Sunday, May 3, 2009

Great arguments against torture.

Tonight, during my Sunday night burger dinner, I watched a panel on torture on C-Span books from 2005, Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib. Excellent discussion.

There were about 5 legal scholars up there, including the two authors, Karen Greenberg and Josh Dratel; all made many thoughtful, well-evidenced and well-reasoned arguments against torture.

Here are just 3:

One was that the ticking bomb scenario is just a load of #2.
(Interesting point made as a follow up: the most info we've ever gotten about AQ was after the embassy bombings in Africa, guy we caught fessed up an arm and a leg not because he was tortured but because he was given incentives by US authorities. He also chose to be in US custody WITHOUT a lawyer vs. Kenya with one...we DON'T want to lose this upper hand.)

Two was about justifying torture through saving lives: Should we, asked Josh Dratel, also torture tobacco company exec to find out how and why cigarettes kill and what they are doing to stop those deaths? Where do you draw the line.

Third memorable point was by Karen Greenberg on how to stop it: We need a Harriet Beecher Stowe she said; we need an Uncle Tom's Cabin. Even admin officials that were sanctioning torture were out in public denying it. No one likes torture, no one admits to it publicly proudly, it's illegal and politically damning. Similarly, slavery, on its face was also a horrible institution, people admitted that but still did it out in the open. Both looked upon as necessary evils.

Greenberg suggests we have to change how people think about torture - it has to be unacceptable behind closed doors. How do we do this? Uncle Tom's Cabin showed whites that slavery was gong to come back and bite them where the sun don't shine; eventually slavery as an institution would rot their country and end up in violence against whites.

Officials up and down the chain of command and the public need to understand that torture will also corrode our country and our values and us as individuals.

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