were asked to identify a single example of a true 'ticking bomb' scenario ever occurring, even though such scenarios are often invoked to justify torture," Conyers said. "These scholars, who have studied this issue extensively and have intimate knowledge of the legal authority the administration sought, could not identify a single example.

    source

    This is an interesting read.

    This is a letter condemning torture from experienced interrogators from various US agencies, not the one I was looking for. I've heard reference of US interrogators writing in a letter to Congress that even in an emergency (e.g. ticking time bomb) torture would not be the most effective technique to use. If true then even from a purely utilitarian view point we can categorically condemn torture.

    > Yeah, right, Pharyngulans are in rebellion against
    > modernity, blah blah blah etc.

    Truth Machine,

    I was referring to J`s absurd statement that anybody who criticises modernity is a leftist or even a communist (that would Marx make spin in his grave), not to any concrete person here at pharyngula.

    > #107 doesn't mention Jews. As a Jew, I'm sick of the scum
    > who justify the crimes of the state of Israel with bogus
    > claims of anti-semitism, which allies them with real
    > anti-semites who employ the same false equation, blaming
    > all Jews for those crimes

    You would be right if # 107 would criticise Israeli crimes and Israeli crimes alone. But he made a scapegoat argument; x is to blame for the (war) crimes of y. That`s structurally antisemitic, regardless if you call x a Jew, an Israeli or who knows what. Ollanta Humala would make the same point about Chileans, and it would still be antisemitic.

    One of the better discussions on the ticking bomb scenario is here. It observes that a pithy response to the scenario is difficult to construct, and doesn't give one. This bit leads into an argument (part III) that is similar to one of tm's points in #160 and #188.

    Once we set out the conditions assumed in the TBS, we are in a position to notice
    one of the most important ways it cheats in evoking pro-torture moral intuitions. It
    assumes that it is the terrorist himself, or someone complicit with the terrorist, who will
    be tortured for information. But that assumption runs the risk that the real source of the
    pro-torture intuitions in the TBS is not the "rational moral calculus" Krauthammer speaks
    of - one person's pain weighed against many people's lives (and pain) - but rather rage at
    a guilty terrorist and the desire to punish him harshly. It seems quite likely that many
    people consciously or unconsciously approve of the torture of terrorists for punitive
    reasons, which they may deceive themselves into repackaging under a consequentialist,
    intelligence-gathering rationale. (Krauthammer, for example, seems to enjoy writing
    sentences like this: "Anyone who blows up a car bomb in a market deserves to spend the
    rest of his life roasting on a spit over an open fire.") One might even speculate that the
    popularity of the TBS grows out of frustrated hatred of terrorists, with many citizens
    relishing the thought of torturing this monster and therefore gravitating to hypotheticals
    in which it would happen and seem right.

    It also discusses some misreported ticking bomb scenarios. One point I'd make: if one concedes that torture is admissible in a TBS, then as these cases show false TBS cases will be seen and torture will be used.

    Silentsanta,

    have you ever heard of such a concept as "the pathological sterility of a discussion".

    That you can even find such an argument rational (even if you admit yourself that you find it repugnant !):
    "warfare can cause more harmful collateral damage than torture, therefore it makes no sense to rule out torture categorically if we allow warfare"

    Can't you see how pathetic and sterile this discussion is ?

    If you can find me a way to stop warfare, let's have it.
    In the meantime, there is a United Nations Convention On Torture which has been ratified by the majority of the world's nations, amongst which the USA, and that's what I'll stick to for the time being.

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    You mean in that I demand solid reasoning and firm foundations, backed by an investigation of the benefits and drawbacks of the best ethical systems humanity has so far mustered? Yes, you make a convincing argument that my approach is not as widely appreciated as I had hoped.

    You have shown no evidence of any engagement with the historical writing on torture. You have not once referred any of the actual writing about torture, merely asserting that there are "drawbacks with the deontological route that as well." With what do you disagree, specifically, in Voltaire's work on torture? Beccaria's? Lynn Hunt, in Inventing Human Rights (p. 112), suggests the following about the cultural change that formed the basis for opposition to torture:

    ...legally sanctioned torture did not end because the judges gave up on it or because Enlightement writers eventually opposed it. Torture ended because the traditional framework of pain and personhood fell apart , to be replaced, bit by bit, by a new framework, in which individuals owned their bodies, had rights to their separateness and to bodily inviolability, and recognized in other people the same passions, sentiments, and sympathies as in themselves. 'The men, or perhaps the women,', to return to the good doctor Rush one last time, 'whose persons we detest [convicted criminals], possess souls and bodies composed of the same materials as those of our friends and relations'. If we contemplate their miseries 'without emotion or sympathy', then 'the principle of sympathy' itself 'will cease to act altogether and...will soon lose its place in the human breast'.

    (Substitute a common biology for "soul.") Do you disagree with the notion that human beings have a right to bodily inviolability? To dignity?

    and as I have said earlier, I don't think torture has ever been justified in real life, either historically or in contemporary circumstances. I will refuse to engage discussion with anyone who infers from it that I support the behaviors of the bush administration or similar regimes.

    On what basis? You must have some ethical basis for this strong rejection, yet you suggest that without a categorical refutation that would cover even the most extraordinary and implausible cases we cannot say that torture is unethical.

    Also, your use of "justified" here is telling. You seem to acknowledge at some level that it is the use of torture, and not its rejection, that must be justified. This would be most reasonable. We certainly do not begin with the assumption that actions that cause harm to other human beings are permissible and then proceed to justify not engaging in them. Further, you shift between people and governments. A default-permit argument for state behavior is patently ridiculous. (In fact, the existence of states themselves, if we are being rational in our approach, needs to be justified before any consideration of the ethics of their actions can be made. I don't believe that it can be justified, and thus do not think states have any right to exist, let alone exercise violence upon individuals.)

    I have already expressed unhappiness with my assertion that it's never been justified in real life. I view it as a cop-out. I would much prefer instead to have a categorical argument against torture, which you have alluded to but have so far refused to spell out, instead preferring to ridicule me.

    Why do you view it as a cop-out? Since you haven't outlined the basis for the assertion, it's impossible to understand the basis for your dissatisfaction with it. In any event, it covers all known exercises of torture beyond wildly implausible scenarios. (As far as I'm concerned, it covers those, too, but evidently it doesn't for you.) Such a position amounts in practical terms to a categorical argument against torture.

    The real world is rarely so cut-and-dry as you make out- compassion often applies to both sides of an ethical issue.

    Where does compassion apply on the pro-torture side?

    Has the political context escaped you completely?

    Of course it hasn't, in fact I have already acknowledged it in my previous posts. I will address your 'fundamental human rights' soon.

    You might want to consider a career in fencing, since you have a knack for missing the point. This is what I said:

    "If you don't think it's ever been justified in real life, ... then your "absurdly unlikely" scenario... is just as much intellectual wankery as is any theologian's babblings, and bears as much relation to what Harris is talking about as their arcane piffle does to the actual practice of religion."

    Your calls for such a philosophical discussion at the present moment are ingenuous, to say the least. A rogue state (the US) is engaging in a reprehensible practice in violation of international law. Sam Harris, based upon an absurd comparison to hypotheticals is arguing that these actions may be justified. Even if his arguments based on the hypothetical scenarios he constructs held water, which they do not, they would prove nothing about the actual policies of the US. And your focus on these imaginary scenarios is irresponsible in context. To return to your Rwanda example, would you have considered it rational or advisable to go to Rwanda in 1994 and propose a conference to debate the philosophical merits of genocide? Of course, you wouldn't. You claim that you "will refuse to engage discussion with anyone who infers from it that I support the behaviors of the bush administration or similar regimes," and yet Harris's little games with hypotheticals are feeding those policies. Wake the fuck up.

    Of course I have. So, does negligence not apply if the UN gave token efforts to avert a genocide, rather than address the problem seriously? I am not dismissive of Dallaire's efforts, but his mandate was weak, the UN was not present in substantial enough force, and the support from UN tiers above him was pathetic.

    I wasn't making a comment on your arument - merely pointing to your sloppy and potentially misleading use of "go into."

    I imagined myself being tortured only a few minutes ago, you know, at the point where you called me a moron.

    This was not in the context of a discussion of the ethics of torture, and is thus irrelevant.

    What I was arguing was that it is useful to make any hypothetical argument as strong as possible, both when supporting and also when criticising, therefore discussion of torturing terrorists rather than your own mother is the norm. This is just the principle of charity from critical thinking 101.

    Why is discussing torturing "terrorists" (problematic to begin with) the norm, then? Why is adopting the point of view of a state less emotionally derailing than adopting the point of view of a potential torture victim?

    I have been doing this ever since I read 'Wild Swans' by Jung Chang many years ago. But I note that your suggested alternet reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali takes the position that someone subjected to FGM and domestic violence is not necessarily in a position to discuss such issues rationally. Like all critical thinkers, we have to investigate the arguments on their own merit, not on the attributes of those who make them. To do otherwise is Ad hominem.

    What the article argued was that it is invalid to generalize from one person's experience to that of women in the entire Islamic world, and thus it is a problem to see her as the voice of these women, not that she isn't in a position to discuss these issues rationally. And again, you've shown no evidence that you've investigated their arguments or engaged with them in any meaningful way.

    As noted earlier, the law can be wrong. Your constant assertions of rights are inadmissible to an ethical argument as well; as my ethics lecturer says: a right is a conclusion, not an argument. Any ethics essays that assert rights without backing them up would be given a failing grade.

    My point was that Sam Harris, you, and others seem to believe that since we can question international human rights standards, the debate can reasonably be shifted to this territory and away from the fact that the US government has committed and continues to commit war crimes for which it must be held accountable.

    Are you arguing by pointing to a magical text instead of making an argument based on merits or faults? I hope this tactic gets you as much respect as it deserves. I believe PZ Myers does not share my opinion on torture, but he's been pretty dismissive of those who point to scribblings instead of arguing. Anyway, am I to take by you contesting this point that you think we do NOT need "a solid, clearly expressed ethical refutation of torture"?

    No, you should understand that I am trying to explain to you that these are not "magical documents" but the concretization of centuries of thinking about and struggling over rights. See above.

    You appear to be well read, I invite you to divulge one. There is some benefit to you in that I might enter the military in a few months, and if you want to spread your categorical refutations of torture to somewhere where they might potentially have real effects, it is in everybody's interests for you to lay out your argument. For better or for worse, I am likely to have some influence on my peers.

    Walton? That you?

    This is simply bizarre. You value rational debate about and the individual formation of ethics highly, and yet you plan to join voluntarily an institution based upon discipline and obedience in which your ethical standards are of no consequence. What wars are just in this context will not be decided by you. Real effects, my ass.

    I am actively interested in this issue and how best to resolve it.

    Are you suggesting that if you can't be convinced that the arguments against torture cover your imaginary scenarios, you won't be vocal in opposition to torture? Please don't join the military.

    Make no mistake, if our ancestors *arguments* are available to us, we can use those instead, and we need not be afraid of opening them to examination and inquiry. This closely follows the approach in science, and -I think- is the basis for this 'scientific' morality that Harris proposes, though I dislike the term.

    I repeat: Where have you offered evidence that you have engaged with these arguments? What are your specific criticisms?

    You should dislike the term, as it's seriously dumb, as is the concept. For more insightful discussions of "scientific" morality, see Kropotkin's Ethics: Its Origins and Development, or, (much) more recently, Austin Dacey's Point of Inquiry interview.

    Therefore, if you want to claim something is unethical, even torture, you have to back it up. Just because the burden-of-proof is advantageous to us atheists in religious discourse, doesn't mean the burden-of-proof is advantageous to you, in ethical discourse.

    Incorrect. See above.

    (Assuming that PZ Myers is not offended by my inflammatory position- it is his website, and if he wishes me to take this elsewhere, I will)

    Walton? That you?

    And here, my honest and sincere assessment of a difficult point that (presumably) neither of us has detailed knowledge of is somehow grounds for puerile name-calling. Forgive me if I choose not to return in kind.

    Sincere, honest, moronic. Your presumption is particularly stupid in that above on this thread I quoted paragraphs from a work addressing this very question (with its own citations which were not included). The post following mine provided links. Other links provided more evidence. A cursory investigation will tell you that you are wrong. And it is stupid to use your personal intuition (based on an imagined scenario, no less) to answer an empirical question. I stand by my original assessment.

    Further, this fact destroys Harris's argument. If torture is not a reliable procedure through which to extract accurate information, then the hypotheticals raised by him and by you are not only absurdly unlikely, they are impossible. Not only do you have no way of knowing whether you would get accurate information, but the evidence suggests that you are highly unlikely to.

    SC, nice reply at #331. I also wondered if Walton might not have returned to us.

    Silentsanta, I have read your posts and my only impression is of a second year college bull session. Anytime I see reference to an Ethics tutor or a deep philosophical discussion of an item, my radar clicks on and starts broadcasting a warning. I have always felt that ethics and philosophy training allows one to justify damn near anything because it is not part of the real world, much like theology and about as useful. It is not really necessary to evoke complex theories to address real world issues, so why over complicate things? If you need a justification for not torturing people, then perhaps you need to get out of the classroom a bit.

    I request that you post a simple statement about what you believe, what you think. No if "A equals B", just a simple statement will do. For the record, and as stated elsewhere, I believe torture is always wrong. Why? Well, it does not work and it is a violation of what I consider decency to others as it violates body and mind. I find it ethically wrong, if you wish. My view on torture is not equivalent to my view on war or dependent on what a philosopher says, it is my own view based on what I have seen and has the nice advantage of seeming to ring true with what most people feel. To be a little more abstract, torture destroys the thin fabric of civilization because it reduces people to items devoid of humanity. If you can remove the humanity of a person or people, torturing them becomes easy. I think you cannot and should not remove even the most repugnant person from the pool of humanity.

    For the record, I have both a BA and an MA in History, minors in English lit and Philosophy, so let us skip the nonsense statement that I do not know anything about the subject. After I was a freshman I was pretty sure Philosophy as an education course/degree was crap, but it was easy and required little real effort to pass.

    Parenthetically, right now rereading Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago and just finished rereading A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch. Wonderful watching how theory can lead to hideous torture and oppression for the greater good.

    Ciao

    > There was the racism I was talking about. Do you talk to
    > any Iranians often? Seem like bad people to you?

    # 323,

    I don´t know how often Kagehi talks to Iranians, but I do quite often, and most Iranians I know - and I know a lot of them, from all ethnic groups, from Persians to Azeris and Kurds, and from all strata of society, from shopgirls to crown pretenders - say much harder things about their leaders. Most are patriots, nationalists even, immensely proud and defensive of their culture and history, but that patriotism often translates into antiarabism, and distrust or even hatred of a leadership that adheres to a religion of Arabic origin and language. Achmadinedjad was elected because he was a non-cleric, but he has failed to live up to expectations, and is therefore generally considered a pathetic failure by Iranians. Beside this, he is ugly - irrelevant by western standards, but quite a problem in a highly aestheticist culture like the Persian one. He also is an antisemite, wich isn`t popular with most Iranians either - they may despise Arabs, and fear people of Turco-mongol origin, but they have no quarrel with Jews.

    SC,

    Silentsanta is one of those completely irrational person who seems to find torture repugnant but are somehow looking for a categorical theoretical anti-torture argument, and as long as they haven't found it, will keep advancing pro torture arguments.
    Reminds me a bit of the same phenomena with religion.

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    You're all forgetting that those in charge of such things had quite enough intelligence to prevent 9/11. They simply failed to use it, er, intelligently.

    Ditto Pearl Harbor.

    Do I have confidence that any human under the pressure of that ticking bomb scenario will be able to discern what's true, what's rubbish and what to do next? No.

    And history would tend to back me up on that.

    I'm just yanking your chain

    You're just a pompous asshole, as always, Colugo.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    However, my general worth isn't yours to value.

    The fact is that you're a content-free hanger-on.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Different topic:

    I can certainly think of circumstances for which subjecting someone to waterboarding is justified; in fact, it routinely occurs and that was the case even before Bush became president.

    Special operations forces training.

    Different topic? Why don't you try reading the article that this thread is about, idiot: "But it was something that Americans were being trained to resist, not to inflict."

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Don't be absurd.

    Don't be a dishonest piece of torture-justifying shit. Oh, sorry, you can't help yourself.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Silentsanta,

    p.s. thank-you for your patience in dealing with my inflammatory opinions. It is a pleasure to engage in civil discourse over such an emotionally charged issue.

    I don't know what pleasure you find in advancing all these pro torture arguments. Oh, but you don't even realize that do you. You've got your alibi remember, you find torture repugnant and you condemn the Bush administration. So it's just for the purpose of a "pleasurable" sterile civil discussion and mental masturbation about torture, isn't it ?
    What a wanker !

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Additionally, it seems that something should generally be ethical unless we can provide a cogent argument for why it isn't...

    Spoken like a true sociopath.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Adn here we see the roots of that sociopathy:

    Basically, when I cast off the shackles of my religion several years ago, -because I found it irrational to have the unnecessary axiom 'Jesus was who he claimed', I needed to find a new ethical system.
    In order to choose one I need an honest discussion of all ethical systems.

    Religion is a poor substitute for ethical socialization. And when people who received only the former lose their religion, the result is a sociopath, morally adrift, the sort of person who thinks that they can choose what they consider to be right and wrong.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    "Shocks the conscience." Would it be sufficiently cogent to declare that torture is immoral because it shocks the conscience of all decent people?

    Was ["Shocks the conscience"] not also used against woman's suffrage, then interracial marriage, and presently gay marriage?

    It's not the conscience that woman's suffrage, interracial marriage, and gay marriage shock. Such an inversion belongs to the sort of person who must try to craft a conscience out of rules, rather than having one.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I fully agree that if torture is ineffective at eliciting information, then I cannot think of a single (even extraordinary hypothetical) scenario in which I would consider it remotely ethical to apply.

    Ethics is not utility.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I love it !

    Silentsanta's interesting experiments

    Windy : "can you present a categorical argument against slavery?"

    Silentsanta : "It should be an interesting experiment- I hope to construct one soon but have to log off right atm."

    And the same goes with torture and probably other things. And in the mean time, he'll keep boring us with all sorts of pro torture arguments until he's completed his construction.

    I'm sure if we pushed him a bit, he'd be cable to entertain us with a series of boring posts with all sorts of pro slavery arguments until he's completed what he considers is a super interesting experiment.

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    To reject the importance of compassion when formulating your ethics does not make you more rational. It makes you a monster.

    Now now, SC, you're being hysterical.

    I.e., exactly right.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    It's been done... see
    http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=448717

    It's a story of a guy who did it to himself. The results...

    "I'll put it this way. If I had the choice of being waterboarded by a third party or having my fingers smashed one at a time by a sledgehammer, I'd take the fingers, no question.

    "It's horrible, terrible, inhuman torture. I can hardly imagine worse. I'd prefer permanent damage and disability to experiencing it again. I'd give up anything, say anything, do anything."

    You seem to be pretty dismissive of logic when it comes to ethics- when surely we both realise that we need some foundational moral axioms (to get around Hume's is-ought problem) and once we have those, logic should be as applicable to ethics as any other sphere.

    LOL! Try "torture is categorically wrong". To reject that because it lacks a logical foundation is to commit an is-ought fallacy.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    There was the racism I was talking about.

    What do you have against racism? Or genocide? Logical arguments derived from fundamental axioms only, please.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    TM,

    just a favour, there are cases where it'd be helpful if you'd just put the reference of the post you're replying to. It's not always necessary, or not always relevant, but in some cases, such as in your post 342 and 343, I just don't want to have to read once again through all the nonsense that some people have uttered to find back these quotes.

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I don't know what pleasure you find in advancing all these pro torture arguments. Oh, but you don't even realize that do you. You've got your alibi remember, you find torture repugnant and you condemn the Bush administration. So it's just for the purpose of a "pleasurable" sterile civil discussion and mental masturbation about torture, isn't it ?

    I have to admit, it's made me furious, and I didn't sleep well. My research has involved a lot of reading the accounts of torture survivors and translating them into English. This made me literally sick at times, even though they lived long ago, and I often had to do something else for a while before I could return to it. All I could think of when reading these posts was this jackass talking to one of these scarred people, or a torture survivor from South America, or one of their relatives, listening to them describe their ordeal, and then demanding that they provide him with arguments for why they shouldn't have been tortured. But it's all interesting, right? Just some mental exercises for our pleasure.

    Thanks, JeffreyD. Solzhenitsyn had some crazy religious views, but, man, was he a hell of a writer. My translation (by Thomas P. Whitney) was superb, but it made me wish I could read it in the original. Maybe someday...

    One of the better discussions on the ticking bomb scenario is here. It observes that a pithy response to the scenario is difficult to construct, and doesn't give one. This bit leads into an argument (part III) that is similar to one of tm's points in #160 and #188.

    Yes, everyone should read that piece. Here's an important point:

    Anyone who uses the TBS to defend torture must, if he is intellectually honest, defend it in cases where it is quite possible that the captive is innocent. Otherwise, the TBS-monger is cheating.

    Silentsanta turns this totally on its head with a radical misinterpretation of the Principle of Charity. The Principle of Charity is that one must address the strongest form of an argument, the one hardest to rebut. But people like Sam Harris, silentsanta, and Charles Krauthammer violate the PoC by invent torture scenarios designed to end-around the rebuttals by selecting torture victims who elicit an emotional fear or revenge response and by labeling them as "terrorists", prejudging them for the very crime that torturing them is supposed to prevent. To practice the PoC, they would have to deal with harder cases for justifying torture in "extraordinary circumstances", like if the person who had the information to stop the ticking bomb was their own mother. But in those cases one gets a dishonest, intellectual cowardly, and even hysterical response: "That would be a good way to get people offended and upset and refuse to continue rational discussion". That these people don't get offended and upset about contemplating torturing "terrorists" pretty much tells us what we need to know about their ethics.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    in your post 342 and 343

    I was quoting SS in both cases.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    My my, look at all this anti-intellectual sentiment. What a strange place to find such a thing.

    Anyway, dismissive idiots aside, I'll answer your question silentsanta.

    There is no "iron-clad" argument for, or against, torture because there's no iron-clad definition of what is and what isn't torture. For example, I think imprisonment is torture, and possibly boy bands, but few others would agree, except that there may be some popular support for imprisonment is torture if it's done without a fair trial - whatever that is.

    Conventionally (and legally), torture doesn't need an ethical argument for or against because the word "torture" is only applied to unethical acts. If an act is ethical, then it can't be torture.

    The Bush Administration argument isn't that torture is ethical, but that water-boarding is not torture because it isn't unethical - much the way prison is considered ethical, and thus, not torture, even though it's certainly torturous.

    Here's irony for you: google categorical+argument+against+slavery yields, as its second hit, Sam Harris's defense of his views that SS cited in #176, but "categorical argument against" is in reference to torture, not slavery -- the absurd and amoral "The point is that unless you have an argument that rules out torture even in idealized cases, you don't have a categorical argument against the use of torture" that SS keeps echoing. But here's what Harris says about slavery:

    At this moment, millions of women and girls have been abandoned to illiteracy, forced marriage, and lives of slavery and abuse under the guise of "multiculturalism" and "religious sensitivity." This is a crime to which every apologist for Islam is now an accomplice.

    Now there's a categorical argument for you! Those who defend multiculturalism (the scare quote version) or religious sensitivity (the scare quote version), or who are "apologists for Islam" -- apparently that means anyone who is less inclined to make sweeping generalizations about it than Harris -- is an accomplice to the crime of slavery! That's what passes as "rational" argument by Harris and his apologists.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    My my, look at all this anti-intellectual sentiment.

    One can't do better in response than to quote SC:

    Despite what you seem to think, emotions like human compassion and the abhorrence of cruelty are not contrary to reason. The human conscience, the product of evolution, is central to our ethics. To reject the importance of compassion when formulating your ethics does not make you more rational. It makes you a monster.

    The Bush Administration argument isn't that torture is ethical, but that water-boarding is not torture because it isn't unethical - much the way prison is considered ethical, and thus, not torture, even though it's certainly torturous.

    So do you speak for the Bush administration? Or can you provide a citation for them making this argument? Or are you just talking out of your anti-intellectual ass?

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    P.S. There's a term for that sort of argument: "begging the question".

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    and possibly boy bands

    mild form of torture, compared to Li'l Markie
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjz_qhlYDQY
    (listen to the baby voice !)

    I don't know what would happen to me if someone would force me to listen to Li'l Markie for a few hours a day over a long period of time.

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I don't know what would happen to me if someone would force me to listen to Li'l Markie for a few hours a day over a long period of time.

    How do you feel about Slim Whitman?

    SC, re your #352, I must admit I detest philosophical arguments that do their best to avoid human reality, pain and suffering. SS gives me the creeps, reading him literally makes my skin crawl.

    I know what you mean about research making you ill. I once did a long research paper on the mechanics of the gas chamber as used by Nazis. I finished it, but could not eat or sleep well during the process, and for some time after.

    Regarding Solzhenitsyn, yep, he went off the deep end a bit on religious and political views, but Ivan Denisovich affects me deeply, as does Orwell's 1984. BTW, tried Ivan's diet once for about a week, lost weight and was ill. I do not recommend it for a weight loss program.

    Ciao

    I believe PZ Myers does not share my opinion on torture, but he's been pretty dismissive of those who point to scribblings instead of arguing.

    This is one of the most bone-headed statements I've read in these parts. As scientist, PZ frequently refers to the literature which contains the accumulated analysis of many minds, rather than just depending on the sort of self-contained "arguing" that smug ignoramuses engage in.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I found it irrational to have the unnecessary axiom 'Jesus was who he claimed'

    No wonder SS is having so much trouble -- he fundamentally fails to understand the nature of axioms. "Jesus was who he claimed" (or "the bible contains the truth") is a necessary axiom; the edifice crumbles without it.

    Perhaps, by "unnecessary axiom", SS means one that can be denied. But there is no axiom that cannot logically be denied; that's what makes them axioms rather than theorems. When it comes to moral axioms, they are psychologically undeniable, as a consequence of the biological and social evolution that produced each of us. But they cannot be argued for -- they're axioms: "a proposition that is not proved or demonstrated but considered to be self-evident".

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Ah, yes. Mister Orwell.

    (paraphrasing, because my copy is buried somewhere in the garage)

    "Tell me, Winston, how do you exercise power over another human being?"

    Winston thought. "By making him suffer?"

    "Precisely! By making him suffer."

    (end paraphrase)

    Also this:

    "The object of torture is torture. The purpose of interrogation is interrogation."

    I've studied (informally) a lot of medieval interrogation methods, various witch trials, and read GULAG Archipelago, and after all this all I can say is that anyone who thinks that any of this is somehow acceptable or justifiable may need to experience it firsthand.

    But then, I'm just a 'extreme leftist' whose sympathies lie with the lonely spinster accused of being a witch because of a feedback loop.

    The MadPanda, FCD

    Question: If waterboarding one person resulted in stopping a nuclear device being detonated in PZ's home town would it be worth it?

    Question: If waterboarding Marcus's grandmother resulted in stopping a nuclear device being detonated in PZ's home town would it be worth it?

    negentropyeater @ #363

    [speaking of tortuous music]Slim Whitman - Rose Marie

    Hey, that's a fine song! I'd crack within seconds of them turning on modern day country-music radio, however..

    Li'l Markie would be good torture music as long as they didn't show the video at the same time. A man that large making that voice is just too silly.

    Marcus,

    Your question is actually, if torture resulted in stopping a nuclear device being detonated, would it be worth it ?
    (skip the waterboarding, which is the same as torture, and the PZ stuff which doesn't change your question)

    First, how many times has torture resulted in stopping a nuclear device being detonated so far ? Zero.

    So, if yo're asking, you are probably thinking, let's keep torturing, until that one occurence happens, and then it pays for all the torture that has been done.

    But, what you're not thinking about is that when you keep torturing, you greatly increase the risk of a terrorist act being committed, and you are still not guaranteed that your torture will find the terror plot.

    So not only torture is bad because of torture itself, but also because of the terror it creates.

    That's why most nations including the USA have ratified the United Nations Convention On Torture and agree that torture is a punishable criminal offense, and your silly little ticking bomb scenario is not something really new that people had never thought about.

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    You seem to be pretty dismissive of logic when it comes to ethics- when surely we both realise that we need some foundational moral axioms

    Generally speaking, people should be happy.

    There's your foundational axiom.

    As for utilitarianism, from what I recall of your comments way up thread, you seem to be one of those people who annoy me by implicitly applying utilitarian principles as if every decision were to be considered in a vacuum at the smallest timescale possible. Think about the long-term implications of the precedents short-term decisions can set and the whole system makes a lot more sense.

    Marcus @ #366

    If waterboarding one person resulted in stopping a nuclear device being detonated in PZ's home town would it be worth it?

    How sure are you that this person has the information required to stop such an attack, and what is the minimum level of surety required before torture is justified? Do you, Marcus, feel qualified to make this decision, and will you accept the blame should you torture an innocent person needlessly?

    If you were 100% sure that this person had the information needed to stop a nuclear attack, wouldn't torture be superfluous at that point in time? There would be far better ways to track down other details of this person's life, his contacts' information, etc., and the information gathered through more conventional means would be far more reliable.

    Let's say your silly "24" scenario were true, and one captured terrorist knew the "shutdown code" for a nuke. Would he not take a particular pleasure in holding out for as long as he could, and then providing the sort of misinformation that would keep the authorities busy until destruction was assured? ("Yes, I hid it in the bottom of Raw Sewage intake pool #5 at the waste treatment plant..." or "Yes, the code is 55455. [waits to hear big boom]) If there is no external way to verify the information received from such a torture session, then you've got to take this person at his word -- which isn't worth too much if he's the type of person who would blow up innocent people for an ideology.

    Your "ticking bomb" scenario is the case where misinformation from the torture victim would be its most disastrous. If you're at the point where the words of one dishonest person could affect the fate of an entire city, you're already well fucked.

    truth machine@275 - Thanks, fascinating link, with a lot more detail than I was aware of.

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    pcarini @347,

    Exactly, similar (although perhaps better stated) to what I claimed back at 284 and has been said many other times in this thread. However, people like Marcus live in fear and let it dictate to them their morality and actions. They don't deal well with realities like the one's you've pointed out.
    You take away their pacifier when you tell them that sometimes there's nothing that can be done.

    To Marcus and others, a couple questions right back at ya. Show me a society that resorts to torture that is democratic and free. Show me a country that resorts to torture that has citizens that feel safe. Show me an example of how the use of torture has saved countless lives. Show me how torture has made any group of people safer, more content, less fearful, more prosperous, and a better people.
    Just like religion does, you're making extraordinary claims, it's up to you to give us some extraordinary proof.

    That is progress, and Jefferson was an essential part of it, albeit arcane for our time. This isn't even just about Jefferson but anyone who had views that we now see as hypocritical. They may not have the evolved sensibilities we do now, but things had to start from somewhere. -
    Helioprogenus

    This ignores the point that Jefferson knew very well that slavery was wrong, said so, and yet continued to own slaves and, as truth machine's link shows, use his power over them in pretty ruthless ways. He was a hypocrite on a scale few of us achieve.

    Moreover, "things" did not start with Jefferson. The American Revolution was an important event, but it simply wasn't the kind of drastic break in history and ideas that it's often portrayed as. Look up the popular seizures of power in Renaissance Italian cities such as Rome and Florence, or the Putney debates of 1647 and the levellers, diggers and ranters of the English Commonwealth period, or the Iroquois confederacy - let alone Athenian democracy.

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Nick Gotts:
    "Moreover, "things" did not start with Jefferson. The American Revolution was an important event, but it simply wasn't the kind of drastic break in history and ideas that it's often portrayed as."

    How can you say that on the 4th of July! History and all ideas worth having started then. The founders of America lived in a vacuum, ignorant of others, and were ascended into heaven immediately after they whipped the English single-handedly! Furthermore, their ideas cannot be improved upon, being dictated to them by god. That's why we can be so thankful that we have Judges Scalia, Thomas, and others who are willing to stand up to people like yourself who wish to improve upon society instead of realizing it reached its zenith over two hundred years ago. For shame!

    Question: If waterboarding one person resulted in stopping a nuclear device being detonated in PZ's home town would it be worth it?

    Given how distastefully intolerant PZ and others of his ilk are towards opinions that don't mirror their own, ahem, no?? ;) Maybe another 9/11 would give them pause, eh?

    SC@313 - spot on as usual!

    we both realise that we need some foundational moral axioms (to get around Hume's is-ought problem) - silentsanta

    Wrong. Any more than we need "foundational scientific axioms". Foundational axioms belong in mathematical systems, where they can be adopted or dropped as convenient. Science grew out of everyday human investigations of the world, refining or replacing whatever innate or culturally-derived intuitions we had when they proved inadequate. In the same way, morality grew out of evolved human capabilities for empathy and compassion and dislike of unfairness, and culturally derived "this-is-how-we-do-things-here" norms, (sometimes) refining or replacing the latter when they were found to violate the former, or to be inconsistent, or to lead to undesireable consequences. You are still thinking in a quasi-religious way - trying to replace the ten commandments with a secular equivalent we can all agree on. It. Won't. Work. The best proof of that is the absurdities and immoralities it leads people into.

    Incidentally, your "All is permissible unless you can prove otherwise" is absurd. If you must have a single starting point, then "Causing harm to others is unethical unless you can prove otherwise." is far better.

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    By the way, on Ayaan Hirsi Ali - can anyone really believe that someone working for the American Enterprise Institute is interested in "honest discourse"?

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    sandy at #376, I see you lifted your head from Cheney's ass long enough to, for want of a better word, contribute again. Wipe your chin.

    Ciao

    Jeffy at #379, And the time you took to respond certainly interrupted your all male gang bang. Don't forget to A2M to clean your partners, Jeffrey. See, I can be hateful too, arsewipe.

    Sandy@380. Yes, but can you be anything else?

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Sandy, something wrong with being gay? I must apologize if you thought my insult was sexual, it was not. I just consider you to be an ass licker for the party of the current resident. Apologies if I was unclear.

    Ciao

    Rationality has been seen to come from Mr. D's keyboard, at least sometimes. I don't think one can say the same for Sandy.

    Have you considered buying a Chrysler, Sandy? I've read that the reality distortion fields they offer with auto purchases are fabulous. I know you already have a distortion field of your own, but you can always trade up...

    Question: If waterboarding one person resulted in stopping a nuclear device being detonated in PZ's home town would it be worth it?

    Posted by: Marcus

    It sounds like you're stepping off into Convoluted Supervillain Scenario-land, here.
    I like comic books, but they shouldn't be mistaken for Real Life.

    Given how distastefully intolerant PZ and others of his ilk are towards opinions that don't mirror their own, ahem, no?

    Ah, opinions. The refugia of the know-nothings.

    tm @ #356. Thanks for that. Wow. But how could that be, when we know Harris has no axe to grind and is only interested in advancing civilization through rational discussion? I'm so confused.

    To emphasize one part of what a few people (tm @ #362, Azkyroth @ #370, Nick Gotts @ #377) have been saying, science deals with evidence, and what ss calls "magical texts" were developed in large part as the result of the evidence of the real effects of torture on human beings and human societies.

    So, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this

    Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

    is followed immediately by this

    Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

    http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html

    But the hard experience of millions of people, and the wisdom gained thereby about what torture does to people and societies, is dismissed by ss with a mere flip of the wrist. "Science," after all, proceeds entirely through abstract logic games and extrapolation from personal gut feelings.

    And the time you took to respond certainly interrupted your all male gang bang

    Brenda? That you?

    You would be right if # 107 would criticise Israeli crimes and Israeli crimes alone. But he made a scapegoat argument; x is to blame for the (war) crimes of y. That`s structurally antisemitic, regardless if you call x a Jew, an Israeli or who knows what. Ollanta Humala would make the same point about Chileans, and it would still be antisemitic.

    [url=http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/anti-semitism]...[/url]

    Idiot.

    SC@313 - spot on as usual!

    Thanks! You know I responded to sociopathicsanta's bloodless response @ #332, right?

    The American Revolution was an important event, but it simply wasn't the kind of drastic break in history and ideas that it's often portrayed as. Look up the popular seizures of power in Renaissance Italian cities such as Rome and Florence, or the Putney debates of 1647 and the levellers, diggers and ranters of the English Commonwealth period,...

    And read The Many-Headed Hydra!

    No, you should understand that I am trying to explain to you that these are not "magical documents" but the concretization of centuries of thinking about and struggling over rights.

    To build on SC's comment, demanding that every pre-existing and/or generally accepted philosophical premise, argument, or conclusion be thoroughly considered and rigorously evaluated from first principles at the outset of a philosophical debate is logically equivalent to demanding that a team of engineers rigorously derive the entire physical understanding of its operation, beginning with the basic principles of the wheel, combustion, gears, electronics, etc. from foundational axioms prior to building any individual car. "Wankery" is not an unfair description of such a position, but it's not the best - "trolling" is often better since such demands invariably result from either a poorly reasoned dedication to a misunderstanding of abstract principles of idealized debate, or, far more commonly, from a desire to manipulate the rules of engagement in a debate so as to artificially increase the burden one's opponent must shoulder in attempting to establish their claims, in place of deploying an intelligent counter-argument. It's like creationists' insisting that evolution is falsified unless every "gap" in the fossil record can be filled in.

    Ah, opinions. The refugia of the know-nothings.

    As are the random elitist mutterings of the know-it-alls.

    ss's posts have made me sad for another reason, as well: They remind me that there is a generation for whom, though they don't all see things like ss by any means, hearing attempts by so-called intellectuals to justify torture on a regular basis is a normal part of life. Torture. If someone had asked me 10 years ago whether such a state of affairs was possible, I would probably have laughed at the thought.

    I have just had time this morning to read over the responses but not time to compose one at present as I'm going on a short vacation in 2 hrs. I should just clear up that I am not this 'walton' character.

    Also, SC @332 I should just quickly point out that I don't recall being referred to any specific passage of Voltaires, but IIRC the few that I have read before seemed to have the problem that they could be equally applied to incarceration (which effectively removes the ability of one to defend oneself) and his characterisation of warfare as between two groups that could defend themselves (making it morally acceptable) is ludicrous. But like I said, those were only the passages I found myself, and they appeared to be pretty weak. I would prefer to tackle his stronger arguments if you could point them out to me?

    Also, TM it is disingenuous of you to accuse me of "a radical misinterpretation of the Principle of Charity." regarding my terrorist/mother dilemma - as I already confronted the strong version of the question you posed in #160- I have not shown the slightest hesitation to discuss the idea of torture of innocents.

    Hopefully I will post more when I return. Apologies to windy as I haven't developed a categorical argument against slavery, and am wondering if there is one.

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I should just clear up that I am not this 'walton' character.

    I don't entirely believe that, but of course cannot prove otherwise, so I'll have to take your word for it.

    Your post @ #392 shows you to be as ignorant as you are without conscience. It is your moral responsibility to educate yourself on the history of human rights, though this will not give you the moral sense you so evidently lack (if you think torture victims' experiences or Hirsi Ali's experience of FGM do not constitute part of a moral case for human rights and indeed make these people less qualified to "speak rationally" on these subjects, which only allow for categorical arguments based on abstract logic, then you are probably a lost cause). The inhuman detachment with which you approach this issue, and morality in general, and the fact that you consider this a virtue are truly sickening. Despite this, if you are ever in danger of being tortured, I will be there defending you.

    Just before I leave, Azkyroth @389,
    I am aware of that technique and have had it used against me as well. I know how frustrating it is, and I assure you I am not intending to use it here.
    As I have already indicated, I think asserting human rights as defined in the universal declaration of human rights is too superficial, and arguments should stem back to their effects on individuals suffering, privacy, autonomy, dignity and the like. I am not asking people to break down and justify definitions of those subcategories, as a troll would. While people shouldn't have to argue to an infinite depth to justify their premises, they still need to proceed to at least some depth to make any meaningful argument.
    The reason I think just blithely quoting the declaration of human rights is glib is because:
    a. it isn't good enough for my ethics lecturer (as mentioned earlier) and
    b. it doesn't provide useful direction when human rights are being infringed on both alternatives. I could say the 'right to life' categorically rules out abortions, when we all know the issue is more complex than that.
    In the same way, medical doctors still have to pragmatically apply utilitarianism (or some substitute) when allocating scarce treaments (eg donated kidneys)- they have to balance issues on multiple sides.

    The universal declaration of human rights is useful in dismissing torture for the purposes of punishment after the act, but not useful for dismissing torture during interrogation to prevent manifestly greater infringements of those same human rights it defines (eg Ticking bomb scenario mentioned by many people above).

    Just as an aside, Truthmachine, this touches on one of my issues with some of the historical literature on torture. As I am sure you are well aware, torture has been widely used as punishment for a crime, and not only in interrogation settings, and the small amount of historical literature I have seen doesn't distinguish between the two. I think the use of torture as punishment for a crime (post crime) is always unethical, as -for example- it cannot reduce suffering, only increase it.
    I am aware that people could always couterargue deterrent effects cause a reduction in suffering overall, etc but I haven't come across a persuasive statement of that argument.

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 04 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I am aware of that technique and have had it used against me as well. I know how frustrating it is, and I assure you I am not intending to use it here.

    It doesn't matter what you intend; this is precisely what you are doing here. You've now acknowledged your vast ignorance on the subject of torture and human rights, and then expect others to remedy that ignorance on a blog. "I'm unconvinced by the theory of evolution. Please justify in for me in your comments."

    As I have already indicated, I think asserting human rights as defined in the universal declaration of human rights is too superficial, and arguments should stem back to their effects on individuals suffering, privacy, autonomy, dignity and the like.

    The reason I think just blithely quoting the declaration of human rights is glib is because:

    Then it's a good thing no one has just blithely quoted it. Read my earlier posts and those of others. You really are aggressively stupid.

    In the same way, medical doctors still have to pragmatically apply utilitarianism (or some substitute) when allocating scarce treaments (eg donated kidneys)- they have to balance issues on multiple sides.

    Gah, but you're an ignorant twit. Here's a reading list for you:

    Nazi Doctors, Robert J. Lifton
    Medical Apartheid, Harriet Washington
    The Body Hunters, Sonia Shah
    Oath Betrayed (from which I quoted above), Steven H. Miles
    Trust Is Not Enough: Bringing Human Rights to Medicine, David J. Rothman and Sheila J. Rothman

    First, individual doctors don't allocate kidneys or other organs. This is done, in the US, by the OPTN (I believe) using a blind system and a set of rational criteria. Try to imagine what it would be like if individual doctors made these decisions. Second, medical professionals do not make decisions based upon utilitarian considerations. They have codes of ethics that are specific professional versions of the UDHR. These respect, to borrow the subject headings from the Rothmans' book: "bodily integrity," "informed consent and freedom from coercion," and "protection from medical harm." IRBs exist to review the research conducted by these professionals that is funded by the government or universities, and boards at various levels monitor compliance (how well this works is another issue). These codes and institutions have come about over many years due to a growing appreciation that doctors have a specific professional responsibility that goes beyond the ordinary moral obligation of one human being to another, that their patients deserve respect as human beings and cannot be violated for any reason, and that the history of medical care when it has been left to utilitarian thinking is a grotesque one. People have recognized how easy it is for doctors to determine that their approach to their patients or research subjects is subject to a greater, abstract good (of the patients themselves, of their country, of humanity) and to commit horrible acts because of it. Most of these professional associations - as well as those of psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, etc. - have strict codes against any participation in torture.

    Some within these professions have argued for the weakening of these codes in specific areas. For example, some contend that international codes on human experimentation should be relaxed for those doing research with poor people in poor countries because their research will ultimately help those people. Even when these arguments are not transparently false and self-serving (e.g., the drugs being developed have virtually no chance of benefiting anyone poor in these countries, much less the research subjects themselves) they are morally unsound and profoundly dangerous. To understand why requires, well, a moral compass, which you've demonstrated you don't have, and historical knowledge, which you also lack.

    [As an aside - Fortunately, medical ethics is increasingly connected to movements for human rights and social justice (see ERV's recent post about South Africa, for example). This is very important, because patients are no longer voiceless subjects upon whom medical science acts, but participants in the determination of how they will be treated and what they deserve in terms of medical care. This is the best hope for the protection of our human rights.]

    The universal declaration of human rights is useful in dismissing torture for the purposes of punishment after the act, but not useful for dismissing torture during interrogation to prevent manifestly greater infringements of those same human rights it defines (eg Ticking bomb scenario mentioned by many people above).

    Read those posts again (if you have indeed read them once). "Manifestly greater infringements"? Fool. The whole point of international human rights law is to prevent arrogant, amoral egoists from deciding when they think it's useful or necessary to violate people's bodily sovereignty and dignity for what they deem a more worthwhile goal. The UDHR is not "useful" or "not useful." That you would use these terms to describe it speaks volumes.

    and the small amount of historical literature I have seen

    Get reading, child.

    And reread Nick Gotts @ #237. Try to understand what he's saying.

    BTW, Sandy:

    are you actually sheep-stupid enough to believe that no one held at Guantanamo Bay may be innocent?
    Posted by: Azkyroth

    Answer, plzthx.

    #377, that should read.

    Welcome to reality, Hitch.

    I didn't need anyone to tell me how horrifying waterboarding had to be, or the effect it could have on somebody. After an older girl pushed me into the deep end of a pool after my beginner's swim class, I was still so fucking nutso freaked from the near-drowning that I beat the holy shit out of her. It took several adults to pull me off her, even though I was this impossible scrawny, small-for-my-age 7 year old. But I was so fucked in the head that I was like an unstoppable atomic vengeance machine. I don't remember any of the ass-whooping. I lost it that badly. Maybe the people getting water-boarded are adults, and a little better able to cope...but I don't think it would be too much more. I can still remember that horrific terror I felt when the water closed in around me, and I couldn't get air, couldn't get to the surface...

    I still have nightmares about it, nearly 40 years later.

    # 387

    Azkyroth,

    Antisemitism is a complex ideological setup, you can`t define it with an one-liner from a 19th-century dictionary.

    There was a former leader of the British green party who believed in the protocols of the elders of Zion. He claimed that he was not an antisemite, because in his opinion the elders were aliens, therefore not even human, leave alone Jews.

    What this guy failed to realise was that conspiracy theories are structurally antisemitic, even if those who peddle them claim that the conspirators are shape-shifting reptiloids from outer space.

    There was a former leader of the British green party who believed in the protocols of the elders of Zion. - johannes,

    You mean David Icke. Your tense is wrong: he's still with as, as crazy as ever. His insanity appears to have had a fairly sudden inception in 1990. In fairness to the England and Wales Green Party (I'm not a member), I quote from wikipedia on Icke:

    "In his online autobiography, Icke writes that, in March 1990, while he was a national spokesperson for the Green Party, he received a message from the spirit world through a medium,[13] (video) identified by The Guardian as Betty Shine, a medium from Brighton. She told him he was a healer who had been chosen for his courage and sent to heal the earth, and that he had been directed into football to learn discipline. He was going to leave politics and would become famous, she said, writing five books in three years, and one day there would be a great earthquake, and the "sea will reclaim land," because human beings were abusing the earth.

    When Icke told the Green Party leadership what he had experienced, he was banned from speaking at public meetings on their behalf."

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 05 Jul 2008 #permalink

    "So do you speak for the Bush administration? Or can you provide a citation for them making this argument? Or are you just talking out of your anti-intellectual ass?" - Truth Machine (aka. moron)

    That's the argument as presented by representatives of the United States government. I'm not going to waste my time digging up references. The ENTIRE discourse about waterboarding is whether or not it's classified as torture.

    Note that Hitchens' entire article and the video above address the question: is waterboarding torture?

    Welcome to the subject!

    P.S. You might want to look up what "begging the question" means before you beak-off about it.

    Jams, where are you getting that? Your original (convoluted) statement was "The Bush Administration argument isn't that torture is ethical, but that water-boarding is not torture because it isn't unethical." It's neither. The Bush administration's "arguments" have never been about ethics - as if anyone would take them seriously on that subject - but about legality. To the extent that their arguments that "exceptional circumstances" or exceptional victims justify ignoring the laws concerning torture have been shot down, they have sought to redefine torture so narrowly (organ failure and the like) that their practices are not included in the legal definition. This is not limited to waterboarding, but covers a broad gamut of practices. Again, from Miles (pp. 8-9):

    Pain: beating; electrical shocks; stretching or suspension; asphyxiation; burning; ligatures; rape; painful medical procedures such as administration of drugs, enemas, etc.; mutilation
    Deprivation: food, water, access to toilet, shelter from heat or cold, medical care, sleep, sensory deprivation
    Psychological: forcing victim to abase self, verbal abuse, mock executions, sexual degradation, forcing a victim to watch abuse or torture of a loved one, perceptual monopolization, disorienting drugs such as tranquilizers or hallucinogens, stealing infants/children

    Several of these have been practiced by the administration, and they have endeavored, lamely, to argue that they are legally permissible. I think waterboarding has been the focus because for some reason they've been able for longer to convince people that it lies outside of the legal definition of torture, but in any event their arguments about torture have not concerned ethics but legal permissibility. I recommend Karen Greenberg's tome The Torture Papers (unfortunately, my copy is in storage).

    And speaking of Greenberg, for ss I recommend the first chapter in Greenberg's The Torture Debate (which addresses your torture/war comparison), as well as this paragraph from Miles (pp. 12-13):

    The 'ticking time bomb' scenario is...constructed to justify torture, not to illuminate the moral issues of legalizing torture. Charles Krauthammer, who is a political commentator, a psychiatrist, and a member of President George W. Bush's Council on Bioethics, writes, 'If you have the slightest belief that hanging this man by his thumbs will get you the information to save a million people, [not] only is it permissible to hang this miscreant by his thumbs, it is a moral duty...And even if the example I gave were entirely hypothetical, the conclusion [that] in this case even torture is permissible...establishes the principle...[To] paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, all that's left to haggle about is the price'. Dr. Krauthammer smoothly glides from his justification for torture to prevent a nuclear attack, to using torture to identify a suicide bomber who plans to go into a coffee shop, to torturing an accomplice who may have information about the whereabouts of a single uniformed soldier. His 'slightest belief' standard is the political rhetoric that has often been used to rationalize the murder, torture, and disappearance of millions of innocent or ignorant people.

    ...Advocates for legal torture...argue that, since the 'ticking time bomb' scenario is plausible, however rare, it would be naïve, idealistic, and irresponsible to ban torture's use. Some propose procedural safeguards (such as torture warrants), by which courts would weign the gravity or probability of the crime that interrogational torture would endeavor to prevent. Some suggest that torture should remain illegal but that courts should allow an after-the-fact 'necessity' defense, somewhat like allowing a person to claim the necessity of homicide in self-defense. History does not justify confidence in such measures. Twentieth-century torture has always spread far beyond 'ticking time bomb' scenarios to result in the abuse of many innocent or ignorant persons. It is naïve, idealistic, and irresponsible to claim otherwise.

    Let me speak up for Walton. I've run across the self-righteous shit at Wikipedia. He's not the kind of person who would make sockpuppets. Hate him for the right reasons: he's a misogynist, a homophobe, a brainwashed lockstep authoritarian, an apologist for war crimes, and a menace to liberty. Compensating by convincing himself of his own honor and integrity is very important to him.

    By Grammar RWA (not verified) on 05 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Grammar RWA,

    Good point. I was thinking of it as more of an "I've embarassed myself to such an extent on this blog that no one will take me seriously under my original moniker"-led change, which I would actually find understandable and would have no problem with. But I think you're right.

    I do find this sort of analysis rather fun. Is that wrong?

    "Your original (convoluted) statement [...]" - SC

    I'm sorry that you're confused. Let's pull the sentence apart....

    "The Bush Administration argument isn't that torture is ethical, but that water-boarding is not torture because it isn't unethical." - Jams

    There are two hypothetical arguments here. The first is that torture is ethical. It's been alleged that the Bush administration has made this argument. As far as I understand it, they have not. That hasn't stopped other people from making the argument, including Charles Krauthammer (who, much to his credit, doesn't buy the "waterboarding shouldn't be classified as torture" argument). And though Miles cites Krauthammer's oh-so-sinister affiliation with "President George W. Bush's Council on Bioethics", only an ass would believe the council on bioethics even remotely informed the discussion on torture, much less that his position on that council authorizes him to be an official spokesperson for white house policy. Miles is reduced to arguing "look, Krauthammer knows Bush, and he argues torture is justifiable, THEREFORE, that must be what the Bush administration is REALLY arguing."

    There is another argument which asserts that waterboarding is not classified as torture (along with a number of other practices). The Bush administration HAS made this argument. And that's sort-of why Hitchens made the above video.

    Clearer?

    A few other things:

    "which addresses your torture/war comparison" - SC

    I never made one. You're thinking of someone else. I asked "is confinement torture?"

    "The Bush administration's "arguments" have never been about ethics - as if anyone would take them seriously on that subject - but about legality" - SC

    Yeah, cause law has nothing to do with ethics. But hey, you tell me, in what way is the argument that classifies waterboarding outside the ethical constraints associated with torture not an ethical argument?

    Or are you arguing that Kaushammer's argument isn't about ethics? You know, the guy who said "If you have the slightest belief that hanging this man by his thumbs will get you the information to save a million people, [not] only is it permissible to hang this miscreant by his thumbs, it is a moral duty". Sounds like an ethical argument to me. Oh right, he's not a representative of the Bush Administration. If he was, as Miles alleges, it would be a silver bullet that indeed, the argument is primarily an ethical one.

    SC in your #404 you stated, "I do find this sort of analysis rather fun. Is that wrong?" Yes, terribly wrong, you should be ashamed...and I always look for your comments on these threads. (smile)

    Ciao, bella SC

    If dissecting hypocrites is wrong, I don't want to be right. I could see Walton taking up a new handle out of embarrassment, as the pseudonymous nature of the Internet (and especially so at Wikipedia) generally allows for that, as long as the name change isn't done to circumvent a ban.

    But if he were called out on it, I really doubt he'd explicitly lie about being Walton. He'd ignore the charge, or admit the fact and plead for understanding, or disappear again. He doesn't have much to be proud of, so he relies on procedural displays of integrity. Hence the tendency to repeatedly emphasize that he's a Wikipedia administrator and so has a reputation on the line.

    It would be a much greater embarrassment to him at Wikipedia if he were found to be lying about using sockpuppets at other websites. [And should he or another care to speculate about the identities of my own sockpuppet brigade, I shall ignore the charges.]

    By Grammar RWA (not verified) on 05 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Technically, even if silentsanta was Walton, he isn't a sockpuppet. A sockpuppet must pretend to be a third-party on the subject of the puppeteer. Even if silentsanta was Walton, defending his anonymity as silentsanta wouldn't make silentsanta a sockpuppet to Walton. You know, technically.

    Jams,

    Can you read? The quotations from Miles were directed to silentsanta - hence, "for ss I recommend..." They had nothing do do with my comments to you.

    No one has claimed that the argument wasn't about whether waterboarding constituted torture. Or that critics haven't been saying that the administration's use of torture generally or waterboarding specifically was immoral, in addition to being illegal. You have not provided any evidence whatsoever for your claim that the Bush administration framed its arguments surrounding waterboarding around ethics and not legality, or attempted to distinguish between waterboarding and other forms of torture on primarily ethical rather than legal-technical grounds.

    in what way is the argument that classifies waterboarding outside the ethical constraints associated with torture not an ethical argument?

    It is an ethical argument, but, again, you haven't shown that it is the Bush administration's argument, which has focused on the claim that it lies technically outside the legal constraints associated with torture. The fact that they have used other forms of torture and attempted to establish these as legal, and that they have used other arguments (exceptional states or statuses) to try to support their actions, should make it clear that they are not basing their arguments on the assumption that torture per se is unethical, while waterboarding is ethical. They couldn't care less about the ethics of any form of torture; they just want to get away with what they can. Your statement of the obvious - that law generally has to do with morality - does nothing to support your specific claim.

    Ciao, bella SC

    *blushes*

    A Brit wrote

    > Personally I would be happy to see Blair stand trial at the Hague for what he did over Iraq.

    This is preposterous. I passionately disagreed with the invasion of Iraq and thought it was a put up job all along, and I was right. However, like it or not, Blair persuaded parliament to vote for it and he put his job on the line in doing so. His conviction was evident. His oratory was brilliant. It's clear now it was a terrible mistake, but it was made from deeply held moral conviction AND, above all, that a belief that Britain needed to stand with America. I have nothing but contempt for Bush and the neocon mafia but to hang Blair with them... sorry you need to indict parliament as well.

    I believe it's Blair's intention to spend the rest of his life atoning for this mistake.

    The anger and contempt of Americans here for their current administration cheers me greatly. I used to visit America regularly and I felt it had lost its way in recent years and I stopped visiting, rather in the same way one didn't drink South African wine years ago.

    Both America and Britain need to reinvent themselves, and they will. What would show trials add?

    By Paul Joseph (not verified) on 05 Jul 2008 #permalink

    The fact that they have used other forms of torture and attempted to establish these as legal, and that they have used other arguments (exceptional states or statuses) to try to support their actions, should make it clear that they are not basing their arguments on the assumption that torture per se is unethical, while waterboarding is ethical.

    Scratch that. I remember that your original argument was that they didn't say torture was ethical, which is correct. (Who said that they did, again? I may have missed it.)

    There is another argument which asserts that waterboarding is not classified as torture (along with a number of other practices). The Bush administration HAS made this argument.

    Duh. The point is that you haven't substantiated you claim that they have done so on the premise that waterboarding, like these other actions, "isn't unethical."

    I have nothing but contempt for Bush and the neocon mafia but to hang Blair with them... sorry you need to indict parliament as well. - Paul Joseph

    Arguable. Blair undoubtedly lied to Parliament, which may get them off the hook. On the other hand, since we have a system of collective cabinet responsibility, every member of the cabinet at the time the decision to invade was taken is prima facie a war criminal, and should certainly be tried at The Hague, if a prosecution is not brought under UK law.

    I believe it's Blair's intention to spend the rest of his life atoning for this mistake.
    In the immortal words of John McEnroe "You cannot be serious!". On all the evidence to date, Blair is still utterly convinced of his own rectitude, and firmly believes "history" will vindicate him.

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 05 Jul 2008 #permalink

    the 'severe pain' that defines torture must involve damage that rises 'to the level of death, organ failure, or the permanent impairment of a significant body function'.

    'severe mental pain or suffering' in the torture statute, which includes 'the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering'; 'Put another way, the acts giving rise to the harm must cause some lasting, though not necessarily permanent, damage'.

    Technical, legalistic CYA arguments, just like they attempt in the exceptional states/statuses claims.

    However, people like Marcus live in fear and let it dictate to them their morality and actions.

    Sorry; I had a day of travel and a house-guest and return to discover that people are interpreting my comments as supportive of torture? WTF? Go back and read everything I've written in this thread if you're going to pretend you understand my views. Thanks.

    There is no "iron-clad" argument for, or against, torture because there's no iron-clad definition of what is and what isn't torture.

    Conventionally (and legally), torture doesn't need an ethical argument for or against because the word "torture" is only applied to unethical acts. If an act is ethical, then it can't be torture.

    This is wrong. You might have a point if the definition of torture had varied wildly over the centuries, or if it had arisen in conjunction with the appreciation that these acts were unethical, but this isn't the case. The set of acts covered by the word "torture" has remained remarkably stable over the centuries, expanded in general only in conjunction with the rise of new technologies of torture. These acts were defined as torture under the Romans, and they were neither illegal nor considered unethical. Many 20th-century regimes that employed them accepted them as torture, but contended (amongst themselves) that torture was necessary to achieve some other goal.

    For example, I think imprisonment is torture, and possibly boy bands, but few others would agree, except that there may be some popular support for imprisonment is torture if it's done without a fair trial - whatever that is.

    There are many state acts that are considered immoral and are illegal but which are not considered torture: genocide, extrajudicial killing, etc. Happily, this list is expanding. I happen to believe that imprisonment should be among them (and it appears you do as well, although your crack about boy bands, if you are serious, cuts the moral legs out from under your argument). There may be a grey area between torture and some aspects of incarceration, but it's unnecessary to redefine incarceration - or anything, for that matter - as torture in order to make a moral case against it.

    The Bush Administration argument isn't that torture is ethical, but that water-boarding is not torture because it isn't unethical - much the way prison is considered ethical, and thus, not torture, even though it's certainly torturous.

    Again, torture isn't defined by its immorality, so it's unnecessary to argue that certain acts are ethical to exclude them from the definition of torture (even if it were, this wouldn't be evidence that this is what Bush and co. are doing - their actions don't need to conform to your argument). And this is not what the Bush administration is up to. Indeed, if you consider the matter more carefully, you'll appreciate that they basically accept the existing definition of the acts that constitute torture, and aren't really trying to exclude certain ones from the definition. What they're attempting to do is split legal hairs about, first, the objects of torture (whether they can be classified as not fully human beings for judicial purposes); second, the circumstances of torture (whether these acts are allowed during states of exception); and third, the severity and specific intent of the acts. This is very different from arguing that the acts are ethical and therefore not torture.

    or if it had arisen in conjunction with the appreciation that these acts were unethical, but this isn't the case.

    And I'll add to this that, if you read the 18th-century debates, you'll see that those who were attacking torture and those who were defending it (e.g., Muyart de Vouglans) shared a common definition, despite differing on the morality of these acts.

    Windy,

    I promised I would attempt to construct a categorical argument against slavery, and I have thought about it and failed to do so - because I first tried to think of a counterexample on which to test any new categorical argument..

    Caveat: Like torture, I am quite convinced all forms of slavery both historic and contemporary are completely unethical.

    Suppose we decide slavery is forced incarceration of one or more humans who are coerced (by force) into providing their services. Let's take an impoverished state utterly ravaged by an epidemic, say AIDs, and imagine there was a scientist citizen with knowledge of a dirt-cheap, effective cure for that disease, but who refused to produce that cure or teach it to others, (say because he objected on religious grounds). In this case, would it be ethical for that state to incarcerate the scientist and coerce him, by force, into providing his services (either producing the cure, or teaching others how to produce it). Again, given the huge number of lives hang in the balance, and I don't feel that it would be ethical to stand idly by.
    Another counterexample is that our widespread incarceration of criminals is very similar to (temporary) slavery in many important respects, although we thankfully don't have buying and selling of human lives, and there are no people born into criminal incarceration.
    I'm unsupportive of incarceration when used strictly for 'punishment' or 'revenge' (again, because I think it can only increase suffering and never reduce it), but I support it in cases where it protects society (reducing suffering) and when it fosters rehabilitation (potentially reducing suffering, and increasing liberty and autonomy).

    My failure to refute slavery in all potential cases has made me wonder if there was a truly categorical argument about anything in ethics. I decided to try the big leagues and consider categorical arguments against genocide, probably the most appalling of moral crimes. (or counterexamples to these).
    My counterexample on the genocide was that: if it's ever ethical to allow 'collateral damage' in war, it shouldn't become orders of magnitude more unethical in the case where, say, the 5 victims of a poorly targeted smart-bomb happened to be the last remaining members of the ancient Etruscans.
    That said, I can't fathom that there would be ever be any justification for targeted, wilful genocide.

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    It's amusing, Jams, that you call me a moron after demonstrating that you are dumber than dirt. You write "The ENTIRE discourse about waterboarding is whether or not it's classified as torture" ... but that's nothing like the statement that you made, I asked for a citation for, and you refused to provide.

    P.S. You might want to look up what "begging the question" means before you beak-off about it.

    I know very well what it means, cretin, and "water-boarding is not torture because it isn't unethical" is very much a case of it -- one can only say that waterboarding isn't unethical is if it isn't torture -- the very issue being debated! Why isn't it torture? Because it isn't unethical. Why isn't it unethical? Because it isn't torture. Why isn't it torture? Because it isn't unethical.... circular argument = petitio principii = begging the question, dumbfuck.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Silentsanta,

    My failure to refute slavery in all potential cases has made me wonder if there was a truly categorical argument about anything in ethics.

    Why are you doing it then ?

    Don't you see that this is precisely your mistake in all of this discussion ?

    Reread SC's post #395
    Nick's #377
    Mine #335,341,346

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I haven't developed a categorical argument against slavery, and am wondering if there is one.

    Well, then, I guess it wouldn't be wrong to enslave you!

    You are correct that there is no categorical argument against slavery. Seeking such a thing, or a categorical argument against torture, involves a category error, much like seeking a formal proof of the laws of thermodynamics -- that's getting things backwards; physical laws cannot be derived from axioms, they are abstractions over observed facts. Likewise, moral principles cannot be derived from axioms, they are abstractions over observed facts -- the facts about which actions we categorize as right or wrong.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Just before I leave, Azkyroth @389,
    I am aware of that technique and have had it used against me as well. I know how frustrating it is, and I assure you I am not intending to use it here.

    So it's an accident that you not only are doing that but insisted that it's the only way to proceed? ("pretty dismissive of those who point to scribblings instead of arguing")

    And you have the gall to call me disingenuous. (Which was itself a dishonest charge -- your interpretation of the Principle of Charity did in fact turn it on its head, regardless of what you did or did not address.)

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Truth Machine,an axiom or postulate as I see it is something taken for granted or considered to be self-evident,so what do you mean when you say that moral principles cannot be derived from axioms?
    Of course they can,thats the whole idea isnt it? And since when is a moral principle an abstraction of observed facts? "thou shalt not kill" surely wasnt derived from observed facts......

    not useful for dismissing torture during interrogation to prevent manifestly greater infringements of those same human rights it defines (eg Ticking bomb scenario mentioned by many people above).

    Torture of whom? Your mother or some other innocent? Funny how you say you addressed this and then immediately forget it. Here are two facts:

    a) Your utilitarianism is phony. In your mind, in these torture scenarios, are people that you think of as being "terrorists" and therefore subhuman, not innocents.

    b) The actual utilitarianism that you pretend to be arguing for here leads straight to hell -- the sort of hell of the Tuskegee experiment and other medical experiments that are justified in the same terms you use above. Just as experimenting on people cannot be justified on the grounds that it saves others -- no matter how many others -- torturing people cannot be justified on the grounds that it saves others -- no matter how many others.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    "It is a dreadful act to perform on the subject, and it degrades those who do it."

    Certainly, but so does working in the prison system, or cleaning sesspools. Hell working in the army is pretty degrading when you come home and wack jobs spit on you.

    No doubt however the waterboarding is torture. Also of no doubt is that torture is illegal under US law for anyone to do to anyone anywhere in the world. That doesn't hold for the Geneva Conventions by the way. Some people are not covered by that.

    Sometimes I wonder if this whole "Geneva Conventions" thing is hyped in the media to obscure the real issue. Too bad you democrats are your worst enemies. If you hadn't hyped all this fluff like "Bush lied" then you might have gotten an audience for the real charges. Serious charges. More serious than a hotel break-in.

    Unfortunately you ran a candidate who has associated with racists and like Ron Paul it's going to come back to bite him. Thus probably another republican and no investigation. Hell, you guys don't have the guts for an investigation of this sort.

    By Brian Macker (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    "thou shalt not kill" surely wasnt derived from observed facts......

    Yes, it surely was ... facts such as that people wish not to die and want social protections against same, and that social chaos results from the absence of such constraints.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    In the same way, medical doctors still have to pragmatically apply utilitarianism (or some substitute) when allocating scarce treaments (eg donated kidneys)- they have to balance issues on multiple sides.

    It's not "in the same way"; medical doctors do not go around killing people just because they can save far more people with their organs. I have trouble believing that you honestly don't understand the difference.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I have trouble believing that you honestly don't understand the difference.

    I'm not sure I have trouble believing this, after reading his post @ #418 and seeing that he doesn't grasp its significance in terms of his argument. He's really quite the dolt.

    There is another argument which asserts that waterboarding is not classified as torture (along with a number of other practices). The Bush administration HAS made this argument.

    The Bush administration has not made such an argument directly. Rather, it has a) insisted that "we do not torture", b) refused to say whether waterboarding is torture (witness Mukasey's confirmation hearing) and c) redefined torture so as to not include waterboarding. That has absolutely nothing to do with your claim, which was that "The Bush Administration argument is[...] that water-boarding is not torture because it isn't unethical"; The Bush administration has never produced any such "argument", which, being blatant question begging, is no argument at all.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    The fact that they have used other forms of torture and attempted to establish these as legal, and that they have used other arguments (exceptional states or statuses) to try to support their actions, should make it clear that they are not basing their arguments on the assumption that torture per se is unethical, while waterboarding is ethical.

    I'm going to reinstate this (which I scratched @ #411). If you're arguing that they're claiming that waterboarding isn't torture because it "isn't unethical" [what a stupid, annoying construction, by the way - why not just say "is ethical"?], this presumes that they accept that torture is unethical.

    He's really quite the dolt.

    Other signs from #418:

    1) He says that he's quite convinced all forms of torture both historic and contemporary are completely unethical, and then says that he doesn't think it would be ethical to "idly stand by" and fail to enslave an unwilling scientist.

    2) He continues to argue that something obviously unethical isn't because it isn't as bad as something else.

    3) He absurdly and mistakenly takes the accidental killing of the last 5 Etruscans to be a case of genocide ... and uses that strawman against the position that genocide is unethical.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    amk @330,
    I want to thankyou for providing interesting and provocative links without resorting to vitriol. I have just returned from my overnight trip, and have spent the last hour reading the link you posted at @330
    http://www.ethics.utoronto.ca/pdf/events/UnthinkingtheTickingBomb.pdf
    which I found very well argued and informative.

    Additionally, it has helped me understand better why TM is so upset with me (he has largely elected to insult me instead of educate me)- but I now have a better appreciation of the disastrous consequences of the TBS in the public debate, which is rather more muted in my country.
    This would explain why TM is so quick to assign malign intentions to me.
    However, I propose that the dangers of discussing the TBS are largely mitigated on this particular forum, especially compared with its use in a 4 minute soundbite on Fox News, or that dreadful '24' television series, because of several factors:
    1. Comparatively, very limited audience on Pharyngula
    2. Ability and time to flesh out arguments and address counterarguments
    3. Constant, (even irritating) assertions on my part that I don't feel the TBS justifies contemporary examples of torture.
    4. Educated and informed discussion participants (apparently excluding me, if TM's accusations are granted)
    5. Debate concerned with how to delineate and address what this article (from 'The Nation' http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Torture/Torture_We_Trust.html) calls the "infinitely expandable" nature of torture; ie. the subject which has been the entire point of my participation in this discussion. That is, I want more definite lines drawn, to understand better *why* the TBS outcome should not be generalized, and communicate this to others. The objective is not -and has never been- to justify torture.

    Interestingly, the 'Nation' article implies that all of the prominent theorists in 'ethics, human rights and the law' interviewed conceded that given the TBS there is 'only one truly ethical answer', to perform torture to save the multitude. From your link, it was interesting to compare this with Shue's 2005 dissent.

    Regarding the content of your linked article :

    II. "TBS scenario unlikely." Conceeded many moons ago.

    III. "TBS assumes tortured party is guilty".
    I certainly didn't make this assumption, 'didn't flinch', and addressed TBS torture of innocents in @298, and answered in the affirmative.

    It would be interesting to hear the audience response if the TBS enthusiast - let's suppose it is Alan Dershowitz giving a speech - poses the problem thus: "If the
    only way to get a terrorist to reveal the location of the ticking bomb is to torture you -
    that's right, you, the audience member, personally, for days on end - do you think the
    government should do it?

    I have thought about this many times during my life, and I still answer 'yes'. In fact it is a requirement for my ethics to fit Kant's "Categorical imperative"
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Categorical_Imperative
    reformulated as: I could not assent to torture an innocent unless I would willingly trade places with that innocent (have them torture me) to achieve the same outcome (eg save a million lives in the TBS). I have never run from this problem. I would hope the other readers here would also volunteer to be tortured if that many million lives hung in the balance, and their being tortured would make a difference.

    IV. "Why the special revulsion for torture? Why is it worse than killing?"
    I concede torture is often worse than killing, but not always. I submit that at this point, if Hitchens was asked to choose between immediate execution and further waterboarding, he would choose the latter.
    I found Amery's material interesting and will track down more from him when I have the time. What I have read from him before has been piecemeal.

    V.
    1. "by focusing on [eg TBS]... theorists misdirect readers' attention from genuine issues in the real world".
    Given how ingrained the TBS appears to be in the public psyche (admitted in the article), not addressing solidly it would come off as an admission of defeat.
    2. Lawmakers
    should build policies and rules around typical cases and ignore the rare hard
    cases; and moralists should ignore the weird ones.

    Yes and no, respectively. I have been a strong advocate of keeping torture illegal in all cases, and relying upon a jury or similar to make a suitable judgment in the event of a TBS. The text on Israel's use of this was informative. (I'm less informed on legal issues on torture, as my interest is primarily in ethics, and I have already made the case for ethics not deferring to legal documents).

    Regarding Shue's 2005 objections:
    "But a torturer must be competent; he
    must have training and the opportunity to practice;"

    This is absurd. Everyone on this forum who has viewed the above video would be amply equipped to torture someone, although their effectiveness at interrogation would be somewhat less than a trained professional, I don't think it would be trivial. And everyone who hasn't seen the video could easily use pliers on nails and teeth. Interrogation without torture is a skillful art, but I think Shue is having wishful delusions if he thinks "a TBS without a torture bureaucracy is impossible."

    VI.
    I think a 'torture bureaucracy' is, for the practical reasons described in the article, an extremely bad idea. But this is irrelevant as the "torture bureaucracy is necessary for TBS" point was dealt with above.

    VII.
    This section seems to me like running away from the problem.
    'Choice among evils' is often encountered. In fact, if evils were confined to only one side, the ethical 'problem' would be unlikely to even need addressing formally. I brought up the kidney-donation problem in post @394.
    While SC jumped on my remark and hastily asserts that kidneys are assigned "using a blind system and a set of rational criteria", I think he would find that those criteria were decided by doctors in the US (and doctors in my own country) using the principles of utilitarianism, perhaps in the form of DALYs or QALYs.
    I wonder if SC will now single those doctors out as monsters (the term he used for me) for using something so primitive as utilitarianism to deal with otherwise intractable problems...

    VIII. "To spend time thinking about what one would decide if one were in such a situation is also insane, if not merely frivolous."
    Thought experiments are useful in ethics as well as physics. Especially when doing something so foundational as deciding on moral axioms. TM proposes "torture is categorically wrong" as a moral axiom, but has yet to forthrightly state his/her position on the TBS when say 1, 100, or 5.5 billion lives hang in the balance.
    Once that axiom is adopted, he couldn't dispute the TBS choice that logically stems from it, even though I submit that most ethicists would proceed to torture in the final case (see the Nation link, though it is hardly conclusive).
    Likewise, given a potential axiom "Do not lie", a simple thought experiment about a person being asked the location of their father by a contracted hitman serves to destroy this potential axiom as a sensible choice.

    This section also discusses the three prominent secular moral systems and suggests that for each of them "completeness claims are illusory, and the temptation to smooth out the bumps".
    However, the article offers no guidance as to which ethical system to select under which circumstances, largely ignoring this problem that is in fact central to addressing TBS. What is obviously needed is some way to integrate the better aspects of each model, and remove their shortcomings; which is exactly what I am looking for in my examination of the TBS. In short, we need to outline more concretely where (if at all) utilitarianism takes over from a default 'do not torture' position. Given that many prominent ethicists would apply utilitarianism when a large enough number of lives were at stake, but then when say only a single life was at stake apply deontology instead (ie "do not torture"), almost every single person writing on this issue has failed to point out a sensible place to draw a line between these.

    IX.
    This concept of the 'unthinkable' was interesting from a philosophical perspective. I have always held that curiosity is above criticism, and that there are no such things as bad questions, although certainly there are ill-founded ones (eg "do you still beat your wife?")
    I think my passion for curiosity is not shared by everyone, considering how much I have been vilified for (almost exclusively) raising questions on this forum.
    Regarding the concept of the 'unthinkable', given how widespread torture has been in so many cultures, and how the subject has such contemporary prominence, even to be depicted on mainstream television, I think it's fair to say it's no longer unthinkable. And torture was never unthinkable for those that perpetrate it anyway. I would prefer immensely to use good arguments and political and social action to defeat torture, rather than blindly hoping that silence would make it disappear. It is far more likely that silence would reduce only our perception of the problem, which is a fool's bargain.

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    TM @424

    a) Your utilitarianism is phony. In your mind, in these torture scenarios, are people that you think of as being "terrorists" and therefore subhuman, not innocents.

    I have addressed on no less than 3 occasions (298, 392, 432) of torture of innocents as opposed to terrorists. I demand that you retract this claim.

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    SC ... I think he

    SC is female. Other than that I won't comment on your continued demonstration of stupidity other than

    TM proposes "torture is categorically wrong" as a moral axiom, but has yet to forthrightly state his/her position on the TBS when say 1, 100, or 5.5 billion lives hang in the balance.

    That IS a forthright statement of my position, moron.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    (he has largely elected to insult me instead of educate me)

    These are not mutually exclusive, except insofar as your wounded pride and attacks of the vapors prevent you from learning. Have fun in the military, pufnstuf.

    Also, it's 1.52am here, so I won't be posting for a while. Given how much pain? amusement? my posts generate for you, I can't tell whether this news will make you happy or upset.

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I demand that you retract this claim.

    Ok, rather than being phony, you are insane. As I said, your sort of utilitarianism, if taken seriously, leads to hell -- medical experiment hell, vigilante hell, tyranny of the majority hell, social chaos hell.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I think my passion for curiosity is not shared by everyone, considering how much I have been vilified for (almost exclusively) raising questions on this forum.

    You haven't been vilified for that, you intellectually dishonest asswipe.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I wonder if SC will now single those doctors out as monsters (the term he used for me) for using something so primitive as utilitarianism to deal with otherwise intractable problems...

    Read tm's comment @ #427; then reread mine @ #395. Dolt.

    Truth Machine, I am wary of going up against your formidable skills on this question, but my past encounters with Sam Harris haven't led me to that impression of pretense at all. I felt he was completely honest, sincere and earnest about approaching the idea of torture any time he has mentioned it. He dislikes the idea very much, but he wants an honest discussion on the subject, rather than hysterics....As is his thing, Harris seems to want to keep the discussion rational instead of based on reactionary or emotive arguments. I don't see the need to vilify him for that.

    Your first post: I don't see any questions there; rather, I see a bunch of ad hominems and poisoning the well. You might as well have tattooed "I'm an intellectually dishonest asshole aching for a fight" on your forehead.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    In this case, TM, if you would not torture an individual to save 5 and a half billion lives, though I disagree with your position, I do admire your ethical consistency. I don't know how many people would choose the same as you though; 5 and a half billion really is quite a lot.
    As I have always maintained throughout this discussion, I think the ethical problem is still a difficult one, and neither choice can be taken lightly. I will not call you a 'monster' or otherwise malign your character for your decision, your choice is just not something I could bring myself to do. Certainly for 1, maybe for a hundred. 5.5 billion has crossed a line somewhere for me, and I just want to understand why.

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    "I wonder if SC will now single those doctors out as monsters (the term he used for me) for using something so primitive as utilitarianism to deal with otherwise intractable problems..."

    Read tm's comment @ #427; then reread mine @ #395. Dolt.

    So, SS, is a doctor who kills someone in order to save hundreds of others with organ transplants a monster, or not? How about all those ______ movies where doctors kill people or do ghastly experiments on them "for the sake of science" and "because I can save millions!" ? What do we call those movies ... horror movies. What role is the doctor playing? The monster.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Given how much pain? amusement? my posts generate for you

    A strange combination of the two, actually: disgust at your views, and amusement at how your flailing about reveals their intellectual and moral bankruptcy.

    I could not assent to torture an innocent unless I would willingly trade places with that innocent (have them torture me) to achieve the same outcome (eg save a million lives in the TBS). I have never run from this problem. - silentsanta

    What do mean "I have never run from this problem?" Unless you mean you have actually been placed in that situation, and have agreed to be tortured, you can only be acquited of rank dishonesty by reason of your evident idiocy (in the sense of a total inability to distinguish between worthless sophistry, and urgent moral and political problems). Have you discussed this fine declaration of intent with anyone who has actually been tortured?

    Especially when doing something so foundational as deciding on moral axioms. - silentsanta
    There have been several posts, by tm, SC and me, arguing that the very idea we need "moral axioms" is a serious error. You have not responded. Don't you think this point needs to be addressed before you go off on your wild goose chase?

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    TM @437

    Ok, rather than being phony, you are insane. As I said, your sort of utilitarianism, if taken seriously, leads to hell -- medical experiment hell, vigilante hell, tyranny of the majority hell, social chaos hell.

    I have never dismissed the problems of utilitarianism. The same think that makes it immoral to harvest the organs of a single individual to save 5 others means that 'reduction in suffering' is not the only factor that matters.
    Utilitarian makes two claims.
    1. Total Happiness (or ~lack of suffering) is a determinent of what is good.
    2. That is all.

    I dispute the second claim, hence my repeated references to privacy, autonomy, dignity, justice. Perhaps I wasn't clear enough?

    What I have noticed, though, is that even people who understand and concede these problems with utilitarianism will still usually opt to torture the one individual to save the billion, even if not the 100 or the 10. Therefore it still to me sounds like it is a matter of degree. If so, I am interested in where the line is drawn.

    As you have finally laid bare, you take the (unusual) position that the billion lives are not worth the one, and as such:
    1. I hope you never have to make this call. (NB: I hope I never have to make this call either, but we should all be much more worried about you making it that me)
    2. I don't expect that you can help me establish more closely where this line is between the billion and the 1 and in understanding what factors cause it to lie where it does (because in your view there is no line).

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I will not call you a 'monster' or otherwise malign your character for your decision, your choice is just not something I could bring myself to do.

    What "decision"? We aren't making decisions here, we're discussing what's morally right and wrong. There isn't anything to bring yourself to do, because we aren't faced with a TBS, never will be faced with a TBS, can't possibly be faced with a TBS. But even if, somehow, despite all the known facts, we were faced with a TBS and, being human and faced with a difficult decision we chose to torture someone, it would still be morally wrong.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    NickGotts @445

    There have been several posts, by tm, SC and me, arguing that the very idea we need "moral axioms" is a serious error. You have not responded. Don't you think this point needs to be addressed before you go off on your wild goose chase?

    Actually, you have differing opinions. TM has proposed "do no torture" as a moral axiom 434 and earlier somewhere.
    You and SC who see no need for them haven't proposed anything other than a nebulous alternative. Deontology can be expressed as a set of axioms, whereas standard Utilitarianism can be expressed as 2. I am unaware of any remotely systematic or formally discussed ethical system which has zero axioms. Perhaps you could link me to one?
    You might say 'the human conscience" but as even unethical people presumably have one of these, the need to standardise and formalise this is surely what led to the development of formal ethical systems.

    I really have to go to bed now :(

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I hope you never have to make this call. (NB: I hope I never have to make this call either, but we should all be much more worried about you making it that me)

    Oh, yeah, we should all be worried about me failing to save the human race, because, like, that could happen. You pose a far greater threat to real human beings in real situations than I do, you sick fuck.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Let's consider utilitarian ethics. Peter Singer is the world's foremost utilitarian philosopher.

    From Peter Singer's website FAQ:
    http://www.princeton.edu/~psinger/faq.html

    Q: "Is it true that you have said that an experiment on 100 monkeys could be justified if it helped thousands of people recover from Parkinson's disease?"

    A: "I was asked about such an experiment in a discussion with Professor Tipu Aziz, of Oxford University, as part of a BBC documentary called Monkeys, "Rats and Me: Animal Testing" that was screened in November 2006. I replied that I was not sufficiently expert in the area to judge if the facts were as Professor Aziz claimed, but assuming they were, this experiment could be justified.
    This response caused surprised among some people in the animal movement, but that must be because they had not read what I have written earlier. Since I judge actions by their consequences, I have never said that no experiment on an animal can ever be justified. I do insist, however, that the interests of animals count among those consequences, and that we cannot justify giving less weight to the interests of nonhuman animals than we give to the similar interests of human beings.
    In Animal Liberation I propose asking experimenters who use animals if they would be prepared to carry out their experiments on human beings at a similar mental level -- say, those born with irreversible brain damage. Experimenters who consider their work justified because of the benefits it brings should declare whether they consider such experiments justifiable. If they do not, they should be asked to explain why they think that benefits to a large number of human beings can outweigh harming animals, but cannot outweigh inflicting similar harm on humans. In my view, this belief is evidence of speciesism."

    SS, you're such an idiot. You wrote "we need some foundational moral axioms" in the context of turning Hume and the is-ought fallacy on its head, and I said "LOL! Try 'torture is categorically wrong'. To reject that because it lacks a logical foundation is to commit an is-ought fallacy.". I wasn't seriously offering that as a "foundational moral axiom". I don't consider it to be a "moral axiom", certainly not a "foundational" one; it's obviously derivative.

    If you want to pursue this idea of moral axioms, see Mark Hauser's "The Moral Mind". His analogy to Chomsky's language organ is too facile, but at least he's taking an empirical approach, and he's looking somewhere sensible -- biology, not logic.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I am unaware of any remotely systematic or formally discussed ethical system which has zero axioms.

    We don't need no stinkin' systematic or formally discussed ethical system because we have a moral sense. If you have one of those, then all you have to do is act on it.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    You might say 'the human conscience" but as even unethical people

    How do you determine which people are unethical?

    presumably have one of these

    Why presume that?

    the need to standardise and formalise this is surely what led to the development of formal ethical systems.

    No, that surely isn't; much of philosophy is, like science, descriptive, an attempt to systematize facts about the world -- in this case, what people view as right or wrong.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    What do mean "I have never run from this problem?" Unless you mean you have actually been placed in that situation, and have agreed to be tortured, you can only be acquited of rank dishonesty by reason of your evident idiocy (in the sense of a total inability to distinguish between worthless sophistry, and urgent moral and political problems). Have you discussed this fine declaration of intent with anyone who has actually been tortured?

    Yes, SS wants applause just for saying on a blog that he would be willing to be tortured were a totally impossible situation were to come up. The number of levels away from an actual situation involving actual pain are nearly uncountable. Consider that people undergoing torture don't have the wanted information or aren't willing to give it up, but SS would offer to be tortured in order to give it up, so as to save billions and be the great hero. When the time comes around, why not just give it up without bothering to be tortured?

    And this fool thinks he's going to reason his way to an ethical system?

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    P.S. I previously quoted this from a link given somewhere up above:

    Anyone who uses the TBS to defend torture must, if he is intellectually honest, defend it in cases where it is quite possible that the captive is innocent. Otherwise, the TBS-monger is cheating.

    I believe innocence here implies not being involved in any plot. So perhaps SS (and folks like him) can tell us if they would be willing to be tortured if the torturer thought they had information that would save billions but in fact they didn't have the information, and the torturer was able to determine that any false information was indeed false, and then continue the torture until they extracted the correct information ... which could never occur.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Re silentsanta@448,
    Morality started from the actual decisions people were faced with, not with some set of abstract axioms. People try to generalise from these actual decisions, so they can teach, argue, and above all give themselves a starting point when faced with something new. As I pointed out, this is strongly analogous to the growth of science: it grew from concrete observations and investigations of the world towards increasingly general theories, not from getting the right set of axioms. As has also been pointed out numerous times, morality stems from our evolved human capacities as social animals - indeed, some of our near relatives share some of those capacities. Neither Kant nor the early utilitarians could have thought of this starting point (Note - no, it does NOT provide us with a set of axioms), because they knew nothing of evolution. Hence, very probably, their error of trying to axiomatise morality, because it seemed to them that if they didn't, every moral choice would be unconnected with any other. If the science analogy is no good to you, how about an esthetic one? Do you think we need a set of "esthetic axioms", before we can judge whether Wilfred Owen was a better poet than Patience Strong?

    The nearest I can suggest to a "system" taking the approach I'm advocating - and which I think SC and tm are in broad agreement with, though they can speak for themselves - is "evolutionary ethics". However, the first few items that come up in google when you put that in contain quite a lot I'd disagree with.

    Incidentally, with respect to your havering about exactly how many saved people would justify torture, you might like to contemplate the words of Edmund Burke (I quote from memory):
    "Though no man can draw a stroke between the confines of day and night, yet light and darkness are on the whole tolerably distinguishable". And google "Sorites paradox".

    However, the more important point is that trying to work out what would be right in ludicrously improbable sets of circumstances is a waste of time. Worse, in the current case, all it does is give comfort to the real, evil, advocates of torture in the here and now, and affront to those who have actually suffered or feared torture.

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Morality started from the actual decisions people were faced with, not with some set of abstract axioms.

    It's immensely disturbing that his alienation from the real, concrete foundations of morality (such that he can see his abstracted logic games as the "greatest defense against potential catestrophic failures in ethics" rather than what they really are in context) seems to be in large part the result of taking an ethics class. I wonder if reading the works we recommended above, along with a course in 20th-century political philosophy (featuring, perhaps, Camus and Arendt for a start) and some more courses in modern history could begin to undo some of the damage.

    Worse, in the current case, all it does is give comfort to the real, evil, advocates of torture in the here and now, and affront to those who have actually suffered or feared torture.

    Which fills in the details of my saying that SS poses a far greater threat to real human beings in real situations than I do. The danger posed by my stating that torture is always wrong -- the danger that I, or someone persuaded by me, might fail to torture someone when it could save the lives of millions of people -- is nil, zero, zilch, completely nonexistent, whereas anything less than that contributes to the public atmosphere that results in tolerance of real live torture and suffering.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    silentsanta,

    You might say 'the human conscience" but as even unethical people presumably have one of these

    Psychopaths don't. See Robert Hare's book "Without Conscience". Martha Stuart also has popular books on the subject. IIRC I've seen estimates of 4%, 6% and 10% (!) of the proportion of psychopaths in the population.

    truth machine,

    We don't need no stinkin' systematic or formally discussed ethical system because we have a moral sense. If you have one of those, then all you have to do is act on it.

    Just to be awkward, I'd like to ask whether we can be sure that all consciences are equivalent.

    I fully agree that if torture is ineffective at eliciting information, then I cannot think of a single (even extraordinary hypothetical) scenario in which I would consider it remotely ethical to apply.

    And it's been established that it is ineffective at eliciting (accurate) information. So here ss has his "categorical" argument even on his own absurd terms.

    I'd like to ask whether we can be sure that all consciences are equivalent.

    We can be sure they aren't. My point didn't have anything to so with that, but rather that moral judgments are internalized, not made by consulting an external rulebook. And the moral indoctrination that members of society receive is not via a "systematic or formally discussed ethical system", which would not be an effective means of inculcating such a sense.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    SC @457,
    It is indeed very disturbing, if not particularly surprising. I'm sure Chomsky must have something relevant to say on this, as part of his "treason[?betrayal] of the intellectuals" theme. An "ethics class" which starts with a search for "foundational axioms", and hence never gets anywhere, is surely much less threatening to the establishment than one starting from actual ethical problems in the here and now. (I'm not seeing any conspiracy here, just the human tendency not to think uncomfortable thoughts.)

    By Nick Gotts (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Even worse is immorality presented as ethics, as practiced by
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tibor_R._Machan

    Tibor Richard Machan, Ph.D. (born 18 March 1939), professor emeritus in the department of philosophy at Auburn University, holds the R. C. Hoiles Chair of Business Ethics and Free Enterprise at the Argyros School of Business & Economics at Chapman University in Orange, California.

    He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the Pacific Research Foundation in San Francisco. Machan is also an adjunct faculty member of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. Professor Machan is a syndicated and freelance columnist; author of more than one hundred scholarly papers and more than thirty books, most recently Libertarianism Defended, (Ashgate 2006).
    ...
    He also writes frequently on business ethics, a field in which he deploys a neo-Aristotelian ethical stance whereby commercial and business conduct gain their moral standing by constituting extensions of the virtues of productivity and prudence.
    ...
    He is a global warming skeptic.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    All systems of determining prescriptive values are flawed.

    Scriptural: cultural constructs, typically rationale for exploitative hierarchy, rapidly become outmoded

    Innate moral sense: inter-individual variation, context dependent, developmentally programmed

    Evolutionary: see innate moral sense

    Consensus (social contract): dependent on current conditions, innate moral sense

    Utilitarianism: utilitarian logic can lead to ruthless instrumentality, exploitation of helpless (medical experiments on severely brain damaged), oppression by majority (the good of many...); in addition, determination of 'utility' depends on context-dependent socially constructed values and so-called 'innate moral sense'

    Nick Gotts,

    Yes! The ethics lecturer is a reactionary stooge!

    Seriously, though, I'm surprised I didn't think of this (my extreme-leftist radar must have been malfunctioning:)). It would be really interesting to study academic approaches to ethics on these terms, if Chomsky hasn't done so already (which he probably has - damned prolific bastard).

    SC: I'm unconvinced by your argument.

    The center of my argument is that the Bush Administration is arguing that the word torture is not strictly defined by some ethical rule. My example that confinement is considered both torture and not-torture still stands. Unlawful confinement is not a new additive to the patheon of torturous acts, nor some random act among many that are also not considered torture. So, we must ask ourselves, why isn't confinement unconditionally classified as torture?

    Answer: because is serves the public interest more than it limits the liberty of the person being confined.

    The argument for waterboarding is exactly the same as the argument for confinement. No amount of chanting "Indeed, if you consider the matter more carefully [...]" is going to change what's being argued. You can speculate about what the White House is "really doing" all day, but it wont change the reality of what they have argued publicly.

    truth machine: You're still a moron. I'm not obligated to provide you proof of the obvious even had I "refused" to do so, which I didn't. In this case I didn't have to provide you proof, because SC provided the proof for me (thank you SC), and you go on to provide yet more proof yourself (thanks asshat).

    And this brings us to our lessen on what "begging the question" means. Now let's take a quick lookie at the drival you tried to pass off as an explanation. First, my orginal (and yes, badly worded) paragraph.

    "The Bush Administration argument isn't that torture is ethical, but that water-boarding is not torture because it isn't unethical - much the way prison is considered ethical, and thus, not torture, even though it's certainly torturous."

    And your, let's be generous and call it an argument, defense for leveling the accusation of "begging the question" against me.

    "I know very well what it means [begging the question], cretin, and "water-boarding is not torture because it isn't unethical" is very much a case of it -- one can only say that waterboarding isn't unethical is if it isn't torture -- the very issue being debated! Why isn't it torture? Because it isn't unethical. Why isn't it unethical? Because it isn't torture. Why isn't it torture? Because it isn't unethical.... circular argument = petitio principii = begging the question, dumbfuck." - truth machine

    Well, to start with, since I was explaining what someone else's argument was, rather than my own argument, you should really take up any issues of begging the question with them. But let's put aside that small failing on your part, and address the argument itself - in the interest of your education.

    "isn't unethical" is a painfully flawed way of saying "ethical". So, my apologies and let's fix that. Also, I suppose, like you, I can remove the trailing phrase.

    As a quick aside, I just have to point something out because the idiocy of it is just so awe inspiring. It's more than a little ironic to see you write "one can only say that waterboarding isn't unethical is if it isn't torture -- the very issue being debated!" after demanding that I provide proof that that is indeed what the debate is about. And since I was saying it in an effort is show what the debate is about, I can hardly be faulted for accurately demonstrating that... now can I? Drool-for-brains.

    "The Bush Administration argument isn't that torture is ethical, but that water-boarding is not torture because it's ethical."

    Much to your shock, I'm sure, you should note that at no place is there an argument that addresses "why" water-boarding is or isn't ethical. Only that water-boarding can't be classified as torture because it is ethical. (In fact, I don't think it's ethical, but as I've reminded you before, I am talking about what the "Bush administration" is arguing, not what I'm arguing - you insufferable simpleton). Thus, your little drama about "Why isn't it unethical? Because it isn't torture. Why isn't it torture? Because it isn't unethical" comes completely from your own imagination, and has no bearing on anything I have actually writen.

    I do have to grant you that you do indeed know what "begging the question" means, even if you are unable to apply it. That's something, and you should be proud of that. I will give you this advice though: in future, when triumphantly evoking accusations of "begging the question", you should accompany that accusation with your explanation rather than simply blurting it out and scampering off into the woods like a child - you fucking troll. Follow this small advice, and you'll look like far less of an imbecile while you're stuffing your leg into your mouth.

    He also writes frequently on business ethics, a field in which he deploys a neo-Aristotelian ethical stance whereby commercial and business conduct gain their moral standing by constituting extensions of the virtues of productivity and prudence.

    Ah, yes, "corporate social responsibility" and "business ethics." Oxymoronic fields of study that can get you the big foundation money. (E-L radar back online.)

    SC,

    It's immensely disturbing that his alienation from the real, concrete foundations of morality (such that he can see his abstracted logic games as the "greatest defense against potential catestrophic failures in ethics" rather than what they really are in context) seems to be in large part the result of taking an ethics class.

    Yet one more example of someone who probably completely failed his classes and comes in a blog to play the strongman and exert his frustration...

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    And your, let's be generous and call it an argument, defense for leveling the accusation of "begging the question" against me.

    You are a complete and utter imbecile, Jams. I didn't accuse you of begging the question, I said that the argument that you attributed to the Bush administration begs the question. This misunderstanding of yours is one of too many ... feel free to stew in your own juices.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    You can speculate about what the White House is "really doing" all day, but it wont change the reality of what they have argued publicly.

    Jams, a general point: You are out of your depth here.

    A specific point: I speculated about nothing. I provided evidence (and citations for further evidence) that their arguments have been legal-technical ones, and that they are not attempting to make ethical distinctions. I did so despite that fact that I didn't need to, as you're the one making the contention and therefore the one who is required to provide evidence.

    because SC provided the proof for me (thank you SC)

    If you're referring to one use of the word "moral" by Krauthammer, who you yourself have argued doesn't represent the administration, which is unrelated to the specific argument at hand as your evidence then you haven't a leg to stand on. You have made a specific contention about the Bush administration's arguments about waterboarding-torture-ethics. You have failed to support it, and indeed you can't support it because it is wrong. Furthermore, since Krauthammer's comment refers to torture, and suggests that it is not only moral but a "moral duty" in some circumstances, it is evidence against your contention that torture is defined as that which is unethical and that they are trying to distinguish waterboarding from torture on the grounds that it is ethical.

    "You are a complete and utter imbecile, Jams. I didn't accuse you of begging the question, I said that the argument that you attributed to the Bush administration begs the question." - truth machine

    I accept your apology.

    "This misunderstanding of yours is one of too many ... feel free to stew in your own juices." - truth machine

    ...as he rides off into the sunset on his noble steed. What a blow-hard. I'm not "stewing", douchebag. I'm emulating your moronic writing style, fuck-tard. You know, the one where you end every banal scribble with profanity, - apparently in the hope that it'll rescue your quivering incompetence, shithead.

    Now get your shit together, and stop being an ass.

    Jams,

    I did try hard to understand what you wrote w.r.t the Bush administration's argumentation, but it's impossible :

    The center of my argument is that the Bush Administration is arguing that the word torture is not strictly defined by some ethical rule.
    ...
    The argument for waterboarding is exactly the same as the argument for confinement.
    Answer: because is serves the public interest more than it limits the liberty of the person being confined.
    ...
    Much to your shock, I'm sure, you should note that at no place is there an argument that addresses "why" water-boarding is or isn't ethical. Only that water-boarding can't be classified as torture because it is ethical.

    By negentropyeater (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Jams, a general point: You are out of your depth here.

    Isn't that the truth.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    Neg, I don't find what he wrote hard to understand, just wrong ... the Bush administration has not made those arguments. Even his "public interest" argument, which he muddies by saying that waterboarding is like confinement while ignoring the differences (the problem with waterboarding is not loss of liberty -- as Hitchens said, it's not about being boarded, it's about being watered), is one that defenders of the Bush administration have made, but not the Bush administration itself -- that would be dangerous territory for them, as they would be admitting that there is something that needs to outweighed by the public interest, but it's their position that they are acting entirely within acceptable limits.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    I did try hard to understand what you wrote w.r.t the Bush administration's argumentation, but it's impossible :

    Isn't that the truth.

    it is evidence against your contention

    To be fair, I think what Krauthammer wrote has no bearing at all on his contention. Bush has said, repeatedly, that America doesn't torture, a clear acknowledgement (and perhaps even an explicit statement) that torture is wrong, so they aren't using Krauthammer's argument. But of course they aren't asserting that waterboarding isn't ethical, they are asserting that it isn't torture -- as redefined by them (and thus the claim that "at no place is there an argument that addresses 'why' waterboarding is or isn't ...", if properly addressed to torture rather than ethics, is absurd; the why is that it doesn't fit the definition). So they can say "we don't torture" or even "torture is wrong", while not meaning by those phrases what the rest of humanity means by them or what they mean under international law.

    But of course you know all that, SC.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    "Jams, a general point: You are out of your depth here." - SC

    Delusions of grandeur are not endearing. But you may have point. Let's see!

    "I speculated about nothing." - SC

    You seemed to indicate above that you believed the Bush Administration doesn't believe that waterboarding is ethically justifiable (I think you said something about just wanting to do whatever they want to). I think it's speculation to imagine what they believe. So, there's been some speculation.

    "I provided evidence (and citations for further evidence) that their arguments have been legal-technical ones, and that they are not attempting to make ethical distinctions" - SC

    As I've said before, the "legal-technical" arguments ARE ethical arguments. This isn't an either/or. Not only can a technical legal argument also be an ethical argument, but they usually are. Ethics are encoded in law (or at least, that's how it's supposed to work). I know, you believe there is a significant difference between a legal argument and an ethical argument in this case. I disagree. While the argument that waterboarding is not classified as torture is certainly a legal point, it's also an ethical point, and since we were originally talking about the ethics of torture as espoused by the Bush Administration, it stands as the closest thing we have to their position on the ethics of torture.

    "If you're referring to one use of the word "moral" by Krauthammer" - SC

    Moron and I are arguing about something different from what you and I are disagreeing over. You and I are disagreeing over whether certain legal arguments can be considered ethical arguments, while moron wants to see evidence that the legal arguments as outlined by us (and the references you cited) even exist (and I was talking about Miles, not Miles' quoting Krauthammer). Anyway, leave my argument with him/her with him/her (hopefully it's over anyway).

    "You have made a specific contention about the Bush administration's arguments about waterboarding-torture-ethics." - SC

    You should probably repeat it. I'm not really convinced you understand it (or that I'm conveying it well).

    The only disagreement you have with my contention is that you do not accept that legal points can be construed as ethical statements. I disagree. I think the law is a codification of ethical statements. Any statement about law is a statement about ethics. I'm not sure what evidence I can produce to show that. Perhaps if we remove the word ethics, and just say right and wrong? Perhaps if we wonder how reasonable it is to say something like "points about the law have nothing to do with whether something is right or wrong"? I perhaps I could cite some law theory?

    "You have failed to support it, and indeed you can't support it because it is wrong." - SC

    I've demonstrated my point. If you do not think that legal points are ethical statements, then you should have no problem with waterboarding not being classified as torture. It is, after all, only a technical point. It has nothing to do with right and wrong. Dun dun dun... or does it?

    "Furthermore, since Krauthammer's comment refers to torture, and suggests that it is not only moral but a "moral duty" in some circumstances, it is evidence against your contention that torture is defined as that which is unethical and that they are trying to distinguish waterboarding from torture on the grounds that it is ethical." - SC

    Again, who is this "they"? Krauthammer is Krauthammer. The Bush Administration is the Bush Administration.

    There's a difference between saying that listening to boy bands is torture and talking about torture under the law. Can we agree that we're talking about a legal word rather than a synonym for "bad"? Krauthammer isn't using torture as a legal classification, but using it to mean "bad stuff people do in dark rooms". I made a similar argument myself for confinement. It's good evidence because under the law it is sometimes considered torture and sometimes not. The difference is whether or not it's ethical (aka. justifiable). Side Note: is unlawful containment still classified as torture? It might not be now that I think about it.

    Consider this: if torture is sometimes ethical, then it is not ethical to make torture unlawful. Therefore, if torture is unlawful, all acts of torture must be unethical.

    This could be wrong, if, as you contend, law is not a codification of ethics. We might just have to disagree on that point.

    "Even his 'public interest' argument, which he muddies by saying that waterboarding is like confinement while ignoring the differences" - truth machine

    Like what differences? That they're both torture? That one of them is fun and the other isn't? That one can drive you crazy but the other can't? What this magical difference that makes one so different from the other?

    "I did try hard to understand what you wrote w.r.t the Bush administration's argumentation, but it's impossible :" - negentropyeater

    Asking questions helps me when I don't understand something. I can see some things that might be troublesome. For example:

    "Only that water-boarding can't be classified as torture because it is ethical." - me

    I could say that a little better. How about: "I have said that water-boarding can't be classified as torture IF water-boarding is considered ethical."

    You and I are disagreeing over whether certain legal arguments can be considered ethical arguments, while [truth machine] wants to see evidence that the legal arguments as outlined by us (and the references you cited) even exist

    You're a goddamn fucking liar and an idiot; I asked, once, for evidence that the Bush administration argued what you claimed they did: "that water-boarding is not torture because it isn't unethical".

    Anyway, leave my argument with him/her with him/her

    My argument with you is the same as SC's, cretin. Your attempt to play us against each other is transparent, and stupid as it can only work against you when she again slaps you down.

    By truth machine, OM (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    There's really no way for Jams to be wrong within his own circular system. No empirical evidence can falsify his claims about the Bush administration unless he questions his initial premise. His first argument is that "torture" is that which is defined as ethically unjustifiable and that which is ethically justifiable isn't defined as torture. So if the administration is saying it doesn't torture, it's really saying that what it does is ethically justifiable. If they say that waterboarding isn't torture, they're really saying that this practice is ethical, as opposed to some others which are torture because they're ethically unjustifiable. The fact that their actual arguments aren't about ethics and don't use the language of ethics but of legal technicalities is insignificant.

    But there's evidence, as I've discussed above (@ #416 and #417), that his basic premise is faulty. And the arguments of the administration - that these acts are quantitatively and not qualitatively different from what is legally considered torture; not that they are ethically justified where others are not - suggest that his specific argument about the administration is wrong as well, even if his larger premise were correct, which it isn't.

    Conventionally (and legally), torture doesn't need an ethical argument for or against because the word "torture" is only applied to unethical acts. If an act is ethical, then it can't be torture.

    Are you still holding to this claim? What about all of the people over the centuries who used torture, considered it ethical, and applied to it the word "torture"?

    Are you going to continue to try to bootstrap a general statement about law's relationship to ethics into a specific argument about the definition of torture being based on its ethical justifiability or about the arguments made by the Bush administration?

    negentropyeater:

    If you are wondering why I have failed to address any of your points, it's because you haven't made any.

    You appear to contribute perfectly well to other aspects of this thread, but basically any post you have made regarding me has been along these lines:

    C,

    "Silentsanta is one of those completely irrational person who "

    "I don't know what pleasure you find in advancing all these pro torture arguments..."

    "I'm sure if we pushed him a bit, he'd be cable to entertain us with a series of boring posts with all sorts of pro"

    "Yet one more example of someone who probably completely failed his classes and comes in a blog to play the strongman and exert his frustration..."

    TM @ 447

    What "decision"? We aren't making decisions here, we're discussing what's morally right and wrong.

    This dismissive 'what decision' post disturbs me. It's as though the weightiness of your answer to the TBS hasn't registered with you at all. At least when I am faced with the TBS I can (and have) conceded seeing both major ethical systems (utilitarianism, deontology) clashing and huge, horrifying suffering on both sides of the decision.
    I wonder if your aknowledgement of the fact that the TBS is unlikely has caused you to be flippant in the choice you made to the TBS.

    TM @ 452:

    Surely even your position still requires at least two axioms regarding prescriptive thought on ethical problems:
    1. "There is such a thing as right and wrong" and
    2. "The moral conscience is something worth following"
    Luckily for you, I am not a nihlist, nor a moral relativist and I have already adopted both of these.
    Regardless, how is this "torture is wrong always" stance you are advocating dissimilar to an axiom? Isn't trying to imply that there is a difference here just pointless semantics?

    By silentsanta (not verified) on 06 Jul 2008 #permalink

    You seemed to indicate above that you believed the Bush Administration doesn't believe that waterboarding is ethically justifiable (I think you said something about just wanting to do whatever they want to). I think it's speculation to imagine what they believe. So, there's been some speculation.

    What I said is that they have not tried to justify it publicly on ethical grounds. Further, I pointed you to The Torture Papers, which is a collection of their internal documents obtained through FOIA. You can read that to see how little ethical considerations have played a role in their thinking.

    I'm still waiting for you to substantiate your claim that they have argued that waterboarding isn't torture on the grounds that it "isn't unethical." Are you seriously claiming that "the 'severe pain' that defines torture must involve damage that rises 'to the level of death, organ failure, or the permanent impairment o