Saturday, November 17, 2007

"Torture"—a liberal Jewish perspective

In the debate over “torture,” the assumption is often made that opponents of “torture” have the law on their side. This, however, grossly oversimplifies the legal complexities and fluidities of the issue.

In addition, the assumption is also made that liberals oppose “torture” while right-wing Christians support it. This also flattens the ideological landscape.

Here’s part of a book review in which Richard Posner, who’s one of the leading jurists of our generation, interacting with the arguments of a Harvard law prof. Both men are center-left. And both men are Jewish.


In the rest of his book Dershowitz deals with ways of eliminating terrorism (other than by giving in to it). He considers the range of options open to what he calls an "amoral" society, but which is more accurately described as a society that operates without the limitations that democracy and civil liberties place on the use of force against its internal enemies — ordinary criminals and would-be revolutionaries. The qualification implicit in "internal" is important. In wartime, a liberal democracy treats its enemies with the same lack of consideration with which its enemies treat it. It follows either that war, even when defensive, is "amoral," or, more plausibly, that the morality of war is different from the morality of ordinary policing. But what Dershowitz really means is simply that a totalitarian regime would fight the particular kind of war that we are fighting more ruthlessly than we are fighting it, and therefore more effectively. For a liberal democracy may not be ideally qualified to fight this war. It is a war in which most of the fighting is against secret enemies within rather than against uniformed enemies without, and the most effective way of fighting secret enemies inside your own country involves the wholesale suspension of civil liberties.

Dershowitz devotes one of his chapters to a specific issue of the war against terrorism: namely, whether torture should be permitted to be used to extract information from suspected terrorists. He makes a point that only the most doctrinaire civil libertarians (not that there aren't plenty of them) deny: if the stakes are high enough, torture is permissible. No one who doubts that this is the case should be in a position of responsibility. If torture is the only means of obtaining the information necessary to prevent the detonation of a nuclear bomb in Times Square, torture should be used — and will be used — to obtain the information. Dershowitz gives the telling example of Philippine authorities who in 1995 "tortured a terrorist into disclosing information that may have foiled plots to assassinate the pope and to crash eleven commercial airliners carrying approximately four thousand passengers into the Pacific Ocean." He cites a federal court opinion that approved a police officer's choking a kidnapping suspect until the suspect revealed where the kidnap victim was. And he asks: "What moral principle could justify the death penalty for past individual murders and at the same time condemn nonlethal torture to prevent future mass murders?"

But it is typical of Dershowitz's lack of restraint that he should think it appropriate to reveal to his readers that his preferred form of "nonlethal torture" is inserting a sterilized needle under the suspect's fingernails. One might have expected that before recommending the infliction of physical pain Dershowitz would have explored the adequacy of truth serums, bright lights (the old "third degree"), and sleep deprivation — a combination, moreover, more aptly described as coercion than as torture. Maybe he has explored these alternatives and found them wanting, but there is no discussion of this question in the book. Instead he moves directly to a method that many will see (quite properly) as tinged with sadism. Moreover, it is unlikely that a single method of forcibly extracting information would be optimal in all cases. Some people may be less susceptible to physical pain than to other forms of inducement or coercion.

Dershowitz believes that the occasions for the use of torture should be regularized — by requiring a judicial warrant for the needle treatment, for example. But he overlooks an argument for leaving such things to executive discretion. If rules are promulgated permitting torture in defined circumstances, some officials are bound to want to explore the outer bounds of the rules. Having been regularized, the practice will become regular. Better to leave in place the formal and customary prohibitions, but with the understanding that they will not be enforced in extreme circumstances. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the early months of the Civil War. The Constitution almost certainly does not authorize the president to suspend habeas corpus. Lincoln did it anyway, and (as William Galston has argued recently) he was probably right to do so: the Union was in desperate straits and its survival was more important than complying with a provision of the Constitution. (Dershowitz criticizes the suspension in passing, but he does not consider the arguments for it.) But it does not follow from the practical wisdom of Lincoln's action that the Constitution should be amended actually to authorize the president to suspend habeas corpus. For a president might be inclined to test the scope of such authority. Similarly, it is not necessary to enact a statute authorizing torture — a statute that, as Dershowitz argues, might well be deemed constitutional, provided no effort was made to introduce confessions obtained by torture in judicial proceedings against the person tortured.

Dershowitz's discussion of torture, and the final essay in which he outlines other measures for fighting international terrorism, are animated by a recognition of the fact — again, a fact obvious to everyone except the doctrinaire civil libertarian — that the scope of our civil liberties is not graven in stone, but instead represents the point of balance between public safety and personal liberty. The balance is struck by the courts, interpreting the vague provisions of the Constitution that protect personal liberty; and it is constantly being re-struck as perceptions about safety and liberty change. The more endangered public safety is thought to be, the more the balance swings against civil liberties. That is how it is and that is how it should be; and it is good that so committed a defender of criminal rights as Dershowitz should state this in forthright and unapologetic terms. Terrorists are more dangerous than ordinary criminals, and so, as he points out, the dogma that it is better for ten guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to be convicted may not hold when the guilty ten are international terrorists seeking to obtain weapons of mass destruction. American history and legal practice show that the law can distinguish sensibly between different levels of threat to public safety. American history and legal practice also show that curtailments of civil liberties to meet national emergencies are temporary, ceasing when the emergency ceases. We do not know when the current threat will abate, but it is unduly pessimistic to suppose it never will.

Another silly dogma that Dershowitz rightly rejects is that collective punishment is never proper. He argues that people who cheer on or otherwise support terrorism, while not as culpable as the terrorists themselves, are sufficiently culpable to be appropriate targets of at least economic punishments. These are actually rather tepid examples of collective punishment; they sound more like accomplice liability. The classical notion of collective punishment punishes the innocent who are in a good position to control the guilty. Collective punishment so defined (as distinct from punishment visited upon an entire people or class for the deeds of some members that the other members could not reasonably be expected to prevent) is not alien to our system. An employer is liable for negligent injuries inflicted by his employees within the scope of their employment even if he was not negligent himself.

Dershowitz is scornful of the privacy fetish that prevented the FBI from checking the gun-purchase records of aliens detained in the wake of the September 11 attacks and that makes civil libertarians shudder at the very idea of a foolproof national identity card, even though, as he points out, it would reduce the need for ethnic profiling, that is, for the use of ethnicity as a proxy for likely criminality. He introduces the useful phrase (for which he credits Harvey Silverglate) the "feel of freedom" to guide the re-balancing that is required in the wake of the September 11 attacks and of all we have learned since about the terrorist threat. He argues that if our civil liberties are so far restricted that Americans no longer have the "feel of freedom" — no longer feel that they live in a basically free country — then we will have paid an enormous and probably an inordinate price for what are bound to be merely incremental and uncertain increases in our sense of safety. But as he points out, Israelis — or at least Israeli Jews, though he claims, rather unconvincingly, Israeli Arabs as well — still have the "feel of freedom" even though civil liberties are more limited in Israel than in the United States.

McCain on "torture"

Steve Hays has implied that my discussions of torture are out of touch with the reality of war, and in particular interrogation techniques. I wonder if he will make the same charge against this guy, who's must be a bleeding heart liberal, a dove on all matters related to war, and who must have dreamed his "experience" as a POW in Vietnam.

Why does it follow that the fact that some of our military sign up for waterboard training make waterboarding not torture? Why? Why not just say that these guys sign up to learn how to deal with torture by dealing with some of it during training. The fact that they beg for it to stop very quickly once it happens is better evidence that it is torture.

Several problems:

i) Reppert seems to be conflating some of my arguments with Paul Manata’s.

ii) At the same time, Reppert ignores some of Manata’s other arguments.

iii) I’ll deal with the McCain article at the end of this post.

“In a traditional understanding of everlasting hellfire a person has a resurrection body which is never consumed by the flames of hell, but the flames inflict pain on that person without any actual organ damage. So, I guess, no one gets tortured in hell. I'm sure that'll be a relief to everyone who goes there.”

i) Once again, who does Reppert think he’s responding to? He is putatively responding to me. But where have I discussed hellfire in relation to waterboarding?

ii) How does Reppert think this comparison is a good argument against “torture”? If he thinks the damned are tortured in hell, and God is ultimately responsible for whatever happens in hell, then torture would not be intrinsically evil if God uses torture to exact retributive justice on the damned. Rather, that would be a just punishment. The damned would be receiving their just deserts.

iii) For the record, I believe in the general resurrection as well as the everlasting punishment of the lost. However, I regard the fiery imagery as figurative.

“We have to look at what we ordinarily mean when we use words. Inflicting suffering of any kind on a person so that they will do anything to make it stop is the very essence of torture. The rest is quibbling. My Clinton parallel works like this, in case you couldn't see the logic. Bill Clinton denied that he had had ‘sexual relations’ with Monica Lewinsky by using a technical, legal definition of sexual relations which could be used to exclude oral sex performed on him. But it was still very deceitful because most of his listeners weren't thinking in terms of the technical definition, they were thinking in more common-sense terms.”

Once more, who does he think he’s responding to? It’s true that I criticized his illustration. However, I myself do not affirm or deny that waterboarding is torture. Hence, even if his argument from analogy were sound, it’s irrelevant to my own stated position.

i) If you want to call waterboarding “torture,” especially in the context of counterterrorism and counterintelligence, then all you’ve done is to trivialize the concept of torture.

ii) As I’ve explained on many occasions, I reject the attempt to frame the issue in terms of “torture.” Rather, I frame the issue in terms of counterterrorism and counterintelligence.

A terrorist informant has information which we have a right to know. Since he won’t volunteer that information, we have a right to squeeze it out of him.

We shouldn’t employ *gratuitously* harsh methods to obtain the information. If we can coax the information out of him by kinder, gentler methods, fine. But if he will only divulge what he knows under duress, then we have a right to put him under duress.

Now, before I address the specifics of the McCain article, why is Reppert referring me to the McCain article? Is this an argument from authority?

If so, I don’t object, in principle, to an argument from authority. Expert testimony can be a valid form of evidence.

However, there are several problems with the McCain article in this regard:

i) McCain is not the only expert on “torture” or coercive interrogation. For example, I recently cited the expert testimony of a Navy SEAL:

You can find experts on both sides of this debate. Hence, the appeal to expert testimony will not suffice to adjudicate this debate.

When experts disagree, we then have to evaluate the quality of their argumentation. Which expert has the better of the argument?

ii) In most of McCain’s article, he is not speaking as an expert witness. Rather, in most of his article, he is speaking as a moralist. He disapproves of torture.

But McCain is not a professional ethicist. And he is not a moral authority. He brings no particular expertise or moral authority to the ethics of “torture” or coercive interrogation. So, as an argument from authority, that part of his article is fallacious.

Now, we should still give his contentions a respectful hearing. But, once again, we must evaluate the quality of his argumentation. The mere fact that he says it doesn’t make it true.

McCain has some insider knowledge on the *experience* of coercion or torture, but when it comes to the *moral valuation* of his experience, he doesn’t bring any special expertise to that aspect of the debate. When it comes to *moralizing* about “torture” or coercive interrogation, McCain’s *opinion* is no more authoritative than the opinion of any other layman.

Bertrand Russell had a lot of personal experience as a womanizer, but that doesn’t make him a moral authority on sexual ethics.

iii) At the risk of stating the obvious, I would also point out that value theory is inherently value-laden, so there is no such thing as a neutral ethicist. Unlike McCain, Peter Singer is a professional ethicist, but I wouldn’t accept his value-judgments simply because ethics and metaethics lie in his field of specialization.

iv) Apropos (iii), many soldiers are also political animals. They’re Democrats or Republicans or libertarians or independents, &c.

And you’d expect them to be political animals. After all, they are Federal employees. What is more, they are agents of American foreign policy.

As such, soldiers, CIA agents, and other suchlike are going to bring a personal ideological bias to counterterrorism—and their bias is person-variable.

For example, Tom McInerney is a four-star general who thinks that Rumsfeld was a terrific Secretary of Defense. Bernard Trainor is a four-star general who thinks that Rumsfeld was a terrible Secretary of Defense.

Two experts. Same Secretary of Defense. Same facts on the ground. Totally opposing performance evaluations.

Let’s move on to McCain:

“But I do, respectfully, take issue with the position that the demands of this war require us to accord a lower station to the moral imperatives that should govern our conduct in war and peace when they come in conflict with the unyielding inhumanity of our vicious enemy.”

Here, McCain is speaking, not as a former POW, but as a moralist. And he simply begs the question of whether coercive interrogation lowers the moral bar. He offers no supporting argument for his contention.

“Obviously, to defeat our enemies we need intelligence, but intelligence that is reliable. We should not torture or treat inhumanely terrorists we have captured. The abuse of prisoners harms, not helps, our war effort. In my experience, abuse of prisoners often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear-whether it is true or false-if he believes it will relieve his suffering. I was once physically coerced to provide my enemies with the names of the members of my flight squadron, information that had little if any value to my enemies as actionable intelligence. But I did not refuse, or repeat my insistence that I was required under the Geneva Conventions to provide my captors only with my name, rank and serial number. Instead, I gave them the names of the Green Bay Packers' offensive line, knowing that providing them false information was sufficient to suspend the abuse. It seems probable to me that the terrorists we interrogate under less than humane standards of treatment are also likely to resort to deceptive answers that are perhaps less provably false than that which I once offered.”

This is a jumbled paragraph, so we have a lot of sorting to do.

i) Is coercive interrogation synonymous with “torture,” “abuse” or “inhumane” treatment? These are question-begging adjectives for which he offers no supporting argument.

ii) Does he think a terrorist has a right provide his captors with only his name, rank, and serial number? But, of course, you only have to pose that question to expose the difference between a POW and an illegal combatant.

iii) If we were to capture bin Laden, does McCain think he has a right to remain silent? To keep mum about what he knows regarding future plots and cohorts?

iv) As to whether the information thus obtained is unreliable, McCain has spoken out of both sides of his mouth on this issue. Indeed, he’s admitted elsewhere that he did give the enemy reliable, classified information. And I’ve cited other examples in which coercive interrogation can, indeed, yield reliable information:

Consider George Tenet’s position:

"Let me ask the question this way: why were enhanced interrogation techniques necessary?" Pelley asks.

"'Cause these are people that will never, ever, ever tell you a thing. These are people who know who’s responsible for the next terrorist attack. These are hardened people that would kill you and me 30 seconds after they got out of wherever they were being held and wouldn’t blink an eyelash," Tenet says. "You can sit there after, you can sit there five years later, and have this debate with me, all I'm asking you to do, walk a mile in my shoes when I'm dealing with these realities."

Tenet says the interrogations uncovered networks and broke up plots in the U.S.

Now, if Reppert was citing McCain’s article as an argument from authority, then which authority should I believe? A former POW or a former DCI? Isn’t George Tenet an expert witness on the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation?

“Our commitment to basic humanitarian values affects-in part-the willingness of other nations to do the same.”

Here, McCain is speaking, not as a former POW, but as a moralist. He’s entitled to his opinion, but that’s all it is. Once again, he begs the question of whether coercive interrogation represents an affront to “humanitarian values.”

What about the humanitarian value of protecting innocents from a terrorist attack? How does that figure in the moral calculus?

“Mistreatment of enemy prisoners endangers our own troops who might someday be held captive.”

To equate coercive interrogation (i.e. waterboarding?) with “mistreatment” is tendentious. Where’s the argument?

“While some enemies, and Al Qaeda surely, will never be bound by the principle of reciprocity, we should have concern for those Americans captured by more traditional enemies, if not in this war then in the next. Until about 1970, North Vietnam ignored its obligations not to mistreat the Americans they held prisoner, claiming that we were engaged in an unlawful war against them and thus not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions. But when their abuses became widely known and incited unfavorable international attention, they substantially decreased their mistreatment of us. Again, Al Qaeda will never be influenced by international sensibilities or open to moral suasion. If ever the term ‘sociopath’ applied to anyone, it applies to them. But I doubt they will be the last enemy America will fight, and we should not undermine today our defense of international prohibitions against torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners of war that we will need to rely on in the future.”

More problems:

i) Once again, he’s no longer speaking as an expert witness, but merely offering his opinion on the pragmatic value of extending Geneva Convention protections to illegal combatants.

ii) The Geneva accords are predicated on reciprocity. McCain is undermining their very rationale. The Geneva accords distinguish between lawful and unlawful combatants in order to reward those who abide by the laws of warfare while penalizing those who flout the laws of warfare. If such protections are extended to unlawful combatants, then that removes any incentive to ever abide by the laws of warfare.

“Prisoner abuses exact a terrible toll on us in this war of ideas. They inevitably become public, and when they do they threaten our moral standing, and expose us to false but widely disseminated charges that democracies are no more inherently idealistic and moral than other regimes…The mistreatment of prisoners harms us more than our enemies.”

When he talks about “prisoner abuse,” what, exactly, is he referring to? This is a very broad brush. Is he alluding to Abu Ghraib? If so, this is what another expert witness has to say:

“Let me give you a dispassionate rebuttal. I have been a Human Intelligence professional for the Army for over 17 years now…My fellow professionals and I were painted with a broad brush as sadists and outlaws or worse. News to you - interrogators weren't the ones responsible for Abu Ghuraib. We just took the blame (and still do) because people started screaming and following emotions instead of talking about the facts.”

Continuing wit McCain:

“What I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we allow, confuse or encourage our soldiers to forget that best sense of ourselves, that which is our greatest strength-that we are different and better than our enemies, that we fight for an idea, not a tribe, not a land, not a king, not a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion, but for an idea that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights.”

Two problems:

i) Once again, he’s substituting assertion for argument. Whether coercive interrogation is morally equivalent to what our enemies do is the very point at issue, and not something to be taken for granted.

ii) The Geneva Conventions are not about human rights, but the statutory rights of POWs.

“Those of us who feel that in this war, as in past wars, Americans should not compromise our values must answer those Americans who believe that a less rigorous application of those values is regrettably necessary to prevail over a uniquely abhorrent and dangerous enemy.”

Throughout this article, McCain assumes what he needs to prove—“it compromises our values.” He is speaking as a moralist, not an expert witness. And he never bothers to argue for his key contention. Rather, he treats that assumption as a given. Why is Reppert impressed by such a blatantly fallacious reasoning?

“Part of our disagreement is definitional. Some view more coercive interrogation tactics as something short of torture but worry that they might be subject to challenge under the ‘no cruel, inhumane or degrading’ standard. Others, including me, believe that both the prohibition on torture and the cruel, inhumane and degrading standard must remain intact. When we relax that standard, it is nearly unavoidable that some objectionable practices will be allowed as something less than torture because they do not risk life and limb or do not cause very serious physical pain.”

Now he’s shifting to the slippery slope argument. So coercive interrogation is not intrinsically wrong, but ought to be opposed because it might lead to something that’s intrinsically wrong. Is that the argument? By the same logic, we shouldn’t arm our soldiers with rifles since they might occasionally misuse their rifles.

“For instance, there has been considerable press attention to a tactic called ‘waterboarding,’ where a prisoner is restrained and blindfolded while an interrogator pours water on his face and into his mouth-causing the prisoner to believe he is being drowned. He isn't, of course; there is no intention to injure him physically. But if you gave people who have suffered abuse as prisoners a choice between a beating and a mock execution, many, including me, would choose a beating. The effects of most beatings heal. The memory of an execution will haunt someone for a very long time and damage his or her psyche in ways that may never heal. In my view, to make someone believe that you are killing him by drowning is no different than holding a pistol to his head and firing a blank. I believe that it is torture, very exquisite torture.”

Several issues:

i) The proper analogy would not be between a mock execution and a beating, but between a mock execution and a real execution.

ii) Is McCain seriously suggesting that if we had bin Laden and custody, and waterboarding was the only way to learn what he knows, that we should refrain from waterboarding because the experience would “damage his psyche” and “haunt” him for a very long time? Why should I care whether bin Laden ever “heals” from the psychological trauma of the experience?

iii) If holding a pistol to bin Laden’s head and firing a blank would be an effective way of leaning what he knows, I have no moral compunction about that procedure.

“Those who argue the necessity of some abuses raise an important dilemma as their most compelling rationale: the ticking-time-bomb scenario. What do we do if we capture a terrorist who we have sound reasons to believe possesses specific knowledge of an imminent terrorist attack?”

This is prejudicial since we are not arguing for the necessity of some “abuses.”

“In such an urgent and rare instance, an interrogator might well try extreme measures to extract information that could save lives. Should he do so, and thereby save an American city or prevent another 9/11, authorities and the public would surely take this into account when judging his actions and recognize the extremely dire situation which he confronted. But I don't believe this scenario requires us to write into law an exception to our treaty and moral obligations that would permit cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. To carve out legal exemptions to this basic principle of human rights risks opening the door to abuse as a matter of course, rather than a standard violated truly in extremis. It is far better to embrace a standard that might be violated in extraordinary circumstances than to lower our standards to accommodate a remote contingency, confusing personnel in the field and sending precisely the wrong message abroad about America's purposes and practices.”

Several problems:

i) The consequentialist objection cuts both ways. What are the consequences if we don’t obtain actionable intel to spare an American city?

ii) Does a terrorist enjoy a “human right” to withhold information about an impending terrorist attack?

iii) The message McCain is sending is that if we do capture a high-value terrorist, we won’t force him to divulge what he knows. I happen to think that’s precisely the wrong message to be sending our enemies.

iv) Nothing to be more confusing to our personnel than to warn them that they will face criminal sanctions if they advert another 9/11 by using extreme measures to extract information that could save lives. Isn’t that a deterrent to counterintelligence? Why would any right-minded interrogator go above and beyond the call of duty with that legal threat hanging over his head?

iv) Notice McCain’s moral confusion. Is he suggesting that there are circumstances (i.e. the ticking timebomb) when we’re morally obligated to violate our moral obligations?

“The state of Israel, no stranger to terrorist attacks, has faced this dilemma, and in 1999 the Israeli Supreme Court declared cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment illegal. ‘A democratic, freedom-loving society,’ the court wrote, ‘does not accept that investigators use any means for the purpose of uncovering truth. The rules pertaining to investigators are important to a democratic state. They reflect its character’."

A court doesn’t determine right from wrong. It only determines legal from illegal. Judges are legal arbiters, not moral arbiters.

Neither Reppert nor McCain has presented a moral argument against “torture.” The most that Reppert has done is to take exception to “torture” on the grounds that he’s a Kantian deontologist. But there are two problems with that objection:

i) He’d need to make a case for Kantian deontologism.

ii) Even if, for the same of argument, we granted that Kantian deontologism is an adequate, freestanding theory of values, that, of itself, doesn’t begin to rule out the use of “torture”—whether real or imagined.

After all, bin Laden is a Koranic deontologist. He’s just performing his religious duties.

And it’s quite possible to universalize a principle like cruelty. A Mafia don or king-pin might prefer that sort of world. To be sure, a Mafia don wouldn’t like it if someone were to kneecap him in return, but that’s the cost of doing business. That’s a risk he’s prepared to take. He prefers a world in which that’s a possibility, because it’s outweighed by the value of ill-gotten gain. The chance of making a killing by killing others outweighs the chance of being killed by others.

As Manata has already pointed out in response to Reppert, the jihadis operate with the same philosophy. Throughout this debate there’s been a glaring discrepancy between the moral gravity of Reppert’s rhetoric, and intellectual frivolity of Reppert’s argument.

Selective, Dubious Concern For Corroboration

During this Christmas season, a lot of people are going to claim that we shouldn't trust the Biblical accounts of events such as the Slaughter of the Innocents or the census of Luke 2, because such events aren't corroborated by non-Christian sources. Aside from the doubtful nature of the claim that there is no non-Christian corroboration (a subject I've addressed in the past and will be addressing again in the coming weeks), the concept that we should expect non-Christian corroboration to begin with is dubious. See our discussion of Matthew 27:52-53 here and here.

Remember, critics of Christianity don't just have a problem with what the earliest Christians reported. They also disagree with much of what the earliest non-Christian sources believed. When the critic selectively objects to a lack of corroboration on some issues, why should we believe that he wouldn't dismiss such corroboration if he had it, much as he does on other issues? As I've said elsewhere, one of the problems facing the critic of Christianity is how much he not only has to look for ways to dismiss the beliefs of the earliest Christians, but also has to attempt to dismiss what the earliest enemies of Christianity believed.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Great Scott, I think I've Got it!

I think I'm finally catching on. Seeing all these posts by the secularists and the liberals on war, torture, terrorism, and punishment, is putting things into focus for me. Let's see if I'm catching on:

On the one had, terrorists are not to be subjected to any form of "torture" and murderers are not to be given the death penalty. We're too sophisticated and enlighted for that kind of barbarism.

On the other hand, innocents like children in the womb and the elderly are to be put to death. The children by tortuous abortion methods, the elderly by "euthenasia" (the "good" death).

Have I got it?

We really are enlightened and sophisticated. Any rational and caring person can see that we are a society with our priorities straight. 1.5 million children murdered for the sake of convenience, who cares. A handful of terrorists who seek to put hundreds of thousands of Westerners in the grave getting waterboarded as an aggressive interrogation tactic, why that's a travisty of justice! I don't know what took me so long to figure it out. Anyway, bear with me, I'm slow that way. You guys were right, secularism and liberalism are really attractive.

The Quranic Concept of War

Check this out, too: "The Quranic Concept of War" (PDF) by Joseph C. Myers.

Iraq, al-Qaeda, & 9/11

Check this out: "Startling implications of a Jihadi letter" by Ray Robison.

Fourteen In Matthew's Genealogy

Here's a good discussion of the use of the number fourteen in Matthew 1:17 and other issues related to the genealogies of Christ.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Killing for Mammy Nature

Here's a little number for those tired of "torture" posts...

In Finland a young man went on a school shooting rampage. He said,

"I, as a natural selector, will eliminate all who I see unfit, disgraces of human race and failures of natural selection.",22049,22722786-5001021,00.html

Now, it is well known that hordes of internet atheologians spend their time searching for heinous crimes committed by those aligning themselves with a god-belief or a religion. They use these events to point out the problematic beliefs associated with being a "theist."

It is well known that many atheists - Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Russell, etc., - use the evil actions of people who have claimed to be adherents of, or believers in, religion or "god" as some kind of argument against the truth of said belief(s).

It is clearly obvious that these people take these arguments to cast some kind of negative light on "god-belief." That these actions committed by "believers in god" or "members of religion" count against belief in "god" (or, God) in some way is the obvious intent of those who proffer these kinds of arguments.

Okay, putting aside any defensive counter-attack to these critiques, I want to know where are these atheists now? Where are these bastions of "free thought;" of "non-biased" thinking; of "followers-of-the-evidence-wherever-it-leads?" Does not it follow, by the strictest logic, that these people must take what happened in Finland to "count against" Darwinian or Evolutionary beliefs, in some way?

Their silence is deafening...

Ex-apologist, Reppert, and Lippard

This is not a defense or position post on the im/morality of "torture." It is a brief critique of some bad lines of argument one finds in this debate. One finds a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking in this discussion. it was an email I sent to someone. I take fodder from this combox:

These guys really have no clue about the real world, do they?

For starters, though, take Ex-apologists remark:

"When will you be making out your cut of the check to those Japanese folks we sued for waterboarding our citizens? Just wondering, ilion"

Now that's about as lame as me telling Ex-apologist that he needs to go work at a African American's house for free. Be his slave.

Or, assuming that he is pro-life, his comment is about at the level as those pro-choice advocates who say we cannot talk about the im/morality of abortion unless we're prepared to adopt all the unwanted children in the world.

On to Reppert:

"If you stimulate my brain in such a way that I experience what I would experience if someone were to put me on the rack, would it be any less torture than if you put me on the rack?"

Now that's about as ridiculous as me saying that I really smoked a cigarette because I did so in my dream. The psychology was the same. I felt relaxed, then scared because I failed at "kicking the habit." Indeed, I woke up under severe psychological distress thinking that I had failed all those people, and myself, who wanted me to quit.

Or, his comment is about as absurd as saying that there's no difference between me dreaming that I walked out on my family, as long as the same psychological features were present during that time, and my really walking out on my family.

"The obvious response to this is that it looks as if waterboarding's effectiveness as torture is diminished when you know it's being done to you by someone who isn't going to kill you."

This is simply out of touch with reality. Reppert seems to live under the delusion that these guys don't know what's going on. That they've never have been waterboarded before, or never subjected anyone to it before. And, if a solider wanted to kill you, they'd just do it. They'd shoot you, or behead you. They don't have time to just torture people for the fun of it.

"How that got to be us is what gives me such concern."

Again, Victor is simply living in his own version of Disneyland. Guess what, everyone does it. Spec Ops guys are doing work in almost every country. If they get caught, and if they don't talk, they know they'll be subjected to some uncomfortable experiences. This isn't an American phenomena.

Jim Lippard said,

"I think Victor is correct to distinguish the training circumstance (as done in SERE) from the interrogation circumstance by noting that in the former, you've given informed consent, you know that you will not be allowed to come to serious harm, that it will come to an end and that you'll be taken care of."

Again, guys who never put on a helmet in their life playing Monday Morning Quarterback. When guys do that around the water cooler, the Tom Bradys of the world laugh. When Reppert and Lippard do it, the General Patton's of the world laugh.

First, I'd suggest he read some books about what happens at SEREs school (perhaps Rouge Warrior by Marcinko). Perhaps talk to some Spec Ops guys who have went through it. And, no, not your average grunt, bullet sponge U.S. Marine who goes through the "PR" SERE school. Ask the Snake eaters. SEALs. Delta.

Second, Lippard has no clue about the psychological state these guys are in. They are sleep deprived, cold, hungry, physically beaten, and subjected to things like waterboarding. Is he asking us to believe that they're rationally deconstructing the process, thinking it's not that bad because they're going to be all right? They have instructors defecate on Bibles, the constitution, and American Flags right in front of them. They are stripped of their dignity.

This is to, prepare them to *survive.* They have to make it as real as possible. Sending our boys out into the real word with a not-so-bad-experience at SEREs is detrimental to their health! Good thing guys like Reppert and Lippard aren't training our boys!

A Navy SEAL on interrogation techniques

I realize that some folks may be tired of reading about “torture”—whether real or imagined. If the subject bores you, no one is forcing you to read this post.

However, we are in a war with a fanatical foe, and there are forces in our own country determined to disarm the various departments and agencies that would protect us from this mortal threat, so while may not make for fun reading, what it lacks in entertainment value is make up for in survival value. I’ve excerpted some comments by a Navy SEAL on interrogation techniques from the following blog:

"Giving the intimate details of any interrogation techniques that we simulate on our own people, or use on an enemy combatant that has knowledge of other terrorists or plots to kill innocent people, is sedition, in my opinion."

Having debates over the finer points of interrogation techniques in open settings "only benefits those we may need to interrogate."

Mike's secondary specialty in the SEAL force is as an advanced combat medic. Without getting into specifics on his experiences, Mike strongly disputes Nance's exaggerations of waterboarding. There is a word for people who have "pint after pint of water" filling their lungs: dead. "In fact," according to Mike, "they would be very, very dead. By definition, anyone who has drowned is in fact dead. A large percentage of true drownings do not involve ANY water entering the lungs because the epiglottis closes off the air passages as water enters the throat. People who die immediately from being immersed in water actually die of suffocation, not water entering their lungs. Not only that, many people who survive a near-drowning who do have even small amounts of water that slip by the epiglottis and enter their lungs can die later of fluid shifts and pneumonia. I can assure you that we do not use any technique that involves true suffocation or aspiration of water into the lungs. One cannot get questions to answers from people who suffocate or have water fill their lungs in any interrogation technique, which would render that technique more than a little self-defeating. Dead men tell no tales -- and also make rather poor soldiers."

Mike emphasized that modern military interrogators receive excellent training and know that coercive techniques do not usually work as well as "positive incentives" and they will generally work through "echelons" of interrogation to obtain critical information. Mike would not go into any detail on "positive incentives" anymore than he would about coercive interrogation techniques generally used as a last resort. He continued to emphasize operational security (OPSEC). However, there are many different scenarios for interrogations, including time-critical emergencies, such as hostage rescue or impending attacks. "Effective interrogators need every range of options in these cases, including methods that use coercion to elicit information, for the different situations that our forces not only might face, but have faced. He used the examples of rescuing captured American soldiers from terrorists when we know they will be brutally tortured and murdered if not found immediately and rescued. "I'm guessing that the vast majority of Americans who vote would not have a problem with us using coercive tactics to get that kind of information from a terrorist."

However, Mike has serious concerns about this nation's perspective in this war, and whether it indicates an inability to defeat our enemies. "It's just blows me away that we're talking about the frickin' waterboard over here, when they're cutting off people's heads over there." Even the Abu Ghraib scandal, which was "unnecessary, unprofessional, and without purpose," has been overplayed into some kind of systemic and universal blight on the American military. Those responsible "got prosecuted … as they should be," but it pales into insignificance in comparison to what Saddam and his forces did at Abu Ghraib - "the most sadistic forms of torture." Those tortures continue with al-Qaeda to this day, but we seem uninterested in discussing that, instead spending years talking about a few isolated incidents and fret over how we treat the enemy in this war.

Mike continued with a rather chilling set of thoughts. "Many terrorists we capture already exploit what they perceive to be our weaknesses because of the media. They frequently ask for an attorney as soon as they are captured, medical care for the most trivial things and claim all sorts of abuses. The message has obviously been grossly distorted. OK, this my own opinion here but you want the enemy to believe the reality of this war as follows: Yes we will kill them swiftly if they resist capture. No, we will not kill them if they give up and do not resist capture. Yes we will start off by being humane, accommodating of their religion and culture and even give them positive incentives if they cooperate during interrogation. But they absolutely must believe that we are fully authorized by our country to use any measure necessary to extract time-critical information from them if there is a need to do so.

“Anyone suggesting that we should enact some kind of strict rules against what they perceive to be torture in time-critical wartime interrogations is not only naive but also dangerous. Interrogators in war zones who are up against any kind of time frame to recover captured American or coalition forces are likely to go right up the echelon of interrogation techniques including different types of coercion no matter what anyone says back in this fantasyland in the States. And if the interrogators think they could be charged with some kind of crime because the subject could file a case against them for carrying out their duties on a known terrorist who is withholding vital information, there is one likely fate for that individual at the end of his interrogation…death…sort of the reverse of what these left wing whackos claim to be seeking."

Mike also repeated his belief that anyone including politicians who disclose classified information during a time of war should be charged with treason. "I realize that the words sedition and treason are probably no longer found in the PC dictionary, but that is what this all amounts to. Why is it that the only legislators willing to make a stand are standing up for the non-existent civil rights of terrorists who are considered spies, saboteurs or guerillas and therefore not even covered under any Geneva Convention? Where are the patriotic attorneys who will put their party plans aside to prosecute those who give away classified information during a time of war? I strongly believe that it is high time that people in our country who give solace to the enemy and the secrets of our country to the press are charged with treason and given the strictest of penalties under the law."

Defining torture

Here's the definition of torture. Next question


tor·ture [tawr-cher] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation noun, verb, -tured, -tur·ing.
1. the act of inflicting excruciating pain, as punishment or revenge, as a means of getting a confession or information, or for sheer cruelty.

1.This is unresponsive to my question. I asked Reppert if he could provide me with a philosophically stringent definition of “torture.” Evidently, he can’t.

2.This definition only apply to certain forms of physical duress, not psychological duress.

3.On this definition, painless techniques like sleep deprivation don’t count as torture.

4.On this definition, Paul and Patricia Churchland couldn’t classify anything as torture since they deny the reality of mental states like pain.

4.Is waterboarding torture on this definition? Is “excruciating pain” a defining effect of waterboarding? I thought that people break under waterboarding for two other reasons:

i) It induces an involuntary gag-effect.

ii) It triggers a drowning phobia.

Neither of these is equivalent to “excruciating pain,” and it would be easy to come up with various techniques that are far more painful, viz. electric-shock torture.

Drawing the line

One of the stock objections to waterboarding or other examples of “enhanced” interrogation is the question of where to draw the line. This, of itself, is not a bad question.

However, in the debate over counterterrorism, it’s generally a trick question since those who pose it don’t want to draw any lines. They simply want to ban anything they are pleased to call “torture,” without defining their terms or drawing elementary moral and practical distinctions.

The word “torture” has many associations. When, however, the word is used to designate anything from mutilation to sleep deprivation to infringement of “soul liberty,” when no distinction is drawn between physical and psychological duress, when no distinction is drawn between the use of physical or mental duress to inflict punishment, deter political opponents, extract a criminal confession, or obtain operational intelligence from a terrorist, then the word loses all moral utility.

In terms of Christian ethics, a Christian is not prepared to do whatever the enemy will do. He is not prepared to win at any cost, by any means necessary. For one thing, a Christian should never use *sinful* means to obtain information. So there are situations in which we must leave the outcome to providence and suffer the consequences.

However, one reason I don’t attempt to draw a line in the sand on interrogatory techniques is because I’m not a professional interrogator. I don’t know for a fact what techniques are used and how effective they are. I don’t know enough to draw the line.

For obvious reasons, governments are generally reluctant to publicize their methods of counterterrorism. So you have to rely on unconfirmed reports or leaked information—which may be unreliable.

This has put the Bush administration in a bind. In order to respond to its critics, it has to say *something*—without, however—tipping its hand to the enemy. So, for example, George Tenet tells us that “enhanced interrogation” has been invaluable in obtaining information that enabled us to preempt some terrorist attacks that were in the pipeline. But he’s not going to go into a lot of specific detail since that would compromise methods and sources.

On a final note, it’s odd to see how many critics who are ordinarily opposed to theonomy act as if our foreign policy should be dictated by Christian ethics. I happen to agree. And it would be nice if they were more consistent in that regard.

Even a secular critic like Jim Lippard faults the Christian community for failing to condemn the official use of “torture.” Apparently, Lippard is a closet theocrat who hopes to see Christian values enacted into law. I applaud his newfound conviction that Christians should legislate morality. I’d simply encourage him to extend the codification of Christian values to other areas of public policy.

Victor Reppert is another church/state separationist who, when it comes to “torture,” suddenly becomes a card-carrying theocrat. Truly, the war on terror makes strange bedfellows. The only remaining question is whether Lippard and Reppert plan to cast their vote for Mike Huckabee or Ron Paul.

The ticking timebomb

1. Before I discuss the main point of this post, I’m going to make a preliminary comment. I agree with Joe Carter that too many Christians have been silent over the issue of “torture.” However, I’d take his objection in the opposite direction.

Too many Christians have let the opponents do all the talking. Let the opponents define the issue. So, yes, more Christians need to speak up and speak out.

There are Christians who don’t want to talk about “torture.” They want to read their daily devotionals and listen to gospel music. They want to sit out this debate—except when they want to denounce those empowered to defend and protect us from our enemies.

The Amish are the textbook example. They imagine that they can retain their moral purity by retreating to the dairy farm and washing their hands of politics. In the meantime, they literally demonize the state. And many Christians who aren’t Amish find it convenient to parrot Amish rhetoric when it suits their purpose.

But the problem with this response is that when we delegate the tough decisions to a second party, we are still complicit in the outcome. You and I don’t have the right to contract out the tough decisions to a second party, and then defame the contractor for making the hard choices on our behalf and in our stead that we were too squeamish and sanctimonious to make for ourselves.

When we pay someone else to take the risk and do the job, that hardly lets us off the hook. Indeed, nothing is more hypocritical than letting someone else assume the risk and make the hard call, only to attack their conduct from the safety and security of the Shire.

Christians need to apply ethics to real world situations, including the unsavory options that confront us in a fallen world. Unless we’re prepared to enter the dialogue and get our white robes smudgy by direct contact with real life situations, we then forfeit the moral warrant to participate in the democratic process.

2. Back to the main point of this post. The ticking timebomb scenario often crops up in the debate over “torture.” But critics don’t understand the point of this hypothetical. They attack it as unrealistic.

Now, to begin with, the ticking timebomb does, in fact, correspond to a real world situation. Here’s an actual example.

“Recently, Israeli security officials confronted a ticking-bomb situation. Several days before Yom Kippur, they received credible information that a suicide bomber was planning to blow himself up in a crowded synagogue on the holiest day of the Jewish year. After a gun battle in which an Israeli soldier was killed, the commander of the terrorist cell in Nablus was captured. Interrogation led to the location of the suicide bomb in a Tel Aviv apartment.”

So it’s more than a hypothetical. However, that misses the point.

3.This hypothetical doesn’t have to be realistic to be valid. The ticking timebomb functions as a limiting case. A hypothetical, worst-case scenario.

The purpose of this thought-experiment is to establish moral common ground as well as a frame of reference for further discussion. Most folks do think that in a situation like this, we should be prepared to use coercion in order to extract information. Extreme situations call for extreme measures.

The purpose of the ticking timebomb is then to work back from that hypothetical as a baseline to less extreme situations. If coercion is ever acceptable, because it’s acceptable in this case, then you cannot raise a *principled* objection to the use of coercion to obtain operational intel.

It is then a question of addressing the propriety of coercion on a case-by-case basis. Under what *other* circumstances is it acceptable? That’s the point of the ticking timebomb in ethical discourse.

"Contraception" by Mark Liederbach

In light of Bernie's informative post on birth control, I thought it might also be helpful to excerpt a section from the book God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation titled "Contraception" by Mark Liederbach.

Scripture does not speak directly to the question of whether or not it is biblically appropriate to use contraceptive measures. There is no explicit biblical passage that mentions the term "contraception," nor are there any plain texts that specifically address the issue of whether or not it might be appropriate to use contraceptive measures. This said, however, one should not assume that Scripture is completely silent on the matter.

The Question of the Legitimacy of Contraception in General

As noted above, Genesis 1:28 identifies procreation as a primary end of the marital union, while Psalm 127 describes children as a blessing from God. Thus, when considering the question of whether or not to use contraception, one must start from the perspective that having children is the expected norm for marriages and should be understood as a good gift from a loving heavenly Father. In the words of Albert Mohler, "We must start with a rejection of the contraceptive mentality that sees pregnancy and children as impositions to be avoided rather than as gifts to be received, loved, and nurtured. This contraceptive mentality is an insidious attack upon God's glory in creation, and the Creator's gift of procreation to the married couple."

Having recognized the important connection between sexual expression and childbearing, however, does it follow that every act of sexual intercourse must "be open" to conception? Those who answer this question in the affirmative will often cite the Genesis 38:6-10 account of Onan and Tamar in support of their position. In this passage, God takes the life of Er, the oldest son of Judah, because he was "evil in the sight of the Lord" (NASB) leaving his wife Tamar a widow. The Hebrew custom known as levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5-10) stipulated that when a married man died without leaving offspring, his widow should marry the dead man's next closest male relative. The first child from that subsequent marriage would then take on the name of the older brother and become his heir so that the name of the first husband "will not be blotted out from Israel" (Deut. 25:6, NIV).

In the present instance, Onan, as Er's next oldest brother, therefore was to take on the responsibility of providing Tamar with a child. According to Genesis 38:9, however, while Onan did indeed have sexual intercourse with Tamar, he prevented her from conceiving a child by withdrawing from her prior to ejaculation. Instead of providing her with an heir for her first husband, Scripture indicates that he "wasted his seed on the ground" (NASB). As a result, his action was "displeasing in the sight of the Lord," and God took his life as well (v. 10, NASB).

Roman Catholics typically cite this passage to suggest that what particularly displeased the Lord was the interruption of the sexual process for the purpose of preventing procreation. Every act of sexual intercourse, it is argued, ought to be open to procreation. Thus, the interruption by Onan, as well as any form of interruption or use of artificial means to prevent conception during sexual intercourse, is morally reprehensible. In their view, all means of contraception that interrupt the natural process of procreation are contrary to God's will.

Upon closer scrutiny, however, it appears that the Lord's displeasure in Genesis 38:10 ought not to be equated with the prevention of pregnancy per se but with the particularly exploitive, abusive, and wasteful way in which Onan carried out his sexual relations with Tamar. Deuteronomy 25:5-10 indicates that if the brother refuses to complete his "duty" to provide an offspring, the penalty is not death but shaming (vv. 9-10). It would appear, then, that the severity of the punishment indicates that reasons beside the refusal to provide an offspring for his deceased brother prompted God to take Onan's life.

How, then, ought oneo reason biblically with regard to contraception? Scripture indicates that, in addition to procreation, God created marriage to meet other ends as well. Companionship through the development of a sacred marital bond (Gen. 2:18, 24), sexual pleasure (Prov. 5:15-23, Song of Songs), and fidelity (1 Cor. 7:1-9), to name but a few, are all biblically appropriate purposes for which God created the marital sexual union. Therefore, while it seems clear that over the course of their marriage a couple ought to seek to have children (perhaps even many, see Ps. 127:5), it does not follow that in every particular sexual encounter the couple need to refrain from the use of contraception. The sexual encounter in marriage retains a high value for the purposes of union, pleasure, fidelity, and so on, even in the event that a couple uses contraception as a part of their family planning. Indeed, "[t]he focus on 'each and every act' of sexual intercourse within a faithful marriage that is open to the gift of children goes beyond the biblical demand."

Morally Permissible and Impermissible Forms of Contraception

Concluding that the use of contraception is morally permissible in general, however, does not mean that any and every particular form of birth control is morally acceptable. Indeed, because passages like Exodus 20:13 specifically prohibit the taking of innocent life, the "profound respect for life in the prenatal stage" found in the Judeo-Christian ethic must also influence one's perspective on which forms of birth control are biblically permissible.

Acceptable Forms of Birth Control

Which forms of birth control are morally acceptable? In short, the answer is that it is only those that are contraceptive in nature, that is, those that exclusively prohibit conception. Resting on this foundational principle, one can then fairly easily evaluate which forms of family planning are appropriate and which are not.

Acceptable forms include natural methods such as abstinence (the only biblically legitimate option for those who are not married) and the rhythm or calendar method (in its various forms such as relying on the body temperature cycles or timing of ovulation and fertility periods).

In addition, artificial methods that exclusively seek to prevent conception are also morally acceptable. These include "barrier methods" such as a diaphragm, a cervical cap, and condoms and spermicides such as foams, creams, sponges, or vaginal suppositories.

Unacceptable Forms of Birth Control

Unacceptable forms of family planning include all forms of induced abortion. Thus, the intrauterine device or "IUD" is an unacceptable method, because its primary function is to create an unstable environment for the fertilized egg to implant in the uterine wall by depleting the endometrial lining, making it incapable of supporting the life of the child.

RU-486 or the so-called "abortion" or "morning after" pill is likewise morally unacceptable since its primary function is to prevent the implantation of a new fetus in the uterine wall. The drug works to directly prohibit the establishment and continuation of the pregnancy by blocking the body's natural secretion of progesterone, the vital hormone that prepares the uterus to receive a fertilized egg and to help maintain the pregnancy once it occurs.

Methods Requiring Special Mention and Extra Care

Special mention needs to be made at this point about two forms of birth control widely practiced by Christians and non-Christians alike: sterilization and the use of "the pill."

Sterilization as a means of contraception involves a surgical procedure designed to permanently terminate a person's fertility. For the male, a vasectomy blocks the vas deferens (ejaculatory duct) and thus prevents the sperm from leaving the body during ejaculation. For the female, "tubal occlusion" is the procedure that effectively blocks a woman's fallopian tubes in order to prevent sperm from coming into contact with the woman's eggs, thereby preventing fertilization.

There are several important considerations with sterilization that may caution us against its use. For instance, it is an elective procedure that involves the intentional and permanent setting aside or inactivation of a bodily function. The permanence of the procedure makes it a different case from the use of a condom or other temporary measures. In addition, we might ask whether it is ever right to remove a part of one's body (cf. Lev. 21:20; Deut. 23:1; 1 Cor. 6:19) simply for convenience's sake, and whether this is the proper way to treat the body as the "temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 6:19).

In both Old and New Testaments, Scripture indicates that while care for the physical body is not to be of primary concern, it should be treated with honor and respect (cf., e.g., Gen. 2:7; Ex. 21:22-25; 1 Cor. 6:12-20). As ethicist John Jefferson Davis contends,
The apostle's point is that the believer does not have the right to exercise unlimited dominion over his or her body but should view the body as a trust from the Lord, to be cared for in ways that are glorifying to God. And surgical operation -- such as sterilization -- is not merely a personal "choice," but a decision that needs to be seen within the biblical framework of stewardship of the human body. Given the fact that our human bodies are a trust from God, and in light of the positive valuation placed on human procreative powers and large families in the Old Testament, these powers should not be rejected or surgically destroyed without compelling justification.
While the subject has yet to receive adequate attention among evangelicals, some might respond that the same reasoning adduced above regarding the appropriateness of using certain forms of contraception applies here as well. God has given us intelligence and powers of judgment to fulfill his command to "be fruitful and multiply" in our individual personal circumstances in keeping with scriptural commands and principles (such as the sacredness of human life). In light of our conclusion that it is fallacious to interpret this command to mean that every act of marital sexual intercourse must be open to procreation, it would seem appropriate that a given couple could determine that they have reached the point where they believe God would not have them conceive any more children. The question, then, becomes whether or not sterilization is a legitimate means of ensuring that no additional children are conceived. Indeed, while not every Christian would agree that sterilization involves an improper violation of one's body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, it is vital that believers submit their personal desires to a prayerful consideration of what is scripturally permissible.

While arguments can be made both against and in favor of sterilization as a form of birth control for Christians, therefore, since Scripture does not directly address the various forms of modern sterilization practices, it seems appropriate to refrain from dogmatism in this area. Where Scripture does not directly address a given matter, biblically informed principles must be applied to specific issues with wisdom and care. We have known godly couples who assured us that they pursued sterilization in an attitude of prayer and trusting the Lord. We have also known other, equally godly, couples who later regretted having followed through with this procedure and sought to reverse it in order to have more children. Both cases suggest that it is imperative that a couple who would use a given method honestly search their hearts and motives during the process of making such a decision and be certain that pragmatic considerations and personal desires do not override scriptural principles or unduly shape what they perceive to be the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Another birth control method requiring special mention and extra care is what is popularly known as "the pill." Because of its wide acceptance in the culture, some Christians may be surprised to learn that the moral acceptability of "the pill" (and the many various applications of the same basic chemical products) is under question by Christian ethicists. Yet, while the convenience and effectiveness of this form of birth control have certainly commended it to many, there are serious moral questions that must be addressed before a decision is made as to whether or not "the pill" qualifies as an acceptable form of contraception.

There are two basic categories of hormonally based chemical contraceptives: combined and progestin-only contraceptives. Combined contraceptives (containing both estrogen and progestin) come in both an oral form (usually referred to as COCs -- combination oral contraceptives -- such as Ortho Cyclen or Ortho-trycyclen) and an injectable form (CICs -- combined injectable contraceptives -- such as Cyclofem and Mesigyna). Progestin-only contraceptives likewise are produced in oral and injectable form. Progestin-only pills (POPs) contain the hormone progestin and are taken daily, while progestin-only injectable contraceptives (PICs) such as Depro-Prevara and Noristerat require an injection roughly once every two to three months. Norplant is another version of progestin-based birth control involving a surgical procedure to insert small tubules containing progestin under the skin. This method is said to be effective for years.

According to the Physician's Desk Reference, all of these versions of both combined contraceptives and progestin-only contraceptives work by employing the same three basic mechanisms of action. The first of these is to prevent ovulation (a contraceptive mechanism). The second is to alter the cervical mucus buildup which increases the difficulty of the sperm entering the uterus and thereby fertilizing the egg (a contraceptive mechanism). The third mechanism -- in all forms of both combined contraceptives and progestin-only contraceptives -- whether intended or not, is to inhibit the endometrium (uterine lining), thereby making it incapable of supporting the life of the newly conceived child should fertilization take place. This third mechanism, then, is not a contraceptive measure but an abortifacient, that is, the mechanism works as a "fail safe" means to control birth if the other two mechanisms do not prevent contraception., a web service provider which bases its information on the material from the Physician's Desk Reference, describes these three mechanisms in the following manner:
Suppression of ovulation is the main mode by which OCs, Depo-Provera, and Lunelle prevent pregnancy; the implant system causes ovulation suppression about 50 percent of the time. However, throughout each pill cycle, and continuously with Norplant implants and Depo-Provera, the mucous covering the cervix -- the site where sperm enters the uterus -- stays thick and sticky, making it very difficult for sperm to get through. This gooey impediment also acts on the sperm cell itself. It prevents fertilization by interfering with chemical changes inside the sperm that allow it to penetrate an egg's outer coating.

Even if ovulation and fertilization do take place, hormonal methods provide another measure of protection: changes to the uterine lining. Normally, estrogen initiates the thickening of the lining of the uterus in the first part of the cycle, while progesterone kicks in later to help the lining mature. Since both hormones are present throughout the pill cycle, and progestin is supplied continuously by implants and the shot, the usual hormonal variations are masked and the lining rarely has a chance to develop enough to nurture a fertilized egg. [Emphasis added by author.]
To summarize, with regard to both the combined contraceptives and progestin-only contraceptives the main moral problem occurs when the first and second mechanisms of action fail (prevention of ovulation and of fertilization due to mucus buildup) and fertilization of an egg takes place. At this point these methods cease to be contraceptive in nature and function as abortifacients. While the chances of the first two methods failing are admittedly low (more so with combined contraceptives), given the fact that so many women are using these forms of birth control there is no question that for some "the pill" or its equivalents are functioning at least at times to terminate the life of a conceived child. Indeed, if the "profound respect for life in the prenatal stages" of a child's development discussed earlier holds the moral authority it ought to, then perhaps it is right to reevaluate whether a low chance of aborting one's child is worth the risk at all.

Finally, due to the somewhat enigmatic use of terminology relating to this subject, those who wisely seek advice from a primary care physician and/or OB/GYN ought to ask questions with precision and care. For example, a young couple may ask their doctor whether or not a particular form of oral or chemical contraceptive runs the risk of causing an abortion. Depending on how that doctor defines "abortion" and "pregnancy," the answer may vary. For some the word "abortion" is understood to mean the termination of a pregnancy. The term "pregnancy," however, may be understood to mean that the fertilized egg has already implanted in the uterine wall. If this is how the doctor defines pregnancy, he or she may indicate that combined contraceptives and progestin-only contraceptives do not cause abortion because they do not terminate the growth of a fertilized egg once it has become embedded in the uterine wall. What is left unclear to that couple, however, is that "the pill" may indeed function to terminate the life of a newly conceived child by preventing the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall where the "pregnancy" would otherwise begin.

For this reason, then, instead of inquiring as to whether or not a certain form of combined contraceptives and progestin-only contraceptives "can function to cause an abortion," the wise couple will seek to determine whether or not the combined contraceptive or progestin-only contraceptive functions to inhibit the growth of the endometrial lining. If so, it could then prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall and thereby cause the death of a newly conceived child. Other points of clarification that might prove helpful when discussing this issue with one's physician or OB/GYN are: (1) whether or not the method of birth control prevents fertilization of the egg 100 percent of the time; (2) whether or not there are any products on the market that have been proven by clear documentation to prevent fertilization of the egg 100 percent of the time; and (3) whether or not there are any forms of combined contraceptives or progestin-only contraceptives that do not change the endometrium (the lining of the uterine wall) so that it cannot sustain a fertilized egg that might otherwise implant and grow toward birth. To date, this author has not been able to substantiate an affirmative answer to any of these questions.

By way of conclusion, with regard to sterilization it is important to reiterate the need to take great care in avoiding dogmatism on matters that Scripture either does not prohibit or does not directly address. It is the principle of honoring "the temple of the Holy Spirit" that one must seriously consider before deciding whether or not to employ such a method. With regard to the use of "the pill," moral justification for its use is much more tenuous due to the simple fact that the principle of the sanctity of life directly applies. In both cases, however, it would seem that the consideration of scriptural principles ought to lead one away from employing sterilization of "the pill" with its many variations as a means of family planning.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Another reply to Lippard & Reppert

In a tacit admission that all his previous arguments fell flat, Victor Reppert had made the prudent, face-saving move of changing the subject. That’s the best way to extricate yourself from a losing argument—change the subject.

There are two basic ways to oppose waterboarding:

i) The de jure objection: waterboarding is immoral.

That was Reppert’s first move. Having failed on that front, his fallback is:

ii) The de facto objection: waterboarding is ineffective.

This would be a legitimate objection if it were true. The basic contention of the article he links to is that information which we extract by “torture” is unreliable since anyone will say anything under torture to make it stop. Therefore, we should use carrots instead of sticks.

But one of the problems with this objection is a lack of internal logic. If an informant will lie to avoid sticks, why wouldn’t he lie to get carrots? The only incentive he has to tell the truth if he’s well-treated is the threat that if he lies, he will get sticks rather than carrots. Shouldn’t a philosopher be asking the same questions? And I’ve mentioned other problems with this objection.

Incidentally, I’ve never argued that we *should* waterboard a terrorist. Rather, I’ve argued against those who say we *shouldn’t*.

I don’t have a professional opinion on whether it’s effective or not. I’m happy to leave that to the experts. My problem is with those who make categorical claims in opposition to waterboarding, and say that we should prosecute interrogators who use that technique.

Moving along:

5:55 PM , Victor Reppert said...

“Just one more point. This is supposed to be effective because it is so distressing to the victim that they will talk in order to put a stop to it?? That's why it's so effective. The infamous tough guy KSM could only put up with 2 1/2 minutes of it before he started singing like a canary? But it isn't torture??? And you're the guys who impeached Clinton for saying he didn't have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, on the grounds that Clinton was using a tortured conception of ‘sexual relations.’ And then you voted for Bush to restore honor and integrity to the Presidency of the United States. If you want to defend this as moral, call it what it is. It's torture.”

This paragraph is riddled with sophistries:

i) To say the denial that waterboarding is torture is comparable to the denial that oral sex is sex is an argument from analogy minus the analogy. Reppert is very fond of this alleged analogy, but he has yet to offer a supporting argument that his alleged analogy is, in fact, analogous. Is that too much to ask of a professional philosopher? Throughout this thread, Reppert has been long on assertion and short on argument. Lots of choice adjectives and tendentious assumptions in place of sound reasoning.

ii) He also doesn’t bother to define his terms. Why doesn’t he define “torture.” Aren’t philosophers supposed to define their terms? So why doesn’t he offer a philosophically stringent definition of “torture”? Perhaps because there is no philosophically stringent definition of “torture.” It’s a rubbery term that stretches and contracts depending on who is using it.

iii) I supported the impeachment of Clinton for the same reason I’d support the prosecution of Capone on tax evasion. We indicted Capone on tax evasion, not because that’s the worst thing he did, but because that’s what we could get him on, and it was a way of getting at him for the other, far worse things he did. Same thing with Clinton.

iv) I didn’t vote for Bush to restore honor and dignity to the US presidency. I voted for Bush because he was better than the two alternatives—Kerry and Gore.

v) This whole line of objection is a morally and intellectually frivolous exercise on Reppert’s part. He’s accusing supporters of waterboarding of hypocrisy. But even if the charge is true, that ad hominem attack is irrelevant to the merits of the case. Why does a trained philosopher resort to such a blatantly illogical argument?

At 9:44 PM , Victor Reppert said...

“What do you guys make of the claim that waterboarding isn't simulated drowning, it is drowning. If you stimulate my brain in such a way that I experience what I would experience if someone were to put me on the rack, would it be any less torture than if you put me on the rack?”

My, what a silly objection. What’s the difference between simulated drowning and real drowning? Hmm. Maybe the difference between simulated dying and really dying. I happen to think there’s a material difference between merely imagining that you’re dying, when you’re not, and actually dying. Does Reppert think there’s no philosophically significant difference between those two outcomes? If you had to choose between undergoing a real execution or a simulated execution, which one would you opt for? Hmm.

Clearly Reppert isn’t trying very hard.

“And what do you think torture is?”

Why do I have to come up with a comprehensive taxonomy of “torture” to evaluate the morality of waterboarding? Does Reppert have a comprehensive taxonomy of “torture”?

Why to I need to classify the practice to evaluate it? Why should I frame the issue in terms of “torture” in the first place?

Notice that Reppert makes no attempt to justify his operating assumptions. But isn’t that what a philosopher is suppose to do? Examine his presuppositions?


“Permitting these ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on declared unlawful enemy combatants means that they will be used against *suspected* terrorists. In practice, that appears to mean a less than fifty percent chance of being an actual terrorist, and a vanishingly small chance of being someone guilty of a crime for which a conviction can be obtained (just looking at Guantanamo Bay detainees ' record to date).”

i) There’s a winnowing process to determine who’s a high-value informant.

ii) You’re treating counterterrorism as an issue of criminal justice. That’s a category mistake.

“Perhaps you are comfortable having a government that gives power to its chief executive to unilaterally declare individuals to be unlawful enemy combatants to be held without trial or judicial oversight and subjected to these techniques. I don't.”

“No, the difference is that I’m equally distrustful of both the executive and the judiciary, whereas you distrust the executive while abiding childlike faith in the judiciary.

v) And what does this have to do with waterboarding or torture or coerced interrogation? Are you admitting that if a judge declared a detainee to be an illegal combatant, you would not be opposed, in principle, to waterboarding the detainee? Or is this just a diversionary tactic on your part.

“Regarding your Dawkins question, I believe in basic human rights, though I'm uncertain as to the best metaethical justification or explanation, but I think there are multiple good options available. Just pretend I'm an advocate of the ideal observer theory; at the level of the current argument it doesn't really matter unless we identify conflicting reasons which differ in their available metaethical support.”

No, you don’t get a free pass on secular ethics. You’re a very judgmental blogger. You need to be able to justify your moralistic pronouncements. You need to choose and defend a particular secular theory of values and show how that specifically underwrites your political positions.

“Steve: The 8th Amendment specifically protects *convicted* criminals, not just the accused.”

I see you ducked my question. You’re presuming that the 8th amendment was meant to cover a foreign terrorist.

To repeat my original question: “You seem to be assuming that the Framers of the Constitution and the states that ratified that document intended the Bill of Rights to protect a terrorist from the American people rather than protecting the American people from a terrorist. I’m waiting to hear your historical argument.”

I’m still waiting.

Why do you think we need the Geneva Conventions if the Bill of Rights had always applied to a foreign terrorist (assuming, for the sake of argument, that a terrorist is covered by the Geneva Conventions)?

Monday, November 12, 2007

"Re: Christians, Waterboarding, and Who is Joe Carter?" by Jeff Emanuel

The original post by Jeff Emanuel is available here.

Re: Christians, Waterboarding, and Who is Joe Carter?
By Jeff Emanuel

I've been informed by my higher-quality-TheoCon/SoCon contributorial brethren here that I should know who Joe Carter is; however, I don't. Regardless, though, his self-immolating call for Christendom to belatedly reject and condemn information-gathering practices used on murderers and terrorists, which are in place for the sole purpose of saving the lives of the innocent (those whom TheoCons like, I assume, Joe Carter would seek most to protect), belies either ignorance or an intellectual laziness, both of which have come to be hallmarks of the conservative population that so strongly disavows waterboarding and its kindred practices on the grounds that they are torture, and thus that carrying them out erodes America's moral fibre.

The problem here is the starting premise -- that "torture" is a word which still holds meaning, and that a practice like waterboarding, when executed by trained professionals who have learned how best (and most safely) to do so, falls under that word's meaning. Unfortunately, given the wide expanse of activities which are now described by the overused and no-longer-meaningful word "torture," there is no way to differentiate between an act like waterboarding, which causes no physical harm and no lasting trauma of any kind, and acts like eyeball removal and the strategic use of power drills on living subjects, which are carried out by groups like al Qaeda in Iraq and elsewhere. Without bothering to define terms -- and, therefore, beginning with the default premise that these actions are equal in scope and in moral deravity -- advocates like Carter are relying much more on "moral scare tactics" than on any type of intellectual, rational, or moral argument to sway the opinions of their followers or readers on the issue. Indeed, Carter's post on the subject reveals a person who clearly feels that the act of waterboarding is wrong, but has no intellectual basis for it being so

The fact that the word “torture” itself has been dumbed down so much that it is being used day in and day out to describe acts by the US which simply make those who would slaughter us slightly uncomfortable has, as Don Surber of The Belmont Club wrote in May (after an al Qaeda torture manual was discovered in Iraq), left us utterly impotent to describe the acts of al Qaeda and others, which until the word lost its meaning and power were known as torture themselves. Surber writes:
The problem with the word "torture" is that it has been so artfully corrupted by some commentators that we now find ourselves at a loss to describe the kinds of activities that the al-Qaeda interrogation manual graphically recommends. Now that the term "torture" has been put in one-to-one correspondence with such admittedly unpleasant activities as punching, sleep deprivation, a handkerchief pulled over one's face and loaded with water, searches by women upon sensitive Islamic men or the disrespectful handling of Korans – what on earth do we call gouging people's eyes out?
There are two answers to that question. The first is that we call that “torture,” as well, and equate such acts as gouging out a person’s eye, or drilling a hole in their arm with a power drill, with pouring water on a captured terrorist's face to encourage him to reveal the location of his comrades, or the details of a plot to kill innocent people.

These acts may, in isolation, be viewed by some as being morally equivalent; while (in my opinion) a strikingly naive position to take (and one which shows very little experience with the real world), detached individuals do have the right to take that view. However, when taken in its larger context -- as an act which causes no physical harm and no permanent mental anguish, and which is carried out for the sole purpose of preventing a car bomb, a suicide attack, or some other act against the life and well-being of innocent people -- the decision to equate a practice like waterboarding with real "torture" (as exemplified, if not defined, by the acts carried out by al Qaeda and its purely evil ilk) is one which is not only incorrect, but inexcusable.

One would think that the self-professed leaders of the fight to save the unborn would have at least some regard for innocent adult life, as well, and would give the moral hand-wringing a rest long enough to actually think about what they are arguing for.

In true liberal fashion (see “Silent Spring” for example, among others), is Mr. Carter content to allow innocents elsewhere (let alone at home) to die needlessly, as long as he can sleep at night knowing that, whatever may happen to others as a result of the decision not to engage in actual information-gathering, the U.S. is shortsightedly keeping its moral slate clean by refusing to allow anybody to do anything that he might, with no regard for context, feel the slightest bit of compunction about.

Having, and paying attention to, a moral compass is an extremely admirable attribute. However, in doing so, one must make certain that they have not paid so much attention to a single act or situation, irregardless of context, that, in their attempt to keep their short-term moral slate clean, they have, through their own lack of attention to the greater context around them, mortgaged the entirety of their soul.

People like Mr. Carter, in my opinion, need to think much harder about whether they are really so afraid of having mere water on their hands that they would willingly trade it for blood.

"The Truth about Torture"

The following is a repost of an article by John Jefferson Davis which was/is hosted at Joe Carter's Evangelical Outpost.

Our thanks to both gentlemen.

In a recent Weekly Standard article, "The Truth about Torture," Charles Krauthammer has questioned the coherence of the McCain amendment passed by the Senate by a vote of 90-9, ostensibly banning under all circumstances "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment of any prisoner, even under the most extreme circumstances of the global war on terrorism.

Those committed to a Christian ethic would, of course, instinctively react strongly against methods of interrogation that use severe force, pain, or coercion, and as such threaten to undermine the inherent dignity of the person created in the image of God; which could lead to "slippery slope" abuses in less extreme cases, and which could stain the national reputation and destroy the moral integrity of those who employ such means. From a deontological or principle-based ethical point of view, it could be rightly said that the ends, however good, do not justify the use of any and every means to achieve those goods; right ends must be achieved through righteous and justifiable means.

However, that having been said, Krauthammer poses a not-so-hypothetical case that brings the analysis from the realm of generalities to the very real world of the global war on terrorism: the "ticking time bomb" scenario. A terrorist plants a nuclear bomb in Manhattan; it is scheduled to explode in six hours; a million fatalities could result. Would it be justified to employ "aggressive methods" of interrogation involving substantial pain and coercion in order to secure information that could save millions of lives? Plausibly, it could--on a principled and not merely utilitarian basis--be argued that such a course of action would be a justifiable one for the legitimate authorities to undertake.

In the extreme circumstances of war, the biblical narrative indicates that some practices not licit in peacetime, e.g., deliberate deception of an enemy with deadly intent, may be permissible in such circumstances to safeguard innocent civilian lives (Joshua 2, the case of Rahab the harlot and the spies). Human life is sacred, made in the image of God, and the government authority has the moral obligation to protect the citizens from murder and violence from both domestic and foreign sources (Romans 13:3, 4). The terrorist in this scenario has already conspired to commit mass murder, a crime intrinsically "worthy of death" (Acts 25:11). By conspiring to commit a horrendous crime "worthy of death"--the ultimate penalty--the terrorist has forfeited the moral right to enjoy the normal immunities shielding the prisoner from pain and coercion. The state is ordained of God to "bring wrath on the wrongdoer" (Rom.13:4).

That being said, however, it would be crucial to surround the possible use of such measures--only under extraordinary and exceptional conditions--with strong procedural safeguards, including, but not necessarily limited to the following: 1) compelling evidence of the intent and ability to commit mass murder by a terrorist act; 2) a genuine threat of an irreversible and catastrophic harm involving the massive loss of innocent human lives; 3) the threat of imminent danger, i.e., a catastrophic event within hours or days; 4) exclusion of military and police personnel as agents, to safeguard morale and professional discipline; 5) use of such means only as last resort, not ordinary resort; 6) ordinarily, cabinet-level or other high-level political authorization; 7) strict standards of accountability and transparency through subsequent judicial and congressional review.

It might be said that "extreme cases require difficult choices," and so it can be in the murky and threatening world of the global war on terrorism. Governments need moral insights from religious communities that are neither utilitarian nor utopian. Krauthammer has injected a healthy note of realism into this crucial moral and foreign policy debate.

Dr. John Jefferson Davis is professor of systematic theology and Christian ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Note: Professor Davis is writing as an individual and does not necessarily represent the views of his employer or the Gordon-Conwell Theological faculty.

Printer-friendly version: Download essay in Word (


victor reppert said...

Some laws are unjust. But why suppose that this one is, since we seem to have successfully gone through WWII without torturing anybody. Why do we need interrogation techniques against Islamic terror suspects that we didn't need against Nazi Germany?

No one has told me why we need waterboarding now when we didn't need it in fighting the Nazis. Al-Qaida is really evil and the Nazis and Japanese weren't?

The problem with this contention is that it’s an argument from analogous minus the argument. Reppert is simply asserting that the circumstances are analogous. He has presented no supporting evidence to substantiate his contention.

My impression is that, during WWII, counterintelligence largely took the form of intercepting encrypted enemy communications.

During the Cold War, the emphasis shifted to counterespionage (i.e. spying and interrogation to acquire enemy intel).

To make good on his analogy, Reppert would have to show that we can obtain intel about Al-Qaida the way we were able to obtain intel about the Germans and Japanese.

Although there is an attempt to intercept electronic communications from Al-Qaida, Al-Qaida is also acutely aware of our electronic surveillance and, to my knowledge, tries to fly under the radar by using personal couriers instead of electronic communications. Of the face of it, the current situation is more analogous to the Cold War than it is to WWII.

Reply to Reppert on "torture"

“Steve: I didn't equate morality with legality. I said that if an action is a contravention of international law, then we need strong justification for doing it. It is conceivable, for example, that the right thing to do for me today is to hold up the Bank of America inside Fry's. But I'd need some very strong justification for doing so. You can't say that legality is irrelevant to morality.”

You’re conflating two distinct issues:

1.Does the fact that X is illegal create the presumption that X is immoral?

2.Is there a moral presumption that we have no right to break a law absent some overriding consideration?

I would answer (1) in the negative and (2) in the affirmative. The mere fact that something is illegal creates absolutely no presumption that it’s immoral.

On the other hand, it would be wrong, as a matter of course, for everyone to take the law into their own hands (vigilantism), although there are extenuating circumstances in which civil disobedience is permissible or even obligatory.

“And yes, the Romans tortured people. Paul wasn't saying that Christians should obey an order to torture.”

Then why did you cite Rom 13 as if that were an argument against the use of “torture”?

“What I am saying is that illegality is evidence of illegality that imposes a burden of proof on the lawbreaker to show that lawbreaking is moral.”

That may be correct. However, that imposes no burden of proof to the effect that the illegal practice is immoral, only that it would be immoral to commit an illegal practice. These are two different things. There have been many immoral laws in history.

Even if “torture” is illegal, that creates no presumption that torture is immoral. And if you’re going to cast this in purely legal terms, then laws can be repealed.

“Do you, or do you not, believe that illegality generates a presumption of immorality?”

For reasons just stated, illegality generates no presumption of immorality. At best, it only creates the presumption that it would be wrong to break the law—and not that the law, itself, is morally right.

“Or perhaps you don't think international law is real law, that the only ‘Caesar’ that counts is good ole American law.”

i) If the US is a signatory to an international law, then we are under that law as long as we remain a signatory to the law—although we also have the right to withdraw from treaties. If we signed it voluntarily, we can voluntarily withdraw from it.

ii) And there’s such a thing, Victor, as representative gov’t—as well as popular sovereignty. One reason that I, as an American citizen, am bound by the laws of my nation is that these laws were passed by my duly elected representatives.

It doesn’t follow that I’m also bound by the laws of Zimbabwe. Their legislative (or judicial) branch doesn’t represent the will of the American electorate. I didn’t vote for their lawmakers. They don’t speak for me.

“I don't agree with everything the allies did in WWII, especially the bombing of civilian populations.”

i) Which wasn’t the point of the illustration. You have argued that America’s reputation has been sullied by waterboarding. My point is that if you think waterboarding is immoral, then the Allies did far worse in WWII (I’m not saying for a fact that they did far worse, only comparing waterboarding with Allied tactics in WWII). How does waterboarding damage our prior reputation if we, as well as our Allies during WWII (not to mention the Cold War), have always used hard knuckle tactics in dealing with the enemy, whether Nazi fascism or Cold War communism? Seems to me the underlying policy has been pretty consistent over the decades.

ii) In addition, assuming that we didn’t use “torture” in WWII to win the war, we used other tactics like flamethrowers, carpet-bombing, and atom bombs. So you’re disregarding the alternatives which less to a successful prosecution of that particular war effort.

“But we didn't waterboard Nazis when we captured them. So even though we didn't live up to "just war" standards in WWII, we still didn't torture the Nazis or the Japanese.”

I cited evidence that the Allies did employ torture in WWII and beyond:,,1745489,00.html

You simply blew past that article. When you give a reason for your position, I cite counterevidence, and you disregard the counterevidence, what does that say about the integrity of your position?

Now, if you think the article is either erroneous or irrelevant, you can explain why. As it stands, it looks like you’re not prepared to revise your position in light of new evidence—even though I’m answering you on your own grounds.

“And we convicted someone of war crimes for waterboarding one of us.”

You’re also disregarding different reasons for “torture.” Is it used to deter political opponents, extract a confession, extract operational intelligence, or for purely sadistic entertainment? These are not morally equivalent positions.

It also depends on the purpose to which the counterintelligence is put. Is a country fighting a just cause? That is not a morally irrelevant question, either.

“MI5 does it, so it must be OK. Two wrongs don't make a right, you need at least three. Is this your argument? Some of us would call this lame.”

You know, Victor, a philosopher is supposed to exhibit the philosophical virtue of critical sympathy. That means that you should have the capacity to emotionally disengage from your own commitments and seriously examine both sides of the argument. But because you’re so committed to your position on this point, you make no effort to accurately represent the opposing position.

Once again, I’m answering you on your own grounds. You say that America’s reputation is suffering. This assumes a standard of comparison. In relation to whom?

You say the “world community”? If, however, America’s critics are guilty of the same thing, then they are in no position to be judgmental. To attack our reputation for doing what they do would be self-incriminating. That’s the point, Victor.

If the Brits use “torture,” if the French use “torture,” if the Chinese use “torture,” if the Arabs use “torture,” and so on and so forth, then why would the use of “torture” be damaging to our reputation? In order to attack someone else’s reputation, you can’t be guilty of the same thing. How many members of the UN honor the Geneva Conventions in actual practice?

Is that a justification for what we are doing? No. It was not intended to be a justification. I’m simply answering you on your own terms.

You are putting America on one side of the ledger, and the “world community” on the other side of the ledge, such that the “world community” supplies the standard of comparison. If, however, large segments of the “world community” do the same thing, or worse, then your invidious comparison falls apart.

For some reason, you find it difficult to be true to your own arguments. When I respond to you on your own level, you change the subject. That doesn’t speak well for the intellectual merits of your position.

“My focus was on waterboarding, because it seems to me to be a clear case of torture. You want to deny that it is torture?”

I’m not interested in how we classify waterboarding. If you want to call it torture, then torture is an overrated word.

“I didn't say all coercive interrogation tactics are torture, I said we had good reason to suppose that we do use tactics like waterboarding that fit within the legal definition of torture.”

I really don’t care. The important question is not whether waterboarding is illegal, but whether it should be illegal. Laws can be changed. And there are situations in which laws ought to be changed. The proper question is whether this is one of those situations—assuming, for the sake of argument, that waterboarding is illegal.

“Does everyone in the Arab world approve of torture, including moderate Arabs?”

To my knowledge, the people in power approve of torture, including the so-called “moderate” regimes. That’s why critics of the Bush administration scream about extraordinary rendition.

“If the Islamic people we are dealing with are total barbarians why in the world are we trying to help set up a democratic government in one of their countries, and spilling all sorts of blood on both sides in doing so?”

That’s a diversionary tactic, Victor. Whether waterboarding is a licit interrogatory technique, and whether it’s realistic to democratize the Mideast, are two separable questions.

“Does international law count for something? Does the fact that we signed off on the Geneva accords and promised to follow certain rules count for something?”

Several issues:

i) You’re assuming a particular interpretation of the Geneva accords. I cited evidence to the contrary—which, once again, you chose to ignore:

You have a bad habit of repeating objections I already addressed. This evinces a lack of philosophical earnestness on your part.

If you want to take issue with what I cited, that would be different. But when you give a reason for what you believe, your reason is challenged, and you ignore the counterargument, this brings your sincerity into question.

“Does international law count for something? Does the fact that we signed off on the Geneva accords and promised to follow certain rules count for something?”

Several issues:

i) Making allowance for certain caveats (see below) we are obliged to maintain our treaty commitments as long as we are signatories. We can also withdraw from a treaty at a later date.

ii) Treaties are not unconditional commitments. There are multiple parties to a treaty. If some signatories fail to uphold their end of the bargain, then they are in breach of contract—which can nullify our corresponding obligations. That’s the difference between a legal imperative and a moral imperative.

If don’t have to keep my promise to you if you break your promise to me, and I only made a promise to you on condition that you would keep your promise to me. If I promise to pay you $5000 for your used car, and you renege on the deal, then I don’t owe you $5000.

iv) One party doesn’t have the right to unilaterally redefine the terms of the treaty after the fact, without the consent of the other contacting parties. The fact that we voluntarily entered into this treaty decades ago, with an understanding of what it implied at the time we signed on, doesn’t mean that if the terms of the treaty are subsequently redefined, we are bound by these reinterpretations—for that is not what we originally agreed to.

v) International law is increasingly used to subvert national sovereignty in order to promote a radical social agenda.