MDIA2002 Argumentative Analysis: The Politics of Torture

By Julian Rizzo-Smith, Sebastian Quinn & Roberta Wang

  1. What is the nature of the text’s central argumentative point? Is it a claim of fact, causality, evaluation, interpretation or recommendation, or some combination of two or more of these – or something entirely different? (Provide a few sentences here.)

The nature of the text’s central argumentative point is a combination of evaluation, causal and recommendation. McPherdan evaluates the Attorney-General’s demand for continued support towards sleep deprivation and claims that it isn’t a form of torture, while arguing the potential consequences of using similar inhumane methods of interrogation as the Islamist fundamentalists McPherdan argues Australia is fighting; before ending the piece recommending that we try more humane approaches to interrogation.

  1. How much simple opinion (the expression of the author’s viewpoint without any supporting argumentation) is there is the text? Would you classify the text as being more opinion or more argumentation? (a few sentences)

There is a surprisingly little amount of simple opinion in the text as McPherdan uses facts and appeal to authority in referencing Prime Minister John Howard and others to affirm his view. He also uses an analogy from a World War Two veteran who was a prisoner of war and victim of sleep deprivation to stress his point that sleep deprivation is a form of torture rather than humane interrogation that Australian politicians shouldn’t be advocating we use to fight terrorism. In this way, the text is more argumentation than opinion.

  1. Does the author offer an explicitly asserted statement of the text’s principal argumentative point? (briefly discuss)

While McPherdan doesn’t explicitly assert the principal argumentative point of his text – that sleep deprivation is a form of torture rather than humane interrogation that Australian politicians shouldn’t advocate for to fight terrorism – until his closing paragraph, he uses quotes from authorities, analogies from World War Two prisoners of war victims and informal fallacies by including details about the Attorney-General that clash with his comments (for instance, describing him as a “badge-wearing member of Amnesty International” following the politician’s belief that sleep deprivation isn’t a form of torture and shortly before a definition from the United Nations Committee Against Torture identifying the method as such).

  1. Are there any contentious terms in the text and, if so, does the author offer any stipulative definitions of these? To what extent are any such definitions supported with their own justification? (a few sentences)

McPherdan defines sleep deprivation with the biological affect it has on the human body to reaffirm the United Nations Committee Against Torture’s findings that it is a form of torture, in doing so, highlighting his claim that it’s an inhumane practice the Australian government shouldn’t be supporting even if fighting against terror.

  1. What types of justificatory support (secondary claims) does the author employ and does he seem to favour one type of these? (Express these justificatory claims as a single sentence and set out below in the order win which they occur in the text.) Also see if you can classify each of the justifications as involving one or more of the following justification types.
  1. Appeal to ethical, legal or other social norms
  2. Appeal to consequences (good or bad)
  3. Appeal to emotion
  4. Appeal to precedent, customary practice
  5. Appeal to popular opinion
  6. Appeal to authority
  7. Appeal to comparison, analogy
  8. Appeal to “facts”

Article’s primary claim here:

Sleep deprivation is a form of torture rather than humane interrogation that Australian politicians shouldn’t be supporting use of to fight terror.

Justification 1: (type                     Appeal to authority                    )

References the United Nations Committee Against Torture’s study on sleep deprivation as a form of torture to further credit his view. The United Nations are seen as reliable and a credible source, strengthening his claim.

“In 1997, the United Nations Committee Against Torture specifically ruled that the extended deprivation of sleep did indeed constitute torture.”

 

Justification 2: (type               Appeal to “facts”                        )

Defines the affect sleep deprivation has on the human body to further position it as a form of torture, reaffirming his claim.

“Sleep deprivation hinders the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen to the brain causing fatigue, lapses in memory, lethargy, muscular pain and, in severe cases, loss of consciousness.”

 

Justification 3: (type               Appeal to analogy)

Uses an analogy of a World War Two digger and prisoner of war who experienced sleep deprivation to position his audience to empathise with the digger, in doing so, alienating the Attorney-General’s view and reaffirming his own that the practice is inhumane.

“DURING World War II, Australian Diggers were subject to sleep deprivation when captured by the Japanese. The victim is kept awake for days on end by being either shaken awake or forced awake by noise or light.

The 86-year-old former PoW Cyril Gilbert said he was tortured by the Japanese on the Thai-Burma border using sleep deprivation. “You don’t know whether you are coming or going. You don’t know whether you are going forwards or backwards”, Mr Gilbert said. “I was lucky that I was only kept awake for a couple of days at a time. Others were kept awake a lot longer than that.”

And what did he make of Ruddock’s support of the technique? “He’s never experienced anything, has he?” Mr Gilbert asked rhetorically.”

 

Justification 4: (type           Appeal to negative consequences)

Ends the piece by arguing that using sleep deprivation as a means of interrogation will “lower [Australian society] to our enemies”, pointing out the potential negative consequences of the counterpoint to the author’s claim.

 

Take the list you have just presented as to the text’s justifications, and then state the warrant by which each justification supports or lead to the primary claim of the article. Indicate if any of these are explicitly stated. Also indicate if any of the warrants are supplied with their own argumentative support – i.e. with additional “backing” .

Article’s primary claim here:

Justification 1:

References the United Nations Committee Against Torture’s study on sleep deprivation as a form of torture to further credit his view. The United Nations are seen as reliable and a credible source, strengthening his claim.

“In 1997, the United Nations Committee Against Torture specifically ruled that the extended deprivation of sleep did indeed constitute torture.”

Warrant for Justification 1:

That the United Nations are a reliable and credible source.

Justification 2:

Defines the affect sleep deprivation has on the human body to further position it as a form of torture, reaffirming his claim.

“Sleep deprivation hinders the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen to the brain causing fatigue, lapses in memory, lethargy, muscular pain and, in severe cases, loss of consciousness.”

Warrant for Justification 2:

That harm to the body whether mental or physical, internal or external is bad.

Justification 3:

Uses an analogy of a World War Two digger and prisoner of war who experienced sleep deprivation to position his audience to empathise with the digger, in doing so, alienating the Attorney-General’s view and reaffirming his own that the practice is inhumane.

“DURING World War II, Australian Diggers were subject to sleep deprivation when captured by the Japanese. The victim is kept awake for days on end by being either shaken awake or forced awake by noise or light.

The 86-year-old former PoW Cyril Gilbert said he was tortured by the Japanese on the Thai-Burma border using sleep deprivation. “You don’t know whether you are coming or going. You don’t know whether you are going forwards or backwards”, Mr Gilbert said. “I was lucky that I was only kept awake for a couple of days at a time. Others were kept awake a lot longer than that.”

And what did he make of Ruddock’s support of the technique? “He’s never experienced anything, has he?” Mr Gilbert asked rhetorically.”

Warrant for Justification 3:

  • That World War Two veterans and prisoners of war are reliable sources.
  • That people care about war veterans and former prisoners of war.

Justification 4:

Ends the piece by arguing that using sleep deprivation as a means of interrogation will “lower [Australian society] to our enemies”, pointing out the potential negative consequences of the counterpoint to the author’s claim.

Warrant for Justification 4:

That we don’t want to see Australia become like our enemies or act in terror.

 

  1. Does the text contain any informal fallacies? If so, list these and present your justification for negatively characterising them in this way.

McPherdan distracts his audience by describing the Attorney-General as a “badge-wearing member of Amnesty International” as he points out his view that sleep deprivation isn’t torture to reaffirm how farfetch his claim is and how unreliable his opinion is, representing a group interested in human rights and an abolishment of torture but debating whether a form of torture can be defined as such (shortly before McPherdan points out the United Nations Committee Against Torture’s findings that it is a form of torture).

McPherdan also uses a strawperson argument in his closing paragraph by alluding that Australian politicians should be trying to uphold the values and beliefs that terrorist groups are trying to destroy by using forms of interrogation that aren’t methods of torture, attacking a similar view to the Attorney-General’s.

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