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May 19, 2007

Torture, Anyone?

Looks like John McCain is the only republican to get it right about torture. It's not about the terrorists. It's about who we are. We don't torture people. You can't toruture people and remain the same. It changes who we are. Let's not go back to the days of the Con Son Island Tiger Cage.

Posted by Rob Kiser on May 19, 2007 at 9:47 AM


One of the curses of the internet is that when I think I have an original idea, a quick search reveals that many other people have had the same idea before.

The blessing side is that it saves time, since I don't have to compose something original if somebody has already said it better than I can.


March 19, 2007 Torture? Not So Much.

The trend in the blogosphere for the last few weeks leading up to the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq has been to look back and admit to stuff you were wrong about.

So I'll admit to one rather glaring item. It's a post that Glenn Reynolds regularly seems to link when he wants to make a "hey, I'm not as bad as those guys" kind of statement about various positions he takes in the war on terror. That post is here.

Since I'm not comfortable being the de facto "even anti-Bush libertarians like ________ support torture" guy, I think it's worth putting up a post noting that I have changed my mind.

For starters, I was bit more flip than I should have been. At the ripe age of nearly 32, I probably can't get away with blaming that on my frivolous twenties. But in any case, yes, I have changed my mind on torture in the last four years. I was wrong.

But I will add a few points for clarification.

First, I still don't buy into the emotional "torture is always wrong, period," stuff (articulated by my friend Jim Henley as, "we don't torture because we're the United States of Fucking America). I still don't see much moral difference between torturing an captured al-Qaeda suspect who might have useful information and evaporating him with a missile fired from a Predator drone.

Second, I'm still not convinced of the argument that torture has never worked, and could never work. In fact, I'm certain it could, and has.

Finally, I do still have problems with the overly broad definitions of torture often tossed about. I don't think taunting, or psychological manipulation, or insulting someone's religion amounts to torture. Waterboarding? Yes, that's torture. Interrogation by ladies wearing bikinis? Not so much.

All of that out of the way, I was still wrong. I should have opposed torture for the same reason I oppose just about every other surrender of power to the government that naive people (in this case, like me) tend to think looks good on paper: Because the government won't use it competently, because the government will abuse it, and because the government will find new, inappropriate contexts in which to use it.

It's one thing to argue that torture may be justifiable and effective in a few, limited circumstances. It's another to believe that once you've given it the power, government will only use torture in those same limited situations where it's justifiable and effective.

I'm certain that if given the power to torture via public support and the endorsement of Congress, it'll only be a matter of time before the definition of "national security" expands to include not just terrorists we're certain have designs on killing us, but terrorists who might have designs on killing us, to terrorists who could, one day have designs on killing us. And of course, from there it's a short jump to a an expanded definition of torture-able "national security" threats broad enough to include accused child pornographers and drug dealers.

Of course, all of this likely moot. There's no doubt in my mind that we're currently torturing suspected terrorists. The question is whether or not to sanction it under federal law. I'm now opposed to that. I'm now of the opinion it should remain illegal. It'll still happen, but it's important that the presumption be that it's wrong, and that those we catch doing it will be punished. If an agent of the government can prove in a court of law, or perhaps in the court of public opinion, that torture was necessary to prevent a catastrophe, let him try, and let the president pardon him if he proves persuasive.

Posted by Radley Balko on March 19, 2007

Posted by: Robert on May 19, 2007 at 10:14 AM

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