15 February 2010

Why You Shouldn't Torture Children (Advanced Beginners)

Bruce Anderson is one of the most disgusting cunts alive and the Independent is fucking doomed. We've all known this for a long time. Barely seems worth mentioning, to be honest. So Bruce, being the Indie's token psychotic neo-liberal, has decided to play the "I don't condone torture but..." game, which he gets about nineteen gold medals for by saying we absolutelyfuckinghavetodoit asmuchaspossibleateveryopportunity rightnowRIGHTNOWRIGHTNOWBEFOREILOSEMYHARDON.

Bruce weighs in with the tried-and-tested ticking bomb. Torture should be allowed because, facing the 100% certain outcome of a terrorist attack that could kill millions, we should suspend moral principles. At first glance, it's hard to argue. At second glance, it's utter bollocks. For a start, what terrorist with no fear of death plants a fucking time-bomb? There's also more sophisticated arguments. What if he didn't plant the bomb himself, but just knows someone who knows someone who's hiding and has the secret code? How certain do you have to be before you can torture someone? Will 99% do? 80%? 50/50? You know it's one of the thirty you hauled in. Torture them all for good measure? Come on! Clock's ticking!

The whole scenario is also incompatible with torture as it is actually practiced in these cases. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a month. That was clearly not to force information out of him. Like the psychological experiments Naomi Klein talks about in The Shock Doctrine, the point is not to squeeze out vital leads, it's to disorientate the victim to the point where they let it slip out accidentally. The "torture doesn't work" arguments fall down here too: this is an entirely different method, which might well work, given the chance. All it takes is a method of torture that yields results and civilisation is fucked.

It's not just practical issues though. As well as ludicrously improbable, the ticking bomb is also immensely inconsistent. There's a bomb under Manhattan. Would you go paedo? If not, you're not making the utilitarian argument you pretend to. You're just using an emotive scenario because you want it so good people get to do bad things. Would you use torture if you knew you'd hang for it? Say no, and you're a coward, a hypocrite and condemning thousands, millions, billions of people to dirty-bomb death. Say yes, and there's no need to suspend the rule of law along with our moral principles. Once you've decided you absolutely need to torture someone, is it alright if you enjoy it? Is a full-on chubby permissible, or only a semi?

I'd thought of another, even better counter-argument, but Sydney Kentridge got there first. Bruce Anderson:
I once argued that if there were a ticking bomb, the Government would not only have a right to use torture. It would have a duty to use torture. Up sprang Sydney Kentridge... "Let's take your hypothesis a bit further. We have captured a terrorist, but he is a hardened character. We cannot be certain that he will crack in time. We have also captured his wife and children". After much agonising, I have come to the conclusion that there is only one answer to Sydney's question. Torture the wife and children.

This is where we see Bruce is a true pro at the game. The wife and kids argument is a clever one, because it exposes torture fans for what they are: pragmatic utilitarian realpolitikers, like Anderson, who are (understandably) willing to suspend moral principles to save innocent lives, or sadistic hypocrites with none to start with.

LibCon/Pickled Politics and Henry Porter rightly jump on him, but for all the wrong reasons. The fact that Bruce Anderson condones torturing children is not what makes him a horrible little shit who needs nailing to a cactus. It's the closest he will ever have to a redeeming feature. He's at least honest and consistent and if he could, he would save everybody in the world from super-hyper mega-terrorism, whatever it took. He's a horrible little shit who needs nailing to a cactus because he condones torture full stop.

Everybody's gut reaction to this article is utter, utter horror. Even Bruce Anderson's. An innocent woman and her child are about to go through horrific agony and abject terror which they have done nothing to deserve except marry and be born to the wrong man. But saying it's wrong to torture innocent people who don't deserve it is an awful, awful, stupid, suicidal awful, stupid argument. It's a tacit admission that some people do deserve it. It makes the moral questions of torture into a sliding scale, with Bad Men With Beards are at the underwater end. If you argue anything other than "torture is always wrong", then you're also arguing torture is sometimes right. And what that means in practice is: torture is always right when I want to do it. I just need to find the right situation.