Eddie of Hidden Unities of kind enough to recently share his thoughts with torture with several other bloggers and myself through email . He also, graciously, allowed me to respond to them through my blog. So, with thanks to Eddie, let’s begin:
The anti-torture crowd is patiently waiting for any solid evidence [methods such as torture] work.
Indeed, and I’m patiently waiting for any solid evidence that ternary trees speed up the performance of object-relational databases.
By beginning his critique on torture with a critique on efficacy, Eddie puts his weakest foot forward. There surely is a moral case against torture, as there is a moral case against war. By framing his whole debate in “it just doesn’t work,” though, he opens his theory for disproof.
Such a strategy is dangerous on many levels. It would suddenly allow all many of ghastly tortures if they can be shown to work, in any way. Additionally the use of rhetoric to argue fact debases the opponent of torture. A fact is true or not, and a fact as technical as “does torture provide any military benefit” should not hang on who can reference pop culture better.
Thus far, there has been no such [evidence that torture works].
Eddie concludes, that when reporting success with Technique X is a felony, a lack of reported success with Technique X shows that said technique does not work.
The anti-torture crowd, by criminalizing the technique, effectively end any systematic investigation into its utility. As it is, the only people to know whether it works or not are medium- to high- level decision makers who have little interest in political debates.
Meanwhile, a variety of techniques that the FBI, CIA, CID/NCIS, Interpol, etc. have been using over the years continue to work, with mountains of evidence to prove their worth.
We might equally ask why there is a need for helicopters, when we already have planes and horses?
The choice is rarely so clear. A tactic that has not been proven to work and has indeed proven over and over again to be counterproductive versus tried and true techniques that seem to be effective.
That the anti-torture crowd must make a false choice, with such poor rhetoric, when one does not exist is hardly clarifying. Torture may or may be one useful technique out of many, perhaps more efficacious in this-or-that situation than other techniques.
This reminds me of troubleshooting electronic gear. Everyone who has ever done so would love to believe the old myth that if you kick, threaten, punch and/or shake the equipment, whatever “gremlins” are interfering with its normal operations will cease to exist. Unfortunately, outside the occasional appearance of Lady Luck in such matters, these mythical methods don’t work, and indeed can damage the gear or make the situation worse. In the end, we have to break out some tools, pull out a schematic or three, drink a Red Bull and go through the steps. Ditto for the difficult, oft boring job of interrogation.
Eddie argues well against fingertip-feeling, against allowing technicians who have a “fingertip feeling” of the correct solution to proceed on that intuition.
And Eddie’s criticism indeed have a place in six sigma organizations, of which the United States military is not (thank God) one.
An aside: The fact that hacks like Justice Scalia and Dick Cheney resort to making Jack Bauer comparisons in defending the unproven methods discussed in the article speak volume for the lack of serious thought and study they’ve put into the issue.
Two logical fallacies in one sentence is certainly an accomplishment.
Eddie firstly rejects reductio ad absurdum and second attacks Justice Scalia and Vice President Cheney ad hominem.
The “What you imprison Jack Bauer?” question that defenders of torture put forward is a form of reductio ad absurdum, which seeks to demonstrate the falseness of an opposing belief by showing how that belief leads to a ridiculous outcome. Specifically, the Bauer comparison demonstrates that if torture is banned on moral grounds, then we will morally imprison those who may save lives. Conversely, if torture is banned on practical grounds, then we imprison those who would otherwise be able to demonstrate that it is in fact practical.
It strikes me that the Jack Bauer analogy can be logically argued against in two ways: either by stating that no amount of good possibly outweighs the evil of torture in itself or that upon being demonstrated to be useful in some situation, torture should automatically be legalized in that situation.
Eddie, I believe, instead attacks it dogmatically by saying (if I may summarize) torture is conclusively presumed to be counterproductive, and no fact or set of facts can possibly overturn this presumption.
As someone who takes reason over dogmatism, I disagree with Eddie.
I also disagree with Edide where he attacks analogically reasoning. One might imagine an anti-Platonist: “Ha! How are we to take him seriously, when he brings up the slave-in-the-cave metaphor! How juvenile!” What Eddie and those who argue like him seek to achieve by such attacks is clear: prevent proponents of torture from using examples that are widely understood. This is an old rhetorical trick: mock your opponents for speaking clearly, and then ignore them when they speak technically.
My View: It’s easy enough to pick another argument apart. But what do I put forward?
Simply this: the efficacy of torture is unknown to me, as it relates to information in fields that are both obscure and secretive. As to whether it works or not, I would prefer leaving the call to those in the position to know best: senior technicians.
As to the morality of torture: purposefully inflicting pain on dozens, perhaps hundreds, of suspected enemies is troublesome. So is war. And killing is worse than inflicting pain. Further, it strikes me that long imprisonment is worth than inflicting pain. Further, prisons are notorious for preventing pain to their inmates, even in “humane” and “civilized” countries. So torture is probably on the same level as medium-term prison sentences.
For more on torture, read my April 5, 2007 article.