Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Torture or Not: Con vs. LIb

The public debate started by the release of the torture memos illustrates another difference between conservatives and liberals. The arguments go as follows:

Liberals: Torture is an abomination. Our influence in the world depends on the favorable opinions that people in other countries have of us. We used to have the reputation that we did not torture captives. Now that reputation is lost and we will have to work for many years to regain it.

Conservatives: Torture is an important means of gaining information about the plans of our enemy. In some cases it is the only means of getting crucial information in time to avert a catastrophe. As far as our reputation is concerned, it is more important for the United States to be feared and respected than to be loved. Our strong military and our determination to do whatever it takes to achieve our goals make us respected and feared.

L: Torture is not only an abominaton, but the information it yields is not reliable. A person may make up things and tell his interrogator whatever he thinks he wants to hear just to make the torture stop.

C: Don't forget the case of the ticking time bomb in central New York. 10,000 people may die if we dont find it and defuse it in time. Torture may be the only way to get that information in time.

L: The "ticking time bomb" is a rare situation and presents a hard case. Hard cases make bad law. It is not wise to base public policy on a hypothetical incident that occurs rarely. Besides, if a determined terrorist knows when the bomb is set to go off, he would be willing to endure torture for a time until he knows it is too late to defuse the bomb. The history of torture shows that information gathered by torture is slow to come and unreliable.

Etc., etc., etc. The argument proceeds. Some information is now coming out about how effective torture actually was in obtaining important information. Some experts claim that the most important pieces of information were obtained from some suspects before the harsh interrogation techniques (i.e., torture) were used on them. Other experts claim that torture was effective.

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