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    Thread: Torture

    1. #1
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      Torture

      Quote Originally Posted by Michael Levin
      THE CASE FOR TORTURE
      By Michael Levin

      It is generally assumed that torture is impermissible, a throwback to a more brutal age. Enlightened societies reject it outright, and regimes suspected of using it risk the wrath of the United States.

      I believe this attitude is unwise. There are situations in which torture is not merely permissible but morally mandatory. Moreover, these situations are moving from the realm of imagination to fact.

      Death: Suppose a terrorist has hidden an atomic bomb on Manhattan Island which will detonate at noon on July 4 unless ... here follow the usual demands for money and release of his friends from jail. Suppose, further, that he is caught at 10 a.m on the fateful day, but preferring death to failure, won't disclose where the bomb is. What do we do? If we follow due process, wait for his lawyer, arraign him, millions of people will die. If the only way to save those lives is to subject the terrorist to the most excruciating possible pain, what grounds can there be for not doing so? I suggest there are none. In any case, I ask you to face the question with an open mind.

      Torturing the terrorist is unconstitutional? Probably. But millions of lives surely outweigh constitutionality. Torture is barbaric? Mass murder is far more barbaric. Indeed, letting millions of innocents die in deference to one who flaunts his guilt is moral cowardice, an unwillingness to dirty one's hands. If you caught the terrorist, could you sleep nights knowing that millions died because you couldn't bring yourself to apply the electrodes?

      Once you concede that torture is justified in extreme cases, you have admitted that the decision to use torture is a matter of balancing innocent lives against the means needed to save them. You must now face more realistic cases involving more modest numbers. Someone plants a bomb on a jumbo jet. I He alone can disarm it, and his demands cannot be met (or they can, we refuse to set a precedent by yielding to his threats). Surely we can, we must, do anything to the extortionist to save the passengers. How can we tell 300, or 100, or 10 people who never asked to be put in danger, "I'm sorry you'll have to die in agony, we just couldn't bring ourselves to . . . "

      Here are the results of an informal poll about a third, hypothetical, case. Suppose a terrorist group kidnapped a newborn baby from a hospital. I asked four mothers if they would approve of torturing kidnappers if that were necessary to get their own newborns back. All said yes, the most "liberal" adding that she would like to administer it herself.

      I am not advocating torture as punishment. Punishment is addressed to deeds irrevocably past. Rather, I am advocating torture as an acceptable measure for preventing future evils. So understood, it is far less objectionable than many extant punishments. Opponents of the death penalty, for example, are forever insisting that executing a murderer will not bring back his victim (as if the purpose of capital punishment were supposed to be resurrection, not deterrence or retribution). But torture, in the cases described, is intended not to bring anyone back but to keep innocents from being dispatched. The most powerful argument against using torture as a punishment or to secure confessions is that such practices disregard the rights of the individual. Well, if the individual is all that important, and he is, it is correspondingly important to protect the rights of individuals threatened by terrorists. If life is so valuable that it must never be taken, the lives of the innocents must be saved even at the price of hurting the one who endangers them.

      Better precedents for torture are assassination and pre-emptive attack. No Allied leader would have flinched at assassinating Hitler, had that been possible. (The Allies did assassinate Heydrich.) Americans would be angered to learn that Roosevelt could have had Hitler killed in 1943, thereby shortening the war and saving millions of lives, but refused on moral grounds. Similarly, if nation A learns that nation B is about to launch an unprovoked attack, A has a right to save itself by destroying B's military capability first. In the same way, if the police can by torture save those who would otherwise die at the hands of kidnappers or terrorists, they must.

      Idealism:There is an important difference between terrorists and their victims that should mute talk of the terrorists' "rights." The terrorist's victims are at risk unintentionally, not having asked to be endangered. But the terrorist knowingly initiated his actions. Unlike his victims, he volunteered for the risks of his deed. By threatening to kill for profit or idealism, he renounces civilized standards, and he can have no complaint if civilization tries to thwart him by whatever means necessary.

      Just as torture is justified only to save lives (not extort confessions or incantations), it is justifiably administered only to those known to hold innocent lives in their hands. Ah, but how call the authorities ever be sure they have the right malefactor? Isn't there a danger of error and abuse? won't "WE" turn into "THEM?" Questions like these are disingenuous in a world in which terrorists proclaim themselves and perform for television. The name of their game is public recognition. After all, you can't very well intimidate a government into releasing your freedom fighters unless you announce that it is your group that has seized its embassy. "Clear guilt" is difficult to define, but when 40 million people see a group of masked gunmen seize an airplane on the evening news, there is not much question about who the perpetrators are. There will be hard cases where the situation is murkier. Nonetheless, a line demarcating the legitimate use of torture can be drawn. Torture only the obviously guilty, and only for the sake of saving innocents, and the line between "US" and "THEM" will remain clear.

      There is little danger that the Western democracies will lose their way if they choose to inflict pain as one way of preserving order. Paralysis in the face of evil is the greater danger. Some day soon a terrorist will threaten tens of thousands of lives, and torture will be the only way to save them. We had better start thinking about this.
      -------
      Summarized version: In "The Case for Torture," Michael Levin argues that there are situations where torture is not only acceptable, but necessary. To illustrate his point, he presents the reader with a hypothetical question - if a terrorist has planted an atomic bomb that could potentially claim the lives of millions, and the only way to find out where it has been hidden is through the use of torture, then is there any reason not to follow through? He contends that there are none. When grappling with this moral dilemma, it is a simple matter of balancing innocent lives with the means needed to save them. Pressing further, Levin likens torture to preemptive strikes against enemy nations. In essence, he advocates torture not as punishment, but rather as a means of preventing future harm. It is in this sense, he believes, that if the police can use torture to prevent the deaths of innocent civilians, they should not hesitate to do so. Anticipating the criticisms of those who would raise concerns about the rights of the individual, he draws a line between the innocent and the criminally guilty. On the one hand, the victims have unwittingly found themselves at risk, and on the other, the terrorist knowingly accepted the risks when he committed his crime. In Levins' view, the terrorist forfeited any claims to human rights when he renounced civilized standards. In summation, he claims that our society will not undermine it's democratic ideals if it resorts to exacting torture as a means of securing the rule of law and good order.
      How do you feel about torture - is it a necessary evil or is it morally indefensible? Can a justifiable case be made for "advanced interrogation tactics," or are they simply barbaric and impractical?
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    2. #2
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      A very similar case was made by Sam Harris recently, and I happen to agree with him. Torture is no more or less barbaric than any act of war. Why is it OK to blow someone up with high explosive, but not torture them?

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      Quote Originally Posted by cmind View Post
      A very similar case was made by Sam Harris recently, and I happen to agree with him. Torture is no more or less barbaric than any act of war. Why is it OK to blow someone up with high explosive, but not torture them?
      I'd say primarily because, unlike a war that's waged in self-defense or as a corrective measure (eg. Allies against the Axis in WWII), torture doesn't accomplish much of anything. No reliable information can be obtained by pulling teeth, nor can any government reasonably criticize a criminal for solving their problems through acts of murder, if, at the same time, the government is solving it's own problems through means that are just as brutal and destructive. It essentially undermines the legitimacy of the state, leaving it no grounds - moral or otherwise - to claim rightful authority.

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      Quote Originally Posted by GavinGill View Post
      I'd say primarily because, unlike a war that's waged in self-defense or as a corrective measure (eg. Allies against the Axis in WWII), torture doesn't accomplish much of anything. No reliable information can be obtained by pulling teeth,
      Modern interrogation techniques are far more advanced, and do produce results.

      Quote Originally Posted by GavinGill View Post
      nor can any government reasonably criticize a criminal for solving their problems through acts of murder, if, at the same time, the government is solving it's own problems through means that are just as brutal and destructive. It essentially undermines the legitimacy of the state, leaving it no grounds - moral or otherwise - to claim rightful authority.
      I would agree with this statement 100%, but for all acts of war, not just torture. In my mind, there's nothing moral about government, ever.

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      It is never acceptable, not under any circumstance. I suspect in the above situation, that if torture was required to save millions of lives, the person would do the torture even if it was against the law. Because to them they are weighing out the consequences, going to jail vs letting million dies. If the person isn't willingly to be arrested and face trial for their actions, then clearly the idea that it was critical for them to torture is just bullshit.

      The argument he is making isn't that torture is needed some times, but that torture should be institutionalized and used as common practice. He uses an absurd example that will never happen because he is trying to make an emotional appear to make torture sound more acceptable. I say, torture should always be illegal and banned and if for some reason it was needed the person responsible should be arrested and face a fair trial. If there is really some exceptional circumstance then the courts will find them innocent or the president will be willing to put his career on the line to pardon the person.

      There is no need to give a blank check to police and military to freely torture people as they see fit. Also, seeing as how it is unconstitutional, the idea that we should break the law to allow it is absurd. How exactly do you trust that they will only do it on guilty people to save lives, when the very activities requires them to break the law and to like break oaths they made to uphold the constitution(if they work for the government)?
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      It's okay if it happens while Obama is president because he is a Democrat.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Universal Mind View Post
      It's okay if it happens while Obama is president because he is a Democrat.
      I don't think anybody is okay with Obama supporting torture, even hardline democrats. I certainly don't like that about Obama, among other things.
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      Quote Originally Posted by DeeryTheDeer View Post
      I don't think anybody is okay with Obama supporting torture, even hardline democrats. I certainly don't like that about Obama, among other things.
      The talk about torture suddenly got really quiet when he was elected.
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      God cannot destroy himself because He is Omnipotent.


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      This is clearly not the case. It was only during his administration that the CIA whistle-blower came out and renewed this criticism. It was only during his administration that the torturous practices in Chicago's own black site were brought to light. Hundreds have come out reporting their experiences at black sites across the world. Liberals may have been too patient with Obama, but at this point it's pretty collectively agreed that his "look forward, not backward" policy is a war crime as deserving of justice as Bush and Cheney, who ordered these practices to begin in the first place. And actually, they didn't invent these techniques, they just escalated them. These techniques find their origin in Operation Phoenix, as early as the Vietnam war. These techniques continued in central and South America, and then in the middle east.

      If you, as a conservative, are upset at liberals being soft on Obama, then perhaps it's time to get the rest of your constituency to focus on what he's actually doing wrong. He is referred to as a socialist, and as a social libertarian this makes it impossible for me to side with you because I know how important social programs like healthcare are. So stop conflating his fascist administration and the Deep State with socialism. We need socialism, what we want to fight is totalitarianism. What we have is inverted totalitarianism with a disposable workforce, run not by a central leader but an anonymous collective of billionaires in the military industrial complex. Target the real enemy, target the Kochs and the wall street execs who still aren't serving time in jail, and I guarantee you, you'll see the liberals willing to reach across the aisle and join you in resistance.

      Everything works out in the end, sometimes even badly.


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