Small Wars Journal

Waterboarding is Torture... Period (Links Updated # 9)

Wed, 10/31/2007 - 3:30pm
I'd like to digress from my usual analysis of insurgent strategy and tactics to speak out on an issue of grave importance to Small Wars Journal readers. We, as a nation, are having a crisis of honor.

Last week the Attorney General nominee Judge Michael Mukasey refused to define waterboarding terror suspects as torture. On the same day MSNBC television pundit and former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough quickly spoke out in its favor. On his morning television broadcast, he asserted, without any basis in fact, that the efficacy of the waterboard a viable tool to be used on Al Qaeda suspects.

Scarborough said, "For those who don't know, waterboarding is what we did to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is the Al Qaeda number two guy that planned 9/11. And he talked ..." He then speculated that "If you ask Americans whether they think it's okay for us to waterboard in a controlled environment ... 90% of Americans will say 'yes.'" Sensing that what he was saying sounded extreme, he then claimed he did not support torture but that waterboarding was debatable as a technique: "You know, that's the debate. Is waterboarding torture? ... I don't want the United States to engage in the type of torture that [Senator] John McCain had to endure."

In fact, waterboarding is just the type of torture then Lt. Commander John McCain had to endure at the hands of the North Vietnamese. As a former Master Instructor and Chief of Training at the US Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School (SERE) in San Diego, California I know the waterboard personally and intimately. SERE staff were required undergo the waterboard at its fullest. I was no exception. I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people. It has been reported that both the Army and Navy SERE school's interrogation manuals were used to form the interrogation techniques used by the US army and the CIA for its terror suspects. What was not mentioned in most articles was that SERE was designed to show how an evil totalitarian, enemy would use torture at the slightest whim. If this is the case, then waterboarding is unquestionably being used as torture technique.

The carnival-like he-said, she-said of the legality of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques has become a form of doublespeak worthy of Catch-22. Having been subjected to them all, I know these techniques, if in fact they are actually being used, are not dangerous when applied in training for short periods. However, when performed with even moderate intensity over an extended time on an unsuspecting prisoner -- it is torture, without doubt. Couple that with waterboarding and the entire medley not only "shock the conscience" as the statute forbids -it would terrify you. Most people can not stand to watch a high intensity kinetic interrogation. One has to overcome basic human decency to endure watching or causing the effects. The brutality would force you into a personal moral dilemma between humanity and hatred. It would leave you to question the meaning of what it is to be an American.

We live at a time where Americans, completely uninformed by an incurious media and enthralled by vengeance-based fantasy television shows like "24", are actually cheering and encouraging such torture as justifiable revenge for the September 11 attacks. Having been a rescuer in one of those incidents and personally affected by both attacks, I am bewildered at how casually we have thrown off the mantle of world-leader in justice and honor. Who we have become? Because at this juncture, after Abu Ghraieb and other undignified exposed incidents of murder and torture, we appear to have become no better than our opponents.

With regards to the waterboard, I want to set the record straight so the apologists can finally embrace the fact that they condone and encourage torture.

History's Lessons Ignored

Before arriving for my assignment at SERE, I traveled to Cambodia to visit the torture camps of the Khmer Rouge. The country had just opened for tourism and the effect of the genocide was still heavy in the air. I wanted to know how real torturers and terror camp guards would behave and learn how to resist them from survivors of such horrors. I had previously visited the Nazi death camps Dachau and Bergen-Belsen. I had met and interviewed survivors of Buchenwald, Auschwitz and Magdeburg when I visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. However, it was in the S-21 death camp known as Tuol Sleng, in downtown Phnom Penh, where I found a perfectly intact inclined waterboard. Next to it was the painting on how it was used. It was cruder than ours mainly because they used metal shackles to strap the victim down, and a tin flower pot sprinkler to regulate the water flow rate, but it was the same device I would be subjected to a few weeks later.

On a Mekong River trip, I met a 60-year-old man, happy to be alive and a cheerful travel companion, who survived the genocide and torture ... he spoke openly about it and gave me a valuable lesson: "If you want to survive, you must learn that 'walking through a low door means you have to be able to bow.'" He told his interrogators everything they wanted to know including the truth. They rarely stopped. In torture, he confessed to being a hermaphrodite, a CIA spy, a Buddhist Monk, a Catholic Bishop and the son of the king of Cambodia. He was actually just a school teacher whose crime was that he once spoke French. He remembered "the Barrel" version of waterboarding quite well. Head first until the water filled the lungs, then you talk.

Once at SERE and tasked to rewrite the Navy SERE program for the first time since the Vietnam War, we incorporated interrogation and torture techniques from the Middle East, Latin America and South Asia into the curriculum. In the process, I studied hundreds of classified written reports, dozens of personal memoirs of American captives from the French-Indian Wars and the American Revolution to the Argentinean 'Dirty War' and Bosnia. There were endless hours of videotaped debriefings from World War Two, Korea, Vietnam and Gulf War POWs and interrogators. I devoured the hundreds of pages of debriefs and video reports including those of then Commander John McCain, Colonel Nick Rowe, Lt. Dieter Dengler and Admiral James Stockdale, the former Senior Ranking Officer of the Hanoi Hilton. All of them had been tortured by the Vietnamese, Pathet Lao or Cambodians. The minutiae of North Vietnamese torture techniques was discussed with our staff advisor and former Hanoi Hilton POW Doug Hegdahl as well as discussions with Admiral Stockdale himself. The waterboard was clearly one of the tools dictators and totalitarian regimes preferred.

There is No Debate Except for Torture Apologists

1. Waterboarding is a torture technique. Period. There is no way to gloss over it or sugarcoat it. It has no justification outside of its limited role as a training demonstrator. Our service members have to learn that the will to survive requires them accept and understand that they may be subjected to torture, but that America is better than its enemies and it is one's duty to trust in your nation and God, endure the hardships and return home with honor.

2. Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.

Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim's face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.

Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration --usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten with its use again and again.

Call it "Chinese Water Torture," "the Barrel," or "the Waterfall," it is all the same. Whether the victim is allowed to comply or not is usually left up to the interrogator. Many waterboard team members, even in training, enjoy the sadistic power of making the victim suffer and often ask questions as an after thought. These people are dangerous and predictable and when left unshackled, unsupervised or undetected they bring us the murderous abuses seen at Abu Ghraieb, Baghram and Guantanamo. No doubt, to avoid human factors like fear and guilt someone has created a one-button version that probably looks like an MRI machine with high intensity waterjets.

3. If you support the use of waterboarding on enemy captives, you support the use of that torture on any future American captives. The Small Wars Council had a spirited discussion about this earlier in the year, especially when former Marine Generals Krulak and Hoar rejected all arguments for torture.

Evan Wallach wrote a brilliant history of the use of waterboarding as a war crime and the open acceptance of it by the administration in an article for Columbia Journal for Transnational Law. In it he describes how the ideological Justice Department lawyer, John Yoo validated the current dilemma we find ourselves in by asserting that the President had powers above and beyond the Constitution and the Congress:

"Congress doesn't have the power to tie the President's hands in regard to torture as an interrogation technique....It's the core of the Commander-in-Chief function. They can't prevent the President from ordering torture."

That is an astounding assertion. It reflects a basic disregard for the law of the United States, the Constitution and basic moral decency.

Another MSNBC commentator defended the administration and stated that waterboarding is "not a new phenomenon" and that it had "been pinned on President Bush ... but this has been part of interrogation for years and years and years." He is correct, but only partially. The Washington Post reported in 2006 that it was mainly America's enemies that used it as a principal interrogation method. After World War 2, Japanese waterboard team members were tried for war crimes. In Vietnam, service members were placed under investigation when a photo of a field-expedient waterboarding became publicly known.

Torture in captivity simulation training reveals there are ways an enemy can inflict punishment which will render the subject wholly helpless and which will generally overcome his willpower. The torturer will trigger within the subject a survival instinct, in this case the ability to breathe, which makes the victim instantly pliable and ready to comply. It is purely and simply a tool by which to deprive a human being of his ability to resist through physical humiliation. The very concept of an American Torturer is an anathema to our values.

I concur strongly with the opinions of professional interrogators like Colonel Stewart Herrington, and victims of torture like Senator John McCain. If you want consistent, accurate and reliable intelligence, be inquisitive, analytical, patient but most of all professional, amiable and compassionate.

Who will complain about the new world-wide embrace of torture? America has justified it legally at the highest levels of government. Even worse, the administration has selectively leaked supposed successes of the water board such as the alleged Khalid Sheik Mohammed confessions. However, in the same breath the CIA sources for the Washington Post noted that in Mohammed's case they got information but "not all of it reliable." Of course, when you waterboard you get all the magic answers you want -because remember, the subject will talk. They all talk! Anyone strapped down will say anything, absolutely anything to get the torture to stop. Torture. Does. Not. Work.

According to the President, this is not a torture, so future torturers in other countries now have an American legal basis to perform the acts. Every hostile intelligence agency and terrorist in the world will consider it a viable tool, which can be used with impunity. It has been turned into perfectly acceptable behavior for information finding.

A torture victim can be made to say anything by an evil nation that does not abide by humanity, morality, treaties or rule of law. Today we are on the verge of becoming that nation. Is it possible that September 11 hurt us so much that we have decided to gladly adopt the tools of KGB, the Khmer Rouge, the Nazi Gestapo, the North Vietnamese, the North Koreans and the Burmese Junta?

What next if the waterboarding on a critical the captive doesn't work and you have a timetable to stop the "ticking bomb" scenario? Electric shock to the genitals? Taking a pregnant woman and electrocuting the fetus inside her? Executing a captive's children in front of him? Dropping live people from an airplane over the ocean? It has all been done by governments seeking information. All claimed the same need to stop the ticking bomb. It is not a far leap from torture to murder, especially if the subject is defiant. Are we —to trade our nation's soul for tactical intelligence?

Is There a Place for the Waterboard?

Yes. The waterboard must go back to the realm of SERE training our operators, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. We must now double our efforts to prepare for its inevitable and uncontrolled use of by our future enemies.

Until recently, only a few countries considered it effective. Now American use of the waterboard as an interrogation tool has assuredly guaranteed that our service members and agents who are captured or detained by future enemies will be subject to it as part of the most routine interrogations. Forget threats, poor food, the occasional face slap and sexual assaults. This was not a dignified 'taking off the gloves'; this was descending to the level of our opposition in an equally brutish and ugly way. Waterboarding will be one our future enemy's go-to techniques because we took the gloves off to brutal interrogation. Now our enemies will take the gloves off and thank us for it.

There may never again be a chance that Americans will benefit from the shield of outrage and public opinion when our future enemy uses of torture. Brutal interrogation, flash murder and extreme humiliation of American citizens, agents and members of the armed forces may now be guaranteed because we have mindlessly, but happily, broken the seal on the Pandora's box of indignity, cruelty and hatred in the name of protecting America. To defeat Bin Laden many in this administration have openly embraced the methods of by Hitler, Pinochet, Pol Pot, Galtieri and Saddam Hussein.

Not A Fair Trade for America's Honor

I have stated publicly and repeatedly that I would personally cut Bin Laden's heart out with a plastic MRE spoon if we per chance meet on the battlefield. Yet, once captive I believe that the better angels of our nature and our nation's core values would eventually convince any terrorist that they indeed have erred in their murderous ways. Once convicted in a fair, public tribunal, they would have the rest of their lives, however short the law makes it, to come to terms with their God and their acts.

This is not enough for our President. He apparently secretly ordered the core American values of fairness and justice to be thrown away in the name of security from terrorists. He somehow determined that the honor the military, the CIA and the nation itself was an acceptable trade for the superficial knowledge of the machinations of approximately 2,000 terrorists, most of whom are being decimated in Iraq or martyring themselves in Afghanistan. It is a short sighted and politically motivated trade that is simply disgraceful. There is no honor here.

It is outrageous that American officials, including the Attorney General and a legion of minions of lower rank have not only embraced this torture but have actually justified it, redefined it to a misdemeanor, brought it down to the level of a college prank and then bragged about it. The echo chamber that is the American media now views torture as a heroic and macho.

Torture advocates hide behind the argument that an open discussion about specific American interrogation techniques will aid the enemy. Yet, convicted Al Qaeda members and innocent captives who were released to their host nations have already debriefed the world through hundreds of interviews, movies and documentaries on exactly what methods they were subjected to and how they endured. In essence, our own missteps have created a cadre of highly experienced lecturers for Al Qaeda's own virtual SERE school for terrorists.

Congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle need to stand up for American values and clearly specify that coercive interrogation using the waterboard is torture and, except for limited examples of training our service members and intelligence officers, it should be stopped completely and finally --oh, and this time without a Presidential signing statement reinterpreting the law.


Updates by SWJ Editors


Drowning in Questions - Newsweek Magazine

Voice of Experience: It's Torture -

Waterboarding Not Deemed Torture by US - Australian News

'Waterboarding' Not Deemed Torture - AFP

Expert Sheds Light on Waterboarding - Audio of NPR Interview with Malcolm Nance

Is Waterboarding Torture? - Audio of WNYC Interview with Malcolm Nance

I Know Waterboarding is Torture - Because I did it Myself - New York Daily News

Waterboarding is Torture - I Did It Myself - The Independent

Regarding Media - Los Angeles Times

On Torture, 2 Messages and a High Political Cost - New York Times

The Mukasey Test - Washington Times

A Crisis of Honor - The Daily Dish (The Atlantic)

Ace Interrogator: "Waterboarding is Torture... Period." - Passport (Foreign Policy)

Tortured Logic - New York Daily News

The Mukasey Test -- Washington Times

Target Mukasey - New York Post

Mukasey's Confirmation: A Vote about Torture -- Los Angeles Times

There's No Avoiding the Waterboarding Issue - Kansas City Star

Links with Comments

Malcolm Nance - Díºnedain of the Week - Stonekettle Station

Ex-Navy Instructor Promises to Hit Back If Attacked on Torture - TPM Muckraker

Waterboarding is Torture - Abu Muqawama

Waterboarding is Torture... Period - MountainRunner

Waterboarding is Torture... Period -- The Belmont Club

Politics - Tip-Toeing Around Torture - The AG (Time)

Tortured Answer - Slate

Target: Jamal al-Badawi - The Captain's Journal

We Legitimized Waterboarding - Swampland (Time)

On the Virtue of Waterboarding and Secret Prisons -- Blackfive

Waterboarding is Torture... Period - Mother Jones

Former Navy SEAL Instructor Offers Waterboarding Primer - TPM Muckraker

SERE Instructor: Waterboarding is Torture - Captain's Quarters

My Opinion is Fact, Period: On Rhetoric, Waterboarding, and Torture - tdaxp

10 Questions on Torture - tdaxp

Waterboarding is Torture - Outside the Beltway

Troubled Waters - Wizbang

Slow Motion Suffocation - Headline Junky

A Bluf that Needs to be Called, Part Two - Power Line

Waterboarding is Torture - Interact

Waterboarding the Senate - PrairiePundit

Defending Democracy Using of Khmer Rouge Techniques - The American Prospect

Barbaric - Total Information Awareness

SEAL on Waterboarding - Winds of Change

If You Read One Post About Waterboarding - The Plank (The New Republic)

McCain on Rudy on Torture. (Updated) - Comonweal

Waterboarding is Torture - The Raw Story

Waterboarding - Obsidian Wings

Meanwhile, Back in the Real World - Catholic and Enjoying It

Come for the Beaches, Stay for the Waterboarding -- MetaFilter

The Water Cooler - Inside Indiana Message Boards

Impressive Article on Waterboarding - Gun Broker Discussion Board

Waterboarding is Torture - Space Battles Discussion Board


Small Wars Council


Jared Nuzolillo, I rarely pull rank like this, but I'm a professional philosopher, and I want to make it clear to you and the people on this thread that your arguments are shallow and meretricious. Had they ever been put before me or any of my colleagues in a classroom setting, they would have been justly decimated. I'm offended that your ability to ape philosophical discourse might deceive some here as to your essential childishness. And I'm disgusted that your mimicry of philosophy sullies a noble tradition. It is good that your "dissimulation" blog enjoys a well-deserved obscurity, for it would otherwise bring even more pain to those of us who have devoted our professional lives to the tradition of philosophy. At best you are a sophist; but even that gives you too much credit; you are more like a clever parrot who has imbued some jargon which you spit back in great clots of pseudo-meaning.

Texan (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 9:49pm


Do realize that even if no current "detainees" have been labeled POW's, that doesn't mean they shouldn't be (particularly early captives in Iraq and Afghanistan where some captives were taken in far more "traditional" battles than the current operations).

Assuming they were being commanded by a "responsible person" and carrying arms openly, it would come down to whether they wore a "distinctive sign" and were "conducing their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war." If Bush/Cheney/etc were ever brought up on war crimes, this would obviously have to be determined.

Of course, our government always has the option of taking the high road and classifying these detainees as POW's anyway... Any bets on the likelihood of that?

corkie30 (not verified)

Wed, 10/31/2007 - 11:04am


Even if everything in your reply to me was accurate, it still does not change the fact that the language you posted earlier was ineffectual.

Yes, maybe this administration should afford certain detainees POW status, but youre going to have to articulate a stronger case if you want to argue that Bush/Cheney would have been hanged by Judges at Nuremberg.

By the way, if they had been ordered hanged would you support such an order? If so, would you support American judges orders to hang Gitmo detainees? If not, would you support international judges orders to hang Gitmo detainees?

ReflectionEphemeral (not verified)

Wed, 10/31/2007 - 9:21am

"Keep them alive if it suits our purpose, at our convenience, for what they are worth to us, and when their continued survival no longer serves our purpose, execute them."

Cannoneer #4, your life must have been great back when you were young, and fighting with the SS. Now <i>there</i> was some resistance to multiculturalism.

Jared Nuzzolillo (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 8:55pm

And for those of you having a hard time understanding what I mean by objective morality, consider the follow:

Paul shot a gun and the bullet hit and killed Angelina. Angelina was not a threat to Paul. Is Paul an evil murderer?

That question is -- I hope! -- impossible to answer. For 1) Paul could have been shooting at a man who was raping his wife at knife point, and accidentally hit Angelina as she passed his window. Or, 2) Paul could have shot Angelina because she was tied up to his bed and it got him off sexually.

Now, (1) killing a person accidentally while defending your wife is not evil and does not render you a murderer. But (2) killing someone for the sole purpose of sexual excitement is always evil.

So you see, there is an objective moral conclusion to be drawn, but it is 100% dependent on the context surrounding the action.

corkie30 (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 8:50pm


Thanks for your honest answer. While I consider myself a warrior willing to take the fight to any of our enemies. I wouldn't want a government empowered to employ techniques that would leave you "shuddering."

corkie30 (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 8:45pm


Article 6 (b) applies to "murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas." A prisoner of war is very well defined. Every member of the US military is taught to take steps to maintain a prisoner of war status in case of capture even if such steps preclude certain tactical advantages.

For example, disguising yourself in an enemy uniform could give you a substantial advantage in sneaking up on an enemy outpost. Or, dressing in order to blend in with the local population might allow you to conduct better surveillance. However, if captured in either case, you would not be entitled to receive POW benefits. These benefits include the enemys restrictions against murdering or ill-treating you.

Have any of the prisoners been legally considered POWs (they certainly weren't persons of the seas)? If so, I havent heard of any. If they arent, then they would not be protected by such language.

Jared Nuzzolillo (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 8:35pm


While the articles of the Nuremburg tribunal are certainly of historical and/or legal interest, it escapes me how they could change whether an act can morally justified (and to think otherwise would be to accept _actual_ moral relativism; eg, that the law of a land can render an otherwise moral act immoral).

Jared Nuzzolillo (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 8:30pm

Part of the problem is that I am having trouble dreaming up new ways to explain myself as I keep being misunderstood, or questions I have already answered resurface, etc. Please accept my apologies when this is due to a lack of clarity.

Jared Nuzzolillo (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 8:28pm


Thank you, thank you, thank you. I was beginning to wonder if I was insane.

I guess I must split the horns of the dilemma to answer you. Inflicting pain on a captive is certainly very rarely justified. All manner of other techniques must be exhausted, starting with those not involving force and slowly (relative to the situation at hand) escalating all the way to extreme pain. I can surely imagine some cases when it would be justified, and that extends to vices and all other implements of torture. I sincerely hope that we would never be in a position where reason and conscience demanded that we use such techniques. It is enough to leave me shuddering.

As I've said from the get-go, near certain knowledge of guilt and a high degree of certainty that the subject possesses important intelligence that could be used to protect the innocent would be absolutely necessary in justifying the escalation of force beyond a rather low point -- and those qualifications assuredly rarely obtain (perhaps the case of KSM is a stark instance where they did? I am not prepared to argue that without more research, but it definitely seems like it could be).


Please take my statements at face value, and do not attempt to ascribe emotional meaning to them beyond that suppled by the words and context. To do otherwise would be uncharitable, and you wouldn't want to be uncharitable would you? In any case, I will use an emoticon or other _obvious_ rhetorical device when I intend to portray emotion. To be fair, I am usually just writing the first words that leap into my head (even if it may sound conversational at times), so I can see how someone might be sadly tricked into thinking otherwise.

Well I wonder Jared, what the Judges at Nuremberg would make of Bush, Cheney and Torture?

My view is that they would be lucky not to be hanged.


The Tribunal established by the Agreement referred to in Article 1 hereof for the trial and punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis countries shall have the power to try and punish persons who, acting in the interests of the European Axis countries, whether as individuals or as members of organizations, committed any of the following crimes.
The following acts, or any of them, are crimes coming within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal for which there shall be individual responsibility:

(a) Crimes against Peace: namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a Common Plan or Conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing;
(b) War Crimes: namely, violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations shall include, but not be limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity;
(c) Crimes against Humanity: namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war,14 or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of domestic law of the country where perpetrated.

Leaders, organizers, instigators, and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution
of a Common Plan or Conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing crimes are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan.


The official position of defendants, whether as Heads of State or responsible officials in Government departments, shall not be considered as freeing them from responsibility or mitigating punishment.


The fact that the defendant acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior shall not free him from responsibility, but may be considered in mitigation of punishment if the Tribunal determine that justice so requires.

corkie30 (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 8:08pm

Id just like to add that if you do believe that its ok for government agents (e.g. local, state, and federal officers, etc.) to kill other humans in certain circumstance, and you believe that its ok for government agents (e.g. judges and wardens) to confine other humans in certain circumstances, then you must admit that you believe its ok to subject other humans to death or duress in certain circumstances.

Therefore, I think the argument becomes the extent with which you are comfortable empowering our government. Prison? Death penalty? Water boarding? "Rope torture?" Head in a vise? Obviously, most Americans object to extreme forms of torture while few object to prison. I think the areas in-between are a subjective matter.

Support for water boarding doesnt necessarily make a person a criminal or cruel. Objecting to water boarding doesnt necessarily make someone weak on terrorism. I just hope were all on the same side.

corkie30 (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 7:48pm

Having been to SERE School, I abhor the idea of torture and believe that the US should be the "good guys" BEYOND debate. However, I certainly acknowledge that the subject of whether water boarding should be considered torture is, in fact, debatable. (Everything unpleasant cant possibly be considered torture.) I happen to believe that it should not be considered torture, in and of itself.

Even still, I happen to be against the official use of water boarding by the US government against its enemies. That being said, I still support its use (and all current training techniques we employ) on our own people. Therefore, I dont believe that water boarding should be considered the travesty some of you think it is.

1. Are some of you people making a deliberate attempt to not understand Nuzzolillos argument, or is his argument actually escaping you?

Is killing another human amoral? Are there ever justified circumstances (beyond self defense) for killing another human? Is it ok to empower our government officials to make this decision?

If you find it unacceptable for a police officer to kill another human in an attempt to save others (which, by the way, is NOT unrealistic), then I think you get a free pass from Nuzzolillo. He will not debate you any further. In fact, he will commend you on your lack of hypocrisy.

If, however, you find it justifiable to kill another human in certain situations, then you must acknowledge the argument Nuzzolillo is making. The human that gets killed by a police officer might be innocent. The human that gets killed by the police officer MIGHT believe that the police officer is the bad guy. Do you still think its possible to justify the police officers actions? Do you think the police officer should be forced to hope for a pardon, prosecutorial discretion, or a sympathetic jury? Or do you agree that its ok for an agent of the government (the police officer in this case) to be entrusted with the discretion to kill another human being (via an affirmative defense which is written into the law)?

If your answer to my last question is "no" then you need to widen your criticism to include most states penal codes.

Lets not stop at killing. Do you believe that its justified to confine some humans to prison? If so, then why? What gives the government the moral authority to confine? The human might be innocent. The human might believe that the jailors are the bad guys. Have you simply been CONDITIONED to believe that confinement is justifiable by governments?

2. Why do some of you assume that SERE School type water boarding is conducted in a more controlled environment than water boarding during an actual interrogation? If training and actual water boarding were equally controlled and equal in duration would you be ok with it?

3. For others, what data exists to indicate that water boarding doesnt render reliable (or actionable) intelligence? Or are you relying on anecdotal comments from certain individuals with previous intelligence experience? If so, what makes you think they are more "right" than the intelligence experts which are recommending the technique in certain circumstances?

4. One poster mentioned a Japanese prisoner that responded to the "soft treatment." Great. What makes you think that the same technique isnt tried first on terrorism detainees? Its certainly possible that the US has enjoyed volumes of intelligence using soft techniques. From what I understand, interrogations by national intelligence professionals are a very sophisticated process - probably more sophisticated than you think. Im sure methods have been developed (maybe even tested) to increase the reliability of the information generated. The one posters comments about false positives is certainly germane. This being said, would you be ok with techniques such as water boarding if it was only attempted AFTER a soft treatment has been deemed ineffective and if it was only accompanied by techniques to increase reliability? Ask yourself if you would still object to water boarding even if all intelligence professionals agreed that it was effective. If you would still object, then I recommend you discontinue to use the ineffective argument as a shortcut.

Let me state again, I am against water boarding as an interrogation technique by the US government against its enemies. I think we need to be a shining example of prisoner treatment to the world (Keep in mind, Im not against all duress type interrogation techniques.) We can "win" without water boarding. My fear is that some of you are against winning. I hope Im wrong.

Nuzzolillo, Ive defended you enough , heres my argument for you. Couldnt I use all your arguments in support of more cruel interrogation techniques? Cant I argue that putting a prisoners head in a vise could be justified under certain "context, culture, and time?" This is NOT a slippery slope argument. Please tell me why/if you would object to such a technique. If you dont object, then I commend you on your lack of hypocrisy.

If you do object, then I suspect you will argue that, despite the context/time of an imminent threat to innocent human life and the current American culture, a head in a vise interrogation technique would rarely be morally justified. If that is your argument (or close to it), then I would argue back that the question of water boarding might also be rarely justified. At the very least, we dont now how many (or what percentage of) individuals (or professionals) within the American culture would justify water boarding. Should this be the test that we (the US) uses?

Texan (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 7:38pm


Here is your comment in response to Petrit Qahiri's assertion that by having to assess the context of an act in determining its morality, you are confessing that morality is subjective:

"There is no contradiction, sir. Murder and killing both end in the violent death of a person -- it is the moral context surrounding a violent act that determines whether it is justified and therefore moral."

A brief side note: using "sir" in such a way makes you sound like a condescending prick (you used it in a similar way in your initial response to the main blog). Perhaps you aren't a condescending prick, but I just wanted to point out how your rhetoric is received.

Back to the argument. I can't see how your statement is meant to counter his claim. You merely reiterated that determining which killings are murder demands the observation of each act's context. So, instead of a willingness to profess "all killing is wrong" (an objective statement of morality), you demand the option of explaining away certain killings as "not murder" (a now important distinction) based on the subjective morality of your own culture.

The problem with objective morality is that it demands an unambiguous statement of belief which the claimant is almost never willing to follow to its logical conclusion. I could give a hundred examples, but I seriously doubt its necessary.

Perhaps you can respond with a better defense of objective morality, and, this time, I would try not to include new ways of explaining how your objective morality is so subjective.

Nuzolillo: You forget that there is a difference between reactional violence and premeditated violence. Sociologically speaking, these are two different categories.

Jared Nuzzolillo (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 6:14pm

I should note that when I say "objective morals exist" I mean simply that there is a fact of the matter as to whether a certain act is evil or good; there need not be universal acceptance of this fact, just as the fact that some men believe that truth is relative does not and cannot change the fact that 1+1=2 is objectively true. So, eg, murder (ie, unjustified killing) is wrong in every context, culture and time.

Jared Nuzzolillo (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 6:07pm

I am pondering Aleph Null's very cogent and interesting argument (though I believe I will demonstrate it is flawed, at least in part on the grounds that self-defense alone as an impetus to action is generally not sufficient to render an act moral, as counterexamples should suffice to show). But expect more on that when time permits; in the meantime, I will take a moment to answer Petrit Qahiri.

Petrit Qahiri,

There is no contradiction, sir. Murder and killing both end in the violent death of a person -- it is the moral context surrounding a violent act that determines whether it is justified and therefore moral.

Am I alone in seeing the contradiction at the heart of Jared Nuzzolillo's entire position? On the one hand, the man says

"The surrounding ethical context must be known to determine if the particular act in question is to be held in contempt."

and on the other,

"As I said, those among you who do not believe in objective morals will not understand this argument."

So what he's saying is that a) there are objective morals, but b) only the context determines if an act is moral or not. I hate to break it to you, Jared, but if it's the context that determines if something is moral or not, that's known as subjective morals.

Aleph Null (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 3:58pm

What makes one man good, and another man evil? Can we agree that it is by the actions, and not by the thoughts alone (think Jesus, kicking a man in the face while saying "blessed are the meek..."). In other words, you know a tree by it's fruit.

Then, to be the good guys, don't we need to be the ones who treat all men like men, and not like animals? Saddam was evil, in part, because he tortured. Germans and Japanese were evil, in part, because they treated POWs like animals. If one is going to argue that we're good and they're evil, and argue against objectivism (they say the same thing),then they need to define what makes one side different than the other, outside of superficial things like race or religion. What are the actions that separate us from them?

Aleph Null: Amen. When I was in the army, we got teargas and fire drills under real conditions, and I have been subjected to serious beating. When I read the Padilla case, my stomach turns. Every time. There is a bunch of sadists loose within your (US) core.

Aleph Null (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 3:31pm

nuzzolillo: The reason that in battle it is morally justified to kill or injure, whereas it is not morally justified to kill or cause injury to a prisoner (and I consider torture to be causing injury here) is this: in battle, an enemy soldier is attempting to do the same to you, therefore, it is self-defence. In captivity, the soldier is unarmed, and cannot cause harm to you directly. There is no moral ambiguity here; sniping an enemy soldier is self-defence, shooting an unarmed prisoner is not. Lopping off the arm of a man with a sword coming at you or someone you are defending is okay. Maiming the same man after he surrenders to you is revenge. Sinking an enemy ship and causing the drowning of enemies is defence; drowning a prisoner is torture.

How can the extraction of information about a terror cell or an enemy outpost be any different than the extraction of information and confession of a crime from a person you *know* is guilty? Are we more enlightened than we were 63 years ago, when we wouldn't torture POWs even when we knew their side was? When did "Do unto others as they do unto you" become acceptable? If we don't hold ourselves to a moral high ground, then we lose our right to complain and punish those who use the same techniques. Otherwise, we could say "Give us information, or we will bomb 5000 innocent civilians", because they did it to us.

Lastly, I think that questioning the opinion of a man who has undergone the torture, without going through the same, is weak. Will you tell a man whose genitals have been electrocuted to "suck it up, buttercup" if he says it is horrible, and wouldn't wish it on his enemies, as his life wasn't in danger, and no lasting physical harm came of it? Or what do you think of the use of Ebi-zeme, a torture that can last for days without any lasting physical harm, but which can kill if not stopped in time? Until you go through with it yourself (like cops getting pepper-sprayed), your opinion on the matter counts for less than someone who has.

Nuzzolillo: Wich is why it is armchair philosophy. Its like discussing if women are partly to blame for sexual assaults if they dress provocatively *while a actual woman is being raped in front of you*. Sorry for that disturbing image, but I think it is applicable.

Jared Nuzzolillo (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 3:06pm


I am not arguing about whether something is legal or not. I am arguing about whether it is moral or not. They can be -- and often are -- very different things.

ReflectionEphemeral (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 2:59pm

<i>the President weigh a choice between impeachment and mass slaughter of non combatants</i>

(1) If the president pardons someone whose torture, for the first time in world history, averted the mass slaughter of non-combatants, Congress will likely not vote to impeach him.

(2) If the president is impeached, even if it's a decision with which one might disagree, it would be by the procedures in the Constitution and our laws. That is not the case for torture, which violates at least domestic law, as well as international law to which we have signed on, and maybe the Constitution, too, if the Eighth Amendment applies to the torture victim. This is, or was, a nation of rule by law, not of men.

nuzzolillo: Armchair philosophy. Torture is illegal according to US law, as far as I know, wich is why the president keeps on insisting that the US does not torture. There is a great difference in breaking the law by necessity in a crisis-situation of insant evaluation (J. Bauer, etc.) and the planned and premeditated breaking of the law. Either torture is legal, or it is not. If it is, then the US has descended to the levels of barbarism, and become an empire as opposed to a republic.

Jared Nuzzolillo (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 2:17pm

Gian P Gentile,

No, of course that would not be a moral action. But neither would it be moral for them to raise a single rifle or fire a single shot at my relative-in-arms. That exact same logic precludes waging a violent campaign of any sort. No, the difference here is whether one side is working towards evil and the other good, the individual motivation of the specific actors involved, etc.

I am getting the distinct idea that several of my interlocutors have not read all of my posts in this thread. I don't blame them :-) But in the interests of not having to repeat myself ad infinitum (and boring people to further tears), I'd ask that they do and let me know if they still want me to clarify my beliefs. Anyone who thinks I am making an argument that amounts in totality to "the ends justify the means" probably hasn't read what I've written.

But to be clear "the ends" are nearly always taken into consideration in ethical decision making. For instance, is it moral to invade another country? That question cannot be answered -- the problem is that invading another country is an amoral act. One must know the moral context ("the ends", motivation, etc) before one can determine if a particular act of invasion is a moral act.


The premise is neither unstated nor faulty. In fact, that is almost (the grounded version of) my entire argument: There _is_ a fact of the matter as to whether al qaeda is evil -- drumroll -- they are! So while we may be justified in killing an al qaeda operative, they are not justified in killing an American soldier. Killing, stealing, kidnapping, inflicting pain upon others -- these _must_ be amoral acts at the core if you are to support war. The surrounding ethical context _must_ be known to determine if the particular act in question is to be held in contempt.

But it really doesn't matter if the US is right and al qaeda is wrong for my abstract argument to be valid. Instead, there must be at least one logically possible case in which torture is justified. If such a case exists, then it becomes a matter of degree, motivation, intent, etc.

As I said, those among you who do not believe in objective morals will not understand this argument. But if you do not, it would be foolish for you to even participate in the argument above that level. You can try to convince the sane (just playing ;-)) among us that morals are subjective, but there is literally no reason for you to argue against torture.

Again... if instead you believe that morals are objective but cannot be objectively discerned, then you _must_ advocate withholding action in any situation where force is being considered.

Sir. Thank you for honouring your pledge to uphold the constitution by speaking out.

To the debate: I find it interesting that the US has decided to unilateraly shelve the entire geneva-conventions and a myriad other cases of international law in order to perform what is essentially a psychological demonstration rather than a practical matter of necessity. Info extracted under duress is next to worthless.

Somewhere, somehow, the Republic has in its employ a large unit of serving officers who are actively managing and manning a network of torture-institutions. Do you truly want such a class inside the US system, people willing to do anything for the greater cause? For revenge? For nation and honour? For the president? For the fuhrer?

I wont even comment on the irony of christian people being some of the hardest supporters for the use of torture. Jesus wept. But from a military point of view, its a matter of cost-analysis, and that clearly shows that the US war-effort is significantly weakened by the loss of softpower that the destroyed image of the US has caused. Remember, your whole propaganda-effort prior to 9/11 was "the land of law and order", where the Rule of Law was something akin to a religion in its own right.

Once you let the genie loose, its very hard to put back in the bottle. What is needed is a purging, both military and politically, and I for one would feel more secure if I was assured men like Malcolm Nance was conducting the purging. Best wishes from Norway.

m1intel (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 1:44pm

Great post and appreciate it the clarity. That said, and a question for all, how do we have a logical discussion with educated individuals who believe the opposite? In other words, we are living in a time where educated individuals and, for all intensive purposes, good people, believe that we should torture, we should hold people without Habeas Corpus rights, and perhaps, when it comes down to a situation, I may bend my own moral rules. How do we stand fast to our values and our morals, how do we educate good people who believe we should 'bend the rules"? For me I see this as one of our biggest challenges. Because now our "leaders" have made it ok...thoughts?


Merv Benson

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 1:14pm

Judging by many of the comments on this post, I would not want to take my chances on jury nullification to save those who think it is wrong to use coercive interrogation. Some would have the President weigh a choice between impeachment and mass slaughter of non combatants so they can feel morally superior.

There is one question about torture that I have never seen its advocates address: Who are they going to get to do it for them? How are they going to recruit and vet these people?

I assume they would reject the flocks or psychopaths who would voluteer for the job and seek normal well adjusted people and train them to torment others. But if you did that, wouldn't you run the risk of transforming them into pychopaths? And if you did, wouldn't you be liable? If your practioners weren't transformed into devils incarnate wouldn't the mental stresses on them be horrific and again would you be liable for that?

What would happen to your torturers after they left the service? How would a potential employer react when he found out what this guy used to do?

15 years down the road, what would he tell his son when the boy asked "What did you do in the war Dad?" Do the torture advocates really want to create a group of who would have to answer "Why son, I strapped people to a board and savaged them."

To slightly amend Gain P Gentile's question to Mr. Nuzzolillo, would the torture advocates encourage or be proud of their son or daughter or brother or sister if they said "I want to torture for Uncle Sam."

You guys gotta think about what you want to create.

zvelf (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 12:33pm

Mr. Nuzzolillos argument rests on a simple unstated and faulty premise - we can do these things because we are the good guys and they are the bad guys. As he emphasized, they deserve it. He presumes they are guilty. The problem is every enemy we fight against thinks the same thing - that they are good and we are bad, thus, torture can be justified or seen as deserved. The United States of America is not always the white knight but Nuzzolillos presumes we are. This rationale can work for any nation or organization on the face of the Earth to justify whatever it wants.

Mr. Nuzzolillo wrote: "My arguments will surely ring hollow to those who lack the means or desire to understand and accept that morals are indeed objective and that proper moral action can be discerned within a reasonable and actionable degree of certainty."

If morals are so objective and proper moral action can be discerned within an actionable degree of certainty so easily <b>in this instance</b>, we wouldnt be having this debate. No, all you are saying is that waterboarding works in your subjective moral system. You simply think it is objective because you cant see beyond it.

freetobeyouandme (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 11:06am

Hmm, so the arguments for Torture amount to "the ends justify the means". This of course works because in all cases the person tortured "has actionable information" and knows of the location of the "ticking time bomb".

So based on this argument we would NEVER torture the wrong person or round up non-combatants, lock them up for years and give them no access to lawyers or any means to prove their innocence.

Is the argument also that we have some way of always catching the one person that knows the details of the plots? So anyone we catch MUST be a high level terrorist and have actionable intelligence?

Not to point fingers but this administrations past and continuing history of incompetence gives me no comfort that we are not routinely torturing innocents that simply were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Let me pose a question - What kind of a country would capture people based on heresay, spirit them to hidden prisons around the world and torture them for months if not years, then when realizing that the person wasn't involved in anything - oops, releasing him on a deserted road?

Tell me that we haven't already gone too far down that slippery slope...

Gian P Gentile

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 7:46am

Mr. Nuzzolillo:

Short question for you that involves elements of a hypothetical since i dont know much about you.

If you had a son or daughter, or younger brother or sister, and they were serving in the American army and were captured by "an enemy" would you accept waterboarding done on them as an interogation technique by the enemy since the "enemy" thought that they might have information that was deemed potentially "actionable?"

Jared Nuzzolillo (not verified)

Tue, 10/30/2007 - 1:45am

Thanks for remaining civil, walrus. We can agree to disagree. But you are also welcome to explain how the right to life is less important or less universal than the right to avoidance of torture. That is, unless you are a secular humanist _pacifist_, in which case I truly do humbly commend you on account of your consistency.

Of course if you are not a secular humanist, you can make up any religious reason for torture you care to name.

However if you believe in the universality of human rights, then you cannot logically deny them to anyone - including alleged terrorists.

Anyway its an academic argument now, since America has joined the ranks of the worlds totalitarian governments and admits it conducts torture against those it believes may be its opponents.

Jared Nuzzolillo (not verified)

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 11:04pm


I could be persuaded that a particular government should not be trusted with the power to torture, or even that legally defining "acceptable torture" is difficult to the point of inaction.

But that matter is wholly separate from the matter of whether it is logically possible to torture someone morally.

Do you agree in principle that such a thing is possible?


It is impossible to make a valid general moral argument against an action per se by appealing to a slippery slope. You may be able to make an argument against a specific use case or the granting of powers to perform the action, but you certainly cannot argue against an entire class of action in that manner. I am sure you are quite capable of imaging several of the limitless such arguments one could make against granting war powers to a government.

I did purposely use the word violence in my "to be clear" section. Now, we could argue over what constitutes violence, or we can skip that boring conversation and you could just agree that you instinctively and rationally understand the difference between lesser and greater crimes, and that dissimilar force can be justified to prevent or punish them. After all, following your logic, "Why don't we shoot ever criminal immediately to prevent further crimes? How can _you_ judge when it is fair to or not? If you are willing to use force to prevent crime, how do you decide how much?" And so on and so on...

The slippery slope is truly a slimy thing and can almost without fail be turned on its conjuror (unless they are relativsts in which case discussion is futile).

Best wishes.

To get to the ultimate point Jared, no government can be trusted with such powers because ultimately all have abused it and I fail to see why the United States Government should be any better.

You make wonderful fine distinctions - "Known" terrorists, "Defending" our country and so on. The fact is that nothing is ever so black and white, and the potential for abuse is simply frightening - and it will be abused if the apologists are not thrown from office.

I'm not sure if America's reputation is now even recoverable.

ReflectionEphemeral (not verified)

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 8:25pm

<i>One only need imagine that they are a father who has captured a man who belongs to a pedophilia ring that managed to kidnap his 2 year old daughter. In other words, the life of the innocent need not be in direct or immediate danger, nor must there be a high number of innocents in danger.</i>

Yep, that's where this is heading.

Once you accept that torture is a tool in the government's arsenal, why limit it to bad foreigners?

Why shouldn't we pass laws allowing the government to torture alleged murderers, or kidnappers, or large-scale embezzlers?

After all, the failure of Enron led to thousands of layoffs, bankruptcies, and decimated savings. If the directors had only been tortured once wrongdoing became apparent, maybe the company's collapse could have been averted. As long as the government inflicting torture on one person is counterbalanced by benefits to others, why refrain?

Jared Nuzzolillo (not verified)

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 8:20pm

"tdaxp-- please be aware that the use of gunfire has actually proved useful in real combat situations. The 'ticking time bomb' scenario, by contrast, has never actually happened in the real world."

That's not my understanding of the situation. While "torture doesn't work" sure makes for pleasant-sounding sloganeering, I am quite sure we've received actionable intelligence through the use of enhanced interrogation techniques.

Jared Nuzzolillo (not verified)

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 8:15pm

The last line in my most recent comment above should have read:

"I would never ever be able to forgive myself for allowing my daughter to be degraded in that way, *but* believe I would sleep well and without guilty conscious should I subject such a man to the minimum force possible *yet still sufficient* to rescue her."


Jared Nuzzolillo (not verified)

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 8:08pm

It's becoming too hard to keep up with all of these comments. I will say that the calamity affecting the commentor who rebuked the use of reason in understanding ethics is the root of the problem.

Others are just missing the point. No, of course the preservation of an evil regime does not supply sufficient warrant to torture an enemy -- but it also doesn't warrant raising a rifle and firing a single shot. An evil regime justly deserves destruction, so any act taken specifically in defense of it will likely be similarly evil.

The arguments mocking me as being an inept Moral Judge are inconsistent. As I have already pointed out, the decision to go to war is a moral decision, as is the decision to fire a weapon in the fog of combat, as is even the decision to implement severe economic sanctions on a regime. All of these have a far higher chance of causing undue, unjustified suffering on the innocent than does using harsh interrogation techniques on known terrorists (btw, I am far more comfortable using these techniques on admitted or well-known enemy operatives. It would be hard to justify this sort of treatment if the guilt of the person was truly and reasonably in question).

My arguments will surely ring hollow to those who lack the means or desire to understand and accept that morals are indeed objective and that proper moral action can be discerned within a reasonable and actionable degree of certainty. But those same people who don't accept the objectivity of ethics might as well stop carrying on about how we are trading our soul or honor or ideals for our defense. And for those who believe we cannot be certain that it is just to torture a man, I ask them how they are certain that a man deserves to die? The fact is, we *all* know that proper moral judgments are possible, as we constantly make them and expect our government to make them on our behalf. If one believes that morals are objective but cannot be known to an actionable degree of certainty, then one would be guilty of the most vile evil if one advocated or engaged in going to war, or indeed any act of force.

It is also interesting to note that some of those (here and elsewhere) who oppose the use of this category of force in defense of our nation would also not criminally punish men who justly decide to act in this way. But that gives lie to the argument from morality. Either it is an evil act that must always be punished, or there are grounds when it is morally justified.

To be clear: I am advocating that an actor is justified in using the minimum force possible, against a guilty party, sufficient to meet the goal of preventing unjustified violence against the undeserving. It is indeed up to the conscience and reason of the actor or party involved to determine just how much force is required and under which circumstances. To prevent accidents, I am comfortable with every manner of safeguard provided it doesn't sufficiently diminish the ability to prevent further harm to the innocents in question.

In any case, I am arguing less about what a particular law should or should not state, and more about whether one should so eagerly condemn those who make the decision to engage in this practice without regard to the entire moral context.

One need not imagine a ticking nuclear bomb, by the way. One only need imagine that they are a father who has captured a man who belongs to a pedophilia ring that managed to kidnap his 2 year old daughter. In other words, the life of the innocent need not be in direct or immediate danger, nor must there be a high number of innocents in danger. A single innocent babe in danger of being subjected to such inhuman cruelty deserves to be protected by any means necessary, provided one is certain they have collared a member of the ring. I would never ever be able to forgive myself for allowing my daughter to be degraded in that way, and believe I would sleep well and without guilty conscious should I subject such a man to the minimum force possible to rescue her.

ReflectionEphemeral (not verified)

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 8:07pm

<i>Presumably, we could use the same logic to make all gunfire illegal under the Uniform Code of Military Justice</i>

tdaxp-- please be aware that the use of gunfire has actually proved useful in real combat situations. The "ticking time bomb" scenario, by contrast, has never actually happened in the real world.

You are correct that <i>24</i> is an exciting television program.

It's just not clear to me how much weight that carries in discussions of American morality and strategy.

EL (not verified)

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 7:40pm

Demosophist wrote

<blockquote>it's incoherent to suggest that we can ethically use the technique on our own volunteers (for whatever pedagogical reasons) but that it must be out of bounds when applied to people who are willing to kill tens of thousands of Americans at a time, saw off our heads with a rusty blade, etc. I'd suggest that any technique that volunteers are willing to undergo is fair to apply to an enemy, provided that the extremity and duration of the application are comparable, and that similar monitoring methods are used.</blockquote>

There are several problems with this.
1. The purpose of using this on our own volunteers is to help them, in controlled circumstances, understand what they may face if captured. The purpose during interrogation is to force someone to tell things that he doesnt want to tell, (if he even knows them). So I dont see how the two situations will ever be "equivalent in extremity duration and application."

2. A key word in your paragraph is "volunteers." Our guys are volunteers, and know this is a part of the SERE course. They also know that those running the course will do everything possible to avoid real damage.

3. This is akin to some of the rhetoric that was used about Abu Ghraib. Some argued because some men might volunteer for a fraternity initiation where panties are placed on mens heads, that made it OK to do it those who are not volunteers. Corollary questions: Because some may volunteer and even eagerly participate in auto-erotic asphyxiation, does that make it OK to do non-volunteers? Because members of the Polar Bear club volunteer to swim in icy water, is it OK to force prisoners to do that?

I agree with the articles author that the answer is "no." And I thank him and commend him for giving us the benefit of his experience and knowledge.

dan tdaxp

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 7:36pm

<i>If the Hollywood screenwriter's scenario of a ticking time bomb ever actually happens on Planet Earth-- which, to date, it has not-- then Jack Bauer will have to hope for a pardon, prosecutorial discretion, or a sympathetic jury.</i>

Presumably, we could use the same logic to make all gunfire illegal under the Uniform Code of Military Justice -- after all, if it was <i>really</i> necessary, surely the soldier would not be convicted.

r4d20 (not verified)

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 6:49pm

<i>If the Hollywood screenwriter's scenario of a ticking time bomb ever actually happens on Planet Earth-- which, to date, it has not-- then Jack Bauer will have to hope for a pardon, prosecutorial discretion, or a sympathetic jury.</i>

Hear! Hear!

1. Two Words: "Jury Nullification". There are circumstances under which I would not convict even if I knew he was guilty.

2. The threat of prosecution helps to ensure that it only ever happens when the people involved thinks the situation serious enough to risk their own asses. It also give the people who order the techniques an incentive to make damn sure that they have the right guy and solid intelligence and keeps them from making mistakes out of sloppiness or impatience (like the German we kidnapped and tortured for months solely because his name was <i>superficially similar</i> to that of a known terrorist. "Whoops. Sorry about that. No hard feelings, eh?")

3. Has anyone else noticed that the people who most eagerly defend torture of known terrorists under extraordinary circumstances are also the people most opposed to any safeguards designed to protect the innocent or keep such practices restricted to circumstances that really are extraordinary?

dan tdaxp

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 6:47pm


"Dan, No, I don't believe torture is ever justified morally or legally. I was merely pointing out that the utilitarian argument FOR torture fails on any number of purely utilitarian grounds."

Perhaps it's better to distinguish your arguments. After all, <a href="">technical arguments pro and con are best handled by experts</a>, because domain-specific knowledge becomes very important.

"Simply applying the espionage techniques developed since WW1 almost completely neutralizes the value of torture. These techniques include: need to know, a cellular organisation, dead letter drops, cut outs and any number of other techniques that can be found in any of Le Carre's novels."

Indeed, and any of a large number of counter-measures defeats any large number of measures. But often, for whatever reason, a counter-measure isn't used.

"Of course once one accepts the utilitarian argument, then of course there are others who could do with a good "torturin", starting with accused kidnappers, drug dealers, gang members, etc. all for the greater good of course."

Not sure why you used the non-standard form "torturin'" I assume you are trying to tie support to torture to some unpopular ethnic group (given the construction, either southern vernacular or african-american vernacular). (Of course, your motive for using it is as irrelevant as whatever point you were trying to make by using it.)

Anyway, the point you raise is a good one. The answer is that the police power of the state is much more limited than its military power (except in case of rebellion, where they become indistinguishable). This is why, for instance, the military was able to force law schools to accept recruiters would why the FBI would not be (Rumsfeld v. FAIR).

Dan, No, I don't believe torture is ever justified morally or legally. I was merely pointing out that the utilitarian argument FOR torture fails on any number of purely utilitarian grounds.

Simply applying the espionage techniques developed since WW1 almost completely neutralizes the value of torture. These techniques include: need to know, a cellular organisation, dead letter drops, cut outs and any number of other techniques that can be found in any of Le Carre's novels.

Of course once one accepts the utilitarian argument, then of course there are others who could do with a good "torturin", starting with accused kidnappers, drug dealers, gang members, etc. all for the greater good of course.

AZgirl (not verified)

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 6:12pm

When it comes to extrating information from military combatants, are harsh methods acceptable? Oh, yeah. They are not only acceptable, they are NECESSARY.

Sometimes I think that the critics of military interrogation tactics have been subconsciously influenced by the police dramas on TV. After all, Starsky and Hutch could draw out a confession just by playing "Good Cop, Bad Cop". And today on Law & Order Criminal Intent and CSI Miami, all it takes to make a suspect crack and tell all is to get in their face while tilting your neck.

Cara Segwick on The Closer really applies the pressure, though. She bats her eyes and uses a southern accent to get her confessions (no head tilt needed).

TV's portrayal of successful interrogative methods has come a ways since the days when Perry Mason was always able to get the guilty party to leap to his/her feet in a courtroom and proclaim their guilt. There's a general public awareness now that harsher methods are required, but everyone realizes that Liberals have hamstrung our police interrogators.

Before we legislate exactly "who and how" can be effectively interrogated by our military and homeland security personnel, we should stop and think. Don't just react instinctively.

Obviously, we are going to need to find the middle ground in all of this. The best answer to the crises we face isn't going to always be in the extremes as it was when we were forced into firebombing and nuking Japanese cities in WWII.

I agree with everything we did in WWII. Extreme warfare requires extreme responses.

Not to sound Lincolnesque here, but we are now engaged in a great war that will test not only our resolve, but also our treasure and most importantly, the principles we are fighting to defend.

The question seems to be, "How low will we go?"

r4d20 (not verified)

Mon, 10/29/2007 - 5:52pm

1. Every professional who speaks out against this makes a contribution. Thank you for adding your voice and "street-cred" to those who do not think 24 is a counter-terrorist "how-to" manual.

2. The "ticking time bomb scenario" isn't just unrealistic - it is often so farcical that it appears to be based on deliberate lies.

During one of the first Republican debates there was a hypothetical question regarding the interrogation of a team of suicide bombers who were captured before their mission. The question stipulated (paraphrased) "....we have good reason to believe that they know about other, more terrible, attacks in the future" and then asked the candidates if they would approve "enhanced interrogation techniques" on the would-be bombers.

When I saw this I jumped up and screamed at the TV <b>"Why THE F*** would a suicide bomber be told the details of any plots except the one he is going to DIE IN???!! "</b> Are we really to believe that OBL told these would-be martyrs "Oh, and before you go let me tell you the operational details of an attack we will be launching after you are already dead. In fact, since you are going to be dead anyways I guess there is no harm in telling you <i>exactly where we are hiding the bomb</i>".

Al Queda is NOT stupid and they know there is nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by telling details of plots to people who do not need to know them, are not going to take part in them, and are actually <i>supposed to die</i> before the attacks take place.

You know the debate in this country is in sorry shape when an obviously contrived and unrealistic scenario, premised on the unwarranted assumption that our enemy is more loose-lipped than a drunk woman with tourettes, can be put forward without a single candidate or member of the press pointing out that the entire premise is so divorced from reality as to be, simply, "bullshit".

Many Theoreticians of Torture are great examples of "Ivory Tower" philosophers who refuse to dirty their hands with real-world constraints and practicalities, allow "pure reason" to take them along paths that stray far from reality. We have listened to them for years, to our own peril. We should be listening to people like Mr. Nance instead.