Various and Sundry 2/21/08

Some stuff:

* For those of you interested in the future of SFWA, current presidential candidate Russell Davis has popped into the comment thread of the “Gut Check for SFWA” entry and is ready to answer questions you might have about his candidacy and SFWA. Indeed he’s already answered at least one. So feel free to ask. Do me a favor and keep the questions on topic and substantive; don’t ask him if he wears boxers or briefs or anything silly like that. Naturally, I invite Andrew Burt, the other candidate, to answer questions in the thread as well, although I’ll quite understand if he doesn’t.

* For you science fiction geeks — not like there would be any of those, here – who also love the law, Concurring Opinions law blog is running an audio interview with Battlestar Galactica’s Ron Moore and David Eick about the role of law in that television series. Part I-B, on torture and morality, is especially interesting.

* Speaking of torture and morality: Five Myths About Torture and Truth. You know, personally, I’ve gotten to the point that when someone suggests to me that no, really, torture does work, I lump them into the same category as Creationists, i.e., people with a certain-shaped hole in their otherwise functioning cognitive processes. With creationists, it’s the shape of a Bible; for the pro-torture types, it’s the shape of a waterboard. This is a telling quote from the article:

“The larger problem here, I think,” one active CIA officer observed in 2005, “is that this kind of stuff just makes people feel better, even if it doesn’t work.”

Well, it doesn’t make the guy being tortured feel better. But that’s the point. And pretty much the only point. Also, look: If you do actually make an argument that “Well, torture worked for the Gestapo,” as apparently people are doing, aside from the truth of the statement (it didn’t apparently), your own morality has just gone into the same place as my youngest cat’s testicles.

* I’m feeling a little bit sorry for Hillary Clinton recently, because her campaign is caught up in an event it truly can’t control: the messianic fervor surrounding Obama. Clinton’s been trying to go negative on the guy, and it’s not working, because people literally just do not want to hear about it. At this particular moment in time Clinton could unearth a video of Barack Obama eating live kittens while wearing nothing but an oiled thong at an S&M party hosted by Larry Craig, and she couldn’t do anything with it because if she did people would wonder why she was being so mean to Obama, and her polling would suffer.

Now, I don’t regret the negative campaigning being ineffective; I’m happy it’s not. This is just one of those thing where you feel a bit of empathy for someone who sees a goal slipping away due to factors that really have nothing much to do with them.

* Also: Remember to sign up to get the eBook of Old Man’s War — it goes out probably in a day or so.

Off to send Athena to school. Yes! She actually has school today! Amazing!

77 thoughts on “Various and Sundry 2/21/08

  1. @Stacey: So you’d confess everything they wanted you to, even if you didn’t do it. That’s why torture doesn’t work.

  2. I, too, would crumble under the threat of torture. I’d like to think I could hold out in the name of justice but it’d be about this quick:

    “Where is the rebel base?”

    “Dantoo-” (sees the needles and spikes and malevolent protruberances on the torture droid) “ALDERAAN!!! FOR THE LOVE OF KITTENS IT’S ALDERAAN!!! Now, where are my cookies?”

    I love Obama. But he’s gonna be just like every other president and have some issues and be human.

    Oh, well. Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos.

  3. Russell Davis -
    Why should I plunk down $70 when I become eligible?
    What does SFWA do with the $70? (noting that it doesn’t go to the two big funds that everyone says are good.)
    Is Andrew Burt the root of all that is wrong with SFWA?
    What SHOULD a Professional Writer’s Organization do for its membership?
    What do you see as differentiating SFWA from RWA, SCWBI, MWA, HWA, AG – other than genre? If I only had budget to join one, why SFWA?

  4. Patrick M:

    If you notice, I said he’s taking the questions in the other comment thread. Also, as a matter of politeness, I suspect you should ask him one question at a time.

  5. I feel a little empathy for both Clinton AND McCain. In a lot of ways, Obama is sort of the perfect candidate (charisma+good management+no skeletons).

    And against him you have a career politician like McCain, who was unfairly gutted by Bush in 2000 and got crappy breaks before that; McCain has finally received the nomination from the party, and he has to go against a messianic, charisma oozing Wonder Boy.

    Or there’s Clinton, who has indirectly been playing the Washington game for 30 years. She has every bit a very, very real chance of becoming the first female President, and then who shows up? The first BLACK President who appears to be better at everything than she is.

    Me? I’d cry before New Hampshire too.

  6. While I don’t enjoy any schadenfreude of seeing Hillary watch as something that many thought was her inevitable victory slowly slip from her grasp, I would disagree that she had nothing to do with it. Quite the opposite, in fact.

    Hillary’s main thrust has been to highlight her experience in surviving and prolonging partisan conflict in a nation that is TIRED of partisan conflict. She has been saying, in effect, “I can maintain the status quo!” and a lot of voters are saying that the experienced candidates got us here in the first place, so why would we want to renew that?

    I am positively overjoyed that the negative campaigning is failing. The perception that Bill is being unleashed as an attack dog is bad enough, but the whole idea of such internecine fighting is troublesome for many, for fear of losing the election due to in-fighting.

  7. Part of the “problem” is that Clinton’s negative attacks have been so… feeble.

    The kindergarten essay thing kinda set the tone.

  8. Stacey – Torture would work on me. I have no courage. (and Chang )

    Which means that, if you were asked to give information you didn’t have, you’d make something up. Lets say I hold a blowtorch to your feet and ask you where the bomb is.

    What? You don’t know? You must be lying! Otherwise, why would I be torturing you? I’m now taking the blowtorch and reducing your toes to ash, one by one. Now, where is the bomb?

    You will tell me *something* to make the pain stop.

    That is one of may reasons why torture does not work effectively as an interrogation technique. Information elicited under torture always has a really strong change of being false, but given because the victim wanted the torture to stop.

    In a court of law, anything elicited under torture must be inadmissible, or the court system in general is worthless.

  9. Our kids may be back in school today, but I doubt they’ll get much real learnin’ done. Looking at the forecast, I’ll predict they won’t be going to school tomorrow. The teachers aren’t going to spend a lot of time teaching them something that will most likely evaporate over the long weekend.

  10. If the darkness that fell over our country with the last elections when the wicked witch of the west and snidely whiplash took over the legislature continues and that socialist Obama gets elected, he will be our second black president.

    Horny Bill was the first black president….

  11. Re: torture

    Playing Mr. Picky for a moment, the linked article doesn’t factually establish that torture doesn’t work. It establishes to the author’s satisfaction — and I agree with him — that torture is inefficient and unreliable. There are plenty more reliable ways of getting information (1). I can see certain very special circumstances (the “ticking time bomb”, with a suspect known to be in the loop on critical information) where I wouldn’t rule out torture a priori, especially if it’s all I had left.

    1. And possibly more efficient. But consider this: If torture is only 5% efficient, yet it takes twenty times as much detective work to use non-torture means to develop the same intelligence, it’s a wash, in purely practical terms. I know it horrifies some people to consider such activities so dispasionately, but, hey — we have to be honest with ourselves regarding all aspects of an issue, not just the ones that make us feel good.

  12. In support of WizarDru @9: The more I talk to family and friends about the Democratic side of the campaign, the more I hear people talking about how HRC would represent more of the “same old same old”. Literally, I’ve had several people, in separate conversations, use some variation of that phrase.

    I don’t think people are sitting there doing the actual math to figure out that every election since 1988 has put either a Bush or a Clinton in office — but rather that there’s a general sense that the key participants in the Washington of the past 20 years don’t have the answers for what’s going on today. In this regard, Obama’s short tenure in D.C. is perfect: long enough that he can claim to “get” what happens inside the Beltway, but short enough not to taint him.

  13. 17. In this regard, Obama’s short tenure in D.C. is perfect: long enough that he can claim to “get” what happens inside the Beltway, but short enough not to taint him.

    You know, I used to believe in the whole “Washington Outsider” (including term limits) thing, but then I read Fifty Year War by Friedman. He makes a very strong case that continuity in political leadership (moreso in the legislature than the executive, but two term presidents were important) was critical in winning the Cold War.

  14. If by “empathy” you mean “delicious, delicious schadenfreude”, then, yes.

    But I’d still be very surprised if Clinton doesn’t become the nominee. I still half-expect Obama to commit suicide in a park one of these days.

  15. At this particular moment in time Clinton could unearth a video of Barack Obama … wearing a nothing but an oiled thong at an S&M party … and she couldn’t do anything with it

    I don’t know, some of his supporters might buy still images from that ;)

  16. Sergeant E,

    We can consider things dispassionately but somethings you do because they are right and some things you don’t do because they are wrong.

    People need moral principles, and I’m not talking about only those from “religion.”

    Torture is wrong and that means it is wrong when a person does it or a person asks someone else to do it or if the torturer thinks it will save the world. Torture would be wrong even if it were 100% effective.

    If you agree with me in principle then we can argue over the definition of torture.

  17. 21. We can consider things dispassionately but somethings you do because they are right and some things you don’t do because they are wrong.

    The above reminds me of the abolitionist in Amistad who would rather see the African captives executed for murder than compromise his principles on how their case should be presented. There are some things one avoids because they have moral drawbacks. But when given the choice of two evils, you sometimes have to choose the lesser of two evils. Bombing Germany and Japan was, as Forest Gump would say, “a bay-ud thing”. It also materially contributed to the mitigation of a worse thing.

    In the case of deciding whether or not to use torture, say you know the bomb is going to go off and kill a lot of people if you can’t find it, but the only chance you have, no matter how slight, is torturing your one suspect. Are you honestly going to say you wouldn’t apply torture in an attempt to save lives from the bomb on grounds of inflexible prinicple? I’d want the person responsible to justify in court for his decision, and the implementers to also have to answer for just what measures they took, but I’d see a bigger crime in not even trying out of some idealism that puts the suffering of one person above the murder of many.

  18. Also: Remember to sign up to get the eBook of Old Man’s War — it goes out probably in a day or so.

    I’ve tried to sign up every time you’ve reminded us, but I keep getting this message: “We cannot register you at this time, but please check back in a few weeks for some great science fiction. Thanks!”

    And that’s when the page deigns to load at all.

    Not your problem, but it’s frustrating.

  19. Doublejack:

    It might be a problem with your browser (people have noticed issues with Firefox). Try using IE or Safari and see if that works for you.

  20. If you want a premise that makes torture both effective and scary, posit that you have infallible, on-the-fly lie detection capability to use in tandem with it.

  21. 25. If you want a premise that makes torture both effective and scary, posit that you have infallible, on-the-fly lie detection capability to use in tandem with it.

    26. Well, if you have the latter, what do you need with the former?

    Egg-zactly. IMO, the problem with torture is not that it absolutely works or absolutely doesn’t work, but that it’s a crapshoot generally not worth risking retaliation or imitation. (No, I don’t believe in moral absolutes; I believe in the Golden Rule, moderated by necessity.)

  22. Scalzi @ 26

    Well, if you have the latter, what do you need with the former?

    Because you don’t need that latter if the person isn’t saying anything

    Sergeant E @ 27

    the problem with torture is not that it absolutely works or absolutely doesn’t work, but that it’s a crapshoot generally not worth risking retaliation or imitation.

    Let me think back on the enemies we have faced in the last , oh, 50 years or so…..

    I think that if these enemies had all just restricted themselves to “imitating” waterboarding, our POWs would have been in much better shape.

    In our current situation, do you think al Qaida et al will restrict themselves to waterboarding and American soldier?

    If they do, I can live with that….

  23. Sergeant E : Ah, but you constructed a premise that supports your conclusion and, VOILA! lookee there, the conclusion works!

    Setting aside the morality, the damage done to our image and the fact that we can’t complain when our people are tortured, yes, if torture works 5% of the time and it takes 1/20th of the time it ‘works’. But all you’ve done is construct a circular argument – if you posit conditions that make it work, it works. Now, where’s the evidence that reality conforms to your argument?

    The people I really love are the ones that argue “But torture works on ’24′ (or some other fictional series)”!! Um, OK. Setting aside the fact that it’s, well, FICTION, those situations usually have several things that are true, none of which we can usually say are true in reality.

    First, there’s some extreme threat like a nuke in LA. Millions will die if we don’t find it! Second, we’ve captured the guy who knows where the nuke is and we KNOW he knows. We don’t think he might… we know he does. Now, would you torture one person who you know can give you information that will save millions? Sure, probably. That’s the same argument as “would you kill (insert dictator’s name here) before the came to power if it meant saving the millions that they’ve killed?” Setting aside that the alternate reality might be WORSE, the answer to that is ‘yes’.

    Meanwhile, back in the real world…

  24. Oh, Sam Harris probably deserves to be lumped in with the creationists. Besides his support for torture, he also has plenty of time for his own personal brand of Buddhist mysticism. Not that there’s anything wrong with being spiritual, it’s that Harris doesn’t seem to understand he applies a double standard to his personal beliefs and the beliefs of those he takes to task. Harris will tell you superstition is bad when it’s practiced by Muslims, or maybe even Christians, but as to his own views about reincarnation, say–well that’s different.

    His defense of torture is simply abyssmal and shows a major lapse of judgment, if not a lack of character.

    He’s a lousy, embarrassing spokesman for atheists, but unfortunately he’s also one of the loudest people we have. With friends like Harris and Christopher Hitchens, who needs critics….

  25. Sergeant E.

    Are you honestly going to say you wouldn’t apply torture in an attempt to save lives from the bomb on grounds of inflexible prinicple?

    Yes, that is exactly what I am saying.

    “Principles” are not some loosey goosey thing that can be blurred or rationalized away. If they were then they wouldn’t be principles.

    Some things are just wrong and I won’t do them for any reason. I will not condone my government or its agents doing them either.

    In this day and age the concept of ‘honor’ seems to be sadly lacking.

    To be clear I do not consider killing somewhat as always wrong. Torture is a different matter.

  26. All I need to know about the efficacy of torture is that it has been successfully used to identify witches.

    It’s not about obtaining truth, it’s about obtaining the responses you want.

  27. Re: Frank
    I don’t think it matters what ‘the enemy’ (be it extremism or communism or whatever) does. It matters what WE do. Because the whole world is watching us, and taking note. Because I have to look at myself in the mirror at night. Because whether we get effective information out of them or not can save lives.

    In addition to not thinking it to be moral, I think it goes against our national interest to be seen as the kind of people who torture, and I think that we don’t get reliable information out of it. That’s three good reasons not to do it.

  28. 28. In our current situation, do you think al Qaida et al will restrict themselves to waterboarding and American soldier?

    If they do, I can live with that….

    Hmmm… In the history of war conventions, both formal and informal, reciprocity and fear of retaliation appear to be the real driving factors, despite whatever moral trappings are hung on things. AQ doesn’t observe our conventions on torture, and, waterboarding notwithstanding, we abstain from a lot of things that might be taken as a deterrent in that regard.

    Having said that, AQ no longer decapitates live, conscious prsioners. I don’t think any serious student of the situation would claim they’ve come to a new moral understanding of such acts. And we certainly never took the position that if they didn’t stop hacking off heads, we’d start in on some of their guys in Gitmo. From their own testimony in captured documents they just didn’t like the counterproductive PR.

    It will be interesting to see in the future whether we can paint everything they do in such a bad light that they can’t stand up to the moral outrage, or whether at some future date we find ourselves attempting to gain escalation dominance in a maltreatment of captives contest. (No, I’m not ruling such things out simply because we’re us, and it’s those kinds of things are beneath us — we swore off poison gas for WW II, but we had it available in every theater and would have used it in retaliation.)

  29. @ # 30 An Eric

    Don’t worry… Christians have had ill-informed loudmouthes and malcontents representing them in the public arena for decades… Centuries… Milennia! Anyway, maybe a new era of inter-faith (or lack there of?) diplomacy can develop as both Christians and Atheists agree that their spokespersons suck.

  30. 29. Sergeant E : Ah, but you constructed a premise that supports your conclusion and, VOILA! lookee there, the conclusion works!


    Incorrect. I’ve noted a plausible circumstance in which torture could not be ruled out simply on principle. I am not advocating torture as a solution to anything. I am advocating clear thinking on the subject.

    As for the efficiency argument, were torture equally efficient as other means, even were it somewhat more efficient, I wouldn’t necessairly approve of it. I’m just pointing out that efficiency of means is not left out of moral decisions. Remember, we nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki essentially for reasons of efficiency, when we had other, more conventional (1), means available.

    1. Though maybe not more moral, depending on which casualty projections you believe, and whether or not you think the Japanese had almost had it anyway. But then similar considerations involving hard to predict outcomes enter into the “ticking time bomb” problem as well.

  31. 31. Tripp

    Please see my response #36. Aside from that, if you truly believe that killing is sometimes okay, but torture never is, in all due respect, what exactly do you think killing involves?

  32. When you consider other groups that used torture, like Al Qeada, Saddam Hussein or the Viet Cong, it is important to understand that they generally use it either force their prisoners to say something incriminating for political purposes, or simply to punish them.

    We have a document that says we aren’t supposed to be doing the latter. I sure as hell hope our government isn’t doing the former. Regardless, saying “well, our enemies do it!!!” doesn’t really wash when you understand that our enemies don’t do it to find the proverbial ticking bomb.

  33. Jim @ 33

    I don’t think it matters what ‘the enemy’ (be it extremism or communism or whatever) does.

    It does if your argument is that by not engaging in certain behavior you are protecting our people who find themselves in similar circumstances: Which is the argument I was specifically refuting.

    In addition to not thinking it to be moral, I think it goes against our national interest to be seen as the kind of people who torture, and I think that we don’t get reliable information out of it. That’s three good reasons not to do it.

    You may or may not be correct.

    I don’t know what you mean by “torture” so I can’t evaluate this.

    Sergeant E @ 34

    In the history of war conventions, both formal and informal, reciprocity and fear of retaliation appear to be the real driving factors, despite whatever moral trappings are hung on things.

    True enough. It has just never worked.

    The Japanese still have the Bataan Death March. True, they weren’t trying to extract information but it was torture nonetheless. And they did cut up people, and do the bamboo shoots under the fingernails thing. And much worse.

    Nazis, North Koreans, Vietnamese, all used awful torture methods on enemy POWs.

    And now, of course, there’s al Qaida and the Islamists.

    And we certainly never took the position that if they didn’t stop hacking off heads, we’d start in on some of their guys in Gitmo.

    Some tend to forget this minor point.

    From their own testimony in captured documents they just didn’t like the counterproductive PR.

    It hasn’t stopped them from doing it, as new torture chambers were recently found in Mosul. They just stopped advertising so widely.

  34. 38. Regardless, saying “well, our enemies do it!!!” doesn’t really wash when you understand that our enemies don’t do it to find the proverbial ticking bomb.

    A couple of things:

    1. Theres no real way to know what our enemies would do in the “ticking time bomb” environment. It’s pretty much an asymmetrical situation. Our enemies can put us in that position fairly easily, because we have large population and infrastructure targets that we value. We couldn’t really do it to them, because they don’t have those things. (Well, those in the “eye for an eye”/”clash of civilizations” crowd would suggest that they do, but AQ and the like don’t appear value muslim populations or their stuff very highly in their strategic calculations.)

    2. Once again, I’m not advocating torture. I’m advocating clarity of thought by exploring plausible circumstances in which the case is not open and shut.

  35. Steve Burnap @ 38

    Regardless, saying “well, our enemies do it!!!” doesn’t really wash when you understand that our enemies don’t do it to find the proverbial ticking bomb.

    Is this an argument for or against our side?

    Because that seems like a clear moral distinction in our favor.

  36. 39. True enough. It has just never worked.

    I would suggest that war conventions work more often than not. But they have to target the right pressure points. The major combatants in WW II never used poison gas on each other. Even the Japanese in China, who did use gas on the Chinese from time to time, were careful not to get too carried away with it, and no doubt wouldn’t have done it hadthe Chinesethe bility to retaliate.

    Speaking of the Japanese and torture, I think it’s pretty well established that they used torutre, to the degree that they did, because they didn’t consider surrendered soldiers to be honorable enough to care about wether or not they suffered. That’s pretty much the way our AQ friends see things, for their people as much as for ours. So the reciprocity motive necessary for a convention on torture to work is out the window.

    Does that mean we won’t ever try to stop their mistreatment of prisoners by mistreating some of theirs, on a tit-for-tat basis? No. We might just do that, because, as we’ve repeatedly proven, we as a country tend not to think too realistically about things to do with terrorists and the Middle Eastern mindset in general.

    That’s kind of the point I’m trying to make. There are plenty of good reasons for us not to use torture, but some very seductive reasons to use it, under the “right” circumstances.

  37. As an Obama supporter, I don’t care what the Clinton campaign offers…I’m not giving up the tape of party. By the way, it wasn’t plural kittens; it was only one. It was kinda like those parties where everyone has to do a shot as the arrive, but with kittens. Just a harmless, “let’s get this party started right” kind of thing. Believe it or not, it was Larry Craig’s idea.

  38. Sergeant E:

    Please see my response #36. Aside from that, if you truly believe that killing is sometimes okay, but torture never is, in all due respect, what exactly do you think killing involves?

    If you cannot see a difference between killing and torture then I doubt I can demonstrate it to you but I’ll try.

    Killing is the taking of a life. Torture is the infliction of extreme pain while in a position of power.

    In my belief system killing animals for food is permitted. Torturing animals is not. Killing in self defense when your life is in danger is permissible. Torturing when your life is in danger is not. Killing soldiers in war is permissible. Torturing soldiers is not.

    Do you really not see a difference?

    The ability to torture implies that the person doing it has control of the other person. It is the use of extreme pain when one is in a position of power.

    Killing is also an act of power but prior to the act the person doing the killing may or may not have power over the person he/she kills.

    I have to ask, Sir, have you no honor? Have you no principles? Or are you simply playing word games here?

  39. Moral questions aside: do we actually have an example where torture was shown to actually have worked? There seems to be an assumption that it does or has, but I thought that one of the military and intelligence communities biggest complaints about ’24′ and ‘Lost’ was that it depicted torture as being an effective information gathering method, when it historically was not.

    I’m reading Persepolis right now, and it certainly doesn’t paint a picture of torture being effective for that, merely for making the torturers feel powerful and for punishing the victims.

  40. Sergeant E in 40:

    2. Once again, I’m not advocating torture. I’m advocating clarity of thought by exploring plausible circumstances in which the case is not open and shut.

    I am sorry but I missed this statement before.

    I don’t think you are advocating clarity of thought. I think you are muddling through your own ideas to decide for yourself if the case for torture is open and shut. You are trying to obtain your own clarity, which is a good thing.

    You need to think about this more and think about more possibilities. Deciding what kind of person you will be is not a trivial matter. Life will be easier for you if you decide these things with a clear head.

    Will you be a person with at least one absolute principle or will you not?

    You already know one of my principles – torture is wrong. Here are a couple more:

    Each should receive in proportion to what they contribute
    AND
    The strong should protect the weak.

    Notice that the second overrides the first to some degree.

  41. 44. I have to ask, Sir, have you no honor? Have you no principles? Or are you simply playing word games here?

    The Japanese used to talk a lot about personal honor. People who idolize them and their past — much more in the West than the East, BTW, even counting Japan itself — make almost a fetish out of it. Too bad the Japanese, throughout their history, employed torture when they saw fit.

    Or for another view of honor in Japanese society, one might wish to review Seven Samurai. One should pay particularl attention to the monologue delivered by Mifune’s character, exploding samurai concepts of honor.

    Or to take a Western example, I’m sure you’re familiar with the Shakesperian characters Hotspur, Prince Hal, and Falstaff. My position on honor is neither that of Hotspur, who placed it above all other values, or Falstaff, who had no use for it. I’m right in there with Prince Hal — honor is what you make of it, and it can’t be whipped up by following a recipe.

    As for principles, I have one — abide by the Golden Rule when one can, but in no case allow a great evil to transpire trying to avoid a lesser evil.

    Am I playing word games? No. I always speak out of conviction.

  42. 46. Moral questions aside: do we actually have an example where torture was shown to actually have worked?

    One of the reasons we have the military Code of Conduct is that US POWs from Korea went into captivity without rulesto follow and subsequently gave up a lot of imformation that they shouldn’t have. A good portion of the information given up was revealed as a direct result of a lot of psychological and some physical torture.

    Torture is problematical in practical terms because subjects can resist, can lie, and can be turned against you by the experience. That doesn’t mean that it’s 100% ineffective. It’s just neither efficient or reliable enough to be useful except maybe in a very few in extemis cases because it might develop actionable info.

  43. WizarDru @46

    Moral questions aside: do we actually have an example where torture was shown to actually have worked?

    Well, it all depends on what you mean by torture. And it depends on to whom this question is posed.

    In the following, the techniques referred to are called “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” which are 1. The Attention Grab; 2. Attention Slap; 3. The Belly Slap; 4. Long Time Standing; 5. The Cold Cell; 6. Water Boarding.

    So ABC News reported as follows:

    The sources told ABC that the techniques, while progressively aggressive, are not deemed torture, and the debate among intelligence officers as to whether they are effective should not be underestimated. There are many who feel these techniques, properly supervised, are both valid and necessary, the sources said. While harsh, they say, they are not torture and are reserved only for the most important and most difficult prisoners.

  44. 48: John,

    I’m sorry I didn’t see 45 before my 47 comment. Delete 47 if you wish.

    If my opinion matters, I’d like to leave Tripp’s little lecture on my failings stand. I find it very informative, though probably not in the way Tripp intended.

  45. Sergeant E:

    As for principles, I have one — abide by the Golden Rule when one can, but in no case allow a great evil to transpire trying to avoid a lesser evil.

    Fair enough. So if the ticking time bomb required you to torture the criminal’s child to stop the bomb you would do it? Would you torture your own child if that is what it takes?

    At what point would you decide the ‘greater evil’ was no greater than the ‘lesser evil?’ What criteria would you use? What if the bomb would only kill three people? Would you need to know ‘for sure’ or would simply suspecting it be enough?

    By opening the shut door you have opened up an infinity of possibilities. I’ve told you where I draw the line. Where do you draw the line?

  46. Efficacy of torture is irrelevant. The material I’ve seen seems to indicate that it isn’t particularly effective but, as I say, irrelevant.

    After World War Two, pretty much every nation on earth came together and worked out a document called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 5, right between the right to be acknowledged as a person and the banning of slavery, guarantees freedom from torture. For the next fifty odd years, that’s been pretty much a moral absolute. One of the very, very few human rights that we thought everyone agreed on was that people should not be deliberately subjected to hideous pain and fear. When someone, or some unust regime, did that, we quite rightly reviled them. Neither was it a valid question for academic inquiry. The question “is it acceptable to torture?” was not seriously asked in reputable academies.

    Then, as soon as someone does something bad to us, we think it’s ok to resort to torture. Only sometimes, and not as nastily as the baddies do it, of course, only in extreme situations, but sometimes OK to torture. And rationalisations started to be written by legal academics for how the law (which explicitly and in about 5 different ways bans all and any torture) could actually be made to accomodate torture.

    To quote someone much smarter than me (Jeremy Waldron, Professor of Jurisprudence at NYU):

    “Everything we know about torture from the 20th century is that it grows out of control. We unleash everything depraved and sadistic in human affairs. We need to think about the trauma to the legal system, of having it be known that we have concocted room for torture. Everything that’s had its reference on respect for human dignity begins to totter and crumble under this response of torture.”

    ( The quote is taken from a debate between Waldron and John Yoo, the author of Alberto Gonzales’ “Torture Memo”. The whole thing can be read here: http://expost.blogspot.com/2005/04/waldron-yoo-debate-on-torture.html

    This is not a topic that should be debated calmly. Moral questions cannot be put aside. If there is ANY undebatable moral absolute, is is a norm against torture. It doesn’t raise issues of moral authority, or international reputation, or anything else. The only question torture asks is whether we’re willing to treat anybody as subhuman when it is convenient to do so. That leads to places that I do not want to go.

  47. 53. By opening the shut door you have opened up an infinity of possibilities. I’ve told you where I draw the line. Where do you draw the line?

    To take one of the more extreme examples you bring up, if it meant the probable safety of a number of people (how large is a good question, but two should be enough, on purely mathematical grounds), I would hope I had the courage to sacrfice my own child, whether to torture or anything else. I may not in fact be that courageous, but I would expect it of myself.

    Why? Because I would expect somebody else to put the good of the group over their own good when required, even if it means great personal sacrifice. That’s where the Golden Rule comes in as a principle.

    To take the general case, I draw the line at the good of individuals trumping the good of the group, no matter how the good of the individual is harmed. But, as I’ve said earlier, I’d expect those who sacrifice the good of the individual have to justify themselves in court that the good of the group was indeed in danger and that the individual was consciously and purposely in opposition to it.

    Yes, I know all about the “slippery slope”. It’s a gripping metaphor I must agree. Unfortunately, it doesn’t describe the real world. No moral choice is perfect, and no moral proposition has a safe plateau. We do what we can with what we have, and we can’t always just say no.

  48. From the Chicago Tribune

    Moral and legal aspects aside, conventional wisdom is that torture simply isn’t practical: that someone who is being tortured will say anything to make the torture stop, and that information gleaned through torture is therefore not reliable. Some former military and intelligence officers say, however, that physically aggressive interrogation techniques that some human-rights groups consider torture can be effective in the short term. When asked for specifics, the technique they cite is “waterboarding,” in which water is poured over a subject’s face to create the sensation of drowning.

    Consider Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the 39-year-old former Al Qaeda operative who was the Sept. 11 mastermind and bearer of many Al Qaeda secrets. If anyone had a motive for remaining silent, it was the man known to terrorism investigators as “KSM.” But not long after his capture in Pakistan, in March 2003, KSM began to talk. He ultimately had so much to say that more than 100 footnoted references to the CIA’s interrogations of KSM are contained in the final report of the commission that investigated Sept. 11. Not that everything KSM said was believable. But much of his information checked out in separate questioning of other captured Al Qaeda figures.

    What made KSM decide to talk? The answer may be waterboarding, to which KSM was subjected on at least one occasion, according to various accounts. Intelligence operatives say that while waterboarding can break through a suspect’s initial resistance, it isn’t effective for long-term interrogation. Once a suspect begins to communicate, however, an interrogation specialist can put into action a wide range of far more subtle techniques, which include playing to a subject’s ego or pretending to be his friend.

    It could not be learned exactly when KSM was waterboarded or whether the technique was used more than once. But only 12 days after being captured in Pakistan, on March 1, 2003, KSM made his first reported major revelation.

    [emphasis mine]

    What is really needed in this discussion is a definition of what is torture. Of course, if we did that, some who are against “torture” might disagree with others who are against “torture” complicating the discussion further.

    And then we have to decide on what it “effective” means and which attacks on which cities or towns can be sacrificed to morality.

    And which politicians will take the heat after an attack if somethings weren’t done that could have been done.

    Back in 2002, now Speaker Pelosi and other Representatives and Senators were briefed by the CIA on the techniques being used. The response at the time was Are we being tough enough?

    There is many who think that the attack on the Beslan School in Russia was a dry run for an attack here. If such a thing did happen here, the fallout would be the public demanding detention camps for Muslims aka the Japanese Internment camps during WWII.

    Such an attack would have to be prevented at all costs because that response would be more disastrous for us than attack itself

    How far should we go to effect that result?

  49. 56. This is not a topic that should be debated calmly. Moral questions cannot be put aside. If there is ANY undebatable moral absolute, is is a norm against torture. It doesn’t raise issues of moral authority, or international reputation, or anything else. The only question torture asks is whether we’re willing to treat anybody as subhuman when it is convenient to do so. That leads to places that I do not want to go.

    “[S]ubhuman”? Mistreating our fellow man for personal or group gain is the most human thing in the world. I really wish we would put aside this rhetoric of what is “human” and what isn’t. It’s just not very honest — humans are by nature pretty rough characters, and we shouldn’t try to act like they aren’t.

    Also, what is all this fascination with moral absolutes? I admit that it makes great rhetoric. Too bad — nothing personal here, just my considered opinion — it doesn’t make much sense. I’m by no means a pure utilitarian, either in the act or principle sense, but saying that you can judge every situation against abstract principles and come up with the right answer every time is like the French at Crecy or Agincourt who went ot their deaths noble men but stupid soldiers.

  50. @57.

    Ok, you’re perfectly entitled to your opinion.

    I don’t have an obsession with moral absolutes. I think there are hardly any, and torture is one of them. Yeah, humans are, by nature, rough characters, and thats why we have these things called laws, yeah? To regulate horrible behaviour? Because, like, a collective judgment has been made that people are overall better if we discourage certain sorts of conduct?

    Forgive me for obsessing over such quaint notions as human rights, but I AM a lawyer who’s studied them quite a lot, so they’re kinda my thing. Also, what is all this fascination with comparing my idea that we shouldn’t torture people with courageous by disastrous military defeats? I admit that it makes great rhetoric. Too bad — nothing personal here, just my considered opinion — it doesn’t make much sense.

  51. 58. I don’t have an obsession with moral absolutes. I think there are hardly any, and torture is one of them. Yeah, humans are, by nature, rough characters, and thats why we have these things called laws, yeah? To regulate horrible behaviour? Because, like, a collective judgment has been made that people are overall better if we discourage certain sorts of conduct?

    Laws do exist to discourage bad conduct. I still may break the law if I thought, in a particular instance, observing the law was fraught with moral error.

    Forgive me for obsessing over such quaint notions as human rights, but I AM a lawyer who’s studied them quite a lot, so they’re kinda my thing. Also, what is all this fascination with comparing my idea that we shouldn’t torture people with courageous by disastrous military defeats? I admit that it makes great rhetoric. Too bad — nothing personal here, just my considered opinion — it doesn’t make much sense.

    The point is that ideals are sometimes useful but always dangerous things.

  52. Scalzi – Actually, you didn’t say WHERE to post questions, just that he popped up in that thread saying he’s willing to answer questions.

    Normally, I would have asked there, but I really don’t want to post on that thread again.

    My questions are sort of irrelevant anyway. I just can’t resist asking about SFWA, because I’m curious – and trying to understand that aspect of the business.

    What if I asked him questions about SFWA Torture policies? Would that be more appropriate here?

  53. This is just one of those thing where you feel a bit of empathy for someone who sees a goal slipping away due to factors that really have nothing much to do with them.

    Well, I think Hillary’s seeing the goal slipping away from her due to factors that have everything to do with her, to wit, that she’s discovering the public is not as eager as she is to think of her presidency as a foregone conclusion, and that she is simply not thought of by as many people as was once believed that she’s the person with the best plan to lead the country. The fact that she’s foolishly tried to take the wind out of Obama’s sails by going negative on him and backfiring, rather than by positively pitching a courageous and convincing platform under which she’d run the country, seems to shore up the assumption that there’s nothing to Hillary but an ambitious careerist whose only reason for not divorcing her husband following the Monica scandal was that she wanted to ride his coattails into his old job years down the road.

    So, yeah, no empathy from this Democrat. Sorry, Hill.

    [/rant]

  54. Well, I don’t think I really DID want my questions answered. If eligible, I’d probably view SFWA as you formerly did before getting fed up and deciding to run last year.

    Because I’d LIKE for it to be meaningful, but I honestly don’t think it is. And then I’d want to fix it and then my reasonable wife would tell me I’m not allowed to run for President. I appreciate you taking the time and frustration to steer me away.

  55. Personally? Hours of entertainment arguing with Jerry Pournelle in the private newsgroups.

    However, Russell Davis offers a more useful answer to a very similiar question here.

  56. “* Also: Remember to sign up to get the eBook of Old Man’s War — it goes out probably in a day or so.”

    Though I know this is an afterthought of the main subject of the entry, you DID post it here, and as such I hope I’m not hijacking the thread by saying the following:

    DAMN Mr. Scalzi, you’re one literary GENIUS! I downloaded “OMW” tonight and couldn’t stop reading it, until I absolutely HAD to. Sadly I’ve never previously read any of your books, but that’ll be changing post-haste!

    BTW I’ve been lurking here since just before the Pluto debacle – someone directed me to your video post of Athena – and keep coming back because you are very entertaining and thought provoking. I’m glad to know that trait has transferred to your books. Or perhaps vice-versa. Either way, you’ve quickly become one of, if not my favorite SF author.

  57. Yeah. I saw that. I was hoping for better. While it sounds fun, I’m not sure arguing with Jerry is worth $70. I might be willing to pay $34 for that, but $70?

  58. Sergeant E,

    Thank you for your honest dialog. Because you are entitled to your opinion I will not try to persuade you much more. It seems you feel that any absolute principle is, as the former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez put it, “quaint.” Coming from a Republican like Gonzalez this endorsement of moral relativism is rather amazing but that is besides the point.

    Earlier I told you to think about this more. I will share some of my experiences which has led me to my conclusion.

    Here in Minnesota we have a center for the victims of torture. I have seen some of these victims so I think I know a little bit what I am talking about.

    Torture does terrible things to people, and these things do not stop when the torture stops. Frequently the victims will go on to take their own lives out of shame and depression. They will blame themselves because the idea that they were completely helpless is too horrible to consider. In my opinion some things are actually worse than death.

    As you yourself pointed out, we are all capable of performing torture. As one of the leaders responsible for torture said when asked how he could get his men to perform torture “It is easy. Take a group of men and convince them they are better than others. Treat them special. Convince them their cause is good. Convince them the torture victim is bad. Tell them the torture victim deserves it and the torture is for a good cause and treat them as heroes when they are done.”

    As I tried to point out with questions above the problem is who decides what is the greater and lesser evil and how does he/she know? How sure is he/she?

    Contrary to popular belief most torture has been done for the cause of “good,” at least in the torturer’s mind.

    As I said above, you are entitled to your own opinion. Absolute principles may be dangerous, but without them you are simply playing Lawyer, Judge, and Jury. In a way you are playing God, and for humanity that is even more dangerous.

    We’ve been animals. What is wrong with striving to be more than that? These questions may seem academic now but in the years ahead we will be facing problems that will test our morals more than anything in the past thirty years. We’ve been fortunate to remain blissfully ignorant of what it takes to sustain our way of living but we will not be able to remain ignorant much longer.

    So what kind of person are you? What kind of country are we?

    These are serious and difficult questions.

  59. Sergeant E:

    Okay, okay, I should stop, but I just came across this:

    Yes, I know all about the “slippery slope”. It’s a gripping metaphor I must agree. Unfortunately, it doesn’t describe the real world. No moral choice is perfect, and no moral proposition has a safe plateau. We do what we can with what we have, and we can’t always just say no.

    In the case of torture is does describe the real world of human interaction. Did you not read the quote from Jeremy Waldron about the escalation of torture? Or do you simply dismiss it?

    Do you know about the endless cycles of violence we see in other groups where retaliation leads to retaliation leads to escalation for centuries?

    I always suspect a slippery slope argument but I think in this case it has merit. History has proven that to my satisfaction. Your golden rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) specifically states that when we torture we are asking others to torture us.

    Conventional morality is full of warnings about avoiding the destructive patterns of violence and recrimination. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” “Vengeance is mine sayeth the lord.” “Turn the other cheek.”

    And to answer your rationalization that “We can’t alway just say no” I say “Yes we can. We must take responsibility for our own choices and that always includes the option of saying no. Don’t try to take away that power from us. ‘I had to do it’ is not too far from ‘you made me do it’ and they both are simply attempts to duck personal responsibility.”

  60. Tripp – I always suspect a slippery slope argument but I think in this case it has merit.

    The two innocent people who we know were kidnapped tortured on behalf of the US government, Khalid El-Masri and Maher Arar, would agree. They were not waterboarded at Gitmo, as they were not captured on the battlefield of Afghanistan. Instead, they were kidnapped by the US, shipped off to “black sites” and tortured by persons unknown.

    They are denied any recourse by US courts because the operations that kidnapped them are classified.

    This is not a slippery slope, it really happened to those two, and who knows how many more. Allowing for the possibility of torture in the US government HAS led to it’s use. We have proof. It is undeniable.

    This is what comes of people like Sergeant E, who think they’re practical, and have the best interests of the nation at heart. They essentially don’t care about errors like this.

    I make it a point to push it in their faces every time they claim that the anti-torture crowd is making a slippery slope argument. Two proven cases of innocents being tortured, and no way for any of us to know how many more there were. This is what came of not saying no. This is our responsibility.

  61. I expect torture to work. It’s common sense. This does not make it right. Nor make it a practice we should allow the government. But people (like you, who are on the internet and are wrong) need to stop wanting every single subargument to support their POV. To stop bending things.

  62. You need to get over your liberal tendancy to recoil from facts or those who express truth (vice wrong things) as evil for the citing of a truth. I mean for instance: VIVISECTION is probably a very useful scientific tool. I bet I could do incredible advances on surgical techniques if I could treat humans like lab rats and just run controlled experiments and throw away the mistakes.

    See…I’m not advocating doing so. But as a scientist, I understand the (likely) truth of the statement above. And I don’t try to recoil or change or lie about the truth.

    BTW: I have found a lot of righties having the same tendancy to avoid truth as well.

    A little time with a blow torch to scrotums could make all of you change. And it would “work” in terms of compelling behavior. And chill…I;m not going to do it. Now that thing about Irish babies for English tables though….that sounds like a winner. Let’s go Swift. A manly motherfucker of a writer. Not an Old Man and his Fart War’s author.

  63. My comments stand about how people want to have all the points on their side and will distort evidence and logic to do so. Liberals claim torture is useless. (Give me a lowtorch, a computer, your nutsack and watch me get all your money out of your electronic banking system. ) Conservatives on the other hand claim that waterboarding isn’t torture. Let me waterboard them a bit and see if they feel the same way. The bottom line is that the crux of the argument lies elsewhere, but people lack the stones to look that in the face.

    B.

  64. From back at 25/26:

    Well, if you have the latter, what do you need with the former?

    For cases where people want to withhold information – I’m positing an infallible lie detector, not a brain reader.

    If you have such a detector, you torture someone to make them talk, and you know for certain if they are lying – and they know that you know, because you react with either reward or further punishment with absolute accuracy.

    Essentially, it ensures torture will ‘work’, except in rare(?) cases where someone will literally die rather than talk.

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