Quote of the Day about the Reverse Nuremberg Defense

First, an excellent connect-the-dots excerise by Frank Rich:  “Obama Can’t Turn the Page on Bush“, op-ed in the New York Times, 16 May 2009.  I recommend reading it!  Opening:

To paraphrase Al Pacino in “Godfather III,” just when we thought we were out, the Bush mob keeps pulling us back in. And will keep doing so. No matter how hard President Obama tries to turn the page on the previous administration, he can’t. Until there is true transparency and true accountability, revelations of that unresolved eight-year nightmare will keep raining down drip by drip, disrupting the new administration’s high ambitions.

That’s why the president’s flip-flop on the release of detainee abuse photos — whatever his motivation — is a fool’s errand. The pictures will eventually emerge anyway, either because of leaks (if they haven’t started already) or because the federal appeals court decision upholding their release remains in force. And here’s a bet: These images will not prove the most shocking evidence of Bush administration sins still to come.

There are many dots yet to be connected, and not just on torture. …

This response deserves to win “quote of the day” honors:  “Sympathy for the bad apples“, by The Editors at The Poor Man Institute for Freedom & Democracy & a Pony, 17 May 2009 — Hat tip to Obsidian Wings.  Red emphasis added.  Excerpt:

It’s funny that when torture was all the fault of poor, ugly hillbillies of the sort David Brooks writes about in his Adventure Stories for Young Aristocrats, we had to throw the book at the evil-doers. Now that important figures in Washington have admitted to directly ordering more and worse, however, the question of even investigating whether some sort of crime may perhaps have taken place is fraught with all sort of beard-tugging brain-twisters which no man can untangle, even with the help of modern computer technology.

  • How can we investigate if we don’t know all the facts?
  • How dare we enforce laws against things which might possibly be permissible in some highly artificial thought experiment?
  • What if ‘24′ is FOR REALS?!?
  • These are the sorts of questions which need to be shrugged at for 50 billion news cycles before we can even think about OH MY GOD A SHARK ATE A WHITE LADY AT HER WEDDING!!!!!

We’ve got what amounts to a reverse Nuremberg defense, where Bush administration officials are let off the hook because they were only giving orders. I’m not sure that’s such a great idea.


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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Posts about torture:

  1. So many Americans approve of torture; what does this tell us about America?, 30 April 2009
  2. We close our eyes to torture by our government. The Brits are stronger., 9 April 2009

13 thoughts on “Quote of the Day about the Reverse Nuremberg Defense”

  1. Let me see if I’ve got this right. It’s not ok to pour water on somebody’s face to get info as that’s torture. But it is ok to launch Hellfire missles from flying drones and kill many, many people inluding innocent women and children because we suspect there might be terrorists in a house? It seems to me that if you’re going to prosecute for water torture then it stands to reason you should prosecute for missle murder. I vote for prosecution and we’ll start with the current Administration and work our way back.
    Fabius Maximus replies: What you describe results from the conventions of war, deriving their absurdity from war itself. I suspect the alternative to these somewhat arbitrary rules of war is to have no rules at all. There are such wars, of course, and they are even more horrible than the standard-issue.

    If we don’t enforce the existing rules, than we likely slide toward a more horrible world. We are a long way from such (despite the nightmarish fantasies often stated as fact by neo-cons and such), and IMO this slide should be strongly resisted.

  2. Remember, folks, no one is elected to this high office of President without being in some way compromised (and controllable) beforehand, just as no one is hired to be CEO of a major corporation without the board’s assurance that he/she will carry out their agenda. It’s a mob thing — you have to be a “made man” to rise.

    A lesser reason, but applicable in the cases of decent people like Eisenhower, is the idea that the American public couldn’t deal with the revelation that a major crime was possible at the top of their government. It would completely undo belief in their beloved democracy, and potentially lead to revolution.

    Finally, the Democrats were knowledgeable and complicit in these policies from the beginning, and would drag themselves into the mud by pushing for a criminal investigation.
    Fabius Maximus replies: That’s a great summary! Thank you for posting it.

  3. Arbitray rules of war? No rules at all? You must be describing cutting off captives heads for video cameras, or maybe you’re describing flying jet airliners full of innocent people into buildings of innocent people, or firing hundreds or thousands of missles into a neighboring country. I would suggest we are already at the point of nightmarish fantasies more horrible than the standard issue…Indeed it only seems logical that they will become more so. Regardless of any snark directed toward “neo-cons”.
    Fabius Maximus replies: The latter (airliners, missles) are standard practices of war, which makes it difficult for us to yell “foul.” Admittedly there was no declaration of war (a nicety often ignored), and these are non-state actors. But these things are not so different from our actions that they can be considered illegal. Its just war, which we have waged against our enemies in the past and I suspect will do so again in the future. Not every enemy action is illegal, nor is illegality our only possible basis for response.

    As for the former (e.g., beheading), what is your point? That we emmulate every practice of criminals? That every violation of laws means that instead of responding to them, that we copy them?

    From a strategic viewpoint, it looks like you suggest that our actions copy those of our enemies, rather than based on our own standards and needs. That not only seems reactive, but also surrenders the moral high ground which is often decisive in wars — and, since WWII, often decisive in 4GWs.

  4. From Mason08 in #4:

    You must be describing cutting off captives heads for video cameras, or maybe you’re describing flying jet airliners full of innocent people into buildings of innocent people, or firing hundreds or thousands of missles into a neighboring country.

    Personally I’d rather be beheaded on camera, or killed by a missile, or incinerated by a terrorist bomb. I would rather any of those things than to be imprisoned and tortured, day in and day out, for literally years on end, until I had no desire at all beyond killing myself in order to end the horror. Destruction of the personality and the soul, as torture is designed to cause, honestly seems worse to me than destruction of the body. Laws of war which disallow torture but allow slaughter make some sense.

  5. Or maybe the kind of torture where you decide to burn in a building or jump 100 floors to your death? John McCain and others brave men didn’t kill thenselves when tortured day in, day out for years on end. And they came through with souls intact if not stronger.

  6. Please forgive my typing skills. And my eyesight to see the mistakes.
    FM reply: It cannot be worse than my typing skills.

  7. Expecting “transparency and true accountability” from Washington is the true fools errand, and Frank Rich is just the man for the job.

  8. “Rules of War”? An oxymoron!
    Fabius Maximus replies: It is not an oxymoron. History shows that most cultures have rules for war, and they often not only are closely followed — but often have decisive effects in shaping conflicts. For an introduction I suggest reading Martin van Creveld’s latest book, “The Culture of War”. See Chapter 7 — The Rules of War. Excerpt:

    In all societies and at all times and places, some kinds of behavior, under somekkinds of circumstances, for some kinds of reasons, with some kinds of goals, toward some kindns of people are considered part of war, wheras others are not. The former are required, cultivated, praised, rewarded, wheras the altter are rejected, excoriated, condemned, sometimes even punished.

  9. Captain Ramen

    What’s often missing in these discussions (I don’t mean here per se, rather in general) is a cost benefit analysis of adopting tactic x. For example,

    The negative reputation of snipers can be traced back to the American Revolution, when American “Marksmen” would intentionally target British officers, an act considered uncivilized by the British Army at the time (this reputation would be cemented during the Battle of Saratoga, when Benedict Arnold allegedly ordered his marksmen to target British General Simon Fraser, an act that would win the battle and French support).

    In this case, even though the Patriots were clearly violating the rules of war, it helped secure their victory.

    Picking up random people off the steppe and subjecting them to harsh treatment in no way benefits American interests and should be visibly prosecuted. Same goes for AQ members… it should not be used to go on fishing expeditions. Only a sadistic maniac thinks we should do that to people just because.

    At the same time, if you have evidence to suggest another attack is imminent, waterboarding a Khalid Sheik Mohamed to prevent an imminent attack is justified. The problem is we don’t know if that was the case. IMO they should declassify the information gained from him and put this to rest already.
    Fabius Maximus replies: To the best of my knowledge (which is limited in this field), American snipers in the Revolutionary War were not violating 18th century laws of war. Note that there are no citations in the Wikipedia article to support this theory.

  10. anna nicholas

    ” decide to burn in a building or jump 100 floors to your death ”
    What plans were there to evacuate upper floors in case of major midlevel fire – perhaps started by electric fault ?

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