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Response to a common sentiment

Gibbs commented on my torture post writing, “I think any means by which we get Intel that helps save American lives we should do it. Whether it’s water-boarding or tickling their feet.” (by the way, thanks for commenting! feel free to post what you like as well)
I totally understand that feeling. however I think any torture proponent has to overcome a higher hurdle than that.  For the time being we’ll ignore that torture is currently illegal and thus anyone ordering it has definitionally committed a war crime.  But if we could create a new policy, proponents would need to overcome all my objections. To me the problem with torture is not JUST that it is inhumane and morally objectionable but also that:

  1. It hasn’t been convincing shown that it is a reliable way to get information to save lives.
  2. Even if it was reliable, no one has shown that the same information couldn’t be gathered by means other than torture.
  3. If 1 and 2 were satisfied you’d still have to show performing the torture to gain the intelligence would save more lives than may be lost do to increased terrorist recruiting that the torture policy generates.
  4. Giving a government (and specifically an executive) the power to torture also conflicts with the notion of a free society and limited government.  I haven’t heard a convincing case that we can trust an executive with that much power.  Giving a president the power to order torture of those who he judges on his notion of what is necessary to save lives makes a mockery of civil liberties and individual rights.  If you can torture a foreign terrorist for information that lead to saving lives, why not give him the power to order the torture of an American citizen that may have information that could save a life?  If you think a president should have that power as well than you certainly don’t have respect for the type of government and society founding fathers were trying to create (which is fine if that’s the case, but i haven’t heard anyone make that case).  Entrusting the government with that much violent power over its citizens turns the idea of “government for the people” on its head.  Does anyone really trust politicians that much with such a serious decision.
  5. Torture lowers America’s standing in the world.  It’s not because I care, per say, about foreign opinion, but if it hurts our chances to work productively with our allies (or create new one) which could help save American lives it seems like a bad idea.
  6. Oppressed people who must live under authoritarian rule (those who get tortured by despots) look to America for hope and a higher ideal of human rights.  If they can’t look to us, who can they look to?
  7. If torture causes unreliability of testimony it may be harder to prosecute the terrorists later.  And forget about innocent until proven guilty under a torture regime.
  8. Torturing someone who was mistakenly thought to have actionable intelligence and is ultimately innocent would be too horrible to justify.
  9. Finally (off the top of my head) such a policy may cause (or help them justify) others to torture Americans when our servicemen (or civilians) are captured.

So, anyone willing to dispatch will all 9 objections (there could be more too)?  I await an effort.
Also, if the torture proponents thought that the torture was so justified, legal, and useful why would they destroy evidence, have lied multiple times, and obstruct the declassification of relevant documents and video (wouldn’t it be a helpful tool to learn how to do it better?)?  Hmmm… curious.

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