Darius Rejali —
The Long Shadow of Torture

One of the world's leading experts on torture, Iranian-American political scientist Darius Rejali discusses, in particular, how democracies change torture and are changed by it. In the wake of Wikileaks revelations about torture in U.S.-occupied Iraq, we explore how his knowledge might deepen our public discourse about such practices -- and inform our collective reckoning with consequences yet to unfold.

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is a professor of political science at Reed College in Portland, Oregon and author of Torture and Democracy.

Krista's Prep

Digging Deeper Into the Long Shadow of Torture

Want to dig deeper? Find out more? For each program, producers gather a lot of background material for Krista and staff to use in preparing for interviews and producing programs. Here's a sample of the information we came across in preparing for this program.

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Three Cambodian girls view photos of victims of torture at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. The site is a former high school that was converted into a prison by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.

Photo by Tang Chin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images

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When I was a college freshman, I took a class called Moral Philosophy. The thrust of the class boiled down to how one can live a fulfilled life and what actions produce the greater good. Although I believe the torture issue is overblown in the extreme, is still remains that three men were waterboarded. Given that our terrorist foes with which we are contending are committed to acts of viciousness and violence never before witnessed (chemical, biological, nuclear, acts that are literally inconceivable to the civilized mind)), I am not troubled by the actions that this country engaged in to obtain information from the three high value prisoners of whom had already committed great atrocities and were committed to more of the same. To me it boiled down to what produced the greater good. The alternative is to hold to our ideals and perhaps let thousands, even millions be subject to great cruelty or death. Just a few weeks ago, President Obama or dered missiles fired into some Afghan villages to kill some terrorists there. We also killed a number of women and children. They were not tortured, but they are graveyard dead. Obama seems unperturbed by this turn of events. I suppose he felt that this is the collateral damage of war, and he seems ok with that. I might add that the three terrorists we waterboarded are still alive. This presents an interesting contradiction of realities. By definition, Obama, by extension, killed innocent people. Meanwhile, Obama rails at the Bush administration for the "torture" because it fits his definition and provides a current political advantage. Those three men are still alive and may live for many years yet to come. And, many of us may be alive today because of what was done. I am not advocating torture as a matter of course. But, in war, ideals can be abused. War is a bad business. However, I still believe with a clear conscience that there are times when we have to consider the gre ater good, Monday morning quarterbacking and demagoguery will offer no valuable solution to this issue.

Let's dispel two myths about torture.

1)The objective of torture is not getting "Information".
The objective of torture is getting compliance,
to get the victim to do or say what the torturer demands.

2) The method of torture is not the infliction of pain, but the infliction of fear.
The torture doesn't have to touch the victim, or be in the same room, or even the same continent.
Torture can be done by threatening the victim's spouse, parents, children, friends, or property.

Torture is not wrong simply because it's against the Geneva Convention, or un-Christian, or un-American.
It is wrong because it is unethical, immoral, and simply against our long term interest. It is counterproductive.

Even if our opponent is inhumane, we can not win if we drop to his level.

Some claim that is better to be a live jackal than a dead lion, but it is better still to be a live lion, and much easier.

I was not going to listen to today's program on torture because I was fearful it would get into the graphic description. However, I did keep my radio on and what I heard was more chilling than the feared descriptions of inflicted atrocities. Prof. Rejali's historical look at where certain dehumanizing practices originated shows that the blame for torture is not able to be placed on 'those people' or 'over there.' All civilizations share culpability. And his reference to the Stanford experiment, which I heard about a number of years ago should make us squirm as we wonder what we would do in a similar situation.

A very important part of my classrooms over my 36 years of teaching was helping kids who were bullied-sometimes by teachers!- and those who bullied. I worked hard to build a safe environment built on empathy-giving a voice to those who were bullied and a listening ear to the bullies.
I would suggest that empathy played a huge role in those students who did not listen to the directions to increase the 'electricity' in the Stanford experiment and in those people within the govenment agencies who quit their jobs or were the whistle blowers. Those people probably also had at least one person in their lives who supported their empathetic belief system.

A final thought about why church goers spiked higher in favor of torture. I think it could have something to do with the mainline churches paternalistic view of god. I grew up in a conservative Lutheran Synod and later joined an Episcopalian church. When I attended my uncle's funeral back in a Lutheran church, I was struck by the strong paternalistic, militaristic language in the confession and in the hymns that I clearly saw then but had been blithely parroting and singing well into my 20's. Perhaps religions that truly preached an integrative maternal/paternal view of god would result in fewer people inflicting pain on members of God's family.

I loved this in-depth look at the issues surrounding an extremely difficult topic, that most people are incapable of intelligently discussing or even facing at all. The one issue I have never heard raised, outside of Naomi Klein's work, is essential: that torture works. We know that it doesn't work to extract reliable "intelligence", and that the "ticking time bomb" scenario never actually occurs in real life. I mean that it works for it's intended purpose: terrorizing domestic populations, to increase the amount of fear, and thus prevent communal political action. The elite in every society know something simple: they can only rule in the manner they do because the bulk of the population complies with their rule voluntarily. I mean "voluntary" in the sense that most accept as normal to work punishing hours to pay for taxes, rents, and debt. These expenses have nothing to do with human survival on Earth, which is about clean food, clean water, shelter, and community. They are about enriching a tiny, non-productive, completely parasitic class. If the bulk of the people say, in America, suddenly realized the intensity of their voluntary slavery, they would rise up and quickly massacre the tiny elite making the money from their slavery. Nothing quite like the fear that your government can quickly disappear you and torture you to death to effectively prevent this kind of organizing. This is why the Abu Ghraib photos were released at all. It was to frighten the American sheeple into even greater submission.

Thanks for the most comprehensive report on torture that I've seen so far. The following quote may be of interest:

St. Augustine on Torture

Over 1,500 years ago Augustine of Hippo reflected on the practice of torture – a topic in the public conversation today.

City of God, St. Augustine, 426 AD
(English translation, Gerald G. Walsh, S.J., Demetrius B. Zema, S.J., Grace Monahan, O.S.U., Daniel J. Honan)

Book XIX, Chapter 6

“Even when a city is enjoying the profoundest peace, some men must be sitting in judgment on their fellow men. Even at their best, what misery and grief they cause! No human judge can read the conscience of the man before him. That is why so many innocent witnesses are tortured to find what truth there is in the alleged guilt of other men. It is even worse when the accused man himself is tortured to find out if he be guilty. Here a man still unconvicted must undergo certain suffering for an uncertain crime – not because his guilt is known, but because his innocence is unproved. Thus it often happens that the ignorance of the judge turns into tragedy for the innocent party. There is something still more insufferable – deplorable beyond all cleansing with our tears. Often enough, when a judge tries to avoid putting a man to death whose innocence is not manifest, he has him put to torture, and so it happens, because of woeful lack of evidence, that he both tortures and kills the blameless man whom he tortured lest he kill him without cause. And if, on Stoic principles, the innocent man chooses to escape from life rather than endure such tortures any longer, he will confess to a crime he never committed." St. Augustine

When the Abu Ghraib tortures were revealed, I wrote a Letter to the Editor and sent it off. It was not published. It is still pertinent.
Here it is:

I love my brothers and sisters in Iraq. But right now, I am too angry to be polite or pull punches.

During the attack, Secretary Rumsfeld had our forces move faster, and hit harder.

That's what I want now of the President, the Pentagon, and the American authorities in Iraq. I am not speaking of tactics. I am speaking of justice. I am speaking of the rebuilding of honor and what will be a very long, very painful labor of restoring our reputation in the world.

I know we are not all like that. I know that our young men and women weren't raised to act that way! It is not necessary to make that excuse, and it is shameful that anyone should try. None of us should be like that. What our soldiers did to prisoners in their care in Iraq cannot be excused as an aberration. It can only be mercilessly rooted out.

First, the military unit running our prison there must immediately be replaced. It should be publicly disbanded, and its colors burned. Its leaders should all be relieved and segregated. It would not be too much to arrest them all, pending investigation. Those implicated in the criminal mistreatment of prisoners of war must be charged with war crimes, and those we have offended, yes, even the insurgents we are fighting, must be allowed to take part in the investigation and prosecution of the war criminals involved.

Our repentance must be public and dramatic. As a first step, those convicted of "mere" abuse might be imprisoned in Iraq, not in the USA. They might be publicly cashiered, in the old, ceremonial manner, with ranks, decorations and even military buttons ripped off. Then those convicted of causing the death of prisoners might be executed by firing squad, in Iraq, where Iraqis, Arabs and the whole world can see. And if it HURTS; well, that is part of repentance. Our shame can only be expiated by pain, by remorse, and by reformation.

Because "We aren't like that!" doesn't stop us from becoming like that. We have been getting "that way" for a long time. Self discipline, duty, a common moral body, these have been eroding longer than many of those soldiers have lived. The fanatics who fight us, many of them, see our freedom and moral laxity as what they fight. They see us leading the whole world to abandon morality, manners, and virtue. And so do many of our friends.

Many will not agree, but I think it might be a good idea if the President were to call for a day of public prayer and repentance. We need to move faster, and hit harder. There's an enemy waiting to destroy us, just inside the mirror.

Cortland E. Richmond,
Sergeant First Class,
US Army, Retired

As I say, it was not published.

I, along with colleagues at the law firm from which I recently retired, represent three Guantanamo detainees in a habeas corpus action. My wife and I try to listen each week to "Speaking of Faith" as we find that it generally bridges the Intellect/faith divide for us with provocative topics. But tonight's penetrating discussion with Darius Rejali on torture, its history and repercussions, had particular resonance. I never thought I would live to see the day when torture was the subject of rational debate much less national policy in this country. In the midst of a media fueled, Cheney centered debate on the "efficacy" of torture, Mr. Rejali and Ms. Trippett brings this issue back to its essential moral, human roots. This program should be required listening for all Americans.

Bernie Casey

Excellent program yesterday on torture. I am an infant-parent therapist working in the field of Infant Mental Health where there has been a great deal of research done on the attachment relationship between babies/toddlers and their mothers (or primary caregivers). It is my understanding that most children are securely attached but many fall into the category of avoidant/dismissive attachment. These types are able to function normally in society but have much less empathy for others (hence the importance of the work IMH therapists do). I have often wondered with others in the field if people capable of torture who certainly don't present like "the devil personified" or a sociopath would have had and still have avoidant attchment style relationships (since the early relationship with Mom greatly determines future capacity for relationships). The example you gave on the show of the man who would go no further with the study until the conditio n of the victim was investigated (can't remember the name of the study) suggests to me that further research on the relationship between attachment style and people capable of torture would be interesting. Thanks for your good work.

It strikes me as such an "academic" discussion to explore this topic focusing on such an "objective" analysis. Your carefully measured questions (& answers) sound as clinical as the legal reasoning of the torture memos. You are so much more concerned with understanding the "implications" for society, & "democracy", I suppose that is your justification for this "soul-searching" exploration. Of course, that's a luxury that you can afford, having not been a victim of such state-supported "enhanced policies".

Forgiveness is a great idea, HOWEVER .....

It seems to me that forgiveness has significant implications with regard to the prosecution of individuals charged with war crimes at the Hague. Specifically, how can the United States, in good conscience, support the prosecution of such individuals if we are going to start from the point that prominent figures in the U.S. should be let go scot free even BEFORE a determination has been made whether or not their actions constituted war crimes?

I appreciate your program.

Dan Brown
1112 Sandhill Dr.
DeWitt, MI 48820

517 669-1756

Letter to Darius Rejali and Krista Tippett

I listened to your discussion with Krista Tippett today with great interest. I haven't had time yet to hear the whole inerview. It is 9 AM Sunday morning. To get to the point.
In 1990 I organized an exhibition here in Atlanta of art by artist friends who I knrw to be the children of alcoholic parents - like myself. Looking at the works on the gallery wall I quickly saw what we all had in common, or, rather, the colors, symbols and general themes and compositions. Two years later we had a second show, this time including anyone who felt they had suffered childhood abuse of any kind. The numner jumped from twenty or so participants in the Children of Alcoholism show to seventy-five.
I spent the next year collecting the "icons of abuse", which eventually included those from not only the history of art but from literature, science and music.
Torture, of course, looms large among the several hundred entries as a metaphor of child abuse, along with War, Contortion, and more abstract concepts like Cones, Wedges and the Electris Light Bulb. To check the backgrounds of inventors such as Edison I read a lot of biographies. Edison is famous for claiming that without the physical abuse he got from his parents he wouldn't have ever invented the tnings he did.
If you are interested in this topic or find it related to your own investigations I would be glad to send you a CD facsimile of the book called "The Iconography of Abuse".
There is also an article I wrote for the MIT's Leonardo-Journal of Art, Sciens and Technology , Vol 28 Nr 1 1995, on this subject .
A performance at the original exhibition, Children of Alcoholism, os at
Here is a related poem by my late wife


Metaphors are dangerous

they take over

and start to lead

their own lives.

You sink, but the Titanic

keeps creating panic.

She will never get to the shore,

the ghost ship the metaphor.

I am a footless urn

filled with oil. blood or wine.

How artistic I am!

How fine!

I turn, I pour

the liquid my metaphor.

The metaphor is a danger

It walks - the lost staranger

into your bed and path,

cleanses itself in your bath,

starts a war

to defend a metaphor.

A wife turning into a whore

What for?

She is merely a metaphor.

You can buy it in any store.

Not him, not you or she!

But the metaphor is me.

Wrapped in smoke

Head under hood

it is not a joke

Barely understood

Stripes, bars, cross, hammer

or dragon -

it sails with any old flag on.

Ronnog Seaberg

3-27 1998

Steve Seaberg
"Steve, we believe in/food, sex and joy./We are hard to employ." from Egg Poems by Ronnog Seaberg 1995

Thank you for your discussion of torture and the many long-term, sometime hidden effects. This is an important discussion that we need to have, but could easily ignore.

I wanted to congratulate you on your program discussing the moral and social implications of the use of torture by a democratic society. I was especially pleased that you pointed out the need to pay increased attention to moral resisters, like the one you highlighted from the Milgram study. When I teach (at the University of Minnesota) about the causes of human rights violations, I talk about Milgram's conclusions regarding our "predisposition to obey authority," but I also emphasize the important role of the dissenter in his study. When an actor voiced opposition to using the electric shock it significantly changed the outcomes, empowering the subjects in the study to resist the pressure of the supervisors as well. The role of civil society, including human rights activists and NGOs, is to point out the moral risks of torture so that our democratic societies are empowered to refuse to accept immoral practices carried out in our name.

Thanks for your attention to this important issue.

Considering how long certain people of faith have been working in the area of accompanying survivors of torture, I was surprised at your choice of guest. When survivors are brave enough to share their stories, hearing them is an experience one never forgets. This program was an opportunity for this type of transformative experience.

I suggest you consider learning about Claude-Marie Barbour who has been teaching seminarians at CTU how to accompany survivors of torture. These classes are graced by visits from actual survivors. Claude-Marie is herself a survivor.

Another person to consider is Dr. Mary Fabri, Senior Director, Torture Treatment Services and International Training at the Kovler Center.

Perhaps if people of good will were more exposed to the destructive personal consequences of trauma on the rest of a person's life, they would be more motivated to clearly end our nation's involvement in torture. Your program affords such an opportunity.

If you are going to reflect on "torture" why do you never talk about torture techniques? From reading your sanitized descriptions, most people would have the impression that torture consists of "scaring people" and making them "uncomfortable."

Wikipedia provides a starter list:

"Waterboarding" is child's play in the torture business.

We live in a sometimes very cruel world. I'm sure that nations that use these methods don't have difficulty getting volunteers to do these things.

The question that lingers in my mind after hearing the show is: why do we (USA) as a society show by our actions and by what we are willing to tolerate that we do, in fact, condone torture, even though Darius Rejali quotes a poll saying that the majority of US citizens don't approve of it?

My own answer: because we, as a society, support those values of which torture is a natural consequence.

My entire life (almost 60 years), the US has treated anything that wasn't under the control of the US government as a threat. Every war the US has fought in my memory, starting with the Vietnam war, has been about making sure that this or that country did things the way we wanted. In my view, what really traumatized people in the US about the September 11 attacks was not the loss of life (which was less than one year of auto accidents), but the attack on our sense of inviolability: that sense that we were in control enough that nobody could do anything to us.

In my view, torture is really an attempt on the part of the torturer to feel in control of whatever fear it is that the victim represents. That's why torture is such a common "solution" in so many movies and TV shows. If you feel that being in control of all threats, real or imagined, is more important that moral qualms (which is the prevailing view in public life in the US), then it's hard to really put your foot down about what is really just a more extreme form of keeping control.

What Rejali says echoes Robert Jay Lifton's writing on "atrocity-producing situations." Torture doesn't just affect society down the road, but changes those involved immediately. Performing a behavior for the first time creates a new circuit in one's brain, and repeating the behavior reinforces the circuit, so that it's more easily activated in the future. When we torture we start to become torturers, not just in a tautological but in a neural sense.

"torture and its perceived rightness -- which may be distinct from its morality "

What then is morality? And why was the question of support for torture among the religious elements in the United States so readily dismissed? There was a time in this country when moral-political issues were discussed (after the atomic bombing of Japan for example). Now however the vast religious community ignores the moral question of torture while spending altogether to much breath condemning the immorality of the secular community.

Sadly "On being" seems to be no exception.

Tonight's show is about torture. I object to your using the propaganda term "simulated drowning" for water-boarding. That's like calling a firing squad "simulated shooting" if the squad was told to aim for the extremities. Water-boarding isn't "simulated" anything. It is DROWNING. It is just CONTROLLED drowning, and that's how it should be defined: "controlled drowning."

Ms. Tippett,

I recently moved to Iowa and discovered your program on Iowa Public Radio. I've been listening to it for the past month or so, and have become an enormous fan.

In particular, the program I heard today on torture was stunningly well done. Your guests are compelling, the shows are captivating, and you are a consistently intelligent and astute interviewer.

Well done, indeed! I'm happy to have discovered your excellent work.

Mike Huberty

Dear Krista,

Thanks for the interview with Darius Rejali. You, and he, might like my songs, "The War of the Wild Goose" and "We Had the Will, We Found the Way". These are both on the web (for free streaming) at XB Cold Fingers, xbcoldfingers.com.

In "The War of the Wild Goose", The "Decider" speaks - and told me to take down the "Listen" link. So I did on account I don't want to go "hunting" with Vice. But then I remembered that they're out of office.

"We Had the Will, We Found the Way", with thanks to Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Kennedy, looks at who we were and asks who we have become. Asks how did we go from the New Deal, the Four Freedoms, and the Space Program to Katrina and Iraq?

You and Darius may argue that my songs discuss the mythical America, and your interview discusses the real America.

"Wild Goose" discusses the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and concludes:

I fooled 'em for a long time With tales of guns and terror
Ignored real threats and placed my bets error after error.
I fooled 'em for a long time and some are still confused
Others call to bring to justice for power much abused.

And It’s Butcher of Baghdad or bust
We’ll hang freedom if we must
We’ll hang freedom on the noose
Of the war of the Wild Goose

Scowling Richard Faint-Heart and Condi Rice the Fool
Lead Squinting George The Yale Man with Ice Cold Rove The Jewel.
They must be brought to justice. No one's above the law.
Torture is illegal and not what we stand for.


Larry "XB Cold Fingers" Furman

This week's program about torture, with a reference to the Stanley Milgram experiment that had subjects believing they were torturing people with high-voltage electric shocks, included the actual audio clip of one subject refusing to go along, even though he was repeatedly and strongly pressured to continue administering the shocks. Somehow that audio clip, the man's steadfast refusal to submit to "authority" and do something he felt and knew was wrong, is relevant to today's political environment. I think there is something afoot that would tend to diminish one person's ability to care about another person's suffering, and it is a bad turn of events. Parallel to that, I see religious iconography, it looks to me as though there is a mob, manipulated by the richest and most self-serving, demanding the political crucifixion of Barack Obama, out of sheer meanness.

"Painfully Informative" -:). As a freelance reporter/writer/researcher, this interview & other programs are thoughtful and provacative. As a "Recover Catholic", Episcopalian, slightly Buddist, there is a fine line between corporal punishment a child experiences & systemically applied torture. The nun who ruled with a crickett clicker, a police whistle and a one foot ruler i recall while playing Bach, or a misspelled word- pain is the only teacher!

Wow! Thank heavens for daylight savings time! I turned on NPR this morning expecting Weekend Edition and there you were, talking about torture. What a wonderful program! I had no idea NPR did important stuff like that, in fact I had started calling them "Nolonger Public Radio". I just want to congratulate you so much, that there is still a spark of reality and morality that we can hear in national media, thank you so much for what you are doing. I'm sure I'm not alone in believing that you are providing an important thread for the United States to hold on to the wonderful parts of our history and our being. Very sincerely! John Strauss


I really enjoy your show, which (unfortunately) here in CT, airs Sunday mornings at 7am on WNPR. My only complaint is that it's so early (for me), that I'm usually half asleep listening to it. (Smile)

Anyway, the show I heard this Sunday morning (11/7/10) talked about torture. At one point, it touched on how (conservative/fundamentalist) church-going Christians were most inclined to rationalize or accept the use of torture by the US Government. That really got my attention.

I think you could do an entire show based on the way - in my humble opinion - conservative politicians disingenuously exploit so-called Christian values to their advantage ... to promote people's support for their political agenda.

I first began to think about this when I heard Ronald Regan talking about the old USSR. At one point, he referred to the USSR as the "Evil Empire". It struck me that he used that phrase in a very calculated way: He intended to frame the debate on how to deal with the "USSR Problem" in terms of a fundamentalist religious dichotomy: that of Good and Evil.

That perspective is one that most every working class, fundamentalist/conservative church-going citizen from Middle America could relate to. And it frames the debate into a basic choice: We, as God's chosen people have a religious duty to fight the Godless Soviets. Onward Christian Soldiers.

Over the years, I believe that approach has been perfected and continues to be exploited to this day. Witness how Islam and all Muslims are demonized and used to spread fear amongst the average citizens as a way of justifying a never-ending War on Terrorism that is hugely expensive in terms of both money and bloodshed.

It seems this approach has a much greater appeal to such people than if these politicians were to come right out and say,

"Would you please support us in training and deploying your husbands/wives, sons/daughters and/or brothers/sisters to kill Godless/Heathen foreigners who live in a foreign country with tremendous natural resources (like oil!) that our corporate handlers covet dearly? And even if they do kill people (in direct contradiction of the 10 Commandments), this is Manifest Destiny, after all. And even if your loved one is killed, you'll be comforted knowing that s/he died patriotically doing God's Will to support this great Christian Country of ours ... and s/he will, of course, be buried in Arlington National Cemetery."

OK. A little sarcastic, I realize. And I appreciate this might well be too politically controversial, even for NPR or wherever. But I am sincere in my belief that this bastardized marriage of religion and politics is immoral, reducing Christianity (for that matter, all Religion in America) to the status of hand-maiden to politics ... and reducing our once-proud military to the status of Mercenaries.

It's not for nothing, IMHO, that the US Government grants churches and other places of worship Tax-Exempt status: Can you imagine what would have happened during, say, the Vietnam War, if the Pope had gone public with his plea to "stop the killing in this immoral war? Remember the 10 Commandments? Killing is immoral, even if ordered by your government!"

Half the guys fighting over there were from the lower-class and Christian, if not Catholic. The war would have come to an end even sooner than it did. And the reason the vast majority (like, what?, 99%) of Priests, Pastors and Rabbis did not make such a plea is because the US Government would have revoked their tax-exempt status. A very effective way of preventing any serious, religious institutional resistance to the immorality of the wars that politicians launch to benefit their corporate masters.

Well, I'm rambling (Smile). I'll let it go at that. Hope you'll consider doing a show along those lines. However, if you don't, I'll understand .. and I'll keep listening to your show. (Smile)

Take care, Richard Bowen

PS If you're interested in looking at how this use of Religion by Government and the Special Interests behind government policy has a history going back centuries, watch the Robert DeNiro movie, "The Mission". Shows how government, even 100s of years ago, used the Church to their ends ... supporting the Church in sending in Missionaries who proselytized for a Christian God, breaking down the cultural underpinnings of the native society by destroying their religious mores/spiritual mythology ... making them easier to conquer and control ... and ultimately exploit their natural resources for the State and its backers.

The question may be misleading as it has been framed because it appears to separate the political from the moral and ethical dimensions of torture. The discussion, in as much as it was addressed by Ms Tippet and Mr. Rejali, pertains almost entirely to political torture, and in my opinion if torture is political it is definitionally immoral.

There are, however, perfectly moral, ethical and even fruitful uses for torture qua torture, if we can agree that torture is the deliberate infliction of pain by one person empowered to do so on another person.

Torture in a political context emerges fundamentally out of disagreement, meaning there's a lack of ascent by one person to another's position. In order to come to agreement various morally tenable conventions abound, such as debate, polling, drawing straws, etc. What makes these options moral is that the participants consent first to the ground rules for determining the contest, which is what I believe Mr. Rejali might call the "public trust". What makes torture political is precisely this lack of consent, this violation of trust.

In instances where one person inflicts suffering on another who has consented to the experience reasonable people may disagree about whether this constitutes torture, but the suffering is no less genuine and may in fact be more effective with respect to desired results. Certainly many athletic contests entail the deliberate infliction of pain - take boxing as a ready example. But just as certainly there are people of sound mind and strong body who employ physical suffering in its sensual mode, and many more who do so as a means of spiritual discipline. Common to all these varieties of intentional suffering is trust - a boxer does not think that his opponent intends him no harm, but he does have faith that the limits of the harm have been agreed upon and will be honored. Violation of that trust generally means forfeit of the game.

The fallacy of political torture is not merely that the results are demonstrably unreliable; it includes the conceit that torture's "rightness" is determined by its utility - if the torture of the prisoner prevented the bombing of the orphanage then it could be said to be ethical. Indeed no orphanages may be lost in this calculation, but the integrity of the public trust, and in the case of the US, the consent of the governed, has been devastatingly debased. Absent the integrating effects of consent, government by, for and of the people is as hollow a construct as any of the failed experiments preceding it. Just because we are now clever enough to to avoid the referee's notice does not mean nothing is forfeit; cancer can be just as lethal as a knife attack. The former is a lot harder to see coming, but that doesn't make it worth having for a crack at avoiding the latter.

It's unfortunate that we get caught up in the more media-genic details of how what was done to whom (it's easy to find how-to videos on waterboarding), rather than who we become and what we lose when we abide political torture.

Just letting you know that the unedited interview ends after 50 minutes even though it's 1:45 minute interview. Hope it can be restored as it is a wonderful interview.

Mariah Helgeson's picture

Thanks for letting us know Kyle. All 1:45 minutes of unedited conversation should be available again. Happy listening!