October 26, 2010


Is the judicious use of force really torture?: Wikileaks fails to note that 'cruel' treatment can often be key to saving lives (Praveen Swami, 25 Oct 2010, Daily Telegraph)

The effect of the Wikileaks disclosures has been to feed a narrative where western forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are seen as embodiments of evil and moral hypocrisy. It is worth asking, though, if the moral certitudes that underpin the outrage over the Wikileaks documents in fact help us understand what the problem actually is – and therefore enable us to do something about it.

Much of the torture the leaks detail does not appear to have been driven by sadism. It was carried out in the hope of ending the depredations of terrorists who have killed tens of thousands. The commanders who condoned it didn't have either the time or resources for the kinds of criminal justice procedures that would meet human rights standards in London, and were operating in environments that were considerably more hazardous. [...]

No one ought to condone barbarism against individuals or the indiscriminate use of force against civilians. Few military commanders would do so, for the good reason that it alienates the very population whose support is essential to defeating insurgencies. But we do need an honest discussion of why soldiers sometimes torture – and what kinds of legal frameworks are needed to proscribe barbarism but allow the reasonable use of force in extraordinary circumstances.

...is whether it is effective. Oddly enough, by their extravagant complaints about how uniquely awful it is, opponents of torture make it seem that torture must work. After all, if torture isn't even coercive enough that it can force terrorists to reveal the intelligence we seek then how bad can it really be?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at October 26, 2010 6:23 AM
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