23 April 2009

Four Ways to Talk Back to Torture Apologists

It is important to confront the right wing apologists for torture. You can find a list of the miscreants here.

[1] One way to confront apologists is to directly call their bluff. A start would be to refer to those who are better placed to know. For example:
"There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process." (1)
[2] A second tack is to remind the apologists that there have, from the outset, been individuals in the military and the government who argued against the BushCo embrace of torture. these individuals thought the policy ill-advised for various reasons and disputed claims that it has been productive. (2)

[3] A third reply to the apologists, who whimper and whine that those pressing for accountability are 'criminalizing policy decisions,' is to point out that Cheney and Rumsfeld and their cronies were making political decisions, not engaging in policy-making. The BushCo team had decided they wanted to invade Iraq and used torture in an attempt to rationalize that plan. They hoped to get detainees to 'admit' that there were ties between al Queada and Saddam Hussein. (3) Of course, when the torture failed to generate the proper 'intelligence' Cheney, Rumsfeld, et. al. simply lied.

[4] A fourth way is to refuse their efforts to narrow the debate onto the false claim that torture 'works' because it allegedly produces useful intelligence. This is about rhetoric and framing. Since the apologists want to discuss torture in terms of consequences, let's insist on considering a broad range of consequences. For example, we should insist that debate consider the institutional and practical reputational consequences of out having publicly endorsed torture. But let's talk too about the impact on individual service women and men. For instance there is reason to believe that at least one female Military Intelligence Officer was driven to suicide after having taken part (under orders) in a "harsh interrogation." (4)

Of course, all this presumes that the apologists are at all interested in reasons and evidence. I suspect that they are simply trying to cover butts - whether their own or their comrades.



Blogger Cedric said...

You correctly point out in your fourth point that torture apologists have, quite successfully, shaped the debate around the consequences of their "enhanced interrogation techniques (Orwell would be proud)." Despite plenty of evidence that torture doesn't work (Point One), it bothers me that this is even how one should frame a discussion on torture. Why should one only employ a consequentialist argument? Should one not insist that torture is utterly, inexcusably wrong at the outset of any debate on torture?


24 April, 2009 20:32  
Blogger Stan B. said...

Not only did we fail to acquire much more useful and valid intel (in quality & quantity) through traditional means of confidence building interrogation measures (tried, tested & proven) in WWll, but we also wildly succeeded in further endangering our soldiers' lives and creating yet more terrorists.

And the fact is, not only did we torture-- we tortured people to death! Even our own US military has officially concluded that torture sessions sometimes ended in HOMICIDE. So much for the harmless college hazing...


25 April, 2009 00:23  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


I agree with your assessment of torture - it is wrong. However, I tend to reach such judgment based on an assessment of the effects it generates. This is part of a broader theoretical view I have about how to justify practices and institutions.

The problem is that I do not think non-consequentialist arguments carry any weight with the apologists. What you immediately get is a jack Bauer scenario meant to show that nearly anyone would, given appropriate circumstances, if not actually torture someone, at least sanction the torture being carried out by some agent. Of course, such scenarios are pure fiction. They describe neither the actual circumstances in which we tortured detainees, nor any other credible situation.

My view is that one can take on the burden of argument (in other words, engage the apologists on their own terms) and still establish that they are full of it.

25 April, 2009 07:00  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


The problem, of course, is that BushCo are hardly the first US administration to sanction torture. The Democrats know this and they know that they've been elbow deep in the gore.


25 April, 2009 07:02  

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