In yesterday’s Crikey, Mirko Bagaric confirmed his status as the Peter Hore of moral philosophy by explaining, apropos of nothing in particular, that our absolute ban on torture demonstrated society’s low level of enlightenment.
“Never say never to torture,” he enthused, with the deranged glee of the serial attention-seeker.
Bagaric’s argument runs like this. Torture provides a “potential means of preventing the torture and killing of innocent people”. That’s why it would be immoral not to use it.
Funnily enough, every torturer agrees. Medieval magistrates thought that witchcraft threatened the very existence of their society. With so much at stake, there could be no room for sentiment – and so out came the thumbscrews.
Not coincidentally, Bagaric’s example of “good” torture – the case of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed – involves techniques pioneered by the witchburners. KSM’s interrogators used both sleep deprivation (the witchfinders called it the tormentum insominiae) and waterboarding (a method the Spanish Inquisition knew as the tortura del agua).
KSM eventually confessed to 31 planned and actual terrorist attacks all over the world, including blowing up the Panama Canal and assassinating presidents Carter and Clinton as well as the Pope.
Behold Bagaric’s logic in action – so many lives saved with just a drop of that wonderful torture!
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Had Prof Bagaric attended the trial of Johannes Junius on 28 June, 1628, he would have declared the proceedings equally justified. Junius was a witch, said the Bagarics of the seventeenth century, for he confessed to copulating with a devil named Vixen, undergoing a demonic baptism and riding off to the Sabbath on a spirit shaped like a black dog.
Before they burned him on the stake, Junius provided a different explanation. A document smuggled from his prison reads: “All this I was forced to say… For they never leave off with the torture till one confesses something; be he never so good, he must be a witch. Nobody escapes …”
Indeed they don’t.
Careful readers of KSM’s confession might note a claim of responsibility for an attack planned on the Plaza Bank in Washington State, an institution not founded until KSM was in custody. Well, perhaps he flew there on a broomstick.
Aside from witchhunters, past enthusiasts for the tortura del agua included the leaders of a state known as Democratic Kampuchea, who also said they needed “coercive interrogations” to prevent the deaths of innocents. You can see some images of their prowess with the waterboard here.
If torture demonstrates enlightenment, we’ve got a way to go before we catch up with the sagacious Pol Pot. But with Prof Bagaric urging us on, we might get there yet.