The Open Mind IV: Synthesis Reaffirmed

After some initial concern that there would be little distance between us, Jay found enough to dispute in Synthesis to fill out a post.  In the structure we have established, I now get to have the last word.

I realize that, as per his protestations, Jay is a poor representative of the modern liberal.  He has shown himself to be a marginal figure by signing the Euston Manifesto, which marks him as a principled and honest liberal, a rare breed these days.  (The true test of such a position can only be evaluated in extremis, ie when the liberal is forced by his conscience to oppose the corruption of those on “his side”; historically those who have failed to adhere to the “no enemy on the left” line have been excommunicated by the left.  Time will tell if the Euston signatories will face that fate.)  Nonetheless, he does offer the liberal position in response to my attempted Synthesis.

In his Riposte, Jay offers a brief synopsis of the War on Terror as conceived by Bush and Obama and sees little daylight between their approaches.  He doubts a speech by Obama as outlined in Synthesis would have much value, and I tend to agree with him, absent any change in emphasis or policy by the President.  However these are quibbles.  From my reading Jay and I are in broad agreement (which I highlight in the following passage), with some disagreement on emphasis:

President Bush went astray in the War on Terror with Iraq. It led, after the initial victory, to a misconceived and misconducted war in Afghanistan, and he never enlisted the engagement of the American people in the war in any specific and concrete way. However, President Obama cannot now start all over again to compensate for Bush’s failures. For that reason, the speech that ShrinkWrapped proposes, outside of a specific identifiable context – which I fear would be only another significant successful attack – would be offered without focused effect. The statement Obama gave on Wednesday about the Christmas security failures, in which he said unequivocally, “We are at war,” is the closest circumstance allows. What Obama can do is pursue the war – a very complex challenge in which we are as likely, often, to be wrong in our choices as right – with greater clarity and to greater effect. His decision to remain in Afghanistan with renewed but focused commitment, and not, at the same time, to stray from Pakistan – the greatest threat of all – is just such a clear pursuit.

Of ShrinkWrapped’s closing recommendations that I have not already addressed, I agree that we should aggressively develop alternative energy sources in order to end a foreign oil dependence that funds our enemies. I would even agree, for a period, to suspending some environmental concerns if and only if such suspensions were tied to an explicit plan, with bipartisan support, to truly end that foreign dependence. And it would be a great boon to our economy.

Jay agrees that we need to profile, with ethnicity and religion being part of the necessary metrics included in any profiling, and he also agrees that “true Muslim moderates and reformers should be aggressively enlisted and promoted in the public discourse.”

“There are two specific areas in which  Jay takes exception.  First he addresses torture (which I explicitly oppose) and insists that water-boarding qualifies as torture.  As I mentioned, I do not think this is resolvable, nor is it relevant to the actual question of treating terror suspects as criminal defendants, an approach that disarms us in the War Jay agrees we are fighting.  Part of my suggestion in Synthesis was to determine an agreed upon protocol for the use of coercive techniques short of torture, to be used only in extremis.  In the real world, if we come into possession of a high ranking terrorist with knowledge of a mass casualty attack and the President refuses to authorize coercive interrogation, the ramifications would be dramatic; a subsequent successful attack, beyond the horror of mass deaths, could well lead to impeachment for dereliction of duty and much more problematic abrogations of our civil liberties.

In his objection to torture Jay also makes an error that has become so commonplace as to escape deserved notice:

Conservatives*, who invoke the name and legacy of the founders, and also of what has become forever known as “the greatest generation,” more often and more effectively than do liberals, should recall the lesson of those generations on this subject as well. ShrinkWrapped argues, “We should reserve the right to use coercive techniques when in possession of terrorists, enemy combatants, who may have information about current capabilities and future attacks.” Any American paratrooper captured in Normandy on the eve of D-Day might reasonably have been presumed by the Germans to possess some knowledge of crucial operational orders that were part of a pending continental invasion. Any Japanese soldier captured on Guadalcanal or Iwo Jima might have been presumed knowledgeable of the deeply entrenched fortifications on those islands that made victory so costly to American marines. Any Viet Cong combatant captured in South Vietnam probably had crucial knowledge of entrances and command post positions in the Củ Chi tunnels that U.S. forces were never able to destroy. We confront nothing new when we conceive terrorists to possess life and death information. We depart from our forbearers when we resort so quickly and readily to inhumane policies they foreswore because we have been, by pursuit of those policies, effectively terrorized.

*[I consider myself more a libertarian than a conservative, but labels never do us justice.]

Jay likens a captured al Qaeda terrorist to a captured Japanese or German soldier in WWII.  This shows a striking misunderstanding of the nature of “civilized” warfare and the intent of the Geneva Conventions which sought to regulate warfare.  The Geneva Conventions were set up expressly to protect innocent non-combatants.  In order to do so a clear demarcation between soldiers and civilians was deemed necessary.  Uniformed soldiers of Geneva signatory nations were to be accorded all the rights and protections of the Geneva Conventions.  We were determined to protect German civilians, as much as practicable, and to secure the safety of captured German soldiers, with the knowledge that this offered a modicum of protection to our soldiers and civilians.  There was never any expectation that irregular fighters, including spies, were deserving or eligible to be treated as prisoners of war.  To do so would have been to undermine the very rationale of the Conventions.  Al Qaeda fighters do not wear uniforms, make every attempt to kill unarmed non-combatants, refuse Red Cross visits to prisoners, use their prisoners for propaganda purposes, and murder and torture their prisoners in grotesque ways.  Does Jay really believe that if we are nice to al Qaeda prisoners they will be more humane when they capture Western soldiers?  If anyone believes such nonsense, there is a bridge to Brooklyn that I would be happy to sell them.

One more detail for those who insist upon countenancing every possible legalistic interpretation: al Qaeda has never signed the Geneva Conventions.

According to the Geneva Conventions, when a non-uniformed fighter is captured, especially in the act of committing war crimes, summary execution is permissible.  We do not do that for many reasons, not least because we are more civilized than our enemies.  The other reason is that in a War which depends so heavily on intelligence gathering and dot connecting, there are a limited number of ways in which such dots can be collected.

We can intercept electronic communications.

We can infiltrate agents into our opponent’s organization.

We can interrogate prisoners.

The first method has limited utility for detecting specific threats, in part because al Qaeda uses methods that protect their communications (though we are constantly working on ways to break through their protections.)  Often we only hear “chatter” and by the time actionable intelligence is obtained, it is too late.

The second method is difficult and problematic; exhibit one is the recent terrible carnage and loss of life of our agents in Afghanistan by an al Qaeda triple agent.  Penetrating al Qaeda, indeed penetrating any terrorist organization, is extremely difficult and fraught with danger.

If the first and second methods are problematic we end up much more dependent on the third method, and here the Christmas bomber is instructive.  When caught he was quite talkative, up until the moment he was assigned a lawyer and advised to stop talking.  We had not even confronted the question of coercive techniques with this man, and there is no evidence such techniques would have been necessary.  Unfortunately, after his initial claim that many more just like him were on the way, we allowed him to “lawyer up” when elaborating on his claim might have been useful.

Islamic terror cannot by itself defeat the West.  In order for them to win victories they need our assistance.  We surrender inch by inch when we cede our free speech rights and when we disavow those very methods by which we might protect ourselves.  The single greatest threat to our rights remains a successful mass casualty attack.  The recent failed attack was followed by a poll suggesting that well over 50% of Americans would have been willing to water-board the bomber.  Imagine the outraged emotions, impossible for any President or politician to control, should a mass casualty attack occur.  At that point valuing abstract legalistic principles over American lives would be a non-viable stance for any American President.

Finally, Jay does not believe we need a Synthesis essentially because he believes we now have one.  I would suggest that in his refusal to countenance any positives for the Bush administration, Obama has continued to use the language of the far left to describe his approach (including offering trials to KSM and Abdullmutallab) which effectively disarms the intelligence agencies and makes a future successful attempt more likely.  One mention of War while behaving as if that war is a criminal affair is not dispositive.  Obama’s approach is foolish and dangerous and risks not only hamstringing his own administration but re-opening a furiously contentious discourse with a new administration in the future.  I would be more comfortable with a reformulation of our approach to the treatment of prisoners of this terror war if there were a good faith effort made by the Obama administration to propose it openly and with adequate discussion.  Without such a formalized approach, all the questions are left unresolved; when the next attack occurs we will again be faced with formulating a response under duress with all the attendant problems our lack of consensus have engendered.

January 13, 2010 at 12:56 PM in The Open Mind | Permalink

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Jimmy J. said…

SW said, “Islamic terror cannot by itself defeat the West. In order for them to win victories they need our assistance. We surrender inch by inch when we cede our free speech rights and when we disavow those very methods by which we might protect ourselves.”

So true. I wonder what Jay and other liberals would think if they knew this country was actually being infiltrated and undermined from within. If Bill Whittle’s investigation with whistleblowers in the FBI and DHS is true, that is exactly what is happening. See part two of his series here:

It appears that our (liberals and conservatives alike) biggest obstacle is still the misunderstanding of the true nature of Islam and our tendency to believe it as a religion with the values of Judeo/Christianity.

Geoffrey Britain said…

The Obama administration has walked to the cliff edge and started across the high wire to 2012. Every administration must accept the responsibility for protecting the American people from terrorist attacks. Obama has risked much in rejecting common sense precautions previously employed, thus opening his decisions to extreme criticism should his policy’s prove inadequate to the threat. There’s a reason why 58% of the public approved of water boarding the Nigerian terrorist. When innocent lives are at stake, practical results count for far more with the public than ‘principled legal niceties’.

Should any Yemeni based terrorist succeed in a mass attack during 2010, allowing the Nigerian terrorist to ‘lawyer-up’ fully exposes Obama to the public’s judgment that he is simply incompetent. Which would be a fatal assessment, dooming his prospects for reelection in 2012.

Presently, he appears to be quite determined to head down that road. I attribute that to a simple inability to reassess deeply held assumptions about the world.

That 58% figure is going to be quite low compared to the percentage numbers should another successful attack occur. In that case, the public’s reaction is going to be to vote in the representatives who they believe present the best chance to ensure their safety. After the democrats have had their chance and conclusively demonstrated that they aren’t up to the job… the public is going to turn to the party that kept them safe for over 7 years.

And once again democrats will learn that doing the job is a lot harder than simply Monday morning quarterbacking from the easy chair. And that successfully doing the job is impossible with fatally flawed assumptions about what actually works in the real world. Liberals will deny it of course, essentially continuing to insist its our fault, only this time, such talk is going to met with overwhelming derision and scorn.

jackson said…

OT: Saw this quote

“Therapy is about re-educating a person by playing a parental role. No one should be paying for an “enlightened witness” to find relieve for the suffering that you never caused yourself in the first place. In that regard, therapists are cowards dealing with victims instead of the perpetrators.”
Any truth?

Nightelf said in reply to jackson…

But who is the victim and who is the perpetrator?

AJA said…

Endeavoring to stay within the spirit of our procedures, I submit these observations as a comment, mostly to clarify. Shrink is kind to offer kind words for me (and I think he’s better than Rice Krispies too), but I cannot assent by my silence to the context in which he delivers those words. There are plenty of “principled and honest” liberals to be found. (Dare I say more than…?) Ain’t nothin’ special on my part.

On the matter of the Geneva Conventions, I fear I was unclear, and my position should at least be that, to which Shrink might offer some altered rejoinder. This may narrow the distance between him and me even further, though also partly shift its ground. I cited international conventions not as reason to abjure torture, but only as to legal and treaty definitions of it, and that waterboarding is torture I believe, beyond those definitions, to be self-evident anyway. (It has always, historically, been so considered.) I mentioned soldiers only in the matter of possessing life and death information, not as parallels in legal status. I do not think torture as policy should be proscribed in the WOT on the basis of adherence to treaties. I do agree that, in the case of terrorists of any kind, they fall outside of POW provisions, and I do not advocate granting them the full protections due POWs, never mind criminal defendant rights. I do not think torture should be proscribed in hope of reciprocity from terrorists. We already know there is no question of that. I oppose a policy of torture for the same reasons I oppose capital punishment (institutionalized state killing) in almost any normal circumstance – not out of any general compassion for those who might be subjected to it, but as an expression of our own humanity and decency, part of what makes us better.

When discussing policy, then, rather than the extraordinary instance of having to act in extremis – the hypothetical of some terrorist with knowledge of impending WMD mass death – it is not a matter of being fatally idealistic and naïve. In the poll SW cites, it is crucial to recognize that half the respondents are ready to torture not that hypothetical, potentially policy-stretching WMD terrorist but – terrorist though he may be – a putz on a plane. That quickly, so easily, with no objectively indicated extreme cause to already leave general principle behind. That is the legacy of the Bush-Cheney torture regime. That is what a rationalized policy of torture produces. That is how we change.

njcommuter said in reply to AJA

The first duty of the state is to safeguard its citizens from unjust attack. As to capital punishment: the data show (contrary to popular assertion) that when execution is no longer a possibility, innocent people die.

As to torture: the question of how civilized we are must include our willingness to defend civilization, which did not arise from nothing but had to be carved out of a barbarian world with the blood and sacrifice of the most principled among us. To refuse to defend civilization is to renounce their sacrifice.

I further submit that the correct calculus is to compare the right of the terrorist to remain a silent accomplice in an atrocity of whose preparations he is aware versus the rights of the prospective victims of that atrocity to their lives and freedoms. Any moral calculus which does not consider the guilt of remaining silent and the harm that the silent one willfully inflicts on the innocent is seriously deficient in that it posits that the (war) criminal has a right to commit his crime unmolested while his victims lose all rights.

Siha Sapa said in reply to AJA

I enjoyed your piece but I am somewhat curious as to why the clarification as opposed to simply stating some fo those things outright. I understand that to you, the difference between uniformed soldier and brigand in time of Martial Law or war is either taken for granted with some shades of grey in the modern world conflicts.

Ok, well you have to understand that to anybody with a modicum of military experience that is a monumental issue with no room for give and take. It is the basis for a code of conduct that good men and women live by and stake their lives upon. Not in a faculty lounge, but in a very existential 0/1 kind of environment where even if you do all the ‘right’ things, randomness can void even the memory of your efforts.

In terms of what you consider torture you are of course entitled to your opinion and more power for taking the time to posess one. Do you have any historical, say WW II to the present, or global context? I am not trying to patronize but in modern times people are hugely ignorant of our own and the world’s military history. In answer to your query of a Normandy captured paratrooper, are you aware of St Mere Eglise? WHy when at a crucial junction due to lack of manpower the Nazi air marshall Goering put what for them was an enormous number of men in uniform on the ground as opposed to direct flight related acitivities? Because Hitler, the real one that is, had ordered all parachuting Allied air crews to be shot on sight and as a former pilot himslef even Goering could not participatein that. Those are but 2 modest examples. The Japanese gave new meaning to the term unspeakable. Equally the NVA and VC.

Most places in this world torture is not something an individual gets up and walks away from, essentially eturned to their former state after an hour or so. That is not the calling card of the Cuban armed forces who have (had) a remarkabe penchant for electricity apparently gained from their E German instructors. The more globalized context for this kind of behavior is to leave a very permanent mark, ‘pour encouager les autres’. I would also say that from what I have seen and heard that most nations begin with degrading brutlaity before the individual has been asked anything; ‘this is for starters you better come up with something good fast if you want it to stop’.

This is also not some accusation solely toward the foremer East Bloc countries either. Royal Marine Commandos and SAS men both WILL get what they came for. I certainly hope you are not of the illusion that all the Provo’s and Real IRA men simpy went into drug dealing after a brief visit from George Mitchel. Neither will you ever see un raporteur embedded with the Foreign Legion. Perhaps as an echo of Laurel and Hardy the name can be a source of mirth. But if you have ever been to sub saharan Africa, the mention of them alone is enough to create some pretty extreme discomfort.

You also mention the ‘putz on the plane’. Funny, at least now. But if you were more keyed into that world you would not be quite so hasty. You have failed in your intel gathering from the start…you don’t know exactly why he was where he was that is for him to tell. It could as easily have been to misdirect from a more cumbersome operation they were trying in another place, as well as simply creating panic, or testing the overall methodology.

As I said, explosions are pretty easy, making bombs is another entire order of knowledge and lab technique. That the putz on the plane failed is not altogether a surprise given that fairly old equation. In the end you simply don’t know exactly what their plan was in forwarding little Farouk to Detroit. He may well not have known or been misdirected, either way you cannot assume.

As far as waterboarding him individually, it doesn’t seem to have been necessary as he was happily shooting his mouth off, at least until the other rather unnecessary event of being provided with a lawyer. I am also somewhat curious on that last point, I thought we gave court appointed lawyers to those who could not afford their own. He is the scion of a wealthy Nigerian family, if lawyer he must have it seems a call to Daddy is more in order than the local BAR Assoc.

I’m neither trying to particularly change your mind nor convince you of the niceness of harsh interrogation or warfare itself. But there is a larger generic reality which our soldiers and Intel people inhabit and not a variation of the police. None of it is very nice and most certainly a shock to the normal system in contrast to our behavior in our daily lives. In that context your reservations are admirable, but that is not the reality foist upon us.

Iraq to you seemed a sovereign country to be left alone apparently. If you are conversant with the map, they are in the midst of an arc of real pain in the neck terror enablers and general trouble makers and were the weak sister of the bunch. Re-read your Sun Tzu and I paraphrase, if you are faced with numerous enemies, strike the weakest one first rather than than strongest. Then work your way up the order of weakness
until only the strong remains and is thus isolated when you finally chose to deal with them.

In addition to destroying the draconian Baathist regime of Saddam, we also put a lot of very serious military force right next door to both Iran and Syria. Iran as well being then as now bordered by virtually every Special Ops soldier on earth in Afghanistan.

All this talk of advantage and suppression fo the weakest of your enemies is again, not exactly from archives at Hallmark. Islam has attacked us, quite literally again if you would consider history and for the same stated reason no less. We have acted with restraint time and again in which they see only weakness. I’m not so sure, nobody likes any of these choices we are discussing. But they will not go away. We have defended the Holy cities and shrines when oddly none of these tigers of Allah were available, just as we defended and protected Moslems in eastern Europe. WE were the first largest Tsunami aid and we may as well go and upstick it for the thanks it has gleaned. It is not we but they who want this thing and pretending it is the code duello will not make it easier or better. For better or worse, ‘the worse it is, the faster it will be over and over for good’.

Nightelf said…

In a recent post I asked Jay to differentiate himself from some of the crazies on the left, and by endorsing the Euston Manifesto he has in fact done so in my opinion. I would think that would put him at odds with most liberals. At least all the liberals I know would take exception to the Euston Manifesto. You know, the ones that say, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” They would say that America and Israel are the major causes of all the world’s problems and terrorists are justified in attacking us. Or if not justified, are ‘understandable’ as blowback from our misguided policies. But Jay is to be commended for taking a more reasonable position.

One section of the Euston Manifesto (which Jay doesn’t quote in this riposte) states the following about states that torture and abuse their citizens:

But if the state itself violates this common life in appalling ways, its claim to sovereignty is forfeited and there is a duty upon the international community of intervention and rescue. Once a threshold of inhumanity has been crossed, there is a ‘responsibility to protect’.

This is a clear justification for the war in Iraq. I notice that liberals while focused on the WMD issue failed to recognize or take into account the horrors visited on the Iraqi people by the Baathists who ran the entire country as their own personal torture chamber. It is ironic that liberals like Jay are in a lather about a relatively harmless interrogation technique used only a handful of times on the worst of the captured terrorists, yet were apparently unmoved about the wholesale mass torture of Saddam’s regime from which few survived. The Euston Manifesto is also clear about condemning terrorism and yet liberals were unconcerned about the terrorism sponsored by Saddam’s Iraq. So George Bush is cast in the role of Gary Cooper in High Noon; if nobody else has the courage somebody’s gotta do it. As an aside, it is equally ironic that American feminists, who are so outraged that a man might make a higher salary than a woman, are insensitive to the plight of women in Afghanistan who experienced the most horrific abuse under the Taliban and yet had nothing good to say about our intervention there. Neither do liberals show much concern about the abominable abuse of women and homosexuals throughout the Muslim world, and while Euston warns of ‘racism’ against Muslims (a contradiction in terms) it also clearly states that, We reject, also, the cultural relativist view according to which these basic human rights are not appropriate for certain nations or peoples. Tell that to the liberals who are always foaming about the poor Palestinians.

Perhaps the most flagrant example of liberal stupidity in the WoT is the decision to get terrorists into our criminal justice system. I think Siha Sapa did a good job of pointing out the folly of that kind of liberalism which can only lead to civilizational suicide. It is one thing to argue about the limits of enhanced interrogation, it is another to sacrifice innocent American lives in order to make liberals feel good about themselves.

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