Defining Torture, Part XXXVIII

February 28, 2010 § 3 Comments

In the comments below Tommy writes:

What I found most interesting in the [Christopher O. Tollefsen] quote, though, is the suggestion that what is at the heart of torture is psychological disintegration.

We’ve discussed that before, though I couldn’t possibly come up with a reference to exactly where offhand.

I’m very sympathetic to it as a point of view, though it isn’t without issues.

For one thing, I think there are clear cases of particularly tough characters where someone was tortured yet in fact the torture did not result in psychological disintegration. We might think of this as analogous to contraceptive failure, though; so it isn’t fatal to the proposal.

For another, I expect there are cases of torture where the torturer couldn’t care less about the psychological disintegration of the victim: pure sadism, for example, might have no goal other than suffering-qua-suffering. Since this references the intentions of the torturer rather than the objective nature of his chosen act (the object), though, that also isn’t dispositive against.

So there is some merit to the approach. Comparing it to murder, we might provisionally call an instance of torture which fails to produce psychological disintegration attempted torture. That deals with the obviously ludicrous objection that because the victim didn’t in fact die/psychologically disintegrate, what was done was not murder/torture: there isn’t anything about attempted murder which makes it morally acceptable as distinguished from a successful murder. And since torture refers to behaviors the objective nature of which is to produce psychological disintegration in the victim, there is no such thing as “attempted torture”: torture just is the choice of such behaviors, whether or not they produce psychological disintegration in the particular case. So we can drop the “provisional attempted” and just refer to such behaviors as torture, full stop. Like “attempted contraception,” the fact of failure in a particular instance doesn’t change the objective nature of the act.

Where that gets us is that if behavior X is objectively a kind of behavior which inherently (though not in every case) produces psychological disintegration in the victim – much as a sexual act with a condom is a kind of behavior which alters a sexual act to be ‘completed’ yet infertile, even though in some signate cases fertility is not blocked – behavior X is torture. Furthermore, any behavior carried out with the intention of producing psychological disintegration in the victim is torture, under the rubric of formal cooperation.

That is as close to a clear definition of torture as we’ve had, I think.

It won’t satisfy the waterboarding crowd, of course, because waterboarding precisely as described in Courting Disaster, carried out deliberately and repeatedly until the hardened terrorist capitulates, fits like a glove. And SERE training, deliberately limited such that it introduces the trainee to the procedure as a training exercise but carefully does not take it to the point of actual psychological disintegration, does not – though there could be cases, in effect the “involuntary manslaughter” of torture, where psychological disintegration occurs by accident. This adds some strength to the prudential argument against SERE training, though it is not dispositive: an actual case of psychological disintegration in SERE training would be analogous to a fatal training accident.

Perhaps an incoherent and inarticulate awareness of this is what is motivating the notion that waterboarding is a positive good for the victim, a faux-baptism providing absolution from the sin of betrayal on the part of the talkative post-waterboard terrorist, because it gives him a reason to do the right thing with a clear conscience. This is the same basic motivation, in fact, which appears to have applied to medieval Inquisitors; though at least in the case of the Inquisitors it was primarily the victim’s own good, not the good of others, which fueled the activity.
The problem again is that that approach proves too much, because if waterboarding is salutary in this manner, and that salutary or medicinal effect is precisely what makes it “not torture”, then why not the rack?

Does preventative dissent from the Magisterium fall under the just war doctrine?

February 27, 2010 § 3 Comments

In the comments at CAEI, Tom wrote:

The great thing about the appeal to finer detail is that, the moment the finer detail is given, it can be rejected as outside the competency of the authority.

Then, as if conjured from the ectoplasm by his words, the New York Times reports on its interview with Marc Thiessen:

But what if the church specifically prohibited waterboarding?

“On what competence would they do that?” Mr. Thiessen said. “I don’t think the church would be competent to judge whether the way we did it was torture.”

“Perhaps,” he added, “they should clarify it. We were in the middle of a war, and there was no teaching on that. But the church only gives general moral guidance, and people of good faith have to interpret that guidance.”

We also learn that:

“I didn’t get into the Catholic theological stuff of it until I sat down to write the book,” Mr. Thiessen said in a phone interview.

Well, there is a shock.

Bonus points for putting numbers on the long dead zombie arguments Thiessen deploys in the rest of his interview.

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

February 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

A great story of pro-life courage and forgiveness posted by Donald R. McClarey over at American Catholic.

Why "it works" means "it is torture"

February 26, 2010 § 3 Comments

In any event, the upshot of my discussion is this: if, as the double effect defense presupposes, waterboarding or some other interrogation technique is done in a way that is expected to cause harm to the suspect, then that harm is most likely intended as a means by the interrogator and double effect will not justify it. And if such techniques are performed with the intention to cause pain, but not either direct physical harm, or psychological disintegration, then they are likely to be ineffective. Either way, it is, in my view, a good thing that United States’ policy has moved (as it did in the second Bush term) beyond the grim, if understandable, policies of the first few years after 9/11. – Christopher O. Tollefsen

Let’s play "spot the false premise"

February 25, 2010 § 4 Comments

  1. The original 9-11 plot involved plans to crash planes into West Coast buildings too. This was cancelled by al Qaeda leadership because deemed too ambitious.
  2. Waterboarding KSM gained intelligence which led to the capture of much of the original cell which had planned to hit the West Coast, including the Library Tower in LA.
  3. Surprise had nothing to do with the success of al Qaeda’s attacks on 9-11. A bunch of Islamic terrorists hijacking airliners and crashing them into buildings was every bit as feasible after 9-11 as before.

… from which it follows that waterboarding KSM foiled the Library Tower plot.

Bonus non-sequitur:
… from which it obviously follows that waterboarding prisoners for information is not torture.

Since when did "war criminal" start to mean "honored guest of the realm?"

February 25, 2010 § 19 Comments

There are three classes of persons we must consider in warfare.

First, there are innocents. Innocents are those who are not in any way engaged in any attacking behaviors, where “attacking behaviors”, for the sake of argument at least, include any activity proximately supporting the war. We must never kill innocents deliberately, no matter what consequences flow from not doing so. Accidents do happen, and are expected to happen, on the interstate highway system and in wartime. Proper care must be taken to avoid signate accidents, but in both venues – highway system and wartime – they are generally unavoidable.

Second, there are enemy soldiers. Soldiers fight in uniform under the laws of war or provide supplies, etc to the war effort. It is licit to kill them on the battlefield, when necessary, and yes, the battlefield includes the supply lines. When we capture them we owe them – to the extent of our ability to reasonably provide it – medical care, three hots, a cot, and (always) POW status. Name, rank, and serial number are all we are entitled to from them. If they attempt to escape, they are thereby deliberately making themselves active combatants again: a POW in the process of attempting escape becomes, qua escape attempt in process, an active combatant. As always, killing legitimate soldiers and support personnel is only licit when it is necessary in order to stop an attack. POW’s must be released when hostilities cease.

Third, there are criminals acting outside the laws of war. (Thus the term “war criminal”). Criminals may be killed in the process of committing a crime, if necessary. They may be captured, killed while attempting to escape capture (if necessary), interrogated, put on trial (military or civilian), and even executed if doing so is necessary to protect the common good. Interrogation may (or may not) involve plea bargaining with respect to their criminal status and sentencing.

Complicity of leadership in war crimes makes them war criminals also.

It is not permissible to torture, rape, abuse, or perform other intrinsically immoral acts on criminals.

There is no other kind of person: there is no subhuman “illegal enemy combatant” distinct from a war criminal.

This post brought to you by the surreality of this comment thread and hundreds of others like it.

Night of the Living Dead Arguments

February 23, 2010 § 2 Comments

One meta-feature of the torture debates is the constant repetition of the unsound arguments discussed in the previous series, even after they have been demonstrated to be unsound.

In a comment box I called it the Zombie Apocalypse of Rhetoric: the corpses of long-dead arguments are re-animated over and over again in the hope that they will eat our brains.

Waterboarding series summary

February 20, 2010 § 1 Comment

This series has covered why I believe waterboarding prisoners is torture and why you should too. Three kinds of reasons were given: reasons from history and law, reasons from intuition, and reasons from argument. The part on reasons from argument includes a pair of “live documents” that I’ll update over time. Here are the posts:

I know we’ve had lots of esoteric arguments about moral theology in the past. In this series I’ve tried specifically to frame things such that those particular and highly nuanced disputes do not come into it: hopefully the series doesn’t depend on anything too complicated or deep.

We’ve also had lots of disputes over elections, voting, political action, and such. This series doesn’t address those questions. We can pound a stake into the heart of the contention that waterboarding prisoners for information is not torture without resolving every other dispute about all of those things.

”For true and false will in no better way be revealed and uncovered than in resistance to a contradiction.” — St. Thomas Aquinas

Abortion is more important than torture

February 20, 2010 § 14 Comments

Given the foregoing series of posts, one might get the impression that I think torture, and specifically waterboarding, is a more grave issue than abortion.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

For the person actually doing it, and for any persons formally cooperating with it, appeals to the greater gravity of abortion carry no water. Tu quoque or “less evil than the competing brand” isn’t recognized as sound moral reasoning in any serious ethical theory of which I am aware, let alone in Catholic moral theology. When an act is evil we ought not do it, and we ought not formally cooperate with it, by the nature of what is meant by “evil”; no matter how venially evil it happens to be, and no matter what consequences follow from not doing it. That is what “evil” means.

Nevertheless different evil acts, though evil as pertains to category, do differ in their moral gravity. We should never perform an evil act; but some evil acts are worse than others.

Still we are comparing apples to oranges, because the pro-choice position is that abortion should be legal, not that it is not immoral. Lets stipulate.

The problem though for Catholics who approach it that way is a little document called Evangelium Vitae. Evangelium Vitae makes it astonishingly clear that it is also gravely wrong to support the legality of abortion; and furthermore, that there is a grave positive duty to oppose its legality as enshrined in a legal pseudo-right.

Failing to oppose the legality of abortion, in the will and intentions if not always in particular acts, is also gravely wrong. Our day to day behavior will inevitably reflect whether our will and intentions are where they should be on the matter.

As stated above, there is a difference between whether an act is wrong and how gravely wrong it is. Furthermore, the abortion holocaust and the torture regime are not individual acts, but whole ensembles of vast numbers of acts and social implications: what Pope John Paul II referred to as “structures of sin”. As I mentioned recently in a previous post, and in many places in times past, the gravity of the abortion holocaust as a structure of sin is immediate and vastly larger than the gravity of the torture regime. As tacticians or strategists looking from the outside in, opposed to both, it is clear which is the higher priority.

Suppose there are two switches on the wall, on opposite sides of the room. One switch will permanently end the “right to abortion”. The other will permanently end state-sanctioned waterboarding of prisoners. The switches are only active for the next fifteen seconds, you are standing in the middle of the room, and you’ve gotta start moving right now.

The priority is manifest.

We do have to be a little careful with the word “priority”. Each of us as individuals has a vocation or vocations, and just because opposing the “right” to abortion is a vastly higher priority in general than torture, because of our circumstances, that doesn’t imply that every individual must make abortion his highest priority. Not at all. It is really a false choice. And it also would be easy to underestimate the gravity of the torture regime because, unlike the abortion regime, it is in its infancy.

But when Horatio stands on the bridge of legal abortion, it is one thing to oppose the torture regime because it is evil in itself and because of the harm it is doing to him; it is another to use it to knife him in the back.

A catalog of failed arguments

February 20, 2010 § 36 Comments

”For true and false will in no better way be revealed and uncovered than in resistance to a contradiction.” — St. Thomas Aquinas

This is going to be a live document listing failed arguments which contend that waterboarding prisoners for information is not torture. It is the fifth article in a series of seven, which starts here.

An old story: the Knights of Columbus got so used to telling the same jokes to each other over and over again that they started referring to them by number. During a meeting, Sam called out “number seven!” and the whole room roared with laughter. Ted called out “number twelve!” Dead silence. The Knight sitting next to him whispered “Sorry Ted, you just aren’t as good at telling a joke as Sam”.

This will start out sparsely filled and I’ll just edit and publish as I go. Linked posts will contain the refutation, though they may not necessarily be about the refutation or only the refutation. I might (reluctantly — I’d rather work with existing material) write new posts focused specifically on a given refutation if I see a need; but this document will be the index, for now, unless I become convinced that it has to be done in another format (in which case I’ll link from here). (How is that for a run-on sentence?)

For any given argument there are probably tens or hundreds of discussions out there in the ether where it was demolished, so if you think there is a better already-existing refutation let me know. Some of them may be difficult to find, especially the ones in comboxes given the alteration of comment systems over the years. Feel free to make suggestions in the combox, including suggestions about the nosology (the categorization of the errors). I plan to finish up the series and publish a top-level post for it, and then this can be filled in at leisure, over time.

The kinds of errors, again, are catalogued in the previous post, which is also a “live document”. Where the argument in question is simply based on a false premise I’ll say “false premise”. Where it is based on a commonplace fallacy I may also name the fallacy. These are some of the actual erroneous arguments themselves.

It would seem that waterboarding prisoners for information is not torture because …

  1. … CCC 2297 doesn’t list “to extract life-saving information”.
    Consequentialism, appeal to finer detail
  2. … executing the guilty is not intrinsically immoral. Omitting facts in an analogy, appeal to an incomplete definition
  3. … we waterboarded SERE trainees.
    Omitting facts in an analogy, equivocation. Furthermore, our own government has expressly said that “the SERE waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent Agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant.” (See the memorandum itself in PDF form here, page 43, footnote 51).
  4. … it gives Islamic prisoners an excuse to tell us what they know, under their religion.
    Appeal to an incomplete definition
  5. … Catholics are free to disagree about it.
    See no evil.
  6. … the Magisterium has not said so specifically.
    Appeal to finer detail, see no evil
  7. … ticking time bombs have really bad consequences if we don’t defuse them.
    Consequentialism, appeal to an incomplete definition.
  8. … you would do it if your own family was threatened.
    Consequentialism, ad hominem
  9. … the terrorist captive is an attacker, so waterboarding him is an act of self-defense
    False premise
  10. … it is justified under the principle of double-effect
  11. … spanking children is not torture
    Appeal to an incomplete definition, omitting facts in an analogy
  12. … we don’t have a single, authoritative, precise, and complete definition of torture.
    Appeal to an incomplete definition, appeal to finer detail, see no evil
  13. … it falls under the just war doctrine.
  14. … it does not cause permanent harm.
    Appeal to an incomplete definition
  15. … the CIA men who did it are brave, professional men protecting American lives.
    Ad hominem, begging the question
  16. … it works.
    Consequentialism, raving non-sequitur
  17. … to oppose it you have to be a radical pacifist.
    Raving nonsequitur, reverse ad-hominem
  18. … the only kind of people who think that are people who hate actual anti-abortion groups.
    Raving nonsequitur, reverse ad-hominem
  19. … modern waterboarding does not include some of the elaborations used by medieval waterboarders.
    Raving nonsequitur, appeal to an incomplete definition
  20. … because Christopher Hitchens agreed to be waterboarded, but did not agree to have his teeth pulled out with pliers.
    Raving nonsequitur, appeal to an incomplete definition
    See also the argument from SERE training.
  21. … we only did it three times to three high value targets.
    Raving nonsequitur. Also see here.
  22. … people who think so are insisting that we treat our enemies better than our own soldiers.
    This is just the old SERE argument already addressed above combined with an extra dash of raving nonsequitur and reverse ad-hominem.
  23. … you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
    Consequentialism, Matthew 16:26 gambit
  24. … Bob is a good Catholic and a daily communicant, and he doesn’t think waterboarding a prisoner for information is torture.
    Ad hominem
  25. … I’m a good Catholic and I don’t think waterboarding a prisoner for information is torture. How dare you suggest that I support something evil?
    Ad hominem
  26. … if you don’t waterboard, that’s revealing in that you don’t trust that you and God can come to a reconciliation. You’d rather maintain your spotless moral record than actually help people.
    Matthew 16:26 gambit, raving non-sequitur
  27. … it isn’t torture if you do it to illegal combatants.
    False premise, raving non-sequitur
  28. … waterboarding KSM stopped an attack on the Library Tower in LA.
    False premise, raving non-sequitur
  29. … a captured terrorist is an unjust aggressor who retains the power to kill many thousands by withholding information about planned attacks. Therefore waterboarding him for information falls under self-defense.
    False premise
  30. … it is only objected to by morally vain gentry liberals.
    Raving non-sequitur, reverse ad hominem
  31. … not doing mild stuff means we’ll have to let the Pakistanis do the real bad stuff.
    Raving non-sequitur, argument from dishonor
  32. … complaining about treatment of prisoners makes U.S. troops kill enemies rather than accept their surrender.
    Raving non-sequitur, argument from dishonor
  33. … if waterboarding is torture that must mean we can’t do anything but give milk and warm cookies to terrorists.
    Raving non-sequitur
  34. … the Church hasn’t absolutely prohibited mutilating the guilty, so mutilation isn’t inhumane treatment. Furthermore all mutilation is worse than waterboarding. Therefore waterboarding is not inhumane treatment, and cannot be torture.
    Appeal to an incomplete definition, appeal to finer detail, mutilated analogy
  35. … Saints have engaged in self-flagellation as penance.
    Raving non-sequitur, omitting facts in an analogy
  36. The terrorists get away with doing worse things to our people when they capture them.
    Double-clutching the standard
  37. … the argument.
    Link to refutation.

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