Torture: an Evangelical Christian Value?

I know, perhaps I'm overdoing it a little with this torture stuff, but damnit, it is important.  Apparently, John McCain has been taking flak from the Christian Right for standing up to the President's pro-torture stance (via Kevin Drum):

“This very definitely is going to put a chilling effect on the
tremendous strides he has made in the conservative evangelical
community,” said the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional
Values Coalition, one of several conservative activists who support
Bush's proposal on interrogation techniques.

Apparently some in the Christian Right seem to feel that Jesus would have stood for torture.  I disagree.  I think the potential problems that arise when religion gets too entangled with partisan politics can be pretty well summed up by this minister's statement.  

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More torture

In an extraordinarily disturbing report, we learn that Canadian Intelligence officials, under pressure to find terrorists after 9/11, falsely claimed an Ottawa computer programmer was a terrorist and gave him over to the United States, who promptly flew him off to be tortured in the Middle East for 10 months.  The key facts:

The inquiry, which focused on the Canadian intelligence services,
found that agents who were under pressure to find terrorists after the
attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, falsely labeled an Ottawa computer
consultant, Maher Arar, as a dangerous radical. They asked U.S.
authorities to put him and his wife, a university economist, on the
al-Qaeda “watchlist,” without justification, the report said.

Arar
was also listed as “an Islamic extremist individual” who was in the
Washington area on Sept. 11. The report concluded that he had no
involvement in Islamic extremism and was on business in San Diego that
day, said the head of the inquiry commission, Ontario Justice Dennis
O'Connor.

Arar, now 36, was detained by U.S. authorities as he
changed planes in New York on Sept. 26, 2002. He was held for
questioning for 12 days, then flown by jet to Jordan and driven to
Syria. He was beaten, forced to confess to having trained in
Afghanistan — where he never has been — and then kept in a
coffin-size dungeon for 10 months before he was released, the Canadian
inquiry commission found.

If you are not disturbed that our government is flying innocent people off to be tortured in the Middle East there's something wrong with you.  And, of course, not surprpisingly, you torture someone enough and you have a confession of a terrorist.  There are so many arguments against torture, but how morally reprehensible to think that our government is torturing innocent people to “protect” us.  Make no mistake about it, if you support torture then you are supporting the torture of innocent persons.  Human beings being what they are (i.e., very fallible) not only bad guys will be tortured.  Don't try and pretend that it is only really bad guys who want to kill us that are being tortured.  Reality says differently (though, I can think of a few political leaders who like to ignore reality).

Emotion vs. Reason

Interesting article in yesterday's Post talking about the role of emotion vs. reason in how voters decide to vote and evaluate political candidates.  There's not all that much new here (I remember learning most of this in grad school), but it was pretty nice to see a summary of some little-appreciate political psychology the focus of a story in the Post.  The article recounts a classic 1935 real-world experiment in which voters receiving rational appeals for the Social party turned out to vote at rates 35% higher than normal whereas those receiving emotional appeals (“We beg you in the name of those early memories and spring-time hopes to support the Socialist ticket in the coming elections!”) turned out 50% higher.  George Marcus, political psychologist extraordinaire, sums things up thus:

Modern research confirms that unless political ads
evoke emotional responses, they don't have much effect. Voters, he
explained, need to be emotionally primed in some way before they will
pay attention.

What does this mean?

The research is of importance to politicians for obvious reasons — and
partly explains the enduring attraction of negative advertising — but
it is also important to voters, because it suggests that the reason
candidates seem appealing often has little to do with their ideas.
Political campaigns are won and lost at a more emotional and subtle
level.

I rememeber one of the coolest (if one can apply that term to a political science article) political scientice articles I read years ago was one in which people watched a debate with no sound and the investigators found that the viewers formed strong emotional reactions simply on the basis of the candidates facial displays. 

The Post article uses this research to explain the recent victory of Anthony Fenty in the Washington DC Democratic mayoral primary:

The Fenty machine essentially took advantage of what the Allentown
study found: It is comparatively difficult to persuade anyone to change
their mind on an issue. What works much better, because it influences
people at an emotional and subtle level, is to get people to focus on a
different issue — the one where the candidate is the strongest.

“The
agenda-setting effect is what we are talking about,” said Nicholas A.
Valentino, a political psychologist at the University of Michigan at
Ann Arbor. “The ability of a candidate not to tell people how to feel
about an issue, but which issue they should focus on — that is the
struggle of most modern campaign managers.”

“Campaigns have been
much more successful at shifting people's attentions to different
issues rather than shifting people's positions,” he added.

I really enjoyed seeing such a nice exposition of actual political science in a newspaper article.  When it comes to politics, like life, emotional arguments seem to hold sway (e.g., bad guys want to kill us, let's torture them!).   Of course, it should be noted that neuroscientists know believe that emotional response is essential to “rational” decisions.  Persons who have damage to the prefrontal cortex of their brain (that's right, the last part to become fully myelinated) are often left with flat affect and a complete inability to make reasonable decisions despite their cognitive powers being left intact.  It is a little old now, but I learned all about this here

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