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Thursday, May 27, 2004

Battle Torture - The Challenger - Second (and final) Rebuttal

I am willing to accept the definition that the IBG has provided in his first rebuttal. However, I must reiterate what he himself said: This definition if much broader than the definition I provided. However, it is useful to me to point out that because of the wording of this definition, torture can be any physical or mental suffering intentionally inflicted upon someone for the purpose of: coercing or extracting information, or punishing someone for an act either committed by the recipient or third person or an act suspected of being committed by a third person. By this definition, it could very well be perceived that being forced to listen to the Barney song is torture because it can cause mental suffering through repetition of horribly irritating music for hours on end.

The foundation of the Challenger’s position, as I believe he himself has laid out, is the difference between Utilitarianism and Absolutism. He takes the role of the Utilitarian, and invites me to play the Absolutist. I don’t find myself in that role, however. The Challenger quotes Nagel in defining these terms, but even Nagel qualified that division by the belief that ‘the gains from a certain measure will clearly outweigh its costs’. The Challenger seems to accept that qualification and be prepared to move forward from there, but I disagree. I think that that qualification is where the Challenger’s case finds its root flaw. Are the abuses at the hands of (specifically) Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay worthy enough that they ‘clearly outweigh’ their costs? The Challenger bases much of his argument on this assumption; as I see it, however, that constitutes a very large and uncertain leap.

I must admit that I was trying to see how you would react to the “Absolutist” assertion, but what I would like to know is; if you are not a moral absolutist, do you concede that purpose, and the product of actions seeming immoral can be good? If not, what do you believe exactly? Can the products of an action such as torture be useful or beneficial to humanity? If not, why?

Now, to address the “uncertain leap” that the number of prisoners possibly abused and held in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan (I was unable to find a solid total of prisoners) do not outweigh the benefits of such actions, I need to compare the number of possibly tortured individuals in these prisons (680+8,080+(3,000?)=8,760-11,760) to the number of people saved from their former governments, and given rights and freedoms that they never had. That number, is estimated at 53.3 million ( 24,683,300 in Iraq, 28,717,200 in Afghanistan) people. Even if every single prisoner in the prisons today were the recipients of interrogation using torture, the sheer amount of people that have benefited or were saved by these actions outweigh the initial moral costs of harming another human being. And then again, that is something that I believe needs restating from my first rebuttal.

”when debating about an issue that hinges on how we perceive ethical conduct, the most important piece to the debate is what defines good and evil.”

Perhaps it appears that I am oversimplifying things at first, but there are two specific examples (for the sake of practical argument) in which the numbers are staggeringly large, and inaction has or would have produced a bigger moral catastrophe that I wish to bring up. This first one is in honor of my friend Kurdo. In 1988, the military of Ba’ath Iraq launched a devastating and horrifying campaign against the Kurds. Anfal, as it is known, saw the use of chemical weapons such as sarin, tabun, mustard gas, and possibly VX. Halabja alone saw around 15,000 total casualties (5k killed, 10k injured.) This attack was led by “Chemical Ali.” Now, What if that was preventable? What if, to prevent that catastrophic event, you had to torture or kill one man? Ten men? One hundred men? Even if the total number of people you had to torture or kill was 1,000 men, there would be 14,000 more people living because the action of gassing the Kurds was averted.

If my memory serves me correctly, there was recently an attack thwarted by the Jordanians that had the potential to kill 80,000 people. It is important to note that in this instance, that the munitions were found AFTER the terrorists were captured, and the terrorists showed signs of torture in their confession videos. This is important because the number of people tortured or killed in this operation was significantly less than 80,000 people. Are the lives of four men, and the misery of six others worth the continued living of 80,000 people? Yes. Why? Because the deaths of those 80,000 people would not be the only product of the terrorist act. There would be the “160,000” others who were injured, and not to mention the impact it would have on the families. To go further, the economy would significantly be impacted, and as the King of Jordan put it: "It would have decapitated the government," leaving a power vacuum. Though media sources bicker over the numbers (BBC vs. Tehran times, Qatar’s press releases, Ha’aretz, etc.) the fact of the matter remains that these 10 people could have inflicted MASSIVE CASUALTIES upon the Jordanians, and the entire region’s economy, thereby creating misery for MILLIONS more to one degree or another had they succeeded. This constitutes a scenario in which the parties capable of preventing an atrocity have to choose the lesser of two evils. If they do not prevent it, they become responsible for the choice not to intervene (because it is theirs alone to make,) and leave those poor souls to their fate at the hands of sadists.

To return to the relationship between torture and interrogation:

Torture can be used as a coercive interrogation technique. That is to say: torture can be used to supplement interrogation for the purpose of extracting valuable information, which can, in turn, save lives. Of course, saving lives all depends on the intent of the torturer, and what the purpose behind the interrogation was. It is quite obvious from a historical standpoint to say, that torture generally was not used to save lives, or in cases like the Spanish Inquisition, resulted in no real “salvation” at all (save for the conversion of a few people, which is only debatably saving someone, depending upon your religious beliefs. I do not consider religious conversion as salvation.)

In the end, the products of the interrogation (present-day US) are most often the determining factors in how its’ morality can be judged.

Even if someone was brought up in a world in which the most sadistic and unreasonable human slaughter succeeded, their perceptions on this issue would not change the product of the action, and its’ moral, political, sociological, economic, religious and interpersonal ramifications.

One thing we do need to realize right off the bat is that genocides, mass-murders and slaughters have occurred and will occur. The world can be unjust, and it will likely stay that way so long as we humans are all imperfect. In order to survive the weaknesses of some in power, we must act to counter the damage they can do. In the end, it WILL be hard, and it WILL be difficult to come to grips with some of the things we may have to do as a Nation, or member of the international community. We’ve had to face these things before in WWI, WWII, Kosovo, Iraq, Turkey, Rwanda, Burundi, the Congo, Iran, and countless other instances.

Right now, I would like to take the time for a clarification, and more questions for the IBG. Here is an article that lists the interrogation methods being used on Saddam. But one statement from the IBG caught my attention:

”I haven't heard anybody arguing that Saddam Hussein even remotely resembled an innocent, and the fact that he inflicted atrocities as hideous as any upon his prisoners is beyond dispute. If this information saved lives, American or Iraqi, few (if any) among us would weep for the miseries of Saddam Hussein.”

WHY? Why would “few (if any)” weep for the miseries of Saddam? Is it because of the horrible things he has done? Could it be that many believe his punishment is just? Could there be a number of people whom he was causing pain, and his capture ended that pain? Could his interrogation result in the capture of others in Iraq as sadistic as he, and in turn save more lives? One thing that needs to be made clear is that information is being gathered from Saddam.

With the Death Penalty (to respond to an IBG point,) many of the utilitarian arguments can be employed. There may be innocents killed in a process that is not perfect, but the killers it does remove indefinitely, it could be argued, reduce the risk enough that the execution is the proper action. With that opinion (not my own entirely,) we begin to see why a utilitarian would focus on the entire situation regarding torure. For an example, I will use the entire situation in Iraq as it encompasses more than just the bad parts of the US-led occupation. Rather than only see its’ shortcomings (such as the human cost, the Abu-Ghraib scandal, the insurgency and slow pace of establishing a federal government that can defend itself,) the utilitarian would immediately see, as well as all of the poor results, some of the good; the US has seized over 8,200 tons of ammo and thousands of weapons, 80-90% of Iraqis are governed by local government, the death toll is low in comparison to other wars, many Iraqis are expressing their gratitude over the internet, Muqtada Al-Sadr is pulling his fighters further and further back (brand-spankin'-new newsstory for you all,) and wages of the ordinary Iraqi are skyrocketing in value. All in all, the utilitarian would argue, things are looking up for Iraq, and the renaissance it will experience in the coming months will be much worth the time, effort and mistakes that were made by the US campaign. There will always be mistakes in dealings as severe as these, but those mistakes are far outweighed by the fruits of labor that actually helps millions of people.

At this point, I would like to point out that to omit the fruits of an entire institution such as the US’ use of torture to aid interrogation for the simple reason that in some instances it was used for something other than good is unwise. Torture in interrogation produced EVERYTHING that came of it, good and bad. Because the mission of interrogation (and the torture used in interrogation) of percieved combatants in the broader perspective is to prevent terror attacks, and by extension, the human suffering that results from terror attacks, the intent, and the product of this act is morally sound, even if the act of interrogation itself is controversial.

”The principle of the Challenger’s position has merit; it is, truly, difficult to argue against the idea that savaging, even ending, a few guilty lives to save many innocent ones is a justifiable act.”

What I would like to know, for the sake of argument, is why do you believe that is so?

With that I leave my second rebuttal, and I thank you all for your time. Most of all I would like to thank intensely the IBG, who debates honestly, and with considerable merit and informational background. Snark was not present here, and that is very respectable. The questions I asked him directly in this rebuttal were not meant to insult, they were simply meant to elicit an answer to add to the debate.

Best of Regards to all-


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