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Saturday, May 29, 2004

Battle Torture - Iron Blogger Green - Closing Statement

Before I close, I would like to strongly congratulate the Challenger. Some felt this would be a lock for me, but the Challenger put up a fierce defense of his position, and put the outcome very much in doubt. Whatever the outcome, he has done an excellent job, and I thank him for helping me to find new ways to examine my own ideas.

I also would like to add my voice to those who have praised this project. We seem to be living in a time in which reasoned debate has almost entirely vanished. Political leaders on both sides do little more than bicker and blame, polarizing the nation and in many ways the world so deeply and bitterly that trying to comprehend or even acknowledge the opposing point of view is an art that is very nearly extinct. This project is original in this format, and visionary in its scope. Recent years have led me to almost despair of any hope or optimism I may once have held in my species. This project, and the growing number of people from all reaches of the ideological spectrum who come here to find new ideas and an insight into the opposition, have given me, if not optimism, at least some sense of hope. For that, I am sincerely grateful to the Chairman, and to you all.

This debate has been incredibly broad. We have covered philosophy, history, current events, ethics, justice, and more. The previous two battles were primarily focused on current events: the career and actions of Donald Rumsfeld (with some measure of this topic as well); and the current furor over same-sex marriage, and how that issue reflects the basic civil rights of gay, lesbian and transgendered people. Both were hard-fought, well-researched battles, but primarily based in contemporary events.

The debate over torture is as old as humanity itself. Going all the way back to the Sumerians and the Code of Hammurabi, the use of torture, both as punishment and as interrogation, has shown up in practically every place and every time. Ancient Middle East and Europe, pre-colonized South America and post-colonized North America, modern Africa and Asia, and everywhere in between.

What I have tried to show is that, by looking at history, we can see that whenever it is used, for whatever reason, torture always seems to have a way of slipping out of control very quickly and often with monstrous results. Whether it is used for confession and conversion (as in the Witch Persecutions), criminal punishment and retribution (as in the French Revolution), or as a means of enforcing the perceived moral imperative of one group over another (as in the Nazi Holocaust), the use of torture too easily turns to intolerance, revenge, and genocide. As a tool, it is untrustworthy. One has to dehumanize an opponent before one can go to the extent of inflicting intentional harm on them, but once the dehumanization process has begun, it is far more difficult to stop it at a predetermined point. Soon the heretic, the criminal, or the perceived enemy becomes an ‘other’, something whose feelings, rights, and life no longer seem to matter. Whether through sadism or obsession, torture eventually becomes its own goal.

Tragically, there is ample evidence of this even in our current situation. Although much is still under investigation, it appears already that the clearance to begin torturing prisoners in first Guantanamo Bay, then Afghanistan, now Iraq, came down from the highest levels of the American Government, despite internal protest and warnings. The command carried down through military ranks, into the direction of intelligence officers (whose primary concern is not justice or law, but the gathering of information) and civilian mercenaries (answerable literally to no one, their motives are profit and whatever personally motivates them into the situation to begin with.

The intelligence gained through torture is questionable. In the Persecutions and the Inquisition, people signed confessions to incredible crimes that no sane person today would believe. Often they were executed as a result. Today, the interrogations of Saddam Hussein appear to have produced little, if any, useful information, and the torture of prisoners in American military custody has not ended the ‘insurgency’ against the occupation; it has not revealed weapons of mass destruction, the given reason for the invasion; it has not produced evidence that Iraq was collaborating with Osama bin Laden and his al Quaeda network prior to the war. What it has done is to inflame passionate hatred against the occupying forces and their nations, passion inspired not only by disgust and horror at the revelations of torture, but also by religious indignation at the intentionally anti-Muslim methods being employed. The Islamic world has not forgotten that George W. Bush, in the initial stages of this ‘War on Terror’, referred to it as a ‘Crusade’. The actions taken by America under his command have provided ample evidence that that reference was not one of historical ignorance; indeed, it may have been uttered precisely as it was intended.

From the beginning of this debate, I remained open to the possibility that, perhaps, even the use of so vile and bloody a tool as torture might be justifiable, if its benefits could be shown to outweigh its own horrific nature. The Challenger has put forward a mighty effort to show that that is so. However, I remain unconvinced. There is no evidence that the use of torture in our time has saved lives, particularly not the lives of entire nations. There is, contrarily, massive evidence that the invasion, occupation and subsequent treatment of civilians in those nations has caused widespread lawlessness, religious and nationalistic resentment, and almost universal suffering.

I chose, specifically, to debate this topic without resorting to the use of graphic descriptions of maiming and injuring. It would, I felt, have been far easier for me to argue my point by illustrating the hideous effects of torture, particularly on the victims in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan. To some extent, that material has come up; it’s practically unavoidable in a debate like this. But what I hoped to accomplish is to show, without going for shock value, that torture is at best unproductive and at worst sadistically addictive, that the intelligence gained through its use is questionable, and that the cultural effects produced by it are overwhelmingly negative.

What I’ve left unsaid, up to this point, is the sheer cruelty, the crippling or lethal effects, the savaged lives left in its wake. It is integral to this debate. There are reasons why torture has been outlawed by the Geneva Conventions, by the United Nations, by the United States of America herself.

In America, torture at the hands of civilian authorities is criminal. Police officers, detectives and intelligence agents are not permitted to torture American citizens, for any reason. In spite of this, the occurrence is widespread. And when it is discovered, those responsible are investigated for police brutality and overuse of force, as in the famous cases of Rodney King and Abner Louima. In the United States, even law enforcement officers are not permitted to break the law.

In February 2002, the Bush administration declared that Taliban fighters among the prisoners taken during the war in Afghanistan would be fully protected by the Geneva Conventions…but would not be classified as war prisoners. "Legal experts and human-rights advocates said Bush's decision to continue classifying Taliban detainees as 'unlawful combatants' instead of POWs allows the White House to use secret military commissions to try the individuals."

"The Geneva Conventions apply to every one of the prisoners held at Guantanamo and those detained in Afghanistan," said Vienna Colucci of Amnesty International USA. "The conventions require that when there is a dispute over a prisoner's status, a 'competent tribunal' must make the final determination on a case-by-case basis. The president cannot fulfill that role."

According to Rumsfeld, Bush 'decided' that al Quaeda does not fit under the Conventions, because al Quaeda is not a state; however he did decide to apply the Conventions to the Taliban prisoners "even though neither the United Nations nor virtually any country in the world recognized the Taliban as Afghanistan's legitimate government."

Despite the objections of both the uniformed military and Secretary of State Colin Powell, Rumsfeld continued to fight against applying the Conventions to the Guantanamo prisoners. He later relented, but earlier this month again reversed himself by claiming that "the Geneva Conventions did not 'precisely apply' and were simply basic rules. The conventions are not exactly optional. They are the law of the land, signed by the president and ratified by Congress. Rumsfeld's concern—that Al Qaeda members do not wear uniforms and are thus 'unlawful combatants'—is understandable, but that is a determination that a military court would have to make."

Amnesty International has been investigating charges of torture on prisoners by Americans for over a year. They have documented several horrifying cases, and have uncovered "consistent allegations of brutality and cruelty by US agents against detainees in Iraq and other US detention facilities across the world at the highest levels of the US Government, including the White House, the Department of Defense, and the State Department for the past two years"

The administration has tried since the scandal broke to blame it on the uniformed soldiers, referring to them as "a few bad apples". However, the most well-known photograph, that of a hooded man standing on a box with electrical wires attached to his hands, feet and penis, is not just a bizarre fetish dreamed up by a few low-ranking soldiers. "That's because the practice shown in that photo is an arcane torture method known only to veterans of the interrogation trade. 'Was that something that [an MP] dreamed up by herself? Think again,' says Darius Rejali, an expert on the use of torture by democracies. 'That's a standard torture. It's called "the Vietnam." But it's not common knowledge. Ordinary American soldiers did this, but someone taught them.'"

Last week, America and Britain added insult to injury by pressuring the United Nations to grant full immunity from prosecution for any criminal conduct in Iraq after the hypothetical June 30 handover of power. Even British MP's are decrying this decision. "Last night MPs demanded that Iraqi citizens should have some form of legal redress following allegations that people had died unnecessarily during gunfights with British forces. 'How is anyone in Iraq expected to bring a case in the British courts?' said Adam Price, the Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East, who has been credited with uncovering many of the claims made against British troops. 'It is taking the idea of diplomatic immunity and applying it to 130,000 troops. There is a danger that you are actually going from immunity to being able to act with impunity.'"

Then, to make certain it had a friend in power in Iraq, the two nations chose Dr. Ilyad Allawi to be the new Iraqi Prime Minister. Dr. Allawi, who was the source for British Prime Minister Tony Blair's now-infamous claim that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes, is not a popular choice among Iraqis.

"[H]is reputation among Iraqis for working first with Saddam's intelligence agents and then with MI6 and the CIA may make it impossible for them to accept him as leader of an independent Iraq."

As one embittered Iraqi [said] from Baghdad on Friday: "'The appointment must have been orchestrated by Ahmed Chalabi in order to discredit the entire process.' He was not entirely joking, given the fact that Chalabi joined the rest of the Governing Council in voting for Allawi despite their long and vicious rivalry."

The Challenger has argued that our invasion and occupation has brought salvation and new rights and freedoms to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, in Iraq, more than a year after George W. Bush declared 'major combat operations' to be over, even the generations-long feud between Sunnis and Shi'ites has been put aside in favor of a joint effort against the occupying troops.

I will close my case with this: On May 13, 2004, When asked by Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) how they would feel about a video showing American troops or civilians "'...in control of a foreign power, in a cell block, naked with a bag over their head, squatting with their arms uplifted for 45 minutes, would you describe that as a good interrogation technique or a violation of the Geneva Convention?'" Marine General Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said "I would describe it as a violation." And Paul D. Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld’s deputy and ideological soulmate, answered "What you’ve described to me sounds to me like a violation of the Geneva Convention."

Yeah...me, too.


Peace.

Iron Blogger Green

R. G. Pratt
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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:

Salaam
-Chris

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Friday, May 28, 2004

Important note:

The Chairman's computer is dead. The Chairman is currently borrowing Mrs. Chairman's computer because he has no other options. The Chairman has also lost all of his records, files, and email on the dead computer. The Chairman is very put out.

If the judges could email the Chairman with their scores again, the Chairman would be most appreciative. Hopefully, the Chairman will find a money tree hidden under the tumbleweeds in his backyard and be able to buy a new computer. Until then, the Chairman may have sporadic access, but the battles will rage on.

Third-personally yours,

The Chairman.
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Battle Torture - Iron Blogger Green - Second Rebuttal

If, as the Challenger states, the Barney song “can cause mental suffering through repetition of horribly irritating music for hours on end”, then it fits not only my definition of the word ‘torture’, but his own (“excruciating…mental pain”, “severe…anguish”) as well...and probably just about any other, but that's just an observation.

The Utilitarian-Absolutist issue is one that I hope to put to rest with the following statements, as I consider the whole issue to be somewhat diversionary: The word ‘absolutist’ implies a closed mind, resolutely made up, and incapable or unwilling to receive or even consider new ideas. It is not an accurate description of me. I prefer to consider the alternatives, rather than blindly adhering to a preconceived idea. But before I discard my beliefs, I do make a thorough investigation of the alternatives, first.

The Challenger brings up two of my previous statements: First, that few would weep for the miseries of Hussein; Second, that it would be difficult to argue against the idea that savaging or ending a few guilty lives to save many innocents would be justifiable.

The latter statement he mischaracterizes. I did not claim to believe it, I said it would be 'difficult to argue'. He omitted my statement of what I do believe, which is that that principle rarely bears out in practice. In a hypothetical situation where torturing a few guilty would save and improve the lives of many innocents, it would be difficult to argue against that; but my point from the beginning has been that that is rarely, if indeed ever, the case.

Responding to the former statement, he asks 'Could it be that many believe his punishment was just'? This question is intended to justify the torture of Hussein, but instead it proves my argument for me. I have demonstrated in previous posts that in the example situations of Nazi Germany, the French Revolution and the Witch Persecutions, those who were committing atrocities all believed that their cause was just. In putting forward that the torture of Hussein is justified because of his past actions, the Challenger reinforces my point; he also damages his own, because now we have moved from interrogation for the purpose of saving lives, to punishment. This is another argument I have made, that whatever supposedly 'good' purpose is originally assigned to the use of torture, history shows that that purpose is almost always lost, and usually quite rapidly.

But what of the claim that the interrogations of Hussein have provided (presumably) useful information? I extracted from the Challenger's sources the following pieces of information that have been won specifically from the capture of Hussein:

"He denies he hid weapons of mass destruction before the March 20 coalition invasion."

"[information that] allowed interrogators to confirm some suspicions and reject other information...have allowed the military to hunt for some people involved in attacks on U.S. troops."

"...led to the arrest of several prominent regime figures in Baghdad...been able to capture a couple of key individuals here in Baghdad. We've completely confirmed one of the cells..."

"...led to the arrest of several prominent regime figures in Baghdad...been able to capture a couple of key individuals here in Baghdad. We've completely confirmed one of the cells..."

"[information that] allowed interrogators to confirm some suspicions and reject other information...have allowed the military to hunt for some people involved in attacks on U.S. troops."

No, that isn't a typo on my part. Two of the articles are entirely the same, verbatim, from beginning to end; two of the other articles are entirely the same, verbatim, from beginning to end (deja vu). Two of the three actual articles were released in December of 2003, the third on February 1 of this year.

All five (three?) articles state clearly that the information mentioned was gained from interrogation of Hussein and from documents found in his possession.

The one twinless article clarifies that statement: "The soldiers also found $750,000 in cash and Saddam's briefcase containing the names of anti-U.S. insurgents."

So, if the insurgents were identified from the documents, then the interrogation of Hussein produced the following information: "He denies he hid weapons of mass destruction before the March 20 coalition invasion."

That's pretty much what he was saying before the invasion. I'm not seeing the benefits of the interrogations.

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.

The Jordanian plot is a much better argument from the Challenger. But again we have repetitive links, with no clear connection between torture and the prevention of the disaster. "The plot was within days of being carried out, Jordanian officials said, when security forces broke it up April 20. In a nighttime raid in Amman, Jordanian security forces moved in on the terrorist cell." No mention is made of what led the security forces to that cell.

"The report did not explain how the suspects were able to amass unchecked 20 tonnes of chemicals, set up laboratories to make explosives, buy trucks for suicide bombings and warehouses to store them in", states one article. This is where another law enforcement technique, investigation, can be useful.

Another one warns "Airing suspects' confessions before their trial is unusual in Jordan. In 1998, six men accused of affiliation with a militant group confessed on television to planting a bomb that exploded outside an Amman hotel. Five years later, a court found them innocent. The unusual move may be an attempt to answer critics who claim the government has exaggerated the terror danger to justify tightening security."

In rebutting my perceived uncertain leap in his logic of assuming that the positive results accomplished by, specifically, torture at the hands of Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, the Challenger at last brings this debate down to where it began; with the mathematics of life and death: The needs of the few vs. the needs of the many.

Even before we consider the equation, however, his proposed facts bear close examination. The estimate of prisoners held at Guantanamo comes from an article dated June 4, 2003; the Iraqi estimate, while more recent (May 6, 2004), comes from the Washington Times, not widely regarded as an impartial source; and the Afghan figures date back to February 27, 2002. These estimates, which are either outdated or of dubious origin, are added up and then compared against figures which represent the entire populations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

To accept this equation, then, we also have to accept that the entire populations of these two nations “have been saved” and “given rights and freedoms that they never had.”

For sake of convenience, I’ll accept the Challenger’s numbers regarding prisoners; with the heavy shroud of secrecy cast by the Bush administration, nobody knows how many there really are. Instead, I’d like to take a closer look at his assertion that the entire populations of Iraq and Afghanistan have won such sweeping benefits from the torture of those thousands.

First, the situation in Iraq:


  • Hundreds of civilians were killed and thousands injured as a result of bombing by US-led Coalition forces during a war on Iraq launched in March.

  • Thousands of people were arrested and detained without charge or trial during the year.

  • Many civilians were killed as a result of excessive use of force by Coalition forces.

  • Scores of women were abducted, raped and killed as law and order broke down after the war.

  • Torture and ill-treatment by Coalition forces were widespread.

  • Armed groups were responsible for gross human rights abuses: scores of civilians, including foreigners, were killed in attacks.

  • Coalition forces failed to live up fully to their responsibilities under international humanitarian law as occupying powers, including their duty to restore and maintain public order and safety, and to provide food, medical care and relief assistance. Widespread looting of public and private buildings and a sharp rise in criminal activities were seen across the country in the aftermath of the war. Many people faced grave dangers to their health owing to power cuts, shortages of clean water and lack of medical services.

  • Insecurity quickly became the major concern for the Iraqi population, a problem heightened by the lack of appropriate policing and the wide availability of arms. An increase in serious abuses against women, including rape and murder, was reported, and scores of former Ba'ath Party and security force members were targeted in revenge attacks, particularly in the Shi'a dominated districts of Baghdad and in southern Iraq.

  • Little action was taken to address past human rights violations, including mass "disappearances", or to investigate and bring to justice those found responsible for committing crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes, or to provide compensation and restitution to victims.

  • Hundreds of civilians were killed during the war by US and UK forces. Some were victims of cluster bombs, others were killed in disputed circumstances. Unexploded bomblets from cluster bombs posed a threat to civilians, particularly children.

  • Scores of civilians were killed apparently as a result of excessive use of force by US troops or were shot dead in disputed circumstances.

  • Torture or other ill-treatment by Coalition forces was frequently reported. Detainees suffered extreme heat while housed in tents and were supplied with insufficient water, inadequate washing facilities, open trenches for toilets, no change of clothes, and no books, newspapers, radios or writing materials. Detainees were routinely subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during arrest and the first 24 hours of detention. Plastic handcuffs used by US troops caused detainees unnecessary pain. Former detainees stated they were forced to lie face down on the ground, were held handcuffed, hooded or blindfolded, and were not given water or food or allowed to go to the toilet. Allegations of torture and ill-treatment by US and UK troops during interrogation were received. Methods reported included prolonged sleep deprivation; prolonged restraint in painful positions, sometimes combined with exposure to loud music; prolonged hooding; and exposure to bright lights. There were frequent reports of abuses by US forces during house searches, including allegations of looting and wanton destruction of property. Virtually none of the allegations of torture or ill-treatment was adequately investigated.

  • In the aftermath of the war, women and girls increasingly faced violent attacks, including abduction, rape and murder, as law and order broke down. Many women became too afraid to leave their homes, and girls were kept away from school. Women who were victims of violence in the street or home had virtually no hope of obtaining justice.

  • American troops are holding innocent Iraqis as hostages.
  • Roughly 11,000 civilians are confirmed dead since the invasion began. Some estimates go much higher.
  • "The questioning of hundreds of Iraqi prisoners last fall in the newly established interrogation center at Abu Ghraib prison yielded very little valuable intelligence, according to civilian and military officials."

And, in Afghanistan:


  • A deteriorating security situation undermined human rights. Serious human rights abuses and armed conflict continued in many areas.
  • The criminal justice system remained ineffective and was a source of violations rather than a mechanism for providing justice.
  • Women and girls in particular faced discrimination in the justice system.
  • Police lacked pay, training and control structures. Prison conditions were poor. Detainees were held for excessive periods before appearing before a judge.
  • Women and girls faced a high level of violence. Rape and sexual violence by armed groups was reportedly common.
  • Violence in the family, and forced and underage marriage, were widespread.
  • Past human rights abuses were not addressed and the international community did not provide the necessary support to ensure progress in this area.
  • The US-led coalition was responsible for arbitrary detentions as the "war on terror" continued.
  • Refugees continued to return from neighbouring states but in much reduced numbers, owing largely to concerns about the security situation, employment opportunities and housing. There were serious concerns about the voluntariness of returns from Iran and Pakistan.


If the justifications for torture were to 'save people' from their former governments, and bring them 'rights and freedoms' which they have never had, it seems to me we've fallen far short of our goals.

To sum up, George W. Bush' harsh tactics date back to his term as Texas Governor. His own White House lawyer warned him two years ago that the tactics being used today leave him and the entire administration open to prosecutions for war crimes. Even veterans of previous wars, including Korea and Vietnam, are calling for a "full and public Congressional investigation...all the way up the chain of command."

If there are still any doubts about how much we've improved the lives of the Iraqi people, I strongly suggest this Marine's account of his actions in Iraq.

Peace,
R. G. Pratt
Iron Blogger Green
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Thursday, May 27, 2004

Battle Torture - The Challenger - Second (and final) Rebuttal

I am willing to accept the definition that the IBG has provided in his first rebuttal. However, I must reiterate what he himself said: This definition if much broader than the definition I provided. However, it is useful to me to point out that because of the wording of this definition, torture can be any physical or mental suffering intentionally inflicted upon someone for the purpose of: coercing or extracting information, or punishing someone for an act either committed by the recipient or third person or an act suspected of being committed by a third person. By this definition, it could very well be perceived that being forced to listen to the Barney song is torture because it can cause mental suffering through repetition of horribly irritating music for hours on end.

The foundation of the Challenger’s position, as I believe he himself has laid out, is the difference between Utilitarianism and Absolutism. He takes the role of the Utilitarian, and invites me to play the Absolutist. I don’t find myself in that role, however. The Challenger quotes Nagel in defining these terms, but even Nagel qualified that division by the belief that ‘the gains from a certain measure will clearly outweigh its costs’. The Challenger seems to accept that qualification and be prepared to move forward from there, but I disagree. I think that that qualification is where the Challenger’s case finds its root flaw. Are the abuses at the hands of (specifically) Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay worthy enough that they ‘clearly outweigh’ their costs? The Challenger bases much of his argument on this assumption; as I see it, however, that constitutes a very large and uncertain leap.

I must admit that I was trying to see how you would react to the “Absolutist” assertion, but what I would like to know is; if you are not a moral absolutist, do you concede that purpose, and the product of actions seeming immoral can be good? If not, what do you believe exactly? Can the products of an action such as torture be useful or beneficial to humanity? If not, why?

Now, to address the “uncertain leap” that the number of prisoners possibly abused and held in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan (I was unable to find a solid total of prisoners) do not outweigh the benefits of such actions, I need to compare the number of possibly tortured individuals in these prisons (680+8,080+(3,000?)=8,760-11,760) to the number of people saved from their former governments, and given rights and freedoms that they never had. That number, is estimated at 53.3 million ( 24,683,300 in Iraq, 28,717,200 in Afghanistan) people. Even if every single prisoner in the prisons today were the recipients of interrogation using torture, the sheer amount of people that have benefited or were saved by these actions outweigh the initial moral costs of harming another human being. And then again, that is something that I believe needs restating from my first rebuttal.

”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.”


Perhaps it appears that I am oversimplifying things at first, but there are two specific examples (for the sake of practical argument) in which the numbers are staggeringly large, and inaction has or would have produced a bigger moral catastrophe that I wish to bring up. This first one is in honor of my friend Kurdo. In 1988, the military of Ba’ath Iraq launched a devastating and horrifying campaign against the Kurds. Anfal, as it is known, saw the use of chemical weapons such as sarin, tabun, mustard gas, and possibly VX. Halabja alone saw around 15,000 total casualties (5k killed, 10k injured.) This attack was led by “Chemical Ali.” Now, What if that was preventable? 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.

If my memory serves me correctly, there was recently an attack thwarted by the Jordanians that had the potential to kill 80,000 people. It is important to note that in this instance, that the munitions were found AFTER the terrorists were captured, and the terrorists showed signs of torture in their confession videos. This is important because the number of people tortured or killed in this operation was significantly less than 80,000 people. Are the lives of four men, and the misery of six others worth the continued living of 80,000 people? Yes. Why? Because the deaths of those 80,000 people would not be the only product of the terrorist act. There would be the “160,000” others who were injured, and not to mention the impact it would have on the families. To go further, the economy would significantly be impacted, and as the King of Jordan put it: "It would have decapitated the government," leaving a power vacuum. Though media sources bicker over the numbers (BBC vs. Tehran times, Qatar’s press releases, Ha’aretz, etc.) 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.

To return to the relationship between torture and interrogation:

Torture can be used as a coercive interrogation technique. That is to say: torture can be used to supplement interrogation for the purpose of extracting valuable information, which can, in turn, save lives. Of course, saving lives all depends on the intent of the torturer, and what the purpose behind the interrogation was. It is quite obvious from a historical standpoint to say, that torture generally was not used to save lives, or in cases like the Spanish Inquisition, resulted in no real “salvation” at all (save for the conversion of a few people, which is only debatably saving someone, depending upon your religious beliefs. I do not consider religious conversion as salvation.)

In the end, the products of the interrogation (present-day US) are most often the determining factors in how its’ morality can be judged.

Even if someone was brought up in a world in which the most sadistic and unreasonable human slaughter succeeded, their perceptions on this issue would not change the product of the action, and its’ moral, political, sociological, economic, religious and interpersonal ramifications.

One thing we do need to realize right off the bat is that genocides, mass-murders and slaughters have occurred and will occur. The world can be unjust, and it will likely stay that way so long as we humans are all imperfect. In order to survive the weaknesses of some in power, we must act to counter the damage they can do. In the end, it WILL be hard, and it WILL be difficult to come to grips with some of the things we may have to do as a Nation, or member of the international community. We’ve had to face these things before in WWI, WWII, Kosovo, Iraq, Turkey, Rwanda, Burundi, the Congo, Iran, and countless other instances.

Right now, I would like to take the time for a clarification, and more questions for the IBG. Here is an article that lists the interrogation methods being used on Saddam. But one statement from the IBG caught my attention:

”I haven't heard anybody arguing that Saddam Hussein even remotely resembled an innocent, and the fact that he inflicted atrocities as hideous as any upon his prisoners is beyond dispute. If this information saved lives, American or Iraqi, few (if any) among us would weep for the miseries of Saddam Hussein.”


WHY? Why would “few (if any)” weep for the miseries of Saddam? Is it because of the horrible things he has done? Could it be that many believe his punishment is just? Could there be a number of people whom he was causing pain, and his capture ended that pain? Could his interrogation result in the capture of others in Iraq as sadistic as he, and in turn save more lives? One thing that needs to be made clear is that information is being gathered from Saddam.

With the Death Penalty (to respond to an IBG point,) many of the utilitarian arguments can be employed. There may be innocents killed in a process that is not perfect, but the killers it does remove indefinitely, it could be argued, reduce the risk enough that the execution is the proper action. With that opinion (not my own entirely,) we begin to see why a utilitarian would focus on the entire situation regarding torure. For an example, I will use the entire situation in Iraq as it encompasses more than just the bad parts of the US-led occupation. Rather than only see its’ shortcomings (such as the human cost, the Abu-Ghraib scandal, the insurgency and slow pace of establishing a federal government that can defend itself,) the utilitarian would immediately see, as well as all of the poor results, some of the good; the US has seized over 8,200 tons of ammo and thousands of weapons, 80-90% of Iraqis are governed by local government, the death toll is low in comparison to other wars, many Iraqis are expressing their gratitude over the internet, Muqtada Al-Sadr is pulling his fighters further and further back (brand-spankin'-new newsstory for you all,) and wages of the ordinary Iraqi are skyrocketing in value. All in all, the utilitarian would argue, things are looking up for Iraq, and the renaissance it will experience in the coming months will be much worth the time, effort and mistakes that were made by the US campaign. There will always be mistakes in dealings as severe as these, but those mistakes are far outweighed by the fruits of labor that actually helps millions of people.

At this point, I would like to point out that to omit the fruits of an entire institution such as the US’ use of torture to aid interrogation for the simple reason that in some instances it was used for something other than good is unwise. Torture in interrogation produced EVERYTHING that came of it, good and bad. Because the mission of interrogation (and the torture used in interrogation) of percieved combatants in the broader perspective is to prevent terror attacks, and by extension, the human suffering that results from terror attacks, the intent, and the product of this act is morally sound, even if the act of interrogation itself is controversial.

”The principle of the Challenger’s position has merit; it is, truly, difficult to argue against the idea that savaging, even ending, a few guilty lives to save many innocent ones is a justifiable act.”


What I would like to know, for the sake of argument, is why do you believe that is so?

With that I leave my second rebuttal, and I thank you all for your time. Most of all I would like to thank intensely the IBG, who debates honestly, and with considerable merit and informational background. Snark was not present here, and that is very respectable. The questions I asked him directly in this rebuttal were not meant to insult, they were simply meant to elicit an answer to add to the debate.

Best of Regards to all-
Chris

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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

A Note From The Chairman

I want to take a moment to thank Big Dan, Jimmie, Innuendo, Pineapple Girl, Lucifer's Condiments, Michael Spires, Vinod, Ira and GT for their kindness. It is greatly appreciated.

Our Haloscan account is now upgraded and can take 3 times the length in posts, so feel free to enjoy this new feature. It will also be more stable and reliable, now.

Again, thank you all.
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Battle Torture - Iron Blogger Green - First Rebuttal

I seem to have opened a can of 'em by invoking the Age of Enlightenment. The Challenger obviously has a more-than passing familiarity with this period, which is appropriate; the philosophies of good vs. evil, rational vs. irrational, just vs. unjust, are central to this debate, and should not be omitted from it. I do find myself, however, questioning his interpretations of some of the wisdom he quotes; as, indeed, he seems to do himself.

He begins with a definition. I also prefer not to sidestep into semantics, but I have found another definition which might be more authoritative in this debate.

According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (to which the United States of America has been signatory since April 18, 1988), the definition of torture is as follows:

PART I

Article 1

1. For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

2. This article is without prejudice to any international instrument or national legislation which does or may contain provisions of wider application.


I think that definition is sufficiently wide for our purposes, and markedly broader than the one supplied by the Challenger, which seems to center on physical pain, with a side order of mental anguish.

In my Opening Statement, I covered a lot of ground that is well known to us all. Few in this time have not heard of the Witch Persecutions, the French Revolution, or the Holocaust. I felt, and still feel, that it was worth revisiting those times, because they were not isolated incidents. In truth, it would have been appallingly easy to have gone into many more such times, in many more locations, and, as the Challenger states, in much bloodier detail. I did consider using graphic descriptions of the effects of torture, but I think that kind of imagery is well-enough implied by the word itself; we are all aware of several horrifying things that can be done to (to borrow a phrase) hearts and minds. Giving gory descriptions might be effective, but only in shock value. I hope to prove my point on a more solid foundation, although I will not rule out references to sources containing such material: It may be superfluous in detail, but it is relevant in substance.

The foundation of the Challenger’s position, as I believe he himself has laid out, is the difference between Utilitarianism and Absolutism. He takes the role of the Utilitarian, and invites me to play the Absolutist. I don’t find myself in that role, however. The Challenger quotes Nagel in defining these terms, but even Nagel qualified that division by the belief that ‘the gains from a certain measure will clearly outweigh its costs’. The Challenger seems to accept that qualification and be prepared to move forward from there, but I disagree. I think that that qualification is where the Challenger’s case finds its root flaw. Are the abuses at the hands of (specifically) Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay worthy enough that they ‘clearly outweigh’ their costs? The Challenger bases much of his argument on this assumption; as I see it, however, that constitutes a very large and uncertain leap.

He goes on to say that, in our present situation, torture is better defined as interrogation, rather than in the same historical sense as the atrocities at Auschwitz, Paris, and Salem. Again, I find this to be a highly questionable position.

The footholds of the Challenger's argument, then, are first the assumption that torture as we see it being used today is benevolent and that the ends justify the means; and second, the belief that, except for "a few of those soldiers", American use of torture has been controlled enough and mild enough to be classified under the less inflammatory category of 'interrogation'.

Let's examine the former. The Challenger himself points out two major flaws in this argument. First, that "many Nazis believed that what they were doing served a higher purpose", and almost immediately thereafter, "Torture was rarely used to serve a purpose that was acceptable by moral standards (except some religious ones, unfortunately.) ". He also goes on to state that "That word (interrogation) is simply a dressing-up of something that is less appealing, so it doesn’t sound as bad.", which actually is just an alternate phrasing for the definition of the word 'euphemism'.

Allow me to take a look at those examples, again using my own references to the Nazi Holocaust and the Witch Persecutions (the Reign of Terror, I think we all can agree, was primarily driven by revenge).

A good entry point here is the idea that, in reference to the ultimate intended outcome of the Holocaust, "it is quite obvious that the world would have nothing to gain from that sort of 'final solution.'" I would agree absolutely, as, I hope, would any of us. Yet even today, there are many who would take an entirely different stance. Most of us look at such groups of people as extremists, obsessive, even mad. But imagine that history had taken a different path, and Nazi Germany had succeeded in enacting its Final Solution. Having been born and raised in a world in which the genocide of the Jewish people was not only fact, but taught to children as a right and moral thing, would we still find it obvious that it had been the wrong thing to do?

Today in America, there are many who take deep offense at lawsuits brought against the United States by Indian nations, or the idea of reparations to the descendents of the victims of slavery. Yet in many ways, the situations of these two groups of people are comparable to what was inflicted, or intended, by the Nazis upon the Jews, or the Catholics upon the Pagans. The separation of time has a way of seeming to minimalize such actions, at least to those who did not directly suffer them. If a handful of surviving Jews were demanding reparations today, would they be given any more attention than the Indians, or the American Black, or even the modern Pagans, who are still often perceived as blood-thirsty, sex-crazed Devil worshippers (no offense to The Devil You Know), in spite of the total inaccuracy of that image.

It has been said many times (and nobody seems to know who said it first) that “History is written by the victor”. What we see today as a hideous atrocity, beyond all reason, might be viewed entirely differently, had the other side prevailed.

We all know the old morals question, “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?”

I think some among us would have a more difficult time with that one, and that, I believe, is the perfect illustration of our topic. It’s easy to say that it’s worth torturing a guilty person to gain information that might save an innocent. If any one of us could go back in time and ensure that President Clinton was right on the mark when he tried to kill Osama bin Laden long before 9/11/01 , who wouldn’t jump at the chance?

But I don’t think we can debate that question without further asking if it’s still justified to even take the chance of torturing an innocent person, and saving no one; and further still, even if that does seem justified, how can we be sure? To a person brought up in a successful Thousand-Year Reich, even the Holocaust as we know it today might be remembered in the same vein as the Haitian Slave Revolt, the German Peasants' War, or the War of 1812.

The Challenger himself defines the basis of this debate as comparable to that of good vs. evil, and I agree. I submit, however, that it isn’t always clear at the time precisely which side you’re on. Were the Sioux and Cheyenne in the right when they massacred the troops of General Custer at Little Bighorn? Or were the U. S. troops in the right, four years later, when they massacred the Sioux at Wounded Knee? If you ask a Caucasian American today, you might get a different answer than if you ask a Sioux, as I've illustrated above.

The Challenger saves me having to point out that Kant would almost certainly have opposed any form of torture. In fact, the concept of 'duty' as expressed by Kant is not the military sense of duty, but the duty to one's own ability to reason. His entire framework of morality is based on the reasoning processes of the individual, rather than an obedience to the commands of others. Kant's position on this less personal sort of duty, expressed in his Metaphysics of Ethics (written in 1797, some twelve years after the Groundwork), is that "no action performed for expediency or solely in obedience to law or custom can be regarded as moral." Kant embodies this concept in the philosophy, "Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a general natural law".

I doubt that most of us would care to live in a world entirely populated by torturers. I think, rather, that Kant would have agreed with John Donne, in that "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind".

I move on now to my second perceived weakness in the foundation of the Challenger's position; the assumption that current American use of torture is better termed as interrogation.

In his Opening Statement, the Challenger points to an article that describes how American interrogations of Saddam Hussein since his capture last December have helped to "…round up insurgents and identify false leads..." The article doesn't describe what interrogation techniques were used, but neither does it claim any specific results. I haven't heard anybody arguing that Saddam Hussein even remotely resembled an innocent, and the fact that he inflicted atrocities as hideous as any upon his prisoners is beyond dispute. If this information saved lives, American or Iraqi, few (if any) among us would weep for the miseries of Saddam Hussein.

But members of his family or party who remain loyal to him might. And if so, certainly they feel as much in the right about their beliefs as we do in ours. But we don't even know that the information won from Hussein saved any lives. Suppose nothing of substance was gained? His information might well have been outdated; the insurgents he named may have been innocents against whom he held a personal grudge. Are we then still in the right, for having inflicted harm on him? He was, after all, a murderous monster. The difficulty lies in that until you have the information gleaned from torture in your hand, and are able to follow up on it, there is no way to be absolutely certain that the person being tortured will, in fact, be the key to saving or helping any innocents. It would be nearly impossible, then, to be certain that the person being tortured was himself (or herself) not an innocent.

There have been several revelations, in recent years, of innocent people being put on Death Row in America, or possibly even wrongly executed. The judicial system is not infallible; mistakes can be made. This is why the Court of Appeals was invented. Once a sentence of death has been inflicted, however, finding out that the executed person was innocent is not really much different than seeing that the Witch in the dunking chair did, in fact, drown…oops.

The scandals at Abu Ghraib and at Camp Bucca, the BIF, and Al Mahmudiya, are not yet fully known to us. There are credible reports of tortures at Abu Ghraib which did, in fact, cause deaths. There may not have been maimings (unless you count serious dog bites or wounds stitched by amateurs), or people forced to watch their spouses raped, but there were prisoners who were themselves raped.

The Challenger contends that the only acceptable use of torture is in interrogation. I’ve already given examples of how easily that goal can become lost. Even if the focus on interrogation does not slip or become blurred, without a judicial process that is 100% accurate, there are going to be innocents who are abused, or slain, without cause. But how often does that happen?

Abu Ghraib, as we know, is still being investigated. But there are reports already that many of the prisoners there were innocent people, picked up at random, or instead of a person who’d been intended to be arrested but could not be found; that the guards at the prison were not qualified for that duty, and that racism and intolerance were running high. There are prisoners in Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo Bay, who have not been arrested, tried or convicted, and who may well have been tortured.

The Challenger maintains that Abu Ghraib (and, presumably, the other current situations), are incidents in which “a few of those soldiers got out of hand”. But the investigations already have implicated private mercenaries, intelligence officers, superior officers, the Secretary of Defense and possibly even the White House itself. Should these allegations prove true, then we are already in a situation where the initial use of torture for the cause of good, in interrogation only, has been perverted from ‘saving lives’ to the purpose of ‘destroying them’.


"Indeed," the Challenger tells us, "we find that in the media, the word [torure] is completely subjective to the user in which light they would like to cast the torturing party in."

By the same token, the torture itself may also be subjective, depending on not only the torturer but also on the victim.

In the Islamic world, the actions used against the prisoners at Abu Ghraib had a different effect than they might have elsewhere. In America, most men would have been embarrassed, humiliated, even outraged by being forced into those positions. To a man raised in that Islamic tradition, it goes far beyond that, into realms of utter mortification. Just the act of being naked in the company of another man, or a woman not his wife, may be torturous to him. To most of us, it would be little more than a laughable embarrassment. To him, it is a violation that strikes to the core of his very being.

The Challenger imagines that "The most common result of this mistreatment was either humiliation or periods of intense fear". Yet even his own definition of the word 'torture' includes 'excrutiating...mental pain' and 'severe...anguish'. Perhaps the word 'interrogation' is equally as subjective as the word 'torture'.

I've run way over my limit, and for that I apologize. I'll end here with this thought:

The principle of the Challenger’s position has merit; it is, truly, difficult to argue against the idea that savaging, even ending, a few guilty lives to save many innocent ones is a justifiable act.
The problem is that in reality the practice rarely, if ever, bears out the principle.

"Wild animals never kill for sport. Man is the only one to whom the torture and death of his fellow creatures is amusing in itself."
Froude


Peace,
Iron Blogger Green
R. G. Pratt
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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Battle Torture - The Challenger - First Rebuttal

”If he believes that the gains from a certain measure will clearly outweigh its costs, yet still suspects that he ought not to adopt it, then he is in a dilemma produced by the conflict between two disparate categories if moral reason: categories that may be called utilitarian and absolutist”- Thomas Nagel, from Mortal Questions.


Before I go any further with this debate, it is important that we understand the meaning of the word “torture” to avoid a semantic argument. According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, the definition of torture is as follows:

tor·ture (tôr ch r)
n.
1.
a. Infliction of severe physical pain as a means of punishment or coercion.
b. An instrument or a method for inflicting such pain.
2. Excruciating physical or mental pain; agony: the torture of waiting in suspense.
3. Something causing severe pain or anguish.

However, in this day and age, torture has a different nature than it used to, and by that, I mean, it is employed to save lives rather than destroy them. Therefore, it may be acceptable and useful to restore the word to its’ original focus. “Interrogation” in the modern world can, at times, be synonymous with “torture.” Interrogation is used to glean information from persons, and often employs acts described as torture. Thus, it is necessary to visit the purpose of both. Indeed, we find that in the media, the word is completely subjective to the user in which light they would like to cast the torturing party in. So, if these words are interchangeable, does that mean that the purpose of these actions are the same? Sometimes. The only form of torture that is acceptable is (for all intents and purposes) synonymous enough to interrogation that it is essentially the same thing.

Another item that I must address is History. Though the debate is about the concept and implementation of torture itself, I mentioned in my opener that context is very important. My opponent did a wonderful job outlining a modern history of torture, and for the sakes of our stomachs (probably) omitted ancient examples of torture. Let me make this clear: Any action perpetrated for the purpose of sadism is indefensible, nor should it be defensible. Most, if not all instances of torture in the historical sense were brutal, heavy-handed, and did not serve any higher purpose other than furthering the power of the torturer. As the Iron Blogger brought up: the Holocaust was a disgusting exercise in the interests of sadism. Though many Nazis believed that what they were doing served a higher purpose, it is quite obvious that the world would have nothing to gain from that sort of “final solution.”

Torture was rarely used to serve a purpose that was acceptable by moral standards (except some religious ones, unfortunately.) The fact of the matter is that torture was an ugly business, and was not truly refined until the modern era for the specific purpose of interrogation. That word (interrogation) is simply a dressing-up of something that is less appealing, so it doesn’t sound as bad.

Now, in order to end my non sequitur, I will revisit the argument of utility. According to Hume: “…there appear only three principles of connection among ideas, namely, resemblance, contiguity in time or place, and cause or effect.” So what is the cause of torture? In a sense, it could be ascertained that the cause of torture is want. However, in the modern setting, the cause of torture (at least in the western world) is regulated in respect to the tortured. This is to say that the focus of the torture is the recipient of it, and more specifically, their mind. The United States used torture to assist interrogation of combatants. It is from these methods that we have gleaned valuable information and saved lives. However, this form of torture is in no way synonymous with what it used to be. A good example is the Abu-Ghraib prison, regardless of the political ramifications.

Within a span of a few years, the definition of torture for some has drastically changed. How? Well, as illustrated in historical accounts, torture in the Middle East can entail any of the following: Chemical baths, amputations, rape, intense physical pain, branding, agonizingly slow murders, beatings, electrical torture and starvation. I will use the example of Odai Hussein. His treatment of Iraqis and others was purely sadistic, and does not fall under the category of torture with use. However, when the United States took over Abu-Ghraib prison, the method of torture changed. Instead of maiming prisoners, or forcing them to watch their spouses raped, US soldiers used to deprive them of sleep, sensory input, or play with their heads. Now, we all know what happened when a few of those soldiers got out of hand. However, no intense harm was done to these prisoners. The most common result of this mistreatment was either humiliation or periods of intense fear.

Earlier in this rebuttal, I quoted Thomas Nagel’s separation of Utilitarianism and Absolutism. I will quote him further (from War and Massacre):
“Utilitarianism gives primacy to a concern with what will happen. Absolutism gives primacy to what one is doing. The conflict between them arises because the alternatives we face are rarely just choices between total outcomes: they are also choices between alternative pathways or measures to be taken.”- Thomas Nagel

What Nagel asserts is the fact that decisions of action are rarely as absolute, or definitive. This is to say that there are some things that are impossible to determine their moral quality. Hume agrees: “Matters of fact, which are the second objects of human reason, are not ascertained in the same manner; nor is our evidence of their truth, however great, of a like nature with the foregoing. The contrary of every matter of fact is still possible; because it can never imply a contradiction, and is conceived by the mind with the same facility and distinctness, as if ever so conformable to reality.”(An enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.)
This implies that there are certain actions, however weighted in morality, are able to be wrong and right at the same time. For example: The act of causing someone pain is morally wrong. However, causing someone pain to prevent further moral violations, or help others is morally correct at the same time.

To make life easier on everyone, let us first clearly state our positions on the matter, shall we not? As I have demonstrated, I see that the utility of torturing (selectively) with no infirmity of purpose, or presence of sadism is a useful and acceptable thing. This follows the classical Utilitarian mindset. My opponent (Robin, please correct me if I am wrong!) seems to share in the Absolutist mindset by believing that the morality of actions regardless of result will always have the same value or detriment to them. My case that I must present to you is that the ethical by-products of an innately immoral action can be, in fact, not only of use, but a very moral and ethical indeed.

Even Immanuel Kant, someone who in principle would staunchly oppose torture throughout history (as well he should.) Allows for the moral worth of intent in purpose (from Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals):
“a good will is…good through its willing alone- that is, good in itself.” He goes on to say: “We will therefore take up the concept of duty, which includes that of a good will, exposed to certain subjective limitations and obstacles. These, so far from hiding a good will or disguising it, rather bring it out by contrast and make it shine forth more brightly.”

Therefore, it is the intent and cause behind duty that determines its’ moral worth. If done with correct purpose, the moral quality of the duty is good.

Kant continues: “To help others where one can is a duty.” Though by no means a utilitarian, Kant recognizes the importance of duty. Therefore, in accordance with a good will or intent (saving the lives of many) the duty of torturing/interrogating the target information-holder is good.

Now, this begs the question: who may perform this act? According to conventional wisdom, it is not a good idea to trust the common man or soldier (sorry Locke) with this task. Why? Because there is an almost certain presence of either bias or application of foreign purpose from the torturer, it is most probable to be lead to infirmity of purpose. The torturer is no longer torturing for the morally acceptable reason, the torturer is torturing for their own reasons. Sadism, among other tendencies, is the chief evil one has to be wary of.

Thomas Hobbes would argue (as he has about State) that the acceptable selection of someone to torture would be an “impartial observer.” One who has no feelings or biases towards helping or hurting the prisoner. However, this person would have to be driven solely by purpose, and adhere to that purpose against all others (excepting survival.)

This destroys the possibility of individuals with a pre-meditated goal to harm the tortured, as we’ve seen in Abu-Ghraib prison. For whatever reason, these soldiers did not violate the code of conduct on impulse. Whether they went to Iraq with the determination that they would “make ‘them’ pay,” or whether they saw something that so enraged them that they were able to justify in their own minds this deplorable action, they had to have had a reason (however sick and perverted) to do what they do. Sadism is not innate.

As I conclude this first rebuttal, I must reiterate that context is important as it provides ample evidence of torture’s failures. However, when debating about an issue that hinges on how we percieve ethical conduct, the most important piece to the debate is what defines good and evil. Using the words of those who theorized upon the subject of purpose and morals, I show how apparently important duty is to each of these philosophers (with the exception of the Hedonists.) In order to come to a synthesis of reason about the issue, one must examine the act, its’ intents, and its’ product(s) fully. When all is said and done, the utility of torture methods to glean information that can save lives outweighs the immediate moral dilemma of harming another human.

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Monday, May 24, 2004

Battle Torture - Iron Blogger Green - Opening Statement

Mohandas K. Gandhi: "They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me. Then they will have my dead body—not my obedience." (1)

To write a comprehensive history of all the times and places in which torture has been used, and all the reasons given to justify it, would be to write a history of humanity itself.

The practice of torture has been used by governments, religions, soldiers, rebels, criminals, and judicial courts. The word 'torture' is derived from the Latin torquere, which means 'to twist'. This is an excellent reference to early machines of torture, like the wheel or the rack.

Even the methods of torture comprise a catalogue far too long to be shown here. This small word covers a universe of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual agony, whose only common quality is the purposeful infliction of pain, often to the final physical harm, death.

Yet examples of this field of atrocities persist. Caligula, the mad emperor of Rome, who banished or murdered most of his relatives, had people tortured and killed while he dined. (2) The Crusades. The Inquisitions. The Witchcraft Persecutions. The Spanish Conquest of Central America. The Great Purge of Soviet Russia. The Holocaust. The Khmer Rouge.

The questions posed for this debate are huge, and have been debated for ages. Although the Old Testament of the Bible lists over thirty capital crimes, the Book of Deuteronomy states boundaries to be observed even during time of war, and forbids the killing of women and children. (3) This may have been influenced by the Code of Hammurabi, the earliest known written code of justice, which protects the rights of women, children, the weak and the poor, and even slaves, from abuse at the hands of the rich and powerful. (4)

In the 13'th century, the Roman Catholic Church began to apply the law of treason to the crime of heresy, naming it crimen laesae majestatis Divinae, or "crime of injury to the Divine majesty". (5) Pope Innocent IV decreed that those accused of heresy should be tortured, in order to elicit confessions and to implicate others, and Pope Alexander IV expanded that doctrine to include all forms of 'sorcery'. In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII released the Summis Desiderantes, a bull against Witches, which was followed two years later by the infamous Malleus Maleficarum, "The Witch Hammer".

Written by a pair of German monks, the book provides detailed instructions on the prosecution and persecution of those suspected of Witchcraft. The entire text is rife with explicit sexual imagery and mysogyny, and created a hysterical paranoia that lasted nearly three centuries. In villages where one or two Witches were suspected of living, the entire population was often tortured and killed to the cry "Destroy them all...the Lord will know His own!" (6) In 1586, blaming Witches for the harsh winter, the Archbishop of Treves tortured and burned to death one hundred and twenty men and women.

One method used to test a person's innocence of sorcery was by 'dunking'. The accused was thrown into a body of water, or sometimes strapped to a specially-made chair which could be lowered or raised by means of a long lever. If she did not drown, she was declared guilty of Witchcraft, and put to death. If she did drown, she was ruled innocent...oops (7).

It wasn't until 1816 that the Church, through a Papal Bull, finally banned the use of torture. By then, an estimated nine million people had been burned, hanged or tortured to death on the charge of practicing Witchcraft. (8)

By this time, most of Europe and America had entered into the Enlightenment, also called the Age of Reason. The architects of the Enlightenment believed that human intellect and science were forces that could displace the tyranny of religion gone mad. They believed that this was the path to peace, knowledge, and respect for all humanity. Based largely on the writings of John Locke, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton and Voltaire, it was a serious attempt to move forward into a new age in which individual experience and inspiration could replace fear and superstition as the driving forces behind society.

France, the home of much of this new philosophy, so longed for that equality that it finally reached a boiling point at which it could no longer bear the oppression and callousness of its own aristocracy. The French Revolution was inspired in part by the American Revolution, in both of which the French-born Major General Gibert Motier de Lafayette played a major role.

But in France, the rebels went beyond what had happened in America, and instigated the Reign of Terror . Between 1793 and 1794, roughly eleven thousand people, declared enemies of the Revolution, were put to a gruesome death at the guillotine…which, ironically, had been designed as a supposedly painless and merciful tool of execution.

In all of human history, however, it wasn’t until the 20’th century that the twin horrors of warfare and torture reached a whole new level never seen before.

If the Age of Enlightenment was a time of reason, vision and optimism, the 20’th century was its utter failure. World War I was a devastating blow to all of these ideals, as the world saw soldiers from what were perceived to be the most enlightened nations on the planet massacre one another in the millions. Optimism turned to sardonicism as men returned from the war maimed and crippled, or did not return at all. Women had moved into the work force during their absence, redefining gender roles and the definition of family, and most of the nations involved were left deeply in debt.

Adolf Hitler seized this opportunity. Much of Europe felt that the Treaty of Versailles had been too harsh toward Germany (9). Hitler used this sentiment, plus an almost universal desire to avoid another large-scale war at any cost, to assume power in Germany and begin rebuilding its military. What followed was worse than anyone at the time could imagine.

Hitler’s first moves against the Jewish population of Germany were through legislation. As Chancellor, he passed laws against kosher butchering, then depriving Jews of German citizenship, then barring Jews from the electoral process. By using this strategy, stripping the Jews of one legal protection after another, Hitler’s government created a dehumanizing effect. The fewer rights Jews had, the easier it was to think of them as second-class citizens, increasingly, if vaguely, less important than other people. In 1939, Jews in Germany began being forced to carry identification cards. By the end of the year arrests were being made, and ‘relocation camps’ set up along the border with Poland.

When the son of a Polish family of Jews thus exiled retaliated by assassinating a German Embassy official in France, Hitler responded. His Chief of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, painted a picture of a widespread Jewish conspiracy. The people were whipped up into a hysteria of fear and paranoia, which broke open on what has now become known as the Kristallnacht…"The Night of Broken Glass."

Enraged by fear, mobs boiled through the streets of Germany and its territories, burning synagogues and Jewish businesses, desecrating cemeteries and schools, killing nearly 100 Jews and injuring hundreds more. Afterward, roughly 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

In the Holocaust that followed, the Nazi rulership of Germany was responsible for the torture and murder of six million Jews, as well as Poles, Communists, Socialists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, tens of thousands of Roma, over three million Russians, at least 200,000 physically and mentally disabled, and an estimated 2 million gays.

In its retaliation against the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during that war, the United States became the first power in the world to use atomic bombs during warfare. Estimates put the total casualties for the initial blast in Hiroshima at 135,000, in Nagasaki at 64,000.

Unfortunately World War II was far from the last time the world would see the use of torture. Cuba, Uruguay, Cambodia, Greece, Panama, Nicaragua, Iraq, Haiti, Algeria, Ethiopia, China, Chile, Uganda, Saudi Arabia, the United States of America…the practice continues to this day.

The questions posed by the Chairman, taken as a group, would seem to point to a specific topic of torture in relation, primarily, to military intelligence. In this Opening Statement, I have taken a much wider view, in order to provide some background to the debate. Before we can qualify torture as a ‘necessary evil’, I feel it necessary to explore to just what extent that evil can be taken, and also how very easy it is for a ‘just cause’ to become a bloody slaughter. Torture has been used many times toward what seemed to be a positive end, but, as a quick review of history proves, the ends can be forgotten and the torture become an end of itself almost in an instant.

History also shows that, under torture, people will, eventually, confess to anything they believe their tormenter wishes to hear, whether it be conspiracy, heresy, or a romantic moonlit walk with the Devil. Though there have been some cases in which people were able to avoid or even endure torture, the vast majority cannot. And even when torture is used, initially, to glean such information, it is seductively easy to become addicted to sadism. The information obtained through torture is unreliable, and torture itself is unreliable as a tool.

Human rights…do the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few…or the one? These are questions with which philosophers have struggled for thousands of years. They are not easily answered; perhaps they are not answerable.

Distilled down to its simplest form, maybe the question should be, is the price of torture worth the cost? To torment, to injure, to maim, to kill…there is something dark in human nature that, once given a taste of these things, often finds itself thirsting for more. Is it worth torturing one person, to prevent a Holocaust?

How can it, when the torture of one person may very well be the event that sets a Holocaust in motion?

My thanks…and peace to us all.

R. G. Pratt, Iron Blogger Green

Mohandas K. Gandhi: "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind." (10)

(1-5, 7, 9-10) Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2002. © 1993-2001 Microsoft Corporation.
(6, 8) Buckland’s Complete Book on Witchcraft, by Raymond Buckland, Llewellyn Publications, 1993.

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