Saturday, October 10, 2009

Move Over Chuck Norris: General Petraeus is so tough that he....

From Wings Over Iraq

Can take a bullet and...

"When General David Petraeus was a battalion commander in the 82nd Airborne Division, he was accidentally shot in the chest during a live-fire training exercise. Upon being released from the hospital a few days later, he did a full fifty push-ups without taking a break. "


EIT: Ethical objections and responses, Pt. 6


7. Allowing such techniques opens us to risk of some combination of three slippery slopes: (a) it will create conditions and tendencies that allow for incremental increases in barbarity of practice, leading us to eventually use the more barbaric techniques used by AQ, Viet Cong, Soviets, Baathists and others; (b) it will create precedents that will allow us to incrementally decrease the threshold at which we will consider a scenario to be ‘high risk’, eventuating in our acquiescing in use of the presently considered techniques for relatively minor reasons; (c) it will create an environment that will encourage other states in the international community to err in the direction that (a) and (b) describe. Overall the situation will be made intolerable and too liberal in this regard. We, as the ‘lead dog’ in the international community, need to move in the direction of less use of such techniques, not more. So it is best to adopt one of the absolutist positions, and not allow any sort of enhanced interrogation techniques at all (Slippery Slope Objection)

Re: First, considering (a) and (b): There are cultural dissimilarities between the U.S. and these other regimes that throw this speculation into question. The ideological basis and fundamental values of the West and the founding documents of the U.S. are the result of centuries of development, and the common ideas they express, centering on the notion of autonomy, dignity, and individual human and civil rights, would militate strongly against such eventualities. This is unlike the cultural ideological and political history of the Middle East, Russia, Korea or Southeast Asia, where individual rights have had less centrality, thus less historical currency.

Also, there are robust national and international institutions, both governmental and non-governmental, that would act as checks against such developments. Six among many: Congress in its oversight role; the ACLU, the press, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the U.N. They already evince a high degree of effectiveness in regard to this present matter. There has to date been a robust discussion of the moral status of these techniques. That will no doubt continue.

As to (c): The international trend line is moving away from the direction feared despite the fact that several recognized nations have regularly made use of these (and harsher) techniques, in situations considerably less dire than those proposed. This trend is due, in part, to American and other western influence. However past U.S. international practice is not without ambiguity:

It is not a recent phenomenon that the U.S. has relied on intelligence from foreign sources that was derived from use of harsh techniques. This can obviously be read as tacit American approval of those practices. Also, extraordinary rendition has been carried out in reciprocity with foreign governments, knowing full well they employ full-blown torture.

Despite this historical fact, the long-term tendency has been for states with which we deal to reduce reliance on these practices. Given this trend, I would suggest that the present proposal, properly construed, would in fact discourage the evolution sketched in (c).

If the U.S. were to refrain from acts that can be read as tacit approval of harsh techniques and publicly declare its own reliance on techniques no harsher than those here proposed, this policy would nourish the appropriate international pressure by presenting an exemplar that is in line with the emerging global consensus already spearheaded by American ideals.

In support of this approach (i.e., eschewing rendition practices, but adopting EIT) it is not clear that use of the lesser techniques, in the sorts of situations here described presents an obvious affront to sensibility and moral conscience, as compared to harsher techniques used by these other powers. Use of these lesser techniques in the sorts of circumstances described, undertaken by a sanctioned professional cadre of interrogators is unlikely to open the slippery slope for international downhill sledding.

(In later posts I deal with the possible unintended consequences of 'going legit' in this way, in particular the possibility that it will render the EITs less effective, due to that information being made available to enemy, who can give training based upon that information.)