Monday, March 19, 2007

1984 in 2008

Goodness. Somebody on the Democrat side has put together an anti-Hillary ad that, in terms of political image-making and propaganda, is just devastating. It plays off of George Orwell's vision of mind-numbed, lobotomized citizens forced to watch a droning Big Brother on a large theater screen.

Obama denies any connection to the ad even though the tag line implicates his supporters.

Watch it here.


A Different Perspective

This news will not be welcome in many ideological quarters of the nation but it seems as if things are not as bad in Iraq as the administration critics in Congress and the media keep telling us they are:

Most Iraqis believe life is better for them now than it was under Saddam Hussein, according to a British opinion poll published today.

The survey of more than 5,000 Iraqis found the majority optimistic despite their suffering in sectarian violence since the American-led invasion four years ago this week.

One in four Iraqis has had a family member murdered, says the poll by Opinion Research Business. In Baghdad, the capital, one in four has had a relative kidnapped and one in three said members of their family had fled abroad. But when asked whether they preferred life under Saddam, the dictator who was executed last December, or under Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, most replied that things were better for them today.

Only 27% think there is a civil war in Iraq, compared with 61% who do not, according to the survey carried out last month.

By a majority of two to one, Iraqis believe military operations now under way will disarm all militias. More than half say security will improve after a withdrawal of multinational forces.

Margaret Beckett, the foreign secretary, said the findings pointed to progress. "There is no widespread violence in the four southern provinces and the fact that the picture is more complex than the stereotype usually portrayed is reflected in today's poll," she said.

And here we thought the whole country was in flames, chaos and confusion just as John Murtha and Chris Matthews have been telling us. Wonder what they'll say now.


NAE on Torture (Pt. II)

With this post we continue our examination of the National Association of Evangelicals' statement on torture. See here for Part I of this critique.

The NAE takes the position that torture, or any treatment which degrades another human being, is categorically wrong. It is our position at Viewpoint, however, that while torture is grossly immoral to the point of evil when used as a means of punishment or revenge, or almost always when used in interrogating prisoners, or when done simply to entertain and amuse the torturers, as apparently was the case at Abu Ghraib, there are nevertheless circumstances in which torture is not only not wrong, but morally incumbent. Indeed, the NEA drafters admit as much, albeit inadvertantly, when they write that:

Human rights are not first of all about "my rights," but about the rights of the vulnerable and the violated. And they are about responsibility, indeed obligation, to defend the weak. All people, all societies, and all nations have a responsibility to ensure human rights.

This is certainly true, but the weak and vulnerable are often the intended victims of brutes and thugs. If in order to carry out our mandate to defend the weak and vulnerable we find that the only way to keep them from harm is to use coercive force against someone who has information that would save the victims, whose rights, those of the victim or those of their would-be killers, should we regard as paramount? Just as in the case of a policeman defending himself or a bystander from an aggressor, when someone is an active (or a passive threat) to another their right not to be harmed is no longer in effect.

Consider the case of a terrorist named Rauf, captured last August by the Pakistanis. It was information obtained from interrogating Mr. Rauf that uncovered the plot to simultaneously blow up ten airliners last summer using liquid bombs. Suppose now the following circumstances obtained at the time: The authorities knew that something terrible was in the works and that Mr. Rauf knew what it was. Imagine, too, that Mr. Rauf could not be enticed to yield his knowledge of the plot through any means other than being subjected to pain, fear, or humiliating treatment. Finally, imagine that your spouse and children would have been aboard one of those planes. Would you maintain that, these hypotheticals notwithstanding, if you had your way the Pakistani intelligence service would not have been permitted to employ the methods they apparently did employ to persuade Mr. Rauf to talk? A simple yes or no will suffice.

If you answered yes, try this: Imagine looking your loved ones directly in the eyes and telling them that.

Or consider a case similar to that of John Couey who kidnapped nine year old Jessica Lunsford, tortured and raped her, and then buried her alive and left her to die. A similar crime occured in Florida some years ago where the victim was buried in a box that had enough air to allow her to live for about a day. Suppose, counterfactually, that the kidnapper had been apprehended, admitted that he had abducted the girl, told the police that she was in the box with only a few hours left to live, but he refused to tell them where she was.

Suppose further that the girl is your daughter. Finally, suppose that one cop, against all regulations, applies excruciating coercion against the kidnapper until he yields the information, resulting in the rescue of your daughter. Subsequently, you discover how her rescue was achieved. Would you register disapproval with the authorities? Would you insist that the cop be prosecuted for his violation of the rights of the kidnapper? Would you feel that the police officer's act was morally inexcusable or repugnant?

If not, then you do not agree with this statement in the NAE document:

Human rights apply to all humans. The rights people have are theirs by virtue of being human, made in God's image. Persons can never be stripped of their humanity, regardless of their actions or of others' actions toward them. In social contract theory human rights are called unalienable rights. Unalienable rights are absolute and completely inviolable; a person cannot legitimately cease to have those rights, whether through waiver, fault, or another's act.

As we suggested in part one this is a very bad argument. What are these unalienable rights? Surely they include the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But if these rights are unalienable, as the NAE insists, then not only is it always and everywhere wrong for policemen and soldiers to use deadly force, it is also wrong to incarcerate criminals. If one were to protest that criminals and enemy combatants forfeit their rights, at least so long as they are a threat to soldiers, police officers or to society, then it is being conceded that the rights in question are not "unalienable." They are rights we possess as human beings until such time as we become a threat to the welfare of others.

The NAE continues:

An expansive approach argues that there are three dimensions of human rights, and all must be equally valued by any society that respects any of them: the right to certain freedoms, especially including religious liberty, the right to participate in community, and the right to have basic needs met.

But surely the NAE understands that these are prima facie rights. That is, a person has them until such time as they become a threat to society or otherwise disqualify themselves from possessing them. A man whose religion calls for him to behead infidels, for example, surely does not have the right to practice his religion freely.

The NAE document also says this:

Human life is expressed through physicality, and the well-being of persons is tied to their physical existence. Therefore, humans must have the right to security of person. This includes the right not to have one's life taken unjustly (equivalent to the right to life), ...

Now the NAE is contradicting itself. Having declared human rights to be absolute they set out in this statement to qualify them. Apparently a just taking of a life is permitted by the NAE, but if so, why could not similar qualifications be imposed on the following:

...the right not to have one's body mutilated, and the right not to be abused, maimed, tortured, molested, or starved (sometimes called the right to bodily integrity or the right to remain whole). The right not to be arbitrarily detained (an aspect of due process) and the writ of habeus corpus are also based specifically on the concept of bodily rights. In particular, the writ of habeus corpus is based on the right not to have the government arbitrarily detain one's body.

It is acceptable, in fact obligatory, for the state to detain people, deprive them of their right to freedom, as long as it is not "arbitrary," but then what is happening to the absolute proscriptions that the NAE insisted upon earlier on. In other words, no right is unalienable or absolute. Whether someone can be deprived of life or freedom or any other property depends upon why these things are taken from the person. The NAE, however, disagrees:

Even when a person has done wrong, poses a threat, or has information necessary to prevent a terrorist attack, he or she is still a human being made in God's image, still a person of immeasurable worth.

Perhaps, but so are the people whose lives and well-being hang in the balance. Why should the terrorist's life be regarded as of greater worth than theirs? Why should the terrorist's rights count more heavily than the rights of your family aboard that plane or your nine-year old daughter suffocating in that box? If subjecting the terrorist to harsh treatment offers the only possibility of saving innocent lives it is morally incumbent upon us to do that. To stand by and do nothing when we could possibly have saved peoples' lives is immoral.

It is also absurd. If the terrorist succeeds, even though he's in custody, and innocent lives are lost, he can be executed according to the NAE's reasoning. But until he succeeds he cannot be in any way treated harshly even though it is reasonably certain that apart from harsh measures he will cause the murders of innocents and consequently be put to death. It's better to allow the innocents to die and their killer to be executed, according to the NAE's logic, than to prevent all that death by causing the murderer to suffer temporary discomfort or pain. It's hard to see how this makes any sense at all.

More on the NAE's argument later.