Tuesday, November 08, 2005

(Sigh) Why You Shouldn't Torture People

You would think the Bush administration could use its time more constructively. But no, it is busily working on exempting the CIA from a congressional bill that would ban torture.

Even the venerable Alan Dershowitz has weighed in for torture in certain cases. It's a pretty odd position for a defense attorney.

(It's exceedingly hard to write about this without rolling my eyes.)

Now, I get really irritated when I have to explain the obvious to grown-ups. Like, when I had to tell students not to bookmark porn cites on the library's circulation-desk computer.

But this is just surreal. I mean, what has happened to my country? You know, the one that rises above the baser elements of human nature to live by principle? Okay, okay, I know it was never as perfect as all that, but at least most of us talked the talk. Now we have the leaders of this nation opening a discussion on whether it's ok to use torture to get information from detainees.

So it's time to explain the obvious again. Now, let's put aside the argument that torture is just plain wrong. It is, of course, but apparently our leaders no longer care about what's right and what's wrong. So let's try a tactical, utilitarian approach.

All right. Why do some Americans want to be able to torture people? Well, supposedly it's so that we can make prisoners talk in emergency situations -- like, there's a bomb about to go off in a school and we have to get information out of a prisoner somehow so we can stop it.

Well, why shouldn't we torture the guy?

1. Let's assume for the moment that torture is an effective way to get information. That doesn't mean it's an effective way to get accurate information. There are lots of folks in prison, all over the world, who have confessed to doing things they didn't do, just to get the torture to stop. And torture is not going to work on someone who is so dedicated to his (or her) cause that torture would become "necessary." They'll either die before they talk, or they'll give incorrect information just to lead us astray. By the time we know we've been duped, the bomb will have already gone off.

2. If we permit torture, even just in exceptional circumstances, we lose an important international bargaining chip. First, we can no longer claim the higher position. If we complain about treatment of American prisoners, the bad guys (whoever they may be) can say, "Hey, you guys allow torture and you have it in writing. So don't talk to us about how we're treating prisoners." We can't invoke the United Declaration of Human Rights when we're violating it ourselves.

3. What better way to create terrorists than to pull this kind of a stupid stunt?

4. Who's going to police it? Dershowitz said last night on The Situation Room that you should always have to get the President's authority to torture. But he acknowledged that in an emergency situation you'd have to get it retroactively. Okay. We're going to trust Bush with that sort of responsibility?

I just cannot believe anybody needs to say this stuff.


  1. I guess "killing them with kindness" has no more use in the American English language. How sad that it's come to this.

  2. Who knew that the waterboard was a tool of democracy? This whole toture thing is pitiful flailing of a narcissistic administration that can't believe the world isn't following their game plan. Pitiful.