Adventus

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Evil Men Do



Utility, by the way, is a red herring in arguments over torture:
Leaked to the news media months after they were first used, the C.I.A.’s interrogation methods would darken the country’s reputation, blur the moral distinction between terrorists and the Americans who hunted them, bring broad condemnation from Western allies and become a ready-made defense for governments accused of torture. The response has only intensified since Justice Department legal memos released last week showed that two prisoners were waterboarded 266 times and that C.I.A. interrogators were ordered to waterboard one of the captives despite their belief that he had no more information to divulge.

But according to many Bush administration officials, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and some intelligence officers who are critics of the coercive methods, the C.I.A. program would also produce an invaluable trove of information on Al Qaeda, including leads on the whereabouts of important operatives and on terror schemes discussed by Al Qaeda. Whether the same information could have been acquired using the traditional, noncoercive methods that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the military have long used is impossible to say, and former Bush administration officials say they did not have the luxury of time to develop a more patient approach, given that they had intelligence warnings of further attacks.
This is where you always end up: arguing the woulda-coulda-shoulda of the "ticking time bomb" scenario. Anybody remember the original "Dirty Harry" movie? Our Hero has gunned down the Bad Guy (a raving psychopath, so you know he's Teh Evil!) in the middle of an empty football stadium, and holds the .44 Magnum to the bad guy's head while standing on his leg wound, demanding to know where the victim he's kidnapped and buried, is.

But she's already dead. He gets the information, which he argues he had to get through torture because a "more patient approach" would take too long. But she's already dead. And the killer is let loose again, because of Our Hero's actions, free to hijack a school bus and give the film its dramatic ending. So here's the moral question: is it morally justifiable if you think there's a greater good for a greater number, or if you just think the victim is less morally culpable than the perpetrator?

That's the "utility" problem: do you want to discuss the propriety of torture, or its efficacy? Follow that route, you go down the Dick Cheney rabbit-trail of "results" which can't or won't be revealed, or which can be argued over endlessly:

Whether the same information could have been acquired using the traditional, noncoercive methods that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the military have long used is impossible to say, and former Bush administration officials say they did not have the luxury of time to develop a more patient approach....
And the argument never gets beyond that undecidable proposition. Worse, it allows us to pass over the real reason to torture: because we can.

The response has only intensified since Justice Department legal memos released last week showed that two prisoners were waterboarded 266 times and that C.I.A. interrogators were ordered to waterboard one of the captives despite their belief that he had no more information to divulge.
What's unstated in that article is who gave that order. It's easy enough to speculate, though. And that's the real problem with torture: it is institutionalized and authorized cruelty. It is sadism. It is barbarism.

And we are supposed to be better than that.

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