Look closer. Think harder. Choose the sound argument over the clever one.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Around the Brunch Table

Time with loved ones often turns into political debate. Really more like friction, generating more heat than light. With the written word you can take your time, think things through, develop your thoughts uninterrupted, state them clearly and concisely, and scrutinize things to your own satisfaction.

So let's replace heat with light over our brunch table discussion.

Waterboarding. It's very harsh treatment. I wouldn't want it done to me. (That's true of a lot of things.) I think it should be reserved for the toughest cases (and it seems to be). Torture or coercive interrogation? I say the latter. (For one thing, there seems to be no real risk of drowning.)

You seem to think it's obviously torture, but I didn't hear you articulate a definition. Give me one to scrutinize. Here's some of what I might ask:

Real torture is illegal, and should be. We shouldn't do it for that reason alone.

I do have a lot of sympathy for people trying to stop terrorist attacks. Like police, there are limits to what they can do. But I think stopping terrorist attacks really is a valuable cause. Would you say you share that sympathy (even a little)?

Does it work? Here's ABC News' Brian Ross talking about coercive interrogation yielding valuable information. You seemed unaware of this. I need to see how you come to terms with this, as you seemed to dogmatically assert the opposite. (Of course we need to properly vet everything we receive.)

Will our enemies respect us? Will they treat our soldiers differently? Not a chance. Do you have evidence to the contrary? But that doesn't mean we torture.

How can Christians support it? The same way I support the concept of prison. I'm glad to expound, but maybe you should develop your question a bit more.

Organ failure. It took me a while to find the "organ failure" document. Here it is (PDF, 50 pages). You're right: page 1 does say, "Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."

It wasn't written by Gonzales, but to him by Jay S. Bybee (an Assistant Attorney General). So it's not the Whitehouse's assertion, but a response to the Whitehouse seeking legal opinion.

The authors are seeking interpretation for a phrase in the torture law, aka 18 USC 2340: "severe physical [] pain." We see at the top of page 6 that they're looking at other US law for that meaning, which seems reasonable. (Where else should they look?). That's where the offending phrase originates.

It's a very aggressive stance, but best I can tell (including waterboarding) they haven't gone that far. (And isn't liver failure painless?)

The end of the document (p 47ff) lists cases in which US courts have concluded torture occurred. Very interesting, as it brings some much-needed perspective.

To answer my own question, I think the existing torture law provides as good a definition as any, and any definition is subjective.

Cuba's health care. Fred Thompson talks about it here. More, with photos here. "Apartheid" is an apt description.

Know that I consider carefully everything you say. Let me know if I've skipped something you think is important.


(Please keep in mind that each commenter's opinions are only his/her own.)

I wish I had time to debate this but I can't. I'll just suggest looking at John McCain's experience and what he says, e.g. "What America does to its enemies defines America itself," and ask why Christians would even be quibbling about the definition of torture. And OK, I'll go just one step farther and point to the research on cognitive dissonance, which has to do with how people in power can justify the betrayal of their principles. Apologies if that sounds like friction. I just wish people would take a longer view and I can't think of how to make it all sweeter in the time available. :)

I know your time is limited, and I want to be sensitive to that.

[McCain:] "What America does to its enemies defines America itself"

Many things come to mind:

Germany, Japan, and Italy are essentially free and thriving. Afghanistan is on its way, and so seems to be Iraq (we're shedding our blood toward that goal). So this defines America itself? I'll take it. (Kosovo's not doing well, but nobody can bat 1000.)

So having no bearing on what defines America are its freedoms, opportunity, prosperity, philanthropy, diversity, advances in medicine, science, technology, the arts? Wow.

Convicted terrorists get lengthy prison sentences. If, say, we make a ten year sentence twenty (or five), how does that meaningfully change America's definition?

McCain has a right to define North Vietnam that way. Their brutality is consistent with what they perpetrated on all they subjugated, which does best define them. In that case it's true.

... and ask why Christians would even be quibbling about the definition of torture.

Because it could save lives.

We Christians are commanded to love our enemies. We must take that seriously. But many of us think allowing them to murder our neighbors is unloving to those neighbors, who we're also commanded to love. (I can't speak for all Christians.)

We Christians also consider what we believe as important. Hence thinking clearly about right and wrong; legitimate and not; rejecting falsehoods, distortions, hyperbole, and muddled thinking.

Keep in mind, too, that not everyone at the table considers themselves Christians.

... which has to do with how people in power can justify the betrayal of their principles.

Which makes thinking through my principles, publicly for comment (as I do here), all the more valuable. Perahps yours need a little more sunlight.

If cognitive dissonance "can be associated with the tendency for people to resist information that they don't want to think about," might that apply to you in this very discussion?

Tim, your point about the nations we've conquered are an excellent point. When a war ends, America is not a tribute demanding occupier but a rebuilder and friend. Your points on the issue of what constitutes torture, as well as your defense of how Christians can support assertive interrogation are well thought out.

You are right that those who oppose our current fight against Islamism and the terrorism it breeds need to think through their principals. Carried to their logical conclusion, we would have no way to fight Islamic Terrorism and it would simply grow. At the heart of it, I would guess they don't see it as a threat to begin with. As for me, I say we need to win this fight, then as we have always done, build a better future for ourselves as well as those we have liberated from tyranny.

What about that Canadian guy who testified by video link? he was rendered to a country where they made out they were going to cut his dick off with a razor blade most days. he's back home but he still can't pass through the states. Where was he rendered from? What happened in Poland? It makes all this pondering about torture a bit pointless if you get someone else to do the torturing for you.

(Hi by the way :-))

Chris -- thanks for your two cents.

Dave Bones -- good to hear from you!

Yes: rendering someone to another country would have its own set of agonizing decisions (especially to places like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia). Should we work with their secret police? What if it would save civilian lives? It's a redux of all the Cold War's agonizing decisions: should we befriend thugs to hold mass-murdering butchers at bay? Funny how those questions don't go away.

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