Thursday, May 24, 2007

I bet we won't be seeing these pictures

... at Chez Shea. From the Smoking Gun (there's lots more there):


As I've said, I simply have no patience with arguing from ugly-looking photos -- they're a demagogic device intended to invite to knee-jerk visceral unthought, and it makes me more suspicious of the user ("weak point, holler louder," basically).

But these photos remind us of the selectivity of the outrage among what I will take advice and call, in the spirit of their careful intellectual discernment, the "Better That New York Be Nuked Than One Jihadi Be Made Uncomfortable" Crowd. There is no objective standard by which our interrogation practices are worse than theirs.

The Pharisees dismiss this as "if they do it, we can too." But that's not why I insist on noting this. My point, rather, to make more-empirical points about the war debate and the secular effects of the war than to make purely moral points of what should be done.

For example, if other nations and/or a significant segment of the US population say they hate us because we torture, but they don't hate more those who torture more, then something else than torture must be motivating their hate. Thus, (1) they can be dismissed as not speaking in good faith; and (2) not-torturing won't help us with them in any way.

Also, their torture makes it absurd to view this or any other war as some sort of divine "vote of confidence" or an instrument of specific divine judgment over the matter of torture. If we lose in Iraq, then Al Qaeda and the Islamists will have won; and if they torture more or worse than we do (which is an empirical fact) or if they commit more, more-deliberate and more-gruesome war crimes than we do (ditto), then God will have rewarded their torture and war crimes. Only a notion that ONLY the US or the West are under divine judgment, admittedly a not-uncommon bit of ethnocentrism among Americans, could argue otherwise.

I also hereby make a prediction. If it turns out that the three captured US soldiers were or are being tortured like this (and if I were a betting man, I'd bet on it; God comfort them) ...


... that Shea will blame Abu Ghraib, the Bush-Cheney torture regime, et al (as if torture were unprecedented or unknown in Arab culture, or Al Qaeda were such saints they would never have done so without our egging them on).

Still, I will remember Iran's act of war against Britain and the captured sailors were (as I predicted returned without having been tortured or otherwise mistreated). Shea said the Iranians didn't torture because we did (in order to win the moral high ground, doncha know; here are numerous cites)

In other words, when captured Westerners are tortured by Al Qaeda, that will be because the US tortured. When captured Westerners are not tortured by Iran, that was because the US tortured. Al Qaeda will torture because we gave them permission to torture; Iran did not torture because we made it to their advantage not to torture. As if Abu Ghraib wouldn't have given Iran permission to torture or hasn't made it to Al Qaeda's advantage not to torture.

A cause that explains everything explains nothing. I detect an a-priori obsession, searching for a reason excuse.

4 comments:

Shawn said...

As I've said, I simply have no patience with arguing from ugly-looking photos -- they're a demagogic device intended to invite to knee-jerk visceral unthought, and it makes me more suspicious of the user ("weak point, holler louder," basically).

Well stated Victor...that is why I always take a harsh approach with those who try to use pictures as propagandistic tools when they are unable to persuade through the natural lights of reason and logic.

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder says:

These are certainly vile tactics, which no sane person could deny are torture, far worse than anything we've heard about at Gitmo.

Which raises a question: suppose that the mythical ticking time-bomb scenario does occur. Does anyone here think it would be appropriate to do these sorts of things (blowtorch to the skin, etc.) in order to get a suspect to tell us where the bomb was?

Victor said...

Rowan Atkinson wrote:

suppose that the mythical ticking time-bomb scenario does occur. Does anyone here think it would be appropriate to do these sorts of things (blowtorch to the skin, etc.)

These actions are completely immoral and have no place in a civilized nation's interrogation rules.

That said Part 1, (or rather, but as St. Thomas Aquinas said), necessity knows no law. In a case of necessity, such as the ticking bomb scenario, what needs to be done will be done, regardless of what the law says. At that point, an interrogator would and should do what was necessary and take his chances with the consequences. (This is more or less the position of McCain and Father Neuhaus.) I don't think it's especially meaningful to write the law though to spell out exceptions in these sorts of hypotheticals; you wind up with a silly law that tries to cover ... well, what knows no law.

That said Part 2, I still have nothing but contempt for any and every international convention or law against torture and oppose any new domestic laws or regulations on the matter. But for reasons not fundamentally related to the morality of torture -- the assininity of international law and the cosmopolitan class; and the values of the current US political/ legal class, respectively.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone here think it would be appropriate to do these sorts of things (blowtorch to the skin, etc.) in order to get a suspect to tell us where the bomb was?

My answer: It is categorically wrong to mutilate. To intentionally cause permanent injury. To sexually violate. And it is categorically wrong to harm an innocent at all.

But: It is not categorically wrong to inflict even intense pain on a known offender. This can be justified for proportionate reason.

Nor is it wrong to threaten a known offender with execution or induce the fear of execution, if the offense is proportionally grave.