Not a “terror suspect”

Michael Melia of the Associated Press reports today that:

A U.S. military tribunal convening Monday at Guantanamo will hear challenges from attorneys for a Canadian terror suspect accused of killing an American soldier when he was 15 — an age they say should disqualify him from trial.

Lawyers for Toronto-born Omar Khadr, who is now 21, argue in a motion on the hearings’ agenda that the judge would be the first in Western history to preside over a trial for war crimes allegedly committed by a child. …

Khadr is accused of hurling the grenade that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, a Special Forces commando, during a July 2002 firefight at an al-Qaida compound in Afghanistan.

Set aside the whole question of Khadr’s age here. Just consider that he is, in the above reports and elsewhere, being referred to as a “terror suspect.” And just what act of “terrorism” is he accused of committing? He threw a grenade during a firefight.

This is not complicated. Throwing a grenade at an opposing soldier during a firefight is not “terrorism.” That’s war.

(Lying troll prophylactic: Spare me the feigned outrage of pretending that this simple tautology is somehow a celebration or defense of Khadr. Nor do you or could you possibly really believe that this self-evident statement is in any way disrespectful of Khadr’s victim, the late Sgt. Speer. He was a soldier and he died in battle. Pretending that he wasn’t and that he didn’t — pretending, as this tribunal is doing, that he was not a soldier at all, but merely a victim of violent crime — strikes me as immensely disrespectful.)

Khadr is accused of fighting against American soldiers in battle. That would make him the enemy. It would make him a Bad Guy. But it would not, by any stretch, make him a terrorist. That’s not what “terrorist” means, nor is it something that “terrorist” can be twisted into meaning. Omar Khadr is not a terror suspect. He is either a prisoner of war or else he falls into the dubious category of “unlawful enemy combatant,” but the tribunal is not accusing him of committing an act of terrorism so let’s stop calling him a “terror suspect.”

This distinction matters. A grenade in a marketplace is terrorism. A grenade in a firefight is combat. To assert that throwing a grenade during battle is criminal is to assert that all war is a war crime and every soldier is a criminal. I cannot see any way of eliminating that distinction for the enemy without also eliminating it for ourselves and for our allies. That is not something we want to do.

And yet we’re already beginning to do just that. This post — like every post that even hints at the existence of any such rules or distinctions or criteria — will inevitably produce the complaint that I am arguing that America must fight “with one hand tied behind our back.” That phrase — “I refuse to fight with one hand tied behind my back!” — is apparently taken from Page 1 of The Nihilist’s Rulebook. (Nihilists, of course, shouldn’t have a rulebook, but that’s another distinction they’re proud not to understand.)

  • Ursula L


    Disembolden

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    Hapax: EVERY member of the US military receives extensive instruction and training on their responsibility, duty, and correct procedure to disobey and report illegal orders.
    Uh huh. Tell that to the Marines.
    Hapax, you know that if it’s true that EVERY member of the US military receives this instruction it doesn’t actually WORK in most cases, and it’s not supported by the military structure in any case in which members of the US military HAVE mustered their courage and gone against their orders.

  • hapax

    hmm. I guess we just read Lauren’s comments differently, Jesu. Maybe I’m just incapable of thinking that anyone would make that sort of argument, so I’d rather think you were a snitty Brit* than that Lauren was objectively pro-rendition and torture.
    Feel free to think of me as hopelessly naive.
    *Dear Lord, now I want to emigrate, just so I can have a t-shirt made up that says that. :-)

  • Ursula L


    If so, you know that this is lying BS. EVERY member of the US military receives extensive instruction and training on their responsibility, duty, and correct procedure to disobey and report illegal orders.

    They are supposed to disobey/report orders they know are illegal.
    But they do not have the right to demand the information necessary to determine that the order is legal or illegal. If the information is kept away from the person ordered to act, it is quite easy for them to obey an illegal order because they can’t determine that it is illegal. There is too much room for excuse and obfuscation – the information is called “classified”, or the need is claimed to be too urgent to stop and explain, or the part of the larger illegal operation that they are asked to do isn’t illegal – except if you know the legality and morality of the overall plan.
    For orders of violence or oppression, the default assumption is, and must be, that the order is illegal – and that there must be strong-to-overwhelming evidence that violence or oppression is correct in the given situation.
    No, this isn’t what the US military, or any military, teaches or trains. But without such a right to information, and without a presumption that violence and opression must be shown to be legal, or presumed illegal, then the supposed protection of being allowed to disobey illegal orders is meaningless.

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    To put it straightforwardly, Hapax: If the “extensive instruction and training” actually worked, and every member of the US military understood that if given an illegal order they ought to disobey it and report being given it, then by about half way through 2002 it ought to have been impossible to use US military to guard Guantanamo Bay inmates, and ought long before to have become impossible to use US military to guard Bagram Airbase inmates. Assuming, that is, that the “extensive instruction and training” included the responsibility to keep to the Geneva Conventions on protection of civilians and prisoners of war.
    It’s been six years since Guantanamo Bay prison camp opened its first cage doors. You see any mass strike among US military ordered to guard an illegal prison camp?

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    Hapax: than that Lauren was objectively pro-rendition and torture.
    I did say I wasn’t at all clear what argument Lauren was trying to have with me.

  • hapax

    if it’s true that EVERY member of the US military receives this instruction it doesn’t actually WORK in most cases, and it’s not supported by the military structure in any case in which members of the US military HAVE mustered their courage and gone against their orders.
    Jesurgislac, I think it’s barely possible that I know a lot more members of the U.S. military (and intelligence agencies, although not CIA) — their training, their attitudes, their culture, and their experiences — than you do. And yes, in fact, I do know of cases when individuals have questioned and protested both orders and policies, and those orders and policies were rescinded and changed. Much more often, however, someone looking to give that sort of order already knows the few (and yes, it is a relative few) subordinates who are already inclined to obey them, and simply bypasses the majority who are prepared to respond appropriately.
    They are very, very large complex institutions, as I said above.
    “Commanding Officer Gives Legal Order, Subordinates Obey” is hardly frontpage news, even here.

  • Lauren

    Lauren, I now have no idea what argument you’re trying to have. It’s Thursday, so I suppose I don’t have to. Flame away. -Jesu
    Thursdays notwithstanding: You said:
    …Lauren argu[es] quite seriously that being held in Guantanamo means that you’re a violent criminal/terrorist,
    I said:
    Given a large enough sample of prisoners… some of the prisoners will be guilty.
    And I am trying to explain that “some prisoners are guilty” and “the prisoner Sami al-Haj is innocent” are not mutually exclusive.
    Sami al-Haj’s innocence does not prove the innocence of all prisoners in Guantanamo. Abdul Razzaq Hekmati’s innocence does not prove the innocence of all prisoners in Guantanamo. Omar Khadr’s innocence does not prove the innocence of all prisoners in Guantanamo (but Khadr is guilty according to Raka…). The only thing that will prove the innocence of all the prisoners in Guantanamo is actually proving the innocence of all prisoners in Guantanamo.
    And since the evidence is classified, corrupted by torture, and possibly destroyed by the perpetrators of torture, we may never be able to prove the innocence of all of them, nor prove that any of them were guilty. We may be stuck with the presumption of innocence. For the prisoners, the torturers, and the administration all.
    But the “The entire CIA is irredemable” argument is more interesting, so lets have that one.

  • hapax

    Caveat: I don’t know anyone who has served as a Guantanomo Bay guard. I don’t know who actually serves there, in fact, and what actual orders they have received.
    I would, in fact, be fascinated if anyone here does know, or has read testimony from such a member of the military.
    I am pretty sure, however, that the mere action of guarding prisoners, even if don’t know the precise circumstances of their detention, is not in itself a violation of the Geneva Conventions. I’d be interested in seeing a citation to the contrary.
    Of course, either detaining those prisoners improperly yourself, or abusing them, would be. That’s why I’d be surprised (from what I hear from my military family and friends) if those who partake in such abuses were not already pre-selected for a propensity to violate human rights and law for whatever they considered to be a “higher cause.”
    Darn it. Now I *really* want to know who serves as GB guards…

  • Jim

    “I know honest cops, and I believe in honest cops, and I have faith that eventually the honest cops will prevail.”
    Only when the cops are under the control of a lawless political entity they won’t. Take the Chicago Police Department, for example. The Machine used to control it (and to a certain extent still does). Honest cops rarely rose above the rank of patrolman.
    Now let’s look at soldiers serving under the current Bush administration. The administration’s lawlessness is even more clearcut than that of the Chicago machine. And that’s not hyperbole. Hell, they brag about not following the Geneva Conventions. This is why many of the JAG lawyers who were representing the Gitmo detainees aggressively ended up resigning their commissions.

  • bulbul

    Lauren,
    The only thing that will prove the innocence of all the prisoners in Guantanamo is actually proving the innocence of all prisoners in Guantanamo.
    See, Lauren, this is where you are wrong.
    First, you can’t prove a negative. Do you understand this simple point? By your standards, I could now pronounce you a murderer. What’s that? You never comitted a murder? Well of course you’d say that, but I need an actual proof of your innocence!
    Secondly, the people locked up at Guantanom are – as you yourself say – prisoners. This is a special status given to a person who is accused or has been found guilty of breaking THE LAW. And our legal systems do not demand that you prove innocence – in fact, innocence is assumed. They only demand that guilt be proven. When those charged with prosecuting crime fail to prove a person’s guilt, that person is not declared innocent, but rather not guilty, because guilt is what the legal system cares about.
    We may be stuck with the presumption of innocence. For the prisoners, the torturers, and the administration all.
    You really intend to lump those two types of people together?
    The prisoners were round up and/or kidnapped and deprived of their freedom and subjected to torture on mere shadow of a suspicion and there is no evidence in their involvement in their alleged crimes. They should go free because they cannot be proven to be guilty.
    The torturers and the administration committed crimes like torture and kidnapping and there is plenty of evidence. They should be tried and if found guilty, they should be punished for their crimes.
    What we are stuck with, Lauren, is evidence. That’s the only thing that matters.

  • bulbul

    But the “The entire CIA is irredemable” argument is more interesting, so lets have that one.
    Except, you know, no one said that. What Jesu said was the Guantanamo and secret prisons and extraordinary rendition and similar projects are, let’s face it, evil to the core. The CIA as such is like any other bureaucracy: too complex to be sure. I’m sure some parts of it do a good and honest job without breaking laws and/or legs.

  • hapax

    what actual orders they have received
    Still don’t know who is receiving the orders, but I’ve poked about and here are the order’s they’ve received as of 2004.
    Pretty darn grim. I don’t know if they are prima facie illegal, but, day-yum. (OTOH, the very existence of wikileaks is some sort of evidence that there are plenty of members of the military who do in fact resist these orders, so I shall continue to in my pathetic Panglossian chirping…)
    (I also found stuff that says these 2004 procedures are no longer in effect, and have been upgraded to eliminate questionable procedures. I don’t post the links, because those sources are, to put it mildly, not un-biased.)

  • hapax

    Well. Thank you Typepad. I was going to say, here is a copy of the actual orders as of 2004.
    Pretty grim. I dunno if prima facie illegal, but… day-yum. (OTOH, she chirps in her Pollyannish way, the very existence of wikileaks indicates significant military resistence to these orders…)
    I also read plenty of accounts that these procedures have been upgraded since, to comply *better* (if not completely) with international law, but I don’t post links, since they are scarcely unbiased sources.
    (Neither, of course, are those which also claim that things have become worse. It is very frustrating to know so little…)

  • hapax

    I give up. Read the thing for yourself here:
    http://www.wikileaks.org/wiki/Gitmo-sop-2004
    That’s what I’ve been able to find out as far as actual orders go.
    I’m not sure if those are prima facie illegal orders, but, day-yum, they are pretty grim. I’ve read plenty accounts saying that procedured have either improved or become worse (from an international law standpoint), but neither comes from even slightly unbiased sources, so I don’t post links.
    OTOH, I will chirp in my Polly-annish way, that the very existence of wikileaks gives me some hope in resistence to these policies within the US military…

  • Ursula L

    I am pretty sure, however, that the mere action of guarding prisoners, even if don’t know the precise circumstances of their detention, is not in itself a violation of the Geneva Conventions. I’d be interested in seeing a citation to the contrary.
    If someone is being held prisoner illegally/immorrally, then contributing to or enforcing their continued imprisionment is properly considered to be immoral as well.
    To guard a prisioner, morally, I don’t think it is enough to merely not have knowledge that they are being held inappropriately. It requires actual knowledge that they are being held appropriately. Otherwise, it’s just another case of trying to use “just following orders” as an excuse or justification – following orders you don’t understand fully – and thinking you’re excused because you don’t have access to the information which would let you know if your action is right or wrong.

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    Hapax, I want to know how you got my computer on your side?
    See, I had this rant. It was long, and it was complex, and it was really, really devastating, and damn, it crisped you, crunchy-crunchy with tomato ketchup, for trying to argue that the culture in the US military is such that scum like Lewis E. Welshofer are widely condemned while heroes like Joseph E. Darby are as widely celebrated, and this is why Welshofer and the three other soldiers who participated in the murder of an Iraqi prisoner of war in Abu Ghraib were all sentenced to the maximum possible penalty and an investigation triggered upwards to find out who gave the orders: and Darby served with honor to the end of his time in the military in the 372nd Military Police Company, praised by his comrades. That’s how it would have gone if the problems with the military were just a matter of a few bad apples who obeyed illegal orders when everyone else would have refused and reported the orders.
    That’s not how it went, and you know it. That your friends in the military would have been as heroic as Joseph Darby, and would – had they too happened to be in the 372nd MPs – have stood up for Joseph Darby and insisted his action was that of honor – well, yes, no doubt your friends would: I hope mine would too.
    But that’s not what actually happened. Heroism is rare. It takes a hero to be a man like Darby: but obedient soldiers like Welshofer are the standard, and it is the standard not to condemn soldiers who are obedient.

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    Anyway, the rant was much longer, and more crunchy, but my computer was on your side, and it crashed.

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    And this is really not just a US military problem. There is a specific problem with everyone associated with getting, keeping, and holding prisoners in the US’s gulags, because that’s intrinsically criminal. The problem with how someone like Darby or Kerry or Thompson gets treated by the military when he refuses an illegal order and reports the soldiers who obey it is a problem intrinsic to military culture, not special to the US.

  • hapax

    Hapax, I want to know how you got my computer on your side?
    It’s not MY side. Did you see what happened when I tried to post a link to the site that supported your contention that the guards at GB are in fact following illegal orders?
    Derned FISA. They’ve infiltrated Typepad, I tell you.
    Look. I hold NO brief for the Bush Administration, nor for any military official that follows their directives to kidnap, torture, or illegally detain anyone, nor for any soldier who follows an order he has good reason to believe is illegal. (Immoral orders are a different thing. Said soldier may have a moral duty to protest and resign, but I’m not sure about a legal one, nor about the relative moral repsonsibilities to obey oaths, and well.. I’d rather not open up that whole can of theoretical worms.)
    I do have a great deal of sympathy for seventeen year old kids trying to do a crappy job as best as they can, who I suspect by and large do not have the background, capacity, or knowledge to draw fine distinctions between “not being held inappropriately” and “being held appropriately” (not, I hasten to add, that these distinctions are unimportant, just that the are not intuitively obvious) and for the most part treats the guys that he sees more or less decently.
    I don’t require everyone to be a BDH to not be a criminal, in other words, although I have great reverence and gratitude for those, like you mention, who are. And I have a fair amount of respect for medium-sized heroes, like those who anonymously leaked those GB operating manuals, like the relatives who quietly protested orders (nothing to do with torture of prisoners, and I’d rather not go into details) through channels and had them rescinded, and the superior officers who just as quietly ignored unjust policies (e.g., the flagrant disgregard for the execrable and unworkable DADT policy) and the like.
    I wish we had more BDH. I fervently pray that I personally will be put into a situation where I’m called upon to be one, because I’m pretty sure I will fail to step up.

  • hapax

    oops. I should say, ” I fervently pray that I personally will NOT be put into a situation “

  • Lauren

    This is why many of the JAG lawyers who were representing the Gitmo detainees aggressively ended up resigning their commissions. -Jim
    And how has that helped the Guantanamo prisoners?
    See, Lauren, this is where you are wrong. -bulbul
    Jesu keeps bringing up individual Guantanamo prisoners that are “innocent” as if it proves the innocence of everyone else there. I agree with you that you don’t have to prove innocence, but you especially cannot prove innocence by association. Nevertheless, you can prove innocence: with an alibi. A person who is in Chicago at 7 PM Sunday night difinitively has not killed somebody in New York at 8 PM Sunday night.
    Here is Jesu:
    These prisoners are not guilty of any crime: we know this because if there was evidence sufficient to get an extradition order, that’s how the US would have done it.
    Without any trial, she already knows the verdict. And the reason she knows the verdict is that there hasn’t been any trial! What a nice bit of circular logic.
    The only way to avoid becoming a criminal, faced with a situation like that, would in fact be to leave the Firm. -Jesu
    If that’s all you do, then you haven’t avoided culpability. To walk away and let things go on may not be a crime (keep in mind, I haven’t read The Firm) but it would be far better to expose what’s happening and bring the perpetrators to justice. And if that’s hard enough with a law firm, how hard is it with the most powerful and secretive organization in the world? If there are only criminals left in the CIA, they will never be brought to justice. For them to be brought to justice requires somebody honest to have stayed and collected the evidence.
    ‘But the “The entire CIA is irredemable” argument is more interesting, so lets have that one.’
    Except, you know, no one said that. What Jesu said was the Guantanamo and secret prisons and extraordinary rendition and similar projects are, let’s face it, evil to the core.
    -bulbul
    What Jesu said was, “the CIA [are] dishonest scumbags.” Qualifiers like only those “involved in the rendition of prisoners to Guantanamo Bay” and only those “with the authority to [resist]” came much, much later.
    Anybody who made the decision to send an innocent man into indefinite detention in a torture center is a criminal and a monster and should be locked up forever if proven guilty. But if the sequence of events that leads to torturing an innocent man involves a lot of people, some (oh, God, why am I going here again?) some of them may be innocent of wrongdoing. The agent who heard the accusation, and paid the bounty may have been told that the suspect was only going to be taken in for a preliminary hearing. The agent who arrested the prisoner may have been told he was an imminent threat and a flight risk. The agent who supervised the prison may have been told that there was already enough evidence to inprison him. To assume all of them knew exactly what was going to happen and what had already happened is, IMO, to misunderstand how the CIA operates.

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    Lauren: What Jesu said was, “the CIA [are] dishonest scumbags.”
    No, Lauren. You asserted, in response to a comment by bulbul, that Bulbul was saying that the CIA were all dishonest scumbags.
    I picked up your use of this term, and noted – specifically in relation to men who have been kidnapped from outside Iraq or Afghanistan, thinking of actual examples such as men kidnapped from Ghana or Bosnia – that doing this “makes the CIA dishonest scumbags”. You brought up the term “dishonest scumbags” first; if you don’t like that kind of language, don’t use it.
    Without any trial, she already knows the verdict. And the reason she knows the verdict is that there hasn’t been any trial!
    No, Lauren. Six prisoners currently in Guantanamo Bay were tried, in Bosnia, found innocent, in Bosnia, and kidnapped, by the CIA with the co-operation of the Bosnia government, from Bosnia. Didn’t you know? Weren’t you aware? Why weren’t you aware? But that’s how I know the verdict. Because there was a trial. Why didn’t you know?

  • Jim

    This is why many of the JAG lawyers who were representing the Gitmo detainees aggressively ended up resigning their commissions. -Jim
    And how has that helped the Guantanamo prisoners? –Lauren

    You seem to be missing the point here. I’m questioning your faith in the good cops prevailing. (and by prevailing in this context I simply mean that the prisoners get some sort of due process). The resignations happened out of personal frustration at that not being possible.

  • bulbul

    Majromax,
    sorry, I got behind a bit.
    As for your summary and the question
    Would you agree that this is a reasonable view of the Geneva Conventions, bulbul?
    I say yes, that is a very reasonable interpretation. I’m not sure #2 should be in there either, but purely from the standpoint of legal intent. I don’t think the people who came up with the Geneva convention envisioned something like that happening.
    I notice, however, that there is one option missing: people who throw a grenade on a convoy (a legitimate military target) which is just passing through. Or is that covered by #1, i.e. does it matter who initiated the hostilities?
    As for Guantanamo, I don’t think anyone should be there the way that show is run now. The PEPOWTs (not bad as acronyms go :) should be in a standard PoW camp where the Red Cross/Red Crescent/Red Magen David would have access to them. The civilians should be either arrested and mirandized or handed over for prosecution to their respective countries of origin / countries where their alleged crimes were comitted. Simple and by the book.

  • Lauren

    Six prisoners currently in Guantanamo Bay were tried…
    Six out of how many now? Once again, providing examples of innocent men inprisoned at Guantanamo does not prove they are all innocent. And for that matter, a not guilty verdict for one crime does not preclude additional charges relating to other crimes.
    OK, so you agree that you said the CIA has been made into dishonest scumbags by the rendition program. You didn’t say part of the CIA, you didn’t say members of the CIA, you didn’t say the leadership of the CIA. Regardless of language, you seem to insist that there are no decent CIA agents making honest arrests and collecting useful intelligence w/r/t terrorism. If I am misrepresenting your possition, please feel free to elaborate.

  • bulbul

    Lauren,
    You do realize you’re saying “But since they work for the CIA, they MUST BE dishonest scumbags!”, don’t you? Excuse me while I puke.
    Go right ahead. But when you come back from the loo, please note that I didn’t say any such thing. Just like Jesu, I am pointing out that not a single person currently held in Guantanamo was convicted of a crime in a fair trial and if memory serves well, only 10 have actually been charged. Of those cca. 700 held there so far, cca. 400 were released without an official beep.
    You, on the other hand, take the fact that those people have been detained as a definite proof of their guilt. And judging by what you said here, you base this conviction on your belief that the military/CIA is not wholly incompetent and wholly morally corrupt. And, like Jesu said, this matters to you more than the innocently imprisoned or even the Constitution raped and left hanging on a barbed wire fence to fester. Why?

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    Once again, providing examples of innocent men inprisoned at Guantanamo does not prove they are all innocent.
    But you can’t provide one single damned example of anyone imprisoned at Guantanamo who has been found guilty. So where do you get off assuming that, unless they’ve been shown to be innocent, they must be guilty?
    Regardless of language, you seem to insist that there are no decent CIA agents making honest arrests and collecting useful intelligence w/r/t terrorism.
    Why, yes, I do insist that it is not possible for anyone to make honest arrests without a judicial system. Why do you think it is? On what will you judge the honesty or otherwise of the “arrest”, when there is no legal basis for the arrest?
    And no, it is not possible to collect “useful intelligence w/r/t terrorism” from a kidnap/torture/detention system like Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Airbase, and other black prisons. That’s simply not how useful intelligence is obtained.

  • Lauren

    Being found guilty in a court and actually being guilty of committing a crime are two different things, just like being innocent and being presumed innocent are two different things. Not all people who commit crimes are convicted, because a just legal system errs on the side of caution. None of the prisoners at Guantanamo ought to be convicted, because the system has been unjust. But that doesn’t mean none of them did anything!
    “Given a large enough sample of prisoners, and assuming that not all cops are crooked, some of the prisoners will be guilty.”
    Jesu and bulbul,
    I still don’t understand, what is it about this statement you find so repugnant?

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    Bulbul will doubtless have his own answer.
    In general, applied to any system of capture and imprisonment, your statement removes a thousand-year system of justice that says each person is presumed innocent until proven guilty and that arrest/detention is not proof of guilt, and replaces it with an Officer-Shrift presumption that if you’ve been arrested you must be guilty of something. This is amusing in a novel called The Magic Tolbooth, but you’re arguing this about real people, who really have been captured and imprisoned for years using this system.
    In specific, applied to Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Airbase, and the CIA black holes, it is offensive because it demonstrates that you are still ignorant or uncaring about the massive sinkhole of justice that these places represent: that Sami al-Haj’s hope, expressed eloquently from a cage where he is now on hunger strike, that by now everyone must know, falls dying at the glass wall of your invincible certainty that your CIA are the good guys, the honest cops, the right side, and they are doing this hideous thing for good reasons.

  • Caravelle

    A person who is in Chicago at 7 PM Sunday night difinitively has not killed somebody in New York at 8 PM Sunday night.
    Oh come on, have you ever read a whodunit ? The guy with the alibi is always the one who dun it.
    I liked Amerian Psycho’s take on alibis, by the way :
    “Oh it’s okay Mr. Bateman, it turns out your friends say you were golfing with them at the time of that person’s disappearance. And they also saw the victim in London a week after his disappearance anyway.”
    “Did they ? Ooookay…”
    And anyway, that will only be strong evidence for your innocence of that particular crime. Not very useful in front of someone saying “You’re a murderer !”. (or “You’re a terrorist !” for that matter).

  • Caravelle

    Lauren : Six out of how many now? Once again, providing examples of innocent men inprisoned at Guantanamo does not prove they are all innocent. And for that matter, a not guilty verdict for one crime does not preclude additional charges relating to other crimes.
    Being found guilty in a court and actually being guilty of committing a crime are two different things, just like being innocent and being presumed innocent are two different things.
    For heaven’s sake Lauren. Yes, being legally found guilty of something and actually being guilty are two different things. But only one of those two mean you can be put in prison.
    If you’re legally presumed innocent, then you should legally get a trial or be released. The question of whether there are people in Guantanamo who are guilty of something is completely irrelevant to the question of what should be legally done with them.
    Do you even know what “presumed innocent” means ? It means that as far as taking specific actions goes we should act as though the person is innocent. Whether they are actually innocent or not. Because ultimately, whether a person is innocent or not is unknowable. (like everything else for that matter)

  • Lauren

    Because ultimately, whether a person is innocent or not is unknowable. –Caravelle
    Walk away slowly, Caravelle, and don’t look back. I wouldn’t ask you to read this entire thread, because frankly it would be a waste of time, but the reason we got onto this topic was that I said, First, the Bush administration threw some people into the oubliette. … Whether they were legitimate terrorists or not is an important question that I hope we someday have the answer to, though I suspect we never will. And apparently, the idea that any of the people thusly arrested might have been involved with terrorist activity in some way, even if it was only coincidental that they were arrested, is so offensive as to induce nausea. And apperently the idea that somebody in the CIA could have collected legitimate evidence implicating any of them, prior to their extra-judicial arrest, is giving the CIA too much credit.

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    And apparently, the idea that any of the people thusly arrested might have been involved with terrorist activity in some way, even if it was only coincidental that they were arrested, is so offensive as to induce nausea.
    So, Lauren, if you had no intention of reading the responses to your question “what is it about this statement you find so repugnant?” why did you bother to ask it?

  • Lauren

    Jesu, Sami al-Haj is an individual. An individual is not a large enough sample.
    And really, imprisonment isn’t necessary for the equation. I could open up the phonebook and start randomly picking names, and eventually end up with a list of names that included some criminals, even if I had to pick 6.78 billion names to do it. The only way to end up with a list of names that didn’t include any criminals would be if I stopped too soon (insufficient sample size) and/or if I purposefully choose innocent people (crooked cop).
    Anything else you are reading into the equation is purely your own imagination, Jesu.

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    So, basically, although you said you wanted to know why I found your assertion repugnant, you are not interested in my answer: you merely want to continue asserting this repugnant claim, and dismiss any objections to it as “only individuals” or “purely your own imagination”.

  • Lauren

    Where did I suggest that it should be used as a system of capture and imprisonment? Or that it had any legal merit as an argument to establish guilt?

  • Anonymous

    Where did I suggest that it should be used as a system of capture and imprisonment? Or that it had any legal merit as an argument to establish guilt?
    It is being used as a system of capture and imprisonment.
    And you’ve been making excuses for the people who are doing it. And for the people who do support work necessary for those who are doing it to carry out this atrocity. And for the institutional systems that support it happening.
    You can’t reasonably say “this is bad, but the people who are doing it, and who are making it possible for them to do it, are good.”
    Imprisioning people who have not been found guilty by a fair and free trial is evil. And anyone involved at any step in such a process is also evil, in their actions if not their intent. No excuses.

  • Ursula L

    The last was me. Evil typepad ate my saved info.
    Ursula L

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    Where did I suggest that it should be used as a system of capture and imprisonment?
    *boggles* You mean you were just ignoring that we’re having this whole damned discussion about the system of capture and imprisonment, and expected Bulbul and myself to ignore it too?
    Other than that, what Ursula L. said.

  • Lauren

    And anyone involved at any step in such a process is also evil, in their actions if not their intent. –Ursula
    That’s fine. The possibility of good intentions is all I require.
    Jesu, I was discussing the results, not the causes.

  • http://jesurgislac.greatestjournal.com Jesurgislac

    Jesu, I was discussing the results, not the causes.
    So the reason for your question was that you really didn’t understand that some people find repugnant the argument that “the end justifies the means”: especially when “the end” is the imprisonment for years of hundreds of men known to be innocent, on the presumption that among them some may be guilty?
    This is not an abstract notion that matters only to CIA agents end-of-year employment reviews, though you do appear to feel that the CIA agents involved are the only human beings worth caring about and certainly the only ones involved who ought to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law: this is a real situation that the US began in November 2001, and has continued until the present day. Specifically, there is a real young man who is currently on trial for the crime of throwing a grenade at a soldier in a firefight when he was fifteen years old: there is a real journalist who is currently sitting in a cage in Cuba on hunger strike trying to tell himself that out there beyond the bars of his cage everyone knows what the US is doing to him and to the hundreds of others still imprisoned there.
    You dismiss these people – and if I had the stomach for it, I could give you more names, but what’s the point? – as mere “individuals” not worth considering, when what matters is that the CIA agents involved in bringing them there should not be labelled criminals for doing so: well, if by now you don’t understand why I find that repugnant, I suspect you never will.

  • Ursula L

    That’s fine. The possibility of good intentions is all I require.
    So, if a well meaning person picked you up off the street, tortured you, and held you prisoner for five years, unable to contact your friends or family, you’d be fine with it, because their intentions are good?
    Good intentions mean next to nothing, when the action is something that is inherently evil.
    If anything, good intentions make the evil action worse, because it means that the person acting has such a poor grasp of what “good” and “evil” is that they think that their evil action is good. This makes them dangerous in a way that someone who is merely ill-intentioned can’t be – doing evil as they stumble blindly through life, with no grasp of the morality or consequences of their actions.

  • Tonio

    Without defending Milgram’s methods, the lesson I drew from reading about his experiment was the same general one that Ursula makes. And that lesson is that submission to authority (as opposed to general respect for authority) lessens people’s grasp of the morality and consequences of their actions. Ursula, what are your thoughts on Milgram?

  • Ursula L

    Tonio,
    My thoughts on Milligram tend to match yours – it isn’t an excuse for those following orders, it is a warning of the dangers of accepting orders that are not otherwise fully understood and agreed with. I don’t agree with the methods of the experiment, but I do think it showed something about human nature that could not have been shown with a more ethically designed experiment, since it was designed to determine what a person would do when they find themselves well-meaningly in an unethical situation. Warning about the true intent of the experiments would have skewed the data – people who are “following orders” are convinced that what they are doing is right in the same way that a Milligram participant believed that participating in scientific research was something inherently good.
    My views, however, draw more from family experience (German, in WWII) than from the Milligram experiment, which only confirmed what I know of people who I am naturally inclined to love and respect (my paternal grandparents.) Decent people can with good intentions do horrible things, and that is a horrible thing, in and of itself. A Nazi is someone who reads you bedtime stories. A concentration camp guard will sit with you for hours, patiently playing and replaying a Sesame Street record for a child too young to run the record player herself.
    Good intentions, being “us” rather than “them”, being someone who is respected, even being someone who is loved – mean nothing. Unless you’re paying attention, for your own sake and with your own knowledge, to the ethics of your actions, you’re no better doing something based on what you’re told is right than someone doing the same thing knowing it is wrong.

  • Ursula L

    I want to add that when I say things like “A Nazi is someone who reads you bedtime stories” I’m not saying it with irony, but as a matter of fact. It’s a mindset that I’ve notice that my US-for-multiple-generation friends have difficulty grasping. The idea that there is no “other” who is the one who commits atrocities – that it can easily be any of us, the most respected or beloved, the most well-intentioned. Humans do wonderful things, humans do horrible things – but they’re all the same humans.
    I also have a very hard time grasping the instinct that I see for people to want to give the benefit of the doubt to people who have done things like imprison people without trial. Because the people doing it are in some way “us” – representatives of our government, soldiers in our army, members of our intelligence service. This seems to prove the complaint that many of my German relatives have had that the accountability of Nuremberg was not “justice” but “victor’s justice”, a matter of the victor punishing the defeated, rather than an expression of any kind of larger justice.

  • Tonio

    It’s a mindset that I’ve notice that my US-for-multiple-generation friends have difficulty grasping. The idea that there is no “other” who is the one who commits atrocities – that it can easily be any of us, the most respected or beloved, the most well-intentioned. Humans do wonderful things, humans do horrible things – but they’re all the same humans.
    Good point. I have lived all my life in the US, and I continue to be amazed at our national delusion that we are the “good guys.” I suspect this gives us the false impression that all conflict is good versus evil, instead of seeing the moral shades of gray on both sides. America’s history is no better or worse than any other country’s, but our problem is that we deny the unpleasant parts of our history instead of learning from them. That’s why I value historians like James Loewen.

  • hapax

    I think the incomparable Digby’s comments (scroll down to “outsourcing immorality”) are very relevant here.
    The very fact that the pro-torture administration is doing their damndest to somehow isolate their criminal activities outside of any institution with legal oversight and an independent ethical tradition is very telling indeed.

  • hapax

    Continuing my lunch hour blog-crawl, here’s Hilzoy on the same topic:
    In some cases (not including waterboarding), non-lawyers in the government might have done things that they believed to be legal because they trusted the DoJ. It might seem unfair to hold people who are not lawyers legally liable for this administration’s failures. However, as I said above, we don’t accept this excuse from other people; and government agents are the last people we should exempt from the rule of law. Adding CIA interrogators to the already long list of people who might pay the price for the administration’s cavalier attitude towards the law is better than giving up on the rule of law and our constitutional system of government.
    Note: this applies to the people who actually committed the criminal acts. It does not apply to everyone who “enabled” or “supported” them by working for the same organization, attending the same worship services, living in the same country, or eating the same brand of potato chips.

  • Ursula L

    In terms of morality (not legality) I’d say that whether or not doing things to enable/support carries blame depends on the nature of the evil in question.
    For the evil of an individual, then blame doesn’t fall on those who do perepheral things that provide support – no blame to the worker at McDonalds who sells lunch to a serial killer.
    But for evil on an institutional scale – unjust wars, imprisonment without trial, etc. – then the problem is not merely the individuals doing the act, the problem is the whole system. At that point, blame spreads wider, because the individuals within the system who make the decisions and carry out the act can do so only because of the perepheral support provided. At that point, it becomes the responsibility of everyone involved to say “no, this is wrong” and to do nothing that can further the wrong.
    Institutional evil is made up of thousands of apparently harmless acts, and just a handful of things that are clearly “wrong.” It is not wrong to attach a boxcar to a train – but if you know that the boxcar will be used to carry innocents to a concentration camp, then attaching that boxcar is wrong. It is not wrong to work in an army’s field kitchen – but if that army is carrying out a crime against humanity (a war of agreession) then it is wrong – the war could not start or continue without this type of support, and the person in that kitchen is an essential part of the evil, even when just peeling potatoes. Driving a bus from point A to point B isn’t wrong – but if that bus is carrying soldiers to Gitanimo to guard people held for years without trial, then it’s wrong.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X