Pleased to meet you

by Ted on June 1, 2005

In case you missed it, the popular right-libertarian blog QandO has recently written a detailed post in opposition to torture by U.S. forces. An excerpt:

Torture and abuse is not just a moral or legal failure. It is a strategic failure in the War on Terror. Certainly, we will never be nice enough to convince Zarqawi—and the ~20,000 like him—to stop killing Americans. But there are another 55 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan who may still be convinced of our moral superiority to the Islamic fundamentalists, the terrorists and their ilk; another 55 million people whose hearts and minds may still be won.

Only, they may not be won if we keep killing, torturing and abusing them. We can never make them all love us, but we can certainly stop giving them good reasons to hate us.

Nevertheless, there is still the problem of prisoners. To that end, I would suggest that we operate absolutely above-board—even if it means we put ourselves at some risk in certain instances. All detainees should be housed in prisons perfectly accessible to the ICRC and various Human Rights organizations. The Geneva Convention should be observed strictly.

While it might be nice to get that occasional tip out of an insurgent, we can win the war without it. We cannot win the war without the support of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, and that may be the price of sacrificing our moral high ground to beat up some insurgents.

Later, in a long response to right-wing criticism of their stance:

The last argument, “the anti-war crowd thinks its bad” is one of the more interesting arguments. Its premise is “if they think its bad, then it probably isn’t, because they think everything the military does is bad ”. Naturally the rationalization begins based on that premise. It becomes more important to win politically than to recognize they may have a valid argument and stand on principle yourself. Politics over principle.

A very dangerous corollary to that premise is “our military can do no wrong”. Well, it can, and has. What’s interesting about the military is it works very hard to correct those things it has done badly or actions it considers to be wrong. Abu Ghrab wasn’t “broken” by CBS, it was broken by our military launching an investigation. The abuses we’ve recently found out about in Afghanistan came from an internal Department of Defense investigation the military conducted. If they know it is wrong to torture and abuse prisoners and have taken the time to investigate and punish those committing such acts, why are there those among us that feel compelled to defend such practices? And why do they think they’re doing a favor to the military by doing so?

My emphasis. Thanks, guys; the sight of genuine liberal-bashers standing up to be counted against torture cheers me immeasurably. If only we can get some actual elected Republicans onboard, we’d be in business.



Dale Franks 06.02.05 at 12:20 am

Thanks for the link. This is definitely an issue where principle rises above poilitics. America is supposed to stand for something. We are supposed to be what Reagan called “the city on a hill”, a beacon of liberty burning brightly in the night.

Between us, McQ and I spent nearly 40 years in the Armed Forces of the United States. We hate to see the military services that we love stained with this kind of behavior. It’s important, and very much to our credit that the military is investigating these abuses. It’s even more important that they are preventing from happening in the first place.


Dale Franks 06.02.05 at 12:20 am

That should read, “prevented from happening”


des von bladet 06.02.05 at 4:04 am

You deeply need to close your blockquote before the fold – the front page is slightly fubar.


conchis 06.02.05 at 4:55 am

Des wins this week’s oxymoron prize: “slightly f’d up beyond all recognition”. Love it.


McQ 06.02.05 at 11:35 am

Ted – a small quibble. We have always been “onboard”. These aren’t our first posts about torture and abuse (heh…nor is it the first time we’ve been abused in the comments section over it either).

Just as interesting, if you’ll look at the links, a good number of right of center blogs linked to the posts we wrote and expressed their basic agreement with our premise.


Doanld Rumsfeld 06.02.05 at 12:14 pm

Atrocities, what atrocities?


George W. Bush 06.02.05 at 12:16 pm

Only America haters claim we torture prisoners.


Dick Cheney 06.02.05 at 12:17 pm

These claims of torutre come from some disgruntled prisoners. Sour grapes all.


Chris Martin 06.02.05 at 12:28 pm

“Torture and abuse is not just a moral or legal failure.”

Well it’s good to know they’re on our side, but I have no respect for someone who thinks this is not primarily a moral issue.


lemuel pitkin 06.02.05 at 1:03 pm

Oh I don’t know Chris. I think the fact that torutre doesn’t work — not in the sense that it can’t achieve anything, but that it can’t achieve the things that we as is society want to — is pretty intimately connected with its immorality.


Ted 06.02.05 at 1:17 pm


I think that you’re being unfair to the QandO guys. For one thing, when you read their posts, they strongly and clearly express a moral objection to torture.

We know that there are people who consider their dismissal of torture stories to be a positive thing, evidence of their own toughness and lack of squeamishness. I’m imagining myself in a debate with someone who doesn’t share my moral concern with torture. I’m unlikely to sway them; it’s ultimately a value judgement.

I think I’d have a much better chance of convincing them that torture isn’t in our best interests because of the galvanizing effect it has on Muslim “persuadables”. That’s an argument that the other guy can’t dismiss as easily, and it’s one that the conservative war-backers at QandO are well-equipped to make. I’m very glad to have it out there.


Chris Martin 06.02.05 at 2:34 pm

I did read the whole post earlier and noted that he talks about torture being a moral issue. And I’m perfectly happy with people using the torture-isn’t-useful argument if it has an effect on this administration. In fact, I would use that argument myself in public, since it’s a good argument. But in private, I would still put the moral argument first, and I wouldn’t have much respect for people who don’t, although I wouldn’t necessarily tell them that.


McQ 06.02.05 at 2:41 pm


This isn’t our first series of posts about torture and abuse on QandO as I pointed out earlier. And we have been quite plain in our moral condemnation of torture, first and foremost. In the response to all the rationalizations for torture cited above I wrote:

“But in a broader argument, we’re saying that you can make all the technical arguments you care to make, rationalize torture and murder as some sort of burning necessity upon which our safety is dependent and claim that abuse is fair pay-back for the behavior of our enemies, but we, all of us, reject any argument which tries to legitimize torture and abuse, and we reject it on principle. None of us want to hear bad things about our military. But when it does bad things, it should be criticized. This is an argument about who we are and what we support on principle, not what we can rationalize as appropriate given the current circumstance.”

And that principle is that torture is and always has been morally wrong, and as Americans who believe in standing on principle torture is unacceptable morally for any reason and at any time. That was the whole purpose of the rebuttal to the comments. Sorry if it wasn’t clear.


jet 06.02.05 at 3:18 pm

German interrogators had plenty of success in interrogating POW’s to gain useful information during WWII. Just from reading about US POW’s in different wars, torture was effective on many of them for confirming information but rarely in gathering new information.

I’d be careful with the argument that torture doesn’t provide results and use the lesser argument that it doesn’t provide reliable results.


ArC 06.02.05 at 4:53 pm

My only quibble is that the Taguba report — which was actually the third investigation into Abu Ghraib — was completed in Feb ’04, and by April ’04, one private contractor _singled out in that report for bad conduct_ was _still_ working at Abu Ghraib. When the report came out into public view, when those photos broke — /that/ was when the military even started taking punitive action. It is a little glib, in my opinion, to imply the military took the high road from the get-go.


Randy Paul 06.02.05 at 5:10 pm

My only quibble is that the Taguba report—which was actually the third investigation into Abu Ghraib—was completed in Feb ‘04, and by April ‘04, one private contractor singled out in that report for bad conduct was still working at Abu Ghraib. When the report came out into public view, when those photos broke—/that/ was when the military even started taking punitive action. It is a little glib, in my opinion, to imply the military took the high road from the get-go.

Not to mention that Rumsfeld’s offer to resign was rejected – twice and Alberto Gonzales was promoted. What kind of message does that send?


luci phyrr 06.02.05 at 6:17 pm

Certainly, we will never be nice enough to convince Zarqawi—and the ~20,000 like him—to stop killing Americans

Don’t know where the idea came from that the insurgency is primarily made up of foreign terrorists on a jihad. Oh yeah, the Bush administration keeps saying that, and the news readers keep reading it. I guess it’s true then.

That public belief in such a reality would be convenient to the US administration, and contradicts all objective accounts of the insurgency’s composition, is surely coincidental.

Cuz if we weren’t fighting terrorists like Al-Zarqawi in Iraq, we’d be fighting them in the US. And the real people of Iraq would still be showering us with roses, if not for fear of those foreign terrorists.

Like Al-Zarqawi’s “website” said a few days ago, he’s super tight with bin Laden, they trade strategy and recipes and stuff.

The insurgents in Iraq got passports stamped in Bali, Madrid, Kenya, Nairobi, they make cheese with the Germans and French, they speak Pashto when they’re hanging with the Taliban, Arabic when they were scheming with OBL, and Persian when they’re meeting with the Iranian mullahs. They’re international, these insurgents, and you’d better believe they’d be on the streets of NYC if the flypaper wasn’t drawing them into Iraq. They prolly come from Syria, where most of Saddams WMDs went.

TV told me.


Decnavda 06.02.05 at 7:19 pm

Thank you, Ted, for refering to a right-libertarian as a “right-libertarian”. In some ways, this is an even more gratifying recognition of the existence of left-libertarians than actual references to us.


Jon Henke 06.03.05 at 5:50 am

Don’t know where the idea came from that the insurgency is primarily made up of foreign terrorists on a jihad.

Not only do I not know where the idea came from that the insurgency is primarily made up of foreign terrorists on a jihad”, I’m having a lot of trouble figuring out how you got that from my post. The last figure I saw suggested that there were about 20,000 “insurgents” (or whatever you like to call them) in Iraq.

You seem to have inferred the “foreign”, “terrorist” and “jihad” parts on your own.


luci phyrr 06.03.05 at 1:24 pm

Jon Henke: well, I’m guilty of using your sentence to deliver a harangue on a personal pet peeve – the equating of the insurgents with the foreign terrorists. You never said the insurgency was “primarily” composed of foreign terrorists.

But, ya gotta admit, phrases like:

Zarqawi—and the ~20,000 like him—

could confuse – Zarqawi is a well-known foreign terrorist. I doubt there are 20,000 foreign terrorists in Iraq (I’d guess a few hundred).

the Islamic fundamentalists, the terrorists and their ilk;

But maybe it’s a semantic problem. The insurgents (ex-Baathists, primarily) are using terrorist techniques now, targeting civilians. So, they’re “terrorists”. I might have inferred you meant “foreign” terrorists, the inclusion of Zarqawi aiding the inference.

It seems there’s a concerted effort to blur the lines between al Qaeda-like terrorists, who might threaten the US (to a miniscule degree) with Iraqi Baathist foot soldiers, who never threatened the US. It’s easy to see the advantage of blurring these categories, to turn a war of choice into one of self-defense and reprisal.

But sorry for implying that you were making this explicit claim.


Publius 06.04.05 at 3:37 am

Ah yes, the convergence of the Good and the Advantageous. The older I get, the more I realise that doing what is Good in any given situation is almost always also the most advantageous in the long run. Likewise, what is expedient for the moment is also typically morally Bad too– and comes back to bite me in the ass soon afterwards.

Not wanting to get into a lengthy exposition on philosophical Utilitarianism here, but the humane treatment of prisoners is a great case where Doing the Right Thing serves your long-term interests much better than doing the wrong thing. The key difference here– and one that is probably only understood with age– is the timescale. If all you care about is the immediate gratification of bloodlust or revenge– or winning the next election–, then torture or carpet-bombing may work perfectly well. If you truly are dug in for a war that may last for generations, doing the right thing is well worth the required expenditure of self-discipline, restraint, and patience.

This has some scary implications though. I do not know how a society obsessed with immediate gratification, brutally short-term quarterly earnings cycles, sensory-overload video games and media, 2-to-4-year election cycles, 5-minute news stories, and 1-day news cycles, can ever develop the correct perspective for moral action.

Time to read “Collapse” now.

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