Tag Archives: small wars journal

My opinion is fact, period: On rhetoric, waterboarding, and torture

Upfront: Malcom Nance’s bio is incredible. Whatever else is the case, he clearly knows what he is talking about. My criticism is not against his knowledge, but rather the way he presents his argument in “Waterboarding is torture… period,” an article posted in the Small Wars Journal. For instance:

Yet, once captive I believe that the better angels of our nature and our nation’s core values would eventually convince any terrorist that they indeed have erred in their murderous ways.

makes no sense as a logical argument. Among other things, it implies either that no unrepentant terrorists have died in US custody or else implies a requirement for infinite life.

Well, that said, of course it is not a logical argument. It’s a rhetorical argument. It’s meant to sound good and feel good and subvert reason with intuition. Even though Nance’s argument is on Small Wars Journal, it thus reads more like a political tract that an objective analysis of a technique.

Nance’s three bulleted points likewise work better as bromides than as lemas:

Waterboarding is a torture technique. Period

No logical argument for this is given — merely it is asserted several times that arguments against it exist.

Second:

Waterboarding is not a simulation.

What follows is a semantic distinction between two virtual phenomenons: the simulated nd the controlled. I’m not sure how such a distinction is relevent, nor does Nance provide any cypher to help those who are not initiated.

Third:

If you support the use of waterboarding on enemy captives, you support the use of that torture on any future American captives.

This is an empirical question and probably demonstrably false, as the set of survey respondents who who support waterboarding on enemy captives is probably distinct from those that support such a technique on “any future American captives.” But again, in fairness to Nance, reason, logic, and facts do not concern his claim: Only the sound of the words does.

Alternatively, one might interpret Nance to be saying that we should seek a policy of reciprocity with regards to treatment of detainees with al Qaeda. However, he appears to reject this notion:

We must now double our efforts to prepare for its inevitable and uncontrolled use of by our future enemies.

I have no idea why criticisms of torture are so poor. My guess is that those who get the public ear achieve resonance on something other than logical validity of argument, while others have a hard time translating their first hand knowledge into such an argument.

(Many thanks to Eddie of Hidden Unities for passing on this link.)

Small Wars Journal Blog

Mark of ZenPundit reports that the Small Wars Journal now has a blog. So far they have three posts up, and I’ve commented on each:

So now Small Wars Journal Blog joins Dreaming 5th Generation War, Soob, and Quiet Thoughts as blogs that I need to add to my blogroll. Welcome!