Almost any coercive act sustained long enough against a person in captivity can become torture.But having made that point, he then goes on to state that
The test for torture is whether it is of sufficient immediate or cumulative force to rob the capacity of a human being to say voluntarily what he or she knows to be true.There's one slight problem with that definition. It is still vague and subject to interpretation. It does not help define torture. This is something Sullivan doesn't understand. He's blinded by his own preconceptions and assumptions, and can't seem to grasp that others actually do define and interpret things differently. Sullivan then goes on to make a one of his patented false assumptions, saying that the purpose of torture
can therefore never be to get truly reliable information. The purpose is to get answers the victim imagines the torturers want to hear.That could be true, but it doesn't have to be. All situations involving torture are not the same. Interrogations are highly dependent on the interrogator, the interrogatee, and numerous other factors. It is quite possible that the interrogator could be looking for specific information that can be independently confirmed. Again, Sullivan's type of argument, which is regularly made by torture opponents, ignores the fact that good information doesn't turn bad just because of the way it was extracted. That's really a very simple concept, but for some reason many just don't get it. If a prisoner reveals the location of an arms cache under torture, that cache doesn't suddenly disappear because torture was used to obtain the information. If a terrorist reveals the names of his associates under torture, those associates can be investigated using ordinary police methods, to determine if there is any evidence which corroborates the information extracted through torture. Many opponents of torture fail to understand that torture is just one type of interrogation, and can work in conjunction with other investigative tools. Interrogators don't have to be blind fools who unquestionably accept anything told to them under torture. There's no reason a torturer can't recognize the strengths and weaknesses of torture, and evaluate any information accordingly.
A stronger argument rests on the corrupting influence of torture. Sullivan writes that
the power that torture gives to torturers is an inherently total and invariably corrupting one. It darkens the souls of those tasked with carrying it out; and more profoundly poisons the entire polity that authorizes itI agree. But it still might be a necessary possible option under certain conditions. We have to contemplate, and sometimes carry out, various measures that have damaging effects on those who employ them. We are willing and able to slaughter innocent civilians, including children, sometimes in large numbers, if such killing is deemed necessary and unavoidable during military operations. Yet torturing some terrorists is too horrible and corrupting to even contemplate?
Finally, Sullivan asks: "Does torture become something less awful when we do it?" Naturally he thinks the answer is no, and I basically agree. But like most who take a moral absolutist position against torture, he fails to ask another more important question. Does it matter who is being tortured? Is torturing the innocent or the suspected the same as torturing the guilty? The reason moral absolutists don't bother with such a question, is that they see torture itself as morally wrong in all cases. That's fine if you live in a world where moral questions are black and white. But some of us see many shades of gray.