Thursday, January 10, 2008

Torture is Pretty Terrifying

The Wall Street Journal, on several Yale Law grad attorneys bringing a suit on behalf of Jose Padilla against former Bush administration official John Yoo, seeking to hold him liable for authoring the torture memos that led to Padilla's brutal and inhumane detention for four years:
Perhaps if Mr. Yoo had decided to pursue a life of terrorism, he too could be represented by his alma mater.

At the risk of jettisoning my moderate credentials once and for all, some might question how promulgating policies of torture is distinct at all from "a life of terrorism."

Just because you're on our side, doesn't make it right.

NOTE: I make no claims as to the proper resolution of this case, or Yoo's relative culpability in creating America's torture regime. I'm merely observing that if he is culpable, I don't see any reason why it shouldn't be considered a form of "terrorism."


Jack said...

Jettison jettison! You know you want to.

PG said...

Calling Yoo a terrorist is a bit complicated if he justified torture only in the pursuit of information rather than as an end in itself, since most definitions of terrorism center on inspiring terror in order to have a terrified populace. It also tends to be based on the victims' group identity, i.e. violence against a nationality or an ethnic group, rather than against specified persons. If the U.S. government had tortured all the Muslim men and boys it rounded up after 9/11, that clearly would be terrorism. Torturing someone whom the government believes in good faith to have information that would prevent a crime -- even if the government is wrong -- seems kind of specific to be considered terrorism. I'm OK with keeping torture a potential tool of terrorism, but not a completely overlapping concept such that all torture is inherently terrorism. I don't consider Jeffrey Dahmer a terrorist, for example -- he tortured, but he did his best to commit his crimes secretly and without arousing the fear of any group of people. In contrast, the D.C. area snipers were more like terrorists -- they sought to terrify an entire community.

Cycle Cyril said...


Do you mean that torture is OK for terrorists as their tool or that torture (in limited circumstances) is OK as a tool AGAINST terrorists?

PG said...

Sorry, that was unclear. I don't meant that torture is a legitimate tool against ANYONE. Rather, I was trying to speak in definitional terms: I meant that when we are determining whether torture is a subset of terrorism, a synonym of terrorism, or a partially overlapping concept with terrorism, I understand torture to be a tool that can be used by terrorists but not a tool used *exclusively* by terrorists.
To make a verbal Venn diagram: Not all torturers are terrorists, not all terrorists are torturers, but some terrorists use torture and some torturers are therefore terrorists.