Friday, April 04, 2008

The Fish Rots From The Head

Via P O'Neill this short (about 22 seconds) extract from a Paul Berman interview. Berman: "my thoughts and Dick Cheney's thoughts have nothing in common".



Berman is a "muscular liberal" isn't he? (At least, I hope the term doesn't mean Arnold Schwarzenegger when practicing free-market economics.) Could someone please explain what the egg of truth thing means? And if 'democracy' is so important, whose philosophy is more important? Dick Cheney who has been voted into office several times or Paul Berman?

On a similar theme, I return to perhaps the most disgusting post ever by Christopher Hitchens.


The most surprising thing about Seymour Hersh's latest New Yorker essay on the Abu Ghraib depravities is surely its title. It is headed "The Gray Zone." Can that be right? It seems to be generally assumed that the work of the sniggering video-morons is black and white: one of the very few moral absolutes of which we have a firm and decided grasp.
But Hersh's article wants to argue that the fish rots from the head, as indeed it very often does (even though, metaphorically speaking, one might think that the fish's guts would be the first to decay). And in order to argue this top-down process, he decides to propose that it began with Sept. 11.


(The link in Hitchens' piece no longer works; I have altered the text above the include a link which does.) You can tell he's insincere from the opening gambit of trying to argue with what the title means. In fact it comes from a paragraph very close to the end of the piece.


"Congress is going to get to the bottom of this," the Pentagon consultant said. "You have to demonstrate that there are checks and balances in the system." He added, "When you live in a world of gray zones, you have to have very clear red lines."
Senator John McCain, of Arizona, said, "If this is true, it certainly increases the dimension of this issue and deserves significant scrutiny. I will do all possible to get to the bottom of this, and all other allegations."
"In an odd way," Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said, "the sexual abuses at Abu Ghraib have become a diversion for the prisoner abuse and the violation of the Geneva Conventions that is authorized." Since September 11th, Roth added, the military has systematically used third-degree techniques around the world on detainees. "Some JAGs [Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Corps] hate this and are horrified that the tolerance of mistreatment will come back and haunt us in the next war," Roth told me. "We're giving the world a ready-made excuse to ignore the Geneva Conventions. Rumsfeld has lowered the bar."


I suppose the chief difference between 'journalism' and 'blogging' is that one involves actual researching material and the other sitting on your arse complaining about grammar. I will leave the reader to work out which of those I consider 'the Dupe', as Norman Geras unaccountably calls him, to be. I'm a blogger, so I'll draw attention to Hitchens' poor grasp of what a metaphor is.

Via Mike Power, a rather wonderful Vanity Fair article by Philippe Sands1.

The Bush administration has always taken refuge behind a “trickle up” explanation: that is, the decision was generated by military commanders and interrogators on the ground. This explanation is false. The origins lie in actions taken at the very highest levels of the administration—by some of the most senior personal advisers to the president, the vice president, and the secretary of defense. At the heart of the matter stand several political appointees—lawyers—who, it can be argued, broke their ethical codes of conduct and took themselves into a zone of international criminality, where formal investigation is now a very real option. This is the story of how the torture at Guantánamo began, and how it spread.


I know I've mentioned this before. I'll almost certainly mention it again. 'Decency' = apologia for torture.

[1] A suspiciously French sounding name. So, Miss-you Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkey, do you think whether your argument is "correct" or "incorrect" is a more relevant point than who are the people making the arguments?

Update Sat 20:47. There's an argument going on in the comments between regular commenter Justin and Hawkforce (who I think is a Harry's Place regular). As I couldn't post my response in the comments, I'll take the liberty of posting it here.

EJH: [To 'Why can't we expect better things of them?] "Because the history of superpowers suggests otherwise?"

I largely agree. We seem to be talking about that most booby-trapped of subjects: morality. The good things which have come from superpowers have been morally neutral.



The USSR did pretty much all the above for Afghanistan. Apart from the peace bit of course.

Seriously, I nearly wrote either a post or a very long comment somewhere to the effect: When we were in India, we build the railways and constructed an efficient civil service because it suited the Empire. These things may have lasted and helped India become the world's largest democracy, but they were done selfishly. The nation-building in Iraq was done, in theory, altruistically. That is to say, it was done on the cheap. Educating, say, Indian kids in Latin to serve the Empire was an investment. Educating Iraqi kids to read, er, because it's a bit touchy-feely, but who gives a fuck when it comes down to it? is a waste. And it was money saved. Well, the US has learned one thing from history. They learned that we educated Ghandi. And they're determined it won't happen to them. We, poor fools, gave up India with limited bloodshed. Cheney hopes to improve on us. He's doing great.

40 Comments:

Anonymous bubby said...

'Decency' = apologia for torture

Damn right. You can see it over at Democratiya which churn out articles taking an equivocal stance on torture.

The reasoning that the Pentagon has used to justify torture really defies belief:

The victim must experience intense pain or suffering of the kind that is equivalent to the pain that would be associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulting the loss of significantly bodily function will likely result

So pulling out finger nails or electric shocks to the genitals wouldn't be classified as torture then...

There are 2 key points regarding America's decision to legitimise torture. Firstly since 1945 there has been the creation of a framework and infrastructure designed to spread human rights legislation more widely across the globe. Obviously this has been very imperfect but the creation of amongst others, the EU Human Rights Act and the ICC have been very significant progressive changes. The notion of legitimising torture became almost unthinkable in Europe and the death penalty has been abolished across the continent. Certainly the question for many of us became how do we spread the existing framework of human rights legisation more widely so that increasing numbers of states are tied into its provisions . This is one reason I was keen for Turkey to join the EU as it would force them to clean up their appalling human righs record. The US resort to torture has driven a cart and horses through this.

The second point really links in with the previous post on China. How can we possibly lecture China on Tibet considering the way we've behaved in Iraq. And its not just Guardianistas who can see this. I had 5Live on earlier and I lost count of the number of people who phoned in making the same point. Our conduct in Iraq has lost us any moral capital or leverage against States with poor human rights records. And that is a f**king disaster.

4/04/2008 05:46:00 PM  
Blogger Hawkforce said...

'Decency' = apologia for torture.

Is this what the majority here at the blog believe?

That "'Decency' = apologia for torture"?

Interesting that Hitchens "most disgusting post ever" makes no such apology - which is unsurprising as Hitchens has always viewed the use of torture with the contempt and disgust it deserves.

You can see it over at Democratiya which churn out articles taking an equivocal stance on torture.

Such as?

This is one reason I was keen for Turkey to join the EU as it would force them to clean up their appalling human righs record. The US resort to torture has driven a cart and horses through this.

Why? It's the EU, not the US that Turkey's trying to join. What does the act of one US administration have to do with the decades of diplomacy and negotiation that has gone on between Turkey and the EU (Blair being the driving force for Turkish ascension, remember?)

How can we possibly lecture China on Tibet considering the way we've behaved in Iraq.

Perhaps by pointing out that Iraq now has a Constitution and a democratic political process - so the US and UK have spent billions and lost thousands of lives yet remain committed to Iraqi self-determination.

The more pertinent question is: when will China take up the International responsibilities of a Superpower - with such potential for good?

Or whatever...


And its not just Guardianistas who can see this. I had 5Live on earlier and I lost count of the number of people who phoned in making the same point.

Yes, Guardianistas and Daily Mailites have been united on these issues since 2002...

Jokey yet accurate observations aside - what does the Iraq war have to do with YOU expressing YOUR opinion?

As far as I'm aware the British Government is doing very little to "lecture China over Tibet" any more than it has over the last few decades.

So why this sudden panic to assert Government responsibility for public opinion then bemoan it's credibility?

What do YOU think?

Our conduct in Iraq has lost us any moral capital or leverage against States with poor human rights records.

Again "our conduct". Was it YOUR conduct? Or are you speaking as part of a nation? If so, doesn't your opposition to the conduct in Iraq allow you to express your moral capitol and use whatever leverage it might have?

IF Obama wins does his, and, subsequently, America's, moral capital and leverage instantly return? McCain - who challenged Bush admin legislation on torture?

How exactly has this "moral capital" ever applied to actual "leverage" on Dictatorhips?

Which tyrannies have been about to torture someone then hesitated, remembering that the US held moral capital and used it as leverage to improve human rights?

And then saw the photos from Abu Ghraib and laughed: "Hah! They've lost that crucial moral capital - lets ignore human rights forever!"


I'd buy this bewailing of the things "we've lost" a little more if there was the slightest acknowledgement that Dictatorships which systematically abuse human rights and the rule of law ARE WRONG.

You know what I mean? Wrong. As in - if they point to "our conduct in Iraq", we point out the prosucutions of the people involved in torture and murder. We point out the freedom of speech and the media access and the little things that eventually show how the system works.

In short - we stop apologising for tyranny and dictatorship.

Especially you guys. You have nothing to do with "the conduct in Iraq".

SO why are you apologising for dictators who might use Iraq as propoganda?

And that is a f**king disaster.

4/04/2008 09:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"if there was the slightest acknowledgement that Dictatorships which systematically abuse human rights and the rule of law ARE WRONG."

Hawkforce is right, chaps - why, if only any of us had ever noticed this and commented on it. But we didn't, did we? None of us. Ever. Not even, as yr man puts it, giving the 'slightest acknowledgement'. Oh, if only we had, then Decency would have never been necessary. Torture would never have been used. But we didn't and so it was. It's our fault.

The shame is too great. I'm off to do away with myself.

Chris Williams

4/04/2008 10:32:00 PM  
Blogger Hawkforce said...

Hawkforce is right, chaps - why, if only any of us had ever noticed this and commented on it. But we didn't, did we? None of us. Ever.

Who's "we"?

I'm responding to Bubby... Nothing in his post mentioned or referred to what I assume to be a shared belief that State abuse of human rights is wrong - regrdless of any actions by the present US administration.

Oh, if only we had, then Decency would have never been necessary. Torture would never have been used. But we didn't and so it was. It's our fault.


What the fuck is wrong with you?

Are you so paranoid that you have to make everything into an abusive shitfight? Does everything have to be a blame game? Is it easier to ignore real discussion that way if you pretend I'm saying "it's your fault" so you can attack me personally rather than addressing my points.

I'm not saying it's anyone's fault. I agree with much of Bubby's post - I just don't understand why the ultimate consequence is inertia?

I'd appreciate you addressing that point rather than pretending I'm some sort of avatar of "Decency" trying to spin US admin on torture as "your" fault.

Fuck's sake...

4/04/2008 10:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, if your cage is that easily rattled, perhaps you need to think a bit more before using phrases like 'you guys' in screeds which you then try to pass off as responses to the comments of a single named individual. HTH.

CW

4/04/2008 11:02:00 PM  
Blogger Hawkforce said...

Well, if your cage is that easily rattled, perhaps you need to think a bit more before using phrases like 'you guys' in screeds which you then try to pass off as responses to the comments of a single named individual.

"You guys" was a reference to the "anti-war" movement, which Bubby clearly counts himself a part of.

And the context was clear and positive - being part of that movement frees Bubby from accusations of hypocrisy should he criticise States who abuse Human Rights.

This is a little surreal - Chard Chap and Bubby both feel free to state "Decency = apologia for torture"...

But when I ask why Bubby should be burdened by policies he always rejected - I'm suddenly crossing the line?

You know what's more interesting? The discussion at hand.

Granted: US administration policy/equivocation on torture is a disaster and quite simply wrong.

Queried: What the hell does this have to do with EU policy on Turkish ascension? And why does it mean everyone in the US, UK, EU have no moral capital or leverage over dictators?

4/04/2008 11:27:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

The more pertinent question is: when will China take up the International responsibilities of a Superpower - with such potential for good?

Oh my aching sides. Hilarious sir, brilliant parody. Nobody could be this stupid.

"With great power comes responsibility" - now who said that again?

4/04/2008 11:44:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Ok Hawkforce I will deal with your points.

Apologies in advance for the length of this post.

1) You can see it over at Democratiya which churn out articles taking an equivocal stance on torture.

Such as?


How about this one.

The terrible dilemma of whether or not to use torture in the TBS is a classic 'dirty hands' scenario. Torture, considered in isolation, is an unmitigated evil to be avoided at all costs. However, when faced with a context where the choice is between appalling options, the least terrible may be torture. And sanctioning something as terrible as torture leaves a moral stain, one that is not easily erased and which affects what one has become and is perceived as by others. The responsibility and duties of political office, as Max Weber famously argued, require that they conduct themselves according to an 'Ethic of Responsibility' (rather than an 'Ethic of Ultimate Ends') and this comes at a price.[40] Consequently, the answer to the question of whether it is morally justified to use torture in the face of a TBS is both yes and no. The answer is paradoxical and unlikely to satisfy theorists who seek clear unambiguous answers to moral questions. However it seems to me that the dirty hands approach is the one that most reasonable people would endorse and that responsible politicians and security services ought to follow. It is always morally wrong to use torture but in some cases of the TBS it is also a moral duty to practise it – one must do wrong in order to do right! In these rare and extreme circumstances, there is no escaping getting dirty hands.

http://www.democratiya.com/review.asp?reviews_id=51

To be honest I was too kind. It wasn't equivocal, it was a straight endorsement of torture.

2. Why? It's the EU, not the US that Turkey's trying to join. What does the act of one US administration have to do with the decades of diplomacy and negotiation that has gone on between Turkey and the EU (Blair being the driving force for Turkish ascension, remember?)

The comment about "horse and cart" was really a reference to the fact that if you are trying to establish a multilateral architecture of human rights legislation it doesn't help if the world's most powerful state acts in a way that totally undermines it. If you really can't see, that had the US signed up to the ICC (or avoided shredding the Geneva Convention, International Law) that this would have been hugely significant in terms of strengthening multilateral support for human rights and the rule of law in international affairs then I really think you are living in cloud cuckoo land.

3. Perhaps by pointing out that Iraq now has a Constitution and a democratic political process - so the US and UK have spent billions and lost thousands of lives yet remain committed to Iraqi self-determination.

We'll skim over the 100,000s of dead, the 2-3 million refugees, the appalling security situation, the control of major cities by theocratic sectarian militias, shall we...

4. Our conduct in Iraq has lost us any moral capital or leverage against States with poor human rights records.

Again "our conduct". Was it YOUR conduct? Or are you speaking as part of a nation? If so, doesn't your opposition to the conduct in Iraq allow you to express your moral capitol and use whatever leverage it might have?


Actually some of us do feel a sense of responsibility for the Iraq fiasco. It was my taxes that partly paid for it and my PM who got us into this dreadful mess. Its actually quite normal to feel a sense of collective responsibility, shame in this case, about how your State behaves.

5. I'd buy this bewailing of the things "we've lost" a little more if there was the slightest acknowledgement that Dictatorships which systematically abuse human rights and the rule of law ARE WRONG.

If you couldn't see that my first post was alluding to the fact that many dictatorships are major human rights abusers AND THAT THIS IS BAD then I suggest you go back and re-read it.

6. You know what I mean? Wrong. As in - if they point to "our conduct in Iraq", we point out the prosucutions of the people involved in torture and murder. .

Hmmmm like Rumsfeld or Tenet? The grunts may have been hung out to dry on this one but there is copious evidence that the authorisation came from above. And none of those people have been prosecuted.

4/05/2008 12:17:00 AM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Queried: What the hell does this have to do with EU policy on Turkish ascension? And why does it mean everyone in the US, UK, EU have no moral capital or leverage over dictators?

Is this a serious question or you just trolling?

At the end each of us may have a little indirect influence through being members of civil society groups (such as AA) which lobby governments in this area. But the real power rests with Nations and those who run them.

Tony Blair can violate international law, help out with toture flights or alternatively organise a real humanitarian intervention (eg Siera Leone) or sign us up to something progressive like the HRA. I, on the other hand or you, or any of here are rather inconsequential in comparison.

4/05/2008 12:26:00 AM  
Blogger Hawkforce said...

Oh my aching sides. Hilarious sir, brilliant parody. Nobody could be this stupid.

I don't understand your scorn. China will be the next Superpower.

Why can't we expect great things of them?

4/05/2008 01:07:00 AM  
Blogger Hawkforce said...

Apologies in advance for the length of this post.

No apologies necessary - it's a good post.

To be honest I was too kind. It wasn't equivocal, it was a straight endorsement of torture.

It's nothing of the sort. Which is obvious from the very quote you provided.

You might disagree with the reveiwer's assessment of the "Ticking Bomb Scenario" but to claim it represents a blanket "endorsement" of torture is not just false, but absurd.

The comment about "horse and cart" was really a reference to the fact that if you are trying to establish a multilateral architecture of human rights legislation it doesn't help if the world's most powerful state acts in a way that totally undermines it.

But the specific example was Turkey and ascension to the EU wasn't it?

Now, Turkey wants EU membership. You and I want that, as long as it comes with the EU standard on Human Rights.

That doesn't change at all. Whatever the US does or doesn't do...

If you really can't see, that had the US signed up to the ICC (or avoided shredding the Geneva Convention, International Law) that this would have been hugely significant in terms of strengthening multilateral support for human rights and the rule of law in international affairs then I really think you are living in cloud cuckoo land.

I agree with everything here. But I also know it's mostly meaningless waffle.

Really - read the middle bit again:

this would have been hugely significant in terms of strengthening multilateral support for human rights and the rule of law in international affairs

Do you see what I mean about waffle?

And it's waffle I agree with - I do think the US should've signed up to the ICC etc etc...

But it's waffle nonetheless.

Especially when the original issue was about Turkey joining the EU - something which should be entirely unaffected by US actions.

We'll skim over the 100,000s of dead, the 2-3 million refugees, the appalling security situation, the control of major cities by theocratic sectarian militias, shall we...

Don't be ridiculous. That's taken as read. It's the entire point, remember? That Iraq is a disaster that other dictatorships can point to and say "J'accuse".

But it doesn't work in the case of China and Tibet. Because of that fundamental fact - Iraq, without skimming over any of the disasters, has self-determination. Something which China will not allow Tibet.

Look, it's not about "skimming over" the Iraq war. Or excusing it, in any way.

It's just that Iraq doesn't excuse China, or any other country, from denying people the right to self-determination.

Actually some of us do feel a sense of responsibility for the Iraq fiasco. It was my taxes that partly paid for it and my PM who got us into this dreadful mess. Its actually quite normal to feel a sense of collective responsibility, shame in this case, about how your State behaves.

And this shame precludes you, or your country, from taking any stand against any dictatorship ever again?

You missed the point. You claim "we" can't possibly "lecture China on Tibet". Of course YOU can. And without shame. Or sense of hypocrisy.

SO why do you manufacture an obstacle which doesn't exist?

If you couldn't see that my first post was alluding to the fact that many dictatorships are major human rights abusers AND THAT THIS IS BAD then I suggest you go back and re-read it.

Again, you've missed the point. I'm not suggesting you think dictatorships are NOT BAD.

What's missing is the denunciation of their behaviour in conjunction with your condemnation of US behaviour.

What I mean is - just because America's present administration crosses a line that should never have been crossed DOESN'T mean that we should all shrug our shoulders at human rights abuses in dictatorships...

Hmmmm like Rumsfeld or Tenet? The grunts may have been hung out to dry on this one but there is copious evidence that the authorisation came from above. And none of those people have been prosecuted.

I agree. But the prosecutions and the media exposure - all of this simply doesn't exist in dictaorships. That's the difference. And that's why a standard can be held...

4/05/2008 01:48:00 AM  
Blogger Hawkforce said...

Is this a serious question or you just trolling?

Fuck's sake - the accusation of "trolling" gets thrown about a lot these days!

Of course it's a bloody serious question.

At the end each of us may have a little indirect influence through being members of civil society groups (such as AA) which lobby governments in this area. But the real power rests with Nations and those who run them.

Argh... You're missing (or avoiding) the point again...

Especially the bit about why US admin decisions effect Turkey/EU conditions.

It's okay to just admit you got that one wrong and wanted to blame the US for everything (and you'd be almost right - the US doesn't want Turkey in the EU)

Tony Blair can violate international law, help out with toture flights or alternatively organise a real humanitarian intervention (eg Siera Leone) or sign us up to something progressive like the HRA. I, on the other hand or you, or any of here are rather inconsequential in comparison.

Yes, but what do you believe? What do you think we should be saying about Human Rights in TIbet... Or Darfur...

Pretend the Iraq war had never happened. What could the UK Govt say with all that moral capital?

4/05/2008 02:04:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Why can't we expect great things of them?

Because the history of superpowers suggests otherwise?

4/05/2008 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Oh, you are that stupid. Apologies for doubting you.

There are no international responsibilities of a superpower. All it means is that you are, stop me if this gets patronsing, superpowerful.

China may be the next great superpower, though its hardly inevitable. You can expect what you like of them, though its a pointless endeavour as you have no influence over them. Sorry about that.

Superpowers are like any other state - they act primarily in the interests of their elites. Which in the case of superpowers is to maintain their global dominance. Given the US has been unexceptional in this regard, I see no reason to expect China to break the pattern.

4/05/2008 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

The above post was referencing "Hawkforce", obviously.

4/05/2008 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

You might disagree with the reveiwer's assessment of the "Ticking Bomb Scenario" but to claim it represents a blanket "endorsement" of torture is not just false, but absurd.

Given that Bubby didn't say that it was a blanket endorsement, how is this relevant. If you really think that "straight endorsement" is the same thing as a "blanket endorsement"...

4/05/2008 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

and you'd be almost right - the US doesn't want Turkey in the EU

Um, its been a pretty overt US foreign policy goal for a pretty long time. Given this hasn't changed under the Bush administration, what exactly are you on about?

4/05/2008 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

What's missing is the denunciation of their behaviour in conjunction with your condemnation of US behaviour.

Jesus. Up until now I thought that the Catalogue of Contempt was an amusing concept I'd invented to poke fun at Hawkforce's mates - I'd never suspected it was an actually existing document.

Okay, so, how much text denouncing China is needed before one can say The Americans' blatant disregard for international human rights is unacceptable?

Will a ratio of 1:1 do? Or, since China is a much nastier state, must we type up 5000 words denouncing them before we're permitted to say American torture is wrong?

Because, you know, that's going to make for some pretty boring blogging. I think the way I do it - by assuming that everyone over the age of seven knows that abusive dictatorships are morally reprehensible - saves a lot of time.

4/05/2008 10:16:00 AM  
Anonymous harrythehorse said...

OK Hawkforce, I'll agree with you that the extract from Democratiya provided by Bubby does not form an 'blanket endorsement' of torture. It is rather worse than that as it tries to have its cake and eat it.

Consequently, the answer to the question of whether it is morally justified to use torture in the face of a TBS is both yes and no. The answer is paradoxical and unlikely to satisfy theorists who seek clear unambiguous answers to moral questions. However it seems to me that the dirty hands approach is the one that most reasonable people would endorse and that responsible politicians and security services ought to follow. It is always morally wrong to use torture but in some cases of the TBS it is also a moral duty to practise it one must do wrong in order to do right! In these rare and extreme circumstances, there is no escaping getting dirty hands

Now you might say that this exclusively refers to the 'ticking bomb scenario' and we should judge it purely on those terms. But what it is doing is establishing circumstances in which it is acceptable to 'do wrong in order to do right'. It sounds like those other 'fundamental principles' which distinguish freedom loving democracies but which can be discarded at will when those democracies decide that it is necessary to do a 'little wrong to do good'. E.g. bombing civilians. Whether the 'good' is proportionate to the wrong, or whether the 'good is good at all, is something else, and probably counts as 'raking over the bones of decisions made in good faith' or somesuch.

A practical objection to basing a defence of torture on the TBS is how often, if ever, has this scenrio occurred in real life. How many instances of torture committed by 'freedom loving democracies' have been in response to this excrutiating dilemma? What is the point of positing a theoretic defence of torture on a scenario that has never (?) happened in real life? Well the cynic in me says that the point of making the defence is to normalise the use of torture in rather less urgent situations, which of course he how torture is actually used in real life.

Returning to the TBS for a moment, if the principle of doing wrong to achieve good is permitted, then how far may this be taken. Would for example, in a TBS, it be acceptable to rape and slit the throat of the 3 year daughter of the terrorist who knows where the hidden nuke is? I mean, why stop at torture?

I share Bubby's distaste of Democratiya, where one finds long turgid articles; usually I lose the will to live well beyond getting to the end of a typical article. Thanks to Bubby to bringing this nasty shit to our attention

4/05/2008 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

if the principle of doing wrong to achieve good is permitted, then how far may this be taken?

Isn't the second part of this the point, though, wiuth the pretty heavy assumption that it shouldn't be al lthat far? We all of us believe to some degree that we can do wrong to acieve god - for instance, we may imprison people (which is wrong, as it grossly restricts people's liberty) in order to tackle corruption and crime.

There should, however, be a presumption that we will try not to do so where we can avoid it, rather than forever say "we have no option" or "we cannot take the risk involved in not locking people up". And the salient point here is, as you observe, that the "ticking-bomb" business is quite certainly being used to run roughshod over that principle by establishing a framework for the use of torture that is largely hypothetical. Although the torutre, of course, is not.

4/05/2008 11:14:00 AM  
Anonymous harrythehorse said...

Isn't the second part of this the point, though, wiuth the pretty heavy assumption that it shouldn't be al lthat far? We all of us believe to some degree that we can do wrong to acieve god - for instance, we may imprison people (which is wrong, as it grossly restricts people's liberty) in order to tackle corruption and crime

My point wasn't attack the principle of 'doing wrong in order to do right' for as you say having a system of justice means living with the fact that it sometimes gets things wrong and punishes the innocent. My point was to challenge who decides whether the wrong justifies and is proportionate to the right and whether the 'right' is right at all. The achilles heel in the TBS scenario is that it makes the stakes so high in order to justify torture that is naturally prompts the question, 'well how far would you go then?'. If 100,000 people at are risk of the hidden bomb, what price the life of a 3 year old child? The fact is that western leaders do authorise attacks on civilians, which they well know will result in the deaths of small children, so I think it a fair point. But most all I ask the question to highlight how fucking absurd the TBS scenario is as a justification for terror.

4/05/2008 11:34:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I'll address Hawkforce's comment first.

Shorter Hitchens: Hersh was wrong because "the decision was generated by military commanders and interrogators on the ground." This just happens to be the _false_ account which Sands says the "Bush administration has always taken refuge behind."

Hitchens makes his case, not by interviewing people or going to Iraq or investigating or by _doing journalism_ at all. He does it by a sort of literary deconstruction. It's a piece which groans under the weight of its own artifice and suffers from nonsensical parenthetical asides which read like they've been inserted to stretch the word count to the minimum Slate would accept.

When I first read that article, I thought Hitchens was a dreadful snob. Oh, _of course_ one thinks it had to be the unlettered proles who started this. The jolly nice officers and pols one has drinkies with are so much more civilised. One thinks.

I had problems with this, because armies aren't known for granting grunt soldiers much freedom. If a squaddie doesn't feel like bashing a square today, he still has to go on parade: he can't just pull a sickie and sneak off to play golf. Non commissioned officers aren't like journalists. They don't roll into the office after noon carrying a tray of Starbucks and type furiously to meet their 6 pm deadline. The lower ranks of the forces do what they're told, and you can usually rely on there being someone telling them what to do from when they wake up.

Now, I don't know whether he's just a useful idiot by coincidence or by design. Sure, "Hitchens has always viewed the use of torture with the contempt and disgust it deserves" but somehow or other he plays the game of shifting the responsibility onto a few feral corporals. He doesn't consider that it's a bit of a massive coincidence that so much abuse happened in one place at one time by people who were specifically trained NOT to think for themselves.

So the upshot of his argument is. "Rotten apples. Jolly bad show. All better now."

I've not read David Irving, but if I understand the charges against him correctly, he doesn't justify the Nazi Holocaust, he just claims it didn't happen - not on an organised scale anyway. Draw your own parallels.

Hawkforce: 'Why? It's the EU, not the US that Turkey's trying to join. What does the act of one US administration have to do with the decades of diplomacy and negotiation that has gone on between Turkey and the EU (Blair being the driving force for Turkish ascension, remember?)'

Me, as I quoted from Seymour Hersh above: "We're giving the world a ready-made excuse to ignore the Geneva Conventions. Rumsfeld has lowered the bar."

Ben Franklin: "We must hang together, gentlemen...else, we shall most assuredly hang separately." I don't usually believe in coercing individuals or countries into line with societal norms. But this is an exception; we, in the West, should be doing all we can to bring the US back into concordance with international legal conventions. Else, we all lose the good society we've been building since WWII.

4/05/2008 03:13:00 PM  
Blogger Hawkforce said...

Because the history of superpowers suggests otherwise?

Okay, fair enough. But surely we can agree that the US as Superpower has provided much more that is "good" for global progress than, say, the USSR did.

Not through altruism, but even so, the US is held to a higher expectation, by itself as well as others. We wouldn't be having this discussion if this wasn't self-evident.

It's time to expect better of China - because the alternative is pretty grim...

4/05/2008 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger Hawkforce said...

Oh, you are that stupid. Apologies for doubting you.

Are you always this hostile?

There are no international responsibilities of a superpower. All it means is that you are, stop me if this gets patronsing, superpowerful.

Then shouldn't you be taking this point up with bubby who believes the US is responsible for the moral capital and leverage of the liberal democratic world?

I'm with bubby, mind you. Superpowers, by definition, automatically adopt International responsibilities - how they choose to meet those responsibilities is another question entirely.

China may be the next great superpower, though its hardly inevitable. You can expect what you like of them, though its a pointless endeavour as you have no influence over them. Sorry about that.

There's a common theme of cynicism and ennui in many of the comments on this site. This sense of bored futility - "don't bother having an opinion because we don't have power".

But surely we all would like a more democratic China? A China that used its influence in Sudan to help stop the killing?

So what if we, as individuals, can't influence the Chinese regime? It doesn't have anything to do with forming an opinion.

What's the alternative? Treating China as an amoral entity incapable of change?

Superpowers are like any other state - they act primarily in the interests of their elites. Which in the case of superpowers is to maintain their global dominance.

Absolutely.

Given the US has been unexceptional in this regard, I see no reason to expect China to break the pattern.

That's a different point though. Holding China to a higher expectation of International responsibility is not the same as expecting it to act altruistically.

4/05/2008 08:05:00 PM  
Blogger Hawkforce said...

Given that Bubby didn't say that it was a blanket endorsement, how is this relevant. If you really think that "straight endorsement" is the same thing as a "blanket endorsement"...

You're kidding right? You're not really playing with semantics when this whole discussion was kicked off by the statement: "Decency = apologia for torture"

4/05/2008 08:14:00 PM  
Blogger Hawkforce said...

Um, its been a pretty overt US foreign policy goal for a pretty long time. Given this hasn't changed under the Bush administration, what exactly are you on about?

You're absolutely right.

4/05/2008 08:34:00 PM  
Blogger Hawkforce said...

Okay, so, how much text denouncing China is needed before one can say The Americans' blatant disregard for international human rights is unacceptable? Will a ratio of 1:1 do? Or, since China is a much nastier state, must we type up 5000 words denouncing them before we're permitted to say American torture is wrong?

It's interesting how detrmined you are to reduce every discussion to the safe comfort of "us versus them".

For your sake I hope you haven't bothered to read the whole thread and therefore didn't knowingly take that quote out of it's context.

Otherwise your comment would be cheap, lazy and lying.

The context was bubby's claim that US policy in Iraq means China cannot be criticised over Tibet. That US policy has so damaged moral leverage that Guardian readers and 5live callers can no longer form or express an opinion on China's actions...

If you find the discussion threatening stay the fuck out of it. Don't pretend that I'm simply playing "condemn-a-thon".

4/05/2008 09:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But surely we can agree that the US as Superpower has provided much more that is "good" for global progress than, say, the USSR did.

Not through altruism, but even so, the US is held to a higher expectation, by itself as well as others. We wouldn't be having this discussion if this wasn't self-evident.

This is an oft-repeated claim but there's no historical basis on which to make it. A partisan of the USSR could easily claim that, by shouldering the lion's share of the struggle against fascism and in its support for anti-colonialism was responsible for far more positive effects than was the USA - not an argument i'd make as a Trotskyist but its easy the find the virtues in your chosen state, as Hawkforce does with the USA. Neither is their any basis for the claim that the USA is held to a 'higher standard' since the grounds on which the US is opposed by the anti-war and anti-imperialist movement globally is the same on which other powers are . The fact is that the US by virtue of being the most powerful state in the world is responsible for suffering on a far larger scale than any of its competitors, and the violence of Chinese repression in Tibet pales against the death-toll in Iraq or that of a US client-state in Palestine.

James O

4/05/2008 09:42:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

The context was bubby's claim that US policy in Iraq means China cannot be criticised over Tibet.

Surely bubby was saying that US policy in Iraq makes it much more difficult to criticise China over Tibet, not that China could or should not be criticised.

It's a typical Decent leap-of-argument to take a nuanced argument and turn it into an accusation of inaction or denial.

4/06/2008 09:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Stephen said...

Otherwise your comment would be cheap, lazy and lying

The context was bubby's claim that US policy in Iraq means China cannot be criticised over Tibet

My interpretation of Bubby's words was that it diminishes our (i.e. US & British) condemnation of China by striking an equivocal stance on torture, the killing of civilians, etc. It's a pretty long step to read that as China should not be condemned because of our government's dirty hands. Indeed, one might say that such an interpretation is 'cheap, lazy and lying'.

4/06/2008 09:57:00 AM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Thanks to Cian, HarrytheHorse, Ejh, Gastro George and Stephen for clarifying my position in the face of Hawkforce's attempts to suggest I was saying something that I wasn't.

I certainly think that China should be roundly condemned for what it does in Tibet, as well as its role in Darfur, Burma and many other places. I feel a certain responsibilty to go on marches, sign petitions, and support organisations like AA who lobby governments on this issue. However as a single individual I recogise that I don't have that much traction. On the other hand states do, and my central point was that the resort to torture and illegal wars weakens the ability of the UK and the US to make this case. Sitting in your comfortable chair condemning the world's tyrants, might give you a warm self-righteous glow inside, but it isn't going to achieve much.

As for the claim that US as Superpower has provided much more that is "good" for global progress than, say, the USSR did. is highly debatable. Certainly many residents of much of SE Asia and Latin America might beg to differ.

The point here is no to bash the US or present it as uniquely evil but to recognise that States and especially very powerful States tend to pursue their self-interest
fairly ruthlessly.

One way of tempering this is to establish a multilateral framework of rules which govern international affairs and support human rights. Having the world's most powerful state undermine the rules and institutions doesn't help.

I think its also true, and I don't mean to speak specifically for AW or any other part of the non-decent left, that many of us are not completely against the idea of humanitarian interventions, even those that involve the use of military force. BUT we are very leery of resorting to war because it is such a terrible business in so many different ways. It has to be an absolute last resort (with a realistic chance of sucess) rather than a first reflex, and most of the time it really does feel like a first reflex amongst Decents.

Hawkforce might also want to ponder how much more difficult the Iraq debacle has made it to drum up public and state support for a real humanitarian intervention (such another Rwanda-type situation) in the near future.

4/06/2008 12:03:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Excellent summary, bubby.

Just to add one further point, that was brought up on CiF recently. What Decents lack, with their general backing for US interventionism, and hawkforce's apparent belief in the ultimate benevolence of US governments, is any appreciation of power relationships.

For me, understanding power relationships is a fundamental part of what it is to be part of the Left. How to restrain (particularly arbitrary) power is one of our main policy themes.

Which is why the Decent Left's attempt to describe a marginalised "post-left" is so annoying. They are not of the Left, they are liberals. Which is why the term "muscular liberals" is more accurate than the Decent Left.

4/06/2008 02:09:00 PM  
Anonymous harrythehorse said...

Which is why the Decent Left's attempt to describe a marginalised "post-left" is so annoying. They are not of the Left, they are liberals. Which is why the term "muscular liberals" is more accurate than the Decent Left

I am not sure that that holds for all on the 'Decent' left but it certainly describes quite a few of them accurately. I would see some of them as nineteenth century liberals, economic liberals, who see nothing wrong in using a bit of gun boat diplomacy to get things done. The high imperialism of the Victorian period was justified at the time with the same kind of high-mindedness that the Decents use today. But with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that high-mindedness as expedient flummery.

4/06/2008 02:21:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

There's a common theme of cynicism and ennui in many of the comments on this site.

I'm so bored of hearing this sort of thing.

4/07/2008 12:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Editor said...

Bubby - Which is why the Decent Left's attempt to describe a marginalised "post-left" is so annoying. They are not of the Left, they are liberals. Which is why the term "muscular liberals" is more accurate than the Decent Left.

harrythehorse - I am not sure that that holds for all on the 'Decent' left but it certainly describes quite a few of them accurately. I would see some of them as nineteenth century liberals, economic liberals, who see nothing wrong in using a bit of gun boat diplomacy to get things done.

I fear you are too kind on them and unfair on liberals. They are indeed liberals economically; however, like New Labour (to whom they appear slavishly loyal) they demonstrate a very controlling, authoritarian streak and share its utter contempt for the principles of law. To them the law is simply a weapon, to be used when expedient or ignored if not. And they adore military power.

Their tactics of dishonesty and smear are designed to stifle any debate of substance, because their opponents are constantly defending themselves from false accusations (anti-Semitism, dictator-appeasement etc etc ad nauseum). They seek to control the debate by proscribing those with whom they disagree as illegitimate or tainted. While those for whom they are running cover are free to continue their illegal, amoral, unethical re-ordering of the world.

What HP Hawkforce refuses to see is that as citizens of a democratic state it is one's duty to call to account one's own representatives first, then those of its allies, before adopting fruitless posturing positions on superpower dictatorships.

And yes, as a citizen of the UK, I feel shamed by our complicity in such horrors as rendition and by our support for murderous, torturing regimes in the US and Israel. But then I see my self as part of the Actual Left, as opposed to the Dishonest Left. (Motto: "Liberty, if it means anything, is the right to pretend to be something that you're not").

"Muscular Liberal" takes too much from their own, warped, perspective. "Decent Left" is just plain inaccurate; a proposition in which both terms are demonstrably false. What's the collective noun for shills?

4/07/2008 04:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thread that Chardonnay Chap links to in footnote 1 (just before the Update) does indeed seem to contain some remarkable admissions - ie that a lot of mainstream politics is about trying to control to the agenda and deligitimise people who raise awkward questions.

The fact that there is an admission that I raise some good points, but then get called a Muppet, sums it up really.

Guano

4/08/2008 08:02:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

The "not vice versa" bit is particularly splendid.

So who is this extremely important figure to whom we are obliged to take our opinions for judgement?

4/08/2008 08:24:00 AM  
Anonymous editor said...

EJH - So who is this extremely important figure to whom we are obliged to take our opinions for judgement?

Well, to take Ben at his word, your opinions should be offered to "...people like me in charge of the party, who are progressive columnists, who are setting the agenda."

Obviously you won't get a fair hearing because you will have failed in "your job to convince me that you're a sensible figure with reasonable things to say"

Why will you have failed? Because you are connected to " the authors of Aaronovitch Watch, some of who are connected with a Trot totalitarian (as if there were any other kind of Trot) blog." Indeed for all Ben knows you might even be a Trot yourself!

Thus can 'powerful' people like Ben insulate themselves from even having to acknowledge opinions with which they might disagree.

"This is something you just have to learn to live with."

4/08/2008 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I didn't mean "who is he?" as in "who is he that we should be mindful of him?", I meant "who is he?". I mean he's obviously somebody tremendously important, so who?

4/08/2008 11:42:00 AM  
Anonymous harrythehorse said...

I meant "who is he?". I mean he's obviously somebody tremendously important, so who?

I've started browsing HP once in a while and the pomposity of many of the people there is quite extraordinary. Ben seems to fit that pattern quite well. There was an arch Blairite posting on CIF, MartinGreen0, who also fancied himself a 'a very important person'. I think he was outed as HP's 'Mike', fearless scourge of Lenin's Tomb. Ben's probably just another fantasist. I mean if he were really important he wouldn't be wasting his time jousting with the great unwashed on blogs.

4/08/2008 09:19:00 PM  

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