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You are Defending Torture

So far the only critique of the Senate report has been that the techniques deployed by the CIA did, in fact, produce good and useful intelligence.

Setting aside whether that is true or not, keep in mind that such an argument is a defense of torture.

I have not seen anyone disputing the actual content of the report.

If you are going to be upset about the report, keep in mind what you are defending.

I have seen people question the timing of the report.  I have seen people claim that it is “political.”  I have seen assertions that the report is not fair to the CIA.

What I have not seen:  an attempt to state the that the factual information in the report is incorrect.

Again:  if you are going to be upset about the report, keep in mind what you are defending.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. KM says:

    Steven, they know very well what they are defending. They don’t care for X reason (it’s a terrorist, ends justify the means, saving lives is more important, etc) but they know what they are doing. You see, it’s not torture because of X reason even if they agree it fits the definition of the word, in action and in spirit. Because they said so.

    Like the old adage “Calories don’t count at Christmas”, it’s a willful ignorance of a known and accepted truth so they can do what they want and not “feel bad”. They are upset because people caught them with the cookies and now they are sputtering about how they’re not ruining their diet.

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  2. C. Clavin says:

    For the CIA to use this defense is in itself an admission of the violation of the Geneva Accords.
    I’m seeing Republicans saying we should “thank” those who raped and killed prisoners, and subjected them to hypothermia and brutal beatings. Bush himself believes the people who did this were “patriots.”
    This is the morality with which Republicans…who claim the mantle of Christians…operate now.

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  3. Mu says:

    For me, the bad thing about it is that it completely invalidates everything the Nuremberg trials gave us. That there’s a standard of decency that transcends all enabling laws, that there can be no “I was ordered to do it” defense, that those who let it happen are responsible even if they are not involved in the details.
    70 years of moral evolution down the drain.

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  4. argon says:

    To me, this confirms that the veneer of civilization really is thin.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 28 Thumb down 2

  5. argon says:

    @Mu:
    For most, I suspect the Nuremberg trials were about applying a coating of righteousness to revenge. Where the rubber has met the road, in real life situations, few governments have actually stood up to the principles outlined in the subsequent international treaties.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  6. R.M. says:

    They behead us on TV, they kill innocent Americans because they hate us. You think that it isn’t a good idea to torture them to find out intelligence? Torture has saved thousands if not millions of lives. Without torture we would have not found out were Bin Laden was, we might have not even have found out who he is either. Ask yourself this, Is it fair that we are innocent and die but they kill us and we think its inhumane to torture them to protect ourselves? War is a brutal way of dealing with issues, but we had no choice, in war you cannot be soft and stand up for the enemy, that is how you lose lives.

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  7. KM says:

    @RM:

    Torture has saved thousands if not millions of lives.

    Prove it. Seriously, prove it – name the source, name what specific torture and what specific piece of info lead to this miraculous save (ie “Abul, waterboarding, correct address and time of guy making bomb”). The thing is you can’t. You’ll give some bullshit “oh that’s classified for our protection ” nonsense that your masters feed you. If it really worked, we’d officially document it and provide it as proof against claims like this instead of running in the shadows. If it worked, we wouldn’t be afraid or ashamed to engage in this. Right now, all you have for proof is the words of people who are trying to cover their own asses as evidence.

    Your argument is essential that it’s OK to be a savage barbarian since that’s who you feel you are fighting. You hem and haw, saying poor you has no choice but to be a torturer because the bad bad men made you do it. Lies. America chose to do this to people it deems enemies, America chose to stoop down to their level and do the evil they do, America willingly chose to abandon its vaunted morals. Who you are in the dark matters, and doesn’t stop when the light shines down. If you support torture, that’s on you but have the spine to admit it’s a conscious decision instead of playing the victim and lying to feel better about yourself.

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  8. Kari Q says:

    @R.M.:

    They behead us on TV, they kill innocent Americans because they hate us. You think that it isn’t a good idea to torture them to find out intelligence?

    Yes, I do not think these things justify torture. If we engage in torture, how are we different from them?

    Torture has saved thousands if not millions of lives. Without torture we would have not found out were Bin Laden was, we might have not even have found out who he is either.

    Both claims are completely false. But even if it was true that torture led us to Bin Laden, I repeat, are we no better than they?

    War is a brutal way of dealing with issues, but we had no choice, in war you cannot be soft and stand up for the enemy, that is how you lose lives.

    And yet, we fought and defeated the Nazis, who genuinely were a threat to the survival of the country, without engaging in torture. Throughout the Cold War, we did not condone torture. yet we have to surrender our principles and sink to the lowest levels because of a ragtag group who cannot possibly, under any conceivable scenario, destroy our country?

    Why can we defeat the USSR and Nazi Germany without torture, but we would be destroyed by Al Qaida without it?

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  9. Neil Hudelson says:

    @R.M.:

    Oh dear. So much to unpack.

    They behead us on TV

    Ok, right off the bat you are referencing events from this year in justifying torture from years past. So I can’t really understand your point here.

    Torture has saved thousands if not millions of lives.

    “Thousands” is incredibly debatable (as is even claiming “one”), but millions? Citation needed.

    Without torture we would have not found out were Bin Laden was

    This very report (I’m assuming you didn’t even read the summary) amply refutes this claim.

    we might have not even have found out who he is either.

    F*cking what???

    Ask yourself this, Is it fair that we are innocent and die but they kill us and we think its inhumane to torture them to protect ourselves?

    We are hardly “innocent” especially if you don’t define who “they” are. If you are referring to modern day extremists (as you did starting off the post), then the fact that we have tortured their ilk doesn’t exactly make us the moral paragon you believe we are. But to answer your larger question–yes it is fair. We strive to be the shining city on a hill. It is our very unwillingness to descend to these depths that sets us apart.

    War is a brutal way of dealing with issues, but we had no choice

    Every moment of torture was a deliberate choice.

    in war you cannot be soft and stand up for the enemy, that is how you lose lives.

    Choosing not to torture does not equal being soft.

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  10. Tyrell says:

    @Mu: I don’t think that the Nuremberg trials can ever be invalidated. They mostly got the tip of the iceberg , or what was left of it. Then the attention turned to the Soviet Union threat and interest in trying Nazis faded.
    But the transcripts, statements, judicial rulings, lessons, and the legacy will and must endure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  11. gVOR08 says:

    Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power

    . – George Orwell, 1984.

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  12. Mu says:

    @Tyrell: I disagree. If you can read the current torture report and agree with Obama’s decision not to prosecute anyone, all you’re doing is relegating Nuremberg to an elaborate version of victor’s justice.
    Even worse, Nuremberg had to write its own rules post hoc. The torture and murders here were done against clearly established rules.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  13. Paul L. says:

    Worth noting that the same people who call enhanced interrogation techniques torture say that conditions/treatment of prisoners in US high security prisons is also torture.

    They also say since the US prosecuted the Japanese for using the Water cure torture and it is exactly the same as waterboating.

    Wiki
    Water cure as a phrase for a form of torture refers to a method in which the victim is forced to drink large quantities of water in a short time, resulting in gastric distension, water intoxication and possibly death.

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  14. Patrick Meighan says:

    Paul L:“They also say since the US prosecuted the Japanese for using the Water cure torture and it is exactly the same as water boating.”

    From Wiki:

    Chase J. Nielsen, one of the U.S. airmen who flew in the Doolittle raid following the attack on Pearl Harbor, was subjected to waterboarding by his Japanese captors.[118] At their trial for war crimes following the war, he testified “Well, I was put on my back on the floor with my arms and legs stretched out, one guard holding each limb. The towel was wrapped around my face and put across my face and water poured on. They poured water on this towel until I was almost unconscious from strangulation, then they would let up until I’d get my breath, then they’d start over again… I felt more or less like I was drowning, just gasping between life and death.”

    Does that procedure sound sound familiar to you? When I read the above procedure, it sounds like torture to me. And at the Tokyo Trials (the International Military Tribunal for the Far East) the above procedure was found to be torture. In your view, was that finding mistaken? In your view, was it right for Imperial Japanese interrogators to interrogate U.S. airmen via the above procedure?

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  15. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Patrick Meighan:

    I wouldn’t hold your breath for a reply.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  16. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Paul L.:

    Worth noting that the same people who call enhanced interrogation techniques torture say that conditions/treatment of prisoners in US high security prisons is also torture.

    I’m guessing you have not had much contact with the American prison system, especially the supermax and max prisons?

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  17. Guarneri says:

    Yes, you’d have to be a torture defending, ignorant of committee oversight scmuck to have questions about or issues with the report.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/12/09/torture-cia-senate-intelligence-report-911-column/20088647/

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  18. @Guarneri: Go back and read what I wrote and respond to that, not to what you think I wrote, please.

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  19. bruce lorraIne says:

    When it comes down to them against us regardless of what you want to call it you bet her ass I defend it. Wait for the attack that kills not 3000k but 30,000k or 300’000k
    Americans will be screaming ‘why wasn’t something done’

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  20. @Guarneri: You might also want to go back and read the Kerrey piece, as I do not think its citation achieves the goal you appear to be pursuing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  21. SamIowa says:

    @Kari Q: @Kari Q:
    Google WWII interrogation techniques.

    Then revise your comments. If the general agreed upon rules of war state that you can’t use guns, and your enemy shows up with AK-47’s, do you use your bow and arrow against them? And die smugly knowing that you kept your ‘principles’ while watching your kids be beheaded and your wife gang raped?

    I’ll pass. I can modify my principles to the situation I’m in. And not have one damn issue with it.

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  22. Neil Hudelson says:

    @bruce lorraIne:

    So how do you reconcile that with the fact that torture has returned absolutely no usable information?

    This is what I don’t get about torture defenders–there is ample proof that the torture accomplished nothing, yet their defense is “at least we did something.”

    If your house is on fire, when the fire truck pulls up, the firefighters jump out and use their axes to start chopping up the walls of a house across the street, would you sit back and say “Ah, well, at least they are doing something” or would you be screaming for heads to roll because of the monumental failure to accomplish their job while simultaneously hurting unrelated parties?

    I think a rational person would be in the latter camp. Torture defenders are choosing the first camp, bizarrely.

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  23. Franklin says:

    @R.M.:

    Torture has saved thousands if not millions of lives.

    Where do you get your information from? I’m not even sure that Dick Cheney would make that claim, and he’s already been proven to be a liar and torture apologist.

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  24. Neil Hudelson says:

    @SamIowa:

    That would be a very good question if it had anything to do with what actually happened. We were attacked and we–the nation with the largest military and most advance intelligence system in the world–chose to pursue tactics that did nothing to make us safe while actively endangering lives.

    We didn’t have a bow and arrow to the enemy’s AK-47. We had B2 bombers to the other side’s suicide bombs.

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  25. Eric Florack says:

    there is a reason that we don’t show the footage of Americans being beheaded. Of American sleeping out of windows at the towers, so that they don’t get burned to death instead.

    the criticism of our interrogation of the Islamic terrorists, tends to get muted, when we forget how horrific it was to be their victims.

    we seem also to have forgotten that there have been no terrorist attacks on US here in the United States subsequent to those interrogation tactics being employed. We are apparently to believe that Barack Obama has been keeping us safe while opening our borders and allowing for and criminals and without so much as a by your leave.

    and again, I point out that this political slam piece, and this report is nothing but, was released on the very day that the Democrats were cringing over, when Jonathan Gruber was supposed to be testifying before Congress about his lies and other tactics to get Obamacare passed.

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  26. @Eric Florack: post hoc ergo propter hoc much?

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  27. Barry says:

    @Paul L.:

    “Worth noting that the same people who call enhanced interrogation techniques torture say that conditions/treatment of prisoners in US high security prisons is also torture.”

    It says a lot about you that you think that this is a valid argument, and one which supports your case.

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  28. KM says:

    @Eric:

    there have been no terrorist attacks on US here in the United States subsequent to those interrogation tactics being employed.

    Oh Eric, did you miss the memos in your inbox? I could have sworn there were several incidences that the Right swears were vicious terrorists attacks and intelligence failures on US soil – Ft Hood and the Boston marathon comes to mind. Get your talking points in line, man.

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  29. KM says:

    @bruce lorraIne:

    When it comes down to them against us regardless of what you want to call it you bet her ass I defend it.

    So since it’s us-vs-them, do you think it’s ok for soldiers to be tortured by enemy nations, citizens to be beheaded? I’m guessing you’re cool with the ISIS videos then – ISIS definitely views things from your point of view. If you are outraged, why? Why is it a terrible thing when they do it and not when we do?

    Face it, you don’t care how moral something is if it gets in the way of your black/white worldview. You don’t care if it makes you exactly like them, just with a different flag on your shoulder. At what point do you draw the line?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  30. Paul L. says:

    @Barry:

    It says a lot about you that you think that this is a valid argument, and one which supports your case.

    So Free mentally ill ,Political Prisoners and Social Justice Warriors Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky?
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/29/steven-hayes-kosher_n_6240420.html

    Questions
    What country that signed the UN Convention Against Torture treaty was waterboarded politician prisoner KSM a citizen?
    Or is that treaty like the Geneva Conventions as progressives claim, combatants gain all the protections of it even if they do not sign or follow it?
    Do Bush and Cheney get the Jon Burge statue of limitations on torture?

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  31. Crash Watley says:

    Tell me, geniuses: which war was won without “torture”?

    Oh, and would the 3,000 victims of 9/11 have traded places with the barbarian scum (who are not eligible for treatment under the Geneva Convention) who happened to be sleep-deprived?

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  32. Peterh says:

    the bar that conservatives use to justify a means to an end is literally sitting on the ground. They really have no ethics…..they’ll wallow with the pigs if that’s what it takes to justify their means…..and this topic is just one of many……it’s a sad commentary when it becomes very predicable on where conservatives will side on any given issue…..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  33. Crash Watley says:

    Yo, Peterh – check out the photos at Daily Mail here (you know, ISIS throwing a man off a building for being gay), and tell me you empathize and find moral equivalence with these monsters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 12

  34. Franklin says:

    @Crash Watley:

    Tell me, geniuses: which war was won without “torture”?

    You tell me. The Japanese and Germans tortured people and lost. It doesn’t seem to me that torture is some sort of prerequisite for winning a war.

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  35. Peterh says:

    wow….quick validation that your bar rests firmly on the ground…..thx….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  36. bill says:

    @Eric Florack: in a nutshell, we’re supposed to be “better than them” and “more civilized”.
    i could care less if some terrorist spilled his beans after being waterboarded- it’s not torture imo. heck, it’s damned civilized compared to “them”, but then again we’re not supposed to compare ourselves to “them”. droning is a much better way to dispose of them, right!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 13

  37. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @argon: I saw a made for TV movie about Nuremberg a number of years back. One of the lines that stuck with me was in a conversation between a Senator and one of the judges. The judge averred that he was unwilling to preside over a show trial, to which the Senator replied “everyone KNOWS it’s going to be a show trial, but with you there it will LOOK less like one.”

    i don’t know whether that scene was true, invented, or embellished in some way, but I thought the observation interesting, both then and now. As Chairman Mao (among others) noted “history is written in the voice of the winner.” So the people who are noting that those supporting torture don’t care are probably right. (And they probably still believe that the torture thwarted “future terrorist attacks,” too.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  38. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker: And I hadn’t even seen rm’s and Eric’s comments when I finished my first comment about believing that torture prevented other attacks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  39. Barry says:

    @KM: “So since it’s us-vs-them, do you think it’s ok for soldiers to be tortured by enemy nations, citizens to be beheaded? I’m guessing you’re cool with the ISIS videos then – ISIS definitely views things from your point of view. If you are outraged, why? Why is it a terrible thing when they do it and not when we do?”

    I’m amazed at the sheer f*cking stupidity of torture supporters. Or dishonesty, or evil, or most likely, all three.

    The fact that some people do sh*t is no reason for us to do it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  40. Barry says:

    @Paul L.:

    (1) If you have an argument, please make it.

    (2) Anybody using the term ‘social justice warrior’ as an insult is evil, full stop.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  41. Barry says:

    @Crash Watley: “Yo, Peterh – check out the photos at Daily Mail here (you know, ISIS throwing a man off a building for being gay), and tell me you empathize and find moral equivalence with these monsters.”

    I notice that not a single torture defender has used the truth here.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  42. Barry says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker: “One of the lines that stuck with me was in a conversation between a Senator and one of the judges. The judge averred that he was unwilling to preside over a show trial, to which the Senator replied “everyone KNOWS it’s going to be a show trial, but with you there it will LOOK less like one.””

    Review the history of the Nuremburg tribunals, and they clearly were not show trials.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  43. jukeboxgrad says:

    Florack:

    there have been no terrorist attacks on US here in the United States subsequent to those interrogation tactics being employed

    Maybe that’s because Bush conveniently sent thousands of Americans there so they could kill us there instead of killing us here.

    Steven and KM pointed out other important problems with your claim.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  44. jukeboxgrad says:

    Paul L.:

    They also say since the US prosecuted the Japanese for using the Water cure torture and it is exactly the same as waterboating.

    This is what “they also say” because it’s true.

    There is a long history of US courts treating waterboarding as a form of torture. PDF. We called it torture when the Japanese did waterboarding the same way we did it.

    Wiki
    Water cure as a phrase for a form of torture refers to a method in which the victim is forced to drink large quantities of water in a short time, resulting in gastric distension, water intoxication and possibly death.

    Consider these two things:

    A) One source-free sentence from wikipedia
    B) Numerous primary sources which document the detail of what we did and what the Japanese did, demonstrating that there is an exact parallel in at least certain cases (as Patrick Meighan has shown).

    It would be good if your knowledge consisted of B rather than A.

    Or is that treaty like the Geneva Conventions as progressives claim, combatants gain all the protections of it even if they do not sign or follow it?

    Link:

    What is Common Article Three? This article of the Geneva Conventions bars torture, cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, as well as outrages against the human dignity of prisoners of war, or POWs. Until recently it remained unclear whether the article applied to CIA interrogators, located overseas, who were questioning high-ranking members of al-Qaeda and other so-called “unlawful enemy combatants.” In July 2006, the Supreme Court ruled in its Hamdan decision that this article does indeed apply to top terror suspects detained in CIA-run prisons as well as at Guantanamo Bay.

    You must think SCOTUS is “progressives.” And notice that CA3 bans “degrading treatment,” a much broader standard than torture.

    ‘Conservatives’ believe in the rule of law, except when they don’t.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  45. jukeboxgrad says:

    Neil Hudelson:

    there is ample proof that the torture accomplished nothing

    Well, not exactly “nothing.”

    Torture is effective only at one thing: eliciting false confessions. And that seems to have been the purpose of our torture: generating false confessions for the purpose of selling the war.

    North Vietnam used torture the same way we did: to produce false confessions that had political utility. And it was effective in both instances. McCain produced false confessions under torture, and so did the people we tortured, as Cato Institute observed:

    Of Course It Was Torture … Imagine if, shortly after 9/11, someone had told you that the US government would adopt an interrogation policy based on Chinese Communist techniques designed to elicit false confessions. You’d have thought that person was pretty cynical. But he’d turn out to be exactly right. … Beaten savagely by Egyptian torturers, one victim of our “extraordinary rendition” program concocted a story about Saddam Hussein giving Al Qaeda WMD training. That story made it into Colin Powell’s UN Security Council speech selling the Iraq War.

    If you need false confessions for the purpose of selling a war, then torture is useful. As General Irvine said:

    … they built the CIA’s surreal secret interrogation program around the same brutal coercion that had successfully forced American POWs to lie to their North Korean and Chinese captors. In other words, they assumed that the very brutality which had forced American soldiers to lie would magically force a Muslim terrorist to tell the truth, even if he had to be waterboarded 183 times.

    Since false confessions were the goal, it made perfect sense to use torture techniques we imported from China and North Korea.

    It’s interesting to notice when we stopped waterboarding: March 2003. Anyone remember something else that happened that month? We invaded Iraq. Funny how we had no need for it anymore, once the war started. This tends to create the impression that the purpose was to generate false confessions for the purpose of selling the war. If we were really doing it to prevent future attacks, there would have been no reason to stop at that moment. On the contrary.

    (Reposted from an earlier thread; sorry if you’ve already seen this.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  46. Deserttrek says:

    @KM: prove it hasn’t worked

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  47. wr says:

    @Eric Florack: You are a pathetic coward who loathes the principles this country was founded on. Such a loathesome toad, such a loud mouth. Does it hurt to be so low?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  48. jukeboxgrad says:

    Deserttrek:

    prove it hasn’t worked

    Prove you aren’t a pedophile. Do you realize that asking someone to prove a negative is stupid? I guess not.

    You have it backwards. People who oppose torture don’t have to prove it doesn’t work. If you claim torture works, the burden is on you to support that claim with proof. You can’t, because it doesn’t. This is not to say that it can never work at all; after all, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. It’s just that history shows that torture is generally a poor way of getting reliable information.

    Rational, skilled interrogators seeking information will use methods that are more effective. When torture is used, the real goal is not reliable information. The torturer is after some combination of other things:

    A) False confessions
    B) Revenge
    C) Punishment
    D) Sadism

    Not reliable information. By the way, above I posted evidence that A was operative in this instance.

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