Torture, Social Science, and Ethical Responsibility

by Joshua Tucker on May 8, 2009 · 30 comments

in Uncategorized

John’s post yesterday and the recent CNN Poll on public support for a “torture investigation” of policies carried out by the Bush administration returned my thoughts to a question that I’ve been thinking about for a while. Clearly, an argument can be made against the use of torture on ethical grounds. Similarly, we can make an argument against torture on the grounds that our troops will be more at risk in the field if it is known that the US tortures its enemies. We can also make arguments against torture on national security grounds based on the assumption that being known as a country that is willing to torture its enemies will hurt us in our battle for “hearts and minds” wherever we may face adversaries, even up to the point of encouraging people to join organizations like Al Qeada. We can even make more indirect arguments about how torture harms US national security by providing cover for quasi-authoritarian regimes to back track from from respect for civil rights generally, thus leaving the world with fewer consolidated democracies, which tend to pose less of a threat to the US.

Nevertheless, it does seem that a significant number of Americans always want to come back to “24” style scenarios, where a ticking bomb is about to blow up an American stadium somewhere and some terrorist holds the code to defusing it but won’t talk. Even absent this kind of extreme scenario, there is a belief – not exactly discouraged by Dick Cheney – that torture could help save American lives by revealing information about terrorist plots. There are a lot of arguments floating around in the blogosphere and media now about whether torture does in fact yield valuable intelligence information, and as I read them I thought, wow, here’s a place where good social research with modern methodological tools could really make an important contribution to a policy debate (which, not coincidentally, is one of the goals of this blog).

But here’s where things get complicated. My original thought was that good social science research that shows that torture does not extract useful intelligence information would be the final nail in the coffin in any public argument in support of torture. But what happens if one of us gets access to the relevant data, does the empirical analysis, and then discovers the opposite: that torture does lead to useful intelligence information. What do you do then? Sit on the results? Would any political science journal publish such a paper? How would that look in a tenure review? (“Right, she’s the one who said torture was valuable…”).

Which leads to another question: should social scientists by engaging in research where we only want to share the results if they come out in one particular direction? I personally believe US national security is harmed by the use of torture in any form by our government, so I would welcome good empirical findings that provide added weight to arguments against the use of torture. But despite that goal, should I actually engage in research if I’m not willing to accept (or publish) findings to the contrary? Do we need some sort of social science code of ethics that sets certain research topics off limits? (e.g., something equivalent to doctors refusing to work on projects about devising more effective/painful instruments of torture.) Or is that an automatic affront to intellectual freedom?

I am looking forward to seeing what others think about this topic.

{ 30 comments }

Andrew May 8, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Josh:

Yes, torture can be valuable. But something that’s “valuable” to torturers is probably not so valuable for society as a whole. To put it another way: what makes you so sure that only the “good guys” will do torture? I think it’s far more likely that the kind of people who torture will have goals that conflict with mine, and I don’t want to help them out. In that sense, if torture “works,” it’s on net a bad thing.

James Conran May 8, 2009 at 4:57 pm

Andrew’s argument is a good one. An American tempted by torture might reflect that America’s enemies are likely to be a lot “better” (i.e. more ruthless) at torture than the US, what with its culture of liberalism and human rights). This being the case, a strongly enforced international norm against torture would seem to be in America’s interest, especially if torture is an effective method.

On the other hand while the optimal equilibrium might be “nobody tortures”, the worst would be “we don’t, they do”. In this case I suppose the question comes down to whether you can really have an effective international anti-torture norm.

Lee Sigelman May 8, 2009 at 5:41 pm

I hope this doesn’t turn into a conversation about the pluses and minuses of torture; that’s an important conversation, but I don’t think it’s the one that Josh was inviting. Rather, as I read his post, it was about the role of scholars doing research on questions whose answers may turn out in ways that they don’t prefer.

BillCinSD May 8, 2009 at 6:20 pm

i would dispute the previous point that the worst equilibrium would be “we don’t, they do”. The worst equilibrium is any one that contains “we do”. The only part we can control is what we do. letting one’s behavior be dictated by the actions of others results in a death spiral.

James Conran May 8, 2009 at 7:12 pm

Bill I thoroughly agree that torture is always a moral disaster. My reflections above were being hypothesized from the point of view of “an American tempted by [the consequentialist arguments for] torture”. I am neither of those things but wanted to add to Andrew’s attempt to reject torture on the terms of the consequentialist. Ultimately I think opponents of torture must stress the human right not to be tortured as an absolute principle.

Ryan May 8, 2009 at 8:09 pm

I don’t see any reason that we shouldn’t study such questions and report the results even if we don’t like them. Go read Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ for an explanation of why it would be a mistake to sit on such findings. Likewise, I think that a department that treated a faculty member who uncovered such information badly would be doing a real disservice to political science.

I agree that we shouldn’t be in the business of torturing, but neither should we be in the propaganda business. There are good arguments against torture regardless of its effectiveness.

Doug Hess May 9, 2009 at 6:44 am

On the original question: if you do not think torture can be justified on utilitarian grounds, then why study its effectiveness? I guess if you want to reduce nagging suspicions that you or the public has as to its effectiveness you could do so, but it seems odd to study a point that you think is “beside the point”. However, I think it is better to study why the public believes in something for which there is little/no evidence or study how other means can be effective, etc. It seems any study of torture would suffer from lots of “what ifs..” that are far more compelling than the “24″ scenarios.

[Note that I could have broght up deontological ethics here, but the "d" word might cause Prof. Gelman (as in Gelman Library?) to reach through the Internet and slap me.:)]

Greg Sanders May 9, 2009 at 9:14 am

Interesting question. I’d probably check my work a few extra times but ultimately publish.

On the other hand, if I figured out a not widely known trick that made dictatorial government 25% less likely to democratize or something, I’d share it with researches who could help find countermeasures but not widely publish.

I think we do need to know when wicked measures do work, so we can trust findings that they don’t work.

Christina May 9, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Welcome to the monkey cage Professor Tucker and thank you for this interesting post! I found your question about whether or not social scientists should engage in research that may end up providing empirical support for unethical or immoral actions to be thought provoking. It made me think of some work that has been done studying suicide terrorism. Robert Pape, for example, analyzed suicide terrorist attacks from 1980 to 2001 and found that terrorist groups engage in such activity largely because it works–suicide attacks often help terrorist groups achieve significant gains that would be otherwise unattainable. Whether or not we agree with his findings, we can look at his research and say he has provided terrorist organizations with evidence that resorting to suicide attacks is often highly effective, which may certainly encourage these groups to employ this strategy. But, the larger point of his research is to help Western democracies understand why terrorists engage in suicide attacks, so that they can better understand how to create policies that will deter or prevent such attacks. So, without his evidence that terrorists resort to suicide attacks because it has been an effective strategy–and not because they are simply religious fanatics or poor and uneducated–democracies might be less able to protect against these kinds of attacks. So, while on the one hand he ‘proves’ suicide terrorism is effective, without his research, we would not know how to combat this kind of behavior. (One small problem–there is an assumption here that Western democracies would use this research to help deter and prevent this kind of behavior, which certainly could be debated. So, perhaps another interesting question is: how do we ensure that governments do not engage in immoral and unethical behavior, even when they have empirical evidence that it is “effective”? For example, how do we prevent governments that want to remain in power from engaging in a genocide against other groups within their own countries that challenge their right to power? So, ultimately, I think it is not about censoring research or limiting the pursuit of knowledge in the social sciences, it is about understanding how to generate/uphold moral and ethical behavior even when such behavior may not be the most effective or fastest way to achieve success.

Jim Walsh May 9, 2009 at 8:26 pm

This sort of question is of deep importance for social science. I would still urge publication of the results, though, for two reasons. First, the other arguments against torture you mention are pretty powerful. Finding that torture “works” in the sense that it provides valuable information would be only *one* victory for those favoring torture, and they lose all of the other battles. Second, I imagine that this problem comes up often, and that any important question might yield an answer with which one disagrees on ethical or moral grounds. What if an Americanist finds that negative advertisements “work”, or a scholar of international relations finds that preventive war “works” for the state that initiates it? These would be important if unpleasant realities. They might be valuable, though, for those opposed to torture, or negative ads, or preventive war, if they identified the conditions that facilitate each of these actions. Opponents could use this knowledge to advocate for more effective policies for ending torture, for example.

Eronarn May 9, 2009 at 8:44 pm

Researching with the intent of holding back results either has no benefits (if the results were “in your favor” anyways) or the possibility of some but with it a massive cost in integrity. I see very little gain to be had for that cost, though. The recent misuse of sleep deprivation research shows that there’s no need for a finding to be “pro-torture”, or even appropriate to the context, for it to find use in the support of torture (which can include enhancing techniques or justifying them). We shouldn’t inch around research that could have benefits to torturers, especially given the sheer variety of ways in which people can do unpleasant things to each other and the overlap that research would have with reducing that unpleasantness in other contexts.

William Ockham May 10, 2009 at 9:05 pm

This article is typically of the banal evil that has infected social science. Would you do research into whether the public rape of misbehaving children would promote better behavior in our youth? How is what you suggest any different?Conducting “torture effectiveness” research makes you complict with the torturers. No matter what your research “proves”, you’ve accepted the notion that we should entertain the notion that torture could somehow be acceptable. There are lines that shouldn’t be crossed. This is one of them.

Let me make a suggestion. A better field of research would be to take a look at what happens to democratic societies that allow public officials to commit heinous crimes with impunity.

Eronarn May 10, 2009 at 9:39 pm

It’s absolutely permissible to study things that aren’t permissible in society. You don’t need to rape children to study the effects of raping children, and it would be abhorrent not to study those effects. How else would you know what services they need to best recover? But any research that can be used to help someone will inevitably also be useful in manipulating, harming, or marginalizing people or populations. Unless you want to cast aside social science as a field you have to take the good with the bad. They’re really the same thing just applied in different ways. “Torture” research is no different other than in how dramatic it is.

William Ockham May 10, 2009 at 11:09 pm

Eronarn,

You completely missed my point, at least I hope you did. Let me make this very explicit. Would you find it acceptable to study the following proposition:

Does seeing other children being raped as punishment for misbehavior have a positive effect on the behavior of the children viewing the rape?

I had hoped that every sane person would immediately see the ethical problems inherent in such a study. Indeed, the torture study proposed in this post is exactly the same from a moral perspective. This issue is being framed explicitly as a policy issue. That presupposes that somehow the deliberate infliction of severe physical and mental pain on a helpless and defenseless person can ever be justified. Perhaps the next thing up for you people is to study the effectiveness of human sacrifice on weather control. If I have to take that “bad” with the good, then I’m willing to cast aside social science.

John May 11, 2009 at 10:00 am

Mr. Ockham,
Isn’t the point others are making is that to study this does *not* involve actually inflicting torture, etc. But gathering data on when it has been done and studying whether it works or not. Which is a very different proposition than what you are saying. I think you have misinterpreted what people are proposing.

William Ockham May 11, 2009 at 3:02 pm

This is not the past. The U.S. government tortured hundreds of people (maybe thousands). We continue to torture people today. Unless we stop it, we’ll torture people in the future.

The perpetrators of these crimes walk free today. Some of them are even federal judges or much sought after guests on cable and Sunday morning news shows. You all propose to facilitate their on-going crime by giving them intellectual cover. So what if you’re not the ones actually drowning your victims or chaining them with wrists above their head and hanging them so that they have to stand on tiptoes for days at a time. You may not be the ones who left an innocent man to die in the freezing cold of the “Salt Pit” at Bagram, but it was done in your name. You can “study” the torture issue with your vaunted “social science” methodology and be accessories after the fact or you can stand up for the rule of law, human decency, and 800 years of human rights legislation.

We know what the Bush/Cheney torture program was designed to do. It was designed to get false confessions. Nothing more and nothing less.

Eronarn May 11, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Mr. Ockham:

I would recommend that you familiarize yourself with ethical codes and IRBs before you condemn what I’m saying. Of course I don’t advocate doing that! You don’t need to rape anyone to study the phenomenon of rape. You don’t need to torture anyone to study the phenomenon of torture. You don’t need to commit robbery to study eyewitness memory. But when even when you don’t do these things, which you absolutely would not given the ethical constraints that social scientists operate within, your observations can still be used to justify them.

Social scientists can of course advocate for political concerns, and even social science as a whole can, but it’s not the place of science to not research something just because someone could use the findings in a way that hurts people. Having the ability to find out how to prevent human suffering and not exercising it is already hurting people.

William Ockham May 11, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Eronarn,

Would you study the effects of human sacrifice on weather control?

Suppose you had the data on droughts and human sacrifices for a society that believed that sacrificing a virgin would end droughts. Would you build a regression model to see if the weather changed after the human sacrifices? If this was an ancient society, maybe you could justify the analysis by convincing yourself that you want to see if that society got some sort of reinforcement for their beliefs.

But what if the society was active today? Do you think the elites of that society would be persuaded by your evidence that sacrificing virgins didn’t measurably affect the weather? Would you worry that they might say, in effect, if we’re not changing the weather, we must not be sacrificing enough virgins?

When does your duty as a human being override your interest in the social sciences?

As a side note, I never meant to imply that you would rape anyone. Just like torture, that sort of thing has happened. Is it worthy of study? I was trying to pick an example that was so insane that nobody would think that it was worth investigating. Anybody who would argue that there is that sort of benefit is looking for a justification for their own depraved behavior. That is exactly the situation that we find ourselves in with respect to torture. The torturers will believe in the efficacy of torture no matter what the data shows. After having committed torture, how could it be otherwise? You can’t participate in the unspeakable (how I wish that I could use that word literally) acts of torture that were done in our name without losing your sense of perspective. The torturers are hopelessly compromised. There is a broader responsibility of the elites in this country (including the media, social scientists, and religious leaders) who, through their silence or willing to treat this as some sort of academic question allowed this small depraved group to control the debate and fool a fearful populace into believing that by unleashing monsters we could purchase safety.

You should look closely at the case of Jose Padilla. A citizen of the United States of America was arrested on American soil, imprisoned without charges, tortured for years while the government claimed that the President could, on his own say so without any court review at all, do the same thing to you or me or anyone else in the world, merely by designating us as “enemy combatants”. I don’t need any ethical codes or IRB to tell me that that is the path to tyranny.

wml May 12, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Suppressing results is unethical. Full stop. Doing it is grounds for turning in your scientist card.

So given that, starting a study on torture where you think a pro-torture finding would be possible and catastrophically bad (because you think torture is inherently bad, regardless of its effectiveness) would be wrong.

But maybe, you think the odds of getting a pro-torture result are very low. I.e. your prior that torture is useful is low. The lower your prior, the less likely the catastrophically bad pro-torture finding will be.

But then there is a problem. If your prior is commonly held (everyone believed that torture was ineffective) then an anti-torture finding would not be very informative. However, a pro-torture finding WOULD be very informative, and therefore very disastrous.

If instead, YOU believe torture is likely to be ineffective, but OTHER PEOPLE are more agnostic, THEN perhaps starting the study would seem beneficial from your perspective: you are unlikely to get a pro-torture finding (because of your personal low prior) but a anti-torture finding is likely to be highly persuasive to your audience (who were expecting torture to be effective, but will be surprised by your research finding). In this case, you should really think twice about your prior. Why is it YOU think torture is likely to be ineffective, but most people aren’t sure? If it’s because of evidence already available, why not just show the evidence? If it’s because of your gut feelings/unprovable worldview, maybe you might want to reflect on how firm your prior is.

So long story short, IF you believe torture is inherently wrong for reasons other than effectiveness, you should not do a study on effectiveness.

That said, there is another interesting wrinkle here. Even if you did carry out the study (perhaps because you did not think torture was inherently wrong, but instead its wrongness depends solely/primarily on its effectiveness) there is the issue that maybe noone would publish it and/or it would ruin your career. So in practice, the way things are set up in social sciences, it is the community that decides whether a topic should be researched or not. (unless you don’t care about your career. And even then, if the results won’t get published, then you might fail to persuade people.)

So given a dedication to scientific ethics and to one’s career, an individual social scientist would be best advised to not even try to research torture.

J R Frey May 12, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Mr. Ockham,

The U.S. Government has not tortured hundreds or thousands of people as you claim. The worst techniques approved and used are no worse than we subject our own servicemembers to during training, and have even been used during fraternity hazing on US college campuses.

While you claim that I (and people who agree with me) are complicit in so-called torture, I contend that you are complicit in the murder effected by terrorists when you refuse to do what is both ethical and legal to prevent the loss of innocent life.

You need to acquaint yourself with the facts regarding Mr. Padilla; an al-Queda trained terrorist who intended to effect terrorist acts against American civilians. He was not tortured and he received due process – though it took time.

By the way, Obama’s Justice Department successfully argued that John Yoo’s and Jay Bybee’s memos regarding torture correctly reflect the law regarding torture. The third circuit court of appeals, sitting en banc, agreed (10-3).

Dead not Drowning May 12, 2009 at 4:53 pm

It’s not on torture, but a good recent example of publishing findings that are provocative/unsettling is:

Jason Lyall, “Does Indiscriminate Violence Incite Insurgent Attacks?: Evidence from Chechnya”Journal of Conflict Resolution 2009 53: 331-362. It’s at: http://jcr.sagepub.com/current.dtl

Tom Maguire May 12, 2009 at 5:11 pm

“Do we need some sort of social science code of ethics that sets certain research topics off limits? (e.g., something equivalent to doctors refusing to work on projects about devising more effective/painful instruments of torture.) Or is that an automatic affront to intellectual freedom?”

My casual impression is that there is a very strong code to that effect in place today.

As one example, look what happened with Larry Summers for asking a few questions about women and science with less than politically perfect framing.

As a bemused outsider I have assumed that no one is seriously pursuing the possibility that women simply lack the aptitude for high level science in the same proportions as men, and hence are genetically doomed to underrepresentation.

However informative the answer might be, there is only one acceptable answer and the wrong answer is both unpublishable and a career-ender.

As I said, that is just my impression.

Tom Maguire May 12, 2009 at 5:47 pm

I have assumed that we are deliberately sidestepping the question of where the torture data came from. The Nazi medical data and the ethical challenge of using it springs to mind.

Will H. Moore May 12, 2009 at 11:03 pm

My good friend and colleague, Mark Souva, recently exchanged email on a related topic and it led me to address this head on: ethics prohibit valid inference at the individual level on this topic. This is our exchange.

****************************
On Thu, Apr 23, 2009 at 1:53
PM, wrote:

Will, While the debate about
whether torture produces useful
information is irrelevant to
my personal views, for I think
utilitarianism is a fundamentally
illogical ethical system, the
debate is still important, and
for that reason I send
this NYT article along. – Mark

U.S. / POLITICS | April 23, 2009
News Analysis: Interrogations’
Effectiveness May Prove Elusive
By SCOTT SHANE
Starkly opposing narratives have
arisen about what, if anything,
was gained by the use of the harsh
tactics.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company


Mark Souva
Associate Professor
Florida State University
Room 555 Bel
113 Collegiate Loop
Tallahassee, FL 32306-2230
850-644-7315
850-644-1367 fax
msouva@fsu.edu
http://mailer.fsu.edu/~msouva/

****************************

On Fri, Apr 24, 2009 at 11:58
AM, Will H. Moore
wrote:

Hi, there is a nasty counter-factual
problem that makes inference near
impossible, right? In other words,
this is a purely political debate:
inferences about effectiveness are
not possible and “the facts” will
thus be assertion and spin.

It would be nice if folks might
reference the report that President Bush
commissioned:

http://www.dia.mil/college/3866.pdf

Loch Johnson reviews it here:

http://tinyurl.com/24p9lz

- Will


Will H. Moore
will.moore @ fsu.edu
http://garnet.acns.fsu.edu/~whmoore/

Professor
Department of Political Science
113 Collegiate Loop
Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL 32306-2230
voice: 850.644.6924
fax: 850.644.1367

****************************

On Sun, Apr 26, 2009 at 8:59
AM, Mark Souva
wrote:

Hi,

Of course, there is a counter-
factual, but that is always the
case and we make inferences all
the time. For that reason it is
not a purely political debate, a
phrase I take to mean a clash of
equal opinions. In this case,
inferences are difficult to draw,
but that is a result of poor (perhaps
intentionally so) record keeping
and overlapping use of methods.
Next, I may be reading too much
into your reference to ‘the facts’
but there are facts. Many facts are
endogenous to a person’s theoretical
perspective, but other facts are
what philosophers call ‘brute facts.’
For example, whether a piece of paper
is money is money depends on knowledge
of particular institutions, but it
being paper is a brute fact (see the
Wikipedia entry).

Mark

****************************

On Sun, Apr 26, 2009 at 9:03
AM, Mark Souva
wrote:

One more thought…

One implication of the counter-
factual problem is that we should
not focus on the effects of torture,
but on moral arguments, which is my
major focus. Human life is a basic
good for all people. Any action
that intentionally harms a person’s
life is wrong. Torture harms a person’s
life; therefore, it is wrong. (Please
note that harm, while not the most
carefully chosen word, is not equal
to pain, e.g. a dentist is not causing
harm, though he does cause pain.)

Mark

****************************

On Mon, Apr 27, 2009 at 11:34
AM, Will H. Moore
wrote:

Hi, we are on the same page wrt
making law on this issue based
on moral judgments. WRT effectiveness
I think this is much like debating
whether the shotgun formation is
effective in football (consider when
Tom Landry first reintroduced it in the
70s). Public debate about that issue is
fantastically uninteresting, and the
debates among coaches are more
interesting, but are still a far cry
from anything that you or I would
recognize as an effort to draw a valid
inference.

As an exhibit of the type of public
debate, see the attached Wash Post
article .
What do we infer from the (alleged)
fact that Zubayda gave up lots of info
after being water boarded, but the
info he gave up led to US officials
running around the globe and failing to
arrest anyone? Similarly, what do we
make of Bowden’s article below about
how the “Good Cop, Bad Cop” routine
tricked someone into selling out his
mates (below)?

In 2002 Bush did the right thing:
he asked DoD to study the effectiveness
of various interrogation techniques.
The first report was issued in 2006
and concluded that there is NO good
research that addresses the question.
The commission is apparently still at
work, though I cannot fathom how it
might proceed: I cannot see how one
can simulate interrogation. And
ethically one cannot test the
usefulness of torture techniques and
then compare them to other techniques.
In the NFL we can study the effectiveness
of the shotgun formation with a quasi-
experimental design and we could, in
principle, do so using an experimental
design. But when it comes to torture,
we can neither proceed with an experimental
research design nor a quasi-experimental
design. We are thus left with the opinions
of “experts” (both government and academic)
and pundits.

So my point buttresses your own view: we
MUST make these decisions on moral
grounds because we CANNOT draw valid
inferences because ethical concerns prohibit
valid inquiry.

- Will

The Ploy (The Atlantic, May 2007)
By Mark Bowden
The inside story of how the interrogators
of Task Force 145 cracked Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s
inner circle—without resorting to torture—and
hunted down al-Qaeda’s man in Iraq.

***********************************************************

On Mon, Apr 27, 2009 at 8:02
PM, Mark Souva wrote:

An excellent point, about the relative effectiveness, as well as your previous
point about the counterfactual.

- Mark

mrkwong May 13, 2009 at 10:59 am

There are two separate questions at work here – one is whether aggressive interrogation is effective in getting information, the second is (regardless of the utility of the procedures) whether the use of such procedures is justfied or permissible relative to our societal norms and ethics.

If you believe the latter is something other than a political policy question, that there are negative (or positive, for that matter) side effects that can be quantified, there’d be plenty of room for a study on that point.

As for the premise of the topic – whether a scientist can or should ‘shape’ a research effort to produce a desired result or ignore ‘inconvenient’ results that run counter to his personal biases – the folks attempting to sell anthropogenic global warming seem to have this line of business locked up.

Trochilus May 13, 2009 at 11:02 am

If you support the position of the Obama Administration, the answer is very, very easy.

Without thinking the matter through, you would irresponsibly take a very public legal position that declares waterboarding equals torture, regardless of whether there is any real legal basis for so claiming.

In other words, you would posture for purely political purposes to placate the rantings of a portion of your political base.

As for the social science data, you would declassify and publish portions of classified documents, and claim they show there is absolutely no proof whatsoever for concluding that information so obtained could possibly be useful. And, in the documents that you published, you would redact any information or data that runs completely counter to that conclusion. And you would suppress any other documents that established the opposite of your public claims about the actions of your predecessors.

Here’s the real question . . . what happens if you get access to the relevant analysis of the law . . . the prior legal analysis, and you then discover quite the opposite of the presumption of a few of your Administration’s “moralists” on the question. You discover that there is no legal ban on the use of waterboarding as an interrogation technique on non-combatants who we knew had been actively engaged in terrorism against this country, and that there was no prohibition on the use of such techniques to obtain not just “useful” but vital intelligence information, information that you have very good reason to believe may have saved thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of American lives?

What do you do then?
Quietly sit on those results?

Or, would you in your zeal publicly declare the exact opposite to be true, regardless of the truth, and not only threaten to prosecute members of the prior Administration, and/or seek professional sanctions against them, you would also even threaten to cooperate in a kangaroo court prosecution of American officials by some foreign power?

Oh wait . . . that’s exactly what did happen!!

Joshua Tucker May 13, 2009 at 12:01 pm

In case anyone missed it, former Navy Seal and Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura has “weighed in on the efficacy of torture”:http://videocafe.crooksandliars.com/heather/jesse-ventura-you-give-me-water-board-dick in extracting useful information while on Larry King Live: “I’ll put it to you this way, you give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I’ll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders.”

Trochilus May 13, 2009 at 1:18 pm

Joshua,

That would be the same former professional wrestler, Jesse Ventura who for years has been known for sticking his foot in his mouth, and then having to reverse himself . . . such as when he said:

Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers. It tells people to go out and stick their noses in other people’s business.

And, who then later felt obliged to say, in part:

I don’t have any problem with the vast majority of religious folks. I count myself among them, more or less.

That Jesse Ventura?

Or, the blowhard who kept repeatedly intimating a few years ago that he was going to run for President in 2008, but instead moved to Mexico because of “censorship” . . . where, incidentally, he spends his time surfing?

That Jesse Ventura?

Or, do you mean “Truffer Jesse” who has on several occasions raised the issue of whether at least portions of the World Trade Center bombings may have been the result of “explosives” planted on one or more buildings?

Gee, that Jesse Ventura fella sure brings a lot to the table, now doesn’t he?

Trochilus May 13, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Joshua,

Now that the Democrats have taken to blaming the CIA for the corner they just boxed themselves into as a result of their newly-elected POTUS willy-nilly opening this can of worms — do you really think they are interested in an academic question about the “ethics” of what one should do on discovering that social science data actually supports the notion that the limited use of enhanced interrogation techniques — in a few limited but vital cases — has likely yielded valuable life-saving information?

Come on!

What the Democrats are interested in is the raw political question of what is going to happen if they go ahead and launch what might gently be termed the “Delta Airlines” of hearings — i.e., landing at the wrong airport in a storm!

In other words, what to do when you end up proving that the Republicans kept the country safe, and that for some stupid reason, you — as Democrats — seem to have a real and utterly inexplicable problem with that?!

Tom Maguire May 13, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Re Jesse Ventura – given Cheney’s troublesome ticker I doubt the CIA medics would have turned Ventura loose on him.

In any case, what is Ventura’s point – that torture can lead to false confessions? Other than his one hour timetable, that is hardly a point in dispute. E.g., Harold Fischer confessed to engaging in germ warfare in Korea, per a recent obit.

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