“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968

Friday, 12 December 2014

Some thoughts on torture.

The US Senate's report on CIA torture certainly makes for grim, and at times distressing reading. Of course the Americans don't have a monopoly on the ill treatment, torture and killing of prisoners. The unpleasant truth is that people in positions of power over other human beings frequently behave abominably. It might be comforting to pretend that only people who's religious or political allegiances differ from our own are capable of such barbarity but we know in our hearts that this is not the case. Human beings are capable of great acts of kindness and self-sacrifice but are also prone to acts of unspeakable cruelty. The Standford Prison and Miligram experiments confirmed what even a casual look back at history tells us; there will never be a shortage of torturers.
A free press, an aware and sceptical populace, a strong opposition movement that demands transparency, all these things can help hold in check the thugs of the CIA and ISIS alike. Torture is the logical outcome of power and only constant vigilance can keep us safe. It is frequently claimed that anarchism might sound like a good idea but that human nature will always make it impractical but perhaps it is that very same human nature that makes anarchism so desirable and so necessary.


Gitanex said...

Good post! Its the hypocrisy of power that makes extreme challenges like anarchism necessary.How much of this stuff is done in the name of the ultimate power of God, the Emperor, Queen and Country, Fatherland, Motherland, Land of the Free etc etc.
The hypocrisy of executing Japanese water board torturers as below humanity 70 yrs ago to now finding the same practice acceptable.
Often I feel disgusted with the human race but quickly realise that after reading opinions like yours and others that that same disgust could make me a torturer too.

d said...

One of the major uses of torture has been to promote various socialist utopias, as well as those on Gitane’s list.
The current debate has been limited by the BBC/Guardian’s unquestionable acceptance of a partisan report from a group of Democratic senators.

Frankly I don’t give a damn about harms that befall fanatical be-headers, people who use rape as a political weapon, and butcher schoolchildren for some higher cause, even if they justify it with reference to western foreign policy.

An excellent argument against torture was made by Bob Brecher (Torture and the ticking bomb, Blackwells, Oxford, 2007) which focuses on the efficacy of waterboarding in the context of a hypothetical scenario where a bomb is believed to have been planted in a local school and a captured suspect may or may not know in which school the terrorist organization has placed the bomb. From a utilitarian standpoint the ethical question involves a cost benefit assessment of the amount injury inflicted on the suspect balanced against the benefits of saving the lives of the schoolchildren. Brecher’s method is to examine various cases where waterboarding is said to be justified as a means of extracting information to minimise loss of life. He then goes on to defeat the utilitarian argument on its own terms, showing how predicted benefits derived from the infliction of torture are not as sure-footed as supporters of the argument believe. The best criticism of torture available.

My full response is too long to cover here, so I have shortened it. Suppose we concede that torture is unreliable as a source of information gathering. Yet from a retributionist standpoint it might be justified as it recognises that the terrorist is rational and can predict the consequences if apprehended. Retributionist theory was developed by the philosopher, GWF Hegel, who saw punishment as the annulment of a crime: punishment, said Hegel, is not justified with reference to reforming or deterring criminals. It is ‘a right established within the criminal himself…his action is the action of a rational being…which he has explicitly recognised in his action…' (Philosophy of Right, para.100).
Punishment must be unpleasant and not necessarily connected to consequences, such as saving lives, improving the well-being or morality of the terrorist. We can arrive at a retributionist standpoint if we consider that torture is an inadequate means of reforming fanatical murderers or as a deterrent to terrorists seeking martyrdom and the prospect of an eternal after life filled with rewards. But from a retributionist standpoint, the terrorist can look forward to that predictable and momentary terrifying experience of torture, which is a consequence of his or her rational decision to inflict terror on innocent victims, which can be seen almost daily involving children and others with limbs torn off, undergoing unimaginable horror. A baptism of waterboarding is simply a means of giving the terrorist an opportunity to experience the kind of horrors inflicted on his/her victims before lengthy imprisonment or execution. It is not an infringement of the terrorist’s human rights; it is recognition of his/her status as a rational human being capable of predicting the outcome of his/her actions. Consequently terrorists have earned the right to have punishments inflicted upon them and we should not place obstacles in the way of ensuring those rights.
Worth discussing as an anarchist topic as you point out.

Dr Llareggub said...

apologies, my name was left off the above post. Can you add it? Thanks