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‘Justified’ Torture

November 9, 2010

I am absolutely stunned by the news today – George W. Bush told The Times about his book in an interview today, and confirmed that in it he felt justified in using waterboarding as an interrogation method, because he claimed it saved lives. There is so much wrong with this sentiment that I am almost lost for words, but I felt I had to write something about it, it’s just too big an issue to ignore.

Torture is wrong. I don’t think I need to argue this point with anyone, but a large number of people (including Mr Bush) feel that it is acceptable if it can save lives. I do not agree. For a start, how do you know that only the techniques used would have provided the information you needed? Is there any other way you could have obtained the important information required to save these lives, a legal and humane if more difficult way? I find it hard to believe that there wasn’t, especially in cases where they try to confirm information they already have.

Even if there is somehow no other way, the next point to consider is how many people have to suffer for this information? How many people are tortured and give no useful information, that doesn’t save lives? How many lie and agree with anything asked, just to stop it? I cannot provide any scientific studies showing that torture is ineffective, as these studies would be incredibly illegal and immoral, but it has been well documented that people can confess to anything under enough duress, and this is almost certainly the reason confessions taken through torture cannot be used in court.

Add to this the number of innocent people who could be tortured for information they were incorrectly believed to have had, and the problem of who gets to decide who is guilty enough to be tortured in the first place (since it generally happens before a trial), and I am at a loss as to how anyone can justify this. Yet Mr Bush feels so completely justified in his waterboarding techniques that not only did he agree to it without (it seems) any worries about the morality and ethics of it, but he is also completely happy to publish this in his book without any fear of legal implications. He either feels that torture is completely acceptable and legal in the pursuit of what he perceives as the enemy, or that nearly drowning someone over and over again does not count as torture and so is legal. I think we need to know what else he was prepared to do – if this was something he was happy to publish, what did he agree to that he doesn’t want us to find out…

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul Skinner permalink
    November 9, 2010 2:11 pm

    Two things, really.

    Why are you surprised? What on earth would stop you from thinking this is exactly what Bush was approving? He was very clear about being effectively a high-powered bully. “Let’s smoke ’em out” being just one of the many phrases he gave to the media declaring this. Plus, it’s already been plastered over every news outlet in Britain that he’d obviously been approving this.

    “or that nearly drowning someone over and over again does not count as torture and so is legal.”
    Just to clarify this a tiny bit:
    It’s not “nearly drowning”; it’s simulated drowning.

    This clarification does not in any way imply I approve of it, just clarifying a bit.

  2. knightofthedropdowntable permalink*
    November 9, 2010 2:32 pm

    The part that amazed me was the last bit – that he’s prepared to publish something that I can very easily see being used as evidence against him at a war crimes trial. It doesn’t surprise me that he did this, but that he is so open about it.

    That’s true, the wording wasn’t clear and it isn’t actually nearly drowning, but it’s very similar and ‘pretending to drown people’ made it sound more like a prank than a form of torture.

  3. November 10, 2010 7:52 pm

    The best argument against this justification – though sadly I can’t find the link at the moment – is that there’s nothing in argument that “Oh well, torture saves lives” which doesn’t justify the torture of innocents too.

    If, as George Bush does, you say it’s okay to torture someone for information – but they don’t talk, then the brutally utilitarian “It saves lives” argument says “Ok, torture their children in front of them”, or “torture their grandparents” or “torture a celebrity they particularly admire”.

    There’s no way I can see to use the “torture saves lives” argument without invoking this, which is, I hope, obviously and clearly wrong.

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