Thursday, April 05, 2007
Eddie of Hidden Unities recently emailed me the text of "The Ploy" by Mark Bowden. My reply back to him mainly concerned, the subtile, which is The inside story of how the interrogators of Task Force 145 cracked Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s inner circle—without resorting to torture—and hunted down al-Qaeda’s man in Iraq. The title's odd in that it is both boring and inflammatory.
The boredom first. I can imagine an article subtitled The inside story of how programmers at Microsoft Corporation released SQL Server 2008 on time -- and without using hash tables. Such an article might be worth while to a specialist in the field who is cogniscant of the limitations of hash tables, and believes he may well come across a project in the future were he would do well to avoid tabular hash technology. The article would of course be useless to a general interest reader, and indeed would be properly ignored by anyone who didn't have a special interest in SQL Server, Microsoft, or has tables.
Now, the inflammation. Imagine an article subtitled The inside story story of how the United States Army Air Force broke the ability of Tokyo to resist -- without resorting to nuclear weapons -- and hunted the Empire's man in Japan. Such an article would be madening because it minimizes terrible harm that was done to human beings.
Nuclear war is not bad because it involves the fission of uranium or plutonium. Nuclear war is bad because it kills people.
Similarly, torture (or "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity") is not bad because it is done "obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person" or "with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity." Torture is bad because it hurts people.
Other things hurt people too. Putting people in prison hurts people, and their families, for extended periods of time, too. But where are those who want to abolish jails? Or those who say that this or that person did not commit a crime, and yet was not imprisoned?
The self-congratulatory subtitle of the article minimizes out the pain and death, as if it is somehow less evil or less awful to kill as long as people weren't hurt beforehand.
Torture may or may not be wise in this or that situation. I don't claim the expertise that such a decision would require. But the current stylish condemnation of torture is crazy, as it pretends that torture is somehow worse than all the other acts of violence, state and non-state -- that exist in our world
I read the article last night in The Atlantic, Bowdin is a very good writer. The article is a good read about something we usually don't get see or hear about.
One thing the article makes clear, the fear of possible torture by others, aided the task force interrogators in their work.
Posted by: PurpleSlog | Friday, April 06, 2007
I understand your argument against the poor title and the analogy with the disproportionate focus on nuclear deaths over fire-bombing deaths, but I'm not sure it applies here. There is more suffering in a straight murder than a murder preceeded by torture. While both are evil, one is a little more evil. Although "there's no nice way to kill somebody," a lengthy starvation is cruel while a quick shot in the head is not.
You could rephrase it as "The inside story of how the interrogators of the Committee on Public Safety killed thousands of French enemies —without subjecting them to painful death—and preserved the Republic." Tasteless, but not wrong.
Posted by: Adam | Friday, April 06, 2007
"But the current stylish condemnation of torture is crazy..."
How's so? I mean the stylish remark, not the crazy remark.
Posted by: Jeffrey James | Saturday, April 07, 2007
I don't understand. Could you rephrase your question?
"While both are evil, one is a little more evil."
This is the right approach to take: the question of torture involves weighing evils Two quotes from Machiavelli on evil are appropriate here:
"Hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil. "
"Among other evils which being unarmed brings you, it causes you to be despised."
The "public diplomacy" nonsense (with kind apologies to Matt  ) that is often trotted out against torture as such is bizarre because any disruptive action, good or bad, will cause public diplomacy problems. (Not that it will necessary cause any /real/ problems). Further, one can cause evil through intending to do good, and disarming yourself of torture can bring all manner of evils through your newly acquired weakness.
I agree that the fear of torture may be effective, as situations vary. I wonder if those who oppose torture completely & outright would likewise support the eradication of the threat of torture -- or the fear of maltreatment -- as a tool.
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Saturday, April 07, 2007
I put my thoughts on the matter here http://www.moodyloner.net/2007/04/pithy-post-on-tortue.html
I think torture is mentioned the way it was because it's obvious to both sides, and it's seen as a categorical, not an incremental step.
Posted by: Steve French | Sunday, April 08, 2007
I think the term "torture" is a bit too nebulous and subjective to be argued on a philosophical or moral basis. Certainly interrogative tactics that cause severe pain and lasting physical disability (the rack, thumbscrews, blowing out an eardrum with pressurized air, etc.) are easily defined by most as torture. But what of emotional tactics? Sleep deprivation, loud music or even overt sexual "advances" by female operatives inflicted on the more hardcore Salafi muslim? Is that torture?
That said, I agree there is a degree of hypocrisy in light of many who decry torture. An more cogent example can be found in John McCain who (understandably at first) is very much against torture and yet asserts in his book (Faith of My Fathers) that American bombing of Hanoi was having the desired effect of weakening the NV resolve and contrary to the Tet Offensive the tide was turning in favor of America.
In short, coercion through means of physical or emotional pain (or any other definition of torture) is unacceptable but the obliteration of human lives through either Operation Linebackers B-52's or a huge troop surge in Iraq is acceptable. Maybe I'm a bit too much the "realist" but that's a tad ponderous to me.
Posted by: Jay@Soob | Sunday, April 08, 2007
Torture. This is always a hard topic. I take my lead from a man I know, career Army(Reserve) Intel who saw time developing the leads of chasing down Noriega way back when, on this.
Threaten an interogatee about killing his family? Si.
Threaten to kill him? Si.
Have a dog bark at him? Si.
Take out a pistol loaded with blanks? Si.
Anything not life threatening to bring psychological pressure on him? Si.
Insult his culture/religion/family? Si.
His point is this: get the goods, you know that you've still got him, physically, so any lies he tells can have a direct impact on how he's treated. His lying to you will land him in a bigger world of shit. He knows this. Push and push and push. You have the resources to find out if he's spinning stories because he doesn't know anything. It's war. Mistakes will be made. Get used to it and get over it and don't agonize overly much about it. It's war and mistakes will always get made. Go with the averages and the averages say that mental and emotional pressures always get someone to talk.
Spraying with cold water(images of the shower scene from First Blood come to mind) might straddle the line of dangerous to health. But nakedness? Being forced to listen to Micheal Bolton on endless loop or Metallica? Sleep deprivation? Flashing lights? Lying to him? Threatening to kill him or rat him out to his comrades? not going to kill anyone, don't cause long lasting physical problems, and so aren't, IMO, torture. THey're interrogation techniques. They're mean and nasty. But war isn't an antiseptic condition with the niceties we expect from from everyday jurisprudence.
It's war. Human dignity of the participants is an odd straw to grasp at in such a state of affairs. If human dignity were trully such a big deal we wouldn't be at war in the first place.
Yet, there's limits, and for good reason.
which brings me to Stever F asking why(at his site) we make such a big deal about using and not using torture. There's lots of reasons for it. I'll point to Boyd for one: it isn't the message we want to present about ourselves so we shouldn't do it as it weakens us in the moral sphere of conflict. I'll point to von Clauswitz for another: nobody wants to fight 'total war' where you're 'all in'----which leads to a situation of run-away, uncontrolled destruction and retaliation(control and destruction being a balance always tested in military conflicts). You don't use poisoned arrows as it pushes your enemy to feel justified in using something nasty in his arsenal. There's got to be some limit placed on it or war gets out of control or becomes a situation where destruction of his forces, now defined as everyone on his side, is the only possible road to success. So we try not to go down that route. That's why we have the GCs, LoLW, and other unwritten rules about the conduct of war going back to antiquity to prevent reaching that point. We want to fight 'Actual War' as opposed to 'Real War' most of the time.
Nobody wants genocide as being the only way to end a war. So you don't use torture as it's a step that pushes the equilibrium of Control and Destruction toward the Destruction side.
Posted by: ry | Sunday, April 08, 2007
Among other things, the female sailor says the Iranians were making carpenter-type sounds outside her cell, and that they came in and measured her.
She surmised for her coffin, which she guessed they were building nearby.
Good luck selling Jack Bauer in that griping scene on 24.
Posted by: sonofsamphm1c | Monday, April 09, 2007
RY's closer captures what's at stake well. Allow me a bit of a comment before I begin undertaking my post in response to Dan and others.
As it was being used (primarily in the last 5 years by what has generally been acknowledged as under-trained or outright untrained personnel) too often and too early in interrogations, torture's use represented a tactical error on the part of the military and the other government agencies/private sector types who pursued that reckless course. It got us nothing but grief and dishonor; no one has yet gone on record that I am aware and pointed out how it goes us "slam-dunk" intel.
When I say "dishonor", I think of the disapointment in my long-time Army veteran father's eyes when he read about Capt. Fishback and the others who came forward about torture; that the use of torture in such a fashion is not a hallmark of a well-trained Army, nor a professional one. Having survived Vietnam and its aftermath, he and others know what the use of easy ways outs like torture end up costing soldiers and Marines, far more than naive columnists like Charles Krauthammer and legal theorist dingleberries like Alan Dershowitz.
Furthermore, while condemnation of torture may seem to be at an all-time high, it has always been deftly condemned by everyone from Soviet dissidents to human rights supporters protesting rogue regimes in Zimbabwe, North Korea, Burma, Sudan, etc. Catching the US military doing it just exploded the issue in the West like never before, as has the continued presence of Gitmo and all that went on there (I am going to believe the testimony of an NCIS or FBI agent over a navy master at arms or admiral any day).
Torture has yet to be proven in any way shape or fashionable to be useful to investigators or interrogators. (not to say I would cry if a child molester or kidnapper was roughed up by an overzealous cop...)
The threat of torture on the other hand could be considered quite useful, as the article suggests with the specter of Abu Gharib hanging over the heads of the captive insurgents and terrorists.
Posted by: Eddie | Monday, April 09, 2007
I commented at your site. Your blog is a "schelling point" for blog readers, I think. :-)
Good comment, but beware of a false application of platonic mind-body dualism. The idea that the mind is somehow seperate from the body, and therefore mental harm or cannot cause physical harm or pain, or the reverse, is false.
"it has always been deftly condemned by everyone"
True, much like deception. That is why Machiavelli advices the reader to always appear honorable, while using dishonorable tactics as they happen to be wise.
"Torture has yet to be proven in any way shape or fashionable to be useful to investigators or interrogators."
Be careful about universalistic arguments from utility. If you are saying something is wrong because it has never, ever, ever, been at all useful, your entire argument collapses from one anecdote of some marginal utility. So much of this fashionable criticism comes from conflating utility and morality.
"(not to say I would cry if a child molester or kidnapper was roughed up by an overzealous cop...)"
I believe this view is both wicked and immoral. One may have to use evil measures in order to build some good. But is revenge a good?
"The threat of torture on the other hand could be considered quite useful, as the article suggests with the specter of Abu Gharib hanging over the heads of the captive insurgents and terrorists."
This seems to contradict your earlier assertion. If the threat of torture is useful, then torture is useful, because without torture the threat would lessen. (We may as well say to captives that we will transfer them to the alien base on Epsilon V!)
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Ethical questions aside, it seems to boil down to questions of fairness and purpose. If it's ok for our soldiers to torture their opponents for info, is it ok for their opponents to torture our soldiers for info? Also, if torture as an interrogation technique is allowed, why not torture as a propaganda tool or as a means of sapping the will to fight in prisoners you may have to release (oops, that strays into the ethical questions dept, doesn't it?)?
Posted by: Michael | Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Eddie, "it has always been deftly condemned by everyone"
Dan: True, much like deception. That is why Machiavelli advices the reader to always appear honorable, while using dishonorable tactics as they happen to be wise. "
In Reply: Again, when has the use of torture in the past 5 years been wise for America? If you don’t use it wisely, its not worth using it at all.
Eddie: Torture has yet to be proven in any way shape or fashionable to be useful to investigators or interrogators."
Dan: Be careful about universalistic arguments from utility. If you are saying something is wrong because it has never, ever, ever, been at all useful, your entire argument collapses from one anecdote of some marginal utility. So much of this fashionable criticism comes from conflating utility and morality
In Reply: Well, I offer the challenge (as numerous people have in the past): show me a reasonable example where the use of torture was a net positive for a democratic country. A second note to this would be to find me a majority of soldiers or police officers who would not feel excessively bothered or troubled by the use of torture. Except for a rogue state like the old Serbian regime or Myanmar, I don't see democracies willfully engaging in such activity. So perhaps that's a good qualifier here; democracies don't "torture", or should not.
In America's case, the use of torture has tarnished America's image abroad, devastated confidence among the general public and allowed (and this is most important to me) REAL rogue regimes to engage in moral equivalency when we criticize their actions. (An interesting point made by Phil at the Mountainrunner blog about using private sector resources rather than the government to help repair America's standing in the world is certainly worth exploring in this vein).
Eddie: "The threat of torture on the other hand could be considered quite useful, as the article suggests with the specter of Abu Gharib hanging over the heads of the captive insurgents and terrorists."
Dan: This seems to contradict your earlier assertion. If the threat of torture is useful, then torture is useful, because without torture the threat would lessen. (We may as well say to captives that we will transfer them to the alien base on Epsilon V!)"
In Reply: Well, it may contradict my earlier assertion, but this is recognizing that the cat is out of the bag about torture by the American government and military, and among various segments of the population they will view us as willing and ready to use torture because of the torture scandals of the past year. We can't deny what has happened in the past, and considerable elements of hostile or occupied populations will believe we will use it. So we might as well accept the evil of the current situation and try to make some good out of it.
Posted by: Eddie | Tuesday, April 10, 2007
"Again, when has the use of torture in the past 5 years been wise for America?"
I don't know. Nor can I say how many times in the past five years Microsoft has used hash tables wisely. I am unaware of the technical arts & sciences.
'show me a reasonable example where the use of torture was a net positive for a democratic country. A second note to this would be to find me a majority of soldiers or police officers who would not feel excessively bothered or troubled by the use of torture."
For the first condition, you again move the yardstick to a net positive from a positive. As you make the discussion more abstract, you remove the threat of falsification.
For the second condition, it is irrelevent. The majority of soldiers may feel excessively bothered by killing other human beings, at least before their training. On some level, I would hope they do. Is this an argument against war generally?
"has tarnished America's image abroad"
Where? And where does this manner?
Countries are with us if we want to go in the same direction.
"devastated confidence among the general public "
Really? What confidence? In what? And how do you know?
"allowed (and this is most important to me) REAL rogue regimes to engage in moral equivalency when we criticize their actions"
What prevented them before? Their holy obligation to Truth, Beauty, and the American Way?
"So we might as well accept the evil of the current situation"
Very wise words. Yet odd for a moralizer. Even Hamlet's uncle realized that repentance is impossible if one holds onto the fruits of one's sins.
"If it's ok for our soldiers to torture their opponents for info, is it ok for their opponents to torture our soldiers for info? "
It is exactly as acceptable for enemy states to torture our men as it is for them to kill our men.
In other words, not at all. Such is a cause of war.
Certainly recirpocal relationships can develop. US and Nazi forces treated each other well after capture, while Nazi and Soviet forces treated each other badly. Do you believe that al Qaeda in Iraq has treated Americans well?
Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Wednesday, April 11, 2007