Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A depressing quote

In a Wall Street Journal piece about John Yoo's missing emails on the subjects like waterboarding, we find this rather depressing quote:

The panel's ranking Republican, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, said continuing controversy over interrogation and detention practices was being stoked by those opposed to military action in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Every time you're in a conflict, the antiwar groups always find something to complain about," he said.

Talk about painting with a broad brush.

Quite a lot of us who oppose torture are not in any sense of the word "antiwar." For instance, I'm against unjust wars, in favor of just ones, and inclined to listen to many different people as I determine which are which. I'm not automatically in favor of any war my country decides to get involved in; history alone ought to show us that's not a safe "default" position for a sincere Christian to take, as not all American involvement in war has been just.

What's really depressing, to me, is Sen. Sessions' idea that torture is just "something to complain about," something that's not really worth discussing unless you really are one of those antiwar zealots carrying protests signs and tattooing the peace symbol on your forehead, or something. America went almost overnight from being a nation too honorable ever to consider torture, to being a nation where having the gumption to support "enhanced interrogation" was somehow a test of one's red-blooded patriotic American bona fides; the question "Ought we do any such thing?" was brushed aside in favor of a rhetorical plastic bracelet which reads WWJBD--or "What would Jack Bauer Do?"

I've never been antiwar, I've never voted for a Democrat, I've voted for Republicans for president except when they ran Bob Dole (and I voted for an independent that year)--but somehow my objection to making our troops inflict the pains of drowning on prisoners to get them to talk makes me, in Senator Sessions' way of thinking, a hippie peacenik who just wants to stoke controversy to mask opposition to war. Because it couldn't be that there's actually anything wrong with torture, now, could it?

29 comments:

  1. "Quite a lot of us who oppose torture are not in any sense of the word "antiwar.""

    Yes, unfortunately so.

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  2. Why "unfortunately," LTG?

    If an unjust aggressor is laying waste to one's country, I think war ought to remain an option.

    I don't, however, think it should be entered into lightly or without serious consideration as to whether the costs are even remotely justified.

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  3. "America went almost overnight from being a nation to honorable ever to consider torture, to being a nation where having the gumption to support "enhanced interrogation" was somehow a test of one's red-blooded patriotic American bona fides"

    yea, real honorable before the Iraq war, just nevermind those 40 million dead unborn babies...

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  4. Jasper, I'm speaking of our military here, and its concept of honor. Our nation has been a slut since the sexual revolution, if you want to put it that way. :)

    But we did expect our military members to conduct themselves honorably when it came to war and the trappings of war. This doesn't mean that our soldiers weren't sometimes involved in horrific levels of misconduct--but if they were, those things weren't legal, and weren't being done with the knowledge and under the orders of superiors all the way up the chain of command.

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  5. Red Cardigan : "If an unjust aggressor is laying waste to one's country , I think war ought to remain an option."

    Not an option, but a duty. But that is not what is occurring. Nor is it what did occur.

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  6. Part of the reason certain kinds of people have despised the military so vehemently is precisely because it has been a cultural "hold out" of sorts. I have always thought that there was a genuine honor underlying the cultural and moral defilade: that the sort of man who will fight and die for his country in a volunteer army is just by nature, by self-selection, more honorable than the average guy on the street.

    I still think there is an element of truth to that. But the berms are crumbling rapidly now, and our position is being overrun.

    As to certain particulars, I am on record as believing that jus ad bellum was definitely satisfied in the case of Afghanistan and definitely not satisfied in the case of Iraq II. (This tends to limit the cliques I am invited to join at cocktail parties). Torture is kind of like gay "marriage": it seems to me to be situated toward the end of the road to Gomorrah, or at least well along that road, rather than at its beginning.

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  7. zippy writes : "I am on record as believing that jus ad bellum was definitely satisfied in the case of Afghanistan"

    Do you consider it currently satisfied? Or do you consider the response to have become disproportionate?

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  8. Do you consider it currently satisfied? Or do you consider the response to have become disproportionate?

    Jus in bello is a much more complicated issue. The answer is that I really don't know, on the one hand - I doubt that public information is available to enough of an extent for me to know, that is, to sit in the cat bird seat and say just exactly what I would do from here. On the other hand, there is close to zero doubt that I would object to some particular actions in the war including high level strategy, exit strategy, our self-understanding of what we are trying to accomplish, etc.

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  9. Just for the record, I agree completely with Zippy re: present conflicts--Afghanistan, justified, Iraq II, not. The question as to whether Afghanistan remains a just conflict is a good one, though again I agree with Zippy that we lack sufficient information to say definitively.

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  10. When it comes to the enhanced interrogation mongers its rather apparent that what they advocate is disproportionate. We don’t have to know all the details. We can ball park it close enough. Likewise I think we can ball park it close enough that the US did go past what is reasonably proportionate. Of course some think that attacking a country and holding it hostage while rebuilding it in ones own image is a proportionate response to having a couple of buildings bombed.

    But what of those who have equal grievance?

    What should have been a proportionate retaliatory response from Sudan for the bombing of the aspirin factory in Khartoum?

    Should Sudan have invaded the US and rebuilt it into its own image?

    Or what should have been the proportionate retaliatory response from Afghanistan for the US missile strike on the same day?

    Or what should have been the proportionate retaliatory response from Pakistan for the US missile strike also on the same day?

    Or What of Iraq? Should Iraq invade the US and rebuild it into its own image?

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  11. When it comes to the enhanced interrogation mongers its rather apparent that what they advocate is disproportionate.

    Torture isn't just disproportionate, which is what would apply if torturing were merely a legitimate prudential judgment taken too far. Torture is intrinsically immoral.

    Likewise I think we can ball park it close enough that the US did go past what is reasonably proportionate.

    As I understand it, there are two separate elements to evaluating whether or not an act is proportionate.

    First, is the action effective at eliminating the threat without doing more damage than is necessary to eliminate the threat? Whether or not the threat has been eliminated is pretty murky at this point, so I can't call it as disproportionate on that criteria.

    Second, are the evils to be eliminated greater than the evils created by acting? I think you may have a stronger case here, though I'm reluctant to weigh in with a strong opinion of my own because I just haven't studied the Afghan war very closely. (That isn't intended to cast doubt on any particular position: it is just an expression of my own ignorance).

    Mind you, my own strategic orientation is toward finding and killing the aggressors and then getting out. But I can't rule out the possibility that long-term garrisons are necessary.

    And again, were I to look closely I am sure I could find lots of things I would object to.

    But what of those who have equal grievance?

    Even if we stipulate all that there is still no way any of those could pass muster with the just war doctrine, precisely because a fleshed-out proportionality requires a reasonable chance of success, etc. So in my view you don't have an argument there.

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  12. "because a fleshed-out proportionality requires a reasonable chance of success, etc. So in my view you don't have an argument there."

    A proportionate response would be equal to the aggression. The intent would not be to win a war, but to influence behavior of the aggressor. Thus the proportionate response would be blowing up the pentagon, or some federal buildings, objectives which there is a likelyhood of success both in the carrying out as well as in the influencing of the the aggressor.

    Iraq, is a different matter.

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  13. A proportionate response would be equal to the aggression.

    That isn't what "proportionate" means, at least without clarification. Proportionate means - in general - effective at achieving the intended end without going too far, and not producing evils worse than the evil which is prevented or redressed.

    Thus the proportionate response would be blowing up the pentagon, or some federal buildings, objectives which there is a likelyhood of success both in the carrying out as well as in the influencing of the the aggressor.

    What a hoot! I assume this is a joke, since that would be just about the single most effective way to put empire building neocons back unequivocally in charge of the war machine.

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  14. "Just for the record, I agree completely with Zippy re: present conflicts--Afghanistan, justified, Iraq II, not."

    Tell that to the 50,000 kurds that were gassed. Sadaam Hussian already used WMD, did you want to give him another chance?

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  15. zippy writes : "that would be just about the single most effective way to put empire building neocons back unequivocally in charge of the war machine."

    You give far too much credit to the neocons. The US has been at this rather longer. And I'm sure you can use your imagination to work out what would cause the desired influence while still remaining legitimate targets.

    Wars ,like interrogation, are rather messy affairs where its easy to play the agnostic while in turn defending the indefensible.

    Which is the part I find most interesting, why defend it? Why the protestations of association with those "antiwar zealots carrying protests signs and tattooing the peace symbol on your forehead, or something"? Who is your enemy?

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  16. Which is the part I find most interesting, why defend it?

    Why defend what? That jus ad bellum was satisfied in the case of Afghanistan?

    For the same reason I defend any proposition: because I think it is true.

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  17. @love the girls -

    I don't think anyone's protesting association with antiwar zealots as such, any more than we'd protest association with lawyers or veterinarians.

    That is, what we're protesting is the use of a straw-man and of guilt-by-association to dismiss our argument against maintaining a policy of torture.

    A Catholic is free to be pacifist or not, but is not free to consider torture a legitimate option. 'Nuff said.

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  18. Robert writes :"antiwar zealots" "guilt-by-association"

    Zealot of what? Guilt of what? Interesting use of language.
    _________________

    "A Catholic is free to be pacifist or not"

    Pacifist???

    And those who find US world hegemony to be less than desirable are what? isolationists?

    And those who find American exceptionalism to be less than desirable are what? Un-american?

    ++++++++++++

    Robert writes : "but is not free to consider torture a legitimate option. 'Nuff said."

    Then I suggest that you not torture anyone. But as for other issues, they also are often not a legitimate option, and referring to torture as if that is the issue of contention, will not change those other obligations no matter how often one wants to blind oneself.

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  19. @love the girls -

    Huh? What are you trying to say?

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  20. Robert writes : "Huh? What are you trying to say?"

    Who are the terrorists?
    http://counterpunch.com/lindorff03042010.html

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  21. ltg:

    1) If I had reason to believe the perfect veracity of stories and web sites like that one, I almost certainly would be talking about it. Since it is on the Internet, it must be true. Especially when it is written by paleoconservatives/paleolibertatians, since there is no penchant for hyperbole or polemic there. Nothing to see, move along.

    2) The absolute prohibition on killing innocents in wartime is a subject I've generated much controversy by discussing. See here, for example, which is the product of probably at least tens and perhaps hundreds of combox discussions on the subject. Oddly enough, you were one of the people objecting to my non-consequentialist account of matters.

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  22. @love the girls -

    The story you link to describes a horrific war crime, but it does not clarify your comment to me.

    So: what is interesting about my use of language?

    Are you trying to object or make a point about the word "pacifist"? If so, what point are you trying to make?

    But as for other issues, they also are often not a legitimate option, and referring to torture as if that is the issue of contention, will not change those other obligations no matter how often one wants to blind oneself.

    Perhaps you forgot what site you're on? This site is focused on the issue of torture, and how/why torture is prohibited by Catholic moral teaching. We see no contradiction between opposing torture and promoting all the other good and noble obligations that the Church recommends or imposes.

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  23. Slowly the real story is coming out. No thanks to those scrupulous readers who likewise pooh pooed Seymour Hersh's 'veracity' when he broke the story on Abu Ghraib.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/afghanistan/article7040166.ece

    And just like Abu Ghraib, "Nothing to see, move along."

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  24. Robert writes : "We see no contradiction between opposing torture and promoting all the other good and noble obligations that the Church recommends or imposes."

    Of course. Now put it into practice by recognizing that handcuffed children are not executed in a vacuum, anymore than torture happens in a vacuum. They both have the same wellspring in US policy.

    As I wrote earlier, who are your enemies?

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  25. zippy writes : "The absolute prohibition on killing innocents in wartime is a subject"

    Subjective? That certainly wasn't, and isn't my position.

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  26. People who even refer to consequentialism are typically libs who are gifted by God to read other men's souls. And typically the only ones who use consequentialism as a refuge are libs trying to get away with some sin.

    Both are typical occurrences on blogs such as Vox Nova.

    The way you wrote your post causes problems with more sticky issues such as God commanding the death of children, or men being sent to hell. Or a man jumping on a hand grenade in a foxhole, doe he intend suicide? The way you wrote your post would lend itself to that he did intend suicide.

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  27. Subjective? That certainly wasn't, and isn't my position.

    Subject. As in, topic of conversation.

    And the point isn't to rehash the details of previous discussions. The notion that blocking a grenade blast is suicide has been discussed elsewhere, and it isn't entailed by my understanding of moral theology. Even if it were (which it isn't), you completely missed the point.

    The point was that I have been very engaged against bombing innocents in wartime, and you were even a participant in those discussions. Though as Robert says, that is OT here in particular. So the mud you keep trying to sling doesn't stick, and why you are slinging it is a mystery.

    People who even refer to consequentialism are typically libs who are gifted by God to read other men's souls. And typically the only ones who use consequentialism as a refuge are libs trying to get away with some sin.

    Yes, well, you are welcome to take that up with Pope John Paul II, G.E.M. Anscombe, and others, all far better Catholics than me, who also "refer to consequentialism".

    Obviously, the fact that some posters at Vox Nova misunderstand and/or misuse the subject of consequentialism doesn't cast doubt on the fact that consequentialism is a moral heresy. Just as the fact that neoconservatives misunderstood/misused the just war doctrine doesn't invalidate the just war doctrine.

    Got anything better than ad hominem? What, exactly, are you getting at? Anything in particular at all? Because it is a mystery to me.

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  28. @ltg -

    Now put it into practice by recognizing that handcuffed children are not executed in a vacuum, anymore than torture happens in a vacuum. They both have the same wellspring in US policy.

    No argument here. The fact that the U.S. considers itself justified in using any and every means, including the commission of war crimes, to prosecute these wars is beyond my ability to understand. At the minimum, it demonstrates that just war theory has no part in the discussions of military strategy or policy.

    The real question is, how do we get just war theory a seat at the table?

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  29. ltg:

    Having read both of your sources, I was immediately struck by the differences between them.

    Your first source claims a summary execution of handcuffed children. Your second source - a much more reputable one - claims an accident based on bad intelligence. While the latter may well be inexcusable negligence, depending on the details - or it may be an accident which we should do what we can to prevent in the future, as well as doing what we can for the families of victims - there is a striking difference between the two stories.

    And that is exactly what I mean when I say that I am not equipped to judge the facts on the ground which pertain to jus in bello. I'm not. Was the raid conducted with reasonable and good rules of engagement, the killings solely a result of a misunderstanding, a genuine accident? Was the intelligence credible but mistaken? Was initiating the raid negligent but its execution within the confines of moral rules of engagement? Were there problems with the rules of engagement in addition to the intelligence? Was it, as the less, um, creditable sources claim, a case of deliberate execution of people believed to be guilty? Was it, as the really nutty ones claim, a case of deliberate massacre of innocents?

    I am not equipped to answer those questions. I am not entitled to my own facts. But if the US is indeed doing wrong in its specific actions in carrying out the war, up to and including war crimes, count me as first in line to state unequivocally that it is wrong, and count me as first in line in denouncing it in a manner commensurate to the concrete offense.

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