Saturday, January 15, 2005

Torture Part One: The Hostage Rescue/Bomb Goes Off In An Hour Scenario

  • This image was blatantly stolen from Jesus' General

  • My friend, El Capitan, posted a very honest and interesting take on torture. After reading it a couple of times, I realized that it was bugging me. So, after a little prayer and meditation, here is my response.

    I am defining torture here by the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary which says:
    Main Entry: 1tor•ture
    Function: noun
    1 a : anguish of body or mind : AGONY b : something that causes agony or pain
    2 : the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure
    Function: transitive verb
    1 : to cause intense suffering to : TORMENT
    2 : to punish or coerce by inflicting excruciating pain

    He presents a hypothetical situation where bad guys have kidnapped or are holding hostage a friend or loved one. One of the bad guys is captured and may be able to reveal information that would help save the friend/loved one.

    El Capitan states that he would be willing to torture the bad guy, if torturing that bad guy would clearly lead to saving the life of a friend. He is less certain where he would become unwilling to torture another human being to save a life. So he might torture to save a stranger’s life, and he’d be less willing to do so to save the life of someone he disliked.

    I might surprise him a little bit because I am with him to this point. Yes, this liberal would be willing to use the deliberate infliction of pain on another human being if I truly believed it would result in saving the life of someone I loved, liked or an innocent such as a child. Like El Capitan, I’m not sure if I would do it to save a stranger, maybe I would, but maybe I would not take it to extremes. Someone I disliked? I just don’t know. Unlike El Capitan, I think that if a woman was involved in hurting or killing someone I cared about, I think I could hurt her the same way I would hurt a man if it meant I could save my loved ones. Hey, that’s what feminism is all about: equal opportunity and equal treatment.

    I don’t think any of the above makes either El Capitan or myself a monster.

    Now we come to the points at which we differ sharply.

    In my opinion, torture is always a moral wrong, period. There is no reason that I have yet seen for torture that makes it a right action. Simply because I save the life of one person by using torture does not make my actions right. If I save a million lives by torturing a criminal and terrorist with blood on his hands, I have still performed a morally and ethically wrong act. The end does not justify the means.

    That does not mean I won’t do it. Choosing a lesser evil is still evil, but when all choices are evil, you do the best you can. I hate this particular hypothetical because it is so far removed from reality. If my wife were kidnapped, odds are pretty good that I would not have access to one of the kidnappers. If a kidnapper got hurt leaving the scene and I did have access to him, odds are I’d call the police and I would not be the one interrogating him/her. If I did interrogate him or her, odds are that without the police I would lack the means to effectively assault the bad guy HQ and save my wife.

    How about this: I’m PFC Andy on patrol in Mosul with my unit. A sniper shoots one of us. We scramble behind a brick wall, looking for cover. There, on the other side of the wall is an Iraqi guy, in his twenties with a cell phone in his hand. We pounce on him. Where is the sniper? I ask. No answer. Where is he? Nothing. I can hear the soldier who was shot, still lying in the street, moaning. I take my knife and chop off the Iraqi’s little finger. As the Iraqi cries out I bring the blade point to his eye. Which way—where is he? The Iraqi points and gestures. Using those gestures we locate the sniper and kill him. The soldier in the street gets medical attention in time to save his life.

    Letting the wounded soldier die and keeping my unit in danger is the greater evil in my eyes. But regardless of the injured shoulder, in spite of the lives of others in my unit, cutting off the guy’s little finger is still evil and still wrong. Should the incident be reported? Yes. Should I face an inquiry, possibly charges and a trial? That is up to my superior who hears the report. If he says I need to face an inquiry and trial, then that is the consequence I must face. I chose to take the action I did, I must be willing to face the consequences of what I have done.

    That is what being a responsible person is about: accepting the consequences, good and bad for the choices we make. We must take responsibility for our actions.

    El Capitan goes on to say that there are only two major questions: do the ends justify the means and can we sink to their level? His conditional answer is yes, and while I disagree that the ends justify the means, I commit the same crime he does in the same circumstances.

    The difference in positions might seem semantic, but they are not. The element of accountability and responsibility is in fact the difference between sinking to the level of the terrorists or remaining, however tenuously, in the realm of the civilized.

    In any case; we should understand, these hypothetical examples are nonsense. The experts think these scenarios are bullshit:
    To understand the dynamics of an intelligence interrogation, we need to discard three for-instances that are too often reduced to caricature. The first is the tactical interrogation conducted by untrained troops, often in the heat of battle. Anger, fear and frustration can lead to torture. They don't often produce good information, which is among the reasons prisoners are to be evacuated rearward as quickly as possible.

    The second is the overworked "A nuke's going to pop in an hour; should you torture to get the location?" scenario. Most sources under torture would tell you anything they think you want to hear, in order to use up that hour. Let us speak plainly. Under such situations, as in combat, a credible threat of immediate death can work. But torture? As a rule, not.
    The ABCs of interrogation: Power hungry need not apply
    By Mark Gold, former Marine Corps Reserve interrogation team commander
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Wednesday, May 12, 2004.

    Of course, no liberal can discuss torture without at least one link to Amnesty International. So here it is: another discussion of why these scenarios are fantasy. Let’s move on to reality, shall we?

    Index to the Torture Posts:
    Torture Part One: Hostage Rescue/Bomb Goes Off In An Hour Scenario
    Torture Part Two: Abu Ghraib
    Torture Part Three: Make Sure You Torture The Right People And Make Sure They Are Telling The Truth
    Torture Part Four: Do We Want To Encourage The Worst In Humanity?
    Torture Part Five: Why The United States Of America Should Never Resort To Torture