September 14, 2006


Caption: The monkey enjoys a brief respite from interrogation.

This post continues yesterday's reflections on torture, specifically with how it is defined and by whom.

According to Wikipedia,

Torture is any act by which severe pain, whether physical or psychological, is intentionally inflicted on a person as a means of intimidation, deterrence, revenge, punishment, sadism, or information gathering. It can be used as an interrogation tactic to extract confessions.

That's pretty straightforward, but I doubt the Bush administration will go for it. As the Chicago Tribune reported last week,

Despite assurances that evidence obtained through torture will be off-limits, the Bush administration's proposed rules for terrorism tribunals do not contain clear guidelines for determining whether torture was employed and would leave such decisions to military judges, according to documents and statements from a senior administration legal adviser.

A few years back, the administration attempted to define it extremely narrowly as leading to "organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death," which leaves enough leeway to gratify any Grand Inquisitor. That definition got yanked after it turned out to lead to bad PR.

El Cabrero surmises that the administration currently defines torture as that in which they do not engage so that whatever they do to whoever they want and no matter how nasty it gets, it's not torture.

I feel better already.

Still, it's probably good to think about just who should be able to define other people's reality. Leaving such matters up to the current rulers unquestioned judgment is probably not a good idea though, even if they were as wise and good as they apparently think they are.

The philosopher Karl Popper once suggested that a key question in human political life is:

How can we so organize political institutions that bad or incompetent rulers can be prevented from doing too much damage?

No blank checks, please.


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