Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Torture

Read this Strib article, then read this response.

Excerpt:

[W]e acknowledge none of this, and insist that the rules that apply to all others do not apply to us, for some reason which is neither convincing nor, more importantly, true. Our self-imposed blindness may well destroy us, and we will not finally see the truth until it is too late.

If we should fade into dust much sooner than we might have, history will note that we could have chosen otherwise -- but that we resolutely refused to do so. History will judge us accordingly, as it judges all those who have gone before. But the shame will be ours, now and always.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Matthew 5: 7

How can someone who professes a deep faith in Jesus Christ implicitly condone torture by allowing his Vice President to lobby Congress to oppose legislation outlawing torture?

8 comments:

Aljavar said...

Let's not get too crass. I have a deep faith in Jesus Christ. If a man were to have harmed my wife and kept her hidden, waiting to die I would do anything necessary to get the information from him. I don't see any spirituality in letting one person suffer and die so that I don't have to make a guilty person suffer. An innocent person suffer and die, verses a guilty person suffer. That's what torture is.

The argument needs to be on the methods, the extent (obviously death defeats the purpose of torture) and the application through justification. The argmunent is and never should be "does a Christian ever believe in the use of torture". It's not a Christian issue, it's a political one.

The Biblical quote is a little out of place. Seems like that's the new Pie-Eyed thing. A little crass. I would love to see someone throw that verse at the Islamic extremists creating nothing but merciless destruction. The political nature of spiritual finger pointing is a little sick to me.

Here's the debate. Would it have been worth torturing one person for a day to save the World Trade Centers from getting blown up? 10 people? 100?

The article, except a couple sentences, came across as complete conjecture to me.


Lastly, I can't believe we are voting 90-10 odds against torture when we can't even get a bare majority to think about abortion sensibly. Who has any guilt?

archduke f. f. said...

I think you're missing the point with the wife hypothetical.

In your example, you torture the person who knows where your wife is, you know exactly who is holding your wife, you know that he knows where she is, and you know that he can tell you. That is not the same as what the US is accused of doing.

What the US is accused of doing is taking people who may or may not have any connection to terrorists and torturing them to get information that may or may not help us find some other terrorists. Recently, in the case of Jose Padilla, the US had to throw out its charges against him as a "dirty bomber" because military people tortured that information out of "witnesses" who may or may not have ever met him.

The problem with the debate about torture as you've framed it is that you're allowing the tortured people to be nameless, bodiless, faceless. You seem to be viewing the tortured as numbers, whereas I'm thinking of them as individuals (at least I think that's how it's working). What if it took more than one day? What if the torture lasted two months, every day. I don't want to get overdramatic, but we too easily fall into the trap of thinking about this as a numbers game rather than about actual human lives.

I'm probably going too far here, but here's the debate. Think of the 5 people you love the most in the world. Would it be worth them getting tortured for a month for the WTC to still stand? What if they were never the same afterwards. What if you knew that they were being tortured somewhere, and you could do nothing about it. To me, that makes it much harder to justify it in any situation.

(more later, but I have to collect my thoughts)

Ilya said...

I must admit, that I have been guilty of quoting single Bible verses to make a point. But it is more to make fun of people who do so because the views expressed in that text are so simple as to be useless as an argument for or against an issue of any complexity, like whether state-sponsored torture is a legitimate means to prevent terrorism.

And there is no need to resort to random hypotheticals because the issue is alive today, the cases can be taken from the newspapers.

The debate here can be seen as a clash between two views of morality. Aljavar is a consequentialist who looks at the numbers and says the greatest good is to torture one person for the benefit of many others. Whereas archduke says you can't just look at the numbers because there is this thing called human dignity, we should treat peoples as ends (as Kant said).

I agree with the latter view, but I would couch it in terms of human rights. Human rights prevents us from resolving even a ticking time-bomb scenario by saying ‘go ahead and torture one individual to save thousands—it is a no-brainer.’ Human rights adds that the dignity of that individual matters. You cannot just trade one life for many more. Human dignity complicates the set of moral choices.

Aljavar said...

Well put arch and ilya. A worthy debate. Points well taken.

My original hypothetical argument was set up as a black and white scenario to show the extreme need for torture. The scale slides away from justification as the circumstances get less and less concrete. Obviously the unjustified use of torture needs to be kept in check. No sensible person would argue the other way.

To say that support for the full use of torture causes someone's Christianity to come into doubt was the original spark that I wanted to comment on. If we get into that kind of discussion, then we're mixing a debate with a debate in a crude manner. Should a Christian ever torture another person? A lengthy debate of circumstance, method, motivation, consequence and so forth. Is a person's Christianity reflected in their political activity(inactivity)? This one would get personal real fast. By both sides. I just can't handle the idea hugeness of that original statement. It would be parellel (in a very loose manner) to a conservative saying (during the 90s) "I can't believe president Clinton calls himself a Christian while supporting abortion and fingering his secratary under the desk". It's the bundling of assumptions, spiritual and otherwise, into a single flat block statement. e.g. "How can someone who professes a deep faith in Jesus Christ implicitly condone torture by allowing his Vice President to lobby Congress to oppose legislation outlawing torture?" Too much too fast in the last sentence of the blog. Floored me.

As far as the numbers game, I'm perhaps too practical. I would trade 4999 for the 5000 in the WTC bombing or otherwise. Can't see any argument for the other way around. Emotion plays a role in all acts with regards to decency. It is a factor. Would I shoot 4999 people in the head, personally, to save the 5000 from dying? I can't imagine saying I'd do it. I can't imagine actually doing it, seeing it done. I especially can't imagine it making sense to the 4999. If I were the 5000th person, would I want the 4999 to die to save me? No. But we all know that if it was a choice between dropping a bomb on New York or dropping a bomb on Boise, we'd choose Boise. There's plenty of human dignity in that clear choice.

We need to value human life. Definetly beyond the random chance of perhaps saving another human life. It would not make sense to me to take one person's life to possibly save another. The injection of the inpradictability of life (reality) breaks down the math in most situations expeditiously. That's the true debate we are having in the papers: prisoner abuse and torture being used when it may or may not actually have even a remote chance of getting results. But, the math of trading life for life is real and is acted upon in a real manner. It is the basis for war. It is the basis for our criminal justice system (let's not forget that even in Minnesota we take the liberties of people away for rest of their life if the cause is just. let's not get on this debate). It is and has been that basis for anyone who's ever given their life for other humans.

I rush to crude practicality faster than emotional pleas, I'll admit that. To say that we can't trade one life for many others is, IMHO, not true. Why stop the holocaust then? Human diginty argues just as strong to save the many as it does to spare the one. It argues both sides equally, in my mind. Each life life a dignified and that dignity is cummulative, in my mind.

Aljavar said...

"Each life is dignified". Sorry for the fumble.

Aljavar said...

If I knew that killing the five people closest to me would save the WTC lives, if it for sure would save their lives, I would. They would ask me to, in fact. If I were one of someone else's five, I would tell them to. I would tell them to even if I were one of the 4999 saving the 5000. But, again, the impracticality of definites is beyond reality.

Anonymous said...

Should a Christian ever torture another person? A lengthy debate of circumstance, method, motivation, consequence and so forth. Is a person's Christianity reflected in their political activity(inactivity)? I am completely mystified that this took the turn it did by what it started out as. I hear Aljavar saying its right for a person to choose the lives worthy of saving and those that are justifiably sacrificable. You said,"I have a deep faith in Jesus Christ." "If a man were to have harmed my wife and kept her hidden, waiting to die I would do anything necessary to get the information from him." So tell me Aljavar where is the "deep faith" in Jesus Christ in this scenario? If there were true faith wouldn't you accept the Lords plan and trust God? Jesus Christ came to the earth, and left us with a new testament. This testament said to all that you will do unto others as you would have them do unto you, that which you do unto your brother, so to you have done unto me, and you should turn the other cheek. To justify violence against man is to go against every teaching of Jesus and to harm Jesus himself. Faith is a feeling, belief, and trust in the word of God, without personal wants or desires that need to be fufilled in order to follow. The rational behind all of your hypotheticals is greed, you want your wife, you want your political views to be right, you want to believe your friends and/or yourself are the kind of people who would give up their lives for others. Bottom line, there is no greed in faith.

Anonymous said...

I felt I must qualify my post by saying I understand Aljavar's words and am not accusing him of not being a believer, I know that he is a human being and is not perfect and that he understands the same. My point is that to bring "Christian" faith into any conversation that has to do with the justification of any act of harm against mankind is hipocracy. Jesus Christ went as far as to sacrifice himself to prevent harm to his brothers. WWJD is a common statement to Christians. The older I get the more I have come to realize that my convictions were just that,... MINE. Let he who hath no sin cast the first stone. I want so badly to believe in something human, whether it Kant,Kierkigaard,Confucius, or Aristotle. But the reality is they are just men with the same deadly sins associated to them: greed sloth, pride, gluttony, envy, lust, and anger. So it must be understood as we grow older and wiser, we must get in touch with our own wants, needs and desires to really understand why it is that we think the way we do.
Love your neighbor as thyself. God bless you and yours.