Thursday, February 25, 2016

Trump and Torture

With Presidential candidates supporting the use of torture, it is worthwhile to to take another look at what types of people these are, and the types of people they want us to be.

I wrote an article on the moral question of torture over 10 years ago when the Bush Administration sought to defend it.

Much of the argument states what we are actually looking at is whether or not there are reasons to support an aversion to using torture and how strong that aversion should be.

Donald Trump seem to hold that there should be no aversion to torture. He has shown no interest in discouraging it and, in fact, seems to suggest that it is something to be encouraged - as if its use on those suspected of having information, or being guilty of a crime, is a positive good. I would be interested in asking Trump if he thought that a torture chamber should be installed in America's prisons so that convicts can be sentenced, say, to a day on the rack or having their balls electrocuted three times per day.

I digress.

Off the top, the main reasons that exist for promoting an aversion to torture is because we are likely to discover that we and those we care about are going to be a lot safer if we are surrounded by people who are kind and averse to causing pain, then we will be in a community filled with people who can inflict pain without a shrug or a care. To speak personally, I would like the person I meet on the street to be somebody who actively dislikes the thought of causing me pain. I do not want him to be indifferent and I certainly don't want him to be the type of person who has been raised to view the act of inflicting pain as something to look forward to.

To the degree that we can make the psychological barriers against inflicting pain on others stronger, to that degree we are at a lower and lower risk of discovering that we or those we care about have been made to suffer pain. Insofar as we have reason see to it that those we care about are not made to suffer pain, to that degree we have reason to be promoting an overall aversion to causing pain.

A part of creating that aversion to causing pain is to use our moral language - our language of praise and condemnation - to praise those who would be reluctant to cause pain, and to condemn and view with contempt those who are indifferent or actively joyful at the prospect of causing pain.

On those grounds, I hold Donald Trump and those of his followers who agree with him on this - and even those who disagree but are substantially indifferent about filling our society with those who enthusiastically support causing pain, are despicable human beings worthy of a great deal of contempt.

The defenders of torture argue that the motivation behind their embrace of torture is that it will keep the company safe.

At this point, one might expect a standard response identifying some reasons to believe that this is not the case - that torture will not help to protect us. Indeed, it doesn't - but there is ground to be covered even before we get there.

First, Trump, at least, is not talking about using torture as a way of extracting information. He is talking about torture as a form of punishment.

The enemy is cutting off the heads of Christians and drowning them in cages, and yet we are too politically correct to respond in kind.
We will ignore the implication that cutting off the heads and drowning non-Christians seems to be a perfectly legitimate activity that does not warrant any type of response at all. Those who cut off the head and drown Christians deserve a response in kind. It is for retribution.

We are going to have to ask what responding "in kind" means. We are talking about torture - waterboarding or worse. Apparently, this is a response "in kind" to cutting off the heads of Christians or drowning them. Technically, responding "in kind" would mean that we round up and chop the heads off of Muslims. However, let's not pretend that Trump's language is ever intended to withstand too much detailed scrutiny.

Let us simply accept that waterboarding and worse involves responding "in kind" to these types of atrocities. The implication that follows from adopting these policies is that we will, in effect, be saying that what they are doing is perfectly legitimate. In fact, one of the things they already say is that, given the use of American bombs and economic sanctions that by performing these actions they are the ones who are making the choice to respond "in kind".

If we want to send a message to the world that a certain type of behavior is wrong and that decent - respectable - civilized - moral human beings do not do such things is . . . 


By engaging in these practices, particularly if we present ourselves to the world as decent - respectable - civilized - and moral human beings is to say that decent, moral human beings do these things. This teaches a lesson to the world that there are no moral limits here.

Now, when we get to the claim that torture is being embraced as a way of keeping innocent people safe, we can raise the objection that lifting the moral prohibition on torture will do nothing but make it much more widely practiced - something that cannot be condemned or contained - thus something that a great many more innocent people are going to end up enduring.

This brings us to another, practical issue about torture.

If America is the type of country that engages in these types of activities - if it is the type of country that not only engages in torture but who, by doing so, sends the message to the rest of the world that torture is a morally legitimate practice - why should people help us? Why should people try to get word to us that they suspect a friend is engaged in an activity that will blow up an airplane or set off a bomb at a sporting event? I can see people around the world being far more interested in helping to protect the people who condemn those who torture (who, then, condemn those who may have tortured or might torture them or somebody they knew) than they would be in helping those who campaigned and, thereby, encouraged the world to adopt more torture and worse.

A specific example of this principle applies to the United States Military in specific. If we engage in torture or worse, then we are telling the people of the world that engaging in torture or worse is a legitimate activity. If we are telling people around the world that the use of torture or worse is a legitimate activity, then we are telling those who capture American soldiers that the use of torture or worse is a legitimate activity. This means that such a commander in chief is, at the very least, putting American soldiers at risk that anybody who captures an American will treat their American prisoners the same way that America treats its prisoners.

Now, below, you will find a presentation on torture that may provide you with an idea of some of the facts about Donald Trump and his pro-torture followers simply ignore.

No comments: