PolySciFi Blog

Saturday, January 15, 2005


Re: Waterboard This!

The torture discussion continues. I generally don't mind us waterboarding. Matt does.

Matt's response is here which I'll summarize as 1) Some confused stuff on waterboarding, 2) "Jody, don't you remember being dunked?" 3) Oxygen deprivation is torture, 4) A quick discussion of my definition of torture, 5) Noting that some people have died in our custoand that's a bad thing, 6) A question, "[because of vagueness of extreme pain] hadn't we better stay away from things that are borderline?" 6) Matt notes that he isn't calling for an end to all coercive interrogation techniques, 7) A listing of things that Matt has problems with.

I'll respond in a different manner, by first listing the points on which we're in agreement (except for point 7 which I'll list and respond to separately), then addressing points where Matt's confused, then the points where I disagree with Matt.

Points of agreement:
3. Oxygen deprivation is torture.
Presuming it's to the point of brain damage, then yes. Otherwise no. See my previous post - "Now if it crosses intentionally into drowning (death or brain damage are pretty long lasting damage), then we've got torture."

(Part of the definition discussion)
If questioning is involved, that doesn't make it any more or less torture
Agreed. My definition is neutral with respect interrogation. However, I've read a few too many posts (not on polyscifi) where interrogation was considered an integral part of torture.

5. People have died and that's a bad thing.
Yes. Yes it is a bad thing. Yesterday, I mentioned my willingness to see those cases prosecuted - "Even if during interrogation. It's an accident. It's not torture. It may or may not be prosecutable (endangering circumstances and such)." In the least those would be endangering circumstances. At the worst, they would be murder. (I could be clearer as to how I think those 30 deaths should be addressed, but there was no link provided, so I can't comment further.) If not completely accidental, I believe the official charge is "homicide involving deaths during interrogation."

6. Matt notes that he isn't calling for an end to all coercive interrogation techniques
I agree. However, many are calling for an end to all coercive interrogation techniques. Like Sullivan as I linked to yesterday, "However, I find the current call from some quarters for an end to all coercive interrogation techniques rather foolish (cough Sullivan cough)"
The explicit line I'm referencing from Sully is
What's my bottom line, she demands? It is, I repeat, to stick to non-coercive techniques, as laid out in Geneva and U.S. law.
Points of confusion perhaps caused by me
2. "Jody, don't you remember being dunked?" (not an exact quote)
Umm, yes. And I referenced this yesterday. - "The prisoner, detainee, kid in the swimming pool (by my definition, waterboarding happened a lot to me growing up)"

I thought my phrasing was interesting enough to be memorable. Alas. Twas not. In any event, dunking doesn't bother me as a coercion tactic as I suffered no long term damage. Though maybe it's the reason I prefer Krispy Kreme to Dunkin Donuts...

The need for malicious intent

While Matt is correct that enjoyment of the act is not key to torture, to me malicious intent is important as I'm using it to address scenarios like J.P.'s "If your hands were then cut off to keep you from dying of gangrene, is that torture?" In J.P.'s scenario, there is intent to cut off the hands, but no intent to do harm. Intent, but not harmful intent. Here, I'm particularly using the definition of malicious as "deliberately harmful."

If malicious draws too strong a connection to an enjoyment of the action, substitute "deliberately harmful" for "malicious intent" and I think we're ok. Note "deliberately harmful" is neutral with respect to the torturer's emotions, so I believe this clarification will satisfy both of us.

Points of confusion perhaps caused by Matt
1. Waterboarding is not telling a prisoner that they might drown. Nor is it simulating drowning. It is tying a prisoner to a board and repeatedly dunking them underwater, either doing it repeatedly for short intervals or holding them underwater for long intervals.

As we seem to be on the same page that drowning is "To kill by submerging and suffocating in water or another liquid" then as long as the prisoner doesn't die (and waterboarding is not supposed to kill the prisoner), then how is "tying a prisoner to a board and repeatedly dunking them underwater, either doing it repeatedly for short intervals or holding them underwater for long intervals" not simulating or telling the prisoner that they might drown?

4) A quick discussion of my definition of torture
"Your definition of torture seems carefully crafted to rule out waterboarding"
Maybe it does carefully rule out waterboarding, but it was actually crafted with the thought of addressing as many situations as possible.

I would also point out (again) that "even in the pasted in article, the author agrees with me that waterboarding is not torture.
"techniques such as waterboarding, threats of live burial, and threats of rendition to nations that do torture. Those forms of highly coercive interrogation, going just up to the line of "torture" without going over"
6. "[because of vagueness of extreme pain] hadn't we better stay away from things that are borderline?"
That is a workable solution. However, I prefer to clarify the border as it has the potential to be a better solution. We're a society of laws and rational discussion. Surely we can handle this issue.

The list of things Matt has problems with
Matt particularly has problems with the items on the following list as he see's them as counterproductive to the fostering of democracies in the Middle East. In general, when the items are counterproductive, I agree. Like for Abu Ghraib (I'll explain why in just a moment). However, combatting the insurgency is also critical to fostering democracies in the Middle East. When the tactics are being carefully controlled so as to produce information useful for combatting the insurgency or to save American lives, then I may have no problem (I'll provide a little elucidation on this point in a little bit).

One of the problems with Abu Ghraib was that those actions were not performed with the intent of saving lives or aiding the fight against the insurgency. Rather they were the result of an unfortunately large number of sickos getting their jollies at the expense of their prisoners. There was no strategic or tactical value gained from their actions, nor was there the potential of gaining enough positive strategic or tactical value to offset the rather glaring negative results.

In general, depending on the circumstances, I'm willing for us to use more or less aggressive tactics. Under Abu Ghraib circumstances (prisoners of little intelligence value), being anything other than perfectly polite to the prisoners seems like a losing proposition to me. Under Dershowitz's ticking time bomb scenario, anything goes as far as I'm concerned. For the stuff in between, I would like to avoid techniques that meet my definition of torture and try to use techniques in proportion to the value that the US would gain.

Formally, if the positive value to the US derived from an action exceeds the negative value, then it's ok by me. If that sounds a little too realpolitik, then so be it. But that's war.

At this point, I'll rank Matt's problems from things I really don't have a problem with (1) to one I would like to reserve for the ticking time bomb scenario (5). Largely the ranking is a function of the probability of causing long lasting damage and P.R. issues.

1. freezing them
If it means just making them a little uncomfortable, then this is 1. If it causes damage, like frostbite or gangrene, then this is 4. Most of the time, jerking around the temperature seems A OK to me.

2. holding someone under water
As I've mentioned a number of times, no I don't have a problem with this as long as we're not doing it for shits and giggles.

3. urinating on them
Hey, some people even like this. (That link is for you, Roger) However, most of the world doesn't swing (or spray) that way. So urinating on prisoners would be a bad P.R. move even if it doesn't cause that much damage.

4. beating them
In general, we better have someone like Osama or Zarqawi or someone who has knowledge of a major attack in the planning. Of course beatings vary. However, at this point, it can very easily cross into torture in my mind. No one needs a red-headed step-child beating. Circus monkey beating, maybe. Everyone likes circus monkeys.

5. applying electric current
The kind of thing that I reserve for the ticking time bomb scenario as I can't conceive of a situation where it's not torture.

Hopefully, this post addressed the large number of things Matt wanted me to respond to.


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