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Yaron Brook on Torture

(This essay is the last in a series.  It depends on
  “A Question for Leonard Peikoff”
  “Leonard Peikoff on Torture”
  “Harry Binswanger on Torture”
which describe what I mean by torture and in what sense it does and does not work.)

Suppose you want to persuade your listeners of a certain statement, call it ‘S’.  One way is to find a simpler statement you would like them to believe too, call it ‘A’, and try to argue from  A  to  S.  You point out to them:

“If  A  then  S.”

They must be ready to believe  A  and the implication must be a valid one,  S  really must follow from  A.  Here’s an example you may have read somewhere:

“If existence on earth is your goal,  you must choose your actions and values by the standard of that which is proper to man ...”

The “if-then” formulation is a rhetorical technique and can be a perfectly legitimate one.  (The quote is from Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged.)  For the best effect you try to find an  A  that is easy to understand.

The sneaks at ARI take this  if-then  formula and turn it into a new way of pulling the wool over your eyes. Gone is the truth of  A,  the truth of  S,  and even the validity of the implication. Consider the following paraphrase of Yaron Brook in an interview during the run-up to the Iraq War:

If Iraq is a danger to the U.S. then we must invade Iraq.

Nowhere in that particular interview did Mr. Brook say how Iraq, on the other side of the earth, is a danger to the U.S.  What then is the effect of the above statement? Mr. Brook is not saying  “If A then S.”  He is saying:  A  and  S  – he is saying that Iraq is a danger to the U.S.,  without addressing the issue, and also that we must invade Iraq.

He starts with  “if A then S,”  then elaborates  S  (in this case invade Iraq) at length, leaving  A  (Iraq is a threat to the U.S.) in the background as if it were obvious.

This device for insinuating  A  and getting  S  for free we call the  “If‑Then fallacy.”  The fallacy consists in using the sounding reasonableness of an implication to assert both the premise and the conclusion.

Now here is Mr. Brook quoted in ARI’s “The Morality of War” press release dated 7 September 2004 about a talk he was to give 9 September at the Hyatt Regency in Irvine, California as part of the Ayn Rand Institute Lecture Series:

“Why does it [the Bush administration] fear torturing prisoners of war, if that could save American lives?”

What Mr. Brook is really saying is that torture – government institutionalized torture – saves American lives.

On 6 March 2003 Mr. Brook was interviewed on the Myles Spencer radio show:

“If torture helps save American lives then the U.S. government should use torture.”

Writing along with Alex Epstein in  “ ‘Just War Theory’ vs. American Self-Defense”  (The Objective Standard, Spring 2006 – vol. 1, no. 1):

“If and to the extent torture is an effective technique to save American lives, and it is used on those who are initiating force against us, then it is morally obligatory.”

If, if, if – they must think their readers are idiots.

Let’s pause for some fresh air and see what George Washington had to say about torturing British prisoners during the Revolutionary War. Here he is writing to the Northern Expeditionary Force, 14 September 1775:

“Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner] ... I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause … for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.”

Government institutionalized torture doesn’t work. Not for the Arabs, not for the Israelis, not for the French when they tortured Algerians, and it didn’t work for the U.S. [1]  Your country descends into the barbarism characteristic of the worst parts of the Third World for nothing.

Here is Matthew Alexander, Air Force Major (Ret.), former Special Operations interrogator and author of  How to Break a Terrorist: [2]

“... at least hundreds but more likely thousands of American lives ... are linked directly to the policy decision to introduce the torture and abuse of prisoners as accepted tactics. Americans have died from terrorist attacks since 9/11; those Americans just happen to be American soldiers.

“This is not simply my view, it is widely held among senior officers in the U.S. military today. Alberto Mora, who served as General Counsel of the Navy under Donald Rumsfeld, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in June 2008 that
‘U.S. flag-rank officers maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq – as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat – are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo’.
“We owe it to our troops to protect them from terrorist attacks by not conducting torture and we owe it to our forefathers to uphold the American principles that they passed down to us.”

The question “Does torture work?” is out of bounds. That some questions simply aren’t to be asked is dramatically illustrated in the movie The Visit (1964). The village elders decide to hold a meeting to discuss whether they should accede to Bergman’s demand and assassinate Quinn. Quinn realizes they are giving in just by holding the meeting. “Does torture work?” is like asking “Does murdering a rich man for his money work?” And not only would it be wrong there are more effective ways of acquiring wealth. We shouldn’t even be having this discussion.

In the summer of 2007 a group of 14 retired military officers gathered to be interviewed about their thoughts on U.S. torture.  Selected quotes: [3]

Lt. Gen. Charles Otstott, U.S. Army (Ret.)

“I do not want to believe that on 9/11 everything changed. I do not believe that for a second because I don’t think our values changed on 9/11.”
Regarding rendition:  “Having a clandestine gulag of secret prisons in which anything goes is anathema to me.”

Major General Fred E. Haynes, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)
“We, meaning the Marine Corps, had consistently emphasized by treating prisoners properly we are faithful to our own ideals.”
Regarding command:  “From bottom to top it’s been a failure in leadership.”

Gen. Joseph P. Hoar, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)
“These are our sons and daughters. These are our grandchildren that are out there serving. Do we want them to be torturers? Do we give them a military occupation specialty as a torturer? Is that what they’re going to bring home with them?”
“Torture under every circumstance is wrong. It doesn’t speak to this country, this heartland, this country of wonderful people ... I want this country to continue to be that kind of a place.”

Gen. David M. Maddox, U.S. Army (Ret.)
“I’ve got a son-in-law and a son in the Army both of whom have been and one is about to go back to Iraq. And God forbid one of them gets captured, I’d like us to be in a position that no one can turn back and say, well, we just followed your own policy.”

Vice Adm. Lee F. Gunn, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
“Render?  For God’s sake I had no idea my country was capable of ... [such a thing].”

Rear Adm. Donald J. Guter, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
“Somebody’s always going to be able to make the argument that, well, there are certain elements of the other side that, they aren’t going to follow the rules anyway, but I didn’t think the idea of the game was to become them. I thought the idea was to stay the United States with our ideas and our values.”

On 3 December 2008 the above and other representatives of a group of about fifty retired generals and admirals met with the transition team of President-elect Obama and urged that the incoming administration end U.S. torture. They included Joseph Hoar, a retired Marine Corps general and former commander of the U.S. Central Command, and John Hutson, a retired Navy rear admiral and former judge advocate general. The latter said: [4]

“Fundamentally, those kinds of techniques are ineffective. If the goal is to gain actionable intelligence, and it is, and if that’s important, and it is, then we have to use the techniques that are most effective. Torture is the technique of choice of the lazy, stupid and pseudo-tough.”

From Keith Olbermann’s interview with one of the other officers, Major Gen. Paul D. Eaton, U.S. Army (Ret.): [5]

“When Human Rights First gathered all these retired generals, it was an effort to educate America, educate the United States that torture is bad. It’s bad for the Army, it’s bad for America, it’s bad for our standing in the world.”
In reply to Olbermann referring to Gen. Haynes:  “General Haynes is a national hero. What he went through in World War II was the clearest example of:  treat your prisoners right, high payoff.”
“It needs to be said to those who follow Jack Bauer, [6]  who believe that torture works – it doesn’t. The rational management of detainees will earn you far more information faster than what we’re seeing in popular culture here. It also is going to transmit very heavily overseas.”
In reply to Olberman referencing a recent editorial by Major Mathew Alexander:  “If everybody in America could read that article ... quick read, quick article, but it absolutely repudiates the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques as inappropriate and ineffective.”
“We [the aforementioned group of retired generals] have one standard: no torture, period, no exceptions. Otherwise you dilute the standard and lower the standard, and that creates a real problem of understanding what the president wants all the way down to the youngest private.”

Take home quotes from Major Alexander’s article: [7]

“The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me – unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”
“Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there’s the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.”
“The war after the war is a fight about who we are as Americans. Murderers like Zarqawi can kill us, but they can’t force us to change who we are. We can only do that to ourselves.”
“Americans ... must fight to protect our values not only from al-Qaeda but also from those within our own country who would erode them. Other interrogators are also speaking out, including some former members of the military, the FBI and the CIA who met last summer to condemn torture and have spoken before Congress – at considerable personal risk.”

Mr. Brook will have none of this guff.  I mean what he regards as.  In what follows he drops his  If‑Then  mask and outdoes himself promoting torture prisons. It comes from The Yaron Brook show of 25 June 2018, “Live Q&A.”  Near the end of the show there are no more questions he is willing to take and he says that before he signs off he will “maybe give everybody a TV series recommendation if people want it.” In the virtual studio is Jonathan Hoenig and he suggests Fauda, Season Two. I had to look it up, it’s an Israeli television series streamed worldwide by Netflix. Mr. Brook becomes excited, apparently this was the television show he had in mind. His praise is over the top:

“Ohhh – myyy – Goddd!  It’s better than Season One ... And it is soooo good. ... I mean you have to binge watch it ...”

He and his wife (also from Israel, though Moroccan) would end up watching four or five episodes at a sitting and not go to sleep until one or two in the morning. After saying why he thinks Season Two is better than Season One:

“It’s an Israeli show, you can get it on Netflix, Season One and Season Two, watch them both, it is excellent and – now you have to read subtitles because it is both in Hebrew and in Arabic, so I had to read subtitles for the Arabic, and obviously I could understand the Hebrew.”

Mr. Brook then praises the show some more – it “recognizes the impotency of evil” (look who’s talking) – and points out that “fauda” is Arabic for chaos.  In what follows keep in mind that, like 24 [6 again]  Fauda  is  fiction  not real life.  It’s a series of stories, fantasies invented by Israeli writers. The following transcript doesn’t do Mr. Brook justice. You have to actually hear the sound of his voice and see his waving and jerking arms to fully experience the repellent manner of the man:

“One of the nice things about the show – nobody, you know I wrote about this after 9/11, about torture – everybody says [voice derisively mocking] ‘Oh, torture’s not effective.’ All right, [voice turns very self-righteous] let me call that the [expletive] that it is. Torture is very effective. Uh, you know, particularly on weak subjects. And the show shows torture, it shows the Israelis committing the ‘sin’ of torture, and it shows them successfully getting information as a consequence of torture. They [the Israelis] also use clever psychological tactics but they also just beat the crap out of people. Uh, torture, it works. Everybody knows torture works. The only reason people say it doesn’t work is to give a practical justification for the altruistic policy of not torturing.”

He had to shoehorn Objectivist phraseology in there somewhere.  It doesn’t come off. Everybody knows except a host of American professional interrogators not beholden to corruption within the U.S. government. Here is Rand on what he is doing, and after  “dishonest, heartless, insensitive, ignorant”  insert  “altruistic,”  for Rand never considered that an Objectivist would address people in this manner:

“The essential characteristic of the Argument from Intimidation is its appeal to moral self-doubt and its reliance on the fear, guilt or ignorance of the victim. It is used in the form of an ultimatum demanding that the victim renounce a given idea without discussion ... [The pattern is] ‘Only those who are evil (dishonest, heartless, insensitive, ignorant, etc.) can hold such an idea.’

“... Unable to understand that Argument’s motive or to believe that it is merely a senseless bluff, they [psychologically healthy men] assume that its user has some sort of knowledge or reasons to back up his seemingly self-confident, belligerent assertions.”

Mr. Brook goes on to say that if it’s OK for you to kill men in battle it’s OK for you to torture them when they’ve been captured. He glides over the vast difference between the two situations:  a prisoner of war is no longer a threat to you and consequently both torturing him and (absent a judicial proceeding) killing him are wrong. Apparently Mr. Brook believes all they ever did in Geneva was make watches.

Mr. Brook concludes by recommending the section of the book Winning the Unwinnable War that presents, he says, the moral case for federal torture. The book is by himself, Elan Journo, and Alex Epstein – two of whom are Israelis (Brook has more than once referred to his immigrant self as an Israeli, Journo never acquired U.S. citizenship). These phony intellectuals at ARI give self-righteousness a bad name. Poetic justice would have the authors turned into Palestinian inmates at an Israeli prison, say for one week. [8]

Every argument coming out of ARI endorsing federal torture applies just as well to your local police. The bogus reasoning in the following is identical to that which they use:

The purpose of government is to protect the lives of its citizens. If your local police can protect the public from thugs by torturing suspects, any cop who refuses to do so is immoral.

Some may think that torturers are aberrant thugs, mindless individuals insulated from any intellectual influence. On the contrary, except for the true psychopaths among them they want to see themselves as good, to think that what they are doing is morally right. This is what makes the efforts of  Yaron Brook,  Leonard Peikoff,  Harry Binswanger  et al  so obscene.  Along with other intellectuals of the same ilk such as Alan Dershowitz, they manufacture intellectual ammunition for these thugs, enabling them to justify their own self-deceit. Government institutionalized torture is more than a crazy aberration, it is embedded in a support network that helps the torturers rationalize what they do. The Ayn Rand Institute is part of that support network.

The lasting effect of government institutionalized torture is to make America a less pleasant place to live, and legitimately hated by enemies and would-be friends alike. Nothing better illustrates how low ARI Objectivists have sunk than the glib sophistry of  “If torture can help save American lives ... .”  The premise has nothing to do with the real world.

Immigration restriction would save American lives. It would have saved the three thousand who died on 9/11.  ARI writers are forever yacking about Americans but their promotion of open borders shows how little they really care about them.

Yaron Brook is not in the Western tradition. He is not of the West but of the East. He is an immigrant we could have done without and would have been better off without. Think of him multiplied hundreds of millions of times at various levels of intelligence. That is how you destroy the West.

1  Links to relevant articles about U.S. torture after 9/11 and during the Iraq War can be found at  Torure USA.   A list of all ARI Watch articles devoted to the subject is on the   table of contents.

2  The quoted interview with Major Alexander can be read in full at

3  “Military Leaders Speak Out Against Torture”

4  “Retired officers urge Obama to end harsh interrogations”
by Peter Finn Washington Post 3 December 2008

5  Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC television, 4 December 2008. The interview with Major Gen. Paul Eaton begins at 3:13.

6  Jack Bauer was the fictional hero in the television show 24. We comment on the show in  “Leonard Peikoff on Torture” footnote 3.

7  “I’m Still Tortured by What I Saw in Iraq: An Interrogator Speaks”
by Mathew Alexander,  The Washington Post  November 30, 2008
(The silly headline might have been a newspaper editor’s.)

8  If they survive that long intact.  See the articles at  Israeli Medicine.

Though Fyodor Dostoyevsky may not have said what is usually attributed to him:
“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”
the following from his book The House of the Dead, an account of prison life in Siberia, elaborates the same idea. (I’ve patched together and abridged two different translations.)
“Anyone who has once experienced unlimited mastery of the body, blood and soul of a fellow man, anyone who has experienced the power and full license to inflict the greatest humiliation upon another creature made in the image of God, will unconsciously lose the mastery of his own person. Tyranny becomes a habit; it develops, at last, into a disease. Blood and power intoxicate; coarseness and depravity are developed; the mind and the heart become tolerant of the most abnormal things, till at last they come to relish them. The man and the citizen is lost forever in the tyrant, and the return to human dignity by way of repentance and regeneration becomes almost impossible.
“Moreover, the example, the possibility of such despotism has a perverting influence on the whole of society. A society which looks upon such things with an indifferent eye is already contaminated to its very foundations. In short, the right of corporal punishment given to one man over another is one of the sores of social life, one of the strongest forces destructive of every effort in society towards civic feeling, and leads to its inevitable dissolution.”