A Theocon Against Torture

Finally. This small essay seems to me to get to one of the critical issues. Although any single technique approved by Bush and Cheney (apart from waterboarding) could, if used minimally, not amount to torture, each technique used maximally could, and all the techniques combined, as they were, are indisputably legal and moral torture:

For not everything that could be held out as a motive for confession is intrinsically wrong: some level of discomfort, some absence of amenities, and some subsequent improvement of circumstances surely do not rise to the level of torture if offered as reasons for a subject’s compliance, and in some cases are probably not unreasonably utilized by interrogators.

Yet taken en masse, the range of enhanced interrogation techniques looks very much like a strategy for breaking down hardened characters bit by bit; standing naked, shackled, deprived of sleep, kept awake with cold water and loud noise, prevented from cleaning oneself after defecation, and subject to painful (though not physically damaging) slaps and disorienting smacks against a walland then subject to repeated waterboarding over a course of weeks or months: this looks like precisely the sort of choice described by Lee and myself (though I do not, of course, speak for Lee in drawing my conclusions), viz., the choice to disrupt an agent’s capacities for personal integrity by disrupting his control over his emotions, choices, self-awareness and self-image, connection to other human beings, and judgments.

If so, then neither legal distinctions between this and the infliction of severe pain and suffering, nor consequentialist judgments about national security, nor even reasonable awareness that these terrorists were bad people, and that the US was in a very difficult situation, making hard choices under considerable stress with, in most cases, the good of the country in view, should obscure the judgment that these approaches involved torture. This judgment should especially guide us in going forward: we should repudiate such techniques across all intelligence gathering operations, as was done in the Army Field Manual for Human Intelligence Collector Operations and resolve to hold such operations to the highest moral standards. But we should hope that such a resolve is possible without descent into the politicizing and partisanship that threatens to knock any effort at serious moral self-criticism off course.