No, no, I’m not talking about the local S&M club, but Hilzoy’s post on a recent report concluding that “harsh methods” or “enhanced interrogation techniques.” or (if you insist on being gauche) torture is not a very effective method for gathering intelligence:
When I read arguments written by people who support torture, many of them seem to think that being opposed to it just shows that you aren’t really serious about the war on terror. If you were, they say, you wouldn’t want to fight it with one hand tied behind your back. You’d want to use every means available. This isn’t true: you can be completely serious about all kinds of things without being willing to do literally anything to advance them. (Quick: would you be willing to rape children to win the heart of your true love? No? Then I guess you don’t really love him or her, do you?? — That’s the same specious argument.) More to the point, though, you can tell who is serious and who is not by noticing who actually stops to think about whether torture is effective. People who don’t bother to ask that question are not serious about winning; they’re in love with a fantasy of themselves as the person who is tough enough to do all those dirty things that have to be done while other people just wring their hands and whimper.
Exactly right. Terrorism, perhaps even more than conventional war, generates a sense of powerlessness and loss of control. There are no battle lines, attacks could come at any time, and there’s not a whole lot the average person can do about it. Hence silliness like Michelle Malkin’s “John Doe Manifesto,” which is calculated to help dispel that feeling and reassert at least an illusion of control. Reams of psychological research confirm that this kind of sense of powerlessness is all too often translated into fantasies of inflicting harm on others—there’s no more complete assertion of dominance than torture. That we’re having a conversation about the appropriateness of torture without a very careful inquiry into whether it’s effective suggests that something like this is what’s going on: We spend absurd amounts of time concocting implausible “ticking time bomb” scenarios because it gives us license to imaginatively act out that dominance while rationalizing away what we’re actually doing.