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Monday, May 24, 2004

Battle Torture - The Challenger - Opening Statement

It may not surprise any of you that my nature discourages me from wishing ill upon fellow man. However, it may not surprise those of you who deal with the horror of war that there are necessary lapses of ethical conduct to fulfill an obligation, a role, an end. There are many who vilify those who separate ethical conduct from duty, and there are also those who revel in and fetishize the pain and suffering of others. It is with the latter two groups I have mentioned that I take issue with, but also invite to explore the issue with me. More specifically, to explore the ethics of utility and utilitarianism.

The most famous saying of the utilitarians (which many have learned from Star Trek) is: “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” Their beliefs indicate that ethical conduct could be calculable in cold quantity and qualities. Though this is not a new idea, nor is it one that will disappear for a long, long time, it is one that is seeming to be ever-present in foreign-policy. For example: Iraq and Afghanistan were both countries that were suffering greatly at the hands of their rulers, but were given new opportunities by an American-led (that last word is important) campaign to dissolve their respective leaderships. Regardless of the intents of our own leaders who were elected to represent their nation, what they accomplished, the utilitarians would argue, was greater in worth than what we (as of yet) failed to do. For quantitative purposes, the total number of 50 million people enjoying the ability to exercise rights they were not able to exercise outweighs the fate of several thousand Taliban and Ba’ath party members total.

Under those former regimes, the heavy chains of Radical Islamist rule placed a heavy burden of submission upon the peoples of these nations. As the literalist should expect: “Islam” literally means “submission.” This is indicative of a gross and frightening misinterpretation of the Koran and traditional Islamic thinking. It is from this fearfully pervasive mistake that torture has become a fact of life for millions of people. The beheading of Nick Berg, the execution of Daniel Pearl, the systematic torture and rape of Iraqi and Afghan civilians all stem from translating Surat into reality.

But where do we fit into the equation? Why do our sworn protectors torture as well? What is the purpose of torture? Is this ethical? Why or why not? By what standard of ethics? Does torture save lives? If so, how? If torture is acceptable, why? How is it acceptable, and how is it acceptably carried out? I gather that this opening statement has indeed proved to generate more questions than answers, as it was designed to do. Before one delves into a topic such as this, it is much easier to find an answer if you know where and how to look for one, and why. Without the why, there is no drive, there is no reason for the journey of the mind.

As I will demonstrate in the next week, when one considers torture, it is the mind that is at the center of this. It is the mind that is targeted, and it is the mind that does what it can to either further its survival, or follows the Epicurean path of avoiding pain. When one considers torture, one has to be VERY careful with how one employs it, for what purpose, and with what considerations. One has to understand the mind of the receiving end of the torture in order to accomplish anything useful. If one is torturing for the sake of pain, one needs to re-examine one’s own goals. Because we are simply not given enough time on this planet to waste on illness or infirmity of the mind or society.

The only way torture is acceptable, as with most things, is to serve a purpose or goal. What that goal is should be carefully defined and accepted as well, for if it is not, there are others that will define your purpose well, and will not be something very forgiving. Sadism serves no purpose to anyone except those obsessed with domination. It is those people that are singled out, and are often destroyed in the modern world.

To return to the concept of the mind: In this day and age, torture is (should read “was”) employed to coax information out of someone. To accomplish a goal that in the long run (or so was intended) to save lives. This would (if successful) easily make the well-being of the persons formerly at risk apparent, as they are living (and presumably doing better than if they were dead) instead of prematurely killed. When one tortures, it is very important to know what you are doing exactly. When you want to glean information from someone, let’s use the example of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; you do not want to ruthlessly beat him because he will tell you anything to get you to stop. This does not mean what you hear is truth, and it is useless to act upon. Instead, you torture the mind. A popular tactic used by the US military was sleep-deprivation, and arguably saved a multitude of lives. From this method, we were able to reveal the locations and identities of insurgents in Iraq. Again, we are brought back to the concept of utility. It is not useful to physically hurt someone savagely, however, it is often useful to psychologically break someone using humiliation, intense emotion such as fear, and impairing judgment. Though the latter are all methods of torture, in a situation where intelligence is key (a la terrorists and Weapons of Mass Destruction) the one who knows is the one who survives. The one who does not is taken by surprise, and put at the immediate disadvantage.

For example: 9/11. Intelligence was powerless to stop the initial attacks, and it was only the last plane (after the passengers were informed of their fate) that any further attacks were thwarted. If the torture of individuals is needed to stop mass-casualty attacks, than the utilitarians would not hesitate to ensure that the greatest amount of happiness (or in this case, vivaciousness) was granted for the greatest amount of people. In their eyes, and in mine, the needs of the few will never outweigh the needs of the many, and that is a cold reality that we will either have to accept, or omit at our own peril.

It is with these words that I leave you, my audience, to ponder (and try to make sense of) in order to help prepare you for further focus into the issue at hand. One thing I would like to make clear from the beginning is the importance of context, and the importance of utility. How one defines ethics is also central to this debate, so I will be employing the works of Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Kant. Many of these men would probably disagree with my stance on the issue, but the ideas they put forth are (once again) the focus of utility in life.

That being said, let us begin!
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