links for 2007-11-18

On the Uselessness of "Torture Hypotheticals"

The highly intelligent and moral--if right-wing--Sebastian Holsclaw tells a few home truths, as he sees them:

Obsidian Wings: On Torture Hypotheticals--Conservative Perspective: I've written on the topic before, but a recent post by Patterico convinced me to revisit it.... My answer to his hypothetical is 'yes.'... In extreme situations, where you know that the person knows the information, and you need an immediate answer, IF it were effective, I wouldn't shed too many tears over 3 minutes of waterboarding.... My answer to what I think lies behind the hypothetical is rather different.  The hypothetical has nothing to do with the discussion of whether or not we (the United States) ought to be torturing people.  One of the key things that conservatives ought to remember (and which we notice all the time in liberal proposals) is that INTENTIONS DO NOT EQUAL OUTCOMES.  The government is horribly incompetent at all sorts of things and we ought not abandon that insight when analyzing proposals of people who allege that they are our allies (the idea that Bush is a conservative ally is something I'd like to argue about on another day--but my short answer is that he isn't).... I don't trust the governmen.... Bush's administration has tortured men who not only didn't know anything about what they were being tortured about, but weren't even affiliated with Al Qaeda. 

Let me say that again.  Bush's administration has tortured men who were factually innocent. 

Not men who got off on technicalities.  Factually Innocent. 

Your hypothetical demands that the government be CERTAIN of the following things:

This man is who we think he is.

This man knows what we think he knows.

No non-torture technique will work.

Patterico, you work with the government.  You know for a fact that it gets things wrong all the time.  Even when we go through the huge and complicated process of a trial, it gets things wrong.  And we aren't talking anything like a trial here.  In reality, we are talking about torturing suspects.  That is not a power to be given to the government.

Your hypothetical doesn't speak to the question of what the policy of our government ought to be, because no important part of the hypothetical actually has anything to do with the empirical reality of governmental torture.  You pride yourself at not being distracted by stated intentions which have bad consequences in areas like rent control, housing policy, and education policy.  Don't let Bush wave the national security flag and make you forget everything you know about how the government actually operates.