Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Terrible terrorists

Paul C said:
Would it be relevant if, having committed a murder, an individual took issue with the definition of murder? Your moral relativism here is extremely dangerous - imagine if everybody was allowed to define what was legal solely on their own terms! Clarification is a more valid question, and in that area you might be able to find some room to justify waterboarding - although that justification is unlikely to stick, as we are finding out.
1. That's interesting. How do you go from my taking issue or asking for clarification with a legal definition of "torture" to your belief that I'm a moral relativist here? Among other things, it'd depend to what degree I'm taking issue with or seeking clarification in regard to certain words and phrases and so on.

2. Just because a definition is legal doesn't necessarily mean it's moral or ethical. In my original post, my claim was that some Americans sometimes object to the use of "torture" because they believe it means they've ceded the moral high ground. In other words, I framed my post primarily in moral or ethical terms, not legal ones.
Let me give you a parallel - tongue in cheek, obviously. Perhaps it's true the United States can win the war against drugs without nuking Afghanistan into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. But just because we can, does that then mean we should?
1. The question "Just because we can, does that mean we should?" was dependent on the statement which preceded it, i.e., that it might be possible for the United States to win the war on terrorism without using "torture." It was in this context in which I asked the question. It wasn't meant to be a blanket statement which somehow allows for whatever might pop into someone's head.

2. That said, I'll still respond to your parallel.

a. There's plenty of drug production and smuggling in certain regions of the world. As far as I know, there's not any major drug production or smuggling through Afghanistan. So I don't see why nuking Afghanistan would help win the war against drugs.

b. Or did you mean the war against terrorism instead? If that's the case, I don't think it's possible to win the war against terrorism even if we nuked the whole of Afghanistan. For one thing, I'd think it's doubtful that most terrorists are solely or even primarily still hidden within the borders of Afghanistan. Many have fled over to Pakistan, or go back and forth between the two nations, using political borders to their advantage.

c. Another problem with your parallel is that it equates the use of "torture" with the use of nuclear weapons. That's quite a parallel.

d. Plus, we need to distinguish between things like innocent and guilty as well as non-hostiles and hostiles. Nuking Afghanistan, for instance, could possibly wipe out innocent civilians (you said Afghanistan would be turned into "a post-apocalyptic wasteland" which I take to include wiping out towns and cities) whereas "torture," as I've been referring to it, would target captured war combatants.
Actually I think we do need real-life examples, for two main reasons. First, one could completely reject your notion that your hypotheticals are "realistic" if you do not provide any examples that would validate them as realistic.
Realistic is not necessarily the same as real. You asked for "real-life examples." I responded with "realistic hypotheticals," and then asked whether there's anything wrong with producing a "realistic hypothetical" in lieu of having a "real-life option." So at best you're only rejecting my distinction between "real-life examples" and "realistic hypotheticals."
Second, we are talking about practices which will be applied in real life, not merely theoretically, and that means that we have to discuss not what is possible, but what is likely - many things are possible, but not all of them are likely. For example, I could conjure a realistic situation in which the only way to save the population of the USA is to sacrifice a living baby (although that sounds more like a plot twist in 24...), but that doesn't mean that we should pass legislation to allow baby sacrifice in case one day that scenario comes to pass.
Okay, let's say there aren't any "real-life examples" that "torture" is able to save lives. Let's say the US has in fact never used "torture" in its history (thus voiding my question or point re: historical precedence). Yet this doesn't then mean that "torture" is necessarily ineffective let alone that it's necessarily immoral or unethical, which is the main question I've raised. The lack of any "real-life examples" that "torture" effectively saved n lives doesn't necessarily mean it won't work if we implement it, or, more importantly for my post, that it's immoral or unethical.
For starters, let's say as expressed in the Bill of Rights.
It doesn't seem very likely that this is what your opponents refer to when they say that torture is un-American, does it? What do you think *they* mean when they say American values?
1. Why not? Take the First Amendment guaranteeing freedoms such as freedom of speech and assembly. Or take the Eighth Amendment, for example, which is against "cruel and unusual punishment." Or take the reason(s) we have habeus corpus. Allowing for the "torture" of an unlawful combatant might be an indirect attack or erosion of American freedoms and liberties as guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. That's along the lines of what some lawyers who oppose torture have themselves argued, at least as far as I understand.

2. But, again, this is less a legal issue for me than an ethical or moral one. As I mentioned in my original post, I brought up the Constitution and the Bill of Rights for the (popularly perceived) ideals upon which they were founded.
I would've thought that at some point during one of our wars we've successfully used "torture" to save many lives?
This would appear to be a concession that you are not in fact aware of any situations in which torture has been successfully used to save many lives. Given that you lack any evidence, why do you hold this belief?
1. Originally, I asked a question: "Historically, haven't Americans successfully used 'torture' on enemies to, say, extract necessary military information which would save thousands of lives?" What's more, I followed up with another question which you yourself quote directly above.

2. In fact, for the most part, I've expressed myself throughout my entire post in the interrogative. Although I do have opinions (which I've expressed), I've primarily been asking questions, not making assertions.
Also, even if they do constitute torture, can't torture sometimes be acceptable under certain conditions?
No. It might be necessary, but that's not the same thing as being acceptable.
1. What do you mean by "necessary"? Do you attach moral or ethical value to "necessary"?

2. As for me, what I'm essentially asking here is, even if a form of "torture" like sleep deprivation or waterboarding is almost always unethical or immoral, is it necessarily unethical or immoral in every, single case? Are there cases where "torture" is morally or ethically justifiable?

3. What's more, as Steve pointed out, doesn't a captured unlawful or war combatant (like a terrorist) with actionable information that could potentially aid us in the war on terrorism and/or possibly save lives not have the duty to divulge such information? (BTW, Steve made other good points in his response to you. And I'd agree with all of his points. You might consider reading his response if you haven't already.)
Yes, so you say, but where's the argument that it's "better" for the society that lets them go free"?
That is my argument. I prefer to live in a society that is not prepared to grind up the innocent in order to get to the guilty; therefore - all other factors being equal - I deem that society "better". I find this incredibly obvious, and I wonder why you find it a difficult question to answer.
Then, with all due respect, it's not much of an argument. By the same token, someone could "argue": "All things being equal, I prefer to live in a society that doesn't allow scores of thieves, rapists, pedophiles, murderers, and other criminals off the hook and free to roam our neighborhoods and communities even if it means our justice system isn't always morally perfect despite it striving to be. I deem such a society 'better.' I find this incredibly obvious, and I wonder why you find it a difficult question to answer."
I think some terrorist organizations are more militarily powerful and perhaps even financially solvent than some govts.
Really? Can you name them for us, please?
Sure. Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al-Qaeda are militarily stronger than some national govts (e.g. Kiribati).
However, I think it's indicative of the fact that some cultures and societies have flawed ethics or morals. In this sense it's relevant to whether we're better than our enemies.
It's relevant only if you accept the very argument that you're trying to attack. You're seem to be arguing that because our enemies have flawed ethics that allow them to engage in things we consider morally unacceptable (like torture), we are allowed to use torture on them - because we're more moral?
1. As I've previously stated, I wouldn't necessarily consider certain "interrogation techniques" "torture."

2. Remember, I was asking whether the use of "torture" makes us morally or ethically "no better than our enemies."

3. But to respond to your question, no, that's not what I'm arguing. Rather, here's what I'm arguing. The fact that we even have a national debate over the morality or ethics of torture arguably means that we have some sort of a conscience over what's objectively right or wrong. As far as I know, however, terrorists do not seem to wrestle over the morality or ethics of things far worse than torture ("interrogation techniques"), such as suicide bombing. In fact, some terrorists even think of suicide bombing as a virtuous action. Hence, on this score, such terrorists and the organizations or groups which would agree with and support them seem to me to be morally deficient and even dead. If I'm correct, I'd think we are morally or ethically "better than our enemies" in this respect.

36 comments:

  1. "As far as I know, there's not any major drug production or smuggling through Afghanistan. So I don't see why nuking Afghanistan would help win the war against drugs."

    Just a point of clarification (which may have no relevant bearing on the discussion at hand): According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in 2006, opium poppy production in Afghanistan accounted for roughly 92% of global cultivation. Granted, a proportionately small amount of heroin produced from Afghan poppies reaches the U.S., but global trafficking initiating in Afghanistan is a multi-billion dollar industry and major financial source of the Taliban Regime.

    As I said, not necessarily germane, just informational. And BTW, I appreciate what you guys engage in here at Triablogue (although I am too dense to follow most of it :)

    Richie

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  2. The question "Just because we can, does that mean we should?" was dependent on the statement which preceded it, i.e., that it might be possible for the United States to win the war on terrorism without using "torture." It was in this context in which I asked the question. It wasn't meant to be a blanket statement which somehow allows for whatever might pop into someone's head.

    And my answer was yes, we should. Because it's against international law, because it's not effective, because it violates what are generally considered to be basic human rights, and so on. My example of nuking Afghanistan was meant to show how ridiculous your question becomes when the stakes are raised, but obviously you don't make the connection between your argument and mine.

    a. As far as I know, there's not any major drug production or smuggling through Afghanistan.

    Richie has pointed out some facts regarding this. Can I just add that I find it astonishing that you are so ill-informed about basic facts regarding the political context in which this discussion takes place?

    c. Another problem with your parallel is that it equates the use of "torture" with the use of nuclear weapons.

    Why is it a problem exactly? They're both banned under international law.

    d. Plus, we need to distinguish between things like innocent and guilty as well as non-hostiles and hostiles. Nuking Afghanistan, for instance, could possibly wipe out innocent civilians (you said Afghanistan would be turned into "a post-apocalyptic wasteland" which I take to include wiping out towns and cities) whereas "torture," as I've been referring to it, would target captured war combatants.

    I agree that we need to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty, so I assume that you would only approve torture of those "captured war combatants" once they had been proved guilty? And presumably you would exclude torture as a means of securing evidence from them that might establish that guilt?

    So at best you're only rejecting my distinction between "real-life examples" and "realistic hypotheticals."

    The only way you can judge whether something is "realistic" or not is by how closely it reflects real life - that's the definition of the word "realistic". So if you don't have any examples in real-life, then I'll repeat the question - on what basis do you claim that your hypotheticals are "realistic"?

    Okay, let's say there aren't any "real-life examples" that "torture" is able to save lives... Yet this doesn't then mean that "torture" is necessarily ineffective let alone that it's necessarily immoral or unethical, which is the main question I've raised. The lack of any "real-life examples" that "torture" effectively saved n lives doesn't necessarily mean it won't work if we implement it, or, more importantly for my post, that it's immoral or unethical.

    As far as I can tell from this your argument is that - even if torture has never been shown to save lives - that doesn't mean it's ineffective? I would argue that actually, that's exactly what it means. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, admittedly, but given that torture has been used quite extensively, one would expect at least a few examples.

    I agree that just because torture is ineffective, doesn't mean that it's immoral. Yet your entire argument is structured around trying to make a connection that if torture is effective, then it's morally acceptable. Perhaps I missed something? If I'm wrong, then what is your argument that torture is moral?

    1. Originally, I asked a question: "Historically, haven't Americans successfully used 'torture' on enemies to, say, extract necessary military information which would save thousands of lives?" What's more, I followed up with another question which you yourself quote directly above.

    I find it difficult to tell between the times that you're expressing an opinion, asking a rhetorical question or asking a real question - my apologies. Personally I've never seen any examples of successful use of torture that meets your criteria - that doesn't mean they don't exist, of course, but their glaring absence in these debates is suspicious. So I ask again - given that you haven't been able to locate any evidence to support your belief, are you now prepared to change it?

    1. What do you mean by "necessary"? Do you attach moral or ethical value to "necessary"?

    Longer answer - need time to formulate it. Not strictly speaking relevant to your main argument, either.

    2. As for me, what I'm essentially asking here is, even if a form of "torture" like sleep deprivation or waterboarding is almost always unethical or immoral, is it necessarily unethical or immoral in every, single case? Are there cases where "torture" is morally or ethically justifiable?

    It's unacceptable in every case.

    3. What's more, as Steve pointed out, doesn't a captured unlawful or war combatant (like a terrorist) with actionable information that could potentially aid us in the war on terrorism and/or possibly save lives not have the duty to divulge such information?

    I didn't answer Steve's points because I didn't find them particularly coherent. Why do they have a duty to divulge this information? Who do they have the duty to? From a moral perspective, what does this duty consist of?

    Then, with all due respect, it's not much of an argument. By the same token, someone could "argue": "All things being equal, I prefer to live in a society that doesn't allow scores of thieves, rapists, pedophiles, murderers, and other criminals off the hook and free to roam our neighborhoods and communities even if it means our justice system isn't always morally perfect despite it striving to be. I deem such a society 'better.' I find this incredibly obvious, and I wonder why you find it a difficult question to answer."

    Why isn't it much of an argument? My definition of better in this instance as "the sort of society I'd prefer to live in" seems uncontroversial. I'd prefer to live in the society you describe as well, and the two are not mutually exclusive. So what's your point?

    1. As I've previously stated, I wouldn't necessarily consider certain "interrogation techniques" "torture."

    You haven't presented a case for *why* you wouldn't consider them torture, but I assume that's not part of this discussion? My question then is - if you believe that torture is in some cases acceptable, why are you still hesitant about labelling any particular interrogation technique torture?

    The fact that we even have a national debate over the morality or ethics of torture arguably means that we have some sort of a conscience over what's objectively right or wrong.

    Is there a national debate over the morality of torture? I wasn't aware of that, so I'd appreciate some links if you have them. The former administration always went to great lengths to emphasise that it did not condone torture. As far as I know, there's nobody who condones torture - it exists but nobody believes it's morally justified, which is why torture and secrecy go hand in hand.

    Hence, on this score, such terrorists and the organizations or groups which would agree with and support them seem to me to be morally deficient and even dead. If I'm correct, I'd think we are morally or ethically "better than our enemies" in this respect.

    Then you agree with the argument that you originally said you were questioning. We believe that torture is wrong, and refuse to participate in it; they don't believe that torture is wrong, and so carry it out freely. Thus if we were to carry out torture, we would be no better than them *in this respect*.

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  3. I looked at Steve Hays' comment on the other thread, but prefer to answer them on this thread.

    i) Yes, you can furnish a legal definition of torture. But I believe that Patrick is dealing with people, many of whom simply have a knee-jerk reaction to methods they informally classify as “torture.”

    Patrick asked for a definition. I provided a definition. If you have evidence that those "knee-jerk" folk are using a wholly different definition, please present it.

    ii) Liberal opponents of Bush policies on “torture” reject the primary of original intent in favor of a “living Constitution,” in which judges decide what a law means—regardless of original intent. Hence, it won’t do to simply cite the text of an international law.

    Please provide an example of where a "liberal opponent" or judge has decided that the CAT means something different to a complete prohibition on torture.

    iv) You only deal with the first part of Patrick’s statement. Citing international law, even if your interpretation were sound, fails to address the moral question.

    Patrick's moral question around torture is, "can it sometimes be morally acceptable?" My answer is no, and I've outlined why in my answers.

    i) International law reflects elite opinion, not popular opinion.

    How is that relevant?

    ii) You also need to explain why a “shared moral sense” is equivalent to objective moral norms.

    I didn't say that it was.

    iii) The question at issue is whether a terrorist has the moral right to withhold information about future plots to kill innocent people. Not only does he have no such right, but, to the contrary, he has a duty to divulge any foreknowledge of an impending attack.

    Assertion. Provide an argument.

    Patrick wasn’t discussion the state of the law, but the application of ethics. Do you think morality and legality are interchangeable?

    No; but nor do I think that just because something is legal, it's immoral.

    But that sidesteps the question of whether we have good laws or bad laws. What’s the purpose of a law? To protect the victim? Or protect the assailant?

    To protect everybody (and assure that everybody receives equal treatment under the law); and the CAT exists to protect you, me and everybody from torture.

    If current laws do not allow us to defend ourselves against terrorists, then we need to change the law.

    Perhaps you could present your evidence that the prohibition of torture doesn't allow us to defend ourselves against terrorists?

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  4. PAUL C SAID:

    “Patrick asked for a definition. I provided a definition. If you have evidence that those "knee-jerk" folk are using a wholly different definition, please present it.”

    I’ve debated people who don’t begin with a legal definition of torture. Rather, they begin with their knee-jerk definition of “torture.” Check the archives.

    And there are plenty of examples of this in the media as well as on the internet.

    “Please provide an example of where a "liberal opponent" or judge has decided that the CAT means something different to a complete prohibition on torture.”

    Now you’re changing the subject. The question at issue is whether, according to your judicial philosophy, laws have a fixed meaning. If not, then why should I prefer the meaning assigned to the text by John Paul Stevens over the meaning assigned to it by John Yoo?

    “How is that relevant?”

    It’s relevant because you made it relevant. You appealed to “a shared moral sense” to justify international laws against “torture.”

    In that event, the question of how representative this “shared moral sense” actually is becomes relevant to your appeal. Who, exactly, shares this shared moral sense?

    “I didn't say that it was.”

    Once again, you appealed to “a shared moral sense” to justify international laws against “torture.” If you deny that “a shared moral sense” is equivalent to objective moral norms, then you lose your moral justification for international laws against “torture.”


    “Assertion. Provide an argument.”

    Provide an argument for what? Do you think a terrorist has a right to withhold information about a plot to kill innocent people? Do you think he has a moral right to withhold that information?

    Say he knows about a terrorist plot to take over an elementary school and behead the grade school students on camera. Do you think he has a right to withhold that information?

    “To protect everybody (and assure that everybody receives equal treatment under the law).”

    Really? The law exists to protect victims and assailants alike?

    Of course, that’s incoherent. If it protects the assailant, then if fails to protect the victim from the assailant.

    There’s no point in having laws if laws protect assailants at the expense of victims. That’s a travesty of law.

    “And the CAT exists to protect you, me and everybody from torture.”

    You’re very free with the use of the word “torture.” Let’s go back to my example. Suppose the only way to extract timely information about the attack on the elementary school is to subject the terrorist severe mental suffering (to pick up on your own definition).

    You think the rights of the terrorist to keep silent outweigh the rights of the grade school students not to be beheaded? You think our priority is to protect the terrorist rather than the children? How many dead children is a terrorist worth to you, any?

    “Perhaps you could present your evidence that the prohibition of torture doesn't allow us to defend ourselves against terrorists?”

    You haven’t said what techniques are even permissible. A terrorist is not going to volunteer information about an impending attack. How do you propose that we obtain that information from him? Or would you even try?

    I’ve also cited the testimony of George Tenet (to take one example).

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  5. I’ve debated people who don’t begin with a legal definition of torture. Rather, they begin with their knee-jerk definition of “torture.”

    I didn't ask if they begin with a legal definition of torture. I asked for evidence that they are using a *wholly different* definition to the one I have presented.

    The question at issue is whether, according to your judicial philosophy, laws have a fixed meaning. If not, then why should I prefer the meaning assigned to the text by John Paul Stevens over the meaning assigned to it by John Yoo?

    I don't know what meaning either gentleman assigns to the text, but until you provide actual examples it's hard to tell anything, isn't it? Evidence, Steve, evidence.

    It’s relevant because you made it relevant. You appealed to “a shared moral sense” to justify international laws against “torture.”

    You originally stated that "International law reflects elite opinion, not popular opinion", and I asked "How is that relevant?" The reason I question its relevance is that you have not defined what you mean by "elite" versus "popular" opinion, nor have you provided arguments that elite opinion is entirely separate from popular opinion or that elite opinion does not reflect a shared moral sense. Until you make these arguments, whether elite opinion reflects popular opinion is irrelevant; and until you define what you mean by those terms, I can't comment on it.

    If you deny that “a shared moral sense” is equivalent to objective moral norms, then you lose your moral justification for international laws against “torture.”

    Once again, you have failed to provide arguments that a shared moral sense is equivalent to objective moral norms, or that objective moral norms are required to provide moral justification for international laws. Feel free to make either of those arguments, and feel free also to stop putting torture in quotes for no good reason.

    Provide an argument for what?

    Provide an argument that a terrorist "has a duty to divulge any foreknowledge of an impending attack.

    The law exists to protect victims and assailants alike? Of course, that’s incoherent. If it protects the assailant, then if fails to protect the victim from the assailant. There’s no point in having laws if laws protect assailants at the expense of victims. That’s a travesty of law.

    While we're talking about American values, the Fourteenth Amendment states the following: "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

    I'm not arguing that the Amendment covers foreign nationals, because it doesn't. But the Fourteenth Amendment establishes "the equal protection of the laws" to all persons, which is what I was referring to when I said that everybody receives equal treatment under the law. According to you, that makes this amendment a "travesty of law", and obviously I bow before a fine legal mind such as yours.

    You’re very free with the use of the word “torture.”

    Well Steve, it's like this - in discussions about torture, I often use the word torture quite freely.

    You haven’t said what techniques are even permissible.

    That's because I wasn't discussing what techniques are permissible; I was discussing whether the use of torture makes us no better than our enemies.

    I’ve also cited the testimony of George Tenet (to take one example).

    That would be the same George Tenet who stated "We don’t torture people. Let me say that again to you, we don’t torture people." So, according to you, repeated assertions that we don't use torture is proof that the prohibition of torture doesn't allow us to defend ourselves against terrorists. You might want to get some better evidence than that.

    You'll notice that I've deliberately not engaged with your scenario, mainly because I think it's a feeble attempt to draw attention away from the lack of arguments and evidence in your comment. So that you don't get too depressed, let's make a deal - you address the points I've raised, make your arguments, provide your evidence - and then I promise you that I'll address the details of your scenario.

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  6. PAUL C SAID:

    “I didn't ask if they begin with a legal definition of torture. I asked for evidence that they are using a *wholly different* definition to the one I have presented.”

    You’re trying to rig the answer by arbitrarily restricting what would count as an answer.

    “I don't know what meaning either gentleman assigns to the text, but until you provide actual examples it's hard to tell anything, isn't it? Evidence, Steve, evidence.”

    i) To begin with, I asked you about your judicial philosophy. That is not an evidentiary question.

    ii) I’m also impressed by your tremendous ignorance of leading players in this debate. John Yoo is well-known for having in major hand in formulating the legal position of the Bush administration on the treatment of detainees. Conversely, Stevens authored the majority opinion in an important ruling on the subject.

    “The reason I question its relevance is that you have not defined what you mean by ‘elite’ versus ‘popular’ opinion.”

    Who do you think writes international laws in the first place? Not the general public.

    “Nor have you provided arguments that elite opinion is entirely separate from popular opinion or that elite opinion does not reflect a shared moral sense.”

    “Entirely separate” is another one of your weasel words, like “wholly different,” by which you try to artificially rig the terms of the debate

    But when you appeal to “a shared moral sense,” the popular opinion doesn’t have to be “entirely separate” from elite opinion to be at odds with elite opinion in significant respects.

    For example, the Jack Bauer approach to interrogation was quite popular with the general public (to judge by ratings for the first few seasons of the series), although it was also decried by the cultural elite.

    “Until you make these arguments, whether elite opinion reflects popular opinion is irrelevant; and until you define what you mean by those terms, I can't comment on it.”

    Nice attempt to shirk your epistemic responsibilities in this debate. However, you’re the one who appealed to “a shared moral sense.” Hence, the onus falls squarely on your shoulders to substantiate your appeal.

    For example, there is polling data which indicates public support for torture under some circumstances:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10345320/

    Moreover, if we sustained another major attack on the homeland, public support would rise for “torturing” high-value terrorists. The “shared moral sense” is mutable.

    “Once again, you have failed to provide arguments that a shared moral sense is equivalent to objective moral norms.”

    I see you’re not very bright. Did I take the position that a shared moral sense is equivalent to objective moral norms? No. I clearly oppose that equivalence.

    “Or that objective moral norms are required to provide moral justification for international laws.”

    It’s self-evident. If you reject objective moral norms, then, by definition, you have no objective morally normative justification for international laws. Try to connect the dots. It isn’t difficult.

    “And feel free also to stop putting torture in quotes for no good reason.”

    When the word “torture” is stretched to cover everything from mutilation to playing “I Love You” by Barney the Purple Dinosaur, then I’m entitled to put “torture” in quotes. It’s amoral to bandy the word “torture” when it’s used so loosely and frivolously.

    “Provide an argument that a terrorist ‘has a duty to divulge any foreknowledge of an impending attack’.”

    It’s sufficient for me to illustrate how fanatical your position is. If you think a terrorist has a right to withhold information about a terrorist plot to take innocent life, then I’ve already achieved my purpose. I like readers to see how far people like you are prepared to go. I’ve accomplished my purpose by exposing your fanaticism.

    In the arena of politics and public opinion, it’s sufficient to illustrate the policy implications of people like you.

    “I'm not arguing that the Amendment covers foreign nationals, because it doesn't. But the Fourteenth Amendment establishes ‘the equal protection of the laws’ to all persons, which is what I was referring to when I said that everybody receives equal treatment under the law. According to you, that makes this amendment a ‘travesty of law’, and obviously I bow before a fine legal mind such as yours.”

    Your position is still incoherent. Foreign nationals are “persons.” You say the 14th amendment applies to “all persons,” but then exempt foreign nationals.

    The 14th amendment is also concerned with voting rights. Do you also think that members of al-Qaida, Hamas, and Hezbollah have a right to vote in American elections?

    “Well Steve, it's like this - in discussions about torture, I often use the word torture quite freely.”

    To the contrary, the question of which techniques constitute “torture” is one of the key questions at issue.

    “That's because I wasn't discussing what techniques are permissible; I was discussing whether the use of torture makes us no better than our enemies.”

    No, you cited a provision of international law. So what techniques are prohibited by that law?

    “That would be the same George Tenet who stated ‘We don’t torture people. Let me say that again to you, we don’t torture people.’ So, according to you, repeated assertions that we don't use torture is proof that the prohibition of torture doesn't allow us to defend ourselves against terrorists. You might want to get some better evidence than that.”

    My you’re muddleheaded.

    i) To begin with, you’re imputing your own definition of “torture” to Tenet, as if he means the same thing by that word as you do. As if he would apply that designation to all the same methods you do.

    ii) You then use this equivocation to deflect attention away from what Tenet said regarding the value of coercive interrogation in extracting intel which foiled future terrorist attacks.

    ii) And I haven’t taken a position on whether the Bush administration “tortured” any terrorists in its custody. On the other hand, I also suggested that we our gov’t may have used “torture” during the Cold War.

    “You'll notice that I've deliberately not engaged with your scenario, mainly because I think it's a feeble attempt to draw attention away from the lack of arguments and evidence in your comment.”

    You evaded my scenario because you didn’t want to make any damning admissions.

    The point of my scenario is to elicit from you whether you think it’s ever justifiable to coerce information from a terrorist. If you say “yes,” then you’ve made a fatal concession to my position. If you say “no,” then you expose yourself as an amoral fanatic. Any answer you give is win/win for me and lose/lose for you.

    You might as well quit while you’re behind before your fall even further behind.

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  7. Paul C said:

    And my answer was yes, we should. Because it's against international law, because it's not effective, because it violates what are generally considered to be basic human rights, and so on. My example of nuking Afghanistan was meant to show how ridiculous your question becomes when the stakes are raised, but obviously you don't make the connection between your argument and mine.

    1. It seems to me that you're still trying to frame the debate in terms of legality rather than what I've actually framed it in, i.e. morality and/or ethics.

    2. Actually, I was answering you on your own grounds.

    3. You've avoided the broader question of how you went from my taking issue or seeking clarification with a legal definition over "torture" to your belief that I'm a moral relativist. That's fine. You're free to answer or not answer as you choose. But I'm citing it for the record, particularly since (as I've framed it) it's a debate over ethics and/or morality.

    Richie has pointed out some facts regarding this. Can I just add that I find it astonishing that you are so ill-informed about basic facts regarding the political context in which this discussion takes place?

    I don't think you're a careful reader. First, I prefaced my remark with "As far as I know..." Second, even if you want to stick with your parallel, I pointed out that there are other major regions of the world which produce and traffic drugs, so it's not necessarily true that wiping out Afghanistan would help significantly enough to win the war on drugs.

    Why is it a problem exactly? They're both banned under international law.

    I think the problem is you keep needing to be corrected on the same point. Again, my original post framed the issue over "torture" primarily in moral or ethical terms. But it appears to me you keep wanting to frame it in legal terms.

    I agree that we need to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty, so I assume that you would only approve torture of those "captured war combatants" once they had been proved guilty? And presumably you would exclude torture as a means of securing evidence from them that might establish that guilt?

    I'm referring primarily to moral innocence or guilt. After all, I don't see that you're suggesting we need to hold trials against those civilians who have reasonable suspicion of drug trafficking before nuking Afghanistan, are you? At least that's not implicit in your statement about nuking Afghanistan and turning it into "a post-apocalyptic wasteland." Yet there could be civilians who have never produced or trafficked drugs but who could potentially be wiped out or fatally or vitally affected under your scenario.

    As far as I can tell from this your argument is that - even if torture has never been shown to save lives - that doesn't mean it's ineffective? I would argue that actually, that's exactly what it means. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, admittedly, but given that torture has been used quite extensively, one would expect at least a few examples.

    I think you may have just answered your own question: "The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." But to elaborate: the way to prove that "torture" is ineffective would be to have actually used "torture" and found it to have been ineffective.

    I agree that just because torture is ineffective, doesn't mean that it's immoral. Yet your entire argument is structured around trying to make a connection that if torture is effective, then it's morally acceptable. Perhaps I missed something? If I'm wrong, then what is your argument that torture is moral?

    1. No, I'm not linking the effectiveness of "torture" with its morality or ethics at this point. For instance, even if we call the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of "torture" a wash, we can stil argue for or against it on moral and/or ethical grounds.

    2. Remember what my original post claimed, please: "I think some Americans sometimes object to the use of torture because (the thinking goes) to engage in it means we've stooped down to the enemy's level. It means we've ceded the moral high ground. It means we've become no better than our enemies." I was objecting to this claim. However, I never gave an argument for why I think "torture" is morally or ethically justifiable in some cases. Like I've pointed out above, my original post was mainly in the interrogative. I wasn't making an argument; I was questioning a claim.

    3. But to answer your question would probably require I write a separate, lengthier post in and of itself, which I don't have time for now.

    I find it difficult to tell between the times that you're expressing an opinion, asking a rhetorical question or asking a real question - my apologies. Personally I've never seen any examples of successful use of torture that meets your criteria - that doesn't mean they don't exist, of course, but their glaring absence in these debates is suspicious. So I ask again - given that you haven't been able to locate any evidence to support your belief, are you now prepared to change it?

    1. Again, I framed my original post primarily in terms of morality and ethics. As I've said above, the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of torture might be a wash, but we can still argue for or against it on moral or ethical grounds if we can't agree on its effectiveness or ineffectiveness.

    2. Nevertheless, I don't happen to think "torture" is ineffective. I believe John McCain, for example, has admitted that "torture" worked on him when he was a POW during the Vietnamese War. (Of course, one question which arises is whether we'd use the same methods of "torture" as did the Vietnamese to break McCain.)

    1. What do you mean by "necessary"? Do you attach moral or ethical value to "necessary"?

    Longer answer - need time to formulate it. Not strictly speaking relevant to your main argument, either.


    That's fine.

    However, whether or not you choose to give it, your response to this very question would be pertinent to the debate given that you originally said: "It [torture] might be necessary..."

    2. As for me, what I'm essentially asking here is, even if a form of "torture" like sleep deprivation or waterboarding is almost always unethical or immoral, is it necessarily unethical or immoral in every, single case? Are there cases where "torture" is morally or ethically justifiable?

    It's unacceptable in every case.


    Okay, so you say things like sleep deprivation are "unacceptable in every case." That's already quite a stance to take. Moreover, are you saying that the use of "torture" in all cases is an absolute moral prohibition?

    I didn't answer Steve's points because I didn't find them particularly coherent. Why do they have a duty to divulge this information? Who do they have the duty to? From a moral perspective, what does this duty consist of?

    I see Steve's already responded to you.

    Why isn't it much of an argument? My definition of better in this instance as "the sort of society I'd prefer to live in" seems uncontroversial. I'd prefer to live in the society you describe as well, and the two are not mutually exclusive. So what's your point?

    So you're admitting it's no more than a personal preference. Fine.

    However, your original objection was that it's "Better for the society that lets them go free." Which is quite different (to put it mildly) from saying that it's a personal preference.

    And that's my point.

    You haven't presented a case for *why* you wouldn't consider them torture, but I assume that's not part of this discussion? My question then is - if you believe that torture is in some cases acceptable, why are you still hesitant about labelling any particular interrogation technique torture?

    I don't think I've been hesitant. In fact, in my original post, the very first question I asked was: "First off, these are vague objections. What exactly is meant here? People who put forth such views need to make clear how they define 'torture,' and better delineate what's morally or ethically objectionable about the various forms of 'torture' employed. At a minimum, isn't there a difference between what is publicly perceived as 'torture,' with its decidedly negative connotation, and what is officially used by the US gov't in their 'interrogation techniques'?"

    Is there a national debate over the morality of torture? I wasn't aware of that, so I'd appreciate some links if you have them.

    You might start with this Wikipedia article and work your way through the embedded links in the various categories (e.g. proponents, opponents).

    The former administration always went to great lengths to emphasise that it did not condone torture. As far as I know, there's nobody who condones torture - it exists but nobody believes it's morally justified, which is why torture and secrecy go hand in hand.

    1. That depends in large part on how one defines "torture." In fact, that's one of the fundamental questions I've been asking. Where do we draw the lines?

    For example, you could say I'm against "torture" if by "torture" you include cutting off appendages one by one until the POW gives me the information I want. But I don't think that some forms of "coercive interrogation" are necessarily "torture."

    The point you raise goes to the very question of what constitutes "torture" and what does not.

    2. In my original post, I actually linked to this CNN article which begins: "WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Promising to return America to the 'moral high ground' in the war on terrorism, President Obama issued three executive orders Thursday to demonstrate a clean break from the Bush administration, including one requiring that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility be closed within a year." If you read further in the article, one of the the assumptions is that the Bush Administration did indeed condone "torture." (Whether or not they actually did is a separate question.)

    And opponents of "torture" will sometimes also fault the Bush Administration for what happened in Abu Ghraib.

    I'm tempted to quote what you said to me above about being "ill-informed" about "basic facts" but that'd probably be uncharitable.

    Then you agree with the argument that you originally said you were questioning. We believe that torture is wrong, and refuse to participate in it; they don't believe that torture is wrong, and so carry it out freely. Thus if we were to carry out torture, we would be no better than them *in this respect*.

    No, sorry, I think you're mistaken.

    The original argument I was questioning was the claim that some Americans sometimes believe that "torture" makes them "no better than their enemies."

    1. First off, I never said that "we believe that torture is wrong." I said we debate and question its morality or ethics.

    2. Next, while I did claim that as far as I know these terrorists "don't believe that [things worse than] torture [are] wrong," it doesn't then imply that they're not wrong. In fact, if what I've said is true, I think they are wrong. After all, there are still objective moral standards. So what I'm doing is calling into question what I perceive to be their defective conscience over objective moral standards in regard to things like suicide bombing over and against our not as defective conscience in regard to "torture."

    3. Finally, my claim isn't that "if we were to carry out torture, we would be no better than them *in this respect*." My claim is, because we are even debating or questioning the morality or ethics of "torture" in the first place, while they aren't, then perhaps this means we are morally or ethically better than our enemies here.

    So I'm not sure how my point that these terrorists either have a defective or maybe even dead conscience over the morality or ethics of things worse than "torture" (e.g. suicide bombing), while we at least still have some sort of a conscience over the morality or ethics of "torture" since we debate and question it, means that I agree that the use of "torture" compromises our ethics or morals or values in such a way as to make us "no better than our enemies." It's not a question of "either-or" but one of degrees.

    ReplyDelete
  8. PAUL C SAID:

    “Because it violates what are generally considered to be basic human rights, and so on.”

    That begs a number of questions:

    i) How do you survey what are generally considered to be basic human rights? Where is your scientific polling data? What is the sample group?

    ii) Even if you could make good on (i), you have yet to explain how popular opinion is sufficient to ground morality. For one thing, popular opinion is not monolithic in time and place.

    For another thing, even if it were monolithic in time and place, how does popular opinion make something right or wrong?

    “I agree that we need to distinguish between the innocent and the guilty, so I assume that you would only approve torture of those "captured war combatants" once they had been proved guilty?”

    If you’re alluding to a trial, that depends on what you think the rules of evidence ought to be. In modern American trials, incriminating evidence is often excluded on legal technicalities. Defendants known to be guilty are acquitted on legal technicalities.

    “Personally I've never seen any examples of successful use of torture that meets your criteria - that doesn't mean they don't exist, of course, but their glaring absence in these debates is suspicious. So I ask again - given that you haven't been able to locate any evidence to support your belief, are you now prepared to change it?”

    I’ve cited numerous examples on this blog where “torture” is effective. In the age of the internet, it’s easy to come up with real life examples. The fact that you are ignorant of these examples means that you’re not making a good faith effort.

    “It's unacceptable in every case.”

    Why do you think the right of the terrorist not to be coercively interrogated invariably trumps the right of the victim not to be murdered by the terrorist? How do you come up with your moral priorities?

    “I didn't answer Steve's points because I didn't find them particularly coherent. Why do they have a duty to divulge this information? Who do they have the duty to? From a moral perspective, what does this duty consist of?”

    i) First of all, it’s fascinating that you think we have duties to the terrorist (not to “torture” him; to give him a fair trial), but a terrorist has no duties to us. You’re radical inversion of moral values is very revealing.

    ii) If it is wrong for a terrorist organization to kill innocent people, then it’s wrong for a member of a terrorist organization to withhold information about such a plot. If the consequence is wrong, it’s wrong for me to withhold information which would prevent a wrongful consequence.

    If, for example, I know a disgruntled employee is planning to murder his coworkers, it’s wrong of me to withhold that information from the police.

    The fact that Paul C. is too morally obtuse to see that is a fine illustration of how secularism deadens the conscience.

    iii) A terrorist has a duty to the potential victims and survivors (e.g., friends and relatives of the victim).

    Suppose Paul C has a 5-year-old daughter. Suppose a man kidnaps his daughter and buries her in a coffin. She only has a few hours of oxygen. Suppose the police capture the kidnapper while his daughter is still alive. The only way to extract timely information is to use coercive measures.

    According to Paul C, the kidnapper has a right to withhold that information. Somehow, the right of the kidnapper to keep silent trumps the right of Paul’s daughter not to be murdered by the kidnapper.

    In Paul’s morally inverted universe, we have duties to the kidnapper, but he has no duties to the victim or her parents.

    “As far as I know, there's nobody who condones torture.”

    Alan Dershowitz is a well-known example of someone who condones torture in a ticking timebomb situation. Your elementary ignorance of the other side of the argument is startling.

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  9. Paul C said...

    "Let me give you a parallel - tongue in cheek, obviously. Perhaps it's true the United States can win the war against drugs without nuking Afghanistan into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. But just because we can, does that then mean we should?"

    That's a silly example since we wouldn't even need to nuke Afghanistan to halt its opium production. It would be sufficient to spray a defoliant on the poppy fields (e.g. Agent Orange).

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  10. How do you survey what are generally considered to be basic human rights?

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Even if you could make good on (i), you have yet to explain how popular opinion is sufficient to ground morality.

    I don't think that popular opinion is sufficient to ground morality, nor does that form part of my argument.

    If you’re alluding to a trial, that depends on what you think the rules of evidence ought to be. In modern American trials, incriminating evidence is often excluded on legal technicalities. Defendants known to be guilty are acquitted on legal technicalities.

    The specifics of any given case do not affect the principle of a fair trial. (In legal terms somebody is only guilty if a court finds them guilty – being “known to be guilty” is meaningless except in the movies.)

    I’ve cited numerous examples on this blog where “torture” is effective. In the age of the internet, it’s easy to come up with real life examples. The fact that you are ignorant of these examples means that you’re not making a good faith effort.

    I didn't say that torture isn't effective, I said that I've never seen any examples that meet Patrick's criteria of saving hundreds of lives. If you've cited numerous examples on this blog that show the torture is effective, it seems strange that Patrick is ignorant of those examples. Perhaps you should accuse Patrick of not making a good faith effort?

    Let's look at one of the examples you cited, John Kiriakou (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2007/12/11/ST2007121100844.html):
    .
    In an interview, Kiriakou said he did not witness Abu Zubaida's waterboarding but was part of the interrogation team that questioned him

    So Kiriakou wasn't actually in the room, but I'm prepared to accept that it was waterboarding that broke Zubaida. But you don't believe that waterboarding is torture, so how does this demonstrate that torture is effective? Nevertheless, surely Kiriakou provides great support for Patrick's main criteria – that using torture can save hundreds of lives? Unfortunately not.

    The furthest Kiriakou was prepared to go was to say that Zubaida's evidence “probably saved lives”. However despite the absence of evidence, surely this demonstrated to the intelligence community that torture works? Unfortunately not (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/17/AR2007121702151_pf.html):

    While CIA officials have described him as an important insider whose disclosures under intense pressure saved lives, some FBI agents and analysts say he is largely a loudmouthed and mentally troubled hotelier whose credibility dropped as the CIA subjected him to a simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding and to other "enhanced interrogation" measures.

    Those amoral fanatics at the FBI fail to see the value of torture! Unbelievable. However surely in light of this experience – and presumably many others – the CIA is now a committed advocate of torture? Unfortunately not:

    In a statement, the CIA reiterated its long standing position that "the United States does not conduct or condone torture.

    Damn those amoral fanatics at the CIA! However surely having seen the results at first-hand – well, second-hand - Kiriakou is now firmly convinced that the effectiveness of torture makes it an indispensable tool in the interrogation toolbox? Unfortunately not (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17181403):

    "In 2002, I believed that desperate times called for desperate measures. And we were so convinced that al-Qaida was planning another massive attack that we really felt that we needed to do anything to get the information to disrupt it," Kiriakou tells Robert Siegel. "...I've come to the belief that not only is it unnecessary, but that as Americans, we're better than that and we shouldn't be engaging in a practice like waterboarding."

    My god, now even John Kiriakou is an amoral fanatic!

    Just to recap, Steve, one of your examples that torture is effective is on a guy who didn't actually carry out the waterboarding (which you don't believe is torture anyway), didn't give any specific examples of how lives were saved, whose testimony is disputed by members of his own community, whose former agency disavows any use of torture, and who now states clearly that torture is not acceptable under any circumstances.
    Killer evidence. I couldn't find any of the other “numerous examples” that you've cited. Maybe you accidentally deleted them?

    Why do you think the right of the terrorist not to be coercively interrogated invariably trumps the right of the victim not to be murdered by the terrorist?

    I haven't said that, nor do I think it, nor does my argument imply it.

    it’s fascinating that you think we have duties to the terrorist (not to “torture” him; to give him a fair trial), but a terrorist has no duties to us.

    I haven't said that, nor do I think it, nor does my argument imply it.

    Suppose Paul C has a 5-year-old daughter. Suppose a man kidnaps his daughter and buries her in a coffin. She only has a few hours of oxygen. Suppose the police capture the kidnapper while his daughter is still alive. The only way to extract timely information is to use coercive measures.

    Suppose suppose suppose suppose. How do the police know my daughter is in a coffin? How do the police know the daughter is still alive? How do they know she only has a few hours to live? Presumably they have the same sort of psychic powers that you do – but then why won't they use their psychic powers to save my daughter?! Those bastards.

    According to Paul C, the kidnapper has a right to withhold that information.

    I haven't said that, nor do I think it, nor does my argument imply it.

    In Paul’s morally inverted universe, we have duties to the kidnapper, but he has no duties to the victim or her parents.

    I haven't said that, nor does my argument imply it.

    Alan Dershowitz is a well-known example of someone who condones torture in a ticking timebomb situation.

    Yeah, I'll cop. That's a perfectly valid point which, unfortunately, doesn't have any relevance to the material thrust of my argument.

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  11. That's a silly example since we wouldn't even need to nuke Afghanistan to halt its opium production. It would be sufficient to spray a defoliant on the poppy fields (e.g. Agent Orange).

    My god Steve, you're a genius! Why hasn't anybody else thought of that?

    Just kidding. It's a phenomenally stupid idea that would only be proposed by somebody who has literally no understanding about Afghanistan, poppy eradication or economics.

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  12. Patrick: I need some time to formulate the response to your response, sorry.

    Steve: Try to focus your arguments a bit more, and write a bit less.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I wonder how Jihadists feel about "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights"...

    Go ahead and ask Hamas if Jews have human rights.

    Go ahead and ask Al Qaeda if homosexuals have human rights.

    The "Universal" Declaration of Human Rights is anything but.

    Now, consider how many more people are not European or Americans in the world. Consider how many people are Muslims. Consider how many anti-semites there are. Then ask yourself why such a small minority of people get to determine what constitutes a human right for Paul C.

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  14. Oh, and since Paul C. lacks the ability to consider possible scenarios:

    Someone kidnaps his five-year-old daughter and is arrested because police recognize the guy from a security tape that capture the abduction. The kidnapper tells the police: "She's in a coffin somewhere, and she's going to suffocate any minute now. And you can't torture me because I have an ACLU lawyer, so I'm just going to sit here and laugh while her life ebbs away. Mwa-ha-ha-ha."

    Gee, that was such a difficult concept to imagine, why, I'm the best freaking author in the world. CSI should hire me because OBVIOUSLY this scenario takes a genius to invent, else Paul C. would have figured it out without my help. I mean, seriously, WHO ELSE COULD HAVE POSSIBLY SEEN THIS EXAMPLE?!

    I mean besides everyone.

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  15. "My god Steve, you're a genius! Why hasn't anybody else thought of that?

    Just kidding. It's a phenomenally stupid idea that would only be proposed by somebody who has literally no understanding about Afghanistan, poppy eradication or economics."

    This is ad hominem, right? If so, I think I'm learning, guys!! (Slowly peeling away the layers of density heretofore obscuring my argumentative ability ;)

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  16. Richie - it's not ad hominem. I'm not rejecting it because Steve is stupid, I'm rejecting it because it's a stupid idea.

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  17. Someone kidnaps his five-year-old daughter and is arrested because police recognize the guy from a security tape that capture the abduction. The kidnapper tells the police: "She's in a coffin somewhere, and she's going to suffocate any minute now. And you can't torture me because I have an ACLU lawyer, so I'm just going to sit here and laugh while her life ebbs away. Mwa-ha-ha-ha."

    So let me get this straight - your attempt to make this scenario "realistic" involves making the culprit a moustache-twirling cartoon villain who laughs uncontrollably as he tells the police all of his plans, taunting them because they can't torture him because he has an "ACLU lawyer"?

    Tell you what, Peter - why don't we give him an evil midget henchman with a jetpack? Then it'll be super-real!

    why, I'm the best freaking author in the world.

    Don't worry Peter - anybody who's read any of your fiction will quickly realise that's far from being the case.

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  18. I wonder how Jihadists feel about "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights"...

    I wonder if Peter can use his fertile imagination to find a link between this comment and what we're actually discussing?

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  19. Peter - I've just noticed that you do in fact write fiction, none of which I have read. I'd therefore like to offer to withdraw my comment, which in light of your actual writing is more mean-spirited than intended. I'll insult another man's intelligence if necessary, but generally not his writing.

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  20. Paul C. said:
    ---
    So let me get this straight - your attempt to make this scenario "realistic" involves making the culprit a moustache-twirling cartoon villain who laughs uncontrollably as he tells the police all of his plans, taunting them because they can't torture him because he has an "ACLU lawyer"?
    ---

    I am absolutely amazed at how dense you are. Flabbergasted really.

    But have no fear, for it is not that difficult to rearrange the above scenario yet further, not that it should be necessary since you are only trying to divert from having the answer the implications of such a scenario which are rightly damning to your position.

    A kidnapper picks up your four-year-old daughter and the abduction is caught on tape. By the time the police catch the kidnapper, he has already done his deed and hidden her away. As he is arrested, he confesses to the police that he has buried the girl alive in a coffin and he will take the police to where the coffin is located once he speaks to a lawyer. It will take several hours for his lawyer to get there, hours which the girl does not have.

    Under such a scenario, why would it be wrong for the police to just tazer him a few times until he immediately takes them to where he has stashed the girl? It is a reasonable assumption that the longer the delay before rescue, the more damage will occur to the victim. The kidnapper has no right to keep her held against her will, and he is doing just that even while he is in police custody, so I see it as no different than the police officer intervening during the course of a felony and using deadly force to stop it if need be.

    And if you want to go that route, I think legally the cops would have a leg to stand on for that very reason. See, if someone is committing a felony and I use deadly force to stop that person, by law it is classified as justifiable homicide.

    A kidnapper who has restrained a victim is in the act of committing a felony, even if the kidnapper is in custody, because the victim is still being held against his/her will.

    But there I go using logic again. So to help you feel better:

    It's for the children. And orphaned puppy dogs.

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  21. Paul said:
    ---
    Peter - I've just noticed that you do in fact write fiction, none of which I have read. I'd therefore like to offer to withdraw my comment, which in light of your actual writing is more mean-spirited than intended. I'll insult another man's intelligence if necessary, but generally not his writing.
    ---

    I'll continue to not care about what you said.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I pointed out that there are other major regions of the world which produce and traffic drugs, so it's not necessarily true that wiping out Afghanistan would help significantly enough to win the war on drugs.

    Afghanistan is 90% of global heroin production. If you don't think that destroying that production capacity would help significantly, then I'd love to know what would. You have still not addressed the point I was making, which is that your argument “Just because we can, does that mean we should?” can be answered with a clear no.

    Again, my original post framed the issue over "torture" primarily in moral or ethical terms. But it appears to me you keep wanting to frame it in legal terms.

    If you can talk about torture without introducing any legal issues, then we can talk about it without using legal terms. Until that point I'll keep introducing legal terms and arguments into the discussion, since there is no reason why one *cannot* use them in a moral argument.

    You have also cited proponents of limited and regulated torture such as Dershowitz and Posner. These two are legal figures whose thoughts have been offered in a legal context. This should make it obvious that you cannot separate the moral and legal issues.

    I'm referring primarily to moral innocence or guilt.

    And how do you establish moral innocence or guilt prior to torturing them?

    I think you may have just answered your own question: "The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." But to elaborate: the way to prove that "torture" is ineffective would be to have actually used "torture" and found it to have been ineffective.

    You might start with http://www.fas.org/irp/dni/educing.pdf: "There is little or no research to indicate whether such techniques succeed in the manner and contexts in which they are applied. Anecdotal accounts and opinions based on personal experiences are mixed, but the preponderance of reports seems to weigh against their effectiveness."

    No, I'm not linking the effectiveness of "torture" with its morality or ethics at this point.

    Then what on earth are you basing your argument for the moral acceptability of torture?

    However, whether or not you choose to give it, your response to this very question would be pertinent to the debate given that you originally said: "It [torture] might be necessary..."

    In a purely utilitarian calculus, one can argue that torture might be necessary if the suffering caused by torture outweighed the suffering caused by a consequence that might result from not torturing. However most people don't operate as pure utilitarians, and the legal system doesn't operate on a purely utilitarian basis, so that argument is weak. Furthermore, proving a causal link between the lack of torture and a potential event (i.e. prior to that event happening) is virtually impossible and not firm grounds for a legal argument.

    Okay, so you say things like sleep deprivation are "unacceptable in every case." That's already quite a stance to take. Moreover, are you saying that the use of "torture" in all cases is an absolute moral prohibition?

    Why is that “quite a stance to take”? And I've just made it clear that I believe in an absolute prohibition against torture, so why are you asking me again?

    So you're admitting it's no more than a personal preference. Fine. However, your original objection was that it's "Better for the society that lets them go free." Which is quite different (to put it mildly) from saying that it's a personal preference. And that's my point.

    It's not an “admission”, since I said “I prefer” at the start of the discussion. But what on earth made you think that my statement "Better for the society that lets them go free" was anything other than a personal opinion in the first place? I'm mystified as to what your point is.

    I don't think I've been hesitant. In fact, in my original post, the very first question I asked was: "First off, these are vague objections. What exactly is meant here? People who put forth such views need to make clear how they define 'torture,' and better delineate what's morally or ethically objectionable about the various forms of 'torture' employed.

    Well, the objections are vague in the sense that you haven't specified them here. I'm not sure that they're vague in the sense that the people that originally made them didn't specify what they meant – but if you can point me to specific examples of “vague objections”, I'd be more able to answer your question of what exactly is meant. I've stated my definition of torture; but since you don't believe that torture is morally objectionable, why does it matter to you what counts as torture?

    At a minimum, isn't there a difference between what is publicly perceived as 'torture,' with its decidedly negative connotation, and what is officially used by the US gov't in their 'interrogation techniques'?"

    Are there people for whom torture doesn't have a “decidedly negative connotation”? There might be a difference, but it's up to you to make an argument.

    For example, you could say I'm against "torture" if by "torture" you include cutting off appendages one by one until the POW gives me the information I want. But I don't think that some forms of "coercive interrogation" are necessarily "torture."

    If you don't think some forms of coercive interrogation are necessarily torture, that's fine – but you have to actually make the case that they aren't torture, not just say it.

    If you read further in the article, one of the the assumptions is that the Bush Administration did indeed condone "torture." (Whether or not they actually did is a separate question.) And opponents of "torture" will sometimes also fault the Bush Administration for what happened in Abu Ghraib.

    Just to be clear – you believe that publicly repudiating the events at Abu Ghraib (as the Bush Administration did) is the same thing as condoning them?

    First off, I never said that "we believe that torture is wrong." I said we debate and question its morality or ethics.

    We're debating it now because at least one of us believes that torture is wrong (that would be me); if you believed that torture was wrong as well, we wouldn't be having a debate. As far as I can tell you personally don't debate its morality, you find it acceptable – does that mean that you have a dead conscience?

    Next, while I did claim that as far as I know these terrorists "don't believe that [things worse than] torture [are] wrong," it doesn't then imply that they're not wrong.

    It's worth pointing out that "as far as you knew", Afghanistan had no connection to drug production. So how seriously should I take you when you say "as far as you know", when clearly you know very little? Have you got any actual evidence that Islamists don't have debates about the morality of suicide bombing?

    After all, there are still objective moral standards. So what I'm doing is calling into question what I perceive to be their defective conscience over objective moral standards in regard to things like suicide bombing over and against our not as defective conscience in regard to "torture."

    You haven't demonstrated that a) there are objective moral standards, and b) you know what those objective moral standards are. I'm also wondering on what grounds you condemn suicide bombing – it can't possibly because innocent civilians are harmed, because a) suicide bombing doesn't always harm civilians, and b) you've stated that you're prepared to see the innocent suffer in order to achieve your preferred society (one in which rapists, murderers, etc, don't walk around freely).

    My claim is, because we are even debating or questioning the morality or ethics of "torture" in the first place, while they aren't, then perhaps this means we are morally or ethically better than our enemies here.

    So your position is that morality isn't based on what we do, but whether we talk about it?

    ReplyDelete
  23. With due respect, Paul C, I think you may have a problem with reading comprehension. Otherwise, I'm not sure why you keep failing to connect the dots. Not to mention I'm repeating myself for you quite frequently. (And, BTW, so is Steve. Likewise, I see Peter had to spell out his point for you.)

    That said:

    You have still not addressed the point I was making, which is that your argument "Just because we can, does that mean we should?" can be answered with a clear no.

    See my original response above. Actually, I'll quote the beginning of it so that it's easier for you to refer to:

    "1. The question 'Just because we can, does that mean we should?' was dependent on the statement which preceded it, i.e., that it might be possible for the United States to win the war on terrorism without using 'torture.' It was in this context in which I asked the question. It wasn't meant to be a blanket statement which somehow allows for whatever might pop into someone's head."

    If you can talk about torture without introducing any legal issues, then we can talk about it without using legal terms. Until that point I'll keep introducing legal terms and arguments into the discussion, since there is no reason why one *cannot* use them in a moral argument.

    1. Since my original post was framed in moral and ethical terms from the get-go, and since this would be relevant to the way I've been responding to you, and since you don't get to change the terms of the debate just because you think they should be different, then it'd behoove you to stay on point.

    2. And, yes, I agree, there's no reason why someone can't bring up the legal issues as well. Generally speaking, I don't have a problem with this. But in your case it becomes a problem because you choose to ignore the more fundamental issue of morality and ethics, as I've had to point out to you several times now. In other words, if you're going to criticize a post I made -- a post which was primarily made within a moral and ethical context -- but do so on grounds which I did not make primary, then you're basically being unfair in the debate.

    Unless, of course, as Steve originally observed in his very first response to you, you're a Hobbesean contract theorist. Are you?

    3. On the other hand, I understand why you'd want to make the legal primary rather than secondary, even though I originally made the legal secondary and moral/ethical primary. It's a far easier fallback position for you in a debate like this one.

    You have also cited proponents of limited and regulated torture such as Dershowitz and Posner. These two are legal figures whose thoughts have been offered in a legal context. This should make it obvious that you cannot separate the moral and legal issues.

    1. Actually, I didn't cite them. Steve did. Of course, I'd entirely agree with the reasons Steve brought them up in the first place. Like I said, I don't have a problem with bringing up legal issues.

    2. What I do have a problem with is that you keep inverting their priorities (or worse). My position is hardly the same as calling for a complete separation between the moral and the legal. To repeat what we've asked you in the past: what if there's an immoral or unethical law?

    I'm referring primarily to moral innocence or guilt.

    And how do you establish moral innocence or guilt prior to torturing them?


    Do you believe what the terrorists or jihadis have done (and/or are doing) is moral or ethical? And as Steve has already asked you, do you believe it's moral or ethical for a terrorist to withhold information about a plot to kill innocent people?

    You might start with http://www.fas.org/irp/dni/educing.pdf: "There is little or no research to indicate whether such techniques succeed in the manner and contexts in which they are applied. Anecdotal accounts and opinions based on personal experiences are mixed, but the preponderance of reports seems to weigh against their effectiveness."

    1. Here's an "anecdote" to the contrary. This CNN article describes how interrogators were able to get Jabarah to spill the beans on Reid ("the shoe bomber") and thus help in finding Reid guilty so that he's behind bars. Otherwise, it's a realistic possibility that Reid would be making another attempt to bomb a commercial plane or be undetained to work and plot with other terrorists to kill more people. Also, I assume Jabarah's testimony helped at least in part to incriminate Khalid Sheikh Mohammed too, who's obviously a much bigger fish.

    2. On the other hand, someone could bring up a story where it didn't work. And, even if the stories aren't on a par with one another, nevertheless, it may cast a misimpression over the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of "torture" to many. So it's possible that people can continue arguing over its effectiveness or ineffectiveness. That's why, as I have already pointed out to you, even if some people call the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of "torture" a wash, it's still possible to debate it on moral and ethical grounds assuming we can't agree on its effectiveness or ineffectiveness.

    Then what on earth are you basing your argument for the moral acceptability of torture?

    Again, I've already explained this to you above. In fact, I did so right after I made the statement which you cite! But here we go again. I'll quote you what I've already said:

    "2. Remember what my original post claimed, please: 'I think some Americans sometimes object to the use of torture because (the thinking goes) to engage in it means we've stooped down to the enemy's level. It means we've ceded the moral high ground. It means we've become no better than our enemies.' I was objecting to this claim. However, I never gave an argument for why I think 'torture' is morally or ethically justifiable in some cases. Like I've pointed out above, my original post was mainly in the interrogative. I wasn't making an argument; I was questioning a claim.

    3. But to answer your question would probably require I write a separate, lengthier post in and of itself, which I don't have time for now."

    In a purely utilitarian calculus, one can argue that torture might be necessary if the suffering caused by torture outweighed the suffering caused by a consequence that might result from not torturing. However most people don't operate as pure utilitarians, and the legal system doesn't operate on a purely utilitarian basis, so that argument is weak. Furthermore, proving a causal link between the lack of torture and a potential event (i.e. prior to that event happening) is virtually impossible and not firm grounds for a legal argument.

    1. Since I never made this argument, you're burning a straw man.

    2. If you don't think the legal system operates "on a purely utilitarian basis," feel free to tell us what you do think it operates on. Your answer would be relevant to the debate at hand.

    3. Once again, I've already responded to you about how I originally framed the question primarily in terms of morality and ethics, not legality.

    Okay, so you say things like sleep deprivation are "unacceptable in every case." That's already quite a stance to take. Moreover, are you saying that the use of "torture" in all cases is an absolute moral prohibition?

    Why is that "quite a stance to take"? And I've just made it clear that I believe in an absolute prohibition against torture, so why are you asking me again?


    1. You've more or less ignored what I've asked. And it's not as if what I've asked you is an irrelevant question. The question I asked you, i.e. whether you believe "torture" is an absolute moral prohibition, is in fact entirely relevant to the debate. So I'll try again. If you believe "torture" to be "an absolute prohibition," would you say that it's "an absolute moral prohibition"? Or, unless you're doing so unintentionally and you really meant "absolute moral prohibition," why are you excluding the word "moral"?

    2. Then again, even if you leave out the word "moral" in calling "torture" an "absolute prohibition," it's still quite a strong stance. And we'd have to go back to questions which we've already raised with you such as Steve's question: "Why do you think the right of the terrorist not to be coercively interrogated invariably trumps the right of the victim not to be murdered by the terrorist? How do you come up with your moral priorities?"

    3. Here's a related question. Do you think there should always be an "absolute (moral) prohibition" on "killing," which generally speaking is worse than "torture"?

    4. Again, I'm not exactly sure why we even bother repeating ourselves to you like this. Covering the same ground with you, over and over again, ad nauseum. No offence, but speaking for myself, since my time is precious to me (I assume yours is to you too), this will probably be the last time I respond to you on this thread if you choose not to respond to relevant questions about your moral rubric, etc. Otherwise, yeah, it'd probably be a waste of time for all of us here.

    So you're admitting it's no more than a personal preference. Fine. However, your original objection was that it's "Better for the society that lets them go free." Which is quite different (to put it mildly) from saying that it's a personal preference. And that's my point.

    It's not an "admission", since I said "I prefer" at the start of the discussion. But what on earth made you think that my statement "Better for the society that lets them go free" was anything other than a personal opinion in the first place? I'm mystified as to what your point is.


    So your point is that it's your personal preference that it's "better for the society that lets them go free"? If that's the case, then again you haven't said anything substantial. You still haven't made an argument, which is the objection I originally raised. Remember?

    Your original reply said: "Better for the society that lets them go free. A system that is prepared to grind up the innocent in order to get to the guilty is not one in which I would wish to live; is it one in which you would?"

    I responded: "Yes, so you say, but where's the argument that it's 'better for the society that lets them go free'? Is it truly better for society if there are n guilty thieves, sex offenders, murderers, and other criminals roaming free in society than for significantly less than n innocent persons to be wrongfully imprisoned? Maybe it's true, but if it's true, then where's the argument?"

    Then you replied: "That is my argument. I prefer to live in a society that is not prepared to grind up the innocent in order to get to the guilty; therefore - all other factors being equal - I deem that society 'better'. I find this incredibly obvious, and I wonder why you find it a difficult question to answer."

    So, my point: if that's all you're saying, then you don't have an argument. You've said nothing substantial despite your assertion to the contrary. You might as well not have made a comment in the first place. You're just spinning your wheels here.

    Well, the objections are vague in the sense that you haven't specified them here. I'm not sure that they're vague in the sense that the people that originally made them didn't specify what they meant – but if you can point me to specific examples of "vague objections", I'd be more able to answer your question of what exactly is meant. I've stated my definition of torture; but since you don't believe that torture is morally objectionable, why does it matter to you what counts as torture?

    1. Once again, I have to repeat myself.

    2. When did I ever make the blanket statement that "torture" is not "morally objectionable"? Among other things, I said that it depends how one defines "torture."

    3. A legal definition of "torture," which is all you've provided at this point, only goes so far. Again, what if a law is immoral or unethical?

    Are there people for whom torture doesn't have a "decidedly negative connotation"? There might be a difference, but it's up to you to make an argument.

    1. To repeat, yet again, it depends how one defines "torture." In fact, that's precisely what the preceding sentence to the one you quoted from me asked! This is becoming both tedious as well as ridiculous (if it wasn't already). But I'll quote the whole thing (again) in context:

    "First off, these are vague objections. What exactly is meant here? People who put forth such views need to make clear how they define 'torture,' and better delineate what's morally or ethically objectionable about the various forms of 'torture' employed. At a minimum, isn't there a difference between what is publicly perceived as 'torture,' with its decidedly negative connotation, and what is officially used by the US gov't in their 'interrogation techniques'?

    2. And like I've also repeatedly said now, my original post was mainly in the interrogative.

    If you don't think some forms of coercive interrogation are necessarily torture, that's fine – but you have to actually make the case that they aren't torture, not just say it.

    1. To reiterate: my original post began with the following: "I think some Americans sometimes object to the use of torture because (the thinking goes) to engage in it means we've stooped down to the enemy's level. It means we've ceded the moral high ground. It means we've become no better than our enemies. . . . A few, somewhat disjointed thoughts come to mind. They're meant (hopefully) more as a way to ask the right questions or at least to question along the right lines, not really to provide answers. This is still a work in progress. That said: 1. First off, these are vague objections. What exactly is meant here? People who put forth such views need to make clear how they define 'torture,' and better delineate what's morally or ethically objectionable about the various forms of 'torture' employed. At a minimum, isn't there a difference between what is publicly perceived as 'torture,' with its decidedly negative connotation, and what is officially used by the US gov't in their 'interrogation techniques'?"

    In short, I myself have been making the very same point. You've brought nothing new to the table to advance your criticism.

    2. All you've done is fallback on a legal definition, which may or may not even be sound (you've not given any good reasons), even though I've repeatedly told you that there's also the more fundamental moral question at stake.

    If you read further in the article, one of the the assumptions is that the Bush Administration did indeed condone "torture." (Whether or not they actually did is a separate question.) And opponents of "torture" will sometimes also fault the Bush Administration for what happened in Abu Ghraib.

    Just to be clear – you believe that publicly repudiating the events at Abu Ghraib (as the Bush Administration did) is the same thing as condoning them?


    Seriously, man, you need to work on remedial reading skills.

    1. First of all, I'm referring to the assumptions made in the article.

    2. Secondly, for example, it's possible the Bush administration doesn't condone "torture" if you include what was done to the Abu Ghraib POWs, whereas it's possible the Bush administration does condone "torture" if you include some forms of sleep deprivation or the like. Like I've already said to you several times now, the point you raise goes to the very question of what constitutes "torture" and what does not.

    3. Abu Ghraib happened after the fact. Once a story as big as this had burst, it's not as if the Bush administration was going to ignore it or somehow sit idly by, let alone come out in support of what happened. It wouldn't be politically expedient to do so.

    4. And it's not as if Americans were unconcerned about "torture" in the Bush administration before Abu Ghraib and only became concerned afterward.

    5. Abu Ghraib is not the only example opponents of "torture" cite against the Bush administration on the topic.

    6. As a side note, in my view you write in such a way as if you're utterly ignorant of American politics and public opinion. Given the context of this debate, you'd do well to bone up.

    We're debating it now because at least one of us believes that torture is wrong (that would be me); if you believed that torture was wrong as well, we wouldn't be having a debate.

    1. No, I'm afraid you're quite mistaken. This should be patently obvious but it's entirely possible to have a debate even if both sides agree with one another. Have you ever heard of playing the devil's advocate, for instance? Perhaps more plausibly, it's possible for one side to strongly hold to a position while the other side isn't entirely convinced one way or the other, and therefore for the two sides to debate.

    2. As I've said above and elsewhere, since my original post was mainly in the interrogative, what I've mainly been doing is asking questions in order to hopefully better delineate boundaries.

    3. But, yes, I do believe that some forms of "torture" are indeed morally or ethically justifiable or at least excusable even if I'm not necessarily always sure where to draw the lines (e.g. I believe this is the case with Steve and Peter's examples). Hence my posts and comments.

    However, if you want to dig deeper, like I said to you in my previous comment, it'd probably take a separate post, which I don't have time for now. Such a post would have to address a number of things including the basis for our morals and ethics, how we determine what our moral priorities are, etc. Also, given that you haven't even sufficiently addressed the main questions in my original post, and that we have to repeat the same things over and over to you in subsequent comments, this seems a bit premature to me.

    As far as I can tell you personally don't debate its morality, you find it acceptable – does that mean that you have a dead conscience?

    1. My point about your need to improve your reading comprehension stands. It's like everything I (or Steve or Peter) say goes in one ear and out the other.

    2. Above, you just said we were having a debate: "We're debating it now because at least one of us believes that torture is wrong (that would be me); if you believed that torture was wrong as well, we wouldn't be having a debate." What's more, as I've said on numerous occassions now, I've primarily framed the issue in moral or ethical terms. Moral and ethical questions over "torture" are the type of questions I've been asking all along.

    It's worth pointing out that "as far as you knew", Afghanistan had no connection to drug production. So how seriously should I take you when you say "as far as you know", when clearly you know very little? Have you got any actual evidence that Islamists don't have debates about the morality of suicide bombing?

    It's worth pointing out that "as far as you could tell," you didn't think we were debating the morality or ethics of "torture." So how seriously should I take you when you say "it's worth pointing out," when clearly you can tell or point out very little? Have you got any actual evidence that this is (or isn't) a debate about the morality of "torture"?

    You haven't demonstrated that a) there are objective moral standards, and b) you know what those objective moral standards are.

    1. One of the assumptions you should have when commenting in the combox of an evangelical Christian apologetics weblog is that we do believe there are objective moral standards. You may not agree but it should be obvious what we believe.

    2. What I believe to be right or wrong is ultimately based on the Bible.

    3. And we've already defended the Bible in the past. You might want to check out the archives. We don't need to reinvent the wheel every time we debate someone. Or, to change the metaphor, to rebuild everything from the ground up.

    4. At this point, you've got no leg to stand on for why you're against torture. Again, all you've done is quote a legal definition, without even so much as defending its soundness. What's more, you've not even addressed the more fundamental moral or ethical question. You're just running around in circles, which gets quite boring to watch after a while.

    I'm also wondering on what grounds you condemn suicide bombing – it can't possibly because innocent civilians are harmed, because a) suicide bombing doesn't always harm civilians, and b) you've stated that you're prepared to see the innocent suffer in order to achieve your preferred society (one in which rapists, murderers, etc, don't walk around freely).

    1. See above.

    2. Suicide bombing may not always harm civilians. But oftentimes it does. And oftentimes that's the precise intention.

    3. Also, suicide bombers are not always terrorist or jihadi soldiers. They're often unlawful combatants. They could be civilians too (e.g. women, children).

    4. There are other morally objectionable practices terrorists or jihadis use besides suicide bombing. Such using women and children as human shields.

    5. I've never stated that I'm "prepared to see the innocent suffer in order to achieve [my] preferred society." Here's what I actually said:

    "Then, with all due respect, it's not much of an argument. By the same token, someone could 'argue': 'All things being equal, I prefer to live in a society that doesn't allow scores of thieves, rapists, pedophiles, murderers, and other criminals off the hook and free to roam our neighborhoods and communities even if it means our justice system isn't always morally perfect despite it striving to be. I deem such a society 'better.' I find this incredibly obvious, and I wonder why you find it a difficult question to answer.'"

    In other words, I was turning your own "argument" against you.

    My claim is, because we are even debating or questioning the morality or ethics of "torture" in the first place, while they aren't, then perhaps this means we are morally or ethically better than our enemies here.

    So your position is that morality isn't based on what we do, but whether we talk about it?


    Sigh. This is almost sad.

    Is this even a serious question let alone objection? And even so, why do I need to spell everything out for you when I've already gone to lengths to explain what I mean? Please just re-read my original remarks.

    ReplyDelete
  24. PAUL C SAID:

    “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

    That’s hardly a scientific survey of world opinion. At best, it’s a survey of some UN bureaucrats, many of whom belong to oppressive nation-states.

    Remember the context of this debate. How should we interrogate Muslim terrorists?

    Jihadis don’t believe in the Bill of Rights, or UN conventions. Rather, they believe in sharia law.

    So the UN Declaration is hardly representative of world opinion, especially that subset of world opinion we’re dealing with in the case of the jihadis.

    Why are you trying to impose your ethnocentric value-system on Muslims? Liberals ordinarily tout multiculturalism or even cultural relativism.

    If you’re appealing to “a shared moral sense,” then you need to find something more representative than a UN convention.

    “I don't think that popular opinion is sufficient to ground morality, nor does that form part of my argument.”

    Of course it does. Thus far, the only moral appeal you’ve made is purely sociological: “a shared moral sense” or “what are generally considered to be basic human rights.”

    That’s an appeal to popular opinion. If you now admit that’s inadequate, then what, according to you, is a sufficient condition to ground morality?

    “The specifics of any given case do not affect the principle of a fair trial.”

    Fair to whom? The accused? The victim?

    When a defendant is acquitted on a legal technicality, that is hardly fair to the victim.

    The point of a trial should be to acquit the innocent, convict the guilty, and assign a just penalty to the convict.

    Due process is not an end in itself, as if we hold a trial for its own sake, regardless of consequences. Due process is, or ought to be, a means to an end—in the furtherance of a just outcome.

    The fact that you have a purely formalistic concept of a fair trial betrays the moral vacuity of your liberal outlook. You define “fairness” in merely procedural terms rather than a just outcome.

    “Being ‘known to be guilty’ is meaningless except in the movies.”

    “Guilt” as in—did they commit the crime? That can be known apart from a trial. A trial doesn’t create new facts.

    For example, a security camera can establish the fact that an identifiable robber (facial recognition) murdered the clerk at the 7/11.

    Again, though, you’re not someone who cares about truth or falsehood, right or wrong. You only care about legalities. Since you have no basis for objective morality, you can only retreat into amoral legalities.

    “But you don't believe that waterboarding is torture, so how does this demonstrate that torture is effective?”

    I didn’t take a position on whether or not waterboarding is “torture.” I took a position on coercive interrogation.

    And you continue to equivocate. It’s sufficient to answer you on your own terms. If “torture” works, as you define it, then that would be sufficient to rebut your claim.

    Here’s one example of what I have in mind:

    http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/ic/2007/4/26/120537.shtml

    Here are some known plots that we’ve thwarted, some of which would claim many innocent lives if successful:

    http://www.heritage.org/research/homelandDefense/upload/bg_2085.pdf

    Here are some of the larger threats we’re facing from the jihadis:

    http://www.yourdictionary.com/library/bioterrorism.html

    “Those amoral fanatics at the FBI fail to see the value of torture!”

    That hardly proves your point. Just the opposite. In the very passage you quote, it says “whose credibility dropped as the CIA subjected him to a simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding and to other ‘enhanced interrogation’ measures.”

    Assuming the FBI assessment of Zubaida, it was coercive interrogation which exposed his lack of credibility. So the techniques were quite successful in winnowing the wheat from the chaff.

    “Damn those amoral fanatics at the CIA!”

    i) Either you’re stupid, dishonest, or both. As I’ve pointed out on more than one occasion, now, you have a mendacious habit of imputing your definition of “torture” to a gov’t spokesman, then when he denies the charge of “torture,” you act as if you scored a cou—when all you really did was to indulge in a transparent equivocation of terms.

    What’s your problem? Are you incorrigibly dense or incorrigibly dishonest?

    ii) Something else you may be too obtuse to appreciate, but no halfway intelligent gov’t official would publicly admit to the charge of “torture” even if the gov’t did use “torture,” since his confession would expose the official to legal liability.

    For example, the use of rendition, which critics regard as a backdoor form of torture, got started under the Clinton administration. Yet you won’t find veterans of the Clinton administration volunteer self-incriminating statements about their recourse to “torture,” since that would expose them to legal jeopardy.

    When Leon Panetta recently let slip a damning statement about rendition, he immediately began to backtrack from his statement.

    Try not to be such a hopeless little naïf.

    “My god, now even John Kiriakou is an amoral fanatic!”

    You’re very selective in your appeal. His full position directly undercuts your position. He makes the following admissions:

    “Though the information wrenched from Abu Zubayda ‘stopped terrorist attacks and saved lives,’ Kiriakou said he opposes waterboarding.”

    "’Waterboarding was an important technique, and some of these other techniques were important in collecting the information,’ he said. ‘But I personally didn't want to do it. I didn't think it was right in the long run, and I didn't want to be associated with it’."

    http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/12/11/agent.tapes/#cnnSTCText

    So he admits that coerced interrogation is effective in eliciting information that saved lives. He doesn’t oppose it on pragmatic grounds.

    What he says, rather, is that "Now after all these years, time has passed, and we're more on our feet in this fight against al Qaeda, and I think it's unnecessary."

    So he doesn’t deny the value of coercive interrogation at the time.

    And since you tried to discount the information we extracted from Zubayda, here, from the same CNN article, is an example of what, according to Kiriakou, we got out of him—after he was waterboarded:

    ***QUOTE***

    The former agent, who said he participated in the Abu Zubayda interrogation but not his waterboarding, said the CIA decided to waterboard the al Qaeda operative only after he was "wholly uncooperative" for weeks and refused to answer questions.
    All that changed -- and Zubayda reportedly had a divine revelation -- after 30 to 35 seconds of waterboarding, Kiriakou said he learned from the CIA agents who performed the technique.
    The terror suspect, who is being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, reportedly gave up information that indirectly led to the 2003 raid in Pakistan yielding the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, an alleged planner of the September 11, 2001, attacks, Kiriakou said.
    The CIA was unaware of Mohammed's stature before the Abu Zubayda interrogation, the former agent said.
    "Abu Zubayda's the one who told us that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was so important in the al Qaeda structure, and we didn't realize at the time how important he was," Kiriakou said.
    Abu Zubayda also divulged information on "al Qaeda's leadership structure and mentioned people who we really didn't have any familiarization with [and] told us who we should be thinking about, who we should be looking at, and who was important in the organization so we were able to focus our investigation this way," Kiriakou said.

    ***END-QUOTE***

    You could scarcely have chosen a worse example to illustrate your point. But I appreciate your counterproductive illustrations.

    “Just to recap, Steve, one of your examples that torture is effective is on a guy who didn't actually carry out the waterboarding.”

    That’s irrelevant. He conducted his interrogation after the softening-up effect of waterboarding. By his own admission, that’s what made the interrogation successful. And I’ve dealt with your other points. Try again.

    “I haven't said that, nor do I think it, nor does my argument imply it.”

    To the contrary, that’s a direct implication of your argument (“It's unacceptable in every case”)—as I demonstrated.

    But, for the sake of argument, let’s grant your denial. If you now admit that the right of a victim not to be murdered trumps the right of a terrorist not to withhold information, then you’ve conceded my position.

    “I haven't said that, nor do I think it, nor does my argument imply it.”

    To the contrary, you said “I didn't answer Steve's points because I didn't find them particularly coherent. Why do they have a duty to divulge this information? Who do they have the duty to? From a moral perspective, what does this duty consist of?”

    In that case, you think we have duties to the terrorist (give him a “fair” trial; not subject him to “torture”), but he has no duties in return.

    If, however, you now retract your previous position, you can only do so on pain of conceding my position.

    “Suppose suppose suppose suppose. How do the police know my daughter is in a coffin? How do the police know the daughter is still alive? How do they know she only has a few hours to live? Presumably they have the same sort of psychic powers that you do – but then why won't they use their psychic powers to save my daughter?! Those bastards.”

    i) I was answering you on your own grounds. You said coercive interrogation is “unacceptable in every case.” So I gave you a hypothetical test-case—which you tried to duck.

    ii) And there are real life cases that resemble my hypothetical example:

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CE7DF1038F934A2575BC0A965958260

    “I haven't said that, nor do I think it, nor does my argument imply it.”

    That’s exactly what your argument implies, but if you’re now backpedaling from your original position and finally admit that a terrorist does not have a right to withhold such information, then what should we do to extract such information from an unwilling terrorist?

    “Yeah, I'll cop. That's a perfectly valid point which, unfortunately, doesn't have any relevance to the material thrust of my argument.”

    To the contrary, the example of Dershowitz is in direct response to a claim you made: “As far as I know, there's nobody who condones torture.”

    If it’s irrelevant, then your original claim was irrelevant to the material thrust of your argument.

    Throughout your latest reply to me you’ve been disowning various elements of your previous argument.

    “Just kidding. It's a phenomenally stupid idea that would only be proposed by somebody who has literally no understanding about Afghanistan, poppy eradication or economics.”

    i) Once again, I was answering you on your own grounds. You introduced the scenario nuking Afghanistan as a hypothetical way of shutting down its contribution to the opium trade. You chose the most extreme hypothetical you could think of.

    I simply pointed out that we could eliminate the poppy fields by means far less drastic than nuking the country. The state of their economy is irrelevant to what it would take to wipe out their cash crop.

    Did I take a position on what we should or shouldn’t do? No. I merely responded to your hypothetical on its on terms. Pity you’re too dimwitted to follow your own argument.

    ii) Incidentally, there’s nothing unrealistic about my example:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/05/international/asia/05afghanistan.htm

    You have a habit of making one uninformed claim after another.

    “Until that point I'll keep introducing legal terms and arguments into the discussion, since there is no reason why one *cannot* use them in a moral argument.”

    You haven’t used them in a moral argument. You’ve used them as a substitute for a moral argument.

    “This should make it obvious that you cannot separate the moral and legal issues.”

    You’re prevaricating. The question at issue is whether your legalistic arguments have a moralistic grounding.

    “And I've just made it clear that I believe in an absolute prohibition against torture.”

    So the rights of the terrorist invariably trump the rights of the victim. And why, once more, do we have absolute duties to the terrorist when the terrorist has no absolute duties to the victim?

    “We're debating it now because at least one of us believes that torture is wrong (that would be me).”

    And what’s your moral justification for that value judgment?

    “You haven't demonstrated that a) there are objective moral standards, and b) you know what those objective moral standards are.”

    If there are no moral absolutes, then what’s the basis for an absolute prohibition against torture?

    ReplyDelete
  25. People who put forth such views need to make clear how they define "torture," and better delineate what's morally or ethically objectionable about the various forms of "torture" employed.

    I provided a definition that I believe successfully describes what constitutes torture, and has the additional benefit of being legally accepted both at an international level and in US law. You have not challenged the substance of that definition, nor have you provided a definition of your own. The language within the international legislation relating to torture make reasonably clear what the moral basis of those documents is.

    Moral objections to torture are based on the arguments that: a) all humans have equal and inalienable rights, b) those rights are derived from the "inherent dignity" of the "human person", and c) "cruel, unusual or inhumane" punishments (which includes torture) are "an offense to that dignity" and a "violation of their human rights".

    If you agree with these (and who knows if you do or not - certainly you seem unwilling to actually state your position), then you will also agree that torture is unacceptable. The question then becomes what counts as torture, which takes us to the definition in the CAT as a starting point. There may be types of interrogation technique which are difficult to identify as torture or not, although waterboarding is not one of those.

    If I'm not being clear enough how I define torture, and the argument why it is unacceptable, please let me know. I am also prepared to answer any of the other questions that you raised, but they don't make much sense (nor are they asked in good faith), as shown by you resort to accusing me of poor reading comprehension. Thanks for your concern, by the way.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Paul C said...

    The language within the international legislation relating to torture make reasonably clear what the moral basis of those documents is. Moral objections to torture are based on the arguments that: a) all humans have equal and inalienable rights, b) those rights are derived from the "inherent dignity" of the "human person", and c) "cruel, unusual or inhumane" punishments (which includes torture) are "an offense to that dignity" and a "violation of their human rights".

    ****************************************************

    You haven’t furnished any arguments for (a), (b), and/or (c). Therefore, your position is dead in the water. Asserting (a), (b), and (c) is not an argument if any or all.

    What is your secular basis for this contention? You keep dodging this question because you have no satisfactory answer.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Paul C said...

    “I provided a definition that I believe successfully describes what constitutes torture, and has the additional benefit of being legally accepted both at an international level and in US law. You have not challenged the substance of that definition, nor have you provided a definition of your own.”

    Patrick was responding to critics on their own terms. If they object to “torture,” they should define their terms.

    This doesn’t mean that Patrick has to share the same starting point. There’s no reason we should begin with a definition of “torture” as our own point of departure. Your framework isn’t my framework.

    I’m more concerned about the “inherent dignity” of the victim. Victims and assailants are not morally equivalent.

    And there’s a difference between prima facie duties and actual duties. All things being equal, everyone may be entitled to equal rights—but all things considered, an individual may forfeit some of his prima facie rights through his own misconduct.

    So it would be more logical to begin with the question of what rights, if any, a terrorist has to withhold information about a terrorist plot.

    If he has no such rights, then the next question would be what methods are effective in extracting that information.

    After answering that question, we could then opt for least harsh of the effective methods.

    ReplyDelete
  28. You haven’t furnished any arguments for (a), (b), and/or (c). Therefore, your position is dead in the water. Asserting (a), (b), and (c) is not an argument if any or all.

    i. Patrick's original request was that "People who put forth such views... better delineate what's morally or ethically objectionable about the various forms of "torture" employed." I have delineated where the moral basis for those objections lies, but I'm not obliged to reconstruct an entire philosophical tradition just because you are ignorant of that tradition.

    ii. If I haven't furnished any arguments, it does not follow that no arguments exist, and "therefore" it does not follow that my position is dead in the water.

    iii. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with how arguments work - certainly your posts here suggest that to be the case. I haven't furnished any arguments for a), b) and c) because they are the argument, where a) and b) are the premises and c) is the conclusion. Feel free to dispute.

    What is your secular basis for this contention? You keep dodging this question because you have no satisfactory answer.

    If you don't think I've made any arguments, then what "contention" are you referring to? One wonders how I can "keep dodging this question" when it's the first time you've asked it.

    Patrick was responding to critics on their own terms. If they object to “torture,” they should define their terms.

    I am one of those critics, and I have defined my terms. You have neither provided any critique of that definition, or a definition of your own, which raises the embarrassing question of what you think you're talking about when you use the word "torture".

    This doesn’t mean that Patrick has to share the same starting point. There’s no reason we should begin with a definition of “torture” as our own point of departure. Your framework isn’t my framework.

    Patrick seems to think that we should begin with a definition of torture since that's what he began with, saying 'First off, these are vague objections. What exactly is meant here? People who put forth such views need to make clear how they define "torture"'.

    I assume you believe that in discussions about torture, we shouldn't have a definition of torture in front of us. Do explain how we might discuss something if we haven't agreed what it is we're discussing?

    I’m more concerned about the “inherent dignity” of the victim.

    If the individual being tortured is innocent of any crimes, then they are the victim, yet you don't seem to be very concerned about their dignity.

    So it would be more logical to begin with the question of what rights, if any, a terrorist has to withhold information about a terrorist plot. If he has no such rights, then the next question would be what methods are effective in extracting that information. After answering that question, we could then opt for least harsh of the effective methods.

    Why is this applicable only to terrorists - why not to enemy soldiers? How do you know the terrorist has information in the first place, in order to justify torture? Why do you think that losing one set of rights automatically leads to losing all rights? Why opt for the least harsh method if he has no rights? What criteria do you use to judge how harsh any given method is?

    Your logic bends beneath the weight of your ignorance.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Note that with regard to point iii, I am not arguing that it is a good argument, nor even a complete argument, only that it takes the form of any argument.

    ReplyDelete
  30. PAUL C SAID:

    “I have delineated where the moral basis for those objections lies.”

    No, you merely asserted a moral basis. The closest you came to an argument was your purely sociological appeal to “a shared moral sense” or “what are generally considered to be basic human rights.” I quickly shot that down, and you had no comeback.

    “But I'm not obliged to reconstruct an entire philosophical tradition just because you are ignorant of that tradition.”

    There are many different philosophical traditions. You’re trying to bluff your way through this debate. And it shows.

    Moreover, many secular thinkers admit that secularism is unable to justify objective moral norms. Pity you’re so ignorant of your own side of the argument.

    “If I haven't furnished any arguments, it does not follow that no arguments exist, and ‘therefore’ it does not follow that my position is dead in the water.”

    You continue to bluff your way through this debate. What could be more feeble than to say “it does not follow that no arguments exist.” That’s an utterly vacuous fallback position.

    “I haven't furnished any arguments for a), b) and c) because they are the argument, where a) and b) are the premises and c) is the conclusion.”

    Trying to recast your claim in syllogistic terms does nothing to advance the argument. Unless you can argue for the truth of your premises, you are merely asserting your premises as if they were true.

    “If you don't think I've made any arguments, then what ‘contention’ are you referring to?”

    Try the paragraph preceding the sentence you quoted.

    “One wonders how I can ‘keep dodging this question’ when it's the first time you've asked it.”

    Don’t be stupid. You’ve been repeatedly challenged to justify your moralistic claims. This is hardly the “first time.”

    “You have neither provided any critique of that definition, or a definition of your own, which raises the embarrassing question of what you think you're talking about when you use the word ‘torture’.”

    I don’t have to have anything specific in mind since that’s not how I’d frame the issue in the first place.

    “Patrick seems to think that we should begin with a definition of torture since that's what he began with.”

    You’re equivocating. He didn’t say we need to begin with a definition to formulate his own position. In context, he was explicitly referring to critics who bandy the word “torture.”

    Moreover, as he went on to say in stating his own approach: “If we want to get down to brass tacks, though, I'd think we shouldn't necessarily even start with whether ‘torture’ is morally or ethically right or wrong, per se. I think it might be better to start at someplace like, what's the most ethical, most effective means to extract needed information from known war combatants, given a scenario where such information is critical to safety and security? “

    Finally, you’re debating me right now, not Patrick. So spare me the diversionary tactics.

    “I assume you believe that in discussions about torture, we shouldn't have a definition of torture in front of us. Do explain how we might discuss something if we haven't agreed what it is we're discussing?”

    You continue to equivocate. Critics of “torture” need to define their terms. I myself don’t need to define “torture” since that’s not my own starting point.

    “If the individual being tortured is innocent of any crimes, then they are the victim, yet you don't seem to be very concerned about their dignity.”

    i) To begin with, you define guilt and innocence is purely procedural terms: “The specifics of any given case do not affect the principle of a fair trial. (In legal terms somebody is only guilty if a court finds them guilty – being ‘known to be guilty’ is meaningless except in the movies.)”

    You don’t care whether or not the accused actually did what he’s accused of doing.

    ii) There are many potential sources of evidence to show that a detainee is, in fact, a high-value terrorist, viz. public statements he made before he was captured, intercepted phone conservations, incriminating information on his hard drive, &c.

    “Why is this applicable only to terrorists - why not to enemy soldiers?”

    I’ve addressed that question on many different occasions:

    i) We treat POWs differently based on the principle of reciprocity: if the enemy treats captured soldiers in its custody more humanely, we will treat captured soldiers in our custody more humanely. It’s for the benefit of our own POWs.

    Since, however, terrorists don’t observe the laws of war, there is no reciprocity—in the absence of which the rationale for differentiating a POW from a terrorist ceases to exist.

    ii) In addition, I don’t regard UN resolutions as moral absolutes. If, in a ticking timebomb scenario, we had to force information out of a captured general to avert the imminent destruction of LA, I’d be quite prepared to ditch the legal immunities.

    “How do you know the terrorist has information in the first place, in order to justify torture?”

    See above. And I’m not the one using the word “torture.” You are.

    “Why do you think that losing one set of rights automatically leads to losing all rights? Why opt for the least harsh method if he has no rights?”

    Straw man argument. The question at issue is whether a terrorist has a right to withhold information about a terrorist plot. Whatever other rights he may or may not have is irrelevant to the point at issue.

    “What criteria do you use to judge how harsh any given method is?”

    Try a little common sense—something you have in short supply.

    “Note that with regard to point iii, I am not arguing that it is a good argument, nor even a complete argument, only that it takes the form of any argument.”

    That’s soooo impressive. As long as it takes the form of a syllogism, it doesn’t matter if the premises are false.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I've got a reply on the boil, but before I post it, I'd like to ask one question. If you don't think this discussion is about torture (or about 'torture'), what do you think it's about?

    ReplyDelete
  32. PAUL C SAID:

    "I've got a reply on the boil, but before I post it, I'd like to ask one question. If you don't think this discussion is about torture (or about 'torture'), what do you think it's about?"

    The moral options in counterterrorism.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Then perhaps you could start by defining what you mean by "terrorism", since it's unclear.

    ReplyDelete
  34. And thus Steve leaves the field of combat, victorious.

    ReplyDelete
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