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September 29, 2006

Want To Read Something Depressing?

Here's Sherrod Brown on the detainee bill. And MSNBC lauding defecting Democrats for their brilliant politics. At no point in the article does the author deploy right or wrong as a relevant metric.

September 29, 2006 | Permalink

Comments

At no point in the article does the author deploy right or wrong as a relevant metric

Just a small point, but "right and wrong" are not always as subjective as you might think. What we hold as "right and wrong" today may be totally different in the future, just as it was in the past. Even in our contemporary times, different people hold differnt views of right and wrong. I'm sure the Jihadists think killing children is kinda OK as long as they are doing it for Muhammed. Ed Asner thinks communism is "right".

Posted by: Fred Jones | Sep 29, 2006 12:23:01 PM

ARrrrrggghhhh! make that "objective"!!!

Posted by: Fred Jones | Sep 29, 2006 12:23:47 PM

You're absolutely right, Fred. Twenty years ago everybody would have agreed that giving the president the ability to unilaterally define something as major as "torture" while suspending habeas corpus is wrong.

Posted by: Kylroy | Sep 29, 2006 12:38:48 PM

Fred, taking a page from Martin Luther King, Jr., we generally regard arc of history as bending towards justice and freedom, not backtracking in the other direction. If torture is considered right yesterday, we expect that if anything changes, it will change such that torture is considered wrong tomorrow, not the reverse.

Posted by: Constantine | Sep 29, 2006 12:42:28 PM

I'm sure the Jihadists think killing children is kinda OK as long as they are doing it for Muhammed.

And all the children that died as we bombed Iraq and are still dying there? That's all just fine, because we're doing it for freedom! Bellow it with me people, all Mel Gibson style: FREEEEEEDOMMMM!

Republican Talking Point Trolls: All for Moral Relativism since November, 2000.

Posted by: paperwight | Sep 29, 2006 1:33:57 PM

i called hugh hewitt yesterday after he railed against the dems for not supporting torture and to his credit, he put me on.

click on hugh hewitt 9/28/06 hour 3 and scroll the time bar to 24:00 and listen to me taking the battle to hugh:

http://www.townhall.com/talkradi...x? RadioShowID=5

Posted by: christian | Sep 29, 2006 1:42:34 PM

Why Brown voted 'yes'
He said the detainees "are not soldiers, not combatants representing a government, these are terrorists."

Even if I was willing to stipulate that as true, torture is still wrong. But the fact that "these are terrorists" simply on the President's say-so, and he then gets to do whatever he wants for as long as he wants with no judicial oversight?

What a fucking time to "agree wuth the President," you jackass. I seriously doubt Paul Hackett would not have fallen for this.

Posted by: Mr Furious | Sep 29, 2006 1:44:00 PM

Fred,

If I recall correctly, you have argued in comment threads that right and wrong are, in fact, objective. I seem to remember that you have railed against relativistic liberals who wish to change the meaning of these words to suit their own agendas and ideas.

As much as you can irritate me, you have, until now, remained fairly consistent with your arguments and ideas.

That you would cast aside your own standards, that you would do the very thing you have accused your opponents of doing, that you would be willing to change your views on something so foundational as the difference between what is "right" and what is "wrong" in defense of allowing Americans to torture in your name sickens me.

This isn't about politics, Fred. This isn't a game, or a race, or a competition. This isn't about making sure that your team wins. This is about staying out of a moral sewer.

You and others complain that the terrorists don't follow the Geneva Conventions. Of course not. What makes a person or group terroristic is the fact that they don't observe the Geneva Conventions.

Are you married? Do you have kids? When they anger you, do you beat them, hit them with weapons or burn them? Other people do, what is it that stops you?

Should there be laws governing the actions of our police forces? When you are driving down the road, obeying the speed limit, with current tags and no safety problems, should the state police be able to pull you over, search your car and take you to jail because they got an anonymous tip that you were driving dangerously or something? Should you, Fred, have Miranda rights? Should you have access to an attorney if you are arrested?

This is about the government being given the power to ignore the law of the land. This is about giving one person the power to define and redefine and redefine again what the law means, who is protected and who is not.

Fred, there have been times that I have been irritated at you, angry at you. But today I'm just disappointed and sorrowful. I am fearful of what people like you have brought about for this country.

The fact that in the coming American tyranny we will all be treated alike by our despots gives me no consolation. Would that this had never come to pass.

Posted by: Stephen | Sep 29, 2006 1:46:18 PM

Ultimately I have to blame the education system in this country. How else could someone like Brown so misunderstand the concept of what a "right" is, so misunderstand the concept of checks and balances, so misunderstand the entire impetus behind the American Revolution and the Constitution?

Of course, maybe he does understand, and he is just a lying sack of shit trying to win an election by any means, fair or foul.

Posted by: shargash | Sep 29, 2006 1:58:40 PM

The sub-head of that article: "Did adroit Democratic candidates take away one of the GOP's best issues?"

Answer: no; those candidates just traded away the ability to make it a positive issue for Democrats.

Next question?

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Sep 29, 2006 2:06:19 PM

To hell with Sherrod Brown.

Posted by: Christmas | Sep 29, 2006 2:50:37 PM

Here's Fred's 'objective' criterion:

"Does the act in question advance the position of the Party as the vanguard of the Revolution?"

Posted by: Davis X. Machina | Sep 29, 2006 3:08:21 PM

And MSNBC lauding defecting Democrats for their brilliant politics. At no point in the article does the author deploy right or wrong as a relevant metric.

The article isn't an editorial on the merits of the bill. It's a report on the politics. I didn't notice any lauding of defecting Democrats by the author.

There was lauding of Brown by Feingold, however. Even Feingold knows that Brown's vote on this was purely tactical, that it made no difference except a political one, and probably a positive one in the long run. Brown apparently voted with the other liberals on the amendments.

I largely agree with your views on this, Stephen, but I want to point out that Fred is hardly the only one to abandon consistency in relation to this issue. There are a number of liberals here who normally argue forcefully for the classical Liberal position that political issues must be subject to vigorous, rational debate, who have just trashed that idea in the context of torture. I think of them as torture fundamentalists, in that their views are absolute and beyond rational challenge, despite the wide disagreements involved. I don't know if you have been sickened, saddened or disappointed about that abandonment of basic liberal principles. Even though I've learned not to expect people on either side of controversial issues to be deeply rational or evenhanded, I was still taken aback by the switch of principles in this case. I think it prevents rational consideration of the issues involved in this bill and promotes an unhealthy polarization.

Posted by: Sanpete | Sep 29, 2006 3:19:47 PM

What's there to be rational about with torture and habeas corpus? For two hundred years, our government and every democracy worthy of the name have both A) not tortured people, and B) not imprisoned people indefinitely without charges (a few shameful examples aside). Meanwhile, the regimes that routinely do these things were often our greatest foes. I'd argue that America abandoning the example of it's past and adopting the tactics of the USSR, Khmer Rouge, and VietCong is pretty clearly wrong. Do you want to debate that point?

Previous attempts to allow but tightly control "torture-lite" by Israel show that sanctioned detainee abuse quickly expands far beyond any intention to restrict it's use - interrogators want to be trying their hardest to get meanigful intelligence, and will go to the limit of what they're allowed to do. And the people who actually work in intelligence-gathering say that torture is useless for obtaining actionable information, but great at getting people to say whatever you want. You end up getting told whatever the detainee thinks you want to hear, just so the pain will stop.

If you want a rational response, it's that torture doesn't work, provided your goal is getting useful information that will save innocent lives and harm terrorist organizations. If your goal is venting frustration or soundign tough, though, it seems to be doing OK.

Posted by: Kylroy | Sep 29, 2006 3:32:19 PM

Yes, Sanpete, Congress just enshrined the president's right to arbitrarily and unilaterally declare someone an enemy combatant and detain them forever, but it's liberal "torture fundamentalists" that are the real problem here.

Posted by: DJA | Sep 29, 2006 3:36:25 PM

Kylroy, it's a waste of your time trying to argue with Sanpete. He's totally unpersuaded by rational, real-world, evidence-based arguments, because in the little fantasy-world he's dreamed up, torture could work -- then he gets all pissy when you point out that his fantasy bears no relation to reality as we know it.

Posted by: DJA | Sep 29, 2006 3:41:05 PM

There are a number of liberals here who normally argue forcefully for the classical Liberal position that political issues must be subject to vigorous, rational debate, who have just trashed that idea in the context of torture.

Torture is not a "political issue." Neither is murder, nor can we consider theft to be a "political issue."

These are crimes. Torture is a crime according to the laws of the 191 signatories of the Geneva Conventions, including, of course, the United States of America.

In the USA, whether or not to torture is not a "political issue." My right to not incriminate myself, my right to believe as I see fit, my right to speak my mind, to vote, to gather with like-minded people to protest, to be secure in my person and property, these are not "political issues."

Why stop with torture, Sanpete? Why not have a debate over the "political issue" of whether human beings should be able to own other human beings as property? Or perhaps we could discuss the idea that some races are inherently inferior to others and need to be wiped out. How about the political issue of allowing adults to have sex with little children?

I would hope that your Classical Liberalism would allow you to not be a pedophilia, eugenic or slavery fundamentalist. What a loss it would be if we could not sit down as rational human beings to weigh the pros and cons of forcibly sterilizing African-Americans and having sex with 4-year-old boys.

Posted by: Stephen | Sep 29, 2006 4:05:04 PM

Kylroy, I was talking about those who claim that torture is a topic that shouldn't be discussed rationally, that to do so is wrong. You may have missed it, but a number of people here and elsewhere have made such claims. You, on the other hand, appear willing to give your reasons.

As to the arguments themselves, I've argued elsewhere that there really are two rational and reasonable points of view in relation to the current US policy on this, that there are responses to your points to consider. I didn't intend to reopen that discussion in this thread, though I suppose it would fit well enough. I'll just make a few points briefly.

First, I agree that habeas corpus shouldn't be revoked. At the least it appears to be unconstitutional, and even if it weren't (there are constitutional provisions for suspending it that some think apply), I don't think it wise in this case.

On torture, I've come to the conclusion in thinking about this over the last few weeks that the practical points like those you raise are the controlling ones, that the purely moral arguments are inconsistent with our views about warfare (which allow worse things, in my view, such as killing and maiming, to be justified by necessity). As a practical matter, though, the evidence isn't as solid as we would wish it to be. There are very strong motives for bias among experts on both sides, and there is a great lack of scientifically controlled and peer-reviewed evidence to try to overcome those biases. Thus there's no basis for scientific certainty, and there is some basis for doubt on some of the more counter-intuitive points. Even though many experts do agree with you, Israel is reported to continue to use physical coercion, so it's apparent that the experts there who believe in its superior usefulness are still winning the arguments there. There are also dissenting views from Britain, in regard to the use of coercion with the IRA.

So, while I accept enough of the practical arguments to believe that the current US policy isn't justified, I can see why others disagree, and am not sure I wouldn't accept torture as a last resort in the infamous ticking time bomb scenarios.

Posted by: Sanpete | Sep 29, 2006 4:20:01 PM

Stpehen, the current policy on physical coercion is a political issue, as the bill in question here shows.

Why not have a debate over the "political issue" of whether human beings should be able to own other human beings as property?

We did have such a debate at the time it was needed, and it did help lead to the abolition of slavery. However, there is no basis for such a debate now. Who would you debate with? Likewise with your other examples, which political party or leader is arguing for those things?

Posted by: Sanpete | Sep 29, 2006 4:28:12 PM

"...that the purely moral arguments are inconsistent with our views about warfare..."

We signed the Geneva Convention, and had no real issues adhering to it's policies on torture until after 9/11. We spent nearly forty years with nuclear elimination hanging over our heads, and we didn't torture and "disappear" people until after 9/11. It is highly inconsistent with the way we've conducted our wars throughout the Cold War and it's aftermath.

And if you're going to reject any and all moral arguments simply because they are moral and not rational, torturing people to death is just anothermodest proposal.

"...and am not sure I wouldn't accept torture as a last resort in the infamous ticking time bomb scenarios."

Ah, good old Jack Bauer. Look, the problem with making exemptions for Hollywood-inspired "ticking time bomb scenarios" is that they A) do not occur in the crystal-clear, tense-soundtrack-punctuated manner people imagine, which B) gives any interrogator an excuse for waterboarding somebody ("I though there was a ticking time bomb!"). Again, the Israeli experience shows that sanctioning "moderate physical pressure" in limited scenarios invariably leads to widespread use of tactics America and the rest of the world have agreed amount to torture. Why? Because no interrogator gets the job by thinking "This guy probably doesn't know anything, so I'll go easy on him" - he's there to get results. The "results" here tend more often than not to be whatever the tortured thought would end the torment, but boy howdy does it give the interrogator a rush.

Posted by: Kylroy | Sep 29, 2006 4:55:30 PM

We did have such a debate at the time it was needed, and it did help lead to the abolition of slavery. However, there is no basis for such a debate now. Who would you debate with? Likewise with your other examples, which political party or leader is arguing for those things?

So what you are saying is that if there is a politician who wants to discuss the merits of adults having sex with children, we would therefore and quite naturally have such a debate. All that we lack to begin a discussion about the destruction of an entire race of people, say Blacks or Chinese or Native Americans, is a politician who brings it up. Quite a standard you have there.

The idea that any subject is worth a "debate" merely because a politician brings it up is laughable. Would you like to have a discussion about women's suffrage? It's a current debate worth having, according to you, because Kay O'Connor, a Kansas State Senator, has expressed the idea that women should not be allowed to vote.

I seem to recall that the nations of this world had a discussion about torture and its use. I believe that it took place in Geneva, in 1949, and the result of that discussion about torture (among other things) was to ban it and declare it wrong.

The discussion happened, with the involvement of much of the world. Since then, scores of other nations have added their voices to the discussion by signing on to the treaty. The American people had a discussion about this, when it came time for the US Congress to vote on ratifying this treaty, which they did. Apparently you feel slighted that you were not able to have a part in it, but that's just too bad.

My point, since you have shown yourself completely invulnerable to getting it previously, is that the mere mention of some stupid, sick or twisted idea by a politician doesn't automatically make it something worthy of discussion. That so many of the members of Congress feel this is worth "discussing" does not give me the obligation of "discussing" the so-called merits of torture.

Your position is without merit, it is completely illogical and absurd. You want to justify torture so badly that each comment thread finds you more desperately grasping at rhetorical straws than the last.

And when the people who want to follow established international and more importantly American law respond that the "merits" of torture are not worth discussion, you petulantly start calling them names.

Grow up, get a clue. And try to apply some standards to your belief system.

Posted by: Stephen | Sep 29, 2006 5:05:39 PM

Kylroy, the point about the Geneva Conventions is a legal one, not a moral one.

And if you're going to reject any and all moral arguments simply because they are moral and not rational

I don't do this. I gave the reason for rejecting the purely moral arguments. (Moral arguments are rational.)

the problem with making exemptions for Hollywood-inspired "ticking time bomb scenarios" is that they A) do not occur in the crystal-clear, tense-soundtrack-punctuated manner people imagine, which B) gives any interrogator an excuse for waterboarding somebody ("I though there was a ticking time bomb!").

I agree that the lines aren't always clear at all. The same is true in deciding what and how to bomb during war. Yet we sometimes (rather often) feel the necessity to do it, justifying it as moral in those cases. This has the very same problem you point out here, that we may bomb in the wrong circumstances if we allow bombing at all. That isn't a conclusive argument against bombing.

Again, the Israeli experience shows that sanctioning "moderate physical pressure" in limited scenarios invariably leads to widespread use of tactics America and the rest of the world have agreed amount to torture. Why? Because no interrogator gets the job by thinking "This guy probably doesn't know anything, so I'll go easy on him" - he's there to get results. The "results" here tend more often than not to be whatever the tortured thought would end the torment, but boy howdy does it give the interrogator a rush.

I haven't seen the evidence that you apparently have that the Israeli example shows this to be the invariable result. The possibility of this kind of thing has to be weighed with all the rest.

Posted by: Sanpete | Sep 29, 2006 5:24:12 PM

Quite a standard you have there.

What I said was clear enough, Stephen. There is a political debate now about torture (or physical coercion) that is far more widespread than one politician. It has split the country and the Congress. Pretending I said something else far less reasonable and attacking that instead isn't helpful. (It's one of those defense mechanisms you seem to think only apply to conservatives, as though liberals weren't people too.)

That so many of the members of Congress feel this is worth "discussing" does not give me the obligation of "discussing" the so-called merits of torture.

Not you, perhaps, but those who feel rational discussion is superior to mere name-calling will feel some obligation.

As happens often, you're making reckless charges about me you can't back up. Why do you keep doing that?

Posted by: Sanpete | Sep 29, 2006 5:55:39 PM

Even though I've learned not to expect people on either side of controversial issues to be deeply rational or evenhanded, I was still taken aback by the switch of principles in this case. I think it prevents rational consideration of the issues involved in this bill and promotes an unhealthy polarization.

Please. Some issues are (or, apparently, were) widely considered settled. If someone suggests that we reinstitute slavery, we're not obligated to argue with him. The issue has been settled. If he does not understand that, he is so far removed from our moral sphere that discussion is impossible--we simply don't share enough of the same beliefs and values to have a sensible discussion. This isn't an unwillingness to debate, this is a recognition of the impossibility of debate.

If you want to argue that torture doesn't belong in that category, say that. But the argument you've made is nonsense.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Sep 29, 2006 5:56:37 PM

But the argument you've made is nonsense.

Tim, that's not the argument I've made, but rather the one you've made out of it, as Stephen already did earlier in the thread. (You can find my response above.) Do you really consider slavery a controversial issue? I don't. But there's a national debate right now about physical coercion, including in Congress. It is controversial.

Posted by: Sanpete | Sep 29, 2006 6:28:45 PM

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