Me and a friend got into a big debate recently about the use of torture during war. We're both aspiring to be officers one day so I figured this is something we both need to be squared away about. Unfortunately when it got brought up I was appalled by his stance. He says that it's completely okay to torture enemy POWs if they have valuable information that could save lives. He also said that all of our enemies do it anyway, whether we do it or not. He called me naive for believing that humans are "inherently good". I basically said that we aren't inherently good or bad, that we make ourselves the way we want to be, and that ultimate morality depends upon the actions that we take. I said that under the LOAC and Geneva Conventions which America is obliged to follow, we aren't allowed to torture enemy combatants. I said I don't think it's right to torture anybody under any circumstances. I believe that everybody has basic inalienable human rights and that as American officers it's our responsibility to live up to a higher standard, above the cruel and criminal actions that our enemies take. Eventually we had to agree to disagree but this question has been bugging me for a while and I'm not exactly feeling warm and fuzzy after talking to somebody I'm supposed to be serving with who is talking like this.
Discussion is closed. Feel free to continue it in the Great Debate. - The Management
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Your beliefs are solid. Not everyone agrees. That's okay.
Just before you agreed to disagree, did your friend ask you what reason you have to believe all the things you state here as beliefs?
1. Torture can work, but need not. Its uses seem to require knowledge of interrogations that most people cannot be presumed to have. To say that someone under torture will confess to anything is silly. What if you're not looking for confessions but a body?
2. Torture may be against international conventions, but those conventions should also be scrutinized for utility. At any rate, they are never a serious argument.
3. Having others find out the US army employs torture may be damaging; this may cancel some or all of the advantages of employing torture. I think you misunderstand the relationship between hatred & violence. There may be a lot of people in China who hate their gov't, but few do anything violent to destroy it. So also with America's enemies in whatever corners of the earth American arms are employed. Many must hate American arms, because American arms harm them; it is not necessary that the matter of torture add anything to any military situation...
4. It is difficult to argue that everything that is routinely considered torture is wrong in itself, if it can be shown to be reasonably likely to lead to a reasonable end of military policy. It is not usually reasonable to treat enemies as friends. Inasmuch as war is hell, it is unreasonable to suppose that only conventionally accepted ways of terrifying & killing are to be employed.
Certainly. How do you figure out whether you're right if you do not have to face objections?
Like Horatio says to Hamlet, so I say to you: Good night, sweet prince.
1. Anyone willing to countenance torture must also countenance the possibility of accidentally, unknowingly torturing innocents. Anyone who countenances war must countenance the killing of innocents, not merely of enemy combatants, however defined. Necessity & convention vary, whatever those who piously quote conventions as if they were incantations believe.
2. The way one conducts an interrogation - all interrogation being hostile interrogation - matters. The commonsense argument is silliness itself, because it ignores the experience of successful torture. If you reflect even briefly on the meaning of common sense, you will also come to doubt that it covers torture, the phenomenon being so far removed from the common experience of Americans & the American way of life...
3. Your calculation of utility is plainly wrong. If you first explain briefly what the international community concretely means, what benefits & costs it involves, then you can pretend to realism & a serious calculation. I think a moment's reflection will cause anyone who is not a liberal to doubt that the international community is of great importance. At any rate, you would first have to prefer a reputation for meekness to one for horror in foreign affairs. That seems to me misguided. America should terrify its enemies. & it should also scare its allies.
4. Torturing a people may cause it to resist; it may cause it to break down. History teaches that horror & extermination tend toward breakdown... At any rate, your assumption is unacceptable, because torturing some enemies is not the same as torturing a people. You also fail to consider that torturing members of some tribe may earn the admiration of enemy tribes. Costs & benefits...
5. Back to the efficiency. What do you know about the information extracted from KSM & assorted others? Earlier, you seemed to admit what you now seem to deny, that torture might be the best way in at least some circumstances - unusual, perhaps, but perhaps also important, maybe even decisive - to find out information. Do you mind saying in one place whether you think torture has ever worked & whether it ever works, in that it can cause some men to give important information?
6. Liberals argue, like Messers Obama & Holder, that terrorists deserve trials in civilian courts, including all the rights Americans claim under the American Constitution & laws. To do otherwise, they have suggested, is un-American, which they have done...
7. War is hell: All war tends toward total war. A peace worth warring & killing for needs to be correlated to a defeat your enemy can live with, or else you exterminate him. But it is insane to tie one's hands down in advance of the conflict. Torture is not a big issue of war, so far as I understand. But liberals working for Mr. Obama have tried to prosecute lawyers working for Mr. Bush because of it, e.g., John Yoo. It is a serious political conflict, if the two different understanding of war & constitutional war powers are so different that liberals can try to humiliate, destroy, or jail conservatives... Whether America can retain its humane ways is not something you or any liberal can decide. Necessity might push you beyond your conventions. There is a more serious question than what means do you swear off - the more serious question is: What is the end which America seeks through war? It ought to be asked whether it can be achieved, how, & what means it requires. I think it is less important to decide who should be tortured, if anyone. I think it is very important to understand reasonably the phenomenon of war & how America must deal with it.
Who says it's wrong?
First off, unless you are planning on forming a military junta I don't think you'll have to worry about deciding on the ordering of torture as an officer since I think its for politicians and commanders to make those decisions (now to follow their orders I guess you will need to have some opinion but I don't think this point will matter much different between an enlisted man or officer).
As for torture. Your friend has a good argument for his beliefs ("if they have valuable information that could save lives") and he has a shitty one ("all of our enemies do it anyway").
Likewise, I think your reasons for opposing it are valid and noble and there is nothing naive about them.
Personally, I would like to think that my beliefs are closer to your own but I would hesitate to say "what I would do" since I have never been in the position to make such a hard decision.
Do I think torture is wrong? Yes. Would I allow it if I though the person being tortured had information that could prevent an event like 9/11? I don't know. Is the violation of one worth the protection of thousands? Soldiers break the "thou shall not kill" rule for this reason and I believe they are right. But as Carpeing the Diem said, the usefulness of torture is debatable so I don't know the answer. Also, unless I find myself in a position to make this decision I doubt I will ever come to an answer either.
Assuming torture works -- which may be assuming too much -- the question isn't whether torture is ethical by itself. It certainly isn't. But, the scenario posited isn't often one of "torture or don't", it is one of "torture or bear the consequences of failing to extract necessary information." The real question is whether torture is more ethical than letting innocent civilians or ally soldiers die? If not, how many innocents is too many? Five, fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a million ... or is there truly no number that justifies doing whatever it takes?
Torture isn't unconstitutional for the purposes of interrogation. It is unconstitutional as a punishment under the 8th amendment's "cruel and unusual punishment" ban. It is unconstitutional in criminal interrogation under the 5th Amendment ban against being forced to bear witness against yourself. But, that only results in the evidence extracted being inadmissible for prosecution -- which is irrelevant if you're, say, aiming to prevent a terrorist attack rather than aiming to prosecute.
There is nothing in the Constitution which forbids torture for the purpose of extracting information (not a punishment) so long as the information won't be used to prosecute the victim.
Torture would be illegal under some international agreements regarding the treatment of POWs. International law isn't much of an argument, though. Can one really take seriously conventions democratically passed by vote of the world's despots? Still, better not to publicly run afoul of those agreements.
Alan Dershowitz, hardly a right-winger, has suggested a system of judicial review -- torture warrants -- to overcome the secrecy in torture decision-making. I'm not sure I agree, but it is an interesting suggestion.
Ultimately, I'm in favor of letting the interrogator and his chain-of-command decide. If torture won't work -- don't use it. But, if there's a reasonable chance innocent lives will be saved, then do what you think is right. Warrants aren't an awful idea just to get another pair of eyes on the decision-making ... so long as the warrants remain secretive. This stuff should be clandestine ... and our limits should be clandestine. Even if torture is off-limits ... we're better off if the guy we're interrogating doesn't know that.
For what its worth, I also don't think waterboarding is "torture". It is supposely horrifying -- that's kinda the idea -- but no permanent damage is done. I don't think scaring the crap out of terrorists is going too far.
I know this side steps your question on morals but sometimes another question (does it work?) removes the need of the first question (is it moral?).
The answer is simple and side steps the moral question entirely. Torture does not work. If you think that the POW knows something of need then you simply need to get some phyc specialists to talk it out of the person. Applying fear and pain simply will get them to say WHATEVER you wish them to say.
The link is worth a look at. And please for the love of your country have your friend read this so he does not end up causing useless fear and pain.
What constitutes torture? The military uses SERE training to prepare you for levels of "torture", discomfort, extreme stress, etc. to prepare the soldier/sailor/airman for the rigors of capture/confinement and interrogation. The term "been there, done that" comes to mind when I remember going through it myself. The same techniques used in cuba, that everyone gets so pissed off about, were used on me, and everyone else that has gone through this school. It was an invaluable training program that I am thrilled to have gone through. However, I also have the occasional nightmare of the treatment that I sustained.
The "enhanced interrogation techniques" that the media goes on about, have been used on our own service people for years. That is where the protocol was adopted from, the various SERE schools the military utilizes.
I don't believe in cutting off fingers and toes, or electrocution etc. But if it was used on me and other service persons during training, I don't shed any tears on it being used on someone that would strap a bomb on their body and blow up a school full of kids.