Torture’s Ticking Bomb Argument.

UPDATE: Here we go.

So this story is from Think Progress this morning:

Scott Roeder called The Associated Press from the Sedgwick County jail, where he’s being held on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated assault in the shooting of Dr. George Tiller one week ago.

I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal,” Roeder said. When asked by the AP what he meant and if he was referring to another shooting, he refused to elaborate further.

Does that mean that this guy knows of other acts of violence being planned around the country and is in fact a “ticking bomb” from the infamous “ticking bomb” argument for torture? So if those who are talking about “valuable intelligence” being gathered from detainies who were tortured (or harshly interrogated) are justifying torture this way, then why are they not talking about torturing Roeder who claims to know of other acts of violence? I mean if ends here justify the means, then why not apply it consistently?

47 thoughts on “Torture’s Ticking Bomb Argument.

  1. Mikhail,
    As your appropriately tongue in cheek comment infers, there is much more to the torture debate than a simple utilitarian calculus; one only wonders how many other political pathologies (in addition to the terrorism-counterrorism dialectic) are concealed behind such putative rational…

    • Domus, I think this precisely why I am so frustrated that this torture debate is not really going in the right direction – the point is not whether or not we gathered (or can gather) any valuable information, I’m sure torture can be effective, but so is something like terrorism, right? As many people noticed, terrorism is popular because it works – take even this anti-abortion terrorism, less doctors will be interested in risking their lives doing something absolutely legal and less women will have an access to a doctor who would perform abortion, effictiveness of terror tactics is not an issue, the issue is its moral status. Crude utilitarianism would have us do all sorts of things that we should not be doing, it has a very weak and undefined, it seems to me, criterion of normativity.

  2. In fact, the utilitarian calculus would go the opposite direction given that torture has been shown over and over to be a conduit for misleading or flat out wrong information. What’s that? The tortured victim told you what you wanted to hear and not the truth? Surprise surprise.

    • To say that torture must be abandoned because it is ineffective (and I’m not sure that’s what you’re saying) is the same sort of argument that is given in support of torture because it is effective (whatever “effective” means).

      • I never said that was the only reason to abandon the practice of torture, I merely noted that, ironically, a utilitarian calculus would go against it because it reliably produces unreliable information. While this is obviously an argument against torture that needs to be brought into the public arena, as you point out, there are other considerations against it such as moral, social, and humanitarian concerns that are equally as important to discuss.

      • I thought “utilitarian” in this case meant something like traditional utilitarian position of aiming to bring more pleasure to more people, in which case torturing one individual for the sake of many would be fine, even if no useful information is solicited, or maybe I’m off in my understanding of utilitarian position?

      • Well, the argument I am making here about the supposed utility of torture says that because torture so often leads to unreliable information, in the long run, more people get injured as a result of the bad information because 1. innocent casualties from the misleading information itself and 2. torturing promotes a reactionary extremism which will only create more violence, leading to more people being tortured in order to quell terrorism, with more misleading information hurting more people.

        The question then is, how could you ever bring more pleasure to the world if torturing people gives misleading whereabouts and false names due to extreme stress? Without good, reliable information being extracted from torture and utilized to save lives, the “utilitarian” perspective so often spouted by right-wing conservatives goes up in smoke. It has been shown over and over, that interrogation leads to more life-saving information than “advanced interrogation,” where people say will anything and everything to stop being tortured.

      • I see. Still, it seems that torture in such an account is bad not in itself but due to its bad consequences of producing unreliable information that injured more people in the long run. I am primarily contesting the very idea that torture should be even considered in terms of its consequences as it should be judged immoral in itself, because otherwise there are all sorts of loopholes such as “maybe we’re not really good at torture and therefore cannot make prisoners tell us the truth, maybe we should try more and more sophisticated techniques” and so on. If torture is a means to an end, and I hope no one is suggesting we should torture just for fun or out of some sense of vengeance, then there will always be those who will justify it by claiming that certain ends like security or happiness of the people are good enough to do anything, including torture, to achieve.

        Think about something like Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombing – it saved American lives, we are told, and it ended the war. So retrospectively we are justifying murder of thousands of innocent civilians, because in the end Japanese did capitulate and the war ended – but what if they didn’t? We would continue to bomb their cities until they did? I guess it’s not really related to your point, just some thoughts…

      • From a philosophical theory viewpoint, does the torture example bring up any principles that are not examined in the “trolley problem” or the famous example of three people dying for want of three different organs – and there just happens to be on healthy person with matching blood type available.

      • Now that I think about it, the “From a philosophical theory viewpoint,” part of my question does not add anything to it, and further is unclear as to its meaning.

        Please ignore it.

  3. How about babies? Could murdering them during abortion or prior to it in a particularly gruesome manner – squashing their heads and sucking their brains out, dismembering, mutilating or decapitating them, or burning them with acid, be considered a torture?

    How about the proclaimed egalitarian attitude of people writing in this blog – how equal will be a baby, according to their views?

    • We’re not talking about abortion here, we’re talking about torture – no one is suggesting either is a simple moral issue, but sticking abortion into everyone’s face is not going to resolve anything. Are you saying that because some choose to abort their babies, it is then okay to torture?

      This blog is called “perverse egalitarianism” suggesting we are not that happy about your everyday assumption that everyone is equal to everyone else. There’s abortion and there’s abortion. Clearly in some cases late term abortions are done in order to save the mother and no one is suggesting that it is an easy decision to make, but it is a decision to make, that’s not the same as terminating pregnancy very early on and so on. Don’t pile everything together into one easy category.

      Burning babies with acid sounds horrific to me, but it’s not torture as no one is expecting the burned baby to reveal the location of a terrorist cell or the next terrorist attack.

      Abortions are legal in the US, you may disagree with that and try to change the situation, it’s fine with me. Some argue for legalizing or making illegal many different things, but they do it peacefully through a democratic process and if your view loses, if you can’t go shooting people who disagree with you, this way any issue will become a source of a civil war. Why are people running around making decisions for others? Why not just worry about yourself and your situation?

      • I don’t think Tiller should have been killed by religious fanatics. I think he should have been arrested and put in jail. He is a serial killer, as far as the number of his victims or the gruesome manner of the killings is concerned. An he was not doing something quite so legal either, since a very small percentage of the abortions were done due to some life threatening conditions for the mother.

        Repeating lofty words like “choice”, or euphemisms like “termination of pregnancy” would not in any case mask the fact, that we are not talking about some abstract termination of some abstract pregnancy with an abstract “fetus”. We are talking about the real murder of a real, particular baby, in a particularly cruel way.

        If we fail to make such an atrocity illegal, it would mean only this – that we live in an absurd, sick, demented society. That we have stooped lower than animals. Animals don’t kill their babies, they care for them. It’s a strong moral instinct, a built-in wisdom which we have lost completely.

        I read some other posts on abortion in your blog before I posted here. I will not take the pain to answer every one of them. I don’t think you sound like philosophers as far as this topic is concerned. Neither do you sound like normal human beings. You sound like zealots supporting the soccer team of the democratic party.

        The problem is this – those babies don’t care whether their heads would be squashed and their legs would be torn out by a republican or a democrat. Babies are something that should not be used in the political propaganda of some lunatic or fanatic republican or democratic fans.

        See the youtube video posted in my blog. I don’t know who made it, so disregard the Obama or the Jesus references in it. Look only at the images. If after viewing them you still insist, that a woman or a doctor have the right to choose to do this to a baby, I would not say a single word anymore. There would be no point arguing.

      • Look, if you keep saying that Tiller was a “serious killer” and that he needed to be stopped by being arrested, it was not happening because what he was doing was LEGAL, so you get a fanatic who kills him – how are you not encouraging and promoting violence? You yourself wouldn’t kill Tiller, but you would encourage others with your rhetoric? You can say whatever you want about abortion, but inciting violence against others who are performing completely legal practices, even if you disagree with it, is what is most disgusting here. It’s people like you who produce religious fanatics and you then suddenly distance yourself from them when the shit hits the fan. At least be brave enough to admit that you are glad that Tiller is dead and that someone “stopped him”…

        And why is Tiller responsible for “murder” here – didn’t the mother make the decision to terminate her pregnancy? He wasn’t catching pregnant women and “murdering” their babies, was he? Why not prosecute all the mothers for murder? Is that your solution?

      • Never did I say Tiller was a serious killer, but I do remember saying he was a serial killer.

        It’s interesting how you came up with such a narrow definition of torture. Was this out of ignorance, or you were just practicing sophistic rhetoric?

        Sounded really bizarre to me, that you would stand so firmly against the torture of a man, discussing whether it should be legal or not, and yet at the same time you would not mind the torture of babies, because this torture was supposedly legal.

        It’s not that I am not familiar with the twisted ways of the logical endeavors of people who try to rationalize something that’s just convenient for them to believe in, but still – every time the mental labyrinths they get caught in in the process never stop to amaze me.

        So how do you propose we should make late-term abortions illegal, if we don’t show people what an atrocity and a monstrosity they are?

        Should we keep this knowledge to ourselves, so as to protect some immoral doctor from some supposedly threatening him danger?

        Wouldn’t it be, actually, a priority for us to rather protect hundreds of babies from not so supposed, inevitable slaughter?

        This was a rhetoric question, don’t feel the obligation to answer it.

        But I would answer yours – I would not shed a tear for Dr. Tiller. He was a good businessman and a subhuman being.

        And he was under investigation for illegal abortions.

        Anyway, I don’t have more time to spend here.

        It was an interesting experience talking to you. 🙂

        Take care and be very, very happy that you mother did not abort you in the 7th month of pregnancy, with the torn legs and squashed head and all that pleasurable experiences:)

      • We’re not “talking,” dear – you’re preaching at me and I think you should go spread your message elsewhere, as you are clearly not listening to what I am trying to “say”…

      • It’s surprising how loud and obnoxious folks get defending unborn babies when so many perfectly born babies are dying every minute from malnutriotion and unnecessary deceases – instead of sticking your nose into other people’s business and their decisions, why not help kids and adults who are in need?

        Clearly, lady, you are so much more morally superior than all of us with your righteous stand of great knowledge of how things should be in the world – you basically just admitted that you support murdering people if you feel that they disagree with your moral position – great, let’s all be like you!

      • That is post that does not deserve an answer. You are either not aware of the numerous logical fallacies and sophist arguments you used while you are composing it, or you are intentionally trying to stir the conversation in other direction.

        The same applies to the posts of Mikhail Emelianov. I do not care very much for the paragraph 22 logical fallacy argument: “you should try to make late-term abortion illegal only through legal channels, but you should not use your legal rights to show the society the atrocity of abortions, because it might aggravate some people and stir them to terrorist actions.” If you truly believe in what you say, you should start a campaign against the violence in Hollywood movies, which can be held responsible for inducing copycat murders and deadening people’s emotional and moral sensitivities to gruesome and violent images. For some reason, I am very much convinced you would not do so.

        However, I am not here to argue with you. Argument is unnecessary in the presence of these abortion cases photographs – there’s nothing much that can be added to their eloquence. An argument might only downplay their message.

      • Ok, let’s cool down a bit here. Who is responsible for Tiller’s murder besides the murderer himself? Is there any guilt associated with people telling others that Tiller is a “serial killer”?

        If photographs were making arguments unnecessary, why is it still legal to have an abortion? Wouldn’t the photographs persuade enough people to outlaw it if they were so persuasive?

      • What are you trying to do here? Are you lobbing for the abolishment of the first amendment of the constitution? Are you lobbing for the shutting down of the channels of information and communication?

        Are you from Russia?

    • I think “murder” is a legal term, if a soldier shoots and kills another soldier, it’s not murder or if you shoot an intruder in self-defense. “Murder” is killing that is also illegal – abortion is legal, therefore it is not murder. You can call it killing of babies, but not murder of babies. You can dispute the morality of abortion, but you can’t condone murdering those who are not on your side of moral debate. This way you might as well go murder adulterers or smokers, for that matter.

      Torture debate is complicated by the question of legality – if Bush administration indeed made sure they had a legal opinion that stated that it is legal to do x, y, and z, then torture is effectively legal, but if it is not legal, then those who practices it should be prosecuted.

      • Murder is a legal term, and so is theft. It does not mean that they are legal terms and nothing else.

        Otherwise, you would have to argue that in, say, Mogadishu there are no murders or thefts at all – which would be a highly unusual use of language.

        If you like, perhaps we can introduce some extra terms:

        murderx – illegal premeditated killing
        murdery – exactly like murderx except not illegal

        Mutatis mutandis, for every other crime.

        So, in Saudi Arabia we would have adulteryx, and in the USA we would have adulteryy. In Mogadishu we have murdery and thefty, in most other places same acts are murderx and theftx.

        So, is there any reason to suppose that any crimex is more morally wrong than otherwise identical crimey?

        As to refraining from murderxing and murderying those who disagree on some moral issue – surely it would depend on the nature of the disagreement – and in particular the actions that step from that disagreement?

  4. Right now I am trying to figure something out. Curious as to what exactly is going on in the heads of people, who would approve the dismembering of babies, while shedding crocodile’s tears for criminals. That’s not a small psychological wonder. The 9th wonder of the World, right after the 8th: the vegetarian pro-late-abortion activist.

    • Since you’re not interested in answering any of my questions, I don’t really see the need to explain to you what I do and do not think. As I write this, a guy is reported to have walked into Holocaust museum in DC and started shooting – what do you think of that? There’s a difference between first amendment rights and incitement of hate that leads to extremist violence like shooting abortion doctors. In fact, inciting violence is a crime. You can inform people as much as you want but judging by your tone, you are one angry person and I doubt that you are generally “interested” in understanding anything.

      • That’s what I thought you are trying to do. Using a logical fallacy in the attempt to persuade the public and the authorities that in jail should be put people who show pictures of the Holocaust, and not the ones who were actually doing it, the Holocaust. That’s explains the title of your blog – now I see what did you mean by “perverse egalitarianism”. I agree, it is perverse.

        If you don’t think that photographs of dismembered and decapitated babies are eloquent enough, why are you trying to shut down the channels, through which information of the nature of abortion is reveled to the public?

        That would be the Soviet Union attitude towards an inconvenient or controversial topic like this. Interesting. Is Communism moving to America? Is the Soviet Union moving here?

      • I believe comparing abortion to Holocaust is just wrong and irresponsible. You might not realize this, but this is a very small blog and it does not try to influence any authorities or shut anything down. People can read about all sorts of things and no one is forbidding them to do so. Again, to provide information is one thing, to call doctors “serial killers” and call for their murder is another, if you don’t see the difference, then it’s hard to explain. What are you trying to do by posting here? It’s pretty clear that you are not going to change anyone’s mind – why bother?

        Why are you so concerned about the situation in the US? Why not concentrate on the situation in Bulgaria, for example? Do you not have abortion there?

      • How is this comparison wrong and irresponsible? Please show it. With documentation, references, statistics of the numbers of casualties of abortion, medical research, bibliography, pictures, Pictures. Pictures. I am a painter and a photographer, convince me that you are not deluded.

      • I’m afraid you’ll have to get that “convince me that you are not deluded” fix somewhere else. Let’s see: Holocaust = murder of Jews in gas chambers (people), abortion = terminating pregnancy (fetuses).

      • Hehe, euphemisms again, you made your point – that sounds like a very educated and inteligent response, no kidding :)))

        Just one technical question – yesterday I posted an youtube video on the investigation of Tiller.

        Where did it go?

      • This is not your blog, if you want to post videos and such, please do so on your blog. So are you saying that only late-term abortion is actually murder or any abortion is murder? If any abortion is murder, then it is in fact legal in most “civilized countries” – if late-term abortion is legal in the US, then you should get some folks together and try to change the law – have you joined any significant effort to do so or are you just talking about it on blogs and posting videos?

        Don’t ask me why, there’s this surreal component to contemporary reality that deserves extensive psychological and psychiatric research.

        So everyone’s just mentally ill except for you and those like you? How are you going to change the situation then? What way is there for your to effect any change? If people are psychologicall unable to see the truth, how is your posting of pictures and videos going to help?

      • You might want to look up “euphemism” in a dictionary, it doesn’t mean what you think it means.

        One technical question, why are you wasting your time posting comments here?

      • And while she’s at it, I think she would benefit by looking up “argument,” “fallacy” and “analogy” also.

        I tried to let it slide and not respond, but really, I find the analogy/equation between the Holocaust and abortion to be absolutely disgusting. The “logic” at work here (assuming there is any) seems to me to deny **any** difference between the taking of life. Bagriana, I’m afraid, ignores both the facts (1) that there is a profound difference between an embryo in early stages of development and a fully developed human. And (2) She also ignores the justifiable nature of abortion if one respects the rights of a woman to control her own body. She might disagree with this argument, believing that individuals are the property of the state as opposed to themselves, but to equate this with the Holocaust is to seriously understate the horrors of the Holocaust.

        In this case, I think what makes the Holocaust so significant is not only that people were killed but that extent of it. Morally the “argument” Bagriana puts forth borders on the mindset of Holocaust deniers. Again, disgusting.

      • Shahar,

        I totally agree with you here. I once had dinner with a friend and her extended family, one of which told me that he was doing very similar things to my graduate work on genocide prevention because he was trying to prevent the genocide against the unborn. The scale of atrocity is incomparable and it’s horrifying to hear people try to pretend they are at all related. I don’t think that people like Bagriana (and others with similar views) really understand the hatred and violence that exists in genocide.

      • So let’s assume abortion is murder of many many perfectly fine babies and you have pictures to prove it, why is it still legal in so many countries, including Bulgaria where there are more abortions than births?

        How do you explain the fact that your arguments/pictures are so persuasive and strong, yet no one is listening to you and those like you? Not enough pictures? Why?

        Why do you come to this blog and, being a guest, you then proceed to demand answers and evidence? Who told you people are obligated to respond to you and give you any of their time? The original post was about torture, not abortion, yet you piled everything together into one big issue and now you are accusing some of us of being deluded and so forth? Do you really think anyone is going to change their minds after such tactics?

      • Abortion after the 12th week of pregnancy is illegal in most civilized countries, including France.

        Late-term abortion is illegal in Bulgaria.

        Just keep in mind, that bombing of civilian Belgrade, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Berlin or Dresden is still considered legal and no Nuremberg process has ever been held for them.

        Don’t ask me why, there’s this surreal component to contemporary reality that deserves extensive psychological and psychiatric research.

      • I have deleted the last comment from “Bagriana Ivanova” – it didn’t contain anything that moved the conversation along in any matter, just gibberish – please, if you are interested in imposing your position on others, do so at your own blogs, okay?

        This post was about torture, not abortion.

      • What are the relevant moral differences between a fetus 10 minutes before birth, and right after birth, that would justify treating them differently?

  5. Bagriana,

    I want to know how you can be so sure these pre-natal babies have a conscious life, deserving of being labeled “personhood.” Think of Victor the wolf-boy and multiply that crude animal nature times 1000 and you can approach the “mental” life of a fetus.

  6. Something like half of all conceptions end in a miscarriage naturally. If death of a fetus is as bad as death of a fully formed human being, this is an on-going tragedy on a scale that exceeds the Black Death.

    Yet, the anti-abortion folks do not seem to be concerned. Why is that?

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