Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Hammer of Kraut Strikes!

I'm grateful to Mssr. Nizzle for having introduced me to Mr. Krauthammer, a conservative columnist of far-greater intellect and reasoning than myself. I thought I'd post thoughts regarding his recent column on torture, an issue that's taken up no small amount of virtual and actual ink these past months.

Krauthammer's the sort of conservative I can get behind - someone who isn't snidely dismissive of alternative arguments, and who takes a respectful, measured tone when addressing points of contention. Big ups for that, Hammer. His assertion that torture should never be used on field combatants is one I agree with. His subsequent assertions about terrorists, however, provoke a certain amount of disagreement.

From the Hammer-that-is-Kraut:

The norm, however, is how the majority of prisoners at Guantanamo have been treated. We give them three meals a day, superior medical care, and provision to pray five times a day. Our scrupulousness extends even to providing them with their own Korans, which is the only reason alleged abuses of the Koran at Guantanamo ever became an issue. That we should have provided those who kill innocents in the name of Islam with precisely the document that inspires their barbarism is a sign of the absurd lengths to which we often go in extending undeserved humanity to terrorist prisoners.

I'm going to have to disagree with the Hammer here. Referring to the Koran as "precisely the document that inpires their barbarism" shows ignorance of the teachings of Islam. In point of fact, the Koran and its teachings deplore the actions of men that would take innocent life in the name of their cause. That terrorists have chosen to pervert the meaning of their religion to justify terrible acts is not the fault of the Koran any more than the lynchings of black men, or the persecution of gays is the fault of the Bible.

Islam is a peaceful religion, just as Christianity is. And just like Christianity has its fringe elements - people for whom the Bible gives license to discriminate, injure, or murder one's fellows - so does Islam. This does not render the holy books themselves the inspiration for mad acts, any more than listening to Marilyn Manson creates high-school killers.

Additionally, M.C. Hammer's assertion that the only reason there were alleged abuses involving the Koran at Guantanamo was because we'd given them the books to begin with is curious. It's a little like saying that the Indians shouldn't be upset that we took their land from them - after all, we contracted to let them have it in the first place. Abuse is abuse is abuse as Gertrude Stein and Gary Freedman might say. But enough of me...let's return to Mjolnir, discussing when terrorism would be permissable to him:

Third, there is the terrorist with information. Here the issue of torture gets complicated and the easy pieties don't so easily apply. Let'stake the textbook case. Ethics 101: A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City. It will go off in one hour. A million people will die. You capture the terrorist. He knows where it is. He's not talking.

Let's dissect this statement in two parts. First, let's discuss the supposed "easy pieties" of John McCain and those who oppose torture. If anything, the "easy" thing to do in a time of war is to torture. It's far more difficult to decide, for moral, ethical, philosophical, political, and yes, religious reasons, not to do so.

Second, the hypothetical that the Hammer produces here reminds me of an old moral question that my friends and I would ask while wasted in college. Namely, suppose that a stranger has strapped you to a chair and told you that if you press a button, one thousand people whom you've never met will die in a place you've never heard of, or seen. If you don't push the button, a loved one will be murdered in front of your eyes. WHAT DO YOU DO?!?!

Interesting to consider? Absolutely. Likely to happen? Err...not really. But being the intelligent guy that the Hammer obviously is, he anticipates this line of reasoning by arguing that this situation does occur, often enough to warrant a term for it. I can't claim knowledge on whether or not this is true, so let's assume it is.

Even if this DID happen, its highly unlikely that torturing the suspect would reveal the location of a nuke. Its been proven through unfortunate real-world testing that torture as a means of extracting information does not work the way we'd like to think it would. It tends to produce false information. People will say anything, do anything, to make torture stop. McCain has illustrated this by telling a story from his own captivity about being tortured for certain valuable names. He wanted the pain to stop, but he was loyal to his country, so he gave them names - specifically, the lineup of the Green Bay Packers.

If we're dealing with fanatics - the sort of people who will kill themselves for a higher cause - why on earth should we believe that the application of pain will make them betray their cause?

But don't take my word for it. Here's the U.S. Army's take:

Experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation. Therefore, the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear. However, the use of force is not to be confused with psychological ploys, verbal trickery, or other nonviolent and noncoercive ruses used by the interrogator in questioning hesitant or uncooperative sources.

Toture seems attractive, I believe, because it is a simple answer. Hell, who wouldn't bring the pain to a murderous terrorist if it meant you only had an hour to save NYC from a dirty bomb? If the evidence showed that torture was effective in the extraction of information, I'd be agreeing with the Hammer here.

But torture isn't simple, and the proposal to allow it only in certain instances still creates more questions than answers for me.

How does one define a terrorist? How does one define the severity or the immediacy of a terrorist act? Who decides how much time has to be left before we start in with the pliers and the dry-ice? If an hour is an acceptable amount of time to allow torture to prevent violence, what about four hours? A day? A week?

How do we know that the man being held actually has the information needed? How do we know that the man's beliefs are not as strong, or stronger, than McCain's? How can we be sure that we won't get the lineup of the Green Bay Packers in response to our efforts?

On a more speculative level, what about recent expansions of thePatriot Act, created to combat terrorism, into areas of drug-related crime and other decidedly un-terroristic activity? If we're applying legislation to these people designed for terrorism, then doesn't that make them terrorists? Should we be allowed to torture a drug dealer because his agents are at this very moment distributing illegal, physically and mentally damaging substances to children and adults?

K to the Hammer's position is reasonable as hypothetical, but problematic in the practical. He says that only carefully selected persons should be able to order and carry out torture, but who decides they're qualified? Who appoints them? Is it the Executive? Krauthammer rightly denounces Bush's use of secrecy, but if its Bush, or any other executive with an agenda that appoints these operatives, then how can we be sure that the rules Krauthammer has proposed are adhered to?

All of this is not to say that the Hammer does not make good points. His ultimate assertion that torture should only be used in two exceptional situations is, ultimately, not an extreme position. He makes some good, reasoned arguments for why, in some exceedingly rare instances, torture can be effective. He also points out inconsistencies in McCain's position that I was, quite frankly, unaware of. I had been of the impression that McCain's legislation would make the Army Field Manual the standard to operate by. I'll obviously need to do some more reading, and I'm grateful for the new info. But my biggest problem with his argument is that it assumes too much nobility in our political system.

Politics as they should be is one thing, but with all due respect (something a man of his intellect should be afforded) Krauthammer doesn't spend enough time considering politics as they are. Everyone has an agenda. Persons in power cannot, ultimately, be entrusted to wield that power with impunity. The Founders knew this and, I suspect, so does Krauthammer.

The problems raised by torture outweigh its potential benefits by a significant margin, and its for this ultimate reason that it seems more beneficial in the long run to prohibit its use.

This, of course, is a black and white stance in a world that I've always argued exists in a series of grey shades. Hammer-time shows his intelligence by asking the reader whether the use of sodium pentathol or sleep deprivation should be considered torture, and I can't say that I'd call it such, but it certainly can be, and pretty easily. This is a tough question, and at the end of the day I'm glad to admit that the answers, if they exist, will be reached only after much of this sort of thinking has been done.

5 Comments:

At 10:57 AM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

The GC interests me. I've perused it at some legnth and where it and KH talk about soldiers, particularly when it says stuff like, "He merely had the misfortune to enlist on the other side of a legitimate war." makes me ask a question. When we fought the British or when the Confederates fought the Union were those legitimate wars? The soldiers on each side probably thought that their cause was but that their enemy's cause was not. Innocents were killed in both wars and tactics such as burning down entire cities and persecuting civilians were no doubt used. We need to be veeery careful about defining someone as a non-soldier simply because they lack a uniform or an "official army".

This statement:

"That we should have provided those who kill innocents in the name of Islam with precisely the document that inspires their barbarism is a sign of the absurd lengths to which we often go in extending undeserved humanity to terrorist prisoners."

Seems to imply that if we didn't provide them with said document that they would renege or that they would somehow deserve to take the book whose pertinent passages (pertinent to their aims at least) they have memorized anyway. What would the purpose be? "You've been a bad boy so we're going to take this book from you." It seems petty.

Regarding the two exceptions I can say that in both cases I would be sorely tempted t ouse torture but solely for the gratifying of my own darkness. As Morse said, physical torture seems to provide inconsistant results at best. My stance on it would be similar to the death penalty. Were it proven to be efficacious I would be for it, but since it seems to do little good and what good it might do is outweighed by the bad of the act itself I am against it. If I were a terrorist and I was willing to kill a million people I would probably be willing to either die myself or undergo torture long enough for even a truthful answer to do any good.

 
At 1:18 PM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

Oh come on guys, say sumthin'.

 
At 4:35 PM, Blogger Jabawacefti said...

Since once again, I'm running out of time, let me hit your first point of disagreement. It's a small point and shouldn't take long, although we all know how that often ends up working out. Oh, and I just read the Captain's take, so my response should apply to both:

CodeMorse writes: "Referring to the Koran as 'precisely the document that inpires their barbarism' shows ignorance of the teachings of Islam. In point of fact, the Koran and its teachings deplore the actions of men that would take innocent life in the name of their cause. That terrorists have chosen to pervert the meaning of their religion to justify terrible acts is not the fault of the Koran any more than the lynchings of black men, or the persecution of gays is the fault of the Bible.

Islam is a peaceful religion, just as Christianity is. And just like Christianity has its fringe elements - people for whom the Bible gives license to discriminate, injure, or murder one's fellows - so does Islam."


I will have to disagree here on a minor point with regard to your disagreement with Sir Krauthammer. And you too Captain.

I agree with your point insofar as you claim that the Koran, like the Bible (or most religious texts) is sufficiently broad as to provide support for almost any act, good or bad. The basis for most religious texts is peace, and peaceful behavior. The golden rule and the like. And as such, the Koran itself, and the major themes of Islam, should not be to blame for the purported perversion of an otherwise peaceful faith.

That's fair insofar as it goes, and I'm not sure Sir Krauthammer would disagree. His problem, I do not think, is with the Koran itself. And similarly, I don't think he's saying, Captain: "You've been a bad boy so we're going to take this book from you."

I think his problem is that we are giving the Koran, as a show of respect for the religion, to the very people that corrupt and pervert the Koran as a document that purportedly sanctions the killing of innocents.

This is not, for example, a case where a religious person who happens to commit some horrible act for some random reason (jealousy or spite) is then given a prayer book. The prayer book and the horrible act are not related.

Here, we are taking people who kill innocent people, find the support for such killings in a holy book, and when they are captured, we give them the very same holy book that they claim sanctions the killings in question. The problem is not the book itself, but the nexus between the person's use of the book and the horrible act.

I hope that makes sense.

 
At 8:37 AM, Blogger Scott Roche said...

I don't think he's saying that either, but my question still stands. What would the purpose be? We aren't denying them their POV or their beliefs. We're denying them a book, just a book (and yes a Bible is just a book, though conceptually it is more). And what makes humanity "undeserved"? By treating an inhumane (if the word can be used thusly) person inhumanely what are we doing?

 
At 10:36 AM, Blogger codemorse said...

Essentially, Cap, I think we're making ourselves feel better.

I get your point, Nizz, and put that way Krauthammer's comment makes a little more sense.

 

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