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July 13, 2009

Comments

"For the eleventieth time, decisions made by government officials in good faith should not be considered crimes, even if you disagree with them. "

This is a centrist attitude, which Gary and many others call Broderism after its chief high priest--the idea is that American officials are by definition Good and so long as they act in what they conceive to be the national interest (or claim to be), the worst that can be said about them is that they might make mistakes. To see them as war criminals is simply insane, in this way of thinking.

Do you feel this way about officials in other countries? Is the idea that so long as a country is democratic and a significant fraction of the electorate supports committing war crimes, the war crimes aren't really crimes, but policy mistakes? Or does this only apply to America?

Are you actually suggesting that you think that being tried in the justice system is not a hardship, and therefore we shouldn't mind if our opponents are put through it because we're sure they deserve it?

Of course it's a hardship, but one that we accept for all citizens, politicians included. The question is, did they break the law. Even if they thought they were doing the right thing in good faith, that doesn't matter in most legal settings. An investigation into whether any laws were broken is not an unreasonable hardship. If the investigation concludes there was wrongdoing, then a trial is not an unreasonable hardship either.

Your standard of "good faith" gives political leaders carte blanche to break any and all laws. It's an impossible standard.

"If we in the US go so far as to hold accountable before the law either a former Head of State or very powerful people who were close to him at the pinnacle of power, that will be an action which is historically almost unprecedented."

I rarely disagree with TLT's historical points, but I think this is an overstatement.

The reason most of the folks in, frex, Gary's list of criminals are walking around today as free men is the Presidential pardon. Many of them were, in fact, prosecuted, and a regrettably small number did time. Nixon was driven from office.

So it's not like there is no precedent for pursuing criminal investigations of government officials. We just keep letting the President pardon them.

I thought of quibbling with this statement of TLT's, myself, but decided not to because, a) I've already written far more on this thread than it's reasonable to expect everyone to read; and b) it's not that far off.

Yes, it's a mild over-statement. But only mild.

I'd have to footnote this, as well: "The reason most of the folks in, frex, Gary's list of criminals are walking around today as free men is the Presidential pardon."

As much or more of a reason are that a) Congress f*cked up the ability of Walsh to prosecute by giving immunity to many of the figures when they testified to Congress, which required prosecutors to go through extraordinary hoops to actively prove that such knowledge had no bearing on their investigations and prosecutions. That's an extraordinary burden on prosecutions.

But b) is far more important and general, which is that Congress has always been, at best, wishy-washy about such investigations, no matter it's, say, a Democratic Congress and a Republican administration. Impeachment proceedings should have been opened on Reagan; at the very least, committee hearings and investigations: laws were broken, as we know for absolute uncontrovertible fact.

But Congress overall thought "we can't put the country through another impeachment," and Reagan was too popular, and the Democrats wouldn't be helped politically. Etc. That was the root of the failure of our country in these matters.

And when G. H. W. Bush was elected, and he issued the pardons, the whole thing just politically disappeared into the ether. Again, as happened after Watergate, but far more deeply and worse, "We Can't Look Back, We Have To Look Ahead." It wouldn't be good politically for Democrats, they thought. Etc.

The Democratic Congresses of recent decades have, in such matters, with some exceptions here and there, have never remotely had the stones to go after Presidential crimes, let alone presidential grabs for power, and as a result (hardly the sole reason, of course), we continue to have a Semi-Empire.

Which is one reason it's so laughable to hear about "far leftists" in Congress, rather than what we do have, which are crazy extremist rightwingers, rightwingers, centrists, and a handful of mild leftists, who mostly get publically known outside their districts for their occasional flaws or stupidities, which are hardly unique in Congress, but which otherwise don't tend to get remotely as much national publicity.

GOB asks why the Democratic Congress in the last couple of years didn't seek prosecutions of Bush, Cheney, et al. The reasons are perfectly obvious: they feared it would simply look political -- as they are now being accused of being -- and they were cowards, as most politicians tend to be. HTH.

"Everyone I've seen accepts that a foreign government waterboarding an American soldier constitutes torture."

And I've always been far more concerned that not enough high-ranking and mid-ranking German and Japanese officials were either successfully prosecuted for war crimes, or got off on technicalities, or in most cases, were released after a handful of years, than I care about the fact that the hundreds of thousands of ordinary soldiers, or even low-ranking members of the SS, were generally not punished. I'm actually entirely consistent in thinking that people responsible for policy are responsible for policy, and that low-ranking soldiers and government employees, if they have good reason to think that what they are doing is legal and morally reasonable, are not responsible for policy, and don't deserve remotely the same level of blame, don't remotely have the same level of responsibility, and thus don't remotely deserve the same level of punishment.

So we'll just have to agree to disagree about this point.

"If not, what is it that distinguishes child rape from waterboarding?"

Actually, I think it's fairly clear that lots of people not well educated in the law on torture could easily conceive, if assured by their legitimate authorities, that waterboarding is within the realm of what's legal.

There's also the point that, so far as we know, only three people were waterboarded, so it's not as if we're talking about large numbers of people involved.

I find it hard to believe that many people could believe that raping children is within the realm of what's legal. Again, this is a point we'll have to agree to disagree about.

"And wouldn't most soldiers know that waterboarding a captured American soldier was torture?"

Maybe. I'd like a cite before making a conclusion.

"Wouldn't most soldiers know that torture is not OK just because the torturers are American?"

As phrased, this begs the question. If rephrased in many possible ways that are reasonable, I think the answer is "no."

"And do we really want a military full of people that don't believe those three things?"

What evidence is there that we have such a thing?

"My point here is that it is quite possible that if you gave a poll, 30-40% of American soldiers would say waterboarding people is clearly OK."

Lots of things are possible: do you have a cite on this possibility existing? If not, perhaps we should not bother discussing a hypothetical. What we do know is that not even .001% of American soldiers engaged in waterboarding. So your hypothetical seems to have little connection with any reality.

MikeR: "I am discussing: You are only looking at people who agree with you."

Almost every time I read Powerline, I notice that their grasp of the facts of what they're discussing aren't, in fact, supported by cites that are objective, and that their alleged facts are, in fact, fantasies.

To be sure, I've only read a few hundred Powerline posts over the years, which is a very small proportion of their posts.

"You remain blissfully unaware that the other side feels exactly the same way."

On the contrary, I read lots of rightwingers I think are lunatics. I'm entirely aware they think that I, and people who think as I do, and who think we know facts that they don't regard as facts, and vice versa, are equally lunatic.

Of course, they're wrong, and I'm not. I'm not sure what more I can do about that then try to make as many factual assertions as possible and do my best to support them with as objective cites as I can find.

"For the eleventieth time, decisions made by government officials in good faith should not be considered crimes, even if you disagree with them."

This is wrong. "Good faith" isn't what's relevant: it's if an actual crime was or wasn't committed that's relevant. Not what some politician thinks of it: what non-political professional prosecutors think of it.

If any of these issues are professionally investigated, and found to be unfounded, fine. If they're found to be founded enough to warrant indictments, or trials, but people are found innocent, fine.

Political views have noting whatever to do with any of this. Nobody whatever is in favor of criminalizing policy they disagree with.

I might be helpful if you'd choose to argue specific issues, specific accusations, and specific events, rather than airy generalizations that aren't falsifiable.

MikeR: piffle.

We don't take votes on whether or not to act ethically, or whether or not to uphold the law. Prior to Truman integrating the armed forces in 1949, a "decent fraction of Americans" strongly objected to him doing that very thing. He tried to do it through the Congress in July 1948, and it didn't pass. So he did it another, legal, way, by executive order. I have no doubt that without this move, the whole history of the civil rights struggle in the US would have been quite different -- bloodier, uglier (if possible) and way way longer than it was and still is. Yet by your way of thinking, Truman should not have done it, since a majority of the country wouldn't have agreed with it. Nor should Eisenhower have sent the Army to Little Rock in 1957; after all, Governor Faubus was an elected official acting in good faith, and 95% of the voters of his state probably believed that what he was doing was moral, completely legal, and certainly not criminal.

"Good faith is to be judged not by partisans, even if every single blog they read agrees with them, but by reasonable objective standards like: Does a decent fraction of Americans feel this way too?"

You're advocating that whether or not people are guilty of criminal acts should be subject to popular vote? That's one heck of an interesting view on how justice should be administered. Ever hear of "due process"?

A decent fraction of Americans thought locking up all Japanese Americans was a good idea. That didn't make it right, and it shouldn't have made it legal. "Popular" doesn't equal "legal."

Neither are all the provisions of the Constitution "popular" these days. Polls consistently find that a "decent" proportion of the population don't want the First Amendment upheld, or any of a number of other provisions. This is not an argument that these people are correct, morally or legally. Subjectivity and pure popularity are not the founding principles of America, or American justice (or justice anywhere, if it's true justice).

Another term for that sort of thing is "lynch mobs." When they're happening, they're actually quite popular. And lynchings often took place to break people out of jail, and then hang someone else instead.

Neither is popularity a defense against violating the law. These are very odd arguments to be making. They seem, at best, to depend on a view of the law as purely subjective and purely political, as well as being purely results-oriented.

If you're a Republican, I was under the impression that Republicans were supposed to be against all these sorts of things. Aren't you arguing for "empathy" for the accused, rather than the rule of law?

Lizzy L,

That's an interesting analogy you bring up, since it seems to me that the argument MikeR is making bears at least a mild resemblance to the theory of jury nullification in the old South: good people meant well and anyways that's what the the folks what matters in the community want, so whatever they did, it must have been OK; best to just move along and not stir up trouble.

I'm glad that at least one commentator here reads right-wing blogs regularly. More power to him. He has the right to say that he finds their arguments unconvincing. Most people here, though, have responded in the last few comments as in the earlier ones: We are right, it's objective fact, there's nothing to think about.

I shan't respond by presenting arguments on the subject, as the first commentator suggested. Waterboarding is not the subject. The subject is, Is this a political policy disagreement? To that question, it's not enough to say that you find powerline et al's arguments unconvincing. They may find them convincing, and indeed of course do.

And my criterion is not subjective, it's an objective moral imperative. Consider this: A good fraction of Americans think that a certain approach is moral and proper. Part of them, namely, the ones in the administration, implement that approach, believing as part of their group's point of view that it is moral and proper.
Other Americans feel strongly that it isn't, but this group disagrees. And after all they are then running the government, and responsible to do what they consider their best job according to their best judgment.
Later they lose their jobs and a new group comes to power, representing the other Americans who felt that this was illegal and immoral. They then begin persecuting the first group in Congress. They also get themselves a Supreme Court which agrees with them, and all nine justices find it totally unconstitutional and unjustifiable.
With all that, it is still immoral to persecute the first group, which represented a certain point of view on what was right. You may not understand it, but they were doing what they could with their point of view. I don't have to prove that they are right. The situation speaks for itself; they were working within their group's picture of what should be done.
How is that you don't see this as evil? It is the moral equivalent of a law ex post facto.

And I've always been far more concerned that not enough high-ranking and mid-ranking German and Japanese officials were either successfully prosecuted for war crimes, or got off on technicalities, or in most cases, were released after a handful of years, than I care about the fact that the hundreds of thousands of ordinary soldiers, or even low-ranking members of the SS, were generally not punished.

I'm totally confused as to what this statement has to do with the part of my statement that you quoted. I don't disagree with it -- I just have no idea how it is connected to what you quoted. Do you?

I'm actually entirely consistent in thinking that people responsible for policy are responsible for policy, and that low-ranking soldiers and government employees, if they have good reason to think that what they are doing is legal and morally reasonable, are not responsible for policy, and don't deserve remotely the same level of blame, don't remotely have the same level of responsibility, and thus don't remotely deserve the same level of punishment.

I don't know who you're arguing with here. I'm pretty sure that I never said that every low level CIA officer or consultant who beat a detainee to death was just as morally culpable as Dick Cheney. I don't think I've ever equated the culpability of low and high level offenders. You seem to be carrying out a very spirited argument with...no one in particular.

Actually, I think it's fairly clear that lots of people not well educated in the law on torture could easily conceive, if assured by their legitimate authorities, that waterboarding is within the realm of what's legal.

If you had suggested ten years ago that the US military was full of people who thought child rape was beyond the pale but that torture was plausible, I think most soldiers would have reacted with anger. Even today, many retired soldiers react with horror and disgust at the thought of torturing people, no matter how nice the legal justifications are.

Let me just say that if the military really is full of people who think that under some conditions, hooking up a car battery to a prisoner's testicles might be legally OK, then we should probably disband the military right now.

There's also the point that, so far as we know, only three people were waterboarded, so it's not as if we're talking about large numbers of people involved.

My complaint is not specific to waterboarding but covers all manner of torture including physical mutilation, locking people in tiny boxes, beatings, exposure to the elements, etc.


"And wouldn't most soldiers know that waterboarding a captured American soldier was torture?"

I feel pretty confident that if North Korea captured an American military officer and waterboarded him, most people, including most soldiers would claim that is torture. Certainly, most people familiar with John McCain's story say that he was tortured. If you disagree, do tell. I'd find that fascinating.

There are other misreadings you've engaged in Gary, but I'm too tired to enumerate them. And I doubt you'll respond meaningfully anyway.

And my criterion is not subjective, it's an objective moral imperative. Consider this: A good fraction of Americans think that a certain approach is moral and proper.

Let's try this one more time: your criterion is almost the definition of subjective. It's not a question about whether "a good fraction of Americans" think certain actions are "moral and proper"; it's a question of whether those actions are illegal.

To be clear, MikeR, what you're proposing is nothing less than the complete overturning of the rule of law. What you're proposing is that the highest law -- higher even than the Constitution -- is the dictates of one's conscience... or, if you're a realist, the dictates of our rulers' whims. What you're proposing, in other words, is complete anarchy. That may be the system in which you want to live, I don't know, but it is profoundly anti-American* and nothing I want any part of.

And nor, I suspect, do you.

* Profoundly anti-Enlightenment, really, but I somehow think you'll find that less persuasive.

MikeR,
Does the law apply to elected officials?

I have no doubt that Cheney et al. thought that what they were doing was moral and necessary, but that's not the question under consideration. The question is whether what they were doing was legal. Now you, and possibly many others, might like to argue that torture was moral in this circumstance and therefore they should be given a pass, but I think that's a highly dangerous precedent to set. As a minimum, if to break the law is to do the moral thing, then those wanting to break it need to accept that there will be an investigation and likely a trial over the matter. Furthermore, if there is such a conflict between the law and morality, then those wishing to break law have an imperative to argue why the law should be changed - law and morals don't always match up as well as they should. But elected officials can't just break the law in secrecy and assert that it's just a policy difference and therefore can't be questioned.

MikeR: I also read right-wing blogs regularly. So?

The law is what it is. Some people don't know what it is. I, for instance, know nothing at all about patent law. I'll bet a lot of other people don't know much about it either. Maybe a lot of us would say, offhand, that the idea that you can legally patent a gene or a living organism is silly.

But what would that show? Just that we don't know the law. If I was going to apply for a patent, or to do something that seemed like it might infringe one, I would read up on it. Then I might be a good person to ask. As it is, I'm not. Likewise, if I were planning to do something that might be torture, or withholding information I was legally bound to give to Congress, or violating FISA, I would absolutely make it my business to know what the law says.

Why people who have no reason to know what the law says on a given topic should be the arbiter of what's legal and what isn't is a mystery to me. Should we do the same thing with the tax code, and decide that we should count non-payment of taxes as perfectly fine so long as some people -- not necessarily a majority, not necessarily well-informed people -- think it's OK?

"I shan't respond by presenting arguments on the subject, as the first commentator suggested."

Well, then, there's nothing to discuss but your feelings, which won't be a profitable discussion. Either choose to discuss objective, citable, facts, or don't bother commenting at all, I suggest. I know of no reason you should care about my personal philosophy or opinions, any more than I should care about yours. I'm interested in provable facts.

"And my criterion is not subjective, it's an objective moral imperative."

Following which, the entire content of your comment is about people's feelings, and that's all you discuss. That, and subjective assertions.

This is uninteresting. When you have some facts to discuss, any facts at all, about anything, come back.

(The consistent lack of citations to facts at Powerline is, as I said, the primary reason I find them an uninteresting source; who cares what opinions unrelated to checkable facts are?)

Turbulence: "Let me just say that if the military really is full of people who think that under some conditions, hooking up a car battery to a prisoner's testicles might be legally OK, then we should probably disband the military right now."

I'm past the point of bothering to continue this discussion with you. Either I am, as you claim, incapable of correctly reading what you write, or something else is going on. Either way, I don't find it a profitable use of my time. Thanks for your contributions.

MikeR, many, many criminals have justifications for their crimes. They may even believe that they're in the right, that their victims deserved it, or that what they did was necessary for the greater good. We don't avoid prosecuting people for that.

Also, waterboarding is the subject. You can't talk about whether authorizing waterboarding is a policy disagreement without talking about waterboarding.

If we can't prosecute people unless we first convince their supporters that the people committed crimes, if no prosecution is valid unless the populace is unanimously agreed that a crime was committed, then we might as well dismantle our justice system completely. There's almost always someone who supports anyone accused of a crime.

Where do you draw the line in your popularity-based justice system? How many people need to support something in order for those who did it to be immune from prosecution? 40 percent? 28 percent? 10 percent? Certainly I can imagine circumstances in which some significant minority of the American population would be in favor of murder of certain people. By your logic, such murders should go unpunished. How is it that you don't see this as evil?

Waterboarding is not the subject. The subject is, Is this a political policy disagreement?

By this measure, all decisions to break the law are "political policy disagreements." This is just pure sophistry masquerading as some sort of moral insight.

With all that, it is still immoral to persecute the first group, which represented a certain point of view on what was right. . . .
How is that you don't see this as evil? It is the moral equivalent of a law ex post facto.

Well, no, see, the thing that they did was illegal at the time that they did it.

You can continue to blather on and on, Obi-Wan Kenobi like, about "a certain point of view," but the US had laws against torture at the time these acts were being committted, and these acts are torture under any reasonable definition of the word. What's more, Powerline and any other group of right-wing pinheads you want to dredge up know it, because if it were done to one of our soldiers, or if the Iranian regime were doing it to political dissidents, they'd be calling it "torture" so quickly the cognitive dissonance alone might snap their necks.

I mean, how can you not see that you're arguing in favor of allowing blatant lawbreaking by the executive branch to go unpunished if the executive can dress it up as a policy decision?

MikeR ought to ponder this point: if "it" was a mere "policy difference", the Cheney administration would not have tried so mightily to keep "it" a secret. If it was a mere policy difference, Dubya would NOT have publicly proclaimed that "We do not torture", after suborning legal malfeasance to obtain legal cover for "it".

Policy, even if unpopular, is what you do in the light of day. Crimes are what you try to keep secret. Prosecution of crimes that come to light is not "persecution" of "policy differences".

--TP

Turbulence,

Maybe I can try and state this again. I am reluctant to prosecute soldiers who carried out good faith orders which they had reason to believe were legal because I seriously doubt that they have been trained to the degree necessary to recognize that their actions were illegal, especially after receiving a bunch of impressive looking legal documents telling them otherwise. I would have a harder time believing that they couldn't recognize that child rape was illegal after receiving impressive looking legal documents. That level of common sense I would hope they have, or they should not be allowed to carry a rifle.

Possibly ethics and legal training for soldiers should be taken more seriously. But I'd like some evidence it is taken more seriously before prosecuting these guys.

Let me just say that if the military really is full of people who think that under some conditions, hooking up a car battery to a prisoner's testicles might be legally OK, then we should probably disband the military right now.

Agreed. But that seems consistent with everything I said and everything Gary Farber said.

America's image should never be an overriding concern. It should be an important but minor factor in the face of moral questions. Sen. McCain's statement reminds me of the memoes in the Pentagon Papers dating the latter years of the Vietnam war. America's top priority for fighting in that country turned from stopping the spread of communism to preserving their image as the world's "guarantor". As a result, the fighting and bombings escalated for the wrong reasons, and victory saw a chance to flee and took it. So perhaps a safe rule of thumb in a circumstance such as this one is that once your primary concern becomes America's image, it's time to accept that you've lost the battle.

DBake, I think you're quite right that an awful lot of people are stuck somewhere on level 1 or 2 of the Kohlberg model. But the question remains: if we don't hold them accountable, how are universal ethical principles supposed to be implemented at all?

I take it the best way to implement these principles is in one's own conduct. As far as getting most of the world to act according to universal principles, why assume there is anything we can do? I seriously doubt that punishing people too stupid or poorly educated to understand what they did was wrong will do much to help implement universal principles, unless these people are supposed to serve as an example to others. But if we want to make an example of someone, I'd prefer we use a higher up.

Maybe I can try and state this again. I am reluctant to prosecute soldiers who carried out good faith orders which they had reason to believe were legal because I seriously doubt that they have been trained to the degree necessary to recognize that their actions were illegal, especially after receiving a bunch of impressive looking legal documents telling them otherwise.

ISTR that, back when Andrew was still with us, he offered some first-hand experience into what kind of training soldiers actually receive along these lines. But I'll be darned if I even begin to know how to find that discussion on the site. Can anyone with better Google-fu lend a hand?

You may not understand it, but they were doing what they could with their point of view. I don't have to prove that they are right. The situation speaks for itself; they were working within their group's picture of what should be done.

Two quick queries, and an observation:

First, how is the scenario you outline here substantially different than the one I laid out earlier? If an administration decides that it must perform extralegal summary executions of those American citizens it deems a threat to the public, and has its lawyers draft a legal memo stating that it's legal (despite the fact that there are laws and clear legal precedents that flatly forbid it)... is this a criminal act, or "just" a "political policy disagreement"? More generally, is there anything that a president cannot do if they claim they believe it's legal, so long as a carefully undefined "good fraction of Americans think that [it] is moral and proper"? Does the law apply to the executive?

Second... how is your "objective moral imperative" anything but a Brodarian rubber stamp?

I shan't respond by presenting arguments on the subject, as the first commentator suggested. Waterboarding is not the subject. The subject is, Is this a political policy disagreement?

Actually, as the subject is suspected illegal activities carried out under Bush with the blessing of his OLC, waterboarding (being one of the questionable acts in question) is the subject. You've made a sweeping generalization: all the aforementioned policies are a priori political policy disagreements, and not potential criminal offenses. This means the Bush administration's decision to authorize waterboarding as non-torture would, per you, be a political policy decision. If you can't defend it as a policy decision which cannot be called illegal by any non-partisan measure, nor defend OLC claims of its permissibility against accusations of bad faith, your argument isn't even internally consistent. As was mentioned earlier, waterboarding can easily be shown by prior legal precedent to be considered torture, and its practice worthy of prosecution. This strongly undermines your assertion that its green-flagging was a good-faith policy decision rather than a disingenuous attempt to justify a criminal act.

The last cohesive scraps of your argument hinge on the good faith presumption of legality by an administration; without that, the notion that a given questionable act's permissibility is strictly a question of political policy (and not legality) vanishes, along with any substance in your argument beyond vague calls to unfettered mob rule. So do you now care to actually argue against this point? Or shall you continue to blithely assert "[I am] right, it's objective fact, there's nothing to think about"?

I don't know why anybody thinks the average soldier has a problem with raping children. Lots of Vietnamese girls were gang-raped by GIs during the Vietnam War. This is not an especially controversial fact, it's just something nobody likes to talk about. Google "rape + 'war crime' + Vietnam." A fairly typical result of that search is in this paper: http://www.law-lib.utoronto.ca/Diana/fulltext/tomp.htm,

These people are aware of what American soldiers do to them, so naturally they tried to hide the young girls. We found one hiding in a bomb shelter in sort of the basement of her house. She was taken out, raped by six or seven people in front of her family, in front of us, and the villagers. This wasn't just one incident; this was just the first one I can remember. I know of 10 or 15 of such incidents at least. - Specialist/4 Joe Galbally, United States Army

I suppose that in some sense our soldiers knew it was wrong to rape. But let's be blunt: the whole POINT of military training is to get soldiers to reflexively follow orders to do horrible things. After you get a teenage boy to the point where he will set strangers on fire or pump them full of bullets, it turns out to be not very difficult to push them to rape, too. And most of them go home after the war and sleep soundly about it, secure in the knowledge that war is hell, and they were doing what they were told, so it was in some sense legal and moral.

American soldiers are no more moral than any other soldiers. We can only hope to lead them more morally. That sometimes means prosecuting immoral leaders.

The reason to do this is a lot more acute than preserving America's image in the world. MikeR, you're quite right that Caesar's enemies selectively prosecuted his crimes, precipitating his invasion. But you miss a vital lesson from that episode:

Every single thing you let your soldiers do abroad, they will sooner or later do at home.

The horror of Caesar's coup is not that he was pushed to the wall. It's that when he decided to fight back, his troops happily followed him. Rome was just another city to sack, and Roman women were just more rape victims. The marvelous, brutal machine Rome had built up was casually turned on itself ("alea iacta est" = "whoopee!").

In this regard, please note how often commenters at your beloved Powerline (yes, I read it sometimes. With Pepto-Bismol on hand) advocate using the Army to keep order inside the nation because only the Army can really be trusted. I recall a lot of those proposals shortly after Hurricane Katrina. That reasoning made sense to Marius and Sulla, too.


Trilobite, were American soldiers actually ordered to rape children? I knew that many rapes occurred but I thought they were for the most part not conducted under orders, so to speak.

"Trilobite, were American soldiers actually ordered to rape children?"

No, you're quite right that those weren't under orders. Trilobite is quite correct in pointing out that there was an awful lot of raping in the Vietnam War, though. Soldiers in the field were given a high degree of autonomy to be abusive, and kill and torture as they wished, in "free-fire zones," as well as a strong racist mindset against the gooks and slopeheads.

I in no way wish to tar all or the majority of American soldiers who served in Vietnam with such a mindset, or accuse them of having committed war crimes, or of rape specifically. I'm just saying there were a lot of soldiers there, most of whom were unwilling draftees, and a lot of bad sh*t* happens under those conditions, if no one in authority is around and thinks it important to stop it.

"But let's be blunt: the whole POINT of military training is to get soldiers to reflexively follow orders to do horrible things."

True.

"And most of them go home after the war and sleep soundly about it"

That, not so much, based on my relatively brief year working at the Seattle Veterans Action Center in Seattle, circa 1980 or so.

"Every single thing you let your soldiers do abroad, they will sooner or later do at home."

That's an extreme, almost crazy, exaggeration.

Many develop problems, many develop PTSD, absolutely. But that absolute statement? Nonsense.

It's the discontinuity between the war zone experience and the home experience that really causes so many problems. It's not like one can just turn a switch on or off on what are almost entirely different worlds, and entirely different sets of appropriate responses.

Longtime convicts coming into the outside world have somewhat similar problems, too, despite the prison environment and wartime military environment having many overwhelmingly different aspects, of course. But in both cases, reflexes don't change easily, because in life, humans rarely change reflexes easily, period.

As far as getting most of the world to act according to universal principles, why assume there is anything we can do?

I am disillusioned, sometimes to the point of cynicism, about the chances of such principles ever taking a firm hold in humanity, because I've seen too many examples of outrageous cruelty and, probably even more importantly, widespread and casual callousness towards "the other" (and I'm not a misanthrope at all, humans are capable of all sorts of wonderful things as well and anyway humanity is all we got). That makes it all the more important to punish such behaviour and make it clear that we consider this to be outside the moral consensus, even if that consensus should not be backed wholeheartedly by the majority. Anything else is a surrender to the basest impulses of the reptile brain and we can forget about ever achieving a higher stage of humanity.

I seriously doubt that punishing people too stupid or poorly educated to understand what they did was wrong will do much to help implement universal principles, unless these people are supposed to serve as an example to others.

I really don't understand how lack of intelligence or education is an excuse for cruelty. Are you saying that less intelligent or educated people are more likely or find it easier to be cruel? Are plumbers or secretaries more cruel or less good-hearted than lawyers or politicians? You don't need to have a PhD in ethics to see that killing and torturing people is wrong, all you need is a basic sense of decency that your grandma could have instilled in you.

Of course formal education can help develop a moral sense and undermine prejudice, but we cannot solely rely on that and education can be used for sinister purposes just as well. There is something terribly wrong with the picture of a lower middle and lower class that paints them as people who are incapable of independent moral judgement and exonerates their actions on the basis of that.

MikeR, there are policy disagreements, and there is the law. The US constitution has a (very sensible) clause about no post-facto law or bill of attainder being passed. There is no plan to violate that (except through Telecom immunity...) Simply to enforce the law of the land. If you are actively claiming that you are above the law of the land then there is no way you can be taken as an honorable opponent.

If you disagree with the law, you have three choices as long as you are operating in good faith.

1: Work to get it changed. And then act under the new laws (which given the Republican party has a majority in the Senate, in Congress, and on the Supreme Court in addition to the Presidency wouldn't have been too hard). This didn't happen.

2: Civil Disobedience. Act in the full knowledge and expectation of the consequences of the law. Do what you feel you need to, and then take the consequences. This clearly isn't happening here.

3: Don't sweat the small stuff. Some you lose. Some simply aren't worth the fight. Either way, ignore it if it isn't that serious.

Instead the cabal went for option 4: Ignore the law and do whatever the fuck you want. n This isn't a policy disagreement. It's a direct attack on the rule of law that can only be undertaken by people not acting in good faith. And it's a direct assault on the very constitution and legal framework on the United States of America.

And as for the arguments about a round of partisan recriminations using the legal system, do the names Kenneth Star and Monica Lewinsky mean anything to you? When the Republicans were unable to find anything legal to throw at President Clinton, they developed an obsession with the President's Pecker. This isn't in the same category despite your attempts to make it appear so.

novakant,

I think you and I disagree seriously about the usefulness of punishment. I do not understand why we must punish callous behavior even if there is no hope of preventing that callous behavior. This seems like beating up on people for meeting standards it was unreasonable to expect them to meet.

And I made no claim that stupid or poorly educated people find it easier to act cruel than the intelligent or well-educated. I said that it is unfair to hold stupid or poorly educated people accountable in some cases, because it is not reasonable to expect that they knew their behavior to be wrong. And unless the ethical and legal training our soldiers get is particularly good, it is unreasonable to expect them to know that waterboarding is illegal after receiving a number of legal opinions from the White House saying otherwise.

My understanding is that officers are required to take classes in ethics and law, and so holding them responsible strikes me as more reasonable. But this largely depends on whether it would seem reasonable to expect them to know that the legal opinions they were receiving from the White House might be fraudulent.

Without prejudice to anything I said in Hilzoy's goodbye post:

I think the US is still freakin' insane. Sorry.

I think I'm going to quit commenting here now: on this thread, at least, and on Obsidian Wings, for a while.

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