Thursday, August 04, 2005

On Torture and a Full-Orbed View of Human Rights

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.

16 comments:

S. T. Karnick said...

Hunter, I think that you have done a fine job of laying out the arguments for flexibility in dealing with noncitizens during a crisis, and that your position on this issue can be seen as consistent with your others, as part of a highly nuanced look at the world.

There are no easy answers to questions like the one before us here, and as a liberal (of the Right) I personally believe that we must resolutely avoid the imposition of torture of any kind, even on noncitizens, unless the most utterly dire circumstances are in effect. And even then, the idea is surely repugnant to any sensitive person. Nonetheless, anyone with a chest will realize that sometimes we have to take measures which we find difficult to reconcile with our better natures. Obviously what I am suggesting here is that in all circumstances we must strive to maximize both flexibility and caution, both justice and mercy, both wisdom and compassion. And that means that there will seldom be a clear answer, and that honorable people can disagree honorably.

That said, I confess that I have absolutely no idea whom to trust as regards what may or may not be going on in Guantanamo, and hence will leave to others the great joy of arguing about the facts of that case.

Thanks for your thoughtful, clear, and candid statement on the matter.

James Elliott said...

I'm going to hit an obvious factual error here before considering my longer riposte.

Hunter, 165 acts of terror may have been averted by The Patriot Act, not interrogations at Guantanamo. Don't believe me? Read Mr. London's latest post.

Hunter Baker said...

S.T., I agree with you both about the general repugnance of torture. It has been said the bad man creates an evil that the good man must enter into, no matter how distastefully, in order to secure justice. Obviously, the threat to justice must be very compelling.

I also agree that this is an incomplete information problem RE: Guantanamo, but the protests have been so deafening I decided to try to address the problem at some length. I am trying to defend the honor of those who are doing what I think they feel they must in order to protect those of us who are shielded from many ugly realities. I think my position is somewhat Niebuhrian in that respect.

James, you are right about the statistical error. We don't know what the tally would be for Guantanamo. That is my misread.

I think I've said my piece on this matter and will let others address whatever riposte you decide to enter.

Hunter Baker said...

Don't fear censorship, the deleted comments related to spam.

James Elliott said...

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.

I can only assume that you refer here to "Big C" communist countries. That you actually believe that communism is the goal of modern liberalism demonstrates a profound lack of sophistication or understanding your "opponent." Totalitiarian regimes are incompatible with liberal thought. Think more along the lines of Sweden. What gross injustices has Sweden conducted lately, I wonder? None? Something like that.

Your next substantive paragraph, referring (again) to abortion in an attempt to dig out the "holier than thou" pro-life vibe, is full of effective imagery but, again, little in the way of fact. Were you merely ignoring that you've been refuted time and again in an earlier thread, or what? Sticking your fingers in your ears and singing "Lalala" again? It's merely dismissive in the same manner you claim we are being.

First, what is torture? ::snip::

I see here you are engaging in a nice bit of relativism of the rankest sort, the kind you eternally decry. Some forms of torture are acceptable because the pain they cause is not through visceral, gorey means, or because they are ruled more "palatable"?

Second, is torture (by a state) ever justified? ::snip::

Short answer: No. Especially when prohibited by the very ruling documents of government behavior. The Constitution (and the Declaration of Independence) make no mention of "citizens." Just people. Rights cannot be self-evident if they are limited to certain classes of people (citizens vs. non-citizens). If they are self-evident, then if they may be abbreviated or excised entirely in one case, the precedent is set for them to be done in all other cases.

You speak of valuing the lives of the guilty over the innocent. It was my impression that this country operated under the judicial axiom that it is better "that 10 guilty men go free rather than one innocent man be imprisoned." Your argument leads to "It is better that one innocent man be tortured unnecessarily so maybe some information can be gleaned from someone else. Further, as a lawyer, you should know the whole "innocent before proven guilty" thing. We're not Italy. Our Lady Justice is blindfolded for a reason.

The concern is not merely for the terrorist. The concern is for our fellow man, for the innocent who may have been caught up in the furor of fear, and for the future Americans who may find that that slippery slope was better left undescended.

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. ::snip::

I think we can best answer this with a quote from a man who knows:

"Don't tell me that torture works because I know for a fact that it doesn't." - Sen. John "Beaten daily for five years" McCain (R-AZ) to Bill "I saw combat! I was a reporter in Grenada! No, really!" O'Reilly

If the methods of torture even you agree are horrific don't work, why then do we expect so-called lesser methods of torture to work? The answer is that they do not. And if they do not, then the only reason to use methods that cause physical and mental anguish are sadism and retribution, none of which are righteous causes.

Given your factual error, and that the alleged 165 terror actions were prevented via the Patriot Act, which its supporters refer to as a powerful tool for law enforcement, then the rest of your point here is invalidated.

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. ::snip::

Such lovely and invective hyperbole. But it is extremely lacking in nuance or understanding, so hyperbole it shall remain. You have a very uncomplicated world view. The ultimate view of the left is not "disposability of the unborn" or the elderly, but of the inviolability of personal choice, of true self-government. I respect your regard for human life, Hunter, I truly do. I sympathize greatly, knowing that your ire and willful dismissal of facts contrary to your position arise not from stupidity or hate but from your profound passion for your belief. But the bottom line is that we on the left are not willing to make choices of grave personal consequence for others: that is too weighty a responsibility for any mortal society. There comes a time when you must trust to a person's conscience and sense of personal responsibility to make the choice that is right for them. Choice is then, you see, not a euphemism but a profound cause.

You prefer to salve your conscience with accusing the innocent of associating with "wanton murders." You ignore the military's own admission that complete innocents, even to the point of having been rounded up by bounty hunters purely to be sold at $5,000 a head, guilty of only being in the wrong place at the wrong time, have been interred, tortured, and killed at Guantanamo and elsewhere. I was rather under the impression that one was too many.

Letting others suffer to provide you with illusory security from your fear is immoral and cowardly, Hunter, not a necessary evil in some reverence for innocent life, however the excuse soothes your conscience.

James Elliott said...

You have an eloquent writing style with effective imagery, Hunter. I must tell you that.

The Liberal Anonymous said...

Is it possible to delete comments completely, rather than leaving that "this comment has been deleted" stub? I ask this because the above spam comment exists purely to get readers to click on the name of the spammer and read his/her profile, thus being lured into an adult dating service. Ergo, removing just the message content doesn't undo the damage.

Hunter Baker said...

Can't help, LA. Not technically proficient.

On the matter of Sweden, they recently jailed a pastor for a month because he condemned homosexuality in a sermon. He wasn't nice at all in so doing, but jail time? That's where freedom of speech and religion go after the left consolidates their gains.

Oh, they also don't allow the members of the Swedish church to control their own doctrine, ordination requirements, etc.. This, even after the state formally disestablished the church. The aid is gone, but the strings all remain. How convenient.

Yes, I happen to have done quite a bit of research on freedom of religion in Sweden in the course of my graduate study. It doesn't look too good for free thought or free religion.

S. T. Karnick said...

Regarding the spam comments, it is indeed possible to delete them entirely, and I have done so. Thank you for pointing out the necessity for such action.

James Elliott said...

Hmm. I didn't know that about Sweden. Well, strike one for Sweden.

Hunter Baker said...

In fairness, I will cheerfully concede that Sweden has done a better job of incorporating democratic socialism than any other nation on the earth. I attribute their success to once having had a nearly homogeneous population, having been perfectly positioned to emerge economically after WWII (because they were not devastated), and having gained the support of the church in the effort.

However, it has been clear since the eighties that the golden experiment that is Sweden has been on the decline. They have experienced more and more economic problems associated with heavy, heavy regulation of the economy. They have been almost paralyzed by an inability to integrate large scale Muslim immigration. And of course, I've mentioned their heavy-handedness with their own churches.

Hunter Baker said...

This post isn't about Sweden at all, far from it (right James?), but when I refer to the economic situation in Sweden, what I mean is that it has gone from enjoying true free market economy performance to experiencing typical European economic performance. In other words, much less dynamic, less growth, more union trouble, everyone being obsessed with vacation, etc.

James Elliott said...

I didn't think the post was about Sweden, but apparently...

Talk about tangential. :)

Anonymous said...

To Sweden's credit, it HAS encorporated "choice" ... and I'm not talking about the buzzword for abortion, but true school choice.

Hunter Baker said...

Interesting, anonymous. I'm guessing that's a reaction to the late experience with pluralism.

Anonymous said...

You'll have to to check out the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation webpage.

(Can't post tag ... probably because I am anonymous)

Sorry for the continued digression...