Sunday, December 23, 2007

Mark Bowden on Water Boarding and Torture

Mark Bowden has written a sensible article in defense of Water Boarding. Here's an excerpt:
Opponents of torture argue that it never works, that it always produces false information. If that were so, then this would be a simple issue, and the whole logic of incentive/disincentive is false, which defies common sense. In one of the cases I have cited previously, a German police captain was able to crack the defiance of a kidnapper who had buried a child alive simply by threatening torture (the police chief was fired, a price any moral individual would gladly pay). The chief acted on the only moral justification for starting down this road, which is to prevent something worse from happening.
The one thing I disagree with is that Bowden argues that while necessary, methods such as water boarding should be illegal. I'm more inclined to agree with Alan Dershowitz that we should establish appropriate legal conditions for its use rather than ban it and hope that people will be willing to sacrifice themselves for doing what's right and necessary.


Derick said...

I agree.

Burgess Laughlin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Burgess Laughlin said...

I am neither a lawyer nor a philosopher of law. However, as a layman very concerned about my future, I have a suggestion for consideration.

If torture in any form is to be used by the government of a free society, either domestically or (more likely) in warfare, then the one fundamental requirement is that it be objective, in all its implications.

For example, first, the decision to use torture must be both privately and publicly objective. To be objective, in the epistemological sense, means to hold only those ideas which are demonstrably drawn in a logical manner from facts of reality.

In law enforcement, that objectivity must be "public," that is, open for anyone (including a judge) to examine.

Implications of this commitment to objectivity are:
1. The need and justification for torture must be stated in writing and signed.
2. The decision to torture should be reviewed in some systematic way to make sure that a ghoul in law enforcement is not simply using an imagined threat as an excuse to be sadistic.
3. All decisions to torture, and the records of the torture itself, must be likewise publicly objective.
4. Total restitution must be paid to any victim of torture who turns out to be innocent.

It is this sort of objective approach that distinguishes proper use of torture from the use advocated by some conservatives I hear: A chest-thumping, emotionalist demand to torture any suspect, all for the greater good (the nation, God, the fatherland, and so forth).

The less rational the society is in its general culture, the more strict the requirements should be. There is a parallel here to the death penalty. Morally, I support it for war, which is a time of emergency, but I am reluctantly an opponent of its domestic, nonemergency use in our semi-corrupt society.

Gideon said...

For the most part I agree with Burgess. That was the point of my disagreement with Bowden -- Bowden prefers to leave torture entirely illegal. Thus, moral perpetrators of torture, if we agree that there can be such people, would have to commit torture secretly or via civil disobedience and then hope, if and when they are discovered, a court will take the circumstances into account and not treat them too harshly. Some Conservatives, such as Alan Keyes, agree with Bowden. Some seem to be in denial as to what procedures such as water boarding amount to --they deny we use torture.

I agree with Alan Dershowitz and now Burgess that we need to have objective law apply to such a case, if we believe it is right and necessary to use such methods. There should be a paper trail, a review, and records should be made public as Burgess points out. As for "total restitution" -- I think it's clear that no such thing can be possible. There are some things that cannot be recovered. There can be compensation. If an interrogator abused his position he can be punished but nobody can be "untortured." If we allow legal torture then we have to accept that it is at least possible that an entirely innocent person will be legally tortured. As in the death penalty, the challenge is to establish rigorous conditions such that such an event is a very rare possibility.

I think this last points to the fact that torture should perhaps be limited to cases of a situation of a declared war or equivalent emergency. And the power to allow it should be suspended as soon as the emergency ends.

Anonymous said...

Many Objectivists seem intent on undermining the most basic principles of Common Law.

On the 8th of December 2005 Britain’s highest court unanimously ruled that no British court may use evidence which could be expected to have been obtained by torture, whether in Britain or elsewhere, and in all cases including terrorism cases. You can read about their reasons  here.

Leonard Peikoff answers philosophical questions via podcast (actually just an MP3 file on his website) so I submitted a question to him about state torture:
A Question for Leonard Peikoff

Gideon said...

Your comment about "common law" seems beside the point. This ought to be an issue primarily in times of war, particularly in cases of terrorism. In most "regular" criminal cases I don't think torture is either necessary or advisable.

D.B. Kenner said...

anonymous wrote:

"Many Objectivists seem intent on undermining the most basic principles of Common Law."

He gave us a link. I went to it. This is what I found:

"And in spite of what ARI writers insinuate, the U.S. gives little consideration – at times none at all – to the guilt or innocence of those chosen for torture."

A ridiculous, unsubstantiated accusation. Whatever one thinks about government-sponsored torture (waterboarding), the U.S. government naturally picks those they think have useful information, i.e., the guilty. To say (without a shred of proof) that the U.S. just picks people at random is to jump head first into Michael Moron land.

Next time "anonymous" wants to make a point, perhaps he should first have the courage to sign in with an actual name; then he might consider offering an actual argument, instead of offering links to a site that assumes that the government only wishes to satiate its bloodlust in service of its fascist designs. Childish.

Burgess Laughlin said...

D. B. Kenner, I radically disagree with your worldview, as you reveal it on your Blogger profile:

The salvation of Judeo-Christian Western Civilization and the renewal of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Good wine good friends and the Mass in Latin"

However, I applaud your forthright statement and your call for evidence--as well as the courage to stand up in public.

I hope you will accept my next statement in the same good humor in which I offer it: If I were ever, God forbid, to become religious rather than atheist, I would be Catholic. I could spend a lifetime studying Aquinas and others in the Aristotelian tradition.