Monday, January 10, 2005

Intellectual double-speak

Besides the terrible Tsunami disaster, the second biggest headline of the main stream media the past few days has been centered on the hearings for Attorney General-nominee Alberto Gonzales. Alberto Gonzales is at the very least, being accused of being wishy-washy, but in some cases more seriously being accused of aiding/promoting human rights violations at Abu Ghraib.

There is a debate here whether you want to believe it or not.
Recently Sen. Arlen Specter posed this question to three witnesses at the hearings, all of whom consider Alberto Gonzales dangerous: "Are consideration for those tactics ever justifiable, even in teh face of a ticking-bomb threat?"

The three witnesses were:

* Harold Hongju Koh, dean of the Yale Law School, who served as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor from 1998 to 2001.

* Retired Admiral John D. Hutson, one of 12 high-ranking retired officers who signed a letter sent Tuesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee to express "deep concern" about the role Gonzales played in crafting administration policy on questioning detainees.

* Douglas Johnson, executive director of the Center For Victims of Torture in Minneapolis.

Let's review the ticking-bomb scenario. A terrorist is captured who knows the whereabouts of a ticking bomb that could kill thousands of Americans (or anyone for that matter). Would torturing him be permissible to prevent a catastrophe?

So what did our cast of three intellectuals have to say? Check it out...

Harold Koh -
"I think that my approach would be to keep the flat ban, and if someone - the president of the United States - had to make a decision like that, someone would have to decide whether to prosecute him or not."

John Hutson (a retired navy judge) -
"I agree with, uh, with Dean Koh that it is always illegal. Now, you may decide that you are going to take the illegal action, ummm, because you have to."

Doug Johnson -
"I think that it's very overblown in our imaginations, and - and it's very ripe with what I would...could only call fantasy and mythology."

My response to all three (rather loudly is) - Huh?

So if I can understand this (step in anytime with help folks) the idea is to make it illegal, but do it when you have to, but make sure you prosecute the person who did the torturing afterwards. Or is it a problem that will never exists, therefore no answer is needed?

Let me thank all three gentlemen for providing NOTHING of substance to that question. A very important question that these three intellectuals could not answer.

Now I leave it to those of you in Blogger Land. What are your thoughts on this moral question. Is torture ever permissible? Even in the case of a ticking-bomb scenario?

Posted by mightymerk, 7:49 PM


By Blogger Christian

The question you have to ask yourself, is torture morally justifiable if there is unequivical evidence that there will be a iminent bomb scenario. Or look at it this way, would you kill or torture a perpetrator yourself if you knew it would save innocent lives? Say you are in a McDonalds and some wacko decides to open fire and you happen to be armed. you shoot the guy and then you are elevated to hero status. You killed someone but you really had no choice. However, this is an extreme circumstance. It's one thing to make a snap decision when other lives are at stake. It's quite another when torture methods are endorsed by a democrasy that allow a de facto standard in the way we punish "insurgents" or "terrorists".

@ 9:51 AM  

By Blogger mightymerk

Regarding what might have/have not happened with insurgent detainees and under what circumstances is one thing, and being reviewed. If unwarranted abuse was common place, or even worse authorized it is a big problem.

Regarding the ticking-bomb scenario though, your answer is exactly what? Would it be justifiable?

@ 11:32 AM  

By Blogger Christian

Based on this hypothetical, if I had incontrovertible evidence that this would take place, I would without a doubt put innocent lives first. Now what context are you discussing this scenario in? In the case of McDonalds I would do what I could to prevent an inevitable atrocity. I see the gun, I see the guy pointing and pulling the trigger...Or, say a suicide bomber walking up to a group of school kids, I would do the same thing. Who wouldn't? If someone is consciously willing and able to immediately harm others then you obviously have no choice but to resort to violence in that case. As far as torture, I don't think it would be advantageous to lay ground rules and give authorities more power that could result in more gross human rights violations. If this bomb ticking incident proved to be true, and if it was proven that using torture to gain information curtailed an iminent attack and saved thousands of lives, who would complain? Ok, maybe some extreme left wing groups would, but I doubt any progressive or liberal would have an issue with this. Basically if it's a real threat it's a real threat, there is no black and white there.

@ 2:14 PM  

By Blogger irish

I think the problem with torture, at least for me, is that it has a calculated-ness (word?) about it that I find quite frightening.

I've personally reacted violently in the past, defending either myself or a loved one, but the difference is that it was reactive. And the instant it happened I was actually sick to my stomach. I'm not someone who chooses to be violent if given the opportunity to think first, but Im also not so nieve that I dont realize humans have the capacity for both.

So when I think about whether I believe torture is acceptable or not I only have to think whether I could do it myself. Absolutely not. So therefore my opinion on the matter reflects just that.

On a lighter note - HOW BOUT THEM CANUCKS EH MERK!!!! *wink*

@ 9:09 AM  

By Blogger mightymerk

If you allow yourself to be honest you find that this questions is very tough to answer.

No I do not believe in torturing someone, but I also do not believe in sitting idle in the face of danger (either my own, or the potential for others)

I try to imagine myself a soldier (of any country) simply fighting for my country. Then being captured, thinking only death could be worse, only to be subjugated to much pain and suffering and wishing for death.

It can be a very emotional subject, as I also cast myself in the very real position that you could also be in contact with an individual who has first hand knowledge of catastrophic plot. Which is worse looking at the face of the person your tortured, or looking into the faces of the family and friends of all the victims you could have spared.

I guess torture as policy is something that can not be condoned. But as with murder, it may be something where the punishment is based on intent. I really have not given it that much thought but this is my general feeling for the moment.

@ 6:01 AM  

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