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Peripeteia
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A.G., I think you're taking my words to mean something they don't. What I meant was, your arguments about "What would our government do if there were no aggressors, if everyone was law-abiding, etc" are irrelevant because there ARE aggressors, people ARE NOT law abiding, etc. Arguing for or against torture in a context divorced from the concrete reality we experience here and now simply does not make sense.

A capitalist government would be the most productive of any other type of government, and would encourage the most technological innovation. Also, morale among the soldiers would be extremely high, due to the freedoms they possess that few other nations would come close to allowing. During times of war, espionage is a legitimate avenue of information gathering, and could provide any information necessary. Consider why we feel the need to torture to begin with - because somebody knows something that our technology and/or soldiers cannot determine. We would rather figure out information through conventional means before torturing somebody. Torturing is a (brutish) method of last resort, considering this context.

Productive, certainly, innovative, certainly. But what are we producing? What innovations do we have? I wouldn't doubt that our factories would be more efficient, but that's not the issue. Are our factories producing weapons, or consumer goods? We can be as efficient as we want, but if we produce the wrong kind or mix of things, we can still lose. Think Simpson's Paradox. You have also identified torture as a last resort, which I see as a concession that it might just be necessary.

@ Dan: Effectiveness in preventing infringements of our rights is certainly a consideration. I think it's also important to ask if torture might also be in itself a threat to our rights, considering that government has historically (though certainly not always) misused power delegated to it for legitimate purposes. Also, we have no necessary indication that a suspect is, in fact, a criminal/terrorist, or the extent of his knowledge. No one advocating torture has indicated what happens in the case of someone who is wrongfully tortured, or what means would be used to screen out innocents? I have not resolved these issues (and others I've mentioned before), but at the very least let's not go off half-cocked.

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  • 1 year later...

We had a debate in my class the other day regarding torture. I also had to do research. In this class we do a different topic for debate each week and theres selected teams (this is part of our grade) for each week, but anyone can ask questions afterwards. This got me to thinking a bit on this.

I have not been able to find any information on what the standard position is on torture by Objectivism (if there is one?). As well as, if it is to be utilized, in what scenarios such would be acceptable.

Personally, I stand on the non-torture side as I believe it is not an effective means of producing reliable information the vast majority of the time, and my personal research as well as that debate seems to confirm this.

So what I am basically asking is if there is a standard argument for or against torture as the standard Oist position, and I would like to drum up some discussion on this because I am curious where everyone stands on this.

What I have realized through this course of events re: my college class is that most people are extremely uninformed on interrogation procedures in general, as well as the history of torture and its effectiveness. I have yet to hear a good case as to why it should be allowed. I used to be pro-torture up until my freshman year of College, and it does not look like I am going to change my new stance on it, but I am curious if an Objectivist has a unique argument I have not heard of before.

I plan on writing a comprehensive essay for my Objectivist-oriented blog/website in the relatively near future so this is also why I am bringing this up.

Edited by CapitalistSwine
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Wouldn't it depend on the circumstances? If you have someone in custody who knows the whereabouts of a child who will die within hours if not found, I say, smack his head around but good, assuming you have good faith belief that he has info/involvement. If you have a suspect and just want a confession/information, I believe torture is inappropriate. BTW, I don't mean mideval kind of torture. Maybe a punch to the jaw?

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Could you recommend any information on the effectiveness and/or reliability of torture? I think most people just make the assumption that, although they might object to it on moral grounds, it's an effective way to get accurate intel. That certainly seems to be how it's portrayed in the media; I can think of a few cases that give the impression that with modern interrogation techniques, "Everybody talks."

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Could you recommend any information on the effectiveness and/or reliability of torture? I think most people just make the assumption that, although they might object to it on moral grounds, it's an effective way to get accurate intel. That certainly seems to be how it's portrayed in the media; I can think of a few cases that give the impression that with modern interrogation techniques, "Everybody talks."

I work tomorrow and a few other things I need to take care of. So I am not sure if it will be tomorrow, and if so, at what time, but I can throw a host of information up here on that, no problem. I do have some pretty good information if I recall, and I am sure I could fine more if anyone asks for it.

It is one of the main reasons I changed my mind on the issue [i went from its moral (because they are enemies) and effective->its immoral but effective->its immoral and the grand majority of the time ineffective], because, well, most people think torture is just like it is in all of the movies, and that tv show 24, but apparently its nothing like that based on the interrogation manuals I have read etc.

Edited by CapitalistSwine
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I have yet to hear a good case as to why it should be allowed.

Because evil people sometimes have verifiable information that can help us defeat their plans. Why wouldn't we torture them to get that information, if it will lead to preventing a massacre of innocents?

Personally, I stand on the non-torture side as I believe it is not an effective means of producing reliable information the vast majority of the time, and my personal research as well as that debate seems to confirm this.

Is there a time when it is an effective means of obtaining information? If not, why are you saying "the vast majority of the time"? Why aren't you saying "always"?

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Because evil people sometimes have verifiable information that can help us defeat their plans. Why wouldn't we torture them to get that information, if it will lead to preventing a massacre of innocents?

Because the negative of it far outweigh any of its positives.

Is there a time when it is an effective means of obtaining information? If not, why are you saying "the vast majority of the time"? Why aren't you saying "always"?

1) There is the "ticking time-bomb" scenario, however this scenario just doesn't happen because this is not how terrorists operate.

2) Because we are dealing with humans here, when implementing something on human beings there is usually a common response by the vast majority, however, there are hardly ever no outliers/exceptions. I am being realistic about this. I still do not feel it should be done however, my reasons will be quite clear once I provide the links with information.

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Because the negative of it far outweigh any of its positives.

What negative?

there are hardly ever no outliers/exceptions.

Right, I deduced that from your use of the expression "the vast majority of the time" instead of "always". My question was what are the exceptions?

It is a relevant question, since those exceptions are when we should use torture.

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What negative?

Right, I deduced that from your use of the expression "the vast majority of the time" instead of "always". My question was what are the exceptions?

It is a relevant question, since those exceptions are when we should use torture.

Except for the issue is that these exceptions are not context-dependent, so we cannot set a guideline for when it should be used. They are dependent on the person. I will be posting links later tonight. It also seems, according to precedent, that having 'exceptions' regarding the use of torture quickly turns into full blown secretive torture, not unlike the operations of the United States, which is one of the negative features I am referring to, which is why I feel torture should be off the table.

Edited by CapitalistSwine
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"It also seems, according to precedent, that having 'exceptions' regarding the use of torture quickly turns into full blown secretive torture, not unlike the operations of the United States, which is one of the negative features I am referring to, which is why I feel torture should be off the table."

Putting aside the question of how effective it may be and when, if the problem is rule breakers, how do you think making the reasonable against the rules along with the unreasonable is going to solve the problem? That's like banning people from owning guns for self defense and hunting to try to solve the problem of people using guns to break rules against assault and murder.

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"It also seems, according to precedent, that having 'exceptions' regarding the use of torture quickly turns into full blown secretive torture, not unlike the operations of the United States, which is one of the negative features I am referring to, which is why I feel torture should be off the table."

Putting aside the question of how effective it may be and when, if the problem is rule breakers, how do you think making the reasonable against the rules along with the unreasonable is going to solve the problem? That's like banning people from owning guns for self defense and hunting to try to solve the problem of people using guns to break rules against assault and murder.

But to counter that logic remember that Rand's rationale for not having mandatory taxation even for the government's legitimate functions was that once given an opening they would use it to justify taking further liberties.

These "ticking time bomb scenarios" are mostly fiction.

Even when they aren't someone being tortured is often far more likely to tell you what they think you want to hear than the truth.

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Except for the issue is that these exceptions are not context-dependent, so we cannot set a guideline for when it should be used.

I don't know what context-dependent means, but I know that if something exists, it can be described using language. So, if there are instances when torture works, we can set guidelines that limit its use to those instances just fine.

Or at least I'm not aware of anything, in the history of human languages, that exists but cannot be defined. I doubt this will end up being the first such thing.

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"It also seems, according to precedent, that having 'exceptions' regarding the use of torture quickly turns into full blown secretive torture, not unlike the operations of the United States, which is one of the negative features I am referring to, which is why I feel torture should be off the table."

Putting aside the question of how effective it may be and when, if the problem is rule breakers, how do you think making the reasonable against the rules along with the unreasonable is going to solve the problem? That's like banning people from owning guns for self defense and hunting to try to solve the problem of people using guns to break rules against assault and murder.

No the gun issue is not even close to the same thing. You misunderstand what I mean. I do not believe it is reasonable in any instance. Instances such as the "ticking time bomb" scenario never happen because of the way terrorist cells operate, and there are very very very few instances where it seems to have actually been effective and even then the actual hard evidence of that is disputable (from what I have found at least, and trust me I have been looking), there are externalities to torture that greatly outweigh the benefit gained from a few exception cases in which we cannot seem to determine, while other methods that are not torture are much more effective and do not possess these negative externalities. I apologize for continuing to push back the date of me putting stuff in here. My week has just been insane and most of this posting of mine has been from computers other than my own so I do not have easy access to the information I want to provide at these times. I will post it as soon as I am able.

Edited by CapitalistSwine
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But to counter that logic remember that Rand's rationale for not having mandatory taxation even for the government's legitimate functions was that once given an opening they would use it to justify taking further liberties.

These "ticking time bomb scenarios" are mostly fiction.

Even when they aren't someone being tortured is often far more likely to tell you what they think you want to hear than the truth.

Is that really her rationale against taxes? Isn't the rationale against taxes that it is still theft no matter what they're using it for? I think I've heard something like what you paraphrased there before, but from what I recall thinking at the time, if I do recall correctly, all that really told me was that you can't well reign in and stick to allowing just a little bit of injustice from the government anymore than you can rein in and stick to allowing and containing just a little bit of irrationality in your thinking. Contradictions (of which letting the government be an exception to having to respect rights is one) are a can of worms, you let one or two of them slide, they can easily take a whole lot more along with them.

No the gun issue is not even close to the same thing. You misunderstand what I mean. I do not believe it is reasonable in any instance. Instances such as the "ticking time bomb" scenario never happen because of the way terrorist cells operate, and there are very very very few instances where it seems to have actually been effective and even then the actual hard evidence of that is disputable (from what I have found at least, and trust me I have been looking), there are externalities to torture that greatly outweigh the benefit gained from a few exception cases in which we cannot seem to determine, while other methods that are not torture are much more effective and do not possess these negative externalities. I apologize for continuing to push back the date of me putting stuff in here. My week has just been insane and most of this posting of mine has been from computers other than my own so I do not have easy access to the information I want to provide at these times. I will post it as soon as I am able.

I want to know what, if anything, aside from thinking it is generally impractical, you have against it. That is why I started my post saying this was aside from the general effectiveness question. If it is ineffective, then if there are other options that are more effective, yes, you should use those other options. Simple as that. But, it sounded like you had more objections than just that you have reason to believe it isn't really reliably typically effective. You say you do not think it is reasonable in *any* instance, but then say there are some rare cases where it maybe was in fact effective. Do you think it is unreasonable always because even when it may rarely perhaps be effective there are always, always, always, always without any possible exception more effective options? If so, name some examples please of other options there that you can be sure will ALWAYS, without possible exception, be there and more effective any time somebody may consider using torture. My guns comment was made thinking that some things in your post implied every once in a blue moon, there was a time when torture may be reliably effective and/or the only option anybody can come up with anyway, but that even in these cases you would want it banned because of people who break rules anyway. If you do not think there is ever any time when it is the most effective or only option, that changes things. I'll wait to comment any further until this much is clarified to me.

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So, if there are instances when torture works, we can set guidelines that limit its use to those instances just fine.

Unless there's no way to know beforehand whether it will work in this particular instance. If most people respond to torture by, say, telling you what you want to hear, but a few people respond by telling the truth, the fact that it sometimes works isn't helpful unless you have some way of telling the two types of people apart beforehand.

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Unless there's no way to know beforehand whether it will work in this particular instance. If most people respond to torture by, say, telling you what you want to hear, but a few people respond by telling the truth,

I want to hear the truth, so that distinction is not really a distinction. Do you mean that some subjects can lie endlessly, even if the information sought is verifiable and the interrogator knows when they're lying? I doubt that.

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I want to hear the truth, so that distinction is not really a distinction. Do you mean that some subjects can lie endlessly, even if the information sought is verifiable and the interrogator knows when they're lying? I doubt that.

If the interrogator knows enough to know when a person is lying then there is no practical reason to even ask the questions much less torture someone to get information you already know.

Intelligence by its very nature has a shelf life. Only the most senior people in these organizations know any operational details useful past 24 or 48 hours and as soon as one of the people that DO know something is taken for interrogation the plans are changed. Do you honestly believe that Terrorists would not have struck the US at some point if the 9/11 hijackers had been discovered before their attack?

From conversations I've had with colleagues in the intelligence community the understanding I have is that good old-fashioned interrogation - not torture but by no means some UN sanctioned definition of interrogation that precludes such things as sleep deprivation or prolonged standing as "torture" - is much more effective at gathering useful legitimate intelligence.

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If the interrogator knows enough to know when a person is lying then there is no practical reason to even ask the questions much less torture someone to get information you already know.

Intelligence by its very nature has a shelf life. Only the most senior people in these organizations know any operational details useful past 24 or 48 hours and as soon as one of the people that DO know something is taken for interrogation the plans are changed.

You're looking at intelligence as a collection of independent bits, that exist in a vacuum, independently from each other. That couldn't be further from reality.

Usually, a piece of information that becomes available to an intelligence agency can be fitted into a broader picture, to either be corroborated by previous knowledge, or confirm some other source's validity. The process is exactly the same as any human would go about forming a coherent picture of the reality around him, except the bits of information are harder to find (therefor making every piece far more important).

So it's not true that bothering to ask questions that have verifiable answers is pointless. Far from it.

Do you honestly believe that Terrorists would not have struck the US at some point if the 9/11 hijackers had been discovered before their attack?

Yes.

From conversations I've had with colleagues in the intelligence community the understanding I have is that good old-fashioned interrogation - not torture but by no means some UN sanctioned definition of interrogation that precludes such things as sleep deprivation or prolonged standing as "torture" - is much more effective at gathering useful legitimate intelligence.

So information has a 24 to 48 hour shelf life, and sleep deprivation is a great way to obtain useful information? It's one or the other. Which is it?

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I want to hear the truth, so that distinction is not really a distinction. Do you mean that some subjects can lie endlessly, even if the information sought is verifiable and the interrogator knows when they're lying? I doubt that.

That's not what I mean. I mean that if you have a technique, and you know in the abstract it produces true information 10% of the time, you still have no idea whether you've gotten true information from applying that technique in a particular instance. It's unrealistic to say that once you get a response from torture, you can just "go out into the world" and verify it or falsify it. If you could do that, you wouldn't need torture.

My point is simply this: the fact that torture works in a few cases is entirely unhelpful if each torture session doesn't come with a label that says, "It worked!" or "Awww, you got false information. Try again!"

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  • 3 weeks later...

Took me longer than expected:

http://paintyourbrain.squarespace.com/news-feed/2010/10/10/is-the-use-of-torture-against-terrorist-suspects-ever-justif.html

I basically took the approach that I didn't want to write another thing on torture again, so I would do all the dirty work for this one.

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