FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Wrong Torture Question

by DAVID SWANSON

When Americans get “ethical” these days they ponder the great moral mysteries, like “Is public health coverage fair to insurance companies?” or “If we increase the military budget but reduce one section of it, can the whole world still be safe?” or “Would you still oppose torture if it worked?”

Let me suggest a few reasons why I think that last question is the wrong one.

First, torture DID work. It forced false agreement with war lies, helping to launch a long-desired illegal war. And it persuaded many Americans that some very scary and very foreign people were out to get them, people so scary that they had to be tortured in order to talk with them, people whose every false utterance, aimed at stopping the pain, instead generated color-coded horror warnings.

Second, torture has boosted recruitment for anti-U.S. organizations tremendously, horribly damaged the United States’ image, stripped U.S. diplomats of the power to address human rights abuses abroad, as well as stripping U.S. citizens of a clear moral right to protest being tortured, and set an example that has spread far and wide. Torture has brutalized participants and witnesses, and we are all witnesses, and it has destroyed lives both through torture to the point of death and through torture to the point of unbearable life.

Third, if you’re going to violate particular laws and treaties, you can either repeal them and leave all the other ones intact, or you can simply proceed criminally, thereby assaulting the whole structure of law, leaving everyone in doubt whether ANY laws will be enforced against important people. Our government has taken the latter approach and redefined crimes as “policy differences,” which is why torture is ongoing and no criminal penalty will deter its future expansion or the commission of other crimes of whatever sort by high officials.

Fourth, if torture had produced life-saving information, we would have long since heard that fact shouted from every television studio. In fact, we did hear such claims made. They just all turned out to be fictional. In the latest claim of this sort, torture supposedly produced information on the planned bombing of a building in Los Angeles, and this information was transported back in time to the moment at which investigators had already discovered that proposal and laughed heartily at the then-debunked claim that a serious plot had ever developed. The fact that Dick Cheney is pushing this nonsense on us is not actually a compelling reason to believe it unquestioningly.

Fifth, if torture ever produced life-saving information it would be through sheer luck and not intention. Nobody tortures with that intention, because expert interrogators believe other methods are more effective than torture. And if that lucky day ever came, there would be no basis on which to surmise that other methods would not have been at least as effective as the torture was. So, even if a real ticking time bomb situation could be created, there would be no reason to believe torture to be the best tool. And if you could magically design a situation in which, by definition, torture was the ethical choice, you still would not have created a situation in which ignoring the crime of torture would do less damage than pardoning the torturers.

So, do ends justify means? Is torture just plain wrong even in those cases when it would save more lives than it cost? These are intensely ignorant questions. Ends must always be made to justify any means, but the ends must be understood in their entirety. If one result of an action is damage to the rule of law or exacerbation of international hatred or promotion of senseless fear, that must be part of the calculation. Of course torture would not be wrong in a situation in which, all things considered, it did more good than harm; but that situation cannot be found. Whether you claim to simply adhere to a blanket rule, or you consider all the consequences of your actions, you arrive at the same conclusion: torture must be abolished.

But so must the debate over whether torture must be abolished. Torture is illegal. Our laws must be enforced. Torture’s recent prominent use by the United States came about in an attempt to promote a far worse crime than torture, the crime of aggressive war. We should not be asking ourselves whether torture was an acceptable means toward that end. We should be asking ourselves how we can best rid the world of wars of aggression.

DAVID SWANSON is the author of “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press. He can be reached at: david@davidswanson.org

 

 

David Swanson wants you to declare peace at http://WorldBeyondWar.org  His new book isWar No More: The Case for Abolition.

February 11, 2016
Bruce Lesnick
Flint: A Tale of Two Cities
Ajamu Baraka
Beyonce and the Politics of Cultural Dominance
Shamus Cooke
Can the Establishment Fix Its Bernie Sanders Problem?
John Hazard
The Pope in Mexico: More Harm Than Good?
Joyce Nelson
Trudeau & the Saudi Arms Deal
Zarefah Baroud
The Ever-Dangerous Mantra “Drill, Baby Drill”
Anthony DiMaggio
Illinois’ Manufactured Budget Crisis
Colin Todhunter
Indian Food and Agriculture Under Attack
Binoy Kampmark
Warring Against Sanders: Totalitarian Thinking, Feminism and the Clintons
Robert Koehler
Presidential Politics and the American Soul
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: The Banality of Evil on Steroids
Cesar Chelala
Is Microcephaly in Children Caused by the Zika Virus or by Pesticides?
February 10, 2016
Eoin Higgins
Clinton and the Democratic Establishment: the Ties That Bind
Fred Nagel
The Role of Legitimacy in Social Change
Jeffrey St. Clair
Why Bernie Still Won’t Win
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Aleppo Gamble Pays Off
Chris Martenson
The Return of Crisis: Everywhere Banks are in Deep Trouble
Ramzy Baroud
Next Onslaught in Gaza: Why the Status Quo Is a Precursor for War
Sheldon Richman
End, Don’t Extend, Draft Registration
Benjamin Willis
Obama in Havana
Jack Smith
Obama Intensifies Wars and Threats of War
Rob Hager
How Hillary Clinton Co-opted the Term “Progressive”
Mark Boothroyd
Syria: Peace Talks Collapse, Aleppo Encircled, Disaster Looms
Lawrence Ware
If You Hate Cam Newton, It’s Probably Because He’s Black
Jesse Jackson
Starving Government Creates Disasters Like Flint
Bill Laurance
A Last Chance for the World’s Forests?
Gary Corseri
ABC’s of the US Empire
Frances Madeson
The Pain of the Earth: an Interview With Duane “Chili” Yazzie
Binoy Kampmark
The New Hampshire Distortion: The Primaries Begin
Andrew Raposa
Portugal: Europe’s Weak Link?
Wahid Azal
Dugin’s Occult Fascism and the Hijacking of Left Anti-Imperialism and Muslim Anti-Salafism
February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Neve Gordon
Israeli Labor Party Adopts the Apartheid Mantra
Kristin Kolb
The “Great” Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail