Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I don't support torture.



makita said...

That's what I'll be thinking of the entire day now. How am I supposed to get work done. Shivers up my spine.

Anonymous said...

Wow--how radical, countercultural, telling truth to power, man.

Now, show the beheading of Nick Berg, or Daniel Pearl.

Show what happens to adulterers in Iran.

Show the videos of the little kids who want to grow up to become jihadis.

Better yet, show the bodies of the kids dead in the pizza parlors after being blown up by the jihadis.

Now, that's real shivers, don't you think?

The Factician said...

Hi Anonymous,

I don't support beheading. I don't support the execution of adulterers. I don't support training children to be jihadis.

But my taxes don't pay for those things. My taxes pay for the actions of the American government. Is it possible to demand good behavior from my government AND be opposed to beheadings? Or are these things mutually exclusive?

I think it is possible to beat terrorists *and* be ethical. Do you? Or do you think that the only way to beat terrorists is to adopt techniques nearly as bad as theirs? In World War II, we tried people who tortured prisoners, and sent them to prison. Was it just that World War II was an easier war, that we didn't need to torture?

How many *bad* men is it okay to partially drown? How many *innocent* men is it okay to partially drown? Would it be okay to partially drown anyone in your family in the interests of national security? If not, why not?

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you don't support beheadings, etc. I really didn't think you did.

I am uncomfortable with the idea that my government may engage in waterboarding. It would not be a proud moment in our history were that to become standard operating procedure--I don't think we are, and I doubt that you or anyone has proof that it is so.

I am just puzzled by the amount of indignation that people express over waterboarding, or the conditions at Abu Ghraib, or Gitmo. Disturbing? You bet. Disgusting? Probably, yeah. Equivalent in any way to the daily practices of Al Qaeda or Hamas? Not by a long shot.

I feel that if you are that upset about waterboarding, you should be even more disgusted with the beheadings. Maybe you have mentioned this on your blog before--forgive me if I missed it. If you haven't expressed in equal terms your moral outrage at the jihadists, why not?

And one more thing: if it truly meant saving innocent lives, and there was no other way to get the info you needed to do so, right then, would you waterboard someone, or let people die?

To be fair and answer your questions:
I don't necessarily have a problem partially drowning "bad" men.
It is never okay to partially drown "innocent" men.
I would hate to think that someone in my family would engage in vile, murderous acts against this country.

The Factician said...

I don't think we are, and I doubt that you or anyone has proof that it is so.

You might try here for proof. George Bush himself has admitted as much.

It is never okay to partially drown "innocent" men.

See, that's the problem I have with waterboarding. If we torture people, eventually we're going to screw up and torture the wrong guy. That's why we try people in a court of law. To reduce the number of screwups. If we let a bunch of CIA agents decide who to torture, they're eventually (often?) going to screwup and torture some poor ass who just was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If we torture innocents, that makes *us* the bad guy. And I just can't stand that.

Anonymous said...

First, let me say that I appreciate your congeniality, even though we may have some fundamental differences of opinion. This is a refreshing change of pace from other blogs (like BadAstronomy), where political discussions turn quickly vitriolic. So forgive my snarkiness in my first post--I kind of came out expecting a different reaction.

To clarify a little of what I said, I do not doubt that waterboarding was (is?) being used in interrogating some of our detainees. I just don't think that it is our standard, daily method of obtaining information.

I don't like the idea of waterboarding, either; it makes me extremely uncomfortable that we are using it. But consider this--during the Revolutionary War, the British considered our use of "guerilla" tactics to be ungentlemanly; how dastardly they thought it was for colonists to perch behind trees and rocks and shoot at the Redcoats, rather than marching in formation into battle. Obviously, ideas about war and the conduct of battle have changed dramatically since then. I would hate to think that we would not employ a tactic like waterboarding in EXTREME situations because we felt that it was ungentlemanly or impolite.

Please--before you flame me, I realize that the analogy is imperfect (aren't they all?), and I do not want to condone torture--I don't want us to the "bad" guys either. But it is damn hard to play the game when only one side wants to follow the rules, you know?

Maybe it is possible to beat terrorists and remain ethical--I don't know. I certainly don't want to beat the terrorists only to end up no different from them. But if we are going to talk ethics here: would you use waterboarding on your guy if you needed to get the location of the dirty bomb and you knew he had that info, and you could save countless lives? What would be the ethics in that situation? I might be inclined to sacrifice my ethics in that particular situation; or is it ethical to save those innocent lives?

Troubling questions for sure. Maybe we're not so far apart.

The Factician said...

I might be inclined to sacrifice my ethics in that particular situation

And maybe you'd be ethically right to do so. But you should still go to prison for torture. It can't be okay to torture. I would say that in that situation, you would be sacrificing yourself for the innocents. It can't be okay to torture, because if it is, people will be more and more inclined to use it. In that situation, I don't know what I would do. The fact of the matter is, you would never know for sure if you were in the 'ticking time bomb' scenario or not, until the bomb went off. So by making it okay to waterboard, you free up government people to say "Well, I think we're in a ticking time bomb scenario, so let's waterboard this guy". It can't be okay to do that, because then every day we'll say that this is another ticking time bomb, and we have to waterboard this guy to be sure that it's not. And every day it becomes easier and easier to choose to waterboard someone.

The second part of the problem with allowing torture is that one way to win the war against extremism is to be the good guys. During the Cold War, many defectors who came to the U.S. said they did so because they thought the U.S. to be the good guys. That's part of the PR war. But things like Abu Ghraib and waterboarding make us lose the PR war. And quite frankly, I think the PR war is more important than any one scenario. We want people to turn in terrorists. We want them to be sympathetic to us, and think that terrorists are evil men with bad goals. But if we make ourselves morally equivalent to them, then we lose.

Anonymous said...

Again, I think we are a lot closer than I thought. I'm sure waterboarding and Abu Ghraib don't win us any points in the arena of world opinion, and certainly not in the Middle East.

But is the PR war what we need to be worrying about? Do you really think that if we behaved completely in a moral or ethical fashion it would make one bit of difference in Damascus, or Tehran? I hope that we do not begin to conduct our foreign policy according to whether or not our enemies (or our "friends") will approve of our actions. There is a mindset prevalent in the world today (even among our "friends") that believes that terrorism against the West is understandable, and perhaps even justified (does the phrase "chickens coming home to roost" ring a bell?). I'm not sure that people like that will ever think that terrorists are "evil men with bad goals." Doesn't make waterboarding right, but trying to court world opinion isn't going to help win the war on terror.

My original question was about the level of outrage expressed viewing a waterboarding ad by Amensty International, and the muted response that people seem to have in regards to the actions of the jihadis. There just doesn't seem to be an equivalent expression of disgust, whether or not your tax dollars are at work or not.

The Factician said...

If we torture people, yes, that will have an effect in Damascus, just as it will have an effect in Paris and London. We lose allies by torturing people. If we come down and say we refuse to torture people, will that stop terrorists entirely? No. Of course not, but we have to be the good guys. If not, why are we fighting? Simply to be on top? I have a hard time supporting a war that we're fighting simply to be the ones in power. If it's my waterboarders vs their beheaders, I guess I choose our waterboarders, but what the hell kind of choice is that?

As far as expressing outrage, I don't think I need to be expressing outrage at beheadings to be allowed to express outrage at waterboarding. That's an "us vs them" mentality. Bad behavior is bad behavior. And I have zero control over what a Saudi terrorist is going to do. But I can exert some control over how we respond to that.

I personally don't want to live in a society where we defeat 'them' by being as bad as 'them'. I want to live in a society where we beat 'them' by being better than 'them'. That's how you truly win.

Anonymous said...

I can only agree--we are nothing if we stoop to their level. I don't think that waterboarding is as "bad" as the things I have seen; yes it's bad and degrading and lowers our "vibe," so to speak. Let's by all means figure out a way to win without resorting to these tactics. But let's not ever think that whatever happened at Abu Ghraib for example is equivalent to what happened to Daniel Pearl. There should be a lot more shivers at that than at some ad.