Questions on Eyal Press, "In Torture We Trust"

This page revised May 5, 2010

The article appeared in The Nation, March 12, 2003. You can find it at Click on Print version and print out the seven pages.

This article has the ingredients of a sophisticated argument against torture. Some premises in this argument are to be found in the views of people quoted by the author. The article also conveys the standard arguments for permitting torture. The ingredients of these arguments are also to be found in views attributed to other persons. The careful reader will figure out how to separate the pro-torture from the anti-torture arguments. But here are some Critical Reading Questions to help you get started.

1. What is the evidence that the U.S. is practicing torture in the so-called War on Terrorism? What is the evidence that the U.S. condones torture by other countries allied with the U.S.? (1-2)

2. What evidence is there that high U.S. officials think that torture is morally permissible? (2)

3. How does Dershowitz justify issuing "torture warrants"? How does Judge Posner justify the claim that torture may be permissible? (2) What is the "ticking bomb" scenario and what role does that play in these arguments? (2-3)

4. Why do Martha Nussbaum and David Cole favor a "bright line" banning the practice of torture? (3)

5. What happened in the (French) war to prevent the independence of Algeria when torture by the French was justified "as a rare measure to prevent imminent assaults on civilians"? (3) How did the experience in Israel reinforce this lesson before torture was banned in 1999? (3)

6. What kinds of practice did George W. Bush eloquently condemn when they were imposed [by Saddam Hussein's regime] on prisoners in Iraq? (4)

7. What does it seem that the U.S. is now willing to do to its enemies? (4) What logical problem (which is also a moral one) does this produce? (4)

8. Why does the author think that torture involves dehumanizing people? (How would he define "dehumanize"?) (4)

9. What does torture do to a person's mind, according to Elaine Scarry? (4) What does it sometimes do even to those who guard the persons tortured? (5)

10. How does what happened with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt show that torture radicalizes its victims? (4)

11. What is the "suicide pact" argument against consistently upholding the Bill of Rights? (5) Why does Press think this argument is not currently persuasive? (5)

12. Is torture an effective means of collecting information? Why or why not? (5)

13. Does torture usually take place in public settings where people concerned with rights of prisoners can object if torturers seem to practice it more than is "warranted"? (5)

14. What problem did William Schulz raise about Dershowitz's proposal regarding torture? (5)

15. What does Press think is urgently needed? What "frank dialogue" is called for? (6) By the way, this section of the article indicates that Press himself is convinced that one side of the debate about the morality of torture is right and the other wrong.

16. When does torture "thrive"? (6)

17. During the Cold War (1947-1990) what discussion was swept under the rug about U.S. support for certain less than democratic allied states? (6) What happens to precision of journalist reporting when torture becomes routine? (6)

18. What is the source of torture throughout history, according to historian Peters? (7)

19. What effects do U.S. practices tend to have on the rest of the world? (7)