Carol Platt Liebau: Torture, But Necessary?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Torture, But Necessary?

That's how one expert characterizes waterboarding in this piece from ABC. He also says that the technique resulted in information that disrupted perhaps dozens of terrorist attacks.

The whole issue is a tough call. But ultimately, how does one tell the loved ones of those who would otherwise have been killed in terrorist attacks that their deaths were worth it in order to avoid waterboarding a terrorist with information that could have prevented the attacks?

9 Comments:

Blogger Carol Platt Liebau said...

Coyote here.

Enough handwringing, which is just another form of posturing.

Outlaw groups like Al Qaeda have put themselves outside the protection of law. The only reasons not to torture them are because we find it unproductive or distateful. The degree to which we find it distateful is connected to the degree to which it is unproductive.

3:02 PM  
Blogger The Very Sane Woman Who Points Out the Obvious said...

Coyote,

How does a person or group "put themselves outside the protection of the law?" Your phrase doesn't make sense. In a democratic republic, such as ours, the law applies to all, equally. If we want to change the law, there are procedures for doing so.

7:57 PM  
Blogger Carol Platt Liebau said...

Coyote here.

From Wikipedia: "In British common law, an outlaw was a person who had defied the laws of the realm, by such acts as ignoring a summons to court, or fleeing instead of appearing to plead when charged with a crime. In the earlier law of Anglo-Saxon England, outlawry was also declared when a person committed a homicide and could not pay the weregild, the blood-money, due to the victim's kin. Outlawry also existed in other legal codes of the time, such as the ancient Norse and Icelandic legal code.

To be declared an outlaw was to suffer a form of civil death. The outlaw was debarred from all civilized society. No one was allowed to give him food, shelter, or any other sort of support — to do so was to commit the crime of aiding and abetting, and to be in danger of the ban oneself. An outlaw might be killed with impunity; and it was not only lawful but meritorious to kill a thief flying from justice — to do so was not murder. A man who slew a thief was expected to declare the fact without delay, otherwise the dead man’s kindred might clear his name by their oath and require the slayer to pay weregild as for a true man[2] Because the outlaw has defied civil society, that society was quit of any obligations to the outlaw —outlaws had no civil rights, could not sue in any court on any cause of action, though they were themselves personally liable."

The individual constitutional protections you reference don't apply to non-citizens overseas, least of all to "hostis humanis generis" like al Qaeda terrorists.

9:04 AM  
Blogger The Very Sane Woman Who Points Out the Obvious said...

Coyote,

You did not answer my question. So by default I win this debate. If you're going to base your decisions on Anglo Saxon, well, you may as well use the laws of indentured servitude to parse out labor law.

The reason you cited your examples is because, as a modern civilized society, we no longer do things that way.

5:37 PM  
Blogger Carol Platt Liebau said...

Coyote here.

I did answer your question.
"The individual constitutional protections you reference don't apply to non-citizens overseas, least of all to "hostis humanis generis" like al Qaeda terrorists." The US Army didn't get a warrant before searching the spider hole where the late Saddam Hussein (how nicely that sounds) was hiding.

I cited the historical background for the context of my comment. When I say "outlaw", I don't mean Waylon Jennings or Johnny Paycheck.

Your comment, "as a modern civilized society, we no longer do things that way" represents circular reasoning. What makes a society "modern" or "civilized"? Who determines what way is "that way" or not, and by reference to what standards?

To this point. until relatively recently, the states could regulate/prohibit abortion and consensual adult homosexual sodomy. Abortion and homosexual sodomy were prevalent in the ancient world. Restrictions/ prohibitions on them came about through the spread and adoption of Jewish views on these topics via Christianity.

For nearly 2,000 years, then, abortion and sodomy were regulated/prohibited because they were things "modern civilized" societies didn't countenance.

So, are the relatively recent US Supreme Court decisions constitutionalizing abortion and homosexual sodomy as rights a step forward or a step backward?

I would also note that, until relatively recently, the police could kill a fleeing felon. One can argue whether the change in law makes us more or less civilized.

Finally, the participants in a debate are ill qualified to serve as judges, including when a "default" occurs. Nice try.

Consider that if I do not respond to your every comment, it may not be that I have quit the field; it may simply be because the game is over, and you have lost.

10:39 PM  
Blogger The Very Sane Woman Who Points Out the Obvious said...

Coyote,

You still did not answer my question, but the points you make only bolster my arguement. capturing Saddam Hussein? That happened during an illegal war; so that act could be considered part of the crime.

Hostis humanis generis, refers to persons considered criminal to all states, such as an international drug kingpin. By international law, these persons, upon detention or arrest by a state, may be prosecuted as a criminal by that state. Nowhere is it agreed that these persons are stripped of rights by the state.

OK, I'm not the person to judge who wins a debate between me and someone else, but you are making it awfully easy.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Brian Busse said...

I hope that after this little exercise in justifying torture, you'll have the grace in the future to forgo accusing the left of moral relativism. Torture is either right, then it's ok for everyone to do it, or it's wrong and we condemn it whenever it occurs. Since 9/11 we have taken it upon ourselves to determine the fate of nations without regard to the body count of innocents that we sanitize with the appellation "collateral damage". All in the cause of high ideals that we can't be troubled to adhere to ourselves. I believe in the ideals on which this nation was founded. They weren't perfect, but we kept working on them. Slavery was put aside, and universal suffrage was achieved. We looked horrors in the face and cooperated with other nations in the Geneva Conventions as a way of putting them behind us. As a nation, we haven't really faced being vanquished by an external enemy. Granted, the cold war going hot meant the risk of mutual destruction, but not of being prostrate before a victor. WWII was seen as a titanic struggle of do or die, but hindsight shows that those fears were unrealistic, once we were engaged, the length of the war was in doubt, not the outcome. Our nation has not much to fear from external enemies. Granted, a lack of vigilance on our part could lead to deaths, but the only people who can change the United States from what it can and should be are its citizens. Which brings us to today, and the GWOT(tm), and the shameless and cynical fear mongering of the GWB administration. Recycled thinking that brought us the internment of ethnic Japanese and tail gunner Joe's red scare. In every crisis there are always some who say that there's something about THEM that excuses abandoning the ideals we are so valiantly trying to protect. I guess it's your turn this time. Joseph Goebbels would be proud. I do not doubt the danger presented by Osama and his ilk, what I doubt it the effectiveness of current policies to succeed or even fail to make the problem worse.

3:58 PM  
Blogger Wile E Coyote said...

Coyote here.

Sane [sic] Woman asked, "How does a person or group "put themselves outside the protection of the law?"

I answered, "Because the outlaw has defied civil society, that society was quit of any obligations to the outlaw —outlaws had no civil rights, could not sue in any court on any cause of action, though they were themselves personally liable."

Now, if you want to get technical, prohibitions on torture are contained in Geneva Conventions regarding land warfare. If you are going to take the position that the US attack on Iraq was unlawful, then I will take the position that the 5-4 Supreme Court case on the application of the Geneva Convention to non-state combatants was a nonsensical and unconstitutional usurpation of Congressional and Executive authority.

What you have yet to grasp is that while "[i]n a democratic republic, such as ours, the law applies to all", what the law requires (or what "all" means) is different when dealing with non-citizens overseas, since we have left the area of domestic law and are now in the realm of foreign policy, inertational treaties, or public international law.

As for Mr. Busse comment, I have not justified torture, I just said that I don't view terrorists captured outside of the US as having any rights that would prevent its use. We might choose not to engage in torture because it is ineffective (untrue) or because we find it distasteful. The terrorists certainly do not observe the Geneva Conventions; why should they be entitled to its protections?

9:07 PM  
Blogger Brian Busse said...

Enough rationalization, which is just another form of posturing.

Either we chose to be torturers, or we do not. Which is it going to be? You say that you are not justifying torture on the one hand, and then continue to question the rights of other not to be tortured. The question to ask isn't whether people have the right to not be tortured, but whether we should claim the right to be torturers. Where it the moral high ground when we use the barbarity of others to justify taking it up ourselves?

7:26 AM  

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