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Just Me

A Philosophical Question

Posted on 2007.10.31 at 17:11
Ok, so here's the thought that I'm quite ashamed it took me until today to have:

Imagine, if you will, you live in a nation which wishes and claims to be a moral leader of the world. Now imagine that you're interviewing one of the greatest living legal minds for the job of highest law-enforcement agent in the country. Still with me? Good.

Now, imagine further that your nation i a target for vicious enemies, and in the quest to learn what these vicious enemies do, your government uses a technicque so painful and terrifying that many members of your own goveernment claim it's torture. That long and argumentative discussions have broken out on the subject.

Now, imagine that the question is put to this great legal thinker: "Is it torture?" And he responds, "You know, I really can't tell. Let me go study it and I'll get back to you."

So here's my question. If this is something that one of the great legal minds of our time can't tell is not torture without requiring study, isn't it something that just oughtn't to be done on general principles? If it needs to be studied to determine that it is not torture, isn't it close enough that an ethical government should eschew it?

Comments:


mrsquizzical
mrsquizzical at 2007-10-31 21:58 (UTC) (Link)
ok... you know i'm hopeless at this stuff.

but my honest answer?

DUH!!!

honestly? i think that your nation's government lost it's claim to having a 'moral high ground' a LONG time ago.
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-11-01 00:38 (UTC) (Link)
But we've never lost our desire for it, and there are worse things to aspire to. But we can't get there on the course we're on now.
sgt_majorette
sgt_majorette at 2007-10-31 22:26 (UTC) (Link)
Are you messing with poor Condoleeza Umbridge again? It's the Imperius Curse, must be; I can't deal with the possibility that any Black woman has time to be that stupid.
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-11-01 00:32 (UTC) (Link)
No, no, I was talking about the hearings on Attorney General Designate Michael B. Mukasey, who even people who disagree with him strenuously claim is a brilliant, brilliant man.

But my issue isn't really with the question of whether or not Mukasey is smart enough to know whether or not it's torture. It's that I don't want my country doing something where argument or study is required to determine that it isn't torture.
sgt_majorette
sgt_majorette at 2007-11-01 05:49 (UTC) (Link)
And that's why I'm glad I'm retired!

Not my country anymore, therefore not my problem. I served the place for twelve years, so I'm authorized to talk smack about it, but it's way more comfortable not to know about the stuff that makes you want to go and and pimp-slap somebody just on general principles, which is why the Good Lord gave us digital cable.

On the other hand, I was starting to get really impatient with Voldemort and being dismissively contemptuous of anybody who would take him seriously, and then I'd think, "oh-h-h-h, yeah... right..."
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-11-01 12:37 (UTC) (Link)
And that's why I'm glad I'm retired!

But may I also take this opportunity to thank you, if haven't before -- or, hell, if I have! -- for those twelve years spent in defence of me and mine? Whether you were in a trench holding a rifle, or at a desk holding a stapler, you were serving and defending my country, and I want you to know I am grateful for it.
B00
i_m_b00 at 2007-11-01 01:31 (UTC) (Link)
LOL Condoleeza umbridge
the source of all heresies
ms_worplesdon at 2007-10-31 23:22 (UTC) (Link)
But what did you expect? This country is divorced from reality. *shakes had sadly*

I really need to renew my passport. Just in case.
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-11-01 00:34 (UTC) (Link)
What did I expect? More insight of my own, for starters.
Machiavellian Puppet Master
tjs_whatnot at 2007-10-31 23:47 (UTC) (Link)
There are so very many things wrong with this...yes, in this country we are asking people to please define "torture" but the biggest problem is that people like Rice, Cheney and Bush are being seen around the world as great legal minds...

But what really pisses me off, is they have actually convinced me that just questioning them makes me unpatriotic...just making this comment makes me feel that I am letting my country down...how the hell did they do that!!
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-11-01 00:33 (UTC) (Link)
As I said above, I was referring to Michael B. Mukasey, the Attorney General candidate who is currently being grilled by the Senate as a "great legal mind."

Bush and Cheney are a far greater threat to this nation than Osama bin Laden, and the damage they've done us is nigh-incalculable. Their minds are neither great nor legal.
Machiavellian Puppet Master
tjs_whatnot at 2007-11-01 00:39 (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I missed that...I had to stop watching when Rice was up there...they make me ache all over...and you're right, neither Cheney or Bush are known as Great Legal Minds...but oddly, they are sometimes considered Great Minds...and that scares me the most!!
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-11-01 00:59 (UTC) (Link)
Well, I've never heard Bush called a great mind, and any thought that Cheney might be brilliant died when he mistook a sexagenarian Republican lawyer for a quail.
Machiavellian Puppet Master
tjs_whatnot at 2007-11-01 01:15 (UTC) (Link)
No, not them...but their OFFICE...
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-11-01 11:59 (UTC) (Link)
I was always unpopular in civics class, as I always referred to those offices as "The Hired Help."
isis_uf
isis_uf at 2007-11-01 01:34 (UTC) (Link)
Totally hijacking here, but I had to reply to this. As a members of a democracy, it is not only our right but our obligation to question our leaders. Bush and Cheney and Rice do not equal America; They serve America. Or, at least, they're supposed to. Like any employee, their work needs to be reviewed and held to a standard. But thus far, the only thing I see them excelling at is guilt tripping the nation with a wickedly, frighteningly good public relations strategy. Too bad the rest of their policies weren't as well thought out, huh?
Machiavellian Puppet Master
tjs_whatnot at 2007-11-01 01:52 (UTC) (Link)
Yes, exactly! I am getting so tired of people calling Bush Bashing as "unpatriotic" or the most obnoxious, "Embolding our Enemies"

Because my thing is, I'd really like to respect the office of President, even if I don't always agree with it...but this administration has blown any respect I could muster...and yet, I am proud to be an American!
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-11-01 12:20 (UTC) (Link)
In fact, failing to hold the current junta to account is "emboldening our enemies" because the Bush/Cheney mob are our enemies. They are traitors to, and enemies of, the United States of America, by dint of their unrelenting attacks on the very foundation of our nation, The Constitution of the United States of America.
Machiavellian Puppet Master
tjs_whatnot at 2007-11-01 14:07 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you! I'm going to stitch that on a throw pillow!!
isis_uf
isis_uf at 2007-11-01 01:29 (UTC) (Link)
Problem number one with this, in my opinion, is that no nation in the world has the right to declare themselves 'moral leader' (or, as is more apt, 'moral police'). Doing so is arrogant, pompous and, well... immoral, actually. Morality is subjective to cultural values and traditions. Things that offend our sense of morality (yes, I said our, because it's kind of silly to pretend we aren't talking about the United States, isn't it?) may be fully within the realm of acceptable, expected or even honourable in other cultures. And, of course, the opposite is true as well. Do we, as a nation, ever stop to consider this? Of course not. We're almost comically ethnocentric. It might be funny, if it weren't so damn sad.

Problem number two with this is that we apparently can't even define our own moral standards. If we can't do that - even if we had the right to impose our values and beliefs on other people (which we don't) - we have no place whatsoever in dictating what is 'right' to others.

Problem number three is that the "great legal thinker" apparently had a public relations specialist write his answers for him. That's the biggest cop-out I've heard since I worked PR.

But to answer the questions you actually asked - yes and hell yes.
mrsquizzical
mrsquizzical at 2007-11-01 06:31 (UTC) (Link)
great comment.
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-11-01 12:19 (UTC) (Link)
Morality is subjective to cultural values and traditions.

See, this is something that I have to take issue with at some level.

Surely there are some moral absolutes. Surely slavery is wrong even if your Holy Scripture endorses it as moral. Surely the moral and religious underpinnings of "Honor Killings" by which the father and/or brothers of a grown woman murder her for being sexually active, do not make it OK with you. You don't shrug and say, well, it's OK in their morality, and who am I to say mine is better?

And the fact of the metter is that the United States has been a nation that held out a generous hand to those in need around the world, that rebuilt the homes, cities, nations of our enemies after long and dreadful war. Held true to one of the fairest and most humane legal codes the world has ever known.

And even now, as I deride nad bewail the debasement of our nation, it is like Melville's Catskill Eagle, depressing only when viewed against almost impossibly-high standards we as a nation have set. I can write, as I have here, about the highest officials of my government as traitorous kleptocrats and enemies of the Republic, without fear of being spirited off by the secret police, and there are far fewer nations in the world where that is true than where it isn't.

And if now I am greatly aggrieved that we no longer hold true to that legal code, that we countenance torture, hold prisoners without trial, and without representation, on secret evidence, that our government spies on its own citizens in explicit defiance of law, that is in the context of having been a nation in a true and earned positionof moral leadership, being a nation that modeled liberty and human dignity for the world. A nation that ousted a corrupt president without the need for tanks rolling in the streets of our capital.

It is indeed, as is your point, essential to respect differences, and to know that there is more than one "right way." But that doesn't mean that just because a belief differs from ours it is automatically to be respected.

As Carl Sagan once said, it is important to keep an open mind, but it is also important that it not be so wide open that garbage can blow in from the street.
B00
i_m_b00 at 2007-11-01 01:30 (UTC) (Link)
I really don't see how we can be doing something when we DON'T KNOW if it is torture. We promise that we don't do torture. Do we need to change it to 'well sometimes we do, do torture but only until we know for sure that it is torture then we stop'. If there is a question the ethical thing is to not do it. We are really talking about Human rights here. We really can't say sorry for torturing someone later on, sorry just does not cut it in that situation.
Not to mention that they should know what they are doing at all times when people’s lives are in the balance. “I don’t know” is a cop out and a ‘cover my ass’ statement.
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-11-01 12:26 (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, this is very much along the lines of my thinking.
alloy_
alloy_ at 2007-11-01 06:14 (UTC) (Link)
It probably is.

The dilema for the security forces is:

Is the abuse of the rights of one individual worth the lives of a thousand others?

Does your responsibility to your law abiding citizens overide the person rights of some one who's clearly indicated that he has no respect for those rights in others.

The function of society rests on the notion that everyone respects the rights of others. We remove people who don't respect the rights of others are removed from our society and their rights are normally curtailed in (one hopes) a severity which reflects their crime.

Petty criminals lose their freedom and franchise. Murderers forfeit their lives.

Terrorists attack not only the physical, they also attack the fabric of society, they effect our ability to pursue happiness.

What rights should they forfeit?

The devil is of course in the detail, who becomes the warden, the executioner?

And then there's the issue of due process.

It's a buggering ethical minefield.
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-11-01 12:35 (UTC) (Link)
I think there are more basic dilemmas.

One of the first is, Does torture work? Can you actually get worthwhile intelligence that way? Or will the torturee just tell the torturer whatever he thinks the torturer wants to hear to make it stop? Because if torture doesn't work, then the whole rest of this mess becomes irrelevent.

Then comes, If we have to become a nation that tortures people in order to defend ourselves, is it really defense? Meaning, if the thing you're trying to protect is altered out of all recognition by your attempts to protect it, have you really done so? If we define ourselves, as I think we do, by our laws, our freedoms, our commitment to liberty and justice, then what is left to defend when we violate those principles in their own defence?

I see it as pretty simple. Obey the law. If that means you miss some intelligence because you took the time to get a FISA warrent before beginning a wiretapping, oh well. If that means you have to choose between protecting a valuable intelligence asset, or prosecutingand holding someone captured by using that asset, oh, well. We pay you to make those tough choices, and do your best, but you don't get to have both. You don't get to hold a man (or, of course, woman) on evidence he is not permitted to examine, confront, or refute.

How can we become the Stasi in defense of our liberty?
alloy_
alloy_ at 2007-11-01 12:53 (UTC) (Link)
I don't think torture does work.

To answer your question in the absolute. No, you don't become Stasi in defence of liberty.

However you need then to ensure that those freedoms you're defending aren't eroded by appeasement.

To protect your freedoms, don't let anyone impede your exercise of them.
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-11-01 13:37 (UTC) (Link)
Hear, hear!
mythicvictory
mythicvictory at 2007-11-01 16:02 (UTC) (Link)
Sometimes I feel like Bush and DarthVP read too many Tom Clancy novels, and now fancy themselves in the Jack Ryan role. *Shakes head despairingly**
I agree that if you are going to stand where our nation historically has, then the answer to the question is an emphatic Torture is wrong.
Your last sentence said it best 'an ethical government should eschew it?'.
We have not had an ethical government since Bush bought his first term in office. The AG we just got rid of was a moral three year old, who thought he should be able to grin and say I don't remember". The party that proclaims its' family values is riddled with pedophiles, high risk sexual habitues, and good old fashioned brothel regulars.
Ethical Government has been off the table for some time. I'm not saying the Democrats are all angels. Far from it, they recall Macdonald; 'the best lack conviction, given some time to think, and the worst are full of passion without mercy'. The thing that heartens me the most; reading all of the comments and knowing I'm not the only one here watching in numb disbelief. I'm writing the Democratic leadership of the house and senate today, and telling my local legislators (for whom I did not vote) what I think of their leader and their policy.
Ooo, big, bad housewife writing a letter, you say? You bet your ass I am. These are the tools I have, and I will by God use them. Evil prospers when good men say nothing, so lets start shouting!!! I don't want to see more service people die so Bush can live in Pretty!Republican World. I am terrified that our country will go to war with Iraq. I'll start with the tools I have, raise my voice, and scream with all my might until the silence me. Come on, y'all. How hard is it to google your representatives and shoot 'em an email? Not violent, well written, strong vitriol that gives them clear definitions to work with? Wanna get started on your own FBI file?
mythicvictory
mythicvictory at 2007-11-01 16:10 (UTC) (Link)
um, except I ment Iran, not Iraq..**sigh**
Do you think anyone would notice if I just called them both Irate?
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-11-01 16:44 (UTC) (Link)
And Lo, both are irate!
mythicvictory
mythicvictory at 2007-11-01 17:01 (UTC) (Link)

TYVM

Hee, I'd say they are even cranky!
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-11-01 16:43 (UTC) (Link)
We have a government that claims to be moral, and talks in a big way about how we DO NOT TORTURE. And then waffles over whether something we do is torture as if the fact that waffling is possible doesn't already mean that it's somethign we should just not do.

I'm with you, babe, and have already written my representatives. It got me not one whit of acion, but lots of spam asking me for money for Democratic campaigns.
mythicvictory
mythicvictory at 2007-11-01 16:59 (UTC) (Link)

Good For You!!

It's not much, but it's what tools we have, and if we don't use them, then we are complicit with those we oppose.
Sorry about the spam, talk about no good deed going unpunished!
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