Thursday, September 03, 2009

Torture ... Excuse Me ... the Use of "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" Works! And We Should STILL Oppose It

The torture apologists are crowing over the release of the CIA Inspector General's 2004 report, which suggests that torture has indeed proven effective - at least in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - in turning the previously uncooperative mastermind of 9/11 into a fount of important information. (Needless to say, I draw completely different conclusions from that fact than does the torture-happy author of the linked piece.)

About one matter, however, the torture proponents do have something of a point:
The Post report, together with CIA documents released during the past week, demolishes a key argument of opponents of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques — that “‘torture’ never works.”

This contention always betrayed an insecurity. For all their thundering about the criminal immorality of coercive interrogations, opponents never dared admit that they could have elicited important, perhaps lifesaving, information. They treated it as a kind of metaphysical impossibility.

In so doing, they left a hostage to fortune. They had to hope that Cheney was wrong when he said that classified documents proved the effectiveness of the interrogations, and failing that, had to hope the documents would never be declassified. On this front, the release of the 2004 Central Intelligence Agency inspector general report — declassified thanks to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit — has been a disaster for them. In the intelligence business, it’s called blowback.
I've said before that Catholics (and others) opposed to torture should not resort to arguments against its effectiveness since: (a) when something is intrinsically evil, whether it works or not is completely irrelevant; and (b) those making the argument that torture is ineffective may turn out to be wrong, and then our ethical and moral arguments against torture are thereby undermined. See my comments here, here (agreeing with my friend Paul Zummo), and here for more details.

And, yet, the meme that "torture doesn't work" has nevertheless been widely adopted by a number of Catholics in St. Blog's - including the blogger who has achieved the highest profile in the torture debates on the Catholic blogosphere - as a means of bolstering their argument against the practice.

The question I have always had is: "Why go there?", when, again, whether torture is effective or not is completely irrelevant from a Catholic and Natural Law standpoint, given the intrinsically evil nature of the practice. The argument that Catholics should be honing in on and never departing from is this: "Torture is immoral because it violates the dignity of the human person, EVEN IF it is useful for obtaining information from the detainee, and EVEN IF such information is potentially life saving."

The risk for those making the argument against torture's efficacy was always that there were bound to be examples - even if isolated - where potentially life-saving intelligence was gathered through the use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques". And the problem is compounded when those making the argument continue to insist that torture is ineffective in the face of at least some evidence to the contrary, because the anti-torture movement risks forfeiting its credibility.

So what's going on? My guess is that the fear among those making the ineffectiveness argument appears to be that the consequentialist times in which we live will lead the populace, upon learning that torture "works" in at least some circumstances, to reject all moral arguments against its practice and embrace torture whole hog. Those putting forth the argument don't appear to be prepared to do the heavy lifting of making the argument to the general public on behalf of the Church's "hard teaching", which mandates that torture should NEVER be utilized EVEN IF it means foregoing critical intelligence that might save lives.

It's one thing when you can browbeat foot-dragging-on-torture-but-otherwise-faithful Catholics into submission (and, in my view, the browbeating was necessary, if a little hyperbolic at times) by continually hammering on the words of papal encyclicals; it's quite another form of persuasion that is necessary to convince a consequentialist public that embracing the evil of torture, even where some good may result, is giving evil mastery over us all.

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3 Comments:

At 9/03/2009 1:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Waterboarding isn't torture, neither were any of the other enhanced interrogation techniques used. The moral prohibition against torture because torture is intrinsically evil doesn't apply to the analysis because torture wasn't committed.

 
At 9/03/2009 1:51 PM, Blogger TomE said...

I disagree to an extent. Just because a practice works some of the time doesn't necessarily mean it can pass as a necessary evil. Some allege the current Iraq War deemed unjust by so many was brought about through faulty intelligence allegedly obtained through torture. Our Catholic faith has a tremendous bearing in tangible reality (ie intrinsic evils do more harm than good in discernable ways). Likely, the inefficacy of embryonic stemcell research is also an effective argument, even though hampering the spread of cancerous tumors could cause rampid abuse of embryonic human beings.

 
At 9/03/2009 7:55 PM, Blogger Craig said...

I wholeheartedly agree, Jay, I wish Obama would stop stonewalling on this issue.

 

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