Jane Galt and Glenn Reynolds on torture

Terror, torture, benefit-cost analysis, and the value of (slightly illusory) bright lines.

Jane Galt notes, in response to my argument about the actual risks of terrorism directed at the United States and whether those risks actually justify extreme measures such as torture, that people don’t in fact respond to risks of mass murder for political ends as they respond to risks of ordinary murder, nor to the risks of ordinary murder to risks of inintentional injury.

That’s right, and they’re right to respond differently. “Even a dog,” said Justice Holmes, “knows the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked.” But I think that leaves my initial point standing: We’re not dealing with the sort of truly society-threatening risk that might justify, or at least profoundly tempt, a violation of the rule “Do not torture.”

Glenn Reynolds makes a point of central importance, one that is well illustrated by the revelations now coming out of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo:

I find it hard to respond to these things in terms of cost-benefit. My law school mentor Charles Black once said that of course you can come up with scenarios — the classic ticking-nuclear-bomb example — where torture might be justified. And you can be sure that, in those cases, if people think it’ll work they’ll use it no matter what the rules are. But there’s a real value to pretending that there’s an absolute rule against it even if we know people will break it in extraordinary circumstances, because it ensures that people won’t mistake an ordinary remedy for an extraordinary one.

The White House, DoJ, and DoD torture memos are all designed to do precisely the reverse.

So now we have a choice, as voters: Are we going to ratify the decision to make torture (described in various weaselly ways) part of the policy of the United States, or are we going to reject it by replacing those responsible?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

2 thoughts on “Jane Galt and Glenn Reynolds on torture”

  1. I Had Hopes

    You know my ego is not so huge that I can't acknowledge that I have been wrong or that I underestimated someone, so when I started reading this post by Glenn Reynolds which was referred by this post by Mark

  2. Tortured reading

    Mark A.R. Kleiman: So now we have a choice, as voters: Are we going to ratify the decision to make torture (described in various weaselly ways) part of the policy of the United States, or are we going to reject…

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