Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Nobody expects the Bush administration

I'm a Democrat. So when Bush got "elected," I expected a lot of bad things to come from his administration. But I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition. But then.....


Really there is just no excuse for this. Absolutely none. Yeah, I've heard the arguments. If you caught the ringleader of a terrorist group who had bombs planted all over New York, and the only way you could find out where they were was to torture the guy, would you do it. I'm enough of a Kantian to say no even in this case. But this assumes something that clearly isn't true--that we could get the information from him by torture and in no other way. Torture victims talk, but they say whatever they think the captor wants to hear in order to get the torture to stop.

Oh, but we're being told that this isn't torture. The last president had an interesting definition of sexual relations. I think this definition is a tad more serious. The people of this country have to insist that this practice be ended permanently, and if that means not approving the attorney general, or impeaching the President, so be it. This isn't a liberal issue, it's not a conservative issue, it's not a Republican or Democrat issue, it's an ethical issue. Pure and simple.

26 comments:

Ilíon said...

"And believe me, it grieves me when Christians are rude to their intellectual opponents."

Would that be somewhat akin to making sure to use scare-quotes when referring to Bush's "election?"

Victor Reppert said...

OK, that wasn't nice. I want my comments here to be neutral between people who think that Bush was legitimately elected, and those who think that think that he was appointed by the Supreme Court. I will be happy to keep that can of worms in the can.

wtc? said...

With the issue of Waterboarding - I have to admit that I am agnostic. I neither know the true facts (most reports tend to lean hard to one side or the other) about the technique employed (there appears to be many different views of the way waterboarding is done) by the US, nor do I know the frequency of its usage, its real effects vs. effectiveness, etc...

As it stands, I would take issue with both approaches to the topic because with it come an insurmountable host of controversies.

Consider even the definition of torture:

Torture (the deliberate, systematic, or wanton infliction of physical or mental suffering by one or more persons in an attempt to force another person to yield information or to make a confession or for any other reason)

You can see that, by it's own definition, we can easily springboard into massive controversy over terms and definitions.

--and on and on and on--

Bottom line - the way the media (not an institution know for promoting clarity) has handled the issue has been pathetic. There is so much misinformation swirling around - ranging from justification (ends justify means), to utterly dishonest and out of proportion portrayals (such as the recent film: Rendition) that an honest discussion of the issue has become nearly impossible.


As a conservative myself, I freely admit to a lack of real solid knowledge on this topic (even after reading all kinds of articles on the topic). As a Christian, I guess I would take this type of principled stance:

i.e. "If we err, let's err on the side of ethics."

On that ground, I would oppose the Bush admin decision on this issue, while at the same time - I hardly think it fair to portray the Bush admin (as the media and Hollywood do) as a bunch of cut-throat torture jockeys who have no regard for humanity. Obviously - the Bush admin has been faced with very difficult decisions about this issue, but they certainly have a much clearer understanding of the real facts surrounding it's actual implementation than most people that take a hard line stance on the issue, one way or the other.

Does that seem somewhat fair?

wtc? said...

And by the way Victor, "Are you sure you've got all the stuffing up on end?"

steve said...

With all due respect, Victor, since you are a professional philosopher, and a very competent philosopher at that, don't you think you owe us well-reasoned argument against waterboarding rather than an emotional little tirade like Maureen Dowd could dash off? I mean, seriously.

Why don't you bring some of that philosophical rigor to your political views? Is that too much to ask?

It's as if you've compartmentalized your mental life so that when you're on the job, you're a rigorous thinker—but when you're talking politics, you don't feel the need to argue for your position or subject it to transparent rational scrutiny.

You can do better than that, Victor.

philip m said...

Steve, as far as I can tell, Dr. Reppert has outlined as much as we need to grip his reasoning. It's unethical, period, to torture people. The only way you could stretch a portion of the torture circle onto the ethical cirlce (thus making a ven diagram) would be to argue for it (so torture starts as unethical, which seems fair enough, and exceptions to this must be argued). The argument is that the torture victim might have tremendously important information that could save other people's lives. Given the other variables in the scenario, such as the possibility he'll lie, permanent psychological damage, and a plethora of other uknown variables, it simply doesn't outweigh the magnitude of the severity of subjecting someone to torture. Unfortunately this debate must always ends in a judgment call, so a person's reasoning will always end pretty abruptly.

That's what he thinks, anyways. I have no clue, personally.

steve said...

philip m said...

"Steve, as far as I can tell, Dr. Reppert has outlined as much as we need to grip his reasoning. It's unethical, period, to torture people. The only way you could stretch a portion of the torture circle onto the ethical cirlce (thus making a ven diagram) would be to argue for it (so torture starts as unethical, which seems fair enough, and exceptions to this must be argued)."

That's not an argument. He hasn't given us an argument. He's given us his opinion, minus a supporting argument. What you've just stated is pure assertion.

I'm not making a case for or against "torture" here. Rather, I'm making the elementary point that I'd like to see Reppert, as a professional philosopher, actually show us his process of reasoning by which he arrives at his conclusion. All we're getting at the moment is the bare conclusion—which begs the question at issue. Why should anyone agree with him?

Victor Reppert said...

International law forbids torture. The US has historically benefitted from its reputation as a country that doesn't torture anyone. German soldiers surrendered to Americans and not the Russians because they would be better treated. Germany was, of course, the country that perpetrated the Holocaust (compared to which 9/11 was a misdemeanor), and we didn't use torture to win WWII. Why in the world do we need to sully our reputation in the world by using it today? To overcome the strong moral foundation on which the ban on torture stands requires an industrial-strength utilitarian argument, if it can be justified at all.

I am convinced that the political issues of our day are not the traditional conservative vs. liberal issues. I believe that the so-called conservatism of the Bush administration is an aberration that should be repudiated by both real liberals and real conservatives.

"Treat humanity in yourself and in others as an end in themselves, and never merely as a means." Unless, of course, they're suspected of being Islamic terrorists. Then, you can do whatever you want to with them.

steve said...

Victor Reppert said...

"International law forbids torture."

Sorry, Vic, but this is just another example of where you fail to argue like the capable philosopher you are on other subjects.

You know as well as I that the legality or illegality of a practice is irrelevant to its morality. Would you defend racial discrimination in the 1940s because we had Jim Crow laws?

steve said...

Also, do you seriously think that "reputation" is a philosophically serious argument for anything? Do you really need me to cite some embarrassing counterexamples?

I'd just like to see you bring to your political statements the same fine-honed intelligence you bring to your religious statements.

Jim Lippard said...

The U.S. convicted Japanese of war crimes for engaging in waterboarding. U.S. courts awarded $766 million in damages against Ferdinand Marcos for engaging in waterboarding against Filipino citizens. U.S. courts have found law enforcement officials guilty of felonies for engaging in waterboarding. (See here.)

And the U.S. Navy SERE school uses waterboarding to train recruits on how to withstand torture techniques from authoritarian governments.

There's no doubt that it qualifies as torture.

Ilíon said...

"OK, that wasn't nice. I want my comments here to be neutral between people who think that Bush was legitimately elected, and those who think that think that he was appointed by the Supreme Court. I will be happy to keep that can of worms in the can."

That was a little bit other that "not nice."

I, for instance, am "not nice" (but then, I don't claim to be). What I aim to be is rational and logical; and I expect it of others. The level (for want of better word) of this expectation depends upon and varies by context, it ought to go without saying. For example, the sorts of 'atheists' and/or DesignDeniers (aka 'modern evolutionary theorists,' aka "Darwinists") one encounters typically tout themselves as being the epitomies of rationality and likewise insist that those who disagree with their world-views are ipso facto irrational. Therefore, I make no allowances with these folk ... and, since they are *not* epitomies of rationality, I tend to mercilessly mock their irrationalities.

Now, you and I are both Christians; we're on the same Team, no matter what petty disagreements we may turn out to have. But, you are not merely Joe Pew-Warmer, you present yourself as a voice of (professional) reasoned argument.

I'm no one, of course; and you are quite free to disregard what I say here. It's not my intention to insult you with this, but I can't contol how you read it. It is, however, my intention to severely criticize what you posted.

I had figured out some time ago that you were a Democrat; or, if not explicitly a Democrat, than someone much too taken with the leftist nostrums that party peddles. This was quite disappointing (but I still went to the trouble of getting a copy of your book).

But that comment from your blog ... and this "explanation" I've quoted here ... is just too far. Bush was elected, Gore was not; there is no "middle ground" on this. The "can of worms" is entirely fabricated by dishonest politicians; it's a lie. And you know this. With your comments, you willingly and knowingly partake of this lie.

steve said...

Yet another problem with your argument, Victor, is that you are playing both sides of the utilitarian fence. On the one hand you say:

“The US has historically benefitted from its reputation as a country that doesn't torture anyone. German soldiers surrendered to Americans and not the Russians because they would be better treated. Germany was, of course, the country that perpetrated the Holocaust (compared to which 9/11 was a misdemeanor), and we didn't use torture to win WWII. Why in the world do we need to sully our reputation in the world by using it today?”

That’s a utilitarian argument for opposing “torture.” But then you turn around and say:

“"”Treat humanity in yourself and in others as an end in themselves, and never merely as a means.’ Unless, of course, they're suspected of being Islamic terrorists. Then, you can do whatever you want to with them.”

But in that event you’re opposing utilitarian arguments—unless, of course, they come in handy when you object to “torture.” Then, you can use utilitarian arguments whenever you want to.

If you really think it’s permissible to deploy a utilitarian argument against torture, that it’s also permissible to deploy a utilitarian argument for torture.

You also said:

“To overcome the strong moral foundation on which the ban on torture stands requires an industrial-strength utilitarian argument, if it can be justified at all.”

Since when does a utilitarian justification require an “industrial-strength” argument?

Sorry, Victor, but you seem to oppose torture on purely emotional grounds, and now your flailing about for any argument to warrant your emotional revulsion, no matter how patently fallacious or contradictory the arguments you adduce. You really need to slow down, back up, and make a fresh start. If this is the best you can do, you should reexamine your original opposition.

steve said...

Jim Lippard said...
The U.S. convicted Japanese of war crimes for engaging in waterboarding. U.S. courts awarded $766 million in damages against Ferdinand Marcos for engaging in waterboarding against Filipino citizens. U.S. courts have found law enforcement officials guilty of felonies for engaging in waterboarding. (See here.)

And the U.S. Navy SERE school uses waterboarding to train recruits on how to withstand torture techniques from authoritarian governments.

There's no doubt that it qualifies as torture.

********************************************

Jim,

There are two basic problems with your reply (actually, more than two, but I'll confine myself to the immediate points you raised):

1.You are offering a legal definition of torture. Even if you're correct, that's irrelevant to the moral status of torture. There are good laws and bad laws. There are even immoral laws.

Criminalizing something doesn't automatically make it wrong. If miscegenation is illegal, does that make it wrong?

2.Apropos (1), the problem with framing the "torture" debate in legal terms is that laws can be repealed or overturned. What's illegal today can be legalized tomorrow. So that's a very shaky foundation on which to lay your case.

Victor Reppert said...

I think my position is being misunderstood. What I claim is that I think torture should be excluded on deontological, broadly Kantian grounds. That said, I realize that not everyone is a Kantian, so I offered some utilitarian considerations to show why even on those grounds waterboarding is morally unjustified.

This issue is a morally clear to me as slavery. I can see a century from now atheists pointing out that good Christians actually approved this practice back in the beginning of the 21st Century.

Our reputation as non-torturers made it so that people on the battlefield wanted to surrender to us and not to those, like the Soviets, who might torture them. Our reputation in the Arab world is what is going to keep Muslims on the moderate side and not going off to Al-Qaeda camp. Reputation has considerable utilitarian value, parting with it is expensive.

I alluded to the Florida controversy by mistake, Ilion. It defeats my purpose to do so. I want to argue against the Bush administration on grounds that you don't have to be a Democrat in order to accept. I have heard things on both sides, but look, it was seven years ago and it is the quintessential partisan debating issue.

You didn't have to be a liberal, or a Democrat, to see what was wrong with the Nixon administration's Imperial presidency and disregard for the rule of law. Barry Goldwater was in the contingent that went to Nixon's office and told him that he didn't have enough support in his own party to stay in office. We have an imperial presidency once again, whose abuses of power are worse than those of the Nixon adminstration.

steve said...

Victor Reppert said...

"This issue is a morally clear to me as slavery. I can see a century from now atheists pointing out that good Christians actually approved this practice back in the beginning of the 21st Century."

That's not an argument, Victor. Supporters of coercive interrogation are equally clear in their moral intuitions.

Victor Reppert said...

Some laws are unjust. But why suppose that this one is, since we seem to have successfully gone through
WWII without torturing anybody. Why do we need interrogation techniques against Islamic terror suspects that we didn't need against Nazi Germany?

Are you seriously comparing the Geneva Conventions to Jim Crow laws in Alabama? Are they unjust?

Romans 13, I take it, applies to international law as well as to national law. Romans 13 considerations can be overridden, but by what? The only thing I can think of that would justify it would be really strong evidence that these coercive techniques will save thousands of lives, and they are the only methods that will save those lives.

I'm sure people in the antebellum South had clear moral intuitions supporting slavery. I'm not just appealing to intuition, though. I'm saying that a violarion of the international law requires very strong justification. .Otherwise, WTC's argument stands: err on the side of ethics.

Using waterboarding as a means is morally horrible. But my case doens't rest there, because I am willing to admit, for the sake of this discussion, the possibility that consequentialist concerns might override the prima facie moral case against it. It seems to me that either no end could possibly justify it, or very strong evidence that it will do vastly more good than harm might justify it. But where is that argument? No one has told me why we need waterboarding now when we didn't need it in fighting the Nazis. Al-Qaeda is really evil and the Nazis and Japanese weren't?

Jim Lippard said...

Steve:

Is it your position that morality requires *less* of us than the law does?

I grant your point that there can be immoral laws, but I don't agree that the laws prohibiting torture are among them. If you seriously think those laws should be repealed, where should we stop? Should hacking off limbs of presidentially-declared "unlawful enemy combatants" in order to make them talk be acceptable? Should we repeal the 8th Amendment, or the entire Bill of Rights? Habeas corpus? Human rights in general?

steve said...

victor reppert said...

“Reputation has considerable utilitarian value, parting with it is expensive.”

i) Why do you always single out the reputation of the US on this question? We aren’t the only nation that uses hard knuckle tactics. MI5 does the same thing:

http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/world/mi5s%20torture%20statement/111865

http://www.channel4.com/news/media/2005/10/week_3/20_mi5.pdf

And, of course, the French use torture in Algeria. What about their reputation?

ii) Anyway, your appeal to national reputation is circular. If you equate all coercive interrogation with torture, and treat coercive interrogation as intrinsically evil, then, of course, that would stain our moral reputation.

But that’s in large part an effect which critics like you are helping to create or reinforce in the first place. If you and others were to vigorously challenge the glib assumptions you currently peddle, that might improve our standing in the world by arguing down the international critics.

“Our reputation in the Arab world is what is going to keep Muslims on the moderate side and not going off to Al-Qaeda camp.”

Victor, try to be serious. You think Arabs are offended by torture? That would be pretty hypocritical of them. The objection to extraordinary rendition is that we remand certain terrorists to Arab nations where torture is used with impunity.

“Some laws are unjust. But why suppose that this one is, since we seem to have successfully gone through _WWII without torturing anybody. Why do we need interrogation techniques against Islamic terror suspects that we didn't need against Nazi Germany?”

There are a couple of problems with that argument, Victor.

i) You seem to have forgotten how the allies won WWII. We nuked Japan, carpet-bombed Germany, and used flamethrowers in Iwo Jima. We were far more ruthless in WWII than we’ve been in the so-called war on terror:

http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm?id=10902

http://www.ww2gyrene.org/weapons_flamethrower.htm

So, Victor, is your alternative that we go back to the methods we successfully employed in WWII by, in this case, nuking Iran, carpet-bombing Syria, and turning our flamethrowers on Hezbollah?

i) In addition, there is evidence that the Allies resorted to torture in WWII. It’s just that those who did it covered their tracks by classifying their actions, so that it’s only long after they dead, and no longer in a position to keep it under wraps, that the truth is beginning to leak out:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1745489,00.html

“Are you seriously comparing the Geneva Conventions to Jim Crow laws in Alabama? Are they unjust?”

Now you’re being demagogical. For someone who’s affecting the moral high ground in this debate, why do you constantly resort to sophistical arguments to bolster your case?

i) You know perfectly well the level at which I was making my comparison. You implicitly equated morality with legality. That was the level at which I answered you. I engaged you on your own terms.

ii) You’re also making very debatable assumptions about the scope and original intent of the Geneva Conventions. Have you ever attempted to read both sides of the argument? Otherwise, all we’re getting from you is an illustration of your self-reinforcing prejudice:

http://levin.nationalreview.com/post/?q=ZDY0NThhMDc5OGYzOWM3MzFhYTQxNTYzNzEyZDJiYjQ=

http://www.christianitytoday.com/books/web/2007/sept24a.html

“As well as to national law. Romans 13 considerations can be overridden, but by what? The only thing I can think of that would justify it would be really strong evidence that these coercive techniques will save thousands of lives, and they are the only methods that will save those lives.”

i) Nothing could be more anachronistic, Victor. Do you think that 1C Roman officials didn’t use torture in their interrogations? How does Rom 13 rule out coercive interrogation?

ii) I’d add that you skew the debate by your constant use of the prejudicial word “torture.”

“I'm sure people in the antebellum South had clear moral intuitions supporting slavery.”

That’s an argument from analogy minus the argument.

“I'm not just appealing to intuition, though. I'm saying that a violarion of the international law requires very strong justification.”

Why? That’s not a moral argument. And it’s not a philosophical argument, either.

“Otherwise, WTC's argument stands: err on the side of ethics.”

That begs the question of which side the issue falls on. Without exception, you use one lame argument after another. When are you going to dust off your philosopher’s cap and offer something resembling a sound argument for your position? Why is that too much to ask?

“Using waterboarding as a means is morally horrible.”

That’s an assertion, not an argument. Where’s the argument?

“It seems to me that either no end could possibly justify it, or very strong evidence that it will do vastly more good than harm might justify it.”

It “seems to you” is not an argument, Victor. Where’s the argument?

“No one has told me why we need waterboarding now when we didn't need it in fighting the Nazis. Al-Qaeda is really evil and the Nazis and Japanese weren't?”

Asked and answered.

steve said...

jim lippard said...

“Steve: Is it your position that morality requires *less* of us than the law does?”

The question is nonsensical since morality and legality are logically separable and sometimes opposed to each other. So it isn’t a question of more or less. The question, rather, is whether a given law is moral or immoral.

“I grant your point that there can be immoral laws, but I don't agree that the laws prohibiting torture are among them. If you seriously think those laws should be repealed.”

As I’ve argued on more than one occasion, I wouldn’t frame the issue in terms of “torture” in the first place.

“Where should we stop? Should hacking off limbs of presidentially-declared ‘unlawful enemy combatants’ in order to make them talk be acceptable?”

Two problems:

i) Drawing lines is a two-way street. If one side of the debate is obliged to draw a line in the sand, so is the other side.

Are you taking the position that a terrorist has an inalienable right to withhold information of say, a plot to dynamite Grand Coulee Dam, or firebomb the Astrodome during the Superbowl?

If so, I’d also be curious to know how a secularist like you could arrive at such an absolutist view of human rights. How did a colony of bacteria—to use one of Richard Dawkins’ definitions of a human being—become so utterly sacrosanct?

ii) The “where should we stop” objection is rather silly, don’t you think? Should a surgeon never operate on a cancer patient on the grounds that he never knows if he’s cut away enough tissue to get all the cancer and prevent a recurrence? Likewise, should an oncologist never irradiate a cancer patient on the grounds that he never knows if he’s irradiated enough tissue to get all the cancer and prevent a recurrence?

“Should we repeal the 8th Amendment, or the entire Bill of Rights? Habeas corpus? Human rights in general?”

You seem to be assuming that the Framers of the Constitution and the states that ratified that document intended the Bill of Rights to protect a terrorist from the American people rather than protecting the American people from a terrorist. I’m waiting to hear your historical argument. Speaking for myself, I think that laws should exist to protect the innocent from the guilty, and not the guilty from the innocent.

Paul Manata said...

Victor,

You bring up Kantian grounds. On Kantian Grounds the terrorists have shown by their actions that they wish torture to be universalized. As Rachels says of Kant: "When we decide what to do, we in effect proclaim our wish that our conduct be made into a 'universal law.' Therefore, when a rational being decides to treat people in a certain way, he decrees that in his judgment this is the way people are to be treated Thus if we treat him the same in return, we are doing nothing more than treating him as he has decided people are to be treated." (Rachels, Elements of Moral Philosophy, p. 139)

Ilíon said...

"I alluded to the Florida controversy by mistake, Ilion. It defeats my purpose to do so. I want to argue against the Bush administration on grounds that you don't have to be a Democrat in order to accept. I have heard things on both sides, but look, it was seven years ago and it is the quintessential partisan debating issue."
I dare say it does defeat your purpose to allude to the Florida manufactured "controversy!"

But, you're side-stepping the point I raised; and you're trying attempting to re-cast it (my point) as a "partisan debating issue." This is not the sort of behavior I had come to expect of you.

But, let's try a different approach.

I have pointed out to you that referring to Bush's election as an "election" is dishonest; this sort of reference -- and more importantly, the thinking behind it -- follows from a partisan lie. When one engages in such thinking, and when one expresses such false opinions, one is actively participating in that lie.

Now, you're presenting yourself as being unsure of the truth of the matter: "I have heard things on both sides, but look, it was seven years ago ..." OK, fine, let's treat that as a serious attempt to justify your statements on this precise point.

So, what does reason tell us?

Why, that if one don't *know* that Bush's election, and thus his administration, is illegal, then for one to assert illegality is immoral; because one is intentionally making false statements. That is, even were it true that Bush's election is illegal, the person who asserts it is illegal, but who does not honestly and with proper warrent believe it is illegal, is making a false statement.

steve said...

I'd add that if Bush stole the 2000 election, then Bush can run again for a third term since his third term would really be his second term, and if Bush also stole the 2004 election, then he can run for a fourth term since he never was the "real" president. So I'm not sure how far the conspiracy theorists wish to push this line of reasoning.

Ilíon said...

Steve,
I'd hadn't thought of it in quite those terms ... and, once it's put in those terms, it's so obvious (both that it ought to be looked at in those terms and the implications of putting it in those terms).

BTW, I've enjoyed reading your thoughts and method-of-argumentation.

Jim Lippard said...

Steve: The 8th Amendment specifically protects *convicted* criminals, not just the accused. Further, all of the people who have been subjected to the "extreme interrogation methods" in question are people who have not been tried or convicted of any crime, they are merely accused.

Paul: Doesn't your Rachels quote also have the consequence that, by treating the person as they want to be treated, the person doing the treating is likewise expressing the same sentiment? (BTW, that also assumes that the person being subjected to torture has acted in a way that indicates approval of torture. That certainly doesn't apply to cases of people who are not terrorists who have been subjected to torture as a result of actions by the U.S. government, such as Maher Arar.)

Paul Manata said...

Jim,

No, it doesn't, unless you want to accuse Rachels of contradicting himself?

The person doing the treating is expressing this sentiment:

"When people act in way X, we can X them in return since we are treating them how they've rationally decided to be treated."

*Returning* favor isn't the same act as what was served.

I'd say that on your assumption, Kant couldn't maked sense of any punishment whatever.

If we can "put people in jail for holding people against their will" we're not saying that we want to be held agaisnt our will even though we hold them against their will.