When is a first strike not a first strike?
When it's Anticipatory Retaliation.

January 07, 2005

Wretchard's "Grand Inquisitor" Dilemma


The Belmont Club has the the second in a series of incisive and informative posts about the real dilemmas imposed by the superficial idealism of the torture debate. But he offers no real suggestions for how to exorcise these dilemmas, concluding:

Donald Sensing has a long post on the recent destruction of a 36-ton Bradley in Iraq resulting in the death of all 7 occupants. If a suspect is found, what technique should be be used to discover where the other mines are planted? The ridiculous "16 approaches" method reviled by Heather MacDonald's interviewees, even now watered down? Or the rapes and crucifixion system which by common consent is torture? Is there is nothing in between? How did we get to where the only choices are between the impractical and the inadmissible? Possibly by the route of partisan politics; at hearings where you may either recite the Boy Scout Pledge or the Green Lantern Oath; where the failure to supply answers never got in the way of uttering a good platitude; where votive candles burn and still burn before the letter of Geneva and the practice of rendition; and people weep at a grave alone.

I'm not sure how to derail the partisan hyper-idealism and pandering that's going on, but I do have a suggestion regarding a theoretically useful approach to the moral dilemma itself. Unfortunately this approach embodies the same kind of steep ethical demands that would have stymied my suggested strategy for dealing with Saddam's obfuscation during the UNSCOM inspections pursuant to 1441, and especially the U2 flights that were supposed to monitor any efforts to hide or conceal WMD sites. My "idea/recommendation/suggestion/whatever" was to deploy volunteer pilots for the unscheduled flights that Saddam was threatening to shoot down, thereby ensuring that if there was really something to hide Saddam would be compelled to fire the first shot in the resulting war. The problem was that the UN lacked the institutional backbone to follow through courageously on its own dictums and ask that anyone undertake such a mission. They instead followed the cowardly course of "negotiating" with the quasi-defendent/mass-murderer.

The, at least theoretical, resolution to the torture dilemma involves a similar measure: requesting volunteers from our own services to undergo any distress imposed on suspected terrorists during prisoner interrogation. There may be some practical problems with such an approach to be sure, and the process of obtaining volunteers would have to be subject to intense accountability, but one would think that a demand for information, if it were important, would have enough appeal that someone on the side of the good guys would be willing to make a sacrifice scaled to the gravity and urgency of the need. Such a practice would also have other benefits, for instance disabusing the terrorists of their mistaken notion that Americans are weak-willed and, well... frenchish because we're squeamish about interrogation.

At the very least, such an approach suggests some middle ground on interrogation practices that goes beyond the merely abstract or legalistic rationalizations that characterize the debate so far. It is at least, in other words, a way to start thinking about the problem without the tedious posturing, the theory being that what we're willing to do to ourselves in the gravest extreme ought to be ethical to impose on an enemy bent on our destruction.

Update: Andrew Sullivan has a "best of" email that he represents as the voice of reason, rather than just another middling windmill joust. I have my doubts. It just seems that no one can easily make sense of this issue. Time to start thinking out of the box...?

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Demosophia and The Jawa Report)

Launched by Demosophist at January 7, 2005 05:19 PM

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