Was it worth it?

To answer Patterico’s question:

Let’s assume the following hypothetical facts are true. U.S. officials have KSM in custody. They know he planned 9/11 and therefore have a solid basis to believe he has other deadly plots in the works. They try various noncoercive techniques to learn the details of those plots. Nothing works.

They then waterboard him for two and one half minutes.

During this session KSM feels panicky and unable to breathe. Even though he can breathe, he has the sensation that he is drowning. So he gives up information — reliable information — that stops a plot involving people flying planes into buildings.

My simple question is this: based on these hypothetical facts, was the waterboarding session worth it?

No.

But here’s the problem with hypotheticals like this: They’re totally and completely divorced from reality. The situation Patterico describes, wherein Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (“KSM”) was tortured actually happened; KSM did, in fact, confess to planning 9/11. Of course, he also confessed to planning such a ridiculous laundry list of attacks that it’s difficult to believe he had a hand in all of them (the guy claims he made plans to assassinate President Carter, President Clinton, and the Pope, among a wide variety of other crimes). Chances are, he did what most people do when they’re being tortured: He told his torturers whatever he thought they wanted to hear in order to make it stop. Which makes for really, really bad intelligence that potentially compromises American lives.

It also makes pro-torture conservatives look a little silly, and can really screw up actual attempts at prosecuting terrorists:

In March, Mariane Pearl, the widow of the murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, received a phone call from Alberto Gonzales, the Attorney General. At the time, Gonzales’s role in the controversial dismissal of eight United States Attorneys had just been exposed, and the story was becoming a scandal in Washington. Gonzales informed Pearl that the Justice Department was about to announce some good news: a terrorist in U.S. custody—Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Al Qaeda leader who was the primary architect of the September 11th attacks—had confessed to killing her husband. (Pearl was abducted and beheaded five and a half years ago in Pakistan, by unidentified Islamic militants.) The Administration planned to release a transcript in which Mohammed boasted, “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew Daniel Pearl in the city of Karachi, Pakistan. For those who would like to confirm, there are pictures of me on the Internet holding his head.”

Pearl was taken aback. In 2003, she had received a call from Condoleezza Rice, who was then President Bush’s national-security adviser, informing her of the same news. But Rice’s revelation had been secret. Gonzales’s announcement seemed like a publicity stunt. Pearl asked him if he had proof that Mohammed’s confession was truthful; Gonzales claimed to have corroborating evidence but wouldn’t share it. “It’s not enough for officials to call me and say they believe it,” Pearl said. “You need evidence.” (Gonzales did not respond to requests for comment.)

The circumstances surrounding the confession of Mohammed, whom law-enforcement officials refer to as K.S.M., were perplexing. He had no lawyer. After his capture in Pakistan, in March of 2003, the Central Intelligence Agency had detained him in undisclosed locations for more than two years; last fall, he was transferred to military custody in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. There were no named witnesses to his initial confession, and no solid information about what form of interrogation might have prodded him to talk, although reports had been published, in the Times and elsewhere, suggesting that C.I.A. officers had tortured him. At a hearing held at Guantánamo, Mohammed said that his testimony was freely given, but he also indicated that he had been abused by the C.I.A. (The Pentagon had classified as “top secret” a statement he had written detailing the alleged mistreatment.) And although Mohammed said that there were photographs confirming his guilt, U.S. authorities had found none. Instead, they had a copy of the video that had been released on the Internet, which showed the killer’s arms but offered no other clues to his identity.

Further confusing matters, a Pakistani named Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh had already been convicted of the abduction and murder, in 2002. A British-educated terrorist who had a history of staging kidnappings, he had been sentenced to death in Pakistan for the crime. But the Pakistani government, not known for its leniency, had stayed his execution. Indeed, hearings on the matter had been delayed a remarkable number of times—at least thirty—possibly because of his reported ties to the Pakistani intelligence service, which may have helped free him after he was imprisoned for terrorist activities in India. Mohammed’s confession would delay the execution further, since, under Pakistani law, any new evidence is grounds for appeal.

A surprising number of people close to the case are dubious of Mohammed’s confession. A longtime friend of Pearl’s, the former Journal reporter Asra Nomani, said, “The release of the confession came right in the midst of the U.S. Attorney scandal. There was a drumbeat for Gonzales’s resignation. It seemed like a calculated strategy to change the subject. Why now? They’d had the confession for years.” Mariane and Daniel Pearl were staying in Nomani’s Karachi house at the time of his murder, and Nomani has followed the case meticulously; this fall, she plans to teach a course on the topic at Georgetown University. She said, “I don’t think this confession resolves the case. You can’t have justice from one person’s confession, especially under such unusual circumstances. To me, it’s not convincing.” She added, “I called all the investigators. They weren’t just skeptical—they didn’t believe it.”

Special Agent Randall Bennett, the head of security for the U.S. consulate in Karachi when Pearl was killed—and whose lead role investigating the murder was featured in the recent film “A Mighty Heart”—said that he has interviewed all the convicted accomplices who are now in custody in Pakistan, and that none of them named Mohammed as playing a role. “K.S.M.’s name never came up,” he said. Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. officer, said, “My old colleagues say with one-hundred-per-cent certainty that it was not K.S.M. who killed Pearl.” A government official involved in the case said, “The fear is that K.S.M. is covering up for others, and that these people will be released.” And Judea Pearl, Daniel’s father, said, “Something is fishy. There are a lot of unanswered questions. K.S.M. can say he killed Jesus—he has nothing to lose.”

Mariane Pearl, who is relying on the Bush Administration to bring justice in her husband’s case, spoke carefully about the investigation. “You need a procedure that will get the truth,” she said. “An intelligence agency is not supposed to be above the law.”

Whoops.

And then there’s this:

Yet Mohammed’s confessions may also have muddled some key investigations. Perhaps under duress, he claimed involvement in thirty-one criminal plots—an improbable number, even for a high-level terrorist. Critics say that Mohammed’s case illustrates the cost of the C.I.A.’s desire for swift intelligence. Colonel Dwight Sullivan, the top defense lawyer at the Pentagon’s Office of Military Commissions, which is expected eventually to try Mohammed for war crimes, called his serial confessions “a textbook example of why we shouldn’t allow coercive methods.”

In the real world, interrogators have adopted a “learned dependence” model to break down prisoners — a model lifted directly from the KGB. There’s just one leetle problem:

Steve Kleinman, a reserve Air Force colonel and an experienced interrogator who has known Mitchell professionally for years, said that “learned helplessness was his whole paradigm.” Mitchell, he said, “draws a diagram showing what he says is the whole cycle. It starts with isolation. Then they eliminate the prisoners’ ability to forecast the future—when their next meal is, when they can go to the bathroom. It creates dread and dependency. It was the K.G.B. model. But the K.G.B. used it to get people who had turned against the state to confess falsely. The K.G.B. wasn’t after intelligence.”

And here are the kind of “not torturous” things we do to detainees:

According to sources familiar with interrogation techniques, the hanging position is designed, in part, to prevent detainees from being able to sleep. The former C.I.A. officer, who is knowledgeable about the interrogation program, explained that “sleep deprivation works. Your electrolyte balance changes. You lose all balance and ability to think rationally. Stuff comes out.” Sleep deprivation has been recognized as an effective form of coercion since the Middle Ages, when it was called tormentum insomniae. It was also recognized for decades in the United States as an illegal form of torture. An American Bar Association report, published in 1930, which was cited in a later U.S. Supreme Court decision, said, “It has been known since 1500 at least that deprivation of sleep is the most effective torture and certain to produce any confession desired.”

Under President Bush’s new executive order, C.I.A. detainees must receive the “basic necessities of life, including adequate food and water, shelter from the elements, necessary clothing, protection from extremes of heat and cold, and essential medical care.” Sleep, according to the order, is not among the basic necessities.

In addition to keeping a prisoner awake, the simple act of remaining upright can over time cause significant pain. McCoy, the historian, noted that “longtime standing” was a common K.G.B. interrogation technique. In his 2006 book, “A Question of Torture,” he writes that the Soviets found that making a victim stand for eighteen to twenty-four hours can produce “excruciating pain, as ankles double in size, skin becomes tense and intensely painful, blisters erupt oozing watery serum, heart rates soar, kidneys shut down, and delusions deepen.”

Mohammed is said to have described being chained naked to a metal ring in his cell wall for prolonged periods in a painful crouch. (Several other detainees who say that they were confined in the Dark Prison have described identical treatment.) He also claimed that he was kept alternately in suffocating heat and in a painfully cold room, where he was doused with ice water. The practice, which can cause hypothermia, violates the Geneva Conventions, and President Bush’s new executive order arguably bans it.

And no one really denies that torturing KSM got us a whole lot of bad information:

Without more transparency, the value of the C.I.A.’s interrogation and detention program is impossible to evaluate. Setting aside the moral, ethical, and legal issues, even supporters, such as John Brennan, acknowledge that much of the information that coercion produces is unreliable. As he put it, “All these methods produced useful information, but there was also a lot that was bogus.” When pressed, one former top agency official estimated that “ninety per cent of the information was unreliable.” Cables carrying Mohammed’s interrogation transcripts back to Washington reportedly were prefaced with the warning that “the detainee has been known to withhold information or deliberately mislead.” Mohammed, like virtually all the top Al Qaeda prisoners held by the C.I.A., has claimed that, while under coercion, he lied to please his captors.

Perhaps even more troubling is the fact that the torture means that it may be exceedingly difficult to actually try terrorists in a court of law:

Critics of the Administration fear that the unorthodox nature of the C.I.A.’s interrogation and detention program will make it impossible to prosecute the entire top echelon of Al Qaeda leaders in captivity. Already, according to the Wall Street Journal, credible allegations of torture have caused a Marine Corps prosecutor reluctantly to decline to bring charges against Mohamedou Ould Slahi, an alleged Al Qaeda leader held in Guantánamo. Bruce Riedel, the former C.I.A. analyst, asked, “What are you going to do with K.S.M. in the long run? It’s a very good question. I don’t think anyone has an answer. If you took him to any real American court, I think any judge would say there is no admissible evidence. It would be thrown out.”

So the pro-torture conservative mob is making it easier for terrorists to get off. KSM is, by all accounts, an exceptionally dangerous person and a terrorist who needs to be behind bars. But the torture tactics and the resulting false confessions mean that there’s a lack of reliable, admissible evidence; there’s also an international lack of trust in our government and our legal system which is going to plague us for years to come, particularly when it comes to the terrorism issue. The fact is, the “ticking time-bomb” scenario is a TV fiction. In the reality-based world, terror suspects are being held for exceptionally long periods of time, and have their wills, their bodies and their minds so thoroughly broken that the information they give is unreliable and often useless. If the terrorists are ever allowed to see an actual court of law, much of the information they give can’t be presented to make a case against them. Of course, the pro-torture conservatives oppose giving terrorists their day in court anyway, which is certainly interesting given how much they claim to love America and its fine institutions. Do they not trust our justice system to adequately prosecute terrorists? Do they not trust our intelligence officials to gather the necessary information to get a conviction? Do they not have faith in the very system of democracy and rule of law that they say they want to spread abroad? Federal judges who have experience trying and sentencing terrorists are frustrated with the way conservative “patriots” are stomping all over the Constitution of the country they claim to hold dear. What gives?

There is no ticking time bomb, we aren’t on 24, and despite your proud membership in the 101st Fighting Keyboardists and your hard-on for Manly Men, you are not Jack Bauer. So no, torture isn’t worth it, especially when it gives us bad information, compromises our international standing, and makes it harder to actually bring terrorists to justice. But who knows — maybe if we keep up the waterboarding, someone will finally confess to kidnapping the Lindbergh baby.


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58 comments for “Was it worth it?

  1. November 13, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    During this session KSM feels panicky and unable to breathe. Even though he can breathe, he has the sensation that he is drowning.

    FWIW, I’ve recently read a statement from a military dude regarding the administration’s use of “simulated drowning” to describe WB. As he put it, WB isn’t “simulated” drowning at all, it’s REAL drowning, but simulated death. Which has sort of a different spin to it, of which i’m sure the administratino is aware.

  2. MikeEss
    November 13, 2007 at 7:24 pm

    Jill, logic will only get you so far in wingnutlandia. If you expect them to see the inherent self-defeating idiocy of what they want to do to The Evil IslamoFascist Terrists, you’ve got a long wait ahead of you…

  3. lilian
    November 13, 2007 at 8:23 pm

    Some of the comments on the website linked are frightening. No, horrifying.

    In response to “Stace”‘s condemnation of torture in this hypothetical situation, Patterico replies:

    “I’d chop off every finger and every toe of a guilty person, who had knowledge that could save my daughter. I’d cover him with honey and stake him to a red ant pile. There’s no torture so barbaric that I wouldn’t do it. To save my daughter’s life.”

    The point that he, and those who agree with him, are completely missing is that in most if not all torture situations, they do not know so many details. They seem to assume that the criminal in question will be guilty, when most victims of torture have not *got* specific information to prevent crime. Like others have said before, a human being tortured will say anything to make it stop – which makes it fundamentally pointless and destructive and inhumane.

    It is scary because it presumes guilt instead of innocence (throw all that fair trial stuff out the window) and allowing torture throws a good deal of morality right out the window. Which is ironic, really, given that its proponents are driven by the assertion that they will compromise their morals to save another’s life.

    When I read comments such as these I get horrible flashbacks of 1984, reading Orwell’s novel and wanting to vomit during the passage in which Winston is tortured. This is the same thing, the same brutality.

    To presume guilt before innocence without sufficient evidence, and to treat an alleged criminal accordingly (waterboarding them, sending them to Guantanamo bay, not giving them a fair trial, whichever) is sick. It really is the death of morality. It gives me nightmares.

  4. lilian
    November 13, 2007 at 8:25 pm

    correction in my previous post: “It is scary because it presumes guilt instead of innocence (throw all that fair trial stuff out the window) and allowing torture throws a good deal of morality right out the window as well.”

    corrected by the department of redundancy department (oops)

  5. Nadai
    November 13, 2007 at 8:40 pm

    In response to “Stace”’s condemnation of torture in this hypothetical situation, Patterico replies:

    “I’d chop off every finger and every toe of a guilty person, who had knowledge that could save my daughter. I’d cover him with honey and stake him to a red ant pile. There’s no torture so barbaric that I wouldn’t do it. To save my daughter’s life.”

    I wonder if Patterico would be quite so sanguine about someone deciding that Patterico’s daughter was a guilty person, and that chopping off her fingers and toes might save their daughter’s life.

  6. lilian
    November 13, 2007 at 8:49 pm

    Good point Nadai. Key word there is *might*; because in a real situation, chopping off limbs and fingers might not reveal any information at all. And another thing I find disturbing about the whole discussion: we can’t really pretend to be discussing hypothetical situations, can we? Torture is actually taking place. Putting the ‘hypothetical’ label on the discussion sort of suspends the immorality of it, and certainly the reality of it.

    I guess what it comes down to is that people are viewing certain lives as disposable. Your point is perfect and exposes that assumption well – that certainly his daughter’s life is much more than a supposed terrorist. Despite the fact that they might be innocent or loved.

  7. November 13, 2007 at 9:01 pm

    Damned Baueritis… it clouds the higher cognitive functions.

  8. November 14, 2007 at 1:20 am

    I fully agree that the reliability of information obtained through coercive techniques or torture is one of the biggest concerns we have in assessing whether to permit techniques. For example, I said here that “Reliability of information is a legitimate issue.” And in the very post quoted in this post, I say “I might add that I wonder how realistic the hypothetical is.”

    My post is an exercise in philosophical discussion, and freely admits that the reality may be different.

    (I will point out, however, that it is firmly grounded in the reporting of Brian Ross, who says that the scenario I describe did in fact happen. So to say it is “totally and completely divorced from reality” is to assume that Ross’s report is wrong. It may be, but I don’t know for sure, and I don’t think Jill does either.)

    But Jill, I’m interested in your firm “No” to the hypothetical posed. Remember the assumptions of the question — which is, keep in mind, a hypothetical, so I get to make up assumptions that might not be realistic:

    1) The waterboarding lasts only 2 1/2 minutes.
    2) The waterboarding is of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who planned the 9/11 attacks.
    3) The information obtained is reliable.
    4) It saves thousands of lives.

    I understand taking a principled stand against torture. But waterboarding for 2 1/2 minutes has no long-term physical effects; a journalist voluntarily subjected himself to it and put the video on the internet, just to advance the debate. It seems like a very ideological position, at the very least, to oppose 2 1/2 minutes of psychological torture (and I agree that it is torture, in the common usage of the word) of such an evil man to prevent such a terrible atrocity as flying planes into buildings.

    It’s the equivalent of saying you wouldn’t have tried to prevent 9/11 if it meant waterboarding Osama bin Laden for 2 1/2 minutes. I just find that a very hard-line position that I think is certainly far out of the mainstream. It’s a position that is in my view very hard to defend — if you make all the assumptions that were present in my original hypothetical.

  9. November 14, 2007 at 1:24 am

    I wonder if Patterico would be quite so sanguine about someone deciding that Patterico’s daughter was a guilty person, and that chopping off her fingers and toes might save their daughter’s life.

    That makes no sense. My hypothetical assumed that there was an evil man who was harming my daughter, and who would kill her if he didn’t reveal the information that could save her. It also assumed (again, unrealistically — it’s a hypo) that the torture would be 100% effective in getting him to reveal the situation. In other words, in this purely philosophical exercise, the choices are

    a) No torture; my daughter dies
    b) Torture; my daughter lives.

    Keep in mind that the person to be tortured is the guilty party who is trying to kill her. Again, it’s an assumption made in a hypo designed to explore morality.

    In such a situation, I can’t imagine a torture so brutal that I would not engage in it.

  10. Christopher
    November 14, 2007 at 4:40 am

    What’s interesting to me here is the mechanics of forming a good hypothetical situation.

    Patterico clearly has no idea how to; his hypothetical presents a situation in which the costs are low and the benefit high.

    But ANY situation can become palatable if you increase the benefits enough and decrease the cost. For example:

    Suppose God came down and said he would destroy the entire planet unless I waterboarded a man for 1 second.

    I do so, and the earth was saved. Was the waterboarding worth it?

    I think you can make a pretty strong case that in that situation, waterboarding would indeed be a desirable option.

    But who cares? There’s no reason to expect that that will ever happen, and thus it can’t have any relationship to the actual discussion of waterboarding.

    The same is true here.

    There’s actually, I think, a pretty complicated set of rules for forming useful moral hypotheticals (Assuming it can be done), and I’ve never really thought about them on a concious level.

    That’s the interesting part, to me.

  11. November 14, 2007 at 10:23 am

    I submit that it would be worth it, especially since it would lead to the waterboarder being tried as a war criminal and the muted Price is Right “overbid tuba” noise being played when the ticking time bomb scenario blows up in the questioner’s face (i.e. the waterboardee giving false information).

    Shouldn’t an attorney be thinking of hypotheticals that don’t violate international law or derive from scenarios involving Kiefer Sutherland?

  12. November 14, 2007 at 10:37 am

    Christopher:

    Well, again, part of the reason I formed the hypothetical the way I did was because a news report said that the situation I described actually happened. Follow Jill’s link to my post if you’re interested in that aspect of it. An ABC News reporter named Brian Ross reported that we did in fact prevent a plot against the Llibrary Tower — the tallest building in L.A. (where I live) — by waterboarding KSM.

    Do I swallow that hook, line, and sinker? Nah, I don’t trust the government that much. But some of the sources for Ross’s story were waterboarding opponents, and some of those sources made the point Jill makes above (that some unreliable information was also obtained, in addition to the reliable info on the Library Tower plot). So it’s not like Ross had only self-serving sources for his story.

    Anyway. Even placing the potential reality of the situation aside . . .

    Your point appears to be that my hypothetical is ridiculously skewed towards obtaining the answer that waterboarding would be OK.

    Yet Jill still answered that it would not be OK to waterboard! Even in my silly hypo in which the costs are low and the benefits high.

    That was also part of the point of my hypo: to push waterboarding opponents to see just how strong their opposition is. Would they still oppose it even if it was KSM being waterboarded for 2 1/2 minutes, to save thousands of lives? Would they oppose it if it were Osama bin Laden being waterboarded for 2 1/2 minutes, and it prevented 9/11? (That’s functionally the same question.) Would they oppose it if it were waterboarding Adolf Hitler for one minute to save all of humanity?

    Etc.

    I posed the hypo for two reasons: 1) it’s based on a news report, and 2) it is indeed a very skewed situation where the costs are ridiculously low, and the benefits ridiculously high.

    I still found more than one person taking Jill’s position: that waterboarding would be wrong. And that I *disgusted* them for taking a different position! (I also found several liberal opponents of waterboarding saying that waterboarding *would* be worth it under the hypo proposed.)

    I bet if you changed 1 second to 1 minute, even your ridiculously absurd hypothetical — totally skewed to make acceptance of waterboarding the only obvious answer — would nevertheless find some people still opposed to waterboarding. You seem to implicitly acknowledge this, in the way you gingerly suggest that “you can make a pretty strong case” that waterboarding would be OK in your example — as opposed to saying “obviously waterboarding would OK in that situation.” I mean, isn’t it more than “a pretty strong case”?

    That’s the interesting part to me.

  13. Nomen Nescio
    November 14, 2007 at 10:54 am

    Patterico gets to make up the assumptions to form his hypothetical, sure. the problem is, he goes ahead and makes up assumptions which we know are not realistic. his assumption #3 has been known for centuries to be wholly divorced from reality; information gained under torture is never reliable, because the victim will say absolutely anything to make the torture stop.

    his assumption #1 is of undecidable realism, unless we can get recordings of what exactly was done to KSM and take a stopwatch to the proceedings. the CIA has excellent reason to never allow that to happen; i would be flabbergasted if any such recordings were ever made. (although it’s interesting that this assumption is basically the one of “nobody was actually tortured, since the torment didn’t last long enough”. so if we were to allow it, then by implication we are still condemning torture. is this genuine humanity, or merely plausible deniability? who can say?)

    his assumption #4 is wishful thinking, at best, and #2 seems entirely irrelevant. (if this were my hypothetical, for instance, the torture victim would quite naturally be Patterico’s daughter. who else?)

    this being thus, Patterico has constructed a hypothetical of no relevance. we can safely dismiss it as such. why he constructed it i cannot say — perhaps he just enjoys this kind of mental masturbation.

    [Last sentence redacted because I think it crossed the line and I’m not going to publish it in my space. -ed]

  14. November 14, 2007 at 11:01 am

    Also good to see that we’ve backslid from 1920s Mississippi.

  15. November 14, 2007 at 11:04 am

    norbizness,

    I make it clear in my actual hypo that I am posing a moral question and not a legal one. So you should wipe the legal slate clean and pretend that you can make up the law to conform to what you believe is morally right.

    In that case, is saving thousands of lives by waterboarding a mass murderer for 2 1/2 minutes worth it — assuming for the sake of my hypothetical that the information he gives up will be reliable and will indeed save thousands?

  16. November 14, 2007 at 11:15 am

    Nomen Nescio,

    It’s based on a report published by ABC. Maybe the report is wrong, but I wonder how you can *know* it is.

  17. MikeEss
    November 14, 2007 at 11:41 am

    “It’s based on a report published by ABC. Maybe the report is wrong, but I wonder how you can *know* it is.”

    …which is why all the ridiculous secrecy to prevent the “terrists” from knowing our incredibly successful non-torture interrogation techniques is so vitally important to the Bushites. They can claim anything they want (“Merrica does not, and would never torture”) and since there’s no independent proof, a whole bunch of koolaid-drinkers will happily buy the administration’s line.

    I just hope a UN panel investigates all this when Bush/Cheney are finally sent packing. ‘Course they won’t have any email documentation to work with if they do…

  18. November 14, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    Well, if you’re going to play a numbers game, then I would say you could definitely torture him, even to death, if there’s more than a 1 in 3000 chance that doing so produces reliable information.

    So let’s say there’s a 1 in 100 chance it produces reliable information, but let’s also throw in that you’ll be prosecuted as a war criminal and a murderer, regardless of whether you’re correct… would you go for it? C’mon, those are great odds… possibly a 30 to 1 save rate!

    We’re missing assumption #5: war crimes and only war crimes would produce reliable information.

  19. DaveW
    November 14, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    Jim Henley’s Ticking Bombast is one of the best responses to the ticking time bomb scenerio I’ve ever read. He includes a version of norbizness’s argument: if you really believe that torture is necessary to save thousands/millions of lives, and you can’t live with the idea of saving yourself at the expense of all those people, then you ought to be willing to torture even if you know that you will be punished for it. Legalizing torture makes it easier to use in cases where you aren’t that sure of the benefits.

  20. November 14, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    There may be exceptional conditions where torturing a captive is useful and morally justifiable. But to argue about such conditions is to ignore the grotesque reality before us. We don’t have individuals resorting to torture in exceptional conditions; we have torture being authorized as an instrument of state policy at the highest levels of the US government.

    So the real question is not “would you torture [insert individual we all know is bad] for the sake of [some cause we all know is good]”? The question is “would you trust some government functionary whom you’ve never met, whose job security depends on convincing other government functionaries that he/she is doing a good job Catching The Bad Guys, and who can get anyone to confess to anything if brutal methods are applied for long enough, to decide who is eligible to be tortured, and for what purpose”? And my answer to that is My God, why are we as a country so morally corrupt that this is even a matter of debate?

    As for the hypos being presented above, I would say that if the person committing the torture were on trial and I was on the jury, I would vote to convict, even if I thought the torture was morally justifiable. If you’re willing to commit waterboarding for your country, you should be willing to endure a few years in the clink, as well.

  21. other orange
    November 14, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    Here’s my hypothetical.

    If the makers of 24 introduce a torture plot for ratings, and then thanks to that (along with newly torture-positive policies coming down from the Bush administration) the American public is desensitized to torture and accepts the “necessity” of torture; and then as the years pass more and more American citizens are taken “off the grid” and tortured as suspected enemy combatants, yielding no verifiable information and destroying our social fabric; would it all be worth it if 24 actually got to the #1 spot ?

    Torture is wrong, period. It harms the victim and it harms the aggressor. It serves only to sow fear and hatred. No, it’s not worth it.

  22. November 14, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    I understand taking a principled stand against torture. But waterboarding for 2 1/2 minutes has no long-term physical effects; a journalist voluntarily subjected himself to it and put the video on the internet, just to advance the debate. It seems like a very ideological position, at the very least, to oppose 2 1/2 minutes of psychological torture (and I agree that it is torture, in the common usage of the word) of such an evil man to prevent such a terrible atrocity as flying planes into buildings.

    What did it prevent? The damage was already done.

    Further, I find it disturbing that you’re pooh-poohing the effects of waterboarding because a) it lasts “only” 2.5 minutes, and b) a journalist voluntarily subjected himself to the procedure, so it can’t be that bad!

    Let’s never mind that the lack of control, the lack of knowing whether you’re going to die is part of the psychological damage inflicted by waterboarding. It’s simulated death, not simulated drowning. So a journalist, who knows he will not be allowed to die and will be able to call off the experiment at any time undergoes a profoundly different experience than a captive, who’s already been softened up by “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as sleep deprivation, standing, electrodes, hooding, dogs, what have you.

    I also find it very interesting that the people who push torture as a way of extracting useful information in the “24” ticking-time-bomb scenario pay absolutely no heed to the fact that false confessions are a feature, not a bug, of torture. The techniques used on American prisoners in Vietnam, for example, were designed to get prisoners to say things that could be used in propaganda campaigns. They weren’t interested in getting the truth, but they were interested in getting something.

    Of course, acknowledging that — and acknowledging the experience of the one guy in the Senate who’s actually been tortured — would get in the way of paranoid authoritarian fantasies of destroying civil liberties in the name of “security.” On that point, I will leave you with a quote from A Man From All Seasons:

    William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

    Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

    William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

    Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

  23. November 14, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    Yeah, I think the problem is definitely in the nature of the hypothetical situation raised, here.

    I mean, I could debate any moral stance based on a hypothetical. But if the hypothetical situation is wildly unrealistic, then my debate would be meaningless in any real-world terms.

    I could construct a world in which racism, sexism, homophobia et al are non-existent, all people are healthy and wealthy and live long lives and no one has any stringent religious belief’s about the “purpose” of the female body. I could use this hypothetical to show an instance where all people have massive samples of their semen/eggs taken at the onset of puberty and are then forcibly sterilised- those that go on to pass certain tests and obtain a license are allowed access to these samples if they want children. I could say that, in such a hypothetical situation, this would be an okay method of keeping the human population down.

    But we’re living in a world that is still soaked in racism, sexism, homophobia etc. I can think of no individual I would trust to enforce such a law fairly. I can think of no government would trust. I can think of no test or series of tests that would prove the suitability of a person to be a parent. In addition, my hypothetical makes the assumption that human population needs to be controlled. That people denied their right to have children won’t suffer as a result of this, that living in such a society wouldn’t have an adverse and terrible affect on the people in it.

    In short, my hypothetical situation has no purpose, and the debate stemming from it would be a waste of my time, except as a basic bit of brain exercise.

    ***

    Patterico,

    In the hypothetical situation you raised, torture is, perhaps, justifiable. But when do we ever know, 100%, that a person convicted/suspected of a crime is actually guilty? There is always that small chance that we’re wrong. How can we ever be sure, in the real world, that the information we receive won’t be a pack of lies and promises to OHGODMAKEITSTOP?

    Here’s another hypothetical situation for you.

    Some one kidnaps your daughter. You have a massive amount of evidence that ties a particular person to the crime. You have DNA samples, fingerprints, fibres from the persons clothing, etc. You have witnesses that place the person at the scene of the crime. You capture the criminal, but you still don’t know where your daughter is. The last picture you saw of her, sent by the kidnapper, shows your daughter gagged, blindfolded and bound to a chair in a dingy basement. If she’s still there, then all the time you’re holding this guy she is starving to death, suffocating on her bindings.
    So you torture your criminal. You do all manner of horrific things to him, using pliers, drills, pins, fire, sleep deprivation, water torture, assault of the senses, the works. After 2 days the criminal confesses. He tells you where your daughter is held. It’s a long way away, and takes you another day to travel there. When you arrive, there is no sign of your daughter. None.
    On your return, you learn that since leaving, the criminal has been hospitalised and will likely be bedbound for life as well as emotionally scarred by your actions. Then you learn that, whilst you were torturing him, another kidnap of a child occurred in an identical manner, and a picture arrives on your desk, from the kidnapper, showing now 2 small children gagged and bound. You find that you missed one tiny, vital piece of evidence that gave credence to the alibi of the criminal you tortured.
    You have just permanently disfigured and tortured an innocent man. And you got no closer to catching the kidnapper, or rescuing your daughter. In fact, with vital attention diverted away from the real kidnapper, he was able to take another child.

    Was the torture worth it?

  24. November 14, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    Damn… sorry, apologies for length, I got carried away.

  25. Seraph
    November 14, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    Don’t apologize, Bunny. Length isn’t a sin for something that good.

  26. Seraph
    November 14, 2007 at 5:12 pm

    In that case, is saving thousands of lives by waterboarding a mass murderer for 2 1/2 minutes worth it — assuming for the sake of my hypothetical that the information he gives up will be reliable and will indeed save thousands?

    The problem (well, one of the problems) is that this assumption cannot be made. In the “ticking bomb” scenario, the torture victim (assuming they actually have the knowledge you need) will either hold out or – better yet, since it has the benefit of stopping the torture while you investigate – send you on wild goose-chases until it’s too late. Knowing there’s a time limit and having the means to make the bastards torturing you pay would be a big psychological help in resisting.

    In any scenario but the “ticking bomb”, torture is equally worthless. Once a higher-up is captured, any organization with a brain cell among them will abandon safe-houses he knew about, scrap or alter plans he was involved with, and otherwise make any information you can get from him useless.

    So what you end up with is what we actually got from KSM: a laundry list of confessions that were nothing more than what he thought his torturers wanted to hear. Great stuff if you want to terrorize and propagandize. Not so much if you want useful intelligence, still less if you want to establish yourself as “the good guy” for the people of the region and the world.

  27. November 14, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    People keep saying the hypothetical is wildly unrealistic without addressing the fact that ABC News reported that it happened.

  28. Raincitygirl
    November 14, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    Ooh, good hypothetical, Bunny. I must say I’m curious to see how Patterico will respond to a hypothetical situation that’s at least semi-realistic.

    As for torture, my godmother’s uncle was in the Dutch Resistance during the war, was captured, was tortured, and was killed. According to my godmother, Resistance members were told that if they were captured,t hey should confess to anything and everything they could think of, make stuff up, etc. The idea was to create a white noise filter of plausible-sounding bullshit so that when they eventually broke and told the truth, it would be so mixed in with hte lies that it wouldn’t be of much use to the Gestapo. I have no idea what her uncle Leo actually said, as his interrogators didn’t leave transcripts of his last few days for the war crimes investigators. But nobody else in his Resistance cell was arrested in the aftermath of his arrest, so maybe it worked. I’m pretty sure if a pudgy, bespectacled Amsterdam pharmacist could outwit the Gestapo’s professional torturers, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has a trick or two as well.

    One of life’s little ironies is that Uncle Leo getting caught may actually have saved the lives of his wife and baby son. A good chunk of the rest of my godmother’s family died in the camps in 1944-45. But as soon as Uncle Leo was arrested, the other members of his cell rushed his wife and son into hiding, not out of inherent nobility, but for t he very practical reason that they feared the interrogators would also arrest his loved ones, and torture them in front of him to see if that worked better. See, even the Gestapo knew that torture is an unreliable source of information, even from the guilty, s o they were always tryingt o refine their techniques to get around that pesky difficulty. So Leo’s widow and child went underground, and were eventually smuggled into England. The rest of the family: not so lucky.

    Seems to me that if we want to look at hypotheticals, Patterico really needs to think not just about whether he would waterboard KSM, but if he would waterboard KSM’s (hypothetical) little girl while KSM watched. Or cut off her fingers and toes to see if that made him more talkative, and more truthful in his talking. He may want to wear earplugs, though. Little kids scream bloody murder when they’re hurt. But as a father himself, I’m sure Patterico doesn’t need me to tell him that.

    And no, I’m not comparing my godmother’s uncle to KSM in a moral sense. It sounds like KSM is a psychopath. However, in a practical sense, I’d say that his experience is extremely relevant. Oh, and UncleLeo was guilty, incidentally.

  29. November 14, 2007 at 6:11 pm

    People keep saying the hypothetical is wildly unrealistic without addressing the fact that ABC News reported that it happened.

    And the press has never, ever gotten details wrong or simply repeated Administration propaganda without fact-checking it. And it’s not like there haven’t been rather silly plots “foiled” before — such as someone’s plan to take down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches or someone else’s plan to blow up the jet fuel pipeline to JFK.

    Now, right in the post, Jill notes that he confessed to a whole list of things under torture, most of which were ludicrous. In any event, I thought you guys didn’t trust the MSM? Weren’t you one of the ones crowing about kerning?

    Besides, was torture actually absolutely necessary to get that information? How imminent was the bomb? Was there no other way to get the information? How much did this “confession” really assist in the stopping of the plot? Was it duplicative of information the law already had?

    You know, considering that you are or at least were an ADA, I’m fairly disturbed at your zeal for torturing suspects who haven’t been tried, let alone convicted.

  30. November 14, 2007 at 6:31 pm

    Oh, and look here: since Patterico isn’t providing any links to the ABC News report which allegedly confirms that torture works, I went looking for it on my own. I can’t listen to the video here, but here’s a piece from Brian Ross from 2005, which doesn’t say anything about it getting valuable information from KSM.

    Of course, it was spun by the right immediately as proof that torture works: Media Matters has debunked the claims of Morton Kondracke that KSM gave up valuable information as a result of waterboarding here, and of the WSJ (same) here. Undeterred, Kondracke continues to assert that waterboarding (which I’m quite sure he has never experienced under the kinds of conditions it is normally performed in) is no big deal.

    Of course, if you’re talking about this more recent Blotter piece, you’ll note, should you actually read it, that nowhere does that say that the waterboarding of KSM produced valuable, time-sensitive information; it simply reports that he wouldn’t have given up his laundry list of confessions otherwise.

  31. Seraph
    November 14, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    t hey should confess to anything and everything they could think of, make stuff up, etc. The idea was to create a white noise filter of plausible-sounding bullshit so that when they eventually broke and told the truth, it would be so mixed in with hte lies that it wouldn’t be of much use to the Gestapo

    Huh. Wonder if KSM did anything like this? I’m looking at his list of confessions, and I think it kinda might be possible. Wonder how much time and effort was wasted on chasing down all of those false leads.

    We’ve had him since 2002. There was no ticking bomb. If we’d spent those years playing “good cop” with him – the way we did with Nazi generals for crying out loud – we might’ve gotten more consistent and reliable information. Instead, we have to sift the truth from the lies.

  32. Seraph
    November 14, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    Btw, Patterico, do you think this sort of thing might have, you know, added to the effect of those easy-as-pie two-and-a-half minutes of waterboarding to get KSM to talk:

    Ali Khan, the father of Majid Khan, another one of the fourteen “high-value detainees”, released an affidavit on Monday April 16, 2006, that reported that interrogators subjected Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s children, aged six and eight years old, to abusive interrogation.[33][34][35] Ali Khan’s affidavit quoted another of his sons, Mohammed Khan:

    “The Pakistani guards told my son that the boys were kept in a separate area upstairs, and were denied food and water by other guards. They were also mentally tortured by having ants or other creatures put on their legs to scare them and get them to say where their father was hiding.”

  33. Seraph
    November 14, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    Six and eight, Patterico. How old is your daughter again?

  34. Raincitygirl
    November 14, 2007 at 7:30 pm

    They REALLY did that? Well, frak me. Me using the example of KSM’s own small children was supposed to be a damn hypothetical!

  35. Seraph
    November 14, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    Makes you proud, doesn’t it?

  36. November 14, 2007 at 8:22 pm

    Patterico – waterboarding someone to save the world from God’s wrath is an obvious yes?

    Only under one circumstance, as far as I’m concerned. If the victim volunteers. In fact, I’d volunteer under those circumstances. But being tortured for a cause is distinctly different from torturing for a cause. Kind of like the distinction between dying and killing for one.

    Not to say that I might not cave and do the torture. But it would not be right nor obvious. The only obvious thing would be that a God that did that would be an asshole.

  37. November 14, 2007 at 8:55 pm

    Let me correct several incorrect statements and assumptions in recent comments.

    I did provide the link to the Brian Ross video, in the very post Jill linked.

    And I also explicitly said that the report might be wrong, contrary to the suggestion here that I took it as gospel. I point to the existence of Ross’s report merely to make the point that I didn’t pull the hypo out of thin air.

    Brian Ross’s report, based on interviews with a group of officials including waterboarding opponents, seems at least as reliable as a terrorist’s father saying that one of his other sons says that a Pakistani guard says that some bugs were put on KSM’s children’s legs. Is fourth-hand hearsay relayed through a terrorist’s father considered the gold standard for facts by the commenter who asked for the ages of my children?

    Someone brings up my job, ignoring the fact that I explicitly said I was discussing a moral issue and not a legal one — and I asked my commenters to assume the legality of the action for purposes of the hypo.

    And Christopher, another commenter makes my point: some people say maybe you don’t waterboard someone for one second to save the whole world. so maybe there is value to the absurd hypo after all: it shows the level of ideology in play.

  38. November 14, 2007 at 9:05 pm

    I really need to be doing actual work (luckily enough, not involving the torture of anybody), but one point, which I’m sure is generally understood, but that I want to make explicit:

    Patterico’s post actually isn’t (or isn’t only) a hypothetical moral question. It actually functions (whatever Pat’s intentions) to legitimize torture.

    Now, the effect of the post is surely very, very, very small, just like the effect of any individual vote. But, of course . . .

  39. November 14, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    Pat:
    terrorists will detonate nuclear bombs in numerous American cities, immediately killing millions and condemning many millions more to a slower, agonizing death from radiation poisoning unless you rape, torture, and finally, after days of this treatment, kill [generic, non-actual, close and beloved member of your family], without ever letting them know why you’re doing such things.

    What do you do?

    Or -the terrorists give the ok for you to carry out the rape, torture, and killing quickly.

    Ok, quickly, and it can be a less treasured family member. Uncle Al, who’s not very nice, and smells funny.

    Alright, alright, it doesn’t even have to be a family member at all. What say you?

  40. November 14, 2007 at 9:15 pm

    Ack, comment in moderaration. Retry.

    rorists will detonate nuclear bombs in numerous American cities, immediately killing millions and condemning many millions more to a slower, agonizing death from radiation poisoning unless you violate, torture, and finally, after days of this treatment, kill [generic, non-actual, close and beloved member of your family], without ever letting them know why you’re doing such things.

    What do you do?

    Or -the terrorists give the ok for you to carry out the violation, torture, and killing quickly.

    Ok, quickly, and it can be a less treasured family member. Uncle Al, who’s not very nice, and smells funny.

    Alright, alright, it doesn’t even have to be a family member at all. What say you?

    Geez, I feel dirty and rather dislike myself now. How you do pro-torture folks put up with it?

  41. Seraph
    November 14, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    Whew. Wandered over into enemy territory. Took a few hits. Had to retreat. My own fault, really. Forgot that motive, opportunity, and track record are enough to get us to at least take an accusation seriously, but they wanted videotape and doctor’s reports. Fair enough. Live by the evidence, die by the evidence. Forced to concede that the accusation was hearsay, I turned it into a hypothetical, much like the one the thread was based on – “What if it were true? Would that be worth it?”

    Never did get an answer.

    And I noticed something else that was odd. You can see Pattericos use it here, and someone called “JD” was doing it, too: referring to Majid Khan as a terrorist. When I asked how they could be so sure that he was a terrorist – after all, he’s still in Gitmo, what if he’s innocent? – their only response was to ask why I was so willing to believe a “terrorist’s” father when said his son was just “an innocent goat-herder”.

    How do I know he’s a terrorist? Because he’s a terrorist, and a terrorist’s father would lie about his son not being a terrorist.

    Interesting standards of proof.

  42. November 15, 2007 at 4:00 am

    Please answer my hypothetical, Patterico.

    To try and extract intelligence in an emergency situation, would you waterboard and/or cut off the fnigers and toes of KSM’s small children while he watched?

  43. November 15, 2007 at 4:41 am

    No.

  44. Christopher
    November 15, 2007 at 7:14 am

    I’m glad this conversation is still going on, because I’ve thought more carefully about why I dislike Patterico’s hypothetical, and my biggest problem is this:

    Patterico said, “In that case, is saving thousands of lives by waterboarding a mass murderer for 2 1/2 minutes worth it — assuming for the sake of my hypothetical that the information he gives up will be reliable and will indeed save thousands?”

    The thing is, I think the morality of an action has nothing to do with the actual results of the action.

    Hear me out.

    Suppose I go to Times Square. It’s a busy day, it’s as full of people as it ever gets. I’m carrying a gun.

    I select a person, completely and totally at random, pull out my gun, and shoot them several times.

    It turns out the person was a terrorist, who was going to plant a bomb. None of the bullets passed through his body, so no bystanders were endangered. Shooting him prevented him from activating the bomb, thus saving Times Square, and the lives of all the people in it.

    Was shooting the man worth it?

    Now, surely you agree that this scenario is possible; it doesn’t violate any laws of physics, it’s not a logical impossibility, there’s no reason to absolutely prevent it from happening.

    Now, many of you are right now thinking, “Well, sure it’s possible, but that chain of events is so unlikely that we can discount it as a practical possibility.”

    And that’s my point; Sometimes when you shoot somebody at random, you might hit a dangerous criminal. But the vast, vast majority of the time, you won’t.

    In other words, there’s a pool of possible results, and when an action is carried out one of them actually happens. In the “shoot somebody at random” scenario, that pool is so filled to the brim with negative results, that the odds against getting a positive one are astronomical.

    So even though shooting a random person has the potential to be a very beneficial action, it’s not moral, because it’s overwhelmingly likely to be incredibly destructive.

    And arguments against torture all hinge on this; The idea (Which I agree with) is that the odds of getting a negative result (eg False information, torture of an innocent) are much higher then the odds of getting the positive result (Acurate, crucial information unavailable through other channels).

    You can’t argue a moral issue without knowing about reality; It’s crucial to have an idea of what the odds of any given outcome are, because it’s the odds, not the outcome that determines morality.

    You might get somebody to say “torture is never justified, even with an absolute guarantee of ridiculously high benefits”, but so what? It has no bearing on the real world.

    How is that different then that parlor game where you ask people things like “Would you take 10 million dollars, if accepting the money meant everything would taste like pork for the rest of your life?”

  45. Christopher
    November 15, 2007 at 7:21 am

    Oh, and Patterico, I think that’s why people are acting as if your hypothetical is, as you put it, “wildly unrealistic”; it’s because to them, it’s a statistical outlier.

    Even if I were to dig up a credible news report about a crazy person who shot somebody at random and ended up hitting a dangerous, wanted criminal, that would have no bearing on the question of whether shooting random people was moral, because of the whole statistical thing I outlined above.

  46. zuzu
    November 15, 2007 at 9:58 am

    I did provide the link to the Brian Ross video, in the very post Jill linked.

    And I also explicitly said that the report might be wrong, contrary to the suggestion here that I took it as gospel. I point to the existence of Ross’s report merely to make the point that I didn’t pull the hypo out of thin air.

    Brian Ross’s report, based on interviews with a group of officials including waterboarding opponents, seems at least as reliable as a terrorist’s father saying that one of his other sons says that a Pakistani guard says that some bugs were put on KSM’s children’s legs. Is fourth-hand hearsay relayed through a terrorist’s father considered the gold standard for facts by the commenter who asked for the ages of my children?

    But here’s what you’re refusing to acknowledge: Ross’s report (which I was only able to get to by clicking through several links) doesn’t support your claim. His current posting at the Blotter doesn’t support your claim. Sure, he talked, but he gave up old information. There was no ticking time bomb. It “worked” in the sense that it got information out of him he might not otherwise have given, but whether that information was any good is another story.

  47. zuzu
    November 15, 2007 at 10:02 am

    Here’s another posting. Where’s the imminent threat — the ticking time bomb — that would justify torture, Patterico?

    “Oh, he planned on blowing up the Sears Tower sometime in the future” is not really an imminent threat.

  48. November 15, 2007 at 10:13 am

    Please answer my hypothetical, Patterico.

    To try and extract intelligence in an emergency situation, would you waterboard and/or cut off the fnigers and toes of KSM’s small children while he watched?

    No.

    Even in the ever-popular ticking time bomb scenario beloved of 24? Even if it would potentially save thousands of lives? Why not?

  49. MikeEss
    November 15, 2007 at 10:16 am

    I can’t get over the fact that the Reichwing finds it necessary to create these elaborate (and unlikely) scenarios to justify torturing suspects, when in reality Cheney/Bush/Rice were told of bin Laden’s plans weeks in advance and then did squat to prevent/limit the resulting attacks.

    I get the feeling that if they did manage to extract actionable information as a result of torture (incredibly unlikely) it still wouldn’t be acted on.

    In any case, most “terrist” targets would probably be in “blue” states and are of no interest to the All Politics, All The Time wingnut brigade in charge.

    As long as Bush’s El Rancho De Brusho is left untouched, he couldn’t care less what happens to the rest of us…

  50. November 15, 2007 at 10:28 am

    Christopher,

    Yours is the best argument against the hypo I have seen, and I have been waiting for someone to make it.

    If you answer “yes” to my hypo, but argue against it on the grounds you have, it does mean that the morality of the action depends largely on whether you knew that it would be effective.

    Which means it turns largely on whether the terrorist lies to us.

    I think there’s an interesting discussion in there somewhere.

  51. November 15, 2007 at 10:53 am

    Christopher,

    Now, of course, shooting a random stranger is far less likely to result in a net good than waterboarding a known mass murderer and terrorist like KSM.

    But if, somehow, waterboarding KSM were as unlikely to yield useful information as shooting a random stranger is to kill a terrorist, I would agree it would change the picture.

    The issue is how likely is waterboarding to give you useful info? In Ross’s report, he says some detainees gave up phony info, but KSM gave up good info. If all terrorists gave up good info, and that were known, it would make the action seem more moral.

    I.e. results may be largely irrelevant to the morality of an action, but *expected* results aren’t.

    Again, I think it’s interesting that this formulation results in the morality of the action being determined largely by whether the terrorists cooperate.

  52. November 15, 2007 at 11:21 am

    So you wouldn’t torture KSM’s children? Even in a ticking time-bomb scenario where it would potentially save thousands of lives? Why not? What makes them so special that thousands of people should die just so you can say you have clean hands? What if it was your own daughter’s life that might be saved by the torture of KSM’s little boys?

    Note: I’m not conceding that your original hypothetical is in any way plausible, and please see Christopher and Zuzu’s responses above for why. But IF we do as you originally asked and take your hypothetical as you originally presented it, the questions I’ve asked are extremely relevant.

  53. Nomen Nescio
    November 15, 2007 at 11:23 am

    on a slightly different tack, it’s interesting how recent this infatuation with inhumanity seems to be in U.S. culture. even right-wingers have noticed it. Read KTK’s piece on Lean Left that Uncle linked to, it’s quite on point.

    one note for the moderators: it’s your perfect right to run the site as you please, even though moderation in general does offend me somewhat. but if you must moderate, blocking a comment outright offends me less than cherry-picking sentences and passages one by one. all-or-nothing at least lets me speak my piece in whole, or else not speak at all, which both are easier to deal with than being edited. and just to ensure some moderator sees that, i’ll quote Carlin: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits.

  54. MikeEss
    November 15, 2007 at 11:48 am

    “So you wouldn’t torture KSM’s children? Even in a ticking time-bomb scenario where it would potentially save thousands of lives? Why not? What makes them so special that thousands of people should die just so you can say you have clean hands? What if it was your own daughter’s life that might be saved by the torture of KSM’s little boys?”

    I’m sure Patterico would come up with SOME weaselly reason why KSM’s kids would just HAVE to be tortured in that scenario. After all, like Bill Frist diagnosing Terri Schiavo via a videotape, Mr. Pat has already determined the guilt of everybody the US has in custody – no trials, evidence, or witnesses needed. (Saves a lot of time when guilt is known right up front.)

    ‘Course, when the KSM kids’ torture is actually performed, Mr. Pat would have to leave the room (he’s a little sensative about that kind of thing), but he would stand in the hall, hearing the guilty screams of those kids, knowing that what was happening to them was a sacred and holy act on behalf of Merrica, God’s Country On Earth, and sanctioned by God’s Appointed Commander In Chief…

  55. November 15, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    The issue is how likely is waterboarding to give you useful info? In Ross’s report, he says some detainees gave up phony info, but KSM gave up good info.

    He gave up old info. It may have been “good” in the sense that it was corroborated (and I don’t see much in the report to indicate that), but it wasn’t time-sensitive.

    The “ticking time bomb” scenario relies on time pressure — if there’s no time pressure, then there’s no immediate need to get the information by any means necessary, and therefore, torture is not a valid means of obtaining the information.

  56. Nathanael Nerode
    November 15, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    Other people have explained this in several different ways (particularly #26, but I’ll throw mine in too.

    Patterico Says:

    But Jill, I’m interested in your firm “No” to the hypothetical posed. Remember the assumptions of the question — which is, keep in mind, a hypothetical, so I get to make up assumptions that might not be realistic:
    1) The waterboarding lasts only 2 1/2 minutes.

    Irrelevant, FYI. 2 1/2 minutes of drowning is still torture.

    2) The waterboarding is of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who planned the 9/11 attacks.

    For the sake of your stupid hypothetical, you need to add that you have conclusive evidence which has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he planned the 9/11 attacks. In other words, you need to add that he’s already had a fair trial (no torture) and been convicted. (In actual fact, we have no idea, but he probably didn’t, and he must be presumed innocent until proven guilty.)

    If you don’t add this, your clause 3 is meaningless: it means “The torture is of someone who may or may not be guilty of anything.”

    So we’re specifying that we’re talking only about torture of already-convicted criminals here now.

    3) The information obtained is reliable.

    Sorry, you’ve contradicted yourself. Information obtained through torture simply isn’t reliable. If the information happened to be accurate, *that was sheer luck* — you would have had better chances of getting accurate information by making an educated guess. “Reliable” has a meaning which is not the same as “accurate”.

    Perhaps you could amend this to “The information obtained is accurate.”

    4) It saves thousands of lives.

    If I get unreliable, but coincidentally accurate, information which saves thousands of lives by paying thousands to my private astrologer, that doesn’t mean it was worth it. And if my method of getting unreliable information is torture, it’s even less worth it.

    The answer is very firmly no, it’s not worth it. Don’t you get it?

    As for the “ABC news said it happened”, the Bush administration has been caught planting lies in the press so much it’s not even funny. Specifically, they repeatedly claimed that warrantless wiretapping was key to catching various wannabe terrorist cells, and in all cases it ended up being proved completely untrue (usually by the officials involved in actually catching them). The Bush administration should therefore be expected to do the same thing when they’re trying to promote torture.

  57. Nathanael Nerode
    November 15, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    For our “philosophical” Patterico, here’s a much more plausible disgusting hypothetical. Since you want to push it to “What super-extreme circumstances would you be willing to torture in?”

    Here’s the warmup hypothetical:

    The Vice-President of the United States is planning to start global thermonuclear war and has the capability to do so. You are a Secret Service agent assigned to guard him (you’re an eyewitness, so there’s no doubt about his guilt). You can prevent this entire chain of events by shooting him through the skull right now.

    Do you do so? (I would assume you’d say yes. After all, as a Secret Service agent, you’ve already agreed to kill people under some circumstances, so you can’t very well be absolutist about not killing when the alternative is global thermonuclear war.)

    Now for the actual disgusting hypothetical:

    He’s already set the beginning of global thermonuclear war in motion (you’re an eyewitness, so there’s no doubt about his guilt), but it can be stopped if you can convince the world that he specifically (not someone else like the President) has done it. Do you torture him until he confesses? See, torture actually works for eliciting a desired confession (as opposed to for getting information). And a fair number of people believe confessions even if they’re coerced. So do you torture him?

    For the nastier hypothetical:
    He didn’t start the leadup to the war, the President did. He’s entirely innocent. The President has been dealt with, but if the world believes he started it, the war will happen. But if you can convince the world that the innocent Vice-President started it, then billions of lives may be saved. Do you torture the innocent man?

    Torture works great for making scapegoats, innocent or not, confess. It’s terrible for getting information. If you’re going to make up these hypotheticals, make up hypotheticals connected with likely reality.

    I suspect the motivations for torture among at least some of the Bush administration officials were that they needed scapegoats (because they weren’t trying or succeding at catching most actual terrorists, let alone masterminds); and they needed various sorts of false confessions, particularly confessions which claimed that the confessors were very powerful and were only caught due to the unchecked power of the administration (which the administration used to advertise how important it was that they be given more and more unchecked, unaccoutable power). And if this PR the administration wanted would have saved billions of lives, it might perhaps be justifiable, but obviously their PR will not save any lives at all and will indirectly hurt a very large number of people.

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