Torture in Desperate Circumstances

by Luke Muehlhauser on January 26, 2010 in Ethics,Guest Post

torture rack

The ethical theory I currently defend is desirism. But I mostly write about moraltheory, so I rarely discuss the implications of desirism for everyday moral questions about global warming, free speech, politics, and so on. Today’s guest post applies desirism to one such everyday moral question. It is written by desirism’s first defender, Alonzo Fyfe of Atheist Ethicist. (Keep in mind that questions of applied ethics are complicated and I do not necessarily agree with Fyfe’s moral calculations.)

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Luke asked me to write this series to deal with the application of desire utilitarianism to practical moral problems. In line with that, I recently received the following email:

Is it ethical, according to Desire Utilitarianism, to torture a terrorist with fundamentalist convictions bent on destroying the planet if he activated a weapon so powerful as to put an end to all life on earth, and he is the only one who can disarm it? How would you answer this?

I would begin by saying that the question itself lies outside of the realm of morality.

Morality is an institution set up to deal with the every-day interactions of every-day people. We live in a world where we are surrounded by lies, theft, fraud, assault, rape, and murder. Morality, as an institution, aims to reduce (or eliminate) these practices. We live in a world where earthquakes destroy whole cities and whole populations suddenly find themselves in a metropolis without food or water, needing massive amounts of medical care.

When it comes to molding malleable desires so as to fulfill the desires of others, these are the types of situations that sit at the top of the list. We do not need to be wasting time and energy molding desires so as to deal with situations that will almost certainly never arise and will never have a real-world impact on our desires.

This also applies to trolley car examples that are all the rage in the study of ‘morality’ these days. “You are in a run-away trolley car that is speeding down the track. If it continues on its current route it will kill give people. But, if you change course by throwing the switch up ahead you will go down another track where you will kill only one person.”

If this type of event was happening on a regular basis, we would then have reason to bring the social tools of praise and condemnation to bear to mold malleable desires in a particular direction. However, because this is not an every-day problem, we would be wise to mold desires to deal with real-world issues.

This means that when an exotic situation such as this comes up, we simply allow the cards to fall where they may.

I do use stories such as this in my writing. However, I use them to illustrate a different kind of point.

Here’s one of my stories.

Aliens have come to earth. They have a weapon that can destroy all life on earth. However, they say that they will spare the Earth and move on if you were to torture – over the course of several days – one young child – your own 10-year-old daughter. However, whether the aliens destroy the Earth or not, they will spare you and your daughter. What does Desire Utilitarianism say about such a case?

It says . . . almost nothing.

It’s not about alien visitors coming to Earth threatening to destroy all live on Earth unless you torture your child. We have no reason to mold people’s desires so that they have a ready answer to this type of situation.

It is about a world where a lot of children suffer from all sorts of abuse and neglect, and where abused and neglected children grow up into adults who behave in all sorts of ways harmful to themselves and others. Therefore, it is about promoting a concern for the well-being of children – and particularly one’s own children – that is far greater than the concern that nature provides us with. Because nature obviously does not give us the strength of concern for the well-being of children that it is good for us to have, so we have reason to design social tools to augment this concern.

One of the effects of this is that, if aliens should visit the earth threatening to destroy all life on earth (except the specific father and daughter in question) unless a specific father tortures over the course of days his own daughter, we may well discover that the father simply cannot bring himself to do such a thing.

Is that wrong?

Well, what reason do we have to bring our tools of praise and condemnation to bear to mold the desires of fathers to make it easier for them to torture their young children for days?

Practically none.

If such a situation should arise, and the father cannot torture his daughter, then that’s just the way that things worked out. In the real world, we are still dealing with real-world concerns where far too many children suffer from abuse and neglect. So, as far as our real-world is concerned about, we are well advised to bring our social tools to bear to strengthen parental affection for the care of their children, and general concern over the welfare of all children.

One thing I can say about such a case, given desirism, is that no good person would enjoy torturing the child. The parent who finds himself in this type of situation, who gleefully tortures his child – which is something he has always wanted to do and now he can do it while claiming it was to save humanity – is a villain. That man is evil. A good person would have an aversion to doing this type of harm and our agent, in this case, is far from being a good person.

The same applies to another story I sometimes use.

In this story, a terrorist has hooked up a bomb in a distant city to a vending machine. You find out about this. You rush to the vending machine to stop anybody from using it. You are quite some distance from the machine when you see a child standing at the machine making a purchase. The child will not be able to hear you shout because of other noises. You have mere seconds to act – and you do not have time to close the distance. But, you have a shotgun and you can stop the child by shooting him.

Do you shoot the child?

What if it is your own child?

Desire utilitarianism does not say whether you should or should not shoot the child. This is one of those exotic situations that we simply are not prepared to deal with. However, it does say that the good person in this type of situation has smashed full speed into a moral brick wall that will probably destroy him. He’s either going to have to live with the fact that a whole city was destroyed when he could have prevented it, or with the fact that he shot and killed his own child. Chances are, he’ll be dead within the year at his own hand.

This is not the type of answer that one typically gets from a moral theory. Yet, I hold that it is the only answer that makes sense. A theory that says that a person should kill his own child is telling us that it should come with no emotional baggage – that the virtuous person would find it easy to kill his own child. That’s a wrong answer. The parent who can kill his child and shrug it off as something that just had to be done is, himself, a moral monster.

There are people who use these types of stories about torturing terrorists to argue that there should be no general prohibition on torture. However, that argument is clearly flawed. Certainly, we would not argue that the alien story that I invented argues that people generally should engage in a lot more child abuse – that because aliens might come to Earth and make such demands we must learn to allow more parents to abuse their children.

If we ever come across a case in which a terrorist has planted a bomb that will go off in just a few minutes unless we get the disarming code from him – where he refuses to tell us voluntarily – the people who are there at that time will need to make a decision. It will not be . . . it should not be . . . an easy decision to make – like the cop needing to shoot and kill his own child.

The problem with weakening the aversion to torture is that, in the real world, it results in huge swarms of people getting tortured by self-important political leaders who think they have a good reason to do so. Not only is it the case that nobody – or almost nobody – has ever been tortured to prevent a bloody act of terrorism that will occur in the near future, countless people end up getting tortured for no reason other than that they had the wrong last name, or a neighbor who did not like them whispered some false accusations to those willing to torture, or some violent dictator is struggling to hold onto power.

These are the real-world effects of weakening the aversion to torture. And, in the end, morality is all about real-world effects.

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex January 26, 2010 at 7:11 am

“A theory that says that a person should kill his own child is telling us that it should come with no emotional baggage – that the virtuous person would find it easy to kill his own child. That’s a wrong answer. The parent who can kill his child and shrug it off as something that just had to be done is, himself, a moral monster.”

I think that here you’re conflating “X ought to do Y” with “X should be happy to do Y.” Why should the right action necessarily be one that you should feel good about? This claim seems to make sense only within the framework of desire utilitarianism, but you seem to be using it as an intuitive appeal against competing theories. Not many people are going to share the pre-theoretical intuition that the right thing to do is to do what a person with optimally-molded desires would be happy to do. And certainly not all competing theories have the implication that one should always be happy to do the right action.

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Scott January 26, 2010 at 7:13 am

Interesting read.

A few years back, Hitchens allowed himself to be waterboarded for Vanity Fair to see what the fuss was about. For months afterward, he had nightmares of drowning and suffocating.
Watch: http://tinyurl.com/ye4uhbk

You can even read the old CIA interrogation manual thanks to the Freedom of Information Act:
http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/KUBARK

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Taranu January 26, 2010 at 7:13 am

Luke and Alonso, I thank you for this lengthy post about the question I raised. You guys made my day.

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lukeprog January 26, 2010 at 7:18 am

Sean Hannity offered to be waterboarded for charity, but has yet to do it.

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Brian January 26, 2010 at 7:29 am

What do you mean by “…it should not be…an easy decision to make…”? One decision is the right one, it is only a question of getting enough information to determine which it is. Similarly, it may be unlikely that an individual can simultaneously have a morally ideal emotional response to justified and unjustified torture, but this is also only a practical problem.

We should have no problem saying that ideally, someone with enough information and morality would feel no qualms torturing to defuse the bomb. It’s possible and consistent to simultaneously promote aversion to torture in society and its illegality while acknowledging extreme hypothetical situations.

http://whyihavenomonument.blogspot.com/2010/01/torture-morality-and-law.html

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Hermes January 26, 2010 at 7:54 am

Alex, along those lines, there’s the moral dilemma of the trolley problem. For those who haven’t encountered it yet, it basically goes like this (source:Wiki);

Problem #1: “A trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are 5 people who have been tied to the track by the mad philosopher. Fortunately, you can flip a switch, which will lead the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch?”

Now, STOP.

Carefully consider your own answer above before continuing to problem #2. Do you have an answer that you are most comfortable with?

Problem #2: “As before, a trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by dropping a heavy weight in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man next to you – your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. Should you proceed?”

Recommended: The audio program Chimp Fights and Trolley Rides from WNYC’s Radiolab.

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Taranu January 26, 2010 at 8:23 am

Does the desire to save the world fulfill more and stronger desires than it thwarts and does this desire fulfill more and stronger desires than the desire to keep a stranger or your own child alive? If the answers are yes than isn’t it clear what has to be done?

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Charles January 26, 2010 at 8:37 am

Problem #2 is a false dilemma because there is a 3rd option. You could throw yourself onto the tracks.

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Taranu January 26, 2010 at 9:00 am

Charles, it would be futile to throw yourself on the tracks if you’re not heavy enough. Only the guy standing next to you is. This is what the argument presupposes.

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Hermes January 26, 2010 at 11:23 am

Charles: Problem #2 is a false dilemma because there is a 3rd option. You could throw yourself onto the tracks.  

Not unless you are also a ‘very fat man’ with sufficient bulk. :-)

In that case, though, you could argue that to be sure to save the 5 you should push the ‘very fat man’ and also jump onto the tracks yourself.

Other objections voiced on this one include that the people on the tracks know what they do is dangerous and thus take that risk on themselves. (Though this is an interesting angle and raises other potential issues, it really isn’t known. It may be that the people on the tacks would not work on those tracks without someone they trust telling them that the tracks were disabled or the trolleys were being repaired and would not run that day.)

That said, note that while there are formulations of the trolley dilemma that are a slight bit different to eliminate those types of objections, the intended situation is binary;

I. You do not act and allow 5 people to die.

II. You commit murder and save 5 people.

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Erika January 26, 2010 at 11:52 am

I think Alonzo makes an important point when he points out that a moral theory need not result in all moral decisions being easy.

Many people who discuss the moral decisoins take the attitude Brian takes above,

One decision is the right one, it is only a question of getting enough information to determine which it is. Similarly, it may be unlikely that an individual can simultaneously have a morally ideal emotional response to justified and unjustified torture, but this is also only a practical problem.

This viewpoint ignores the fact that the emotional state of participants after the decision is made is part of the consequences which determine whether or not an action was moral, and that this information cannot necessarily be obtained before making the moral decision.

For example, suppose a cop is put in a situation where they can kill one innocent person to save five others. But killing that person gives them greater feelings of guilt than letting the five die would have. As a consequence, the cop quits their job and no longer saves all the people they would have saved otherwise.

It is a contrived example, but the point is that even with perfect present knowledge, the unpredictability of the future weakens the position of those who say that there is a right moral decision and making that decision should be easy.

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Brian January 26, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Erika: the unpredictability of the future weakens the position of those who say that there is a right moral decision and making that decision should be easy.

Future knowledge is included under “information”, I never meant to exclude anything. Your example isn’t contrived, it’s illustrative of why lack of knowledge is only a practical hurdle that can be remedied by acquiring other knowledge. Also, making that decision “could” be easy, and for the perfectly moral person it “would” be easy, but for no actual person “should” it be easy. If it is easy for someone, it probably indicates a deficiency rather than extreme morality, much as shooting a basketball from the other side of the court would more likely indicate ineptitude than extreme skill at shooting and understanding of basketball (on a normal possession, not trailing with time expiring).

Charles: Problem #2 is a false dilemma because there is a 3rd option. You could throw yourself onto the tracks.  

Is it moral to bind to a chair and slap with a fish people who obdurately misunderstand hypotheticals? Under desirism, if my desire to do this eclipses everyone’s desire to not have this done to him or her, and indeed surpasses every other desire by every being in the universe, is it not morally justified?

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Eneasz January 26, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Brian:
Under desirism, if my desire to do this eclipses everyone’s desire to not have this done to him or her, and indeed surpasses every other desire by every being in the universe, is it not morally justified?  

Brian – no

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Brian January 26, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Eneasz:
Brian – no  

So it wouldn’t be moral, but it wouldn’t be immoral either. Excellent. I will sell tickets.

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Eneasz January 26, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Brian:
So it wouldn’t be moral, but it wouldn’t be immoral either.Excellent.I will sell tickets.  

I seriously doubt that your desire to slap people with fishes is a fixed desire that cannot be strengthened or weakened in any way. As long as the desire is malleable, and people have reasons to modify it, it remains a moral issue. And it remains immoral if your desire is one that people in general have reasons to eliminate, even if it’s a much stronger desire than all others in the universe put together.

Either way, expect resistance from your targets. :)

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Erika January 26, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Brian, you say,

Future knowledge is included under “information”, I never meant to exclude anything. Your example isn’t contrived, it’s illustrative of why lack of knowledge is only a practical hurdle that can be remedied by acquiring other knowledge.

I would say that this is more than just a practical hurdle because future knowledge (well, some future knowledge), is fundamentally impossible to acquire before making a decision.

If it is impossible, not just practically impossible, but truly impossible to get the information that is required to determine which decision is the right one, then I would say that it is meaningless to say “it is only a question of getting enough information” to determine which decision is the right one.

Here’s an analogy, outside the realm of morality. Suppose you are betting on the outcome of a random coin flip (truly random, make it a random quantum bit if you’d like). One could say that it is possible to make the right bet if you had all the the relevant information, including what the result of the coin flip could be. But it is fundamentally impossible to have that knowledge before flipping the coin.

What I am getting at is that your assertion only makes sense if you also claim that all knowledge necessary to make the right decision exists at the point in time when the decision has to be made. However, I assert that there is necessary knowledge that does not exist at the point when the decision must be made.

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Joel Duggins January 26, 2010 at 10:30 pm

No, I’m sorry. If morality exists for pragmatic reasons, as you seem to believe, then it is not truly morality, it is instead merely so much obfuscation.

If morality exists to stop murder (for example), why should stop murder? What makes murder wrong, if “morality” is just a method of eliminating it? What decides that we OUGHT to eliminate it? If morality is the method for doing what we ought to do, it can’t also be what defines “what we ought to do.”
Morality is about absolute right and wrong. If something isn’t about absolute right and wrong then calling it “morality” is nothing less than dishonest…

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Neil C. Reinhardt January 27, 2010 at 4:06 am

“THE NEEDS OF THE MANY OUTWEIGH THE NEEDS OF THE FEW!”

Since at least 1982, WE HAVE BEEN IN A WAR which we did NOT Start! A war declared against us by Terrorist groups made up of Moslem Religious Fanatics.

We ARE IN a no holds barred war with mentally unstable people who follow no rules, who do not care how many innocent men, women, children and babies they kill!

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Neil C. Reinhardt January 27, 2010 at 4:06 am

“THE NEEDS OF THE MANY OUTWEIGH THE NEEDS OF THE FEW!”

Since at least 1982, WE HAVE BEEN IN A WAR which we did NOT Start! A war declared against us by Terrorist groups made up of Moslem Religious Fanatics.

We ARE IN a no holds barred war with mentally unstable people who follow no rules, who do not care how many innocent men, women, children and babies they kill!

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Joel Duggins January 27, 2010 at 8:11 am

I would appreciate a response to my previous comment.
Thank you.

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Eneasz January 27, 2010 at 8:11 am

Joel Duggins: What makes murder wrong, if “morality” is just a method of eliminating it?What decides that we OUGHT to eliminate it?

The people who don’t want to be murdered, as well as those who care for them. I assume that includes you, too.

If morality is the method for doing what we ought to do, it can’t also be what defines “what we ought to do.”

That sentence makes no sense to me. Can you explain what you mean?

Morality is about absolute right and wrong.If something isn’t about absolute right and wrong then calling it “morality” is nothing less than dishonest…  

Well, it’s certainly about right and wrong. I’m not sure what the modifier is for, can you define what you mean by “absolute”?

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lukeprog January 27, 2010 at 11:30 am

Joel,

Please read the FAQ or my book. Your comment completely misses what DU claims.

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Neil C. Reinhardt January 27, 2010 at 3:48 pm

BRIAN

AS I AM ALSO A CONSERATIVE ATHEIST, I AM ASKIMG YOU TO EMAIL ME AT: Religionsucks@webtv.net

THANK YOU

Neil

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Hermes January 27, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Not that it’s hard to figure out…

FWIW: http://reinhardt.worldwidewarning.net

Excerpt;

“Who is this strange Neil C. Reinhardt person that pops up on many websites?
Neil C. Reinhardt is a man of few words (when he’s using short bursts of comical profanity). Neil C. Reinhardt is also a man of many words (as you will discover while browsing this site). Mr. Reinhardt is into MLM’s (Multi Level Marketing, also known as borderline pyramid schemes such as Melaleuca) and claims to have been drinking Tahitian Noni Juice for several years (distributor #110405) and that he was part of battery B, 321st FA, 101st Airborne (1959-1962).

Above everything else Mr. Neil C Reinhardt is a self-proclaimed atheist activist and using e-mail addresses such as religionsucks@webtv.com he can be seen on many web forums, in many e-mail boxes, and on countless blogs, where he loves to comment about his views on religion (by telling that everyone who does not think like he does or does not agree with him is therefore by definition a stupid idiot). Mr. Reinhardt is an afficionado of profanities since many people frequently receive e-mails from him containing zero substance and 99 percent profanity, as we will show you on this site.

While Mr. Reinhardt uses his right to free speech, and deservedly so, it has become clear to many people who helped put together this archive and watch-list of Reinhardtisms that above all else, Mr. Reinhardt is a provocateur who craves attention, any attention. We hope that the attention he now receives through our site will satisfy him endlessly and perhaps keep him active without having to resort to his spam-like behavior on many other sites on the internet.

Unfortunately for Mr. Reinhardt, this site is the result of many atheists (and religious people also) who consider Mr. Reinhardt to be a bad example. We, as fellow atheists, wish to make clear that Mr. Neil Reinhardt does not speak for all of us even though he often perpetuates the perception that he speaks for all of us. We do not like the bad example he sets and the reputation he brings to the millions of atheists in the world. Unless, of course, that is his intention as an agent provocateur. Many of the members of our site will be monitoring and watching Mr. Reinhardt’s activities on the internet and will maintain and update this site with any new material that comes to light. Mr. Reinhardt has claimed he does not believe in Big Brother so at least we can keep an eye on him without him feeling too scrutinized.”

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Hermes January 27, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Luke, feel free to delete my last post and this one once you get the gist of it.

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Neil C. Reinhardt January 27, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Well Hermes,

YOU just removed any doubt!

“Great minds discuss ideas.

Average minds discuss events.

Small minds discuss people.”

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Neil C. Reinhardt January 27, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Hey Hermies

First, your post on my so called “World Wide Warning” has ALREADY been posted in one of Luke’s forums and ANSWERED. My WWW has facts as
well as Mis-information and LIES in it.

Second, MOST Rational & Intelligent people start out as Liberals. Then as they age and the GAIN in both REAL world experience and Knowledge, they, like Ronald Reagan & MANY others, BECOME Conservatives.

OF course, the dreamers and the others who use emotion rather than logic, rumor rather have facts and who still mentally live with Alice in some make believe world of how they think things Should be rather than in the world of How Things Really Are, remain Clueless Liberals.

In general, it is NOT liberals who invent things. or start companies or who produce jobs & wealth. It is NOT liberals who serve in law enforcement, fire departmens or the Military. And it is NOT liberals who sweat, fight, bleed and die so they can sit around in a FREE county and spout their illogical, irrational, uninformed and stupid drivel.

Nope, it is Conservatives who Serve! It is the Consratives who know Freedom is NOT Free!

———————–

We Should Not “Water Board” ??

Really?

IF you have the stomach for it, look at the pictures in this link

http://Conservatives.mu.nu/archives/183865.php

Then think of these two young Americans being some of YOUR LOVED ones, Their being your brother, father, husband or your son.

Think of what these Moslem Terrorist Fanatics would do to your wife, daughter, sister or mother.

They would not only do to them what they did to the men, they would rape them as well. And they would just use their body parts to do so, they would use whatever they wanted to.

And Liberals are against doing what we should to protect our country?

We will see how many agree with Liberals after the next large Al Quada attack on the US.

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Neil C. Reinhardt January 27, 2010 at 8:17 pm

ENHANCED INTERROGATION WORKS

Water boarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques worked — and saved a lot of lives. Yet President Obama is systematically destroying our ability to defend the USA against terrorist attacks. Keep your head down, folks, it’s just a matter of time before one of these cells succeeds!

As President George W. Bush’s top speech writer, Marc Thiessen was provided unique access to the CIA program used in interrogating top Al
Qaeda terrorists. This included the mastermind of the 9/11 attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM).

Now, in his riveting new book, “Courting Disaster, How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack”

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1596986034?ie=UTF8&tag=humaneventson-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=1596986034>

Thiessen reveals how, as the direct result of waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques used on a very selective basis, the CIA obtained a huge quantity of information.

The information obtained Thiessen explains, prevented numerous terrorist assaults on the U.S. and catastrophic damage to America and its allies.

In dismantling this program, shutting down the strategic interrogation center at Guantanamo and cloaking KSM and fellow terrorists with the constitutional rights of an average U.S. citizen, Barack Obama, according to the author, is courting another 9/11 attack.

Here’s an excerpt from “Courting Disaster”

Just before dawn on March 1, 2003, two dozen heavily armed Pakistani tactical assault forces move in and surround a safe house in Rawalpindi. A few hours earlier they had received a text message from an informant inside the house. It read: “I am with KSM.”

Bursting in, they find the disheveled mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in his bedroom. He is taken into custody. In the safe house, they find a treasure trove of computers, cell phones, documents, and other valuable “pocket litter.”

Once in custody, KSM is defiant. He refuses to answer questions, informing his captors he will tell them everything when he gets to America and see his lawyer. Only KSM is not taken to America to see a lawyer.

Instead he is taken to a secret CIA “black site” in an undisclosed location. Upon arrival, KSM finds himself in the complete control of Americans. He does not know where he is, how long he will be there, or what his fate will be.

Despite his circumstances, KSM still refuses to talk. He spews contempt at his interrogators, telling them Americans are weak, lack resilience, and are unable to do what is necessary to prevent the terrorists from succeeding in their goals.

He says he has been trained to resist interrogation. When he is asked for information about future attacks, he tells his questioners scornfully: “Soon, you will know.”

It becomes very clear he will not reveal the information needed using traditional
interrogation techniques. So he undergoes a series of “enhanced interrogation techniques” approved for use only on the most high-value detainees. And these techniques include waterboarding.

His resistance is described by one senior American official as “superhuman.” Eventually, however, the techniques work, & KSM becomes much morecooperative. (For reasons that will be described later in this book.)

He begins telling his CIA de-briefers about active al Qaeda plots to launch attacks against the United States and other Western targets He holds classes for CIA officials, using a chalkboard to draw a picture of all of Qaeda’s operating structure, financing, communications, and logistics.

He identifies al Qaeda travel routes and their safe havens, he helps intelligence officers make sense of documents and computer records seized in terrorist raids.

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Jeff H January 28, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Neil C. Reinhardt: Second, MOST Rational & Intelligent people start out as Liberals. Then as they age and GAIN in both income and job security, they, like Ronald Reagan & MANY others, BECOME Conservatives.

Neil, your original post had a typo in it. I’ve fixed it for you above ;)

Oh and just FYI, “They did it first” is not a valid excuse for torture.

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Neil C. Reinhardt January 28, 2010 at 4:40 pm

LOOK CHILD,

1. I did NOT make any Typo! IT IS A FACT increases in experience and knowledge cause MOST who ARE RATIONAL, INTELLIGENT & LOGICAL
to become Conservatives.

2. Their income and their job security have LITTLE to NOTHING to do with it OTHER than causing SOME of the LESS logical and rational to wake up sooner.

3. I did NOT say others torturing OUR troops First is an EXCUSE for using torture!

I do NOT need any damn excuse! I ONLY need VALID reasons and there are most certainly more than enough of them!

I have said those who say we should NOT torture BECAUSE it will cause others to torture our people have their heads up their butts because others ALWAYS HAVE been TORTURING Americans.

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Neil C. Reinhardt January 28, 2010 at 5:05 pm

As the following did NOT post in it’s entirety the first time I attempted to post it, I again attempting to do so

“THE NEEDS OF THE MANY OUTWEIGH THE NEEDS OF THE FEW!”

Since at least 1982, WE HAVE BEEN IN A WAR which we did NOT Start! A war declared against us by Terrorist groups made up of Moslem Religious Fanatics.

We are in a no holds barred war with mentally unstable people who follow no rules, who do not care how many innocent men, women, children and babies they kill!

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Jeff H January 29, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Neil C. Reinhardt: LOOK CHILD,
1. I did NOT make any Typo! IT IS A FACTincreases in experience and knowledge cause MOST who ARE RATIONAL, INTELLIGENT & LOGICAL
to become Conservatives.

I’d like to see the experimental research that’s been done on this issue to allow you to say that one “causes” the other. I suspect there is none. (I suspect it wouldn’t get by any ethics boards, for one thing.) Of course, I’d still be interested in seeing any correlational research, but I suspect that much of that would suffer from confounding factors, such as socio-economic status, wealth, job security, etc. I’m mostly just interested, though, to see if you have anything at all to back up your statement, or if you’re just spouting off your own opinion as fact.

3.I did NOT say others torturing OUR troops First is an EXCUSE for using torture!

I do NOT need any damn excuse! I ONLY need VALID reasons and there are most certainly more than enough of them!

Oh, my apologies. I was under the impression that torture was generally considered to be morally reprehensible. Apparently you feel otherwise. To be frank, that scares me a little.

I have said those who say we should NOT torture BECAUSE it will cause others to torture our people have their heads up their butts because others ALWAYS HAVE been TORTURING Americans.  

So let me get it straight then: you’re not saying that we should torture them because they are torturing us…you’re just saying that we should torture them AND they are torturing us. My apologies…I guess I assumed that those two were connected.

Still doesn’t provide any morally justifiable reason for torture, though. I’m of the opinion that humans have rights, and that when we start infringing on those basic human rights, we start losing our own humanity. But fine. If you wish to stoop to the level of a terrorist and fight fire with fire, go right ahead. Just stay the hell away from me.

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Alex January 31, 2010 at 4:27 pm

I read “What is Morality?” after reading this post and have to share a concern about DU that, while not necessarily undermining the theory, seems to seriously undermine the conclusion that according to DU, torture (or the desire to torture) is wrong.

To illustrate this, let me talk about Kant for a minute.

The most crucial flaw for Kant’s approach to ethics is, I think, that he provides no way to see what kinds of maxims are legitimate. For example, in showing that lying or stealing are always wrong, he took the maxim “you may lie” (or “you may steal”) and showed (or tried to show, but that’s not important here) that it cannot be universalized (adopted by everyone) because lying and stealing would, in some sense, lose their meaning when everybody lies and steals all the time. (This is a very rough outline). The problem is this – why only consider the maxim “you may lie”? Why not “you may lie iff you are hiding Jews in your home and Nazis are at the door” or “you may lie iff doing so would bring about greater human welfare than not doing so”? There seems to be no good reason why the first is superior to the latter two.

The same problem is seen in this post. Why evaluate the desire to torture children? Why not separately consider the desire to “torture children iff not doing so would mean the end of life on earth” or the desire to “torture a terrorist iff you are a trained professional and know that doing so would avert major disaster”?

This doesn’t seem to be as fatal to DU as the analogous problem is to Kant. For example, certain facts about human psychology prevent us from over-specifying the details of our desires, making the cultivation of my latter desires very impractical. But it’s not at all obvious that the optimal trade-off is in discouraging the desire to torture in any and all circumstances.

Also, why should desires be evaluated based on the desire-fulfillment consequences of everyone adopting them? Why not evaluate them based on the consequences of a specific target group (say, CIA interrogators) adopting them?

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lukeprog January 31, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Alex,

I think this article is relevant to your concern.

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Alex February 1, 2010 at 3:37 am

Thanks, will read.

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Taranu April 1, 2010 at 3:25 am

Luke, why didn’t you add this post to your Alonzo Fyfe’s Guest Posts on Applied Ethics index?

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lukeprog April 1, 2010 at 7:37 am

Because I missed it. Thanks!

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Melaleuca Scam Fighter May 20, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Torture is never OK. If it was, the things done in the Nazi prison camps would be justified as a means to an end…

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lukeprog May 20, 2010 at 10:33 pm

Melaleuca,

I’m curious: Why is it that you believe torture is never morally acceptable? Is it because you feel it strongly to be so?

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