Friday, September 22, 2006

Keeping the Moral Upper Hand?

My special Blog buddy, Ed Abbey, oft implies in his comments that my posts are overly long, and the fact that he also labels a “rant” my last entry on “detainees and interrogation of captured terrorists” only shows that he strongly disagrees with me on that subject. So be it, and so, let the “games” begin…Let’s respond to Ed, one or two points at a time…

Ed Abbey: As you probably would have guessed, I disagree with you on this one. I've always been impressed by McCain and would vote for him if he ever made it out of primaries and in this case, I think he is right on.

Phil: Nice try Ed, but until you’re up to your eyeballs in “the fight,” all you can do is pontificate in a "pope-like" manner just as you have in your last commentary. After reading it, it’s very clear to me that you really don't understand what war is, most Americans don’t. War is NOT moral, but it IS necessary. The folks we ask to fight for us do the best they can to "keep their souls," but most struggle mightily with what they are forced to do for the rest of their lives. I help these guys every day, veterans from WWII, The Korean War, Vietnam, The Gulf Wars, Latin America, you name it... At least once a month or two I see men breakdown and “lose it” over the memories of what they saw and did.

And McCain certainly HAS lost it. He's on the "edge" all the time. I respect him, but he's been damaged, warped by his time as a POW. His heart is in the right place, but he can't do the job as CINC. He's proven it to me once again by insisting that we NOT use tough interrogation techniques against captured enemies. If I voted for someone like him, I'd feel like I was dooming my own family. It would be like voting for Lenin, John Lenin that is. (“All we are saying… is GIVE peace a chance!”)

Ed Abbey: This isn't an issue of war, this isn't an issue of security, this IS an issue of keeping the moral upper hand.

Phil: As I read further your own "John Leninesque" commentary, I hope you're not implying that I am not a moral person, or that our people who conduct coercive questioning are immoral. What they have to do is tough enough without Americans "judging" them as they try to do their job the way they KNOW that it MUST be done. There are few things more subjective than issues of morality....As I mentioned earlier, just taking the act of defending ourselves calls our morality into question by many. I know YOU believe in self defense, and there are people who would condemn YOU for that. When it comes to moral high ground, how "high" do you take it? Shall we follow the Holy Father in Rome and stop ALL our efforts to fight the jihadists?

If you've ever been around it, you would know that the very act of participating in a war means forcing a whole lot of people into an ethical compromise. The violence we are asked to participate in during any war pushes the Christian ethics envelope. We are taught that the taking of life is wrong, yet that is EXACTLY what we do in war, and worse. War is dehumanizing, yet most American troops manage to keep a semblance of theirs, much more so than our jihadist enemies even attempt to do.

Do you really believe as McCain does, that we should NOT try to interrogate captured jihadists and terrorists, or is it just “water boarding” you’re against? He wants to afford these non-uniformed combatants, not even covered by the Convention, with full rights under it. That means NO interrogation. You and He are asking our people to commit battlefield suicide. You are asking us to commit national hari-kari.

Ed Abbey: McCain is perhaps the most qualified to speak on this subject since he has 'been there and done that.' Bush who for all practical purposes, never served has about the least authority to speak on the subject.

Phil: To say that McCain is more qualified than Bush to make morality decisions concerning interrogation based on his POW past is malarkey. In fact, his having been TRULY tortured as punishment and NOT really interrogated for information, makes him absolutely UN-qualified to speak on the subject. He’s dangerously biased. And Bush flew F-105s, one of the most difficult fighters to fly, and he did it for two years, mostly flying night missions, “scrambling” over the Gulf of Mexico. Several of his fellow pilots died doing that mission. If you don’t think it takes guts and smarts to do that, think again. And if we take YOUR definition of what qualifies a president to make war-time decisions, which THIS is, Lincoln wasn’t qualified to run the country during the years that he “saved” the Union from dissolution. Notably, he did it in the face of a lot of BAD McCain-like advice from many of his MOST experienced military men.

Ed Abbey: In fact, McCain can't do the country a disservice if he is speaking for the majority, which all polls within the last six months say that he is when it comes to morality and the Iraq war. I find having a president who won based upon morality not getting taken to the cleaners along with his party due to his lack of morals highly ironic.

Phil: Your comments remind me that most citizens don't have the stomach to do what's necessary, like using tough questioning techniques on captured enemies, and that's why so few even volunteer for the job. The fact that such a miniscule percentage of citizens have served in the armed forces explains why, as you say, “The majority” of Americans seem to support the McCain position. You know as well as I do that American public opinion is fickle and knee-jerk; watch it change again once the jihadists find a way to repeat another 9/11 style attack. And consider this: By the spring of 1863, MOST citizens of the northern states were AGAINST the way Lincoln was running the war and most WANTED to quit the effort and sue for peace. Lincoln did what he knew was right based on what he knew, just as your president now is doing. I shake my head, aghast that you seem to question Bush’s moral authority.

Ed Abbey: If I boil down your long post, it seems that your biggest argument is, "well they do it so we should too." I'm sure your mom taught you long ago that this is not an acceptable argument.

Ed, you silly man, you "boiled" it down all wrong. Of course I didn't say that we should do it because THEY will do it. (And leave my mother out of this! Chuckle.) I said that ALL armies interrogate captured prisoners. Our enemies always have and so have we. It is silly NOT to. It's something that MUST be done in war. Its not rocket science. If you can't fathom WHY it must be done, then it’s because it’s an experience you've never had or been close to. That's understandable. You’re a civilian, so I wouldn’t expect you to get it, but I’m very puzzled why Powell, Warner, and McCain are taking this unreasonable stance. They come off as ridiculous to many of us who have served.

Ed Abbey: When we lose our morals especially when fighting wars, I think we are no better than those that we are fighting against. We lost all our moral superiority with Abu Gahraib and we will never get it back in this war.

Your comments incorporating Abu Gahraib into your premise against interrogation are outrageous. When you lump those convicted monsters in with our professional interrogators you make me angrier than you can know. Those people were prison guards run amok. They weren't conducting interrogations; they were indulging in sexual sadomasochism. They will be in prison for a long time for it. And to say we have lost our moral compass based on that anomaly is way off base. You are much too smart to indulge in the silly moral equivalency exercise that so many American bashers love to indulge in. (You aren’t an American Basher are you Ed?) The last two American troops captured by Iraqi insurgents were found days later hacked to pieces. It had been done slowly over many hours. They suffered greatly. So, WE have lost the moral high ground? I can assure you that not one insurgent we captured after that incident was treated much differently than we've always treated them. We don't murder prisoners and we don't do permanent harm to them, or any harm to them for that matter. We PROVE our moral superiority EVERY single day over there. The problem is that few Americas, including you evidently, are paying much attention. Why are you STILL fixated on Abu Gahraib? You don’t get Al Jazeera out there in the “heartland” do you?

Ed Abbey: Yes the Geneva Convention wasn't written with jihadists in mind. We both agree on that. However, it was written with keeping human dignity in mind and that hasn't changed between now and then. It was written with the understanding that we are all children of God and thus should be treated with respect. Torturing someone by waterboarding is not showing respect. Yes the consequence may be that we don't prevent the next 'big one' but I would rather it happen than give up moral high ground.

Phil: I guess the question you have to ask yourself is how many Americans on the battlefield, or flying on commercial aircraft, or working in skyscrapers are you willing sacrifice because you are against intense interrogation methods? You must feel very safe way out there in the middle of Iowa where you feel the jihadists can’t get to you and yours. (That’s a cheap shot, I know, but I'm making a legitimate point).

Ed in my last post I mentioned “pie in the sky,” and that is certainly where you are with your “we are all God’s children” shtick. It must truly be heaven where you live in the land of the “Field of Dreams.”

Ed Abbey: Although our laws may not apply to people we catch overseas, hence the use of secret prisons in Europe, our Constitution does apply to those at Guantanamo and thus, they do have a right for trial, terrorist monsters that they might be. I don't necessarily think it has to be a civilian trial but it should be composed with a jury of their peers as provided by our laws.

Phil: A “jury of their peers?” Did you really say that? I don’t even have a comment for that. And Guantanamo is an overseas base; why would detainees kept there rate a trial under American Constitutional law? The real point is that this war is NOT over. These people STILL want to kill you. We didn’t release or even try Japanese or German prisoners until after the war, so why are you in such a hurry to release these guys?

Ed, I like you, but sometimes you just don’t make much sense. I guess it shows that culturally we come from two different worlds. Just the same, if you ever run for pope or to be the next John Lenin, you got my vote.

1 comment:

Ed Abbey said...

Someday Phil, you and I are going to meet and I have a feeling that by the time we get done debating, days if not weeks will have passed us by. It will only be by luck that our wives won't dump us on the street for abandoning them. Thanks for the response, lengthy as it may be. *chuckles*

I still stick to my guns on McCain. Having spent a lot of time researching his opinions over the last decades and numerous Iowa caucuses, I still think he has one of the best heads in Washington. At least when it comes to matching my political ideology.

Can a war be fought morally? I guess I think so. If not, I think it could be fought so that we at least retain the respect of the world and in the case of Iraq this is not the case. Sure they behead and torture our soldiers but I don't think anybody except the radical jihadists would believe that they are fighting morally. On the other hand, I think we had good morals up until the torture scandals that broke out. Sure that might have been an anomaly but they were representing our country and because of their actions, we are being judged by the world to be immoral. How do we change this perception? Lots of time and by setting an even higher standard. Political bickering over the meaning of "human dignity" in the Geneva Convention certainly isn't helping our cause.

I definitely don't advocate throwing prisoners in the cell with out interrogating them. We need to extract information that they have. But I think there are ways to do so without selling my soul to the devil. They just take more time because as you yourself said in a previous post, everyone breaks. It's just a matter of time. I think waterboarding should be banned. I think stripping a prisoner and putting them in sexually suggestive poses should be banned. I think directly offending them religiously should be banned. Sleep deprivation and playing of loud music, be my guest. Injecting them with "truth serum", knock yourself out. Just do whatever with some degree of respect and then allow a court system, any court system to try them for their crimes. Keeping them locked up on an island for five years without a trial is a violation of the constitution.

Which brings me to how the constitution applies to them. They are on U.S. soil in Guantanomo am I right? Therefore it applies. Likewise, when I am on foreign soil, foreign laws apply to me. I know a jury of their peers sounds ridiculous because who would that be? I am not opposed to a military tribunal consisting of many nations. To me, that is probably as close to peers as we are going to find.

It is true that I don't have military experience. Personally, I am adverse to war and don't think I could ever fight one simply because I don't know if I could take another man's life. Perhaps in self-defense I could but I don't consider Iraq self defense. Despite my aversion to war, I know that it is sometimes necessary. I still am in support of the Afghan war, which Bush seems to have forgotten. Everyday I wish we had 140,000 troops searching for Osama rather than trying to repair a bungled situation in Iraq. But I don't think my lack of military experience should have any bearing on this debate and to whether or not my opinions are valid.

"We don't murder prisoners and we don't do permanent harm to them, or any harm to them for that matter. We PROVE our moral superiority EVERY single day over there."

I think lots of evidence can be found to prove that we do in fact occasionally "permanently harm" prisoners from time to time. It may not be standard operating policy but it does happen. In fact, there are numerous examples of soldiers in Iraq who are being tried or have been convicted for doing just that sort of thing. How can I not be fixated on Abu Gahraib? It wasn't just one small event. It was a huge earth shattering event that forever changed the world's perception of our country's military, like it or not. I do pay attention, enough to know that it hasn't happened again nor will it ever due to increased watchfulness. That is good and I hope if nothing else comes out of that scandal, we at least never repeat it. I don't bring it up because I'm one of the fickle minded masses, but because it forever changed me.

"I guess the question you have to ask yourself is how many Americans on the battlefield, or flying on commercial aircraft, or working in skyscrapers are you willing sacrifice because you are against intense interrogation methods? You must feel very safe way out there in the middle of Iowa where you feel the jihadists can’t get to you and yours."

To me, this question seems to be the Bush mentality. That mentality is that we can gather information through interrogation methods to prevent another 9/11. I don't think this is the case. Although I wasn't alive, I'm sure we had similar thoughts after Pearl Harbor and yet it happened again and will happen in the future, especially if we continue on the same path we are now on. Being constantly told that the reason it hasn't happened again is because we were able to intercept information though interrogation is insulting. Terrorists still have the ability to strike us at any time within our ports, railways, electrical, chemical, and water infrastructures. We aren't safe, anywhere, even in Iowa. But they don't want to just be random, they want to make a political statement, which is why they went after the Twin towers (to complete what they didn't before) and political buildings like the Pentagon and White House. They could have easily piled the planes into numerous nuclear reactors and killed lots more people had they chosen to do so. Because Iowa isn't very political, much like Sweden, I do feel safer than I would living in New York or Washington DC. But if the terrorists really want to go after killing in numbers, I don't think Iowa is any safer than anywhere else.

Well, that ends my rant for today. Thanks again for giving this another post Phil. I really do respect your opinions and love the fact that you give it right back at me. Thanks for keeping it real as always.