Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Doofus Of The Day #770

In the light of my previous Doofus award winner, lest anyone think I only lampoon those on the Left of US politics, let me hasten to reassure you - I regard extremist idiots on both the Left and the Right as equally culpable and equally dangerous.  That's why this second Doofus award for today goes to the darling of many on the Right, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

In a speech at last week's NRA convention, Ms. Palin opined:

Sarah Palin said in a speech over the weekend that the controversial practice of waterboarding should be known as "how we baptize terrorists."

. . .

Palin said it's too valuable a technique.

"Come on! Enemies who would utterly annihilate America!" Palin said. "They who'd obviously have information on plots, say to carry out jihad. Oh, but you can’t offend them, can’t make them feel uncomfortable -- not even a smidgen. Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists."

There's more at the link.

In case anyone missed the memo, waterboarding is torture.  It fits all the hallmarks of torture.  There's no other word for it.  Furthermore, Ms. Palin claims to be Christian, and therefore I remind her of the Golden Rule proclaimed by Jesus Christ:

"Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:12, NKJV)

"And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise." (Luke 6:31, NKJV)

For Christians, that's the ultimate condemnation of torture, right there.  If we torture others, we're effectively (in the Biblical sense) giving them permission to treat us in the same way.  I didn't say that, folks . . . The Big Boss did.  Furthermore, for those who aren't Christian, the Golden Rule (or variations on it, frequently referred to as 'the ethic of reciprocity') may be found in almost every religion or philosophy on Earth.

Makes you think, doesn't it?



newrebeluniv said...

You forget that the enemy doesn't care about our Christian morality or our permission or our shining example. We would torture for information. They do it for sport. And since our national policies must be divorced of Christian morality, there is no god reason to prevent us from using torture other than efficiency and expedience.

Peter said...

@newrebeluniv: The Golden Rule was directed at Ms. Palin and her espoused philosophy of life, not national politics. Of course, I think it applies there too - certainly, if I'd been ordered to torture someone during my service, I would have refused.

Anonymous said...

'the ethic of reciprocity'

Doesn't that mean for both sides of the conflict? We do to you what you do to us?

I agree that Gov. Palins comments were over the top and I also agree that water boarding does fit the definition of torture.

The problem I find myself in a moral conflict on the proper way to deal with people who behead non- combatants and bomb their own people solely to cause terror.


PeterW said...


May I remind you that you advocate shooting people. Of course, you do that in the strictly limited context of justified self-defence. If I attempted to apply the "do unto others" rule by asking if you, yourself, wanted to be shot, you would respond that you were not threatening the lives of others.

Context is vital.

Those who support waterboarding are just as entitled to consideration of context as you are when you support shooting people.

And Yes, I support the right to self-defence, and the right to be armed for self-defence. I do not necessarily support waterboarding, merely take the opportunity to point out that your argument is inconsistent.

Kerry said...

I certainly missed the memo that water boarding is torture. If it is I was tortured by the U.S. Navy because I was water boarded. The deprivation of oxygen generates a euphoria followed by a short nap. Some people use this effect to enhance sex. It can be made psychologically frightening, which is the point, but as long as oxygen is restored after the loss of consciousness there is no ill effect.

German soldiers caught in the Battle of the Bulge without proper uniform were summarily shot. Now we are squeamish about putting a wet rag on our enemies' faces? Sarah might know more than you think she does.

LoFan John said...

Mr. Grant, One can argue whether or not waterboarding should be done, under pressure of extreme circumstances. Torture can be criticized as producing unreliable information as well as being immoral.(Brief rant begins) Whichever side one takes in that debate, a serious person does not dismiss it with silly one-liners and sound bites. Who's this "we", Mrs. Palin? People who actually do difficult and dirty jobs can and do joke about them, usually just among themselves. What entitles you to do the joking?(Rant ends) It is a debatable issue, and one in which I come down on your side. It's not a joke.

Mike_C said...

The point is that we are supposed to be better than them, and Ms. Palin's rather flip remark undercuts that. If she were some Joe, or Jane, shooting the breeze with friends in the local dive bar that comment'd be no big deal. But like it or not, she has national if not international stature, and owes it to herself, and the rest of us Americans, to be more considered in what she says at a national venue, particularly at the NRA convention which is a lightning rod in and of itself, even without smart-assed comments.

Personally I've always had a little trouble with "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" since that seems like a justification for rape. ("I really wanted her to tear my clothes off and have her way with me, so I did it to her. It's the Golden Rule, man. I'm good!") "Do unto others as they would have you do unto them" seems preferable. Or is it one of those translation issues?

Oh, and good points from LoFan John.

Coconut said...

Then again; sometimes you get what's coming around, and sometimes you ARE what's coming around.

Peter said...

@Gerry: No, the Golden Rule doesn't say "Do to others what they're doing to you". It calls on you to set the example of good behavior.

@PeterW: No, it's not inconsistent - it's a different problem altogether. I won't go into the theological nuances, though.

@Kerry: Torture isn't a matter of personal opinion. As the links I provided will illustrate, it's a matter of legal definition, not national but international.

GENERAL COMMENT: The problem most people run into when applying the Golden Rule is to say, "I'll do unto others what their conduct deserves", or "I'll do unto them what they're doing to me". That's not what the Rule says, and not what it requires of us. We have to take the initiative and set the example in doing what's right, moral, ethical and just - not to mention legal. For Christians, Jesus didn't give us any other option. For non-Christians . . . YMMV.

John Balog said...

Given that the consistently ranks white guys who love guns and don't trust the .gov as the most likely terror suspects, all of the white guys who love guns and don't trust the .gov who want to enable torturing terror suspects seem a mite short sighted.

"Those damn tururist goat rapers are vile sub-human filth for torturing people! Therefoer, we should totally start torturing people! And I'm sure the that regularly asserts its right to murder American citizens without trial will totally never misuse that."

Good logic folks.

Able said...

Mr. Grant, I fully understand your position on this issue, and yet …

The Biblical quotations you cite, and the incorporation of those tenets into international law with the Hague and Geneva conventions, are based on a core assumption that 'the enemy is like me'. But what if he's not?

You have fought in Africa (I too, and other areas dominated by the ROP) be honest and tell us how a Muslim (or an animist for that matter) would view your/our view 'to be a more humane, caring human being'. They (yes the ubiquitous 'they', I know a gross over-generalisation, but one with a considerable amount of truth, nevertheless) view it as, not only a sign, but evidence of weakness and corruption, to be exploited. (Remember to the 'they' of the majority familial/tribal societies you/we aren't even a real person).

It's not just 'torture' but the most basic 'cultural' conceptions that differ here too (how well would a white flag work in the stan, well for 'our' side anyway? If I found myself in 'that' straight, I'd roll over and 'do a Kipling' myself, less painful all round).

What would 'you' do when 'they' see surrender as a 'ruse' to allow them to maim and kill those taking them prisoner? And more importantly (more relevant) what would 'you' do if you had a man who had raped, tortured, murdered and maimed (perhaps thousands, and not just, or even combatants) who had information on a plan that his 'colleagues' intended to do the same to 'your' family? Talk 'trash' to him? Refrain from giving him tea and cookies? Refuse to allow him time and bit of carpet to pray? (all of which under the current lexicon are classed as unacceptable, as you'll know, and water-boarding is 'unpleasant and uncomfortable' I know from personal [training] experience, but care to compare it what 'they' will do to you if the situation was reversed – 'that' is torture).

Yes, it's unfair to specifically 'personalise' the matter, but is it any better to universally condemn all such behaviour?

Have I ever 'tortured' anyone? No, but I 'suspect' that some I have taken into custody have faced 'harsh questioning' which resulted in (many) lives saved. Do I struggle (morally/ethically/faith) with this? Of course, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Oh, and to be pedantically legal, the prescription against 'torture' in international law is universally 'only' in place for 'uniformed, legitimate, combatants of a nation state', guerrillas, freedom-fighters and terrorists are 'specifically' excluded.

The simple fact remains, to misquote, that 'we' sleep softly at night because hard-men do things we'd rather they didn't have to to allow us to (and prefer not to think about). The alternative is for our culture, way of life, and as individuals to be buried, probably mutilated and finally grateful for death, in a pit in the ground without even the forlorn hope of a marker stating 'we were better, sweeter, nicer than them!'.

I will bow to your superior knowledge of scripture (obviously) but I wonder is this in some way similar to some peoples interpretation of 'turn the other cheek' being allowed to excuse the refusal to defend oneself and ones loved ones (an expansion and interpretation well beyond the obvious intent?)?. Striving to be better, yes, but quietly (and willingly) going into that long night – not for me, sorry. We can, and should, regret, strictly limit and ponder deeply … but condemn, let alone forbid?

That all, on re-reading sounds quite 'confrontational', extreme and 'condemnatory', it wasn't meant as such. I'd appreciate your opinion on what I said, is all.

STxAR said...

The commands that Jesus gave were to individuals. The command that Paul gave: as far as it relies on you, be at peace with all, was to individuals, specifically, individuals that identify with / accept Jesus the Messiah's sacrifice for sin. Not the unbeliever.

Romans 13 makes it clear, that the government isn't just a chance thing, but is instituted and derives it's authority from God. If it is being used to do the wrong thing, then it is accountable to God. The .gov Paul was addressing was Rome under Nero. The .gov better put the protection of it's citizens at highest priority. And that doesn't include turning the other cheek when citizens are murdered, or the country is invaded. That's why I can't murder, but I can be a soldier and fight under the God given authority of my government.

Too often we blur the commands to individuals in the Bible and apply them wholesale to the .gov. It doesn't fit.

I have a hard time agreeing that waterboarding as torture. I know what happened to our men in the hands of Viet Nam, Korea, and Japan. Permanent physical damage from being beaten, flogged, roped into contorted positions for hours/days, etc. Heck, we waterboard our own for training!

I do agree, tho. If you can't in good conscience obey the order to WB someone, then don't get in that org. Find another venue of service.

PeterW said...


What theological nuances determine the difference between killing a man to save your own life, and frightening another to save hundreds of lives?.... Or tens of thousands?

If they exist, then they are not inherent in the "do unto others" scripture because I could equally argue that - if I every became so deluded or brainwashed or drugged that I was planning to murder people on such a scale - someone would take whatever steps were necessary to prevent that from happening.

You have made a strong accusation without adequate justification, which is a denial of justice. I believe that you owe us that much and an appeal to authority (your own) is not valid logic.

I appreciate that you feel strongly on the subject, but is am sure, on reflection, you will not expect us to agree with you on nothing more than that feeling. Please treat us as reasonable, intelligent adults capable of making our own assessment of the arguments.

Regards.. Peter

Kerry said...


Far be it from me to argue with the "law," but if WB causes no injury I think a good lawyer could argue against it being torture. Based on the broad definition of torture by the "law," sleeping on a thin mattress would be torture for a prisoner with a bad back. I think legal technicalities miss the point, anyway. The point was the Golden Rule, if I understood you.

Does the Golden Rule apply to the actions of a nation at war? Great philosophical question. Funny how it never came up when I attended the Naval War College. I think STxAR has it right. You can pick on Sarah if you want to, but as a combat veteran you should remember that if you judge others you will be judged by the same measure.

Peter said...

Let's cut to the chase. Applying the Golden Rule, religiously or secularly, to our conduct in this situation is very simple. It goes like this:


There's not much doubt about that, I think, and precious few 'gray areas' of potential misunderstanding.

As for the definition of 'torture', I refuse to get all subjective about it. There are too many people making excuses for inexcusable actions and policies (for example, "It's for the CHIIIILL-dren!"). The defining legal definitions are what govern our laws in the USA, and should govern the actions of our armed forces overseas. If it's torture for our police to do it to a suspect in custody, it's torture for our armed forces to do it to a prisoner of war, and it's torture for the CIA or other acronym agencies to do it to whoever's in their custody.

Simple, isn't it?

Comrade Misfit said...

There is enough legal precedent, established by our own military courts, that waterboarding is torture. Sen. McCain, who probably knows more about being tortured than any other legislator in Congress, has stated that waterboarding is torture.

Torture is a violation of federal law. The very same administration that had no hesitation in ordering the use of torture also convicted foreigners of torturing based on the principle of universal jurisdiction.

If torture is permissible, why is it that one never sees a high-ranking member of the last Administration do much in the way of traveling? The answer is simple, really: We are not the only nation that claims universal jurisdiction for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

When I was younger, there were things that we did not do in this country. Torturing people was one. Pre-dawn police raids was another. It used to be said that those were the hallmarks of a police state.

But now we do both.

We cannot, as a nation, be "the shining city on the hill" if our cellars are used for torture chambers. We cannot claim the moral high ground and torture people. (Just as the RC Church can't lecture people on morals after spending decades letting pedophiles prey on the faithful.)

Comrade Misfit said...

Oh, and one correction, Peter:

The correct tile is "the former half-term Governor of Alaska".

Just to be accurate. :)

Rolf said...

So how do you deal with people who are very willing to do those sorts of things to us, to our civilians, to anyone they happen to think of an an enemy? I have to agree with Able on this one. There are hard choices, but when you are dealing with humans that really don't see you/me/us as human at all, and see our "gold rule" talk as a weakness to be exploited, who see our legal system and rule of law as nothing more than a foolish game we play that they are quite willing to twist to their advantage, while totally ignoring it for themselves, then the choices get harder.

The various conventions on war (Hague, Geneva, etc), impose restrictions on actions when facing a uniformed, formal army, but they do not apply to spies, non-uniformed fighters, etc. That was done explicitly as an inducement to follow the rules, and to make it easier to destroy those that choose to not follow the rules. Boko Haram isn't following the rules, so legally speaking, we have vastly more leeway in terms of what we are allowed to do to them as targets or prisoners.

Yes, I understand it's not nice... But being nice to murderous thugs that see you as an animal doesn't get you very far.

Peter said...

Rolf, you deal with them the hard way, if necessary by killing them: but you don't lower yourself to their level. If you do, you have no morality at all - you have expediency instead. Frankly, there are too many people who choose to live that way, with no abiding norms or moral standards to which they adhere. Everything's relative. It's the modern disease, and it's a lie from start to finish.

Either there is a moral standard, a normative "good" and "evil", a normative "right" and "wrong", or there isn't. The foundation of our society is that there is. If we ignore that when we're dealing with a society that lives as if there isn't . . . then we are no longer faithful to what makes us a different society.

Sorry. This whole "But they're different!" argument reminds me of nothing more than kids fighting in a car.

"He hit me!"

"But she hit me first!"

"No I didn't!"

"Yes you did!"

That's when the adults climb in and restore order, with a couple of whacks across the ear if necessary.

All those who say "Your standards are all very well when applied to civilized people, but fail when applied to savages" are like kids saying to their parents, "Yes, we know the rules, but they don't apply to me, or to her, or ... "

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,

I agree that waterboarding is torture. I was at the rally when Sarah made the remark, and I admit I laughed and applauded because I considered it a half-serious statement made for comic effect.Kind of like "civilize 'em with a Krag" from an earlier conflict with Islamic fanatics.I also did not theologically equate this with the beautiful sacrament of initiation as some have. I wish she had expressed herself differently, but I would prefer her over BHO any day.

Comrade Misfit said...

Over two centuries ago, we were at war with the largest military power on the planet. Despite the appalling treatment given by that nation's army and navy to prisoners of war, our commanding general ordered that all captives were to be treated humanely and correctly.

Anonymous said...

Count me amongst those who say "waterboard the Hell out of those raghead terrorists who would just as soon cut our heads off as look at us!" They have no regard for us, so I have no regard for them!


Comrade Misfit said...

Rusty, so, then, what makes you any different from them?

By your own logic, we could have kept the gas chambers open at Auschwitz and marched all of the Germans into them. Would that have been right?

PeterW. said...


You are begging the question. (And I use that phrase it it's proper meaning".

You have not established that it would be wrong for another nation to waterboard an American terroristwho was conspiring to kill hundreds or thousands of non-combatants

You cannot talk about the "nuances" of scripture and then ignore the clear implications of this context. You are making serios allegations and , again, I appeal to your sense of justice rather than your gut-feeling.

I can sympathise with the proposition that your experience in Africa might make you cynical about the concept that one side or another is justified in taking up arms.... but that does not justify misusing scripture in this manner.

PeterW said...

Rolf, you deal with them the hard way, if necessary by killing them: but you don't lower yourself to their level. If you do, you have no morality at all - you have expediency instead. Frankly, there are too many people who choose to live that way, with no abiding norms or moral standards to which they adhere. Everything's relative. It's the modern disease, and it's a lie from start to finish.

Either there is a moral standard, a normative "good" and "evil", a normative "right" and "wrong", or there isn't. The foundation of our society is that there is. If we ignore that when we're dealing with a society that lives as if there isn't . . . then we are no longer faithful to what makes us a different society.


That is a far better argument than simply flinging the Golden Rule into a context-free argument.

My response is in several parts.

(1) it is dangerously close to refusing to protect the weak and helpless members of our society (one of the defining characteristics of a civilised society ) because we desire the image of civilisation more than its substance. That would be preferring the sin of omission to the risk of taking responsibility n a grey area.

(2). In refusing to address context , you are indulging in very much the kind of moral equivalence and denial of standards against which you rail.

Anonymous said...

Comrade Misfit, are you equating being waterboarded with being decapitated? Are you saying that us waterboarding them is the same as them decapitating (or otherwise killing) us? If you are equating them, I guess you failed Logic 101.

Here's the basic issue we are faced with. When someone wants to kill you, you have three options. 1) Let them kill you. To most sane folks, this is not a viable option. 2) Try to negotiate with them. This also does not work with Islamists. That leaves us with option 3) Kill them before they kill you.

Of course, we are trying to use techniques such as waterboarding in an effort to get them to "negotiate" in regards to giving us details of their next planned attack on us. I would say that is a good use of "persuasion" to save life.

I should also state that when I was a kid, I was bullied until I learned to fight and would fight back. I also learned that when someone started a fight with me that I would escalate the level of violence quite dramatically before the initial aggressor did. That way I could win the fight and ensure that that bully would never want to pick on me again. That's what we need to do to Islamists who want to kill us--we need to escalate the violence to a level that they can't accept, and so try to turn them into peaceful folks (which probably will never work).

And regarding gas chambers, yes, I would have marched the concentration camp guards into them, but not the general civilian population.