On being against torture

I’m against the horror of therdiglob. All right-thinking people should be against therdiglob; civilized societies have long abandoned the practice. Therdiglob makes us look bad in the eyes of the world. If you’re not against therdiglob, someone may do it to you someday.

Eh…what?

The above statement is meaningless, because “therdiglob” is undefined. It has the form of moral indignation, but it is not morally serious. Actually, it’s vacuous except as a way of conveying the speaker’s desire to sound high-minded and morally superior. As read, it is actually faintly ridiculous — indignation without substance, tone without content, pure posturing.

Everything depends on the extensional meaning of “therdiglob”. If “therdiglob” were defined as “flaying the subject alive”, it would be difficult to object to the above. On the other hand, if “therdiglob” were defined as “giving the subject cotton candy”, it would become utterly rather than faintly ridiculous.

Now consider this:

I’m against the horror of torture. All right-thinking people should be against torture; civilized societies have long abandoned the practice. Torture makes us look bad in the eyes of the world. If you’re not against torture, someone may do it to you someday.

The above statement suffers from the exact same kind of meaninglessness in the absence of a definition of “torture”. In the presence of a definition of torture, it will be be meaningful but could be anywhere from a serious assertion of principle to ridiculous posturing. Where the weight of this statement falls depends on the definition we attach to “torture”.

I think it is very important to have a clear, morally serious, and shared definition of the word “torture” for the same reason it is important to have a clear, morally serious, and shared understanding of the word “genocide”. There are some acts which civilized societies should put utterly beyond the pale of acceptable behavior. It is important that we not trivialize the terms that apply to such acts, otherwise we will actually make it more difficult to condemn and prevent them.

As an example: if we were to encompass within the term “genocide” the killing of rodent populations, we would make it more difficult to unequivocally condemn the killing of human populations. Retrospectively, the correct application of the word “genocide” to events like the Holocaust or the Rwandan massacres would lose moral heft. I do not think it would be going too far to say that trivializing the term “genocide” would be a compounding crime against the victims of real genocides.

The reason this elaborate analysis is required is that in the year 2010 we can no longer take for granted that persons claiming to be opposed to “torture” will have a morally serious definition of that term. It has been associated, by the ACLU among others, with practices including (a) desecration of the Koran, (b) playing loud pop music, and (c) humiliating deployment of female underwear. I say “associated” because the ACLU and others have carefully worded their denunciations so that they can claim to be labeling these things “detainee abuse” rather than “torture”, but have failed to distinguish in any principled or consequential way between “detainee abuse” and “torture”, commingling these terms in their propaganda. This ACLU statement is representative.

Trivializing the term “torture” has the same sort of costs and consequences that trivializing the term “genocide” would. It deprives us of the language in which to condemn acts which are truly atrocious and should be put beyond the pale. But it has a subtler effect as well. It forces us to substitute repellently legalistic definitions of “torture” for a folk understanding of the concept that may be more humane and inclusive.

To see how this operates, let us consider the term “genocide” again. If a fictional “human-rights” organization named the ULCA were to use the term “genocide” for the killing of a hundred people out of a total population of ten thousand of the fictional Nohopistani ethnic group, we would almost certainly dismiss it as hyperbolic. If the ULCA were to commingle the terms “mass murder” and “genocide” in the description, a reasonable person would accept the term “mass murder” but reject the term “genocide”.

If the ULCA and its allies were to continue commingling the terms “mass murder” and “genocide” in describing the killings, and were to ask all of us to condemn the killings as though they were genocide and to be considered a mini-Holocaust, then we would be forced into trying to define some sort of numerical or proportional threshold for “genocide”. More than 5000 people? Over 99% of the Nohopistanis? Over 51%? Even thinking in such terms is repugnant; but, worse, any threshold we come up with would become a political football and might even come to serve as a shield for the perpetrators of atrocities rather than a way to condemn them.

Those who trivialize the term and the category of “torture” put us in exactly the same position. Weak bleating that (for example) Koran desecration was only described as “detainee abuse” is unresponsive for exactly the same reason that use of the term “mass murder” was unhelpfully confusing in our fictional example. The effect of such semantic shell games is to make principled opposition to actual atrocities more difficult by depriving us of unambiguous language in which to express it.

Now I am going to recommend that the reader take time out to at least skim over George Orwell’s immortal 1946 essay Politics and the English Language in order to understand that this is not a new problem. As he says, “the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts” and “to think clearly is a necessary first step towards political regeneration”.

Orwell, writing in opposition to the muscular totalitarianism of his day, failed to foresee what its spiritual heirs would do in ours. In 2010, to attempt to be clear and morally serious about the definition of “torture” is to immediately be accused of being pro-torture! This is an ingenious twist, one which puts the trivialization of the term outside the limits of discussion and masks the trivializers’ actual agenda behind a facade of high-mindedness.

(I note in passing that “torture” is not the only term that the politically-correct have boobytrapped in this way. Consider “racism”…)

But as reading Orwell reminds us, in order to reason effectively about the causes and prevention of atrocities we must first know what we are talking about. We must have clear definitions with consequences, and we must be ready to reject as empty and unhelpful posturing the speech of disputants who resist having clear definitions. We are not unburdened from this requirement by the fact that language is slippery and definitions commonly have difficult edge cases; in fact, that makes semantic discipline more necessary rather than less.

When I use the term “torture”, I intend it to apply to any application of force which intentionally causes irreversible physical or psychological harm to the subject in the course of coercing him (or her).

There are undeniable difficulties and ambiguities in this definition; there will be in any proposed definition. The proper questions to be asked are (a) whether the scope of this definition enables us to unequivocally condemn all the practices which are entailed in informal “folk” notions of torture; opposingly (b) whether it is overbroad and encompassing of practices which do not match those folk notions; and (c) whether the edge cases of the definition are so important as to render it useless in practice.

If we fail to pass test (a), we will violate the moral intuitions about torture that are expressed in ordinary language. If we fail to pass test (b). we will trivialize the term and make it more difficult to condemn actual atrocities. If we fail to pass (c) we will have erected a definition which is perhaps formally or emotionally satisfying but inapplicable to so many real situations that it is useless.

Before examining this definition in detail, let us note and explain a conspicuous absence: “pain” is nowhere mentioned. This may seem curious in view of the fact that the folk script for “torture” normally includes the victim screaming in agony. I explain this with the following scenario, which I will later employ in another important way:

Detainee A is frog-marched into a room with a surgical table in it and several personnel in scrubs. A gleaming tray of sharp instruments is visible. Interrogator X says: “Tell us what we want to know, or we will strap you to this table, anesthetize you, and put out your eyes.” Though no pain is promised, our moral intuition is that the degree of pain inflicted is relatively insignificant compared to the blinding, and that this is in fact a threat of torture whether pain were entailed or not.

Let us now examine each of the traits we have posited:

Intention and coercion: I think we are on very firm ground here. The script or frame that goes with the word “torture” in folk use is that someone (a torturer) is intentionally and painfully coercing someone else to achieve some objective, which is typically either (i) punishment, (ii) interrogation, or (iii) sadistic gratification. We may speak of “unintentional torture” but we recognize this as an exception which has to be qualified precisely because it is an exception.

Application of force: This seems almost trivially true, in that without the application of force the subject of torture may simply refuse to be tortured — flee, attack the torturer, or otherwise disrupt the process.

Physical or psychological harm: If neither harm is present, no torture. Most people have intuitions about physical harm which pose no real difficulties here. The issue (one of two serious ones with this definition of torture) is what constitutes “psychological harm”. The problem is that “psychological harm” is difficult to verify, and either claiming it has occurred or denying that it can occur may constitute a dishonest form of gamemanship by which disputants in borderline cases pursue agendas they cannot otherwise justify. I will return to this point after considering irreversibility.

Irreversibility: I think this is the most productive term in the definition, but it is also the source of the most serious difficulty. In considering the threat-of-blinding scenario above, our intuition is that the true threat is not pain but irreversible loss; in fact the offer of anesthesia seems almost mocking. The blinding threat would lose most of its force if eye clinics could install new eyes for you as easily as they could prescribe glasses. Similarly, the implicit threat that makes painful physical tortures really threatening is that you will never get over this; your joints will be cracked, your bones will be crushed, your flesh will be rent, you will be ugly and scarred and crippled and in residual pain for the rest of your shortened life.

I don’t think irreversible damage gives us any false positives. The difficulty is that many people have trouble with excluding reversible damage from the scope of torture. Yes, it’s easy to mount silly counterexamples: if interrogator X punches detainee A in the face just once, and A goes “Ouch!” and gets a black eye that goes away in four days, we are not in the land of torture. But we have a moral intuition, expressed in widespread folk language, that certain kinds of pain and physical damage rise to the level of torture even if you appear to make a full physical recovery afterwards. How do we handle this?

I think the key concept here is of lingering psychological trauma, which unifies this problem with the issue of what constitutes an unacceptable degree of psychological harm. If a torturer causes you to be repeatedly bitten by rats, and you recover from rat bites but have a phobia of rodents for the rest of your life, that’s lingering trauma; if you are waterboarded and can never again step into a shower without getting the shakes, that is too (while the latter case is hypothetical, the former is not). Here again, the key distinction is irreversability. Something has been done to you that never actually ends.

Of course, as I observed before, there will be a certain amount of gamesmanship around claims of psychological trauma. But even so we can draw two conclusions, both valuable.

One is this: If you have a test for irreversible psychological trauma that you believe, then you have resolved most of the definitional problems around torture. I don’t think we’re very far from this. The neurology of phobia and trauma is becoming tolerably well understood, with observations of measurable changes in the amygdala and hippocampus.

The second is this: To avoid committing torture, you must refrain from using interrogation or punishment or self-gratification techniques which are likely to produce irreversible trauma, either physical or psychological, in the subject. This is both sufficient and necessary.

Having proposed and justified a definition, I can now state unequivocally that I am against torture. And torture is no longer therdiglob. I know what I am opposing, and you know what I am opposing too. If my definition seems repellently legalistic to you, blame the people who have been flinging the term “torture” around so promiscuously that a folk definition is no longer good enough.

I am against torture because it is a horrible crime against its victims, and because it corrupts the people and institutions that use it. We must all oppose torture, if only for Thomas Paine’s reason: “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

It should now also be clear why I am opposed to frivolous and petty-partisan accusations of torture, especially in regard to practices which do not meet the definition I have justified. We do not make our liberty secure when we confuse the trivial with the serious, when we dilute and debauch the only language we have for condemning oppression and atrocities. We cannot oppose torture with the moral force required if we have rendered the concept and the term vacuous. And those who seek to make it vacuous while posing as the defenders of liberty are in sober fact the enemies of liberty.

357 thoughts on “On being against torture

  1. I think this is a good working definition, esr. Most importantly, it is a definition, which you rightly point out is necessary to retain the meanings of our words. The death of proportion is precisely what tyrants use to ply their trade.

    It’s funny you mention Orwell’s essay. I know it well, and at one point I was in fact counting the barrage of verbal false limbs and meaningless words on the “moral vanity” thread. What is interesting is how verbose people who spout unmeaning and diluted morality tend to be. There is no economy to their language, because they haven’t actually thought things through, don’t really know what they are trying to say, and hope their audiences are in the same boat.

  2. So isn’t sending people to prison torture? It certainly is intentional, coercive and forceful. It often caused profound physiological damage, sometimes physical, and is often irreversible. Some of that takes place by inmates, but no fair discounting that: you know what you are throwing the prisoners into before you do so just as much as you know that dumping them in boiling oil is not giving them a soothing bath.

    What about a nasty divorce. Elin divorces her husband Tiger, who has cheated on her. She does so intentionally, and since Tiger doesn’t want it coercively. She uses the force of the courts to make it happen. To piss him off she publishes embarassing stories about him to hurt him and get a better settlement. The pain is so terrible that Tiger takes to drink, and can’t stand the idea of a long term relationship ever again. Seems to fit your definition too.

    As soon as psychological harm gets in the mix, we end up in impossible-to-pin-down-land.

  3. Reading this, I was reminded of Feynman again:

    I turned the page. The answer was, for the wind-up toy, “Energy makes
    it go.” And for the boy on the bicycle, “Energy makes it go.” For
    everything, “Energy makes it go.”
    Now that doesn’t mean anything. Suppose it’s “Wakalixes.” That’s the
    general principle: “Wakalixes makes it go.” There’s no knowledge coming in.
    The child doesn’t learn anything; it’s just a word!

    I agree with the general principle presented here, and normally I would applaud such a cogent call for definitional clarity in the use of (especially) loaded words. However, in this case concerning the definition of torture, it strikes me as mere goalpost-moving of the sort Bush and his cronies used to justify what are unambiguously war crimes. We already have a clear, working, legally binding definition of torture, from the U.N. Convention Against Torture:

    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. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

    Sorry, but you’ve no way out. The Bush administration tortured people. (And there are signs that Obama isn’t as opposed to the practice as he should be.)

  4. So isn’t sending people to prison torture? It certainly is intentional, coercive and forceful. It often caused profound physiological damage, sometimes physical, and is often irreversible. Some of that takes place by inmates, but no fair discounting that: you know what you are throwing the prisoners into before you do so just as much as you know that dumping them in boiling oil is not giving them a soothing bath.

    “Often.” “Sometimes.” “Some.”

    These terms dwell in a neighborhood with “experts say” and “officials note.” And the phrase ” “you know what (you are doing)” doesn’t exactly sizzle with meaning or proportion either. I don’t think eric is talking about sometimes, or the folk wisdom of “you know-ism.” I think he’s talking about “always” and “specific”, and grappling with edge-cases. This is morally serious.

  5. There is an actually clear and unambiguous definition of genocide. It does depend somewhat on intent, but it’s actually put the whole argument on much sounder footing, IMO.
    Daniel Jonah Goldhagen has written a book titled “Worse than War”, and coins a phrase ‘eliminationism’.

    In essence, he proposed offering a system of bounties on the heads of practitioners of eliminationist politics. it’s
    a surprisingly pragmatic program.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/18/books/review/Traub-t.html?_r=1

    The NYT tries – his website seems swamped or I’d link there.

  6. >As soon as psychological harm gets in the mix, we end up in impossible-to-pin-down-land.

    I agree. That’s why I made my definition contingent on a test for psychological trauma. Not all pain is damage.

  7. I think what I object to in your post is that you put a pretty high bar for what torture is. According to you, being zapped with a cattle prod in the balls, if it doesn’t do irreversible damage, is not torture. Being repeatedly hit with a wet towel is not torture. Hell, try to sleep with high volume dissonant crap blaring.

    For me, it’s not so much the problem about torture, which I have a clear definition for as long as nobody asks me about it, but about what you can do to a prisoner in an interrogation. You’re saying ‘I oppose torture with all my heart’, and then ‘but this is the list of what I don’t think is torture, so get over it’. I do think that being kept awake for days through high volume pop music to force a confession, even if it doesn’t leave lasting consequences, is torture. I do think that waterboarding is torture, or at the very least, something that you can’t do to anybody. Some countries actually agree with my interpretation, I think.

    By reading Jessica’ s post with bogus examples I think something about ‘cruel and unusual’ should enter into the definition of torture. And yes, ruining a life so utterly can be torture, although I wouldn’t know in this case.

  8. It’s funny that read pulls a definition which fails Orwell’s test. “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental.”

    What is meant by “severe,” Jeff? How can you demonstrate it for us?

  9. >Being repeatedly hit with a wet towel is not torture

    Being repeatedly hit with a wet towel is called “high school”. And there you illustrate the trivialization problem exactly.

  10. This topic is turning into a complete wank. Torture is simply the infliction of negative stimuli that are outside some value of reasonable, where said infliction is deliberate. If you shoot someone in the guts just to watch them bleed out, that is torture. If you shoot someone on the battlefield, that is not, because the wound is a side-effect of your main goal. If you punch someone in the face once, that would not be torture because most people think of that as within the normal experiences of an adult. Being beaten over and over is not, therefore it qualifies as torture. The distinction of intention is important, because it is a limiting factor. For example, the gut-shot soldier’s suffering is limited by his circumstances; he may be bayoneted on the field, but nobody is going to come along and poke his eyes out. If anybody does, they are committing torture.

  11. >What is meant by “severe,” Jeff? How can you demonstrate it for us?

    Exactly. The U.N. definition is a vacuous political football. This is almost certainly intentional.

  12. Jessica,

    One way to limit the definition to resolve these problems is to decrease scope by limiting context, thus:

    When I use the term “torture” within the context of interrogation, I intend it to apply to any application of force which intentionally causes irreversible physical or psychological harm to the subject in the course of interrogating him (or her).

    We are left with the problem of defining cruel and unusal punishment, but this definition will do pretty well in the context the ACLU is worried about.

    We except both punishments and consequences we would not tolerate as interrogation techniques.

    Yours,
    Tom

  13. > Being repeatedly hit with a wet towel is called “high school”

    Yes. It also doesn’t leave marks. It hurts just the same. And some interesting governments and groups have used it to torture people. Nice chaps, they were. Probably just out of high school.

  14. >Being repeatedly hit with a wet towel is called “high school”.

    So is being given a broken nose and having teeth knocked out. Does that make it okay to do it deliberately to someone over and over?

  15. esr:
    >Exactly. The U.N. definition is a vacuous political football. This is almost certainly intentional.

    It’s worse than that. It’s “feel-goodism”; cloaking itself in comfortably vague language for the purpose of moral posturing and, possibly, to offer torturers a “loophole.”

    It would be fine for Jeff Read to explain what his definition of “severe pain” was, in explicit terms. Of course, he would also be put in the uncomfortable bu morally serious position of describing what “non-severe” pain is, which the document implies is a legal coercive measure. This is precisely what you attempted to do. I expect a flock of unserious people like Jeff Read will flock here soon to berate you for it, probably using extremely haughty and pretentious language to do so.

  16. @Roger torturing someone to elicit a confession seems to fall outside your definition, then, because you’re not poking their eyes ‘just because’, but as “a side-effect of your main goal”, for which you might also be interrogating them, or whatever.

  17. Jeff Read most americans don’t put a lot of stock in anything the UN says or does these days.

    It is a morally nonserious organization, that gives equal moral weight to free countries and dictatorships; they put human rights abusers in charge of the human right commission.

    And a broken nose and knocked out teeth is a little more than high school, Roger.

  18. By the way, here is the loophole of torturers:

    “Okay so when I picked up a brick and smashed the prisoners toes, he was in pain. But no severe pain. After all, I could have used the brick to smash his testicles.”

    This is why specific definitions are important. An implied proportionality with no precise pointers isn’t military law. It’s political jargon, and cover for people to run behind whenever it’s convenient.

  19. Your vanity will only serve to provide an enemy with yet one more avenue for exploitation.

    I am entirely supportive of serious study into the clinical use of torture as part of an interrogation toolkit.

  20. Does that UN definition exclude anything done simply for personal amusement, or am I not parsing it correctly?

  21. I’d take the anti-“torture” people more seriously if they had been protesting the actions of the US government at Waco and Ruby Ridge. Apparently, torturing terrorists is much, much worse than the outright murder of American citizens.

  22. I have to admit, invoking Orwell to defend not only torture but the abuse of the English language in favor of torture is a masterpiece of twisted thinking.

    Who do you think Orwell would conisder more Orwellian: the ACLU (who have not in fact redefined torture; your only objection is that they mention it in the same breath as lesser forms of abuse), or the Bush administration who coined the term “enhanced interrogation” for practices that are, to anybody with an ounce of intellectual integrity, clearly torture?

    For a supposed anarchist, you sure seem like you are auditioning for a job in the security apparatus, or rather the network of apologists for it. The only purpose of your text is to try to redefine torture so as to allow practices that have been clearly condemned as torture by people who actually know what they are talking about, such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, extreme cold, etc. People who know what they are talking about include the International Committee of the Red Cross, charged with enforcing the Geneva conventions. Here’s the start and end of their 2006 report on Guantanamo (from an article by Mark Danner, well worth reading):

    Contents
    Introduction
    1. Main Elements of the CIA Detention Program
    1.1 Arrest and Transfer
    1.2 Continuous Solitary Confinement and Incommunicado Detention
    1.3 Other Methods of Ill-treatment
    1.3.1 Suffocation by water
    1.3.2 Prolonged Stress Standing
    1.3.3 Beatings by use of a collar
    1.3.4 Beating and kicking
    1.3.5 Confinement in a box
    1.3.6 Prolonged nudity
    1.3.7 Sleep deprivation and use of loud music
    1.3.8 Exposure to cold temperature/cold water
    1.3.9 Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles
    1.3.10 Threats
    1.3.11 Forced shaving
    1.3.12 Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food
    1.4 Further elements of the detention regime….

    The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

    Oh no, they’ve conflated torture and degrading treatment by mentioning them together! Let’s call in Orwell to defend the torturers from the ICRC!

    Your intellectual preening in defense of the indefensible is truly sickening.

  23. >1.3.11 Forced shaving

    Forced shaving! The horror, the horror!

    I think you are illustrating my point about the unseriousness of the “anti-torture” brigade perfectly here. Oh, yeah, and “Prolonged nudity”, that’s a good one; man, I do that for fun! How determined do you have to be to trump up a case before you can repeat shit like this without laughing at yourself? Do you have no capacity to be embarrassed left in you?

    Congratulations. You’ve just smoothed the path of a real torturer sometime in the future.

  24. That’s not me saying that, it’s the International Committee of the Red Cross, the closest thing the world has to an official organization responsible for defining and reporting on torture. Who do you think has a better handle on what torture is — them, or some blowhard with a blog? I have to admit, it is kind of funny to hear someone like you label the Red Cross as “unserious”.

  25. # esr Says:
    > I agree. That’s why I made my definition contingent on a
    > test for psychological trauma. Not all pain is damage.

    Sorry Eric, no bright lines there. I looked up trauma in a dictionary. It was defined as ” is a very severe shock or very upsetting experience, which may cause psychological damage.” One example being the trauma of loosing one’s house. There are many people deeply and for ever after traumatized by both prison and divorce.

  26. So then, let’s get clear about the practical implications of your view:

    First, to be complete we’d have to draw some line between what counts as mere conditioning or emotional learning and what counts as permanent emotional harm. This line is likely to be defined by psychiatrists, who tend to prefer definitions like ‘long term neural potentiation counts as emotional trauma if it causes ongoing problems in the person’s life’. To keep this simple though, let’s leave permanent emotional trauma out of the picture for a moment and deal only with other forms of permanent psychological harm (things like psychosis, for example). This means we’ll leave aside things like enforced hypothermia, waterboarding and the use of dogs, and perhaps stress positions.

    Let’s also leave aside social dimensions of harm. There’s no denying the fact that people who were detained at guantanamo for multiple years and then released without charge (Kurnaz, Habib, Hicks, The Tipton Three) had their lives permanently ruined in some social sense. But let’s leave that aside too.

    So, what does that leave us?

    – You’re against solitary confinement whenever it goes for long enough to cause irreversible psychological harm (let’s say a month, to be really really conservative)
    – You’re against playing loud pop music at above 130 dB for 4 or more minutes per day, or 110 dB for at least an hour a day (i.e. typical amplified rock music). In either case enough to cause permanent hearing loss.
    – You’re against the extended use of sleep deprivation, which causes irreversible cardiovascular disorders.
    – You’d permit the use of truth serums, if effective ones were available.
    – You’d encourage the use of anterograde amnestic drugs like midazelam, which allow you to abuse the prisoner without his remembering it.
    – You’re against the detainment of prisoners in outside cages which provide very little protection from the sun, which quickly causes permanent sun damage to the skin, eyes and increases the risk of cancers.

    What have I left out?

  27. # Tom DeGisi Says:
    > When I use the term “torture” within the context of interrogation,
    > I intend it to apply to any application of force which intentionally
    > causes irreversible physical or psychological harm to the subject
    > in the course of interrogating him (or her).

    Elin sure wants to make Tiger suffer. When the California electricity crisis happened some politician threatened to send the head of P&G to prison to meet his new boyfriend. Clearly in both cases the intent in causing harm. Furthermore, most tortuous interogation is not purposefully causing harm, it’s purpose is to extract information on “confession.” The pain and harm are side effects of the core purpose.

    > We are left with the problem of defining cruel and unusal punishment,
    > but this definition will do pretty well in the context the ACLU is worried
    > about.

    Yes, this particular phrase has been royally botched by the Supreme Court, that is for sure.

    > We except both punishments and consequences we would not tolerate
    > as interrogation techniques.

    So your claim is that torture necessarily is accompanied by interrogation?

  28. >I have to admit, it is kind of funny to hear someone like you label the Red Cross as “unserious”.

    Yes, and as long as they whine about “forced shaving”, I’ll keep right on doing it, too. Awww. Next they’ll be complaining that we failed to fluff the poor widdle jihadi’s pillow properly.

  29. >1.2 Continuous Solitary Confinement and Incommunicado Detention
    This is a great example of the slippery slope. Actually, this is a great example of an acceptable “non-torturous” technique to break the resolve of a determined jihadi. Communication and comraderie with their associates can reinforce their will to resist. I’ll sign off on this one.

    > 1.3.2 Prolonged Stress Standing
    These guys should try boot camp!

    > 1.3.10 Threats
    Take my wife, please!

    > 1.3.11 Forced shaving
    (See above)

    1.3.12 Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food
    A wonderful example of how to obfuscate torture to the point of meaninglessness. Hell, there are plenty of health nuts who prescribe such a diet. Only a moral simpleton would equate “beating and kicking” with “feeding you cans of Ensure.” Either that, or someone with vastly different agenda then the one they claim.

  30. I really can’t imagine the level of intellectual dishonesty it takes to focus exclusively on forced shaving while ignoring the waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, extreme cold, threats to family members, and other items in that list.

  31. >What have I left out?

    I agree with your entire list except “the use of anterograde amnestic drugs like midazelam, which allow you to abuse the prisoner without his remembering it.” I don’t think I’d support this. How could it have any point other than cruelty? I’ll assume you’re correct about extended sleep deprivation leading to cardiovascular damage; I was not aware of such effects.

    I think your discussion of gradations of psychological damage is very much on point. You’re pointing out borderline areas where it would be best not to go, and you’re doing it in terms similar to those I would use.

    One large caveat: When I argue that a practice does not belong in the category of torture, this does not mean I think it should be applied casually. There’s a level below “torture” of measures that I think should not be outright forbidden by civilized persons but which are only applicable in unusual and extreme circumstances. Which those are is an interesting question which I would prefer not to get into right now; the topic is the definition of “torture” and I’d prefer it to stay there.

  32. Also, I think that seizing on the less serious aspects of the Red Cross report is more than a little dishonest. Critics of the detention program don’t need it to be true that every item on their list is torture; it’s enough if just one of the items is torture. Defenders of the program, however, need it to be true that no item on the list is torture. As I outlined above, Eric’s definition holds a number of the things they do at Guantanamo to be torture, so he ought not to be defending it.

    I acknowledge the point that the critics of the program would be better served to limit themselves to complaining about the most seriously damaging aspects of their interrogations and detention, namely: the years-long imprisonment without trial, the solitary confinement, the forced sun damage, and – yes -the hours of literally deafening music. I don’t know enough about waterboarding to comment on that. And while there is good data on forced hypothermia, thanks to the atrocities of Japanese ‘scientists’ in WWII, and their meticulous record-keeping, we don’t know how cold the inmates at Guantanamo were made to be.

  33. >I really can’t imagine the level of intellectual dishonesty it takes to focus exclusively on forced shaving while ignoring the waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, extreme cold, threats to family members, and other items in that list.

    Dunce, I’m not ignoring them. I am saying that the Red Cross trivializes its case and calls its motives into serious question when it mingles the serious with the silly like that. By doing this, it makes real torture a more difficult thing to oppose and prevent.

  34. Jessica,

    > So your claim is that torture necessarily is accompanied by interrogation?

    No, I was repairing Eric’s definition to better match our traditional understanding of torture by reducing it’s scope to that of interrogation, and leaving torture undefined in other contexts. There are some forms of punishment which are traditionally considered to be torture and some which are not. I believe we will need a different definition of torture in the context of punishment. I haven’t proposed one yet.

    As a Perl programmer I naturally consider that we might need different definitions in different contexts.

    goddinpotty,

    Human rights organizations are no different from any other organization devoted to using the rule of Law (rule of words) to minimize harm. Whenever they can’t get the law changed by the legislature they try changing it via the courts, including the court of public opinion. One of the ways they do this is by expanding / contracting definitions.

    Profit earning corporations use the same tactics, where harm is defined as less profit. It’s how my 2007 Kia Rondo station wagon was redefined as a utility vehicle. I wouldn’t take anyone seriously who stated my station wagon was a light truck, van or SUV. It’s a car. Would you?

    The rule of law is very useful, but as a hammer it drives few nails.

    Yours,
    Tom

  35. I agree with your entire list except “the use of anterograde amnestic drugs like midazelam, which allow you to abuse the prisoner without his remembering it.” I don’t think I’d support this. How could it have any point other than cruelty?

    You could torture them, extract information, then send them back into their population without them knowing they’d spilled the beans. Could prove useful.

  36. I’m sure the Red Cross will appreciate your advice and realize that they’ve been doin it rong all this time.

    You say you are not ignoring the more serious forms of abuse in their list. So let’s hear something about them. Are you condemning them as torture, or excusing them?

  37. Jessica Boxer Says:
    > Elin sure wants to make Tiger suffer.

    Yes but she has no real power to do so, at least not in the context of a discussion on torture of prisioners.

    Someday technology will advance to the point that we can define torture as “causing the pain center of a subject’s brain to produce 57.4 milliouches”. For now, I think ESR has done a fine job of cutting thru a muddled subject and has used the phrase “irreversible psychological harm” to fill in for our limited understanding of the human brain. Such a phrase requires legal interpretation, in the judicial sense. I think any reasonable judge would conclude that divorcing a cheating husband is not torture under the definition. Its a pretty good definition.

  38. I suggest a slight weakening of the definition: “irreversible” -> “irreversibly prolonged”. Blinding is still torture if you heal after 10 years.

  39. goddinpotty Says:
    > Are you condemning them as torture, or excusing them?

    Wow, are you being serious?

  40. >@Roger torturing someone to elicit a confession seems to fall outside your definition, then, because you’re not poking their eyes ‘just because’, but as “a side-effect of your main goal”, for which you might also be interrogating them, or whatever.

    Maybe I didn’t word that so well. In the case of an interrogation, the poking of the eyes is an intended part of the activity that you will sustain deliberately. This is as opposed to getting into a sword fight and stabbing someone in the eye in the moment. In the latter case, you’re not coming back for the other one, because it was incidental in the first instance, even though you originally knew it was likely to happen. Once someone is in your capture, deliberately causing them pain is usually going to be a clear case of torture. Stress positions are quite clearly torture. If you’re going to do these things, that’s another matter, but let’s leave the double-think out of it.

    >And a broken nose and knocked out teeth is a little more than high school, Roger.

    Where I’m from fist fights are a normal part of high-school, or they were when I was there. I’ve seen people have their teeth knocked out, and others have their noses badly broken. Until my senior year I was fending off attempts to start a punch-on every week or two. Obviously, some schoolyards are more sheltered than others; mine wasn’t particularly bad. The point stands; namely, that the typical high-school/frat initiation comparisons are spurious. People get poisoned half to death from alcohol during frat initiations. Should we do the same thing to prisoners? Of course not.

  41. >You say you are not ignoring the more serious forms of abuse in their list. So let’s hear something about them. Are you condemning them as torture, or excusing them?

    Look at what I’ve already written. The required deductions should be simple enough for you to manage.

  42. Tom DeGisi Says:
    > As a Perl programmer I naturally consider that we
    > might need different definitions in different contexts.

    Are you claiming that programming in perl is torture?

  43. > humiliating deployment of female underwear

    My new favorite phrase!!!!

  44. A very interesting read. I suspect that the modern media is largely responsible by using excessively dramatic language to try to get people to read their articles. My local newspaper will be incredibly dramatic about five people dying in a motoring death and relegate the huge numbers of deaths in Haiti to a small completely understated article ten or more pages in.

    I know I’m mixing the language issue with people caring about their locality more than the other side of the world but I don’t think the cause matters very much. Whatever the cause is the nett result is that words are cheapened. A front-page “TRAGEDY” now means a few people died on the highway. Would you write a letter to the editor complaining that the news event wasn’t really that serious? It’s like you say about being labelled “pro-torture” except also appearing disrespectful for the dead.

    I think our best weapons against this depreciation are not only providing definitions as you say, but also giving simple context or examples. You don’t necessarily have to give a carefully-constructed definition for people to realise that you’re talking about genuine torture. Reference to or examples of one or two waterboarding cases as part of your argument or statement will not only make them understand but also reinforce that the word “torture” does refer to serious incidents—even if not actively rejecting the trivialisms.

  45. I’m sure the Red Cross will appreciate your advice and realize that they’ve been doin it rong all this time.

    This is a good example of something that I think was left out of the moral vanity discussion, although it was pervasive throughout. Appeals to authority are genuinely fascinating to me, but appeals to moral authority are particularly so. The notion of an unquestionable “moral authority” embodied by a human institution, like a church, is quite old, and seems to be resurgent now. For people who are not morally serious, various pseudo-papal entities are inevitably offered to stand in for actual debate. “X is not so because I have carefully proven it so. X is so because Y says it is so, and Y is my moral authority.”

    This is secular theology writ on whatever is stone is handy. Welcome to the new Dark Ages. It was warm back then, too.

  46. Jessica Boxer Says:
    >Tom DeGisi Says:
    >> As a Perl programmer I naturally consider that we
    >> might need different definitions in different contexts.
    >Are you claiming that programming in perl is torture?

    Let’s refer to the definition of torture:

    > any application of force which intentionally causes irreversible physical or psychological harm to the subject in the course of coercing him (or her)

    Nobody would ever program PERL unless coercively forced. Check.
    Exposure to PERL causes psychological harm. (I can vouch for the fact that PERL hurts.) Check.
    The harm caused by PERL is permanent. (I shudder when I think of my few experiences with PERL.) Check.

    Yep, PERL is torture!

  47. As far as I can tell you are attempting to redefine torture to exclude waterboarding and sleep deprivation. That makes you an apologist for torture in my book. If I am misreading you, feel free to correct me.

    Here’s a nice load of material on sleep deprivation, a favorite of the NKVD.

  48. >As far as I can tell you are attempting to redefine torture to exclude waterboarding and sleep deprivation.

    If you had been paying attention, you would have known this claim was false before you uttered it. See my exchange with bennet.

  49. > humiliating deployment of female underwear

    Mine too. I believe George Orwell would refer to it as “pretentious diction.” Mel Brooks, on the other hand, would probably refer it “Pantyfacing.”

  50. jrok: who ever said the Red Cross was infallible? On the contrary, they are very fallible, in part due to the nature of their work — their try very hard not to piss off governments so they can retain their privielged access to prisoners. This necessitates a level of moral compromise. That’s why the report I cited was confidential.

    However, ther Red Cross has more moral and intellectual authority in the areas of its expertise than some random dude with a website. That’s just how it goes. Similarly, a paper published in Nature is not guaranteed to be accurate, but it has more authority and a better chance of being accurate than a random webpage.

  51. But, pantyfacing or no pantyfacing, what we are really talking about here is “what can the U.S. military do to a captured enemy without his consent.” The answer lies somewhere between “nothing” and “everything.” Drawing a legal map is the most obvious solution, and I thought the U.S. government was very belated in doing this. Honestly, the camp itself is now a boondoggle, not because of the treatment of a few especially hardened thugs, but because a legal limbo is intolerable. Assigning them some sort of legal status may have been confounding (these were soldiers in an irregular, transnational army), but it was necessary. Military tribunals was one solution, but the Left balked. Civilian trials were another solution, but the Intelligence services balked. Sending them back to their home countries or regional middlemen for “art therapy” failed utterly, as many immediately resumed their jihadi activities. It is thorny, but we need to nail down an honest and widely acceptable mechanism for trying and either imprisoning/executing or freeing these prisoners. Holder isn’t doing anyone any favors by raising the “civilian trial” spectre again. Frankly, a military tribunal would be sufficient, and could perhaps even include a coercion of the “carrot” variety for the less hardcore elements. That’s how you break a mafia.

  52. Maybe I can help along the goal of clear communication:

    From Wikipedia with my own emphasis added:

    Waterboarding is a form of torture that consists of immobilizing the subject on his back with the head inclined downwards… It can cause extreme pain, dry drowning, damage to lungs, brain damage from oxygen deprivation, other physical injuries including broken bones due to struggling against restraints, lasting psychological damage or, if uninterrupted, death. Adverse physical consequences can manifest themselves months after the event, while psychological effects can last for years

    I’ll take the dictionary definition of the word permanent:

    3. long-lasting or nonfading: permanent pleating; permanent ink.

    Yes, this definition of waterboarding does meet ESR’s standard of torture. But ESR didn’t only define torture, he expressed very strong opinions against torture, for example:

    I am against torture because it is a horrible crime against its victims, and because it corrupts the people and institutions that use it.

  53. @esr: As you point out, there’s nothing new about this muddling of English at all. I’m reminded of Bill Clinton’s answer to the grand jury on the question of whether he was lying to his aides about Monica Lewinsky:

    It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the–if he–if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not–that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement….Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.

    This has got to be one of the most carefully-worded statements ever made by a standing American president. In this case, conservatives jumped on Bill Clinton for splitting hairs, but actually he was being very precise in his use of language — hacker-precise. (Or lawyer-precise)

    The interesting thing about Clinton’s statement is that it shows that liberals understand very clearly what they are doing when they conflate terms. Of course, conservatives do the same thing. For example, the Communications Decency Act started life as the “Internet Freedom and Family Empowerment Act”. Wow. CDA == Internet Freedom, huh? Who can be against Internet freedom or empowering families?

    Unfortunately, I think conservatives are just on the opposite side of the same coin as liberals on this expansive definition of torture: they just as easily conflate things that are torture with “coercive interrogation techniques” or “enhanced interrogation techniques” or whatever other favored terms they’re using.

    Ultimately, this means exactly what you say in your first paragraph: arguing that torture is bad is pointless if you don’t have a good definition of torture to start with. Conversely, arguing that “coercive interrogation techniques” are good is also pointless if you don’t have a good definition torture (including what is not torture) to start with.

  54. Well said. It seems pretty obvious to me, but then so much that seems obvious to me also seems to elude the majority of the public.

  55. It’s obvious to everyone – but just what’s obviously torture varies. We can’t get away with “I can’t tell you what it is, but I’ll know it when I see it” any more.

  56. However, ther Red Cross has more moral and intellectual authority in the areas of its expertise than some random dude with a website.

    Ah, but you miss the point entirely. Sadly, one cannot simply point at a list nailed to a wall, or etched stone tablets, or NGO reports to divine the Laws of War and the thorny moral quandaries that result. While useful in other ways, such lists are not useful for this human enterprise. This goes to the heart of state sanctioned violence in times of war, when actions which would be deemed barbaric in the confines civil society (i.e. “Run up that hill and kill all the guys wearing blue shirts.”) are part of the normal execution of a military enterprise.

    The fact that you must resort to weighing various lists (and it’s still clear you don’t understand esr’s, nor the point of the article, nor, it seems, anything past your own nose) is proof that you aren’t morally engaged, but just posturing for effect. You are not alone. In fact, I think you would fit in very well with my neighbors up in Turtle Bay.

  57. Sorry, not good enough.

    If it was shown tomorrow that sleep deprivation, for instance, produced no lasting physiological trauma, it would still be torture.

    And the concept of psychological trauma is so broad as to be meaningless.

    I’ll believe that you oppose torture when you spend some time attacking the implementors and promotors of torture, rather than the groups that work to end it.

  58. jrok said: Ah, but you miss the point entirely.

    I guess so. Did you have one?

  59. I’ll believe that you oppose torture when you spend some time attacking the implementors and promotors of torture, rather than the groups that work to end it.

    Isn’t that what the U.S. military did, in overthrowing the sadistic torturer Saddam Hussein and his malevolent sons? Where were the calls of the mighty moral giants at the U.N. to drag Hussein and Ali into the well of the Hague? Or does the strong arm of hte law only exist to punish civilized men, and defend barbarians.

    Perhaps if your moral compass did not have such a narrow sweep, you could be taken more seriously. But right now, you are just flinging out solipsistic junk.

  60. >jrok said: Ah, but you miss the point entirely.

    >I guess so. Did you have one?

    I assume you thought I did, since you responded (weakly) to my charge that an appeal to moral authority isn’t the same thing as morality by saying “the Red Cross isn’t perfect” or some such rubbish.

    It is not my fault that you cannot properly defend your own arguments, goddinpotty. You simply need better ones.

  61. goddinpotty Says:
    >If it was shown tomorrow that sleep deprivation, for instance, produced no lasting physiological trauma, it would still be torture.

    People here, particularly ESR, have spent time carefully defining torture with the stated purpose of condemning it. If there are holes in the definition, feel free to help plug them. Why do you automatically assume that if there is a hole in a definition it must be an intentional conspiracy to get away with evil?

    goddinpotty Says:
    >Your intellectual preening in defense of the indefensible is truly sickening.
    >some blowhard with a blog
    >I really can’t imagine the level of intellectual dishonesty it takes
    >I’ll believe that you oppose torture when you spend some time attacking the implementors and promotors of torture, rather than the groups that work to end it.

    I’ll believe you aren’t a crackpot when you stop being rude and say something constructive. If you aren’t willing to do that, I challenge you to point out any exact quote from this page where ESR defends the “indefensible”, i.e. defends torture, anywhere outside of your imagination.

  62. It’s important to reiterate why Eric’s position is morally serious and why someone like goddinpotty (who merely points to lists) is not.

    Whether you agree with the methodology that Eric proposes or not, the important thing is that it is a methodology (or, at least, the beginnings of one). In other words, there is no end to lists of things that may be done to someone in captivity. A sort of case analysis will not resolve the issue, because any number of specific techniques you did not consider can be left of such a list. What we need is a crucible in which to judge *any* existing or potential interrogation technique, and separate treatment which is merely harsh or rude or spartan but tolerable in certain cases, to that which is deemed intolerable in all cases. The latter is torture, and should be abolished.

    Are indian-burns torture? If I drool on you, does it constitute torture? If I force you to watch gay pornography, is it torture? We need a litmus test that is separate from individual forms, because specific forms may only be limited to the imagination of the torturer himself.

  63. > If you had been paying attention, you would have known this claim was false before you uttered it. See my exchange with bennet.

    Well, it wasn’t clear to me, either, but then I tend to skim. So thanks for making that clear.

    Yours,
    Tom DeGisi

  64. Now you’ve all spent some time preening away and establishing your beautiful moral profiles….I’ll reiterate:

    None of you have sufficient courage of your convictions to stand in between a duly processed jihadi and someone like me (an advocate of torture). You will huff and puff, but ultimately you will always seek someone else to risk their neck in the name of your vanity. Which, of course, adds cowardice to your sins.

    There is a time and place for men to press their noses up against the hard granite of life.

  65. If sleep deprivation wasn’t known to cause cardiovascular damage in the long term as someone suggested, would you support it, ESR?

  66. I would think that the use of drugs (truth serum) would NOT be torture – there is no pain, damage, or coercion beyond that already needed to take someone prisoner and manage their day-to-day routine.

    The reliability and quality of the intelligence is a side issue; someday there may be a drug which will function exactly as needed to extract truth from a subject. Until then, we will use the drugs we have and suffer through the shortcomings. A properly designed drug regime could include tests for allergic reactions, anti-anxiety drugs before the injection and interrogation, to lessen psychological trauma. Amnesiac drugs can be looked at two ways: you are suppressing the subjects ability to tell about the session, which means even he doesn’t know what he told interrogators, denying the enemy information about what questions were asked and thus hiding our intentions; or you could say that we are stealing a part of his life-experience from him – which is an argument that gets a terrorist no sympathy from me.

    Consider this: the subject suffers no lasting physiological or psychological damage, except for the knowledge that he has betrayed his comrades. There would be (from a rational standpoint) little guilt or stigma attached to this, because his betrayal was not of his own will. From an irrational standpoint, anything can be a trauma to anybody, and gamesmanship would abound.

    In fact, if a drug regime could reliably reveal the truth, it could establish innocence, which would be a boon to any falsely accused person.

    If I am wrong, and this is indeed torture, then I guess the only conclusion that can be reached is that any method that gets someone to reveal secrets he doesn’t consciously want to reveal is torture. I wonder if people who feel that way aren’t actually on the other side.

    As to the moral high ground, I feel no obligation to live up to arbitrary standards set by people who think that torture and videotaped decapitation are holy activities.

  67. jrok said: Isn’t that what the U.S. military did, in overthrowing the sadistic torturer Saddam Hussein and his malevolent sons?

    So you are saying that the anarchist Eric Raymond is a supporter of the US military, the largest machine for violent coercion ever constructed by man? And that supporting the US military is an effective way to oppose torture? Right.

    I thought anarcho-capitalism was a stupid enough concept when I heard of it, but anarcho-neo-conservatism or anarch-national-greatness or anarcho-imperialism or whatever it is you people around here believe in has it beat in that department, hands down. It’s oxymoronic with the accent on moron.

    As for the other thread, I really have no idea what you are talking about. I continue to maintain the crazy idea that the Red Cross might know more about torture than Eric Raymond and thus have more authority to define it. Or are you epistemological anarchists as well?

  68. I’m against letting cops give a suspect a line of coke and a blow job. Cops will do this -and the black glove reverse- without Miranda rights. All Libertarians, Liberals, and Conservatives are against this.

    We can’t afford to let 9/11 guys use Miranda rights to contact each other.

    So we do what we are doing; lots of military ‘legal representatives’ who aren’t real lawyers representing a citizen client; lots of inspectors finding scandalous things out. Lots of scandals.

    Oh well.

  69. So you are saying that the anarchist Eric Raymond is a supporter of the US military, the largest machine for violent coercion ever constructed by man?

    Hahaha. No. I don’t speak for Eric. He seems to have no trouble speaking his own mind. Personally, I’d identity as more of a minarchist.

    I thought anarcho-capitalism was a stupid enough concept when I heard of it, but anarcho-neo-conservatism or anarch-national-greatness or anarcho-imperialism or whatever it is you people around here believe in has it beat in that department, hands down. It’s oxymoronic with the accent on moron.

    Wow! :^)

    As for the other thread, I really have no idea what you are talking about.

    Yes, that much is clear. Frankly, you haven’t shown much of clue about what anyone is talking about. Including yourself. That’s too bad, but it’s not the end of the world.

    I continue to maintain the crazy idea that the Red Cross might know more about torture than Eric Raymond and thus have more authority to define it.

    Yes, it is pretty clear that you are obsessed with deferring to an authority that comes from outside yourself. This is actually nothing new. You may genuflect before a Red Cross – or a white or yellow or blue one – all you want. What you cannot do is gain any foothold into a moral discussion. Frankly, you haven’t even left the starting gate, because even the simplest concepts of the argument seem to elude you.

    I don’t think that’s not terrible. Not all discussions are for everyone. Some people are unequipped to handle them. I’ve a feeling that if Shenpen was here, he would agree that this is a clear cut case of why we need to bring back the concept of “esoteric and exoteric” questioning. Some people’s brains literally explode when you ask them to use their reason to answer thorny questions.

  70. “I don’t think that’s terrible” I mean. :^)

    And I really don’t. Folks roaring and breathing fire without thinking isn’t new. The internet maybe amplifies it, and adds some links, but I think it’s mostly okay to posture and create a “heroic image” of yourself. This just doesn’t seem to be the place to do it.

  71. I think I understand part of the problem. Someone here sees the world as being defined by flags. The Red Cross is anti torture, therefore if you criticize the Red Cross you are automatically pro torture. Never mind that the Red Cross has defined pantie deployment as torture… they are the professional torture analyzers therefore we know nothing.

    Anarchists aren’t impressed by flags. We pay more attention to facts and good ideas.

  72. So you are saying that the anarchist Eric Raymond is a supporter of the US military, the largest machine for violent coercion ever constructed by man? And that supporting the US military is an effective way to oppose torture? Right.

    I thought anarcho-capitalism was a stupid enough concept when I heard of it, but anarcho-neo-conservatism or anarch-national-greatness or anarcho-imperialism or whatever it is you people around here believe in has it beat in that department, hands down. It’s oxymoronic with the accent on moron.

    As for the other thread, I really have no idea what you are talking about. I continue to maintain the crazy idea that the Red Cross might know more about torture than Eric Raymond and thus have more authority to define it. Or are you epistemological anarchists as well?

    You really don’t get it, do you? Appeal to authority is a fallacy. It doesn’t strengthen your argument; it weakens it. Appealing to authority is a sign of rhetorical desperation, and suggests that the person using it has no actual facts or logic to support his or her position. (You certainly aren’t offering any here.)

    The same thing is true for attacking a straw man, argumentum ad hominem, and false dilemma, all of which are on display in your rant. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone spit out so many fallacious arguments, one after another, without even pausing to take a breath. It’s really quite impressive.

  73. >I continue to maintain the crazy idea that the Red Cross might know more about torture than Eric Raymond

    Why in the world are you holding up the Red Cross as some sort of torture authority. Nobody in this blog is buying into any definition of torture because some ‘anarchist’ said so. Eric made a logical argument for his definition of torture. What is the logical argument that the Red Cross makes? Are you saying that because a respected/authoritative institution defines something a certain way, we should automatically buy into it without questioning?

    I think the criteria for defining torture that that ESR put forth in questions (a), (b) and (c) are very well thought out. Most of the disagreement seems to stem from the evaluation of those questions.

  74. Group A: criticises torture; also criticises counterproductive detainee abuse like forced shaving and pantyfacing.

    Group B: defends torture by pretending that Group A is primarily concerned with the other lesser abuses.

    Group C: tortures people.

    Note to conservatives and objectively-proconservative libertarians: If you put more energy into criticising Group A than you do into criticising Group B or Group C, then some people may suspect that you are pro-torture.

  75. jrok said: Yes, it is pretty clear that you are obsessed with deferring to an authority that comes from outside yourself.

    Don’t be stupid. If you want to understand a real-world phenomenon, you have the choice of observing it yourself or finding out about it from someone else. In the latter case, you choose someone who seems authoritative. If you want to know the population of Shanghai, you’ll look at at a repuatable atlas or ask someone who lives there — you won’t ask the wino down the street.

    There are some things you can puzzle out from first principles — mathematics, primarily. Most things are not like that. Since torture is a real-world phenomenon, people and organizations who have real-world contact with it have the most authority to define it and opine about it.

    Libertarians tend to suffer from the idea that morality, law, and social mechanisms can be derived from (or reduced to) a few simple axioms. I think that’s nonsense in general. It’s not the way people work and it’s not the way society works. Thus your notion of what constitutes a “moral discussion” is not mine, obviously.

  76. Group A: criticises torture; also criticises counterproductive detainee abuse like forced shaving and pantyfacing.

    You seem to have left out the evidence supporting your description of forced shaving and pantyfacing as “counterproductive.” Please supply it.

    Group B: defends torture by pretending that Group A is primarily concerned with the other lesser abuses.

    You’re being deliberately dishonest here. Eric has stated, clearly and repeatedly, that he objects to the trivialization of the greater abuses by lumping them in with the lesser ones. The only one pretending here is you: namely, your pretense that you didn’t understand what Eric said.

    You’re also being dishonest when you claim that he “defends torture” when he has condemned it unequivocally. Again, the pretense is yours.

    Group C: tortures people.

    Note to conservatives and objectively-proconservative libertarians: If you put more energy into criticising Group A than you do into criticising Group B or Group C, then some people may suspect that you are pro-torture.

    These groups exist only in your imagination. What we have in this thread is a lot of individual people expressing their own opinions, which vary. And despite your attempt to shove everyone you disagree with into an ideological pigeonhole, the discussion here is moral, not political.

  77. Don’t be stupid.

    I’ll try. It’s tempting though.

    If you want to understand a real-world phenomenon, you have the choice of observing it yourself or finding out about it from someone else. In the latter case, you choose someone who seems authoritative.

    Well, okay. Choosing “someone who seems authoritative” because you are unwilling to think about a problem yourself is certainly a mode that works for some people, I will grant you. “Slaves”, I believe they are called.

    But it is still strikes me as sad, and you still have not left the starting gate. You can keep trying, though. I will try to let you know when you’ve made some headway.

  78. If you want to understand a real-world phenomenon, you have the choice of observing it yourself or finding out about it from someone else. In the latter case, you choose someone who seems authoritative.

    Incorrect. I choose someone who seems honest. What I want in a case like this is a source (or, if possible, multiple sources) that will report the objective facts to me without distortion or omission, and then let me draw my own conclusions. What I do not want is a source that will tell me what to think, either by simply spoonfeeding me the “correct” conclusions, or by giving me only biased or handpicked data designed to lead me to the “correct” conclusions on my own.

    In the Soviet Union, Pravda and Tass were as “authoritative” as you could possible have asked for. Did that make them trustworthy?

  79. By the way, for the truckloads of junior debating club captains that I’m *sure* flock to this website, here is some advice:

    It is imperative that if you intend to go around accusing people of being evil and/or moronic that you do not ever appeal to authority. This is the original sin of fallacious argument. You’d be better off unleashing your army of True Scotsmen before you make an appeal to Authority X. If you do, thinking people will brutalize you, and rightly so. Appeal to authority – and especially “moral” authority – is he death knell of your argument. It means you have lost.

  80. This blogpost is an excellent exposition on the subject of torture and its context within modern socio-political power dynamics. However, I think its also important to explore the motives of those who would choose to obfuscate the definition of torture. If their core purpose is to destroy clarity in the service of political indoctrination (also known as meme engineering), then they will be immune to rational argument. I would remind you that many of the people who actively trivialize the definition of torture are highly educated lawyers. I suspect that, for them, this is a political game and not an intellectual exercise.

  81. It’s also worth noting that this blog is a particularly stupid place to appeal to authority. Our host is the author of How to Become a Hacker, which includes the following passage:

    Hackers are naturally anti-authoritarian. Anyone who can give you orders can stop you from solving whatever problem you’re being fascinated by — and, given the way authoritarian minds work, will generally find some appallingly stupid reason to do so. So the authoritarian attitude has to be fought wherever you find it, lest it smother you and other hackers.

    (This isn’t the same as fighting all authority. Children need to be guided and criminals restrained. A hacker may agree to accept some kinds of authority in order to get something he wants more than the time he spends following orders. But that’s a limited, conscious bargain; the kind of personal surrender authoritarians want is not on offer.)

    Authoritarians thrive on censorship and secrecy. And they distrust voluntary cooperation and information-sharing — they only like ‘cooperation’ that they control. So to behave like a hacker, you have to develop an instinctive hostility to censorship, secrecy, and the use of force or deception to compel responsible adults. And you have to be willing to act on that belief.

    If we assume that Eric’s blog attracts primarily like-minded people, that means that its comment threads are swarming with passionately anti-authoritarian hacker types. It’s hard to imagine a less receptive audience for appeals to authority. You may as well set a dunce cap on your own head and tape a KICK ME sign to your own back.

  82. Sundog: you are quite right (in a limited sense). But being honest is part of being authoritative. People or organizations that get a reputation for dishonesty will no longer be authoritative. Pravda and Tass were not authoritative in the sense I am using the word, because most residents of the USSR did not trust them. The ICRC, on the other hand, has a very good (and very carefully managed) reputation for honesty and trustworthiness.

    I don’t really know why what I’m saying is so controversial. Today’s world leans heavily on Google’s PageRank algorithm, which is a rough approximation of an authoritativeness metric. Reputation systems rule elsewhere on the net, like on eBay. It’s not such a crazy idea that in a world of massive information overload, you need tools to figure out who is trustworthy. Reputation, brands, and authority are used all the time, by everyone.

    The nice thing about our world (as opposed to the USSR) is that we get a choice of what we consider authoritative sources. I choose to trust the ICRC, but if you think Eric Raymond is a better source of insight on the definition and nature of torture, nobody will stop you from basing your views on that. There is no coercion behind the kind of authority I am talking about, unlike that of Pravda.

  83. As for the other thread, I really have no idea what you are talking about. I continue to maintain the crazy idea that the Red Cross might know more about torture than Eric Raymond and thus have more authority to define it. Or are you epistemological anarchists as well?

    I’m not sure that the Red Cross’ definition of torture is in dispute here. No doubt they have some official statement on the issue, but I have not seen that in this thread (unless they use the UN’s definition from earlier, in which case it’s not in dispute because it’s indisputably useless). The issue is that the Red Cross, by giving the same weight in the same document to charges of waterboarding and prolonged sleep deprivation (both of which I would define as torture) and charges of ‘forced shaving’ and ‘prolonged nudity’, strongly dilutes their moral authority to condemn real torture. As regards the issue of definition per se, I think ESR’s definition in the OP is as good as any to be had in the pre-ouchometer age; I certainly don’t give any weight to any definition that includes contact with women’s underwear as torture.

    Many ‘anti-torture’ activists, in so strongly associating charges of ‘torture’ with railings about contact with women’s underwear, do dilute the definition of torture by so doing–but when people call them on it, they claim ‘we never actually said that that was torture’, and accuse their critics of attacking straw men. Is there such a thing as a straw straw man?

  84. “That’s not me saying that, it’s the International Committee of the Red Cross, the closest thing the world has to an official organization responsible for defining and reporting on torture. Who do you think has a better handle on what torture is — them, or some blowhard with a blog? I have to admit, it is kind of funny to hear someone like you label the Red Cross as “unserious”.”

    This proves just how “unserious” you twerps are.

    The ICRC is complicit in delivering arms and munitions in Palestine (numerous videos exist of ICRC ambulances moving guns, ammunition and fighters around in Gaza and the west bank).

    I’ll start taking the ICRC with more than a grain of salt the day they start criticizing the *real* brutal regimes in this world. Same goes for Amnesty International and most of those other shitstains.

    Of course, I’ve spent time in Iraq (not on the sharp end), and have friends who were kicking in doors and shooting terrorists in the face all over the middle east. I’ve got a friend who was at Abu Ghraib immediately after the events that have these ninnies in such a f’ing tizzy.

    No one in the ME hates us because of the so-called torture at Abu Ghraib or Gitmo. What we are alleged to have done there is *trivial* compared to what their leaders–tribal, city, state, police etc.–do *every fucking day*. You chair warmers are whining about hitting someones genitals with a cattle prod (half the farm boys in the mid west have pissed on an electric fence at one time or another) while Saddam’s kids ran *rape rooms*. There is a pool at one of the palaces on Victory Base Complex that has never had any water in it. It has *very* interesting patterns on the pool tile. Seems it was a favorite place to take people who’d pissed Saddam or one of his underlings to and blow their brains out.

    Layers and layers of blood spray.

    Go read “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10″. See how “ordinary” Afghanis live outside Kabul.

    You think someone who grew up living at 10,000 foot elevation in a mud hut heated by dung fires is going to be seriously bothered by being naked in a 60 degree room for a day or three? Mostly what’s going to bother him is the lack of little boys to bugger.

    Sometimes you don’t have time to ask nicely. Sometimes you need this information *now*, not in 6 months. And when you’re fighting a war (as opposed to when you’re just busting some guy for dealing drugs or kidnapping) you’ve got more than one or two lives at stake.

    Maybe it’s just the way I’m wired, but I’m not going to lose sleep if the head of some terrorist cell gets smacked around a little bit, or is forced to stand in one spot staring into the corner for a day or three.

    Yeah, you start pulling out fingernails of college kids in Andover MD for publishing sarcastic editorials and we’re going to have problems. But playing country music at 130 DB for some skinny who believes that women should bear him sons and STFU? You wanna borrow my stereo?

  85. Group A : Betrays innocent life by indulging in a narcissistic pantomime, where selfish subjective squeamishness is held as a virtue over the inconvenient brutality of life.

    Group B : Deals with it like an adult human being. Doesn’t like it, but understands that it serves their posterity.

  86. The nice thing about our world (as opposed to the USSR) is that we get a choice of what we consider authoritative sources. I choose to trust the ICRC, but if you think Eric Raymond is a better source of insight on the definition and nature of torture, nobody will stop you from basing your views on that.

    One can make quite a nice analogy here to the open-source versus closed-source development methodologies. ESR, in his OP, gave us a proposed definition of ‘torture'; he then showed us his reasoning and argued logically for its correctness. I don’t need to trust ESR to be an ‘authority’ on torture; who it came from is irrelevant, because I have read the argument and I agree with it. You, on the other hand, simply propose a definition on the basis of the idea that the ICRC, which knows better than us, says so. I am much less prepared to trust the integrity of such an argument. Given, again, the sort of people this blog attracts, which do you expect to carry the most weight?

  87. Our host is the author of How to Become a Hacker…

    Hmmm….might be wise to distance ones self from that…

  88. Our host is the author of How to Become a Hacker…

    Hmmm….might be wise to distance ones self from that…

    Would you care to explain why?

    I’m assuming that you have actually read the document in question, and are not just making a flippant comment based on the title and your assumptions about what it means. That would be really embarrassing for you.

  89. The desperate attempts to jam the words “I am in favor of torture” into esr’s mouth so swiftly after a careful explanation of why esr is against torture is one of the more amusing things I’ve seen in a while. Trying to tar him with the Brush of Boooooooooosh is even funnier.

    Hey, goddinpotty… look out! Booooooosh is right behind you! AAaiiiieeeeee! I think he’s got prolonged nudity on the mind, too! (And I’m not sure he’s too clear on who is doing the nudity…)

    esr, while we’re on this topic, I have to say that while I didn’t comment at the time, your stirring defense of DRM really sucks and I hate you forever. You won’t call for the FCC to ban DRM (“I would not ask the FCC to ban DRM, even if that were within its remit.”) so you’re clearly like totally for it, obviously. Sure, you wrote a lot of other stuff but it’s that one sentence, combined with my cognitive inability to conceive of the idea that something could be wrong but not legislated by the government (and of course my subsequent inability to conceive of others having that idea), that shows your true colors in a way that outweighs the entire rest of your message. Just thought I’d point that out since at the time I didn’t realize this was a legitimate argument technique.

  90. Tom D-H: I’m not sure that the Red Cross’ definition of torture is in dispute here…The issue is that the Red Cross, by giving the same weight in the same document to charges of waterboarding and prolonged sleep deprivation (both of which I would define as torture) and charges of ‘forced shaving’ and ‘prolonged nudity’, strongly dilutes their moral authority to condemn real torture.

    No. At least, that’s not the issue I’m talking about. The above is an extremely boring proposition — are we really exerting ourselves over the organization of Red Cross documents? I don’t think so. That’s a complete red herring.

    The issue is that Eric’s definition of torture (which he did not “argue for” — he pulled it out of his ass) is different from common usage and legal usage and seems designed specifically to exclude (and excuse) the modern non-invasive forms of torture including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, cold, and stress positions. I’ve challenged him to make his views clear on this and he started being cute, so my original judgement still stands.

    And to return to the red herring for a minute — this is another eery inversion, similar to what you people are doing to poor Orwell. Nudity and forced shaving are obviously not in themselves torture or even abusive — and nobody has said they are. But in the context of actual ongoing torture and abuse — say, you are being shackled for hours with by your arms from the ceiling, subjected to extreme cold, waterboarded, etc — then if the people doing that are in addition forcing you to be nude in public and playing games with your personal appearance, then those elements are an integral part of the pattern of tortuous abuse. And this should be completely obvious to anyone who reads the ICRC documents unless they are desperately looking for excuses not to pay attention to its message.

  91. Would you care to explain why?

    You’ve got to be kidding…surely? It needs explaining?

    Look, I admire esr for many reasons, but I’m not some greasy fanboy. He has produced his fair share of horseshit. The hackery culty stuff is daftest.

    He’s gotten better with age ;)

  92. That’s not the issue I’m talking about….are we really exerting ourselves over the organization of Red Cross documents?

    Not “we,” no. You. Only you are exerting yourself in this regard, because you were foolish enough to make this appeal. The rest of us tried to engage you, and found you ridiculous.

    …I don’t think so. That’s a complete red herring….

    I’ve challenged him to make his views clear on this and he started being cute, so my original judgement still stands.

    Shooting the red herring you yourself spawned makes you appear a bit worse then ignorant. It makes you look like a little liar. I’m not sure that Eric is correct in his proposed framework for gauging torture. I am sure that you are intellectually incapable of understanding that framework, or even the need for a framework. I also know that “your judgement(sic)” is not your own, because of when you said:

    However, ther Red Cross has more moral and intellectual authority in the areas of its expertise than some random dude with a website. That’s just how it goes.

    …and when you said:

    If you want to understand a real-world phenomenon, you have the choice of observing it yourself or finding out about it from someone else. In the latter case, you choose someone who seems authoritative.

    Again, it is *not* necessarily shameful that you are as ignorant as you are. Frankly, based on the nonsense above, it is probably more shameful to attempt to argue with you about the subject. It’s like trying to teach a pig to sing. Better to let your histrionics run their course, I am thinking.

  93. >None of you have sufficient courage of your convictions to stand in between a duly processed jihadi and someone like me (an advocate of torture). You will huff and puff, but ultimately you will always seek someone else to risk their neck in the name of your vanity. Which, of course, adds cowardice to your sins.

    Why aren’t you off in Iraq fighting terrorists? Because you are a coward.

  94. > Being repeatedly hit with a wet towel is called “high school”. And there you illustrate the trivialization problem exactly.

    Being repeatedly hit with a wet towel is “assault and battery” and ought to result in criminal charges being filed against the perps. Even if the perps and their victim are all high school students.

    Trivializing this sort of criminal offense erodes the credibility of your claim to be opposed to torture and your arguments on the subject.

  95. Look, I admire esr for many reasons, but I’m not some greasy fanboy. He has produced his fair share of horseshit. The hackery culty stuff is daftest.

    That’s it? That’s your entire argument? We all should distance ourselves from “How to Become a Hacker” because you don’t like it?

    Well, um, thank you for that input. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ll continue to form my own opinions.

  96. In these enlightened days of post-modernism, multiculturalism, identity politics and political correctness, I think it is only right that we should be guided by the ivory tower theoreticians that are so polluting these deliberations with their faux outrage.

    Whether something is, or is not, torture;
    how we should treat captives and similar in our modern, enlightened world;
    these should I propose be governed on an individual case;

    simply by how they would treat us, or others, were we in a similar situation to them.

    Anything else is surely leaving us open to charges of disrespect to their culture, or heaven forfend, racism?

  97. Eric-

    I think you’ve made a mistake with this post.

    I think trying to define torture is exactly like trying grasp smoke- just as you believe you’ve got it, it slips through your fingers.

    Look at the comments here and you’ll see why. As soon as you’ve put it in words, people immediately set to testing the boundaries of your definition. The technique is always the same- defining some specific action that dances around the words you’ve used in your definition. YOU can say unequivocally that it is or isn’t because you’ve worked out the nuances to your satisfaction. But that doesn’t mean the next person will immediately grasp, upon reading your definition, all of those nuances. Further, it is almost certain that they will disagree with you about some of those nuances; thus. allowing the most dishonest amongst them to declare with absolute certainty that you are, in fact, “pro-torture.”

    The “folk” definition of torture, as you term it, has an inherent wisdom to it. It implies “I’ll know it when I see it.” but doesn’t attempt a strict definition because it can’t be defined. It’s a huge cloud with a wavy line running through it- take two steps into the cloud in one spot, the line’s been crossed and it’s torture. Take two steps in another spot and no torture.

    If we require a definition for the purposes of defending government policy, then I think the battle has been lost. Of all things attempting a definition, government is the one that should absolutely not be allowed to, for obvious reasons. If a definition is required for the purposes of philosophy and debate, then I think you’ve entered into a game that can’t be won.

  98. Why aren’t you off in Iraq fighting terrorists? Because you are a coward.

    Hilarious. The little chickenhawk that could. How predictable.

  99. Well, um, thank you for that input. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ll continue to form my own opinions.

    Good for you. You’ll do just fine, i’m sure.

  100. @Garry:

    But all you’ve said, in essence, is that people view the world through their own filters and since the next person doesn’t have the same filters as you, trying to define torture is too difficult, so we shouldn’t try to do it.

    Let’s get rid of the word “torture” and change that out for anything else. Maybe “fraud”. Of course, the government does have a very fine definition on what is “fraud”. The reasons for that are not purely legislation; the definition of fraud has been carefully crafted and altered over time by the court system. Since we can “duck type” fraud (to use a Guido-ism used by the Python community) — we know what fraud looks like when we see it, judges can, over time, look at individual cases and say “yes, that’s fraud” or “no, that’s not fraud.” That’s how our defintion “fraud” changes and evolves over time and it is the entire reason for the judicial branch of government.

    Given a legislative definition of “torture,” the same thing will happen in the legal system that happened with the definition of “fraud.” ESR’s definition is probably as good a starting point as any.

  101. Gerry Says:
    > I think you’ve made a mistake with this post.
    > As soon as you’ve put it in words, people immediately set to testing the boundaries of your definition.

    I think you are misinterpreting what makes Eric’s definition so good. Every time a politician passes an important criminal law, they fight the same kind of battle you are describing, trying to find the right definition. Then a judge in a court has to interpret the law that was passed.

    We could pass a law saying simply “torture is illegal” in those exact three words. That would be very clear to a judge, but they would then proceed to define torture in some way differently from every other judge in the country. In some jurisdictions, waterboarding would be legal, in others, illegal. Evil bureaucrats could game that system by arresting/capturing important suspects in jurisdictions known to be lenient in their definition of torture.

    Alternately, we could pass a law containing very specific lists of what does and does not constitute torture. Electroshock? Check, that’s torture. Waterboarding? Check. Hanging panties on their head? Improper treatment perhaps, but not torture. The trouble with lists is that lists make it even easier for evil bureaucrats to game the system. All they have to do is invent a new kind of torture that isn’t on the list.

    The challenge in creating a new law is walking a fine line somewhere inbetween too vague a definition and too specific. ESR has done a good job of walking that fine line in the OP. A judge could take ESR’s definition and generate his own list of what is and is not torture. There is still some vagueness in the definition, but that vagueness has been moved to the definition of the phrase “irreversible harm”, a much narrower topic than the word “torture”.

  102. Upthread I was thinking that ESR’s definition contained the word “permanent” in place of “irreversible”. (Duh, thanks memory.)

    I think a better definition would use the word permanent. Irreversible is too strong a word.

    Although goddinpotty and Dan are not going out of their way to engage in civilized debate, I can see how somebody would wonder what trucks you could drive thru the word “irreversible”. You chopped off the prisoner’s hands? Medical science is likely to someday be able to regrow new hands, and block out the memories, therefore the injury is not irreversible, therefore it wasn’t torture.

  103. Kind of off topic however…

    To see how this operates, let us consider the term “genocide” again. If a fictional “human-rights” organization named the ULCA were to use the term “genocide” for the killing of a hundred people out of a total population of ten thousand of the fictional Nohopistani ethnic group, we would almost certainly dismiss it as hyperbolic.

    When I read that, I couldn’t help but think of how the word “decimation” has changed over the years. Modern parlance gives it the meaning of losing a “large percentage”. We decimate the fish population by overfishing etc… However the original latin term simply stood for “one in ten”. An example would be to kill every 1 man in 10 (by lots) of a legion as punishment (common in cases of mutiny apparantly). 10% is not a large percentage.

  104. I can see how somebody would wonder what trucks you could drive thru the word “irreversible”. You chopped off the prisoner’s hands? Medical science is likely to someday be able to regrow new hands, and block out the memories, therefore the injury is not irreversible, therefore it wasn’t torture.

    I’d argue that anyone playing the “we’ll be able to fix it with science someday” card should fail at logic forever.

    If the prisoner has no expectation of the injury being reversible i’d argue that would probably count as irreversible.

    If it were to become international law perhaps the caveat that for it to not count as torture the holding party is responsible for applying the reversing procedure at some specific time period afterwards (e.g. 30 days). Here’s a question. Would “complications in surgery” to correct the result of an “interrogation procedure” (that is to say a potential torture technique that fails on the grounds of reversibility) count as evidence of torture?

    As another theoretical circumstance… imagine a method similar to that used by V on Evie in “V for Vendetta”. The victim is told that (s)he is being held on charges of treason(substitute whatever serious crime here). If they give all information in relation to then they will be set free. Otherwise they will be executed. These question sessions (interspersed by whatever detention mechanism is considered lawful and legal) continue until they are told “This is your final chance, Tell me everything you know about or you will be executed”. If at any stage the victim gives information the question sessions are terminated. If the victim comes to the final stage and says nothing the victim is kept in detention (the execution is a lie).

    Would that be torture? I believe the question comes down to, as you’ve said, can we show “irreversible” psychological trauma.

  105. >If the prisoner has no expectation of the injury being reversible i’d argue that would probably count as irreversible.

    Agreed – because that’s where both the coercion and the psychological trauma lies. I actually thought about making this explicit in the OP, but couldn’t find a good place to fit it gracefully.

  106. JonB Says:
    >I’d argue that anyone playing the “we’ll be able to fix it with science someday” card should fail at logic forever.
    >If the prisoner has no expectation of the injury being reversible i’d argue that would probably count as irreversible.

    Agreed, my example was over the top.

    esr Says:
    >>If the prisoner has no expectation of the injury being reversible i’d argue that would probably count as irreversible.
    >Agreed – because that’s where both the coercion and the psychological trauma lies. I actually thought about making this explicit in the OP, but couldn’t find a good place to fit it gracefully.

    What about a less-sci-fi example? Imagine that today ESR’s definition is adopted as international law and everyone in the world agrees that waterboarding is torture. Victims of waterboarding are thoroughly reviewed by psychologists and doctors and are shown to have severe physical and psychological damage. A year later they are reviewed again and the physical damage is gone, the bodies healed themselves. But the minds are still “mush”… massive water phobias, claustrophobia, panic attacks, etc., whatever.

    Ten years later they are reviewed again. Half of the subjects appear to have mostly blocked out the memories of the trauma and some of those individuals have no obvious psychological damage anymore, the minds healed themselves. Evil people use this as “proof” that, under ESR’s definition, the damage was reversible. Suddenly the courts are confused about whether waterboarding really constitutes torture.

    The definitions of irreversible and permanent, for reference:

    ir·re·vers·i·ble: not reversible; incapable of being changed

    per·ma·nent: 3. long-lasting or nonfading

    Irreversible strongly implies that the condition will never improve, it is closer to definition #1 of permanent. Permanent definition #3 is loose, it implies that if no improvement is observed over a long period of time, then it was torture. A permanent #3 condition can be reversed after a long period of time, but up until the reversal it still counted as permanent.

  107. > Maybe it’s just the way I’m wired, but I’m not going to lose sleep if the head of some terrorist cell gets smacked around a little bit, or is forced to stand in one spot staring into the corner for a day or three.

    And you of course have certainty it’s a head of some terrorist cell well in advance.

    > The above statement suffers from the exact same kind of meaninglessness in the absence of a definition of “torture”.
    > I think it is very important to have a clear, morally serious, and shared definition of the word “torture” for the same reason it is important to have a clear, morally serious, and shared understanding of the word “genocide”.

    The problem with having clear definitions for morally repugnant actions is that they absolve you from thinking. Once you give someone in authority the power to define, the “I was just following the orders” defense becomes more acceptable.

    You don’t need a clear definition to decide that the statement “We do not torture” is contradictory to policies allowing waterboarding or to outsourcing the act to other countries.

  108. >Hilarious. The little chickenhawk that could. How predictable.

    Why aren’t you off fighting terrorists, coward?

  109. One point I would like to bring up I don’t think anyone has made:

    Fighting terrorists is not morally the same as being a terrorist.

    These people hate us and would like to destroy our way of life. Their beef, at root, is with freedom and western civilization itself.

    They want to kill, maim, and spread terror. We would like to stop them.

    Just like fighting nazis doesn’t make you one, fighting terror doesn’t make you a terrorist.

    Even if sometimes we have to get a little rough with interrogation.

  110. >>> I’m against the horror of torture. All right-thinking people should be against torture; civilized societies have long abandoned the practice. Torture makes us look bad in the eyes of the world. If you’re not against torture, someone may do it to you someday.

    This is a good point and hard to argue with.

    But I would like to point out that if you are opposed to torture, someone still might torture you.

    There are some nasty characters in this world who must be dealt with seriously.

  111. You missed the point. Dan was doing his usual thing of accusing people who are against torture of not being willing to physically protect torture victims (from him lol):

    >None of you have sufficient courage of your convictions to stand in between a duly processed jihadi and someone like me (an advocate of torture). You will huff and puff, but ultimately you will always seek someone else to risk their neck in the name of your vanity. Which, of course, adds cowardice to your sins.

    So if people have to back up their opinions with the will to do something about them, why isn’t Dan off overseas fighting people? Because he is the true coward, so terrified by a bit of death on home soil that he’ll have someone else subject anyone he perceives as an enemy to torture to protect himself. Of course, he says he would torture himself, but he will never actually go through with it, being a big pansy.

  112. The problem with having clear definitions for morally repugnant actions is that they absolve you from thinking. Once you give someone in authority the power to define, the “I was just following the orders” defense becomes more acceptable.

    This strikes me as a rather insane attempt to turn the tables. Our civilization isn’t a “top-down” authortarian (well, not yet, anyway.) The national argument about what constitutes torture is very much a part of what establishes the legal framework. Bush, for instance, didn’t simply “decree” that waterboarding wasn’t torture. The C.I.A. told him they thought it would work on KSM, so Bush brought the idea to his lawyers at Justice, had them compose a brief defining the limits of it, and then presented the brief to elected representatives in the Senate Intelligence Committee, who didn’t protest, but rather asked “how can we help?”

    To make matters worse, when the Supremes declared Gitmo prisoners (of which KSM was one and Zubaydah was another) covered by Geneva, we now were in a legal framework which had loopholes you could drive a truck through; for instance, the meaning of “severe” pain. Even more harrowing was the fact that, under any rational standard, KSM and his al Qaeda would fit the exact profile of “illegal combatants.” They wore no uniforms, regularly killed unarmed non-combatants, nested themselves amongst civilian populations to use them as human shields, tortured and murdered both military and civilian captives (on tape, no less), used mines and IEDs and basically broke every rule of warfare listed by Geneva.

    Essentially, we suddenly had a form of interrogation that, though narrowly applied, was repugnant to most moral sensibilities but open to interpretation under the law. The answer for those who are truly against torture, and not preening, is not to define torture “more vaguely.” That’s insane. It’s already too vaguely defined. It’s also not the answer to create a “list of banned techniques” because it doesn’t cover anything outside the list. I think we need to do something along the lines of what Eric suggests; test *all* techniques via some mutually agreed standard. Eric has proposed such a test. Saying “there should be no legal test, we’ll ‘know it when we see it” is truly to avoid thinking about it, and the surest way to provide cover for torturers. Amazing that so many people seem to be missing the fact that t prevent torture, we must do the hard work of defining it.

  113. esr: Is it your intent to establish a workable moral/ethical standard of “torture” or a legalistic one?

    It seems to me that the former will always rely upon some degree of claim to “moral authority” that will be disputative in nature to multiple someones else for varying reasons and thus likely to fail your stipulation of wide acceptance. If the latter, then how do you (or anyone else) seriously seek to propose a legal code that doesn’t explicitly take into account similar (to the point of indistinguishable except as to intent of application) practices that are quite legally and acceptably performed within stipulated societal settings (like military/law enforcement personnel training for only one example).

    I admire your effort on this topic, but I suspect such will always result in only further refinement of degrees of ambiguity. Stipulating that periodic re-examination of such thorny topics is itself useful if only to permit others to increase their personal understanding of the topic, do you think the definitional process would benefit from some attempt to weight the activities mathmatically (as occurs in the practice of medical triage)? I’m thinking a fairly straightforward +/- numeric scale of degree of good/bad with an alphabetic sub-code of explanitory exceptions to the (somewhat arbitrary) “norm” of “proper behavior” in a coercive custodial setting perhaps (I shudder to think what Orwell would think of that last bit).

    Which would quickly lead to the need for a mechanism to apply such a scale to other settings, of course (eg: how would such an evaluative measure be applied to distinguish between the activities of Jeffrey Dahmer and the survivors of that plane crash in the Andes when members of the soccer team ate their dead team mates?). As a fellow guncarrier you might appreciate the difficulties arising from such an ethical/moral standard being applied to the (leave aside for the moment how artificial) distinction between shooting to kill and shooting with the intent to wound would prove to be in practice. Would a guard shooting an escaping prisoner in an extremity that resulted in loss (or even just permanent imparement) of some portion of said limb rise to the level of “torture”? Said loss (even if only as a result of life-saving surgical intervention post-shooting) would directly result from the deliberate infliction of excessive pain causing permanent damage (which meets all of your initial criteria, I believe).

    Every code or standard of behavior of which I am aware relies on a substantial degree of willing acceptance of and active compliance by it’s adherents in order to function at all. Given that this topic revolves in part around those actively pursueing oppositional behaviors (as opposed to mere a- or anti-social behaviors; ie: criminality), I have to wonder if there shouldn’t be two (or more) explicitly different definitions developed to measure and describe such extraordinary activities?

  114. Why aren’t you off fighting terrorists, coward?

    Way to double-down on dumb.

    For the record, i’ll happily take someone at their word if they wish to claim that they do have sufficient conviction to physically intervene on behalf of an enemy agent being subjected to torture. I know it’s easy to make claims on the intertubes, but ultimately you’re only lying to yourself. My challenge on this issue is more of a thought experiment…..I’m not literally challenging every anti-torture person to a fight. Funny how that liberal nuance-o-meter never seems to figure such things out.

    I am too old and untrained to join up and fight terrorists abroad, but I am armed and ready to defend what part of our homeland I can. Roger no doubt thinks that is “somebody elses job”…most cowards do.

    And if I ever got my hands on one of those goons, and urgently needed info to save lives….you’d better believe i’d turn his world inside out. ‘Law’ be damned.

  115. Sounds like a pretty lame excuse to me. If you’re not physically intervening overseas, you do not have the conviction to do so – it’s as simple as that. You wouldn’t even have to join the military. You can say you’re “ready to defend” the homeland, precisely because you know it will never come to that.

    In any case, this is just more typicaltougher-than-thou e-thug nonsense from a known simpleton. The fact is, I don’t care about foreign agents one bit; that doesn’t mean I think torture is the correct course of action. Deep within an emotional state as you are, you’re not able to hold an opinion this “nuanced”.

  116. The issue is that Eric’s definition of torture (which he did not “argue for” — he pulled it out of his ass) is different from common usage and legal usage and seems designed specifically to exclude (and excuse) the modern non-invasive forms of torture including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, cold, and stress positions. I’ve challenged him to make his views clear on this and he started being cute, so my original judgement still stands.

    First–did you read the OP? The majority of it consists of detailed argument for his proposed definition. You fail at reading comprehension.

    Second–The ‘common usage’ you refer to is, essentially, the ‘I know it when I see it’ test; of course ESR’s definition is ‘different from’ that, if only in that it, unlike the common usage, is specific. I’m not sure what legal usage you refer to, but if it’s the aforementioned one from the UN Convention Against Torture, then yes, ESR’s is ‘different from’ that, because unlike it ESR’s doesn’t have loopholes you could drive a standard-issue truck through.

  117. Sounds like a pretty lame excuse to me. If you’re not physically intervening overseas, you do not have the conviction to do so – it’s as simple as that. You wouldn’t even have to join the military. You can say you’re “ready to defend” the homeland, precisely because you know it will never come to that.

    So you’re suggesting that you can’t be considered to seriously hold a belief unless you take physical action in its favor? Seems a bit demanding–can you not sincerely be against murder without hanging around in the inner city interfering with gang shootings?

  118. >So you’re suggesting that you can’t be considered to seriously hold a belief unless you take physical action in its favor? Seems a bit demanding–can you not sincerely be against murder without hanging around in the inner city interfering with gang shootings?

    You are dumb. Dan originally made the suggestion that the anti-torture side lacked the conviction to physically intervene (a claim which, on its face he has no evidence for anyway). I was pointing out that he clearly lacks the conviction to go and fight the good fight overseas, since it’s quite possible for him to go and do this. I don’t think there is any problem with that, except that he is trying to play the tough-guy, but when it comes down to it’s pretty clear he’s got clay feet.

  119. So none of us have the right to fight our enemies overeseas unless we, personally, are over there doing it with a rifle in our hand?

    Therefore, those us who are not currently in the military must therefore be opposed to it?

    Do you include Barack Obama in that?

  120. Tom D-H said: First–did you read the OP? The majority of it consists of detailed argument for his proposed definition. You fail at reading comprehension.

    Yes. It says that the definition of torture should be limited to actions that cause irreversible damage, but as far as I can tell no argument is given for this proposition other than that it feels right to esr. Perhaps I missed something, so feel free to point out to me the alleged arguments.

  121. I was pointing out that he clearly lacks the conviction to go and fight the good fight overseas, since it’s quite possible for him to go and do this

    Tripling down on dumb. You’re one of those ‘dig yourself deeper’ trolls.

    Nobody outside the military and authorized ‘contractors’ is getting into hot zones armed, you fucking cretin.

    You’re done. Fool.

  122. >Nobody outside the military and authorized ‘contractors’ is getting into hot zones armed, you fucking cretin.

    If it’s not possible to get into hot zones armed, how are terrorists doing it? You’re not very smart, are you? You would most definitely be able to get into the country and obtain a weapon, your IQ of <90 notwithstanding.

  123. Irreversible strongly implies that the condition will never improve, it is closer to definition #1 of permanent.

    I grok irreversible to weigh more emphasis on the “incapable of being changed” part of your definition.

    So given your waterboarding example, the process is still irreversible in the way that although it will potentially “fix itself” given time, there’s no process we can put in place to reverse the damage. The only thing we can do is wait.

    Having said that, i’m not sure that helps at all wrt psychological damage since my (hugely limited) understanding of that kind of trauma is that it’s largely a case of fixing itself with the psychologist attempting to make sure the process doesn’t stagnate.

  124. Actually I wonder if we need to treat physical torture and psychological torture differently in our definitions.

    I don’t think ESR’s definition is controversial in terms of physical torture. Irreversibility is intuitively reasonable. The problem edge cases seem to cluster around psychological torture.

  125. The way things are headed, every jihadi will be taught to scream and demand a lawyer. There will be flocks of them engulfing Gitmo just itching to cash in. They will all empl oy ‘experts’ to testify about the irreversable trauma these innocent people have suffered and the hands of the war criminals.

    Our suicidal swan dive off the vanity ladder will be spectacular.

  126. Principally, this dysfunctional mess has been engineered by those that do not have the best interests of the US in mind – both foreign and domestic politicians.

    Sadly, our own “anti torture” crowd are unwittingly the “useful idiots” that the pricipal villains will exploit….all because of their emotional fragility masqueradng as a ‘moral cause’…..unwilling and/or incapable of summoning the grit required to fully explore every possible avenue for securing innocent lives. Preemptively dismissing any possibility for using torture because it’s too icky…masking such weakness with feeble handwavey blather about how torture corrupts.

    I care about our lives, I don’t care about theirs…this is survival 101. Every space you carve out as being impermissible is a space they will try to occupy and exploit.

  127. >The way things are headed, every jihadi will be taught to scream and demand a lawyer.

    This sounds like an excellent outcome.

    First they’ll demand lawyers, but then it will be votes, then free speech, then jobs, then healthcare. Isn’t that how we’re meant to win this “war”?

  128. >Sadly, our own “anti torture” crowd are unwittingly the “useful idiots” that the pricipal villains will exploit….all because of their emotional fragility masqueradng as a ‘moral cause’…..unwilling and/or incapable of summoning the grit required to fully explore every possible avenue for securing innocent lives. Preemptively dismissing any possibility for using torture because it’s too icky…masking such weakness with feeble handwavey blather about how torture corrupts.

    Though it’s true that there is a lot of mindless and unhelpful liberalism going around, your position is just the reverse, and is equally moronic. It also takes absolutely no “grit” to be pro-torture. The fact that you reflexively cast aspersions on peoples’ character because they’re not as enthusiastic about showing “grit” by posting things on the Internet just shows how stupid you are (like Palin stupid).

  129. No Pete. Our mortal enemies aren’t going to be allowed to surf your demented notion of a civil rights crusade. They will hopefully be imprisoned or killed. Or left to live a pitifully squalid medieval subsistence in some godforsaken hole.

    At least, this is their fate if justice is to be done.

    Of course, you’re welcome to campaign for their release into your neighborhood. You certainly won’t enjoy the consequences.

  130. It also takes absolutely no “grit” to be pro-torture.

    Is anyone here actually pro-torture?
    The closest i’ve seen is William O. B’Livion’s comment that is best summed up as “I’m not going to lose sleep if the head of some terrorist cell gets smacked around a little bit, or is forced to stand in one spot staring into the corner for a day or three.” while in the same post pointing out things that are inferred to go beyond the pale (rape and execution rooms).

    If you’re going to say “we never do this.” then it pays to understand exactly what you’re talking about and why. In truth the argument of pro or anti torture is almost out of place in this discussion. If you don’t agree on your definitions (and even in just this thread it’s clear that people don’t) then that discussion is a complete and total waste of time.

    Which is kind of the point of the original post.

  131. >esr: Is it your intent to establish a workable moral/ethical standard of “torture” or a legalistic one?

    I was intending an ethical standard that could be joined with certain contingent facts (such as, for example, the degree of sleep deprivation that can be expected to cause irreversible heart damage) to produce a legal standard.

    >It seems to me that the former will always rely upon some degree of claim to “moral authority”

    What a peculiar idea! Ethical principles don’t depend on anyone’s “moral authority”; they are logical developments of “do as you would be done by”. Perhaps you have this category confused with moral principles, which do generally derive ultimately from authority or some sort of religious basis. I admit that I may have encourage the confusion by using the term “morally serious”, but my essay was actually almost entirely ethical analysis. Anyone can do that, the analysis stands or falls on sound consequential analysis rather than the authority of the speaker.

  132. Is anyone here actually pro-torture?

    Insofar as it can become a useful part of an interrogation toolkit, yes.

    This isn’t mindless cheerleading “yay torture!”, but a clinical & serious desire to ensure we capitalize on all viable means of eliciting information under particular circumstances. As you point out, definition of terms is critical….to avoid the moralistic pantomime if nothing else.

  133. > Amazing that so many people seem to be missing the fact that t prevent torture, we must do the hard work of defining it.

    The reason being? How much better do you think the 8th Amendment would be if it had a definition of cruelty baked in?

  134. Ajax: the reason is that you are dealing with nerds here, not people accustomed to actual human thinking.

  135. Does torture actually get you useful information? Does interrogation? How often do they get you false information, or half-truths? How do we know this? Everybody is trying to justify some sort of line between the two without first even proving that either one worth the effort.

    No, you don’t get away with claiming that it’s obvious that torture and interrogation get you useful information.

  136. not people accustomed to actual human thinking

    I think you’re being unnecessarily personal here. It’s not all Asperger’s, there’s Tourette’s and all sorts. Neurodiversity be praised.

  137. No, you don’t get away with claiming that it’s obvious that torture and interrogation get you useful information.

    For the purpose of this discussion (as opposed to the rat hole that has engulfed it) no one needs to. Defining what exactly we mean when we say “torture” does not actually require a moral stance on how much support we give it. In fact any statement made to that effect weakens the discussion by adding emotive noise.

  138. Does torture actually get you useful information? Does interrogation?

    Empirically yes. Police successfully interrogate people all the time. Although we likely won’t know the whole story for some time, the use of torture – like waterboarding – has yielded important results too.

    I think the “torture never works” charge is simply unserious. The question should be “how can it be effective?”…and answering this is complex, and arguably revolves around an approach skilfully tailored to each subject.

    Some low-level grunts may well break under harsh good cop/bad cop interrogation.The more resilient the subject becomes, through training and/or zeal, the greater the challenge. Some may well be deemed “unbreakable”, at which point you pack up your tools and lock them away.

    The moment you know it’s futile marks the point beyond which continuation becomes sadistic…and that I will not abide – because we are better human beings than they.

  139. Trying to express my thoughts more clearly, I started searching what exactly rubs me wrong about this definition. The gist of the article is excellent, but I disagree with Eric where he thinks that some punishments are ‘trivial’ (and that little word gets on my nerves) and therefore obscure the matter. I think that some of those practices are very wrong, that using them to elicit confessions is ethically wrong, and that leaving them out of the definition of torture (or ‘torture and friends’, if you like) also obscures the matter.

    I searched for stuff that expressed what I was thinking, and the ‘pedia had this to say about the eight amendment (which, by the way, is as far from strict as anyone could expect: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”):

    In Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), Justice Brennan wrote, “There are, then, four principles by which we may determine whether a particular punishment is ‘cruel and unusual’.”
    * The “essential predicate” is “that a punishment must not by its severity be degrading to human dignity,” especially torture.
    * “A severe punishment that is obviously inflicted in wholly arbitrary fashion.”
    * “A severe punishment that is clearly and totally rejected throughout society.”
    * “A severe punishment that is patently unnecessary.”

    So, for an example (I’m not sure I agree with this, but let’s follow it), pantyfacing might not be torture, but is, conceivably, degrading to human dignity. I do think that as a punishment it is patently unnecessary (at least by itself): I do not see the case of a prisoner that would confess to something important because a thong is applied to his head repeatedly.

    Perhaps some of what happened at Abu Ghraib was not torture (I’m thinking about some of the pictures I remember, like the piles of naked men and Lynndie England smiling). It was certainly cruel and unusual punishment. To belittle it by saying it’s ‘trivial’ or ‘non-permanent’ is just as wrong to me as it is pretending that it is torture.

    Some might add that the prisoners have forfeited the right to human dignity. I’d like to know exactly how can you be certain of that.

  140. “Some might add that the prisoners have forfeited the right to human dignity. I’d like to know exactly how can you be certain of that.”

    It’s how some people are able to sleep at night. Convince themselves that their enemies are less worthy of human dignity than they are. Problem is, if we allow the ends to justify the means, then all humanity will end up as are mere means.

    But no, for some, pragmatism is everything, and anyone who believes that humans are better than the need for pragmatism are cowards to be mocked, and concern for the value and dignity of all humans (not merely ones allies) is weakness.

  141. You’re content to engage in a one-sided defense of “human dignity”…you surely do not expect your darling widdle “concerns” to be reciprocated, do you? I’ll presume not, and continue observing your ‘principled’ stance, wide as it may be.

    Where does ‘dignity’ come from, if not from within? How much ‘dignity’ is expressed by their beheadings and burnings? How much ‘dignity’ does it take to use women & children as human shields, then cynically use their bodies for a fraudulent, macabre, pantomime of grief? How much ‘dignity’ will they shower us with as they execute their next terrorist assault on our civilians? Where on the scale of dignity would you place them, and just how do you imagine they can be further degraded by us? They’re already at the bottom of the ladder.

    Our peaceful and civil framework of prosecution only holds together because we are collective stakeholders in its success – do as you would be done by. ‘They’ are alien to this, and rightly see it as yet another front to be exploited. They must be denied this front. Perhaps we should “do as you would be done by, by them“…at least we’d be talking their language.

    Doing so would degrade us? That’s all in the mind. This blather about “torture corrupts” is as nonsensical & emotive as “guns cause crime”

  142. You sound like a man who has to have an answer for everything, so I will simply say this:

    I forgive you.

  143. >To belittle it by saying it’s ‘trivial’ or ‘non-permanent’ is just as wrong to me as it is pretending that it is torture.

    There’s a difference between claiming that a practice is be trivial in itself and observing that it trivializes the concept of torture. I do not think practices like pantyfacing and Koran desecration are trivial in themselves; that they are not is demonstrated by their very effectiveness in shocking and disorienting Salafists. I do think they are trivial in comparison to torture, which was my point in the essay.

    Whether those practices are appropriate tools of interrogation is properly a separate question from the ethics of torture, for the same reason that the ethical status of (say) police playing the good-cop/bad-cop game is a separate question from the practice of genocide.

  144. @esr: Difference between trivial and trivialization noted.

    Still, some of the methods you cite as ‘trivializing the concept of torture’, such as ‘hitting with wet towels’ for the latest example, are what get my knickers in a twist. You consider them one way, I don’t.

  145. As Dan noted, we need to get rid of the idea of the golden rule, especially in regards to our nation’s enemies. To hand wring over doing things that we would rather not have done to us is ‘emotive’ and ‘moral vanity.’ If the few need to pay the price for the sake of the many, then that is what must be done, which is what the tender minded cowards who lah-dee-dah about “human dignity” and other such things that should only be accorded to our allies don’t understand.

  146. You’re today’s king of the category error, Jack. You’re certainly not thinking seriously…..very messy.

  147. I was taking this seriously until I remembered that I am talking to a man who seems to think that using a toilet plunger to extract information isn’t such a bad idea, or incase that was merely in jest, your propensity for sheer belittlement of everyone who disagrees with you shows your character for all to see. Why should I approach this seriously, in the face of that? You have shown your contempt for the Golden Rule, so I’m not sure we can relate on the same level anyway. If I am wrong about my opinion on the issue, it is not because anything the likes of you have to say.

  148. > The question should be “how can it be effective?”

    Not really. The question should be: “how can we ensure that our children will be immune to the ‘being evil is OK if it saves our country’ propaganda”.

    > How much ‘dignity’ is expressed by their beheadings and burnings?

    And of course, any person subjected to torture is known to have beheaded innocent people well in advance.

    > If the few need to pay the price for the sake of the many, then that is what must be done.

    The reason being?

  149. “The reason being?”

    Haven’t you been following this discussion at all? The entire point is that we must have the tools we need to get information from the enemy. Problem is, all the sissies on the left think that we should always be kind. They’ve never been in a real man’s job, where you do what you’re told or you’re reminded who you are in the harshest terms. Only people who succeed deserve self esteem, and don’t you forget it. Bunch of women.

  150. ESR is a therdiglob apologist, and probably also a shill for Dihydrogen Monoxide too.

    He probably even therdiglobs in his spare time.

  151. Adrian Smith: Neurodiversity is great until it leads to evil. Sociopaths also have a non-standard neurology.

  152. using a toilet plunger to extract information isn’t such a bad idea, or incase that was merely in jest,

    Of course it was.

    your propensity for sheer belittlement of everyone who disagrees with you

    You say “belittlement”, I say “critique”. It is as cowardly to evade the serious debate over effective and justifiable torture as it is to evade responsibility for your personal security.

    You cannot get past your conflation of “torture” and “evil”, which cripples you. To me, torture is a more amoral and abstract term, like “execution”. The ethical/moral devil is in the details – why, when and how?

    I can look my family in the eye, knowing they understand there is nothing I ultimately won’t do, including trading my own life, to fight for their future security.

    Your family cannot say the same about you. Should the unthinkable happen, and you are in a position to act, they know they’re fucked. All because you are emotionally incapable of making the toughest decisions. You’ll fail, proclaiming “I don’t torture! I’m too good!” and others will pay the price. That’s grade A cowardice.

  153. The moment you realize that I am not going to sacrifice my morals (or moral vanity, as ESR likes to call it) simply because some jerk over the internet calls me a coward, we can have an intelligent discussion.

    As it stands now, it seems like you simply believe that the lesser of two evils makes you the good guy. Don’t quibble over “I’m not saying the good guy,” you know damn well what I mean.

  154. > I can look my family in the eye, knowing they understand there is nothing I ultimately won’t do, including trading my own life, to fight for their future security.

    They understand you’ll be able to torture some guy to death when a highly likely need for doing this arises? How so? Because you bravely and manly claim on esr’s blog that torture is an amoral term?

  155. morgan greywolf-

    On the chance you’re still perusing the comments here:

    My comments weren’t intended as a judgment on the quality of ESR’s definition of torture. I agree that’s it’s good. I also was not trying to imply that it shouldn’t be done because it’s hard- on the contrary, sometimes that is reason enough, in my book. My main concern is that ESR’s goal can’t be achieved, regardless of how good a definition he provides or develops with the aid of commenters here. In fact, I felt that it would make it easier for people to claim he is for torture because they could now formulate an argument, for example, as “ESR’s definition does not rule out X as torture, but clearly X is torture, therefore ESR supports torture.”

    However, after reading your comment, and rereading ESR’s post and thinking a lot more about it, I’ve come to the conclusion, albeit reluctantly, that regardless of the chances success, it needs to be done. I still have niggling doubts with regards to legislation, but my sense is there will be more (i.e. under what circumstances physical intimidation, including use of violence, is permissible) and I’ll wait to see what comes of that.

    techtech-

    I don’t think I’ve misinterpreted anything. The definition is good because it supplies the traits of torture. I understand that. My comment was born out of my not thinking the topic through from the perspective of someone like ESR.

  156. @Dan: What you fail to understand is that morality is not about absolutes. The best way I can explain it is to simplify morality down to the “Wiccan Rede” (Note: Rede is an old word that means “advice”) which states, simply: “An it harm none, do what ye will.” (Probably attributable to Gerald Gardner)

    In practice, it isn’t literally possible to “harm none.” Perhaps you’ve heard of Jainism. Jains believe that all living beings, even microorganisms, have a soul, and they think it is very important not to harm anything with a soul. Some take this duty so seriously, that they walk around wearing surgical masks and wear bells on their feet to scare away small creatures and insects, lest they step on one. Even then, the likelihood that they will harm or kill another living being is still very, very high. You kill billions of microorganism all the time just breathing; you kill millions of insects without even your awareness.

    Wiccan ethics, in practice, require you to think. It’s literally not possible to harm none. Wiccans have a sense of how all life on the planet is interconnected, and how each action one takes has effects that ripple outward, like waves in a pond, or like a how a spider moves on a web. By typing this message, I’m damaging the environment, killing living creatures, and perhaps even killing my fellow human beings. My computer uses electricity; that electricity comes from a coal-based power plant. The power plant gets it’s coal from a coal mining company, who may be strip-mining it from the side of a mountain. Or, maybe the coal company mines a conventional coal mine, where a dozen or more human deaths a year occur as a the result of mining accidents. And many more are killed in old age from the hazards of breathing coal dust. And all of this because I set these events in motion, by using a few more kilowatt-hours of electricity, typing this message to you.

    But, I have to consider this: if typing this message makes even one person think about ethics deeply enough to change their own actions, whether it’s you, or someone else reading this, have I, in the end, done more good than harm? Perhaps. My intentions were certainly good.

    Hence, like the yin-yang symbol, all actions contain some element of evil and some element of good. Although torturing someone may have an element of evil — it harms the person being tortured — in some cases, it may be necessary to do so, if it is the action available to us that will produce the greater good. Perhaps you and I might do so someday to protect our families. Does that make us evil? Simply, no. Good and evil aren’t absolutes. They exist in balance with one another, and often the best we can do is try to balance them out.

    Getting off my soapbox now…

  157. I have been following the discussion here on this matter for a while. Let me say this before I start, in the interest of full disclosure, and to make clear what I am, and to avoid long discussion of morality. For all extents and purposes, I was raised by wolves. In that society, good is adherence to the convenant among the pack and evil is a transgession against that pack. This is essentially ethics. It does not extend to non-members except in time of common danger or pre arranged covenant with others. It is connected to survival.

    With regards to Dan, he has made a statement which should be universally accepted, but which some seem to not understand. To not uphold the convenat, is to abandon the linage. To abadon the linage is acquiescent to extinction. Is it better to diying in combat upholding the ethics of the pack or to survive meekly? While all should be given the right to deside for themself, any decison with regard to this has implication for all.

    As for me, I have sworn to defend the constituton of the US, as have every fit male member of my pack since the war of 1812. That makes the defense of the constitution part of the pack covenant that I must keep. I can only hope that I have the intenstinal fortitute to do so. If that time comes, Dan is welcomed as a conrad at arms. I”m sorry that I can’t say the same for some of you.

  158. This topic and the comments are evolving into a generally excellent discussion, but I would like to re-focus back to a core point made in the original post. If you conflate flogging and pantyfacing as being fundamental variants of torture, doesn’t this make the definition overly broad and therefore less useful? And if carried to an extreme, doesn’t this sort of thing trivialize an important word in our language? I would argue that destruction of language is not a trivial matter.

  159. >I would argue that destruction of language is not a trivial matter.

    I wrote my essay in the shadow of George Orwell, who taught us that the destruction of language is a favorite tactic of totalitarians. Depriving people of the language categories with which to recognize oppression is a way to make resistance to oppression difficult even to imagine, much less to execute.

    This is the lens through which I view attempts to trivialize the term and category of “torture”.

  160. Orwell made some very good points about the proper use of language, and the destruction of language by totalitarians. Those that will maul the language will one day maul you.

    This is one reason why political correctness is disturbing. There is a tendency there to not call things what they are, but by euphemisms. Differently-abled instead of handicapped, for example; or african-american instead of black, even for blacks who are not from Africa.

    I remember Ronald Reagan giving his famous speech by the Berlin wall, with the State Dept. freaking out and insisting that he not say “Tear down this wall.” They felt this was too “divisive.” But he said it, and it was exactly what the world needed to hear.

    Amazing what a little straight talk can do when we have gotten a little too used to dancing around unpleasant truths. Natan Sharansky, confined in the gulag at the time, was cheered mightily when he heard this. He and other dissidents tapped the walls of their prison to send the message to each other, and it made their hearts soar.

  161. Dan’s Frank Castle fantasy gets more entertaining by the minute. Keep up the good work, sport!

  162. >Your family cannot say the same about you. Should the unthinkable happen, and you are in a position to act, they know they’re fucked. All because you are emotionally incapable of making the toughest decisions. You’ll fail, proclaiming “I don’t torture! I’m too good!” and others will pay the price. That’s grade A cowardice.

    Oh, look! An unsubstantiated claim from some wingnut on the Internet. How refreshingly unexpected.

  163. “any application of force which intentionally causes irreversible physical or psychological harm to the subject in the course of coercing him (or her)”

    versus

    “any abuse causing irreversible physical or psychological harm to the subject in the course of coercing him (or her)”

    Definition of abuse:
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abuse

    Are these synonymous, or is “abuse” to general?

    ESR says: “Abuse” has one sense that’s about synonymous, but others that aren’t.

  164. “Torture” is the assertion of force to dominate the will of another.

  165. @Dan: What you fail to understand is that morality is not about absolutes.

    No, Morgan, I do not fail in that way. Morality is a notoriously shifty beast. I understand this, and am acutely aware of every time I lean on my ‘morals’

    For that matter, the notions of “absolutes” is treacherous…..but let’s not digress ;)

  166. There you go, abusing poor Orwell again.

    Just who do you think is more totalitarian: People like the ACLU and the ICRC who don’t adhere to whatever absurd rules of discourse you make up, or people like John Yoo, who believe that the president has the power to exterminate whole communities at his whim (in addition, of course, to torturing the hell out of whoever he pleases)?

    You are either on one side or the other. You are either a torture opponent or a torture enabler. There’s no middle ground. Which side do you think Orwell would be on?

  167. >You are either on one side or the other

    No, I’m against both “sides”. I consider the ACLU’s trivialization of the term “torture” to be torture-enabling just as surely as any language manipulation Yoo engaged in, because its effect is to make the defense of “torture” respectable.

  168. the ACLU’s trivialization of the term “torture” to be torture-enabling just as surely as any language manipulation Yoo engaged in, because its effect is to make the defense of “torture” respectable.

    I think that’s obvious horseshit. The ACLU did not trivialize the term “torture” — that’s something you’ve invented. Even if they did, the defense of torture would be exactly as respectable as it was before. And nothing they do could possibly be as torture-enabling as a lawyer in the White House writing memos that directly impact executive action.

    By drawing a false equivalence you are diminishing the real work of organizations that fight torture on a daily basis. You want to oppose torture, stop writing nonsense and send them a check.

  169. >I think that’s obvious horseshit.

    Thank you for your opinion. Now get stuffed; it’s become clear that your only purpose here is to fling feces, and you have ceased having any entertainment value.

  170. I think some context may be helpful at this point in the discussion. I posit that torture, in any of its variants, generally affects a relatively small percentage of the population. Destruction of language, however, can have a very large impact across the whole of civilized society. We all benefit from minimizing (or in an ideal sense, eliminating) torture from our midst, but would there not be far greater harm to society if language manipulation facilitated the rise of tyranny? Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot did a lot more harm with genocide than with torture. This argument does not excuse torture in any way. I merely wish to point out that those who would attempt to defeat torture by participating in language destruction, may win the battle and lose the war.

  171. I consider the ACLU’s trivialization of the term “torture” to be torture-enabling just as surely as any language manipulation Yoo engaged in, because its effect is to make the defense of “torture” respectable.

    That’s a pretty incredible statement.

    Yoo’s memos literally enabled the government to start torturing suspects.

    ACLU’s criticism, whether trivialising or not, clearly happened after the torturing had started. That’s just basic causality. At worst, criticism of lesser detainee abuse gave dishonest conservatives an opening to trivialise torture. But compared to actually getting the torture started? There’s really no equivalence.

  172. >Yoo’s memos literally enabled the government to start torturing suspects.

    I chose my words carefully. You should reconsider what you think you know just as carefully.

  173. After reading 177-odd comments and then re-reading esr’s original post, I realised what had been bugging me (more than the hysterical nature of some comments) was the premise that seems to have given rise to esr’s post.

    As far as I understand it, Eric and others seem to think that when the ACLU issues press releases that condemn prisoner abuse, they are really trivializing and thus (in classic libertarian doublespeak) actually torture , because they add the words “and torture” to the end of their condemnation of prisoner abuse.

    Pardon me for pointing out the obvious, but doesn’t this kind of miss the point?

    Yes, by all means let’s have a serious discussion about what doesn’t or does constitute torture.

    But regardless of the outcome (and I think this thread is evidence enough that serious debate on the issue is pretty difficult to hold) – prisoner abuse is bad.

    State-sanctioned prisoner abuse in facilities holding people who have not been convicted of a crime is even worse.

    Why is this even controversial?
    Unless

  174. Of course, with a little technological ingenuity and some guts by those willing to employ them, this will all become a moot point.

    There are all manner of possible weapons employed that can cause great discomfort and/or humiliation without causing permanent damage.

    Tasers (admittedly not the best example)? They’re just the beginning.

    I’m hearing that they’re coming up with honest to goodness “brown note” weapons that will even work on the deaf. Imagine deploying those whenever some pussy ass liberals think they can get together and disagree with our efforts against the enemies of our nation. It’ll show them what babies they really are, in the most disgusting way possible. :)

    In England, I hear they have this device that hurts the ears of people under 26, as a way to deter the little brats from congregating as they please, for god knows what reason. Sure, some dickless pussy ACLU types get on the waaaaahmbulance about “human dignity” or whatever they use to justify a lack of social subordination by others, but who cares what they think?

    I like where our technology is headed. Imagine if we could deploy such means, as well as all manner of other things, as a way to force the enemies of our nation to give us information? Soon, they will understand, their only right is to do our will.

  175. >I chose my words carefully. You should reconsider what you think you know just as carefully.

    Obviously not carefully enough, I can’t tell what you’re getting at here.

  176. In my view, torture consists of the following elements:

    1. Immediate threat of force or application of force, while the subject is under restraint, that is likely to considerably damage the person’s physical well-being (even if the result is not permanent).

    2. Immediate threat of committing any act or any act while the subject is under restraint, which causes irreversible and considerable pyschological damage to the subject.

    Key elements:
    1. Restraint
    2. Immediacy of threat
    3. Considerable physical and irreversible psychological damage.

    I agree with ESR that a precise definition of pyschological damage is more in the realm of medical science.

  177. It seems to me that a large part of this debate has focused on micro-level issues, such as the limitations of the definition of torture. However, the are also macro-level issues that may have great importance as well. For example, has the torture issue morphed into a political football in which various factions are using it (and abusing the language surrounding it) to achieve political ends? I suspect that each of us, as individuals, is expressing true core beliefs. But is the same true for large organizations that must rely on persuasion of individuals or governments for their subsistence?

  178. Jack, now you’re being an adolescent dolt. This is indicative of an individual that has found themself outmatched.

  179. @hari: Immediate threat? What exactly do you expect interrogators to do? Ask nicely?

    interrogator: Mr. Muhammed, could you pretty please tell us who else was involved in your plot to kill 300 American soldiers by use of an improvised explosive device?
    jihadist: Fuck you, infidel! The Great Satan will burn in hell! *spit*
    interrogator:That’s it, Mr. Muhammed! It’s time-out for you! Go sit in the corner!

  180. Consider Morgan’s comment for a moment, if that is the likely result of interrogations of the enemy under a system proposed by the moral view, and given that we are having difficulty in prosecuting them, why take prisoners? It can’t be reciprocity. They don’t reciprocate good treatment. We might argue something about the Geneva Conventions, but that typically governs the conduct of warring parties. Are we at war? If so, with what state are we at war? Have we miss applied the word war?

    The truth is that what we are doing is attempting to eliminate a threat to our security emanating from brigandage. Brigandage is an international crime. Membership in a group foarmed for the purpose of brigandage is the crime and can be punished by sentence of not less than 20 year or by death. States Actors are legally compelled to prosecute crimes of brigandage. Does not the jihadist implicate himself? Should we just hang him now? Can he cop a plea? Is this torture?

  181. >The truth is that what we are doing is attempting to eliminate a threat to our security emanating from brigandage.

    Yes. The most interesting legal precedent is actually the anti-piracy international law that evolved between 1550 and 1830. That precedent could be applied today.

  182. Consider Morgan’s comment for a moment, if that is the likely result of interrogations of the enemy under a system proposed by the moral view, and given that we are having difficulty in prosecuting them, why take prisoners?

    Consider when the police arrest one member of a car theft ring. Why bother interrogating that guy? Why give him a deal? Why not just throw him in jail? After all, he’s already been caught, we should throw him in the slammer and not bother.

    Obviously not, because that guy can tell us more about others who haven’t been caught yet. The cops might give him a deal in exchange for information about the ring’s organizers. The cops want to bring down the whole ring, not lock one guy away.

    It’s the same thing: why take prisoners? Because in taking prisoners, we have a chance at finding out who else is in the cell and where they may be hiding. Best to bring down the whole cell, not just kill one jihadist, right?

  183. Best to bring down the whole cell, not just kill one jihadist, right?

    But don’t you dare traumatize them!

  184. When I look at the original post of ESR, and the thread beyond, I wonder what does ESR think about other non-exact definitions.

    Let us look at night and day: what is the exact definition of night and day? During dusk and dawn, the boundaries are pretty uncertain. Some people will lobby for definition from the position of the sun in the sky; some will argue that, for practical purpose, level of ambient light is the way to go. Either way, you will find that the concepts of day and night are rather dithered around the borders.

    But that does not mean that day and night are as nonsensical as therdiglob. They are obviously very real, even though no two persons in the world have absolutely identical definition of their meaning.

  185. The idea that jihadis, even talibs, are a 100% hard-core ideological team is very detached from reality.

    As far as I can say, from the things I read about Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan (Kilcullen, Roggio, Yon), the percentage of hard-core believers is not very high: about 10 to 20 per cent. The rest is a mixed crew of opportunistic criminals, paid mercenaries and brainwashed, mostly teenage kids.

    I see no reason why at least the latter groups should be any harder to crack via normal interrogation as their counterparts in the rest of the world. Criminals will go for lighter sentence, mercenaries for money (and/or lighter sentence), kids can be un-brainwashed and actually used against their former masters.

  186. Morgan that is the hope with regard to taking the brigans prisoner. However, that purpose is ineffective in a system that only allows polite conversation.

    Have you ever heard of possom squads (ww2 pacific)? Those squads are one reason so few Japanese were taken alive except when command would offer R&R in return for prisoners.

    An other reason for taking prisoners is to remove them from combat humanly. This allows the possibility of enemy surrender and resiprocity for yours which are taken.

    My point was directed to the moralist and not to you. Unless they can tolerate possom squads, they should not devalue the brigan prisoner’s potential value as an intel source.

    The second paragraph was added to indicate the harm that labeling this thing we are doing there a war. I know it sounds good in the media, but with it came all the baggage of Western Warfare against an enemy which does not practice it. Had we instead declared it a military expedition to bring an end to this brigandage the procecutions may be less complicated. To prove brigandage, the state must prove that the conspiracy exist and then that the acussed is or was a member. Nothing more.

    My point here is that words matter. When we talk about serious matters, we should use our words correctly.

  187. Does the law of brigandage allow arbitrary torture of whoever the state declares a brigand? I don’t think so, but if I’m wrong please point the relevant documents.

    It’s odd to see a professed anarchist taking the side of the state against pirates, who are in some ways the ultimate anarchists. Not that I hold any brief for pirates or terrorists, but the only solution to piracy and other organized criminal violence is organized non-criminal violence, that is, a strong state. That’s why I’m not an anarchist.

  188. @georgeR — Right. If you and I are in a boxing ring, gentleman’s rules apply: no hitting below the belt, no grabbing, no kicking etc. But if you kick me the testes, what should I do? Stand there and take it? In a boxing ring, the ref will step in and either penalize or disqualify you. In that situation, yes, I should just stand there and take it because it’s ultimately going to mean that I will be declared the winner.

    Now if we’re not in a boxing ring, these rules don’t apply. If you even try to kick me in the testes, I’m going to do whatever is necessary to take you down. Different venue, different rules.

    And that’s what applies here. We are not “at war” in the sense of being at war with Germany or Japan. Our tactics need to be different.

    We still must operate within some sort of rules, however. Where do we draw the line? What ESR is saying is that we should draw it at torture — but only for a well-defined meaning of torture. I happen to agree.

  189. >When I look at the original post of ESR, and the thread beyond, I wonder what does ESR think about other non-exact definitions.

    All definitions are, at bottom, functional. They’re ways to support behavior. The degree and kind of precision you require vary with the behavior you are supporting.

    In general, the requirement for precision increases as the expected costs and risks of the behavior you’re supporting go up.

  190. i used to know some Special Forces guys who were creeped out by what they did overseas. I asked if it was waterboarding. No, they’d done waterboarding in training. It was like pushups to them. If the kid next door broke my garage window and I told him ‘ drop and gimme 20’? I’d tell his dad afterwards. I wouldn’t feel bad. They’d done waterboarding in training. It was for kids.
    They felt bad about enjoying the old fashioned stuff- hot bayonets, rape, narc on your brother or I shoot your kids in front of you, so forth.
    When we send troops to war, we know some of them will do this. Sometimes it gets useful information.
    Waterboarding is clean enough that people report it. So it gets more press. The other stuff matters more.

  191. > We still must operate within some sort of rules, however. Where do we draw the line? What ESR is saying is that we should draw it at torture — but only for a well-defined meaning of torture. I happen to agree.

    My problem is that ESR’s definition is too narrowly drawn. It allows interrogation techniques that I call torture, and I suspect that he deliberately chose that definition so that he could avoid calling those techniques torture.

    He deliberately avoids the term “pain” in defining torture, and gives the example of a surgical blinding as an example of painless torture. Fair enough, but what about the reverse? A science-fictional gadget that inflicts pain without causing any physical damage, or real-world techniques that approximate this? The “psychological harm” arm won’t catch this either – people can suffer a lot of pain without permanent psychological harm – a woman giving birth without anesthetic, for example, or a really severe migraine or cluster headache.

    So an interrogator figures out a way to trigger migraine headaches in a subject, and does so every day for several days. And then quietly whispers to the subject in the middle of one of those headsplitters “I can make the headaches go away, if you’ll just tell me what I need to know…”

    Not torture, by ESR’s definition. Is torture, in my view.

    Or to look at it another way: If pain (or even “discomfort”) is inflicted on the subject, and the subject is willing to undergo permanent physical damage to make it stop, then the pain, by revealed preference, is worse than the permanent damage. If inflicting the permanent damage is torture, then what does this make inflicting the pain?

  192. >He deliberately avoids the term “pain” in defining torture, and gives the example of a surgical blinding as an example of painless torture. Fair enough, but what about the reverse? A science-fictional gadget that inflicts pain without causing any physical damage, or real-world techniques that approximate this?

    It’s not clear that even the “knives and cattle-prods and blowtorches” from esr’s moral vanity post would be covered, so long as only temporary injuries were inflicted.

  193. Deep Lurker,

    If we consider pain, we need a way to quantify it that cannot be gamed – by either people who want to torture or by people who want to avoid successful interrogation. See the example above where a person who wants to torture claims that his method isn’t too painful. Since we don’t have an objective way to measure it yet, using pain in a definition is too vague – both to allow interrogation and to prevent torture.

    This even applies to interrogation by kindness. A cold cup of water is more of a kindness when someone is hot and thirsty. But hot and thirsty is a form of pain. This gets to the root of the issue. A couple of degrees too hot or cold is not torture, although it might make either a hot or cold drink more of a kindness. Four hundred degrees too hot or cold is torture.

    I have to say that if we did have an objective way to measure pain I might very well scrap Eric’s definition in a heartbeat – and maybe so would he.

    If we could invent such a device it would be very useful for medicine, especially pediatric and veternary medicine. Perhaps instead of giving so much money to Amnesty International and the Red Cross we should spend some in support of prizes for devices which can objectively measure pain.

    Yours,
    Tom

  194. The Russians practice a form of chemical induce pain as a technique to extract information and to punish some time ago.

  195. >I have to say that if we did have an objective way to measure pain I might very well scrap Eric’s definition in a heartbeat – and maybe so would he.

    No. Remember the painless-blinding example case.

  196. > No. Remember the painless-blinding example case.

    OK, but would you add a pain clause? I would, just because it would solve so many problems. Here is the new text:

    When I use the term “torture”, I intend it to apply to any application of force which intentionally causes irreversible physical or psychological harm to the subject, or to any method which intentionally produces pain in excess of T units in the course of coercing him (or her).

    We would have to argue about the value for T, of course.

    Yours,
    Tom

  197. >It’s not clear that even the “knives and cattle-prods and blowtorches” from esr’s moral vanity post would be covered, so long as only temporary injuries were inflicted.

    Theoretically, you’re correct; these could be applied in such a way as to not cause permanent damage. In practice, these techniques fall within the envelope what can be rationally expected to cause permanent damage. The applicable presumption is (as I said in the post) that these techniques are torture.

  198. “Jack, now you’re being an adolescent dolt. This is indicative of an individual that has found themself outmatched.”

    I thought it was simply a good tangent, that perhaps in the future instead of outright torture, we could simply invent devices that render dissidents and terrorists incapable of meaningfully opposing our will.

    What is your problem with that? I thought you were all about doing what needs to be done.

  199. >We would have to argue about the value for T, of course.

    And that’s one reason I didn’t even try to include such a clause. There isn’t even a measure for T, much less any basis on which one can justify a threshold.

    There’s also a second-order concern; if such a threshold were part of the definition, I would expect torturers to game it in inhumane ways. Some of the ways I can imagine are probably more permanently damaging than acute pain.

  200. One of the problems it solves is that time is a great healer, and an unscrupulous interrogator could seek a level of psychological harm to the subject which would not be irreversible, but which would be so painful that the traditional definition of torture would consider it torture. People do recover psychologicallly from some pretty nasty injuries and diseases. Consider having your fingernails pulled out. Definitely matches the traditional definition of torture. But people recover from injuries which very well may be more painful than that.

    Having a bright line is a big help.

    Yours,
    Tom

  201. > I thought it was simply a good tangent, that perhaps in the future instead of outright torture, we could simply invent devices that render dissidents and terrorists incapable of meaningfully opposing our will.

    Like a TASP? We can implant electrodes in a person’s pleasure center now. I would think any jihadi would tell us anything we wanted to know if sent to pleasure centers paradise in a judicious fashion. I suspect this would cause irreversible psychological harm, though, in the form of dependency if you didn’t stop, or permanent depression if you did. I guess too much kindness is torture also.

    Yours,
    Tom

  202. I believe torture to be a nasty business and that we should discourage the practice on principle. I also believe that there needs to be a mechanism by which it can be authorize in the rare case. An outright ban is what I opposed. Bans lead to unintended consequences that tend to have great negative impact. Consider the ban on DDT, we felt good while millions have died in Africa to mosquito borne disease. It turns out that DDT is the effective agent against the mosquito and is again in production and sanctioned by the UN for used against the mosquito.

    Who is to blame for the millions of needless of deaths? Why they were good people acting on moral and ethical principles and desirous of doing the right thing. What they had not appreciated beyond the science was the unintended consequence. That is the best face you can put on it. That is the danger in absolutism. That is what I caution against.

  203. >In practice, these techniques fall within the envelope what can be rationally expected to cause permanent damage.

    I seems we’re already into penumbras and emanations here.

    How about breaking fingers or pulling fingernails?

  204. >There isn’t even a measure for T, much less any basis on which one can justify a threshold.

    There’s no need for an objective measure of pain. If you’re not causing enough pain to make what you’re doing torture, it’s not going to work. I don’t think it’s any great loss if we sweep a few “attempted torture” edge cases into the definition.

  205. “We can implant electrodes in a person’s pleasure center now. I would think any jihadi would tell us anything we wanted to know if sent to pleasure centers paradise in a judicious fashion.”

    Now see? I can get behind this.

    Of course, some people would probably find it cheaper, and maybe more satisfying to themselves, to simply use toilet plunger handles instead.

    After all, why not simply nuke the middle east? Because we would destroy the spoils of war.

  206. Consider the ban on DDT, we felt good while millions have died in Africa to mosquito borne disease. It turns out that DDT is the effective agent against the mosquito and is again in production and sanctioned by the UN for used against the mosquito.

    DDT was banned for agricultural use. The agricultural ban meant it took longer for mosquitoes to develop resistance to DDT, which made it more effective for malaria control.

  207. > There’s no need for an objective measure of pain. If you’re not causing enough pain to make what you’re doing torture, it’s not going to work. I don’t think it’s any great loss if we sweep a few “attempted torture” edge cases into the definition.

    What about a good defense lawyer for a torturer managing to convince a judge that a few cases that you don’t consider edge cases at all are not torture? And then it’s a precedent. An objective measure of pain also prevents a torturer from gaming the system. This includes all those torturers who work for states who are trying to shrink the definition of torture, pete.

    Yours,
    Tom

  208. Oh, and BTW, pete, you can never tell what a judge is going to do if you don’t have a bright line. Just ask any pro-life or pro-abortion advocate in the U.S. It’s why our nomination process for the Supreme Court has become so tortured.

    Yours,
    Tom

  209. Pete I concur with the facts you present. Are you also saying that the agricultural ban of DDT resulting from the Stockhom Convention did not impact its use in vector control in Africa at all?

  210. >What about a good defense lawyer for a torturer managing to convince a judge that a few cases that you don’t consider edge cases at all are not torture?

    That’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid. We don’t have an objective measure of pain. So our choices are to ignore pain, and shrink the definition of torture to exclude clear cut torture like, for example, breaking fingers. Or we can accept a subjective standard, at the risk of including a few edge cases.

  211. >Pete I concur with the facts you present. Are you also saying that the agricultural ban of DDT resulting from the Stockhom Convention did not impact its use in vector control in Africa at all?

    I’m saying it had a positive impact on vector control in Africa, because it took longer for the mosquitoes to develop resistance.

  212. >Oh, and BTW, pete, you can never tell what a judge is going to do if you don’t have a bright line.

    You can’t force a bright line into existence where there is no bright line.

    > Just ask any pro-life or pro-abortion advocate in the U.S. It’s why our nomination process for the Supreme Court has become so tortured.

    The forced-pregnancy advocates you describe as “pro-life” argue for policies that result in more abortions and more deaths-in-childbirth than pro-choice policies. So which side is really “pro-abortion”?

  213. > You can’t force a bright line into existence where there is no bright line.

    It’s a hypothetical based on a useful device which will probably be invented in the next hundred years.

    > The forced-pregnancy advocates you describe as “pro-life” argue for policies that result in more abortions and more deaths-in-childbirth than pro-choice policies. So which side is really “pro-abortion”?

    Consider how many adoptions there were in the developed world before abortion was legal. When I was very young we had a pregnant teenage girl live at our house until she was able to have the baby and give it up for adoption. This was common then. It’s not now. Perhaps you are not familar either with the numbers or the anecdotes.

    Look at graphs in this paper. Explain the drop in adoptions and the increase in foreign adoptions starting around 1970.

    Yours,
    Tom

  214. pete,

    I have a reply stuck in moderation or a spam filter.

    > You can’t force a bright line into existence where there is no bright line.

    If you review the thread it was premised on a hypothetical piece of technology which is likely to be invented in the next hundred years. So, yes, I can.

    Yours,
    Tom

  215. > I chose my words carefully. You should reconsider what you think you know just as carefully.

    When ACLU is being careful, you call it propaganda. When you are being careful, you ask people to carefully reconsider, not to mention…

    > Thank you for your opinion. Now get stuffed; it’s become clear that your only purpose here is to fling feces, and you have ceased having any entertainment value.

    …sudden attention to others using vulgarisms, as opposed to, say, addressing the fact that you did not establish the assumption on which you base the need for definition (misguided as I see it in any case) – that ACLU trivializes torture.

    > Oh, and BTW, pete, you can never tell what a judge is going to do if you don’t have a bright line.

    Is this a bad thing?

  216. Ajax,

    > …sudden attention to others using vulgarisms

    Don’t offend the host. It’s always a good rule. Second, when you have offended the host, apologize, even if it is the host’s fault.

    I should probably make that second rule more general, at least for myself. Second, when you have offended someone in an argument, apologize, even if it is their fault. Personally I think I would learn more with this policy, and I always need to learn more, anyway.

    > Is this a bad thing?

    It is if he legalizes torture, right? Or makes incarceration illegal, right? ‘Cause incarceration is a really big pain. Ask yourself how much pain you would be willing to endure to reduce a twenty year sentence to zero. See this argument:

    > Or to look at it another way: If pain (or even “discomfort”) is inflicted on the subject, and the subject is willing to undergo permanent physical damage to make it stop, then the pain, by revealed preference, is worse than the permanent damage. If inflicting the permanent damage is torture, then what does this make inflicting the pain?

    A lot of people say waterboarding is torture. They make good arguments. I would undergo a lot of waterboarding to get out of jail, though. Under the argument above, either incarceration is torture or waterboarding is not.

    Yours,
    Tom

  217. >When ACLU is being careful, you call it propaganda.

    The ACLU has not been “careful” on this issue. They’ve been careless, misleading, and sensationalistic.

  218. “Don’t offend the host. It’s always a good rule. Second, when you have offended the host, apologize, even if it is the host’s fault.”

    Interesting. Would you care to tell me what hosting is like? I have never been one, and you obviously have a great deal of experience in being one and enjoying the ‘priveliges’ thereof.

  219. pete says:

    >Pete I concur with the facts you present. Are you also saying that the agricultural ban of DDT resulting from the Stockhom Convention did not impact its use in vector control in Africa at all?

    I’m saying it had a positive impact on vector control in Africa, because it took longer for the mosquitoes to develop resistance.

    Yeah Pete and how many poor Africans died of malaria for that to happen?

  220. George, Morgan Greywolf and Dan pretty much have the right of it here. ESR is doing usa favor by trying to come up with a useful definition while many of the commentators seem to enjoy mental masturbation rather than face reality.
    I don’t care if you call them brigands, terrorists,irregular soldiers, freedom fighters or whatever, 99+% belong to Islam and Islam needs to be tamed, changed or deleted. If extreme interrogation or torture is the ticket to saving American/Western/non-lslamic civilization, then bring it on. The stain on our souls will be less than if we end up having to nuke Mecca.

  221. >Yeah Pete and how many poor Africans died of malaria for that to happen?

    None. Less Africans died, because the agricultural ban made DDT more effective for vector control.

  222. As a hypothetical, a man awaiting lawful execution is tortured prior to carrying out the execution. We all see the video and agree that what was done was torture. To address the hypothetical instance within the context of the definition, the definition test would have to be reasonable expectation for long term harm as opposed to resulting in? Then again, if we change the definition we lose the objective proof of torture and increase the possibility for gamming the system. The reasonable expectation test might provide a possibility of addressing Tom DeGisi concern expressed in his 2/22/10 18:49 post. It does require a definition of what constitutes reasonable expectation but the judicial system is sure to evolve the test.

  223. On a lighter note, How about keeping our jihadi prisoners on a high protein diet featuring ham and bacon every day, bedding them down on hog bristle mattresses, and keeping them company with nice puppies. Would that constitute torture? How about Korans printed on pigskin? Come on here, time to get creative.

    I also find lard makes an excellent bullet lube and might give the jihadi’s an extra incentive to avoid combat. It works fine on my Ruger Old Army, and the bacon aroma is quite enticing at the range.

  224. Those practices are prohibited by the Geneva Convention. However, I recall reading of a Otoman practice sometimes used with some muslin miscreants that involved execution following by burial sewn inside of a pig carcus. If that turns out to be true, I am told that the POTUS has not given up on extra ordinary rendition. Maybe he can enter into diplomatic talks with Turkey.

  225. >To address the hypothetical instance within the context of the definition, the definition test would have to be reasonable expectation for long term harm as opposed to resulting in?

    It’s easier than that. The predicate isn’t “long-term” but “irreversable”, a property which can be evaluated even if the victim is executed the next day.

  226. >On a lighter note, How about keeping our jihadi prisoners on a high protein diet featuring ham and bacon every day, bedding them down on hog bristle mattresses, and keeping them company with nice puppies. Would that constitute torture? How about Korans printed on pigskin? Come on here, time to get creative

    You jest, but it I think this is precisely what we ought to be doing to these barbarians. There’s justice and elegance in breaking them with their own superstitions. It’s worth pointing out that as illegal combatants their claim on Geneva Convention protections is quite dubious, resting on a questionable (probably over-broad) reading of the 4th revision.

  227. pete says:
    >Yeah Pete and how many poor Africans died of malaria for that to happen?

    None. Less Africans died, because the agricultural ban made DDT more effective for vector control.
    Wrong pete. Dead wrong.

    While DDT saved crops, forests and livestock, it also saved humans. In 1970, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences estimated that DDT saved more than 500 million lives during the time it was widely used. A scientific review board of the EPA showed that DDT is not harmful to the environment and showed it to be a beneficial substance that “should not be banned.” According to the World Health Organization, worldwide malaria infects 300 million people. About 1 million die of malaria each year. Most of the victims are in Africa, and most are children.

    In Sri Lanka, in 1948, there were 2.8 million malaria cases and 7,300 malaria deaths. With widespread DDT use, malaria cases fell to 17 and no deaths in 1963. After DDT use was discontinued, Sri Lankan malaria cases rose to 2.5 million in the years 1968 and 1969, and the disease remains a killer in Sri Lanka today. More than 100,000 people died during malaria epidemics in Swaziland and Madagascar in the mid-1980s, following the suspension of DDT house spraying. After South Africa stopped using DDT in 1996, the number of malaria cases in KwaZulu-Natal province skyrocketed from 8,000 to 42,000. By 2000, there had been an approximate 400 percent increase in malaria deaths. Now that DDT is being used again, the number of deaths from malaria in the region has dropped from 340 in 2000 to none at the last reporting in February 2003.

    Read all about it Here.

  228. esr said It’s worth pointing out that as illegal combatants their claim on Geneva Convention protections is quite dubious, resting on a questionable (probably over-broad) reading of the 4th revision.

    The Supreme Court disagrees with you.

    More fundamentally, it seems obvious that there should not be a class of person that is unprotected by law. If someone doesn’t fall under the protections of the Geneva Conventions then they should be covered by ordinary law or some other constraining code. You do not want there to be a class of people that have no protection from unlimited government power. This should be obvious to anarchist or non-anarchist alike.

  229. ESR sorry I became confused by the descussion on the perminent vrs irreversable early in the thread. I stand corrected.

    On the lighter side, while I appreciate your sense of justice and elegance, I must caution you that to treat our friends in such a maner might cause them irreversable phychological trama. While I might just go on oblivious to their state of mind, busy in the daily chore of marking teritory and howling at the moon, we are attempting a definition that may brand you for the commision of torture.

  230. “If extreme interrogation or torture is the ticket to saving American/Western/non-lslamic civilization, then bring it on.”

    Frankly, that is bullshit. The USA is not under any existential threat from Islam. Look at the results of the jihadi efforts. All that the cavemen managed over the entire decade, was to kill several thousand Americans, which, although painful, is very much short of peril for American civilization.

    Stop using the “saving Western civilization” catchphrase. There is no freaking way how the jihadis could endanger survival of the Western civ, not as long as they do not have reliable weapons of mass destruction and means how to deliver them to Western cities – and sure as hell they aren’t going to construct them in backward Afghanistan, where the level of civilization lingers between “stone age” and “early medieval”. And if you want to damage the jihadi cause, press the politicians to stop cozying up to Saudi Arabia, which exports Wahhabism, which is arguably the most dangerous weapon of jihadism – poisoning young minds worldwide. That alone would damage the jihadi movement more than anything that you can do on some Abdullah in a “special-interrogation-room”.

    It seems to me that even the “hawks” have grown weak. People seem to forget the immense cruelty of earlier wars. Heck, the British lost more soldiers on the first day of the battle on Somme than the USA has lost over several years in Iraq and Af-stan, and they took it with stiff upper lip. What would you do to the captured Germans back then, break their bones?

    European civilization is under some possible existential threat, but not through violence, but rather demography (not enough children) + idiotic unelected politicians at the top of the EU structures, who do their best to dismantle the continent’s culture and freedom (you have the same kinds of people in the Congress, only they haven’t managed to usurp that much power). That is nothing that could be helped by torturing some idiot.

  231. @Tom DeGisi >Explain the drop in adoptions and the increase in foreign adoptions starting around 1970.

    Access to birth control and sex education results in fewer unwanted pregnancies.

    @ DarrenCardinal >Read all about it Here.

    Hardly a credible source.

    All of this is off-topic however, let’s save it for an appropriate thread.

  232. If the case that these miscreants are in fact brigans can be, then the State is permitted treat them as comman criminals.

  233. ESR said “You jest, but it I think this is precisely what we ought to be doing to these barbarians. There’s justice and elegance in breaking them with their own superstitions. It’s worth pointing out that as illegal combatants their claim on Geneva Convention protections is quite dubious, resting on a questionable (probably over-broad) reading of the 4th revision.”

    Actually, I wasn’t jesting much at all – hoist the SOBs on their own stupid rules, hell make them wear pigskin shoes and play football. I was also dead serious about lard as bullet lube. I understand the British got into trouble using tallow in India. You could have halal ammo for the “good” muslims and seriously larded to use on the bad guys.

    Re goddinpotty – Screw the geneva conventions and the supreme court, we’re fighting for our lives here. The accords pertain only to Christian vs. Christian warfare – no one else pays any damn attention to them anyway.

    Darrencardinal, Thanks for shutting down the specious DDT crap from Pete – I knew he was pulling that bs out of his ass but didn’t have the figures at hand. He probably thinks there’s a good case for AGW as well.

  234. @ pete:

    Well it is easy to say that it’s not a credible source. Got any links to back that up? Or your original assertion>

    Walter Williams is a respected scholar; he is a John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics, holds a BA degree in economics from California State University and MA and PhD degrees in economics from UCLA. In addition he holds a Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Virginia Union University. He is quite credible.

  235. >The [Geneva] accords pertain only to Christian vs. Christian warfare

    That is certainly not true, and is an utterly ridiculous claim.

    What is true is that the Geneva conventions were written to protect combatants who themselves observed the Conventions and the customary laws of war from which they evolved. Our enemies do not do this. The push to extend Geneva Conventions protections to them anyway is neither justified nor sustainable.

  236. >Well it is easy to say that it’s not a credible source. Got any links to back that up? Or your original assertion

    Go ahead a DAFS. You can generate spurious claims a hundred times faster that I can rebut them, I’m not going to start that game.

    Your link might be credible as an economist, but I don’t see why I should trust him on epidemiology.

  237. Well pete you never quit do you.

    Lefty environmentalist wackos like you are responsible for a lot of harm in this world.

    The DDT banners have killed thousands of poor people. But I guess those darkies need to know their place, right pete?

    What credibility do you have exactly? Your original claim to start this was spurious crap to begin with.

    This from the Malaria Foundation:
    At the end of this long and successful campaign, the Malaria Foundation International (MFI) and the Malaria Project (MP), led by Amir Attaran, would like to both thank and congratulate you and the many parties for valuable assistance that helped to succesfully obtain an exemption for DDT at the INC 5 POP’s negotiations recently in South Africa.

    In particular, we thank the over 400 doctors and scientists from 63 countries, who lent strong support last year when this issue was first brought to the attention of the scientific community. It was due only to this strong support of yourselves, voiced together with others in the public health community, that DDT was not slated for elimination along with the 11 other chemicals on the treaty.

    This outcome will save many lives, and it also demonstrates the power of coherent advocacy in achieving public health goals, which is a critical function served by the Malaria Foundation International.
    Further information can be found at: The malaria foundation.

    Or are you going to say they have no credibility either?

  238. Can you provide any evidence that there was ever a ban on DDT for malaria control?

  239. No pete I am not going to waste my time.

    There is this little thing called ‘Google’ that we use to do what we call ‘searches.’

    Try it sometimes, it’s actually kind of fun.

  240. >There is this little thing called ‘Google’ that we use to do what we call ’searches.’

    I can’t Google for something that doesn’t exist.

  241. > Access to birth control and sex education results in fewer unwanted pregnancies.

    Doesn’t explain the timing, pete. Try again.

    > Interesting. Would you care to tell me what hosting is like? I have never been one, and you obviously have a great deal of experience in being one and enjoying the ‘priveliges’ thereof.

    Never really been one, Jack. I learned this from being a guest.

    Yours,
    Tom

  242. I think a good question to ask here, is there any limit at all to what can be done is, hypothetically, civilization is threatened? Is there anything at all that would be considered so vile that it should never even considered being done, even if the survival of millions is at stake?

  243. As I tried to point out in a comment upthread, the hyper-focus on edge cases and definitional ambiguity in Eric’s original post (and assumed with something like gay abandon by some of the more robust commenters here) has tended to obscure a wider issue:

    Should prisoners held by the US (or any civilized society) be subject to State-sanctioned abuse of any kind, whether or not that conduct meets Eric’s definition.

    I would have expected that the libertarian answer to that question would be, like mine, “no”.

    But apparently I was wrong, although this honestly confounds me.

  244. Humans are bastards, Tom. That, more than anything, is why I prefer to err on the side of what ESR so flippantly calls “moral vanity.”

  245. esr Says:
    What is true is that the Geneva conventions were written to protect combatants who themselves observed the Conventions

    Actually there’s an interesting (if partially off topic) question (mostly directed at ESR)…

    Did the opponents in question sup from the torture well first?
    If you can answer yes to that question for any particular opponent does that give you ethical justification to do unto them as they have done unto you?

    (I know, the first question sounds kind of silly but i’m asking just so that i’m making no assumptions)

  246. Perhapse this can help. Consider for the moment, two good men, equally principled, encounter a great evil being visited upon the helpless. There is some course of action that either one can take that will prevent the trimph of evil. Both deside that the action is prohibited by their ethics. One does not act. The other abandons ethics temporary and prevents the trimph of evil. Therafter, submits to the governing authority to recieve judgement. Which action is the more principled?

  247. Without ethics we are as the animals. If there are not meaningful limits, real lines that cannot be crossed for any reason, to an ethical system, then it’s not much of an ethical system.

    However, I will humor your question anyway, if you answer the one I stated first:

    “I think a good question to ask here, is there any limit at all to what can be done is, hypothetically, civilization is threatened? Is there anything at all that would be considered so vile that it should never even considered being done, even if the survival of millions is at stake?”

  248. Our current resident feces-flinger, goddinpotty:

    More fundamentally, it seems obvious that there should not be a class of person that is unprotected by law. If someone doesn’t fall under the protections of the Geneva Conventions then they should be covered by ordinary law or some other constraining code.

    If someone deliberately rejects the Geneva Conventions by using human shields and fighting outside the laws of war, why should they be entitled to claim their protection when caught? They should be glad they’re not shot out of hand, and giving them the full protections of laws that they explicitly reject and work to overturn is too good for them.

  249. >Should prisoners held by the US (or any civilized society) be subject to State-sanctioned abuse of any kind, whether or not that conduct meets Eric’s definition.

    I understand why you’re asking this question, but I think you have a large premise wrong here. The same issues about coercive interrogation would come up if the war we’re in were being fought by security agencies funded by crime- and war-insurance companies. Yes, the history of such a war would probably look quite different, but the same issues about intelligence-gathering and detention would come up, too. The definitional questions would be just as pressing.

    The predicate “state-sanctioned” in your question does not, in my opinion, alter it significantly. What is wrong for a government-run military to do would also be wrong for a private-sector one, and vice-versa. There are often reasons for special concerns about the scope of state power — mainly because increases in it are so difficult to reverse — but I don’t see them as having a lot of relevance to the definitions of “torture” or “prisoner abuse” or the issues immediately related to these.

  250. ESR said;>The [Geneva] accords pertain only to Christian vs. Christian warfare” That is certainly not true, and is an utterly ridiculous claim.”

    Granted, I probably should have said “Western & or Buddhist, Taoist, Wiccan, Jewish,, Christian, Bahai etc.”

    but you obviously got the point – many of our historic and current opponents could care less. People who behead on television are beyond the pale and should be treated accordingly.

    “What is true is that the Geneva conventions were written to protect combatants who themselves observed the Conventions and the customary laws of war from which they evolved. Our enemies do not do this. The push to extend Geneva Conventions protections to them anyway is neither justified nor sustainable.”

    That was the point. We are in a civilization-threatening struggle here, and quite possibly not just with Islam.

  251. This blogpost now has more than 200 comments, which is interesting in and of itself. But, I wonder if we’re beating a dead horse and spinning off into tangential topics (e.g. the efficacy of DDT in pest control). Is there any interest in discussing the context of the torture issue within US political power dynamics? It’s hard to make the case that there are a lot of people currently being tortured at the hands of the US government, but I would argue that the politicization of the torture issue is successfully bending soft minds all across the social spectrum. Are we sowing the seeds of future weakness by unilateral intellectual disarmament?

  252. >Are we sowing the seeds of future weakness by unilateral intellectual disarmament?

    Er…since when was there any doubt about this? The left’s prescriptions about foreign policy and war always have this going on underneath. The Gramscian programming never changes. The only thing that varies is how well it’s concealed or rationalized.

  253. Maybe at this point it would be worthwhile to discuss the nature of “EVIL” and if the failure to recognize it constitutes a potential civilizational Darwin Award.

    (ESR? You must have gotten into this somewhere along the line -where should I look in your archives?)

  254. >(ESR? You must have gotten into this somewhere along the line -where should I look in your archives?)

    Not explicitly. But I have coined a relevant aphorism. Because the road to hell has so often been paved with good intentions, the most reliable way to recognize evil is not by its motives but by its methods.

  255. I rather like Quinn Norton’s Thought Experiment for Conservatives:

    You have a terrorist, really bad guy, plenty of blood on his hands. He’s in your basement. There’s a bomb set to go off in 24 hrs that will wipe out an American city, killing millions. Only he knows where the bomb is, and how to defuse it. The only way to get the information out of him is to get his wife heart surgery, his mom into a good retirement home, set up a college trust fund for his son and bake him delicious homemade sugar cookies.

    Do you do it?

  256. >I rather like Quinn Norton’s Thought Experiment for Conservatives:

    Perhaps not being one disqualifies me, but I don’t see how even a conservative could be confused by this. With that many lives at stake you do what you have to, whether it’s bamboo splinters under the fingernails or baking cookies. And then you accept that if you tortured to save those lives, your civilization is right to condemn your means and punish you as a deterrent to others who might use those same means.

  257. My apologies, I’m a little late to this blog and need to learn more about the Gramscian programing analog. Has anyone brought up meme engineering as a methodology for combating language destruction and intellectual subversion? It seems that we’re waging two battles with respect to the torture issue. One is to fight off ambiguity and thereby restore a workable and useful definition. The other is to win over independent thinkers that been seduced by liberal memes, such as the notion that pantyfacing is a variant of torture.

  258. >Is there any interest in discussing the context of the torture issue within US political power dynamics?

    I get the impression that esr is very ‘carefully’ avoiding that discussion. I suspect this is because he hasn’t looked very deeply at the possibility. I noticed earlier that he seemed unaware that stress positions cause irreversible damage (John McCain being a high-profile example).

    If we were to discuss US torture, I think that trying to set up a “clear, morally serious, and shared definition” from scratch this way is futile. There already are morally serious shared definitions — one potential starting point is the definition encoded in US law.

  259. The Gramscian Damage article was a great exercise in Gramascian Damage.

    ESR says: Er, no. Gramscian repair, maybe. Memetic counter-warfare.

  260. One is to fight off ambiguity and thereby restore a workable and useful definition. The other is to win over independent thinkers that been seduced by liberal memes, such as the notion that pantyfacing is a variant of torture.

    There is also another species of tar baby that needs to be surgically removed from the debate, if anything useful is to come out of it. Basically, there is a breed of rascal who tries to gird their critique of “Western dominance” by pretending that torture is not a military or security tactic, but rather a tool of empire. In denouncing torture, it’s not necessary to pretend that those being tortured are innocent, nor even remotely the moral equal of those who torture them. Those shedding tears for the puckish prankster Khalid Sheikh Muhhammed, or pretending that Zubaydah was just a friendly cab driver caught on the wrong side of a battlefield, or pining for Abdulmutallab’s singed gentials as though he were one of Fanon’s wretched, trampled doves – they need to excuse themselves from the room.

    The argument over coercive techniques has never been about scribbling some grand Factory of Torture onto the Left’s favorite imperial blueprint. It’s about defining the standard and grappling with the edge cases. To have the debate properly, we need to toss that worldview in the trash, or any worldview that claims we will not police ourselves. There is no use discussing the rules themselves if you believe we don’t (and won’t) play by them. We are talking about the interrogation of men who build human bombs and behead people on live TV. They are not morally equivalent to the person putting panties on their head, or forcing them to stand or even simulating their drowning. KSM only lives because we thought his life might serve some useful purpose in terms of intelligence. He could just as easily have been shot dead, or blown up with a bomb. What is important is not to protect him directly or try to harrass and prosecute those who treated him rough, but to restrict our laws of war so that we don’t set ourselves on a bad path.

  261. “ESR says: Er, no. Gramscian repair, maybe. Memetic counter-warfare.”

    Also, just because our soviet enemies said it, doesn’t mean that they’re all wrong.

    ESR says: The most dangerous lies are the ones flavored with a smidgen of truth.

  262. …pretending that torture is not a military or security tactic, but rather a tool of empire.

    This makes no sense. Militaries are themselves tools of empire. Particularly the US military which presides over the largest, most far-flung empire ever known. If you think this network of 700 foreign bases, and the hundreds of billions of dollars they cost each year are just to counter the threat of a few thousand militant Muslim terrorists you are out of your tiny mind.

    I still do not understand how one can be both an anarchist (or libertarian or minarchist or whatever) and be a fan of the American empire. Militarism is at the core of the state, it is what drives it and empowers it. If you are reluctant to be lumped in with brie-eating liberals maybe you should check out the paleocons.

  263. Goddinpotty,

    I would say you are a good example of someone who should be expunged from the debate because of your softheadedness, but the fact remains that you still haven’t left the starting gate. The field has lapped you twice, now, and they are coming up hot on your heels for a third.

    The gas pedal is the one on the right. Cheerio.

  264. Instead of throwing in my 2 cents about defining what is torture, I’d like to suggest a sort of a methodology for deciding such questions. Basically, look at it historically, how and why torture was banned and try to figure it from that what was that thing which was banned, and why was that so, and why was that banned. Why were brutal torture methods used as a matter of course in year 1200 and why are they pretty much unversally banned in year 2010?

    The answer that people in year 1200 were sadists or simply had no sense of empathy but now we are so much more better and more humane folks must be crossed off immediately: remember: we were born in the “enlightened” century where killing perhaps hundreds of millions with a global thermonuclear war was realistic possibility. Certainly there are better and worse cultures but the basic human moral behaviour scale is more or less fixed, there are no ages where everybody is a psychopath and there are no ages where everybody is a Gandhi.

    So whatever is left is basically two things.

    1) XII.- century-style torture was banned because the forensic methods used by police forced undergone such a development that they were no longer necessary, and therefore the humane arguments against torture were allowed to win.

    2) Our life is more comfortable, therefore our pain tolerance higher, therefore the limits of what is consisered brutal and what not are different. If you consider that that was an age where dentistry meant pulling teeth without painkillers the threshold of unacceptable brutality must have necessarily been defined very broadly, while in an age where even a minor headache automatically means taking some painkillers must mean the threshold of unacceptable brutality must be defined much stricter. The same methods of torture meant a completely different thing to the survivor of medieval dentistry and to a modern person not used to enduring any pain at all.

    3) This is all well, but with regard to terrorism anti-terrorist forces are often dealing with cases where 1) usual forensic and general police methods don’t work 2) the suspects have lived a much harder life than an average western person.

    4) This requires defining the threshold of unacceptable brutality once more a bit broader, a step back, so to speak. Not as much to as to bring back the rack and the hot irons but somewhat broader as what is common in a police interrogation in a western country.

    5) One must also apply the same historical method of to finding out – why does such a problem even exist? Why is the modern world faced with such problems? Why cannot normal forensic ways of investigation find a would-be terrorist plot while they are perfectly efficient for investigating crime within western countries? Why can “camel jockeys” beat the best modern investigation methods and why was this not a problem with much worse investigation methods 100, 500 or 2000 years ago? And the reason is plain simply following. Yes, an act of terrorism is perfectly imaginable in 200 BC, say, two dozen Syrians dressed as merchants slip into Rome and begin shooting at senators with bows, killing ten or so. It could have happened. Why didn’t it? The simple answer is that it didn’t happen because everybody knew the Romans would not bother with investigation but slaughter half a dozen towns in Syria as a collective punishment. The No. 1. anti-terrorist method in history was mass murder as a collective punishment, precisely that’s why the whole problem didn’t exist. If members of country X do something against you, you punish the whole country. That was what happened during 99% of history.

    Of course that’s something nobody would accept today, that’s why the whole problem is so new. The most humane aspect of modern anti-terrorist warfare is that that western countries don’t use collective punishment. The last ones to do that were the Nazis and the Bolsheviks.

    Forensic methods work in western countries because the population does not support the criminals. The whole basis of humane anti-terrorist warfare is that the civilians DO support the terrorists, but the westerners don’t want to punish them collectively for it. Thus you must forget the forensic methods and generally the modern police methods. Thus you must use enchanced interrogation, having not many other options left.

  265. Again, if you can’t extricate torture from foriegn policy, nor correctly parse the morality of the United States versus the stateless assassins of al Qaeda and their franchisees, you have no business debating the merit of any interrogation technique or law of warfare. You are a moral infant, and your input would be worthless.

    Using the word “torture” as currency in an anti-imperial screed is not intellectually honest, because it’s not really torture you are against. You want to defang what you see as an evil empire. If “torture” was the specific evil what you wanted to eliminate from the world, the United States would be several nautical miles down on your Enemies List.

  266. 3) This is all well, but with regard to terrorism anti-terrorist forces are often dealing with cases where 1) usual forensic and general police methods don’t work 2) the suspects have lived a much harder life than an average western person

    This does not strike me as correct, Shenpen. For the most part, the harsher interrogation methods have been recommended for use against the upper command hierarchy of the enemy, who in general experienced much higher standards of living then the average western person – not only in terms of creature comforts, but in terms of education and life options. While the enemy’s leaders often use the poor and the uneducated masses for their cannon fodder, they themselves are not “The Wretched of the Earth” but rather “The Masters of the Universe,” mad with religious fervor, egomania and dreams of empire.

  267. Forensic methods work in western countries because the population does not support the criminals. The whole basis of humane anti-terrorist warfare is that the civilians DO support the terrorists, but the westerners don’t want to punish them collectively for it. Thus you must forget the forensic methods and generally the modern police methods. Thus you must use enchanced interrogation, having not many other options left.

    If civilian support for terrorists is such a problem then we should be acting to reduce this support. The end-game is a democratic Middle East. Rationalist utopian fantasies aside, Islam is going to be as important in a democratic Middle East as Christianity is in the US. This means we are going to need to ally with liberal and moderate Muslims. This means Pork/Sex/Koran based abuse is counterproductive.

    Even if we could hope to get religiosity down to European/Commonwealth levels, we’re going to get more cooperation from people if we aren’t torturing their kids. Abdulmutallab was reported by his father. Interrogators used pressure from his family to get his cooperation. Meanwhile, conservatives have been demanding enhanced interrogation. What’s the point of torturing him if we’re already getting the information we need?

  268. He’s not soft headed, jrok. But then again he might not have realized the implications of Eric’s off hand remark:

    > The same issues about coercive interrogation would come up if the war we’re in were being fought by security agencies funded by crime- and war-insurance companies.

    As near as I can tell (from exposure to Eric and others) anarcho-capitalist theory posits private analogs to most of not all government functions. Thus it posits private militaries and security agencies will more or less be inevitable. And we’ve all read our science fiction. Aren’t private militaries and security agencies engaging in despicable things a standard science fiction plot device? Come to think of it, aren’t they a standard conspiracy theory plot device? Particularly when named Haliburton or Blackwater?

    And if we did have an anarcho-capitalist system I bet Eric (and others here) would enjoy a stint with a private military or a security agency, and if so Eric (and I, though I am a conservative, I can imagine living in an anarcho-capitalist system) would want to behave ethically.

    Eric and both anarcho-capitalists and minarchists are not being inconsistent.

    Yours,
    Tom

  269. I was referring to this:

    > I would say you are a good example of someone who should be expunged from the debate because of your softheadedness

  270. Again, if you can’t extricate torture from foriegn policy, nor correctly parse the morality of the United States versus the stateless assassins of al Qaeda and their franchisees, you have no business debating the merit of any interrogation technique or law of warfare.

    What’s with the relativistic morality? The morality of the United States needs to be parsed against its own high standards. “Better than al Qaeda” is a miserably low bar to clear.

  271. >I bet Eric (and others here) would enjoy a stint with a private military or a security agency

    Doubtful. Organizations like that need to have authoritarian cultures; it’s a functional requirement. I recognize the necessity, but I’m not psychologically well-suited to fit in there. The only role I can readily imagine myself filling is as a civilian intelligence analyst or martial-arts instructor, and my comparative advantage as a programmer is probably higher.

    My buddy the ex-special-Forces officer has hinted pretty strongly that I fit the qualities they look for – those guys have to be both aggressive warrior-types and considerably more intelligent and self-directed than the line military needs (or even wants). I’m rather dubious about this; I think I’m both too reflective and not capable of the required degree of subordination to get there. He may overestimate my adaptability.

  272. > “Better than al Qaeda” is a miserably low bar to clear.

    Are you sure? Governments are a lot like gods – we give them the tasks that would be unethical for us.

    Consider:

    Taxes = theft.
    Arrest and imprisonment = kidnapping.
    Execution = murder.
    War = mass murder.

    I truly believe that dropping the atomic bomb twice on Japan was the right thing to do, and that nuclear deterence worked. I can imagine peace. I can imagine no military. I can also imagine some sociopath ruling the world shortly thereafter.

    Yours,
    Tom

  273. What’s with the relativistic morality? The morality of the United States needs to be parsed against its own high standards. “Better than al Qaeda” is a miserably low bar to clear.

    Nevertheless pete, if someone *can’t* tell the difference (and there seem to be a few here who truly cannot), then there’s no ingress for that person in this debate. Beside, al Qaeda is hardly the only murderous, torturous entity out there. You can find many state actors who fit this description… many of them on the U.N.’s Human Rights Council.

    Oh, and if your immediate response to the UNHRC comment is “Yeah, like the United States,” you also count yourself out of the debate. It’s fine to hold ourselves to our own high standards, but to address torture in the context of the ICC – as though the U.S. is the low hanging fruit of evil and subject to the moral scorn of, say, Nigeria – is just vapid trash. And if you yearn for George Bush to be charged by the ICC while Revolutionary Guardmen are being ordered to mow down Iranian protesters in the street, or Robert Mugabe loots, burns and rapes his countrymen into poverty, you have a head full of bad wiring. Proportion matters and national interests matter. I don’t belong to a country called the United Nations, and they are not accountable to me.

  274. jrok said: I would say you are a good example of someone who should be expunged from the debate…

    That would spare you the embarrassment of having no coherent reply to my posts, wouldn’t it?

  275. I can also imagine some sociopath ruling the world shortly thereafter.

    Who do you think rules the world now? “Sociopath” is definitely part of the requirements section of job description for “politician.”

    Gods, why are conservatives so damned gullible?

  276. >Gods, why are conservatives so damned gullible?

    It’s an emotional bias, I think. Conservatives are conservatives because “authority” and “tradition” stroke their pleasure centers. They may talk about freedom, and even mean it with the tops of their minds, but underneath there’s a willingness-to-obey and a fondness for punishment that go miles deep. I find it entertaining that some of them think I could be one. The fundamental difference between the libertarian and conservative mindsets…well, I’ll just note that libertarians seem to understand it better than conservatives do.

    Where you and I see “sociopath”, conservatives see “pack leader” and give instinctive deference, even when their intellects tell them that they shouldn’t. To a conservative, it’s always the other side’s leader that’s the sociopath, even when “our” guy is behaviorally indistinguishable. You can’t argue or educate them out of this bias, because it all happens at a lizard-brain level well below cognition.

  277. Using the word “torture” as currency in an anti-imperial screed is not intellectually honest, because it’s not really torture you are against. You want to defang what you see as an evil empire. If “torture” was the specific evil what you wanted to eliminate from the world, the United States would be several nautical miles down on your Enemies List.

    jrok, anti-torture acitivists target the U.S. first because it is low-hanging fruit: we claim to be an enlightened and civilized nation and we legislate specific bans against cruel and unusual punishment and human-rights violations which every schoolchild is taught make up an essential part of our legal and cultural framework. If we cannot eradicate torture from such a nation, what hope have we of ridding North Korea of the practice?

  278. That would spare you the embarrassment of having no coherent reply to my posts, wouldn’t it?

    That’s why I mentioned that you weren’t actually in the debate to begin with. After a reams of your clueless postings, you still show no comprehension of what is actually being discussed, either in the OP or in the commentary.

    Remove clutch. Depress gas pedal. Then maybe you can climb into the debate.

  279. >If we cannot eradicate torture from such a nation, what hope have we of ridding North Korea of the practice?

    The obvious answer is that you lefties should be lobbying for the U.S. to invade North Korea and depose its government. This would lead to a net decrease in torture even if it continues to be (unusual) practice in the U.S. The fact that you do not do this establishes that reducing the incidence of torture is not your actual agenda. Delegitimizing the U.S. and destroying its ability to topple regimes like North Korea is, clearly, far more important to you.

    Now, mind you, I have no intrinsic objection to delegitimizing the U.S., but I’m an anarchist who considers the nation-state system an evil only partially redeemed by the certainty that world government would be worse. You don’t have that out. The sheer hypocrisy of statists pretending to an “anti-torture” position in order to damage one of the least bad governments there is simply turns my stomach.

  280. > Who do you think rules the world now? “Sociopath” is definitely part of the requirements section of job description for “politician.”

    If you think the politicians leading American and going back to the Founders are and were sociopaths I think you don’t know what a sociopath is.

    > conservatives see “pack leader”

    Conservatives recognize that human beings want pack leaders and try to build governmental institutions that harness this for good and prevent it from turning evil. Small ell libertarians are essentially conservative in this way, but not as traditional. Big ell Libertarians are the same, but they haven’t figured out that they have to put nearly all their politically unfeasable pet projects so far on the back burner they never mention them in their political literature in order to get elected. It’s OK to keep one or two, but not ALL of them. Anarcho-capitalists and minarchists either want to pretend that human beings really are pure individualists who don’t want pack leaders, or they secretly want to be the pack leaders.

    Either that, or everybodies views are a lot more complex than the straw men we see when we look at them, and applying political psycho babble to the out groups is more yelling past each other.

    > To a conservative, it’s always the other side’s leader that’s the sociopath, even when “our” guy is behaviorally indistinguishable.

    I don’t think so. There are sociopaths ruling some governments and some tribes and some gangs in this world. The leaders of China do not appear to be sociopaths, although China is our rival. Most of the leaders in Iran don’t appear to be sociopaths, either. They appear to be typical tribal leaders who have been promoted, many past their point of competence, and who are beavering away at graft, and trying to figure out how to ride the tiger without being hung by an angry mob soon. Hussein was a sociopath, as is Kim.

    Sociopathy is not a job requirement to be a politician and actually claiming such is either truly ridiculous hyperbole or a stupid idea you have latched onto, probably because it is attractive and amusing hyperbole. If you have latched onto this stupid idea you can keep it the way smart people do, by being smart enough to defend it even though it is a stupid idea, or you can let it go.

    Yours,
    Tom

  281. jrok, anti-torture acitivists target the U.S. first because it is low-hanging fruit:

    Another, even more honest way to put it is “they do it because it is easy.”

    If we cannot eradicate torture from such a nation, what hope have we of ridding North Korea of the practice?

    Again, proportion matters. To drone “what hope have we (etc)” provide that we must rid North Korea of the practice begs the question: Must we? And if so, how is such a thing done? History’s answer, unfortunately, is blood. Bombings, assassinations, black ops, propaganda, mercenaries, small and large scale military strikes… these are *so far* the only proven method of ending tyranny. Rule of Law and free trade could not rescue the Imperial Japanese until the atom bomb did. If one truly wants to combat the evils of the world, a strong argument can be made that the C.I.A. or the U.S. military are the most useful tools on Earth to accomplish this lofty goal. The U.N.’s odious “World Conference(s) on Racism” on the other hand, would not be so useful.

    While the left rails against the sadistic torturers of the C.I.A, their meager techniques would be the laughingstock of any respectable dictatorship… (“Loud music? How can they hear it after you put the hot pokers in their ears?”) The canards are tiresome: “we can’t stoop to their level” and “we’ll be no better than them.” The plain fact is, the C.I.A. could waterboard KSM 20 times a day, and we would still be “better than him,” and we could slap Zubaydah silly and feed him nothing but ensure for the rest of his life and still not be “stooping to his level.” Does that mean we should do it? Not necessarily. But pretending the morality gap isn’t vast and deep is a signal that you actually don’t give a fig about torture, but are using it as currency for a different argument.

  282. > Another, even more honest way to put it is “they do it because it is easy.”

    And another is searching under the street light.

    > Again, proportion matters.

    Yes. Consider some of the other things we expect our governments to do. See above and also:

    Military draft = temporary slavery, where the slave is expected to die if necessary – leftists love military drafts. Oh, and it’s for millions of people.
    Pass laws and regulations = Require people to obey contracts they haven’t signed. Oh, and it’s for everyone.
    Taxes = I said theft above, but the other phrase that comes to mind is debt slavery. Oh, and it’s for everyone, too.

    In proportion to the things we expect our government to do to everybody, torturing a few people isn’t so bad.

    So pete, are you for no draft, many fewer laws and regulations and lower taxes? For everybody? No? Where’s your numeracy? Social security taxes can take one working hour per day, life long for 300 million people in order to add a little retirement security and you can’t see the problem with that way of (falsely it turns out) enhancing our security? The cost is enormous! But waterboarding a few hundred gets your goat? Even though the cost, by comparison is miniscule.

    Proportion is important.

    Yours,
    Tom

  283. jrok: I understand you and esr perfectly — it’s not that complicated. You guys are not exactly what I would call deep thinkers. I just disagree with you. Is that so very hard to comprehend?

    esr: what evidence do you have that the US government is one of the “least bad”? There are many countries who treat their own citizens better and don’t make a habit of invading and occupying foreign countries. Of course many are worse, but what kind of standard is that?

    As for the nonsensical idea that invading North Korea would lead to a net decrease in torture, I’ve never heard anything quite that idiotic in my life. We did fight a war on the Korean peninsula not that long ago, leading to dictatorship and brutality on both sides. The deeds of the North Korean regime are well-known to you I presume; you may not know of the half-million leftists executed by the Republic of Korea in the run-up to that war? Or the torture regime we left behind that lasted until 1987?

    War is the health of the state and always has been.

  284. If far-reaching opposition to torture (in even its most mild variants) is all about moral righteousness, then why not pitch a fit about the summary executions being meted out by Predator drones? One way to avoid the temptation of torture is to take no prisoners. The most liberal administration is our country’s history is frequently opting for summary execution over interrogation, and then posturing righteously by demanding civilian trials for KSM and others. How can anyone view this as anything other than epic hypocrisy?

  285. @Tom DeGisi: Do you even know what a sociopath is? I do. Disclaimer: My wife is a psychologist. One of the biggest clues is that the person has a blatant disregard for the rights of others.

    Sociopaths appear normal to the untrained eye and know how to blend into society. Chances are good you wouldn’t know one if you saw one.

  286. morgan.

    So you’re going for smart enough to defend it then. Well, I maintain that you don’t know what a politician is either.

    Yours,
    Tom

  287. jrok: I understand you and esr perfectly — it’s not that complicated.

    You’re right — it’s not complicated. That’s makes your grasping, sputtering incoherence all the more telling. You’ve authored a bunch of subnormal paeans to Orwell (who’d consider you dangerously moronic) and told us that the Red Cross is the new papal authority, to whom we should unquestioningly refer whenever a moral quandary arises. (“Has Mark Danner written a gospel about it yet? Well then, I do not know what to think.”)

    You guys are not exactly what I would call deep thinkers. I just disagree with you. Is that so very hard to comprehend?

    That you disagree? Actual, it’s not “hard to comprehend,” so much as your disagreement is shifting, swampy terrain. You present no actual argument, just an overlapping Venn of claims and accusations. You, for instance, type mindless hundreds of words above in pursuit of claims about Eric’s views on torture which are specifically refuted in his article. When forced into a corner by this fact (which took a good deal of drubbing – you are quite thick), instead of conceding the point, you shift the subject, sliding down the drain into talk about (surprise!) the immorality of certain political arrangements. The shifting sea is not a function of a successful argument, but of a clumsy retreat.

    Here is a bit of hard truth for you to digest: you are only mysterious to yourself. Thinking people spot you from forty miles away, and it certainly didn’t take long to deconstruct you here on this thread. You essentially have no argument with therdiglob. You have an argument with the United States (and perhaps, “the West”) and therdiglob is a handy rhetorical weapon. Basically, Eric’s article wasn’t written “for” you, but “about” you, and about the dangers petulant little frauds like you represents to people in real danger of being tortured.

  288. The root of the word “poltiician” is from the Greek word “polis,” which means “city-state.” A politician, in the sense that I have used it, is either a public decision maker or someone who is seeking ot become a public decision maker. There are other senses of the term; however, they are irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

  289. jrok said: You present no actual argument

    On the contrary, I’ve provided several. You guys on the other hand…

    I repeat: what is the alleged argument that the definition of torture should be changed so as to be limited to irreversible harm?

    I scanned esr’s text fairly carefully and could not detect one, other than that it feels right to him. Perhaps I missed it. Here’s your chance to illustrate what a poor reader I am.

    BTW, here is the actual legal definition of torture from the US Code. I don’t think anybody has cited this yet. Yes, it is not as crisply defined as a C program, but that’s how law works and why judges have jobs. But it is clear that ESR’s definition is much narrower and hence is an effort to change the law to allow what is now prohibited as torture.

  290. morgan,

    I see you have two definitions under your belt. Is that knowledge of the subject? Here is something interesting. In your first reply you proved that functionally you don’t know what a sociopath is. You said:

    > Sociopaths appear normal to the untrained eye and know how to blend into society. Chances are good you wouldn’t know one if you saw one.

    In other words we cannot detect them – that is we don’t know what a sociopath is.

    Very interesting. Now let’s consider the second definition. Does it include a general requirement for sociopathy among all humans and all human groups for all time as claimed above? No, it does not. All we need are some counter examples, hmmm? Was sociopathy a requirement for politicians among the Sioux? Consider the history of the Cherokee during the time leading up to the trail of tears? Were their politicians sociopaths? You have made a grand and sweeping claim. Can you support it?

    Yours,
    Tom

  291. “The obvious answer is that you lefties should be lobbying for the U.S. to invade North Korea and depose its government.”

    Seriously? North Korea is only one fish in the sea of murderous, illiberal regimes. Liberals can advocate for a stop to torture here (it is our country, after all) and perhaps other, more realistic solutions to the problem of North Korea. Not my area of expertise, but invading North Korea is not even what the most hawkish of neocons are talking about at the moment.

  292. The Cornell link clocks for me, goddin. This might be better: http://uscode.house.gov/download/pls/18C113C.txt

    Here’s the text:

    As used in this chapter –
    (1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under
    the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical
    or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering
    incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his
    custody or physical control;
    (2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged
    mental harm caused by or resulting from –
    (A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of
    severe physical pain or suffering;
    (B) the administration or application, or threatened
    administration or application, of mind-altering substances or
    other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or
    the personality;
    (C) the threat of imminent death; or
    (D) the threat that another person will imminently be
    subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the
    administration or application of mind-altering substances or
    other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or
    personality; and

    (3) “United States” means the several States of the United
    States, the District of Columbia, and the commonwealths,
    territories, and possessions of the United States.

  293. Actually, goddin, that definition does not appear particularly incompatible with Eric’s definition, but it also appears to be more vague. The word severe is not defined.

    Yours,
    Tom

  294. >If far-reaching opposition to torture (in even its most mild variants) is all about moral righteousness, then why not pitch a fit about the summary executions being meted out by Predator drones?

    The correct answer is: “Because they can’t be used to score indignation points against Republicans.”

  295. On the contrary, I’ve provided several.

    No, only shifting sands and unthinking dross.

    It is idiotic to claim that by keeping the definition of torture intentionally vague we can either prevent it or lend it the morally serious weight it deserves in the constellation of law. I personally think that is dangerously wrong, though I am always open to being convinced otherwise. But only a fool or a liar would present the case by saying “established law” should be our moral barometer. The reasons for this are astonishingly simple: If I grew up in Angola, for instance, or Saudi Arabia, “established law” would present quite a different modelbarometer. Determining which is morally correct, or how to strengthen an incomplete model, requires thinking outside of any specific codification.

    Anyway you assert this is not true, that there is no need to think – but only in a half-hearted way, because you seem fairly ill-equipped to defend this rationale. You refer not to your own reason, appealing instead to various authorities. This is is why I remind you to put your foot on the gas pedal. If you can only argue Eric’s point by saying he is not your chosen authority, you haven’t really started to debate, or even demonstrate you can think about a subject which is fr older, even, than Marcus Aurelius.

    Since Orwell and his hatred of meaningless words is a part of this debate (again, you are not yet actually part of the debate, but rather an ancillary subject of it) I have to say that you wholly remind of his wonderful Animal Farm, particularly the tragic horse Boxer: “Napoleon is always right.” As in when you said:

    However, ther Red Cross has more moral and intellectual authority in the areas of its expertise than some random dude with a website. That’s just how it goes.

    This reveals you in ways you are inequipped to debate. You quite literally lost/conceded the debate as soon as you said this, and now persist in ghostly wailings from the sidelines.

  296. Good lord. I should apologize to morgan. He isn’t defending the notion that sociopathy is a requirement to be a politicians. He’s making the much better claim that I don’t know what a sociopath is and he does, in direct (and I believe successful) contradiction to my claim that he doesn’t know what a sociopath is.

    Then when I maintained he did not know what a politician was he countered that claim as well.

    Clearly we have an existance proof that I do not always think before I type, since morgan has shown me to be wrong twice in one thread.

    Yours,
    Tom

  297. “Very interesting. Now let’s consider the second definition. Does it include a general requirement for sociopathy among all humans and all human groups for all time as claimed above? No, it does not.”

    Oh?

    What is this debate for, then? The pro “it’s okay to be less than perfectly gentle to other human beings if we think they deserve it and if you disagree you’re all a bunch of womanly cowardly liberals” side’s entire argument seems to be that we need to squelch our sense of empathy or compassion for the sake of doing what’s “neccesary” for the greater good, or at least that is the logical conclusion of their argument.

  298. Jack,

    Now you are arguing that people who take the ‘pro’ side are sociopaths. That’s a fail. They can argue that people who take the ‘con’ side are sociopath enablers. You will not change any minds.

    > What is this debate for, then?

    To determine a good working definition of torture, in order to prevent it.

    Which means I should stop getting sidetracked.

    Yours,
    Tom

  299. Tom, I must thank you for being civil to me. It is a rare thing to see on this blog, given how so many just write off anyone to the left of them as merely entertaining. I can sense you lack their damndable mendacity.

    In any case, you are right. If humans are good at one thing, it is their ability to endlessly pleasure themselves with self serving rationalizations for what they do. Nobody will ever admit that they are the ones in the wrong.

  300. jrok,

    Well, you are plain wrong about goddin. He has appealled to authority many times but he also has some points.

    > And the concept of psychological trauma is so broad as to be meaningless.

    That’s a point. A pretty good one.

    He also complains that Eric just flopped his definition out there without arguing for it. I’m not seeing it as true, but it isn’t from authority.

    He also complains that these arguments seem to be entirely contradictory to the very notions of anarchism, minarchism and libertarianism. That’s a substantive complaint! I think answered the complaint. I think Eric did, too, but I wasn’t convinced by Eric’s answer.

    He also points out that the first Korean War didn’t do much to stop torture.

    And he points out that people who complain about torture are complaining about targeted missile strikes.

    So he has points which aren’t appeals to authority.

    Yours,
    Tom

  301. Jack,

    > Tom, I must thank you for being civil to me.

    You are welcome and thank you back. Civility takes more effort than I can manage, mostly, but I seem to be in the mood for it lately.

    > It is a rare thing to see on this blog, given how so many just write off anyone to the left of them as merely entertaining. I can sense you lack their damndable mendacity.

    I don’t think this is mendacity. It’s yelling past one another, which seems to be the purpose of any communication medium.

    > In any case, you are right. If humans are good at one thing, it is their ability to endlessly pleasure themselves with self serving rationalizations for what they do. Nobody will ever admit that they are the ones in the wrong.

    Well you got me on that one. I’m a self righteous know-it-all, especially when I’m yelling past the politician on the TV.

    Yours,
    Tom

  302. To Tom DeGisi:

    There is something very charming and endearing, in a courtly and old fasioned way, about the way you sign everyone of your posts with “Yours, Tom”

    As if everyone of your posts is a handwritten missive to someone.

    I don’t know why I felt the need to point this out.

    Take it for what you will.

    Yours,
    Darren

  303. jrok again: But only a fool or a liar would present the case by saying “established law” should be our moral barometer.

    I didn’t say that. The law often trails behind the vanguard of morality, as it did with slavery and civil rights (and drug laws and gay marriage, to take more current concerns). However, esr is arguing that we should be LESS moral than the present law. He believes we should permit more torture than is currently allowed by law. That’s why I say he is quite obviously pro-torture, despite his protestations to the contrary.

    You quite literally lost/conceded the debate as soon as you said this

    I wonder who made you the referee and judge of this debate. Speaking of authority.

    And a word of advice — people who misuse the word “literally” make themselves appear to be illiterate.

  304. Darren,

    Thanks.

    > As if everyone of your posts is a handwritten missive to someone.

    I think that’s because I nearly always am replying to a specific person or persons. And now I am wondering why I do that.

    goddin,

    > However, esr is arguing that we should be LESS moral than the present law.

    I don’t see that esr’s rule is designed to be less strict that current U.S. law. It’s more specific in an attempt to qualify severe and to avoid the problems with measuring pain. You might make your comparison more specific, since you are leaving all the work to your readers. If your comparison reveals a flaw, maybe he’ll update his definition.

    I do like my update of his definition better than his original, (and also better than current U.S. law) but I am clearly biased and an egotist, and besides I have not thought nearly hard enough about it.

    > And a word of advice — people who misuse the word “literally” make themselves appear to be illiterate.

    My eleven year old daughter has a pet peeve about the misuse of literally.

    Yours,
    Tom

  305. > However, esr is arguing that we should be LESS moral than the present law.

    According to some, our morality is what will lead us to being invaded or destroyed by jihadis.

    Personally I think we should just go backwards in time, to the medieval era, to when europe ruled the world.

  306. To ESR,

    I was wondering what you make of Ron Paul?

    I searched the site and could find no posts that specifically pertain to him.

    I ask because you self describe as a libertarian, and he is associated with that movement. He was the libertarian candidate for president.

    He says some good things, until he gets to foreign policy. He seems to want to adopt an isolationist stance. He also wants to do away with the federal reserve bank.

    So what is your take on him?

    His son Rand is running for office here in Ky btw.

  307. >I don’t see that esr’s rule is designed to be less strict that current U.S. law.

    It’s not. It does have slightly different edge cases, though.

  308. Given the current political climate in Washington DC, I doubt that any member of the FBI, CIA, the military, or any other branch of the federal government is likely to engage in any conduct that could even remotely be construed as torture. If they did, the Obama administration and the Holder justice department would likely persecute them to maximum extent that they could get away with. Consequently, this debate may be more be more of an abstract exercise than a formative guideline for real-world application. Regardless of whether our government ever waterboards another terrorist, the left has succeeded in demonizing and intimidating the few professionals that actually try to protect us from future attacks. I would argue that this is a current and tangible harm to us all.

  309. >So what is your take on him?

    Ron Paul is the poster boy for how the Libertarian Party has marginalized itself. I’m OK with scrapping the Federal Reserve, but post-9/11 his foreign policy stance is well into unelectable-nutball territory.

    This may have been inevitable. The LP platform is genetically descended of an early-1970s compromise between its founding radicals, some classical-liberal and some from New Left backgrounds. The lefties got to own the foreign-policy planks, which was merely a continuing irritation until the towers came down. Nobody in the party has since had the cojones to point out that the doctrine they inherited from the Cold War 1970s is both deeply silly in our present geopolitical situation and PR suicide to boot.

    Thus, the most libertarian popular movement in a century — the Tea Partiers — has bypassed the LP completely. Sad, but the LP’s blunders earned it.

  310. >The lefties got to own the foreign-policy planks, which was merely a continuing >irritation until the towers came down.

    Indeed.

    I suppose, like a certain think tank opined, that it really does take a New Perl Harbor to affect positive change in our approach to how we deal with other nations.

    Namely, to let the world know that 2000 will be *our* century, whatever the cost.

  311. ESR says:
    >>> I’m OK with scrapping the Federal Reserve, but post-9/11 his foreign policy stance is well into unelectable-nutball territory.

    What is people’s beef with the federal reserve? I have read some stuff about how it is a cartel of the banks, and exists to serve their needs, not those of the public at large.

    But without the fed, wouldn’t we go back to a world where each bank issued it’s own currency, as it was in the 19th century.

    Can you imagine a world where you would have PNC dollars, Fifth Third dollars, Bank of America dollars, etc.
    And the currencies would not be exactly equal to each other, depending on the reputation and financial soundness of that bank. This would be anarchy, and not in a good way.
    We need the government to print the dollars, it seems to me; and to bring a certain amount of stability to the banking system.

  312. > With that many lives at stake you do what you have to, whether it’s bamboo splinters under the fingernails or baking cookies. And then you accept that if you tortured to save those lives, your civilization is right to condemn your means and punish you as a deterrent to others who might use those same means.

    So you believe that there are cases when ethical behaviour deserves punishment? I don’t understand how this makes sense.

  313. Right, Ron Paul’s problem is that he’s a tool of the New Left.

    This stuff just gets better and better.

  314. >So you believe that there are cases when ethical behaviour deserves punishment? I don’t understand how this makes sense.

    Consider the outcome we want in that situation: megadeaths averted, and a future where the threshold for use of torture doesn’t fall. The ultimate hero in that situation would be the man who takes on the full responsibility and the full punishment for his necessary but terrible actions. So that others will not be tempted in circumstances any less dire….

  315. Also, ESR, if you want to talk about memetic warfare, I notice you use the term “unelectable” in regards to a politician with a position you strongly disagree with.

    What do you think can be done to foster more parties beyond the main two? And, while this nation is a nation by/for/of the people, what if what the people want is unethical? For instance, what if the people, with one voice, stood against your beliefs in foreign policy…would you sit by and go along with it?

  316. Jack, I believe Ron Paul is unelectable even though I do think he’d make a good President (certainly better than the community organizer in chief!). The simple fact is that, outside libertarian circles, he’s seen as an outright loony.

    However, David Frum argued on cnn.com that his call to go back on the gold standard was fundamentally impossible. The argument goes like this: The Great Depression was significantly exacerbated by being on the gold standard, which forced the US to work to protect the dollar instead of fixing the economy, lest its gold reserves be raided. The actions to protect the dollar greatly worsened the depression, and it was only in getting off the gold standard that the economy was allowed to recover. Governments of today learned from that, and even if they were to go back to the gold standard, the first action they’d take in another severe downturn would be to jettison it again – and that fact renders a gold standard meaningless, as it has no value if it’s not an irrevocable guarantee of the government. (His budget director, at the time FDR decreed the end of the gold standard in the US, called it “the end of Western civilization” – and he was not being hyperbolic.)

    I think we’ll never go back to the gold standard for a far simpler reason: it would eliminate too many politically powerful jobs.

  317. The simple fact is that, outside libertarian circles, he’s seen as an outright loony.

    He is. Far, far too many ties to the xenophobic hard core of the right to be taken seriously.

    He only got attention among lefties because Reddit tried to crowdsource his candidacy so that the two major party candidates would both have strong anti-war positions, precluding a third Bush term entirely. He’s the Mr. Splashy Pants of politics.

  318. “The ultimate hero in that situation would be the man who takes on the full responsibility and the full punishment for his necessary but terrible actions.”

    Is that straight out of The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress or rather that you and Heinlein were reading the same philosophers? In this case, which ones?

  319. > Is that straight out of The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress or rather that you and Heinlein were reading the same philosophers? In this case, which ones?

    Presumably the same ones as Mark Buehner here: http://www.windsofchange.net/archives/what_torture_is_-_and_isnt.html#c11

    And Ed Koch here: http://pardonpower.com/2008/03/koch-pardon-my-torture.html

    Not to mention whoever wrote the screen play for Guarding Tess.

    But they all believe the power of the pardon (or of failing to prosecute) should be used to save the hero. Do you, Eric?

    Yours,
    Tom

    Yours,
    Tom

  320. one thinks vaguely of sheridan in b5 (altho of course he partly weaseled out of it by declaring himself sovereign…)

  321. >Is that straight out of The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress or rather that you and Heinlein were reading the same philosophers? In this case, which ones?

    Shared background. Can’t pin down what piece of it, but I can tell you that I’m articulating a kind of particular virtue that Americans have no trouble understanding. Among other things, it shows up in our Westerns.

  322. >But they all believe the power of the pardon (or of failing to prosecute) should be used to save the hero. Do you, Eric?

    No. The whole point is that the next person tempted to torture in less extraordinary circumstanced should fear the consequences.

  323. Fear the punishment, you mean.

    “Consequences” implies an automatic reaction due to actions taken, rather than a willed action by a free willed agent.

    “Consequences” seems to be used too often to make the person perpetrating the so called ‘consequence’ less responsible for doing so.

    It would be more honest to use the word punishment.

    Lest someone think that this is a mere quibble over words, consider this:

    By using the word ‘consequence,’ it makes it sound like the person who deigns to enact the ‘consequence’ as merely an automatic thing, I know I said that already, but it also serves to imply to the person that what they do will be automatically dealt with.

    Whereas, punishment is a contingent action, one that could chosen to not be done, if the one to do the punishing decided to.

    That is the difference.

    ESR says: Correction accepted.

  324. “Can’t pin down what piece of it, but I can tell you that I’m articulating a kind of particular virtue that Americans have no trouble understanding. Among other things, it shows up in our Westerns.”

    Something similar to the “tragic hero” concept of Ancient Greek tragedies?

  325. >Something similar to the “tragic hero” concept of Ancient Greek tragedies?

    It’s probably more fruitfully viewed as a sort of minor-key change on the Jesus myth, modulated through Anglo-Protestant tough-guy individualism.

  326. I have what I claim to be a much better definition.
    For liberal societies (I use the term here to encompass societies with UNIVERSAL as opposed to tribal rules of law)
    if one’s enemy is using a certain technique on your own soldiers or even civilian detainees, would your heart cry out that its torture?
    Thats it.
    In that regard, waterboarding is, and always has been torture. I agree that loud music is probably not (unless its exceptionally loud – potentially causing hearing-loss)
    In that regard, keeping suspects awake for days on end and injecting them with substances is also torture although on not such a serious level.

    Do you agree Eric?

  327. >Do you agree Eric?

    My heart (and head) cries out that torture is irreversible trauma. Why do you suppose that would change if I were considering the treatment of “my” guys?

  328. Okay so the Vietcong’s waterboarding etc which was universally denounced as torture earlier in this country (Forgive me, I have a hazy history on this but I’m sure this was the case), was not really torture? What about the Japanese and Nazis during WW2? No? Does that not even give you a HINT OF HESITATION before barging in with a definition you are comfortable with, and which excuses the Bush administration conveniently? In other words, if the modern-day controversies had never arisen, the only source material we had on waterboarding was from those ghastly regimes in Japan and Vietnam and WW2 Germany, are you ABSOLUTELY confident that you would still dismiss waterboarding as not torture?

  329. >are you ABSOLUTELY confident that you would still dismiss waterboarding as not torture?

    Given that I know our spec-ops troops undergo it during training and don’t consider it a big deal…yes. If I didn’t, how likely is it that I’d be asking in public how I could get SERE training? I mean, I don’t expect I’d like being waterboarded, but I’m an experienced martial artist — I probably have the will and mental toughness to handle it.

    Waterboarding is probably like stress positions and sleep deprivation; causes pain, distress and recoverable damage below some threshold level of application, and becomes torture (irreversible trauma) above it. I don’t think I see any difference from good old-fashioned beatings here.

  330. >Damage and pain is fine as long as you can recover from it, gotcha.

    Well, I wouldn’t say “fine”, but I think it is useful (and appropriate to the folk understanding of the term “torture”) to clearly distinguish between damage you can recover from and damage you can’t.

  331. Alright
    I guess its just a different definition from the one that hazy, folk-wisdom, conventional-wisdom prior to the War on Terror.
    And I guess being a libertarian you wouldn’t advocate waterboarding to get information out of drug dealers as good policy either.
    So I guess there is a space that separates TORTURE from regular criminal interrogations, and waterboarding (in limited application)
    lies in this space.
    Hmmm.
    I’m just thinking out loud here and it may be representative of a lot of people who would initially disagree with you but come to your conclusions.
    I think a lot of people, like me, were simply assuming that most things that cops wouldn’t be allowed to do to suspects would be torture.
    Also the fact that waterboarding and some other things were denounced as torture by the American government in previous decades didn’t help.

    But I guess I can get behind this new definition, while continuing to believe that those techniques in the grey zone not be used on terror suspects
    etc.

    Thanks Eric.

  332. >And I guess being a libertarian you wouldn’t advocate waterboarding to get information out of drug dealers as good policy either.

    Hell no. I don’t think drug-dealing should even be considered a crime, much less one that justifies unusually coercive interrogation methods.

    >So I guess there is a space that separates TORTURE from regular criminal interrogations, and waterboarding (in limited application)
    lies in this space.

    Yes, that’s my evaluation exactly. Well put.

    Reasonable persons may differ on whether “grey zone” techniques should be used against terrorists, but I think recognizing the boundary between “grey zone” and “torture” helps bring clarity and seriousness to the debate.

  333. “Well, I wouldn’t say “fine”, but I think it is useful (and appropriate to the folk understanding of the term “torture”) to clearly distinguish between damage you can recover from and damage you can’t.”

    Perhaps.

    In my view however, principle counts for a lot, because without principles we are as the animals.

    Therefore, in principle, what does it say about us when we would do to others what we do not wish to have done to us, or to our loved ones? I know that some have already laughed such seemingly “morally vain” considerations aside, but I am not sure if you addressed it yourself, so I would be interested to hear your opinion.

  334. >Therefore, in principle, what does it say about us when we would do to others what we do not wish to have done to us, or to our loved ones?

    This is a fundamentally silly argument — once again, the sound of moral high-mindeness without the substance. I wish for every member of Al-Qaeda to be shot by U.S. troops. I do not wish for my family to be shot by U.S. troops. There is no problem of principle here, because the members of al-Qaeda have earned that fate by their actions.

  335. In other words, the Golden Rule is a fundamentally silly argument. Am I understanding you correctly?

  336. >In other words, the Golden Rule is a fundamentally silly argument. Am I understanding you correctly?

    No. You’re misapplying the Golden Rule. Al-Qaeda’s belief, repeatedly expressed in action, is that infidels should die (under torture, when that can be arranged) just for being infidels. Therefore, for infidels to kill and torture them would actually be justified under the Golden Rule. I reject torture for other reasons, but the Golden Rule is not one of these.

  337. It appears that I have regrettably misspoken, then. Too bad.

    See, when I speak of the Golden Rule, I naturally exclude the things that would go against the intent of the rule.

    When I speak of these things, it is simply of concern that people begin to care more about results than about how those results are attained.

    Of course, to believe that it is wrong to attain results through impure means is ‘moral vanity,’ even though the intent of this belief is to keep us from becoming as the enemy.

    Whether it is the cowardice of not fighting the enemy, or the cowardice of choosing the expedient path to results against the enemy, evil remains.

  338. >When I speak of these things, it is simply of concern that people begin to care more about results than about how those results are attained.

    That’s not the Golden Rule, it’s a different fundamental principal orthogonal to the Golden Rule. It doesn’t have a traditional name, but I have summed it up this way: “If you begin by justifying your means with your ends, you will often end up with your ends being corrupted by your means.” Nietzsche put it more poetically when he said “Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one.”

  339. Correct.

    In any case, that more than anything is why I hold to what you would call ‘moral vanity.’

  340. Jack,

    Oh, there are lots of folks who don’t hold to either moral vanity or the Golden Rule when it comes to their favorite groups to pillory. There are lots of such groups, and you can follow them all with the same question:

    Terrorists? Who cares?
    Corporations? Who cares?
    Criminals? Who cares?
    Insurance companies? Who cares?
    Poor people? Who cares?
    Mercanaries? Who cares?
    Welfare queens? Who cares?
    Televangelists? Who cares?
    Lobbyists? Who cares?

    And the old favorite:

    Jews? Who cares?

    I guess “Who cares?” is a bit of a signal for you grab your favorite Jew and hide him in the attic.

    Although I’m not sure how I’m going to hide a whole insurance company in mine.

    In another thread, morgan pointed out that sociopaths don’t care about other people’s rights, and said sociopaths blend in with normal people. Well, maybe that’s because normal people also blend in with sociopaths. Hint: It was when I was beclowning myself because I was mad that someone called conservatives gullible.

    Yours,
    Tom

  341. And now it’s:

    Islamists? Who cares?

    I don’t know about you, but I am in favor of judging individuals rather than groups.

    Remember when we thought that the teabaggers were insulting wiccans as a group?

  342. “If you begin by justifying your means with your ends, you will often end up with your ends being corrupted by your means.”

    And that’s one of the good reasons why virtue ethics must be reinvented, because it’s very hard to justify that – observably true – statement without that. In a sense… we must recognize that the “slippery slope” is not always a logical fallacy but is sometimes a psychological fact. Actually… it _has been_ reinvented – so we might as well pay some attention to it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aretaic_turn

  343. >Actually… it _has been_ reinvented – so we might as well pay some attention to it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aretaic_turn

    Hmmpph. This school wants to think it’s a “third way”, but I think it’s consequentialism that dare not speak its name. Virtue ethics in general is like this; where it isn’t mere handwaving, it’s advice to internalize a minimaxing strategy that has frequently proven successful in the past.

  344. This thread was golden. I especially love the authoritarians’ critique of argument from authority.

  345. >Eric might comment on this, latest detailed description of what the CIA’s Office of Medical Services recommended for waterboarding.

    I’d prefer to read the original document the article refers to. The author of the article so clearly has a political ax to grind that I don’t think I can trust the evaluations or emotive language therein.

  346. You’re misapplying the Golden Rule. Al-Qaeda’s belief, repeatedly expressed in action, is that infidels should die (under torture, when that can be arranged) just for being infidels. Therefore, for infidels to kill and torture them would actually be justified under the Golden Rule.

    This must be some different Golden Rule than the one everybody else uses.

    That one says, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, not “do unto others as they would like to do unto you”. Big, big difference.

    I guess you are not content to merely redefine torture, you want to redefine one of the oldest and simplest ethical precepts known to man. Revenge-killing or pre-emptive killing of enemies is also an old principal, of course. And hey, it works for some people, maybe that’s what you are in favor of. Just don’t pretend that it’s the Golden Rule, and don’t pretend that torture isn’t torture.

  347. The ACLU was quite precise in their vocabulary, and you are being a little hypocritical when you describe those who are using torture in an imprecise way, and then describe the ACLU as somehow doing this, when in fact they do not do so. You have created a straw-horse.

    BTW, some of what is described in the ACLU link would be torture by your definition:

    “Beatings. On August 23, 2002, a detainee told an interviewer of being “kicked in the stomach and back by several individuals” after being turned over to U.S. authorities.

    Waterboarding should be described as torture IMHO because the fear and pain that it inflicts. Your definition is over-legalistic.

    But there is an agreed upon definition: “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. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions.”

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