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.

Where Am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for February, 2010 at Zippy Catholic.