Alex Massie

Who Cares if Torture Works or Not?

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Ann Althouse argues that

Critics of "harsh interrogation techniques" — they, of course, call it torture — bolster their moral arguments with the pragmatic argument that it doesn't even work. How unusual it is for the media to disillusion us about that and force the moralists to get by on moral ideals alone!

Responding to this, Publius reminds her that these "non-torture" techniques have killed people and Lindsay Beyerstein picks apart the Washington Post story that Althouse claims vindicates Dick Cheney. 

All of which is all very well and good. I don't doubt that torture - or whatever euphemism you want to give it - can work. But so what? The efficacy of the matter is not the only, or even the sole, issue to consider. Torturing people - and waterboarding and other techniques used by the CIA and US military certainly count as torture* - is wrong therefore our policy should be that we won't actually torture people. (And please, no implausible ticking time-bomb scenarios: as the old saw has it, hard cases make bad law.)

If I knew that I could commit a crime - housebreaking say - and get away with it, would that give me license to commit such a crime because I really, really needed the stuff I'd steal, I had no other way of getting that stuff and I could steal it in a very efficient manner? Would the "harsh interrogation techniques" brigade think that fine and dandy?

On the other hand, how much do the pro-torture crowd actually care whether it "works" or not? Some of them doubtless do, but others I'll warrant really don't give a damn whether torturing someone produces any useful information at all. They're in favour of torture because, frankly, they like the idea of torturing people.

Apart from anything else - apart, that is, from the delicious, if vicarious, frisson of excitment that comes from inflicting hurt upon prisoners and, at the same time, shocking "decent" opinion - it allows them to claim that they're the only people who are sufficiently serious to take the grave and necessary steps required. Everyone else is a surrender-monkey.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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