Torture and “Seriousness”
Noah Millman makes a very good observation about why the U.S. created a torture regime:
Willingness to torture became, first within elite government and opinion-making circles, then in the culture generally, and finally as a partisan GOP talking point, a litmus test of seriousness with respect to the fight against terrorism. That – proving one’s seriousness in the fight – was its primary purpose from the beginning, in my view. It was only secondarily about extracting intelligence [bold mine-DL].
That makes a great deal of sense, and it is related to the broader problem in foreign policy and national security debates of frequently treating the most hard-line and indefensible positions as the most “serious” ones. That is, one isn’t perceived as taking a threat “seriously” unless one is prepared to support any and all measures to counter it. We see this in the debate over Iran and the nuclear issue, where support for prevention and “keeping all options on the table” is mandatory for anyone that doesn’t want to be labeled as “weak.” We saw it during the Iraq war debate, where indulging the most paranoid fantasies about future Iraqi attacks on the U.S. was considered the “serious” and “responsible” position and doubting them was viewed as naivete. According to this warped definition of being “serious,” it is necessary to countenance vicious behavior to prove the extent of one’s dedication to a particular policy goal.
Because of the bias in our debates in favor of hard-line policies, preventive war and torture not only become acceptable “options” worth considering, but they have often been treated as possessing the quality–seriousness–that they most lack. The belief that a government is entitled to invade a foreign country and destroy its government on the off chance that the latter might one day pose a threat is an outstanding example of something that is morally unserious. That is, it reveals the absence or the rejection of careful moral reasoning. Likewise, believing that a government should ever be allowed to torture people is the opposite of what comes from serious moral reflection. These so-called “serious” policies are driven by passions and knee-jerk responses and lead to horrible crimes and abuses of power, and that is why they should be condemned and rejected from the start.