Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Incoherent Room

How is it, I wonder, that asking for a mere investigation into the people who ordered torture (and lied about it) makes you a crazy person, but calling for the ouster of those who may have lied about being told about torture is perfectly rational and mainstream?

For that matter, why is it that Newt Gingrich is mainstream at all? I don't see John Edwards or Elliot Spitzer being called on as elder statesmen.


Anonymous said...

eliot spitzer is smart. he was set up

Cycle Cyril said...


It was Spitzer's hypocrisy that lead to his downfall.


It will be Pelosi's hypocrisy that will lead to her downfall.

Enhanced interrogation, or torture as you put it, works. Krauthammer has a recent article discussing the case of Nachshon Waxman who was "...kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. The Israelis captured the driver of the car. He was interrogated with methods so brutal that they violated Israel's existing 1987 interrogation guidelines, which themselves were revoked in 1999 by the Israeli Supreme Court as unconscionably harsh. The Israeli prime minister who ordered, as we now say, this enhanced interrogation explained without apology: "If we'd been so careful to follow the ('87) Landau Commission (guidelines), we would never have found out where Waxman was being held.""

Interrogation of any type is, to say the least, unpleasant. But unfortunately at times, hopefully rarely, it is necessary.

Pelosi in 2002 recognized this, now she doesn't. On the earlier occasion it may have a political decision but that decision coincided with the reality of who we are dealing with in this war against Islamofascism. Her current position is purely political, opportunistic (not unlike most if not all politicians) and most of all hyocritical. But it is her attempts to lie instead of simply saying I changed my mind that should bring her down.

On a side note, Panetta is a political hack put into the DCI seat by Obama to protect him from the CIA (remember that the CIA released documents that undermined GWB). Is Panetta merely standing up for the CIA to maintain its morale and standing with the Public (and to attack those that attack it ala J. Edger) or is he on a mission from Obama to undermine Pelosi?

David Schraub said...

"Enhanced interrogation, or torture as you put it, works."

So does terrorism. It's still wrong.

And the Krauthammer example, which moves from "ticking time bomb! All of NYC will be destroyed" to "we want to find one guy, so torture away" shows how easily this whole thing can slip beyond our grasp.

There is nothing in your analysis which tells us why, instead of torturing the driver, we couldn't instead ("if we had to") grab the driver's 8 year old son and broadcast us sodomizing him with a spiked bat, live on tv, to convince dear old dad to come out of hiding and tell us where the dude.

You start turning this hard to "the ends justify the means", and you become a monster. Indeed, you've become one already -- just an American version of the Islamic extremists you hate so much.

Steve Dillard said...

"So does terrorism. It's still wrong."

Well said, David. On this issue, we are in agreement.

Rebecca said...

As I recall, Nachshon Waxman did not survive his kidnapping, so I don't know how one could call the torture of the driver "successful" in any meaningful sense.

Cycle Cyril said...

I must say that I'm disappointed with you David with your ad hominem attack on me.

Instead of sticking to morality issues or usefulness of enhanced interrogations you first avoid the issue by creating a straw man of "...grab the driver's 8 year old son..." and then calling me a monster.

Since you called me a monster I will reinforce that perception by telling you that if my wife or one of my children was abducted by anyone and I was able to "interrogate" an accomplice I would not hesitate one moment to do whatever was necessary to obtain information. Would you do the same for Jill?

Yes this is all hypothetical but if a true monster has taken a loved one and in a sense "set the rules of the fight" (much like you don't bring a knife to a gun fight) then I will do all that is in my power to rescue my loved one.

My goal is not anarchy, terrorism or interrogation or even torture. My goal is a restoration of a life affirming society and I would use almost any means, temporarily, to achieve it.

And I would approve of the American government doing likewise to protect the American People.

As for terrorism "working", it only works if you have no will to stand by your beliefs. It has not worked in America yet though it has worked in Europe.

David Schraub said...

I have no idea what the ad hominem is. Normally saying "you support torture" would be it, but that's your actual position. I suppose its "you provide no way to distinguish torturing innocents", but that's the logical upshot of your "if it works" criteria.

If someone abducted Jill, would I support torturing an accomplice (or an innocent -- your framework doesn't give grounds for distinguishing) to get the information? No, I think not. I also wouldn't support sending a suicide bomber to their home or counter-kidnapping their own loved ones.

The whole point of ethics is that one doesn't do "whatever it takes", when it takes monstrous acts. To quote the Israeli Supreme Court on a torture case: "Although a democracy must often fight with one hand tied behind its back, it nonetheless has the upper hand."

PG said...

Uh, torturing a terrorist accomplice's son -- specifically, by crushing a child's testicles -- isn't a strawman. It was deemed legally permissible by John Yoo.As for the usefulness of torture, that isn't the real question. The question is, "Will torture work in situations where nothing else will?" If you start your interrogation with torture, you'll never know.

David Schraub said...

Also, let's clarify what an ad hominem actually, you know, is. It isn't "saying something mean about a person". It's using an allegation of a character defect as a warrant for disregarding their argument. So, if I said "Cyril is a monster, hence, we shouldn't listen to him about torture", that's an ad hom. But saying "Cyril supports torture, (only monsters support torture), hence, he is a monster" is not, since the personal attack is the conclusion, not the warrant.

Cycle Cyril said...

The fault with your logic is your assumption that "only monsters support torture". We are discussing whether interrogations using waterboarding are appropriate (and under which circumstances). To make an a priori determination that anyone advocating such techniques is a monster you are making an ad hominem attack.

Rabin authorized the interrogation/torture of the driver in the Waxman case. I would be proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Rabin and have you call both of us monsters.

With regards to your approach to the hypothetical abduction of Jill I am reminded of the Robert Frost quote "A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel" which I will paraphrase as "A liberal is a man too 'moral' to protect his loved ones in a fight."

Regardless of what Yoo said in a debate (was it actually written in his legal determinations?) I have not advocated any harm to third parties. Nor have I advocated starting off with "torture".

David Schraub said...

Okay, let's just drop the fact that you don't understand the technical definition of an ad hominem, even when it's spelled out to you. Friendly advice: Latin only makes you sound smart if you know what it means.

What we're debating is whether a just end can be pursued by any means necessary -- torture (of primary actors? Accomplices? Sympathizers? Witnesses? Relatives?), terrorism, suicide bombing, kidnapping, whatever the paradigmatic bad act of the day is. I suppose there is a sub-debate over just how great an end it takes to justify something like torture (is it "NYC is about to explode" or just "someone has been kidnapped"? Could we torture Bernie Madoff to get access to his hypothetical Swiss bank account?). But the broad point is that you're making a very pure-form teleological argument, and being honest about that means accepting that it sanctions waterboarding innocent children if the ends require it as it does waterboarding accomplices.

My argument is that, outside dorm room bull session hypotheticals about the destruction of a major city, torture is not justified in the pursuit of good ends, and that even in that highly unlikely 24 case, we should still make it illegal and count on jury nullification, prosecutorial discretion, or pardon power, rather than legalization (this, incidentally, is very close to the Israeli legal position, see Public Committee Against Torture v. State of Israel, H.C. 5100/94 (Isr. Sup. Ct. 1999)). If you have the confidence that torture is right in your case, then you should have the courage to hold yourself accountable before the rule of law.

PG said...

Yoo was being questioned about the fullest implications of the legal theories he advanced in his OLC memos. Crushing a boy's testicles was not a specified technique in those memos (presumably because the CIA hadn't requested to do that), but was wholly within the legal limits he saw the executive branch as being under. In other words, if we haven't done any boy's-testicle-crushing, it's because the agents on the ground didn't want to do it, not because Bush's lawyers saw any legal reason for them not to do it such as our own domestic laws forbidding torture.

Moreover, you're simply pulling out the same question that was used on Dukakis in the 1988 presidential debates: should your emotions dictate government policy? I'd cheerily draw and quarter the specific bastard who rapes one of my sisters, but I do not think that rape of an adult woman should be a capital crime. Part of growing up is being able to distinguish between your individual passions and what is best for the larger community. (Small children generally believe that what they want at any given moment should be the rule right then, and must be educated to understand that rules must have general applicability and utility.) That I am willing to make others suffer in order to protect my own, or gain vengeance for them, doesn't make it good public policy.

Perhaps this is one of those differences between liberals and conservatives: conservatives think government should express their passions, while liberals think government should rise above them.