Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Financial Times on Torture

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal says

Tyler Cowen (where does he ever find the time?) alerts me that the extremely sharp, thoughtful, and witty Clive Crook now has a weblog.

Generally, when something is agreed upon by DeLong and Cowen, I'm likely to find it of value, and so I've tentatively subscribed to CrookBlog. Okay...but in reading a few entries, I find myself stuck on | Clive Crook's blog: It depends what you mean by "torture":

If anything is torture, simulated drowning is torture. If you need to remind yourself what waterboarding entails, read how the Khmer Rouge did it...Which principled defence of "aggressive questioning" permits simulated drowning but prohibits thumb-screws or the rack?

But I don't need to read how the Khmer Rouge did it. I can watch it performed the way that the Americans do it, as done to a Fox News guy named Steve Harrigan.

So okay, I know what it is. Is it "torture"? Well, gee. Yes, it depends on what you mean by "torture", and some people -- knowing what waterboarding is -- will include waterboarding within "torture", and others won't. What I'm looking at, though, is Crook's If anything is torture, simulating drowning is torture.

This strikes me as fundamentally unserious. Waterboarding is an unpleasant experience which some not-obviously-insane people volunteer for, and don't seem to regret afterwards. (So far as I know, this line excludes both thumbscrews and rack.) We can draw the "torture" line to exclude such things; in that case waterboarding won't be torture, and yet I think we'll have a quite intellectually and morally coherent view of what torture is (and why, in a morality which tries to pay some attention to the Golden Rule, we don't torture.)

I imagine we can also have an intellectually and morally coherent view of torture which does include waterboarding, which we therefore don't do. Maybe we can have an actual discussion of it. However, the post I'm linking does not seem to rise above the "if anything is torture" level. So I have to start my reading of CrookBlog with a down-check on credibility within some domain of discourse whose scope is yet to be determined. That's okay; there are major places where I down-check DeLong, and yet he's still worth reading. But still, it's not a good start, and I read too many blogs.

or maybe not? hmmm..

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