Friday, December 27, 2002

Tortured Logic
The Washington Post reported yesterday that the U.S. may be torturing detainees in the war on terrorism. That is a serious allegation, and there should be a serious debate about whether and in what circumstances torture is justifiable. Human Rights Watch predictably takes the position in a letter to President Bush that "[t]orture is never permissible against anyone, whether in times of peace or of war." Alan Dershowitz, on the other hand, argued recently in a "60 Minutes" segment, that such an absolute prohibition is neither desirable nor achievable. See The Dagger's comments on a related topic.

But what I find more fascinating than that general debate (in which I would agree with Dershowitz) is this "example" of torture from the Post article:

Sometimes, female officers conduct interrogations, a psychologically jarring experience for men reared in a conservative Muslim culture where women are never in control.

Now, dollars to donuts, those who would consider this torture are ardent feminists, yet this is the argument they make: We shouldn't let a woman interrogate a fanatical muslim because in his culture, women are not allowed to do such things. The mind boggles.

But let's take this logic out for a test drive to show how absurd it is: In the fanatical muslim's culture, there is no such thing as due process of law, and the prohibition against torture is routinely violated. A fanatical muslim would expect to be tortured by his captors, just as he would torture his enemies. Out of respect for those cultural norms, mustn't we torture the fanatical muslim in order not to "psychologically jar" him by treating him differently (albeit more humanely) than he would expect to be treated?

Perhaps I'm missing something profound about this horrible practice of using female intelligence officers. If so, please enlighten me.