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Author Topic: Usama Bin Laden dead?
PresidentJack
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Does everyone here agree that it's wrong to gloat? I mean wrong in a moral sense, not in the practical sense of whether or not it will incite further violence. I have to admit I've been struggling with my own feelings on the subject because I did feel a sense of elation when I heard the news that extended further than happiness that justice was done.

Various media outlets have drawn parallels between Americans dancing in the streets over the death of OBL to Pakistanis dancing in the street after 9/11. Seems like a silly comparison to me; the first is celebrating the death of someone we all probably agree was very evil, the latter is celebrating the deaths of innocent civilians.

Some say we are all God's children, that Rabbi wrote a moving article about why Jews don't raise their glasses during the parts of the Seder that enumerate the suffering of the Egyptians, but I'm not sure I'm convinced. Granted I'm not religious, so "we're all God's children" doesn't have much effect on me, but neither does the argument that we're all human and should never enjoy the suffering of another human. If someone torture, raped or killed someone in my family I would enjoy his death, and I would enjoy it more if he suffered. I don't think that that is an ugly but somewhat justified reaction, I think it's a good reaction that reflects my love for my family. Hate is a useful emotion. We should be humble in our judgments of people, and not assume that we understand them better than we do, but OBL is a clear case of evil for me, and enjoying his death reflects my respect for innocent human life, as well as a fraternity with other Americans who suffered as a result of his actions.

Many Christians believe he will burn in Hell for all eternity, yet seem judgmental of me for feeling elated that he is dead. I don't understand this position.

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Viking_Longship
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quote:
I disagree with the notion that these are not rational people. They may start with a very different sent of assumptions than us, but given their assumptions their actions generally make sense.
This is an excellent point and one that has occured to me as well. Even by conventional standards if their plan is to bankrupt the USA the same way they did the Soviets they're doing remarkably well.
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Viking_Longship
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Jack it's not Christian to rejoice in a damned soul, but it's also not Christian to engage in false peities or worse to throw those in other people's faces.

Christians really shouldn't expect other people to abide by out morality if they aren't Christians anyway.

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Praetorian
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Grant,

I guess my problem with gloating for those that weren't actively pursuing capture/execution seems pretentious. Being happy with him dead is one thing. Patting yourself on the back for the work of someone else is another. Hopefully that doesn't seem like backpedaling, but in my warped mind that seems like a valid distinction.

Maybe I should have said, "I didn't actively do anything to help UBL's demise along, and while I to am elated I think gloating is a bit much."

My first reaction when I heard this news wan't gloating it was more an about time kind of thing. It bothered me that it took as long as it did. Being that I'm not privy to the intel I can't say that they missed opportunities or bungled his capture or execution in some way, it just seems like it took a hell of a long time to find him. Was the guy really that brilliant that he was able to evade the US that long? I felt like we looked inept and therefore vulnerable in the eyes of our enemies, and that always made me feel uncomfortable. BUT, I'm not in DC, so I have no idea if this is just my perception or if it's true.

The next thing I thought was why now? I'd pretty much convinced myself that the government's policy was a better the devil you know than the one you don't. I thought, perhpas stupidly, that knowing who the leader was, and where he was, would make defeating any of his plans easier. Removing him would just fracture this terrorist group in to many pieces that may or may not pick up momentum by UBL's death. And I was OK with that thought process. I'm relieved the guy is on his way to whatever there is after death, but I'm not reassured that things are going to be OK from here on out.

I think his death would have been effective if it was prosecuted immediately. Now, other than a fleeting I'm glad that's over type of thing, I'm not sure it really helps anything. The only thing I think it shows is that we will get you if you attack us....eventually.

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PresidentJack
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Viking -

I think I phrased my thought poorly. As someone that doesn't believe in Hell, and isn't sure that anyone, even OBL, would deserve eternal damnation as I understand the concept, I'm not so much confused as to why a Christian wouldn't rejoice at the prospect of his soul burning, or why a Jew wouldn't rejoice at the suffering of one God's creatures so much as I don't understand why absent that belief one shouldn't be happy about this. The idea that we are all human just doesn't do it for me; he was an evil, evil man to whom I feel no connection and his death is unequivocally a good thing. Following the Exodus analogy, if someone enslaved me and my people and died trying to stop our liberation, I would feel good about that person's death. Some Germans during WWII were cowardly bureaucrats that deserve contempt more than hatred, but some Nazis were just evil and in my opinion do deserve hatred. Generally speaking its probably good to be humble in making these sorts of judgments because it is easy to project evil qualities onto people that oppose our interests, but OBL seems like a clear cut case of a man who by making horrendously evil decisions forfeited any moral claim to his life and if I could press a button making his death slower and more painful I would press it without hesitation. If eternal damnation is just, why isn't that a just position to hold absent the belief in eternal damnation? For me this isn't just about disabling a threat, I think he should suffer for the suffering he caused so many innocent people. This seems to strike a lot of people as a callous position to hold despite many people's belief that he will suffer much worse in the afterlife.

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Praetorian
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I should have said that to PresidentJack, not Grant.

My mistake.

Should have proof-read.

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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
Does everyone here agree that it's wrong to gloat? I mean wrong in a moral sense, not in the practical sense of whether or not it will incite further violence.
From a utilitarian/consequentialist perspective: the act of gloating, like any other action you may want to do, can only be wrong based on bad consequences, not by itself.

If your system of ethics is derived differently (e.g. from a religious deontology, or value ethics, or some such) the answer will be different of course. Christianity, for example, commands you to love your enemies.

quote:
Many Christians believe he will burn in Hell for all eternity, yet seem judgmental of me for feeling elated that he is dead.
They may believe Osama will burn in hell, but they're not allowed to feel glee at this prospect; that would mean they aren't loving their enemy.
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Aris Katsaris
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Was a bit hasty with in my response to your first post, I didn't read your second one. Sorry for that, may comment more later, don't have time right now.
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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
It also may be the way you tried to paint as invalid the response that it would not have any effect.
It is invalid -- or better yet, it's useful to ALWAYS see "it would have no effect" as an invalid, lazy response of indifference. There are 6 billion people in the world, and if some *Americans* care enough about the issue to discuss whether it's right or wrong to release the pictures, then it's pretty much certain that some Muslims somewhere likewise care enough about the issue.

Do you think that miraculously the responses of the Muslims that care about it positively will be completely and *exactly* opposite in quality to the Muslims that care about it negatively?

You don't understand how magical and unlikely the "It would have no effect" answer is, about pretty much any issue worthy of discussion.

quote:
It probably would be used as propaganda against America,
Thank you!

quote:
but anyone swayed by that would be just as swayed by videos of Americans dancing in the streets, or a whole host of other bigger issues.
Just as swayed, not necessarily over the tip swayed.

And Americans dancing in the streets has the utility of their joy -- preventing them from dancing in the streets would require a dictatorship (which has huge disutility). It's not an action the White House could stop at a bottleneck point by any single legal and legitimate decision.

quote:
But if you had to bet your life, and you're not allowed to say it won't have any effect....... would you say that a terrorist sympathizer who doesn't want to die is more or less likely to become a terrorist if shown proof that Osama was killed in an efficiently precise US raid?
Since the second and third most likely scenarios after 1) "Osama was killed by Americans" are the 2) "Osama was captured alive by Americans" and the 3) "Osama was an American agent all-along, his Al Qaeda a part of their American-Zionist plans all along, and they just quietly retired him from the employement, faking his death".

scenarios, I'd say that scenarios (2) and (3), if honestly believed in, are even *less* likely to encourage someone to join Al Qaeda.

So I'll still say "more likely to become a terrorist, if shown a proof positive" -- since the alternate scenarios to non-proof are Osama being captured alive and/or terrorist organizations working for the "enemy" side.

If another alternate scenario (a non-useful one to America) becomes popular, America can release the photographs then.

quote:
If you had to bet your life, would you say that a terrorist starting to lose faith in Al Qaeda's ability to accomplish its goals and compete with the might of America is more or less likely to remain a terrorist after the release of these photos?
More likely to remain a terrorist in the long term. The people who are in denial currently about Osama's death will end up in the contempt of their peers, much like birthers slowly ended up in the contempt of their peers.

And if they become a strong enough portion that we should kick their lingering faith under their feet, then America can release the photos then.

[ May 06, 2011, 04:50 AM: Message edited by: Aris Katsaris ]

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PresidentJack
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Aris -

Fair point, and since my moral framework is largely consequential as well I should probably rephrase. What I'm trying to get at is how I feel about a lot of people's reaction to the celebratory atmosphere following his death. Some of it was certainly concern over what ramifications would result from videos of all that playing in the Muslim world, or more specifically among extremists. A lot of it however seemed to broil down to a more general disgust by such behavior. Anyone here on facebook probably saw at least one or two friends post a status misattributing a quote to MLK that was something to the effect of mourning the loss of thousands but never rejoicing over the death of a single person. This seems to get at more than the problems with publicly displaying that elation, and seems to be about the problems with even feeling it at private level in a way that extends further than satisfaction that justice was done or that a threat was removed.

Obviously we can't help what we feel, but we can question if its something that we like about ourselves or if its something that we should work toward changing. Maybe its inaccurate to call it a moral problem if there are no negative consequences that result. One possible negative consequence that I see is that we become complacent in how we characterize our enemies as evil just because they are our enemies, but that doesn't seem to be an issue here given how extreme a figure OBL was. Another possibility is that just the simple act of enjoying in someway the death or suffering of another human being has a degrading effect on our own humanity. If this doesn't characterize your opinion I am not trying to put words into your mouth; I do think it at least comes close to characterizing some people's view. Either way, it's an opinion that I object, although I'm open to being persuaded otherwise. I think if anything it's a morally commendable position to hold. I think that evil is less likely to flourish in a society made up by people who want unequivocally evil men to suffer and die. (Again, this doesn't mean that it is always prudent to act on those feelings, but that is a separate issue). I think hatred is a dangerous and often ugly emotion, but can be useful and good.

Praetorian -

I'm not sure that I agree that the celebratory atmosphere had much to do with self-congratulation except insofar as it expressed pride in our military and intelligence agency's ability to track down anyone in the world. Maybe you feel this pride is misplaced given how long it took. I don't - the world is a big place and clearly the Pakistani government was not cooperating. Either way, I think I think it was more a celebration of justice being done, a threat being removed, and an evil man being punished for attacking the innocent lives of fellow Americans.

Does anyone think its possible that the Pakistani government recently decided to give him up, for reasons that we are not privy to, and the government can't say that because it would undermine whoever cooperated and expose them to large risks? Probably not the most likely scenario given the level of detail being thrown around about the intelligence that led to his capture, but it seems possible to me.

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PresidentJack
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Aris,

The reason that I think it would have basically no effect, is that I think there is already so much material available to be used as propaganda, and that this is an issue of such little consequence, that it would not have a quantifiable effect on any real world decision. I'm not saying that you are inconsistent in suggesting that the photos should be suppressed but that people should be allowed to celebrate on the streets. I'm saying that given the fact that videos will be shown of Americans celebrating in the streets, given huge sources of material available to terrorist organizations to use for propaganda regarding OBL's death, given the fact that a terrorist's crisis of faith is more likely to be due to other factors than a diminished hatred of America, I don't think this issue is likely to tip the scale. It certainly would be used as propaganda but it is not filling a void that couldn't be just as easily filled by something different and equally convincing.

I don't think that scenario 3) is believed by any terrorist or potential terrorist, so I'm not sure how relevant that is to the discussion. Scenario 2) strikes me as more likely than the idea that OBL is alive and kicking, but I"m not sure it would strike a terrorist as more likely. Even if it did, I think it would serve as about an equal deterrent to a terrorist as him dying in that it shows he was not protected by God's angels and that America has a very long arm; death and torture are both such extremely bad results that the difference between the two is unlikely to affect the equation. (note that while some terrorists actively seek martyrdom, we are talking about terrorists like OBL that would go into hiding and do not want to die). I think it is likely that some number (probably not a huge one) of ignorant extremists are convinced that no body = no death, that the USA couldn't afford the embarrassment of OBL's continued evasion. I think that pictures or video footage would have an effect on potential terrorists that are wavering even if they do already believe he was killed. It's one thing to understand it in the abstract and another thing to see the precision of the American military taking out someone with far greater resources at his disposal than they would ever have.

I honestly don't think that this is that critical an issue. I trust that OBL is dead and I think that all of these arguments concern the extreme margins. For me, however, there is more to be gained by releasing the photos.

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TomDavidson
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quote:
I think that evil is less likely to flourish in a society made up by people who want unequivocally evil men to suffer and die.
Who gets to decide who's unequivocally evil? You rejected the comparison of New Yorkers dancing in the streets to celebrate Bin Laden's death with images of Palestinians dancing to celebrate the 9/11 attacks with the argument that Bin Laden was an evil man who deserved it, but those Americans in the Twin Towers were not.

But who made you the authority on innocence? Do you really think those Palestinians celebrating the destruction of a building that many Arabs believed to be symbolic of America's international hegemony were doing so because a bunch of people they thought were innocent had died?

That kind of celebration, IMO, is dangerous not just because it can easily curdle into a kind of dark glee, but because it is a symptom of the worst kind of arrogance: "these people," we tell ourselves, "are sufficiently different from us that their deaths should be celebrated."

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Praetorian
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PresidentJack,

The world is a big place, I can concede that. But I have a hard time believing it's big enough for someone with that much stature to hide in that part of the world for very long. The guy was within walking distance of the capital.

I *think* we knew where he was and had known for a very long time.

Given, I have no proof this, just a gut feeling. Maybe I'm putting too much faith in our intelligence groups and military. Maybe they really didn't and he was just that good at hiding in plain site.

[ May 06, 2011, 08:15 AM: Message edited by: Praetorian ]

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Praetorian
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quote:
Originally posted by PresidentJack:
Does anyone think its possible that the Pakistani government recently decided to give him up, for reasons that we are not privy to, and the government can't say that because it would undermine whoever cooperated and expose them to large risks? Probably not the most likely scenario given the level of detail being thrown around about the intelligence that led to his capture, but it seems possible to me.

This fits fairly well with my "why now?" question. Maybe that's what all the wait was about. We knew where he was but there wasn't enough leverage to apply to get them to agree. Now, something changed and we could. They get to pretend to be outraged and thus save face, we get the guy we want, everybody wins.

But what changed Pakistan's mind and what would Pakistan get out of that? These are the questions I have if we believe the above conspiracy theory. If they gave him up to us, they had to get something in return.

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PresidentJack
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Tom -

Do you believe that Osama bin Laden was evil? Do you believe that the Americans in the twin towers can be considered innocent enough that their deaths were a travesty? If your answers are yes, is the reason that you wouldn't feel joy at OBL's death really that you think that would be too arrogant and that you might be wrong? You don't think that there is a big enough difference between a terrorist that sponsored thousands of murders and the deaths of 3000 American civilians that you can feel superior in your judgment of who is evil and who is innocent? Or did I misunderstand you and you are talking about public celebration and how it might be perceived as arrogant and counterproductive to some kind of resolution?

I am talking about each individual's personal feelings, so each individual is his own authority on the matter. You seem to be saying that you should not feel elation because you might be wrong. What if in a theoretical world you could know that you're not wrong, then is it justified? I think that we should be humble in these types of judgments, but that doesn't mean that there aren't any cases in which I'm very comfortable that my judgment is superior. The evil of OBL compared to American civilians is one of them. Another man's belief that we are all God's creatures, or that Jesus taught that we should love our enemies, or that American civilians were complicit by their votes and inaction in the atrocities committed by the Great Satan is not relevant to my determination of whether or not the death of OBL is something worth celebrating. Why do you think it should be? You think its arrogant to think that my definitions of evil and innocent are superior to those of violent extremists? Well then you are going to find it really arrogant when I tell you that I think my moral beliefs are superior to any other beliefs I've ever heard. I don't think that's arrogant though, I think its a definitional requirement for considering them my beliefs. If I thought your definition of evil was superior to mine, I would adopt your definition of evil. I don't despise the Pakistanis who celebrated the deaths of 3000 civilians because they celebrated death, I despise them for thinking that those 3000 men and women deserved to die. If the only argument for why I shouldn't celebrate OBL's death is that my understanding that he is evil may be flawed, I am very comfortable in celebrating his death.

[ May 06, 2011, 08:35 AM: Message edited by: PresidentJack ]

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PresidentJack
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Praetorian -

I think it is unlikely that we would have risked allowing him to escape if we really knew with certainty that he was there. There would be no way of ensuring he stayed there without the help of the Pakistani government, and keeping them in the loop would risk someone tipping him off. The idea that officials in the Pakistani gov't didn't know he was there though seems laughable. No idea how high up that ran, but it does seem conceivable that something changed and someone decided it wasn't worth harboring him anymore.

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AI Wessex
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"The director of the CIA who opposes torture was pretty clear that information obtained through EITs did play a role."

Panetta was pretty mealy mouthed about how they got the information; he neither confirmed nor denied it worked.

"I disagree with the notion that these are not rational people."

You need to take that comment in context with the sentence that followed:

Al: "These are not rational people by our standards. They are on a holy mission."

Terrorists who would become suicide bombers are dedicated to their beliefs and can't be convinced they are on the wrong path by argument. That's what I mean when I say they are not rational. They're certainly clever and intellectually resourceful, just not amenable to reason. I agree with the sense of the rest of your statement.

"Following the Exodus analogy, if someone enslaved me and my people and died trying to stop our liberation, I would feel good about that person's death."

I am hopelessly naive enough to believe that the notion of divine retribution and vengeance is a cultural idea rooted in the biblical era. Not so, I guess. People still celebrate the deaths and wish hellfire and damnation on their mortal enemies, though I wonder how many of us know exactly what we are wishing on them.

"I don't despise the Pakistanis who celebrated the deaths of 3000 civilians because they celebrated death, I despise them for thinking that those 3000 men and women deserved to die."

OBL was *not* affiliated with the governments in Iraqi, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but as a direct result of his actions we invaded all three of them and have been mired in a complex war for almost 10 years. How should we feel about the many times over the 3000 thousand people there who have died as a result of our righteous anger? Isn't our complacency with that as inexplicable to them? In a sense releasing the photo of OBL now would be a drop in the bucket compared to the harm we have done to "innocent" bystanders. Any increased terrorist response the pictures might cause would be comparably inconsequential compared to the "retribution" that has been directed against us (the West) over these 10 years. We think we shine the beacon of light on the rest of the world, forgetting that they believe their light is even stronger.

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Aris Katsaris
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To hopefully summarize PresidentJack's LONG LONG posts into two concise points that I agree with.

quote:
Who gets to decide who's unequivocally evil?
Is the lack of certainty that's troubling you, Tom? Would you have been okay with people being as elated as they were about Osama's death in a theoretical scenario of complete and absolute certainty?

quote:
But who made you the authority on innocence?
Our own minds gives us not just the right but the responsibility to judge each situation and morally weigh it. To abrogate such responsibility is itself an act which accounts us responsible.

Who made you the authority on believing other people don't have the authority?

[ May 06, 2011, 09:15 AM: Message edited by: Aris Katsaris ]

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PresidentJack
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Al -

What Panetta said was:

"No, I think some of the detainees clearly were — you know, they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees. But I’m also saying that the debate about whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches I think is always going to be an open question."

So we may have been able to get some of the information obtained through EITs through more humane methods, but we certainly did get information through them that contributed to the capture of OBL. He speculates that it may not have been necessary, and presumably still holds the position that torture is never justified, but I don't know how you can say that he didn't confirm that information that led to his capture was obtained through torture.

Regarding the rationality of terrorists, you ignored part of my post. You are right that some terrorists will not be deterred because they are on a holy mission. But they are not a monolithic group and some certainly do take things like how much money is being offered, the likelihood of being arrested or killed, etc into account.

I did not support the war in Iraq, and I have not supported the increased use of drone attacks. Regardless, that is irrelevant to whether or not OBL's death is a cause for celebration. If you want to make the case that an Iraqi civilian would be justified celebrating an assassination of George W, we can have that debate. I personally would make the case that malicious intent is relevant to whether or not someone is evil, even if not relevant to whether or not a threat should be removed, and that the fact that civilians died as a result of what Bush believed to be legitimate military operations is relevant to an evaluation of how evil he is, and whether or not you should rejoice in his death. I don't see how convincing me otherwise would further the debate over whether or not OBL's death is a cause for celebration. I think he was evil, evil man. I am happy that he is dead.

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philnotfil
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quote:
Originally posted by Aris Katsaris:
quote:
I think it makes no difference since most of the individuals who oppose torture oppose it on principal, rather then on the ends.
I can respect principle, but am quite ready to oppose the legalization of torture on purely consequentialist ("the ends") ethics as well.

quote:
Even if hooking men up to testicle shockers had led to the location of OBL, it would not change the position of most individuals who oppose torture.
I'm sure that position would be shared even by you, for a high enough number of men. What if half the male population of the Earth needed to be hooked to testicle shockers, to lead to the location of OBL? That'd be around 3 billion testicles -- I'm sure even you wouldn't find it acceptable.

What if it was just your ten closest friends who needed to get their testicles shocked? You might still be willing to go ahead with it (20 testicles in exchange for Osama), but you'd still want some strong evidence that it would actually help, not just my say-so. ]

I thought this article from today's Washington Post said it well:

quote:
Those who defend the use of torture and who are using bin Laden’s killing to prove their point prove just the opposite. However vile, bin Laden was not the armed-nuclear-bomb-hidden-in-downtown-L.A. scenario of Jack Bauer’s “24.” The point is that once you are willing to cross the line of absolutely wrong, you must answer impossible questions: How many people must be endangered; how certain must we be of the danger; how sure must we be that this is the person who can lead us to the bomb and that the torture will work on him? What if the terrorist who planted the bomb is immune to torture or beyond our reach, but his young child is not? May we torture the child if that will make the terrorist talk? And how certain must we be that that will work?

One Bush torture apologist, like the 13th chime of the clock, has famously argued that even the torture of the child would be allowed. But, of course, the lack of a stopping place in justifying this evil shows how readily the resort to deliberate brutality metastasizes so that it can be used to justify torture to save just one person, or even if there is a chance of saving one person, or even if it involves random cruelty to soften up the next person we interrogate, as in the case of Abu Ghraib. To paraphrase Justice Robert Jackson, such an argument either has no beginning or it has no end.



[ May 06, 2011, 09:36 AM: Message edited by: philnotfil ]

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Aris Katsaris
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quote:
So we may have been able to get some of the information obtained through EITs through more humane methods, but we certainly did get information through them that contributed to the capture of OBL
He didn't say that. He said they used "they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against *some* of these detainees". He said we don't know if they'd get "the same information" using other techniques. We also have heard that some of the detainees gave valuable information and some of them gave worthless and misleading information.

But we don't know and haven't been told if the valuable information came from the torture, or by the civilized techniques.

We don't know if by "the same information" he meant "the same valuable information" or "the same misleading and worthless information".

If you actually parse his comments, the only thing we were told for sure is that some of the detainees were tortured.

We still don't have a clue about whether the valuable info came from the tortured or the non-tortured ones.

quote:
I think he was evil, evil man. I am happy that he is dead.
I also think most torturers are evil evil men, and I'd be very happy, even more than happy than with Osama's death, if all torturers in the world dropped dead.

[ May 06, 2011, 09:46 AM: Message edited by: Aris Katsaris ]

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TomDavidson
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quote:
Is the lack of certainty that's troubling you, Tom? Would you have been okay with people being as elated as they were about Osama's death in a theoretical scenario of complete and absolute certainty?
It's difficult for me to imagine a scenario of absolute certainty -- or, rather, the larger question: whether it would be wrong to celebrate the death of an evil man in a world in which evil people who deserved to die could be identified with perfect accuracy, provided that the celebration itself did not somehow produce evil people.
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AI Wessex
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"So we may have been able to get some of the information obtained through EITs through more humane methods, but we certainly did get information through them that contributed to the capture of OBL."

They got information, but of what value was it? He wasn't nearly as specific as you claim. Andrew Sullivan dissects the argument that the information materially helped us find OBL.

"Regarding the rationality of terrorists, you ignored part of my post. You are right that some terrorists will not be deterred because they are on a holy mission. But they are not a monolithic group and some certainly do take things like how much money is being offered, the likelihood of being arrested or killed, etc into account."

Frankly, I'm not worried about "terrorists" who would give it up because of those pragmatic issues. We can bring enough pressure to bear against them that they will decide it's better to grow wheat or sell tv's instead.

"I think he was evil, evil man. I am happy that he is dead."

I feel relief, but as I mentioned previously rather than shoot him to death I wish they had captured him alive so they could have tried him to death.

We're talking about evil, but evil is like darkness that we try to shine a light on to see it better. What it reveals is not evil itself, but the space the evil occupies, and what we see is shaped by the kind of light. Using secular "democratic principles" to analyze the evils of religious Muslim society is one such failed way to go about it. We shouldn't try to assign "evil" to things we don't understand. It's enough (for me) to intercept the threats where we can and punish the criminals where they carry through their missions.

Having said that, OBL was (still is, in spirit) our arch-enemy. Destroying his mission was/is more important than killing the man himself.

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Aris Katsaris
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Tom, I suggest you rewrite your sentence, because by combining it in this manner, I really don't understand what you're trying to say. That it's difficult for you to imagine a world in which the "larger question" would be valid? That it's difficult for you to answer the larger question in such a world?
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TomDavidson
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It's difficult for me to imagine a world in which that question would be valid, a world in which evil people -- or, rather, people who choose to do evil -- could be identified with perfect accuracy. That it is not possible to do so is one of the reasons our world currently is the way it is; if it were otherwise, we would be living somewhere unrecognizable.
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Aris Katsaris
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This thread descends into meaningless poetic sentiment.

If someone said they're happy at the death of "religiously-fanatic genocidally-murderous tyrant-wannabes", would it be better than to say they're happy at the death of "such evil men"?

What if they said something even more specific like "I'm happy at the death of someone who preached for death for all unbelievers"?

In one way it is better, as it's more specific and less fuzzy than the word "evil" -- but in a different sense all the description and explanation just helps explain why they considered this man evil enough to be happy at his death.

So in a way it's more specific, in a different way it's superfluous unless someone challenges their description of said man as "evil".

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AI Wessex
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"This thread descends into meaningless poetic sentiment."

That made me laugh. Poetic sentiment (mine I assume you mean) is never meaningless, it's just never specific, or it wouldn't be, eh, poetic or sentiment. OBL is better off dead -- which he already is, but we're talking about the meaning of his death here. I think you are complaining about everyone wandering into philosophical hermeneutics, which this thread is riddled with (Noel would perk up his ears to see such terms being bandied about). But I'm sure you don't want to discuss that [Smile] .

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kmbboots
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For the record, I don't think that bin Laden is necessarily in hell. I think that he is having a really rough go of it in Purgatory. I also think that taking delight in the suffering of anyone is corrosive to our own souls and diminishes us a human beings.
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Grant
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quote:
Originally posted by kmbboots:
For the record, I don't think that bin Laden is necessarily in hell. I think that he is having a really rough go of it in Purgatory.

What do you believe would rate eternal damnation?
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kmbboots
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This is a serious side-track, but I think that the only thing that would rate eternal "damnation"* would be to choose it.

*"Damnation" meaning being separated from God.

ETA: Purgatory being a process that we all experience where we have to face what we did or failed to do or be in full understanding of it.

[ May 06, 2011, 12:17 PM: Message edited by: kmbboots ]

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PresidentJack
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Phil -

"The point is that once you are willing to cross the line of absolutely wrong, you must answer impossible questions: How many people must be endangered; how certain must we be of the danger; how sure must we be that this is the person who can lead us to the bomb and that the torture will work on him? What if the terrorist who planted the bomb is immune to torture or beyond our reach, but his young child is not? May we torture the child if that will make the terrorist talk?"

Absolutely wrong is in a ticking bomb scenario allowing the bomb to go off because you didn't want to answer difficult questions. If I gave you arbitrary answers: About 1,000 people must be in danger, we must be about 80 percent sure of the danger, we must be 99 percent sure the terrorist could lead us to the bomb, and no we should never torture his child, I would consider this much superior to never torturing in that situation. I think if we are 5 percent sure the terrorist knows something we should not torture him, if 99 percent sure we should, the perfect number is somewhere in the middle is going to be both arbitrary as well as somewhat difficult to estimate at times. That doesn't mean that drawing an arbitrary line isn't superior to abdicating responsibility in ALL situations.

There are legitimate concerns here; these will generally (not always) be estimated probabilities. However we already have ambiguous terms in our laws like probable cause, reasonable suspicion, etc, that serve as standards for how sure our law enforcement agents must be before doing something. Same could be done for torture, albeit a higher standard.

I find the slippery slope arguments here silly. It's true that by a consequential argument it is hard to argue against torturing a terrorist's child if it will save NYC. But the line has to be drawn somewhere, and if its drawn at only torturing people who you meet the standard you set of how likely it is that they know something specific, that is still better than nothing.


Aris -

I think he definitely meant that we got valuable information from people who were waterboarded, but you're right that he probably wasn't implying causality as explicitly as I first understood his quote. He probably meant that they were tortured at time a), they got information at time b), and who knows if the torture at time a) was relevant. If the torture stopped because they started to cooperate I think it is fair to draw a causal connection, even if we admit that it may not have been the only way to get information. If it stopped for other reasons then its more of an open question.

Al -

I did not find Andrew Sullivan very convincing. If no useful information was gleaned from torture then Panetta, director of the CIA who opposes torture would gleefully say so. The fact that interrogators aren't so stupid that they can't glean information from when terrorists lie under torture as well as when they tell the truth is not an argument against torture. All these journalists and talking heads acting like this is proof that torture doesn't work are dishonest for several reasons; a) it clearly did play a role, and b) while their argument that "torture doesn't work" does take a hard blow when confronted with counter-factual evidence, no proponent of torture denies that some zealous terrorists might not crack. They just think it gives the best chance at success. You may find this despicable, but part of torture isn't just about getting the answer in the heat of the moment, but about beating the man's spirit. Oh, and Andrew Sullivan continues to spread the lie that Rumsfeld at any point denied the role torture played in finding OBL. He said waterboarding didn't happen at Gitmo. He has been perfectly consistent that he thinks it played a vital role.

Tom -

Do you think OBL was evil, according to your definition of evil? What probability would you give yourself of being wrong?

*edited to fix some grammar mistakes and to ask:

Kmbboots -

Why do you think enjoying the suffering of someone as evil as OBL diminishes us as human beings? If possible I'd prefer an answer that doesn't rely on a belief in God, even if it is informed by it. I hear a lot of "we're all human," "It corrodes the soul," but nothing specific for why its actually a bad thing.

[ May 06, 2011, 11:19 PM: Message edited by: PresidentJack ]

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AI Wessex
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"If no useful information was gleaned from torture then Panetta, director of the CIA who opposes torture would gleefully say so."

No he wouldn't, for the same reason that Obama hasn't simply trashed everything Bush did that he disagreed with. Panetta is sitting atop (apologies to Aris) an Intelligence machine that is powered by people who did what they thought they were supposed to by following the rules they were given and leaving no option unexplored. It would be startling and even dangerous for him to abandon them in their moment of victory.

"You may find this despicable, but part of torture isn't just about getting the answer in the heat of the moment, but about beating the man's spirit."

If you have never been either the victim or perpetrator of torture for some catastrophically important reason, you have no more platform to speak than I have. And if you know specifically what valuable bit of information torture provided, perhaps you can share that. If not, it's pure speculation.

I think the legacy of this event is that regardless of the actual facts, those who supported torturing people to get information will insist that the fact that even though Osama was killed years after that torture took place it still proves that torture was the key. It's a matter of faith.

[ May 06, 2011, 11:43 PM: Message edited by: AI Wessex ]

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PresidentJack
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AL -

Obama may not have trashed EVERYTHING that Bush did that he disagreed with, but he certainly trashed a lot of it. And a statement by Panetta explaining that in this specific case EITs did not yield information relevant to the capture of bin Laden would not be equivalent to calling the men who practiced torture criminals or anything to the like.

I have never been the victim or perpetrator of torture; I don't think that means that I can't speculate on the subject. I like to think that if I was being tortured in an attempt to thwart a cause in which I believed as passionately as most of these terrorists do for their own, or in an attempt to capture or kill my friends and brothers in arms that I would have the strength to withhold any important information. I don't know if that is true. I am however very confident that I would be more likely to give something up if subjected to hard techniques rather than soft techniques, both in the immediate, and after an extended period during which my will and strength would likely be sapped.

I don't think that's the legacy you suggested is the legacy at all. First of all, I would say that we could just as easily say that the legacy is that those who oppose torture, regardless of the facts, will continue to maintain that torture never yields results. The legacy may also be that when the evidence suggests otherwise that they will lie to confuse the public (see the continued mangling of Rumsfeld's statement in almost every article opposing torture, including the one you supplied by Andrew Sullivan). On the other hand, I've read and heard a mix of reactions from people that already supported the use of torture. Some high profile Republicans are saying that torture was the key; I agree that that's a bit of stretch, at least given the information we know. At best we can say that torture led to some information that may or may not have been obtained otherwise, and that that information was one piece of a long process that included many other "key" pieces of information. Some articles are making that case, and focusing on the fact that so many opponents of torture continue to maintain that torture never reveals reliable information. This just isn't true.

But once the tired arguments that people will just say whatever they think interrogators want to hear are revealed to be as spacious as they are, opponents of torture are going to have to defend their other spacious arguments, like the one that ticking bomb scenarios never have and never would occur.

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DonaldD
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quote:
...focusing on the fact that so many opponents of torture continue to maintain that torture never reveals reliable information. This just isn't true.
What defines reliable in this case? Depending on your definition, not even the crazies would make that claim.  Your use of the word 'never' guarantees that.
quote:
But once the tired arguments that people will just say whatever they think interrogators want to hear are revealed to be as spacious as they are, opponents of torture are going to have to defend their other spacious arguments, like the one that ticking bomb scenarios never have and never would occur.
Well, there you go again with the absolutes - "just".  Ignoring the oversimplification though, it's hard to argue that such responses are not based on observation, since we can even see historical figures discussing their observations about the failings of torture. Or do you think that Napoleon Bonaparte was being specious when he stated
quote:
 It has always been recognized that this method of interrogation, by putting men to the torture, is useless. The wretches say whatever comes into their heads and whatever they think one wants to believe.
Now, it is possible that he didn't know what he was talking about, but I find it far likelier that his direct experience with torture, being a supreme military ruler and having worked his way up to his position at a time when torture was actually broadly accepted, would have given him a fairly clear perspective on the failings of torture.

As to the 'ticking time bomb' hypothetical? basing support for torture on such a flimsy argument actually is specious.

[ May 07, 2011, 08:25 AM: Message edited by: DonaldD ]

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OpsanusTau
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quote:
Is the lack of certainty that's troubling you, Tom? Would you have been okay with people being as elated as they were about Osama's death in a theoretical scenario of complete and absolute certainty?
I know that this question wasn't asked of me, and moreover that my perspective is very, very different from Tom's.

But I have been exceedingly unhappy about the celebration of Osama's death - and this theoretical certainty (however impossible in real life, and however difficult to imagine) would make no difference in my thoughts about this.

A person's death is the removal of all of his future possible actions; there is no way at all to know whether the balance of those actions would have been "good" or "evil".

Beyond that, of course, is my deep conviction that every person is of equal inherent value, and it's therefore disgusting to say that one particular person shouldn't exist anymore.

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AI Wessex
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Another species of argument in favor of US torture in this long war is that the hints we gathered 5 or 6 years ago have paid off now in the death of Osama (so much for the ticking bomb scenario). That diminishes the dogged Intelligence and sleuthing work over these long years that clearly was the single most important reason for our success. If you want to give torture any credit, at least put it in perspective and make sure you mark your position as an opinion without evidence. Then stop stridently insisting that anyone agree with you.

My opinion is that 99.9% of the information gathered as a direct or indirect result of torture made little positive difference, and much more was wrong and caused harm.

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AI Wessex
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"Beyond that, of course, is my deep conviction that every person is of equal inherent value, and it's therefore disgusting to say that one particular person shouldn't exist anymore."

In the abstract, yes. I'm curious if you would agree that society has the right (authority, really) to forcibly alter a person's behavior so that they no longer can commit harm? Chemical neutering of child molesters? Hormone or drug therapy to control sociopathic impulses? Brain surgery to diminish physical capacity? Even lifetime incarceration? These things all stop short of death and all permanently alter the course of the person's life in a direction more compliant with society's...wishes.

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OpsanusTau
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Forcibly and permanently? No. If someone wants to choose a medical intervention to avoid future trouble for himself, that's up to him. But I'm a little bit of a hardliner about the state's lack of jurisdiction over the inside of a living human body.

Incarceration is laughably ineffective at reducing crime - but that's a different question.

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JWatts
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quote:
Originally posted by OpsanusTau:
But I have been exceedingly unhappy about the celebration of Osama's death - and this theoretical certainty (however impossible in real life, and however difficult to imagine) would make no difference in my thoughts about this.

A person's death is the removal of all of his future possible actions; there is no way at all to know whether the balance of those actions would have been "good" or "evil".

Beyond that, of course, is my deep conviction that every person is of equal inherent value, and it's therefore disgusting to say that one particular person shouldn't exist anymore.

Personally, I'm pro-death but I understand and sympathize with your point of view. Bill O'Reilly had a Catholic priest on his show on Friday to talk over this very point.
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PresidentJack
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OpsanusTau -

"A person's death is the removal of all of his future possible actions; there is no way at all to know whether the balance of those actions would have been "good" or "evil""

I mean it's certainly possible that Osama would renounce violence and live out his life healing lepers and whatnot but I'm willing to discount this .000etc1 possibility in my calculation that his removal from society is a very good thing.

"Incarceration is laughably ineffective at reducing crime - but that's a different question."

Do you mean that incarceration is laughably ineffective at rehabilitating criminals? Because if not that seems like a laughably silly statement. Sure certain voids will be filled by others, but the idea that the threat of incarceration doesn't deter many crimes, and that the crime rate isn't significantly lower than it would be without it is just absurd.

Also, can you explain why you think Osama has equally inherent value to you? or Mother Theresa? or (insert your favorite do gooder here)?

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