Not in our name

by Chris Bertram on June 20, 2018

For as long as I can remember, the philosopher’s stock example of a proposition that is morally uncontroversial has been “torturing babies is wrong”. Yet it turns out that torturing babies, or at least toddlers, is US government policy, where that policy involves separating them from their parents, leaving them in acute distress and certainly consigning many of them to a lifetime of mental health problems. And all so that Donald Trump can play at symbolic politics with his base. The justification given to the policy by people like Attorney General Jeff Sessions seems to be that the government is simply enforcing the law.

This discourse, that the law has to be enforced and that unauthorized immigrants are lawbreakers who must be punished, is pretty questionable in itself. But in this case it flies in the face of the US government’s commitments under the Refugee Convention, incorporated into US domestic law, according to which refugees are not liable to criminal sanction for unlawful entry. There’s also the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the US has signed up to but not ratified. So, even if you think that laws must be followed and enforced, the question of who the lawbreakers are here is one that does not admit of a clear answer. Not that one should have confidence that the Supreme Court of the United States would interpret the United States’ legal obligation under the Convention in a way that that does not reflect partisan political judgement. Government of laws not of men? Not really.

As a European it is tempting simply to point the finger at Trump, but our own well is just as poisoned. Hungary now intends to criminalize those who give assistance to migrants and refugees, including merely informing them of their legal rights. Salvini, the new Italian interior minister, having refused to allow migrants to dock at Italian ports, now contemplates a purge of people of Roma ethnicity from Italian territory and regrets that he cannot deport the ones who have Italian nationality. And then there are Europe’s 34,361 dead migrants. Terrible times, and all the more terrible because electorates, or at best substantial minorities of them, are willing this stuff. We who disagree have to say: not in our name. And we have to do what we can to push back.



Sasha Clarkson 06.20.18 at 4:17 pm

Well said Chris – it’s far too tempting to change the channel and stick one’s head in the sand.


nastywoman 06.20.18 at 4:33 pm

Never in my name!
– and I say that as somebody who supposedly has the same citizenship as Von Clownstick with the difference that I’m ”American”.


bob mcmanus 06.20.18 at 4:51 pm

Probably not at the top of the agenda, but does the explicit commitment to prosecutions, and not just of leaders, rather than Obama’s looking forward not back, need to be demanded of our politicians?

Would it help or drive our enemies to even greater atrocities, suspension of law, etc? Are we to surrender to a fear of civil war?


bob mcmanus 06.20.18 at 4:55 pm

“The Republican Party is an outlaw party, that must be disbanded, banned, and its leadership prosecuted.”

I have needed to hear that from top Democrats since the illegal invasion of Iraq.


Lenoxus 06.20.18 at 7:22 pm

It’s really difficult for me not to see this as a near-inevitable consequence of any form of immigration hawkery. All the rhetoric of “securing the border” against “illegals” was inevitably going to lead to more overt and cruel forms of xenophobia. There’s no rational basis for the underlying impulse, just basic prejudice. If you think that it’s possible for “them” to take “our” jobs, or that “they” have a culture morally incompatible with “ours”, then you have set yourself on a path of assent to the Nazis. You’re already breathing the same toxic air.

So I believe in open borders like I believe in universal democratic suffrage. I know that’s like a political equivalent of these supposed “obviously wrong” philosophical ideas, but I just can’t help it. Borders are arbitrary lines and treating the act of crossing them as anything worse than jaywalking is simply unjustifiable.


alfredlordbleep 06.20.18 at 10:28 pm

Today the celebrity demagogue exposes his breaking heart
The U.S. will withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council


Moz of Yarramulla 06.21.18 at 2:46 am

I suggest looking to Australia, surely our philosophy departments have adapted to the Australian Stolen Generations and the “Pacific Solution”. Both involved deliberately torturing kids and regarded suicide as a win-win: one less abo/reffo, and less whining from their families.

After all, this policy is actually nicer than what Australia does. Remember, you lot try to pretend there was no genocide where Australia officially celebrates ours. Like Australia Day, when we glory in the arrival of civilisation to an uninhabited land! Hooray!


Moz of Yarramulla 06.21.18 at 4:26 am

Fortunately there are drugs to control the worst of the reaction to the torture:


that_guy 06.21.18 at 9:20 am

Yall do understand that trump ran on the premise that immigration laws were broken and rejected his call to naturalize thousand of immigrants?

I feel like yall seriously misunderstand strategy.


Fake Dave 06.21.18 at 9:32 am

Lenoxus above mentions “immigration hawkery” and I think it tracks with what I’ve been saying for a while about how a huge chunk of the right wing (and some smaller but perhaps growing segments of the left) have embraced the ethics of war time. I’m younger than a lot of the commentators here, so correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like the word “hawk” has been getting thrown around a lot more in contexts that don’t have anything to do with conventional warfare. Obviously the fact that other people call right wingers “deficit hawks” or “immigration hawks” or whatever doesn’t mean we (or they) literally see these arenas as warfare by other means, but I think it does show the extent to which real war and the threat of it has permeated our politics and how militarist ideologies and martial virtues such as strength, ruthlessness, aggression, and discipline have come to define the modern right wing in peace as well as war.

Arbitrary and extralegal detentions, the separation of families, and utter breakdown of the legal and humanitarian safeguards meant to protect the vulnerable from abuse and exploitation are common features of war zones. We may claim to abhor this sort of shabby injustice, but most of us have also accepted that war is hell and shit happens.

The really disconcerting part isn’t that the US is committing war crimes (we do that), but that two thirds of us didn’t even know we were supposedly at war and haven’t been desensitized to it enough to say “OK, we torture children now.” This is because we’ve dismissed the culture war talk of the Breitbart, Limbaugh, and Fox News sets as mere bloviating hyperbole and don’t get that, for a lot of very angry people, the war is very real and they’re just waiting for their marching orders. Remember, about a third of the country supports toddler lockups. Someone has convinced them that it’s OK to do that to “those people” and we really should be worried about that.


MisterMr 06.21.18 at 9:41 am

The problem is (apart from the immediate sufferings of the immigrants) that this kind of xenophoby is based on a misunderstanding, so no level of hard anti immigrant policies will ever suffice.

Example: a lot of people here in Italy are pissed off because there are too few jobs or bad jobs; there are also a lot of immigrants.
Some people believe: they came and stole our jobs! This is the reason I don’t have a job (or I have a bad one). No more immigrants! Send them back!
Then various government come and each government makes it harder for immigrants, a notch at a time.
But, it turns out that people without jobs are still without jobs, and people with bad jobs still have bad ones.
However, the fact that immigration has nothing to do with jobs doesn’t register, and people still see that there are no jobs, so they will just think that previous governments were not harsh enough with the immigrants.

So as long as xenophoby is a response to unrelated problems, that are not actually solved by xenophoby, and in fact might become worse as all energuy is spent toward a false solution, xenophoby will allways increase as the underlying problems worsen, until it reaches grotesque levels


Z 06.21.18 at 9:47 am

Terrible times, and all the more terrible because electorates, or at best substantial minorities of them, are willing this stuff. We who disagree have to say: not in our name. And we have to do what we can to push back.

For Europeans like you and me, this is one of the defining issues of our time. I don’t want to disrupt your thread in any way. So Chris, if you feel that I have earned enough trust from you to express criticism on your personal stance on that topic without disrupting this thread, then give me a sign (approving this comment would be enough, but you have several other options). If you don’t, that’s of course more than fine, just don’t approve the comment and I’ll enjoy the rest of the thread in silence.


Glen Tomkins 06.21.18 at 2:31 pm

They may not be torturing babies just to play symbolic politics with their base. And I use “they” to make the point that it is not at all clear who, if anybody, is driving their immigration policy. Trump really seems to me to be demented. Of course this doesn’t mean we don’t have to worry. He may be too impaired to be the Hitler in what is unfolding, but he could serve as the Hindenburg. The very absence of a firm hand at the top enables some group of junior courtiers (led by Stephen Miller?) to run things using Trump as their front man.

The real issue for their party and their movement is what to do about the 11 million. That’s the demographic tide that faces them with the prospect of losing FL, TX, AZ, NV, and more, and with that loss, everything. The Ds get the trifecta, forever, if just TX and FL flip. Everything else is gravy and overkill.

One thing this latest baby-torturing ploy has done for the “they” we’re talking about here, is that it has committed their party to getting rid of the 11 million as its only viable alternative. No more flirting with the idea their “moderates” have of reaching some sort of deal with the Ds for a pathway to citizenship that will de-blacken the reputation of their party enough to make them competitive again with Hispanic voters. “They” burned that bridge. No more effective moderation on this issue within their party, well, not unless the moderates break with “them” clearly and decisively. That’s not going to happen. Such moderates will assimilate, get primaried or self-deport from Congress. The one thing they won’t do is even try to wrest control of the party back from “them”.

But it’s mainly “their” external enemies, the Ds, that are the target of baby-torturing. Our side doesn’t know what to do about the 11 million either. We’re too timid to just come out for amnesty for the 11 million, so we came up with using the innocence of children to wedge eventual acceptance of amnesty for even those adults among the 11 million who committed the horrific “crime” of entering the US illegally. Thus the Dreamers, and DACA. It is indeed morally uncontroversial that children below whatever age of reason one wants to posit, or who are under the control of their parents, cannot be held responsible for the actions of their parents, even actions as “heinous” as crossing the border without a visa. So, we give the Dreamers a break, protect them from deportation, give at least them an actual pathway to citizenship, because with them our side doesn’t face the full horror of some R accusing us of amnesty. The Dreamers weren’t the ones who did the “crime”, after all.

The possibility to watch for here, is that “they” settled on torturing babies as the means to throw their own wedge. Our side wants this to stop, right now, so to get that short-term relief, we will likely give up some long-term concession on the actually politically important front, what happens to the 11 million. ICE will get more money in general, the administration will get more authority to expand detention facilities, and leeway on conditions in these facilities in order to meet the emergency need for expansion so that families can be accommodated. “They” will then use these enhanced powers, given to “them” to deal with people only now crossing illegally, to begin dealing with their real problem, the 11 million illegals already in the US.

Is this what is happening, some conspiracy of some “them”? Is it at all likely? Who knows. That’s the advantage in having a demented president for any group of WH courtiers who might want to engage in this or any other conspiracy. No one is responsible or in actual control up there in the WH, where we have unwisely allowed such concentration of power. “They” are protected by the shroud of general irrationality and random drift surrounding this president. Maybe it is all random noise and drunkard’s walk. To see anything planned and intentional in the actions of this administration, you have to be a conspiracy theorist, because only conspirators could get this administration to actually do anything.


Abby 06.21.18 at 3:08 pm

Glen Tomkins (@13) is right that one Republican goal concerns the 11 million unauthorized immigrants already in the U.S. and the threat they potentially pose to their party as eventual voters or parents of voters. However, Stephen Miller and his ilk are perhaps even more concerned with ending family reunification-based legal immigration, as it poses an even greater existential threat to the current Republican party’s control.. Both ending DACA and the child separation policy have been predicated on causing such pain that Dems will agree to reducing legal immigration in return for slightly better treatment of some small portion of the existing unauthorized immigrants as evidenced by even the current “compromise” Republican immigration bill reducing legal immigration.


Chetan Murthy 06.21.18 at 6:14 pm

Glen Tompkins @13: you have succeeded in rightfully horrifying me. And I thank you for it. The scales have fallen from my eyes and now I see.

We have read over and over that the GrOPers’ strategy is to destroy all middle ground between their base and progressives/Dems. But more importantly perhaps, to make it *impossible* for their activists and politicians to EVER compromise.

You’re saying: “on immigration, there can be no middle ground, b/c the undocumented now will *never* forgive the GrOPers”. And so GrOPer pols *cannot* compromise now. And b/c all issues are linked, if they cannot compromise on this issue, they cannot compromise, period — to do so is electoral suicide.

It makes sense, and makes sense in the context of the history of the GrOPer party. Oh lordy. Thank you for your cogent explanation.


Chip Daniels 06.21.18 at 7:02 pm

“Today the celebrity demagogue exposes his breaking heart…”

I believe your auto-correct misspelled “demogorgon”.


Sergio Lopez-Luna 06.21.18 at 9:21 pm

“The Republican Party is an outlaw party, that must be disbanded, banned, and its leadership prosecuted.”

This needs to be repeated over and over by everybody!


Moz of Yarramulla 06.22.18 at 1:50 am

Via Alternet: On MSNBC on Wednesday, Chris Hayes explained why the perception that this cruelty and inhumanity is a “deterrent” is leading us down a dark path:

What that ends up being is you get into a kind of bidding war with the cartels about who can be more monstrous. … You end up having to do monstrous things so that the judgment tips in your favor.

It’s worth noting that the policy does work. The Pacific Solution has greatly reduced the number of refugees arriving in Australia, just as the other solution greatly reduced the number of certain categories of people in German-occupied Europe. And for those of you wondering, yes, Australia does officially call it that. No shame, no irony, just Border Force and some concentration camps.

The problem is, as noted, that you’re up against some pretty harsh competition. When Duterte’s admirers are hunting down and killing people who offend them and claiming every death as a “drug dealer now dead”, when the US-funded narcoterrorists are doing similar things in South and Central America, you’ve got a pretty high bar to clear to qualify as “obviously worse than staying where you are”.

I do wonder: can people from Puerto Rico qualify as refugees if they make it to the US mainland just because they come from a failed state?

(also: I’m not longer seeing the “held for moderation” note so there’s no sign at all that my post might one day appear here)


J-D 06.22.18 at 2:26 am

Moz of Yarramulla

(also: I’m not longer seeing the “held for moderation” note so there’s no sign at all that my post might one day appear here)

That’s not just you. The way the site works has changed.


Faustusnotes 06.22.18 at 4:18 am

The Pacific solution hasn’t deterred asylum seekers. The boats are turned back on the ocean so we don’t know how many are coming because the govt refuses to report data on actions at sea. It didn’t work in the Howard era and it doesn’t work now. It just makes hiding the failure easy.

Refugee flows are determined by the conditions in the state of origin, not by the treatment of refugees at the destination.


floopmeister 06.22.18 at 4:30 am

The Pacific Solution… And for those of you wondering, yes, Australia does officially call it that. No shame, no irony, just Border Force and some concentration camps.

The shameful irony is only multiplied once you reflect on the etymology of ‘Pacific’ as ‘peaceful’

Drugging children – the use ogf a chemical Pacifier?

As a fellow Australia, I do have to acknowledge the public outcry that this policy has provoked in the US. It reflects much more kindly on the US than the shameful ‘shrug’ which is our national response the deaths and torture taking place in our concentration camps.

I can only be ashamed of Australia at times like this.


Tabasco 06.22.18 at 6:44 am

I wonder what Charles Krauthammer thinks thought about this.

Too soon?


faustusnotes 06.22.18 at 8:01 am

I agree with the shame that the Pacific Solution makes us all feel as Australians. But I wouldn’t be so quick to compare. Recall the Pacific Solution was built up slowly over 20 years, from regular detention centres on the edge of our cities to rural centres to excision of territory to sending in the SAS to children overboard to Naru. We didn’t just see children being separated and young men driven to suicide and shrug – we shrugged at a million incrementally enhanced cruelties until Naru was the logical final step. Which, I think, could happen anywhere. Trump’s mistake was to try doing it all at once.


Z 06.22.18 at 9:08 am

Yes, we have to oppose these dreadful policies and the predictably horrifying consequences they have.

Doesn’t that entail a moral and political duty to forcefully oppose the political movements devising and implementing them? And if so, does that mean you have by now re-evaluated the consequences of Macron’s election, seeing that it precipitated a sharp increase in the inhumanity of France’s policy towards migrants and refugees (to give only three examples: Macron’s government not only pretended the Aquarius did not exist for 48h, it also forbid two French harbors much closer than Valencia to give it shelter even though the local authorities had welcome the ship; France’s police regularly destroyed migrants tents and poisoned the wells put in place by NGO – see HRW report aptly entitled From Hell; the parliament recently extended to 90 days the maximum length of child incarceration, some as young as 6 months, and though I never heard of forceful parent/child separation, the ministry of interior ordered border forces to escort unaccompanied minors back to the Italian borders and to leave them there in the middle of the Alpine winter)? This brutal turn was arguably unexpected (I certainly took Macron at his words that he would on the contrary preside over a more welcoming France) so it would be unfair of me to have required skepticism from you at the time and though I was personally not at all on the same page, I guess I can understand why you cheered Macron’s electoral success at the time. But in the ensuing year, I don’t think you came back to it publicly here. So what of now?


Chris Bertram 06.22.18 at 9:35 am

@Z, ironically I was just hosting in Bristol the French political philosopher who persuaded me to back Macron, and she is as disappointed as I am….. Basically, I agree with you, and think Hamon would have been a better choice, though clearly he had no chance …. Macron’s policies on migration since have been pretty shocking, particularly around the criminalization of some of those who help migrants at the frontier at Ventimiglia. In English, Daniel Trilling’s new book Lights in the Distance has covered some of this.


Z 06.22.18 at 9:43 am

Chris @25 OK, so I see we are in fact on the same page, in that respect.

particularly around the criminalization of some of those who help migrants at the frontier at Ventimiglia

I could go on for hours about this (I grew up in the Alps and my parents still live there, not far from villages at the border, some of their acquaintances report trekking in glaciers only to find frozen bodies of families).

I was just hosting in Bristol the French political philosopher who persuaded me to back Macron, and she is as disappointed as I am

That’s a very personal question, but may I ask who that might be?


Chris Bertram 06.22.18 at 10:13 am

Z, I will email


bob mcmanus 06.22.18 at 10:48 am

25,26,27: Looking up Melenchon, who did have a chance, and was my distant and ignorant preference, to see why he was unacceptable. I certainly had zero attraction to Macron. I see Piketty supported Hamon.

After reading, okay, we all face terrible and frightening choices.


bob mcmanus 06.22.18 at 11:03 am

“The 39-year-old centrist leader, elected in May, saw his rating fall for the second consecutive month, down from 36 percent a month earlier and 43 percent in late June, according to the YouGov France poll carried out for HuffPost and CNEWS.”

I do read: swimming pool, 100km plane trip

After Obama/Clinton…Trump, after Macron…Le Pen.


alfredlordbleep 06.22.18 at 1:09 pm

Thanks, CB, for bringing up the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Currently, 196 countries are party to it, including every member of the United Nations except the United States. —wiki


LFC 06.22.18 at 1:31 pm

Is everyone seeking asylum or planning to file an asylum claim considered a refugee under the UN Refugee Convention? If so, then there would seem to be a conflict between the Convention and US law that, I gather from listening to some recent commentary, makes it a federal misdemeanor for asylum seekers to cross the border anywhere except at a “port of entry”. Those misdemeanors were not criminally prosecuted by the Obama admin, and it was the Trump admin’s decision to prosecute them, now reversed, which was the, or a, supposed legal justification for the child separations. Anyway the “enforce the law” rhetoric in this context was disingenuous, since there is always prosecutorial discretion. There are further legal complications here but I believe the points just made are correct.


Chris Bertram 06.22.18 at 2:22 pm

@LFC I’m not a lawyer, but I take it that the same basic position ought to obtain in the US as in the UK, namely that a refugee has a statutory defence against criminal charges of illegal entry. “Refugee” is a recognitional concept rather than a status that is in the gift of states. So whilst not all people seeking asylum will turn out to be refugees, some of them are and states have a duty to evaluate their cases fairly and accurately (as often they don’t). In the UK, however, quite a number of people have been wrongly but successfully prosecuted for illegal entry, though refugees, even though the law should be clear to prosecutors. And prosecutors also try to find other charges they can level such as (in the case of the man who walked the Channel tunnel) “interfering with an engine” (iirc). The other thing to say is that though the US ought to have the same law on refugees as everywhere else, the US courts have not always reliably tracked the prevailing interpretations elsewhere, have sometimes been quite perverse, and have been deferential to the executive. I was looking at this article from 1997 the other day, which was quite useful


LFC 06.22.18 at 2:39 pm

Thanks. There was a link at Daily Nous recently to a discussion of the legal issues that looked pretty authoritative, but I haven’t made time to read it.


Chris Bertram 06.22.18 at 3:19 pm

@Z … I just started reading Lights in the Distance and, to my embarrassment given my comment above, Ventimiglia is not covered in it, although Trilling has written about that route in other pieces, such as


LFC 06.23.18 at 3:37 am

To judge from the reporting, an aspect of the current situation w.r.t. the separations is that reuniting children and parents is proving in many cases to be extremely difficult (if not impossible), as a result of jurisdictional and bureaucratic nightmares. And in many cases damage has already been done of course.


Chetan Murthy 06.23.18 at 7:08 am

LFC@35: I appreciate that you’re reporting the facts on the ground. But it’s relevant that, in this rich, technologically advanced country, we routinely (as in, I hear, the UK and EU) DNA-sample people at arrest, and, so I hear, some hundred years or so a Frenchman invented a way of using photos to reliably identify people.

Call me crazy, but between the hundred-year-old-tech, and the just-yesterday-tech, I’d expect that my country could manage to ensure that a few thousand folks wouldn’t get lost. I mean, if it’s persistent storage they need, I’m sure we could all pitch in and send ’em some USB drives from Amazon on next-day delivery.

This was on purpose.


Hidari 06.23.18 at 7:30 am

Americans are so lucky that the Democrats are on the case on this one.


Collin Street 06.23.18 at 9:01 am

No, reuniting parent and child is difficult because they made no attempt to keep records. Also, probably to luttle surprise but substantial disgust, numbers of [now untraceable] children have already passed through the hands of adoption agencies. Run by good christians, of course.

They can be hanged for this. “Forced adoptions” under the driving impulse of racial malice falls under genocide, and you can be hanged for that. Not at the hague, but the US just left the international human rights framework and if you guys want to wait until things are settled before signing up again then I doubt there’ll be much objection.

And you can’t be pardoned for kidnapping if the child remains missing, can you. Ongoing crime. This is how they broke the chilean pardons: took long enough, but doing things the second time is quicker than the first.

More generally, now is I think the time to start preliminary discussions about approaches to the post-Trump future. Something to remember is that the US,unusually, keeps party affiliations as government records, which may be of some use in due course.


Moz of Yarramulla 06.25.18 at 12:01 am


Recall the Pacific Solution was built up slowly over 20 years … We didn’t just see children being separated and young men driven to suicide and shrug – we shrugged at a million incrementally enhanced cruelties

I was going through my pile of t shirts at the weekend and found a “Baxter 2003” shirt from a protest outside Port Augusta 15 years ago. That wasn’t the first such protest. So I don’t think it’s fair to say that all of us wandered slowly into the boiling water.

But for 90% of the population this isn’t a vote-changer. Just as land theft, slavery, genocide-scale child abuse etc aren’t. A million people marched against the Iraq war, a million marched for Sorry Day, but still Australia can not and will not vote for even one treaty or any of the other liberal causes (philosphically liberal, not Liberal Party of Australia Liberal). Same-sex marriage, yes, eventually, reluctantly. Marriage equality is still out of the question.

All of that happened with democratic approval. And multi-party support – the reason I can say 90% of voters is that the few parties that support liberal policies consistently get about 10% of the first-preference vote. The major party in that group is The Greens, part of their vote is misanthropic environmentalists who support any move to reduce the population of an introduced pest species (humans) regardless of any suffering.

TBH, that’s me. I think the state *should* act in a moral and ethical way, but I chose to move to Australia knowing that that isn’t a possibility. The Greens also happen to be the biggest party that supports long-term technological society so they get my vote. If they supported genocide, torture, wholesale slaughter or even higher taxes, I’d still vote for them. I’m not joking – most Australians will change their vote for the latter reason more readily than for any of the others.

Interesting article from 2016: Asylum policies and the problem of a ‘higher purpose’

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