There exists great outrage about the possibility that some interrogation tactics used at the Guantanamo facility may constitute torture.
Some leftists, perhaps motivated more by the desire to score points than out of any righteous feeling, have drummed on the torture theme with great determination. If one accuses me of being less than charitable, I must ask leave in light of the tremendous lack of left-wing intellectual outcry against massive human rights violations of the worst type by governments that carry leftist premises to their full conclusions.
Nevertheless, to say certain persons never cared much for the fate of brothers who didn't go along with coercive state socialism or those who are snuffed out in the womb or dismembered in the birth canal simply ends the conversation by making the charge of hypocrisy and determining that these individuals have no right to complain or at least have no integrity in so doing.
So, let us assume that the concern with torture is righteous and should be dealt with on its face. There are several problems that arise and do not go away simply because the complainants raise their voices and charge others with stupidity, mercilessness, etc.
First, what is torture? Dictionary definitions include "infliction of severe physical pain as a means of punishment or coercion," "excruciating physical or mental pain; agony," "something causing severe pain or anguish." When individuals are asked, they frequently come up with notions of limbs being amputated, bones broken, sexual organs mutilated, blinded eyes, burnt flesh, etc. If methods like emotional intimidation and sleep deprivation are to be included, then it MUST be admitted that they are down the line on the torture scale and any rational person describing their choice of torture to endure would surely prefer the latter to the former.
Second, is torture (by a state) ever justified? If we agree the primary end of the state is to protect its citizens and maintain the peace, then there are a number of means that may be employed to attain that goal. In the case of secret conspiracies, particularly those knit together by fierce fanaticism, then it will come to pass that the state will at times apprehend members of said conspiracies and have them in their custody. It would be sheer folly (and perhaps negligence of the worst sort) not to attempt to gain information about planned mass murders from these individuals. Serious interrogation tactics will have to be considered as a means of obtaining that information.
In the case of tactics that are universally agreed to constitute torture, a large percentage of us will likely be unable to support the permanent mutilation or even summary executions that would come of them. (Though some would and perhaps an absolute majority if the crisis were great enough and enough innocents had been killed.) However, for a government to be unable to employ even the lesser measures of intimidation on the level of sleep deprivation is to tie that government's hands in such a way as to value the lives of the guilty more than the lives of the innocent.
Now, the answer may come back that we will make up the deficiency with better police work or that these tactics don't work anyway, but I have no idea how we can be expected to trust these answers. Where exactly do we come by these carefully constructed studies on whether these tactics work? If they don't and it is so clear, then why are they being used? Further, why would the prospect of being extradited to regimes that engage in real torture be a potentially useful threat? If better police work is so much more effective than strong interrogation of suspects, then why hasn't that yielded all the answers?
We don't know how much information gained through interrogation has prevented terror attacks, but imagine that even one mass murder had been blocked. Weigh that versus the misery of sleep deprivation or fear of dogs experienced by a likely terrorist or terrorist in training and determine for yourself whether these tactics cross the line.
For my part, I hold a high view of human rights. Some leftist is sniggering, but those giggles are supremely undisturbing given their own regrettable view of the disposability of unborn and elderly life and their utter lack of care for the victims of leftist governmental projects gone awry. So, as I state, I hold a high view of human rights. But such a view cannot be a full or fair one unless it likewise considers the stakes for both wrongdoers and their victims, actual and probable. Thus, a view of the situation that obsesses over the difficulties experienced by those who have associated themselves with wanton murderers, while paying little or no attention to what must realistically be done to protect innocent persons can only be an immature one.
If I must choose whom I shall protect with the greater zeal, it will be the innocents.
UPDATE: I removed the incorrect statistical claim wherein I confused attacks blocked by the Patriot Act with the unknown quantity blocked by information gained at Guantanamo. That's the accountability of the blogosphere.