The Uses of Torture

Discussions about torture in the public sphere seem like a classic case of people talking past one another. Military and government officials assert that torture is justified because it’s effective, an argument that the mainstream left refuses to directly engage with. In typical self-righteous fashion, lefties go for the moral, ethical, and legal arguments against the use of torture.

And I agree that torture is unethical. But I think it’s worth asking, is torture really that effective?! The very possibility of a “yes” makes the question offensive to most people, but it’s actually a pretty interesting one to ponder. I think the answer depends on what it’s supposed to be effective for.

It seems pretty stupid to torture someone to get information. I don’t have reports, statistics, or historical evidence to back this up. It just seems like common sense: push a human being right up to their threshold of withstandable pain and the brink of insanity, and you know, they might get a little disoriented. I wouldn’t bet my life on the names, dates or locations screamed out by someone in an oxygen-deprived state trying to avoid death by drowning. That’s just me. Maybe the military has different standards for information quality.

If torture doesn’t work, is it good for anything else? Sure, lots of things!

It’s good for putting the fear of God in your darker-skinned enemies. It’s good for quenching the populist thirst for revenge. It’s good for creating jobs for private security contractors while people back home can barely scrape by. In short, it’s good for distracting Americans from the real political and economic problems of the day. Problems that will impact ordinary people’s lives much more directly than any crazed terrorist ever will.

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