23 May 2009

"Enhanced" Interrogation

For those who didn't immediately notice the timestamp, it's about 5am on a Saturday morning. I've been laying awake for about an hour because I finally fixed a bug at work, and now I'm excited about getting back into work on Tuesday and testing out some more code. (Sick, right?) That's not why I decided to sit down and write this morning, though. I've also been thinking about a couple of blog posts I read yesterday by a friend of mine and his brother regarding enhanced interrogation a.k.a. torture.

I read them both quickly on my iPod yesterday, so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong on this, but the first takes the position that torture works but is wrong on moral grounds. The second argues also that it works and is morally justified when used in defense/preservation of the greater good. While I couldn't disagree more with the second, I was surprised to see anyone arguing that torture works in the face of the news reports of late.

I'm reminded of Matthew Alexander, a pseudonym for an Air Force interrogator, who came out very strongly against torture in an op-ed for the Washington Post back in November of last year. In it, he details his experience using (or really, not using) torture during the course of his work. It is a worthwhile read, but his main points are a) torture has a spotty record of producing good intelligence, b) traditional interrogation works much better, and c) our use of torture does not deter our enemies; in fact, it emboldens them. I'm not now, nor have I ever served in our nation's military nor have I had the opportunity to employ "enhanced" or traditional interrogation methods on anyone, so any pontificating I do here about whether or not I agree or disagree with what Matthew Alexander says about the efficacy of torture would be pointless speculation (as is much of what you see on television with respect to this topic).

While I can't take on the efficacy argument directly, I would like to pose some rhetorical questions about torture to make you, the reader, think:
  • If torture is used, how does one know that "good" intelligence has been obtained vs. "bad" intelligence given simply stop the torture?
  • If torture works, why isn't it used more often or even domestically?
  • If there is no "good" intelligence to be obtained, is the use of torture to find that out still morally justified?
I think the last point is central to this debate. The "morally justified" argument leads us down the path to torture anyone at anytime based simply on the belief that they have information that can preserve/defend the greater good. Pay attention here: whether or not there is "good" intelligence to be obtained cannot be known until after the interrogation.

My argument then is simply this: If we are willing to torture innocent people, there is no greater good to defend.