Saturday, December 13, 2014

What are you prepared to do?

Before commenting on Steven Wedgeworth's latest post, I'll revisit something he said in his prior post:

Legal “vengeance” and retribution must still be just. It also does not follow that if a government has the right to capital punishment then it also has the right to all other physical punishments short of death. 
But that's a category mistake. Interrogation isn't punitive to begin with. 
Now for his sequel:
The so-called “conservative” responses to the Senate torture report are now making their rounds, and they tell us quite a bit about what really matters to certain people. Thus far no one has denied that the most morally repugnant alleged practices actually took place. No one has said, “That’s crazy! We would never use rape as a weapon! We could never forcibly insert food into someone’s rectum! No way!” No. They have not said that. They have attempted to justify the practices by arguing that the practices produced important information, that the proper authorities knew about them, and that our enemies do much worse. But they are not denying those practices.
i) Speaking for myself, I haven't justified that practice.
ii) On the face of it, Wedgeworth's objection is confused. From what I've read, proctoclysis isn't used to obtain intel. Rather, that was used to counteract a hunger strike. 
So the question at issue isn't the ethics of coercive interrogation, but the ethics of force-feeding. The fact that Wedgeworth doesn't even register that simple distinction betrays a lack of intellectual seriousness.
Are you prepared to make that threat within a context where it is credible? Are you prepared to carry through with that threat?
Valid question. Is an empty threat a credible threat? Like a poker game, can you tell when your opponent is bluffing? 
Let’s be clear about this. The “partisan” nature of the Senate report has nothing at all to do with the identification of the “techniques.” The partisan nature has to do with where the blame should be put and the level of functionality and efficiency claimed for the program. But thus far no one disputes the depraved actions used to obtain information. You cannot skip that point. Anyone who does is irresponsibly avoiding the primary moral issue.
Actually, the partisan nature of the Senate report bears on the interpretation of the techniques. Take Wedgeworth's failure to distinguish between interrogation and fluid resuscitation in case of hunger strikes. We can still debate the morality of the practice, but it's a different issue. 
This also isn’t the first time defenders of torture have reserved the right to employ the most barbarous methods if necessary.
What "barbarous" methods is he alluding to? This comes right on the heels of a reference to "weeklong sleep deprivation."Does Wedgeworth deem that to be one of the "most barbarous" methods?
If John Yoo will publicly claim for the US the right to crush the testicles of an innocent child, then it is not at all difficult to believe that the US would threaten to rape someone’s mother. In fact, Yoo’s fiendish imagination almost makes what really happened seem a relief.
i) Once again, this reflects a persistent inability on Wedgeworth's part to draw elementary distinctions. Yoo was addressing a question of legality, not morality
Something might be grossly immoral, but legal–for the simple reason that that's no law against it. A legal opinion is not the same thing as a moral evaluation. Why does Wedgeworth find it so difficult to think clearly about the issues at hand? 
Here's the logical response: "It would be immoral for interrogators to do that, so if it's not against the law, then we ought to pass a law to ban it."

ii) Moreover, that doesn't reflect Yoo's "fiendish imagination." To my knowledge, Yoo didn't originate that hypothetical. Rather, he was responding to a question by Doug Cassel in a public debate. If anything, it originated in the "fiendish imagination" of Cassel, not Yoo.

iii) From what I can tell, it wasn't a prepared answer, but an off-the-cuff answer to a question which Cassel sprang on him. 
Remember Eric Fair. Or how about those lower-ranking soldiers who were arrested? Remember Lynndie England, Megan AmbuhlCharles Graner, and others. I have no problem saying that they were, at least for a time, moral monsters.
This betrays yet another basic confusion on Wedgeworth's part. He's alluding to the Abu Ghraib scandal. But that fails to distinguish between interrogation and prisoner abuse. He acts as though prisoner abuse is a form of interrogation to extract intel. 
I have no problem saying that they were, at least for a time, moral monsters. But now we have to wonder how it was that they became moral monsters. 
Why would a Reformed pastor make such a theologically defective claim? He needs to brush up on total depravity. 
Are you willing for your daughter to sexually degrade herself in an attempt to obtain information that a detainee may or may not possess? What are you willing to do?
He acts as if they were acting under orders. Even if they were, those would be unlawful orders. Moreover, what does that have to do with interrogation? 
There are some things that are off limits. These things are always evil. They are malum in se.
But what of sexual assault? That’s what I keep coming back to.
Yes, that's what he keeps coming back to. Problem is, he only tells us what he thinks is impermissible rather than permissible. So he skirts the issue.
Does he think coercive interrogation is ever justifiable? If so, what methods does he think are morally licit? 
Conservatives right now who avoid the gravity of such immoral actions are currently pounding the table.
Except that Wedgeworth is the one who's been pounding the table. 
A basic problem is that reactionary critics like Wedgewood foster the very thing they deplore. If a Christian pastor or ethicist tells soldiers or policymakers that they are not allowed to do what's necessary to win a just war, they will simply throw up their hands and exclaim, "Screw morality!" They will still do whatever is necessary. But the Christian critic who takes that approach has emancipated them from having to be morally thoughtful. That invites a Curtis LaMay mentality. If doing what's necessary is evil, then anything goes. That doesn't inhibit them from doing what's necessary. To the contrary, that removes any moral inhibitions whatsoever. The Christian critic has given them no other recourse.

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