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Of Course Torture Works

[ 17 ] October 31, 2007 |

Silly rabbit; treating your captive as a guest may be more effective at actually getting, you know, intelligence, but that hardly means that it works as effectively at torture. You see, the misconception here is that torture is designed to elicit information. In fact, torture (in the contemporary American context) is designed to demonstrate masculinity and Will; to sort of those who are “serious” about protecting America from those who aren’t. Simply demonstrating that torture doesn’t produce good intelligence can’t reduce its political attractiveness, because after all eliciting information was never the point.

Torture: It sorts the real heroes from the girly men like nothing else.

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  1. Jay says:

    Great post. I would also add that I think it is important to point out that the primary way that most people encounter the subject of torture and it’s effectiveness is through drama. Hence the importance of Jack Bauer.
    There have been seemingly hundreds of films and television shows in which the American protagonist turns to torture as a last resort to obtain information from some nazi/commie/islamofascist. No matter what the ethical struggle the hero has to wrestle with, the underlying result is that the torture works to elicit the information. (Although Will does play a part here in that American Will cannot be beaten to submission.)
    Since the 24%-ers and the Yellow Elephants’ have very little empirical knowledge of torture, the fictional representations become the salient narrative. So, even when John McCain says that torture is useless, it has little effect.
    Therefore the question is not whether torture works or not for most people, it’s whether we have the balls to torture in order to win. Again, it’s not just imposing our will, but exercising our will.
    Just something I’ve been kicking around. Sorry.

  2. Ian says:

    Torture also works at extracting false confessions. The American government finds false confessions useful; the things al-Libi was tortured into saying proved to be an excellent pretext for the Iraq war.

  3. professorplum says:

    Foucault has argued that back in the day when torture was a routine part of a trial, at a time when you were guilty until proven innocent, torture was the first stage of the punishment rather than a means to ascertain the truth. seems to me like we’re back to those good ol’ days.

  4. calling all toasters says:

    Torture is for when conservatives run out of Viagra.

  5. Daniel Nexon says:

    Another major interpretation of torture identifies it as a practice designed to annihilate the self of its victim; an act primarily about the perpetrator expressing dominance over the victim.

  6. ThresherK says:

    Fictional heroes: How about a little less Jack Bauer, and a little more Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson?
    My wife can’t watch an episode of The Closer without elbowing me in the ribs and saying, “Oooooh, she’s gooooood”.
    And, as my wife is a psychotherapist who has treated addicts and sexual criminals, I sorta take her word on the subject.

  7. John Protevi says:

    I passed my limit and had to slam some Internet Tough Guys ™ on this thread. The post itself though is truly excellent, from a Navy SERE instructor.

  8. MacGyver says:

    Prof. Nexon,
    You just described my Saturday nights.

  9. ewan says:

    Torture is for when conservatives run out of Viagra.
    And the ignorant takes a shot…

  10. DocAmazing says:

    Aah, c’mon, Ewan, admit it–torture is something backed uniquely by conservatives, and for obvious reasons. (Don’t bother telling me about Laurence Tribe’s liberalism–that fell apart a long while back.) People with authoritarian worldviews and a fear of difference–that would be conservatives, Ewan–frequently advocate lashing out violently despite excellent evidence of the counterproductiveness of such tactics.

  11. rev.paperboy says:

    TORTURE – cause nothing says “hero” like beating a chained, blindfolded half-starved prisoner until he’s ready to confess to the Lincoln assassination.

  12. Yesss! I think we’ll learn more and get farther if we stop assuming that the Bushies are pursuing sensible goals in the wrong way, but instead wake up to the fact that they’re pursuing nonsensical goals in a highly rational (as we say in economics) way.

  13. Anderson says:

    Another major interpretation of torture identifies it as a practice designed to annihilate the self of its victim; an act primarily about the perpetrator expressing dominance over the victim.
    This sounds right, and we could follow up by inferring the deficient sense of the *torturer’s* self – or why else would he feel this extreme need to obliterate others?
    Our post-9/11 fear seems to be the biggest reason for torture – not a rational fear (for which rational interrogation methods would be the remedy), but a childish fear that leads us to act big by showing that “we’re tough, we’ll do whatever it takes.”

  14. aimai says:

    calling all toasters!
    “torture is when conservatives run out of viagra” is the *best* one liner on this subject ever.
    aimai

  15. Aaron says:

    Just to follow up on Anderson’s comment:
    “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” – Aung San Suu Kyi
    I think there’s a real divide in our country between people who are afraid of terrorism – really, truly, sphincter-looseningly afraid of it – and people who see it as a serious but small risk that we can address rationally. The former also seem to be those most in favor of torture as an acceptable tool for Americans to use.

  16. anon-e-mouse says:

    I think there’s a real divide in our country between people who are afraid of terrorism – really, truly, sphincter-looseningly afraid of it – and people who see it as a serious but small risk that we can address rationally.
    I don’t think its necessarily “small” but I definitely agree that there is a disconnect between those who understand that you fight best when you fight rationally and the pussies who think panic is strength.

  17. rea says:

    Don’t bother telling me about Laurence Tribe’s liberalism–that fell apart a long while back.
    I sure haven’t seen anything indicating that Tribe supports torture–are you sure you’re not confusing him with Dershowitz?

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