Monday, November 28, 2005

Serious Opinions on Interrogation of Terrorists

Andrew McCarthy, one of the prosecutors of the first WTC bombing, wrote this about the folly of the McCain amendments.

And Charles Krauthammer wrote this policy piece for the Weekly Standard.

They come to much the same conclusion...


D said...


Your title is "Serious Opinions on Interrogation of Terrorists." After reading the first 2 paragraphs of McCarthy's piece, I realized you were kidding. I'll check out Kraut's later.

-Dave Lane

Charles Iragui said...


Keep reading! McCarthy is a person worth listening to.

Charles Iragui said...

Although I agree that the position of McCain and many others (make torture illegal but do it when necessary) is not a sound constitutionally, legally or morally, I also am not in agreement that necessity can justify any evil act, as McCarthy and Krauthammer seem to say.

The Catholic doctrine of double effect eliminates the moral problem of the Model Penal Code's example of diverting a flood onto a farm, killing a farming family but saving a whole town. This is not killing of the family or choosing their death; it is an unintended consequence of doing a necessary action, diverting the water.

Another necessity argument is of the nature "I killed him because he knew too much". Or in our case, "I tortured him because he knew a lot". These are intentional actions: means to an end.

Krauthammer and McCarthy are correct that it is the government's obligation to protect the citizenry. This may well MANDATE (morally require) coercive interrogation and even torture. The ticking bomb experience in Israel is not idle. The moral struggle that has taken place in Israeli courts and the Knesset shows that these are not easy questions and that honest people know that unpleasant actions are sometimes required.

But I disagree that this is committing an evil in order to achieve a greater good. Why is torture wrong? It is not appropriate to almost any circumstance, but can one say that one who, with the malice of Iago, withholds information on the impending doom of a multitude does not deserve to have any measure used on him to extract the truth?

Prudence counsels against using this harsh measure. What if one is in error as to the identity and knowledge of the tortured individual? The horror of error should give one pause, but this is not to undermine the justice of rude measures imposed without error.

I reject other objections: reciprocity is irrelevant - saving our citizens is worth risking future mistreatment; creating sadistic torturers is speculative - who is to say that training will not be effective in mitigating this problem and that people might be sadistic without torturing; these means are unpleasant - but no more indecent than the panoply of war.

True necessity rationalizing is of the nature: torture, kill the family of the terrorist to elicit information. This is intent to do an evil for a good end. This we should not do.

So all that remains is the decision-making process. Who authorizes? What is the standard of "the good at risk"? How many people at risk, only one? If only property but of huge economic value? What level of proof should be required that information may be truly available?

Charles Iragui said...

I write to clarify that if the Model Penal Code's doctrine of necessity (belief that the action constitutes an avoidance of a greater harm or wrong is a complete defense) is available, there is no need for any LEGAL modification to allow the above case (torture in the face of a ticking bomb) to entail no legal liability.

My point above was purely MORAL. I maintain that it is morally correct to torture one who has planted a bomb to kill civilians and refuses to reveal its location. To pretend that one should not or would not do so is obtuse.

On the issue of ineffectiveness: there is NO proof and no reason to believe that torture will not elicit correct information. Simple reflection must lead one to the conclusion that SOME people are more susceptible than others. Certainly, THEY will crack, some at the mere credible threat of torture.

PROOF of torture's possible efficacy comes from the infamous use of torture by the French Army in Algeria. It was applied expertly and led to repeated tactical advantage against the native insurgency. The French eventually left Algeria, but it was not because, as some ridiculously claim, the information culled by trained tortionnaires is always useless...

I say "infamous", because the use of torture in Algeria had little to do with ticking bombs. As a military tactic, torture is questionable. As a defense of civilian populations, it is no less dubious than military action itself.