Sunday, June 22, 2008

Torture, Moral Philosophy and Dinosaurs

Today’s NY Times has a fascinating story about the interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (“KSM”), his chief interrogator (whom the times fingers on the justification that his identity was never classified), and the CIA program of enhanced interrogation (waterboarding, etc) more broadly. The article includes the astounding fact that KSM was waterboarded about a hundred times over the course of two weeks. It draws no firm conclusions on whether the harsh treatment---I would say torture---of KSM was worthwhile, but is nonetheless a useful starting point for thinking about torture as actually practiced.

One possibility that the story suggests is that the torture of KSM did not yield any information that he would not have provided absent torture. The basic technique was for the “knuckledraggers” (paramilitary) to administer the rough treatment and then when the prisoner was willing to talk, the eggheads (like KSM’s interrogator) would be sent in. KSM developed a rapport with his interrogator and over time provided a great deal of information. Would KSM have turned over less information had he not been first softened up? We can’t be sure. Quite possibly, although it’s also possible that he would have given over more information if treated uniformly humanely. Even if the interrogator conducts himself in a courteous manner, a suspect could well come to think of the “good cop” as merely the velvet glove over the iron fist of the bad cop, which would impede rapport. That’s the view of the FBI, at least, and even if KSM himself did divulge more than he otherwise would have thanks to his rough treatment, it’s hard to know in advance whether any particular suspect is likely to “break” under the pressure of torture or decide to fake cooperation out of anger.

The story also recounts internal warnings---from both FBI and CIA personnel---about long-term damage. It was not just foreseeable but foreseen that torturing prisoners would create blowback in the form of people at the margins of rage who then become terrorists. Or, less dramatically, viewing Americans as torturers, communities that might otherwise have cooperated in capturing terrorists instead abet them.

Of course, there are deontological reasons why many people oppose torture even if used in such a way that it saves more lives than it costs. But if one is prepared to put those objections aside, the KSM story shows how difficult it is to make a utilitarian decision about whether to permit torture. (In addition to the questions of efficacy and blowback, there is the fact that torture is illegal, and so one must count the utilitarian cost of violating the law.)

In this respect, torture is not really different from anything else. Utilitarianism is just so damned hard to get right. Is it right to give a beggar a dollar? Maybe he’ll use it to buy drugs or booze. But maybe if you don’t give him the dollar, he’ll rob someone, which would be worse. Things are not much better if you move from act-utilitarianism to rule-utilitarianism. Is it morally permissible or even necessary to execute killers because of the supposed deterrent effect of the death penalty? Do the costs of race-based affirmative action outweigh its costs? The answers depend on complicated, multi-dimensional empirical arguments. Chaos theory undermines utilitarianism.

In the end, I think Jack Handey put it best: “Long ago, an asteroid hit our planet and killed our dinosaurs. But, in the future, maybe we’ll go to another planet and kill their dinosaurs.”

Posted by Mike Dorf


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Anonymous7:07 AM

    免費A片, ut聊天室, AV女優, 美女視訊, 免費成人影片, 成人論壇, 情色交友, 免費AV, 線上a片, 日本美女寫真集, 同志聊天室, 聊天室交友, 成人文章, 成人圖片區, 色情網站, 辣妹視訊, 美女交友, 微風成人區, 色美媚部落格, 色情影片, 成人影片, 成人網站, 免費A片, 上班族聊天室, A片,H漫, 18成人, a漫, av dvd, 一夜情聊天室, 微風成人, 成人圖片, 成人漫畫, 情色網, 日本A片, 免費A片下載, 性愛, 成人交友, 嘟嘟成人網, 嘟嘟成人網, 成人貼圖, 成人電影, 成人, 中部人聊天室, 080中部人聊天室, 成人貼圖, 成人小說, 成人文章, 成人圖片區, 免費成人影片, 成人遊戲, 微風成人, 愛情公寓, 成人電影, A片, 情色, 情色貼圖, 情色文學, 做愛, 成人遊戲, 成人影城, 色情聊天室, 色情小說, 一葉情貼圖片區, 情色小說, 色情, 寄情築園小遊戲, 色情遊戲, 成人網站, 麗的色遊戲, 色情網站, 成人論壇, 情色視訊, 情色電影, aio交友愛情館, 言情小說, 愛情小說, 色情A片, 情色論壇, 自拍, 癡漢, , 俱樂部, 豆豆聊天室, 聊天室, 色情影片, 視訊聊天室, 免費視訊聊天, 免費視訊, 視訊交友90739 情人視訊網影音視訊聊天室 免費視訊聊天室 視訊聊天 視訊交友 美女視訊 視訊美女 視訊 免費視訊 免費視訊聊天 視訊聊天室 辣妹視訊 一夜情 色情a片 aio交友愛情館 情色電影 情色視訊 色情遊戲 色情 情色小說 一葉情貼圖片區 色情小說 色情聊天室 情色交友 成人論壇 成人網站 色情網站 情色論壇 小高聊天室 女同志聊天室 6K聊天室 080苗栗人聊天室 080聊天室 聊天室尋夢園 UT男同志聊天室 男同志聊天室 尋夢園聊天室 UT聊天室 聊天室 豆豆聊天室 A片 成人電影 成人貼圖 嘟嘟成人網 美女交友 本土自拍 成人交友 成人影片

  3. Anonymous10:31 PM

    I am so happy to get some hero gold and the hero online gold is given by my close friend who tells me that the hero online money is the basis to enter into the game. Therefore, I should buy hero gold with the spare money and I gain some hero money from other players.

  4. Anonymous8:33 AM .
    [url=]puma shoes[/url]
    [url=]chaussures puma[/url]
    [url=]nike air max ltd[/url]


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.