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Will Rumsfeld and others be prosecuted for war crimes?
Posted: 26 February 2009 07:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 61 ]
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omnibus09 - 26 February 2009 04:39 PM

Countries listen to other countries with POWER, mainly military power, but also economic power.

Certainly they do. But:

(1) There is a big difference between military power used as an explicit threat, and economic power used as an incentive. (E.g., you help us, and we help you). There is also a lot of middle ground. The classic neo-con solution is, using Caligula’s phrase, to make those who do not love us to fear us. OK, that’s fine so far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far. People are willing to die irrationally to preserve their honor, and people who feel bullied also feel that their honor is at stake. All you end up doing is creating more hatred, unless you are very careful and use such tactics surgically rather than as a matter of course.

(2) At times, it is necessary to act with force. I don’t believe that any reasonable person would deny such a thing. But the scope of those countries, and those times, when force is really essential is quite small. Better to focus soft power, and attempt to marshal international coalitions who can act together, rather than act in isolation. Not only is this less expensive for us, it is in the long term more effective.

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Posted: 26 February 2009 10:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 62 ]
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I just got hold of Philippe Sands’ new book, (2008), “Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values,” New York, Palgrave, MacMillan.  For those of you mildly curious about the relationship of the Bush Administration, U.S. Citizens, our legal system, and the acceptance of torture, this is a book that is really important.  John le Carre says this about it: “Gripping, furious, and very serious indeed.”

In the context of the book, its focus - the Rumsfeld memo - and the commentary that has been going back-and-forth among CFI forum members, the following item may be of interest: superficially it is dealt with in John W. Dean (2006) “Conservatives Without Conscience,” New York, Viking Penguin.  It is what is called the “Ticking Bomb Gambit” (pp 164 ff):

“Reports indicated that Dick Cheney’s favorite argument….is the old ‘ticking bomb’ gambit…..The argument runs like this: A nuclear bomb has been planted in the heart of a major American city, and authorities have in custody a person who knows where it is located.  To save possily millions of lives, would it not be justified to torture this individual to get the necessary information to stop it?  Absolutely.  Is not this lesser evil justified?  Of course it is.  And this argument is a wonderful means to comfort those who have moral problems with torture.  Its beauty is that once you concede there are circumstances in which torture might be justified, morally and legally, (through what criminal law calls the defense necessity: that an act is justified to save lives), you are on the other side of the line.  You’ve joined the torture crowd.  To paraphrase Bush, you have joined the evildoers.

“A number of great minds and moral authorities rely on this logic, so Cheney is not alone.  Nonetheless, it is a bogus argument, a rhetorical device.  It is seductively simple, and compellingly logical.  But it is also pure fantasy.  The conditions of ticking time bomb scenarios are in the same remote category as a meteor or asteroid hitting earth.  No one has more effectively probed the fallacies of this line of thinking than Georgetown University School of Law professor David Luban.  Writing in the Washington Post, Luban explains why, while it makes good television melodrama, this scenario does not produce critical thinking.  Luban surgically dissects this argument at greater length in the October 2005 Virginia Law Review in his essay, ‘Liberalism, Torture, and the Ticking Bomb.’  Citing moral philosopher Bernard Williams, luban wrote that ‘there are certain situations so monstrous that the idea that the process of moral rationality could yield an answer in them is insane,’ and, ‘to spend time thinking that what one would decide if one were in such a situation is also insane, if not merely frivolous.’”

On page 166 Dean says, further, of the torture issue and its debate on the hill: “Senator McCain was negotiating with the House, and with the White House (for his stated amendments to stop torture - my words), when Congressman John P. Murtha (D-PA) forced the issue to the House floor, calling for a motion to instruct the House conferees to accept the language of the McCain amendments.  ‘No circumstance whatsoever justifies torture.  No emergencies, no state of war, no level of political instability…’

I do not believe that there is ever a justification for violence in any form.

As Mahatma Gandhi said:

•Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong
•The Roots of Violence: Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Knowledge without character, Commerce without morality, Science without humanity, Worship without sacrifice, Politics without principles
•You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind.
•A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.

Ironically, in India, “Sonia Gandhi calls children’s torture a ‘shame’” (From: NEWKERALA.COM News Section: http://www.newkerala.com/topstory-fullnews-87836.html) because the Rumsfeld, Bush and Cheney rule lead to the imprisonment of children, and the rape and torture of children as young as 8 years old in Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the unknown secret prisons in other parts of the world. 

Sonia Gandhi continued: “Though children are god’s gift to the world and despite all laws to protect them, it is sad to note that in India children are still being tortured which makes our head hang in shame. All of us should raise our voices against such horrific incidents.”

And…..we still debate the veracity of torture, and the possible use of violence.  Perhaps there is something wrong with us to debate it at all?

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Posted: 26 February 2009 10:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 63 ]
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I once countered the ticking time bomb argument with my own “assassinate by necessity” argument. I started with the following scenario: The President will be addressing an enclosed stadium of ten thousand people in ten minutes. I happen to know that a madman who hates the President has planted a nuclear bomb in the basement of the stadium, and intends to detonate it when the President arrives. However, I also know that, if the President dies beforehand, he will not detonate the bomb. I just happen to be standing at a crucial vantage point with a rifle in my hands, and I just happen to have training as a sniper. Question: is it not my moral duty to assassinate the President?

If you can justify torture, I can justify assassination.

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Posted: 26 February 2009 10:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 64 ]
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Chris Crawford - 26 February 2009 10:19 PM

I once countered the ticking time bomb argument with my own “assassinate by necessity” argument. I started with the following scenario: The President will be addressing an enclosed stadium of ten thousand people in ten minutes. I happen to know that a madman who hates the President has planted a nuclear bomb in the basement of the stadium, and intends to detonate it when the President arrives. However, I also know that, if the President dies beforehand, he will not detonate the bomb. I just happen to be standing at a crucial vantage point with a rifle in my hands, and I just happen to have training as a sniper. Question: is it not my moral duty to assassinate the President?

If you can justify torture, I can justify assassination.

I guess if there are those who justify violence, they might say that the answer to your question depends on who the president is. tongue laugh

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Posted: 27 February 2009 12:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 65 ]
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Chris Crawford - 26 February 2009 10:19 PM

I once countered the ticking time bomb argument with my own “assassinate by necessity” argument. I started with the following scenario: The President will be addressing an enclosed stadium of ten thousand people in ten minutes. I happen to know that a madman who hates the President has planted a nuclear bomb in the basement of the stadium, and intends to detonate it when the President arrives. However, I also know that, if the President dies beforehand, he will not detonate the bomb. I just happen to be standing at a crucial vantage point with a rifle in my hands, and I just happen to have training as a sniper. Question: is it not my moral duty to assassinate the President?

Of course it is.  He dies regardless, doesn’t he?

If you can justify torture, I can justify assassination.

Wonderful.  The ticking bomb scenario thus convinces you.

(I do realize that Chris still probably doesn’t buy the bomb scenario—but his example should compel him to explain why he would make everyone in the stadium die when he could have limited the casualties to one)

[ Edited: 27 February 2009 12:12 AM by Bryan ]
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Posted: 27 February 2009 07:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 66 ]
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VYAZMA—Congratulations! You are the world’s best mental health professional. Your statements are as wrong-headed as claiming that people who have a .44 magnum do so because they perceive their penus as being small, etc. Perhaps you can become Dr. Phil’s new assistant.

Chris—I blow the Presidents head right off without hesitation, but I tend toward moral relativism. That’s why I believe that torture can be justified sometimes in order to extract information that is deemed vitally important. I don’t condone torture as a condition of incarceration, but if someone were to take my 12-year old daughter,repeatedly rape her, multilate her, and then stuff her still alive in a hole where she dies…I just might want to pay a daily visit to that person carrying a box cutter and pliers.

I’ve discovered after a lot of years that I am pretty fallable and flawed as a person, so I try hard not to ride anywhere on a high moral horse, or assume that I’m smarter or better educated than those which whom I disagree. My views and opinions are all subject to change as I age and acquire more knowledge. Nothing I believe is set into concrete.

I really don’t see any reason to be on a forum like this if your mind is not flexible enough to admit you might just be wrong about something.

If you are a moral absolutist, then more power to you, but, like a true pacifist, you may be a pretty rare breed.

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Posted: 27 February 2009 09:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 67 ]
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Omnibus99, I share your willingness to use torture to extract information, but I would do so only when we have a reasonable basis to believe that the torture will yield useful information. And therein lies the problem: we have no objective evidence that torture has any utility in extracting useful information. I don’t mean this in the rigorous scientific sense; I would not require double-blind experiments upon hundreds of subjects to make a decision. I would be happy with a sufficiently large set of reliable anecdotal data. But we don’t have that. All we have is the claim of torturers that their actions are morally justified by the results. Do you really expect torturers to declare that their actions are NOT morally justified because the results aren’t worth anything? There is simply no rational basis to believe their claims. We need an objective assessment of the utility of torture, and that objective assessment has never been carried out. Given the obvious predilection for torturers to wreak sadistic revenge upon their victims, we need to be especially circumspect in deciding to use it; the burden of proof should be on the the party in favor of torture.

As to my own willingness to change my mind, I can set your fears to rest. I am here to learn, and that means some change in my thinking. When presented with a solid argument, I can change my mind instantly.

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Posted: 27 February 2009 11:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 68 ]
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I do admire moral absolutists and true pacifists, as those positions run counter to human nature and are very difficult to maintain.

I completely dispise and loath hypocrits of all kinds. I am most humiliated and embarrassed when I find myself taking a hypocritical position on an issue.

I am not a follower and distrust those that follow without critical assessment of the leader. Of course, it helps a lot to be Irish…

I try to maintain a sense of my own inadequacies [ long list ] and keep a sense of humor, including the ability to laugh at myself.

I can’t stand the presence of the arrogant, the pompous, and the self-righteous. I try not be be those things also, not always successfully, I’m afraid.

I’ve been wrong about a lot of stuff in my life, and have no magic bullet that can solve the problems of humanity. But I try to keep learning.

Pretty much, I’m just a messed-up,wacky guy with a thirst for knowledge. Or a complete idiot…jury’s still out on that one.

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Posted: 27 February 2009 11:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 69 ]
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I appreciate your comments, Omnibus99, and I’d like to take a moment to express my fervent desire to insure that our intellectual disagreements never take on a personal tinge. Yes, we differ on a number of points. In particular, I am well-versed in matters related to climate change, and I therefore come down pretty hard on comments reflecting the conservative political views on this.

An aside: I have never understood why conservatives have chosen to fight the science on this. It’s got to be a losing proposition, because the science is pretty obvious to anybody who understands the material. If I were the general of a conservative army, I would take one look at the science of climate change and order my men to retreat to safer ground, ground on which we could fight and win. And in fact, conservatives DO have much better ground on which to fight: the costs of reducing CO2 emissions will be very high. You’re going to get clobbered on the science; and when that happens, you’ll be so discredited that you won’t be able to mount a convincing defense on the ground that you are strong on: costs versus benefits. I just can’t understand the strategy here. Have conservatives actually managed to convince themselves that the science is wrong? The progressives like to call themselves “the reality-based community”, and when it comes to climate change, the conservatives certainly look like they are way out of touch with reality.

Returning from the aside, although I have strong opinions on climate change, I am torn down the middle on the question of prosecuting Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. On the one hand, my respect for the rule of law demands that there be a proper investigation and, if appropriate, a prosecution and trial. On the other hand, I realize that the political consequences would be poisonous for the whole country. So, at least on that one point, I can be swayed. (Currently I am leaning against a domestic prosecution of any Republicans, but would favor an international prosecution of Mr. Rumsfeld only.)

Anyway, I appreciate your points and I hope that in the process of furiously assaulting your arguments I have not inadvertently stepped on your toes.

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Posted: 27 February 2009 12:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 70 ]
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Chris—Never fear to stomp my mental toes into a bloody mess if that makes your point, or if you can demolish my arguments. I have no fear of being wrong, as I often am, just a fear of becoming all those things that I dispise so much. Your assaults have been pretty polite and very well though-out, so I have been forced by your sheer logic to seriously consider them. I’m still mulling them over and have determined to do my due dilligence in further research on the climate stuff.

So I thank you for that.

I am politcally a bizarre mutant of conservative and progressive ideas and opinions. Gay marriage is just fine by me. Abortion, horrible as it often is, should remain legal in all states. Burning the US flag, as egregious as it is to me as a combat veteran, is protected by the Constitution. The 2nd amendment is a individual right, not a collective one. I don’t care if there is prayer in school or not, as long as folks are not harrassed for praying or not praying.

I don’t care if marijuana is legal or not…I just don’t want to support any pot-heads through my taxes or otherwise. Alcoholism is not a desease, it’s a condition that can be sucessfully treated, even though it may well be genetically based.

Human nature hasn’t changed throughout human history, and yet we deny it at every opportunity.

Ayn Rand makes far more sense to me than Karl Marx, although old Karl did make some pretty good points about capitalism, which I support even while I hate some aspects of it.

Obviously I find the world a crazy, mixed-up place, but endlessly fascinating.

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Posted: 27 February 2009 12:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 71 ]
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omnibus09 - 27 February 2009 12:01 PM

Human nature hasn’t changed throughout human history

How so? We are, for example, much less violent than we used to be only a few thousand years ago. What do you mean?

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Posted: 27 February 2009 12:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 72 ]
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I do disagree on the violence proposition. I think we are as violent as we ever were, but have more controls on the violence through laws and other social retraints brought about by ‘civilization’.

Certainly we are more efficient in killing off ourselves and other living stuff. Civilization is a very thin veneer over the human condition, and will disappear very quickly if not maintained dilligently.

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Posted: 27 February 2009 01:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 73 ]
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omnibus09 - 27 February 2009 12:35 PM

I do disagree on the violence proposition. I think we are as violent as we ever were, but have more controls on the violence through laws and other social retraints brought about by ‘civilization’.

Certainly we are more efficient in killing off ourselves and other living stuff. Civilization is a very thin veneer over the human condition, and will disappear very quickly if not maintained dilligently.

And where do you suppose the “civilization” came from?

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Posted: 27 February 2009 03:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 74 ]
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My thoughts on this are complex. Human nature has not changed in the last few thousand years. However, civilization has wrought great changes on the attitudes of many people. And in the West, our thought processes have become more logical.

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Posted: 27 February 2009 03:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 75 ]
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I think civilization comes from people’s desire for security and stability, ultimately. People form more complex relationships for those purposes. That’s my opinion, but it’s a tip of a huge iceberg.

I believe our thought processes haven’t changed a bit over the last 25,000 years or so. Logic isn’t an instinct, but is learned if there is opportunity and enough intellect.

I give kudos to Martin Luther, who began the Reformation which led to the Enlightenment which led to the blossoming of Western critical and logical thinking. I wonder at the fact that the church didn’t lock him up or kill him. That’s an oversimplification, of course, but the flow is correct, I think.

If we think of humanity as a giant organism with over six billion cells we can get a pretty good view of civilization and it’s evolution. Like any organism, it wants to survive and grow. It can change it’s environment by transforming large parts of it into something different. It feeds by this transformation, and leaves it’s feces behind in pollution and desolation.

I’ll stop before I get too attached to this particular metaphor, as I am sometimes prone to do with metaphors. But that’s the big picture.

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