Moral Niceties and the CIA

 

It’s only natural for a leftist to quip “we are better than that.” That pretty much sums up the moral orientation of the liberal. The critique is little more than a wish for pleasant things that work. The self-righteous preener rarely has an answer to the question “what would you suggest to make us better than that?”

Comedian Evan Sayet has a test for identifying the liberal in the room: he’ll be the one who chooses evil over good. The test is extraordinarily accurate. On abortion a lefty will choose death over life. On economics he’ll see the maker as a greedy money grubber, and the taker as the victim who is denied social justice. He’ll defend the terrorists, who he sees as the oppressed, and who only behead because the imperialists have a foot on their necks.

At this point, I’ve read the initial Findings of Fact in the report, together with supporting footnotes. Some of it is pretty gruesome, and there may have been some serious lapses in discipline and oversight. Those are legitimate areas of concern. But on balance I have few qualms with the methods employed. But as the old saying goes, it’s best not to see how sausage is made. And if you’re going to demand the sausage maker be better than that, intellectual and moral honesty requires you to suggest an alternative means to the end.

Unfortunately, there likely is no alternative. The issue ultimately comes down to whether the end justifies the means. Except that is not the proper question. The end always justifies the means since the end sets the terms for its accomplishment.

The right question is “does the end justify any means?” The standard answer is that an intrinsically evil means can never be used even to achieve a good end. That, however, is colored by extant circumstances. Ordinarily it would be wrong to use excessive force to stop a bandit. But when the bad guy is gunning for your family such niceties must give way. If the assailant won’t stop his attack it is entirely permissible to shoot him in the arms, legs, and other sensitive body parts. That’s a form of torture, but your family is more important than subtle ethical pleasantries. You do what it takes to bring down the bad guy.

So, too, in the war on terror, the circumstances define the appropriate means. The first principle is that we are on the side of the angels.

The 9/11 attack was an act of war, and in war the combatants must inflict pain. A lot of pain. The Japanese would not surrender until the pain became agony. While abstract moral issues can be debated amidst the luxury of peace, but Truman didn’t have time to consult the sages when hundreds of thousand, perhaps millions, of US soldiers were sure to die invading the homeland of a nation of fanatics, Truman also knew that the Emperor had militarized the entire population, civilians as well as soldiers, to defend the homeland. Truman surely foresaw the blood bath in which women and children would be mowed down by US troops. He didn’t need a crystal ball. All he had to do was look at the Saipan Suicide Cliffs, over which Japanese women threw their children to their deaths, then jumped themselves. These civilians were promised immediate entrance to paradise. Sound familiar? Truman did what had to be done.

So must we.

So the question for Dianne Feinstein and her ilk remains: what would make us better than that?

The first, foremost, and fundamental function of government is to protect the lives of its citizens. In war that means bringing the enemy to his knees. It also means depersonalizing him. Soldiers are trained to hate the enemy. Christian love demands that we love our neighbor, even our enemy, but the question at hand is “who is my neighbor?” In times of war only the people who share our common purpose are our neighbors.

That doesn’t justify pointless cruelty. The military has rules against unnecessary barbarity. But in war you must be all in and do what it takes to achieve victory. As the Patton of the movie told his troops, “wade into the enemy, make him die for his country.” Make him suffer. Make his mother suffer. Break him that you may break his confederates.

If that upsets the leftists moral sensibilities then, it must be said again, let’s have them offer a detailed plan that makes us better than that. And have the intestinal fortitude to stand before the families of the dead and tell them to weep for the enemy. Then ask them to demand that the survivors praise America’s haters’ for their moral superiority. When they boo and throw rotten tomatoes tell them that they are moral inferiors. Self-righteous gasbags, however, rarely show such courage.

In the coming days we’ll hear complaints that we’re no better than our enemies. We should be better than our enemies. Better, I say, that we find out what they plan, where they hide, and where their weaknesses lie. If that means brutal interrogation techniques, we must learn to stomach the ugliness that is inescapable in the battle against an abject evil.

We’re on the right side and our actions should be judged from that perspective.

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  1. robertm7575@gmail.com Inactive
    robertm7575@gmail.com
    @RobertMcReynolds

    Yes we are better than that.  We are a civilized people who wish to extract out of the womb unborn children up to their neck so that we may then snip with scissors the base of the child’s neck and dismember them.  We wish to engage in all sorts of the most depraved sexual exploits.  And we wish to extract taxes out of those who would dare smoke cigarettes and if you don’t sic our police force on you and possibly kill you.  No, we are much better than exerting a bit of discomfort upon those who wish to kill us for religious reasons in exchange for life saving information.

    • #1
  2. Devereaux Inactive
    Devereaux
    @Devereaux

    Solid, Mike. Solid.

    War is hell, not because of the noise or dirt. It is hell because you have to, have to kill the enemy with no remorse. No second thoughts. No compunction about how he has a family or friends back “home”. He shouldn’t have picked the fight.

    In peace it is easy to be benevolent. One should not torture civilian subjects of the country. There is never a reason that cops should torture apprehendees. But war is different. War is by its nature out of the bounds of normal civilized behavior. ?Else how do you explain all the actions of soldiers in the “normal” course of war.

    We have rules about how we treat prisoners of war. But we also have rules about how we treat spies, and note that anyone who is NOT in uniform on a battlefield is a spy by definition. All bets are off with the spies.

    These were not guys running a local numbers racket. These were guys who wanted to kill us. They deserved whatever they got, and more.

    • #2
  3. Carey J. Inactive
    Carey J.
    @CareyJ

    My only objection to torturing terrorists is the psychological damage it does to the poor SOBs who are stuck with the job of torturing the lowlifes. For that reason and that reason alone, I think it should be limited to cases where we are sure the subject has time-sensitive, actionable information, and where there is some means of fact-checking his answers.

    • #3
  4. user_554634 Moderator
    user_554634
    @MikeRapkoch

    Carey J.:My only objection to torturing terrorists is the psychological damage it does to the poor SOBs who are stuck with the job of torturing the lowlifes. For that reason and that reason alone, I think it should be limited to cases where we are sure the subject has time-sensitive, actionable information, and where there is some means of fact-checking his answers.

    That’s very true. I recently learned of an ex-intel kid who killed himself. He gad a lot of noncombat problems, but I do wonder.

    What we should be doing is praising the men and women who have to do this dirty work. I know from my three nephews who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan that they were deeply grateful to the intel people.

    • #4
  5. Flyondawall Inactive
    Flyondawall
    @Flyondawall

    Excellent, Mike. Thanks for taking the time to sort through some contentious issues and get to the core: responding to “abject evil.”

    • #5
  6. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    This essay by one of the interrogators is fairly long, but absolutely worth the read. I’d excerpt from it, but no excerpt could do it justice.

    • #6
  7. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Stipulating that I have not yet read the report, a few comments:

    First, it seems we have slid rather effortless from “We do not torture” to “Yeah, we tortured — or something pretty close to it — but they were really bad guys and it saved lives.” Either position can be defended, but they’re quite different, and it seems like we were very intentionally misled about the matter.

    Second:

    Mike Rapkoch: Comedian Evan Sayet has a test for identifying the liberal in the room: he’ll be the one who chooses evil over good. The test is extraordinarily accurate. On abortion a lefty will choose death over life. On economics he’ll see the maker as a greedy money grubber, and the taker as the victim who is denied social justice. He’ll defend the terrorists, who he sees as the oppressed, and who only behead because the imperialists have a foot on their necks.

    I can’t get behind that. Even the stupidest liberal is right more often than the most thoughtful Jihadist.

    The main fallacy liberals fall into is equating power with exploitation: the Israelis are powerful, so they must be the bad guys; workers are less powerful than management, so they must be the good guys, etc. This often leads to foolishness and — quite often — excusing and even siding with evil, but it’s hardly the same as always choosing evil.

    • #7
  8. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Devereaux: In peace it is easy to be benevolent. One should not torture civilian subjects of the country. There is never a reason that cops should torture apprehendees. But war is different. War is by its nature out of the bounds of normal civilized behavior. Else how do you explain all the actions of soldiers in the “normal” course of war.

    While I completely agree that war — even a murky one like the GWOT — is very different than policing a free populace, I think the tactics and procedures used by cops provide something of an answer to Mike’s challenge regarding alternatives.

    Even with the added handicaps of standards of evidence, the rights of the accused, and the difficulty of proving things in court, police are still able to do real, meaningful work that involves life and death without resorting to torture, torture-lite ®, or enhanced interrogation. Surely, there must be some middle-ground between police tactics and those used in the GWOT (I’m not trying to imply that the middle position is necessarily superior, only that it likely exists).

    • #8
  9. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Mike Rapkoch: So, too, in the war on terror, the circumstances define the appropriate means. The first principle is that we are on the side of the angels.

    I don’t want to get gruesome, but this seems to imply that — being the good guys — we can do anything we reasonably deem necessary.

    Surely there must be some things that would be expedient but too immoral to do, yes?

    • #9
  10. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Mike Rapkoch: If that means brutal interrogation techniques, we must learn to stomach the ugliness that is inescapable in the battle against an abject evil.

    I agree that we need to be honest about the costs and benefits of our policies: too hot, and we risk our souls; too cold, and we risk the lives of our fellow citizens.

    But just as there are circumstances under which I’d find it indefensible to tell a grieving person “Sorry for your loss, lady, but I have a conscience to keep” there are others under which I think I could do just that.

    • #10
  11. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    I am still trying to observe the principle “Read the whole thing before shooting off your mouth.”

    But I will say this: My response at the time, and I think perhaps even my considered response on reflection, was that the proper reaction to that act was to drop a nuclear bomb. On something. Pick a city, any city. Destroy it. And yes, many innocents would die. It would be an utterly evil thing.

    But my sense was that above all else, it was important to establish the principle–beyond any man’s doubt, that yes, we are the only country ever to have used the Bomb, and we will do it twice, for we are savage when provoked.

    I fully grasp the idea of “war is hell.” I fully understand–more than most, I suspect–that our enemies are “not nice” and neither should we be when despatching them.

    What I’m seeing so far in this report is appalling to me. Not because it shows me that we’re savage when provoked. That is something that would quite please me.

    I am appalled because it shows we are stupid when provoked, which is quite another matter.

    • #11
  12. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Like others, I’m not going to read the report or second-guess the CIA at this point. There’s nothing new here — just a further distraction from the disastrous Democratic administration of our government.

    I just would like it if the “loyal opposition” in all its nauseating sanctimony seemed to care as much for the protection of the citizens’ life and liberties as it does illegal aliens and terrorists. That would be nice.

    • #12
  13. Big Green Inactive
    Big Green
    @BigGreen

    The main fallacy liberals fall into is equating power with exploitation: the Israelis are powerful, so they must be the bad guys; workers are less powerful than management, so they must be the good guys, etc. This often leads to foolishness and — quite often — excusing and even siding with evil, but it’s hardly the same as always choosing evil.

    I think this is partially true but liberals don’t always equate power with exploitation.  In fact, they tend to have a soft spot for some dictators and authoritarian government.  Their key is that as long as those in power share their values and goals, their is no exploitation because their policies are divinely intended to “help” the masses no matter the actual outcomes.

    • #13
  14. Marion Evans Inactive
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    “We’re on the right side and our actions should be judged from that perspective.”

    Uh no! we are on the right side depending on what our actions are. Torture moves the needle away from the right side. Being on the right side is not a given. We have to earn it again and again by upholding our morality.

    • #14
  15. tabula rasa Inactive
    tabula rasa
    @tabularasa

    Anyone besides me notice the irony that CIA “torture” during the Bush administration is fair game for political posturing, but the much more recent Benghazi debacle is off limits?

    To quote a former Secretary of State:  “At this point, what difference does it make.”

    • #15
  16. Devereaux Inactive
    Devereaux
    @Devereaux

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Devereaux: In peace it is easy to be benevolent. One should not torture civilian subjects of the country. There is never a reason that cops should torture apprehendees. But war is different. War is by its nature out of the bounds of normal civilized behavior. Else how do you explain all the actions of soldiers in the “normal” course of war.

    While I completely agree that war — even a murky one like the GWOT — is very different than policing a free populace, I think the tactics and procedures used by cops provide something of an answer to Mike’s challenge regarding alternatives.

    Even with the added handicaps of standards of evidence, the rights of the accused, and the difficulty of proving things in court, police are still able to do real, meaningful work that involves life and death without resorting to torture, torture-lite ®, or enhanced interrogation. Surely, there must be some middle-ground between police tactics and those used in the GWOT (I’m not trying to imply that the middle position is necessarily superior, only that it likely exists).

    ?So which are you holding to. You seem to have defined (1) torture, (2) torture-lite ®, and (3) enhanced interrogation. Right there you have a spread of choice it seems.

    Tell me you have been in combat. It will help me understand your stands.

    • #16
  17. Devereaux Inactive
    Devereaux
    @Devereaux

    Claire Berlinski:I am still trying to observe the principle “Read the whole thing before shooting off your mouth.”

    But I will say this: My response at the time, and I think perhaps even my considered response on reflection, was that the proper reaction to that act was to drop a nuclear bomb. On something. Pick a city, any city. Destroy it. And yes, many innocents would die. It would be an utterly evil thing.

    But my sense was that above all else, it was important to establish the principle–beyond any man’s doubt, that yes, we are the only country ever to have used the Bomb, and we will do it twice, for we are savage when provoked.

    I fully grasp the idea of “war is hell.” I fully understand–more than most, I suspect–that our enemies are “not nice” and neither should we be when despatching them.

    What I’m seeing so far in this report is appalling to me. Not because it shows me that we’re savage when provoked. That is something that would quite please me.

    I am appalled because it shows we are stupid when provoked, which is quite another matter.

    Perhaps “appalled” is a bit strong. You ARE dealing with a government entity, after all. The fact they got it mostly right is, in itself, a bit amazing.

    Let’s also not lose sight of the fact these guys were flying blind. We had not had to face this kind of threat before; our enemies were the more traditional nation-states. I keep suggesting people read The Fifty Year Wound to get a better grip on the CIA and it’s performance. There’s a lot of things these guys didn’t get right over the years. But KSM is not one of those.

    • #17
  18. user_428379 Thatcher
    user_428379
    @AlSparks

    I just listened to the Law Talk podcast. John Yoo brought up the following points. No one was interviewed. It was all based on memos. The Republicans weren’t involved, I guess because they knew it would be a hatchet job. So this was not a bipartisan effort.

    And now there are headlines on Drudge that this was payback by Diane Feinstein. John Hinderaker on Powerline read the report and says that it confirms there was no torture, despite the tone of the report. He also thinks Feinstein was showing some animus towards the CIA.

    • #18
  19. user_1030767 Inactive
    user_1030767
    @TheQuestion

    If a rape is being committed, is there any moral limit on the amount of pain you can inflict on the rapist to induce them to stop committing the rape?  What if someone was involved in planning a rape, and refuses to provide any information about the rape because he wants the rape to happen?  If I beat the information out of that person, my conscience wouldn’t bother me, I don’t think.

    I think the Golden Rule still applies. If I ever go insane and start conspiring to commit mass murder, I’d prefer that I be stopped by any means necessary than be a successful mass murderer.

    • #19
  20. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Tell me you have been in combat. It will help me understand your stands.

    I have not. But stipulating that I haven’t yet read the report, we’re not talking about combat; we’re talking about interrogating captured enemies/illegal irregulars.

    • #20
  21. user_259843 Inactive
    user_259843
    @JefferyShepherd

    I have not yet read and I’m not sure whether or not I will.  I do have a question: when Obama says “we tortured some folks” is he talking about enhanced interrogation when performed as proscribed or abuses of enhanced interrogation that were later corrected?

    Where and when necessary I am in favor of enhanced interrogations of the kinds we applied to the perpetrators of 9/11.

    I think the history of the US shows that we relied on allies (Egypt and Jordan) to perform interrogations of people we’d like information from.  I suspect rough methods were applied.  I’d rather do it ourselves than ask a friend to do it for us.

    • #21
  22. user_657161 Inactive
    user_657161
    @SimonTemplar

    Claire Berlinski:I am still trying to observe the principle “Read the whole thing before shooting off your mouth.”

    But I will say this: My response at the time, and I think perhaps even my considered response on reflection, was that the proper reaction to that act was to drop a nuclear bomb. On something. Pick a city, any city. Destroy it. And yes, many innocents would die. It would be an utterly evil thing.

    But my sense was that above all else, it was important to establish the principle–beyond any man’s doubt, that yes, we are the only country ever to have used the Bomb, and we will do it twice, for we are savage when provoked.

    I fully grasp the idea of “war is hell.” I fully understand–more than most, I suspect–that our enemies are “not nice” and neither should we be when despatching them.

    What I’m seeing so far in this report is appalling to me. Not because it shows me that we’re savage when provoked. That is something that would quite please me.

    I am appalled because it shows we are stupid when provoked, which is quite another matter.

    Most of my fellow Marines and I, in and out of “the sandbox” for the last umpteen years, always felt that the A-bomb on one of their major cities would have sent the proper signal.  When America is provoked she should unleash All of her terrible might and let the effing chips fall where they may.  Our political leaders are cowards and worse, they have gotten 100,000s of thousands of us killed and/or wounded because they’d rather be invited to The World Economic Forum in Davos than Win the Peace.  I go barf now.  Later.

    • #22
  23. user_1938 Member
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    Debates about torture always break down because of disagreement on what “torture” means.

    For some, like myself, torture and interrogation can be the same act. One describes a method (deliberate infliction of pain). The other describes a motive (obtaining withheld information).

    By that definition, I accept the occasional acceptability of torture. But I do not accept the unconditional “end justifies the means” mentality.

    Consider the example in the popular movie The Patriot with Mel Gibson. Gibson’s character confesses to having intimidated a tribe of indians into abandoning their alliance against Americans by cutting the bodies of dead tribesmen into little pieces (ears, eyes, etc) and sending them down the river in baskets. Corpse mutilation and display: Acceptable or unacceptable? Crucifixion? Hanging bodies from lamp posts?

    How far can our Psych Ops units go? My understanding is that they operated a fear campaign along the Serbian border under President Clinton. Fear is not as fleeting or as controllable as physical pain.

    It is a question of priorities. Victory is not worth absolutely anything. Those of us who believe in immortal souls must sometimes accept positions of weakness or even defeat to honor our devotion to love.

    There will always be reasons to throw restraints aside. The ends never stop justifying the means, if that’s your mode.

    • #23
  24. Kay of MT Member
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    Thank you for reading the report so I don’t have to and thank you for your in depth analysis.

    Umm, the “You Shall Love Your Neighbor As Yourself” is from the Torah, Lev. 19:18. No where in the Torah is one called to love their enemies. Loving your enemies is suicide.

    • #24
  25. CuriousKevmo Member
    CuriousKevmo
    @CuriousKevmo

    Western Chauvinist: just a further distraction from the disastrous Democratic administration of our government.

    ^THIS

    • #25
  26. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Aaron Miller: Debates about torture always break down because of disagreement on what “torture” means. For some, like myself, torture and interrogation can be the same act. One describes a method (deliberate infliction of pain). The other describes a motive (obtaining withheld information).

    Well put. The other approach is to define torture as the deliberate infliction of pain for its own sake. Under this alternative approach, enhanced interrogation is not torture because the goal is information, not punishment.

    • #26
  27. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Son of Spengler:

    Aaron Miller: Debates about torture always break down because of disagreement on what “torture” means. For some, like myself, torture and interrogation can be the same act. One describes a method (deliberate infliction of pain). The other describes a motive (obtaining withheld information).

    Well put. The other approach is to define torture as the deliberate infliction of pain for its own sake.

    That sounds more like sadism to me.  Torture can, of course, be sadistic.  But it’s usually designed to elicit something, such as information, that the person tortured is otherwise unwilling to provide.

    • #27
  28. Son of Spengler Contributor
    Son of Spengler
    @SonofSpengler

    Basil Fawlty:

    Son of Spengler:

    Aaron Miller: Debates about torture always break down because of disagreement on what “torture” means. For some, like myself, torture and interrogation can be the same act. One describes a method (deliberate infliction of pain). The other describes a motive (obtaining withheld information).

    Well put. The other approach is to define torture as the deliberate infliction of pain for its own sake.

    That sounds more like sadism to me. Torture can, of course, be sadistic. But it’s usually designed to elicit something, such as information, that the person tortured is otherwise unwilling to provide.

    That’s why I agree with Aaron that the two sides often talk past each other when using the word “torture”. One side says, “Saddam did torture; we do interrogation.” The other says, “They’re not mutually exclusive.”

    I think the way to break the bottleneck is to get specific. What interrogation techniques are acceptable under which circumstances? Are there some techniques that are unacceptable under any circumstances? Personally, I would grant US interrogators wide latitude, but regardless, using the word “torture” clouds the issue rather than clarifying it.

    • #28
  29. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Son of Spengler:

    Basil Fawlty:

    Son of Spengler:

    Aaron Miller: Debates about torture always break down because of disagreement on what “torture” means. For some, like myself, torture and interrogation can be the same act. One describes a method (deliberate infliction of pain). The other describes a motive (obtaining withheld information).

    Well put. The other approach is to define torture as the deliberate infliction of pain for its own sake.

    That sounds more like sadism to me. Torture can, of course, be sadistic. But it’s usually designed to elicit something, such as information, that the person tortured is otherwise unwilling to provide.

    That’s why I agree with Aaron that the two sides often talk past each other when using the word “torture”. One side says, “Saddam did torture; we do interrogation.” The other says, “They’re not mutually exclusive.”

    I think the way to break the bottleneck is to get specific. What interrogation techniques are acceptable under which circumstances? Are there some techniques that are unacceptable under any circumstances? Personally, I would grant US interrogators wide latitude, but regardless, using the word “torture” clouds the issue rather than clarifying it.

    True.  In today’s context I think “torture” simply means “an interrogation or coercion technique I find to be too extreme.”

    • #29
  30. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Basil Fawlty: True.  In today’s context I think “torture” simply means “an interrogation or coercion technique I find to be too extreme.”

    Likewise, “enhanced interrogation techniques” is a synonym for “interrogation and coercion I find morally and tactically appropriate.”

    • #30

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