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

November 21, 2006

All I Want For Christmas (in Darfur)...

Bravo Romeo Delta

Judging by the newly arrived décor I am seeing in storefronts, the holiday season is evidently upon us once again. As you already know, two friends and I are going to spend our holiday in Chad to film footage for a documentary (Christmas in Darfur), capture the feel of conditions on the ground, and interview the extraordinary people who have given and risked so much to lend a hand in a portion of the world that needs all the help it can get. I would like to thank you for your help and generosity in getting us started towards our goals.

Our estimated budget for this project will run about $20,000, and we’ve been successful in scraping, begging, and borrowing enough to cover airfare and our basic film equipment. This does, however, leave us at something of a disadvantage with respect to providing the remainder of the gear we’ll need to do this both competently and safely, not to mention funds we'll need on the ground.

So, I would like to ask for you or anybody you know to lending a helping hand. The main problem we’re facing is uncertainty. If we were certain that this was suicidally stupid, we wouldn’t be going. If we were certain there was no risk, we wouldn’t be asking for help. But one can hedge against uncertaintiy in risk through insurance, liquidity, preparedness, equipment, and all of these cost money.

You can show your support to the great and noble cause of my personal safety by clicking the PayPal button below. But in general, any way you can help us will be most appreciated. If you possess a quarter million frequent flier miles that need to be used by the end of the year, then we can devote our resources to basic equipment and tools of the trade.

All I Want For Christmas (in Darfur)...

Priceless Christmas.jpg

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 03:51 AM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (12) | Missile Tracks

November 15, 2006

Do they know it's Christmas? Do they actually care if it's Christmas? Aren't they Muslim anyways?

Bravo Romeo Delta

Basically, if you were one of the poor, benighted folks of the world and busy choosing between starvation and being shot, 1984 was a very good year. You all remember the massive Live Aid promotion with "Do they know it's Christmas" coming out in 1984 raising a whole raft of cash for Ethiopian famine relief.

Unfortunately, in the intervening 22 years, the marketing viability for dying brown people has plummeted. Donor fatigue and disaster oversaturation has set in, in a very big way, numbing the public. And after Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, governments are either overcommitted, or governments have realized that there is absolutely zero percentage for them in stepping in to try to stop the bloodshed. They catch hell domestically ("No Blood For Oil!", “Wag the Dog!”) or get pictures of the corpses of 19-year-old kids getting dragged through the street. Or even if, against all odds, they manage to put a stop to the bloodshed they don't get a damn bit of credit for doing so.

What this means is that the marginal value of each life has effectively dropped to zero. Kill 5 people, kill 500, kill 500,000 - it makes no difference - each added fatality has absolutely no policy impact and won't change the situation one iota. It's not that there roughly 500,000 (essentially an entire Seattle) have died in Darfur. The horrific thing is that they could kill another 500,000 and nobody will bat an eyelash.

So, how can the dead of Darfur compete with dead soldiers, Afghanis, and Iraqis for media coverage. Well, one thing that has changed a lot since 1984 is the advent of the internet, viral marketing, and meme propagation – the entire dynamic of word-of-mouth propagation.

Two of my friends and I are going to Darfur this Christmas (http://www.christmasindarfur.org/) in order to shoot a film. Since people aren't going to respond to Yet Another Tear-Jerking Movie about how terrible things are, we're going to try to connect to the audience by interviewing the people from the US and Europe - folks like you and me and your cousin and your uncle and your sister - who have volunteered for little or no cash to go spend their Christmas away from their families in the middle of some hellhole trying to stem the tide of genocide.

Now, to think that a single film is going to have some sort of world-changing impact is, frankly, absolutely delusional. However, we hope to make use of the new dynamics of media to make something that will help return the spotlight to Darfur, and give those concerned something to nucleate around. But, if you recall the flooding of the Mississippi some 10 years ago, or more recently 9/11, and Katrina, and all the people who dropped everything they were doing, to go help, it's those countless, nameless individuals who all chipped in to make a difference. And it's those kinds of people we want to reach.

So, in any case, we've begged, borrowed, and scraped together enough cash to go, and we're committed to the trip. However, fighting has started to intensify a bit and is spreading into Chad. War zones are ruinously expensive. Furthermore, they don't take plastic. So, what that means is that while we can actually get there, the proposition of getting enough security to arrive in a war zone with a lot of camera equipment and cash on hand is going to be an expensive and risky proposition. We are trying to raise enough to move this whole project from the realm of suicidially stupid over to regular, plain old risky. (Think of it like raising money for body armor for troops in Iraq)

We're going, and being the selfish bastard I am, not only do I want to make the experience gunshot-wound free, I would also like to make it back with all of our kit and equipment. We've gotten a lot of support from people have volunteered to do all of the time-consuming and costly editing, production, post-production, sound, and all of that good stuff to take footage and turn it into a movie. Now we just need to go get the footage.

So, if you can help out with a couple of bucks, click on over to Christmas in Darfur (http://www.christmasindarfur.org/) and hit the PayPal button. For those of you in the DC area and who have the inclination, we’re holding a benefit tonight at Bourbon (2321 18th Street, 6pm – 1 am, which will involve DJ’s, drinking, and things of that sort). In any case, we certainly appreciate any way you can help contribute.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Go to the site. Post it. Link it. Pass it on.

And if you can, please help.

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 08:41 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (0) | Missile Tracks

November 14, 2006

What's my secret?

Bravo Romeo Delta

I am certain that the googlebots and RSS aggregators (the two major demographic segments of my readership) are just dying to know how it is that I can be such a prolific blogger with such relative ease. Well, I decided that it's about time that I explain how it is that I can turn out such high quality content on an annual - nay, even quarterly basis. In keeping with trend we've seen in recent decades, it's time for my celebratory tell-all.

I had originally intended to write a post explaining how it is that I can maintain my break-neck pace of blogging - what with the two posts for 2006, thus far. And then that started to turn into a post on the nature of the blogosphere, disintermediation and journalism, and whole host of other stuff. Late last night I even wrote a post and everything. And then, for reasons that must have been clearer then, went back to read some of the things I wrote when I actually wrote things and came to a conclusion.

At some point along the journey, I became a stuffed-shirt (keyboard?) pedant, lacking a sense of humor, and in love with the sound of my own voice (typing?). Seriously - go back and browse through the blogspot archive. (I know this sounds a bit like your grandpa telling you about how things were when he was a hip young thing, but seriously, this was 2003-2004 which, even in blog years, ain't forever).

I came to realize that in my bid to start sounding more scholarly, that I quit having enjoying the process. I started worrying about having something smart (or at least smart-sounding) to the extent that I quit having fun and quit being readable. I turned recreation into a chore and then couldn't figure out why I didn't like doing it anymore.

When I go back to my earliest posts, they seem to have had the tone of a conversation. Almost like those very old letters that you hear read on a Ken Burns special. In any case, they don't compare at all in style with things like my most recent post on torture which is as engaging as sitting in the middle of a desert, eating a bowl full of crackers, and having nothing with which to wash it down. As it is, I evidently have ferocious difficulties writing with succinctitudeconsciseivenessdisverbosity… um… alacrityclaret[mmm... claret]clarity.

I've been thinking on and off, for a while now about a site redesign, and this, and that, and the other sort of vaguely DIY remodeling stuff. But one thing I am strongly considering is whether or not to put the blogger "Bravo Romeo Delta" into hibernation and trying to bring the blogger "Anticipatory Retaliation" back out of retirement.

I don't know if anyone is still out there, but in the event that you, or digital archaeologists from future alien civilizations, read this, feedback would be most appreciated.

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 01:23 PM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (13) | Missile Tracks

November 01, 2006

Defining Torture Downward

Bravo Romeo Delta

The ongoing debate on torture has been often been characterized by an intensity of passion entirely appropriate to such an ethically precarious subject. In the midst of this discussion, there have been a few, arguably well-intentioned, rhetorical over-extensions that are worth exploring in some more detail. In particular, the question of whether or not any given kind of torture is morally or ethically equivalent to any other given form of torture.

To make one thing clear right here, right this instant – this is not a post about the legalities of torture. This is not about “what would really happen in the field.” It’s not about Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Guantanamo, Vietnam or Nazis or whatever. This is not about what other nations think of us and whether or not we give a damn.

This is about right and wrong, and how we tell the difference. How do we think about torture, and how to think through the underlying principles that inform that debate?

For those with an interest in digging down into the substrate, there are some excellent resources on the question, including the archive at George Washington University, as well as this Entire Friggin’ Blog (when I compare this post to that blog, it’s like comparing a candle to the sun, or an anorexic to Michael Moore). I had originally intended to dig back into the original Yoo memo and find the six coercive interrogation techniques under debate. I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, but can refer you to none other than... me! In this post at Protein Wisdom, I debated about a number of things in terms of the call for Rumsfeld to resign, not least of which is torture, where I cited six techniques, and like a good scholar didn’t link to the original source (which I can’t seem to find right now):

  1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.
  2. Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.
  3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.
  4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.
  5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.
  6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

In any case, there is some merit in arguing that all torture is ethically equivalent – after all, we generally regard all violent rape of infants to be equivalently abhorrent, regardless of the heinousness of any specific act of rape. Extending this to torture would imply that, saying “Well, it was just waterboarding” shouldn’t get you some sort of pass simply because you weren’t saying “And then we beheaded the Jew.”

Another other premise that seems to occasionally animate debate on torture is the marked unwillingness to say that one given harsh technique, while distasteful, is not torture, while another technique is torture.

The combination of these two points of view yields a difficult situation. Let’s, for sake of argument, rank coercive interrogation methods on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being shaking a finger at someone in a reproachful fashion, while 10 is a Hanoi Hilton beating. Now, let’s say that, on this scale, waterboarding rates a 7 on this scale. We can reasonably argue that an item rated 10 is essentially as evil or spiritually corrosive as an item ranked 7. This would imply then, reasonably, that a method ranked at 6, not being that much worse than 7, should also be considered torture. We apply this logic recursively, all the way down the slippery slope, and find that (eventually) speaking to an inmate in any way that causes them to reveal information is morally equivalent to some twisted, nightmarish vision out of Mengele’s dreams.

This is a classical slippery slope argument, but if we maintain no method of discerning that a given approach is or is not torture, then we end up either making graphic and horrific torture perfectly acceptable, or that anything, including the detention of terrorists is torture.

So, one of the two premises must be suspect: either all torture is morally equivalent, or we must have a workable means of separating the distasteful from torture.

Consider: Would Daniel Pearle rather have had someone grab the front of his shirt and forcefully grabs the front of his shirt and shake him, or would he have preferred to be beheaded?

So, provisionally, I don’t think we can consider all torture to be ethically equivalent – in other words, some forms of torture are worse than others.

Thus, the strict rules based ethical methodology doesn’t seem to be strongly applicable (at least in the fairly circumspect solution space around the cusp at which the distasteful edges over into anathema). There are, generally speaking, two other methodologies than can be applied to this sort of ethical question – a utilitarian school, and a “Golden Rule” approach.

First, the “Golden Rule” approach – do unto others as you would have them do unto you – I think I can, for the most part live with the six techniques I point out above. That’s kind of a personal call, but I don’t imagine that if any one of those techniques had been applied to a US soldier, that the phrase “torture” would have been the first to spring to mind.

Secondly, we have the question of whether or not the good outweighs the benefit. I think we can imagine a calculus in which we might do something distasteful, but short of torture, given a sufficiently robust threat. In this case, I think we run into danger for a number of reasons. First among them is that we apply a method based on a supposition of what the guy knows, which may or may not be a correct estimation. Thus, we might start cutting off digits, and then magically find that the guy is really is just some dude wearing a bear suit and hanging around the Pentagon for no good reason.

I think it is pretty clear that this is a bad outcome and is ethically untenable (although one can argue about the practical elements), and can’t be quickly just swept under the rug with the “collateral damage” broom.

So, going back to the six reference techniques outlined above, it becomes interesting to note that the waterboarding is universally successful.

I can’t vouch in a meaningful way for whether or not it is a “severe” mental or physical stress. And regardless of whether or not I’ve been subjected to it, I don’t feel that I can speak to the broader “reasonable man” as to whether or not it is severe. One can certainly argue that anything that never fails to elicit cooperation is, by definition, stressful.

However, taken a different way, would the person – let’s say, 2 hours later – be substantially different, physically or mentally, other than having a marked aversion to being waterboarded again. If not, was the experience sufficiently severe to have been torture?

Put another way, when looking at the entire universe of techniques which will inevitably never fail to produce an answer, are any of those methods not torture?

Can we think – even with a science fiction magic black box that can produce anything of which we can conceive - of a gadget or process that would generate sufficient distress, discomfort, agitation, confusion, sympathy, anger, or whatever that it would always, in the end, produce a truthful confession? Are any of the magical methods we can conceive of axiomatically not torture?

I’ve been stuck here for a bit – there are a lot of different ways to go with this, but something did strike me – is that when were looking at the question of how to define what is and isn’t torture, one of the operative questions is whether or not the definition of torture is a functionally usable definition. In other words, we simply can’t say that “being icky” is a sufficiently rigorous definition, we have to have something that’s at least amenable to a litmus test. And the concept of something that is so fiendishly stressful that it will never fail to get someone to talk is certainly appealing in the stark logical clarity it would lend to such a definition.

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at 01:39 AM | Retaliatory Launches Detected (1) | Missile Tracks

free hit counter