Torture

"The case against waterboarding never rested primarily on its usefulness. It rested on its wrongfulness."

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Participatory journalism

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, not known for being some kind of lefty squish, lays out the post-OBL case against waterboarding and torture:

I don't know whether waterboarding was indispensable to rolling up bin Laden; for every interrogation expert who says it was, another expert argues the opposite. But the case against waterboarding never rested primarily on its usefulness. It rested on its wrongfulness. It is wrong when bad guys do it to good guys. It is just as wrong when good guys do it to Al Qaeda.

Some Americans have convinced themselves that waterboarding is closer to "a dunk in water" than to genuine torture. In fact, it is an agonizing, terrifying form of abuse. "The victim experiences the sensations of drowning: struggle, panic, breath-holding, swallowing, vomiting, taking water into the lungs and, eventually, the same feeling of not being able to breathe that one experiences after being punched in the gut," Evan Wallach, a former JAG who teaches the law of war at the Brooklyn and New York law schools, wrote in 2007. "The main difference is that the drowning process is halted…. It can cause severe psychological trauma, such as panic attacks, for years." There was good reason why waterboarding was one of the war crimes for which Japanese officers were hanged after World War II.

Torture is unreliable, since people will often say anything — invent desperate fictions or diversions — to stop the pain or fear. That doesn't mean waterboarding will never yield valuable information. […]

Like chemical and biological warfare, torture is something we refuse to engage in, despite its potential effectiveness, on the grounds that it is fundamentally immoral and uncivilized. Our repudiation of torture is absolute — the international Convention Against Torture, ratified by the United States in 1994, allows for "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever." That unconditional repudiation is one of the lines that separates us from the barbaric jihadists with whom we are at war.

The killing of bin Laden was gratifying, but it was no vindication of torture. […] Bush was wrong to permit waterboarding, and wrong to deny that it was torture. I don't agree with Obama on much, but when it comes to waterboarding, he is right. America will defeat the global jihad, but not by embracing its inhuman values.

Pretty much sums up my view. Nick Gillespie wrote about the torture question last week. Christopher Hitchens wrote about being waterboarded in 2008.

NEXT: J sub D, RIP

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  1. It’s the salient point. We become more like them when we adopt their methods.

    1. Fighting monsters, Nietzsche, etc.

  2. Yeah, but-

    TICK…TICK…TICK…TICK…

    BOOOOOOOM

  3. I’m arguing for waterboarding by any means, but lets keep facts correct:

    “There was good reason why waterboarding was one of the war crimes for which Japanese officers were hanged after World War II.”

    What the Japanese did and called “waterboarding” was not the same thing as what we are talking about currently.

    1. *not arguing

      damn it

    2. What the Japanese did and called “waterboarding” was not the same thing as what we are talking about currently.

      So what’s the difference? (not meaning to argue, I seriously don’t know)

    3. I too would like to know the difference.

    4. No it was the same thing. Alot of people think the Japanese water boarding was forced consumption of water, but that is a separate technique that was used also used during the war.

      1. Is forcing someone to drink water okay if you give them a free Wii?

      2. “”Alot of people think the Japanese water boarding was forced consumption of water,””

        The TSA made a kick drink part of his science project. Does that count as forced consumption? 😉

    5. This might be a good start on further research into the differences.

      1. Apparently I SF’d the link.

          1. “Well, if anyone in the Senate knows about drownings simulated or otherwise, it’s Ted Kennedy.”

            Just Awesome!

    6. And didn’t we waterboard a grand total of *three* people? That seems like a salient fact.

    7. And didn’t we waterboard a grand total of *three* people? That seems like a salient fact.

      1. That’s only because we were busy air raiding villages amd killing civilians.

      2. Considering it was premeditated, the wrongness isn’t alleviated by the number of people we did it to. I’d love to see someone throw out, “Well, Your Honor, I only shot three people. Don’t you know how many people die every day.”

        1. Well, since the odds of being tortured are even lower than the odds of being killed in a terrorist attack, we don’t need to do anything about it, you know, since the incidence is so low.

        2. The arguments are about a “policy of torture.” A policy that only applied to three out of thousands or tens of thousands of detainees is rather a different thing than a policy that was applied to all of them.

      3. —“And didn’t we waterboard a grand total of *three* people? That seems like a salient fact.”—

        Does the total of three include people we sent to other countries and then turned a blind eye to the treatment they were subjected to, or doesn’t it count because we didn’t actually torture them ourselves?

        1. We aren’t responsible for the actions of the other countries, no. And weren’t the “other countries” the home countries of the people in question?

          1. We aren’t responsible for the actions of the other countries, no.

            Am I my prisoner’s keeper?

    8. No, it was the same thing. It didn’t miraculously become non-torture because an American was on the giving instead of the receiving end.

  4. Our repudiation of torture is absolute

    Wait, what?

    1. Yes, it’s like declaring:” Let me be perfectly clear…” and then proceeding to obfuscate.

    2. That unconditional repudiation is one of the lines that separates us from the barbaric jihadists with whom we are at war.

      As long as we never faulter in saying we hate torture, then we can torture all we like and still be separate from barbaric jihadits who don’t specifically state that they hate torture.

  5. it didnt take torture to make KSM lie about knowing his old courier.

  6. Why is society so pussified? We used to execute criminals with the electric chair, gallows, guillotine (only in France), shooting squad, and the gas chamber. Now how do we kill them? Lethal injection, like putting a dog to sleep.

    Of course we have to waterboard! In fact, if it was up to me I would love to torture them with electricity the way the commies tortured Rambo in First Blood or whatever movie he was in when he went to Vietnam to save that girl with the ugly pendant.

    CALIFORNIA LIFEGUARDS MAKE $120,00 A YEAR + OTHER STORIES.
    http://libertarians4freedom.blogspot.com/

    1. This is a spoof, right?

      1. I can’t tell anymore.

        1. dude, are you being sarcastic?

          shit, got that sdrawkcab.

      2. Nope, I’m being deadly serious. Criminals are expensive, we should execute people more often, LOL. 😉

    2. No, this is GREGGOOOOOOOO!

    3. GREGOOOOOOOOO, don’t ever change your stupid.

    4. …I would love to torture them with electricity the way the commies tortured Rambo in First Blood or whatever movie he was in…

      I’m pretty sure that was Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.

      1. Nah, it was Rambo II, now I remember. I saw Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.

        1. That was a snoozer if I recall correctly. Didn’t it feature Estelle Getty?

  7. If it is only an enhanced interrogation technique then we should be able to do it to congressmen and senators under investigation because getting corruption out of government is an important national security interest.

    1. If that doesn’t make you rethink your opposition to waterboarding, nothing will.

    2. And, think of all the jobs it’ll create!

      Wait, what …

  8. “The case against waterboarding never rested primarily on its usefulness. It rested on its wrongfulness.”

    This.

    I do not want to be the sort of person who waterboards (or otherwise tortures) others.

  9. Pretty much every debate I’ve seen in the media either started with or devolved into the usefulness of waterboarding. I don’t know why Jacoby now rests his argument on it being about the wrongfulness. To see the likes of Hannity now claiming waterboarding led to OBL’s kill is typical of the sophmorish thought process of neocons. Their original argument from what I remember is that it is useful in the ticking time bomb scenario. This was hardly the case with KSM. And wasn’t it something that KSM lied about that resulted in the lead to OBL’s courier? Therefore the new argument might be, well waterboarding might be wrong, but we need to do it to get the prisoner to lie about something so we can compare it to intelligence we already have so as to be able to move against the target 8 years from now. Yea, that’s the ticket.

    1. iy didnt take waterboarding to make KSM lie about not knowing his old courier.

  10. I’ll throw out one of my primary objections to torture or “enhanced interrogation” or whatever euphemism we’re using this week. I don’t want to turn our military personnel into torturers. War is going to do a pretty good mindfuck on enough of our troops without adding that on top of it.

    It’s kind of the inverse of don’t ask your troops to do something you won’t. Torture is something I wouldn’t ask anyone to commit in my name.

    1. Phrased another way, the problem with torture is not the violence that is does to the the one being tortured, but the degradation that it does to the society that condones it.

  11. Having spent some time around an Islamic community in Manchester, UK — *they* hate you no matter what you do. You can waterboard, not waterboard, torture, not torture, outreach, don’t outreach, bury Bin Laden at sea, give him a 21 gun salute: THEY DON’T CARE. They HATE, HATE, HATE you.

    You may not be at war with Islam. Fair enough. But they sure as hell ARE at war with you. There has never been a ‘moderate’ Islam (to the extent it exists, it’ll be celebrating its 10th anniversary this September). I spoke with an affable guy who I assumed was a model Muslim. After a few hours of conversation I realize he was as rabid, misogynistic, and hateful as anyone. He just disguised it better.

    This issue of being “more like them”, being true to our values as Americans, etc. That stuff is the vernacular of comic book superhero BS. In that region, the truth is they really only respond to extreme and brutal acts. They don’t listen to NPR and factor in American decency and thoughtfulness.

    Having said all of this…if you have an International Law, how can you really justify breaking said laws an think you’re above repercussions (no matter who the criminal or how vile he may be)?

    Is the sensation of profound discomfort ethically wrong? (If you torture someone, conclude he knows nothing, then what will you do to help him from a mental health perspective?)

    I think too much of this discussion is in the abstract. I have no idea what goes on in those black site holding cells. (How do they prevent someone from having a heart attack or even a lung infection?)

    1. Police routinely break the law as part of enforcing it. It’s what they do. When you enforce the law the law no longer applies to you.

      Team USA is the world policeman.

      That means that the international laws that we enforce no longer apply to us.

    2. our enemies conduct doesnt define ours

      1. Our enemies conduct shouldn’t define ours. FIFY.

  12. Ethically you can’t have one set of rules for Muslims, another for Canadians, and a third for Canadian muslims.

    1. Wait, we have to treat Canadians ethically? When did this change come about?

      1. Some fucking law.

  13. if it was up to me I would love to torture them with electricity the way the commies tortured Rambo in First Blood

    Keep your homoerotic fantasies to yourself, Gregeroooooooooooooooooooo.

  14. Torture has never been a reliable means of obtaining information as it gets to the point that the subject will say anything to get it to stop. One wonders that it’s still practiced at all.
    Oh and:
    THERE ARE THREE LIGHTS!

    1. Did one of them break or has the torture been too effective?

      1. See! It does work! Why listen to some bald French guy?

    2. Right. Torture doesn’t work. Also, smoking pot is a gateway drug that will kill your brain, one use of LSD will give you a lifetime of flashbacks and mental issues, and rape has absolutely nothing to do with sex.

      1. One sniff of tobacco smoke causes genetic mutation if you don’t have a heart attack first, guns cause violence, and water causes drowning.

    3. To offer another quote from the same writers: ‘It’s not that I hate you, it’s that I hate what I have become because of you’.

  15. Is waterboarding okay if I introduce it to the “scene”?

    1. I think you are a little late for that.

  16. I think the question of utility is relevant when discussing the rightness or wrongness of torture. If it can be useful in getting information, then there are hypothetical scenarios in which it would be more wrong not to torture.

    So we should be thankful that we don’t have to make this moral calculation, since as any real professional interrogator will tell you, torture does not offer anything above and beyond what normal interrogation techniques do, and is in fact counter-productive. It’s frightening that we had people at the very top who weren’t aware of these simple facts.

    1. *This is what Tony actually believes*

      1. At least one expert exists who confirm his biases.

        Therefor he is right and anyone who disagrees with him, including expert professionals in the field, his beloved affirmative action president, the former non-affirmative action president, you, me, and anyone else, are wrong wrong wrong.

        1. You seem to have your presidents mixed up. Only one of the last two presidents received preferential treatment at points during his education and professional life. Or is anyone of color in a position of authority suspect of not having earned it?

          1. “Or is anyone of color in a position of authority suspect of not having earned it?”

            Nope. Just prezbo.

            1. He got elected, what else does he have to do to earn his position? Be the half-witted offspring of an Ivy League blue blood?

              1. So that’s why no birth certificate!

          2. Let me answer that question by posing another: Is anyone of authority in a position of color suspect of not having earned it?

          3. Now that I think about it I suspect anyone in a position of authority, regardless of their skin color, because I distrust anyone who seeks to have power over the lives of other people.

            The more power they have, the more I distrust them.

            1. You poor, poor man!

              I’m wet with compassion!

    2. tony – i listened to a retired interrogator say that torture produces tons of lies which SLOW the intel since one has to sort thru them.

      1. Yup. And non-torture interrogation produces no lies at all which SPEED the intel since nobody has to sort thru them.

        1. …which the interrogator wouldve known if it were true. one presumes its a matter of quantity

    3. Heh.

      Now, … is it SAFE?

    4. I think the question of utility is relevant

      The question of utility is useful when buying a car or selecting equipment for camping.

      As for human rights, not so much.

    5. I think the question of utility is relevant …

      *barf*

    6. If you are going to claim it’s utility is relevant, you have to admit the possibility that it might actually be useful, Tony.

      Surely you are aware that there is not universal agreement about it’s lack of utility.

      Choosing to believe it’s not useful is just a convenient dodge that allows you to avoid actually confronting the argument honestly.

  17. The fingers stood up before his eyes like pillars, enormous, blurry, and seeming to vibrate, but unmistakably four.

    ‘How many fingers, Winston?’

    ‘Four! Stop it, stop it! How can you go on? Four! Four!’

    ‘How many fingers, Winston?’

    ‘Five! Five! Five!’

    ‘No, Winston,? that is no use. You are lying. You still think there are four. How many fingers, please?’

    ‘Four! five! Four! Anything you like. Only stop it, stop the pain!’

  18. Wow. So much smug self-righteousness.

    Anyway, it’s okay to shoot armed intruders on sight, right? I mean, they are on your property.

    But let’s not treat mass-murder suspects too harshly, though. Might be late for a cocktail party.

    1. I’ll ask you again.

      Are you late for a cocktail party?

    2. intruders…suspects

      I think you answered your own question.

      If you’re still confused, feel free to ask questions.

    3. Innocent until proven guilty a new concept in your world, PreHamburger?

      1. He knows the guilty on sight thanks to his magic Jesus powers.

    4. No, we mustn’t be mean to terrorists. Better to let our countrymen die than to compromise our “integrity”.

      1. carol – KSM LIED under torture. the courier’s identity was told by other prisoners who were NOT tortured.

      2. Better to let our countrymen die than to compromise our “integrity”.

        Right, that’s what fighting and dying for one’s principles is all about. Not that you would know anything about that Ms. Chickenhawkette.

        1. Chickenhawkette? I’d be interested to know how you came to that conclusion.

          1. “Carol” led me to the “ette”.

            I should have known that you were a crossdresser by the name of your blog [Carol’s Closet], though.

            Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

      3. Yes. It’s better to die with your honor and principles intact than live by turning yourself into a moral monster.

        1. If you chose to allow others to die for the sake of protecting your suspect principles you may already be a moral monster.

          1. ^^^^WIN

          2. Torture-lady and imperial-Cyto agree–I’m not surprised.

            You can’t allow others to die unless you’re watching the murderer do his business without acting against him. You’re a moral monster for putting the responsibility of every evil human being onto the innocent.

  19. A few things to keep in mind:

    (1) Most of the torture engaged in by various regimes throughout history had no real purpose as interrogation – the KGB tortured people to get bogus confessions, the line soldiers tortured by the Japanese had no useful intelligence, etc., and everyone involved knew it. It was done for political purposes, or as punishment, or out of pure sadism.

    Torture for these purposes may or may not be different, morally, than torture for the purpose of gaining useful information that has some chance of succeeding.

    (2) All torture is not equal. Maiming, blinding, etc. is worse than solitary confinement (widely regarded as torture, in case you were wondering), with waterboarding somewhere in the middle.

    (3) The moral case against waterboarding is based on the moral position that an action that is immoral in one circumstance is immoral in all circumstances. Yes, this is the ticking bomb scenario, but there is at least an arguable case that someone who preserves their moral purity at the cost of other’s lives may not have acted altogether morally.

    1. “” this is the ticking bomb scenario,””

      1. Not sure if we ever had one.

      2. The government lies so how do you know it’s true when they claim it is such?

    2. Is tickling torture?

  20. We shouldn’t do the waterboarding thing, but I find it funny that more journalists and activists have been voluntarily waterboarded for the sake of getting press than there are confirmed cases of actual detainees being waterboarded.

    1. And why on earth would you suppose that the only cases are the “confirmed” cases. It’s like saying the only cases of police brutality are the ones where the officer is charged.

      1. C’mon, like the CIA would lie.

        More seriously, these are the only ones that we know of. We can suspect a lot of others, but we only know of three. We know that there were a lot more activists and journalists waterboarding themselves to protest those three cases.

        The idea that the activists created more self-inflicted misery in an effort to stop that misery is funny to me.

        1. “”C’mon, like the CIA would lie.””

          It’s part of their job.

  21. An “intruder” is always guilty. Right? I mean, a drunken neighbor could never wander into your yard by mistake.

    But a guy captured on a battlefield with Al-Qaeda training manuals in his back pocket who admits to being a terrorist, why he’s COMPLETELY INNOCENT. Right? In fact, he deserves the ACLU’s finest at his taxpayer-funded beck and call.

    RC Dean: Nice well-thought out answer, as usual. Why can’t all Reasoners be like that? Perhaps it’s the radon in their mommy’s basements.

    Now back to the True Libertarians: You live in a country that began by tarring and feathering British civilians. Do you not get that?

    Stop with your fucking ridiculous moral preening.

    1. Now back to the True Libertarians: You live in a country that began by tarring and feathering British civilians. Do you not get that? Stop with your fucking ridiculous moral preening.

      I’ll make you a deal: you stop with the flawed equivocations and we’ll think about it.

    2. We also live in a country that for a long time tolerated slavery. So that must still be OK, right?

      1. only if faux “news” says its ok.

    3. Okay, you want to stick with practical consequences? Fine. You think you can keep this torture and extra-judicial murder shit under control? That no president will ever ever ever ever ever abuse it? That we won’t find our own policemen using “enhanced” techniques on our own citizens or just whacking them because they just know they’re guilty?

      This whole “American Exceptionalism” thing is a big fucking myth. The laws of reality operate here just as they do everywhere else in the world.

      1. only if faux “news” says so

      2. Thanks, Sandwich, you expressed my thoughts better than I could. American Exceptionalism is one of the ideas I hate most in life.

      3. Actually, I thought ‘American Exceptionalism’ meant that in so far as America provided greater freedom than any other nation on earth it would, more or less, be excepted from the painful lessons endured by the more collectivized among the family of nations rather than that America is exempt from normal rules of behavior which is how it is often presented.

        1. You’re correct in that; the current usage of the phrase doesn’t quite match the original idea. The usual argument I get from the neocons is an amalgamation of the two, i.e. the U.S. gets extra slack because it’s so much better.

    4. Is it not possible to be morally opposed to tarring and feathering andwaterboarding? Also, guilt and innocence are not the only relevant things here, because you have all sorts of options in an interrogation room that you don’t have on a battle field. That is, you can’t punch a captive and then claim it was in self-defense – they’re already your captive.

    5. You live in a country that began by tarring and feathering British civilians. Do you not get that?

      I get that I live in a country that began by enslaving a number of human beings and denying property rights (the ultimate right) to more than half the population. Moral preening, my ass, you fucking statist apologist.

  22. Where’s John?
    He always shows up to defend our use of this particular kind of torture.

  23. “But the case against waterboarding … rested on its wrongfulness…. The killing of bin Laden was gratifying, but it was no vindication of torture.”

    Amen!

    1. The killing of bin Laden was gratifying, but it was no vindication of torture.”

      This sentence is just dripping with moral irony.

      1. duh

  24. there is at least an arguable case that someone who preserves their moral purity at the cost of other’s lives may not have acted altogether morally.

    Careful, this is dangerous territory around here. You just might run up against the idea that moral responsibilities exist. That ethical behavior involves more than refraining from infringing upon others rights. It may be immoral to not act in certain ways in certain situations. This implies, of course, that there are “Positive Rights.”

    1. 🙂

    2. That ethical behavior involves more than refraining from infringing upon others rights.

      Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong

      1. perhaps ur thinking of santification

    3. It may be immoral to not act in certain ways in certain situations.

      Sure. This is a truism. Take out the twisty double negatives, and you are saying that morality requires that you act in certain ways in certain situations.

      This implies, of course, that there are “Positive Rights.”

      Err, no it doesn’t.

      1. NM:This implies, of course, that there are “Positive Rights.”

        RCD: Err, no it doesn’t.

        Sure it does, unless you can imagine a meaningful scenario where that act is not for someone else’s benefit. I am assuming that self-serving acts are not moral requirements.

  25. So, what “enhanced” interogation techniques are OK? Not letting a suspect sleep? That’s very uncomfortable, and might cause psychic trauma in the future. Making the suspect stay in one positins for a prolonged time? Ditto.

    I have come to the conclusion that everyne her thinks that we are limited simply to asking questions. Make sure the suspect gets his 8 hours of sleep, and is in a comfortable position at all times. After that, it is simply a matter of degree. And before you all start with the vituperative bellyaching, you’re all kidding yourselves.

    1. we are limited simply to asking questions

      I’ll agree to that. What of it?

  26. If the case against torture rests on its wrongfulness, then it fails. Torture is as much a legitimate part of war as shooting the enemy. This is ridiculous and there is nothing moral about sacrificing one’s own interest for the betterment of our enemies. I agree with RC Dean that there are different levels of torture. Our government should follow a Humane Torture Protocol that only allows waterboarding, confinement, and such while forbidding maiming and such.

    1. —“Our government should follow a Humane Torture Protocol that only allows waterboarding, confinement, and such while forbidding maiming and such.”—

      Since our professed rules already prohibit water-boarding and the government feels no obligation to respect that limit, what makes you think that if we permit waterboarding as Humane Torture, the government will feel any obligation to respect that limit?

      1. Cyto thinks the government is perfect as long as it’s within the bounds Ayn Rand determined. Never mind that there’s never been a government that didn’t overstep it’s bounds and engage in tyranny and violence against its own host.

  27. Every military professional I’ve spoken to says that torture rarely works, but that the threat of it often does.

    http://www.intellectualtakeout…..009-beyond

    1. I believe the threat of torture is also categorized as torture. I’m pretty sure death threats are torture.

  28. The case for invading Iraq was not solely about WMDs, either, but that was the lazy way to defend it.

    See also: “Waterboarding doesn’t work”

  29. Remember the phrase “It’s easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.”

    In my opinion, in those rare, exceptional circumstances where you really have to torture someone to save a million lives (or whatever), you just do it, apologize later, and accept the punishment.

    You don’t try to justify it after the fact, or worse, legalize it.

    You say “oh my god, that was so wrong! I’ll never do it again, I swear!”. Then go use the intelligence to kill Bin Laden.

    Legalizing it or justifying it just ensures that it will be used in circumstances that AREN’T exceptional or extreme in the future.

    1. You say “oh my god, that was so wrong! I’ll never do it again, I swear!”.

      Never heard a government say that…

  30. I’m willing to bet we did this to a lot more than three prisoners. Why would you guys take the government’s word for how many they tortured?

  31. The fact that Hitchens, who himself declared waterboarding to be torture after undergoing it, voluntarily submitted himself to experience first-hand the ‘torture’ in question and emerged unscathed shortly after somewhat undermines the claim that it is, in fact, torture. But fine, let’s call it torture. The question which you then must answer is would you rather be waterboarded or shot in face twice by a SEAL? Why is one okay and not the other? It seems silly to approve or even celebrate an extra-judicial execution but somehow be squeamish about waterboarding. The you-can’t-be-a-little-bit-pregnant line of thinking tends to break down at that point.

    If you’re fine with shooting OBL then there is no real pretense by which you can claim to oppose waterboarding on moral grounds. That’s okay by me, admirable even for the very few who hew to such internal consistencies. But it’s highly inconvenient for certain politicos who desperately want to take a victory lap for the killing while somehow keeping their hands clean from the taint of torture. Good luck with that.

    1. You can shoot someone twice in the face as a defensive act. That is, to stop someone doing damage to yourself or other innocent people, it is sometimes necessary to shoot them. However, if you’ve already captured and disarmed them then they no longer present a threat to be defended against, meaning that it would be wrong either to waterboard them or to shoot them twice in the face. Is this distinction really so hard to grasp?

      1. But stick to the scenario. OBL was unarmed facing a platoon of armed SEALS. It appears from the accounts we have been given that 1. disarming was not required and 2. that capture was imminently feasible but that 3. he was instead shot twice in the face and, moreover 4. we are informed that the order was to kill OBL in any regard and that capture was not an option. This, we are told, is not just a gutsy example of Obama’s gutsiness but also of the goodness and moral superiority of Obama’s gutsy gutsiness.

        I’m not losing any sleep over it and our gutsy president and his media acolytes keep telling me that is quite all right. So the question in my mind is, by their logic, why is it all right to perform an extra-judicial summary execution but somehow beyond the pale to waterboard the same person? If you have no right not to expect two government-issued projectiles in your face without some bare-minimum of procedural nicety, then how is it that waterboarding is always and everywhere a great wrong on which all good people must agree?

        1. Well, we have to remember that this is OBL we’re talking about – there’s an argument to be made that if he’s wearing clothes he presents a possible threat to the lives of those around him. However, if you don’t buy that, then I’d have to say it was wrong to kill him – he should have been captured instead. And I don’t think that those on the left who support Obama would disagree with me on that. If they would, then, yes, you’re right about them being hypocritical, but I think they’d be wrong with regard to summary execution rather than with regard to waterboarding.

  32. You see, then, the conundrum. It is quite consistent to argue that waterboarding is permissible and so to the OBL killing. It is also consistent to argue that both the killing and the waterboarding are impermissible. But it takes a certain kind of silliness to celebrate one and condemn the other.

    I’m content with either of the first two arguments though I tend to think the impermissibles have the moral high ground. That said, I’m not totally indifferent to the idea that waterboarding and killing OBL are both acceptable. I have some sympathy for the idea but it is a much harder case to make.

    In short, I think people putting forth either of those arguments are, in general, serious and thoughtful. But I have a huge problem with the hair-splitting for political advantage that wishes to make hay from an extra-judicial killing while denigrating waterboarding.

    1. I think we’re pretty much at the same position here. I’ve always taken the pro-torture side in ticking bomb thought experiments, as long as the person being tortured is the one responsible for the bomb (since in this case, although the person is a captive, they still present a threat to innocent lives). I just don’t think it applies here.
      Agreed about the politics of it.

      1. How likely is it that you’ll know that the person is the one responsible? Outside of Jack Bauer’s world, I mean.

        1. Well, the way most ticking bomb scenarios are presented is this guy’s already claimed responsibility. The thought experiment is deliberately contrived, yes – it’s only meant to show that there are some circumstances where torture is permissible. Whether this will ever apply to the real world is a separate question. There was an example a few years ago in Australia I think where a man stole a car from a petrol station forecourt with a child in the back. Realising that he’d accidentally kidnapped a child, he abandoned the car in the outback. He was arrested by police and when asked where he’d left the car, he, for whatever twisted, insane reason, refused to say. So the police found themselves in a situation where they had a would-be murderer captive and the murder yet to take place. In order to prevent it, they tortured the guy and found the kid (I’m not sure on the exact nature of the torture – hell, I could have made all of this up). I would argue that this was justified, but that it only superficially resembles the waterboarding situation.

          1. Of course, that’s not an argument for authorising anyone to use torture. As Hazel Meade pointed out above, it’s not something you want institutionalised.

          2. That’s the kind of situation I had in mind when I pointed out that preserving your moral purity at the cost of another’s life may not necessarily be moral.

            I do agree with Hazel that its not something you want institutionalized.

          3. Cool. I’m influential.

          4. Cool. I’m influential.

    2. ^^^^This.

  33. But, killing bin Laden was an imminent emergency situation where millions of lives hung in the balance. Who knows what could have happened if we waited another decade?

    Here’s my take — laws punish, they don’t prevent. Make torture illegal, and enforce it. If a situation is so critical that it demands torture, then it should be critical enough that the torturer is willing to sacrifice himself to a prison sentence after the fact, whether it helped or not. If not, either he’s overstating the necessity (easy to do, when the only one bearing the cost is someone nearly subhuman in your eyes) or a coward.

  34. I’ll take a wild guess here that Jeff Jacoby – and most of the commentators on this piece – have never been waterboarded.

    Neither have I. However, I know someone who has, and he vehemently insists it’s not torture.

    My dad, U.S. Army veteran, went through Ranger School, which is (as I understand it) a few months of hell, where you are subjected to extreme physical deprivation. Most of the men come out looking like skeletons, and sometimes half dead.

    The last part of the training was a mock prisoner-of-war camp. There, my dad says, everything that was done to the terrorists was done to him and the other men. Dogs, stinging insects, extreme heat and cold, sleep deprivation, total darkness, humiliation, and everything else you’ve ever heard about in the media. And waterboarding.

    When they waterboarded my dad (he was supposed to be protecting his Social Security number), he didn’t talk. None of the men there talked. (Contrast that to KSM, who gave up info a heck of a lot more valuable than a SS number.)

    My dad volunteered for Ranger School, but he didn’t know exactly what he was in for. He knew it was going to be tough, but he didn’t know about the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that you call torture. But he did sign up for it. Terrorists, likewise, sign up for possible harsh treatment at the hands of the U.S. & allies when they plan the killing of innocent civilians.

    My dad is absolutely adamant that he was never tortured. Torture, he says, is being cut open with a knife, or being burned with a hot poker, or otherwise inflicting intense physical pain. Waterboarding (according to my dad) doesn’t hurt. It induces a panic reaction – one that can be resisted.

    Again, I’ve never been waterboarded myself, so I can’t confirm my dad’s experience. What I can say is that many people who have actually been waterboarded – my dad, other men who have been through Ranger School or similar programs – insist on drawing a distinction between harsh treatment and torture.

    The fact that waterboarding isn’t torture doesn’t mean it’s right, or moral, or that we should do it. But I’m not sure what moral calculus posits that the physical comfort of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed trumps the possible lives that could be saved through interrogating him. Just a thought.

    1. Well, not everyone’s a consequentialist, so won’t have a ‘moral calculus’ to speak of. The question is this: do captives have a right to mercy? If so, then that right should not be violated – that’s what ‘right’ means. If you believe, as I do, that the purpose of capturing someone in the first place is to stop them violating the rights of others, neither ‘harsh treatment’ or torture are justified, since neither can stop them hurting others any more than they’ve already been stopped (except in the rare circumstances where they still have power over the lives of people outside their jail cell – see above).
      I also think it’s folly to say that terrorists sign up for harsh treatment at the hands of their enemies. Terrorists, in behaving the way they do, authorise the use of any force it takes to stop them hurting people. Once they’ve been stopped however, it’s not good enough to point at some theoretical consent to torture. If you asked them whether they consented, they would surely say no. Anyway, my point is this: we are no barbarians. We shouldn’t act like we are. And even people who have done terrible things – even people who have committed the worst crimes imaginable – have rights. Good men are defined by what they won’t do to win.

  35. Waterboarding has replaced LSD for the Clockwork Orange treatment. The public must be informed that waterboarding causes much more than some physical discomfort from drowning and smothering. It stimulates the vagus nerve so much that it puts its victims into what Dr. Stanislav Grof calls “perinatal matrix three”. In perinatal matrix three, one body switches backward and forward in time into evey person that has been seen. The victims are first forced to see films of people in torment. Then, from enough vagal stimulation the victim body switches into each and every victim, one by one, backward and forward in time, to experience them all, and suffers their sufffering as real as life. The scientific discovery of quantum physicist Dr. Hugh Everett, of a probability timeline for every possibility, does show that one does actually body switch in real victims by the Clockwork Orange treatment, caused by LSD, or waterboarding. The TV’s in the cells of victims are not a luxury. These TV’s are used to show horrible torments which the prisoner will soon suffer by the Clockwork Orange treatment. Crucifixion does the same thing.

    In ancient times initiation into the Sacred Mysteries was caused by vagal stimulation like this. In the “Aenied” the Witch of Averness said, “You cannot enter the Underworld (better known as Hell) without the Golden Bough (the vagus nerve). Vivasection in those days revealed that the vagus nerve looked like a “golden bough”. Dr. Stanislav Grof revealed that Baptism was originally waterboarding. The Baptism of waterboarding was used for vagal stimulation by many repositories of the Sacred Mysteries, like the Knights of Bath. The name Baphomet means the Baptism of Wisdom, and, the devil Baphomet gives the gesture “as below so above”, refering to human physiology. Yet, this is the most suppressed secret in the world.

    That’s THEIR Grand Secret. Vagal stimulation overrides the inhibitory neurons in the brain, waking up the brain beyond it’s normal 10% brain use. LSD does the same thing by blocking seratonin, the neurotransmitter of those inhibitory neurons. When the Soviet Union found out that the “lodge” WAS violating human rights to suppress this knowledge of the human body, Dr. Stanislav Grof came from Prague, Czechoslovakia, and established Grof Transpersonal, http://www.holotropic.com where sufficient vagal stimulation is accomplished by “holotropic breathing”. The “lodge” didn’t dare touch them. And, the “hive” theory of network engineering was declared, that, knowledge is sequestered in groups and goes nowhere.
    Then, the Iron Curtain fell. They had violated the noninterference treaty. Back in the old Iron Curtain countries shamans’ disease was public knowledge. The people were allowed to know that scar tissue in the parasympathetic (muscarinic) nervous system woke up the brain, beyond the normal 10% brain use. But, here, behind the “Plastic Curtain”, people with shamans’ disease were condemned to the mental hospital gulags, invented by Benjamin Franklin for his “lodge”, and tagged schizophrenic.
    Schizophrenia itself is caused by the growth of too many axons and dendrites between the brain neurons, caused by a gene called DISC1, which also wakes up the brain beyond the normal 10% brain use. But also, anyone caught knowing this Grand Secret was tagged schizophrenic, locked up in the mental hospital gulags, and tortured with dopamine blockers and shock treatments. The “lodge” was so paranoid about its Grand Secret that no one could get blue candy until the Twenty-First Century. The availability of blue candy was probably made possible by the writings of Mike O’Dan the Snakeman, from 1971 through to the Twenty-First Century, by pointing out this gap, conspicuous by set theory, and the reason for it.
    The “lodge” is the greatest threat to the American way today, and have been since 1995 when they attempted to remove our human rights by a constitutional convention. Recently, they have even been trying to put America under an Islamic governemnt. They are sneaking Sharia Law into our court systems now. They are also trying to force changes that would eliminate our Bill of Rights by destroying the economy. If you want to continue enjoying your American liberties, I suggest that you spread this secret material, for you, too, now know too much.

  36. Waterboarding is far more than just causing discomfort. The Clockwork Orange treatment is given by waterboarding, which is a century of the body switching backward and forward in time, suffering everyone’s torments, one victim at a time. It was referred to in the Greek New Testament as the “aioniu amartematos”, aeon of failure, translated in the English of the King James Bible as “eternal damnation.”
    It is obvious that today the Clockwork Orange treatment is given by waterboarding. In Time magazine it was written that waterboarding floods the nasopharynx with water. The main trunk of the vagus nerve emerges from the brain in the nasopharynx and descends into the body, not through the spine. That will give you some other ideas of what else causes hallucinatory vagal stimulations.
    In Gitmo, the televisions in the cells are used to present horrible scenes of torment so that the victims of waterboarding experience all that torment by the body switching backward and forward in time, into every victim seen.
    I was given the Clockwork Orange treatment by LSD, in the sixties, for having written about vagal stimulation (supreme grand secret of the “lodge”) in a high school term paper, four years after a homeless banished lodge member told my buddy and
    me. I was caught a while after graduation. Thus, it seems that the “aeon of failure” is this psychedelic experience.

  37. Waterboarding is far more than just causing discomfort. The Clockwork Orange treatment is given by waterboarding, which is a century of the body switching backward and forward in time, suffering everyone’s torments, one victim at a time. It was referred to in the Greek New Testament as the “aioniu amartematos”, aeon of failure, translated in the English of the King James Bible as “eternal damnation.”
    It is obvious that today the Clockwork Orange treatment is given by waterboarding. In Time magazine it was written that waterboarding floods the nasopharynx with water. The main trunk of the vagus nerve emerges from the brain in the nasopharynx and descends into the body, not through the spine. That will give you some other ideas of what else causes hallucinatory vagal stimulations.
    In Gitmo, the televisions in the cells are used to present horrible scenes of torment so that the victims of waterboarding experience all that torment by the body switching backward and forward in time, into every victim seen.
    I was given the Clockwork Orange treatment by LSD, in the sixties, for having written about vagal stimulation (supreme grand secret of the “lodge”) in a high school term paper, four years after a homeless banished lodge member told my buddy and
    me. I was caught a while after graduation. Thus, it seems that the “aeon of failure” is this psychedelic experience.

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