Thursday, April 30, 2009

TV Torture

Jon Stewart's extended Daily Show interview with Cliff May is embedded below and it's well worth taking in. I agree with May's comment that this is the most lucid, candid discussion of torture I've found outside the blogosphere. Beyond that, I don't agree with much of what May is arguing.

May's position seems to come down to the claim that the rightness of torture varies with the person being tortured (this comes out in the part II video). Since I am feeling too generous to translate this to rank racism, i.e., any northern African or southwestern Asian sort of person who is not Israeli is morally torture-worthy in May's book, it is tantamount to the claim that the rightness of torture varies with the gravity of the accusations made against the person being tortured. We would not torture common criminals or enemy soldiers wearing crisply-pressed uniforms, he says, but we should willingly torture Al Qaida types because, I gather, 9/11 changed everything. Or something.

I say this has it exactly wrong in at least two ways. First, I agree with Stewart's counterpoint, namely, that whether we torture human beings bears on and reflects our morality. And second, further to this and filling in the premise that Stewart did not elaborate explicitly, is that torture of human beings is wrong because human beings have rights whether we love or hate them -- even olive-skinned ones who take the Koran too seriously. Norm Geras states it plainly, that torture is wrong

... because human beings have some rights from which there can be no derogation, not in any circumstances. It is because to torture is to violate a human right that is absolute and to violate a human being ... If you make this question one exclusively about 'us', it is that much easier to trade off aspects of our moral character against our safety - to argue that in extremis we may have to be worse in order to be protected against threats. But the barrier against resorting to torture is not about computing costs and benefits in this way. It is a peremptory norm of civilized law and morality, and may not be traded.
Here are the videos of John Stewart's discussion with Cliff May:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 1
thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisFirst 100 Days


The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 2
thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisFirst 100 Days


The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Cliff May Unedited Interview Pt. 3
thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisFirst 100 Days

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