Monday, September 26, 2005

Unintelligent Testimony

The plaintiffs in the Dover Intelligent Design case called Brown biologist Ken Miller to the stand as an expert witness today. In the course of his testimony Miller challenged the accuracy of Of Pandas and People, the intelligent-design textbook to which Dover students are referred. Miller said the book omits discussion of what causes extinction. Since nearly all original species are extinct, he said, any intelligent design creator would not have been very intelligent.

This statement is so absurd that it's hard to believe it comes from a prominent scientist at a prestigious school. In fact, Miller's entire testimony was riddled with so many examples of sloppy thinking that it will no doubt be an everlasting embarrassment to him.

Miller's complaint that the designer must be unintelligent since its work tends to go extinct is ridiculous. It might be relevant if ID advocates claimed that the designer was an omniscient, omnipotent being, although even then it would presume an insight into that being's purposes to which Dr. Miller could hardly be privy. As it is, however, ID makes no claims about who the designer is or what its nature is. Extinction is no more evidence that the designer is unintelligent than obsolence in automobiles or computer software platforms is evidence that the engineers who designed them are not intelligent.

Miller simply assumes that God is believed by ID advocates to be the designer, but in so doing he confuses the personal beliefs of some ID advocates with the logical entailments of their theory.

By focusing on extinction Miller is simply seeking to deflect the court's attention from the much more pertinent issue of how those extinct organisms ever reached the level of sophistication and complexity they achieved in the first place.

Mike Gene and others at Telic Thoughts romp through Dr. Miller's testimony ripping it to shreds. Gene's imaginary cross-examination of Miller is especially whithering. Don't miss it.

Unfortunately, the media won't be nearly as insightful and analytic as the folks at Telic Thoughts, and Miller's claims will sound perfectly reasonable to a public which really has a very nebulous understanding of what, exactly, ID asserts.

How to Address Looting

Among the stories emerging from the rubble of Katrina is this one by Reuters:

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - After the storm came the carjackers and burglars. Then came the gun battles and the chemical explosions that shook the restored Victorians in New Orleans' Algiers Point neighborhood.

"The hurricane was a breeze compared with the crime and terror that followed," said Gregg Harris, a psychotherapist who lives in the battered area. As life returned to this close-knit neighborhood three weeks after Hurricane Katrina, residents said they hoped their experience could convince political leaders to get serious about the violence and poor services that have long been an unfortunate hallmark of their city.

"I think now it's a wake-up call," Harris said. After the storm, the neighborhood association had to act as law enforcement and emergency response unit as city services collapsed and the police force was unable to protect them.

Citizens organized armed patrols and checked on the elderly. They slept on their porches with loaded shotguns and bolted awake when intruders stumbled on the aluminum cans they had scattered on the sidewalk.

Gunshots rang out for days, sometimes terrifyingly close. For Harris, the first warning sign came on Tuesday, the day after the storm, when two young men hit his partner, Vinnie Pervel, over the head and drove off with his Ford van.

"A police car drove up behind me and saw it happening but he didn't do anything," said Pervel, who heads the 1,500-household neighborhood association. Then residents heard that police vehicles were being carjacked and looters were taking guns and ammunition from nearby stores.

"We thought, 'Perhaps this is going to get really ugly,"' said Gareth Stubbs, a marine surveyor who lives across Pelican Street from Harris and Pervel. A Texas woman who runs a Web site called served as a link between those who stayed and those who had left. With her help, they stockpiled an arsenal of shotguns, derringer pistols and an old AK-47.

They were put to use the next day. "Some looters came up and pulled a gun on the wrong group of men," said Harris, who said he did not fire a gun himself and declined to say who else was involved in the battle.

"Two men were shot right there," Harris said, pointing down the street as he watered his rose bushes. "One was shot in the back, the other in the leg, and the third I was told made it a block and a half before he died in the street. I did not go down to see the body."

The next day a nearby stockpile of chemicals exploded, shaking the houses and sending a fireball 300 feet into the sky. The fire burned for another three days, Harris said. "For five days we didn't need FEMA, the Red Cross or the National Guard," Harris said. "The neighborhood took care of itself."

We don't suppose that there'll be much enthusiasm for calls for stricter gun control legislation in neighborhoods like this one.

Prisoner Abuse

The Left-wing blogosphere is outraged by this report of prisoner abuse in Iraq, and conservative blogs are largely silent, waiting, one hopes, for more information to come in. Here are the salient facts as they've been reported so far:

Much of the abuse allegedly occurred in 2003 and 2004, before and during the period the Army was conducting an internal investigation into the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, but prior to when the abuses at Abu Ghraib became public.

The Captain [who reported the abuse] is quoted in the report describing how military intelligence personnel at Camp Mercury directed enlisted men to conduct daily beatings of prisoners prior to questioning; to subject detainees to strenuous forced exercises to the point of unconsciousness; and to expose them to extremes of heat and cold-all methods designed to produce greater cooperation with interrogators. Non-uniformed personnel-apparently working for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to the soldiers-also interrogated prisoners. The interrogators were out of view but not out of earshot of the soldiers, who overheard what they came to believe was abuse.

Specific instances of abuse described in the Human Rights Watch report include severe beatings, including one incident when a soldier allegedly broke a detainee's leg with a metal bat. Others include prisoners being stacked in human pyramids (unlike the human pyramids at Abu Ghraib, the prisoners at Camp Mercury were clothed); soldiers administering blows to the face, chest and extremities of prisoners; and detainees having their faces and eyes exposed to burning chemicals, being forced into stress positions for long periods leading to unconsciousness and having their water and food withheld.

Prisoners were designated as PUCs (pronounced "pucks")-or "persons under control." A regular pastime at Camp Mercury, the report says, involved off-duty soldiers gathering at PUC tents, where prisoners were held, and working off their frustrations in activities known as "F____a PUC" (beating the prisoner) and "Smoke a PUC" (forced physical exertion, sometimes to the point of collapse). Broken limbs and similar painful injuries would be treated with analgesics, the soldiers claim, as medical staff would fill out paperwork stating the injuries occurred during capture. Support for some of the allegations of abuse come from a sergeant of the 82nd Airborne who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch quotes him as saying that, "To 'F____ a PUC' means to beat him up. We would give them blows to the head, chest, legs, and stomach, pull them down, kick dirt on them. This happened every day. To 'smoke' someone is to put them in stress positions until they get muscle fatigue and pass out. That happened every day. Some days we would just get bored so we would have everyone sit in a corner and then make them get in a pyramid. This was before Abu Ghraib but just like it. We did that for amusement.

"On their day off people would show up all the time," the sergeant continues in the HRW report. "Everyone in camp knew if you wanted to work out your frustration you show up at the PUC tent. In a way it was sport. The cooks were all U.S. soldiers. One day a sergeant shows up and tells a PUC to grab a pole. He told him to bend over and broke the guy's leg with a mini Louisville Slugger that was a metal bat. He was the cook."

The sergeant says that military intelligence officers would tell soldiers that the detainees "were bad" and had been involved in killing or trying to kill Americans, implying that they deserved whatever punishment they got. "I would be told, 'These guys were IED [improvised explosive device] trigger men last week.' So we would f___ them up. F___ them up bad ... At the same time we should be held to a higher standard. I know that now. It was wrong. There are a set of standards. But you gotta understand, this was the norm. Everyone would just sweep it under the rug ... We should never have been allowed to watch guys we had fought."

The Army alone says it has conducted investigations into more than 400 allegations of detainee mistreatment. To date, more than 230 Army personnel have been dealt with in courts martial, non-judicial punishments and other administrative actions.

There are several things to be said about this. First, our disgust with this report is based not at all on any sympathy for the detainees (at least not those who are known to be terrorists). They are low-lifes who would blow up women and children as well as American soldiers were they given the chance. We really don't feel their pain much. Second, we find it somewhat reassuring that these reports date back to the period before Abu Ghraib. Hopefully, our military brass has put out the word that this behavior will not be tolerated. Thirdly, the last paragraph suggests that it has indeed not been tolerated for some time.

Having said that, the American military is disgraced by this sort of conduct by its soldiers. We are not among those who believe that raising one's voice at a detainee constitutes inhumane treatment, nor are we convinced that some of what was done to these prisoners rises to the level of atrocity, as some would depict it. Beating people, however, even if it's these sub-humans, just to work off one's frustrations or to provide a form of recreation for bored G.I.'s, is completely reprehensible and inexcusable, not just because of the effects it has on the prisoner but even more because of the effect it has on the soldier. It dehumanizes the person who administers the beating and turns our soldiers into savages rather than professionals.

We understand that the legal status of these detainees, since they're not uniformed soldiers, is a little blurry, but that is not justification for beating them or torturing them for amusement. Such conduct belies a cruelty and viciousness in those who participated in it that has no place in a professional military. The people who did it should, if the allegations are accurate, be punished for embarrassing and shaming the United States, and we are glad to see that that appears to be what is in store for them.