Team Torture

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 11 2014 @ 10:37am

Noah Millman believes that our reasons for torturing weren’t based on torture’s effectiveness:

Willingness to torture became, first within elite government and opinion-making circles, then in the culture generally, and finally as a partisan GOP talking point, a litmus test of seriousness with respect to the fight against terrorism. That – proving one’s seriousness in the fight – was its primary purpose from the beginning, in my view.

It was only secondarily about extracting intelligence. It certainly wasn’t about instilling fear or extracting false confessions – these would not have served American purposes. It was never about “them” at all. It was about us. It was our psychological security blanket, our best evidence that we were “all-in” in this war, the thing that proved to us that we were fierce enough to win.

Larison agrees:

Because of the bias in our debates in favor of hard-line policies, preventive war and torture not only become acceptable “options” worth considering, but they have often been treated as possessing the quality–seriousness–that they most lack. The belief that a government is entitled to invade a foreign country and destroy its government on the off chance that the latter might one day pose a threat is an outstanding example of something that is morally unserious. That is, it reveals the absence or the rejection of careful moral reasoning. Likewise, believing that a government should ever be allowed to torture people is the opposite of what comes from serious moral reflection.

Update from a reader:

Thank you for your superlative torture coverage.  I am a writing to let you know of a revealing exchange I had recently on National Review Online. In reply to an article yesterday by David French accusing the torture report of being a “partisan mess,” and insisting on the usefulness of torture, I wrote the following:

If torture works, we want to be sure it works in the long run, not just the short run. I worry that even if via torture we foil a particular bomb plot in the short run, in the long run we will have just succeeded in making many more bombers, since the terrorists will successfully use the fact of American torture to recruit new terrorists.

One reply might be: so we should torture in secret. But that implies that everyone we torture must never tell about it. And the only way to guarantee THAT is to silence those we torture forever, by killing them or imprisoning them for life without trial. Is that where we really want to go as a country?

In reply, “Nightscribe” wrote:

I realize this is a waste of my time, but, the Republicans and I do NOT think interrogation/torture (if you like that word) is a recruitment tool for Islamic terrorists! It’s the WEAKNESS we show the world that we are willing to throw our military and their tactics under the bus for feeding them Ensure! For God Sake! Wake up!

And who gives a flying F*** if they tell anybody about it? We’re trading them off for deserters by the handful! They’re no doubt laughing so hard they can barely keep the blade straight on the next journalist’s neck!

I only hope the next torture tactic we use is eyeball with a grapefruit spoon! With VIDEO!

The rest of the comments contain many equally disturbing and deranged “hurray for torture!” claims. One common argument that crops up is the following:  (i) We are civilized; (ii) our enemies are not; so (iii) we should torture them.

Do such people really not see that (iii) refutes (i)?