Doctor Science Knows

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Torture, various

So I've been spending *way* more time than is comfortable reading about the unfolding torture memos saga. At Obsidian Wings, hilzoy posted about the "Perfect Storm" of policy-making ignorance. In the ensuing discussion, I wrote:

I agree with Nell that Shane & Mazzetti's "ignorance" explanation makes no sense.
they make it a technical, bureaucratic, institutional kind of failure rather than what it clearly is: a complete failure of moral judgement and courage on the part of powerful people
-- but I don't think the institutional/bureaucratic failure and the moral failure should be contrasting explanations. When Gary says:
most personnel working constantly with classified material tend to disregard material in the public domain
-- that's IMHO an extremely believable and important point. The allure of having the Special Classified (hermetic, esoteric) Knowledge makes people lose track of the fact that it isn't as good -- it's not been gone over by as many minds, it hasn't been looked at from as many sides. It will tend to be tactical and technical rather than strategic, or strategic rather than meta-strategic -- which is usually the level where moral thinking comes in.

Meanwhile, over at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, E.D.Klein was writing about how long it might take the tide to turn for current torture apologists. My comment (re: discussion):

I’d also like to know where this “recruiting tool” meme comes from.
From logic. … Do you not think the countrymen of the men we’ve wrongly tortured (and sometimes killed) would not have similar anger against the country that did that to them?
I would take it even further than that. Torture is *evil*, it is what the Bad Guys do. When we do it — when we excuse it, when we *endorse* it — we become Darth Vader, the obvious embodiment of Evil. We make people opposed to us look like the Good Guys. Of course it’s a wonderful recruiting tool — lots of people (especially the young kind who make good soldiers) *want* to fight Darth Vader, they *want* to be a Good Guy and fight the Bad Guys.

How could you expect it to be otherwise? Unless, of course, you yourself would rather be on the winning side than on the side of undoubted moral Good.

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