Torture Isn’t Complicated

Jon Stewart, the comedic political commentator and host of The Daily Show, has an unfortunate habit of thinking he’s being hospitable to a legitimate opposing viewpoint when really he’s just inclining an ear to moral bullshit.  Case in point: his interview with Zero Dark Thirty star Jessica Chastain, in which he indicated that the film’s scenes of torture, which he described as our government doing “difficult” things, challenged his viewpoint.  Ned Resnickoff offers the right response, explaining how Stewart and others buy into the pro-torture narrative of good people doing ethically difficult things for good reasons.  Writes Ned:

Of course, there’s nothing courageous about concealing one’s support for torture. Nor is there anything particularly brave about saying the state should be able to do unspeakable things in order to keep you safe. Excusing and even fetishizing those unspeakable things is an act of cowardice—and there’s nothing particularly complicated about that.

It’s a testament to our country’s moral adolescence that the ethics of torture gets unnecessarily convoluted by endless debates about degrees of pain, fantasy scenarios cooked up by moral relativists, and the high liturgical celebration of killing bad guys.  Torture has an objective and morally-clear meaning: the infliction of physical or mental pain for the purpose of breaking the will.  It isn’t complicated and it shouldn’t be difficult to identify or to condemn.

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Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a freelance writer who blogs about culture, philosophy, politics, postmodernism, and religion. He is a contributor to the group Catholic blog Vox Nova. Kyle lives with his wife, son, and daughter in North Texas. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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76 Responses

  1. Teresa Rice says:

    I agree with you, Kyle. I only have tiny bone of contention though. After doing a bit of research I came to the conclusion that the definition of torture isn’t easily defined and there isn’t really a consensus as to what is deemed to be “torture.” Before I changed my position on torture (EIT’s) I wrote a post on this. Here is the post –

    • mark boggs says:

      Seems to me if we prosecuted Japanese soldiers for waterboarding Americans in WWII under the claim that it was torture, than we’ve, by our own executive branch’s admissions, tortured people in the War on Terror.

      • Teresa Rice says:

        I have a “pro-choice” type of position on waterboarding, i.e. torture. I would never do it and believe it to be morally wrong but I haven’t taken an oath and don’t have a responsibility to protect the American people so if those people who believe that torture (EIT’s) is morally licit to use in order to fulfill their oath of obligation to protect the American people from harm then that is on them. I am against the use of torture when it is used as a just in case measure. Not defending the United States per se, but if you read the post I linked to the methods or the technique itself that the Americans used to waterboard are different than those the Japanese used during WWII. My disagreement with Kyle is rooted in the fact that he seems to take a nuanced position when engaged in discussions related to the “pro-choice” abortion position but on the issue of torture he takes a simple black-and-white-stance. I suppose that I am just the opposite: I have a nuanced position on torture and a simple position on the abortion issue.

        • Kim says:

          I take a “sort of” nuanced position here.
          We do EXTREME damage to America’s credibility (and white-hat wearingness) when we admit to torture. That ought to have NEVER EVER happened.

          THAT said, We have laws on the books about torture. If someone (preferably the President) is willing to get courtmartialed (can you courtmartial the president?) for a particular piece of information, he should feel free to do so. Quietly.

          Nuance, yes, but the type that balances on blind Justice’s sword.

          [The subject of torture is a personal one to me, and one I care deeply about. I could never torture someone].

          • Teresa Rice says:

            “We do EXTREME damage to America’s credibility (and white-hat wearingness) when we admit to torture.”
            I agree. Especially when there isn’t a consensus among politicians or even presidents as to what constitutes torture.

            If the information is necessary in order to save lives in a restricted time frame so that the president is able to keep his oath to defend and protect citizens I don’t think he should face a court martial.

          • Kim says:

            We make laws for a reason. Torture is against the law even if it’s for a “damn good reason.” Courtmartial the man, because he’s broken the law.

            You don’t get to break the law simply because “it was justified!”. You break the law, you serve the time.

        • James Hanley says:

          I have a “pro-choice” type of position on waterboarding, i.e. torture.

          Me, too. If you like being tortured, that’s your own business. If you don’t nobody has a right to do it to.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      You’re correct that there isn’t a universal consensus on a particular definition, but I would suggest this speaks not to the ambiguity of torture but to our moral confusion.

    • Ivan says:

      I was tortured for almost 3 years by the FBI and their friends only
      because 85 years old man, Roland Sibens(chicago) convinced them that I
      am a terrorist. I was tortured for working on my prosthetic legs in
      the basement. I done absolutely nothing illegal or wrong. They thought
      that in theory it is possible to hide bomb in them. They saw an
      opportunity to get famous, so they were trying to torture me till I
      sign their insane story. They tortured me using more than 100
      different torturing methods and trust to me waterboarding is not how
      they torture nowadays. I dont know where to find justice.

      I think that after 9/11 things got out of control. Freedom fighters
      became tyrants. In 1945, most Germans had an opportunity to learn about Nazis death
      camps. I hope that one day American citizens will get chance to learn about people
      like me, who were tortured with no reason for years.

    • Pretty Bogus – There’s no wide agreement on torture because people want to torture. So they will torture the moral realities of torture in order to do more torture. Just read Kyle’s definition about torture. It is just not that heard.

  2. I’m with you 99.9%, Kyle. There is going to be a line between torture and not-torture, and I think that line might not be crystal clear. I don’t think that’s what Jon Stewart was talking about. The U.S. (and Canada) are complicit in torture. There’s no real debating that.

    It’s a damn shame.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      I can conceive some hard cases where it isn’t crystal clear whether a specific act meets the definition, but these are the exception, not the rule. If you’re intending to break someone’s will by administering pain, then you’re torturing.

      • Yeah, I’m in full agreement.

      • Kevin Rice says:

        What if my only intention is to inflict as much pain on my victim as he can endure until he dies, and I don’t particularly want to break his will. If anything, I want him to keep the fight in him as long as he can hold it (the better to lengthen and savor his suffering). Am I NOT torturing him?

        Glyph has given voice here to an objection that I have already offered in previous discussions on this subject. Perhaps he will get the satisfying reply that I never did.

        • Kyle Cupp says:

          Context, Kevin. The definition I’ve proposed is given in the context of interrogation. As for your question, yes, you are torturing him, inflicting torment for its own sake, in this case the maximum torment endurable.

          • Kevin Rice says:

            Some definition re-adjustment may be in order then. You have argued that what defines torture and qualifies it as intrinsically evil is the coercive intent that is absent in my distasteful counterexample above. You have also, if I recall correctly, granted that not all infliction of pain qualifies as torture by your definition. If you are saying that your definition only applies to its context, interrogation, you narrow its scope and your argument loses some of its moral force.

            You have also, on a previous occasion, granted that some arguably legitimate use of discomfort as a motivator does not necessarily amount to coercion as you understand the term, but you have been unwilling to clarify that distinction. That seems to be the in the area where Glyph was headed. If you address either his objection or my own in a concrete way you will strengthen your argument.

      • Will H. says:

        If you’re intending to break someone’s will by administering pain, then you’re torturing.

        Just as easy to do it with kindness.
        I would rather the prisoners be greeted with something along the lines of: “Our nation was founded on the idea of religious freedom. You are in the custody of the United States, and we will defend your right to practice your religion while you are in our custody.”

        But too often, there is a de facto authorization to violate the law; and what’s odd about it is that it’s from the very same people who took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States.

        Think about that judge (I forget his name) that resigned after Bush II pushed through the warrantless wiretapping thing.
        That guy gave up his pension.
        Federal judges receive a pension equal to their salary for the rest of their lives if they retire, but nothing at all if they resign.
        That man resigned.

        So we still have a few men of decency.

  3. Tod Kelly says:

    Having just watched the clip, I’m unsure I understand the criticism of Stewart. He seemed to be interviewing an actress about a complex role in a movie that (I guess?) is supposed to make us “have a conversation.”

    I’m not seeing the “torture is fine” from that clip. I’m not seeing it so much I’m wondering how many people talking about his “buying into” torture bothered to watch it.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      I made it a point to what the clip before opining on it. Stewart doesn’t describe Chastain’s role or the movie itself as difficult: he uses that word to describe the torture used by the government and says also that the film challenged his preconceived notions about how he feels about torture. That’s not “torture is fine,” but it is something far short of “torture is morally wrong,” and I agree with Ned that his wording buys into the pro-torture myth of good people doing less than good things to stop really bad people from doing terrible things.

  4. Burt Likko says:

    The rule is simple:

    No torture.


    • James K says:

      I like it, easy to remember.

    • Glyph says:

      I also vote for Burt. But I have to make a Devil’s Advocate argument here, because I want to understand how we undergird this and where/why we draw the line.

      I assume we all agree that, at minimum, we have the right, even obligation, to detain a terrorist against his will. Even the best/most humane detention is unpleasant (and this isn’t getting into things like solitary confinement, which have serious deleterious mental effects) – and we know this, because we put low-risk, non-dangerous criminals on house arrest – so we know that involuntary confinement MUST be de facto harmful, or we wouldn’t consider it acceptably punitive in these cases, since they are in their own home with all its comforts.

      Confining someone is, if not “breaking their will”, certainly “denying” or “thwarting” their will, even just their will to walk to the 7-11. If I do this to you do this extralegally (kidnapping) it’s a serious, serious crime, even if I never harm you in any other way aside from keeping you against your will somewhere.

      So. It seems to me that we accept, in principle, that it is acceptable to harm someone for our (or society’s) safety, or to achieve an end we seek to achieve.

      So it seems to me that the definition of “torture” does matter. Isn’t prison (or a punishment) intended, in part, to break the will of the criminal (or a child) to commit his crime again?

      “Reform” and “deterrence” and “confinement” are much obviously prettier words than “torture”, but…

      Is this basically a “I know it when I see it” kind of deal? Please understand, I get that it may be, and in this case I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. But I’d like there to be something more concrete, because while I agree with the statement, in theory I don’t understand how we don’t end up calling anything at all that we do to attempt to coerce someone to a desired action (or non-action), “torture.”

      • mark boggs says:

        My first concern with your example would be: How many of the folks who were tortured in the prosecution of the War on Terror had ever been tried or even put through military tribunals? Like so many of the detainees at Guantanamo it almost seems we’re OK with the answer being, “Well, they wouldn’t have gotten picked up by our soldiers if they hadn’t been doing something wrong, in the wrong place, etc.”

        • Glyph says:

          Let’s keep the hypo clean, and assume they got caught red-handed planting a bomb or whatever. You are absolutely correct that that is a problem, but it’s not the question I am asking.

      • Burt Likko says:

        18 USC section 2340:

        (1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
        (2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—
        (A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
        (B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
        (C) the threat of imminent death; or
        (D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality … .

        I distinguish between “personality” and “behavior” when contemplating the purported reformatory or deterrent effects of prison. Prison is not torture. It’s obviously not pleasant, but its unpleasantness does not make it torture.

        A law authorizing waterboarding or racking or quartering or whatever other awful thing you want to imagine is not a law that inflicts “pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions.” The pain and suffering is the object of the law, not an incident thereof. The object of prison is confinement. The discomfort of having one’s liberty restricted and privacy abrogated is incidental to the confinement.

        Kyle’s right in the title of the post. Torture isn’t complicated.

        No torture.


        • Glyph says:

          other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality

          This definitely speaks to solitary confinement, for sure, though I excluded that.

          Thanks for the info. I am not sure I agree that “unpleasant” and “pain” is so easily distinguishable when it comes to the human mind; like anything, it’s a continuum. If I come to your office, and I handcuff you to your chair; and I promise you that I will feed you three squares/day, and wheel you out to get sun, and you can blog all day every day, and your wife and children can come visit you when they want, and I otherwise promise not to harm you and keep you healthy etc.; I think that thought would still cause you mental anguish, and rightly so.

          You wouldn’t just think, “well, this is unpleasant, I wish Glyph hadn’t done that.


          The object of prison is confinement.

          Often, but not always. Go back to house arrest. We confine a non-dangerous person strictly for punitive purposes. The confinement is just the means of punishment, not an end; we are not worried they’ll hurt someone, or we would have confined them in real jail.

          Anyway, I don’t know how much headway we’ll make here, and I appreciate the legal definition, and I don’t disagree with you. I just wish that the distinctions were less “I know it when I see it”, particularly being that one man’s “unpleasant” may be another man’s “pain”.

          • Kim says:

            solitary is often a prisoner’s choice (sometimes chosen through violent means, but … eh. limited means of communication make for poor communication)

          • Will H. says:

            Confinement isn’t simply to one end.
            Supposedly it’s for rehabilitative purposes, but there are considerations which warrant substantial punitive considerations.

            As for solitary confinement, that is a punitive thing. As I understand it, it’s a temporary thing to deal with rules infractions when in confinement; a safety issue.
            And I believe there are rules as to how long a person may be kept in solitary confinement.

          • Glyph says:

            Will – take a look at this if you get a chance. Solitary is supposed to be temporary, and for serious infractions, but in practice it does not always happen that way; and it can be devastating. Humans are social animals, and deprived of contact we will have serious, serious problems.


          • Burt Likko says:

            We can spend all day deciding what is “severe” physical pain or suffering, or quibbling about what the object of this or that action imposed on a person might be. Ask any lawyer: if you push things far enough, dig down deep enough, and split enough hairs, then everything becomes inexact, everything becomes a judgment call, everything acquires a degree of uncertainty. But at a certain point it stops being reasonable to do so.

            Yesterday I witnessed a mother disciplining her relatively young son who was acting inappropriately in line at the burrito stand (and indeed the child was acting inappropriately, by way of running about in the middle of other parties waiting in line to order their food).

            After he ignored a warning, Mom told Son that because he was misbehaving, he had lost his privileges of watching television for a day. Son protested that this was cruel: “You’re the meanest mommy ever and I hope you get arrested!” was the exact verbiage of the protest, IIRC. For a child given this discipline by a parent, “No TV for a day” might seem like the worst thing that has ever been done by one person to another in the history of humanity.

            The United States Code’s definition of torture is not the only reasonable one we might use. But it’s good enough for our purposes here. And let us stipulate that the mother’s intention in doing this was to break her son’s will to run about and bother other people in the restaurant.

            By the analysis you’ve proposed, Glyph, was the mother torturing her child?

            Clearly not; I’ve chosen a risibly obvious example of something that is not torture. You or I could construct an argument to the contrary, but it would not be a reasonable argument. “No TV for a day” is simply not “severe physical pain or suffering.” I reach that conclusion using the “I know it when I see it” rubric, true, but is there going to be any sober disagreement with it?

            So maybe you’re taking a relativist approach to whether X — something visibly more serious than “no TV for a day” but not quite as bad as, say, vivisection without anesthesia — might or might not be torture. Okay. But my three-word rule should at least illuminate your mental anguish about whether what you’re proposing to do constitutes “torture.” It should, at minimum, remind you that you’re playing with moral fire, and that you should be prudent and deliberate about what you give yourself moral license to do to another human being. If all I’ve done is caution you, well, that’s something. And maybe the simple fact that you must ask that question of yourself in sobriety and that you cannot readily answer it should be enough to make you hesitate.

          • Will H. says:

            I have no doubt that is true.

            Really, that’s one good thing that comes from the privatization of prisons; that private contractors aren’t afforded that same immunities as state actors.
            They’re easier to sue.

        • zic says:

          Excellent, Burt.

          But what is complicated are the motives that lead one to torture, (beyond the aberration of enjoying causing pain). The notion that innocent people are in danger, that this person in front of you has information that can save those people, he or she is unwilling to divulge that information despite confinement, the acceptable restraining behavior.

          If you’re the person interrogating the prisoner; if you know hundreds or even millions of lives are on the line, the ‘No Torture’ sign above your desk suddenly doesn’t seem to morally clear; the urge to bend the rules to save millions becomes, in such a situation, overwhelming.

          But research has shown that there’s so little value in the information gained under torture is your salvation. They may tell the truth, true. But they may also tell a thousand and one lies to display cooperation, to end the tribulation, sending you and your resources down a thousand and one rabbit holes, too.

          No torture.

      • Kyle Cupp says:

        So it seems to me that the definition of “torture” does matter. Isn’t prison (or a punishment) intended, in part, to break the will of the criminal (or a child) to commit his crime again?

        No. Motivation may be an intention, but there’s a difference between coercion and motivation. Coercion renders one unable to make a conscious, morally-free, rational decision. One becomes a puppet. Motivation works with the will, often as a tool to build the will, as parents well know in disciplining their children.

        • GordonHide says:

          This is a distinction without a difference. There is probably no such thing as “the will”. Science tells us that the world, including human beings, is largely deterministic. Any influence brought upon us to try to change our future behaviour varies only in the matter of degree. In my view any action which seeks to change our future behaviour by trying to persuade us that the future will be more unpleasant if we don’t change is coercive, including disciplining children.

      • Kazzy says:


        This is why I, generally speaking, disagree with a prison system based on a punitive model.

        • Teresa Rice says:


          Would you please explain what you mean when you say that you disagree with a prison system based on a punitive model? What other model could the prison system follow?

          • Will H. says:

            Generally, the purpose of incarceration is rehabilitation and public safety.

          • Kazzy says:

            What Will daid.

            There are many theories behind incarceration. Just look at our terminology…

            Penitentiary is derived from the idea of giving penance.
            Compare that to a correctional facility, intended to correct behavior.
            Prison is derived from a word meaning to take or to hold, aimed at public safety.

            What is gained by “punishing” people for punishment’s sake? Studies show deterrence is rarely an outcome.

    • Morat20 says:

      Yep. With the corollary: If it’s worth torturing someone over, it’s worth going to jail for afterwards.

      If you absolutely feel you are morally compelled to waterboard someone for some vital information, then you should have no moral qualms about spending decades in prison for doing it.

      • Kim says:

        Yes. But I’d prefer it if the president was the one making the decision. It’s not the type you ought to leave to buck privates.

      • Will Truman says:

        I actually have pondered a similar but slightly different view. If it’s important enough to torture for, then either it’s important enough to risk prison or it’s clear enough that no jury in the United States would convict you for it. Torture in a ticking time bomb scenario, no jury will convict you. Torture because this guy might know somebody in UAE who knows somebody in Pakistan that has been linked to this terrorist in Afghanistan… that’s a different matter.

        • Glyph says:

          In principle, I like this. Keep it illegal, full stop, and trust in individuals to make the right call, and a jury of their peers to vet that decision after the fact.

          The issue I see is twofold – the govt will resist mightily holding proceedings in any open courtroom (compromises nat’l security, don’t you know). And, they even today work mightily to prevent jury nullification – so they will work hard, to ensure that the jury believes it has no choice but to convict, by means of obfuscation.

  5. GordonHide says:

    My reading of the OP and comments leads me to suspect that nobody accepts the ideas of consequentialism have any merit. In particular the idea of choosing the least of two evils. Also I assume that posters do not accept the idea of a “sin” of omission as opposed to a sin of commission. To try and be a little more explicit, something left undone because in isolation it is morally reprehensible is not immoral even though the consequences of not doing it are orders of magnitude worse than the omitted action. Is this a correct view of what posters think?

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      Yes, I am no consequentialist. I affirm the principle that there are actions that are intrinsically immoral, i.e., immoral based on what they are and not on the consequences they bring about. To put it traditionally, I believe the ends to not justify the means. I do, however, accept the idea of a sin of omission, but it is not a sin of omission to avoid doing something intrinsically immoral as doing so in any situation and circumstance would be a sin of commission.

      • GordonHide says:

        Just to confirm then; even though it may have resulted in many deaths if was not wrong according to Catholic morality, to advocate against the use of condoms in Africa and not wrong to refrain from supplying them.

      • GordonHide says:

        I have to say I find this point of view intrinsically impractical. It’s not impractical in practice because you heave it over the side as soon as its silliness becomes apparent. For instance: you should advocate not imprisoning dangerously violent criminals because imprisoning people against their will is intrinsically wrong in isolation. You do in fact support imprisonment because you can’t face the consequences of not doing so.

  6. Kim says:

    And yet, when I bring up torture in the context of rape, it’s suddenly “not torture” and also “not rape”.

    I understand that civilians physically torturing other civilians falls under some category of assault &/or battery. What does mental torture fall under? Vague “abuse”? Is it illegal to intentionally deprive someone of sleep without their consent?

    • Will H. says:

      Both mental anguish and substantial emotional distress are actionable on a civil basis.
      It is possible that there might be some type of criminal act involved.
      But not likely in the matter of disturbing someone’s sleep.

      If my niece is staying over, and her baby’s crying keeps me awake at night, do I call Johnny and say, “Arrest that baby, on charges of Gawdawful Racket!”

      To say something is not criminal doesn’t mean that it isn’t wrong or that there isn’t liability.
      That’s what “tortious acts” are: wrongs which confer liability.

      • Kim says:

        Torture is still torture, and sleep deprivation with the intent of removing the subject’s ability to give “informed consent in a rational frame of mind” is torture. To say that consent obtained under such conditions absolves someone of the crime of rape is wrong.

        (this is not to say how provable this is, and we might be more right to treat skeptically a claim of sleep deprivation than “brute force” — in that we should try harder to substantiate the claim, and confirm that there was actual impairment…)

        [also, the baby is a nice strawman. If I was setting up some low grade audio to irritate you, ruin your sleep, and in general get you to move out, I’d say that probably ought to have some sort of punishment attached. (probably moreso if you lost your job because of it.)]

        • Will H. says:

          I’m not sure how long someone would need to be kept awake before “irrationality” occurs, but I’m guessing days on end with no sleep at all.
          I can’t name the elements of duress right off the top of my head, but they’re out there, if you want to check into it.

          Now, my wife had this thing about sleeping with the TV on.
          There were a lot of times that we were unable to share the same bedroom because of it.
          And sure enough, she had this niece with the wailing baby.

          • Kim says:

            Maybe I’m weird. But within a few hours of not sleeping, my stories tend to contain much imparseable nonsense, and I am unable to continue a reasonable conversation (without, say, drifting onto something else, with no rhyme or reason to the drift — NOT a tangent).

            My problem is that someone is actively and maliciously trying to remove someone’s ability to give informed consent. We probably prosecute people for daterape drugs, even if they /don’t/ work (lesser punishment, probably).

          • Will H. says:

            Impairment of mental faculties isn’t the same as being irrational.

          • Kim says:

            will h,
            the medical definition of informed consent takes into account differing levels of impairment. We tend to use the medical definition, at least in part, when we’re talking about drunken students (that is to say, getting someone drunk to have sex with them is rape, if they wouldn’t otherwise have consented — n.b.: it is also possible for the other party to be impaired enough to have mistaken consent where there was none. That’s a dirty example — let me use a clearer one: it is possible for two nonconsenting people to have sex while sleeping. as it wasn’t consensual, it was rape. there is actual violation without a violator.)

          • Will H. says:

            There can be no informed consent in cases of fraud or duress.

            But here; I looked this up for you.

            Duress (intentional tort):
            One side involuntarily accepted the terms of another; and
            Circumstances permitted no reasonable alternative; and
            Circumstances resulted from the coercive acts of the other.

            From what I understand, it’s a very difficult sort of case to prove.
            It’s usually that “reasonable alternative” thing that keeps coming up.

        • KatherineMW says:

          Systematic sleep deprivation is torture, Kim, I completely agree. I won’t comment further on this as it sounds like the continuation of a previous debate that I’m not familiar with.

          • Will H. says:

            Sleep deprivation can certainly be torture, yes.
            It’s one of the many forms of torture that the Koreans used on our soldiers back in the 50’s.

            That said, there are standards to determine this.
            Getting 3 hrs of sleep a night doesn’t meet those standards.

            The Koreans had determined that the important part of the sleep function which replenishes mental faculty only occurs after the first five minutes of sleep. So, they would give the captives sleeptime periodically, but wake them up every five minutes. Waking a captive was most often done with extraordinary physical force, which would make people afraid to fall asleep.
            That’s torture.

            Whining about wanting sex until your partner gives in isn’t.

            And it’s bs calling it ‘rape.’

            A few years back, I rented this b&b for the weekend and went out to the place with the gf. I was up half the night by the time I got there (we were keeping different hours). I wanted to take a nap, but she wanted to ‘go somewhere.’ She would sigh loudly, intentionally disturbing my sleep (which prolonged the situation as well).
            Torture, yes or no?
            Extortion? Duress?
            Maybe you want to call it ‘breach of fiduciary duty’ for acting with improper motive for gain measurable in pecuniary terms.

            In Kim’s example (the one about sleep and sex), it’s a sign of a relationship that has deteriorated dramatically, and the only questions in my mind are how long are they going to stay together until one of them decides to find a partner more suitable, and the issue of what other manner of aspects does this same dynamic play out in their relationship.

            Calling it rape is just a propensity for loaded language.

          • Kazzy says:


            What are the circumstances under which the sleep is being deprived? If you are being held against your will and deprived of sleep, than the detention/abduction is a crime itself and I’d argue the sleep deprivation as well.

            But if your neighbor plays his TV loud when you’re trying to sleep without the intention of keeping you up, that is enitrely different.

            If your husband continually pokes you to keep you awake with the hope that you’ll eventually submit to sex you wouldn’t otherwise offer, I can see a case being made for rape, though it’d likely be hard to get a conviction. Assuming you have the ability to get away from him one way or another would be important.

    • Burt Likko says:

      In the definition of torture I quoted above from the United States Code, the infliction of severe pain and suffering must be done “under color of law.” But this is not the only way we might define torture. California Penal Code section 206, for instance, offers this definition:

      Every person who, with the intent to cause cruel or extreme pain and suffering for the purpose of revenge, extortion, persuasion, or for any sadistic purpose, inflicts great bodily injury as defined in Section 12022.7 upon the person of another, is guilty of torture. The crime of torture does not require any proof that the victim
      suffered pain.

      Nearly every noun and adjective in that definition seems to require further definition and subjective analysis, so I like it less than the U.S. Code, although as I dialogue with Glyph above, the more we drill down, the more likely it is that we’ll have to inject some amount of subjectivity to the definition. But it does eliminate the requirement for action “under color of law.”

      • Will H. says:

        What’s notable in that statute, from my view, is the several different states of mind.
        To my knowledge, only the federal witness intimidation statute at 18 USC 1519 covers so many individually.

        Revenge: malicious
        Extortion: intentional
        Persuasion: willful
        Sadistic: sadistic (which is sort of what clued me in that this was referring to states of mind) (I believe where the word “intent” occurs is to criminalize attempts)

        Other than that, the pain, suffering, and injury must be cruel, extreme, or great.

        • Will H. says:

          1512 is the witness intimidation statute.
          1519 is section 802 of SOX.

          Sorry, but my proofreader is a jackass.

      • Will H. says:

        Three things should be noted about that ‘under color of law’ requirement.
        One is that this applies to the states and not the feds; which brings up immunity issues.
        Another is that federal employees are generally without liability, even when performing illegal acts, that are within the scope of their employment. There are a few exceptions; the FTCA, and Bivens actions.
        And the third is the PLRA, which requires that incarcerated persons exhaust administrative remedies before pursuing other action.

  7. Michael Drew says:

    Say I attempt to challenge you to a game of table tennis. Say you accept and kick my ass at zeroes. In my view, I have successfully challenged you to play table tennis, but I have not successfully challenged you at table tennis. One could say that, purely describing my initial challenge before knowing whether you accepted, it might be more accurate to say I merely attempted to challenge you to a game. But in a very high number of such attempts, the challenge in in fact successfully issued. I mean, an unsuccessful attempt by me to challenge ou to a game would have to involve my swallowing my tongue before I could get the full sentence out, or something like that. So in most cases, we would omit the words “attempted to” from describing my challenge to you, whatever the outcome of the game, or even whether or not you accepted.

    I wonder if charity requires to allow that this was the sense in which Stewart used the word “challenge.” essentially, was he just saying that the film *attempts* to challenge certain preconceived ideas about certain moral tradeoffs in counterterrorism. But by the same logic as above, we might even say that, even if Stewart ultimate wasn’t caused to significant rethink, much less change his view on, any of those convictions, he could acknowledge that t film successfully issues a challenge to them. My initial take on his meaning was that. I think he was silent on what effect on his views the film may or may not have had, and maybe he was negligent is not laying out exactly what he thought about them before and after the film. But I think that the meaning that has been taken from his words goes further than anything he said really indicates. The most I think we can take from what he said is that his view of the film was that one of its aims was to challenge preconceived ideas (or beliefs) about things done by the U.S. ostensibly to fight terrorism. That is, after all, exactly what, and in my view, the most that, he said.

  8. KatherineMW says:

    A+, Kyle. Agreed entirely.

    This isn’t a difficult issue. The purpose of torture isn’t to gain information. The purpose of torture is to destroy a person through causing them suffering. You can be doing that because you hate him, you can be doing that because you think it serves a state’s interest, you can be doing it for fun; I suspect the three motives coincide a lot of the time when it comes to torture by agents of a state. But it’s not to protect anyone or anything, and it’s not heroic.

    I’m disappointed in Jon.

    • Teresa Rice says:

      In most cases the purpose of torture is to verify information and to save people from harm. Sometimes torture is used to gain information or build upon the information they already have. Whether the information results in that happening is another story. But with that said some people torture just to torture.

      ‘Rodriguez maintains he got information from the interrogations of KSM and others that enabled the CIA to disrupt at least 10 large-scale terrorist plots. But when Stahl reminds him the CIA’s own inspector general said that his enhanced interrogation program did not stop any imminent attack, Rodriguez says, “We don’t know. …if, for example, al Qaeda would have been able to continue on with their anthrax program or nuclear program…or sleeper agents …working with Khalid Sheik Mohammed to take down the Brooklyn Bridge, for example.”‘

      • KatherineMW says:

        All the reports that have been done on torture confirm that it is not a more reliable and effective method of interrogation than other methods. Against that, one guy’s self-justifying claims don’t mean a lot.

        The purpose of torture isn’t to get information. Someone who’s being tortured can easily lie, or can falsely confirm something just to get the torture to stop. The purpose of torture is to break a person, to the degree that he doesn’t have a will of his own any more, and will do anything he’s told.

        • KatherineMW –

          Right On. Need to read, “The Black Banners” – one of the best of books from my 2012 reading list.


        • Teresa Rice says:

          Just to clarify my position, I wasn’t claiming that torture or certain techniques (depending on which ones your referring to) work better than other less invasive methods. I’m not even saying that torture should be used to gain or verify information. I take a pro-choice type of stance on torture and interrogation techniques in general. But I do differ from you, where I don’t outright dismiss claims that certain interrogation techniques did produce results, including saving lives.

          “Someone who’s being tortured can easily lie, or can falsely confirm something just to get the torture to stop. The purpose of torture is to break a person, to the degree that he doesn’t have a will of his own any more, and will do anything he’s told.”

          The same thing can happen with other methods used for interrogation. It happens with police interrogations.

          • Just because normal techniques may yield false statements does not OK the use of torture to try and get good / usable information. Torture, in each and every circumstance, is wrong, abhorrent and morally corrupt. If you build your house on torture when the winds come and the rain falls the house is SURE to crumble.

            When did we lose our understanding of the unique dignity of the human person. The terrorists have us right where they want us. We are fighting their fight, employing their techniques on their terms.

            We are lost!

  9. Kazzy says:

    Some folks seem to think that the film potentially show torture as “working” means it is pro-torture. Why? I don’t care if torture “works”. It’s wrong, period, full stop.

    I saw the film last night. I was not particularly bothered by the visual depictions in the torture scenes, but I have a strong stomach for that (I’ve seen my share of “torture porn” flicks). I was, however, bothered by the prevailing mindset demonstrated by the torturers and the notion of torture itself. To me, it is not about how “ugly” it is, but how wrong. And torture is wrong. What I was also bothered by and have seen little discussion of were the actions of the Marines during the raid. There seemed to be a “shoot first, ask questions later” approach. It appeared that some of the folks they shot were unarmed, and even those who were armed may simply have been attempting to protect themselves from assailants. They likely did not view themselves as being “at war”. Ad it was unclear to me whether UBL was armed or not and I’ve long argued that he should have been apprehended if he could have been and that killing him should have been a last resort, no matter the circus that might have ensued. I am increasingly frustrated by the US’s determination to write and follow whatever “rules of war” are convenient to it. Entering a sovereign nation and leading a ground assault on what amounts to a civilian facility?

  10. Teresa Rice says:

    Either the President takes an oath and has an obligation to keep the citizens safe from harm or he doesn’t? As long as he’s not some sadist or sadomasochist and isn’t just authorizing the use of EIT’s on the people for fun for no reason I don’t think the president should be court marshalled.

    Should presidents be court marshalled who authorize or allow rendition?

    If killing a person is justified when done so in defense of self or others I see no reason why the same reasoning of justification can’t be applied to EIT’s (torture – depending on which ones) in order to save lives. Torture would be used in defense of others, to save another or others’ lives.

    Thanks guys because I think you brought me back to my original position, that while our government may have overused the EIT’s I believe there is justification to use them in rare cases and I’m not convinced that the techniques constitute torture. Waterboarding and the other techniques are not physically or morally violent so this doesn’t even fit the Church’s definition of torture.

    Frankly, I think the methods used in abortion fits the definition of torture so much more than any of the EIT’s our government used on people.