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Aerden [userpic]
The Politics of Prosecution

I just heard on the news that President Obama is considering prosecuting Bush administration lawyers who advised the Bush administration that certain types of torture were legal under certain circumstances.

That's how I understood the news report, anyway. I think this is a bad idea. It could tie the hands of the wiser members of President Obama's administration and could give the less wise members of it the illusion that they may act with impunity against their predecessrs because they are in power, without realizing that this could have serious repercussions on their own careers when the next administration--whether it be Republican or Democrat--comes along.

President Obama is a lawyer, so I can only conclude that he wants to set legal precedent here and that he is fully aware that this course would set legal precedent. But no one can predict what will be considered legal, four or eight years from now, so I am baffled as to why the President would want to effectively paralyze his own staff. Once you begin prosecuting for gray-area things, every staff member has to start looking over his shoulder and second-guessing his own advice. It kills honesty and forces everyone to think first about protecting themselves from future legal action rather than getting the current job done.

I don't condone gratuitous torture any more than the next sane person. If I believed members of our military or intelligence services were carrying out gratuitous torture, then, yes, I would agree that those sick puppies should be put away and the key thrown into Mount Doom.

But I don't think that's the case, here. I think President Obama believes that any torture at all is gratuitous or at least unconscionable. I don't believe he understands that someone like Idi Amin won't pay attention to you until you stomp on his toes--hard. Then he might listen--if he thinks he can't overpower you.

I believe this is a bad, bad idea.

Current Mood: worriedconcerned
What a lot you've told us about yourself, Shadowflyer

You seem to think you're being quite compassionate toward Sgt. Whittington.

You do not seem to have asked yourself what right you have to drag his name, and his suffering, and his service into your argument.

The question did not arise because you do not see or respect him as a person, much less as a soldier. To you he is merely a debater's gambit, like a rhetorical construct. So you did not hesitate to use his name for your purposes. This says to the rest of us that your sympathy for him runs no deeper than rhetoric.

You also don't see that you cannot equate his treatment with that of say, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, without equating the two men. Really now: was Sgt. Whittington an admitted mass murder? Was he, by his own admission, plotting more mass murder? Did Iran have reason to think he might hold the information that would foil a bombing in Tehran or Tabriz? If so, he is no different sort of man than Khalid, and their treatments are equivocable.

And I think you really believe this--not consciously, perhaps, but deep down, where most people keep their prejudices. You believe, like many nominal Americans, that the lawful service of a soldier is fundamentally no different from the committed and planned crimes of a terrorist--"I mean, they both involve killing, right?" You think their cases are alike, so it follows you think their treatment should be, too.

You don't appear to be deliberately hateful. You just seem to be someone who's succumbed to lazy, uncritical thinking and the insularity of closed communities. I've seen that sort of thing before: I've lived in in the South. And many such people manage to live inoffensive lives despite their beliefs. So I won't judge you harshly.

But I still find your argument appalling in both execution and content: it is patently transparent and reveals the depths of your bigotry.

That's all I need to know about you.

That's all I have to say to you.

Re: What a lot you've told us about yourself, Shadowflyer

I think you've missed the point.

It seems to me that a large part of Shadowflyer's argument rested on the understanding that Sgt Whittington WAS innocent, and very much a different sort of man from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and that their cases were different. You know it to be so, but how were his captors supposed to know this? They had a prisoner who was known to be one of their enemies, and who was captured on their territory. Of course they concluded that he must have information that would, as you put it, "foil a bombing in Tehran".

Are you sure that every single person that the US has tortured was definitely guilty of terrorism?

Because if you say that torture was justified, *even for those merely suspected but never convicted beyond a shadow of a doubt*, then you are equating the possibly-innocent with the definitely-guilty; and, thus, equating Sgt Whittington with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Clearly you think it is wrong to do such a thing. So does Shadowflyer. So do I. But it seems to me that you are closer to making that equation than Shadowflyer is.

On the other hand, if you do believe that every single torture victim was definitely guilty, AND if you believe that the use of torture would have elicited positive results, AND if you believe that this torture was only used as a last resort, then perhaps you might be justified in thinking that the advocates of this line of action should be acquitted of all charges. But my personal thought on this is that it would be lazy and uncritical to believe in the first, and uninformed to believe in the second. I'm perfectly willing to believe in the third, though I suspect most would call me naive to do so.

What a lot jorrocks has told us about himself

Actually, a large part of my argument rests on it not mattering whether we're talking about KSM or an innocent. Because it sure as hell didn't matter to the CIA. Innocents went to Gitmo. Innocents went to the black sites. And they were tortured. Sgt. Whittington's story is presented here to break through the excuse of 'these were bad people,' to get past 'us vs. them' and see that what was done to him and what was done to the people we vacuumed up off the ground in Afghanistan is the same damned thing.

There are certain things that it's wrong to do to human beings. Full stop. If you decide it's right to subject a person to that kind of treatment, you have made the decision that they are no longer human.

You have become a terrorist yourself.

You have resigned from civilization. From being American. From being human.

What jorrocks has told us with his attitude is that he belongs more fully with the Taliban and al-Q than with anyone who wants to retain some notion that they're the good guys.

Edited at 2009-04-23 08:38 am (UTC)