Defining Torture

OK, so in a comment, Bruce points us to this. An entirely rational discussion: words mean what we commonly accept them to mean. Thus whether waterboarding is torture or not depends upon what we all think the words torture and waterboarding mean.

So in order to decide whether waterboarding is torture or not we need to define our words.

I would posit (and whether this is true or not depends rather on how many agree with this) that torture is the infliction of physical pain in order to elicit information.

No, that\’s not a complete desciption: torture can also describe the infliction of physical pain purely for the pleasure of the torturter, psychological torture is another meaning. But I would put forward the meaning that anything which is the infliction of physical pain in order to elicit information is indeed torture.

Does waterboarding inflict physical pain? Yes. Is it used to elicit information? Yes.

Thus waterboarding is torture.

20 thoughts on “Defining Torture”

  1. Which proves that torture can be justified which , quite obviously , it can be . In any case whee does pain become discomfort . Next you`ll want them to be administered with back rubs and aromatic oils …to avoid chaffing

  2. Actually, waterboarding doesn’t inflict any pain whatsoever. Well, unless one of the persons holding one down might squeeze a little harshly. Still considered torture?

  3. Waterboarding inflicts physical pain? Really? I understood it inflicted sever psychological pain, mimicing the effects of drowning without the physical effects.

    No matter, there is already an internationally agreed definition of torture, no need to bend the facts to make one up. It already embraces waterboarding as it is.

    The United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment defines torture as:

    “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

    And, yes, the USA is a signatory power.

  4. “Waterboarding inflicts physical pain? Really? I understood it inflicted sever psychological pain, mimicing the effects of drowning without the physical effects.”

    It involves the inhalation of water. I don’t know if you’ve ever inhaled water. I have; it fucking hurts. QED.

    (as JohnO says, it’d be torture under all officially accepted definitions anyway…)

  5. And there is the US Code’s definition of torture:
    (1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
    (2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—
    (A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
    (B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
    (C) the threat of imminent death; or
    (D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality;

  6. This is the key phrase from Engram:

    “…define the harshest interrogation techniques that the CIA is permitted to use because they fall short of torture. ”

    This is the issue – not people’s various personal definitions of torture.

  7. BGC, what do you mean by “people’s various personal definitions of torture”?

    You’ve been given two definitions of torture in US and international law. By definition, any “harsh interrogation technique” must fall short of those definitions in order to be legal.

  8. ukliberty –

    The point is to define precisely what is the most extreme form of harsh interrogation allowed by the CIA (or whoever). At present this is waterboarding. We know precisely what this entails.

    If someone disagrees with waterboarding, then they need to state equally precisely what they do regard as the most extreme form of harsh interrogation that they *would* allow.

  9. BGC, what you and Engram are suggesting is that the interrogator is entitled to use an illegal technique until opponents suggest a legal one.

    Quite an extraordinary view of the law.

  10. “Next you`ll want them to be administered with back rubs and aromatic oils”

    Could we just have a definition of “them” please? Are these proven terrorists, or suspects? Because if they are suspects then some of them will be innocent and you are advocating the torture of innocent people. Yes? No? Would you like me to pop round to where you live, stick a hood over your head, throw you in the back of a van, drive you to a remote building then beat the crap out of you just in case you might possibly know something that might help in the fight against terrorism, organized crime, people trafficking, drug smuggling, child exploitation, serious fraud, money laundering, and racially-motivated hate crime?

  11. I think Engram’s point was that plenty of people are willing to state that they regard waterboarding as a form of torture that should not be used by the CIA; but the same people are reluctant to “…define the harshest interrogation techniques that the CIA is permitted to use because they fall short of torture. ”

    Comments so far prove his point.

  12. BlacquesJacquesShellacques

    Laddies, the infliction of pain must be “severe”, and therein lies the tough decision. We all accept that the infliction of non-severe pain is acceptable.

    So a copper yelling at you is OK, or leaving you awake for 10 hours in a noisy hot interrogation room, whereas the same copper rubber hosing you is not.

    So BGC and Engram are entirely correct, and all the weepers and wailers need to come up with a reasonable definition of ‘severe’, or “…define the harshest interrogation techniques…”.

    But being lefties, they’ll first attempt every logical fallacy from Ad Hominem to Tu Quoque, with special emphasis on reasoning by analogy.

  13. How about this: lock the interrogatees in a room at the top of a very tall skyscraper. Knock out a window, put a 55 gallon drum of jet fuel in a corner and set it alight.

    Give the subjects a choice: be cremated alive, jump out the window, or talk.

    No pain need be involved if they decide quickly enough.

  14. “So a copper yelling at you is OK, or leaving you awake for 10 hours in a noisy hot interrogation room, whereas the same copper rubber hosing you is not.”

    Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects Suspects suspects suspects suspects.

    Sleep deprivation, shouting, being made to stand, going hungry and thirsty, locked in a cell in solitary for hours, IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU. YOU COULD BE A SUSPECT.

    Personally, I’ve love to take a rubber hose to the some of the bastards contributing to this post who think it’s OK to torture innocent people.

  15. Kay Tie – I love you comments usually – but I notice that neither you nor anyone else has actually “…define[d] the harshest interrogation techniques that the CIA is permitted to use because they fall short of torture. ”

    Engram’s *extremely* important point was that this debate should not be about proving to ourselves and others that we are against torture; but defining the absolute _limit_ of allowable harsh interrogation techniques.

    Why is this so hard to understand?

  16. “Why is this so hard to understand?”

    Because before we define “harsh” we have to recognise that the people it’s applied to can be innocent. That they can be just like me and you. Only when that’s properly understood can you then start talking about what “harsh” is.

    A meta-point I have to make, though, is that even debating what is and isn’t torture is an indicator that we’re slipping down that slippery slope. It shouldn’t even be an issue. The fact that it is (evidently) an issue is one more the more depressing facets of life post-9/11.

  17. “Engram has provided an excellent update on this subject today: http://engram-backtalk.blogspot.com

    I’d love to see him define the abortion debate. When, precisely, is a bundle of cells a human? Before sex, that’s zero on his scale, kid graduates from college, that’s 100. Let’s find a number for when we can kill the kid. In China, it’s any moment before the kid pops out (say 70). In certain other cultures, if the kid’s female, it’s post-birth too (say 90).

    Ugh. I just don’t accept that we discuss moral issues on these terms. As someone once said, “you don’t need to define torture: you just know it when you see it.” I don’t want to chop logic, I just want my society to not torture suspects.

  18. Torture is what an American considers torture when the subject is an American. The Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have done unto you” should apply as a matter of course. But then again, not using all means to elicit information from an uncooperative suspect that might save many lives could be construed as punishing all for the sake of the few. In theory, the life of one person, anybody, is worth as much as a thousand or a million or billion people but whether libertarianism or utilitarianism is preferable surely depends on the precise situation.

  19. BGC, I have no idea what could be “the harshest interrogation techniques that the CIA is permitted to use because they fall short of torture”, indeed I am ignorant of interrogation techniques – that’s one reason why I’m not suggesting any. I’m not avoiding the question – I just don’t know the answer.

    But it seems to be a misguided question, perhaps even a deliberately obfuscating question, because it is the state, which has much more expertise than me at its command, which is obliged to invent techniques that fall short of torture.

    Why is this so hard to understand?

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