Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Reppert, Cheney, & Nixon

Cheney says he was a big supporter of waterboarding

"When the President Does it, That Means That it is Not Illegal" - Richard Milhous Nixon.

Labels: torture

posted by Victor Reppert @ 1:50 PM

At February 19, 2010 4:51 PM , steve said...

So what's you're point? That whatever is legal is smart and moral whereas whatever is illegal is dumb and immoral?

What side were you on during the civil rights movement or the anti-war movement in the 60s?

Were you a member of the John Birch Society?

At February 23, 2010 8:20 AM , steve said...

Victor Reppert said...

“Actually, in the 60s I was pretty much a Goldwater Republican.”

So it’s been downhill from there.

“The sixties ended when I was a high school junior, and I didn't lose my faith in Republicans until the aftermath of Watergate. ”

Don’t you think that’s rather immature? You can only lose your faith in a political party if you put your faith in a political party to begin with. But why harbor such an idealistic, and easily disillusioned, view of the political process? A party is just a pragmatic alliance of the individuals who share enough in common to band together in the furtherance of their political agenda.

Both parties have their share of scandals since both parties support flawed candidates.

“The Bush Administration reminds me a lot of the Nixon Administration. Both administrations thought that our country was under threat, that it had to do what it had to do to protect America, even if it involved violating the law.”

I don’t recall that national security was Nixon’s incentive. As I recall, he was paranoid about the possibility of losing reelection to McGovern.

And keep in mind that Nixon wasn’t all that hawkish. He and Kissinger were into détente, remember?

“In fact Cheney is on record as saying that Nixon should not have been removed from office, since he was only doing what he had the right to do for the sake of national security.”

Care to provide the source and the quote?

“The only difference between Nixon and Bush-Cheney is that Tricky Dick taped himself. So now, instead of an 18 1/2 minute gap, we have millions of missing e-mails.”

Well, if I thought that I’d be prosecuted by a collaborator like Eric Holder for the “crime” of trying to protect my fellow citizens from the jihadis, then I’d be motivated to cover my tracks as well.

“It could, I suppose, turn out that the break-ins under Nixon, and the waterboarding under Bush-Cheney, were necessary to protect our country from some catastrophe.”

Of course, that’s a sloppy comparison from a sloppy philosopher.

“…and therefore have a utilitarian justification despite being violations of national and international law.”

Since I’m not a lawyer, much less a lawyer in the relevant branches of law, I, unlike you, won’t presume of venture an opinion on the legality (or not) of their actions.

However, I’d note in passing that you’re a fanatic about the “rule of law.” You act as if the law is an end in itself rather than a means to an end. A serious philosopher wouldn’t begin by asking whether or not the law was broken. Rather, a serious philosopher would begin by asking whether or not the preexisting laws were adequate to the task.

Are you such a rule-bound individual that you never question the rules? Do you think manmade rules ought to be followed regardless how stupid or counterproductive they might be? Regardless of whether they may have outlived their usefulness–assuming they ever had any?

Should we be trapped by the rules we make? Do we exist for the sake of the rules, or do the rules exist for our sake?

Aren’t those the questions a real philosopher out to ask?

“I think we have good grounds for skepticism in both cases. I think that both administrations answered the seductive call of the arrogance of power.”

Not to mention my scepticism about a smug, thankless philosophy prof. who has no answers to real-world problems, but is sure we should go after those who dared to protect us from our sworn enemies–rather than going after our sworn enemies.


  1. The Nixon administration was involved in break-ins and various other illegal activities long before Watergate. That is why they couldn't just let the perpetrators hang. They feared Left within the United States, and they feared losing control of the White House because they thought a more dovish President might endanger the country. The Watergate coverup was, as I recall, more designed to protect the Ellsberg break-in from coming out than it was to cover up the involvement of higher-ups in the Watergate break-in itself.

    The point I have been making is that you don't break international and American law to do something unless you have good reason to believe that that's the only way to protect the country from serious disaster. So if you were going to waterboard a terror suspect, you would have to know in advance that there was an active terror plot that the suspect knew about, that you couldn't get the information about it out of him any other way, but you could get that information out of him by waterboarding him. If you got to that point, then I suppose you would have the classic deontologist vs. consequentialist dilemma. To waterboard someone without justification of that degree would, in my view be wrong.

    Here I think it is easy to commit what I call the toughness fallacy.
    We know that these jihadists mean us nothing but harm, so the most effective response to them is the toughest response. Let's waterboard them and get them to tell us what they know. (After all, they're Muslims, and so they've probably been reprobated anyway. Whatever we do to them is nothing compared to what God has in store for them in eternal hell, so why not give them a little foretaste of the future?). Unfortunately, even though that's the tough think to do, I think it's not the smartest thing to do. Experts on interrogation have argued that while you may get someone to talk this way, you are likely not to get accurate information in so doing. Where is the hard evidence that we stopped any terror attacks this way? Special ops may like doing this, because it gets results on their end, but it might do no good or worse than no good where the terror activity is actually going on.

    It's a little like the just war theory. When you use means that are ordinarily immoral to achieve a moral goal, it has to be the case that the means-end relationship is going to work. Otherwise, you were breaking all sorts of moral rules, not to mention international law, for nothing.

    No I'm probably enough of a deontologist that I wouldn't support waterboarding even if it would do more good than harm overall.

    Again, I am not saying "never do anything illegal" because of a blind commitment to the rule of law. What I am saying is that the evidence suggests that we didn't have adequate reason for taking the moral risk involved in waterboarding. Assuming that we are going to be enough of a teleologist in ethics to say that the end, in this case, might justify the means, we have to be sure that we could achieve the end by using the means, and we couldn't achieve the end without using the means.

    In the case of the "underwear bomber" people were saying it was too bad we couldn't waterboard him. But the fact is he was singing like a canary without such coercive interrogation techniques.

    Do people understand that we brutalize ourselves when we allow ourselves to torture others, not matter what the reasons?

    I believe in the rule of law, but I think if there is enough evidence that breaking the law will do enormous good, then a case might be made for breaking it.

    We have nowhere near the necessary evidence in the waterboarding cases.

    "You won't find anyone can do a job like mine well unless they get some kick out of it," said the Fairy [Hardcastle] sulkily.- From C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength

  2. "We know that these jihadists mean us nothing but harm, so the most effective response to them is the toughest response. Let's waterboard them and get them to tell us what they know."

    If you don't like this, then I have an alternative. We can kill these murders, how's that instead of waterboarding them.

    I remember on '24' last year the US Mrs. President said to the terrorists, Jon Voight, "I will not torture you, I'm against torture. But I will see to it that you are executed."

    What is that weird mind-set? Am I missing something?

    If you can explain it I'd appreciate it.

    "instead of an 18 1/2 minute gap, we have millions of missing e-mails.”" Is this true as well?
    Sounds a bit hyper to me.

  3. As one truly interested, VR, how do you know millions of emails are missing? Is there a record of emails up to a point, then a huge gap, then another record of emails and the 'millions' is an extrapolation of quantity over time. the 18 1/2 gap was easily measured right.

  4. Cruel and unusual punishment, in America, includes torture but does not include execution. Is there something weird about that? (Although death penalty critics do claim that capital punishment is cruel an unusual. Do you want to advocate that position?)

  5. The missing e-mails from the Bush White House were found.

  6. And you don't find it unusual that CREW is funded by the Democracy Alliance (itself a liberal progressive organization) and that Rob McKay of the McKay Foundation and Anna Burger of SEIU are the elected chair and vice chair of the board of directors? So one thing is sure, this is not an objective, non-partisan group spearheading this.

  7. Victor, Scalia states that torture in intelligence gathering isn't punishment per say, therefore the Constitution is silent on the issue. As a textualist, he would go on to say that when the Amendments were adopted, capital punishment was not thought of as cruel and unusual, and as such, capital punishment cannot be thought of as unconstitutional today.

    I'm not endorsing torture, just making an observation from the textualist/originalism jurisprudence.

  8. "Cruel and unusual punishment, in America, includes torture but does not include execution."

    So water-boarding is cruel, and hanging someone from the gallows, frying a man in the electric chair, or suffocating someone in the gas chamber isn't?

    I disagree.

  9. Don,

    The guiding principle seems to be that it's ethical to bomb a suspected terrorist, but unethical to pressure a known terrorist. How's that for moral clarity! :-)

  10. Moral clarity.

    Made me think.

    The USA allows people to kill babies in the womb.
    But, they won't kill murders and terrorists.

    I thought we should kill terrorists, and not babies.

    Sorry for the side path.

  11. Don said:
    The USA allows people to kill babies in the womb.
    But, they won't kill murders and terrorists.


    Sorry for the side path.

    It's not much of a side path given Reppert's views on those issues...