Sunday, May 24, 2009

Belief that Waterboarding is Not Torture Turns Out to be Falsifiable

Conservative radio host Mancow underwent waterboarding on Friday in an attempt to prove that the practice was not torture (video). Despite having previously argued that the practice does not amount to torture, Mancow changed his mind after just six seconds under the water (1) (2). Like others who have written about their personal experience with waterboarding (3) (4), after his ordeal the radio host emphatically declared that the technique was "[a]bsolutely torture. Absolutely."

While this demonstration may help some to settle the issue of whether waterboarding amounts to torture, it does little formally beyond defining torture by ostention-- which, as was noted earlier (5), can be problematic. The demonstration also fails to entail any particular policy conclusions beyond the use of this one tactic. Even if waterboarding is torture (it most certainly causes physical and psychological harm (6)), it and other methods of torture may still be determined to be effective tactics for obtaining intelligence. This contention, however, will require empirical support that is currently lacking (7) (8) .

Independent of any further entailments, Mancow's experience is notable in that it confirms that his previous belief was indeed falsifiable. That is, his adamantly held belief that waterboarding was not torture was susceptible to disconfirming evidence; when presented with this evidence, he rationally decided to amend his theory. It gives one hope to think that more political differences may be dissolved through an earnest investigation and a frank appraisal of the evidence.

(1) Pollyea, Ryan. "Mancow Waterboarded, Admits It's Torture." NBC Chicago, May 22, 2009.
(2) Byrne, John. "
Conservative radio hosts gets waterboarded, and lasts six seconds before saying its torture." The Raw Story, May 22, 2009.
(3) Hitchens, Christopher. "Believe Me, It’s Torture." Vanity Fair, August 2008.
(4) Lomax, Eric. "Waterboarding: the most horrific experience of my life." Times Online, March 4, 2008.
(5) "Torture Debate Relies upon Definition by Ostention." Analytic Politics, November 3, 2007.
(6) Ballantyne, Coco. "Does waterboarding have long-term physical effects?" Scientific American, May 1, 2009.
(7) Soufan, Ali. "My Tortured Decision." The New York Times, April 22, 2009.
(8) Applebaum, Anne. "The Torture Myth." The Washington Post, January 12, 2005.

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