karl_lembke (karl_lembke) wrote,

Torture and other tools

I've been rather hard on pecunium for his tirades against what he considers torture. I imagine sooner or later, someone will ask me what my take is on the subject. I'll comment on that, after this piece here:
The Student Teacher Safety Act of 2006 (HR 5295) is a sloppily written bill that would require any school receiving federal funding (essentially every public school) to adopt policies allowing teachers and school officials to conduct random, warrantless searches of every student, at any time, for essentially any reason they want. All they would have to do is say they suspect one of their students might be carrying drugs, and then they could conduct a wide scale search of every student in the building. These searches could be pat-downs, bag searches, or strip searches depending on how far school administrators wanted to go. Although courts would have the power to overturn policies that went “too far”, it could take years - possibly decades - to safeguard the rights of students in every school.

A quick read of the "offending portion" of the legislation doesn't look like it calls for this, but let's stipulate for the moment that it does. According to pecunium's definition, such searches would constitute torture. I fail to see how they could possibly not involve "physical or mental coercion".
Do I consider a policy that allows arbitrary strip-searches of students torture?
Do I object to it?
Hell yes.
A strip search, and indeed any other kind of search, is a tool. This bill, if it does what its opponents say it does, is an example where a tool is abused. A reasonable search, conducted on the basis of reasonable suspicion, is OK. An unreasonable search, based on insufficient cause, is not. But you can't just declare all searches off-limits (or "torture") and institute a wholesale ban. It won't work.
Torture is a tool.
Or maybe a better way of putting it – many techniques that are considered torture if abused are tools. We may decide some techniques are absolutely off limits. The Hussein family's trick of running people through a shredder, for example, is probably one of those. Others, such as sleep deprivation or prolongued standing, are a matter of degree. Ten hours might be OK, but ten years is definitely excessive.
pecunium seems to think that if depriving a person of sleep for ten years is torture, any amount of sleep deprivation is also torture, and the technique is absolutely off limits. Maybe there are any people on the other extreme, who say that if ten minutes' sleep deprivation is acceptable, then so is ten years' worth. I haven't encountered any. I think most people are somewhere in the middle, and consider the only reasonable debate to be where we draw the line.
I think I'm one of those somewhere in the middle. There are some techniques that are beyond the pale, and there are other techniques only an absolute ninny would call "torture". Everything else is on a sliding scale, where context is key.
You might use one set of techniques on someone who shoplifted a candy bar, and another set on someone who killed a neighbor. It would be a grave mistake to treat the shoplifter like the murderer. It would also be a grave mistake to declare that what is abusive when directed at a shoplifter can never be used, even on a murderer.
Tags: politics

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.
  • 1 comment