Starting a National Discussion on Torture

Econo-Girl is going to start a national discussion on torture and interrogation, not as an expert, but as a person who is driven to know and communicate.

We cannot ignore the role of faith, morals and identity in this discussion.

All perspectives need to be aired, including the tit-for-tat and effectiveness arguements. If, indeed, torture is effective, we need to discuss it, as morally abhorrant as that is to some. Keep in mind that effectiveness is not the final word in the discussion.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of various interrogation methods?

What is the impact of false confessions to counter-terrorist analysis?

What constitutes torture? What is its definition?

Let's examine the conflict between what is said, and what is done. Thank you in advance for your participation.


bewonderaar said...

Torture is not only wrong but also ineffective. You can molest a person telling the truth to the point of collapse to hear the lies you want to hear.

Anonymous said...

Pony up and tell everyone the REAL reason you were fired. Oh yes, it seems so much more glamorous to say you were fired for discussing torture, but that was not the reason it seems you were fired. You were reading and then discussing reports that you, as an IT professional, were not supposed to have access to. And discussing what may have been a compartmented report on an open forum. That was why you were fired. ANYONE in your supervisor's/customer's position would have had to fire you. You were careless or deliberately ignored classification. Shame on you.

Enjoy your 15 minutes.

Econo-Girl said...

Actually, I was there and you weren't. And I know what I was told.

How can you call a classified blog on a highly classified network an "open forum"?

You say "it seems" and "what may have been" because you don't know what the story is, you are just guessing. The same is true for the leaders of the CIA. They fired me for the content of what I wrote, and are now digging around for justification.

Michael Roston said...

Thanks for giving us this forum Econo-Girl. As an identifiable victim of what we may end up referring to as an era of Hoekstraism, I'm happy to see this discussion being brought out in the open. I hope your fame goes longer than 15 minutes, though anyone who googles up your name can see that you didn't need to be fired by BAE and the CIA to be considered a notable thinker.

I think it's really important when speaking of the definition of torture to say that there is in fact a definition of torture. When John Yoo ginned up the infamous torture memo, he claims he could find no guidance on how torture is defined. Either Yoo was a very mediocre legal researcher, or he just decided to overlook the enormous amounts of case law existing in the US since this country ratified the torture convention that work to define torture.

In fact, Yoo must have completely ignored the US government's own report to the Committee Against Torture prior to the election of President Bush that devoted considerable space to that definining the practice. If courts can do it for legal purposes,

I think we don't need to work too hard on establishing a new definition.

More on the subject here

(I'm not sure if you're moderating comments, but sorry if this goes up twice - it seems to have disappeared after the first time I posted it.)

Ulricii said...

I've got you bookmarked, Econo-girl. And my blog bookmarks are a short list. Keep at it.

Nano Guru said...

I am having trouble posting my comments and am trying, again.

Hey Anonymous:
This is in reference to your post:
"Anonymous said...
Pony up and tell everyone the REAL reason you were fired. Oh yes, it seems so much more glamorous to say you were fired for discussing torture, but that was not the reason it seems you were fired. You were reading and then discussing reports that you, as an IT

professional, were not supposed to have access to. And discussing what may have been a compartmented report on an open forum. That was why you were fired. ANYONE in your supervisor's/customer's position would have had to fire you. You were careless or

deliberately ignored classification. Shame on you.
Enjoy your 15 minutes.
7:37:54 AM"

Let us suppose, for a second, that EG is lying about the reasons for her getting fired and just wants have her fifteen-minute fame. Sadly, your comments do not mitigate, or even address, the fact that "one-sided" (i. e., I would consider torture a fair deal, if we, the U. S.,
were to agree to submit to the same standards to which we hold others) torture is wrong and reprehensible. The best way to stop torture is not to practice it. I do realize that this may only work in a Utopian society, but we have to start somewhere and practice what we preach.

A. U. American said...

You may want to contribute to my blog. Here it is:

A U American

The Lazy Iguana said...

I expanded on my "white hat / black hat" western analogy on my site. Check it out if you are so inclined.

We, as the "leaders of the free world" must hold ourselvs to a higher standard. if we do not hold ourselvs to the highest of standards - who will?

Nano Guru said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nano Guru said...

I have a mundane question for you - are you an attorney, an IT person, an economist, or all of them? I am getting confused after reading references to all three on your blog. (Forgive my ignorance!)

Anonymous said...

Ms Axsmith:
Hurray for you! Great article on you in NYT, Saturday, July 22, 2006. I am disgusted by US use of "waterboarding."
Keep up the good work!
Robert M. Dills
Retired economics professor and
Resigned USAR Cpt, Inf and Distinguished Military Graduate

Jason said...

I am not an interrogator, nor do I have any special knowledge of interrogation.

That said, I'll try my hand at it.

If I'm interrogating someone, for information that is NOT critical (i.e. life-or-death), or imminent, I would be the nicest guy in the world. If it is critical, but not imminent, I'd probably be in the same position. Once the time becomes critical, then I might feel a need to use more extreme measures. However, even if I did feel the need to resort to torture, I'd never feel right about using it. But, you have to add in more complicating factors into whether you decide to use torture, the degree of confidence in whether the information would be reliable, and confirmable, and more importantly, whether that person is even guilty.

Two situations:
First: If a sweep of an area for combat age males rounded up a few hundred guys, a few dozen of whom might be badguys, and only a few of them might have critical, time-dependent information, that I might not be able to confirm, then there is no way in hell would I use torture, and I like to think that I'd be willing to use force to prevent others from torturing them.

Second: The classic ticking-time-bomb scenario, the flaws of which have been pointed out repeatedly, or something similar. Yes, I'd use torture. Afterwards, I like to think that I'd promptly turn myself in and plead guilty, with no expectation of leniency.

In between those two, there's a wide range of circumstances. But in all those cases, *I* must be responsible for my actions.

Anonymous said...

To fight a war
An enemy is necessary
If you cant find one
Make one

cdaky said...

You keep starting discussions, but you never discuss. You just pose the question. What are your thoughts to other peoples thoughts?

Cybrarian said...

My whole life I felt like America was all about the moral high ground, the rule of law, human rights, a beacon of hope and freedom, etc. After abu ghraib, and exporting prisoners for torture, and revelations about prisons in Eastern Europe ... my whole view has changed in the past year. I feel personally betrayed-- like finding out your dad's a child molester or something, but worse. The credibility so many people have fought so had for for 330 years has evaporated in less than three years. It's just so sad.

PenguinRoller said...

Definitely like your title. I think you'll find that you're not the only one in the capitalist wilderness that can support the system but not the parasites :)

Though, to be fair, you update on a much more consistent basis than I ever could, and your design is a whole lot spiffier. So I credit the point to you, Econo-girl.

Hope you don't mind if I tack you on to my blog-links list - I need to start expanding my range beyond the current folk who inhabit what you could call my "inner circle". Not that they're bad people by any stretch of the imagination, but a little variety always helps the discussion.

Anyway, love the site, and keep it up! :D

Doug said...

Don't worry about anonymous above. We can have a discussion based on itself. I agree with your premise, if torture is effective then the moral issues are very relevant. If torture isn't effective, then moral discussion becomes: should we torture just to do it? We can wrap that one up pretty quick. Of course the issue of whether it's legal might matter, too.

Doug said...

By the way, is it weird to anyone else that we're even having this conversation?

Anonymous said...

Yes torture is WRONG! But for the libs to define it as loud music & bright lights day & night at Gitmo is plain studpid. That would make most USA hotels guilty of torturing their guests!

We all know what the Constitutional Fathers were trying to prevent in that "cruel & unusual" part! You know the red hot poker up the butt, burning at the stake like Catholics were SO fond of, etc--that's torture! And yes the Catholics were wrong to torture people & the Pope still hasn't said they are sorry, has he?

Anonymous said...

Does the USA wish to wear the "white hat" only when it is convenient to do so....or do we wish to stand tall as John Wayne and wear it proudly, consistently and ALWAYS?

Our leaders had better damn well decide and when they do…..they need to know that the decision and resulting reputation will live with us and the USA for decades or longer.


Steven said...

I'm not an expert on interrogation, and so cannot presume to speak as to whether torture works or not. However, I am quite certain that it does not work on a person who does not possess the information sought. Moreover, there appears to be some concern that it is difficult to tell whether the intelligence produced by torture is reliable or not.

On a purely practical level, I can therefore state that unless an interrogator knows for a fact that a suspect possesses the information, torture is at best unreliable, and at worst counter-productive. So to justify torture, an interrogator must be able to demonstrate that factual knowledge, which implies the requirement for some sort of warrant.

Even if this evidence exists, however, there are other considerations: Is torture the minimum level of violence needed to get the information? Does the reputation we stand to gain as torturers make suspects more, or less, likely to confide in us?

Until it can be proven that torture is both useful and ethically defensible, I should expect any reasonable moral code to err by avoiding it rather than to err by committing it.

Anonymous said...

Christine/Or someone who knows how to get hold of Christine:

Please drop our agency (or have your agent do so) a line if you would like to discuss the possibility of doing a book.


Metropol Literary

Econo-Girl said...


Econo-Girl is a licensed attorney with considerable experience in IT. She also has a rabid fascination with economics, but no degree in it.

Billy Beck said...

I found you through Andrew Sullivan, which leads me to this:

What follows is an e-mail that I sent to him over a month ago --

"I think you might do your readers a service by commending them to Solzhenitsyn. Go to your shelves and pull down your trusty copy of 'The Gulag Archipelago' (you do have a trusty copy, right?), Vol. I. Crack it open to page 103 and begin reading: 'Let us try to list some of the the methods which break the will and the character of the prisoner without leaving marks on his body.' He lists thirty-six of them, culled from zek experience at the hands of the Soviets. It goes on for fourteen pages.

Here's the point: see how that plays on the Right.

Good luck."

He didn't do his readers the service. Everybody else should pay attention.

Anonymous said...

I read an interesting book by Elaine Scarry called "The Body in Pain: the making and unmaking of the world" It was about pain and torture. I wonder if any have read it.

Anonymous said...

NPR addressed this very topic with an interesting series, just a couple of weeks ago. You'll find an archive here:


caat said...

for puposes of discussion, can those who are arguing tit-for-tat please distinguish between whether they are calling torture in these circumstances morally right, or just right in their own minds?