"Totally coup, yo."

Open Letter to Torture Apologist Sam Harris




Harris, seen here, working on his next book

Dear Torture Apologist Sam Harris,

You rarely cease to amaze. For a man who coldly advocates the brutal physical and psychological torture of others, you demonstrate a remarkable level of cowardice when confronted with the slightest written criticism. As if fully incapable of sensing irony, you describe my critique of your pro-torture stance as “poisonous,” and ramble on for over 2,200 words, hiding behind this disingenuous excuse and that, about why you don’t have the time to effectively respond to such “attacks.” Impressive.

One reason you offer for your inability to defend your position is that I’m a “deeply unserious person who has made no effort to understand [your] arguments.” Guilty as charged. I am a very silly man. And, you’re right, I made no effort to understand your arguments–because understanding your argument requires no effort. Your average Twilight fan would have little difficulty imagining a scenario where using torture may be ethically justified. Your average Twilight fan, however, wasn’t promoting those fictions in books, debates, articles, and on television at the same time our nation was engaged in a shameful debate about medieval intelligence gathering.

The kind of ticking-nuke scenario of which you and Sean Hannity are so fond is a ridiculous proposition for two distinct reasons. 1) In the highly unlikely event that a person in custody was privy to the pertinent details, that person would indeed be tortured, regardless of the law. Meaning, this “debate” served absolutely no function, save for 2) it being a convenient thought experiment used by benighted war hawks, like yourself, to ethically justify a systemic atrocity which fell far outside of the preposterously thin experiment parameters.

Rendering your “argument” entirely indefensible, of course, is the fact that torture simply doesn’t work. People will say anything you want them to when under extreme duress. Even you must know that by now, yet you refuse to acknowledge your mistake, and instead retreat into the convoluted rhetoric of a professional sophist. Outside of the followers of your cult of personality, people can see through your feeble obfuscation to the dishonest wimp behind them.

You’re just clever enough to have convinced yourself of your academic gravity, yet not clever enough to realize how very full of shit you are. Well, Sam, I may be deeply unserious, but at least I don’t pretend to be otherwise. You’re an intellectual joke, and you don’t even seem to know it.

Ian Murphy

Follow me on Twitter.



  • rg57

    “I may be deeply unserious, but at least I don’t pretend to be otherwise.”

    OK then. Noted.

  • Tony D

    “I may be deeply unserious, but at least I don’t pretend to be otherwise.”

    Yeah, I was willing to give this a shot, but then I saw the picture at the top. I have to agree. You are deeply unserious. You’re not pretending to be otherwise, and your opinion ceases to be relevant. Hope your publication got the views boost it needed to make its ad revenue.

  • Cor

    I’m glad the 2 previous commenters have been able to engage the substance of this article, rather than immaturely latching on to a minor throwaway line and implying that it invalidates the premise.
    Also, derp.

  • Ida gifafaq

    Atheist are spiritual narcissist. I can respect people who are skeptic but overall athiesm is becoming a non spiritual religion.
    I have been in discussions with atheist and it felt like they were trying to convert me.
    If i am not hurting anyone, let me be with my superstitious thoughts.
    this guy is like the baptist of the atheist world.

    • http://twitter.com/mdcaigoy Michael Caigoy

      So many complaints from believers, about atheists amount to, “You’re just as bad as we are.”

      • J

        Because its true?

        • http://www.facebook.com/nigel.franklin Nigel Franklin

          No. But it is amusing and (one would hope) instructive that your best isn’t that your ideas are not dumb but that everyone else’s mind is as full of garbage as you know your own to be.

  • http://vectorpress.blogspot.com/ tpkroger

    Point 1 is worth repeating – in this Tom Clancy scenario imagined by torture apologists, you’re damn right someone would get tortured. A clean beating or something. Not only does that situation NOT occur in the real world, the techniques don’t either. Allan Uthman did a great expose a couple years back on how “enhanced interrogation” often consists of forced sodomy with broomsticks. So not only is Harris a torture apologist, he’s a rape apologist too.

  • Brian McKeever

    Unserious? Anyone who promotes governmental policies based upon the plot line of the original Dirty Harry would definitely qualify. Hey, knuckleheads, Harry Callahan tortured the Scorpio Killer but the girl victim died anyway.

  • Ida

    I believe you are a narcist and that just because i do not know what happens after death, doesn’t mean there is nothing.
    Side note my children know more about science than the bible and one had an altercation with a creationist in 1st grade over the origins of man. I guess we are going to hell for watching Nova science

    • http://twitter.com/mdcaigoy Michael Caigoy

      Great. Is anyone in your compound interested in logic?


  • B_R_Deadite99

    America: God’s Favorite Country (and capital of ass-rape). Fuck it, this shit-hole is finished. Move to Europe while you still can.

  • prtsimmons

    Ian, thanks for making yet another attempt at sanity in this effed-up world. The idea that you are a ‘deeply unserious’ person is actually pretty absurd; you only have to read a couple of your articles to understand that you are quite sensitive and passionate about injustice in the world. It seems like the only reasonable response to something as foul as justifying the use of torture by the state is mockery and absurdist humour. If I don’t laugh at Sam Harris, he is just going to make me smash something, so thanks for saving me the cost of replacing another keyboard. I generally don’t mind being identified with the skeptic and atheist ‘movement’, but I really don’t want to be associated with torture apologists and Islamophobes like Sam Harris.

  • Diablo

    I love these fuckers. The assholes that defend a position by creating a complete fantasy based situation that requires a person to completely shut one’s brain off completely before the argument is even made. Its real easy to sound reasonable if you require your audience to make assumptions before the conversation even starts.

    I really love the idiots that defend profiling by pointing to the way Israel screens at airports. Never mind the incident where the Japanese Red Army killed a shit load of tourists because no one frisked them (who would expect the law abiding Japanese in suits). To this day, I will never understand how the Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus I proudly served with managed not to just lose it every day on asshole fellow Americans who seem to think its perfectly logical to assume each and every one of them is a Muslim terrorist in waiting.

    Or the fuckers that create a bad movie script (a suitcase nuke…and its only the actions of Jack from “24″ who can get the animal who knows where it is to talk”) and try to use that to support the torture of HUMAN FUCKING BEINGS. If you can’t tell the difference between reality and a shitty movie script…you need to just shut the fuck up.

    I was in the military from 2000-2006. You know the fuckers like Allen West…who is celebrated in the states for torturing an INNOCENT dude with beatings and a mock execution…they are a poster child for insurgents. They do more to continue the sectarian violence than anyone else. Its a toss up to what I understand less as a veteran…Allan West having a political career or the success of “The Jersey Shore”. Its no wonder this country can’t get its act together. We celebrate the worst of our society.

    This is really no different that DADT in my opinion. The idiots who are against gays serving openly are either full bore retard (in the way they can’t even imagine the gays are already in uniform and serving like everyone else) or would never dream to serve themselves so they can just take those fucked up opinion and shove them up their ass.

    But Sam Harris is a massive cunt on a whole different level. You don’t agree with his retarded reality? Well you’re a troll then. Even recognizing your position would besmirch him and he doesn’t want to get down on your level. Never mind that the US military doesn’t agree with his position. Never mind that he is advocating a technique not only doesn’t result in actionable intelligence, but ends up more often than not impeding intelligence gathering. Never mind the damage it does not only to the person being tortured but to the person that gets tasked with doing it…no fuck it. Let’s throw more gas on the fire and then wonder why Iraq is fucking imploding.

    Torture should only be used on people who advocate it. I think that should be a new universal rule. You want to advocate torturing people…you get to spend 15 minutes getting water boarded for every sentence you write or utter in support of it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ron.karek1 Ron Karek

      Dude, did you just SAY something… wow, great stuff, huh?

  • http://www.facebook.com/scooter.skutre Scooter Skutre

    Many of the vulgarities and kindergarten politics from both Harris and Hitchens helped to scuttle the New Atheist Movement while their rational discourses were helping to get it off the ground. Both these guys neutralized themselves. At least Hitchens was a first rate entertainer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nigel.franklin Nigel Franklin

    Any person seeking the lucidity of cogent argument reads your articles as an example of what to avoid. Rather than deconstruct Harris’s arguments pertaining to torture (which would require stating them) you simply asserts that they are known and worth only the elementary school response that you’ve given.

    I’ve read this article and learned what you conclude about Harris and his character while learning nothing about what the man said except that he once used and extreme example. If intemperate speech is the threshold for condemnation then the pot has effectively called the kettle black.

  • Hopper

    Not your finest effort here, Ian. If you had set out to prove in one short column just how silly you can be, you could hardly have done better than this bit of nonsense.

    For reasons unknown you single out an “average” Twilight fan as being a type of person who would have little difficulty imagining a scenario where using torture may be ethically justified. So, in your view, you actually believe that a suburban 17 year old girl is the kind of folk who would be at the forefront in calling for the use of torture? Somehow, I don’t think that’s entirely true.

    That’s a small point, I realize, but then you go on to contradict yourself in the very next paragraph. You begin by saying that Sam’s argument is entirely indefensible because of the “fact” that torture simply doesn’t work. You follow that sentence by stating that people will say anything you want them to when under extreme duress. I agree-they will. For instance, they will indeed tell you the whereabouts of the “ticking time bomb” if you inflict enough pain upon them. And I think you’re being blissfully naïve if you actually believe that this scenario is a near-impossibility. With nuclear devices becoming smaller and easier to transport as technology advances, added to the tiny amounts of chemical and biological weapons that could be used now to kill tens of thousands, I find it highly likely that a Western city will be held hostage to just such a threat in the near future.

    As for the use of torture itself, you completely ignore intent. A terrorist intends to kill-in the case of nuclear weapons-tens of thousands of people who have harmed no one. The person or government employing torture intends to force the terrorist to give up the information that will stop the terrorist from succeeding. As unserious as you aptly show yourself to be in this post, do you see the difference? The torturer and the terrorist are equals and deserve the same rights under the law, whatever the consequence? I don’t think so.

    Finally, the name-calling is so, so tiresome. You label Sam as a “torture apologist,” demonstrating a “remarkable level of cowardice,” a “benighted war hawk,” a “professional sophist,” and a “dishonest wimp” who is “very full of shit” while being an “intellectual joke.” Ouch, those epitaphs must have taught Sam a lesson he’ll not soon forget!

    Sam is far from an intellectual joke, Ian, and you don’t even seem to know it.


    • Biff Squatthrust

      Ugh. A literal-minded Twilight fan.

    • Greg

      G’day Hopper,

      You are correct that a nuclear devices are becoming smaller and easier to transport. Even so, they are not as easy to transport, or as small, as conventional firearms. And yet the terrorists haven’t (yet) shot a single American politician, lawyer or CIA agent within America responsible for the application of the various techniques of Learned Helplessness to millions of the worlds people.

      You have advocated the use of torture, in the complete abscence of any empirical evidence , that it’s necessary because your imagination tells you that it is. In a response to an argument between atheists. Funny stuff.

      Shall we torture everybody that knows where the ticking rifle is?

      You are right about another thing. Harris won’t learn any lessons. He may be an antitheist but he’s a fanaticaly zealous believer in the religion of The State and just as disinclined to believe actual evidence as he is inclined to believe and disseminate the kind of credulous, irrational, idiocy, as any other fundementalist.

      By far the best way to create the ticking nuke scenereo in reality,that so far has only existed in the fevered imaginations of the guilty, is by manufacturing so many enemies that it becomes a statistical probabillity.

      Indiscriminate torture seems like as good a way of getting there as any.

  • Greg

    G’day Ian,

    My favourite part of your article on Alternet was this “… and this spring roughly 20,000 atheists showed up—rain and all—at the first ever Reason Rally in DC,”

    It’s not just that the idea of a roof eluded the crew at the Reason Rally that I like. It’s that 20,000 participants is nearly 1/6th of the people that turned up to Comic Con.Course they can’t sell enough tickets because they include a roof and better costumes at their do. In Australia we had 2500 people show up at our Reason Rally. Nearly 1/6th of the number of people that showed up to catch a glimpse of Oprah Winfrey when she was in Melbourne! Exciting times to be sure.Mind you the show that Oprah produced in Australia was watched by millions of people in over 140 countries so I guess she wins.

    I’m not sure what it is about the atheist debate that I find so entertaining. Is it the pathos,comedy,drama tragedy or farce?Perhaps a combination of all? Maybe it’s the earnestly serious regard with which all particapants regard themselves juxtaposed against the way they totter around the perimeter of cultural relevance? Dunno. I’m sure that whatever the reason it’s reducible, quantifiable and able to be expressed empirically. Didn’t always believe so but a number of people with impressive letters after their names assert that it is so I’ve decided to have faith.
    Anyhoo, at least your blindingly obvious criticism of Harris was published. Way to go man. Keep up the good fight.

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