Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Method of Tenacity

Yes, I've quoted it before, but, gosh darn it, it's just so damn relevant:

"If the settlement of opinion is the sole object of inquiry, and if belief is of the nature of a habit, why should we not attain the desired end, by taking any answer to a question which we may fancy, and constantly reiterating it to ourselves, dwelling on all which may conduce to that belief, and learning to turn with contempt and hatred from anything that might disturb it? This simple and direct method is really pursued by many men. I remember once being entreated not to read a certain newspaper lest it might change my opinion upon free-trade. "Lest I might be entrapped by its fallacies and misstatements," was the form of expression. "You are not," my friend said, "a special student of political economy. You might, therefore, easily be deceived by fallacious arguments upon the subject. You might, then, if you read this paper, be led to believe in protection. But you admit that free-trade is the true doctrine; and you do not wish to believe what is not true." I have often known this system to be deliberately adopted. Still oftener, the instinctive dislike of an undecided state of mind, exaggerated into a vague dread of doubt, makes men cling spasmodically to the views they already take. The man feels that, if he only holds to his belief without wavering, it will be entirely satisfactory. Nor can it be denied that a steady and immovable faith yields great peace of mind. It may, indeed, give rise to inconveniences, as if a man should resolutely continue to believe that fire would not burn him, or that he would be eternally damned if he received his ingesta otherwise than through a stomach-pump. But then the man who adopts this method will not allow that its inconveniences are greater than its advantages. He will say, "I hold steadfastly to the truth, and the truth is always wholesome." And in many cases it may very well be that the pleasure he derives from his calm faith overbalances any inconveniences resulting from its deceptive character. Thus, if it be true that death is annihilation, then the man who believes that he will certainly go straight to heaven when he dies, provided he have fulfilled certain simple observances in this life, has a cheap pleasure which will not be followed by the least disappointment. A similar consideration seems to have weight with many persons in religious topics, for we frequently hear it said, "Oh, I could not believe so-and-so, because I should be wretched if I did." When an ostrich buries its head in the sand as danger approaches, it very likely takes the happiest course. It hides the danger, and then calmly says there is no danger; and, if it feels perfectly sure there is none, why should it raise its head to see? A man may go through life, systematically keeping out of view all that might cause a change in his opinions, and if he only succeeds -- basing his method, as he does, on two fundamental psychological laws -- I do not see what can be said against his doing so. It would be an egotistical impertinence to object that his procedure is irrational, for that only amounts to saying that his method of settling belief is not ours. [Note: this is rhetorical. He doesn't really mean that.] He does not propose to himself to be rational, and, indeed, will often talk with scorn of man's weak and illusive reason. So let him think as he pleases."
-- Charles Sanders Peirce
"The Fixation of Belief"


Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I like the rare occasions when you wax philosophical, WS. It gives me hope that in your good time you'll get around to the goose and gander thing.

Or ostrich, as the case may be.

The best way to deal with a moral dilemma is to declare it's someone else's fault, or even better, that it doesn't even exist.

12:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not a day goes by where I dont say precisely the same thing.

1:28 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Yo, Tom, you'll notice that I didn't say that it wasn't *effective*.

Vivisecting their families before their eyes would be *effective*.

Wanna do that, too?

Repeat after me...or, rather, repeat after you: we're doing the right thing...we're doing the right thing...we're doing the right thing...

This mantra will help dilute the pernicious effects of that pesky evidence...

10:08 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I think waterboarding to save innocent lives is the right thing to do, no matter how unaesthetic. Any sane man would have the same aesthetic objection to picking up pieces of his murdered children, or to war itself.

But I'm glad we're past the effectiveness argument at last. The gal from Human Rights Watch who followed the ABC reporter on the show doggedly hung to her morally uncomplicated stance that anyone who says it's effective is merely trying to cover for their own sadism. Despite the pesky evidence that she is wrong.

(Trying to stay on topic here...)

The beauty of the ineffectiveness argument is not only avoiding moral complications, but in claiming moral superiority over one's political opponents as well. I see why it's so hard for people to let it go, it's just too sweet and satisfying.

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, the whole give me liberty or give me death argument is so...aesthetic.

I like TVD's argument...give me freedom, and give them unfreedom and, uh, waterboarding. Without lawyers, recourse, or any ability to communicate with the outside world despite, by the military's own admissions only 5% of the sad fucks were detained by the U.S.

But, of coures, WE KNOW they are terrorists. Jury trials, findings of fact, etc. apparently were quaint.

So, apparently, were the Nuremberg trials. Deeply effective, but deeply unserious. We ain't got time for trials, or facts, or evidence, or cross-examination. We gotta go shopping to avert this terrorist threat.

Let's face it people, a bunch of dudes with boxcutters forced us to realize that life is dangerous and that "moral" considerations are not only quaint, but dangerous. Let's get serious here, discard the legal and moral silliness, and say a little deeply-felt cheer for all our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan every night between the time we order Domino's and the time it arrives.

And, if time permits, a little prayer for our souls.

9:22 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Thanks for caricaturing my argument, Mr. Funk. Sure, let's torture 'em all, just in case.

The real method of tenacity is far more basic than thought or argument: it lies in the unshakable belief that there can be no principled disagreement with one's own position.

Welcome to faith, my man, and thanks for the prayer.

10:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, I've been following what the old-time CIA types are saying, of what things were like in the cold war. They'd do the 24-hour light thing, and a little other 'sweating', in some very rare cases. But it was definitely not the standard policy, and almost always a more conventional technique is what you want.

If you really think we need to codify this kind of thing--and it's not clear that you should make normative things that are highly exceptional cases--you need to answer to criticisms like this by Johnathan Rauch.

There is basically no oversight, there is no accountability or oversight in the proposed law.

His summary paragraph reads:

My view is worth no more than yours or anyone else's, but here it is: The law should leave room for exceptional recourse to "alternative" interrogation techniques, while making sure that their use is genuinely exceptional. On that score, both the Bush bill and the Senate alternative improved on the post-9/11 Bush regime, under which the president made up the law as he went along and no one could say boo about it; and both improved on the Supreme Court's Hamdan regime, under which almost any sort of rough interrogation, however necessary, might be judged a war crime.

That is very close to what Winston has been saying, and what I have been saying. But it's not It's not at all clear that you need a law for such exceptional cases, while it is clear that the law as written goes way beyond this. It basically includes a blanket ban on habeas corpus, which is a large part of what the administration was doing wrong from the start.

Once again: Cheney's 1% doctrine is cowardly and immoral, and that is what the proposed law codifies.

- mac

1:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Van Dyke:

Assuming we are not talking past each other (which could be the case, in which case, ignore me), what is the principled disagreement that torture is wrong on moral, practical, and political grounds?

Waterboarding people to save innocents is not an argument, it is hypothetical. As to, would you torture so and so to save zillions of people, the answer The mere notion that such a situation would ever exist is foolish, and if it did...I wouldn't need a law to allow me to do what I would do. All this supposed situation does is justify torture in any and all other "suitable" situations. It is a defense, not an argument.

Meanwhile, real people with real bodies and real pain have been, are, and will continue to be tortured by my nation, under the law. What, exactly, is the principled reason for this? Extra credit for taking ideas such as guilt and innocence into question.

2:57 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

As soon as you can explain a foundation for your moralizing, perhaps we can talk. Until then, scolds are tiresome.

Real people with real bodies die at these bastards' hands also. My concern rests with them. I do not apologize.

As for codifying prudence and wisdom, well, that defies the best legal and philosophical minds. If you think not, then you watch too much Law & Order.

Regardless, we always end up in the same place---you are good and I am not. Oh, well. That I don't at every turn register my disgust at your willingness to let your children die for your moral vanity is merely an achievement of civility.

3:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Van Dyke:

I have two concerns, which I believe run through my comments.

1. Who determines who "the bastards" are?

2. Who determines how "the bastards" are treated, and/or punished? Relatedly, how tranparent is this determination?

With regard to my children, I don't have any, but I will extend the taunt to include my family and loved ones, which seems logical. While I would not speak for others, I personally prefer to live and die with certain ideal of freedom, accountability, and democracy in mind. I don't like the idea of selling out my humanity to simply preserve my vital functions.

And thus we return to my original point (the whole give me freedom or give me death thing). If you can square your rhetoric with my ideals...that would be great.

I don't see how you can, but I am willing to listen. My main point is that torturing people is wrong. Torturing people without recourse to even the most base of legal rights is even more wrong. Thinking that such a policy makes us safer is simply deluded in my opinion.

3:22 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

1. Um, wishful thinking on Tom's part to the side, so far as I can tell the effectiveness debate is not over, but I'll be glad if/when it is. Important data there.

2. So far as I can tell, torturing is sometimes permissible, sometimes even obligatory, as in ticking time-bomb cases, to be discussed soon.

3. The problem is the overuse of torture, and that's what's happening now. There's no doubt that we've been torturing innocent people and low-level operatives. That's very different from ticking time-bomb cases.

4. More to the point: this post wasn't about torture, it was about the Method of Tenacity, a favorite of extremists everywhere...esp. the current crop in charge of the GOP.

8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The problem is all inside your head
She said to me
The answer is easy if you Take it logically ..."

There must be 50 ways to fail philosophy.

All quotes from Washington Post. The article is just filled with glorious examples of bad logic.

Original definition --UCMJ (would get a passing grade)
Unlawful Combatant - "[one] who engage in acts against the United States or its coalition partners in violation of the laws of war and customs of war during an armed conflict."

Now some failing grades.

Alt definition 1 (Original bill by McCain et al);
Unlawful Combatant - "[one] "engaged in hostilities against the United States."

Alt definition 2 (After going back to committee)
Unlawful Combatant - "[one] engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States" or its military allies.

Argument 1--WH Spokeswoman Dana Perino
"We are satisfied with the definition because it will allow us to prosecute the terrorists, and it also has important limitations that say a terrorist must have purposefully and materially supported terrorism."

Argument 2--Sen John Cornyn
"[alien enemy combatants are not entitled to rights under the United States Constitution similar to those accorded to a defendant in a criminal lawsuit."

Classic catch 22* (discussion from WaPo)
"Under a separate provision, those held by the CIA or the U.S. military as an unlawful enemy combatant would be barred from challenging their detention or the conditions of their treatment in U.S. courts unless they were first tried, convicted and appealed their conviction."

* I don't know the technical terminology for "catch 22" or "kafkaesque"; Winston please help me out here.

- mac

11:52 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Oh. My. F*cking. God.

3:42 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Mr. Funk, it wasn't a taunt, but an attempt to assign human breathing bodies to both sides of the equation.

Your point is that torture* is wrong. OK. My question is, as opposed to what? You see an absolute, I see a dilemma.

I do not know the foundation of your morals. Perhaps there is one, but at this point, I see a simple moralistic assertion. Please do continue; it's worth exploring what you've got. Torture is wrong in all circumstances because...

*I don't stipulate waterboarding is torture, but it's a lesser point.

6:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Van Dyke:

First, apologies to WS, as we have hijacked (with help from others) this comment thread on issues not exactly germane to his original point, but so be it, I'm sure he is OK with it.

This will necessarily be broad-brushed, but is still my "blog comment" attempt to answer your very serious and very relevant question (and thanks for asking, which, admittedly you did in more than one way over several comments). These are numbered not for rhetorical effect, or even pretending this is the most logical progression, but merely so I can try not to repeat myself too many times.

1. I believe that human beings are very prone to making mistakes.

2. I also believe that human beings are very capable of doing really bad things for what they think are very good reasons (this is a bit of a reprise of #1, of course).

3. I do not believe in God or that there is any type of separation (upon death) between the body and the mind/soul/what have you. I say upon death because it is clear that many people's minds and lives flourish even while their bodies do not. Hurting the body is hurting the person, the human.

4. The pain infliced by torture is simply unimagineable to people like me, and I assume, people like you. Put a different way, we simply cannot imagine the type of pain and suffering that is inflicted or endured. Dislocated joints, effective drowning (followed by revival), broken bones, torn out fingernails, drill bits, hypothermia, boiling, etc. are things that are simply awful, and try as we might, we never can ever remotely understand what that pain is.

5. Torture is terror. It is pure terror not on a population, but on a human. That is precisely what it is, whether in the form or pain, or the fear of pain.

6. Torture is always aimed at getting an answer that is already known. If you "lie" you are tortured. If you say what the torturers want to hear, you might be spared. Truth is no part of the equation. If you are innocent and don't know get tortured. If you do know something, but it isn't what was get tortured.

7. As a result, torture is ineffective. This is my plan B argument, of course. Even if it was, my earlier points demonstrate that it is wrong.

8. Torture is the method of the weak. Being the liberal I am, ideals, faith in those ideals, and a refusal to give up those ideals is strength. Abandoning principles in a time of crisis is not strong, it is cowardly. Doing the former and not the latter has served our nation and our people well. It has also served other nations and peoples well. Aside from that, facing down your basest fears and what appears to be expedient is the sign of wisdom and seriousness. Adopting your enemy's methods (whether large-scale or on the human level) reeks of fear, weakness, and an inability to understand that ideas and ideals mean something; they are what make us human.

9. I really do believe there is a level of humanity below which I should not go. Torture is one of the few things that sits question...below this bar. Especially when the circumstances we are debating involve prisoners who were paid for with bounties and when it is clear to me that many of them are innocent. Shoot, even the innocent ones remain at Gitmo or other places because we can't risk the political fallout of letting them go.

10. Yadda yadda. I know that you understand my point of view. Torture is always wrong. It is especially wrong the way it is being carried out by the US today, and (I may be wrong) apparently advocated by you.

11. Insert "rape" for the word "torture" above and let me know if that changes your reaction at all. My feelings are the same regardless of whether it is inflicting pain to degrade a person's dignity, or sexually humiliating him or her.

I look forward to your response, and I mean that. I am sure we will have much to discuss.

12:26 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, thanks for the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of your reply, Mr. Funk. I shall attempt to reciprocate your courtesy.

First, I think that Friend WS, as a dedicated pedagogue, is quite happy for us to pick up the ball and kick it a bit.

As a general objection to the definition of terms, there is a distinction between torture and physical coercion, as somewhat similarly, all killing is not murder. I also must note that you continue to leave the potential victims out of what I see as an equation and what you see as a credo. I'm willing to continue on your terms as best I can, with the understanding that I don't believe you're quite meeting me halfway.

1) Of course we all make mistakes. This dictates prudence, not impotence.

2) Undoubtedly men do ill in the name of good. And may we add that the self-delusion is often an act of will, not mere confusion. I'd make that charge against much peacenikery.

3) For an atheist, you sure aren't shy about declaring absolutes. Try as I have, I cannot find a foundation for the assertions you make in the name of human rights. (Not per picking apart your posts, but in examining all the prevailing literature.) As a philosophical point, or perhaps just sophistic, I don't see how flawed man can declare absolutes. In fact as a self-styled Catholic and Thomist (that's Aquinas for those who came in late), I will freely admit that both have been known to err. But I think they err far less frequently than non-foundationalists.

Still we find ourselves in the pickle of competing claims to absolute truth, not a pretty pickle atall.

4) As for the question of pain, my absolute dividing line in matters moral must be life and death. Terrorist in pain or dead baby. Easy choice, for me.

5) Physical coecion is not neccesarily terror, although waterboarding is terror. However, it was developed for the purpose of it not being torture, otherwise, you just dunk the sucker's head directly in the vat and hold him under.

The question of terror is a difficult one. Dresden and Hiroshima were terror bombings, pure and simple. The alternative to Hiroshima was perhaps a million dead by conventional means.

I think it is principled to say that Hiroshima was terror and wrong, but also principled to say it was not wrong.

And that is my best distillation of our discussion.

6) and 7) I do not accept, and 8) strikes me as more moralistic than principled. But my own feelings on capital punishment run in a similar vein, but I am not so sure of my inclinations and druthers that I'm ready to ban it. (In fact, I find several arguments in favor of it stronger than my own against it.)

Perhaps Immanuel Kant pops in here, in a way not often used: I'm not ready to, through a moralistic decree of inaction, order the deaths of another man's children. I won't take that decision from him.

Now, I might use all my powers of persuasion to get us as a people to see things my way, but I do not consider others unprincipled or evil for seeing things the other way.

The innocence of 9) is not as clear to me as it is to you, and those I know who are truly innocent or the terrorists' intended victims. Let "99 guilty men free" may be part of our social contract, and even an unwritten contract with all of humanity, but I do not extend that contract to those who have declared it broken. 10) is a tautology: torture is always wrong because it's always wrong. 11) adds a gratuitous ugliness to an already difficult question. There is nothing esthetic about torture, or even physical coercion. War itself is a horrible thing, and inserting "rape" adds no clarity.

---You would be surprised how much Aquinas' concept of "the human person" is similar to the (by your own definition) idiosyncratic cosmology you've come up with. Although he doesn't directly use "human rights," he does write of an inborn human dignity, although a person can through act of will (like becoming a terrorist), lose his human dignity.

I bring this up only because although you'd reject Thomas' biblical/theological foundation of man being made in the image of God, you must admit that the authority of your one-man moral code is equally lost on one billion Catholics who are convinced that abortion is wrong.

I think they've been quite Kantian about their disagreement with you, and so I urge you (and not you in particular, but those more thymotic about your position) consider cutting those who don't agree with you a little slack.

I do not think disagreeing with me makes you a bad person. Even though you're wrong. ;-P

8:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can certainly agree with your final sentence, and I of course repeat from my side of the argument.

Your response is fair, the conundrums are real, and clearly we disagree. This is my fundamental problem, as distilled (I of course reserve the right to argue about other things later).

I also appreciate your illumination of "where you are coming from" in terms of your beliefs and religion.

I am afraid I can't offer the backup you do. That is not snarky, you have a lot of fine minds and thoughts on your side of the argument, ideas that I respect and take seriously.

Here's my beef:

The word "terrorist" is used in your posts, if not exclusively presumed and not proven. This troubles me greatly. Would I torture Osama Bin Laden? My answer still is no, because it wouldn't be useful, and even if it was, it degrades humanity.

Osama, by the way, is clearly a bad, bad man. Or at least that is what he claims to be and what we believe.

Would I torture my next door neighbor based on my president's say-so?

No way.

The bridge I cannot cross is that between the accused and the guilty. Nothing in our current torture system bridges this either. We are torturing innocent people. Most likely, we are torturing guilty people. We don't know who is who, which is which, and determinations like this kind already have a process that we (at least I thought) had been agreed upon. Trial by jury. Habeas Corpus. I simply reject the idea that everyone we are holding without trial and without the ability to contest his or her detention is a terrorist. And if they aren't, the approach you advocate is wrong.

That is my main point. The second point is that while this lack of determination is in and of itself a deal breaker for me, I don't think that torture is ever justified. Follow this scenario:

You are a terrorist (given, determined one way or another, just a given)

You know information.

I'm going to torture you to get the info.

How on earth do I know what you tell me is true?

How on earth do I square my (me, as in me personally) doing to you what I am doing knowing that I can't answer the previous question?

I can't. That's my position. As an addendum, and as I have written to WS, how would it be possible to catch the mastermind of a plot in order to torture such mastermind without already knowing the plot? The ticking time bomb scenario isn't real. It will never happen. "Mr. X is coming to town to blow up something at 11am. Catch him at 10 and find out what it is..."

Not plausible.

Anyway, extra stuff aside, please tell me how to bridge the gap between those detained and those who are terrorists without a thorough and fair court system (or tribunal, or simple fact-finding apparatus). Your scenarios, so far as I can tell. presume the terrorist. This is not right in my opinion.

10:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Text of a letter opposing torture sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. "It represents the views of former U.S. Government and military officials who served in the CIA, in the Army, in the Air Force, at the Department of State, and the FBI."


CIA Officers:
Milton Bearden, Directorate of Operations
Ray Close, Directorate of Operations
Vincent Cannistraro, Directorate of Operations
Philip Giraldi, Directorate of Operations
James Marcinkowski, Directorate of Operations
Melissa Mahle, Directorate of Operations
Paul Pillar, Directorate of Intelligence
David MacMichael, Directorate of Intelligence
Melvin Goodman, Directorate of Intelligence
Ray McGovern, Directorate of Intelligence
Mary O. McCarthy, DCI professional staff

U.S. military and Department of Defense:
W. Patrick Lang, (Colonel, U.S. Army retired, Director Defense
Humint Services, retired)
A. D. Ackels, (Colonel, U.S. Army, retired)
Karen Kwiatkowski, (Lt. Colonel, USAF, retired)

U.S. Department of State:
Thomas R. Maertens, Deputy Coordinator, Office of Counter
Terrorism, U.S. Department of State
Larry C Johnson, Office of Counter Terrorism, U.S. Department
of State

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Christopher Whitcomb, Hostage Rescue Team

2:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forgot a quote: "It represents a consensus view that torture is an ineffective and immoral practice that injures our ability to combat the threat of terrorism."

2:38 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Mr. Funk, if we are at peace, I suppose you're right. If we are war, then applying martial law and suspending habeus corpus on these guys is entirely right.

Since they have declared war on us, I'm fine with the latter. And since I make it only 50-50 we could convict bin Laden under our legal system, I indeed do presume the terrorist, and think this matter illustrates the inadequacy of the law enforcement approach to terrorism.

And I'd waterboard bin Laden myself if I thought it would save one life.

(Mr. nfs unwittingly proves the point of the first comment on this thread.)

7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh sage one, please do enlighten us further on that 'proving the point of the first comment'. Your cryptic utterance baffles me.

8:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, since we're doing it, at least we learned from some of the masters:

12:43 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

If we're to play the esthetics game, this is Door Number Two.

Sorry, nfs, I don't want to fight. You seem like a nice fellow. I linked to what appear to be factual counterarguments to the opinions of Karen Kwiatkowski, et al.,. Believe 'em or don't, but there's no use in talking past each other.

I was warming up to the "torture doesn't work" argument, since it relieves the moral dilemma. But stuff like the Brian Ross interview pops up and then I'm not so sure again.

7:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, Tom, you're willing to throw some anecdotal evidence into the scale and decide it outweighs the considered opinion of the head of Army Intelligence, Lt. Gen. John Kimmons.

I guess you really do know the power of the method of tenacity.

Perhaps in reading the letter you failed to notice that only one short paragraph dealt with the effectiveness issue and the rest of the letter addressed issues of principle traditional values.

Do you share these principles?

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Grumble) That line should read "principles and traditional American values."

But as long as I'm here, Tom, let me point out that you haven't yet answered abjectfunk's question as to how you propose to "to bridge the gap between those detained and those who are terrorists without a thorough and fair court system (or tribunal, or simple fact-finding apparatus)."

On the issue of whether we are at war, I'll side with the Constitution and say that until Congress passes a declaration of war, we are not at war.

10:07 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, that would be the legalistic view.

Actually, nfs, I wrote that the effectiveness issue seems far from settled, at least in my own mind. Tenacious? Not me. But since you simply wave away the Brian Ross interview, our discussion, if it ever started, is at an end.

To clean up the loose ends: I'd think you'd find "traditional values" arguments quite risible outside this context. And, to refresh, Dresden and Hiroshima are also on our roster of "traditional values."

As for the "bridge," best you address first the inherent problems of your own position, releasing maniacs like this if the level of formal proof does not meet legal requirements for continued detention.

My secondary point to all this is the inherent insufficiency of law. Seeing the world in legal terms is insufficient to the human equation: it cannot foresee all exigencies and neither can one hide behind its limits to get out of difficult moral dilemmas.

5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, I thought you had more in you than evasions and an abrupt withdrawal.

I'm not aware that anyone ever argued that the law is perfect; it's just that, as in the case of democracy, all the alternatives are worse.

Be seeing you.

7:21 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I must leave it to the gentle readership to decide who is evading whom. However, if you wish to address Brian Ross and the possibility that the efficiency question is not closed, or if you have an idea of what to do with the aforementioned maniacs besides the status quo (or the new legislation), I'm all ears.

After thousands of words written in this comment section, and my best done to address every addressable point, I feel I've had my say. Anything further would be uncreditably tenacious.


7:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a laugh. I doubt even WS is still reading this.

Let me refresh your memory on one point: I never made an argument based on the efficiency question. In my first comment, I linked to something which I thought was interesting, in part because the efficiency question played so little part in it compared to the emphasis on values, traditions, and principles.

Your "maniac" link doesn't seem to specify a particular person, so I don't know which individual you are referring to. In any event, the article describes the reactions of men (many of whom were likely not terrorists when they arrived, but they're sure angry now), who have been locked up for years with no opportunity to present a defense. I'd be mad, too. Is there any more to your argument than a claim that years of denying them a day in court has rendered them unfit to appear in court? Because I find that unconvincing, to say the least.

Regarding Brian Ross, I did not wave him away. Go reread what I wrote. I would agree that in some instances, torture has produced information. The question as I see it is: Is it good national policy, on the whole? Considering a few of the downside effects (losing the moral high ground, setting a precedent for other parties in the future, putting our own soldiers at risk of retaliation, enraging populations which we are attempting to mollify) leads me to conclude that it is not an effective policy.

But if you wish to weigh the benefits of torture in terms of lives saved, you can't stop your calculations with the foiling of a plot. Extend your timeline a bit. Do you really think that Abu Ghraib doesn't still matter on the Arab street? How many of our troops have been killed or maimed by those who were turned into insurgents by our conduct there?

You dismiss those who are concerned about whether we are killing and maiming innocents by saying we didn't start it, you sneer at those who would choose principle over expediency as being morally vain, you complain that the law can't perfect, you deride my reliance on the Constitution as legalistic, yet all you have to offer is "Terrorist in pain or dead baby."

Bullshit. Go to your logical fallacy page and look up false dichotomy.

And then answer abjectfunk's question of how you know that your terrorist is a terrorist.

And then think about who's evading whom.

10:13 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

All dichotomies are not false.

And when you posted a link to a letter that said

"Apart from the moral considerations, we believe it is important that the Congress send a clear message that torture is not an effective or useful tactic,"

I thought you meant that you were arguing that torture is not an effective or useful tactic.

Silly me. Glad we cleared that up.

As for how many must die for your morality or your formulation of long-term strategy, I remain all ears. I do not say your viewpoint is illegitimate, but that there are other legitimate viewpoints as well.

As for the inadequacy of seeing life through the eyes of law, I apologize for not being able to make the concept more clear. The Constitution may be the foundation of your morality; it is not mine.

As for your apparent solution of releasing detainees who act like maniacs if the legal proof is insufficient, I cannot go along. Legal mechanisms do not always provide the moral certainty you seem to require for action, and that's the rub.

2:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"As for how many must die for your morality or your formulation of long-term strategy, I remain all ears. I do not say your viewpoint is illegitimate, but that there are other legitimate viewpoints as well."

How's about we rephrase, slightly:

As for how many must be tortured for you to feel safe and be sure that nobody innocent dies, based upon your morality or long-term strategy, I remain all ears. I don't say your viewpoint is illegitimate, but that there are other legitimate viewpoints as well.

I'll take the legitimate viewpoint that worked perfectly well for the past sixty years, despite vastly greater existential Cold War threats. My God, what nineteen guys with boxcutters can do to undermine what America is. Who'd a thunk it?

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Silly is hardly the word for it. Taking the time to unwind your misreadings of what I wrote is a lost cause. Now I see why everyone else eventually just gives up on you.

1:07 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually, you don't like your position when it's exposed to the light of day. I still can't tell if you've backed down from your pronouncement on effectiveness. All that's left is platitudes, which are fine, but you wouldn't accept them from anybody else.

As for "how many must be tortured," the answer is just enough. If waterboarding KSM for two minutes saved lives, as apparently is the case, I'm OK with it.

3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And the dichotomy is false only in very few, one-in-a-million instances. In other cases, other methods have proved infinitely more useful:

Moreover, what makes you think that, given the existence of a real threat, verifiable by the interrogator, any person dedicated to the cause would hesitate to do what's necessary? We ask our troops to die to protect us, but you think the threat of trial by jury (from which they'd probably be acquitted if there was a real threat that was deterred) would prevent them from doing what they need to?

The mind reels...

3:26 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, the mind reels, because that's exactly the commander-in-chief did:

But Clinton insisted in the interview that he couldn't take aggressive action against bin Laden because "the CIA and the FBI refused to certify that bin Laden was responsible."

Frances Townsend, Bush's White House homeland security chief, immediately faulted Clinton for citing the absence of "certification" as a reason for not pursuing bin Laden. That was "a very legalistic, evidentiary term," Townsend said.

C'mon, people---that's not Newsmax, it's the Houston Chronicle for godsakes. Don't wait for Kevin Drum or the WaPo to tell you what to think. Get out of your cocoon.

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TVD, your 'psychic' ability to tell folks where they get their opinions from is most interesting.

Since you never get out of your cocoon about "Bush never made a mistake, or,Gore would've really screwed up", then a certain passage about beams and motes becomes relevant here.

Of course, Clintons' failure to act absolves aWols' as well.

But strictly speaking, it isn't moral equivalence so it's okay.

6:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


The problem with your argument about torture isn't that it doesn't present a cogent argument in favor of some baseline principle. The problem is that the baseline principle (or principles) aren't American. They're quite un-American.

These are the principles of America:

Note the closing of the Dec:

",to this we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor".

Right now, through the use of fear, the cowardly retrogrades in Washington, DC are busily defecating on all three of those. Hell, I worked here: until 9/11/01, but I'll be damned if I'm going to clutch my pearls and cede my rights and humanity for some protection from Big Brother.

Continuing to live here means that I have agreed to live under those principles. If the purveyors of fear had real conviction, they'd seek to amend the Constitution rather than seek protection from their abuses of it.

Others have thought the paramount calling of nations and nation-states to be saving souls, via torture if necessary. In fact, they believed the saving of a soul to be of greater importance than merely saving a life. The fact the western ethos has come to accept that as anathema was a guidepost on the road to where we are today, having also passed the point where we swore off certain means to ends.

Up until now, the US has been one of the few nations to believe that some things are more important than saving some lives (and indeed worth dying for).

If you were starting your own nation, you could declare that every exigency to save lives be met, to hell with the means.

But I'd rather stick with the principles that have guided the nation for over 200 years, through many conflicts, principles adhered to by everyone from Washington to Eisenhower to Powell. There's a damn good reason German soldiers understood among themselves that if they were ever cornered in Europe to lay down their arms and head west.

7:21 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

a) Bush made mistakes, foremost the Garner/Bremer drift of the first few years in Iraq.

b) I think Gore would have screwed up. I think he's wack, and this latest "cigarette smoking is a significant contributor to global warming" proves it once again.

c) I note for the record that despite his protestations at Chris Wallace, Clinton did fail to act, because of a legalistic view of the world. But I think he was an OK president. Nobody realized the depth of the al-Qaeda menace until it was too late.

I'm no wonk, and will surely be wrong on details of the partisan debate. It sheds more heat than light anyway, so I try to locate the underlying principles of things.

d) I must object to your frequent use of derisive nicknames as I feel it erodes whatever dignity we accord each other in any attempt at discussion. I shall attempt to resist similar temptations.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm sorry, anonymous, but no intelligent response is possible to your latest, as it veers back and forth from the moral to the legal. They are not synonymous.

The recently-passed legislation was an attempt to establish the legal baseline you require. The legislation seems OK, altho it's my opinion that waterboarding became a political football.

I asked a question awhile back, and since you have so far declined to answer, I must take it that you are not OK with waterboarding KSM for 2 minutes even if it saved life.

I can respect that.

If that is not your position, then please feel free to state it clearly enough so that I won't misinterpret it. It shouldn't take more than sentence or two. But I do appreciate the delicacy of your predicament: say the wrong thing and everybody will be all over you like they are me.

7:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr VD:

a) Bush made mistakes, foremost the Garner/Bremer drift of the first few years in Iraq.

Bush's foremost mistake was waging an illegal preventive war on Iraq.

d) I must object to your frequent use of derisive nicknames as I feel it erodes whatever dignity we accord each other in any attempt at discussion. I shall attempt to resist similar temptations.

Why start now?

9:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Morality needn't enter into it. You and those who seek to codify the right to torture are the ones claiming some trenchant moral need to torture without sanction. Have we just been lost in the wilderness the past 60 years that right now we really needed to "establish a legal baseline", as you put it?

Yeah, if I were 100% sure torturing that guy would save a lot of lives, I'd probably do it. But I wouldn't go sniveling for legal cover to do it, as the cretins at the hands of government are doing.

So how about you answer my question. If you knew you'd spend the rest of your life in the slammer, would you torture him under those circumstances? How about you put your moral money where your mouth is and do the time, since legal considerations are just so *legalistic*?

9:54 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, I would hope I'd have the courage to do so.

But you didn't answer my question, since 100% certainty is nearly 100% impossible in human events.

5:19 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

And Mr. Prunes, your address of me as Mr. VD is scummy.

5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then the answer is no. If you want a more complete answer, mac's last comment in the Mark Kleiman thread pretty well encapsulates my thinking.

Now, you not only have to answer my question, but nfs' about how you plan to determine that someone has information and is torturable before making any determinations by hearing/trial whatever, rather than just torturing first and asking questions later.

Really, this is a matter of what type of society we live in. Do you seriously believe that every torturer throughout history was simply morally depraved, PERSONALLY, because they just had an insufficient moral compass?

I doubt it. One of the reasons it occurred so frequently (and still does) is that there didn't (and often still don't) exist governments that take basic human rights seriosly. And those currently in charge of our government seek to make ours one of those governments. It never has been nor should it.

9:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Why do I have to answer? Perhaps you don't realize you haven't answered mine.

For the record, most of my questions don't get answered, perhaps a half-dozen pertinent ones on this very thread. Do you think I should persist when they don't? It seems impolite. I usually feel it's because the person doesn't have an answer they feel satisfactory to themselves, so they gloss over it.

So I let the crickets serve as evidence. I count on the dispassionate observer to hear the chirps. My correspondents may be fooling themselves, but not everybody, and certainly not me.

But no matter, I do attempt to dodge nothing. Inquiry is good for the soul. The "status quo" and "the new legislation" were contained in one of my lengthy replies. Anyone who wants to change them must at some point offer their alternative.

>cricket break<

I point back at my underlying argument that laws and codes will always at best be an approximation of reality. They cannot be a replacement for conscience.

My best understanding of the new legislation is that a) it was mandated by a recent Supreme Court decision; b) CIA agents could be prosecuted by a future administration for what is deemed OK by the previous one; and c) it is important that congress (and the president) declare their interpretation of Geneva and other international codes so that CIA agents cannot be prosecuted by foreign or international courts.

So that's the legal thing.

As for the rest, forgive me for not tracking down comments on other blogs. I'm seldom returned the courtesy of people even clicking the links I so diligently post here.

I disagree with your view that the current administration doesn't take human rights seriously, and believe your opinion is largely formed by the hyperbole of the US' and the president's opponents. There is much evidence to the contrary, altho it takes some work to find. Bush is derided for the naievity of his "democracy initiative," yet is still accused of something resembling sadism.

And I quite pointedly objected earlier in this thread to my position being summed up as "torture first," etc. I'm a very sensitive fellow and there are very sharp and narrow limits as to what I would do before I myself became a conscientious objector to the coercion of prisoners. But I'm OK with waterboarding KSM (it seems you are, but it's not possible for me to tell)

>cricket break<

and with the reality that habeus corpus is always one of the first casualties of war.

Over 100 prisoners have been released from Gitmo, and something like 10% have subsequently been found back at mischief. I do not think the rest are held out of sadism, but out of sense of responsibility for what further mischief might follow their release.

A sense of responsibility I do not detect from those who would have them released if the formal requirements of a legal case cannot be mustered. If I do not misunderstand your position.

As previously noted, I am unconfident even bin Laden himself would be found guilty under the constraints of legal procedure. There is no comforting answer to this.

BTW, if you want to stay in practice defending human dignity, you can get my back next time someone assaults mine. ;-)

10:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did answer your question, although apparently you just didn't like my answer. And now you refuse to answer mine or nfs'.

As far as your analysis of the 'legal thing', you couldn't be more wrong. Yes, in a sense the legislation was required due to Supreme Court ruling, but the new legislation is patently unconstitutional on at least three grounds. One, it allows the suspension of habeas corpus, not by Congress and not during cases of insurrection or rebellion - the only exceptions permitted by the Constitution. Two, it vests interpretive power in the Executive branch, thus violating the separation of powers. And three, it attempts to supersede a duly ratified international treaty, the Geneva Conventions, which based upon the Constitution are considered to also be part of the supreme law of the land. Doing so without an amendment is unconstitutional.

In addition it violates the constitutional right to due process, even for US citizens and permanent residents.

Perhaps you should read and decide for yourself:

To truly grasp the absurdity of it, read section (ii) of the part on unlawful enemy combatants (a category invented out of whole cloth by the Bush administration), which would provide that an UEC is defined to include any person "who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense."

Talk about a lack of oversight. A single decision by a board controlled by the executive and anyone can be disappeared into a black hole without further remedy. And before you go looking for technicalities to exclude Al Qaida and like ununiformed and unconventional forces, think for a second how our NOC CIA ops, special forces and various other non-uniformed spies and semi-freelancers should be treated when captured.

It also narrows the grounds for criminal liability under the Federal War Crimes Act.

THAT is the 'legal thing'.

As for your *moral* case, I already said you're free to choose to act in any way you think is morally superior in your mind. Just don't ask for immunity from our legal system because you decide to act in a way not in concordance with our founding principles.

The question you refuse to answer, and the one that is the crux of the matter is: If it is so moral to torture (or mistreat, or whatever you want to re-name it) when *necessary*, why would any MORAL person need the cover of legal immunity? Or more generally, why do we need to change these laws NOW?

P.S. mac's comments were not on another blog. They were on this one, just another thread.

11:21 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

The beauty of a Socratic dialogue is that everyone's a good sport and answers the questions posed as honestly as possible.

I asked several questions in my last post. You can tell because they have question marks on them, or more delicately, stuff about >crickets<.

I'll take the time to answer yours, but at this point, you first. Parliamentary procedure, point of order.

I feel you have glossed over some things. Even if you do not agree, please indulge me. I'll appreciate the effort at clarity. Perhaps you will, too, in time.

12:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You asked me one question. I answered it. Then you came back and asked again, without my qualification. I answered that too. If nobody else answers your questions, that I can do nothing about.

Now, why are you afraid to answer mine?

2:44 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

You didn't answer. This is like thumbwrestling in Jello. I'm OK with the status quo and the new legislation.

If you are not, please state your alternative as clearly as you are able.

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did answer. Twice, as any sentient being who can read would know. Perhaps you should re-read my posts.

My alternative is the status quo prior to the legislation. Sorry, but the burden is on those who advocate for changes to present evidence that the changes are necessary. And furthermore to implement those changes in a legal way. Neither of those burdens have been met.

Moreover, you still haven't explained why we should change any laws to reflect your idea of morality, rather than the principles upon which our nation was founded. Substituting your situational morality for our laws, when considering the actions of our government in our name, is a recipe for tribalism.

As I said, choosing to act out of one's personal convictions contra the law is certainly defensible, but is no justification for changing the laws under which we have agreed to live for over 200 years.

And when you're done with your evasiveness and obtuseness, you can answer my question. Otherwise, I'm done with this.

3:01 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

OK. They always end this way. I'm dishonest, I have presented no arguments.

But we can clear the muddle and start over.

---Would you hold bin Laden even if you could not meet the legal standards of proof for his guilt?

---Were you OK with waterboarding KSM?

---Has the issue of the effectiveness of "torture" been reopened, or are we still on "it doesn't work"?

Seems straightforward to me.

As for the legal questions, here are two fellows who are far more qualified than we to argue what is 200 years of status quo and what is new territory.

Obviously, there are legitimate arguments on both sides, and holding one view or the other doesn't make one a bad person.

4:08 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

4:59 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

And if you do intend to answer, please take a peek at this first.

(Patterico is an acquiantance of mine, a trial lawyer.)

5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oy. Even more absurd questions.

Let's see, IF I had Bin Laden and IF I couldn't meet the legal standards of proof of his guilt, yeah, I'd probably figure out a way to hold him. And IF the queen had balls she'd be the king.

No, I wasn't OK with waterboarding that guy. Already said I wouldn't do it unless I was 100% sure it would prevent the deaths of innocents, and there was no other way. Should I diagram the sentence for you this time?

I'll take the word of the Soviet guy that was tortured as evidence that it doesn't work. That and the judgment of the countless military and ex-military that have come out of the woodwork to protest the legislation, based at least partly on ineffectiveness. But you go ahead and drag out some fringe idiot insisting on its effectiveness if you wish.

Your two fellows link doesn't work, but what's the difference. We have legal and Constitutional scholars coming out our ears saying the bill is an abomination, but I guess their expertise pales in comparison to your 'two guys'. Then again, instead of your desperate appeal to authority, you could actually, you know, read the legislation and then read the Constitution and decide for yourself.

It's also instructive to note that the UK is in a similar situation, having been the target of multiple terrorist operations, fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet they don't seem inclined to flush hundreds of years of human rights precedent down the toilet out of fear, and then cravenly attempt to retroactively immunize themselves from legal sanction for it. Or maybe they just don't formulate policy based on Jack Fucking Bauer one-in-a-million scenarios.

You can also answer the question that you've so far run scared witless from, and that is: If it's so moral to torture when necessary, WTF difference should changing the law make to a moral paragon like yourself?

1:51 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Because I don't want some twit like Jimmy Carter coming in and prosecuting guys for what was OK in the administration before.

And the new legislation's done, so this is moot.

Shame you didn't follow the URLs I posted. One had both sides of the debate, the other had a first hand account of the people we're holding at Gitmo. Chilling.

And you refuse to hold open the effectiveness question. A prime example of "The Fixation of Belief," which was my topic in the first comment of the whole thread. The circle closes.

Peace, we're out.

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's the whole point. It shouldn't have been OK in any administration.

And I'll take this guy's opinion on it over those others:

Not to mention the outcome of the handling of the Ressam case. And I DID follow your links, which provides evidence of the Bush administration trying to have it both ways, and why Hamdan ever wound up in the SCOTUS in the first place (which is the question you begged when answering my question about why we need to change all of this now): "I think that question touches on one of Hamdan's strongest arguments: the President has invoked the laws of war to detain and try him, but fails to adhere to the requirements of the laws of war in trying him by these commissions."

The Cheney administration wanted it to be a *war* on terrorism solely to augment the power of the Executive branch, which was a preconceived goal they had a hard-on for (admittedly, BTW) before they'd ever even heard of Al Qaeda. Then, when confronted with the obligation to abide by the laws of war that we've abided by for fifty+ years, he simply decided he didn't like the rules. Same thing with the wiretapping - they just wanted to disobey the law. They didn't even want it to be litigated to arrive at a judicial determination. They just don't have any respect for the law, except as a tool to accrue more power for themselves.

Yeah, the guys are chilling. You could knock me over with a feather. So was Hitler, Tojo and countless others. It's not about who they are. It's about who we are. Maybe we should have tortured Tim McVeigh too, just in case he had knowledge of plans for other attacks.

And if you'd read up on the Ressam case, like here:, you'd realize that they're zeal to make it all military all the time is solely to gain the trappings of power that come from being *at war*. They thought just like you do - habeas is one of the first casualties of war. Except NOT, so says the SC in Ex-parte Milligan and Korematsu.

3:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to mention the dead give-away of your appeal to "what was OK in the administration before". It isn't supposed to be up to the administration to decide. Get it? The Supreme Court interprets the law, the Executive Branch executes it. More Cheneyistic violation of the separation of powers.

May Jimmy Carter rot in hell for being the kind of President who would actually follow his oath and take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I'm trying to back out gracefully, but as I would never want to be thought evasive, I will address (forthrightly, I hope), your new business:

"If you can't move French public opinion, you can't expect their political leaders to sign on the bottom line. We have an international constituency, and that's what we've lost."---Wesley Clark

If Gen. Clark is to make France's approval of our foreign policy a component of our self-defense, we are lost. They are already likely doomed themselves.

As for Ressam, I disagree with Judge Coughenour's (I think inappropriate and irrelevant) remarks on the practibility of treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue under the laws of evidence accorded to our citizens. The evidence and witnesses lie overseas, and I must here mention the strange case of one Orenthal James Simpson.

Yeah, the guys are chilling. You could knock me over with a feather. So was Hitler, Tojo and countless others. It's not about who they are. It's about who we are.


I would prefer to agree, as it's much more morally uncomplicated, but I believe it was about Hitler and Tojo, without whom Dresden and Hiroshima would have been unnecessary.

Releasing the maniacs as chronicled by Patterico for lack of legal proof is not reality-based to me, but the opposite: it is suicidal and irresponsible. They would kill, and if KSM hadn't got waterboarded, I or my family might be residing now in the ashes of Los Angeles' Library Tower.

I respect the view that KSM should have been given tea and cookies instead, but that view must also recognize its cost of human life.

As for the legal arguments in your second post, it's my best understanding that it's still quite gray that the president does/doesn't have the constitutional power to interpret treaties. Or Congress, either. The branches of government play tug of war all the time.

The new legislation that the SC apparently requested, seems to be a done deal, at least for now.

(And may I extend my appreciation that you consistently bring new things to the table, as opposed to us just recycling monologues in some perverse shin-kicking contest.)

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The idea that there's no other way to protect ourselves other than stripping these guys of all their rights and locking them away forever is laughable; however, given the constitution of the National Security Council the past six years, I could understand how one might be worried.

I'm in at least as much danger as you are. My office was across the street from Ground Zero. But I'm not going to willingly surrender rights that thousands have died to protect just because you're afraid. We could greatly increase our safety by implementing a police state, but it would hardly preserve the freedoms that I hear all the time they hate us for.

What foundational principles are we selling to the world, exactly?

1:09 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Ah, we arrive at the nub of it all.

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, the nub of it all indeed:

11:43 AM  

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