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Thread: Torture versus collateral damage; the bigger evil?

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  1. #1
    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Gen. Petraeus Warns Against Using Torture

    11 May Washington Post - Gen. Petraeus Warns Against Using Torture by Tom Ricks.

    The top U.S. commander in Iraq admonished his troops regarding the results of an Army survey that found that many U.S military personnel there are willing to tolerate some torture of suspects and unwilling to report abuse by comrades.

    "This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we -- not our enemies -- occupy the moral high ground," Army Gen. David H. Petraeus wrote in an open letter dated May 10 and posted on a military Web site.

    He rejected the argument that torture is sometimes needed to quickly obtain crucial information. "Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary," he stated...

  2. #2
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    Default McCain on the Use of Torture

    McCain on the Use of Torture

    Entry Excerpt:

    CBS News: Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) about his decision to speak out against government torture of terrorists.

    Senator John McCain on the Use of Torture - Full text of remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate, 12 May 2011. Introduction follows:

    “Mr. President, the successful end of the ten-year manhunt to bring Osama bin Laden to justice has appropriately heightened the nation’s appreciation for the diligence, patriotism and courage of our armed forces and our intelligence community. They are a great credit and inspiration to the country that has asked so much of them, and like all Americans, I am in their debt."

    “But their success has also reignited debate over whether the so-called, ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ of enemy prisoners, including waterboarding, were instrumental in locating bin Laden, and whether they are necessary and justifiable means for securing valuable information that might help prevent future terrorist attacks against us and our allies and lead to the capture or killing of those who would perpetrate them. Or are they, and should they be, prohibited by our conscience and laws as torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment."

    “I believe some of these practices – especially waterboarding, which is a mock execution, and thus to me, indisputably torture – are and should be prohibited in a nation that is exceptional in its defense and advocacy of human rights. I believe they are a violation of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, and Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions, all of which forbid cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of all captured combatants, whether they wear the uniform of a country or are essentially stateless."

    “I opposed waterboarding and similar so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ before Osama bin Laden was brought to justice. And I oppose them now. I do not believe they are necessary to our success in our war against terrorists, as the advocates of these techniques claim they are."

    “Even more importantly, I believe that if America uses torture, it could someday result in the torture of American combatants. Yes, I know that Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations do not share our scruples about the treatment of enemy combatants, and have and will continue to subject American soldiers and anyone they capture to the cruelest mistreatment imaginable. But we must bear in mind the likelihood that some day we will be involved in a more conventional war against a state and not a terrorist movement or insurgency, and be careful that we do not set a standard that another country could use to justify their mistreatment of our prisoners."

    “And, lastly, it is difficult to overstate the damage that any practice of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by Americans does to our national character and historical reputation – to our standing as an exceptional nation among the countries of the world. It is too grave to justify the use of these interrogation techniques. America has made its progress in the world not only by avidly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by persuading and inspiring other nations to embrace the political values that distinguish us. As I’ve said many times before, and still maintain, this is not about the terrorists. It’s about us."

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  3. #3
    Council Member Kiwigrunt's Avatar
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    Default Torture versus collateral damage; the bigger evil?

    Torture has been discussed here several times and the general consensus seems to be a negative stance towards it, both in term of morality/ethics and of course law.
    The concept of collateral damage seems to be a bit harder to put into a single basket, and we generally accept it much more readily.

    Sam Harris has some interesting views on this, which I tend to find quite compelling:

    …I briefly discuss the ethics of torture and collateral damage in times of war, arguing that collateral damage is worse than torture across the board. Rather than appreciate just how bad I think collateral damage is in ethical terms, some readers have mistakenly concluded that I take a cavalier attitude toward the practice of torture. I do not. Nevertheless, there are extreme circumstances in which I believe that practices like “water-boarding” may not only be ethically justifiable, but ethically necessary. This is not the same as saying that they should be legal (e.g. crimes like trespassing or theft may sometimes be ethically necessary, while remaining illegal).

    What say you?
    Nothing that results in human progress is achieved with unanimous consent. (Christopher Columbus)

    All great truth passes through three stages: first it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
    (Arthur Schopenhauer)


  4. #4
    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    He is trying to have it both ways. He is against it but can see where it can be useful and should be winked at, but only if he is certain that it will work and the person to be tortured deserves it. It is one of those arguments self-absorbed intellectuals please themselves with that ignore the reality of the situation. The reality is somebody ties somebody else down and does things to them. And they continue to do things to them until they feel like stopping. Would Mr. Harris volunteer to do that? Would he say to his son "Go ahead son, I'll be proud of you." Would he approve of his daughter marrying somebody who did that for a living? I doubt it. Intellectuals talking about things they won't do nor do they want their kith and kin to do but it is still ok with them.

    The other thing he does is equate the certainty of his musings with the uncertainties of the real world. The "But what if we knew for sure how about then?" argument. Well sir, if you knew for sure then you'd be God and you ain't.

    As you can tell, these kinds of arguments really frost me.

    His point about us not taking collateral damage seriously enough is good. We should start by stop using such a sterile phrase, 'collateral damage.' We should say what it actually is "Today will killed bad guy B. We also killed a bunch of innocent people who hadn't done anything to us but they happened to be standing nearby bad guy B when we shot a missile at him. That isn't good but bad guy B was so bad they deserved to die too." If we appended that statement to each press release trumpeting our killing of every mid-level leader we might take it more seriously.
    Last edited by carl; 12-29-2012 at 06:32 PM.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

  5. #5
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default A victim of torture adds


    I am not sure this helps, but as a Canadian victim of rendition and torture it may help to learn what they say:
    It is about time our governments realise that torture inflicts moral damage on our society, as severe as the pain felt by the people who are physically and psychologically tortured. Our reputation has been stained and tarnished enough.
    His short article opens with:
    To torture or not to torture, why is this question being asked in America? The answer you will receive is different depending on who you speak to.

    I expect the questions asked over torture extend far beyond the comforts of American debate, although one wonders if it was Americans being tortured at home or abroad that the US public would think torture works.

  6. #6
    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    Americans were tortured in the Pacific, Korea and Vietnam. We didn't think it a good thing then. We seem to have become so smug in the belief that nobody will ever be in a position to do that to us again that we are willing to let the beast out because, after all, we are the Yanks, it will never bite us.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

  7. #7
    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    As always, you've added a rich notation which took me on a morning's bounce around wiki pages, blogs, and news articles, and left me more informed than when I woke up.

  8. #8
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    His conclusion depends on there being a high likelihood of retrieving good, actionable intelligence through the use of torture. All the evidence I've seen indicates that this likelihood is extremely low compared to other methods of retrieving intelligence from a prisoner. I don't have a problem labeling torture too immoral to use, but morality can get low-contrast under extreme circumstances, while facts don't. The fact is that torture doesn't work well enough to employ. This makes it all the more aggravating when attempts are made to defend it on moral grounds.

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