Sunday, April 19, 2009

Yes, Torture Is Still Wrong, Even If They Told You To.


"During the Nuremberg Trials, the Allied Powers established that "I was just following orders" is not a legitimate defense for heinous and barbarous acts. It doesn't matter how legitimate the authorities above you might otherwise be, they don't have the authority to order to you break the law. It also doesn't matter if they tell you that their orders are legal. If you choose to follow such orders, then you are completely responsible for your own actions — as a morally autonomous and responsible adult, no other conclusion is legally possible. You are not protected by any laws or any international treaties...Government employees and independent contractors are not automatons whom we simply wind up and aim in some desired direction; they are morally responsible adults who must be held morally and legally responsible for actions they choose to take. They have a choice to not take action they suspect may be legally questionable or which appear to be morally dubious. Granted, there are grey areas where it's not always obvious what is legal and what is illegal. I'd like to think that those engaged in actively administering criminal treatments like waterboarding would have noticed that they were breaking the law, but I could accept that not every situation was quite so clear. Is that a reason to withhold prosecution? Absolutely not. If complete ignorance of the law is not a valid defense for breaking the law without consequences, then difficulty in discerning the boundaries of the law won't be either. Even the most junior members of the military are legally and morally expected to uphold these standards under far more difficult and stressful conditions. Does anyone really want to argue that soldiers should be immune from prosecution for war crimes if they are told that the Justice Department decided it was legal to summarily execute suspected Muslim terrorists? So I don't think it's not asking too much to have these expectations of experienced civilians who have the luxury of time and space to consider their actions. "

Torture is barbarism, a monstrosity against which all good people should be appalled. It is not vague, it is not contingent on circumstance, it is not "a few bad apples". It is wrong, it always has been wrong, it always will be wrong.

The people who sanctioned it should be tried, convicted, and imprisoned for crimes against humanity.


  1. You are right; no American should defend torture under any circumstances. If we hold our Constitution dear, than we must defend it, even when it is hardest to.

    That being said, the effectiveness of our military depends on following orders. Hold those who issued the orders fully accountable; don't go after those who followed them or who asked, "is this legal?" are were told "Yes, do it."

    Asking every underling in the military to be aware of laws, executive orders, etc. is unreasonable and scary in practice. It would be a dinsincentive for people to go into military and intelligence work.

    Imagine a military where every individual could follow orders or not, based on his or her own moral code. Chaos.

    Again, this is in no way a defense of torture. If someone in my government sanctioned it, I want THEM to be held accountable. Blaming the people who carreid out orders is unfair, sets a dangerous precendent, and misses the point of who we should really be going after.

  2. With all due respect, you're wrong.

    Every military member has a positive duty to refuse an illegal order. Military people are not robots that we wind up and point at the enemy-they are adult human beings with reason and judgement. If they refuse an order, they have to have good reason to do so-and they will be punished if they don't. But they're not children.

  3. I think you're oversimplifying. Imagine a soldier right out of high school. He/she is told to do something that feels wrong. Maybe even raises a concern. He/she is told, "This is per an executive order of the President of the United States. Here it is if you want to read it. You got a problem with that, you're looking at a court martial." Now, said soldier has a dilemna. This feels wrong to me, but I don't know the law. That document looks pretty official. And a court martial? Again, I say, blame those that allowed the torture. Don't blame those that have been trained to obey. I actually think the people who were forced to do this stuff are somewhat victimized as well (obviously no where near as victimized as the victims; but victimized by a system gone wrong).

  4. And what is a greatest danger to the Constitution? Bill Clinton and others calling for censorship of anything in the free press that the government considers "unfair"? Or a few actual terrorists getting wet and scared?

  5. DMarks: You're dramatically understating. And many of them were not terrorists.

    Jeanne: It's true, it's not fair. But that's what trials and judges and juries are for.

    It's a moot point: it doesn't appear anyone is ever going to pay for anything.

  6. I feel the need to point out here that the Presidential Oath of Office does not say anything about defending the people of the US but it does say that they will "uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic". In our time, the single biggest threat to the Constitution has been George W. Bush. If anyone takes the time to read the USA Patriot Act, you will see that GWB and his administration single-handedly decimated the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. If you further look at all of his Executive Orders, you will further see that he once again shredded the Constitution.

    Next, *we* were one of the leaders in the construction of the Geneva Convention. We cannot expect any of our enemies to follow those rules or guidelines unless we do so infallibly as well.

    And don't give me that BS argument that our enemies don't follow those rules... I will ask as a mother "If all you friends jump off a cliff, will you?" Secondly, we don't have 'eye for an eye' laws like Hammurabi's code. We, citizens of the United States of America, have a constitution and a legal system and believe in "innocent until proven guilty". Everyone taken in to US custody is subject to our laws and our Constitution because those are the laws that WE have chosen to live by. Those are the laws that make us a great nation. We value human life and we believe in equality.

    And lastly, I don't think that the low man on the totem pole should be held accountable for following orders handed down to him from the Executive Office. I don't think that the Nazi soldiers should have been held accountable to that either. When the choice is life or theirs, nearly everyone is going to choose their life. However, there are liars and crooks and weasels at several levels who should be tried for these crimes against humanity, for breaking our own rules in the Geneva Convention, and further endangering our soldiers and citizens. Many generals in our armed forces retired early because of the illegal things they were being asked to do. The other people in charge could have done the same thing. However, I have no doubt that the GWB administration would have kept on going through people until they found others weak enough to just follow orders and not question anything.

  7. The more I think about this, the more despairing I feel.

    Going back to bed is probably the right move.

  8. Both you and Jeanne are right-at the end of the day, the foot soldiers should not have to pay for this. While they are not robots, they are also not qualified to, nor do they have the luxury to, examine every order for legitimacy.

    How sad will it be if the Ghraib crew are the only ones who pay a price for this?

  9. Lapis: The only real blow GWB took against the bill of rights was when he signed McCain-Feingold, which criminalizes speaking out against government leaders. However, I didn't see many of his opponents disagreeing with him on this.

    Freedom of speech is further threatened now as several Democrats in Congress propose censoring the airwaves of what they deem to be "unfair" political views. And defenders of the 2nd amendment believe that there is no friend of this basic right in the White House now, compared to before.

  10. dmarks, I have to disagree with you on the 2nd amendment. Based on this week's Newsweek, the left is pretty enraged that the Obama administration has back-burnered any attempt to reign in semi-authomatic weapons. I understand some right-wing 2nd amendment folks are concerned about the current government chipping away at their rights, but I am not aware of any actual attempts to do so.

  11. First of all, the 2nd amendment does not guarantee the right for everyone to bear every type of weaponry. Second, the Obama administration has made NO moves to limit the existing laws on guns. It is just a bunch of hype -- no actual motions, no actual bills, nothing.

    I guess it doesn't matter to you that all of the Due Process amendments and the Freedom of Press amendments as long as you can have your gun! Because your gun in your closet is going to make everything better.

    Try reading up on the USA Patriot Act. Your Bill of Rights means crap right now. Seriously. Go read it. Every phone call you have made has been turned over to the government -- not just the ones the terrorist suspects have made. You no longer have any right to privacy. None. And if any President since the Patriot Act was signed decides that any group or politics that you associate with is a threat, you can be declared an enemy combatant and tossed in jail. No charges filed. No lawyers. No phone calls. You can just disappear in the night. And if your wife gets pregnant and finds out in the third trimester that having that baby will kill her, your living wife cannot do anything to save her own life. Her death warrant was signed months ago.

    But it's all okay. Because you can have your gun. Oh... and better TV too.

  12. DMarks: I couldn't disagree more about GWB and the Constitution. The constitution says that treaties signed by the US and approved by Congress have the force of US law, for one thing. The fourth amendment, for another thing.

    I really don't think anyone is seriously pursuing the fairness doctrine idea. People talk about it, but then again people talk about a lot of things. If a bill makes it through Congress, then we'll talk.

    And the second amendment? I utterly disagree. As Jeanne points out, gun rights aren't even on the stove, never mind the back burner, right now. Plus, the Supreme Court spoke very, very loudly on this issue when they threw out the DC gun ban.

    In addition, though, can you explain to me, if I can paraphrase the late Kurt Vonnegut, how it is that a heavily armed man, woman, or child, given no aims or goals by any official, constitutes a "well regulated militia"?

    And McCain-Feingold limits contributions-it doesn't criminalize anything. Besides, it is unconstiutional, anyway. The SC has also said clearly that in politics, money=speech. Until we can get around that, money will always rule politics.

  13. McCain-Feingold outlawed certain people from airing political ads at a certain period of days before a political election. Violations of McCain-Feingold are/were a crime with penalties (hence, criminalization).

    The "money = speech" ruling is indeed wise. Especially considering that the goal of proponents of McCain-Feingold and other related efforts is to silence unwanted speech by cutting off the money supply. I remember reading several newspaper editorials lauding McCain-Feingold for the main reason that it supposedly would get rid of a certain type of campaign ads.

    It should also be pointed out that these were newspaper editorials, which were free from the censorship requirements of McCain-Feingold. Of course newspaper editors would favor laws that cut down the competition and give them more power in the political-opinion realm.

    "Plus, the Supreme Court spoke very, very loudly on this issue when they threw out the DC gun ban."

    This was a 5-4 decision. It would easily go the other way with just ONE new justice on the court appointed by President Obama.

    To answer the Vonnegut question, you forgot half of the 2nd amendment, which permits protects private firearms ownership. The DC gun ban wiped out this half. And 4 on the United States Supreme Court, even though in the minority, ruled to amend the Constitution on the fly by removing half of one amendment in the Bill of Rights.

    Personality, ideas, and (yes) free speech trump money. Quite often. Howard Dean was on his way to the Democratic nomination when he blew his stack and bellowed like a lunatic on national TV. Money didn't do that: his own mouth did. All his vast personal wealth in the world could not get Republican candidate Steve Forbes a toe (no doubt covered in $1500 loafers) in the door: He spoke, and everyone was weirded out. Which brings up H. Ross Perot, another testament to the unsureness of money = political success.

  14. The second amendment is one sentence-Vonnegut's question points out that, if you oppose any firearms restrictions, you are ignoring the FIRST half of the second amendment. Surely that is just as bad as ignoring the second half?

  15. Oh. Regulations are fine, as per the amendment. As long as they don't infringe in the "right". The DC law that was overturned was regulation that wiped out the right. There is already a large number of "regulations". Check any law code of any state, and you will see many laws against gun crimes (use of guns, threatening people with them, transporting loaded firearms, and many others). Regulations which are hardly controversial... regulations that do not infringe with the right to keep and bear arms.

    I have yet to meet or hear of anyone who wants to wipe out all firearms-related laws. But I have met several who oppose the "keep and bear" part.


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