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Torture and the pro-war blogosphere

May 18th, 2005

In my first post on the Bagaric-Clarke paper advocating torture, I said “I haven’t seen any comment yet from pro-war bloggers, but I hope at least some of them will repudiate this terrible proposal”.

Andrew Norton[1] stepped up, pointing out that Bagaric has previously been identified with leftish positions, and criticising his current views. And regular commenter “Razor” on this blog says “As a confirmed RWDB and ex-soldier I can’t support the use of torture”.

Apart from that, I’ve come up blank. It’s easy to find pro-war bloggers and commenters supporting torture with more or less tortured arguments, defending Bagaric and Clarke’s right to speak and staying mum on the substantive issues, or just blogging on about Newsweek. I won’t bother linking to them – visit the obvious sites and you’ll find them. No doubt there are exceptions I’ve missed, but they aren’t very prominent.

This is a bit disappointing, but it provides a useful lesson. Next time you read one of these guys talking about Saddam and his crimes, remember it’s just a factional brawl within the pro-torture party. If Saddam had stuck to fighting wars against Iran, and torturing Iraqis, instead of invading Kuwait, he’d still be “an SOB, but our SOB”, just like Karimov in Uzbekistan.

Update Tim Dunlop has lots more on this here and here

Further update In comments, Andrew Norton advises that he was pro-war but didn’t blog on it directly, and Andrew Leigh is in a similar category. I can’t read Currency Lad’s blog (for heaven’s sake ditch the wallpaper!) but I’m not too surprised to learn from the comments that he is opposed to torture. And that’s it so far. Of the legion of noisily pro-war RWDB bloggers (a group from which I exclude CL), not one has so far taken a position any different from that of Saddam Hussein, and most of the noisiest have eagerly lined up with Saddam.

fn1. I should say that I haven’t actually seen anything Andrew’s written on the war, so I’m only guessing that he fits into the pro-war anti-torture category. I’ll be happy to correct this if it’s wrong.

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  1. May 18th, 2005 at 22:10 | #1

    For the record, I was in favour of the war – from a mix of instinctive anti-totalitarianism and reading Kenneth Pollack’s’ book – but I don’t think I blogged on it directly because I did not have anything to say that wasn’t being said by many other people. Similarly, while I am against torture I went on a tangent in my post on Bagaric, because my anti-torture views are well within the orthodoxy on the subject.

  2. Peter
    May 19th, 2005 at 03:22 | #2

    Christopher Hitchens has been both strongly pro-war and anti-torture. See these columns in Slate:

    A Moral Chernobyl (14.06.04)

    Prison Mutiny (05.04.04)

    http://slate.msn.com/id/2102373/

    http://slate.msn.com/id/2099888/

  3. May 19th, 2005 at 09:34 | #3

    The Currency Lad has clearly been pro-war and against torture.

  4. jquiggin
    May 19th, 2005 at 09:38 | #4

    Thanks for that Luis. Unfortunately I can’t read his site, but I’ll correct the post as soon as I get time.

  5. May 19th, 2005 at 10:30 | #5

    John, I’ve belatedly risen to your challenge. http://imaginingaustralia.blogs.com/imagining/2005/05/pro_war_blogger.html

  6. May 19th, 2005 at 11:40 | #6

    This debate about the ethics of torture gives off that fishy smell that seems to hover over most philosophical arguments about real political ethics.

    I doubt whether it is possible to be pro-war and anti-torture whilst still being sincere about both. At least this is the case when the war is in the form of a popular-backed insurgency.

    The pro-torture side rely on fanciful situations which make torture seem fair and reasonable. But hard cases make bad law.

    The anti-torture side seem to assume that counter-insurgencies can be fought with clean hands. But this implies that authorities should act like saints when under extreme provocation.

    Pr Q’s elegant solution is to have general institutional rules that legally forbid torture but consider particular individual acts on their moral merits, if the agent is willing to take responsibility for torturing. This is the best solution on offer so far, but it obviously sweeps political and martial realities under the carpet.

    It is disingenuous to expect military authorities to complete the mission without getting civilian blood on their hands. A guerilla army, by definition, prosecutes covert irregular warfare with the aid of the bulk of a hostile civilian population. The hostile civilians become the logisitical arm of the guerillas and are therefore considered by the authorities to be a legitimate military target.

    Theorists of guerilla warfare, from Mao to Che, know this and bank on it so that authorities will commit atrocities to put down the insurgency. If they dont the insurgents will get the upper martial hand. If the do the insurgents will get the upper political hand. Check.

    The implication is that civilzed states should not undertake such missions should in the first place, if the citizens find the work distasteful.

    Steve Sailer reviews “The Battle of Algiers”, a film which depicts the dilemmas of civilized French soldiers who, when ordered to fight an insurgency in Algeria under barbaric conditions, resorted to torture as the only way to defeat the insurgents:

    In despair, Algiers’ civil authorities hand policing over to the paratroopers under Colonel Mathieu. This glamorous character was modeled partly on the redoubtable Jacques Massu, partly on the intellectual colonels like Marcel Bigeard, who had recently parachuted gallantly into the doomed fortress of Dien Bien Phu. While an involuntary guest of General Giap, Bigeard studied Mao’s theories and then used them in his sophisticated counter-guerilla strategy in Algeria. The anti-French filmmakers give Mathieu most of the best lines. When challenged at a press conference about torture, he answers with Descartes’ logic and Cyrano’s panache:

    The problem is: the FLN wants us to leave Algeria and we want to remain … Despite varying shades of opinion, you all agree that we must remain … Therefore, to be precise, I would now like to ask you a question: Should France remain in Algeria? If you answer “yes,� then you must accept all the necessary consequences.

    The phrase “necessary consequences”, in this case, refers to the use of torture as a means of detecting bombs, deterring enemies and conserving French soldiers lives. No one has honestly come to grips with the Colonel’s question because, in truth, it is unanswerable.

    I can’t, off-hand, think of many counter-insurgencies that were sucessfull, still fewer that were successfully prosecuted without resorting to illegal or immoral forms of interrogation and retaliation. The only really successful counter-insurgencies either had the backing of the vast majority of the population (eg Malaya, not the case in Baghdad) or were prosecuted by vastly superior (tyrannical) powers for whom torture and lying were first nature.

    The only more or less clean counter-insurgent conflict that springs to mind is the IDF’s actions in the Occupied Territories. But even they have overstepped the line on quite a few occasions. And the Israelis believe they are fighting for survival in their own land, which changes the moral context of the fight.

    This makes the real ethical question not the decision to torture but the decision to go to war itself. War, if avoidable, is the crime. If war is fought against another nation’s irregular forces on their home ground then it involves the use, or threat, of extreme pain-inducing weapons aginsts more or less innocent civilians. This is the moral equivalent of torture, if not worse.

  7. Razor
    May 19th, 2005 at 16:45 | #7

    If you want to see what happens when the soldiers of western nations start doing it – see what happened to the Canadian Airborne forces. You can’t ask them because they were disbanded after a torturing incident while peacekeeping in Africa.

    I am generally against torture, but if someone is goign to do it, then let the Green Slime do it.

    (Green Slime = intelligence, green being their corps colour)

  8. May 20th, 2005 at 10:23 | #8

    “Next time you read one of these guys talking about Saddam and his crimes, remember it’s just a factional brawl within the pro-torture party.”

    John I think you are overplaying your bundling strategy as when you make out that I am allied with Creation Scientists and the like. You risk being described as a member of the pro-Gulag party, so what if you call it off and look for some bipartisan strategies to improve the situation.

  9. Andrew Reynolds
    May 20th, 2005 at 13:51 | #9

    PrQ,
    I may have been annoying enough for long enough to qualify as a regular commenter here. I sit firmly in (and still do) the camp that believes that the invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do. I also abhor torture as it is wrong morally, ineffective and (least important) wrong legally. Even if it was legal it would still be wrong.

  10. May 20th, 2005 at 23:49 | #10

    Does this count as being opposed to changing the legal status of torture?

    not one has so far taken a position any different from that of Saddam Hussein, and most of the noisiest have eagerly lined up with Saddam.

    Well, even if people agree on whether to torture, they’d disagree on the “who” and “why” of it.

    I assume you “agree” with Saddam that jail is a neccessary institution, with the main disagreements being on the “who” and “why”, right?

  11. rsl
    May 21st, 2005 at 01:44 | #11

    Two comments on this:

    1. It seems to me that in the U.S. at least many of the so-called “conservative” bloggers (and MSM outlets) have really just become cheerleaders for the Republican party. In my opinion, the Republican party is no longer conservative (at least not small-government conservative), so what we get from these pro-Republican blogs is mere partisanship–defending anything the administration does, regardless of principle.

    2. Not quite torture, but a closely related example of the “it’s okay when it’s our SOB” principle: Many in the pro-war camp pointed to Saddam’s brutality in putting down the Shia insurrgency after the first Gulf war as a primary justification for attacking Saddam. Given this, it was absolutely amazing to hear the pro-war talking heads on FOX “news” advocating essentially the same brutal tactics be applied by the U.S. in Falluja after the Sunni insurgents there murdered some U.S. contractors.

    I guess the upshot is that while it’s logically possible to be pro-war and against torture, it’s hard to be pro-Bush without having to rationalize everything he does.

  12. May 21st, 2005 at 10:58 | #12

    1. It seems to me that in the U.S. at least many of the so-called “conservative� bloggers (and MSM outlets) have really just become cheerleaders for the Republican party.

    Charles Johnson of LGF is the main pro-Iraq-war US blogger that I read, and he was no cheerleader for Bush in the earlier part of his term.

    Many in the pro-war camp pointed to Saddam’s brutality in putting down the Shia insurrgency after the first Gulf war as a primary justification for attacking Saddam.

    I thought they tended to focus on the brutality of Saddam’s putting down Kurdish insurgencies.

    Given this, it was absolutely amazing to hear the pro-war talking heads on FOX “news� advocating essentially the same brutal tactics be applied by the U.S. in Falluja after the Sunni insurgents there murdered some U.S. contractors.

    They advocated damming rivers as a means of genocide?

  13. rsl
    May 21st, 2005 at 11:53 | #13

    I thought they tended to focus on the brutality of Saddam’s putting down Kurdish insurgencies.

    They talked about both . . . but when talking about the Kurds, they had to tread carefully in order to avoid the awkward fact that Saddam happened to be “our SOB” at the time of the Kurdish massacre. The Shia insurgency occurred at a more convenient time–after Saddam’s misguided little venture into Kuwait threatened to mess up our oil supply.

    They advocated damming rivers as a means of genocide?

    That was the Saddam’s approach with the Marsh Arabs . . . but with other Shia, he simply shot them, not worrying too much about fine distinctions between civilians and actual armed combatants. What the FOX news folks were advocating was pretty much levelling Falluja, citizen casualties or not . . .

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