A Grab Bag of Observations About Torture

And because this is a grab bag, we will just rummage through it for now. Maybe later we can unpack it. If you would like to read more, a couple of good articles from opposing corners can be found here and here.

That said, here are some thoughts of my very own.

1. You can be morally serious without being morally grounded. The fact that you feel the pressure and the weight of the responsibility you have to protect American lives does not mean you have an ethical system able to bear the weight that situations like this will place on you. Morally serious is not the same thing as moral. Relativists can be anguished, and frequently are.

2. Consequentialism is not a biblical ethical system. There are times when it seems to turn up a no-brainer answer to your question — if we could prevent a nuclear bomb from going off in Baltimore by slapping Khalid Sheikh Muhammed a couple of times, why wouldn’t you do that? That seems reasonable. But without an ultimate anchor, the little dingy of secular smart people can drift a long way out to sea. Now suppose you can prevent the Baltimore nuke by having a dark ops team rape KSM’s mother, sisters, and daughters. Suppose the threat of that prospect would break him sooner than waterboarding would? At some point, pretty soon in the process, you will need more ethical light than horrendous consequences of not doing “something” can ever give you.

3. Conservative schizophrenia about federal intelligence agencies is going to have to resolve sometime soon. The programs we are deeply suspicious of and the programs that make us want to cheer are all run by the same people, who belong to the same clubs, and who all think the same way. I vote for a resolution in the direction of suspicion. But because Islamist terror really remains a true threat, this requires a complete overhaul of how we do business. Given the current presuppositions about our public life together, there are no good answers.

4. For some reason, I saw some people erupting on Facebook against the “Fox News” take on this, when on this point, they really have been fair and balanced. I have heard some really cogent arguments against the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and I have heard them from the Fox News conservatives. I have also heard reasonable points raised by those defending the program. In my thinking, Fox has done an admirable job in getting me the kind of information that has helped me think it through.

5. The Senate report was a $40 million joke. You don’t write a report on a program of this size, scope and importance, and have that report not contain any interviews with the people responsible for what you are investigating. This report was nothing more than a signal for us to all start talking about this particular topic. It did not settle anything with regard the nature and extent of what actually happened. “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Prov. 18:17). Come on, people.

6. But the CIA whiz kids who broke into Sen. Feinstein’s computers and made her so hopping mad were no doubt ISIS double agents who saw a golden opportunity. There is no other compelling explanation as to why the CIA would have done something so STOOOOPID. If Islamo-terror is such an existential threat, then why are people with the IQ of half a pound of wet liver in charge of fighting it? We have CIA operatives who can get caught by Senate staffers?

7. The Senate report said that Bush and others at the senior levels had not been informed about the techniques that were being used. But in the interview with Dick Cheney that aired last night, he flatly denied it, refusing to take the exit offered. He said, forthrightly, “we knew all about it, we were responsible for everything, and would do it again in a minute.” In a town renowned for CYA maneuvers, this was entirely admirable. He was plain, he was clear, and he took responsibility. My hat is off to him.

8. Before we have an international debate on the definition of torture, I suggest that we exclude people who clearly have no idea. If “enhanced interrogation” — an Orwellian dodge, by the way — can include the “attention grab” on one end and water boarding on the other, then we need to work on our definitions. The attention grab is where “the interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.” He shakes the widdle tewwowist and makes him cwy.

9. The whole debate has been politicized, which means we need to labor to get some apolitical perspective — and we need to recognize that these programs are overseen by Republicans and Democrats both. We need to set Bush’s preferred methods (capture and interrogate) with Obama’s (blow up with a Hellfire missile). Obama takes them out this way — blowing them to smithereens at a wedding — so that he won’t be guilty of the outrage of sending them to Guantanamo. And this sets the stage for some Golden Rule questions. Climb into your terrorist brain and answer this — what would you rather? To be blown into bird feed at a special family event? or to be waterboarded three times and sent off to Gitmo?
But remember, this is not a consequentialist world. What we do is going to be judged by Jesus Christ on the Last Day, and He is going to make His judgments in accordance with His Word. The best way to depoliticize this, therefore, is to return to the law and to the testimony.
10. If a real investigation is ever done, and the reported abuses and outrages are confirmed as having happened, then the people responsible should be punished in accordance with the seriousness of their crimes.

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Thursday
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Thursday

Islamic terrorism is an immigration issue.

David
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David

Doug,

Perhaps in another installment, you could provide some Bible verses that you feel touch on the ethics of torture. I am not aware of any which specifically speak on the topic – I realize there may not be a verse specifically on torture, but perhaps there are verses you feel speak to the ethics involved in that act.

Eric the Red
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Eric the Red

I don’t see that consequentialism is any less capable of answering whether raping KSM’s mother, sisters and daughters is an acceptable tactic than is Christianity. To my knowledge, there is no passage in Scripture that says in so many words that rape is, or is not, permitted to stop a nuclear attack on Baltimore. I doubt very much that the words “nuclear” “Baltimore” or “Khaleid Sheikh Mohammad” appear anywhere in the Bible. So, consequentialism and Christianity will have to do precisely the same thing, which is to try to find a general principle that applies, and then apply it. Sometimes… Read more »

Doug Sayers
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Doug Sayers

“What we do is going to be judged by Jesus Christ on the Last Day, and He is going to make His judgments in accordance with His Word.”

Amen, to that; and I am certain that Jesus will render a perfect judgment.

(Note: I can’t help but think that this applies to the producers of the “Hold Your Peace” piece in a previous blog. Sorry, I admit to having trouble getting that one out of my mind. Who would the folks with the pot smashing ball bats represent in the video?)

Katecho
Member

Eric the Red wrote: Sometimes this is a more difficult answer for consequentialism than others, but Christianity has that disability as well, since there really are some subjects on which the Bible is silent. And a difficult question is not the same as an unanswerable question; answering it just takes more work. This is false. Christians have access to meaning and value and intent, supplied by the Creator, from which virtue is possible (even if not immediately discernible). On the other hand, Eric the Red’s materialistic consequentialism has no such access, in principle. Eric attempts to derive the value of… Read more »

Seth B.
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Seth B.

Eric the Red:
Deuteronomy 22:25–27 (ESV) speaks against raping women. The man is to be executed for doing that.

Your argument is a lot like saying, “The Bible condemns murder but it doesn’t say that you can’t murder on *Tuesdays*.” That’s because there’s a general condemnation against murder, with the exceptions of self-defense. Yes, the Bible doesn’t specifically address raping to prevent a nuclear attack; it does address raping in general though, and says it’s always bad.

Roy
Guest
Roy

“The programs we are deeply suspicious of and the programs that make us want to cheer are all run by the same people, who belong to the same clubs, and who all think the same way.”

I believe that this particular truth escapes many people.

Nice work DW.

Katecho
Member

Eric the Red wrote: So, consequentialism and Christianity will have to do precisely the same thing, which is to try to find a general principle that applies, and then apply it. Eric the Red must assert that we are doing the same thing he is doing, because he ignores what we keep explaining to him. Note that Eric the Red doesn’t give us any reason why we “have to do” any such thing in his materialism, but where does a materialist go to find general principles in nature anyway? What are they made out of? Why does matter obey them?… Read more »

Ty
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Ty

I am pretty sure the grab bag was one of the more successful questioning techniques.

Eric the Red
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Eric the Red

Katecho, I am not going to be drawn into another thread hijack in which you change the subject from what we were talking about to your nonsensical assertion that I have no basis to even discuss the question. If you want to see an example of what it means to engage a point that has actually been made, and that is relevant to the OP, you might review Seth B’s comment; his comment actually furthers what we were talking about and he hasn’t hijacked the thread. Seth, I agree with you that there are general principles that apply to specific… Read more »

Jill Smith
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Jill Smith

Dinghy, please dear Pastor Wilson.

RFB
Guest
RFB

Naw, he was talking about Harry Reid, you know, Dingy Harry, the little dingy of secular smart people…

bethyada
Member

While I generally oppose torture, I agree that there are many who do not know what it is. I think lashing is an appropriate criminal punishment (and probably more moral than the excess time-out in prison for some crimes). Though lashing is at risk of being named torture in some circles. Further, a person committing a crime deserving of death (such as murder or treason) certainly can be put to death as a means to gain information. But if we wish to cause prolonged agony we are at risk of sinning against evil men. Further, I suspect torturers are at… Read more »

bethyada
Member

Christianity is definitely not consequentialist. Nevertheless, the way God has set up the world is such that we generally reap what we sow. Thus good actions are more likely to lead to good outcomes and bad actions are more likely to lead to bad outcomes. As such, desirable consequences are more likely to be the result of right behaviour. This looks like consequentialism but only because it is being approached backwards. Seeing good or bad results may hint at the morality of the causative agency but it is not an utterly reliable guide. Intrinsically good actions remain good even if… Read more »

Matt
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Matt

That NRO article…reading that was like it was 2005 again. 2500 words about how the left hates America and wants the terrorists to win. We don’t need a debate on the definition of torture. We already have one. The consequentialism stuff is all academically fascinating, but doesn’t matter here. Torture is not useful for extracting true information. Most people will just say whatever they think the torturer wants to hear. According to Feinstein, no interviews were conducted because of a concurrent investigation by the Justice department on the same people. Obama takes them out this way — blowing them to… Read more »

timothy
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timothy

There is no other compelling explanation as to why the CIA would have done something so STOOOOPID

Or that guns would be run to Mexico
Or that the DOJ would work with the IRS to target citizens
Or that the State Dept would run arms to ISIS via Turkey.

….Your faith in our institutions is touching. It is also 180 degrees from what our relationship to our Constitutional Republic should be. The founders did not put in (now abandoned) checks-and-balances because they expected our institutions to do the right thing.

I think you underestimate the evil in our land.

God Bless.

t

timothy
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timothy

Islamic terrorism is an immigration issue.

Via an extra-constitutional executive order which the republicans just fully funded.

timothy
Guest
timothy

I agree with Matt. I will amplify that since torture is to be an exceptional case in the extreme, then we should act like it and neither import nor export those people or actions which make torture necessary. That would mean the Arabs who where here at 9/11 or are troops who are there in the middle east. I find entirely plausible Vox Day’s observation that the present discussion about torture is to accustom Americans to its use. From his site: Willingness to torture became, first within elite government and opinion-making circles, then in the culture generally, and finally as… Read more »

timothy
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timothy

@EtR Katecho is providing a valuable public service by sparing people who are new to this comment board the wasted time in rooting out your foundational principles. As I recall, it took about 3 or 4 comment threads to get to the nothing that is your ethic. He provides those of us more familiar with you with a valuable lesson by reminding us that yours is the moral life of a parasite –since you are nothing but quarks, atoms, molecules, empty space and predetermined actions–you have no basis for an ethic or a morality–well, you do, but it is the… Read more »

Eric the Red
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Eric the Red

Timothy, Katecho’s comments remind me of the two boys walking through a cemetery, who spotted a tombstone that said, “He is not dead, but sleeping.” One boy turned to the other and said, “He ain’t foolin nobody but himself.” The idea that none of the following: the desire to build a better world for oneself and one’s children; people are more likely to treat you well if you treat them well, communitarian living requires encouraging certain behaviors while discouraging others, happiness is preferable to misery is a sufficient basis for ethics and morality, is an argument that nobody other than… Read more »

J. Clark
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J. Clark

Ironic post of the day:
” if people actually started to think there’s no reason to be moral and ethical the results would be devastating.”

carole
Guest
carole

Eric, You wrote: I don’t see that consequentialism is any less capable of answering whether raping KSM’s mother, sisters and daughters is an acceptable tactic than is Christianity. The problem that you consistently seem to forget is that Christians are seeking truth. You can answer questions all day long with answers that do not seek what is true and you can even explain how you got to the answer. No one is interested in those answers because this is not a consequentialist world. You ultimately want to do what will make you, Eric, the most happy on any given day.… Read more »

Eric the Red
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Eric the Red

Carole, to the contrary, raping KSM’s relatives in his presence might make me feel really good, for about ten minutes. Then the long term consequences would begin to set in. Consequentialism means thinking about what the consequences will be, not just today, but next year or next decade or next century. It doesn’t mean that immediate gratification is the standard.

Benjamin Vrbicek
Guest

Love that you spelt cry with a w.

Drew
Guest
Drew

7. The Senate report said that Bush and others at the senior levels had not been informed about the techniques that were being used. But in the interview with Dick Cheney that aired last night, he flatly denied it, refusing to take the exit offered. He said, forthrightly, “we knew all about it, we were responsible for everything, and would do it again in a minute.” In a town renowned for CYA maneuvers, this was entirely admirable. He was plain, he was clear, and he took responsibility. My hat is off to him. Doug, you are tipping your hat to… Read more »

carole
Guest
carole

And we will know the consequences how, Eric? If we meditate long and hard, if we imagine that what you like/want is what most people like/want. Shall I base my decisions on expectations of what future generations will hold to be desirable? Am I supposed to expect what American culture will decide is cool 100 years from now, encourage (ie, manipulate) others into acting that way, then feel good about myself for being ethical? Eric, we know what will die away and it is not His reign, dear friend. There is evidence all around you, and I pray the blinders… Read more »

Katecho
Member

Eric the Red wrote: The idea that none of the following: the desire to build a better world for oneself and one’s children; people are more likely to treat you well if you treat them well, communitarian living requires encouraging certain behaviors while discouraging others, happiness is preferable to misery is a sufficient basis for ethics and morality, is an argument that nobody other than you is buying. I know we’ve explained the following to Eric the Red multiple times in the past, but it’s important to continue to keep making the point (especially since Eric seems so bent on… Read more »

Katecho
Member

carole wrote: And we will know the consequences how, Eric? If we meditate long and hard, if we imagine that what you like/want is what most people like/want. Shall I base my decisions on expectations of what future generations will hold to be desirable? Am I supposed to expect what American culture will decide is cool 100 years from now, encourage (ie, manipulate) others into acting that way, then feel good about myself for being ethical? This is an excellent observation. One of the difficulties with consequentialism is that we know it’s not how we actually make moral decisions. Eric… Read more »

timothy
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timothy

@EtR. Until you address where moral imperatives come from, then any ethical arguments you make are simply red herrings and a waste of people’s valuable time. Today its whatever nice-sounding platitudes you just muttered, tomorrow it will be something else as suits your needs. Your confidence in your secular future has been the talk of the town since Babylon set out to build a tower to heaven. It fails to impress; in fact, its becoming a laughing stock. Remember one other thing, Eric; you cannot hide from me who you are. I know, because I have lived the darkness that… Read more »

Ben
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Ben

I’ve heard someone raise the question of whether or not it would be OK to slap a terrorist if it meant preventing an entire city from being obliterated. My problem with this is that, since we acknowledge the fact that we are limited in our knowledge (which is why we need to slap him in the first place), shouldn’t we also admit that we don’t know for sure if he knows where the bomb is? What if we’re only 80% sure he knows? Does that make it OK to slap a man who has a one-fifth chance of being innocent?… Read more »

Eric the Red
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Eric the Red

And, as I have explained repeatedly, I have moral imperatives because I am a moral being. It’s really the mirror image question of do people sin because they are sinners, or are they sinners because they sin? (Full disclosure: “sin” is a religious concept I don’t accept, but I’m using it for illustrative purposes because I think it will make my point easier to understand.) By acknowledging that I am a moral being, you answer the question of from whence where the moral imperative comes. A moral being has moral imperatives, just as a corporeal being has biological imperatives. Asking… Read more »

RFB
Guest
RFB

EtR,

Can I call you Meathead?

Katecho
Member

Eric the Red wrote: And candidly, you and Katecho had best hope that nobody ever takes it seriously, because as society becomes ever more secular, if people actually started to think there’s no reason to be moral and ethical the results would be devastating. I’m not quite sure how to take this. Is it a threat? Does Eric not trust secularists to continue to do good as they discover that their morality has no foundation? Fortunately, while materialistic secularism lacks a rational moral justification, and lacks any moral consistency, our point is not that this has, or will, somehow turn… Read more »

Katecho
Member

Eric the Red wrote: By acknowledging that I am a moral being, you answer the question of from whence where the moral imperative comes. A moral being has moral imperatives, just as a corporeal being has biological imperatives. Asking why, or where does is come from, are nonsense questions; you may equally as well ask why is green green. The only real quibble is whether I’m a moral being because of millions of years of evolution, or because of a creator, and on that, we just disagree. Let’s have fun and watch Eric the Reds reasoning in action: By acknowledging… Read more »

timothy
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timothy

Hi Katecho. I am looking for the name of a question. Let me express the search with a progression of questions. How did life begin? ->The problem of Abiogenesis. How did the Universe Begin? –>St. Thomas’ Cosmological Argument. Where did Man acquire a soul? –>???? The answer to ??? is the Name of the thing I am looking for. Mind/Body dichotomy? Whatever the formal name is, EtR instructs us the answer is “because that is what people do”. Both the left and right side of my construct are fair game for clarification. thx. t

Eric the Red
Guest
Eric the Red

Timothy, have you spent any time researching what science teaches about abiogenesis and the origins of the universe (if the universe had origins)? I’m not granting your premise that man has a soul. In my experience, most of the time when someone tosses me an aha! question, they really haven’t tried to find an answer on their own. Katecho, I grant that as a theistic being you have theistic imperatives (assuming we’re defining the words the same way, which may or may not be the case) so I don’t know why you think there’s a contradiction. And no, that wasn’t… Read more »

timothy
Guest
timothy

Timothy, have you spent any time researching what science teaches about abiogenesis and the origins of the universe (if the universe had origins)? I’m not granting your premise that man has a soul. In my experience, most of the time when someone tosses me an aha! question, they really haven’t tried to find an answer on their own. Only at the popular level; my math skills have atrophied such that I could not integrate myself out of a wet-paper bag, Thermodynamics is what happens when I forget the tea-pot and partial differential equations might just as well be Swahili inscriptions.… Read more »

Frank Turk (@Frank_Turk)
Guest

Of course we do not live in a consequentialist world. But we do live in a world where the Apostle Paul wrote what he wrote in Rom 13 about the Roman Empire with no qualifications about when Christendom has waxed and waned. That was a government where beatings were made for misdemeanors, and the “attention grab” was what the soldier did you make you stop walking in the middle of the road when he said to get out. I think we have a middle class problem when it comes to justice. Of course everything and everyone does not deserve torture,… Read more »

timothy
Guest
timothy

@EtR. One other point. A knowledge of Christ is not the same thing as a knowledge of Einstein’s field equations–at least in my experience and from my readings of other Christians such as Lewis, Chesterton, J.C. Write and Chambers. It is possible to be an autodidact who teaches himself biological chemistry. It is not possible to teach oneself salvation. The distinction is subtle to convey, but obvious as day to the Christian. Hitchen’s had the admirable social grace of being able to convey the mechanics of Christianity to Christians–that man is Sinful and fallen; is justly condemned for his very… Read more »

jigawatt
Guest
jigawatt

timothy, something related to what you’re talking about is called “the hard problem of consciousness”.

Eric the Red
Guest
Eric the Red

Timothy, what you’ve written tells me that you at least appreciate the questions and are trying to come to grips with them, and I commend you for that. Respectfully, I think you’re holding science to an impossible standard: It can’t be taken seriously unless not only does it have an answer for everything, and we already know the answer for everything. That’s a standard nothing meets, including Christianity. There is a lot that science doesn’t know, and neither I nor any other naturalist would claim the contrary. That doesn’t mean the methodology itself is flawed. The mind/body dichotomy really boils… Read more »

carole
Guest
carole

It is also interesting to me Eric, that you completely ignore some of the best parts of this post..Morally serious is not the same thing as moral. This seems to me to be the point we are trying so hard to have you see. You certainly do seem morally serious and certainly do seem like someone who would be anguished if we had prisoners raped, even if it worked, so far as getting the desired information. But as Christians, we could never think it is acceptable to have a prisoner raped. There are limits. This is the anchor you do… Read more »

David Trounce
Guest
David Trounce

Regarding the Islamic threat, I am yet to be comvinced that the threat is real. The threat of the threat is real enough and in this, Alinsky must be happy.

Matthew Paul Abel
Guest
Matthew Paul Abel

eric the red-
I’ll make a one-sentence statement of my position, and ask you a one-sentence question, and I expect you to respond with a one-sentence answer.

I believe torturing a human to save a city is immoral.

Do you believe torturing a human to save a city is moral or immoral, Eric?

Jill Smith
Member
Jill Smith

Hi Carole, good to see you here! Is it possible that you are presenting Eric with a false dichotomy? I understand that it would be possible to justify torture on utilitarian grounds–the best outcome for the largest group of people in a given crisis. I think this justification ought to be repellent to the Christian conscience. But couldn’t there be a strong argument against torture even without appealing to divine law? Using Kant’s categorical imperative alone, I must not torture because I would not want it done to me or anyone I love, I cannot wish it would be the… Read more »

carole
Guest
carole

Hi Jill, I am grateful to be here and writing to you. I am only responding to what Eric states is his moral philosophy. It is my understanding he can’t claim to believe in any type of moral law as a utilitarian. He himself admitted that his position puts him in difficulty where tough questions are concerned. He wants to take us with him, but we aren’t in the position he is in, since God provides eternal laws for us. Our Golden Rule is based on solid ground where his fluctuates. We are told how to love ourselves now, and… Read more »

John Barry
Guest
John Barry

Eric the Red,

I understand you to be a consequentialist. Have you not read “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Why do you wait?

Katecho
Member

timothy asks: “Where did Man acquire a soul? –>????” I don’t know if there’s one inclusive label for that line of inquiry. Of course the materialist isn’t going to grant the term “soul”, but the mind/body problem is one label for it. Other labels might be the problem of intentionality, or the problem of proaction, or the problem of consciousness, or the problem of hard AI. Believers in materialism have a very serious difficulty in accounting for intentionality given the reactionary nature of the world they claim to live in. This problem is something that Eric the Red has continuously… Read more »

Katecho
Member

Eric the Red wrote: Katecho, I grant that as a theistic being you have theistic imperatives (assuming we’re defining the words the same way, which may or may not be the case) so I don’t know why you think there’s a contradiction. It’s astonishing how Eric the Red can’t even recognize his own argument in action. Does Eric actually think there is a theistic imperative? How can there be a theistic imperative (command) if there is no actual command Giver? Eric has essentially argued that his belief in morality makes moral imperatives real and true (because humans believe it). Eric… Read more »