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Saturday, May 29, 2004

Battle Torture - The Challenger - Closing Statement

This week, the readers of Iron Blog have witnessed the verbal swordfight that is the debate. Central to the debate are tactics, defense, offense, and strength (of argument.) There are parries, deflections, attacks and defenses all present in the most recent debate on this website. However, it is more important to note that this debate was not solely done by citing information and concepts, it was written with tactics above all else.

Though there are many issues left unsettled, the least of which being the outcomes of the military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, This debate must come to a close. Throughout this week, I have verbally sparred with my opponent, Iron Blogger Green, and made my case for the use of torture to supplement interrogation.

In our opening statements, I decided to outline possible paths of argument, and indeed, I did not use them all. It probably would have benefited my side greatly had I used Hegel, Nietzsche and Social Darwinism, but I decided that the argument of Utilitarianism vs. Moral Absolutism was the correct path to take. Right now I would like to clear something up that I hope was not perceived as an offense: when I reference the concept of Moral Absolutism, I reference the idea set that judges the action for its’ moral worth, and applies the same moral judgment for the same action. I was not referring to:

”The word ‘absolutist’ implies a closed mind, resolutely made up, and incapable or unwilling to receive or even consider new ideas.”

As the IBG has said himself, that is not an accurate description of him, nor do I believe it to be the accurate description of him. I would not be here were that the case… to quote Jonathan Swift: “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of what he was never reasoned into.”

I apologize for my non-sequitur, but it was an issue that had to be addressed. To return to the philosophical argument, I stated early on that the product and intent of an action (such as the one in debate) had to be weighed when judging the moral quality of the action itself. Thusly, I have discounted the Holocaust, Witch trials, Spanish Inquisition, and other instances brought up in detail by the IBG as moral, or just. NONE of these things produced a morally desirable product. Even if intents were in the right place,

”In the end, the products of the interrogation … are most often the determining factors in how its’ morality can be judged.”

I would like to point out that the IBG did a wonderful job of providing background and context in his opening statement. He illustrated well instances of immoral torture as each of those instances were either the products of sadism, ignorance, hate, fear, or a people taken advantage of. The torture used in those historical events were neither just, nor moral. The products of the actions, the intent of the actions, and the actions themselves did not justify their presence, and therefore determined their morality (by the Utilitarian standpoint) as evil.

However, I have some major issues I would like to point out in the IBG’s line of argument. First, the hypothetical situation:

“If you could prevent the Holocaust by traveling back in time and killing Hitler when he was a baby, would you do it?” Many of us would say yes in an instant. But then there is the subsequent question, “If you could prevent it by going further back in time and killing his grandparents, before his parents were even born, would you still?”

Then, in his second rebuttal, he attacked my use of the hypothetical situation:

”With all due respect to the Challenger's friend, the Anfal attack, while horrific, contributes little to his argument. The Challenger asks whether the use of torture on a hypothetical number of people would have been justified if it would have prevented that attack. It's a valid question, but purely hypothetical.”

So has using hypothetical situations suddenly been rendered ineffective and I was not notified? Especially since we are talking about concepts and the hypothetical, is it not appropriate that I used a hypothetical situation?

Another issue worthy of mentioning is that the IBG completely ignored what would have happened had no change been made in either Iraq or Afghanistan. He completely ignored the effects of extreme poverty, oil-for-food scandal, public executions, secret police, and educational stagnation that was cemented in place by the Taliban and Saddam. As I said earlier, the Utilitarian sees all the issues, bad AND good.

Now for another issue. I probably was a little mean in doing this, but I intentionally used a hot-button issue in my debate to support points I had already made. However, this was done with the intent of outmaneuvering the IBG. I did this by diverting the main focus of my second rebuttal to a less certain issue, which I hoped (and gambled on) that the IBG would attack that instead of the philosophical points in my first rebuttal, and let them (with the exception of Kant) stand uncontested. The IBG did exactly as I had anticipated he would do, and instead of attacking ethical concepts asserted previously, he wasted most of his second rebuttal attacking items that have nothing to do with whether or not torture can be (in a conceptual sense) good or evil. He immediately overlooked the concepts introduced, such as Moral obligation of those capable of intervening, truth being separate from perception, and accepting ALL products of an action in defining its’ moral outcome: good and bad. He left those points completely and utterly untouched in his drive to discredit semi-supportive information, and George Bush. In a debate, if something is ignored, it is left uncontested. To list what was left alone:

”The fact of the matter remains that these 10 people could have inflicted MASSIVE CASUALTIES upon the Jordanians, and the entire region’s economy, thereby creating misery for MILLIONS more to one degree or another had they succeeded. This constitutes a scenario in which the parties capable of preventing an atrocity have to choose the lesser of two evils. If they do not prevent it, they become responsible for the choice not to intervene (because it is theirs alone to make,) and leave those poor souls to their fate at the hands of sadists.”

That passage is important because the IBG did not focus on the wider ramifications of the act of terror that was averted. Instead, he attacked the sources of the information I linked. What I tried to claim was: It doesn’t matter HOW the terrorists were found, what matters is:
A) the terrorists were stopped
B) the chemical weapons were found after the interrogation of the terrorists and prevented their use by anyone else.

This second passage the IBG noticed, but did not recognize the reference I was making to Hedonistic Calculus:

”What if, to prevent that catastrophic event, you had to torture or kill one man? Ten men? One hundred men? Even if the total number of people you had to torture or kill was 1,000 men, there would be 14,000 more people living because the action of gassing the Kurds was averted.”

Again, that returns to and re-enforces the concept of “the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people.”

A third omission was:

”saving lives all depends on the intent of the torturer, and what the purpose behind the interrogation was.”

Instead of analyzing the psyche of the interrogator, he went after George Bush instead. Though GWB is responsible for the war, and conceivably could have ordered the practice of torture in interrogation, the IBG omitted any reference of intent of the torturer. A simple line of thought is just this: What do I want? To finish my job so I can go home. How do I do that? By taking away the need for my presence. What must I do? Eliminate the need for the presence of US soldiers in Iraq. How will that be accomplished? By fulfilling my duty to stabilize the region, thus eliminating the need for armed troops to be present.

Now, what is the product of action upon that intent? Assuming success, lives would be saved, security would be improved, Iraq would be secured, and the Epicurean pursuit of happiness could take full effect.

The fourth, final, and FATAL omission from the IBG’s set of arguments is the establishment of a moral metric by which one could judge interrogation. I gave the example of utilitarianism, but I am having a hard time finding philosophical evidence to back a certain concept of morality from the IBG. And indeed, this is fatal to his argument. Why?

”when debating about an issue that hinges on how we perceive ethical conduct, the most important piece to the debate is what defines good and evil.”

Because of his omission, he left himself wide open to attack from Social Darwinists (should I have decided to represent their beliefs.) They would argue that it doesn’t matter what happens in war, because the strongest side always wins, and always will. There are two moral standards in that idea base, master morality and slave morality. And unless you want to be member of those who practice the latter, you would have to rid yourself of previous moral convictions, and adopt the master morality.

In this void of another moral metric, I established early on that I would apply the utilitarian metric to this issue, and ever since then, we have been debating the issue using that precise metric of ethics. This entire debate passed, and not once did the IBG propose a separate moral standard to apply to torture, or why it was superior. With this omission, he implied an acceptance that Utilitarianism was the precise ethical standard to apply to torture, and that was, and is my unchanging position in this debate.

I am arguing for torture if it were to produce beneficial results that outweigh the moral shortcomings. By a Utilitarian standpoint, this would be morally “good”. Whether or not I proved that modern torture is effective or not is besides the point… the debate was centered around this, and this alone:

Is torture a necessary evil to gather intelligence when lives are on the line? Are human rights paramount at all times? Can intelligence gathered through torture even be relied upon as accurate, or is it merely a human being beyond the breaking point telling their captors what they want to hear? Where do the rights of one guilty person stop, and the rights of many innocent people begin?”

Nowhere in that synopsis of what we were to argue do we see the command to debate over instances of torture because the debate is centered around the concept of torture itself. It is in that very area that the IBG has all but completely neglected. All he had to do was to invoke the Judeo-Christian standard of ethics, the Ten Commandments, and not only would he have defined a moral standard with which to measure torture, he would have centered his stance on a rock-solid philosophical foundation that I simply would not be able to move for the simple reason that it is a belief, and perceived Truth. The debate would have gone back and forth with neither side making any gains because of two differing ideas both perceived as Truth (yes, “capital T Truth.”) Instead, the IBG had not, thus he spent the most time on BOTH of his rebuttals attacking sources, and events, NOT DEFINITIONS OF MORALITY.

To further add to this predicament, I added the words and ideas of Hobbes, Nagel and Hume, that were NOT ADRESSED by the IBG. Again, I put forth means of judging morality, the IBG has left them uncontested, without providing his own. It is because of this omission that the IBG did not answer ANY of the original questions fully, if at all. That is the mistake that this debate will end on. Why? Because even when the opportunity was given to classify his belief set as Absolutism as opposed to Utilitarianism, he refused to classify himself as that. Even if it was due to a misperception, the damage is still done. He has successfully left blank his definition of morality, and thus cost him his achieving his objective: to define how torture should be perceived by an ethical standpoint, and why that standard of morals is superior to Utilitarianism, and the ideas of Hobbes, Hume, and Nagel.

By this failure to provide a separate moral metric, the acceptance of utilitarianism as the appropriate metric with which to judge torture is implied as accepted, and as that was THE crux of my ENTIRE argument (torture being morally good if the ends justified the means,) he has left my moral standpoint uncontested.

On an equal playing field, tactics will always win the war. You may lose some battles, but the prize is yours for the taking.

Thank you IBG for providing this debate with thoroughly researched historical background, dialectical vigor and challenging ideas. I too am a registered independent, and like you, I challenge rather than accept. Throughout this debate you’ve earned my respect, and I would like you to know you can call me a friend, even if we disagree on things.

In the word of my friend Alaa:



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