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Thread: Torture versus collateral damage; the bigger evil?

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Gen. Petraeus Warns Against Using Torture

    11 May Washington Post - Gen. Petraeus Warns Against Using Torture by Tom Ricks.

    The top U.S. commander in Iraq admonished his troops regarding the results of an Army survey that found that many U.S military personnel there are willing to tolerate some torture of suspects and unwilling to report abuse by comrades.

    "This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we -- not our enemies -- occupy the moral high ground," Army Gen. David H. Petraeus wrote in an open letter dated May 10 and posted on a military Web site.

    He rejected the argument that torture is sometimes needed to quickly obtain crucial information. "Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary," he stated...

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    Default McCain on the Use of Torture

    McCain on the Use of Torture

    Entry Excerpt:



    CBS News: Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) about his decision to speak out against government torture of terrorists.

    Senator John McCain on the Use of Torture - Full text of remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate, 12 May 2011. Introduction follows:

    “Mr. President, the successful end of the ten-year manhunt to bring Osama bin Laden to justice has appropriately heightened the nation’s appreciation for the diligence, patriotism and courage of our armed forces and our intelligence community. They are a great credit and inspiration to the country that has asked so much of them, and like all Americans, I am in their debt."

    “But their success has also reignited debate over whether the so-called, ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ of enemy prisoners, including waterboarding, were instrumental in locating bin Laden, and whether they are necessary and justifiable means for securing valuable information that might help prevent future terrorist attacks against us and our allies and lead to the capture or killing of those who would perpetrate them. Or are they, and should they be, prohibited by our conscience and laws as torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment."

    “I believe some of these practices – especially waterboarding, which is a mock execution, and thus to me, indisputably torture – are and should be prohibited in a nation that is exceptional in its defense and advocacy of human rights. I believe they are a violation of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, and Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions, all of which forbid cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of all captured combatants, whether they wear the uniform of a country or are essentially stateless."

    “I opposed waterboarding and similar so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ before Osama bin Laden was brought to justice. And I oppose them now. I do not believe they are necessary to our success in our war against terrorists, as the advocates of these techniques claim they are."

    “Even more importantly, I believe that if America uses torture, it could someday result in the torture of American combatants. Yes, I know that Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations do not share our scruples about the treatment of enemy combatants, and have and will continue to subject American soldiers and anyone they capture to the cruelest mistreatment imaginable. But we must bear in mind the likelihood that some day we will be involved in a more conventional war against a state and not a terrorist movement or insurgency, and be careful that we do not set a standard that another country could use to justify their mistreatment of our prisoners."

    “And, lastly, it is difficult to overstate the damage that any practice of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by Americans does to our national character and historical reputation – to our standing as an exceptional nation among the countries of the world. It is too grave to justify the use of these interrogation techniques. America has made its progress in the world not only by avidly pursuing our geopolitical interests, but by persuading and inspiring other nations to embrace the political values that distinguish us. As I’ve said many times before, and still maintain, this is not about the terrorists. It’s about us."



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    Council Member Kiwigrunt's Avatar
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    Default Torture versus collateral damage; the bigger evil?

    Torture has been discussed here several times and the general consensus seems to be a negative stance towards it, both in term of morality/ethics and of course law.
    The concept of collateral damage seems to be a bit harder to put into a single basket, and we generally accept it much more readily.

    Sam Harris has some interesting views on this, which I tend to find quite compelling:

    …I briefly discuss the ethics of torture and collateral damage in times of war, arguing that collateral damage is worse than torture across the board. Rather than appreciate just how bad I think collateral damage is in ethical terms, some readers have mistakenly concluded that I take a cavalier attitude toward the practice of torture. I do not. Nevertheless, there are extreme circumstances in which I believe that practices like “water-boarding” may not only be ethically justifiable, but ethically necessary. This is not the same as saying that they should be legal (e.g. crimes like trespassing or theft may sometimes be ethically necessary, while remaining illegal).

    What say you?
    Nothing that results in human progress is achieved with unanimous consent. (Christopher Columbus)

    All great truth passes through three stages: first it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
    (Arthur Schopenhauer)

    ONWARD

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    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    He is trying to have it both ways. He is against it but can see where it can be useful and should be winked at, but only if he is certain that it will work and the person to be tortured deserves it. It is one of those arguments self-absorbed intellectuals please themselves with that ignore the reality of the situation. The reality is somebody ties somebody else down and does things to them. And they continue to do things to them until they feel like stopping. Would Mr. Harris volunteer to do that? Would he say to his son "Go ahead son, I'll be proud of you." Would he approve of his daughter marrying somebody who did that for a living? I doubt it. Intellectuals talking about things they won't do nor do they want their kith and kin to do but it is still ok with them.

    The other thing he does is equate the certainty of his musings with the uncertainties of the real world. The "But what if we knew for sure how about then?" argument. Well sir, if you knew for sure then you'd be God and you ain't.

    As you can tell, these kinds of arguments really frost me.

    His point about us not taking collateral damage seriously enough is good. We should start by stop using such a sterile phrase, 'collateral damage.' We should say what it actually is "Today will killed bad guy B. We also killed a bunch of innocent people who hadn't done anything to us but they happened to be standing nearby bad guy B when we shot a missile at him. That isn't good but bad guy B was so bad they deserved to die too." If we appended that statement to each press release trumpeting our killing of every mid-level leader we might take it more seriously.
    Last edited by carl; 12-29-2012 at 06:32 PM.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default A victim of torture adds

    Kiwigrunt,

    I am not sure this helps, but as a Canadian victim of rendition and torture it may help to learn what they say:
    It is about time our governments realise that torture inflicts moral damage on our society, as severe as the pain felt by the people who are physically and psychologically tortured. Our reputation has been stained and tarnished enough.
    His short article opens with:
    To torture or not to torture, why is this question being asked in America? The answer you will receive is different depending on who you speak to.
    Link:http://prism-magazine.com/2012/12/to...sm+Magazine%29

    I expect the questions asked over torture extend far beyond the comforts of American debate, although one wonders if it was Americans being tortured at home or abroad that the US public would think torture works.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    David:

    Americans were tortured in the Pacific, Korea and Vietnam. We didn't think it a good thing then. We seem to have become so smug in the belief that nobody will ever be in a position to do that to us again that we are willing to let the beast out because, after all, we are the Yanks, it will never bite us.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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    His conclusion depends on there being a high likelihood of retrieving good, actionable intelligence through the use of torture. All the evidence I've seen indicates that this likelihood is extremely low compared to other methods of retrieving intelligence from a prisoner. I don't have a problem labeling torture too immoral to use, but morality can get low-contrast under extreme circumstances, while facts don't. The fact is that torture doesn't work well enough to employ. This makes it all the more aggravating when attempts are made to defend it on moral grounds.

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    Council Member jcustis's Avatar
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    David,

    As always, you've added a rich notation which took me on a morning's bounce around wiki pages, blogs, and news articles, and left me more informed than when I woke up.


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    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    I've always wanted to ask guys like Mr. Harris this.

    'Ok Mr. Harris, we know that devil incarnate bad guy knows where the ticking bomb is. Unfortunately we can't get at him to use our sure fire enhanced interrogation techniques that would be applied by highly trained career professional torturers under closely supervised conditions. But we can get to his wife and children. In fact we have them.

    Now Mr. Harris you must know that if that bomb goes off many many innocents, women and children, will be maimed and killed. They will suffer immensely as will their surviving relations. Is it really so bad Mr. Harris if we were to send an ear of his oldest child to devil incarnate bad guy with the message that this is only the beginning if he doesn't tell us what we want to know? Wouldn't inflicting suffering on those people be worth all the lives we would save?'

    I wonder how he would answer.
    Last edited by carl; 12-29-2012 at 08:39 PM.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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    Council Member Kiwigrunt's Avatar
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    That’s a straw man Carl. Here’s another one:

    My hypothetical child is abducted by a gang. She can just get a phonecall to me describing what they are doing to her (colour that in for yourself). I just so happen to have one of the critters in my hot little hands. How far would I go to discover the whereabouts of the gang?

    I think that what Sam is trying to get at regarding torture is that if you can come up with explicit examples where one might consider torture, then you have moved from the absolute to a continuum.

    However, I don’t want to get too hung up on whether or not some extremes ‘should’ allow torture. We have discussed that before on a few other threads. I also don’t want to single out the good and the bad of collateral damage per say. What I got from reading Sam’s piece was how we seem to hold torture at a very different ethical level to collateral damage. Torturing one (‘guilty’?) person to achieve X is seen as much worse than bombing a village with some considerable collateral damage to achieve the same X. That could include some dead and injured (tortured?) innocents.

    One question that comes to mind is: does our concern regarding torture stem from a genuine consideration for the rights etc. of the recipient or is it more self entered? That is to say, are we more concerned with what the process might do to us and our own morality? This statement quoted by David seems to support that:

    It is about time our governments realise that torture inflicts moral damage on our society, as severe as the pain felt by the people who are physically and psychologically tortured. Our reputation has been stained and tarnished enough.
    Either way, why do we not hold the same concerns, but stronger, regarding collateral damage? After all, collateral damage often produces more victims, with a greater likelihood of being innocent. (And even there we hold different standards. The comparison of bombing a village in Pakistan versus law enforcers doing similar damage in one of our own towns has been pointed out here previously.)
    I think that that is also the main point that Sam is trying to make. (I have not read his book.)

    So it is the difference between the two that interests me.

    I wonder if we have here a moral conundrum similar to the trolley problem.
    Last edited by Kiwigrunt; 12-29-2012 at 10:33 PM. Reason: added quote
    Nothing that results in human progress is achieved with unanimous consent. (Christopher Columbus)

    All great truth passes through three stages: first it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
    (Arthur Schopenhauer)

    ONWARD

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    Council Member Kiwigrunt's Avatar
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    David, I found this one the most profound statements in your linked article:

    Opponents of torture have vigorously been embracing the notion that torture produces false intelligence. This implicitly leaves the door open for the possibility of endorsing torture if it were proven to produce sound intelligence.
    Nothing that results in human progress is achieved with unanimous consent. (Christopher Columbus)

    All great truth passes through three stages: first it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
    (Arthur Schopenhauer)

    ONWARD

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    Societies have progressed and regressed over time, have been replaced by others who did the same, rinse and repeat.
    Over time, mankind has learned a few lasting lessons.

    One of these lessons - widely understood to be self-evident (save for Hollywood) is that preventive arresting or killing of people who *might* turn into criminals is not appropriate. In fact, it is so utterly inappropriate and proven to be a poor idea that it is almost perfectly universally loathed.
    Some practices such as this are so bad, mankind has learned to forego all analysis of costs and benefits in specific cases in favour of a universal maxim of "don't".

    This was also true of torture, which was understood to be cruel and a thoroughly poor idea in the Western civilisation.

    Sadly, the previous line was written in past tense because a few years ago a really big Western country did a really big regressive leap and actually left the consensus of Western civilisation on torture.
    It even did so overtly, officially - unlike a generation or two ago when only a handful people working in the shadows ignored the norms of their civilisation.


    The unwillingness to heed the hard-earned wisdom of earlier generations was and is strong in them.

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    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    Fuchs:

    That was very well said.

    Something has happened to ethical standards in the US, especially among the elites. It reminds me of something that my civilian self seems to see happen in the spec ops world, the attitude that they are not bound by rules. If they can do it, it is ok to do.

    The elites who advocate torture show the same signs of having been cut loose from any moral base, if they think it is ok, it is.

    As a foreign observer, do you think there is something in US culture that states that once you reach a certain status, you are free from any rule? More than in other Western nations I mean. It is almost as if we are creating an aristocracy.

    Kiwigrunt:

    It may be a strawman or not. But it is the same kind of contrived argument that the ticking time bomb argument is. In both cases, it is designed to justify that which is unjustifiable.

    Maybe the difference between torture and killing the wrong people is in one, the rhetorical you is face to face with the victim, in the other it is done from afar. Maybe too, it has to do with growing amorality that infects our elites. It is convenient for them to knock off people who shouldn't be knocked off and who don't have the political power to stop them, so why shouldn't they?
    Last edited by carl; 12-30-2012 at 01:40 AM.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    Carl, I think it's a human problem (or probably a "male humans" one, dunno for sure).

    It's quite similar to bankers and politicians losing the sense for how valuable money is. 0.5% of a hundred billion don't look to them much different than 0.5% of their latest car purchase any more.
    The experience of "unusual" circumstances (such as having power) often leads to the abandonment of "usual" conceptions.


    The U.S. is different in many regards from Europe and other places, but the consistently biggest difference is simply size. The U.S. simply has more often the critical mass required to do stuff (good and bad) than other nations do.
    Much that's "special" about the US can be traced in part to this difference.

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    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    Fuchs:

    Very good point about size. I think we often forget how big this country is and how many people over 300 million is. At least I do.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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    We regressed morally at so many levels during this conflict. We made a deal with the devil (Pakistan) that allowed AQ senior leadership to escape and plot for another 10 years. We declared war on Iraq based on less than compelling evidence (the 1% doctrine), and shifted forces from an unfinished conflict i Afghanistan to Iraq. We publically endorsed torture as official policy, which as you have pointed out will put our forces at much greater risk at an unknown time in the future. We hired thousands of low quality contractors, many of them based on their political affiliations, to provide poor service at a high price. In many cases creating significant set backs to the overall operation. We aggressively pursued social and political engineering trying to create mirror image societies insteand of facilitating self-determinatio. We foolishly embraced a doctrine that has failed repeatedly throughout history, and now want to capture those lessons for future conflicts. Instead of collective sacrifice, we gave our citizens a tax cut for political expediency at the start of two wars and wonder why we can't manage our budget. We threw billions of borrowed dollars at the problem with no real strategy, and when it didn't work we surged billions more and now are looking for an acceptable exit.

    I'm coming to the point where I think a nation's values (real values, values its people live by) are more important than its size, its economy, or the size of its military. Actually the values increase in importance as a nation gains power.

    Maybe the pending economic crisis will drive us back to our core values that made us great to begin with.

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    Maybe the pending economic crisis will drive us back to our core values that made us great to begin with.
    Invade neighbours, annex terrain, invite immigrants to take the booty?

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    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
    Invade neighbours, annex terrain, invite immigrants to take the booty?
    Yep. Worked out well for everybody. Those who lived in the annexed part didn't have to live through the various agonies Mexico has gone through and is going through. My Grandfather fought in the Mexican Revolution and he said it was a very unpleasant time. The people in Arizona, New Mexico and California didn't have to go through any of it.

    All those immigrants got to make a new start and we got the pick of the litter of all those countries for only those who had get up and go got up and came. Win win again.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    Instead of collective sacrifice, we gave our citizens a tax cut for political expediency at the start of two wars and wonder why we can't manage our budget.
    Bill:

    This brings up a very important point that I try to keep raising. The Americans were not averse to something like a war tax being imposed. We would have gone for it. The political elites were afraid to ask us to do it. They lacked any real backbone or moral courage as evidenced by all their defense of torture. Hell they lack any real moral base.

    The Americans do have a moral base (Fuchs, restrain yourself). We are much as we were as far as willing to sacrifice for a war goes. It is the elites who have changed. If they are morally adrift, as I think they are, they will never see the need to sacrifice for anything for there isn't anything really good. Because they only know themselves, they figure everybody is like them and since they don't recognize there is anything worth sacrificing for they figure the rest of us feel the same way. So they won't even ask.

    I am convinced it is the same thing when people say Americans are casualty averse. We aren't. The elites are. In their morally relativistic world they see nothing worth dying for so they figure the rest of us are like that.

    We have a big problem now and will get bigger if we can't figure some way to address this cultural disconnect between the elites and the rest of us.

    p.s. Tax rates don't matter. You can't spend rates, you can only spend revenue. And revenue goes up when you lower rates, generally. We still should have had a war tax though.
    Last edited by carl; 12-30-2012 at 06:57 AM.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by carl View Post
    (...)revenue goes up when you lower rates, generally.
    Trust an economist: That's nonsense.
    It has never been observed since the Laffer curve argument has been brought forward that lowering a tax increases its or even only total revenue. The opposite is being observed every single time.

    Lower taxes = less revenue. All else is nonsensical propaganda. Period.


    There's a theoretical special case in which theoretically lowering the tax rate might increase revenue - this applies to ridiculously high tax rates, far above 50%.
    A reduction of a tax rate from say 50% to 49% or 40% or 30% will inevitably deliver a loss of revenue not much smaller than the reduction of the tax rate (reduction from 50% to 40% would yield almost 20% less revenue).



    The Laffer curve myth is one of those anglophone speciality myths - the rest of the world is laughing at you (if it knows or learns about he myth) for it.
    My whole microeconomics class of more than 60 students laughed heartily, for sure.
    That's because we haven't been indoctrinated with big lie propaganda abut the Laffer curve for three decades, of course.

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