THE BLOG
05/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The "Beautiful Kidnapper" and Other Simple Responses to Torture Arguments

The ticking time bomb. We've been hearing about it for years, but it's never actually happened. Yet its constantly being brought up - to justify torture in thousands of situations where there is no ticking time bomb. What kind of sense does that make?

Here's an analogy: It's possible to imagine a scenario where the only way to free kidnapped children is by having sex with the beautiful woman who is holding them hostage. (Call it the 'beautiful kidnapper' scenario.) What we're seeing now is the moral equivalent of a roomful of cheating husbands, all citing the 'beautiful kidnapper' scenario - to justify their affairs with women they picked up in a bar.

The next time somebody mentions the 'ticking time bomb' scenario, hit 'em with 'the beautiful kidnapper' - then ask them if they believe in marriage and the family. Here are some other handy responses in case you, like so many other Americans, find yourself in a debate about torture policy:

Torture advocates say they're being more 'realistic' than torture opponents. Oh, really? Then why do the experts - the generals, the FBI, law enforcement officials - all say that torture is a bad idea? Short answer: The amateurs like torture. The professionals are against it.

Oh -- and a follow-up response: Why do you suppose all these amateurs are so excited about the torture scenario? Some psychological self-evaluation may be in order.

People who object to torture want to be 'nice to terrorists.'
The people who make this argument are usually the same people who don't want you to even mention right-wing terrorism, much less use 'enhanced interrogation techniques' on far-right suspects. Remember, many of the people caught up in our Middle Eastern dragnets weren't terrorists. Some were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or were turned in out of personal vendettas or for bounty money. How would these American torture advocates respond if we started picking up right-wing militia types in the same sort of dragnets and using torture techniques on them?

What if there's a 'ticking time bomb' and (insert large number here) of children will die unless we find it? If there ever is a ticking time bomb scenario, torture is even more likely to yield bad information. The experts say people give false leads and bad information when they're tortured. In a 'ticking time bomb' situation, they'd only need to stall for 60 minutes, or six hours, or whatever's been set on the timer. We're more likely to rescue those children by using the techniques our military and intelligence experts tell us really work.

It's not really "torture." It's just 'getting wet,' or 'playing mind games,' or whatever else you'd like to say it is. Here's a simple thought experiment: Picture it happening to Americans. Does it seem like torture now? Right. That's one of the reasons the generals oppose it.

Obama's national security guy says torture works sometimes. Actually, what Dennis Blair said was far more parsed and wordsmithed than that. He said: "High value information came from interrogations in which [torture] w[as] used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa'ida organization ..." He's dancing around the subject, perhaps to appease the intelligence community. But he's not exactly saying that torture worked. And he was contradicted by an FBI interrogator who explained why torture doesn't work.

We got good intelligence at least once from torture.
This is a variation on the Blair argument. Presumably it's true, too, although we don't know for sure. But the issue is probability. We're far more likely to get good intelligence from other techniques. I may drive drunk and get home safely, but that's not a defense for driving drunk. With torture we're more likely to get bad information than good -- and we're destroying our reputation, subjecting our citizens to greater risk, and lowering ourselves morally.

Oh, and we're breaking the law -- if anybody cares.

It's a "hard left" vendetta. First of all, there is no "hard left" in this country. I haven't seen any Trotskyites in the halls of Congress lately, much less Stalinists. Jon Meacham - and anyone else who uses that phrase - has tipped their hand with his choice of words. They're smearing people with whom they disagree, probably because they recognize the fundamental weakness of their argument.

Jon Meacham et al: Since when is obedience to the law "extreme"? And are those Army and Marine generals cited above members of the "hard left"?

An investigation would be Democratic partisanship. It's odd. A few months ago a bipartisan panel agreed that the Bush Administration's torture policies "redefined the law to create the appearance of (torture's) legality" and "damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority." Not a single Republican Senator objected. Now that investigations could begin - investigations that might embarrass the GOP - Republicans and their media allies are blocking it.

That sounds like Republican partisanship, doesn't it?

Jay Bybee and the other attorneys shouldn't be punished for holding different opinions than their peers. It's not about a difference of opinion. Bybee and the others had constitutional and professional responsibilities. If they deliberately wrote opinions they knew to be false just to create a legal-looking cover for illegal activities, they could be subject to disbarment and possible criminal proceedings. That's why we need an investigation.

I still say that torture works. Did we mention that the experts say that it doesn't?

Well, it works on '24.' 24 is a show with a partisan right-wing ideology. Imagine how people would react if a West Point general had gone to "The West Wing" or "The Daily Show," told them their program was endangering our troops, and asked them to stop - and had been blown off. Well, that's what 24 did to Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan after he asked them to tone down the torture porn. Too bad the show's producers aren't patriotic Americans who want to support our troops ...

___________

I saw an old friend last week who's a World Trade Center survivor. He told me that he doesn't object to 'a little rough treatment' of the people who carried out that attack. But that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about people who had nothing to do with it. And this 'rough treatment' is helping Al Qaeda recruit thousands of new people willing to carry out just those kinds of attacks.

And we're not even getting good information out of it. The fact is, nobody's defending these torture policies except the amateurs. And the partisans. And those who don't want lawbreakers brought to justice.

Who's "tough on crime" now?

RJ Eskow blogs when he can at:

A Night Light
The Sentinel Effect: Healthcare Blog

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