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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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Location: Washington, D.C.

greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

09 December 2005

Torturing debate

The debate on torture remains as vibrant as ever, with ever more words being written about what the Bush Administration has done and said in its questioning of prisoners. There is little need to say much on this—except to lament that the debate is focused too much on the whether the US government has tortured people and has lied about it instead of debating the more useful question of whether it should do so.

Such a debate would surface issues regarding the acceptability, utility and limits of torture and help answer the more vital question: is torture necessary in the war on terror. There is no doubt that there is truth to the idea that under pressure people will say anything to make the pain stop. But there is also no doubt that people have different cracking points, and that force could be more useful on certain people over others. This is a more useful discussion.

I doubt we will hear it. There is a strong sense that torture is an a priori bad, an unacceptable compromise of Western ideas of freedom and justice. There is some truth to this idea; but it is not the whole truth. This belief rests on the implied assumption that moral clarity and righteousness are the key to winning battles and wars. Although any country needs such conviction in its view of history, to say that American military triumph rests on moral clarity alone is, at the very least, incomplete. Countries win by adopting tactics that work—morality is essential is maintaining the momentum for battle but it is not the whole story.

References:
Eugene Robinson, “Many Words, Little Clarity From Rice,” Washington Post, 9 Dec 05 (link)

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