The case against torture

William Saletan has this habit of simplifying things so he can then claim that a compromise is possible. That’s very much evident on this article on torture. Here he doesn’t note that the American Enterprise Institute is a very conservative place (the conference was held there), then he gives the arguments for torture which he says shake up his assumptions on torture:

1. The detention program was a human library.

Ok, you would think Saletan would mention that this is a really bad thing. This is part of the mosaic philosophy which says that it doesn’t matter if a person is guilty of anything, if they were near a battle or crime then they might know something–thus it’s ok to hold them. It means that torture inevitably will mean the torture of innocents.

2. Enhanced interrogation techniques were used to break the will to resist, not to extract information directly.

Umm …. yeah. That’s what torture has always been used for. Torture is punishment. Oh, and this:

More broadly, said Hayden, the goal was “to take someone who had come into our custody absolutely defiant and move them into a state or a zone of cooperation” by convincing them that “you are no longer in control of your destiny. You are in our hands.”

is the whole idea of inducing ‘learned helplessness’ which is again one of the main points of torture–to try to force compliance in the people and society in general.

3. The human library was part of the will-breaking process.

This is explicitly stating that the point of the torture was to generate compliance in the prisoners and society.

4. We had tested enhanced interrogation techniques on ourselves.

This is so stupid it’s amazing they included it. Pretty much anything can be made into torture–making someone stand isn’t torture, but making them stand 20 hours a day is. Also, since one of the points of torture is to generate learned helplessness, a procedure on a nonprisoner can’t be compared to a prisoner.

5. Freelancing was forbidden.

Perhaps (since this is all secret, we have to take their word for it), but the techniques made their way out of the CIA. Once torture becomes acceptable in some cases, it’s inevitable that you get something like Abu Ghraib.

The rest is just as bad, so I’ll stop here. If Saletan was a good writer, he would have also talked to someone who is against torture and they would have noted the things I did (and probably would have said it better). He would also have found that the reasons given in favor of torture here are nothing new and really aren’t very good arguments.

Update: Lindsay Beyerstein looks at the column.

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