Commenting on my ACLU post, James writes:

This is a perfect illustration of the failure to recognize why torture’s problematic in the way I claim. I oppose torture. (Though I conceptualize torture relatively narrowly, I do opposite it fully.) Yet I do think that winning wars very very often requires cruelty and savagery. The erroneous notion here belongs to Barnett and Co., who falsely think that winning this war requires cruelty and savagery far away from the battlefield in space and time.

What Barnett referred to as “cruelty and savagery” were, in fact, war crimes.  He invoked the mass bombing of civilian centers as his “proof” that such things are “necessary,” and then applied this to the use of torture.  I suppose cruelty in warfare is unavoidable, if we think of war itself as cruel, but savagery is exactly what is avoidable.  The possibility of discriminating between combatant and non-combatant and also between enemy and captive rests on the assumption that there will be acknowledged limits imposed by a civilised code of conduct on how non-combatants and captives are treated.  There will be what might be described dramatically as “savage fighting,” but savagery itself is not something that we can or should accept as inevitable.  I take James’ point that the defenders of the torture regime deliberately confuse war zones with captivity far away from the battlefield to reduce every situation to the equivalent of combat, which they think allows for a wider range of permissible action, but I think we run the risk of blurring the difference between warfare and war crimes when we allow that savagery is required.

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