Torture. I’m not for torture.  The term has gotten tossed around a lot lately, and I fear that it is going the way of the term ‘war crime’—if it includes just about every treatment we are somewhat uncomfortable with, it isn’t useful. The International Red Cross seems to want to ban any "system devised to break the will of the prisoners [and] make them wholly dependent on their interrogators.

Frankly, I think that is ridiculous.  I'm not a torture advocate.  Not in the mythical ticking bomb scenario, and obviously not for anything less than that.  But we can't entirely eviscerate interrogations either.

Therefore I would like to talk about practices which should be acceptable for interrogations. Not all unacceptable practices would be torture, though all true torture would be unacceptable. I'm not going to try to find an organizing principle yet, I'm just reviewing my intuitions. So I'm going to list some practices that I've heard about or thought about and give my first impression of where they belong on such a scale. If you believe that all or nearly all interrogation ought to be illegal, don't bother objecting to each one. Make your general argument.  If you believe that some are misclassified, please feel free to explain.  Please remember, if I have classified something as 'torture' it isn't acceptable in my rubric.

  • Hacking off someone's finger--torture.
  • Electrocuting someone--torture.
  • Branding someone--torture.
  • Whipping someone--torture.
  • Raping someone--torture.
  • Beating someone--torture.
  • Offering someone a cigarette--not torture and should be acceptable.
  • Messing with someone's sleep cycles in non-critical fashion--not torture, acceptable.
  • Yelling--not typically torture.
  • Feeding a Muslim pork--not torture, but let's talk about this one.
  • Pretending to transport someone to another place--not torture, acceptable.
  • Giving someone chocolate--apparently illegal but not torture, I don't agree with the idea that you can't offer preferential treatment to elicit information.
  • Attacking someone's pride--not generally torture but we should talk about the specifics.

  • Harming an innocent beloved by the subject--torture.
  • Threatening to harm an innocent beloved by the subject--I'm not sure, but what do you do if they call your bluff?
  • Harming an accomplice of the subject in a non-torturous fashion--I don't know.
  • Threatening to harm an accomplice--not torture, but the objection about what happens when you get called on it also applies.
  • Non-injury temperature controls and shifts--not torture and probably acceptable in most cases.
  • Non-harmful dietary manipulation--not torture and ought to be acceptable.

Feel free to discuss other practices.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at January 12, 2005 3:05 AM