Thursday, February 10, 2005

Still more on torture.

The definition of torture I discussed earlier relies on the phrase "severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental." I think this may be what Jay Bybee was talking about when he referred to "pain equal to that associated with organ failure." I think someone familiar with the "severe pain or suffering" definition asked further, "how much pain is 'severe?'"

Imagine torturing someone with only "moderate" pain. I can't imagine anyone "breaking" for a stubbed toe. If part of the interrogation is moderate pain that goes on indefinitely, then someone might suffer enough to "talk," but I think at that point we're talking about mental suffering. After all, water torture causes no physical pain, but it's still torture. In short, if the interrogation isn't severe, it won't work on anyone.

Our would-be torturers are left with a choice:
  1. "Moderate" interrogation techniques that don't work.
  2. "Severe" interrogation techniques that are illegal.
What to do? Redefine "moderate" so it's severe enough. That's how we arrive at "organ failure."

Asking "is it really torture?" sounds to me like asking the cop "what's the worst I can do without being arrested for assault?" Wanting to know where the line is implies wanting to cross it but willingness only to get close to it.
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