Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Torture Memos

Four Bush administration memos were released last week.

Perhaps those still in denial about whether waterboarding is "torture" may be convinced that waterboarding the same person 173 times is "torture." But probably not.

Other than that obscene number, there isn't a lot of new information contained in these memos. We already knew that the Bush administration had approved all of the techniques seen in the infamous pictures from Abu Ghraib (except the simulated electrocution, maybe.) We knew they were used not just at Abu Ghraib.

The banality of the last administration's evil revealed in these memos is beyond disturbing, though. Chilling, like we're really living in 1984's Oceania.
As part of this increased pressure phase, Zubaydah will have contact only with a new interrogation specialist, whom he has not met previously, and the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape ("SERE") training psychologist who has been involved with the interrogations since they began. This phase will likely last no more than several days but could last up to thirty days. In this phase, you would like to employ ten techniques that you believe will dislocate his expectations regarding the treatment he believes he will receive and encourage him to disclose the crucial information mentioned above. These ten techniques are: (1) attention grasp, (2) walling, (3) facial hold, (4) facial slap (insult slap), (5) cramped confinement, (6) wall standing, (7) stress positions, (8) sleep deprivation, (9) insects placed in a confinement box, and (10) the waterboard. You have informed us that the use of these techniques would be on an as-needed basis and that not all of these techniques will necessarily be used. The interrogation team would use these techniques in some combination to convince Zubaydab that the only way he can influence his surrounding environment is through cooperation. You have, however, informed us that you expect these techniques to be used in some sort of escalating fashion, culminating with the waterboard, though not necessarily ending with this technique.


And:
Sleep deprivation may be used. You have indicated that your purpose in using this technique is to reduce the individual's ability to think on his feet and, through the discomfort associated with lack of sleep; to motivate him to cooperate: The effect of such sleep deprivation will generally remit after one or two nights of uninterrupted sleep, You have informed us that your research has revealed that, in rare instances, some individuals who are already predisposed to psychological problems may experience abnormal reactions to sleep deprivation. Even in those cases, however, reactions abate after the individual is permitted to sleep. Moreover, personnel with medical training are available to and will intervene in the unlikely event of an abnormal reaction. You have orally informed us that you would not deprive Zubaydah of sleep for more than eleven days at a time and that you have previously kept him awake for 72 hours,from which no mental or physical harm resulted.


ELEVEN DAYS.

One more, straight out of 1984:
As we understand it, you plan to inform Zubaydah that you are going to place a stinging insect into the box, but you will actually place a harmless insect in the box, such as a caterpillar.

If you do so, to ensure that you are outside the predicate act requirement, you must inform him that the insects will not have a sting that would produce death or severe pain.

If, however, you were to place the insect in the box without informing him that you are doing so, then, in order to not commit a predicate act, you should not affirmatively lead him to believe that any insect is present which has a sting that could produce severe pain or suffering or even cause death. (material redacted with black lines here) so long as you take either of the approaches we have described, the insect's placement in the box would not constitute a threat of severe physical pain or suffering to a reasonable person in his position. (Source.)


This, to borrow a word from George Bush's tiny lexicon, is EVIL. And even if you're an ends-justifies-the-means kinda guy or girl who thinks it was justified, it was transparently illegal. To take just one example, depriving a person of sleep for eleven days is OBVIOUSLY torture, by any legal definition we have.

Those responsible, from Bush and Cheney all the way down to the field agents "just following orders" should be tried and prosecuted as war criminals.

Anybody who wants to defend these memos is forever banned from using the words "textualism" or "originalism" without irony, by the way. You must admit you use abortion as a litmus test for judges rather than feigning a passion for certain methods of constitutional interpretation.

131 comments:

Holy Hyrax said...

facial slaps??

The sheer horror :)

Anyways, I a good thread was going on DB where it was discussed (IIRC) that 183 times torture does not mean seperate instances but that each time the war is slowly put on the towel (or whatever they decided to put on his face) that it counts as one.

Jewish Atheist said...

This was happening in our names, HH. Don't mock it or nitpick away just because it was done by Republicans. This is serious shit. This is really wrong.

Holy Hyrax said...

Well, the truth is, I am making fun of the slapping. I mean, lets just say it was ONLY slapping, and nothing else...would anyone care? I doubt it. Secondly, I agree it is serious. The only reason I was nitpicking is because I think for the sake of clarity and truth, we should understand the info in context, thats all.

Look, if I was only to take a look at it this legally, then yes, maybe what they did was wrong. But morally, I don't have a problem with Torture when it is absolutely needed for something, but at the same time I would not want to see torture misused. Perhaps the best idea is Dovbears where he says it should be legalized that way you have judicial supervision over it.

E-Man said...

Let's put it this way: What if you were captured by the taliban and were being kept in a secret prison. If the United States captured someone that knew of your location, but wouldn't reveal it wouldn't you want every means necessary used to secure your retrieval? By the way, in these secret prisons you would be tortured every day and it is likely they would do much worse than water boarding. What would your opinion about torturing a man that kills innocent civilians daily be then. Or even if he was a man that planned attacks against innocent civilians. In that situation you don't think you would want any means necessary to procure your safety? It is easy to say they did the wrong thing when we don't see our lives in danger and we can remove ourselves from the situation, but imagine if you could stop a terrorist attack through torturing a terrorist and it would save thousands of lives, wouldn't you want that to be done?

DrJ said...

Agree with e-man.

Any absolutist moral law is naive and ridiculous. We have a law that says "don't kill", but obviously it doesn't apply in all circumstances. Same thing with "don't torture"-- its not an absolute moral law. The absolutist view from the left about torture is just as stupid and naive as the absolutist position of the right on abortion.

Just because torture is abused (along with killing) by various evil people around the world doesn't make it inherently evil. In some circumstances it would be evil NOT to use torture, as in e-man's scenario.

Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott said...

More like E-Man's fantasy. Nothing like the over active imagination of the Jack Bauer generation.

At any rate, fortunately torture is a violation of the constitution. Unfortunately the Federal government is full of assholes like Barack Obama and Dick Cheney who think the constitution is a "living" document, which pretty much means they can make it say whatever they want. Also unfortunate is assholes like Obama and Emanuel don't believe in the Rule of Law applies to government officials. So we effectively live in a lawless society, and as long as we do shit like this gonna keep happening.

E-Man said...

It is funny that people write off these scenarios as fantasy. Has anyone heard about entebbe or maybe daniel pearl. One situation was a victory and one was a defeat. Who knows what could have happened to daniel pearl if we had tortured terrorists that knew his location. All I am saying is don't write off all situations where information could be the decider between life and death.

However, we must be sure to monitor torture in order that it not get out of hand. Like in the past there were those pictures of a person smiling next to a dead corpse, that was just horrific. That does not mean all torture is bad. It should be used to save lives.

Holy Hyrax said...

Dr. J.

You're stand is one of morals, scott's is legality. In a way, both of you are right.

Holy Hyrax said...

Scott, I also don't see how any of this has to do with a Jack beaur generation. Legally, you might be right, but E-man is not outside the pail of morality when torture is absolutly needed.

Scott said...

"but E-man is not outside the pail of morality when torture is absolutly needed.E-man is outside of the pail of reality. He's invoking a scenario that is fantasy in nature where there are clear cut good guys and bad guys. (bad guys = taliban with their secret prisons, good guys = americans who don't keep secret prisons) This type of worst case scenario fantasy always involves some trade off that justifies it morally of course, a coupla broken fingers vs. the stadium full of innocent Americans for instance. But these scenarios, er... fantasies, assume the impossible; namely Perfect Knowledge. After all, we *KNOW* the evil terrorist we have in custody IS an evil doer, and we *KNOW* he has FULL knowledge of the information we need to stop the deaths of untold numbers of innocents lives. Such perfect knowledge does not exist. We're talking about torturing people who aren't even afforded due process and the right to defend themselves. We're ASSUMING the government, full of it's ineptitudes and corruptions, is capable of picking the RIGHT people to torture for the RIGHT reasons. And by the way, they can't tell us who they are torturing and why cause that's a State Secret, according to Bush AND Obama. So we just have to trust them. Srsly?

By the way, do these moral trade offs justify terrorist attacks as well? I mean if we THINK torturing someone might save innocent lives, isn't it reasonable to say that a terrorist THINKS his actions might save the lives of some of his preferred innocent peoples? If, for instance, flying a plane into the WTC in 1990 instead of 2001 would have prevented the United States from imposing sanctions in Iraq that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi children, would those terrorist attacks be morally justified? What's more valuable, 2000 Americans or 500,000 Iraqi kids? Obviously this isn't a realistic trade off, but since we're dealing in fantasy and all I'd love to hear HH or E-Man's opinion on the matter.

Holy Hyrax said...

Scott,

Out of the what...thousands of prisoners, only three have been tortured. Which means they did not go "torture-happy" with anyone they wanted. And, out of these three, they did get info out that helped. So apparently, the government knew who they were after. Also, I am not sure what your point is. I mean, lets say, all your guidelines are met....would you then be ok with torture?

Also, regarding your example, I am not sure how to respond, clearly, nothing is known in hindsight. You deal with what you have on the table at the moment. If you know a terrorist attack is about to kill a stadium full of people, then yes, you break the guys fingers.

E-Man said...

I understand where you are coming from. You don't think that the people being tortured will know any information that will save any lives. I agree it is not a perfect way to attain the knowledge that will protect innocent people. However, how are intelligence agencies able to acquire the knowledge that will protect their countries? How is Israel able to prevent over 50 suicide bomber attempts a day?

Usually, there are people that are higher on a chain of command. So the higher up the person the more information they contain about the operations. This is how the US detains people, they find out who is part of the terrorist organizations.

So you are telling me, that this person should be left alone and doesn't have to tell us what his organization is planning? So if we captured some of the masterminds or participants behind 9-11 we should have just let them alone?

Just to respond to your idea about killing 3,000 innocent civilians and that preventing the death of 500,000 innocent civilians, I don't think any innocent civilians deserve to die. However, if you have a known terrorist in your custody and you can get information from him that can save innocent people, I think that is much different.

Plus the reason the terrorists plowed into the world trade center had nothing to do with saving life. All they wanted to do was kill innocent "infidels" because they could.

E-Man said...

I think it is funny that you keep saying that I am in a fantasy land. Apparently, no one gets kidnapped anymore and needs rescuing. There are no daniel pearls or a countless number of Israeli soldiers. Also, terrorist acts have not been going on around the world either. Those bombings in spain in 2004 were probably just an earthquake. No one planned those.

Jewish Atheist said...

This isn't about a ticking bomb or hostage scenario. I agree that it is hypothetically possible for torture to be (morally, if not legally) acceptable in extreme circumstances.

This is systematic and long-term standardized use of torture -- and twisting the law to say whatever the hell you want it to. They tortured this guy 183 times. ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY THREE TIMES. And they got nothing. Jose Padilla -- a United States citizen -- is a ruined, broken man because of what our representatives did to him, unfit to stand trial. They destroyed him psychologically. And for what?

You want to imagine that government will use torture responsibly. This is insane. Governments always abuse their power. Government cannot have this power.

In the extremely rare case of a Daniel Pearl, etc., who do we torture? How do we know that they know anything? Do we torture anybody we suspect of knowing something? 183 times just to be sure they don't?

What of the damage to our good name? We have no moral high ground anymore. We're using literally the same techniques of Stalin, the Khmer Rouge, and yes, the Nazis.

Jewish Atheist said...

HH:

Out of the what...thousands of prisoners, only three have been tortured. You must be the most gullible person alive.

Orthoprax said...

I like Penn and Teller's approach to the issue. As a rule the government should make all forms of torture illegal. However there are in theory situations where performing torture could save lives (or like situations). In those cases the commander in the field should make that decision to perform what he believes to be the morally correct act, but he should still be charged after the fact. Let the jury decide if extenuating circumstances and his judgement was valid.

Jewish Atheist said...

Ortho:

Yup. That makes sense to me too. Government cannot be granted the legal authority for this, period.

E-Man said...

Just remember that 183 times could have been 183 slaps over 183 day period. Also, there are a lot more terrorist plots out there than you think. I don't know how rare a hostage situation is. There are several united states marines or reserves that have been captured in Iraq. Also, how do you know that every day there isn't a new plot to kill innocent civilians. This is why the government collects information, to keep us safe. I guess we will just have to disagree on how serious the threat is. You think it is unlikely and I think it is highly likely. Maybe I am just biased because I see Israel dealing with a new terrorist every single day. Maybe it isn't true that people want to or have the ability to hurt the united states.

Holy Hyrax said...

JA

That is what I read somewhere. I am only going buy what I have heard.

OP

I have thought that that might be the best thing to do. But, if you start charging commanders, when torture is necessary, that might discourage its use other times. Wouldn't it be better to make torture legal, that way, when its used, there can be supervision and its actually recorded?

>We're using literally the same techniques of Stalin, the Khmer Rouge, and yes, the Nazis

But did we use it for the same means????? Did Stalin torture to protect citizens from attacks, or did he do it so nobody will take his power?

And again, 183, does not mean 183 SEPERATE times.

Scott said...

The fantasy is not that there aren't terrorists and victims, the fantasy lies in the If/Then scenario in which torturing someone definitely produces knowledge that will save someone else. It's the black and white certainty that doesn't exist in reality.

Usually, there are people that are higher on a chain of command. So the higher up the person the more information they contain about the operations. This is how the US detains people, they find out who is part of the terrorist organizations.Most of the people who were detained at Gitmo were not terrorist, enemy combatants, or any such thing. Many were imprisoned due to false testimony given by enemies or sealed evidence no one was allowed to see. Actually Gitmo was a prime example of the failure of US intelligence in identifying "terrorists". It's a prime example of how easy it is to torture the WRONG guy to get evidence that is WRONG. If I wanted to make a case for how stupid it is to torture someone I could start and end with Gitmo alone.

So you are telling me, that this person should be left alone and doesn't have to tell us what his organization is planning? So if we captured some of the masterminds or participants behind 9-11 we should have just let them alone?What? I said that? Where, exactly?

Plus the reason the terrorists plowed into the world trade center had nothing to do with saving life. All they wanted to do was kill innocent "infidels" because they could.Suicide terrorists have a strategy and reasoning behind what they do. They have a moral code that justifies their actions, just like the pro-torture crowd does. Neither makes it "right", but to say they just want to kill innocent people because they can is deeply flawed reasoning and ignorant on top of it.


Out of the what...thousands of prisoners, only three have been tortured.

According to who?

Also, I am not sure what your point is. I mean, lets say, all your guidelines are met....would you then be ok with torture?My point is that all of these guidelines CAN'T be met, therefore torture is not morally justifiable. Nor is it legal. Nor it is particularly effective for it's stated goals.

Jewish Atheist said...

Note how e-man is already setting the groundwork for arguments that regular, systematic torture is ok.


HH:

That is what I read somewhere. I am only going buy what I have heard.Yeah, maybe you should source your opinions a little better than that. We have pictures from Abu Ghraib, red cross testimony from Gitmo and other places, Padilla's a ruined man, etc. Just how gullible are you, seriously? 3 people??

Also note Bush flat-out lied with his "we do not torture" line.

But did we use it for the same means????? Did Stalin torture to protect citizens from attacks, or did he do it so nobody will take his power?You mean the same ends? No, not yet. But who's to stop the government from labeling political enemies as terrorists? The right says Obama aids and abets terrorists, therefore Obama should be tortured, right? No judicial oversight was asked for or required. Just the president's lawyer's say-so. They could declare PETA or the minutemen "terrorists" whenever they want.

And again, 183, does not mean 183 SEPERATE times.So, what, like 60 times? 40? Does that make it ok?

Scott said...

They could declare PETA or the minutemen "terrorists" whenever they want.Or people who support certain politicians.

Holy Hyrax said...

>Then scenario in which torturing someone definitely produces knowledge that will save someone else.

But they DID get the knowlegde and information that they wanted. If the memos released showed the "bad" why weren't the good that came out of it published as well?

JA

The people that were humilated at Abu Gharab have nothing to do with what all these memos talk about. Those were down for the sole purpose of humiliting and I comdemn that. So all those people do not count in this discussion as well as the what is happening in the news.

>They could declare PETA or the minutemen "terrorists" whenever they want.

They could, just like Israel said KACH is a terrorist group. That doesn't mean you treat every terrorist group the same right? And if anything, then you should legalize torture that way a judicial body can look at the evidence and see if torture is needed. And you will find it very hard to convince someone that PETA is planning some major attack to whipe out thousands of americans.


>No, not yet.

Then you should frame your sentences not to make moral equivalences.

Holy Hyrax said...

>And again, 183, does not mean 183 SEPERATE times.So, what, like 60 times? 40? Does that make it ok?

If you seek truth, then you should know the truth, I didn't say it makes it OK.

DrJ said...

I can't address the legal issues, but in my mind torture is no different than "extrajudicial killings", ie targeted attacks on terrorists, currently being employed by the Israelis and Americans. We have to be careful not to abuse it, but it can be an effective weapon against "ticking bombs". In my mind its completely moral in these situations

Holy Hyrax said...

Dr. J has a point

Maybe to make this all easier, we can see if any of us share a common ground

Can we all agree that torture is morally justified for certain situations?


JA

I should have been more specific. Only three were waterboarded: Khalid Mohammed, Zubaydah and Nashiri. Others were slapped and sleep deprived.

Orthoprax said...

HH,

"I have thought that that might be the best thing to do. But, if you start charging commanders, when torture is necessary, that might discourage its use other times. Wouldn't it be better to make torture legal, that way, when its used, there can be supervision and its actually recorded?"

But if you make it legal then it encourages its use likely far beyond its true minimum necessity resulting in diminishing returns of useful information and uncomfortable levels of moral turpitude.

At the very least, a form of judicial review similar in concept to how investigators acquire a warrant would be within reason.

Holy Hyrax said...

Could be.

It's a complex topic

Apikores said...

E-man and HH may be right that there are circumstances in which torture is justified. And maybe the Bush administration was justified in some cases (I doubt it). But should we just TRUST that all their torture was justified? Shouldn't we at least have an official investigation into the matter? Are we just gonna believe the same people who lied to us about WMD without any inquiry?

Jewish Atheist said...

Report: Bush policies led to prisoner abusesThe brutal treatment of prisoners by the military at Guantanamo Bay, Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and Afghanistan was systematic and a direct result of the CIA's early use of harsh interrogation tactics, according to a Senate report. The 232-page report released Tuesday by the Senate Armed Services Committee came less than a week after President Barack Obama released the Aug. 1, 2002 memo that justified the use of severe methods by the CIA.

The timeline laid out in the report shows, however, that military and CIA officers were being trained how to conduct coercive interrogations for as much as eight months before receiving the Justice Department green light. The CIA had started conducting severe interrogations in the spring of 2002.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the committee's chairman, said the report shows that abuse of prisoners was sweeping and not, as former Bush administration defense official Paul Wolfowitz once said, the result of "a few bad apples." As the No. 2 defense official, Wolfowitz was a major architect of the Iraq war.

"Authorizations of aggressive interrogation techniques by senior officials resulted in abuse and conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment," Levin said.
Still think it was only 3 people, HH?

Still think government can be trusted with legalized torture, E-man and HH?

Holy Hyrax said...

When I said legalized, I mean't it would be watched so there is no abuse. Like I said, this is a complex topic

Holy Hyrax said...

JA

read my comment above. I said the memo stated three WATERBOARDING.

DrJ said...

JA, I think that your comments raise a significant issue that goes beyond the issue of torture: trust of governments. In many ways the Bush administration has been accused of dishonesty to the American people.
Although John Mearsheimer is not a fan of mine, he wrote an interesting article http://www.allacademic.com//meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/0/5/9/9/9/pages59994/p59994-1.php

about lying in international politics. Basically all governments lie to some degree, and must do so in order to pursue their national interests ("spin"). It becomes a problem when it is done systematically to manipulate domestic public opinion.

Comrade Kevin said...

Where does it say all Americans should love Big Brother?

Scott said...

Can we all agree that torture is morally justified for certain situations?Absolutely not.

Like I said, you can morally justify all sorts of evil. Why not say concentration camps would be morally justified in certain situations? After all, if we arrested all the Muslims, some of them would be bound to be terrorists.

Holy Hyrax said...

Scott, but how can you objectively tell me that torture is evil? Well, you can't. I mean, is solitary confinement torture? why or why not? Why do you also have to resort of extremes? Are you really equating a systematic killings to torturing terrorist to get information that is likely to save people? What if you knew a terrorist knew the where abouts to a bomb. Would you stick to your principles of not torturing him while at the same time thousands of others end up being tortured?

Holy Hyrax said...

Also, you never answered my question. what if we all met your guidelines. That we knew with "perfect" knowledge someone had info. Would you say its ok to toruture then? Well, I guess not. So your whole comment originally is worthless and shifts away from the real discussion (of whether torture is ever moral) since for you, there is absolutly ZERO chance of ever allowing for it.

Tigerboy said...

Excuse me, but torture is never justified.

Never in the history of the world has it been justified, and never will it be.

Neither does torture provide reliable information. People will say anything to make the torture stop. Agents have been sent on wild-goose chases, all over the world, based on bad information gleaned from torture.

It's a two-for-one. You get bogus information, and you lose the respect of the human race. The world's respect. Your own citizenry's respect. You sell your soul to the Devil, and for bad intelligence. Excellent.

The Geneva Conventions are about establishing a benchmark. There are certain actions that civilized societies simply DO NOT DO, regardless of the reason.

When we cross that line, we can no longer claim to be civilized. We become beasts.

America, the America that I care about, the America that stands for something, the America that is something good, something fair, something decent, DOES NOT TORTURE PEOPLE.

You can come up with any ticking bomb scenario that you wish. America is supposed to be about better things. Hello? Why do we have a thing called due process? We have a right to sit in judgment of wrong-doers, because we follow the rules. We are able to call ourselves civilized, because we follow basic rules.

America is supposed to be an example of fair treatment under the law.

Does anybody remember a little document called The Constitution? You must recall it. We all studied it in junior high school.

I am willing to discuss what actually constitutes torture, but once we have traveled into that realm, once it's torture, whatever that is, once it's torture, America does not do that. Under ANY circumstances.

That is what the word torture means. Something so outrageous, something so beyond the pale, something in which a civilized person would never engage. Ever.

Torture has no justification. Torture is barbarism. Torture is revolting. Torture is not an excusable way for one human being to behave towards another. It certainly unacceptable as policy.

The America that I love liberates people from regimes that torture. The America that I love grants political asylum to victims of torture.

Of course, people do horrible things to one another, all the time. But we are talking about the behavior of our own elected officials! This is absurd!

I cannot believe that intelligent people are trying to justify the use of torture. It's appalling.

DrJ said...

Tigerboy, is torture worse than killing? Governments do that all the time.

Shalmo said...

E-Man:

"All they wanted to do was kill innocent "infidels" because they could"

Actually 9/11 had nothing to do with anybody's religion. It was an attack against the US sponsorship of Israel and the genocide that is being done in its name. It was a REACTION to what Israel has been doing for the past 60 years.

Afghanistan was doing great before the West and the Soviets got involved. They were a prospering and soon to become modernized nation, but they had oil, and that is what brought the two super-powers to claim dominion over them.

Think about the way these children were being raised, with communist ideals. Rather than candy they were given guns and taught how to use them at tender ages in pre-school. The US needed to create a nation of savages and warriors to resist the Soviets, and indeed that's what they got. And today that foolish foreign policy and CIA training is what is coming to bite them back.

Now I understand that it is a staple of the Jewish people to blame EVERYBODY else for animosity levied against them, but in this scenario you cannot use that card. The US government created the Taliban, so you cannot cry foul at what they have become. I suggest you get the CIA to stop these imperliastic adventures overseas whether in the Latin countries or middle-east, because you only end up creating more and more enemies for the US government.

On the other hand, the policy of "an eye for eye", is what ends up making the whole world blind.

Shalmo said...

Holy Hyrax:

"Also, you never answered my question. what if we all met your guidelines. That we knew with "perfect" knowledge someone had info. Would you say its ok to toruture then? Well, I guess not. So your whole comment originally is worthless and shifts away from the real discussion (of whether torture is ever moral) since for you, there is absolutly ZERO chance of ever allowing for it."

Aren't you a religious, believing Jew? If so then Judaism already has the answer for you.

Here is a sample of an exchange between a rabbi and his pupil that discusses this matter published in the yearbook of one of Israel's most prestigious religious colleges, Midrashiyyat No'am, where many leaders and activists of the National Religious Party and Gush Emunim have been educated:



"Letter from the soldier Moshe to Rabbi Shun 'on Weiser '"

With God's help, to His Honor, my dear Rabbi,

'First I would like to ask how you and your family are. I hope all is well. I am, thank God, feeling well. A long time I have not written. Please forgive me. Sometimes I recall the verse "when shall I come and appear before God?'9 I hope, without being certain, that I shall come during one of the leaves. I must do so.

'In one of the discussions in our group, there was a debate about the "purity of weapons" and we discussed whether it is permitted to kill unarmed men - or women and children? Or perhaps we should take revenge on the Arabs? And then everyone answered according to his own understanding. I could not arrive at a clear decision, whether Arabs should be treated like the AmeIekites, meaning that one is permitted to murder [sic ] them until their remembrance is blotted out from under heaven,10 or perhaps one should do as in a just war, in which one kills only the soldiers?

'A second problem I have is whether I am permitted to put myself in danger by allowing a woman to stay alive? For there have been cases when women threw hand grenades. Or am I permitted to give water to an Arab who put his hand up? For there may be reason to fear that he only means to deceive me and will kill me, and such things have happened.

'I conclude with a warm greeting to the rabbi and all his family. - Moshe.'



"Reply of Shun 'on Weiser to Moshe"

'With the help of Heaven. Dear Moshe, Greetings.

'I am starting this letter this evening although I know I cannot finish it this evening, both because I am busy and because I would like to make it a long letter, to answer your questions in full, for which purpose I shall have to copy out some of the sayings of our sages, of blessed memory, and interpret them.11

'The non-Jewish nations have a custom according to which war has its own rules, like those of a game, like the rules of football or basketball. But according to the sayings of our sages, of blessed memory, [ ... ] war for us is not a game but a vital necessity, and only by this standard must we decide how to wage it. On the one hand .... ] we seem to learn that if a Jew murders a Gentile, he is regarded as a murderer and, except for the fact that no court has the right to punish him, the gravity of the deed is like that of any other murder. But we find in the very same authorities in another place [ ... that Rabbi Shim'on used to say: "The best of Gentiles - kill him; the best of snakes dash out its brains."

'It might perhaps be argued that the expression "kill" in the saying of R. Shim'on is only figurative and should not be taken literally but as meaning "oppress" or some similar attitude, and in this way we also avoid a contradiction with the authorities quoted earlier. Or one might argue that this saying, though meant literally, is [merely] his own personal opinion, disputed by other sages [quoted earlier]. But we find the true explanation in the Tosalot.12 There [ .... ] we learn the following comment on the talmudic pronouncement that Gentiles who fall into a well should not be helped out, but neither should they be pushed into the well to be killed, which means that they should neither be saved from death nor killed directly. And the Tosafot write as follows:

"And if it is queried [because] in another place it was said The best of Gentiles - kill him, then the answer is that this [saying] is meant for wartime." [ ... ]

'According to the commentators of the Tosafot, a distinction must be made between wartime and peace, so that although during peace time it is forbidden to kill Gentiles, in a case that occurs in wartime it is a mitzvah [imperative, religious duty] to kill them.[...]

'And this is the difference between a Jew and a Gentile: although the rule "Whoever comes to kill you, kill him first" applies to a Jew, as was said in Tractate Sanhednn [of the Talmud], page 72a, still it only applies to him if there is [actual] ground to fear that he is coming to kill you. But a Gentile during wartime is usually to be presumed so, except when it is quite clear that he has no evil intent. This is the rule of "purity of weapons" according to the Halakhah - and not the alien conception which is now accepted in the Israeli army and which has been the cause of many [Jewish] casualties. I enclose a newspaper cutting with the speech made last week in the Knesset by Rabbi Kalman Kahana, which shows in a very lifelike - and also painful - way how this "purity of weapons" has caused deaths.

'I conclude here, hoping that you will not find the length of this letter irksome. This subject was being discussed even without your letter, but your letter caused me to write up the whole matter.

'Be in peace, you and all Jews, and [I hope to] see you soon, as you say. Yours - Shim'on.



"Reply of Moshe to R. Shun 'on Weiser"

'To His Honor, my dear Rabbi,

'First I hope that you and your family are in health and are all right.

'I have received your long letter and am grateful for your personal watch over me, for I assume that you write to many, and most of your time is taken up with your studies in your own program.

'Therefore my thanks to you are doubly deep.

'As for the letter itself, I have understood it as follows:

'In wartime I am not merely permitted, but enjoined to kill every Arab man and woman whom I chance upon, if there is reason to fear that they help in the war against us, directly or indirectly. And as far as I am concerned I have to kill them even if that might result in an involvement with the military law. I think that this matter of the purity of weapons should be transmitted to educational institutions, at least the religious ones, so that they should have a position about this subject and so that they will not wander in the broad fields of "logic", especially on this subject; and the rule has to be explained as it should be followed in practice. For, I am sorry to say, I have seen different types of "logic" here even among the religious comrades. I do hope that you shall be active in this, so that our boys will know the line of their ancestors clearly and unambiguously.

'I conclude here, hoping that when the [training] course ends, in about a month, I shall be able to come to the yeshivah [talmudic college]. Greetings - Moshe.'


SOURCE: http://www.ety.com/HRP/racehate/shahak5.htm

E-Man said...

Shalmo said

(E-Man:

"All they wanted to do was kill innocent "infidels" because they could"

Actually 9/11 had nothing to do with anybody's religion. It was an attack against the US sponsorship of Israel and the genocide that is being done in its name. It was a REACTION to what Israel has been doing for the past 60 years.

Afghanistan was doing great before the West and the Soviets got involved. They were a prospering and soon to become modernized nation, but they had oil, and that is what brought the two super-powers to claim dominion over them.)

This is false. 9-11 had a lot to do with religion and Al QUaida even said so. And Afganistan was going to be destroyed by the Russians if it wasn't for the Americans. Where do you get your info?

Tigerboy said...

Dr. J.:

---"Tigerboy, is torture worse than killing? Governments do that all the time."

Governments do not have the right to kill at their own discretion. Governments represent societies. They act in the name of "the people."

Declaring war requires the consent of Congress, the agents of the people. It requires the moral authority granted by the whole society.

The American people have not given a green light to a policy of it's-okay-to-torture-without-letting-us-know-who-or-how-or-why-or-when.

It seems, you would like to place a moral absolute upon certain acts.

Societies decide which acts, under what circumstances, are morally acceptable. The torture of an individual, in the hopes of gleaning private intelligence, has not been approved by the general public. You can't even explain to the public what the torture victim will tell, because you don't know.

It is covert, and you are on a fishing expedition.

Torturing someone under secret circumstances, which, by definition, is without proper societal consent, and therefore, without the moral authority of the society, is evil.

As is covert murder.

More evil than declaring war through proper channels.

I find the death penalty repugnant, as well, but I recognize that this society has approved its use. Hopefully, that is changing. But, even if someone is to be killed, they are supposed to be guaranteed "quick and painless."

The ongoing nature of torture clearly falls under the category of "cruel and unusual."

E-Man said...

Tigerboy-

It seems like what you are saying is that whatever society as a whole decides is moral is what is moral. If that is true I wholeheartedly disagree with you. Just because society says something is ok does not make it moral. I think the true way to describe morals is not clear cut. There are several ways to describe what is moral, is it religion's morals that are correct or is it one of the many philosophers like kant, hume or descart? Are you qualified to tell everyone what is moral?

Tigerboy said...

I am not claiming that I can tell everyone what is moral. Neither can Kant, or Hume, or Descart, or Jesus, or Buddha, or Rush Limbaugh, or Michael Moore, or George W. Bush, or Barack Obama.

I am saying that the morality of any situation changes, depending on the circumstances. You are right. Morality is NOT clear cut.

Who is in the best position to judge whether, or not, something is moral. The society that must live with the consequences, that's who. Certainly not first-century goat herders. Not you or I. The people who must live with the results.

And, consensus of that society will change, over time.

E-Man said...

So morals are forever changing?

Tigerboy said...

E-Man:

----"So morals are forever changing?"

Not radically, but yes, morals do change, as society changes.

Morality is the social contract we have with our fellow humans. 

In other words, if you want to get by, in this world, you better learn the rules, and you better learn 'em by an early age.


Humans do not think it's okay to murder those with whom we feel empathy. We never have, we never will.

 We have absolutely zero need for the Bible, in order to understand that we believe it is wrong to kill our neighbors, or for our neighbors to believe it is wrong to kill us.

The innate understanding that it is wrong to kill, steal, rape, etc. is one of the evolutionary strategies we have employed so that we might live together, help each other, prosper and grow together. It has helped Homo sapiens succeed.



The vast majority of the members of this tribe of Homo sapiens wishes for basically the same things:



A sturdy, waterproof shelter in which to house ourselves.



A secure, dependable community of other Homo sapiens among whom we can live and raise our offspring.



To be comfortable, well-fed, free of disease, safe from predators.



To feel that we are being treated fairly by our society, our community. Also known as "Equality under the law."



We all understand what it means to want, basically, the same things, safety, health, security, food, sex, comfort. We don't need religion to explain it to us. 


We all have a developed mammalian brain, which has, as one of it's features, empathy for our fellow man. We developed this feature, because it was advantageous for our social species.

We help each other. We help those we perceive to be deserving of help. Virtually all primates have some form of these behaviors.



We understand what it means to be cold, hungry, wet, suffering. We empathize, and we help, because we understand that we, ourselves, may need help someday. We help each other, we succeed together.

Learning and practicing moral behavior is the way in which we demonstrate to our society, our fellow man, that because we are willing to help others, we are also deserving of help, should we need it. Who makes the judgment about how deserving we are of help? How moral we are? Those people who will provide us with help, or deny it. Our fellow man.

Moral behavior comes from the human capacity for empathy.

Empathy is a form of self-preservation.

Do morals change? Yes. But not radically, because people don't change that much in what they want for themselves and their families.

DrJ said...

Morals DO change, it goes without saying. There is no such thing as absolute morality.

Even something as seemingly objective and universal as "do not kill", when it comes down to it, depends on the circumstance, who is doing the killing and who is being killed. A lot has to do with tribal instincts. Its a matter of interpretation and narrative. One man's "military operation" or self-defense is another man's "war crime" or murder or terrorism. This makes our moral choices complex and often confusing.

What is true is that things that were acceptable a thousand years ago or 500 or 100 or 50 years ago are no longer acceptable, and in same cases the reverse is true. Steve Pinker has a great lecture about this on TED TALKS--he shows that the world is getting to be a LESS violent place, contrary to perception. He shows that percentage-wise the chance of a person dying a violent death at the hands of another person has been steadily declining (even considering WW2). There are many possible explanations for this, and among them are shifts in morality.

I would agree that torture has become less acceptable to modern sensibilities over time. Man has become less tolerant of suffering, especially when he can see it on TV and the internet.

Judaism has had to adapt, and in fact, embrace shifting morality (as in attitudes about women and nonbelievers). Islam has been slower to adapt, but it, too, will have to change.

DrJ said...

To expand on TigerBoy's point:

Empathy and altruism for our immediate relatives is instintive and requires no law or religion. In my view morality is basically an extension of this natural empathy to an ever enlarging group of people we care about-- our neighbors, or village, or our people. How we go about extending this empathy-- this can be social contract, religion, laws, whatever.

If you think about your own empathy and how it extends outwards, you see how it applies less and less as your go further out. You might give your life for your kin, but you wouldn't sacrifice your left pinky for a starving kid in Somalia. This is actually a painful reality. Morality has evolved but it still does not deny this reality. Some pie-in-the-sky liberal might say we should care about everybody the same way but this goes against human nature and isn't realistic.

Tigerboy said...

Dr. J:

Morality is not merely the way you act toward your family, or friends.

Morality is how you act toward strangers, toward your fellow man. You may not have the same level of empathy towards a starving kid in Somalia, you may not be obligated to give him your life, or your left pinky, but you still must act morally towards him.

You may not kill him, or actively increase his suffering. Do you have an obligation to help him? We do not have the ability to help everyone, so each of us must decide for ourselves how we feel about these situations. Some feel an obligation, some do not.

But when causing greater suffering, for anyone, you are on increasingly shaky moral ground. There better be compelling reasons.

Causing death, or great intentional suffering, such as torturing someone, is not the sort of thing from which a single person, or even a number of people, can absolve themselves. That sort of extreme moral question must be answered by an entire society.

My government covertly tortured, in my name, in the name of my society, without the full disclosure necessary that this free and open society needs in order that it might grant it's moral authority, or withhold it. That is a war crime.

Tigerboy said...

In fact, the free and open and civilized nations of the Earth have had this discussion before, and we came to an agreement about how we feel about it. It's called the Geneva Conventions.

War was authorized, by this society, based on the assumption that the government of the United States would follow the Geneva Conventions.

They did not.

E-Man said...

So what you are saying sounds interesting because if you look of women are treated in Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afganistan morals are waaaaaaay different. Does this mean that if I move to one of these countries it automatically becomes moral to beat my wife if she does something I don't like?

So in America is is immoral to beat my wife, but in one of these arab countries it is moral?

Tigerboy said...

E-Man:

Morality is a judgment call, a decision by the people, of a society, who must live with the results of their choices, and who must look their parents, and their children, and their grandchildren squarely in the eye.

Morality starts out as a discussion with our own conscience. "How would I feel if I were in that situation?" Empathy.

Morality is a society's application of the "Golden Rule." Treat people, as you would wish to be treated.

Morality, like etiquette, over time, in a general way, starts to be agreed upon. Humans agree, in general, basic ways, about things that please them, or offend them.

Individuals, and societies, ask themselves: "Will I be proud of myself, will my children be proud of me, after I take these actions?"

Morality is a judgment, not an absolute.

In my moral judgment, which might be different from someone else's, beating someone is clearly wrong. I believe that causing suffering in another is wrong.

Humans understand that causing pain to others is wrong. If a society is doing something wrong, I believe they will, eventually, change what they see as moral.

I believe the death penalty is wrong. This society disagrees with me. For now. I believe that situation will change. Is the death penalty an absolute right, or wrong. Not for this society. I believe it to be wrong. It's a judgment. Others have a different judgment.

One thing that can distort our judgments, that can allow people to justify immoral behavior towards their fellow man, or woman, by invoking the wishes of an unknowable, mysterious deity, is religion.

It distorts that on which we can all agree.

E-Man said...

You didn't really answer my question. I am asking, is it moral, if I live in saudi Arabia, to beat my wife? That is the acceptable societal standard. The Roman society also believed that the man owned his family. This allowed them to kill their own children if they deemed it necessary. So again, I would argue and say, just because society chooses something does not make it moral. Also, just because society says something is bad does not make it immoral. Otherwise, you would have to say that homosexuality is immoral in most places in the world.

I am not understanding how you are defining morals. It sounds like everything is subjective. If that is true then why should anyone have to follow a governmental law? Why shouldn't I cheat on my taxes? If there is a universal moral system then I hear, but subjective morals destroy that.

Holy Hyrax said...

wow

comments sure spiked :)

Tigerboy said...

E-Man:

I'm saying that there is no universal morality.

Neither can you do whatever you choose.

Society has standards, and they change. What is, or is not, considered moral behavior is decided upon by society. Not following the law, generally, is not considered moral behavior, unless a large portion of that society considers a particular law wrong.

Most young adults, in the late sixties, did not consider breaking the laws regarding smoking marijuana to be a big moral dilemma. That's probably still true, today. Many people consider the use of illegal drugs to be a "victimless crime." No moral problem.

Some might still place a moral judgment on it. Illegal drug use is, obviously, against the law. We might label the "drug-user" to be, also, a "law-breaker" and might decide we don't want to hire that person as a "baby-sitter." But some wouldn't put any moral judgment on that person, at all. A victimless crime has little actual effect on anyone other than the offender, so who cares? Different people see it differently.

(I'm trying to make a point, please refrain from lecturing me that heroin sales send money to the opium growers in Afghanistan, which fund the war on terror. I'm not trying to start an argument about illegal drugs.)

Beating your wife is not a victimless crime. It offends more people. It offends our basic sense of fair play, and it offends the part of our human nature which feels empathy for those in pain.

Raping, or murdering, a person is definitely not a victimless crime. It offends even more people. Society has an even stronger negative reaction to such acts. Society wants such acts punished.

Not God, society.

Who decides just how morally bankrupt those acts are? Society. And it absolutely depends on the circumstances.

Killing a person because you are war, is different than killing someone because he is trying to kill you, is different than killing someone because you enjoy watching blood gush out, is different than killing one siamese twin in order to save the other, is different than killing someone because he raped your sister, is different than killing your husband because he is cheating on you, is different from killing your mother because she is in excruciating torment as she is dying from bone cancer.

You may not do anything you wish.

Society has very definite ideas about what constitutes moral behavior. But it varies. Religion is not without influence. Some members of a society may read the Bible, and make all their judgments through that filter, some may read the Bible, and feel little or no influence from what's written there.

Some may read the Koran, some might read various newspapers, some might read Miss Manners, some might watch television, some might look to their elected officials, some might ask their neighbors how they feel, some might even think for themselves.

We all have opinions. Standards change. Morality changes, but, like etiquette, there becomes, over time, a consensus about what the average person considers proper, and improper.

Saying "thank you" to someone who holds the door for you. Proper.

Picking you nose in public. Improper.

Giving a quarter to a homeless woman. Proper.

Raping her. Improper.

Social progress. Priceless.

We all know right from wrong, and we don't have to read about it in an old book, first.

Some things are more controversial, they have less consensus.

Some people look at the topic of gay marriage and say: "Well, of course! I can empathize with the fact that gay people want to be treated fairly, to have the same rights as their neighbors."

Others will say: "Hell no! Fags make Jesus cry."

These issues get sorted out by the eventual coming together of a consensus, a generally accepted public opinion. Am I saying everyone has the same opinion? No, I am not.

I'm saying, just like etiquette, certain rules emerge. It takes time, and it changes over time, but rules of morality emerge.

What is considered moral behavior becomes clear to everyone. Does everyone agree with what everyone else does? No. Do whole societies develop common practices that the larger community of man might consider immoral? Sure.

But there exists a basic human yearning to live in a human community that treats its members with fairness, with understanding, with equal protection from violence, hunger, disease, etc.

We all want, basically, the same sorts of things. Health, comfort, food, sex, security. That means that we develop a type of consensus about what are acceptable ways to procure those things, and what are not. We are all the same type of animal. We have the same basic needs.

WE decide what pleases us. WE decide what offends us. WE decide what behavior crosses the line. WE decide what is okay behavior. That is what determines morality.

No, you cannot do whatever you want.

And, no we don't learn morality from the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Shalmo said...

E-Man:

"This is false. 9-11 had a lot to do with religion and Al QUaida even said so. And Afganistan was going to be destroyed by the Russians if it wasn't for the Americans. Where do you get your info?"

WOW!

Like I said 9/11 was a response to the US' sponsorship of Israeli genocide for 60+ years. There's nothing religious about it. Its human nature to revolt and attack back your oppressors. Any other group on the planet would do the same.

So you are ok with the US turning an entire nation into militant savages.

If I were to take Jewish children and in their synagogues forcefully teach them about guns, warfare and pretty much rob them of their childhood while creating an army of savages to fight my enemies for me, would you be ok with that? Coz that's what the US did.

Your breed love bitching 24/7 about the horror of the holocaust, but its a shame you can empathize with similar trajedies the world over.

And did it occur to you that neither the US nor the Russians have any right to oil that doesn't belong to them. The Afghanis had a right to use their own resources anyway they like. So neither the US nor the Russians are justified in their imperialistic adventures

And while I sound like a zealot, I have to say that its interesting that your Hashem has given muslims all the great resources on this planet, which everybody else wants. In this case, oil being one of them.

The West has no more right to that oil, than the Jewish people have a right to stolen Palestinian land.

And please get your fellow frummies away from the Al-Aqsa mosque. You guys are never getting that land back, which your own rabbis willing gave away to the Caliph Umer to biuld a mosque there. So you can't whine today about not having it anymore.

Shalmo said...

DrJ:

"Judaism has had to adapt, and in fact, embrace shifting morality (as in attitudes about women and nonbelievers). "

Hard to imagine!

Let's look at history.

Despite all the miracles performed for you over the Exodus and the love you were shown by Hashem, being favoured above all other nations, what did you do with all those blessings?

Rather than appreciate it, you went back to polytheism the second Moshe (Moses) turned his back.

Remember Deutoronomy 31, and Moses' prophecy on how after his death your people would become "UTTERLY CORRUPT" and turn from the way he commanded you. And what happened because of it?

War was brought to Judea because of your crimes per the breaking of your covenant as the Torah records. And today once again war is being brought to Judea (modern Israel), and once again you have no one to blame but yourselves.

The third great Jewish exile is likely on its way.

Shalmo said...

Tigerboy:

"I'm saying that there is no universal morality."

Well if we are all the result of randomness then indeed morality is not possible, because morality requires direction of ethics, which requires order on a universal scale, which requires someone to act as a buffer giving final verdicts on right/wrong, which thus necessites God.

Now its true that the repulsive and gastly Jewish books with their repeated instructions to kill little boys, kill pregnant women, to take virgin girls for sex slaves, the virginal obsession filled to the brink in the torah, the idea that a raped woman must marry her rapist, the ludicrous idea of women with broken hyms being "defiled", Psalms dashing of infants against rocks, and so on and on are not what the enlightened individuals of the 21st century consider ethics at all.

This doesn't mean that universal ethics don't exist, it just means Judaism is primitive, outdated, and best left to the backwater of a foolish past. But there are indeed far better ethical paradigms available for us if we know where to look.

Tigerboy said...

The Golden Rule is a wonderful place to start.

Torture (OP!) is a clear violation of the Golden Rule.

Tigerboy said...

Torture is not proper.

According to me.

According to Miss Manners.

According to most humans.

Consensus.

That is why it is immoral.

(God seems to get wood over torture, so we'll leave Him out of it.)

E-Man said...

I am just wondering why you think the Golden Rule is the supreme rule. Why is that the right place to start? Again, you didn't answer me, in Muslim lands beating women is acceptable so does that make it moral?

Holy Hyrax said...

Since when does consensus prove something objectively moral or immoral?

Shalmo said...

"Again, you didn't answer me, in Muslim lands beating women is acceptable so does that make it moral?"

the stats show Wife battery is no more common in muslim lands than anywhere else

Its actually far more common in orthodox jewish communities, because they shelter any rabbinical crimes, hence you see rabbis getting away with all sorts of things the average joe wouldn't dream of doing.

For instance, did you know that rapant child molestation is far more common in rabbinical circles than even the catholic priesthood? Yet sadly due to zionist pressure groups who silence any media criticism as "anti-semitism" this rather important dark-side of OJ never gets aired

Here's a good source on the matter: http://100777.com/node/463

Shalmo said...

Holy Hyrax:

"Since when does consensus prove something objectively moral or immoral?"

That's how secular morality works. The majority decides what is right and what is wrong. Doesn't mean the majority is right, but it indeed is how secular morality works.

But as John Stuart Mill so rightly pointed out in his framework for a liberal democracy, we need to find ways to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority.

Orthoprax said...

Consensus proves nothing. Some of the worst crimes in history were carried out with a consensus.

What matters are results. And as long as we live in a state where we cannot say authoritatively what is best for everyone then those results should be those that can be objectively judged in terms of freedom to pursue happiness.

Health, prosperity, freedom.

DrJ said...

The Golden rule, as an extension of natural empathy that we have for loved ones. That's morality, period. That's humanism. And civil law is increasingly assuming the role of enshrining this morality.

Gentleman, after all the mental gymnastics, theologic musings, and philosophic flourishes, that's all we have left.

DrJ said...

Also-the biggest proof of this:

Every system of morality-religious, cultural, civil-- recognizes this hierarchy. In an army, you give your life for your countrymen, not other countries. Jewish law requires you to respect your parents, not someone else's parents. You give charity for your city first. You have to educate your own children. Levirate ceremonies enshrined responsibity towards your brother. In Torah law you had first responsibility towards your own tribe. You saved Jews before others. Nepotism is a plague in organized society that has to be managed. The more civilized the society, the further out the morality reaches, beyond your own family and tribe.

My thesis is that our moral 'sense' evolved from that basic instinct of taking care of your own. Animals do it, and so do we.

Elisha said...

If you like Apikorsut and bucking the authorarian religious power establishment, check out the new "I Hate Rav Bina" Blog at http://ihateravbina.blogspot.com. He is the Rosh Yeshiva at a yeshiva in Old City of Jerusalem where I studied, and I could not have had a worse educational/spiritual experience largely due to him and his influence. I've got plenty of material, so check the blog regularly.

The purpose of the blog is 1) to act as a forum for people who had terrible religious experiences in the year in Israel between high school and college; and 2) to caution kids going to Israel about the dangers of oversubscribing to religious authority.

If you went to Hakotel/Netiv Aryeh and you have similar feelings, feel free to email me at elisha.moshe@gmail.com and I'd be happy to consider adding you as a co-blogger/guest blogger.

Tigerboy said...

Consensus does prove something.

Morality is a judgment call. The more people that agree that something is moral, or immoral, the greater the case for it being generally accepted as moral, or immoral.

I don't understand this attitude that numbers don't have relevance.

Large numbers of people can be completely wrong about something, but that opinion will have a limited shelf-life. (One thing that can greatly extend that shelf-life is convincing large numbers of people of something which is false. A really good example of this is religion.)

People, eventually, figure out what is best for themselves, for their families, for their children's future, for humanity. People want to do the right thing. They want their children, and grandchildren, to be proud of them.

Holy Hyrax said...

>People, eventually, figure out what is best for themselves, for their families, for their children's future, for humanity. People want to do the right thing. They want their children, and grandchildren, to be proud of them.

OK, so why does this comment of your ONLY fit within the frame work of anti-torture? It doesn't. So now most people don't want it. Tomorrow a bomb can go off killing scores. Only later is it realized it could have been avoided by getting info off someone we had all along. Then the consensus changes over, and everything you just said, fits into a pro-torture stand. People would see torture is best for their families future, for humanity at large etc etc etc.

Tigerboy said...

I don't believe that for a minute.

First of all, this idea that some terrorist, who just happens to have all the answers, falls into the hands of the CIA, and we only have 1 hour 'til the White House explodes, or whatever, that scenario mostly lives in the minds of fans of shows like 24. It doesn't really happen,

Secondly, torture provides notoriously bad information. People will say anything to make it stop, so the intelligence is, as often as not, totally wrong.

Thirdly, even if there were a ticking bomb, I don't believe that a majority of Americans believe that torture is the appropriate course of action. People may get frustrated with certain aspects of our legal system, but I believe that most people understand, and believe, that criminals should be treated fairly, humanely. I think that most people understand the concept of due process, of having a fair trial.

As I've said before, we can consider ourselves civilized because we follow certain basic, humane rules. We allow the accused their day in court, with proper representation. Their rights are protected. When people get convicted, We the People of the United States of America are confident that the punishment fits the crime, because the rights of the accused were guarded every step of the way, we trust that the trial was fair and unbiased. We have the moral authority to pass judgment, because we followed the rules.

That is a civilized system of which we can all be proud, in which we can all have faith. The citizenry can look its children in the eye and know that they were doing the best that they could, which is what Americans want. Fairness. Equal treatment under the law.

Covert torture sessions do not make our children proud. Pulling out a suspect's fingernails, because you think he might have information that will help you, has nothing to do with our system of rights and due process.

I believe that Americans find the idea of torture to be inhumane, revolting, and totally contrary to the principles of fair treatment under the law.

No matter what the circumstances, there are certain actions that civilized humans do not take against other humans.

When we do, we lose our humanity. We lose our moral authority. We are no longer civilized. We are torturers of our fellow man. That sacrifice of our moral high ground is too great a price to pay, and is not a policy, in my opinion, that Americans will ever support.

If they do, they will see the disappointment in their grandchildren's eyes, and rightly so. Torture is barbaric.

Holy Hyrax said...

>First of all, this idea that some terrorist, who just happens to have all the answers, falls into the hands of the CIA, and we only have 1 hour 'til the White House explodes, or whatever, that scenario mostly lives in the minds of fans of shows like 24. It doesn't really happen.

The question is hypothetical.

>Secondly, torture provides notoriously bad information. People will say anything to make it stop, so the intelligence is, as often as not, totally wrong.

This is nonsense as Blair said the info helped the US.

>Thirdly, even if there were a ticking bomb, I don't believe that a majority of Americans believe that torture is the appropriate course of action. People may get frustrated with certain aspects of our legal system, but I believe that most people understand, and believe, that criminals should be treated fairly, humanely. I think that most people understand the concept of due process, of having a fair trial.

Clearly just your opinion. You also are subjectively claiming that anything otherwise is inhumane. That is a subjective opinion based on your value scale. You are erroneously claiming this has anything to do with "pride." It doesn't. I mean, do you protest solitary confiment and how inhumane it is? Why or why not? I can easily make a claim that our children if they knew of the inhumane treatment would not be proud of us.

Nobody LIKES torturing. Its not something you say with a smile. It's something you have a moral imperative to do when all else fails so thousands of others are not tortured, and degraded, and treated inhumanly.

So you can subjectively say we lose our humanity in the course of torturing. I say we lose it when we allow thousands of others to be tortured.

Tigerboy said...

Hyrax:
---"I mean, do you protest solitary confiment and how inhumane it is? Why or why not? I can easily make a claim that our children if they knew of the inhumane treatment would not be proud of us."

Are you talking about punishments given to people who have already received a fair trial? Or, are you talking about those whom we consider innocent until proven guilty?

I have said: "I am willing to discuss what actually constitutes torture, but once we have traveled into that realm, once it's torture, whatever that is, once it's torture, America does not do that."

We can discuss whether, or not, solitary confinement qualifies as torture, I would say something about it depending on the duration, the specifics. Merely confining a guilty, dangerous person, by himself, with exercise breaks, doesn't sound like torture. Throwing someone in a tiny hole, and giving them no access to any interaction with any people, or daylight, forever, that sounds like torture.

I do not claim to have studied the ethics behind every act committed against a convict, an inmate, but covertly torturing someone, without a trial, just because you think they might have information? That's clearly wrong.

Holy Hyrax said...

So I guess we will have to agree to disagree.

Mind you, nobody here wants all out torture. The simple question was, it is every morally justified to torture EVEN though it may be illegal. I say, yes. There are certain cases where there is a much greater good. If our grandchildren simply hear we "tortured" then obviously images of the gulag, Nazis etc pop into mind. But the goal is to explain certain things of why we do XYZ and why at the specific incident it was a needed thing.

Tigerboy said...

So, giving up your principles is okay, if its really, really, really, really important?

Hanan said...
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Holy Hyrax said...

No, because I am not giving up on my principles. I would be giving them up had I said under no circumstances. But I am not. My principles hold that since the world is ultimetly not black and white, certain things must be done while normally we do not. I don't particularly enjoy war, but sometimes war IS an answer.

Tigerboy said...

I'm talking about the United States giving up her principles of rights for the accused, due process, and fair, humane treatment under the law.

Holy Hyrax said...

OK, so do you prefer then as Dovbear and Orthoprax suggested some sort of warrent before hand?

Tigerboy said...

I think that you are ignoring what the word "torture" means.

There is a difference between interrogation and torture. As I said, what actually constitutes torture, versus what is merely an interrogation technique, may be open to discussion, and I'm sure that there are people who have far greater understanding, than I, of the ethics behind which is which.

If you are going to interrogate someone, and the interrogation is going to include coercive, physical contact, there better be a protocol that the American people have signed-off on, if that involves so sort of warrant, whatever, I'm not a lawyer, but there better be some rules, and the American people better have some understanding of those rules, what techniques are being used, and those rules better be adhered to.

Once we are using that extremely powerful, loaded, barbaric word "torture," at what ever point it becomes torture, whatever specific techniques cross the line into the realm of that word, torture, it's game over. No can do. Ever.

The American people may never be experts on all so-called "enhanced interrogation" techniques, but these activities need to follow a set of approved guidelines, and we all need to have some idea of what is being done in the name of the American people, and what techniques cross the line.

And criminals have rights. Including a right not to be subjected to "cruel and unusual" punishments, and a right to due process under the law, no matter what important information they might possess.

I would argue that "enemy combatants" have rights, too. People have a right to humane treatment. Even if you are at war, even if you kill someone, don't you feel an obligation, as a human, don't you feel some obligation to decrease, rather than increase, their suffering?

Say you have two bombs. One destroys the target and kills everyone in the vicinity.

The other bomb will spread a toxic gas that will cause unbelievable suffering, but not immediate death. Very prolonged, drawn-out, gruesome, long-suffering death.

Isn't there a clear moral choice? Knowingly causing suffering, especially if there is an alternative, is immoral. IMO.

Holy Hyrax said...

>I think that you are ignoring what the word "torture" means.

Of course I am not ignoring it. But I think I responding to this many times that I believe you DO have a moral justification to torture when you really need it. Something being legal or illegal says absolutely nothing about its morality. So yes, sometimes you do put aside the normal routine of due process and giving a terrorist his day in court. Cause after all, putting a terrorist in jail is an ends for punishment and thats all. We are talking about an entirely different thing here. The ends in torture is not punishment (if THAT was the reason, then I say yes, simply give him his due process and day in court) but to extract information that helps you for something much larger.

>People have a right to humane treatment. Even if you are at war, even if you kill someone, don't you feel an obligation, as a human, don't you feel some obligation to decrease, rather than increase, their suffering?

This example is not apt because we are not talking about simply increase pain for the hell of it for not other reason. I think both of us agree what happened in Abu Gharib was horrible and they should be prosecuted.

But if you are talking about humane treatment, thanMY people's rights humane rights come before an enemies humane rights. So if a battalion is out in the trenches and discover a terrorist know about a big impending attack, should they feel suffer for HIS suffering? Or for the suffering he is about to inflict on OTHERS?

Holy Hyrax said...

>If you are going to interrogate someone, and the interrogation is going to include coercive, physical contact, there better be a protocol that the American people have signed-off on, if that involves so sort of warrant, whatever, I'm not a lawyer, but there better be some rules, and the American people better have some understanding of those rules, what techniques are being used, and those rules better be adhered to.

Ok, but now you are falling back that consensus and legal formality somehow make torture moral now? Either torture is moral, or its not, irrelevant to how many people sign off on it.

Tigerboy said...

Where do you get this notion that people's opinions don't matter, or that a greater number of people holding an opinion does not carry greater authority?

Our government represents us, the American people. They act on our behalf. Our opinion is everything. Everything they do is done in our name.

I choose a self-governing society, where we, all of us, decide how we feel about things. We decide what we wish to accomplish, and what our values are.

You seem to prefer a dictatorship, where the rules come down from on high, and how people feel about something is irrelevant.

E-Man said...

Tigerboy-

I don't understand this:
"Where do you get this notion that people's opinions don't matter, or that a greater number of people holding an opinion does not carry greater authority?"

So if a greater number of people carries greater authority then the majority should be able to tell the minority how to live every aspect of their life. Christianity should be the official religion of the united states? Homosexuality should be illegal? Judaism should be outlawed as well as mormonism and buddhism? If we are talking about a greater scale then, Islam should be able to dictate to the rest of the world what to do and believe?

I just don't understand your point. Why is something right just because the majority agrees on it? So you believe that George Bush was the best president because the majority of people elected him in the USA? The war in Iraq and afganistan started with a huge approval rating so they were the right move?

And if you differentiate between these things and the majority deciding on your specific case, why are they different?

Holy Hyrax said...

>Where do you get this notion that people's opinions don't matter, or that a greater number of people holding an opinion does not carry greater authority?

Never said people's opinion don't matter. All I said is a consensus of what is moral and not does not make it so. I mean our whole system is based on the fact that the greater majority's does NOT always hold greater authority.

>Our government represents us, the American people. They act on our behalf. Our opinion is everything. Everything they do is done in our name.

I agree. But that does not de facto translate to morals.

>You seem to prefer a dictatorship, where the rules come down from on high, and how people feel about something is irrelevant.

You see, here comes the insinuations out of nowhere. Where do you get that I would prefer a dictatorship? Absolutely nowhere. My whole point is if a government needed to torture for a greater end, they may have acted illegally, but not necessarily immorally. That is all.

Tigerboy said...

Covertly.

You think governments should be allowed to torture, covertly, without the people they represent knowing, or approving, but you don't understand how that sounds like a dictatorship?

Seriously?

Holy Hyrax said...

Yes

Seriously. Both a president and a dictator wipe their ass after the toilet. It doesn't mean they are both the same. A dictator tortures to instill fear in his citizens and to prevent anyone interfering with his power. I am talking about a last ditch need, if all else fails for a greater good. Dictators don't concern themselves with a greater good.

Also, if you are concerned with the population knowing about it, then simply create a warrant based system with some judicial supervision.

Holy Hyrax said...

BTW

Knowing and approving are two separate things.

Tigerboy said...

E-Man:
"Christianity should be the official religion of the united states? Homosexuality should be illegal? Judaism should be outlawed as well as mormonism and buddhism?"

There is nothing remotely close to a general consensus for any of those things. Quite the opposite.

The general consensus, at least in this country, is that people should have freedom of religion.

Is there a big movement to repeal the First Amendment that I don't know about?

Or do the vast majority of people think the First Amendment is a good idea?

E-Man said...

"There is nothing remotely close to a general consensus for any of those things. Quite the opposite."

Well, in california they had a consensus. So in that state should being gay be considered wrong? And any other state they have a vote like that?

E-Man said...

Also, I didn't realize that constitutional rights that americans were granted were also granted to our enemies and non-citizens.

Tigerboy said...

E-Man:

If you pay closer attention to what has been written, you will find, from me, just a few entries back:

---"I would argue that "enemy combatants" have rights, too. People have a right to humane treatment. Even if you are at war, even if you kill someone, don't you feel an obligation, as a human, don't you feel some obligation to decrease, rather than increase, their suffering?"

We were discussing torture, the morality of torture. Whether it is ever moral to torture humans.

The question was not: "Do non-Americans really count as humans?"

"Enemy combatants" do not have constitutional rights, but they do have rights as humans, and under the Geneva Conventions, which the United States has ratified (that means: agreed to honor) and has violated.

----"Well, in california they had a consensus. So in that state should being gay be considered wrong? And any other state they have a vote like that?"

I am not talking about a vote, on a single topic, in a single election!

I am talking about the way, over generations of time, society develops a "general consensus" about proper behavior, what is right, what is wrong, a way in which the general population comes to relate to itself, about what comes to be GENERALLY accepted as polite behavior, or moral behavior.

Social mores.

Things that become a generally accepted part of society. Attitudes and behaviors that can be expected from the average person.

Not one vote. Not one election. Not one administration. Not one decade.

A general consensus, regarding social mores and rights, is that which has been looked at from every angle, discussed for years, or decades, or centuries, and is no longer even the least bit controversial, is ingrained into the culture, and is accepted by nearly everybody.

Like the general consensus that freedom of speech is a good idea.

Do you understand, now?

The higher the number of people who generally accept something as non-controversially true, especially if that something has been accepted as non-controversially true by an extremely large number of people and for a very, very long period of time, possibly generations, the greater the moral authority that opinion carries.

E-Man said...

I just don't understand how you are gauging such a social acceptance. Who decides what the majority of the USA thinks is ok? You? Me? Who?

A vote at a certain point in time reflects the majority of that time periods thinking. So while it might seem that certain things are accepted by a consensus, that is just false, because once you have a vote you see how people really think.

You seem to be saying that as you see it there is a consensus and I am asking, how do you see that?

DrJ said...

TigerBoy-

Concensus even on very fundamental things doesn't exist. In Muslim countries amputation is considered is considered legitimate punishment. In the west we put people in jail. Is that necessarily more humane? Send him to a place where he will get homosexually raped? Some people consider prison worse than death.

In general, you need to think about why we punish people. Is it for "revenge"? For deterrence? Detrrence for whom? For the criminal himself or for others? To "correct" an injustice? To keep society "safe"? Punishment inherently causes suffering to the criminal, but your answer as to why we punish will help you put "torture" in perspective. The fact that it is "extrajudicial" is just a technical problem. Suppose the terrorist were convicted, would the torture then by OK by you?

"Punishment" is a universal feature of moral systems across cultures, but the details of course cary tremendously. Each society has its own concensus, but it is surely not objective. And each society has its own way of determining concensus.

Tigerboy said...

Morality is not objective, I believe I was fairly clear on that point. We have a fairly strong consensus, in this country, about what constitutes a fair trial, and proportional punishment, that is quite different than what can be found in different parts of the world.

Morality is not objective, and where morality is in dispute, there is no definitive answer. The closest we can come, to objective morality, is the Golden Rule. Where morality is in dispute, I cannot say that my opinion is truer than another's, but the Golden Rule is the best benchmark, the best guideline.

At some point in the future, mankind will come closer to a general consensus on these issues. Something that is guaranteed to interfere with that general consensus is religion. Right now, we have our consensus, what we believe, and they have theirs.

I have said numerous times, there can certainly be a discussion about what constitutes "torture" and what is something different.

"Punishment" is for those who have been convicted. My understanding, my definition, of "torture," what the word "torture" suggests to me, is something over the line, something barbaric, something the consensus would find horrifying. So, to answer your question, no, were a terrorist to be convicted, I would not support to use of torture. I would support whatever this society considers to be proportional, decent, humane punishment.

Torture usually suggests, at least to me, a situation, not of punishment for crimes fairly convicted, but of a covert attempt to coerce, to gain information, to punish outside the purview of the courts, or the military, or whatever civilized authority is in charge, a situation that runs contrary to our principles of due process, or in the case of "enemy combatants", contrary to our, meaning the civilized nations of the world, our principles of basic humane treatment for prisoners of war.

If torture has become the policy of our military, I believe the public, the American people, the world, has a right to know about it, and decide how we feel about it. Do we support the Geneva Conventions, or not?

Tigerboy said...

E-Man:

---"You seem to be saying that as you see it there is a consensus and I am asking, how do you see that?"

When there emerges a general consensus, you know it. How do you know that it is wrong to pick your nose in public? Everybody knows it. Even those who want to pick their noses in public understand that they are expected not to, it's understood.

How do you know that you shouldn't push down old ladies and take their purses? There is a general consensus that pushing down old ladies and taking their purses is unacceptable, everybody understands, it's uncontroversial, nobody has to explain it to you.

Morality is the coming together of a consensus about how we all feel about right behavior and wrong behavior, and greater numbers, a greater consensus, does carry greater moral authority.

But you want absolute morality? It doesn't exist. The closest we can come to objective morality is the Golden Rule. It's a judgment.

E-Man said...

So my question to you is if a group of people, lets call them group A, want to kill group B. Then group B has to treat group A according to the golden rule even if group A is trying to kill group B?

If someone is trying to kill you then you have an obligation to not fight back? I mean according to the golden rule it says treat others like you want to be treated yourself and it does not care how others are treating you does it?

Tigerboy said...

I never said anything about an obligation not to defend yourself, nor do I believe the Golden Rule precludes one from defending himself. You are still sounding like you expect iron-clad rules.

Treating your fellow man as you would wish to be treated is about doing the best you can, it isn't about inviting someone to walk all over you.

If someone is trying to kill you, the general consensus is that you may defend yourself. How do we get from defending ourselves, to torture? How do we make the leap from honorably defending ourselves, to intentionally causing agony to another human being, and for questionable gain?

We agreed to honor the Geneva Conventions, then we went back on our word. Is that honorable? Does that make Americans proud?

Orthoprax said...

Tiger,

"Where do you get this notion that people's opinions don't matter, or that a greater number of people holding an opinion does not carry greater authority?"

Because, I, for one, believe in rights that cannot be morally 'voted away' just because there's a shift in consensus.

There is no authority in numbers.

Tigerboy said...

I have not made a single comment about "voted away" rights. I have not discussed voting in any conceivable way.

Neither have I talked about the type of consensus that shifts easily.

I have been quite clear that I am talking about the type of general consensus that arises on it's own, over great time, is non-controversial, and that has been generally accepted by the whole of a society.

Tigerboy said...

A vast number of people believing something to be non-controversially true, and believing it for generations, does not make a thing true, but to suggest that it does not carry greater authority, than something believed by only a few, is absurd.

I would have thought that we had a much stronger general consensus, in this country, on the subject of torture. The lack of outrage, on the part of the general public, as well as the defense of torture that I have read in these pages, and elsewhere, is shocking and disappointing.

E-Man said...

Tigerboy-

If someone close to you was kidnapped by Al Quiada and we were being sent videos of that person being mistreated. And we had captured a top Al Quiada person that seemingly knew where that captured person was. So are you telling me you would be against using any means necessary to find out the location of your close one. And if you are going to tell me jack bauer cases don't ahppen, what about daniel pearl, or anyone else who was kidnapped and we were sent video tapes. Or just anyone we were told was captured. So according to you torturing this man that has killed many innocent civilians is not moral even though it will lead to the rescue of at least one if not many innocent civilians?

Tigerboy said...

E-Man:

Right. Absolutely. Without question.

1. Torture provides unreliable information. People will tell you anything, in order to make the torture stop. Agents have wasted time, money, man-power, resources, following-up on bad information.

2. These Jack Bauer scenarios, "If only we could get this one man to tell us the codes, in the next 40 minutes, we could save 1000 people," that sort of high-drama is fiction, it doesn't happen.

What does happen is, once you justify that sort of clear-cut situation, in your mind, it is quite easy to apply the same logic to somebody who might know something, that might prevent something, that might result in lives lost, now we're fishing.

3. Civilized people can claim to being civilized, because we obey the rules, because we stick to our principles.

Does anybody enjoy watching John Wayne Gacy make his way through the court system? Do we enjoy giving him every opportunity to present his case? Do we enjoy safeguarding all of his rights? Do we enjoy making sure he has competent legal representation, and full access to the appeals process?

Many people hate that stuff. But we follow our principles. We protect his rights. We have the moral authority to judge this man, because we followed the rules.

Even if it is really, really, really important, we follow basic rules of humane treatment. It is how we lay claim to being civilized. Perhaps, especially, when it is really, really, really important. We follow the rules. It is why our opinion carries authority.

We, and other civilized nations of the world, have agreed to honor the Geneva Conventions. That is what this society said it wanted. That is what we all grew up believing was one of the things that America stood for. Fair, civilized treatment of wrong-doers.

Would I enjoy watching a loved one in the same position as Daniel Pearl? Absolutely not.

Would I want someone tortured, for my benefit, in my name, in any situation? Absolutely not.

I need to look myself in the mirror. I am a member of a civilized society. I agree with, and follow, certain rules. I have certain basic principles, regarding the treatment of my fellow man.

Someone who terrorizes others does not. They are criminals. They should be properly tried for their crimes.

Tigerboy said...

I am not saying that there can never be a justification for taking quick, decisive action.

If someone is threatening the lives of innocents, and there is good reason to believe him, if killing a person, who is an immediate threat, will save lives, there are situations where killing is justified.

Self-defense, preventing the quickly imminent death of others, making a quick decision to save lives, these can be justified.

Torture, to glean potential information, is something different.

I'm not saying that it is not possible for me to imagine an extremely unusual situation, where someone might make a choice, to torture, believing it to be for the greater good. But he better be prepared to justify his actions, possibly in court. And, should this be normal conduct for the US government? The US military?

No.

Holy Hyrax said...

>1. Torture provides unreliable information. People will tell you anything, in order to make the torture stop. Agents have wasted time, money, man-power, resources, following-up on bad information.

Tigerboy

I said this before, and I actually responded to this. How many torture scenarios are you familiar with conducted by the CIA? What are the statistics on high level prisoners being tortured that proved absolutely wrong? Dennis Blair acknowledged the info obtained was useful.

Holy Hyrax said...

>I need to look myself in the mirror. I am a member of a civilized society. I agree with, and follow, certain rules. I have certain basic principles, regarding the treatment of my fellow man.

This is some sort of insinuation that people that are for the administration of torture when absolutely needed are somehow club carrying cavemen, have no principles and care nothing for their fellow man and that somehow the "real" reason they accept torture is to satisfy some sort of blood lust they have and NOT their fellow man.

Holy Hyrax said...

I guess really the more important question is: Had according to you, information was useful, would you be OK with torture?

Tigerboy said...

Is anyone ever "OK" with intentionally causing another human being agony?

Holy Hyrax said...

Sure. I am "OK" when a child murderer is put into solitary confinment (which is agony for him) or put to death.


From your answer, I deduce that you would still not administer torture, correct?

Tigerboy said...

Do you see shooting someone in the face, in order to save the life of another, as absolutely free of moral complications?

There are no absolutes.

My opinion is that intentionally causing suffering, in another human being, has moral problems.

Is it totally impossible for me to construct a scenario, in my head, whereby I could understand why someone might feel that he was acting for the greater good by torturing a person? It's difficult. It's convoluted. But I can do it.

Do I think that the United States should be torturing terrorists, covertly, in order, possibly, to obtain useful information? No way.

Holy Hyrax said...

>My opinion is that intentionally causing suffering, in another human being, has moral problems.

Sure, there ARE moral issues to be discussed here. I never assumed for a second that its simple. But we cause agony to people all the time by the government and it being perfectly legal.

>It's difficult.

It's only difficult if you a priori are against it.

>Do I think that the United States should be torturing terrorists, covertly, in order, possibly, to obtain useful information? No way.

Whats your issue here? That its done covertly? Fine, then create a warrent based system with supervision. If your problem is simply TORTURE, no matter what, then anything I say won't matter, and your examples of info being bad or good is pointless too, since you are simply against it.

Tigerboy said...

My issue is that the general consensus says that torture is wrong, and I happen to agree.

If you are claiming that you have rock solid evidence that torture provides really valuable information, that torturing terrorists regularly saves lives, that there are really excellent reasons why we should be able to issue warrants for this, take your case to the world.

Right now, we have agreed to the Geneva Conventions.

Tigerboy said...

Should we be able to issue warrants to kill people?

Hanan said...
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Hanan said...
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Hanan said...
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Holy Hyrax said...

>take your case to the world.

Well, no, actually I don't. Nations agreeing on a geneva convention does not make that the de facto moral code for humanity. You can make a legal argument for it, but not a moral one.


>Should we be able to issue warrants to kill people?

How can you? You don't "know" when you are about to kill a person (if for self defence). But other people do have warrants for killing people. It's called a badge. But even when they do, there is still an investigation. So if your problem is the "covert" aspect, then there can be judicial supervision over it. That way, none of it is secret.

Holy Hyrax said...

It's almost on par with someone making a moral argument that me running a red light to get my pregnant wife to the hospital in time, is immoral. Now, you can certainly say I am legally responsible for running a red light, but I am somehow immoral for that instance of running a red light? Afterall, the gradual consensus over time is that we as a people agree that following road rules leads to a more functional society with less traffic accidents and death.

Holy Hyrax said...

btw

I don't mean to compare running a red light to torturing. I'm simply using that to illustrate that we as a society certain have a consensus for legality, and how a healthy society should function, but that doesn't always translate to morality.

E-Man said...

Tigerboy-
"If you are claiming that you have rock solid evidence that torture provides really valuable information, that torturing terrorists regularly saves lives, that there are really excellent reasons why we should be able to issue warrants for this, take your case to the world.

Right now, we have agreed to the Geneva Conventions."

I thought you said people voting on something doesn't make it a consensus. So then why does a vote on homosexuality create a consensus if the geneva convention does? That was my argument before and you seemed to say a general consensus has nothing to do with a real vote. Now you are saying the geneva convention says torture is wrong. So what is it?

Tigerboy said...

E-Man:
One more time, I am not talking about voting. The Geneva Conventions are not like the conventions you saw on TV last fall.

The Geneva Conventions absolutely represent a general consensus. They have been ratified by 194 countries, including the United States, and have been considered the standard for international humanitarian law for generations.

The First of the Geneva Conventions was established in 1863. The Third of the Geneva Conventions, the one that speaks about prisoners of war, was established in 1929, and most recently ratified in 1949.

Hyrax would like to add a provision about being able to issue warrants for torture. I am definitely not recommending a vote. I think his job is quite a bit more difficult than that.

He is going to have to convince the entire world why we need to change this treaty that has set a standard in international law since the nineteenth century. Virtually the entire world supports the Geneva Conventions. Now, do you understand what a general consensus is?

I guess numbers do matter.

Orthoprax said...

Tiger,

"I have not made a single comment about "voted away" rights. I have not discussed voting in any conceivable way."

A person holds an opinion. In a democratic society that represents how they'd vote if put to ballot.

"Neither have I talked about the type of consensus that shifts easily."

No "consensus" is set in stone. "Ease" of shift is entirely relative.

"I have been quite clear that I am talking about the type of general consensus that arises on it's own, over great time, is non-controversial, and that has been generally accepted by the whole of a society."

Oh ok. If you're talking about fictional concepts then what's to discuss? Few consensuses arise on their own and even fewer do so without controversy. But even ignoring that, why are you dismissing the many popular consensuses throughout history that were blatantly unfair and wrong?

"A vast number of people believing something to be non-controversially true, and believing it for generations, does not make a thing true, but to suggest that it does not carry greater authority, than something believed by only a few, is absurd."

Neither the number of people nor the kinds of people who hold an opinion grants them any authority. A hundred million men screaming at the top of their lungs that the earth is flat doesn't make it so. The wise man with understanding who declares it round outweighs them all.

Holy Hyrax said...

>Hyrax would like to add a provision about being able to issue warrants for torture.

Not my provision. I merely offered that to you if secrecy was an issue here for you.

Tigerboy said...

Orthoprax:
---""A person holds an opinion. In a democratic society that represents how they'd vote if put to ballot."

How true. I am not talking about voting (I wonder how many times I will have to say that). An election result is but a tiny brick in the massive wall that is the type of general consensus about which I speak.

---"No "consensus" is set in stone."

Exactly right. I never made a claim that a general consensus cannot change. A general consensus can change. We may get new information. We might decide that we don't think free speech is a good idea. Once something is non-controversially accepted as true, and for generations, it is far less likely to change. But it could. Maybe theft will become morally acceptable. I seriously doubt it.

---"Few consensuses arise on their own and even fewer do so without controversy."

Absolutely wrong. Consensus arises on its own all the time. The general consensus that it's wrong to push old ladies down in the street arose on it's own, and with little controversy.

I never said that a consensus cannot begin with controversy. I'd call the American Revolution a fair amount of controversy, but many of the ideas born of that conflict, many of the ideas discussed in the Bill of Rights, have been non-controversially accepted by millions of people for generations, and definitely represent a general consensus.

---"why are you dismissing the many popular consensuses throughout history that were blatantly unfair and wrong?"

I never said that there haven't been consensuses that were unfair or wrong. There are many examples of general consensuses that have been wrong. I said that the more people who hold an opinion, non-controversially, over great periods of time, possibly generations, the greater the authority. I never said they couldn't be totally wrong.

---"Neither the number of people nor the kinds of people who hold an opinion grants them any authority. A hundred million men screaming at the top of their lungs that the earth is flat doesn't make it so. The wise man with understanding who declares it round outweighs them all."

I was quite clear in stating that a vast number of people believing something doesn't make it true. Do you even read what you are quoting?

A wise man could very easily understand something that the rest of the world fails to see. It has happened countless times. It usually happens with something objective, something that can be demonstrated.

But on subjective topics, like morality, one man does not have a definitive answer. There are no moral absolutes. The closest we can come to objective morality is the Golden Rule.

Therefore, the fact that it is human nature for a majority of people to wish to build a better, safer, fairer, more prosperous world for themselves, and to wish even more strongly to build such a world for their children and grandchildren, social progress moves, generally, in the direction of creating such a world.

Are their examples of despots and atrocities? Of course. They, generally, have a limited shelf-life.

People want what is best for their children. They want their children to be proud of them. They want their children to understand that they did their best. People have extremely strong motivation to figure out what is right, what is moral. Are there anomalies? No question.

The greater the number of people who non-controversially believe something, something which is a matter of opinion, and the greater the amount of time they believe it, the greater the likelihood that there is something to it, that there is a part of human nature to which it speaks.

If there is a general consensus about something which turns out to be false, once discovered, it changes. People want to understand their world, they want to understand the best way to treat their fellow man. Are there people who behave contrary to the ideals of building a better world for their children? No question. But a majority of humans choose the path of cooperation, societal cooperation. Humans are social animals. Is there conflict? Certainly. But we try to figure it out. We try to cooperate.

One thing that stands firmly in the path of social harmony is religion.

You don't think that I understand that good people can be dead wrong? Currently, a majority of people in the world believe in a divine creator of the universe, so, believe me, I am well aware that a majority can be wrong.

In a discussion about matters of opinion, to claim that numbers are irrelevant is ridiculous. Numbers do not guarantee a correct answer, but they are by no means irrelevant.

Sadie Lou said...

I don't know if Scott is coming back to this debate but I need to ask...
"At any rate, fortunately torture is a violation of the constitution. Unfortunately the Federal government is full of assholes like Barack Obama and Dick Cheney who think the constitution is a "living" document, which pretty much means they can make it say whatever they want. Also unfortunate is assholes like Obama and Emanuel don't believe in the Rule of Law applies to government officials. So we effectively live in a lawless society, and as long as we do shit like this gonna keep happening."
- - - - - - - - -

Can't you personalize the circumstance of torture at all?
I can't speak for or against torture in any capacity because I am faced with the moral conundrum of being a hypocrite.
If someone kidnapped one of my children, I would have to admit that I wouldn't be above any measures to get them back--I would bribe, kill, beg, you name it and I would probably be capable of it to get them back in one piece--unharmed.

Would I stand by an administer the torture if I did not know the outcome would produce the desired results?
I don't know. But I'm not going to judge and say torture is 100% wrong and unjust.
*sigh* I am often surprised by the certainty of others.
~Sadie

E-Man said...

Sadie Lou-

I agree with you 100%. Surprised by that certainty???

Sadie Lou said...

E-Man, well some things are just plain, undeniable facts. Thank God for Truth.
:D

Orthoprax said...

Tiger,

"I never said that there haven't been consensuses that were unfair or wrong. There are many examples of general consensuses that have been wrong. I said that the more people who hold an opinion, non-controversially, over great periods of time, possibly generations, the greater the authority. I never said they couldn't be totally wrong."

Aha. So how often are they totally wrong? Let's apply some numbers here.

Though, naturally, it's always the controversial issues which concern us.

E-Man said...

Check out this link for your consensus on torture http://www.politicsdaily.com/2009/05/05/hot-seat-torturing-terrorists/