Tuesday, October 13, 2009

EITs: Ethical Objections and Responses Pt. 7


8. Allowing even this set of relatively mild techniques will open personnel to risk of stepping over the line as they attempt to carry out the techniques. For instance, following an order to keep detainees awake, a guard may resort to unacceptable physical violence. This is a risk to detainees as well as personnel. It is best for both that we do not entertain use of such techniques, the better to protect them from such risk. (Unintended Consequences Objection)

Re: Clear leadership, statements of expectations, regulations setting out acceptable/unacceptable means, an appropriate command climate, adequate oversight, and swift and sure penalties for transgressions, will prevent this. These sorts of control systems are common and largely successful in police, intelligence and military institutions, and are accepted. We would be relying on precedent and the enterprise would not be wholly novel. There is no reason to believe incidence rates of transgressions would be any higher in this instance, than in those institutions. We do not choose to eliminate these institutions for the sake of eliminating the possibility of transgressions. Why would we not act similarly in the case of this institution?

9. In reality there are few or no situations that fit the description of being ‘supreme emergencies’, or ‘ticking time bombs’ that can best (or only) be defused by information gleaned from use of these techniques. So the arguments in favor of allowing such techniques have nothing to which they attach other than hypothetical, unreal or extremely unlikely situations. Therefore, there is no good reason to seriously entertain use of such techniques. We should certainly not craft a general policy around such rare cases. (The Unreality Objection)

Re: The most straightforward way to reply to this objection is to present counterexamples to its rather bold claim; cases of supreme emergency or ticking time bomb scenarios that actually occurred, and which were such that interrogators had good reason to believe the detainee had information, and the best or only way to attain the preventative information was, or would have been through employment of such techniques. Note: it needn’t be the case that the techniques were used, but that they would have been the best candidate for production of fruitful information if used.

One such example should be obvious, given recent information: Given that Khalid Sheik Mohammad cracked and gave much truthful preventative information that allowed prevention of several plots ( on Marine barracks in Djibouti, the U.S. consulate in Karachi Pakistan, 9/11 style plots on Heathrow Airport, London, and the Library Tower in Los Angeles) after water-boarding, it is reasonable to assume that if we had captured him before Sept. 11, 2001, and applied the technique, he would have given enough specific information concerning Mohammad Atta and the other hijackers to have allowed prevention of the attacks.

This example combines the actual with the probable. We actually extracted useful preventative information from him, and would have been likely to have extracted useful preventative information from him, given that he (as apparently most human beings are) was particularly susceptible to water-boarding.

Having presented such a counterexample to the unreality objection, the burden of proof falls back upon the shoulders of those that make this objection, to show that these plausible hypothetical are indeed implausible, or outright impossible.

Their rarity would seem to be beside the point. For we can make the case that a combination of the near universal susceptibility of human beings to water-boarding, with the possibility of detaining someone like KSM in the future, in a time constrained situation, would suggest to us the likelihood of prevention would be somewhat more than “hypothetical.” Far from crafting a general policy around such cases, the general policy allows for such rare cases by carefully circumscribing or anticipating scenarios that would constitute acceptable use.

10. We should take the best of both worlds in dealing with interrogation policy. We should make interrogation techniques such as these illegal. Consequent to this move we will, of course, have to try and convict people that do break the relevant law, and allow for executive pardons in cases where these ‘maverick’ interrogators break the law and prevent significant harm. (The ‘Have Your Cake and Eat it too’ Compromise)

This is not so much an objection to use of the techniques as it is an ethically surreptitious ticket to use them in rare cases. The motivation behind the proposal seems to be that it will effectively combine the precedent setting ‘America as lead dog’ concerns voiced in objections (6) and (7), with ability to prevent emergency situations from coming to bad ends. This solution is a surreptitious recognition of the ethical permissibility of use of EITs in certain situations, without the moral courage to simply admit it.

This solution is morally suspect, on Kantian grounds, in that it endorses using people of good will merely as tools for the production of both international amity, and national security. It not only uses them, but intentionally dehumanizes them in order to make that use palatable. The very act of putting them on trial makes of them exiles from the moral community, a special class of scapegoat.

This solution says to the intelligence community both that we expect it, and its employees to use these techniques when they deem it necessary (just follow implicit guidelines, common sense, or guidelines from discussions of such cases to make sure there really is a ticking time bomb on your hands, none of which guidelines we will codify for fear of giving the impression that we legally and morally approve use of these techniques) and it also says that we expect these folks to be willing to sacrifice or risk their good name and freedom in so doing, or at the very least, that we expect them to endure a sort of scapegoating for doing so, not only by their own country, through its legal system, but by the international community.

This approach, quite frankly would be inexcusable moral cowardice. We should have the moral courage to either legally allow for interrogations such as we have been discussing, or absolutely and in no uncertain terms divest ourselves from them. There should be no ‘nudge-nudge-wink-wink’ encouragement, while we also at the same time and with much fanfare declare to the world that we are morally set against such practices. This does smack of disingenuous tartuffery and grandstanding.

Neither should we fall prey to the easy and comforting fiction that these sorts of scenarios and this sort of compromise, (if we can call it such) just allows us to act in those circumstances we all recognize where we must sometimes make use of bad people for good ends. To assume that only “bad” people will use the enhanced techniques in ticking time bomb scenarios, and that we are thereby excused in leaving them out to dry legally, and that by convicting and pardoning them we can acknowledge and make use of their supposed moral depravity while at the same time exhibiting our moral enlightenment and rectitude, as we prevent massive harm, is, to say the least an ethicist attempt at squaring a circle, and evidence of a baroque moral preciousness worthy of condemnation.

Such a practice is in essence a pathetic case of encouraging, letting (or enabling) others to ‘do the dirty work,’ blaming them for doing so, assassinating character for doing so, thereby making a vain attempt at absolving ourselves from responsibility, all the while reaping the benefits of their acts. It allows ‘us’ to emerge morally unscathed, while the scapegoats take on our sin of cowardice in the guise of a legal prosecution.

Too precious. If we are going to admit that there are times that require use of water boarding and other EITs, we should be grown up about it, codify use, create a responsible professional cadre for the purpose, provide oversight and dispense with the moral duplicity.

Exit from series: We consider what full publicity of the program has done. The program must of necessity be secret if it is to be effective. Given that it is no longer secret it cannot now be efficacious. So, we are left with no real way to extract information from hardened and well preparted detainees.

Is this true or false? Make the call.