Saturday, September 23, 2006

Rumors About Bin Laden's Death

Rumors coming out of the Saudi Intelligence services via French Intelligence claim that Osama bin Laden has died of typhoid. There's no confirmation of this, but apparently the story is being widely circulated since the French have had to say that they cannot confirm the story.

Go here for more on the rumor.

Don't Shoot Unless You're Sure

Mike Metzger who writes for the Clapham Institute does consistently outstanding columns. I can't find the link to his latest which was e-mailed to me by a friend, but it offers a simple common sense insight into one of the most important moral issues of our time:

A few of my friends are avid hunters and become quite animated this time of year. I don't share their zeal since I've never been a hunter, nor do I come from a family of hunters. My father - a brilliant engineer and academic - took me hunting once as a wee lad. I recall watching Dad firing his shotgun twice at fleeing pheasants. He missed both times. Our guide brought down a bird with a single blast. Dad never went hunting again.

All was not lost however. That brief experience introduced me to one of hunting's unbending rules: If something stirs in the woods - and we're not sure what it is - don't shoot. Taking human life is markedly different than shooting deer. This imperative might be a way to reframe our country's divisive debate over abortion.

The most significant abortion rulings by the Supreme Court have admitted to uncertainty. In Roe v. Wade (1973), the Court said: "We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer." Fair enough. But it sounds like they're admitting we're not sure if there's human life in the womb.

In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), Justices O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, and Stevens admitted to more than uncertainty - they wafted into mystery: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." I am not a lawyer, but it seems the court is saying we're not sure when life begins. Since it's hazy, go ahead and shoot. You make the call.

But making that call is getting murkier - whether we're talking about the beginning or the end of life. In the September 8 issue of the journal Science, British neurologist Adrian M. Owen reports on a 23-year-old woman who suffered head trauma in a July 2005 traffic accident that left her in a coma.� She had no ability to communicate and repeated tests over more than five months found no signs of awareness or consciousness. Doctors diagnosed her as being in a vegetative state.

But through a series of tests using functional magnetic resonance imaging (which can detect different types of mental activity by measuring blood flow to various parts of the brain), Owen and his colleagues witnessed the woman's brain lighting up in ways that were "indistinguishable" from those in 12 healthy people. When asked to envision playing tennis and exploring her house, the regions of the brain used in language, movement and navigation came alive in the woman. "It was an absolutely stunning result," Owen exclaimed. "We had no idea whether she would understand our instructions. But this showed that she is aware."

That sounds like we're not so sure anymore when the lights go out. To be fair, the research does not indicate that many patients in vegetative states are necessarily aware or likely to recover. Nor does it necessarily apply to the case of Terry Schiavo, who suffered much more massive brain damage for far longer than the patient in Britain. But it is part of a pattern indicating gnawing uncertainty regarding life's bookends. In the case of the British woman, researchers are less certain than before about the end of human life. And in the Casey ruling, the justices admitted to uncertainty about life's beginnings when they wrote: "post- Roe neonatal care developments have advanced viability to a point somewhat earlier."

Maybe I'm missing something here. If we admit that we're not sure about what's moving in the womb... shouldn't we hold our fire until we know for certain?

In every area of our lives prudence invariably dictates that we should err, if we err at all, on the side of caution. We should always assume that it's a hunter in the bushes until we know for certain that it's not. Yet on the matters of abortion and euthanasia we reverse this eminently sensible rule and reason that unless we can prove that a human person's life is at stake, we're justified in assuming that it's not. Metzger's point is that this is as bizarre as arguing that if we don't know whether the rustle in the bushes is game or another hunter we're justified in assuming that it's game.

It's astonishing that otherwise intelligent people really think this way.

World's Most Reprehensible Man

This week the president of Iran was invited to speak at the U.N., an opportunity he used to insult and attack the President of the United States. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presides over a nation in which women are regularly and horribly stoned to death for commiting acts of sexual impurity. That the U.N. would allow such a man in the door, much less let him speak, is an utter disgrace to that body. That this Neanderthal would insult any leader of a Western country, much less the President of the United States, should outrage every decent human being.

Here's part of a letter from an organization set up to save the lives of women sentenced to stoning. The letter describes a recent case:

Once again, another Iranian woman has been sentenced to death by the barbaric practice of public stoning. On June 28, 2006, a court in the northwestern Iranian city of Urmia sentenced Malak Ghorbany to death for committing "adultery." Under Iran's Penal Code, the term "adultery" is used to describe any intimate or sexual act between a man and a girl/woman who are not married. The crime of adultery is also used in cases where a girl is deemed to have committed "acts incompatible with chastity," which includes instances of rape. The punishment for "adultery" is death.

On the day of her punishment, the woman's hands are tied behind her back as she becomes covered from head to toe in winding sheets and is placed seated in a pit. The pit is then filled up to her chest with dirt and the dirt is tamped down. At that point, members of the community are invited to murder her by hurling rocks at her. However, to ensure that the condemned woman/girl receives the absolute maximum amount of pain and torture, the Iranian government has even mandated the size of the stones that are to be used in this barbaric act of public execution. By law, the stones must not be too small as to prevent ultimate death, nor must they be too large that they could cause the girl's death "too soon."

At the page linked to above is another link to a video which documents the case of Atefeh Sahaaleh, a 16 year-old girl, who was stoned to death for having sexual contact with a 22 year old man.

What I'd like to know is where the outraged voices are who were so quick a few decades ago to condemn South Africa, Chile, and Israel for real and imagined human rights abuses. Where are Left-wing feminists who vigorously protest the slightest violations of the dignity, honor, and equality of American women? Where are the writers for Sojourners and other organs of the religious Left who wrote copiously on human rights abuses in Central America during the 70s and 80s. Why are they not marching in the streets demanding sanctions against Iran as they did against South Africa? Why were they not outside the U.N. in the thousands protesting the appearance of the odious man who presides over such inhumanity and who could stop it if he wished? Why are the Left-wing blogs completely silent about this?

Might it be that just as they were largely silent about what Hussein did to the Iraqi people as long as Iraq was antagonistic to Washington, perhaps these champions of human rights are really not alarmed about what Iran does to it's people as long as Iran is hostile to America? Could it be that the Left only cares about human rights when those protections are under assault by allies of this country and that they are loath to protest when there is a possibility that their protest might encourage the use of military force against the offending nation? I'd like to hope not, but it would be good to have some evidence to support that hope.

Ahmadinejad has threatened to destroy Israel in a nuclear holocaust, yet he gets a hearty ovation from the assembled thugs in the U.N. General Assembly, and the American Left, by and large, merely yawns. That really is inexcusable.

Thanks to Michelle for the tip.

The Heartlessness of Withdrawal

Lawrence Kaplan of The New Republic, interestingly enough, delivers a few body shots and a couple of solid upper cuts to the chins of the Last Helicopter crowd. His column is so good and so important, especially given that TNR is a reliably liberal journal, that I've taken the liberty of reproducing most of it here:

..."If you think it's bad now," Bush said at a recent press conference, "imagine what Iraq would look like if the United States leaves before this government can defend itself." To which a headline in The Washington Post offered this typical response: "Bush's new argument: it could be worse."

Whatever its political uses, Bush's new argument happens to be true. Yet the moral cost of abandoning a country we have turned inside-out seems not to have made the slightest impression on opinion-makers. To the extent that ethical considerations factor into the debate at all, it's usually in favor of a rapid withdrawal from Iraq. Mostly, though, the debate over leaving has been conducted in the sterile language of geopolitics, credibility, and "misallocated" resources.

This heartlessness of the withdrawal argument responds to multiple needs that are largely unrelated to Iraq. It comforts the sensibilities of opinion-makers who have a distaste for this administration's foreign policy and so don't seem to feel much stake in its human consequences. It testifies to the consistency of those who, having opposed sending U.S. forces to Iraq in the first place, see nothing problematic about pulling them out today. And it offers assurance that, but for the bungled U.S. occupation, Iraq can only be better off. No one has espoused this last view more vigorously than Democratic Representative John Murtha. His summary of the situation in Iraq amounts to this: We are the problem.

Facts on the ground suggest Murtha has things exactly backward....The truth is that, as the war takes a sectarian turn, the Americans have become more buffer and lifeline than belligerent. Earlier this year at his home near the Syrian border, Abdullah Al Yawar, a Sunni sheik in Nineveh province, warned me that "if the Americans leave, there will be rivers of blood." Hundreds of miles to the east in Baghdad, Sheikh Humam Hamoudi, one of Iraq's most powerful Shia, echoed the fear of his Sunni counterpart: Without the Americans, he said, Baghdad will become another Beirut.

With militiamen loose in their streets, even the Sunni residents of insurgent strongholds now look to the Americans as their protectors. During a recent U.S. operation in Baghdad's Amiriyah neighborhood, terrified Iraqis emerged into alleys to beg for the Americans to stay. As one put it, "If you leave, every people here will kill each other." Fully 88 percent of its residents claim to feel safest in the presence of the Americans, and for good reason: Far from the reactionary enterprise imagined by so many Americans, the U.S. military is the most progressive force in Iraq.

None of this jibes with the clich� that "redeploying United States troops is necessary for success in Iraq," as Senator John Kerry has put it. But, for the likes of Kerry, what happens after the United leaves Iraq is beside the point; by then, the troops will be safely home. Withdrawal advocates who wear the position on their sleeves as if it were a badge of heightened moral awareness seem to forget that, as theologian Kenneth Himes wrote in Foreign Policy, "The moral imperative during the occupation is Iraqi well-being, not American interests." Having invoked just-war tradition to oppose the war's cause, they completely disregard its relevance to the war's conduct--namely, the obligation to repair what the United States has smashed.

Why is it, then, that so many of those who demanded action in the Balkans, and now demand it in Darfur, cannot accept that our role in having created Iraq's humanitarian crisis imposes a special obligation to do right there? If anything, advocates of an immediate withdrawal seem to believe the reverse is true. They speak of the Iraqi people as though the entire population has been tainted--marred by its involvement in what Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid mocks as "George Bush's war." Thus has it become permissible for political operatives to tar one Iraqi prime minister as an American "puppet" and for politicians to boycott the congressional address of another and--responding in kind to the juvenile arguments of Republican operatives--write off the whole enterprise as a partisan joke.

Where all this leads is clear. Having gone into Iraq under the banner of idealism, we will abandon it in the name of cold-blooded realism. Never mind the thousands of Iraqis who assisted the Americans and could well be doomed. Never mind that, in the enemy's imagination, entire peoples--Iraq's Christian population, among others--belong to this category. Iraq's liberals, too--like Mithal Al Allusi, a decent man who heeded our summons to build a new Iraq and saw his two sons murdered for his sins--will be erased. The secular, the nonsectarian, the pro-Western voices--these will be quieted as well. Nor should they look to the United States for refuge. Having enshrined in official policy the fiction that persecution went away with Saddam, the United States has all but sealed its borders to Iraqis in search of asylum.

If the whole rotten business seems familiar, that's because it is. At the height of the debate over withdrawing from Vietnam, the Post editorialized: "The threatened bloodbath is less ominous than a continuation of the current bloodletting." About the impending departure of the Americans from Southeast Asia, New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis had this to say: "Some will find the whole bloodbath debate unreal. What future possibility could be more terrible than the reality of what is happening to Cambodia now?" Then, as now, responsibility for the war's outcome lay squarely with its architects. But the war's aftermath also bloodied the hands of critics who insisted on walking away without condition and regardless of consequence.

[A]sk any American officer there and he will tell you that, absent U.S. forces, Iraq's ditches will fill rapidly as the death toll multiplies tenfold. The United States owes Iraq many things. Being an engine of murder isn't one of them.

Surely the Nancy Pelosis, John Murthas, Carl Levins and Harry Reids of the world are aware of the calamity that a withdrawal could unleash on the people of Iraq. Their insistence that we nonetheless get out suggests that they simply don't care.