Posts Tagged ‘religious belief’

REPRISE: Consorting with the Devil? The Debate over the Efficacy of Torture

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

Given the renewed debate in the U.S over the efficacy of torture in the wake of Bin Laden’s death, the article republished below, written on April 24, 2009 and first published here on October 1, 2009, puts current arguments in perspective.

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CONSORTING WITH THE DEVIL? THE DEBATE OVER THE EFFICACY OF TORTURE

April 24, 2009–The current debate over whether the use of torture by the Bush administration produced valuable information throws into sharp relief the moral depths to which the United States has sunk–from leading politicians and policymakers to large portions of the press and millions of average citizens. One cannot but wonder whether the rampant corruption in the mortgage market, in stock analysts’ recommendations, and in financial behavior which has brought this country to a new nadir, might not be related to a general lack of ethical and spiritual moorings in broad swathes of the population.

Painfully few religious, business or other leaders have taken continued, strong public stands against our use of torture. With notable exceptions, journalists even today shrink from describing so-called “harsh interrogation techniques” including water boarding as “torture”. Fear of litigation should not completely muzzle the press. The lack of awareness of history reflected in news reports and analyses and debates among officials is astounding, and suggests that the education of even many of our most educated public servants and journalists has a glaring gap at its moral core. That is, even with the best educations at the best universities, this ethical gap and lack of a moral core has not been remedied.

The principle of due obedience, rejected at Nuremberg and accepted but only for a while in Argentina, is quietly accepted without reference to either of those precedents. Or to the facts and considerations that led to the adoption and ratification of the torture convention.

To a nation which cheered episodes of “24” depicting torture by U.S. agents, the correct principle seems to be: “If torture works, we should use it to protect ourselves.”

It is a matter of immense sorrow to note that our leading pundits make scant reference to the fact that the sons and daughters of the Enlightenment, including the drafters of our own Constitution, rejected torture on moral, not utilitarian, grounds.

Let us then, for the sake of argument, postulate that torture in some cases produces useful information. Assuming, arguendo, that this is the case, the question for debate is simply this: “Is the use of torture, if effective, state behavior that is morally justified?

In other words, let’s skip the efficacy debate, which debases all who defend torture on utilitarian grounds. Let us debate the central moral issue: “Is torture, even if effective, morally acceptable, and why or why not?”

In this debate, it is worth bearing in mind that the entire edifice of international human rights rests on the inviolability of the physical integrity of the human person. This core principle is deeply rooted in the religious belief that in each human being there resides a part of the divine. It is a stunning testimony to the depths to which our nation has sunk to listen to the debate over the efficacy of torture as if effectiveness were the essential question. Instead of spymasters and doctors and psychologists who have consorted with the devil, it is time for us to listen to others, to our religious and moral leaders, and to politicians and other leading figures who believe there is a moral framework within which our actions—both as individuals and as a nation–are to be judged. It is time for these leaders to stand up and to speak out loudly and clearly on the morality of torture. It is time for them to take an unequivocal position on the torture our government has adopted as a policy and executed in the bowels of hell. It is time for them to demand the full truth and details of what our government has done, acting in our name.

There is no more fundamental human right than the right to the physical integrity of the human person. This right was recognized at Nuremberg, and enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, in 1948. It was specifically protected in the Geneva conventions on the law of war (humanitarian law), in 1949. The right is the cornerstone of numerous human rights treaties to which the U.S. is a party including the U.N. Convention on Civil and Political Rights, and the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The right is also fully protected in the European Convention on Human Rights, which establishes the constitutional norms and fundamental law on the subject in the nations of Europe.

So let’s hear the debate on whether the underpinnings of these human rights conventions are to be ripped out by allowing torture, and on the ultimate issue of the morality of the use of torture by the state against the individual. In engaging in this discussion, let us also avoid any semblance of the sophomoric debates that took place in our government, in which the question of torture was addressed as if it were a tabula rasa, in blithe ignorance of the history, religious positions, and legal developments that had taken place in the past.

The Trenchant Observer

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observer@trenchantobserver.com

See also

The Trenchant Observer, “Bin Laden and the Debate Over Torture–Revived, May 7, 2011 ;

Mark Benjamin, “The torture debate is back, but what about the criminal probe?” TIME, May 4, 2011;

The Trenchant Observer, “The Clock is Ticking: U.S. Application of the Torture Convention,” February 20, 2010; and

The Trenchant Observer, “Craig’s Departure, the Ban on Publication of Any Torture Photograph, and Reaffirmation of the Prohibition Against Torture,” November 25, 2009

Bin Laden and the Debate Over Torture–Revived

Saturday, May 7th, 2011

Some former U.S. officials responsible for torture under the Bush administration have claimed that the trail to Bin Laden was uncovered by the use of torture. The Telegraph (London) reports:

Jose Rodriguez, the agency’s former head of counterterrorism, said vital information had come from bin Laden deputies Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Aby Faraj al Libbi, who were subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

–Gordon Rayner, “Osama bin Laden dead: torture unlocked bin Laden hideout ex-CIA man says — Key intelligence that led the US to Osama bin Laden’s hideout was obtained under torture in secret “black site” prisons, a former CIA officer has claimed, The Telegraph, May 5, 2011.

John Yoo, the author the legal memoranda authorizing torture under the Bush administration, writes is on Op-Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal:


Sunday’s success also vindicates the Bush administration, whose intelligence architecture marked the path to bin Laden’s door. According to current and former administration officials, CIA interrogators gathered the initial information that ultimately led to bin Laden’s death. The United States located al Qaeda’s leader by learning the identity of a trusted courier from the tough interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, and his successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi.

Armed with the courier’s nom de guerre, American intelligence agencies later found him thanks to his phone call to a contact already under electronic surveillance. Last August, the courier traveled to bin Laden’s compound, but it took another eight months before the CIA became certain that the al Qaeda leader was hiding inside.
Armed with the courier’s nom de guerre, American intelligence agencies later found him thanks to his phone call to a contact already under electronic surveillance. Last August, the courier traveled to bin Laden’s compound, but it took another eight months before the CIA became certain that the al Qaeda leader was hiding inside.

–John Yoo (Op-ed), “From Guantanamo to Abbottabad,” Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2011.

The apologists for the torture policy of the Bush administration raise a hard question for President Obama, but not the one they think:

Why have John Yoo and other architects of the Bush administration’s policy of torure not been prosecuted, in accordance with U.S. law and the international legal obligations of the United States under the Convention Against Torture?

See Mark Benjamin, “The torture debate is back, but what about the criminal probe?” TIME, May 4, 2011.

The Trenchant Observer, “The Clock is Ticking: U.S. Application of the Torture Convention,” February 20, 2010.

The Trenchant Observer, “Craig’s Departure, the Ban on Publication of Any Torture Photograph, and Reaffirmation of the Prohibition Against Torture,” November 25, 2009

The claims of the torture apologists have been rebutted by a number of current and past U.S. officials, though that is really beside the point here.

On the fundamental moral issues involved in the debate over the efficacy of torture, see The Trenchant Observer, “Consorting with the Devil? The Debate over the Efficacy of Torture,” October 1, 2009 (written April 24, 2009).

Meanwhile, there appear to be few moral doubts about the efficacy of torture among the leaders of Libya, Syria, and many other countries.

Are we OK with their use of torture? If not, what can we say to them to urge them to stop?

The Trenchant Observer

www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

Obama — “that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls”

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

(Contributions to Discussion Invited)

President Barack Obama concluded his 2009 Nobel Lecture with the following words:

But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached – their faith in human progress – must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.

For if we lose that faith – if we dismiss it as silly or naïve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace – then we lose what is best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.

Like generations have before us, we must reject that future. As Dr. King said at this occasion so many years ago, “I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him.”

So let us reach for the world that ought to be – that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. Somewhere today, in the here and now, a soldier sees he’s outgunned but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams.

Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of depravation, and still strive for dignity. We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that – for that is the story of human progress; that is the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.

Indeed, one of the moral underpinnings of international human rights and international humanitarian law, including the prohibition against torture, is the belief that there is present in every human being a part of God, a piece of the divine, and that to violate that person’s right to life or or that human being’s right to the physical integrity of his person is somehow to commit violence against the divine itself, against God–however this concept may be understood. There are other, more secular formulations that express a similar view.

Requested Collaboration–Contributions from readers are solicited, with the goal of provoking an enlightening discussion.

What do the different religious traditions in the world have to say and teach us on this point? What do Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and other religious traditions, and secular philosophers and moral leaders, teach us regarding this central affirmation of the divine in each and every human being?

The Trenchant Observer

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E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com

Comments and debate are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation, if possible, in order to reach the broadest possible audience. Where this is not feasible, please submit your comment anyway; other readers are invited to offer accurate translations of any such comments.

Craig’s Departure, the Ban on Publication of Any Torture Photograph, and Reaffirmation of the Prohibition Against Torture

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Update, December 2, 2009
On November 30, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a lower court order to release the torture photographs, and remanded the case to the lower court for further proceedings on the case, taking the new legislation into account. See Adam Liptak, New York Times, December 1, 2009.

Orignal Post

Excellent articles by Massimo Calabresi and Michael Weisskopf in TIME and by Laura Rozen on her Foreign Policy blog on Politico suggest that Greg Craig, the White House Counsel, was dismissed because, among other reasons, he championed too vigorously the cause of coming clean on torture.

An unexpected consequence of Craig’s losing the battle over publication of photographs of torture has been action by Congress and the Obama administration to block publication of all photographs showing torture after September 11 during the Bush administration.

Torture Will Not be Done With Us Until We Are Done With Torture

The dismissal of Craig reminds us that torture will not be done with us until we are done with torture.

Until the United States establishes a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or brings charges against those individuals responsible for committing torture during the Bush Administration, we will not be done with torture.

So long as the complete truth about the U.S. commission of torture is not revealed, including all of the facts relating to its adoption as a pollicy and all instances of its use, U.S. policymakers will remain tainted, in perception and perhaps in fact, as officials who look the other way when dealing with leaders of other countries which engage in torture.

Until our hands are clean and we have made accountable those responsible for the commission of international crimes by our government, acting in our name, we cannot credibly demand that others wash their hands of torture. Nor can we rest assured, really, that future U.S. administrations will not revert to its use.

A process of purification of the national spirit, of atonement for sins that have been committed, of reaffirmation of the fundamental moral and religious values that have been violated, is required if we are to be done with torture.

Suppression of Publication of All Photographic Evidence of Torture from September 11, 2001 to January 22, 2009

Does that mean that the photographic evidence of U.S. agents committing torture which has not yet been released should be published and made available to all?

For now, Congress has passed a law giving Secretary of Defense Robert Gates the authority to block the publication of photographs when he certifies such publication will endanger American lives. Gates has invoked the law to block publication of photos in ongoing litigation brought by the American Civil Liberties Union under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

However, Gates’ order does much more than that. It blocks publication of all photographs from investigations related to the treatment of individuals captured or detained in military operations outside the United States between Sept. 11, 2001, and Jan. 22, 2009. The ACLU has stated that the order is overbroad, and it will continue to seek release of photographs in the courts.

The suppression of all photographic evidence of torture and other inhuman treatment during the Bush administration after September 11 raises profoundly troubling issues regarding freedom of expression and the right to a free press. At the very least, any temporary blocking of publication of specific photographs during ongong wartime operations would need to be much nore narrowly drafted, require a specific showing that the evidence in question would cause significant harm to U.S. soldiers, and be limited in time to the period in which such harm might occur.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, even if photographs or videos of U.S. agents are not made public at this time, they should be shown to the members of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and to prosecutors and judges involved in prosecuting and judging those suspected of or charged with having committed the domestic and international crime of torture or inhuman treatment. They should also be availabe for use by the prosecution at trial, under appropriate conditions supervised by the court.

Wholly aside from the photographs, it is urgent that the full facts regarding the use of torture and other inhuman treatment by U.S. agents be made public, in words, now.

Home or Abroad: The Responsibility of U.S. Agents and the Continuing Demand for Justice

If nothing is done to bring to justice–or at least accountability before a Truth and Reconciliation Commission-–those responsible for ordering or committing torture while employed by or acting under the authority of the United States, these same individuals will be subject to arrest and trial in other countries, both under the principle of universal jurisdiction over international crimes which exists in customary international law (torture is such a crime), and under the specific provisions of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which the U.S. has ratified and to which it is a party.

The Moral Imperative: Reaffirmation of a Fundamental Legal Norm When Violation Occurs

Throughout history we have seen that the most important factor relating to the strength of a legal norm is not that the legal norm has been violated, for violations of legal norms will occur. Rather the most important factor affecting the living force of a legal norm is its emphatic reaffirmation when, and precisely when, it has been violated. That is why the Nuremberg principles and the trials at Nuremberg were so important.

The reason we cannot look away and just pretend that this torture did not occur is that there is a moral imperative for us, in the United States in particular but also in other countries, to reaffirm the international legal norms prohibiting the use of torture and other inhuman treatment.

The rights to life and to the physical integrity of the human person are perhaps the most fundamental human rights. These rights are violated by torture and other inhuman treatment. For over 200 years, the United States, with France and Britain, has been in the forefront of the movement to establish effective legal rights that protect the individual against torture and other inhuman treatment by the state. Indeed, France and the United States laid the foundations for the development of modern human rights with the Virginia Declaration of the Rights of Man (1776), the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789), and the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution which we know in the U.S. as “The Bill of Rights”.

With respect to torture, there is only one goal worthy of the history and traditions of the United States in protecting human rights.

That goal is “zero tolerance for torture”, by the United States, or by any other country.

It may be that pressure from below will be needed to nudge President Obama to actually do what in his heart and in his mind he must know is right. To prevent torture in the future, to remove the stain of recent torture from our national character, and for his own legacy, he must reaffirm, and we must reaffirm, the moral and legal bases and the continuing living force of the legal norms prohibiting torture and other inhuman treatment–as these terms are defined in the U.N. Convention on Torture.

We can and should do so by acting, now, to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to deal with U.S. cases of torture, and/or by prosecuting those responsible for ordering, committing or tolerating the commission of such crimes. The “truth and reconciliation commission” term describes the function of the commission. The exact nomenclature is not critical. Such commissions have met with considerable success in a number of countries. The essential point is that, in the absence of such a commission, those who have engaged in torture (whether at the policy or implementation level) will remain subject to prosecution, if not in the U.S. then in other countries.

The fact that lower level officials may have been acting on instructions from above does not relieve them of criminal responsibility. The principal of “due obedience” as a defense was clearly rejected at Nuremberg, and has been repeatedly rejected since.

It is a factor, however, which prosecutors might well take into account in reaching plea bargains and setting sentences for those who come clean with what they know and what they have done.

The U.S. administration should be urged to put the issue of torture behind us by coming clean. There is no challenge more fit for President Obama than the passionate defense of a fundamental moral principle that is vital to our nation’s character, and our essential purpose in the world.

Rather than dodging charges of torture in the recent past, the United States should be leading a movement to end all torture, in all countries, now.

The Trenchant Observer

See also previous post, “Consorting with the Devil? The Debate Over the Efficacy of Torture”, Oct. 1, 2009

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Revised November 24, 2009

CONSORTING WITH THE DEVIL? THE DEBATE OVER THE EFFICACY OF TORTURE

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

April 24, 2009–The current debate over whether the use of torture by the Bush administration produced valuable information throws into sharp relief the moral depths to which the United States has sunk–from leading politicians and policymakers to large portions of the press and millions of average citizens. One cannot but wonder whether the rampant corruption in the mortgage market, in stock analysts’ recommendations, and in financial behavior which has brought this country to a new nadir, might not be related to a general lack of ethical and spiritual moorings in broad swathes of the population.

Painfully few religious, business or other leaders have taken continued, strong public stands against our use of torture. With notable exceptions, journalists even today shrink from describing so-called “harsh interrogation techniques” including water boarding as “torture”. Fear of litigation should not completely muzzle the press. The lack of awareness of history reflected in news reports and analyses and debates among officials is astounding, and suggests that the education of even many of our most educated public servants and journalists has a glaring gap at its moral core. That is, even with the best educations at the best universities, this ethical gap and lack of a moral core has not been remedied.

The principle of due obedience, rejected at Nuremberg and accepted but only for a while in Argentina, is quietly accepted without reference to either of those precedents. Or to the facts and considerations that led to the adoption and ratification of the torture convention.

To a nation which cheered episodes of “24” depicting torture by U.S. agents, the correct principle seems to be: “If torture works, we should use it to protect ourselves.”

It is a matter of immense sorrow to note that our leading pundits make scant reference to the fact that the sons and daughters of the Enlightenment, including the drafters of our own Constitution, rejected torture on moral, not utilitarian, grounds.

Let us then, for the sake of argument, postulate that torture in some cases produces useful information. Assuming, arguendo, that this is the case, the question for debate is simply this: “Is the use of torture, if effective, state behavior that is morally justified?

In other words, let’s skip the efficacy debate, which debases all who defend torture on utilitarian grounds. Let us debate the central moral issue: “Is torture, even if effective, morally acceptable, and why or why not?”

In this debate, it is worth bearing in mind that the entire edifice of international human rights rests on the inviolability of the physical integrity of the human person. This core principle is deeply rooted in the religious belief that in each human being there resides a part of the divine. It is a stunning testimony to the depths to which our nation has sunk to listen to the debate over the efficacy of torture as if effectiveness were the essential question. Instead of spymasters and doctors and psychologists who have consorted with the devil, it is time for us to listen to others, to our religious and moral leaders, and to politicians and other leading figures who believe there is a moral framework within which our actions—both as individuals and as a nation–are to be judged. It is time for these leaders to stand up and to speak out loudly and clearly on the morality of torture. It is time for them to take an unequivocal position on the torture our government has adopted as a policy and executed in the bowels of hell. It is time for them to demand the full truth and details of what our government has done, acting in our name.

There is no more fundamental human right than the right to the physical integrity of the human person. This right was recognized at Nuremberg, and enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, in 1948. It was specifically protected in the Geneva conventions on the law of war (humanitarian law), in 1949. The right is the cornerstone of numerous human rights treaties to which the U.S. is a party including the U.N. Convention on Civil and Political Rights, and the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The right is also fully protected in the European Convention on Human Rights, which establishes the constitutional norms and fundamental law on the subject in the nations of Europe.

So let’s hear the debate on whether the underpinnings of these human rights conventions are to be ripped out by allowing torture, and on the ultimate issue of the morality of the use of torture by the state against the individual. In engaging in this discussion, let us also avoid any semblance of the sophomoric debates that took place in our government, in which the question of torture was addressed as if it were a tabula rasa, in blithe ignorance of the history, religious positions, and legal developments that had taken place in the past.

The Trenchant Observer
observer@trenchantobserver.com