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February 01, 2008

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9-11 changed everything.

Actually, I object far more to what these ****** did to these women.

THOSE are surely cowards.

I definitely object MORE to the detonating of mentally injured women.

I thought that being and/or training suicide bombers was sick, but it was something that was in the realm of my understanding. I could sort of see them as an extreme perversion of warrior (perversion in the sense that they almost exclusively target civilians and don't even try to make a survivable mission). But taking a Down's woman and using her to sneak a remote control bomb in a crowded market is beyond my comprehension.

Before we get the hate-fest turned up to 11, it may be good to sit back and wait for more confirmation. Presumably, the military wants to fill people with revulsion and horror at the insurgents, and given that the military has been caught in the past putting articles into the media, I'm a little skeptical. Maybe this is real or maybe the truth has been "embellished" as part of an information operation.

So with confirmation am I allowed to turn it up to 11?

Also isn't the remote control nature of the detonation device enough to be really repulsed?

But taking a Down's woman and using her to sneak a remote control bomb in a crowded market is beyond my comprehension.

I'm surprised that this is beyond your comprehension. Surely the act of suicide bombing indicates a certain lack of compassion in those that use the tactic in the first place?

Besides, they've used the mentally handicapped in this way before.

And recall that martyrdom is the aim, and that they feel that those who do this are rewarded significantly in the afterlife.

The story is just awful. However, there is some question as to whether the claim that the bombers had Down's Syndrome is true. Read the NYT article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/02/world/middleeast/02iraq.html?ex=1359608400&en=752bce340db9e957&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

Regardless, a cowardly act. We need to ask ourselves how we got here.

Greg H beat me to the NY Times' coverage of the bombing:

Iraq’s chief military spokesman in Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi told The Associated Press that the bombers appeared to be mentally impaired and that the explosives were detonated by remote control.

Maj. Gen. Abdul Kareem al-Ezzi, a senior officer in the Ministry of Interior police commandos, said officials at the Ghazil market had scrutinized the suicide bomber’s head and concluded that she had Downs Syndrome. However Iraqi officials have made similar claims in the past, and other witnesses said her head could have been distorted by the blast.

One eyewitness, Mohammed Qasem, 35, a roadside vendor at Ghazil, said he saw the woman minutes before the explosion, apparently behaving normally.

“She was guiding a small kid with her and she wasn’t uncomfortable at all because she was walking and looking behind her,” he said.

I don't think you need my permission; you are free to write what you will. I only advise caution.

This might just be my idiosyncrasies, but this tactic seems designed to provoke revulsion. Moreover, it doesn't bring much benefit to the attackers. I mean really, has recent experience shown it to be that difficult to get a market blown up in Iraq? I'm not saying that I think any random group of insurgents aren't willing to stoop to such tactics just for the heck of it, but it does seem strange and there are powerful groups operating in Iraq that have an interest in raising public outrage.

If two mentally disabled women were killed in a normal suicide bombing, would you be writing a front page post about it? I suspect not. This story is attention getting and rage provoking in a way that your typical "insurgents are bad" story isn't. That feature may be by design.

This certainly has an "al-Qaida serves children for dinner" vibe to it. Certainly a bomb went off in the Ghazil market and dozens of people died.

And that, unto itself, is worthy of unequivocal condemnation.

And recall that martyrdom is the aim, and that they feel that those who do this are rewarded significantly in the afterlife.

That's hardly an explanatory factor. The most prolific suicide bombers are opposed to religion.

Believing that suicide bombers are motivated by rewards in the afterlife is a mistake. Even people who believe they are going to heaven fear death. It takes extreme situations to push them beyond that fear.

Right you are Turbulence. The story is horrific either way: recruiting Down's Syndrome bombers or a "mentally healthy" woman that would lead a small child to its death.

Again, 1000s have died in Iraq - innocents and not-so-innocents. Why?

I found this a little startling:

[...] Abbas Aziz, a member of the Iraqi tribal Awakening movement that helps secure the area, said the bomber appeared to have slipped through because, unlike men, women were not searched at the checkpoint.

“We search every single person coming to the market, especially those who are carrying bags or boxes, but the suicide bomber was a female, whom we don’t search at all,” he said. “We have already learned the lesson.”

There's a record for years of Palestinian women suicide bombers, and this is a "new tactic" in Iraq reported time and again: Female suicide bomber kills 40 at university,
5:52 p.m. EST, February 25, 2007. Woman suicide bomber marks possible new insurgent tactic in Iraq, ASSOCIATED PRESS, 3:01 p.m. September 28, 2005.

How it's still a "new insurgent tactic," I'm unclear.

Attacks by female suicide bombers in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion:

_ Feb. 1: Two mentally retarded woman strapped with remote-control explosives strike pet markets in Baghdad. At least 73 people killed; Iraqi authorities believe the women may have been used as unwitting suicide bombers.

_ Jan. 29: A suicide bomber blows herself up at a checkpoint in Baghdad, killing two people, according to Iraqi police. The U.S. military denies it was a suicide attack and says there were no fatalities.

_ Jan. 16: A woman suicide bomber strikes worshippers preparing for a Shiite religious holiday in the Diyala province town of Khan Bani Saad, killing nine people and wounding six.

_ Dec. 31 : A suicide bomber blows herself up near a police patrol, wounding five policemen and four civilians in the Diyala capital Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad.

_ Dec. 7: A female suicide bomber attacks offices of a Sunni group battling al-Qaida in Iraq, killing at least 15 people and wounding 35 in Muqdadiyah in Diyala province, about 60 miles north of Baghdad. The attacker's two sons joined al-Qaida and were killed by Iraqi forces.

_ Nov. 4: A woman detonates explosives next to an American patrol near Baqouba, wounding seven U.S. soldiers and five Iraqis.

_ July 23: A female suicide bomber kills two policemen and wounds 10 at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad.

_ April 11: A woman wearing an explosives vest underneath her robe blows herself up among 200 Iraqi police recruits, killing 16 and wounding 33 in Muqdadiyah.

_ Feb. 25, 2007: A female suicide bomber triggers a ball bearing-packed charge, killing at least 41 people and wounding at least 46 at a mostly Shiite college in Baghdad.

_ Dec. 6, 2005: Two women detonate explosives in a classroom filled with students at Baghdad's police academy, killing 27 people.

_ Nov. 9, 2005: A Belgian convert to Islam, Muriel Degauque, detonates explosives near a U.S. patrol. Degauque was the only one killed in the blast.

_ Oct. 11, 2005: A female suicide bomber strikes near a U.S. military patrol in Mosul in northern Iraq. No soldiers were injured, but it was not known whether the blast caused any casualties.

_ Sept. 28, 2005: A female suicide bomber attacks an Iraqi army recruitment center in Tal Afar in northern Iraq, killing six people and wounding 30. Witnesses said the attacker wore men's clothing as a disguise while standing in line with job applicants.

_ April 15, 2003: Two female suicide bombers carry out an attack that killed U.S. soldiers at a checkpoint northwest of Baghdad. The military said one women was pregnant.

It's simply unprecedented. One couldn't expect an Iraqi working on security to conceive of female bombers (suicide or not).

It will apparently still be a "new tactic" in 2022.

But the lesson will have been learned this time.

Setting aside, as regards "[w]e search every single person coming to the market, especially those who are carrying bags or boxes, but the suicide bomber was a female, whom we don’t search at all," the thought that females aren't people, since, after all, this is likely translated from Arabic.

It's simply unprecedented.

Hmmm...are you sure it's not Down's Syndrome aspect that is the alleged unprecedented part?

"Hmmm...are you sure it's not Down's Syndrome aspect that is the alleged unprecedented part?

This seems unambiguous to me:

[...] Abbas Aziz, a member of the Iraqi tribal Awakening movement that helps secure the area, said the bomber appeared to have slipped through because, unlike men, women were not searched at the checkpoint.

“We search every single person coming to the market, especially those who are carrying bags or boxes, but the suicide bomber was a female, whom we don’t search at all,” he said. “We have already learned the lesson.”

Is there something I'm missing here suggesting the bombers weren't searched because of Down's Syndrome, rather than because they were female?

More important, perhaps, is that who, precisely, "Abbas Aziz, a member of the Iraqi tribal Awakening movement," is is unclear. Certainly the U.S. military quoted in the piece didn't seem to have any delusions that female vest bombers were new.

Maybe Abbas Aziz is someone high in that movement, in which case, it hardly speaks well of the attention of the Awakening movement.

But maybe he's just some random low level guy, whose opinion is, in the scheme of things, meaningless.

Impossible to know from that article alone. I fear I lack blind faith that reporters or editors always get these things right, however.

But it's a remarkably dumb thing to say. I wouldn't want this guy in charge of my security.

They were selling dogs. Selling dogs is haram. Especially on Friday.

A simple DNA test would resolve the Down’s Syndrome question.

I wouldn't want this guy in charge of my security.

That guy probably isn't too happy with the job your country has done on his security either.

Is there something I'm missing here suggesting the bombers weren't searched because of Down's Syndrome, rather than because they were female?

Apologies, I was under the mistaken impression you were talking about our reaction here.

The reports I heard (NewsHour, a few hours ago) had it unconfirmed that the bombers had Downs' Syndrome. They did say that the evidence was the head of one bomber, which had been blown off, and appeared to have Downs, according to the police. However, apparently other witnesses didn't see anything odd about her, so it sounded uncertain (what with the various things that could happen to a head, under the circumstances.)

If the bombers were seriously retarded, I'm with Seb, on the grounds that enough retardation would make it impossible for the women to consent to this, in any serious sense.

"Apologies, I was under the mistaken impression you were talking about our reaction here."

Ah. No, I was referring to what I quoted. Thus, why I quoted it.

There may be cause to question the veracity of this particular account, but there is no cause to question the willingness of terrorists to do absolutely despicable and heinous things to kill people.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/21/world/middleeast/21iraq.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

Whatever your feelings on Iraq, GWOT, Islam, etc., etc., I think we can all agree that there are some sick and disgusting people who ought to be put in the ground. Most of those people aren't terrorists (think child abusers) but most terrorists fit in that category.

Ah. No, I was referring to what I quoted. Thus, why I quoted it.

Yep. I read too fast. Apologies again.

If you told my sister it was cold and she should put this jacket on, she would do that. If you then told her to go down the street and look at the puppy she would do that with great joy. You could then … I can’t even type it.

All this other crap on this thread – are you people shitting me?

OCSteve,

No, I'm not shitting you. There are eyewitness accounts that contradict the notion that the bombers were disabled. We've been lied to before, oftentimes by our own government, so please forgive me for not taking the GOI's word on faith.

Yes, it is an unbelievably horrible thing to do, but if you pull away from it momentarily, I think you'll realize that killing a bunch of civilians (some of whom may very well be disabled anyway) isn't really any different morally than killing a bunch of civilians while making sure that one of them is disabled.

While it is certainly possible that a headline writer screwed up (and given how credible I find the GOI, I'm not even sure they screwed up), whether the headline is accurate strikes me as the least important issue in the world; its certainly less important than the fact that a bunch of Iraqis were brutally murdered in a bombing, or that such events are now commonplace, or that we as a people are still capable of looking at ourselves in the mirror without wretching for unleashing this hell on earth.

Turbulence: I actually think there is a difference between killing a whole bunch of people, and using someone who is incapable of knowing what she's doing to kill a lot of people. (Suppose the same number, minus one, that one being her.) Turning someone into a bomb without her knowledge -- using her as a tool to destroy other people, especially if you abuse her trust in the way OCSteve described -- is a particularly awful thing to do.

Killing a whole lot of people is of course awful however you do it. And I suppose there's something sort of grotesque, at a certain point, about wondering whether some additional ghastliness can really be said to make it any worse than it already is. (How much worse would it be if you killed hundreds of people, and then desecrated some of their corpses, than if you just killed them? I can see why this question might just seem odious.)

Still, I think that it is horrible in a particular, and novel, way.

That said, I do want to make sure that that awful thing is actually what happened. For what it's worth, the reports I've seen say that Iraqi officials report that they were mentally disabled, but that US officials are neither confirming nor denying.

Hm. Some of the details are cell phone activated--that would be horrible no matter who the bomber because of the implication that it was non-voluntary. And I wonder what the purpose of fabricating that the women were disabled...

gwangung,

If I had to speculate, I'd say there was no fabrication: someone responsible for security screwed up and let a suicide bomber through. Either that, or they were on the take. In either case, in order to deflect attention from their screw-up/involvement, they make up a horrible sounding story, hoping people who hear it will think "how could he possibly have thought to check the mentally disabled woman?". As Gary points out, any remotely sane security protocol would be checking women; if these women were not disabled, then that the means security screwed up in the worst possible way. They would have no excuse.

Alternatively, I'd guess that various factions within the GOI want to portray attackers as more monstrous because that bolsters flagging American support for continuing the war and its unclear that the GOI can survive absent significant American support.

Suppose the same number, minus one, that one being her.

OK, I'm supposing. I'm further supposing that her primary caregiver was at the market today and since they're now blown up, our hypothetical not-being-used-as-a-bomber mentally disabled woman dies of starvation. Or maybe I suppose that with a non-disabled bomber, more people are killed because they take action to ensure a higher death toll. I'm not being flippant here: with something like suicide bombing, you have no idea how many people you'll kill immediately and no idea how many people will suffer and die as a result of the immediate deaths. In the face of such uncertainty, being appalled at the thought of one more completely innocent victim seems...disquieting.

I think my discomfort stems from what you described as the odiousness of the incremental evil question. Betraying trust of a disabled person in this manner is very very bad; on the other hand, everyone around us depends on us not bombing them...with regards to a suicide bombing, we are all exactly as dependent as any mentally disabled person.

Insurgents have done far far worse things in Iraq than what they might have done here. They have betrayed far more trusts than they might have here. They've killed and mutilated and starved far more mentally disabled people than the two that are in this story. Just like everyone else in Iraq, the mentally disabled have suffered in ways we can't imagine. Objectively, there's nothing here that we didn't already know and nothing here that's more morally horrifying that what we've seen thousands of times before.

The reason this story garners attention has nothing to do with a stupid headline; the story has a psychic kick because the moral revulsion of using mentally disabled people like this makes a pair of dead Iraqis vulnerable enough to be momentarily visible. It humanizes the endless stream of faceless nameless Iraqis that we've grown numb to, so that we can actually empathize with them.

What Turbulence said.

(It does seem to me more than likely now that the authorities in Iraq will lie, so the assertion that one of the women had Down's Syndrome I think can be set aside unless there's actual external evidence.)

I think what makes it seem extra horrible is what it says about the planners and the organization.

People die every day in all sorts of horrible, natural ways. We think things are much worse if someone consciously chose to kill another human being.

I think we're then even more disturbed by someone killing a person they knew face-to-face or who trusted them than we are killing a faceless, distant, unknown person. So having looked someone in the eye, exploited their mental condition to gain their trust, presumably while knowing them personally (to be in position to do such a thing) seems worse than ordering someone killed in a distant marketplace.

It also disrupts our sense of culpability and responsibility for actions. If we attach as much importance to someone's actions and state of mind as to the ultimate effects, to force someone (without their consent) to commit heinous, destructive acts is a further crime against them. In religious terms, you could say you're forcing them to commit a sin or damn their souls; since I'm non-religious I don't believe that literally, but there's an element of it as metaphor that relates to why we perceive this as an extra crime.

Evil, malice, twisted intent - whatever you want to call it - disturbs us along with the actual suffering. You can question if that's appropriate or not, but it seems to be a fact.

I am inclined to think that there are hardly any 'suicide bombers' in the sense we seem to imagine them. The key players are the people who take the mentally unstable and show them how to strap bombs to themselves and position themselves to cause maximum damage.

The number of grieving fathers or whatever that actually have the skills to do that themselves is insignificant. But the number of mentally unstable people in any population is quite considerable. the former are expensive and in short supply and the latter are 'cheap'.

So if you are a terrorist organization you spend lots of money to gather a cell and train all the members on how to organize a suicide bombing - then you get them to find a low value mule to carry the bomb.

People driven insane by their family being killed are good but those with downs syndrome or similar will do just fine.
Ideally you shorten the training period as much as possible (to avoid them 'chickening out' - I read this was standard to which I wrote a similar post to this) and use whatever means at your disposal to convince them they are doing the right thing (imagine a very strict cult).

I remember reading about a mentally handicapped suicide bomber in Palestine. And I thought - that makes perfect sense. I expect to the terrorist organization there is no consideration of 'rights of the handicapped' instead they probably think more like 'the only way they can make something of their lives is to become a martyr' more so than a non handicapped person. And so we have a sick sort of rational.

The very fact that this conversation exists and that we, the United States, created the conditions in Iraq that allows these sick f*cks to indulge themselves in this manner, makes me sick to my stomach. The national shame we carry over this -- and it will last for decades -- will make the Vietnam fallout look like a day at Disneyland.

Turb: Yes, it is an unbelievably horrible thing to do, but if you pull away from it momentarily, I think you'll realize that killing a bunch of civilians (some of whom may very well be disabled anyway) isn't really any different morally than killing a bunch of civilians while making sure that one of them is disabled.

Bull. Occasionally something is so heinous it stands alone in terms of pure evil, in terms of deprivation, in terms of how ugly man can be.

Two mentally disabled women strapped with remote-control explosives _ and possibly used as unwitting suicide bombers _ brought carnage to the two pet bazaars, in attacks Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said sought to "turn Baghdad back to the pre-surge period."

"I am inclined to think that there are hardly any 'suicide bombers' in the sense we seem to imagine them. The key players are the people who take the mentally unstable and show them how to strap bombs to themselves and position themselves to cause maximum damage."

I don't think this is correct. That is, in a great many cases I think suicide bombers know exactly what they are doing and see themselves as heroic warriors striking a blow for the cause. And they're not always religious either. I'm not going to go looking for links, but there are people (such as Scott Atran) who study this.

As for this particular case, hilzoy summed it up pretty well--using mentally impaired people this way is terrible if true, but the act itselfs is almost as terrible if not true.. I share turbulence's suspicions, but at the same time I don't doubt that some of the groups in Iraq are entirely capable of doing this.

Though I also think that many in the West are willing to blow up civilians in a quite deliberate fashion--we just come up with rationalizations and lies to cover up what we do. Which is, IMO, preferable to doing it openly and proudly, since the rationalizations show that we accept it's wrong to do such things.

I decided to find a link. It's an article in SCIENCE by Atran and it's a pdf file.

LINK

I don't think it's right that there are no real "suicide bombers" either. Imagine that you believe in some cause, and that you are convinced enough of its rightness that you think: all this fussing about the means you use to achieve it is just moralistic pedantry. (It's not as though we in the US have never seen such arguments made, e.g. about torture. And sometimes, when you or people you know have suffered because of something, it can drive you to cling to the idea that there is a way of responding to that suffering, and that that way is righteous, even in the face of a lot of evidence that it's not. I have seen this: people for whom the idea that what looked like the group that was their only shot at justice was actually evil was almost unendurable. Even though that thought was true. Desperation made them blind themselves.)

If you were attached to some group in this way, then I don't see why the same sort of psychological traits that might lead a soldier to give up his or her own life on a suicide mission might not come into play. Note: I am not saying that suicide bombers are morally comparable to such soldiers. A whole lot depends on the cause you're fighting for, and what you know about it. Soldiers can be attached to the idea of civilian control of the military, and to the thought that they should obey lawful orders as best they can. In the case I'm imagining, the suicide bomber has no such justification, and has in addition blinded him or herself to genuine atrocities. That makes a huge moral difference.

All I'm saying is: we don't need to assume some kind of mental handicap. Normal bravery and selflessness, twisted to serve an ignoble end (and I take it that any sort of suicide bombing of civilians is per se ignoble), would do the trick, I think.

"Though I also think that many in the West are willing to blow up civilians in a quite deliberate fashion--we just come up with rationalizations and lies to cover up what we do."

"Acceptable collateral damage."

For instance, to kill Zarqawi, we offed one or two small children, depending on which reports you believe:

[...] High over Iraq, the U.S. Air Force maintains a constant patrol of strike aircraft that can be called upon immediately. The mission was tasked to two F-16 pilots, who had spent the day looking for roadside bombs from the sky. The pilots were told only that the target was “high value.” At 6:12 p.m., one of the jets dropped the first laser-guided bomb; minutes later, it dropped the second. Both hit their target, reducing the house to rubble. Villagers said the earth shook with each blast.

[...]

Caldwell initially said that a child was killed in the bombing, but altered his statement the next day to say that no children had been killed. In the Compound, pictures from the blast site showed two dead children, both under age 5.

While looking for a quote on that, I ran into this:
[...] In a separate announcement, the American command said that a bombing strike on Monday morning near Baquba, a city about 40 miles northeast of Baghdad and five miles from Hibhib had killed seven "terrorists" with "ties to senior al Qaeda leaders across Iraq," and that two children had also died in the bombing after American troops carrying out the raid had come under machine gun fire from a rooftop.

Gen. Caldwell said that the two children included an infant of about six months and a boy of four, and he said that another boy of about eight had received minor injuries.

Those are, however, different children we killed.

Whether or not one of the children killed with Zarqawi, was his daughter, seems unclear.

There's a difference in intent between intentionally primarily trying to kill children, and accepting that you're going to be killing children as a secondary result of an attack on a military target, but in some cases decisions are made to attack, with the direct knowledge that children, or just civilians, are likely to be killed. This happens with any military force in a war, and it certainly is a decision made by U.S. troops, at times, as well.

I don't see much reason to be suspicious; For an organization which is deliberately targeting civilians for terror bombings, this is actually a quite small step. And there have indeed been indications in the past that al Quaeda used unwilling or incompentent 'mules' for it's bombings.

It's just a reminder that a war being poorly justified or incompetently executed doesn't in any way imply that the foe isn't starkly evil. Frankly, if we went to war with every group in the world that's starkly evil, we'd exaust a military ten times the size of our own... it's a target rich enviroment out there, if you're looking for people who need killing.

"It's just a reminder that a war being poorly justified or incompetently executed doesn't in any way imply that the foe isn't starkly evil."

If there were something resembling a vaguely unified, vaguely competent, reasonably non-sectarian, vaguely generally accepted as legitimate by the majority of Iraqi citizens, vaguely democratic, vaguely respectful of human rights, government of Iraq engaged in a war against the "foe" of al Qaeda In Mesopotamia, and that were all that were going on in Iraq, I'd be all for supporting and aiding that Iraqi government against such a foe.

However, no such situation, or government, exists, rendering the description of the situation primarily as a "war" against that "foe," deeply inaccurate.

If al Qaeda In Iraq (if you prefer) vanished entirely tomorrow, Iraq still wouldn't have a functioning unified government, or be a functioning country, and there are no signs whatever that it would suddenly, magically, start trending towards having either of those, simply because AQI vanished. AQI seems almost entirely irrelevant, in fact, to Iraq's situation as a failing state. The rest of Iraqi's militant Sunnis and Shia are taking care of that.

If there are such compelling signs of major changes in the dysfunctionality of the Iraqi government, rather than straws for wishful thinking to grab onto, please feel free to point to them. Try to avoid using Friedman units, though, I suggest.

Bottom line, though, is that the true "foe" in Iraq seems to be lack of Iraqi communal reconciliation and ability to form a working polity.

Shooting people is vastly easier than fixing that from the outside.

So, isn't it that time of the month for Charles to arrive and tell us we need another six months to cautiously continue to hope that positive trends in Iraq will continue, and here's a bunch of numbers that have absolutely nothing to do with the political failure of Iraq, so pay attention to these numbers, which will distract from the fact that America has almost no power to change the politics of Iraq?

But maybe Charles is working on his post about the Iraqi government, and how it's going to work out, instead. I'm still hoping.

I have a pretty bad head cold and I'm underslept, so my few gray cells are working worse than usual. But I don't get the complaint.

There are no rules in war; there are just some fake rules that winners make up in order to feel better. The kid killed by a US air strike is just as dead as the kid killed by a suicide bomb. Try explaining to his mother the difference between specific and general intent. I'm just sure that she'll be mollified by the explanation.

If this country were under occupation by an incomprehensible enemy, and that enemy wanted to change radically the rules that we lived by, and large numbers of people appeared to be succumbing to the pressure, wouldn't you fight? With every last tool in your possession? If losing is the end of everything you know and hold dear, if losing means the imposition of a way of life that you utterly detest on your entire society, then wouldn't you do whatever it takes, including sending young men and women to attack overly complacent civilians, to win?

Bull. Occasionally something is so heinous it stands alone in terms of pure evil, in terms of deprivation, in terms of how ugly man can be.

Believe me, I understand how sickening this is. You're not the only one with a vulnerable sibling here. But there's a difference between "things that we find sickening" and "things that are evil". By what moral principle do you find this tactic to go so far above and beyond the "pure evil" of a bog-standard suicide bombing? I don't think there is one, unless you want to say that the lives of mentally disabled people should count for more than the lives of the undisabled.

In the gap between our feelings about the evil of an action and our ability to logically justify that moral assessment lies a lever with which we can be manipulated.

I'm sure that I'll upset some by saying this, but if, Francis, you'd like someone to state clearly that they'd find the use of suicide attacks against military targets, in a war, as a last resort, as no less legitimate than bombing from on high, I'll defend that position.

If a soldier thinks the only way to save her or his comrades is to run with a grenade or explosive into an enemy machine gun nest, and blow it up, or any of a zillion similar such situations I could put forward, I don't see why that would be any less in line with the prevalent rules of war, and concepts of just war, than dropping bombs from the air.

It's the focus on killing civilians that's violative of the norms of war, and even that isn't as absolutely clear as it might be, given the WWII acceptance by Our Side of a strategy of comprehensive carpet bombing of civilian populations and whole cities, in which we killed tens of millions of civilians, deliberately and knowingly.

Our justification for deliberately trying to kill as much of a population of a whole metropolis, metropolis after metropolis, methodically, hundreds of thousands of civilians, women, and children, in the most wholesale scale imaginable -- firestorms that killed far more than at either Nagasaki or Hiroshima -- week after week, in Japan, was that the ends justified the means: that it would lead to a sooner end to the war.

It's not entirely clear to me where this falls on the moral scale in relation to blowing up a couple of hundred civilians in furtherance of your cause.

"...given the WWII acceptance by Our Side of a strategy of comprehensive carpet bombing of civilian populations and whole cities, in which we killed tens of millions of civilians, deliberately and knowingly."

That should be "hundreds of thousands," not "tens of millions," since I was referring only to those killed in bombings; tens of millions of civilians were killed in WWII, but only mere hundreds of thousands by the Allies from the air.

The thing about our mass deliberate slaughter of civilians, and as much of the population of whole cities as we could, in World War II, it seems to me, is that it was on such a huge scale that it's inconceivable.

We have some clues as to how devastating the death of a single individual can be to those close. Looking at a plaza of a hundred, or two hundred, dead, and imagining all the losses, is almost inconceivable, but hundreds of thousands of people at a time? Millions?

Really, can anyone say that the death of 19 million civilians is more shocking to them than the death of 18 million people, even though that's a million dead people?

And WWII is this Big Thing that almost none of us were around for, at this point. So it's easy to tie a bow around it, put it in a box in the past, say it was A Special Unique Time, And That Was Then, and Our Cause Was Just (which it was), and pretty much not think about it much after that, save fleetingly and sporadically.

But, hey: deliberate slaughter of hundreds of thousands of civilians, children, women, sons, sisters, uncles, nieces, infants, many burned alive.

I have to stop and think about that, now and again.

(between naps [naps are v. nice when one is sick])

my problem with Just War theory is that individuals on the winner's side never seem to suffer the consequences of breaking the rules. There's a statute of Bomber Harris. Lt. Calley served 3.5 years under house arrest. The odds of Powell or Rumsfeld facing a war crimes tribunal seem microscopic.

and just to get everyone's dander up, Israel refuses to allow the Gaza Strip to develop a normal economy, yet also refuses to invade, occupy, and annex the land and grant citizenship to the occupants.

> Imagine that you believe in some cause

my point isn't anything to do with people not thinking suicide bombing is a good thing - I accept most Palestinians think suicide bombing is acceptable possibly righteous. But most Palestinians don't have explosives strapped to them and I expect almost everyone that does was affiliated with Hamas or some similar fairly well funded organization.

as to soldiers - again Americans are not, in general, flying over to Iraq as individuals and killing Iraqis in the same way Palestinians are not generally committing suicide.

> That is, in a great many cases I think suicide bombers know exactly what they are doing

Hmm my point is a little more subtle than that. I think that most bombers know they are going to be blown up they also are angry etc. Just that they belong to a group of people that is highly suseptable to indoctrination. For the purposes of this point they might as well have downsyndrome in regard to resisting becoming suicide bombers.

As to the link that Donald left - I think for the most part they are addressing the idea that suicide bombers are crazed cowards , evil criminals etc. this is a totally different profile - I suggest they would be people who would be highly law abiding, very religious and generally speaking signed up for every other rule that they can find.
this is because they can't say know to group pressure and don't think critically.

A lot of the research refers to operatives and suicide bombers as if they are the same. But i am not a republican talking point - my proposal is that they are totally different - which is indicated by how the article states

"Previously, recruiters scouted mosques,
schools, and refugee camps for candidates
deemed susceptible to intense religious indoctrination and logistical training."
(looking for suicide bombers by picking the weak)

The one part that seems to address my point is where nazra hassan noted that none of her sample were simple minded. I imagine that its sacrosanct to insult a martyr in such communities but I'm willing to accept that the badly mentally handicapped are often considered a liability - but that still leaves us open to the hypothesis that they are low intelligence, low value to the terrorist organization, and have an inability to think critically.

The link I provided actually said that suicide bombers are not of low intelligence or poorly educated. In the Palestinian case they seemed like normal young men in their societies. I tried to cut and paste a passage from the link I provided, but the computer wasn't letting me cut and paste by column.

One thing missing in the article is the point I made from reading other places--religion doesn't always play a role. It's probably not true anymore, given the last few years in Iraq, but the leading practitioners of suicide bombing used to be the Tamil Tigers, who are a secular group.

"If this country were under occupation by an incomprehensible enemy, and that enemy wanted to change radically the rules that we lived by, and large numbers of people appeared to be succumbing to the pressure, wouldn't you fight? With every last tool in your possession? If losing is the end of everything you know and hold dear, if losing means the imposition of a way of life that you utterly detest on your entire society, then wouldn't you do whatever it takes, including sending young men and women to attack overly complacent civilians, to win?"

If it meant using retarded kids for bombs, no. Some things are evil and doing them reveals that you are evil.

This is essentially the torture question expressed as a third party justification.

I'm pretty darn sure that intentionally bombing a random pet market is a bad thing to do. I can vaguely understand a war-justification for doing it but I think doing so is wrong. But even for a legitimate war-target, like an anti-aircraft gun, it is evil to create a bomb to destroy the legitimate target that uses a retarded person as a piece of the bomb. I'm certain of that. It isn't even a close moral comparison.

What Sebastian said. And I’ll leave it there or I will get in trouble.

Does it become a closer moral comparison if we postulate that you're the sole caregiver for this person and that you are dying from disease and expect to be dead in a week and that there is no option for keeping your charge alive after you're gone since your family has been killed?

What if you couldn't afford to feed your entire family and believed that if you didn't kill one, they'd all die of starvation?

I actually think that scenarios like this aren't terribly unlikely. Iraq's economy is really awful right now and there is no social safety net to ensure that people don't starve to death or that the disabled are cared for if their family dies. And while I don't think killing a family member is right, I also don't think its a trivial moral judgment to assume that letting them starve to death on the streets in terror while being raped and mutilated by gangs of criminals for fun is a better alternative.

Mind you, I'm still skeptical that these women were disabled at all.

Francis: "There are no rules in war; there are just some fake rules that winners make up in order to feel better. The kid killed by a US air strike is just as dead as the kid killed by a suicide bomb."

The second sentence, which is true, doesn't demonstrate the first sentence, which I'll disagree with.

You're referring, essentially, to Clausewitz's Wechselwirkung, or, well, let's quote Garry Wills discussing Michael Walzer:

[...] Clausewitz says that war is fueled by emotion (Gefühl), which always outruns intent (Absicht). And once this begins there is a constant ratcheting-up (Wechselwirkung) of hatred. Hate produces atrocities, which provoke answering atrocities from the other side, and so on in a reciprocal upward spiral. This means, says Clausewitz, that war by its basic nature drives onward to extremes. Shakespeare was almost scientifically accurate when he had his Antony "let slip the dogs of war"—to outrun expectations and control.

[...]

In war, the raping and robbing of civilians, the brutalizing and killing of prisoners, are not anomalies. War propaganda excites such extremes, with its emphasis on the vileness of the foe.

This is all true, and it's all part of why, as Wills says:
[...] If war, once embarked on, will of itself drive toward extremes, overriding concern with justice, then the real use of just war theory must rest mainly on the decision whether to go to war in the first place.
But that's another question then the one you bring up, which is, having determined, rightly or wrongly, that one's side of a war is just, whether there are any morally conceivable rules at all. And I think there are, although I'm no expert on just war theory.

Thus, to quote Walzer, who is:

[...] The move [toward pacifism] involves a new stress upon two maxims of the [just war] theory: first, that war must be a "last resort," and second, that its anticipated costs to soldiers and civilians alike must not be disproportionate to (greater than) the value of its ends. I do not think that either maxim helps much in making the moral distinctions that we need to make.
If he quarrels with the tradition, why does he bother with it at all? He says that his protest against the Vietnam War made him realize that a way had to be found to object to actions as basically immoral, not just ineffective in terms of "realism." This meant asking basic questions all over again, including Augustine's initial one—when (if ever) is it permissible to kill other human beings?

Walzer is, in a perhaps unconscious way, very Augustinian in his belief that no theory of justice can free warriors from guilt. They may have to kill, but they give rein to atrocities all the same, since even a just war is a fountain of evil. Augustine puts it this way:

Anyone who looks with anguish on evils so great, so repulsive, so savage, must acknowledge the tragedy of it all; and if anyone experiences them or even looks on at them without anguish, his condition is even more tragic, since he remains serene by losing his humanity.
Walzer, in similar vein, says that all war overrides certain moral rules; but even when they have to be overridden, they remain moral rules: "Overriding the rules leaves guilt behind as a recognition of the enormity of what we have done." "The tradition" often implies that belligerent acts in a just war are themselves moral—which is the basis of triumphalism and patriotic smugness. Walzer denies the right to such self-congratulation.

And, for what it's worth, Walzer argues that "that terrorism— the killing of innocent people as a way of making a political statement—is never justified."

More here.

An extremely short version might be that there are going to be wars, and that putting whatever limits might be practical at a given time on what can and can't be done to who help limit the destructive effects, and that it's immoral to not do what one can do to so limit those effects, by trying to create conditions for the parties to a conflict to adhere to such limits.

And we have indeed seen considerable, if limited, success of parties to conflicts as massively destructive as the American Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, WWI, WWII, and other wars, draw some lines around what's acceptable that were largely, if imperfectly adhered to.

Poison gas wasn't used in Europe, at least, in WWII. Biowarfare was largely confined to the Japanese against Chinese civilians. We've had no nuclear wars after Nagasaki. The Germans and the West treated most of their prisoners with far more humanity than, say, the Germans and Russians mutually did, or then took place in the Pacific and Asia. And so on.

Limited limits, yes. But if you or your family's life had been one saved, it would mean more than a little to you.

And the fact that victors don't treat their defeated foes and themselves equally doesn't mean that there aren't vast differences between how, for instance, America treated, postwar, Germany, and the Soviet Union treated Germany, or the Japanese treated the Chinese.

During the war, did American and British and its Ally's soldiers commit war crimes? Sure. Were there strategic war crimes committed? There's sure a good case to be made, as well as a defense.

But the differences of scale remain mightly large, as well; we certainly didn't prevent or punish every rape, every murder, every killing of a prisoner, by our soldiers, but that doesn't compare to Nazi war crimes, nor to Soviet war crimes, and the lack of punishment.

So without justifying or defending anyone's war crimes, I also can't agree that it's all just undifferentiated evil, and there are no moral conclusions, or at least suggestions, available.

I'm with Sebastian and OCSteve. I think there are certain things that are flat wrong, and that do not become OK when your country is invaded. Abusing someone's trust to turn that person, unwillingly, into an instrument for murder, when that person cannot be expected to see through you or in some other way defend against this, is one of them.

I'm also with Gary in thinking that there ought to be limits on what one can do in war, even if they will be imperfectly observed. It matters, as Gary says, for the civilians who might be harmed otherwise; it also matters for the soldiers, who ought to be given a shot at returning with their souls intact, rather than having to live with atrocities.

That said, I find suicide bombers comprehensible, and I just don't believe that they are all somehow credulous, at any rate not more so than the rest of us. I have never known anyone who was involved in organizations that did suicide bombings, but I did once find myself in a situation where I knew people, in another country, who were involved in an organization that did other very bad things. (For the record: I did my best to dissuade them, without any notable success.)

Most of the people I knew were people who had either themselves suffered tremendous injustices, like serious and prolonged torture, or who knew people who had. They had a lot of reasons for being angry, and for wanting there to be something, anything, that they could do to fight against it. They were right to want to fight against it. In this respect, they were (imho) more admirable than people who just thought well, I'll just keep my head down and hope all these bad things don't happen to me.

However, the organizations that were opposed to the various injustices seemed to take two forms: (a) groups that basically said: well, torture has gone a bit too far, things have gotten too extreme, we should scale the torture and injustice back a bit, but let's not get extreme about it, and (b) one group that was implacably opposed to torture, extrajudicial killings of random villagers, etc., but that was also -- well, abhorrent. They killed people. They killed civilians. They killed some of the people they should have been fighting for, since, in the manner of extremist groups everywhere, they were trying to send messages to "collaborators". Whole villages of "collaborators." "Collaborators" who were infants.

But they were also the only people around who were flatly opposed to a range of genuinely appalling injustices. The people I knew desperately wanted to believe that they were OK, not because they were unduly credulous, but because the alternative seemed to be: that there was no way at all to oppose something that was absolutely worth opposing. In other words, it was despair, and resigning yourself to the thought that you, or someone like you, might at any moment be jailed for no reason and tortured, or shot for no reason, or have your village razed for no reason, and there was nothing at all that you could do.

You don't need mental defects to explain why someone would try to convince themselves that the tactics that group used were actually necessary. It's absolutely wrong, as I kept telling them, but it's also, to me, completely comprehensible.

Moreover, once you get into the business of convincing yourself that the massacre of an entire village is justified, it's a lot easier to continue down that road, until almost anything can be justified in the name of the cause. The first sacrifice of your moral integrity and your intellectual conscience is the hardest one, I think, and smoothes the road for its successors.

Donald,

OK I'll admit that they don't seem to have low intelligence or education compared to the general population. I'll have to try to narrow my point next time to avoid including more assumptions than I need to.

However I still think

1) that they are 'the vulnerable'
"deemed susceptible to intense religious indoctrination and logistical training." this is the only sort of vulnerable that matters. After all if the downs syndrome women were able to think through suicide bombing properly and able to reject the idea then it would not be nearly as morally repugnant. (maybe they can...)

and to get back to the original perspective - it would be a pretty silly terrorist organization that selected the potential bomber that was least easy to train and brainwash.

2) they are generally not part of the organization (i.e. they refer to going to recruit susceptible people or such people coming/being sent to them)

3) there are vulnerable people everywhere - you can tell that by how cults are able to set up in towns and convince a lot of people to commit suicide over some aliens or some such thing. Such people aren't all intellectually handicapped in the normal sense of the word. Surely you know some people who are susseptable like this (I can think of 3 that I know quite closely).

I note that Ariel Merari's research linked to in the article which says that suicide bombers are normal.

then concluded

"I came to think that suicide terrorism is not a personal phenomenon it is an organizational phenomenon, an organizational system."

Which is my wider point:

4) that the key player is the terrorist organization not the suicide bomber.

It seems that a lot of other people here would tend towards that anyway because if you 'excuse' a terrorist (as opposed to terrorism itself) based on their environment driving them to suicide bombing - then you are modeling them as robots doomed to blow themselves up anyway and its just the organization that can make the choice to stop facilitating them.

"The first sacrifice of your moral integrity and your intellectual conscience is the hardest one, I think, and smoothes the road for its successors."

People presumably are apt to tend in one of two directions, once you've murdered some children.

Either: a) it eventually bothers you enough that you can't do it again, or:
b) you find you can live with it, or put it behind you, and that makes it easier to do again. Which makes it easier to do it yet again. And then again.

Some people will be capable of being shocked out their journey in one direction, or the other, and others won't.

Some will have nightmares.

Others, it may be more like potato chips, particularly if rage fuels your appetite.

And rage can be fed by causes good or bad, right or wrong.

Incidentally, in case it isn't clear, I agree with Sebastian's 09:37 PM.

hilzoy,

Just to be clear, would you find the suicide bombing option in both scenarios that I presented to be always wrong?

Perhaps this is just my bias showing, but if this story is true (and I think that we should exercise some caution), what it tells me is not the utter depravity of those who oppose us, it tells us that even minimal social networks and structures in Iraq have broken down. Contra to Brett, using mentally handicapped as mules seems to me to represent a large step if one considers the other groups that have used suicide bombing. And, while not trying to excuse it in any way whatsoever, in any kind of struggle, you are going to get people advocating ideas that are stupid (burying the bodies of terrorists in pig fat comes to mind) but it is the social network that acts as a preventative and a brake on the most stupid ideas from surfacing. When these social networks break down, that safety net disappears and I think that's what we are seeing.

The people who did this thing are awful. They're awful whether or not they took advantage of a disabled person. As I used to say back when Mr. Bird used to periodically prove that many of the people we were fighting were awful: what of it? No one thinks they're good guys. The question of what US policy best serves US interests doesn't hinge on how awful these people are. They're awful enough for whatever policy implications awfulness has, and we've known as much since 2004 at the latest.

Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

I do not have hilzoy's direct experience, but her description of people faced with extreme circumstances rings true to me.

In a situation where people are pushed beyond ordinary limits, where they face violence and death, extreme reactions are to be expected. We should not be surprised that some people appear to become monsters, others saints. This does not necessarily mean that they are irredeemably evil, and it certainly does not mean that they are not human. Indeed, it is proof that they are human.

Civilization is a system where people are mostly protected from these extreme situations, where we can live what we think of as normal lives. Sometimes this system fails and violence erupts on a large scale.

In my view, it's best to avoid these extremes. I think the price paid in blood, pain and grief usually outweighs any exaltation that may ensue. There may be situations where there is no alternative to violence but the costs are so high, and our technology for destruction so advanced that we should avoid unleashing the dogs of war if at all possible. We cannot rely on our own soldiers to be saints, much less on those we oppose.

Forgive me for picking on Brett Bellmore, but the very idea of "looking for people who need killing" repels me.

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
I've got a little list--I've got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground,
And who never would be missed--who never would be missed!

"Just to be clear, would you find the suicide bombing option in both scenarios that I presented to be always wrong?"

You've been forced into using the ticking bomb hypothetical to justify torture. Those hypotheticals don't occur in real life. And if they did, and if we agreed that they justified the bad action in the very extreme hypothetical, they still wouldn't justify it in real world circumstances.

"Does it become a closer moral comparison if we postulate that you're the sole caregiver for this person and that you are dying from disease and expect to be dead in a week and that there is no option for keeping your charge alive after you're gone since your family has been killed?"

No. If the sole caregiver is dying, it still isn't going to be good to make the retarded person a piece of a bomb.

"What if you couldn't afford to feed your entire family and believed that if you didn't kill one, they'd all die of starvation?"

No. If your kids are starving, it isn't a good excuse to make the retarded kid a bomb. And if someone is threatening your kids unless you give up your retarded one to be a part of a bomb, that person is evil.

These aren't close calls. As far as I'm concerned we can't even seen the close-call line from there, much less argue about exactly where it is.

I find myself in general agreement with virtually everything virtually everyone has said on this thread, by the way. (Not, as Ral already noted, Brett's comment "looking for people who need killing".)

But:

The "ticking timebomb" scenario used to justify torture is a comic-book fantasy. It bears no relation to anything that could ever happen in real life.

The scenario where parents must choose one of their children to die in order to be able to keep the rest alive may appear on the same level of thinking to people who live a rich and privileged existence*, but... really isn't. When you and everyone else around you is living on the margins, it may be horribly necessary - not right, not kind, not pleasant, just necessary - to choose between one child dying and all the children dying. It's the kind of thing that happens to people who are living a marginal existence and so everyone else: no one has any resources to spare.

I also have strong doubts about whether the story is true as reported, and have never understood why it's considered so much more vile to deliberately kill children from close up than from a long way off (to my way of thinking, people who drop cluster bombs are worse than people who commit suicide by bomb), but if it needs saying: yes, I'm against killing people - children, mentally disabled, murderers, torturers, and even President Bush.

*I mean by living in a country where people hardly ever die of hunger.

I think the point is that someone who walks into an area with a bomb strapped on their chest which is remotely detonated, and not detonated by themselves, is a victim and not a suicide bomber. end of story. that appears to be why this post objects to the headline, rather than the action, which in and of itself is also appalling, as any bombing is.

and there's a host of reasons why this person could have looked 'normal.' and not everyone with Downs obviously has downs, especially if they happen to be a woman traditionally covered up... additionally, not every disability is visible.

and I think I agree with the idea that anyone willing to be a suicide bomber, or anyone willing to willingly kill anyone, is nuts, even if they don't qualify as nuts under an official psychological evaluation. There's something not right in their head. and if the bombing is planned/coordinated by an organization, rather than by the bomber, than it is a case of one person taking advantage of another's willingness to do something completely nuts.

But then maybe there's something not right in my head for not being able to fathom the concept of being willing to do something like this...

I think the point is that someone who walks into an area with a bomb strapped on their chest which is remotely detonated, and not detonated by themselves, is a victim and not a suicide bomber. end of story.

Well, no. That would only be "end of story" if the person who had a bomb strapped to their chest had been coerced into doing it - or was mentally disabled so that they could not understand what they were doing. Note that I'm not disagreeing with you, exactly - just saying "don't say end of story" when it isn't.

and I think I agree with the idea that anyone willing to be a suicide bomber, or anyone willing to willingly kill anyone, is nuts, even if they don't qualify as nuts under an official psychological evaluation.

Being willing to kill people is sufficiently common that I think it unhelpful to conclude, in that sweeping way, that anyone and everyone - from the operator of the execution apparatus on Death Row, to the pilot flying a bomber to drop explosives on a city - is "nuts".

"Contra to Brett, using mentally handicapped as mules seems to me to represent a large step if one considers the other groups that have used suicide bombing."

It might be a large step from suicide bombing against military targets, but it's scarcely a large step from suicide bombings which deliberately target civilans. Strap the bomb on somebody of diminished capacity, or have the guy wearing the bomb stand next to somebody of diminished capacity, what's the dif?

The thing which illustrates the stark evil of the opposition here isn't that they resort to suicide bombing. (Not that, as noted above, you can really describe a bomb with a remote trigger as a "suicide" bombing.") That I can understand given their logistic situation. It's their choice of targets.

All this talk about "what would you do if YOUR country was invaded, and your government overthrown?" leaves me cold. First off, if my government was a dictatorship that tortured political opponents, and the invaders forced us to have free elections, I might be less than totally pissed off. But leaving that aside, it would never occur to me that the appropriate military strategy for driving them out was blowing up daycare centers and shopping malls.

Al Quada's military tactics represent, not an attack on invading forces, but an attack on the native population. They're not primarily at war with us, they're at war with the Iraqis. Essentially trying to say to them, "Give up on democracy, and let us take over, or we'll make your lives living hell."

THAT goal is evil, no matter what tactics you use.

Brett, I believe that targeting civilians with suicide bombings been done by Tamil Tigers against civilians and Palestinian attacks have also been against Israeli civilians. Wikipedia suggests that it is also a feature in Kurdistan and claims that it was first seen in its current form during the Lebanese Civil War. So the dif is that in a place where there is some sort of civil society or at least the semblance of civil social structures, there would presumably be social factors preventing the use of mentally handicapped as mules.

Most terrorist/insurgency groups have more people than explosives, and the loyal 'soldier' is a lot more reliable than a coerced and/or incompetent kidnapping victim. The targeting is more precise, and you get fewer last minute heroic sacrifices.

In Iraq, you've got an excess of explosives, and given the massive scale of the suicide bombing campaign there, they must be running very short on actual volunteers, who have to be saved for missions where you need active cooperation and precision guidance.

In other words, the choice of vehicle is driven by which resource is scarce, and must be economized, people or bombs. Not any supposed moral qualms on the part of people deliberately committing mass murder.

Not any supposed moral qualms on the part of people deliberately committing mass murder.

This is a misreading of what I wrote. I was not talking about the people who deliberately commit mass murder, I was talking about the surrounding society that may or may not support it or at least turn a blind eye to it.

Perhaps it is a simple matter of resources, and there are so few Iraqis or foreigners coming into Iraq that they now must make do with the mentally handicapped. Yet your notion assumes that there is a wider range of people who presumably approve of this, which is a remarkably negative view of Iraqi society at large. I believe (perhaps as bias, as I mentioned before) that this is a sign that society has broken down so completely that the moral scruples of society (not the individuals themselves) fail to operate. For your view to be correct, you need to presume that Iraqis at large support this type of attack, and view it as an appropriate marshalling of resources. And, if you were correct, any terrorist/insurgency group which had a surplus of explosives would inevitably turn to using the mentally handicapped, which I don't think is the case.

Like Jes, I agree with most of what people have said on this thread. I agree that deliberately killing civilians is bad, using mentally impaired people to do it is even worse (though not that much worse, since you're already about as low as you can go), and that ordinary people in horrible situations can persuade themselves that terrorism is morally justified, though they are wrong.

I also think that many privileged people can be masters of doublethink--they can persuade themselves they are in desperate circumstances and justify atrocities or unnecessary military actions that are certain to kill civilians, while telling themselves they aren't like terrorists.

The form atrocities take vary by culture. Most Americans might vehemently deny that they'd favor suicide bombing, but a large fraction of us are willing to kill massive numbers via aerial bombing. I suspect that many Americans would favor using our nuclear arsenal rather than submit to foreign conquest. If you take that viewpoint it's hard to see how one could condemn terrorism. Not that I necessarily favor moral consistency--it's better that people be unconscious hypocrites than come out consistently in favor of all forms of barbarism. It just depends on which way one chooses to be consistent.

gnz-- In some circumstances most people are suffering so much it becomes the societal norm to favor atrocities. So the terrorists actually can pick and choose, which is pointed out in that article. Not that I disagree with your latest post very much--the organizations that sponsor the acts are the culprits then, as maybe most people wouldn't really act on their revenge fantasies without some group helping them to do it.

"The scenario where parents must choose one of their children to die in order to be able to keep the rest alive may appear on the same level of thinking to people who live a rich and privileged existence*, but... really isn't. When you and everyone else around you is living on the margins, it may be horribly necessary - not right, not kind, not pleasant, just necessary - to choose between one child dying and all the children dying."

But that is a level of abstraction that has nothing to do with this case. Even if faced with the decision of having one of your children die or having them all die (and that is still a lot rarer than you are making out and isn't common even in war-torn Iraq), that doesn't mean you are forced to go have the retarded one go be part of a bomb. The hypothetical doesn't go that far without adding some evil facts.

Oh, and I don't think my conclusion requires a 'privileged existence' either. I'm pretty sure that the starving people of the Great Depression, or in a famine-stricken south-east Asian country would agree.

It isn't particularly a feature of 'western' morality either.

There are very few, if any, societies with moral codes that would think "my children are going to starve unless one of them dies so I must give this one over to become part of a bomb". Even societies that would kill an infant with certain handicaps wouldn't typically say something like that about a child they decided to let live into the teenage years and/or adulthood.

Donald Johnson, thanks for the link to the Science article.

Brett Bellmore, by the way, I know you weren't directly advocating "looking for people who need killing." But isn't that what the "Bush Doctrine" amounts to? Just sayin'.

Seb,

One reason that I introduced my hypotheticals is that in middle eastern countries, social services are often provided exclusively by local sectarian organizations. If you can't feed your family, there's nowhere to go except Sadr's office, or in many places, the offices of someone worse than Sadr.

When the only social services provider in town is the same group of people that sends out suicide bombers...well, getting a caregiver to exchange their own life as a suicide bomber or that of their charge in exchange for food for their remaining family seems fairly possible.

You don't think that a sectarian organization that blows up innocent civilians would give out scarce resources like food and shelter for free do you? That they support the destitute without expecting anything in return? Of course not. There are obligations to fulfill. I'm sure its nothing so crass as a contract (you give us a kid or yourself to blow up, we'll keep the rest of them taken care of...), but there are ways of communicating expectations: "we have such limited resources, we can only provide for the truly devout, are you devout? ah, of course you are...like any true follower, your blood boils at what these dogs have done to us and you know that sacrifices must be made..."

Regarding your contention that starvation is extremely rare in places like Iraq: I can tell you that people starve to death in other middle eastern countries with similar socioeconomic profiles more often than one might think. I know this because I have family and friends living there. I assume that in Iraq things are worse because many families have been decimated by the war, neighborhoods are fractured, and economic activity is completely impeded. I mean really: how do you expect most Iraqis to earn a living if they think it is too dangerous to send their children to school?

and there's a host of reasons why this person could have looked 'normal.' and not everyone with Downs obviously has downs, especially if they happen to be a woman traditionally covered up... additionally, not every disability is visible.

The bystanders claimed that there was no reason to believe these woman were mentally impaired in any way: the only evidence is that an ISM member thought that a human skull that had been severed from its body and hurled into the sky by the force of a massive explosion looked funny. Do you really think that an ISF member is trained in diagnosing facial features associated with Downs Syndrome? Have you ever interacted with security forces in the middle east? And do you really think the very small characteristic facial features that one finds in DS adults are going to be noticeable on a head that was blown apart from its body?

Which seems more likely, that the ISF officer was trained and capable of recognizing DS and that face was sufficiently undamaged to permit that assessment, or that the ISF officer had to cover for a massive screw up and needed to come up with a story for how he let 75 people get blown up even though he's not working with the insurgents?

This really doesn't make sense to me. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that people have an opportunity for catharsis. Like Charlie, I'm glad that Seb now has some evidence that insurgents who blow up lots of civilians are evil, especially since until I heard about this incident, I thought that insurgents were made of puppies and rainbows and exhaled fairy dust whenever they spoke.

My eyes roll.

[picks up Sebastian's eyes and hand them back to him]

Here: these'll get dusty down there.

Roll some bones, instead.

My eyes roll.

I take it that will be in lieu of a substantiative response?

Do let me know when you get confirmation that these were actually disabled women; I like to think that since 2003 most people have become less gullible when interpreting self-serving government pronouncements.

"I like to think that since 2003 most people have become less gullible when interpreting self-serving government pronouncements."

Because that worked so well since "Remember the Maine!," Smedley Butler, "who lost China?," the "missile gap," the Vietnam War, "peace with honor," Central America in the 1980s, Iran-Contra, the Laffer Curve....

But this time, most people are sure to learn!

Don't forget the babies removed from the incubators and left to die on the floor. I've suspected the story about feeding people into shredders comes from the same sort of PR factory, but it could be true.

Because that worked so well since [insert long string of burning national humiliations]

Indeed. For the record, I don't actually believe that people in general are less gullible, but I try to believe that of people I'm conversing with as a courtesy. I've found that discussions tend to go poorly after I address people as "you ignorant gullible fool".

But this time, most people are sure to learn!

The problem isn't that people haven't learned from those incidents, the problem is precisely that they have.

I've suspected the story about feeding people into shredders comes from the same sort of PR factory, but it could be true.

You hadn't read yet?

Marbel: You hadn't read yet?

I hadn't, actually: thanks for linking. It does go to show: while I had wondered how it could possibly work to feed a live human body into a machine not originally designed for mangling flesh and bones, I hadn't wondered too hard because, well, it was such an awful thing to think about that my ability to think about it directly evidently just got diverted. So, yeah: we don't learn. I now think, of course, that I should have known that if the shredder of these stories had been found, of course it would have been unmissable news in 2003 - but it didn't occur to me.

"I take it that will be in lieu of a substantiative response?"

"I'm glad that Seb now has some evidence that insurgents who blow up lots of civilians are evil, especially since until I heard about this incident, I thought that insurgents were made of puppies and rainbows and exhaled fairy dust whenever they spoke."

I leave it entirely to the judgment of the readers as to whether there is anything of substance to respond to.

Turbulence wrote: Which seems more likely, that the ISF officer was trained and capable of recognizing DS and that face was sufficiently undamaged to permit that assessment, or that the ISF officer had to cover for a massive screw up and needed to come up with a story for how he let 75 people get blown up even though he's not working with the insurgents?

Sebastian's response: My eyes roll.

Sebastian's further response: I leave it entirely to the judgment of the readers as to whether there is anything of substance to respond to.

Well, yes. Despite the sarcasm of the closing paragraph, I rather think there was.

I leave it entirely to the judgment of the readers as to whether there is anything of substance to respond to.

As one of the readers, I find many of the responses here substantive and worthy of a rebuttal if you can muster one.

The open question is whether your original post is of substance.

It appears that what was presented in your post as fact turns out to be either untrue, or very questionable. So, the amount of substance in your post amounts to this: what in your view of the world would change if it turned out that things didn't happen as quoted in your post?

If the bombers, rather than having Down's Syndrome and being unwitting victims of a remote control detonation, were intelligent, willing, and active participants in the attack, how would that change your view of the conflict, and what statements that you have made would you be willing to retract? What did you believe yesterday that you would be willing to reject today given changed circumstances?

To the extent that you modify your views as the known facts of the incident you described change, your post is substantive.

Now_what, regardless of whether the suicide bombers were Downs Syndrome or not - and it seems that it is completely unverified that they were - the point which still remains, is that it appears that the bomb was set off by a mobile phone, which certainly leaves open the possibility that these two women were not dedicated volunteers, but individuals who had been coerced to some degree, and whose willingness to press the button themselves was therefore not trusted.

What this says about what life is like for ordinary Iraqis trying to survive, especially Iraqi women with children to support, is horrible enough.

This kind of tragedy is where the social conservative/libertarian view of society without an interfering state will always end up, sooner or later. Robert Frost said that home is the place where they have to take you in. But sometimes home is full of people who are starving, and your church is led by people who'd find your death more useful for their politicking than your life is, and your school's been shut down because it can't get any power and the water's not safe to drink, and your business is going to get firebombed and lose its clients if it keeps hiring people like you or it's run by absent managers who'd rather bring in coolies from places even poorer than where you are...and then somebody wants you to be a bomb. Who can you turn to?

For genuine safety, you need the nanny state. You need people willing to help you eat, and sleep securely, and learn, and work, and live, even if you're a sort of person the "little platoons" don't approve of at all. It takes intrusive, majority-disregarding courts to bring socially powerful authority figures to trial for their crimes against people like you, and nasty activist judges to keep the principles of the law working and relevant in the midst of chaotic new situations. The only lasting hope for people like those women and most of the people blown up around them is a strong state, precisely what is denounced as the problem by people who don't yet have any idea just how quickly their own lives can unravel, too. But if you spend enough generations teaching yourself and others that "government is the problem", what you get is that marketplace.

Bruce, you reminded me of an old favorite, Brad DeLong's No Libertarians in the Seventeenth-Century Highlands.

For those unwilling to follow the link, I give you the punchline:

... behind everything good, peaceful, and prosperous in human society is the shadow of the Public Executioner

I love Bruce to death, so I hope he won't take this the wrong way, but I do have a memory and a sense of amusement, and when I read a comment like Bruce's above, I'm occasionally tempted to fantasize about time-traveling Bruce-of-12-years-ago-or-so forward to argue with Bruce today, just to listen to the argument between them.

It fascinates me how some people's views evolve, compared to how those of others do or do not, and to ponder how and why.

Gary, I have daydreams like that too. The change is rather dramatic, isn't it? The major change, alas, is the collapse of my assumption that governing elites can be trusted to have learned temperance from past generations' clashes, and to be willing to settle for a smaller piece of a larger pie. When that happened, a process of reevaluation started that's still ongoing. Goodness knows where it'll end up.

A lot of folks I argued with over the years are entitled to "I told you so"s and I've been trying not to duck the responsibility there.

"It appears that what was presented in your post as fact turns out to be either untrue, or very questionable. So, the amount of substance in your post amounts to this: what in your view of the world would change if it turned out that things didn't happen as quoted in your post?"

I've read the updated news reports, and the alleged appearance of untruth is not reflected in them. The major question raised here appears to be amazement that the head could possibly be intact, which shouldn't shock you if you have been closely reading reports of suicide bombings in Israel--at least once or twice a year you read about the bomber's head or limbs being found completely intact. I won't claim to understand all of the localized overpressure physics, but the fact that people and/or objects right at the center of a blast may be blown away from the blast while people and objects slightly further from the center end up with more blast damage (although when your head is fully severed from your body, ‘more’ is really just a term describing the way it looks) really is not shocking.

Furthermore the remote control nature of the devices suggests that the women involved were not standard ‘suicide’ bombers.

Suggestions that Down’s syndrome cannot be properly diagnosed by a layman may be true as to differentiating between types of retardation, but it isn’t true that a layman is incapable of recognizing typical facial characteristics which are very often associated with genetically based mental retardation. If it turns out neither of the women had Down’s syndrome, but that they were otherwise mentally impaired, I wouldn’t count that a resounding success for your side of the argument.

Now it is certainly possible that any reported event will end up being revised on further inspection. I’m also willing to admit that levels of skepticism about reports can be influenced by one’s ideological priors (though it isn’t at all clear that such a bias is only creeping in on one side of the analysis).

That is the state of the substantive news portion.

The state of the morality discussion about what it means if the reports turn out to be true has gotten rather heated, with allusions to Western or high-level of material wellbeing bias coloring the question. So far as I can tell, those aren’t accurate. As I noted before, there are very few, if any, large scale cultures that would find it morally laudable to allow you to take advantage of someone’s mental deficiencies in order to turn them into a bomb. Most cultures, Western or not, portray taking advantage of someone in that manner as cruelty or some other permutation of evil. Most cultures, rich or not, portray taking advantage of the morally innocent in that way as some fairly strong permutation of evil.

There also seems to be some objection to my use of the word ‘evil’ as shown by such things as: “especially since until I heard about this incident, I thought that insurgents were made of puppies and rainbows and exhaled fairy dust whenever they spoke.”

But the objection is apparently so obvious as to not require further explanation. Since it is not obvious to me, I can’t comment further on it.

"The change is rather dramatic, isn't it?"

At times it seems a bit, although I've never seen your expressed POV lack continuity with your previous opinions.

That's a good part of what I find interesting about your evolution, which I only see bits and pieces of, of course. (But a fair number of bits and pieces, as they add up.)

For those unaware, I'd prefer to leave Bruce to self-characterize, but once upon a time he was, or seemed to be, considerably closer to more -- I'm hesitant to use the word "orthodox" -- but perhaps more classically conventional libertarianism. Closer to where Jim Henley is today, or other self-identified libertarians, rather than to where Bruce is today.

One clear change is, as you indicate, your view of the role of the state, and its cost-benefit ratio.

I don't think I have any urge towards "I told you sos," as I've always respected your reasoning and views, but I probably do agree with you a bit more nowadays than back then.

That's not what interests me, though. It's the variations in how different people come to change views and how others don't, and why, that intrigues me, and in that you're, no offense, more interesting as a datapoint than as an individual universe. :-)

Which isn't to say I'm not disappointed that I can't invite you over as an individual universe for some coffee and talk on a frequent basis. :-)

(Okay, I can invite you, and consider yourself invited, but I don't have much hope that next Saturday in Boulder is good for you.)

Bruce, I’m almost not sure if you are pulling my leg with your comment, so if I’ve missed a joke by taking it seriously, please forgive me.

If we take this report at face value I’m not sure you can form particularly good pro or anti libertarian arguments from it. The infliction of really nasty and really evil things on people takes place under a wide variety of human institutions or lack of institutions. For every person killed by a suicide bomber, there are more than 100 who first had their spirits crushed and then their lives extinguished in the gulag—a rather statist institution which was supposed to be furthering the creation of a good nanny state for everyone. Furthermore the libertarian/statist axis of analysis isn’t particularly strong even if you restrict yourself only to the question of Iraq—a few people above make the argument that these acts have been largely caused by the attempt to impose a state on people who don’t want to inhabit a state together (or at least a state where ‘those other nasty people’ might have some say in what happens). I’m just not sure that this has a lot to tell us about how things ought to function in states where we don’t have lots of people interested in killing lots of their neighbors.

Suggestions that Down’s syndrome cannot be properly diagnosed by a layman may be true as to differentiating between types of retardation, but it isn’t true that a layman is incapable of recognizing typical facial characteristics which are very often associated with genetically based mental retardation. If it turns out neither of the women had Down’s syndrome, but that they were otherwise mentally impaired, I wouldn’t count that a resounding success for your side of the argument.

I think there is some goal post moving going on here. There certainly exist laymen who could identify a Down Syndrome individual as having DS by their facial features alone. But there's no reason whatsoever to believe that such people are very common in the middle east or amongst Iraqi ISF members.

Since I don't recall seeing anything that indicated that the head was perfectly completely undamaged, I'm not sure what the relevance of your Israeli bombing comments are. I would expect a skull to be damaged if not by the blast, then by the fall. I've spent my whole life around DS kids and adults and I don't think I could confidently diagnose the facial features in a case where the head been rocketed about by an explosion, even if the explosion didn't do much damage. For starters, a good chunk of the characteristic facial features boil down to how people position muscles around their mouth; I have very little confidence that you could reliably tell anything about a dead mouth.

And while it is certainly possible that these women had some mental impairment that was not DS, there's no evidence for that. I'm happy to discuss the hypothetical that these woman were mentally impaired but didn't have visual features that indicated that, but I don't see any evidence to support that notion. Do you?

Sebastian: I’m just not sure that this has a lot to tell us about how things ought to function in states where we don’t have lots of people interested in killing lots of their neighbors.

That slightly ignores everything that has been happening in Iraq since March 2003 to create a non-functioning state in which a woman may well have literally no alternatives but death by starvation, prostitution, and suicide.

Iraq isn't a functioning state. Not because it has "people interested in killing lots of their neighbors" but because the US invaded in March 2003 and has managed to make the situation in Iraq ever worse, ever since. There are "people interested in killing lots of their neighbors" in every country in the world - including the US - but in functioning states, a person who decides that a health clinic should be blown up, or a marketplace destroyed, because of religious mania or for any other reason, will normally not be able to find "volunteers" who can be coerced by hunger into doing the bombing for them.

"I think there is some goal post moving going on here."

I'm attempting to respond as precisely as possible. The reports are mentally retarded possibly Down's syndrome. Some reports say just Down's Syndrome. My point is that a medical-level Down's Syndrome diagnosis isn't needed to get an initial and accurate report of mental retardation. There seemed to be a large amount of skepticism that such a thing was possible, and I responded as much as I could.

Since a large portion of your comments were of "even if true" variety I don't see my responses as goal post moving. There is no more or less reason to believe in the reports than there was when I initally posted. At this point you seem to believe tham to be false for various reasons which I don't find compelling--essentially disbelief that the head could be blown off without being largely damaged other than being unattached to the head. My understanding is that such a belief is inaccurate. That is fine. I'm willing to await further developments on the issue since neither of us can add anything of value to the fact finding at this point.

I may have missed it, but I don't see much response from you to the reports that the device was remotely detonated. Remote detonation suggests that something is going on here more than just a willing suicide bomber situation.

You've made a number of other statements which I've responded to regarding the "if true" situation.

The reports are mentally retarded possibly Down's syndrome. Some reports say just Down's Syndrome.

One report, from the person who was responsible for letting the woman into the market, says mental retardation/Down's Syndrome, based on examination of the woman's head after her death.

Another report, from a person who saw the woman in the last moments of her life, says there was no sign of mental retardation or Down's Syndrome.

So we have two conflicting reports. You could simply report what both say as if either were likely to be correct, or you could note that the first is based on inclusive information and comes from a source motivated to lie.

For what it's worth, Sebastian, my view is that we have no reason to either believe or disbelieve, as a matter of fact, that the two had Down's Syndrome.

What we have is a casual, essentially unsourced, rumor -- if I'm mistaken, and you can name the witness and contact information, please let me know -- in a war situation fraught with false information and propaganda from multiple interested parties.

The American authorities, for what it's worth, were explicit that they couldn't confirm the rumor in any way.

That's not proof the rumor isn't true. It's entirely possible it is.

But I've not noticed anyone insisting that they know it isn't true; if I've missed that, please feel free to point out such comments.

Alternatively, you may regard such reports as sufficient to put forward as presumptively true.

Might I ask, if so, if you might offer a sentence or two of general principle as to what means you use to distinguish presumptive truth from falsehood in reports that unnamed Iraqis have said that X is true?

I'll be happy to offer a bunch of real examples of statements reported in U.S. news reports from Iraqis, given similar credibility, which we now know to be either true or false, so as to better understand the usefulness of your sorting mechanism, if you'd be so kind as to help us understand it a touch better.

Thanks muchly!

I am, to be clear, entirely serious. I'm curious to better understand how credible you find this report, and by extension, how credible you find similar reports, and how.

here is another two FYI
http://www.theage.com.au/news/Iraq/Down-syndrom
e-youth-used-as-suicide-bomber/2005/02/01/1107228703372.html
http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/03/25/1079939759283.html

My point is that a medical-level Down's Syndrome diagnosis isn't needed to get an initial and accurate report of mental retardation.

I note that we haven't gotten any report of mental retardation besides that "initial" report.

Feel free to substitute mental retardation for all uses of DS in my previous comments. I don't particularly care for a "medical-level" diagnosis; I care about plausible reasons to believe that these women were mentally impaired. If you want to expand the realm of impairments beyond DS that's fine, but that means that the likelihood of someone being able to determine whether these people were afflicted goes down: more varieties of disease means more variety of symptoms, and in many cases, it means that there will be no characteristic facial features.

The point of my goalpost moving comment was that it is much easier to prove that there exists one person who can do X than it is to prove that the ability to do X is common. You talked extensively about how it was theoretically possible that an ISF officer could have sufficient skill to make a trustworthy determination. Lots of things are theoretically possible; what matters is whether they are probable.

Look, one of my closes relatives was a decorated general in a middle eastern country's police force. Many long hours of conversation with him have convinced me that people are unlikely to end up in the ISF if they're super sharp. That's just the economics at work: its an awful dangerous job that doesn't pay anywhere near what is required to compensate for the danger, so the only people that end up doing it are those with no other options. In addition, in many middle eastern countries, there's a lot of shame regarding things like mental retardation: afflicted individuals are kept out of sight and out of mind. The odds that a random Iraqi will be able to recognize MR based only on facial features and not behavior are fairly low. Heck, I think that the odds that the average American will be able to do so are low: I don't think you're experiences with MR people is typical of the population at large.

I appreciate the fact that the headline incorrectly described someone as a suicide bomber rather than a victim is a really important issue for you. It doesn't really bother me because I don't expect the press (especially headline writers) to get details like this right, and I don't see much harm in this case. Whether N people were murdered or N+1 doesn't really change the fact that insurgents killed a large number of people in a horrific way and I think that fact is far more important than the precise details of how they did it or what some random headline writer wrote after skimming an article. If the devices were remotely detonated, I don't see how that changes the fundamental fact: insurgents killed a large number of people in a horrific manner. That makes the headline wrong, but headline inaccuracies really aren't very important to my life. I don't see what other response you want from me here; if you specify, I'd be happy to provide.


I will add one other thing to the if-true hypotheticals I presented earlier: if I truly felt that the only way for my kids to survive was to kill a family member, I don't think I could do it. I literally couldn't do it. I'd need some way to get someone else to do it, and a surprise bombing is better than many other alternatives. I still think that making that choice is wrong for a million different reasons, and I don't think I would ever chose that even in the hypotheticals. But I also think its a horrible agonizing choice and I'm not so certain that I'd choose the alternatives that I feel real comfortable screaming about what someone else in that hypothetical might do.

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