2012/10/31 W – Latter-day Hallows

After waking at about 17:00 today and squeezing in some typing work, I thought I ought to try to get some more photographs of children in case they might be useful in Korea, but the light faded on me and I didn’t get many; my camera is also starting to age, and doesn’t always focus well.  My mom had me dress up instead of going civilian.  I chose the old woman mask, and added a shawl (while the skirt would have impeded my pedalling).  I took a fairly quick circuit around Lavar Drive, up Hillside Lane, and down 27th East to 39th, then home.

We only had four visits — actually about 2 to 4 more than usual.  The first was our cousin Melissa and her family, who came while I was working, so I didn’t see them.  The second was the Sorenson mother in the ward, coming to see my sister, whose birthday it just was.  The third was our only regular annual visitor (though Melissa has been good these years), Melissa’s younger brother, Brandon.  He brought a girl named Abbie whom I later found out that we had already met many months ago when they came to borrow some marine pet supplies.  (Brandon stayed to beat me soundly in chess, claiming that it was possibly the first time he’d ever beaten me).  Last came the Marshall parents (Jan and Stephen) in the ward, whom my brother has remained close to.  With them was the lad Thomas.  Jan was also here to drop something off for my sister.  I and my mom watched some ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes she’d just brought home.

I just read a post by a woman named Micha Boyett (don’t ask me how to say it) at Patheos, a place I found because it hosts a page by the creators of EFM, who have made a great effort these two years to heal religious factionalism among conversatives.  She mentioned Halloween, then pivoted to the topic of a departed loved one, upon the thesis that the loved one now enjoys the personal presence of the divine.

Nice thoughts.  I wrote my comment, but, considering again the bunch of head-bobbing, parrotlike respondents before me affirming how “beautiful” and “wise” Boyett’s good but fairly pedestrian and prosaic composition was, and offering very little else by way of commentary, I suddenly felt out of place, and refrained.

I had wanted to further discuss what the holiday was:

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Hallows’ Eve has multiple faces.  We can appreciate the artistry, imagination, and drama of the decorations, the carnival, or the masquerade, the chance to recharacterise oneself in both absurd and hopeful or heroic ways.  We can explore or resist the holiday’s grotesque aspect, its celebration of terror, which exposes our susceptibility to the unreal and urges us to confront it — and which may afford a cathartic but superficial and socially scripted “evil”.  We can rejoice in the bounty of harvest (which we thankfully share with another holiday), and magnify our generosity to all visitors and supplicants.  We can more acutely sense the natural tragedy of this particular change of seasons, by which the earth itself forms symbols of our own lives; we can ponder for a moment the merging of the opposites of life and death, envisioning our future, and recovering those who have gone.  Many don’t know any better than to exaggerate some appendage of the holiday and ignore its other potential… but if we keep it, it’s our opportunity to keep it to God.

I seem to remember not wanting to observe Halloween for several years due to its negativity and mindlessness.  As I explained, I still don’t accept the caricature it largely is, but I don’t blame the day now.

This reminds me of another comment I held back recently.  Some nights ago, I stayed up all night (making my typing work late) rebutting a guy on the LDSNATSEC mailing list from BYU who was preaching his revelation of pacifism and condemning his fellow church members.  The topic started with a certain new LDS bishop in Seattle or somewhere named Jessen whose profession had involved national security and interrogation.  Specifically, the guy on the list had decided that God had told him that interrogation of terrorists was among the ultimate human evils.  I’d written him an earlier rebuttal that I decided to keep private to him, but it didn’t seem to affect him at all.

After contradicting the main points of his later argument, I hesitated to post the comment to the list due to its poor quality, then realised that that dude was deaf to debate anyway, and everybody else there but one commiserator already knew the guy was tilted and running on the fumes of his depleted faith and ethical sense (now seemingly replaced by liberalism).  Beside, the debate had grown tired (though the two with the more offensive views still hadn’t really been answered).  I never posted it.

My main point was, of course, that torture for fun or power was very bad, but forcing out information to combat terroristic warfare and save innocents didn’t match the legal rationale (subjective and loose already) for prohibiting unpleasant methods thought to be tortuous, and wasn’t necessarily bad — and that dismissing murder, imagining away threats, and crippling security were more criminal than holding a guy underwater till he betrayed his accomplices.

Oh well.

In fact, yes, I think I’ll post it here after all.  It’s important to think about, when there’s so much slander nowadays by those whose god is themselves, and whose ideologies teach them bad is good.  Their claims are not all bad; opposing presumed sin is not bad.  The sin is in the extremity, in sinning to oppose sin, standing on cracked ice to crack the ice beneath a foe, blinding oneself to the fatal exceptions to one’s absolutism.

May this day, and all our days, be somehow holy.

-Steve Foster


Personally, my interest in this discussion has waned, but though neither a soldier nor a jurist, I feel like some of the central premises have remained underdeveloped or unstated (at least since the last time they may have been brought up on this list).

As I see it, the exchange here has fallen along these propositions:

1) A bishop was once engaged in wrong-doing, and if he is not disciplined by the Church, at least his past actions should be disavowed by Church members.

This seems to be a minor contention, in that it has been agreed by those here that Church discipline is an internal and inscrutable process potentially including much greater familiarity with detail and repentance of past wrongs, and any rebuke made here of his alleged wrong would consist of a general repudiation of the activity rather than a condemnation of him as a man, a sinner, or a church leader (though A. F. entertained a future hope that Mr. Jessen could no longer “hide in respectable company” behind a spiritual justification of his actions, and also would be “prosecuted for participation in a crime”).  At any rate, the actual “wrongness” within the first tangent hinges on the second:

2) Waterboarding is torture, and like other forms of torture, it is wrong, in a legal and moral aspect.

a) It is legally wrong.

-(Lawful “pain and suffering” exempted from forbidden torture)
M. T. has given a good deal of relevant background, and A.F. has concluded that “legally it isn’t a close call.”  It’s true that over the three iterations of international legality cited by M.T., increasing definition has been given to acts of torture and their inhumanity.  M.T. also mentioned several pieces of U.S. law from the same article he referenced, which serve as recapitulations of Geneva (as well as extending the U.S. Constitutional protections of due process and non-cruel and usual treatment to prisoners abroad).

As for the U.S. Code, it does indeed forbid torture within the U.S. (Title 18 Section 2340) in a civil context, and any “grave breach” of the Geneva Convention (Section 2441), which would be in a military context; but with the latter, it repeatedly and consistently invokes the disclaimer that the rules do not apply to “pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions”.  Essentially, a line is drawn between arbitrary inflictions of suffering, such as those made to intimidate or punish foes or exact confessions, and legally justified inflictions of suffering, such as those effected upon lawbreakers.  There’s a difference between “cruelty” toward the innocent (including, as a line of GPW commentary puts it, those who have “committed no crime except that of carrying arms and fighting loyally”) and “cruelty” toward the guilty or the still-dangerous (who of themselves would probably characterise any force exerted against them as “cruel”, including captivity, despite that the law requires it).

The international law statements are also not as absolute as has been suggested.  The 1984 CAT, Article 1, forbids an official from inflicting “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental” for the purpose of “obtaining […] information”, but then states that the proscription “does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

The 1966 ICCPR is a statement of general human rights not connected with warfare.  For example, in Article 9, life and liberty are also protected, which rights are universally held to extend only so far as individuals are not engaging in the destruction of the rights of others.  Obviously, no legal statement would seek to protect the lives and liberties of enemy combatants, when doing so would mean that one’s own compatriots lost their lives instead.  Article 5 addresses this somewhat.

The 1949 Geneva Convention is specifically oriented toward treatment of those engaged in armed conflict.  While it decries “violence to life and person, in particular […] mutilation, cruel treatment and torture” and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment” (Article 3), it also qualifies from the first instance that these protections are to descend upon “persons taking no active part in the hostilities”, who have been injured or captured, who have surrendered, and so on.  GPW Article 4 further delineates that prisoners of war must either be part of regular armed forces openly carrying arms and acting within the “laws and customs of war”, civilians accompanying or working with such forces, or sporadic fighters who nevertheless are openly armed and follow the “laws and customs of war”.

-(Obsolete assumption of cessation of threat)
The question of whether an infliction of pain or abrogation of rights is justified (or “incidental to legal sanctions”) during wartime seems to rely entirely on whether a person is presently engaged in hostilities or capable of inflicting harm; and the very simple reasoning here is, protection of victims or defense against attacks clearly takes priority over the protection of the rights of malefactors, who would otherwise, in a normal situation removed from their hostility, deserve their full dignity.  The assumptions of Geneva have held true and found consensus up till nearly the present time (arguably, up till 2001/9/11), that subduing an enemy automatically negates their threat, and therefore, there is no reason other than inhumanity to traumatise them after capture.

As we all know, that assumption is no longer true.  There are enemies who no longer openly carry arms, and who make not even the slightest pretense of according with the customs and laws of war.  There are enemies whose modes of attacks are not frontal or even militaristic per se, defense against whom can no longer be achieved by traditional military means.  Their attacks involve secrecy, plots, disguises, information networks, and — most importantly and most innovatively — sneaking hidden explosives into the midst of large groups of civilians.  The danger arises not from “carrying arms and fighting loyally”, which behaviour could be met in battle.  The danger is from the duplicity in both the manner and the targets of the warfare.  Terrorists do not brandish arms, but conceal them, conducting themselves as assassins — and their victims are rarely a tangible military or government entity, but are almost always non-combatants who cannot possibly be defended unless a planned attack is uncovered.  The danger of these hostiles is their secrecy.  Information itself has thus become a weapon or means of defense.  This argument was pursued by the Bush administration:

“[T]he war against terrorism is a new kind of war. It is not the traditional clash between nations adhering to the laws of war that formed the backdrop for GPW.  The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians, and the need to try terrorists for war crimes such as wantonly killing civilians. In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions requiring that captured enemy be afforded such things as commissary privileges, scrip (i.e., advances of monthly pay), athletic uniforms, and scientific instruments” (http://www.hereinreality.com/alberto_gonzales_torture_memo.html).

Though M.T.’s article speaks quite derogatorily about the Gonzales memo, and while a few of its arguments, such as the illegitimacy of the enemy governments, seem to already be precluded by the GPW, his central point remains forceful to me.  Against this backdrop of an evolving disagreement over whether the hostility or threat of civilian-targetting secret enemy networks is nullified by the capture of any of their members, we find a new confusion at least in U.S. law, exemplified in U.S. Code Title 42 Section 2000dd, which affords legal protection to agents of this government who have interrogated captives oblivious to whether doing so was legal or not — and who did so, tellingly, between 2001/9/11 and 2005/12/30, which amounts to an admission of legal ambiguity at least during that time.  It’s easy to predict what will happen to the legal debate if another major terror attack occurs against the US.  I doubt it will be a shift in favour of the human dignity of terrorists.

-(Bolstering illegality as a partisan attack)
I would also point out that A.F. suggested that justification of torture or interrogation may have been due to a desire to shield political leaders from blame.  It’s not difficult at all to see that the reverse is equally likely as a motivation.  This may or may not be true in A.F.’s particular case, but it’s easy to see that the opposition effort to discredit Bush included a severe emphasis on criminalising (or “demonising”, as K. K. offered) interrogation techniques.  If partisanship has obfuscated the debate over the practice itself on one side, it most certainly has on the other as well.

b) It is morally wrong.

-(Pleasantness or inexchangeability with Christ not always determinative of morality)
As K.K. and J.O. analogised, we have clear prohibitions against “taking life” in general, but they are not absolute in all times and places — the same action (taking a life) can toward one person be murderous and depraved, and toward a second person be justified, or even legally or morally demanded.  The same can be said about depriving criminals of their liberty, with due process.  A.F. and M.T. both called on intuition to make their moral cases.  A.F. specifically appealed to the intuition of children, denying that they would ever interrogate or torture another person, and also argued that love for our enemies should prevent us from causing them pain or suffering.  M.T. put forward a very tragic case of a suicidal woman (whose judgment in that action he questioned) whose intuition prevented her from interrogating prisoners.  M.T. also argued that since we wouldn’t interrogate or torture Jesus, we shouldn’t do so to anybody else.

The logic quickly frays in other settings.  What about depriving someone’s liberty?  Children can actually be surprisingly naughty, but an idealised child wouldn’t restrict the liberty of offending peers; Jesus apparently was never a jailor on this earth, though he restricted the liberty of his enemy demons; and we ought to “love” criminals as much as any other foe.  But we can’t assume either A.F. or M.T. would advocate up-ending our entire penal system on the same logic as they used to reject EIT — because it may feel wrong to put somebody in jail, it is wrong.  And what about taking a life?  What about war?  No healthy, normal child would kill another person, and there’s no hint that mortal Jesus ever directly took human life; plus, we ought to find a way to love our enemies in war; but we still have exceptionally clear ethical dictates that we must defend the innocent even to the point of killing killers.  We don’t place this burden on children, of course.  But even though we have no child police officers or child soldiers, we don’t condemn policemen or soldiers for doing what children cannot, or even what tender-hearted adults cannot.  Also, the tragedy or the ugliness of killing doesn’t detract from its necessity — but on the other hand, it does suggest that those who neglect duty, or cause others to neglect their duties, of committing a “necessary evil” are potentially making themselves an accessory to the greater evil they self-righteously decline to prevent.

-(Motive and utility)
If intent differentiates murder, manslaughter, and self-defense or heroism, we oughn’t discard it from ethical judgments of interrogation tactics.  It might be said that killing is to murder as enhanced interrogation is to torture.  There is perhaps never an excuse for the latter acts, and only the barest sliver of excuse for the former — but within that sliver is the power to save life.  A.F. gave some weight to motives when he opined that we are “a Church and a culture that glories in war and revels in battle and has no qualms in killing or torturing our enemies”, and that Mr. Jessen had been proud to invent ways to torture people.  Despite A.F.’s disclaiming a desire to judge, this, frankly, is not only against the tremendous brunt of scripture, it takes liberties to declare the evil intents of Jessen and the LDS community at large the existence of which A.F. may choose to suspect, but which I’m not sure he has sufficient evidence to demonstrate.

He then took another track, that a primary motive of interrogating terrorists was to respond to a “fear of attack”.  He probably would agree that there’s every reason for a government and a people to have such an anxiety, particularly given the attacks that have already occurred, and against which there is no defense with traditional military tactics.  He is likely only concerned that fear might become irrational and disrupt our priorities, leading us to want to interrogate terrorists when otherwise, guided by our Christian love and great regard for their human dignity, we would never choose to forcibly extract intelligence from them, or as he put it, to force an unwilling prisoner “to act against their conscience” (as contradictory as it might seem to hold sacred the preferences of a person’s conscience that apparently condones their participation in mass, indiscriminate civilian deaths).  M.T. also granted that a “ticking time bomb” (and the motive of its prevention) might justify EIT, but he denied the likelihood of such a situation — apparently convinced that secret plans to co-ordinate terror attacks are “bizarre and rare” and have “no place in defining a policy”.  The position that fear of an imminent attack is not a valid factor for policy-making does seem increasingly acceptable the further we get from 9/11.

But the debate here becomes speculative.  If the danger of hidden attacks actually has subsided, it would certainly be proper to re-enshrine humane treatment of enemy captives whose dignity may have been impinged upon because of their use of “dignity” to shield their inhumane waging of war.  But is the danger gone, and can M.T. or A.F. prove this?  Are people no longer conspiring to explode large groups of civilians?  If we cease extracting the details of these secret plans by painful methods, and if clever terrorists are able to achieve another catastrophe, and if we can connect the security breach to a laxity toward our own intelligence-gathering, are A.F., M.T., or any of those who share their aversion to EIT really ready to accept culpability for the blood of American civilians?  Those are big “ifs”, and the price is too great to test them, but at the very least, we should all admit that proponents of EIT are not collectively motivated by “cruelty”, but by protecting people from cruelty.

Of two scriptures citing torture, only one comments specifically on the justification, or lack thereof, of its infliction (to my knowledge, though Alma 44:6-7 and the following events could also fit M.T.’s definition of torture).  Moroni 9:9-13 describes a very different activity from EIT, in two ways: the intentional result was death, and the motives were hard-heartedness, a gruesome show of bravery, and a delight in abomination.  EIT such as waterboarding neither intend to kill nor maim the captive, nor are motivated by cruelty or depravity.  Even so, it’s still entirely appropriate to define, systematise, and control interrogation techniques to the point where the interrogator is not left to their own judgment in the process.  We expect the same strictness and accountability with those who are authorised to take away people’s rights in any other setting, for the very purpose that those lawful sanctions don’t become arbitrary, cruel, abusive, or extortive.

To summarise, it’s a reasonable ethical position, not something to “hide in respectable company”, that, as with taking life, a vicious or self-serving intent may render a certain interrogatory action an exercise of unusual cruelty or inhumanity, while a benevolent patriotic intent may make the same act an unfortunate but commendable discharge of public guardianship.  This view does not require that its proponents revel in torture or glory in war, that they are are at odds with the gospel of Jesus, or that they lack ethical clarity.  On the contrary, it invites scrutiny into the opposite position, as verbalised by A.F. in a statement that honestly startles me:

“Even if the path is harder, even if the path is longer, even if the path is more expansive [expensive?], even if the path costs more suffering to the innocent there is always a way that won’t necessitate enhanced interrogation/torture.”

-(Horrible ends at least as indefensible as horrible means)
If the flaw with ends-based means is that they may justify using ostensibly horrible methods to achieve a purportedly positive outcome (which is an impossible scenario to those who believe that God’s ends and means are equally good, as epitomised in D&C 10:25-28, James 1:13-17), Nephi 26:33, and Moses 1:38-39), then the exact same flaw is found in reverse with means-based ends: allegedly good methods will be employed despite leading to a nominally horrible end.  This horrible end is the one A.F., for all his apparent good intention, just allowed in saying he opposes EIT even if it “costs more suffering to the innocent”.  I’m not entirely sure he’s thought it through, especially since his hypothesis that EIT proponents are trying to “justify an already determined position to support torture” comes equally against his pre-determination to oppose torture, no matter the human cost — and no matter the form of torture.  As “M.J.” reminded us, there are differences within torture and interrogation.  Waterboarding is not the same thing as slowly pulling a person limb from limb, nor is it the same thing as a bullet in the head.  There’s a curious moral hypocrisy in a philosophy that allows one to dispatch an enemy aggressor to save lives, but that doesn’t allow the inflicting of non-lethal or impermanent suffering on that aggressor to save lives.  But for all I know, A.F. is an entire pacificist who decries any and all harm against everybody everywhere, which at least would leave his view of righteous methods internally consistent.

-(Source of ethics)
A.F. (joined by M.T. to some extent) framed his legal and intuitive positions as the result of “a process of morality and ethical consideration”  while painting his opponents as believers in a God (rather, a devil) who only ever commands insanity and butchery and never restraint or mercy, and equated the morals and ethics of Mitt Romney and most other LDS members with susceptibility to fanciful spiritual conclusions and even outright sadism.  I think he should rather admit that his own ethical deliberations, and the collective ethical conclusions he leans upon, arise from the very same internal moral sensibility, “light of Christ”, or “voice of God” as do those of people who admit interrogation as a necessary evil in the face of enemies whose unconscionable tactics reveal the utter joke that has always been the notion of a “humane conduct of war”.  His opponents have the same sense he does, telling a person that A is beautiful and right, B is ugly and wrong, and C is tragic but necessary; and if they’re in danger of shadowy inspiration inverting their priorities, so is he.

-Steve Foster

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