Monday, April 27, 2009

Short Post on Torture

This is a very short memo, a broadside, as it were, on a position I care deeply about: torture.

I have to say, I am completely unsurprised by the recent release of information about the US's torture techniques at Guantanamo Bay, how they were approved of by high level officials, and then spread to Afghanistan and Iraq. I am completely unsurprised becase we knew about this as least as far back as the beginning of the Presidential Race, when Hilary Clinton was a shoe-in for the Democratic nomination.

I am still absolutely enraged by it, however.

Now, the classic question about the ethics of torture is basically this: What if a person has sensitive information which they are unwilling to reveal. Should you torture then? Because, let's be honest - if they have no information, then torture is obviously wrong. If they have sensitive information that you can get otherwise, then torture is wrong. The gray area is where they have sensitive information (say, of an impending attack that will kill many innocent people) and they are unwilling to give up this information.

I will take a rather unpopular stance on this, as a moral issue. As terrible as the consequences may be, as a member of a free society, I am absolutely opposed to torture, no matter the situation. I am not willing to give up liberties for a sense of security. In brief, torture has never been shown to be an effective means of getting true, and only true, information out of a subject. Second, it is possible that other means could gain such useful information. There is certainly historical precedent for this. Granted, our treatment of prisoners of war during WW II was not reciprocated by other countries. However, this only goes to show an important point. We should not be so willing to give up on human liberties and rights in return for some measure of security.

What was the purposed goal of modern terrorists? The utterly change the American way of life, to make us cower and stop doing things as we always have. To make us give up our liberties and watch our nation crumble from within. Well, on some of these points, they have completely accomplished their goals, through the actions of our administration. Though we suspected such abuses of power, we allowed our administration to defame our nation and our liberties. We gave up our basic freedoms, so that now we are observed by CC cameras, wiretaps, and other means, and in return for what? We have secret memos that are supposed to show we gained some valuable information, while we know for certain that we got a lot of lies as well. The balance is not even.

What is even more despicable is to watch some of the talking heads on the networks, especially Fox, pander to all of this - "Oh, he was put in a box with some catepillars, big deal!" No, sir, that is not the point. Regardless of whether they were actually stinging insects or harmless, regardless of whether anyone has died from these tactics, and people have, the point is that we have become a nation that tortures, or, excuse me, uses advanced interrogation tactics. I, for one, argue it is not worth it.

And what, in my view, would have been the appropriate response? After 9/11, if the owners of the land had rebuilt the twin towers exactly as they were before, that would have been an effective message. In essence, a strong "Fuck You" to terrorists who want to destroy the freedoms that America was built on and are supposed to be gaurenteed by our Constitution. This is not a libertarian rant, although I admit it may sound a bit like it. I am not arguing that our government should have no involvement in any of these matters. What I am arguing is that the government has far overstepped its bounds because we believed ourselves to be in a time of crisis. I do appreciate safety, but honestly, living in Chicago, I'm more worried about my day-to-day trips walking around and possibly being mugged or shot than being killed by a relatively small number of extremists. To me, the overstepping of the government's control and use of torture is far out of bounds.

Here's an interesting video take on it from YouTube. Likewise, Olbermann's response to Sean Hannity.

Again, this is an incredibly short post on this, and I have to get back to work. Please excuse any of the typos and horrible sentance structures...get back to it later.


Okada said...

I agree with most of what you said here. One thing that can't be stated strongly enough is the quality of the information you will receive from torture. If you want some "evidence" from the past we can just look at witch trials. They were tortured into admitting being a witch just to stop the torture. And they pretty much knew they were just going to be killed for it anyway. That says a lot about what someone is willing to say just to make the torture stop.

It is a tough call especially when you put the, "What if this information can save even one innocent person." It sounds good but how can you guarantee the information is worthwhile? Grey areas are always fun.

Ragoth said...

Agreed. The quality of information gained from torture is always going to be suspect. This is why it is not now allowed in most courts of law - people will say anything to get the pain to stop...anything, true, false, or otherwise.

And yes, it is a grey area. It's really the only area where you have a genuine discussion on its merits. Of course, i'm basing my argument on principle, not outcomes. We have executed people in the past (Japanese soldiers, specifically) for some of these exact same techniques (waterboarding, to be specific...and if ever there was a people who had reason to be paranoid about an impending attack with weapons of mass destruction...). The point is, in some ways, a moral one. We hold ourselves to a standard as a nation that we will obey the Geneva Conventions. We lose whatever authority we might have had in the arena when we begin to make exceptions to that. We have clearly violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the convention treaty by arguing that these militants have not signed the Convention.

Likewise, there is an empatheic/humanistic element here. We are humans, all of us, and i simply don't think that any human being should be subjected to torture. There's a lot of complex reciprocal alturistic hope there, probably, as in 'i don't torture you so that you won't torture me in the future.' But, again, this is a very short post, not a detailed discussion of the issue. My main argument would rest on a secular humanistic perspective and the treaties and conventions that we have signed, as well as the general position that our nation has held for some time. I'm avoiding the potential outcome argument because 1) I find that the evidence in favor of this is sketchy, at best; and 2) we still completely destroy our own moral position, freedoms, and liberties when we begin to make concessions to potential use.

Good to hear from you, by the way!