Thursday, December 01, 2005

What's "torture?"

I'm troubled by the notion that torture is wrong and we should never use it. Not that I disagree, mind you, but I see a lot of rhetoric about how it may be necessary, with counterarguments like once it's approved for extraordinary circumstances it will eventually become acceptable for the most trivial of transgressions; and rhetoric about how we must maintain a zero tolerance policy toward torture, with counterarguments that there is no apparent provision for stopping short of putting prisoners up in five-star hotels, or better yet, refraining from detaining them at all.

I'm sure there are some folks out there who can make sensible compromises, who acknowledge the evil, the unacceptableness, of torture, without becoming lost in the opposite error of equating everything more dire than mild annoyance to brutal abuse. However, I haven't seen them on any talking heads shows, or elsewhere in the MSM, and I haven't found them in the blogosphere yet. I'm not terribly surprised, what with prisoners in this country, who actually have convictions to their name, suing over the lousy selection of cable TV channels in their penitentiaries.

That we're even having this debate suggests to me that we haven't slid far down either slippery slope, at least yet, and I take some comfort from it. The little coverage I've seen hasn't been very constructive; it's not even clear that most of the folks on either side even recognize the valid concerns that the other has...well, by "most" I mean the noisy people who take it upon themselves to speak for those of like mind. The quieter ones probably have a more balanced attitude, but I wouldn't put a lot of money on them having a really clear philosophy or workable standards the whole civilized world could follow. No, I don't have a solution either, other than following my gut, but without fixating on the problem, the problem should still be clearly defined before we get ahead of ourselves.

We're probably to a point where we can try to move forward now, though. Any takers?

1 comment:

Ed Pie said...

Just to recap, in light of recent discussions:

Torture = bad
bad = not good

Torture > detaining POWs
Torture < physical and/or emotional abuse

These last two items are the upper and lower threshholds for the severity of activity that might constitute torture, and have been pushed like boundaries in the public sphere (I understand military codes are already more explicit, although the soldiers and their ilk on the ground are where the rubber really meets the road here) by people who either would stop at nothing or would stop at anything in the attempt to secure our strategic position.

I'm just looking for a functional definition that is more rigorous than a battlefield catch-and-release policy but stops far short of diminishing the dignity of either prisoner or guard. If we can establish a justifiable definition, beyond simply standardizing some guidelines, then we'll be doing much more good than if we just tell people "Yah, you can do anything you want, short of these particular things."