There’s No Justification for Torture


Torture is wrong.

If only I could blog those three words and it would suffice. In a sane and just world, it would. In a topsy-turvy world such as America, I have to defend that statement. I have to explain why.

Christopher Hitchens, a rather staunch defender of American military might and such, was waterboarded and said it was torture in a poignant Vanity Fair piece:

I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.


The “ticking time bomb” scenario so often employed by advocates of torture is bullshit. Not only is it not an adequate defense of torture, but it’s bullshit. From Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic:

Just as the morality of raping six-year-olds under threat of nuclear holocaust has nothing to do with whether we should maintain an absolutist taboo and total legal prohibition against child rape, the wisdom of torture in a situation where it could stop a nuclear device from incinerating New York has nothing to do with whether there should be an absolutist taboo and total legal prohibition against torturing prisoners. Would Jonah Goldberg argue that we need a “ticking time-bomb exception” to child rape laws and that the absolute taboo against child rape is “unfortunate,” because there could be a time when it averts greater evil? Of course he wouldn’t.  

Such is the poor quality of the torture apologist’s position. If a future president orders torture that averts one of the horrific hypotheticals Republicans keep invoking–millions murdered, an American city destroyed–I won’t complain if they defend him or her with a “ticking time-bomb” exception. Until then, they’re just proving that the strongest defense of their position resides in the realm of fantasy.

Of course, if you’re John Yoo, you think it permissible to crush the testicles of a child, depending on why the president feels the need to do that:

Then Jamelle Bouie hits the point home on why Americans accept torture in Slate:

“But here’s what’s key: It’s not just that Americans want a system that metes out punishment, it’s that—despite our Eighth Amendment—we are accepting of the cruelest punishment. And while it’s not legal, it exists and it’s pervasive. In theory, our prisons are holding cells for the worst offenders and centers for rehabilitation for the others. Inmates can work, learn, and prepare themselves for a more productive life in society. In reality, they are hellscapes of rape, abuse, and violence from gangs and guards.

If this is how we treat domestic prisoners—who, despite their crimes, are still citizens—then it’s no shock we torture noncitizen detainees, and it’s no surprise Americans largely support the abuse. After all, these are suspected terrorists. They’re presumptively guilty, and they deserve their fates. And if they’re innocent—if they’ve been swept up or sold out—then next time we’ll have to be more careful, even though we don’t plan to take any steps to avoid making the same mistake again.”

Now I would add the caveat that it really depends on how you ask the question to see if Americans support harsher punitive measures against criminals. In any event, I think his extrapolation of torture preferences from how accepting Americans are of the prison system has merit.

torture wh

When asked by Meet the Press’ Chuck Todd where the line was in terms of torturing because of known innocent people that were tortured and some were tortured to death, former Vice President Dick Cheney responded:

“I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. And our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States.”

Torture advocates find themselves in league with that vile piece of shit and his thinking right there.

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