It’s a little embarrassing to mention torture here, particularly after I was recently accused of shooting some other fish in President Bush’s barrel. But Anne Applebaum has an interesting piece in Slate in which she argues that the widespread semi-indifference to the confession of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed proves that torture is counterproductive. [UPDATE: The piece also appeared in The Washington Post.] This is not the first time Anne has argued that torture doesn’t work; she had an earlier piece in The Washington Post that focused on the unreliability of the information one gets through torture. This time, her focus is on the perception rather than the reality. By the way, Anne knows a thing or two about torture thanks to her Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the Soviet Gulag.
I wish Anne had not claimed to have proven anything — I don’t think that’s the “way of knowing” that is involved here. And many would argue that it doesn’t particularly matter whether torture “works” in the sense usually intended, because it is intrinsically evil and we diminish ourselves by employing it. I’m with them.
But the question of perception is still an interesting one. Read the rest of this entry »