Archive for November, 2005

The Use of Torture

Sunday, November 27th, 2005

There are extreme situations when we grant authorities the discretion to perform acts that would not be permitted under circumstances where more deliberation or other alternatives are possible. For example, if a person is in imminent danger of being killed by a third party, a policeman can use lethal force to protect the threatened person. We would never allow police use of lethal force as summary punishment. However, we have collectively recognized that it is impossible and morally irresponsible to formulate absolutes like “lethal force will never be used.” It is possible to encounter difficult situations when it is necessary to opt between the lesser of two evils. We have consequently developed a whole jurisprudence about when lethal force can and should be applied. Generally, the balanced is tipped toward the protection of innocent life.

Charles Krauthammer has written a thoughtful piece in the Weekly Standard, “The Truth about Torture,” examining the circumstances under which torture might not only be morally permissible but a positive duty. The classic extreme case is when a captured terrorist knows the location of a nuclear weapon about to explode and kill many thousands of people. Is torture permissible to extract the information necessary to prevent this catastrophe? Krauthammer’s conclusion is direct: “Now, on most issues regarding torture, I confess tentativeness and uncertainty. But on this issue, there can be no uncertainty: Not only is it permissible to hang this miscreant by his thumbs. It is a moral duty.”

This case is certainly extreme, but this extreme educes an important principle. If there are cases when torture is ethically required, then morally serious people in government ought to establish guidelines for its appropriate use.

Senator John McCain’s bill prohibiting “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” interrogations by persons acting on behalf of the US government was passed by an overwhelming margin in the Senate. The Bush Administration was willing to accept categorical restrictions for the US military. Indeed, the limitations are already part of the Army Field Manual. However, the Administration did not want to establish an absolute prohibition for intelligence agencies.

If there are exigencies when torture is required, not delineating conditions for appropriate use could lead to two negative outcomes. First, the restrictions may tie the hands of officials when torture might be necessary. Or, torture is driven so deep underground that it is practiced without regulation and it becomes more likely to descend from a search for necessary information into unsanctioned punishment and revenge.

Krauthammer distinguishes between three types of detainees. The first are members of combatant militaries that are captured. These people ought to be treated with the utmost respect and deference. The Geneva Convention establishes conditions for treatment of these legal combatants less to protect detainees, then to protect civilians. In exchange for not targeting civilians and conducting operations in accord with the rules of war, military prisoners of war are detained only for the purpose of keeping detainees from the battle field. Detainees are held to keep them from battle, not for punishment.

The second group is composed of captured terrorists who have violated the rules of war but lack any especially useful information. By virtue of their violation of the rules of war, they have not earned any humane treatment. We treat them humanely and make sure they are reasonably comfortable, because we do not wish to pay the price of the emotional and moral damage of doing otherwise.

The third group consists of terrorists that have information that could save lives. This information could be of the immediate variety, where a terrorist knows of a particular bomb about to go off in a particular place. The second type of terrorist would be a very high level operative who has wide-range knowledge about future operations. Krauthammer argues that more aggressive interrogation is justified in such cases. The level of aggressiveness should be proportional to the immediacy and size of the future danger.

The use of torture not only dehumanizes the subject of the torture, but also the persons inflicting the pain. As a matter of maintaining the moral and warrior spirit of the military, military people ought not to be called upon to use aggressive interrogation techniques. These ought to applied by a small, well-trained cadre of experts and only under the supervision of independent quasi-judicial supervision.

Krauthammer may not have struck upon the proper balance between the sin of inhuman treatment against the sin of allowing innocents to die when it is in our power to stop it, but he has at least opened the debate in a constructive wave. The weighing of competing values is difficult and it can be too easy to hide mere retribution and vengeance behind a veil of civilian protection. The danger lies in becoming like the type of people we are seeking to protect ourselves from.

The categorical restrictions passed by the Senate may be a consequence of the concern that though torture may be necessary, an absolute prohibition prevents its misuse. This is a morally serious position. However, this very reasonable concern must be weighed against the destruction of innocent life. If the potential loss is grave, we may not be able to enjoy the luxury of categorical prohibitions.

The Administration has been negligent in not proffering a set of guidelines for reasonable and appropriate use of coercive interrogation techniques. At the same time, the moral posturing by a lop-sided vote in the Senate has shrouded clear thinking in a squid-like ink of moral vanity.

Battle for Hearts and Minds

Monday, November 21st, 2005

There seems to be an interesting battle ensuing for the hearts and minds of people both in the Middle East and here in the United States. Given the intense political wrangling here in the US, one might easily overlook the fact that ordinary Jordanians are angry at Abu Musab al-Zarqawi because of the use of suicide bombs to kill innocent Jordanians at a wedding party. The protest against the Jordanian native brought out over 200,000 Jordanians indicating a public relations nightmare for the terrorist. Proportionately, this would be equal to over 10 million Americans participating in a protest. It would seem that this rejection of terrorism is a major milestone in the War on Terror yet is has largely passed by unnoticed and unremarked upon in the US press.

In the United States most of the attention this week has been riveted on John Murtha, a representative from Pennsylvania. The former combat hero in Vietnam proposed that we “…immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of US forces.” The press describes Murtha has a “hawkish” Democrat leaving the impression that here is a guy who support the Iraq War all along and has lately become disenchanted

Though Murtha is hawkish in the sense that he is friendly to military procurement, he cannot rightly be called hawkish with respect to this war. Though he, like Senator John Kerry voted for the war, he soon had second thoughts. Murtha even supported Howard Dean so the notion that he has recently become a disillusioned hawk is at best misleading. However, we cannot blame Murtha for this misrepresentation. It is a consequence of the media always wanting to look at war news from a particular perspective. The story line of a war hawk turning on the President is more provocative than just more opposition from a Democrat who has long been against the war.

Murtha is certainly entitled to his own opinions, but not to his own facts. He suggests that the Americans have become the focus of the insurgents implying that if we withdrew, violence would subside. Though Americans continue to be target, they are hard targets, and insurgents instead are attacking other Iraqis in mosques and market places. Other Iraqis as opposed to Americans appear to be the target of choice. This tactic is not the hallmark of a popular peoples’ movement, but rather the sign of a minority trying to secure power any way it can.

Murtha believes one of two things. He may believe the war has been largely won and if we withdrew troops quickly the Iraqis could take care of their own security. They just need a little push to venture on their own. However, Murtha’s pessimistic assessment that the

“… war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy…”

confirms that this is not his position.

The second alternative is that Murtha believes the war is not going well and cannot be made to go well by changes in strategy. If it is not going well and we withdraw, it is likely that Al Qaeda would control large areas of Iraq and be able to launch future operations. If Murtha counsels withdrawal, then he must be concluding such an outcome is preferable to the current track. Perhaps it is possible to make such a case, but Murtha has a responsibility to explain the consequences of his recommendations.

There are real questions about the appropriate levels of troops or how much to push the Iraqis into more forward positions. Let there be reasoned debate. However, the vitriol spewed by some Democrats, taking the and Michael Moore line, that Bush’s motives were not honorable are making such a debate less possible.

What About France?

Sunday, November 13th, 2005

It is nearly always trivial to construct a theory that explains past observations. It is far more difficult to construct one that explains past observations and makes accurate predictions about the future. When a prediction is successful it lends great credibility to the original theory. Tony Blankley’s examination of the threat of the expanding culture of radical Islamofacism in Europe in The West’s Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations? published in September 2005) meets the prediction test. He foresaw much of the present violence before it happened.

There are two competing, though not entirely exclusive, explanations for the recent two-week (and counting) eruption of violence in France, and to a minor extent in other parts of Europe, perpetrated by Islamic youth: social or ideological explanations.

The social explanation is that Muslims predominately from North Africa have been the victims of racial discrimination in France. This second-class status coupled with economic stagnation and high unemployment rates has created alienation, frustration, and resentment. Joel Kotkin in Opinion Journal reports that the unemployment rate among those in their 20’s in France is 20% and among the immigrant population it could be twice that figure. Kotkin favors the social explanation for French violence.

When two youths were electrocuted while purportedly hiding from police in a power station, smoldering dissatisfaction ignited into full-flamed rioting in over 300 cities. The violence destroyed thousands of cars and many buildings including schools and day-care centers. As of this writing, violence is continuing, but ebbing in intensity.

As disheartening and challenging as such social problems facing these youths are, they are not existential in nature. Such problems do not challenge the stability and structure of French society. It is possible to conceive of straightforward French policies to mitigate the outward manifestations of discrimination and alter economic conditions to alleviate unemployment. If this violence is a metaphor for the Muslim minority banging on the door demanding to be allowed into the mainstream of French society, then presumably the rest of the French need merely to find ways to welcome them in.

The second explanation for the recent violence is ideology, rooted competing visions for the future of France and Europe. Blankley’s thesis paints a pernicious picture. According to Blankley, the problems in France and to a lesser extent Europe are not garden variety social troubles. The discrimination and economic challenges are real and difficult enough but they are being exploited by a radical Islamic ideology. Blankley draws a comparison with the rise of Nazism in post World War I Europe. Humiliated Germans, impoverished by excessive reparations and hyperinflation, easily embraced Nazism and the ironic combination of a notion of inherent superiority and a belief in unjust victimhood. As Blankley explains, “Just as the Nazis reached back to German mythology and the supposed Aryan origins of the German people, the radical Islamists reach back to the founding ideas and myths of their religious culture.”

Not all Muslims or even a plurality are radical Islamists, but such a view is endorsed by a large enough minority to intimidate others. These radicals are not knocking on the door asking to be allowed into the French culture. They despise the ethnic French and seek to establish areas under the control of Islamic culture. The parents of some of these ethnically North African Islamists may have come seeking assimilation, but the French-born French-speaking second generation is in danger of being co-oped by Islamofascism.

The conventional explanation of economic and social class conflict in Europe is not sufficient to explain events such as the murder of Dutch film maker Theo van Gough who made a movie exposing physical abuse of Muslim women. They are insufficient to explain the creation of “little Fallujahs” where ethnic French and even the police fear to enter. Blankley predicted the rise of Isalmofacist violence, whereas the previous conventional wisdom held that generous French welfare benefits would have precluded large scale violence.

Buttressing Blankley’s argument that the riots were not just about social economic problems, Newsweek reports that rather than shouts of “Jobs” the rioters in France were shouting “It’s Baghdad here… Now this is war… Jihad.” Of course, it is impossible to determine whether such rhetoric is just calculated to scare authorities or whether it represents the first steps toward a real insurgency.

The rise of this radical ideology is compounded by demographic momentum. Ethnic Europeans are not reproducing themselves and their mean age continues to grow. The birth rate in the Muslim and immigrant communities is very large. Over the last few decades the Muslim population in Europe has grown to 20 million. In coming decades, these new citizens will play a larger and larger role in French and European politics. Unless ways can be found to meaningfully assimilate first and second generation Muslims, economically, culturally, ideologically, and politically, we may just be seeing the beginning of many more decades of violence.

Happy 80th

Sunday, November 6th, 2005

This month marks the 80th birthday for Conservative icon William F. Buckley, Jr. Of Buckley, it can probably be persuasively argued, that if there were no Buckley, there would have been a much attenuated Conservative movement and probably no Ronald Reagan presidency.  With no Reagan presidency, perhaps the collapse of the “Evil Empire” would have taken longer.

Before there was a Fox News, before there was a Weekly Standard, when Commentary Magazine tilted to the Left, there was William Buckley. Buckley’s public career exploded into prominence when as a newly minted Yale graduate he wrote God and Man and Yale. . Yale’s public goal was to produce individuals educated in a Christian environment, but nonetheless managed instead to graduate, under the tutelage of Leftist professors, agnostic collectivists.  In 1955, he founded the National Review where he served as editor-in-chief. The animating conviction of the National Review is that it is the “job of conservatives was to stand athwart history, yelling, stop.”

If by history you mean the rise of the Conservative movement, then surely Buckley would have been happy to let history barrel along unimpeded. However, at the time National Review was founded the direction of history was down a Socialist and collectivist path and the keyword here is “down.”  The elite in academe and the government believed that the economy could be better run under the heavy supervision of the federal government. Confiscatory inheritance taxes, socialized medicine, nationalization of key industries, and high marginal income tax rates were all common convictions of Liberal leadership. During the entire decade of the 1950s, top marginal tax rates were over 90%. It would be presumptuous but pleasant to pretend that the drop in the top rate to its current 35% is directly attributable to Buckley’s influence.  It should be noted here, that despite these lower rates, the top 1% of the country’s income earners, earn 17% of the income and pay 34% of the federal income taxes. Similarly, the bottom 50% of income earner, pay 3% of the federal income taxes.

On the occasion of Buckley’s milestone there will be many who write of him from first hand knowledge and can provide far more depth as to how the rivers of his influence have inundated the Conservative movement. But in one very important way, Buckley’s influence has been very personal.

It was the summer of my junior year in high school when I struggled with two books: Up From Liberalism by Buckley and The Affluent Society by one of Buckley’s Liberal adversaries, economist John Kenneth Galbraith. My young, but less informed mind did not fully grasp the arguments of either titan, but the general pictures they painted were clear even to the inexperienced eye.   Buckley believed in the nobility of the individual and the deference the state should pay to the individual’s capacity and inherent freedom to decide for himself. Galbraith saw individuals as vulnerable unless properly supervised by a government populated with intelligent and educated people who shared Galbraith’s values. I did not know which vision was empirically correct, but Buckley’s vision called me to independence where Galbraith tried to persuade me of the advantage of collective dependence. I wanted to believe in Buckley’s world because it empowered me. Buckley won.

Ironically, Buckley’s argument had less to do with economic efficiency and more to do with the moral necessity to respect individual freedom. Galbraith talked less of individual freedom but of efficiency and avoiding the waste of competition. The only freedom Galbraith was concerned about is freedom from economic uncertainty. If the last half of the last century taught the open-minded anything, it was that central command economies are less efficient.  Free economies not only respect the individual, but generate more wealth.

What made Buckley’s influence so important is that there are thousands of stories like this.  These are stories of people who learned to take Conservatism seriously, to embrace the individual, because Buckley articulated a compelling Conservative position with wit, humor, and passion. As Buckley mark’s his 80th birthday, I can celebrate 34 years as a Conservative born of Buckley. Thank you Mr. Buckley.

Bush Derangement Syndrome

Sunday, November 6th, 2005

Only partially tongue-in-cheek, Charles Krauthammer , a former psychiatrist and medical researcher, discovered a new psychiatric condition, Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS): “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush.” This syndrome is perhaps a lingering consequence of the contested 2000 election. There remains a hard-core subset of Democrats, usually Democratic activists, who in spite of all the re-counts are incapable of believing that Bush was legitimately elected president. Even Bush’s 2004 election win by an absolute majority (greater than 50% of the votes) did little to assuage the anti-Bush anger. An absolute majority was something even Bill Clinton was unable to accomplish in two election victories. Indeed, there are those to this day who are convinced that Senator John Kerry really won Ohio and would have had an Electoral College majority even with a minority of popular votes. Perhaps this lingering 2004 anger is aggravated by the early exit-poll results that pointed to a Kerry victory. It is hard to loose. It is even harder to loose, when you believe you have victory in your grasp.

This anger has morphed in to the “Bush lied, people died” argument that Bush deliberately lied about the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) to invade Iraq. The argument is at war with itself. If Bush knew there were no WMD and that such information would inevitably come out after a war, it would have been a very clumsy and foolish lie. Moreover, there is little plausible reason to go into Iraq except if that it involved American security. Iraq would have been happy to sell us all the oil we want for a lot less cost than a war. It is enlightening to read pre-war far-Left literature arguing that the US should not go to war because of the large number or troops that would be exposed to Saddams’s biological and chemical weapons.

It is indisputable that there was a pre-war, bi-partisan consensus that Saddam was at least actively seeking WMD. Consider the following pre-war quotes:

“Saddam’s goal … is to achieve the lifting of U.N. sanctions while retaining and enhancing Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs. We cannot, we must not and we will not let him succeed.” — Madeline Albright, Secretary of State for President Bill Clinton.

“I am absolutely convinced that there are weapons … I saw evidence back in 1998 when we would see the inspectors being barred from gaining entry into a warehouse for three hours with trucks rolling up and then moving those trucks out.” — William Cohen, Secretary of Defense for President Bill Clinton.

“The community of nations may see more and more of the very kind of threat Iraq poses now: a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use them or provide them to terrorists. If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow.” — President Bill Clinton.

“There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years.” — Jay Rockefeller, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.” — Senator Hillary Clinton.

“I want to be real clear about the connection with terrorists. I’ve seen a lot of evidence on this. There are extensive contacts between Saddam Hussein’s government and al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.” Joseph Lieberman, Senator from Connecticut and 2004 Democratic candidate for vice-president.

Were all these people conspiring to abet Bush in a nefarious lie?

There are only two ways to look at this consensus and to make the argument that Bush lied about WMD to get us into war in Iraq. The first is the most excusable. People making this argument may be ailing from acute BDS and are not responsible for their babbling. The second is to internally acknowledge the hollowness of the argument, but to nonetheless exploit it for temporary political advantage in spite of the fact that it serves to undermine the war effort. If one has legitimate criticisms about the Iraq War, there is a moral duty to responsibly voice them. The argument that “Bush lied” is not responsible.

For additional quotations check here and here.