Monday, November 21, 2005

School of the America's protest

From today's Gamecock.

Rather than worry about the Carolina-Clemson rivalry over the weekend, three S.C. Honors College students traveled to southern Georgia to protest a controversial center that some claim trains Latin American soldiers in torture.


The rally coincides with the anniversary of the murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter at the University of Central America in El Salvador. A UN Commission in 1993 cited 27 Latin American soldiers as responsible for the murders, 19 of which were graduates of the Institute.

SOA Watch alleges that many human rights violations and murders were conducted by SOA graduates in their Latin American home countries and that the school trains personnel in torture. The Army denies that it trains soldiers in anything that violates human rights standards.
SOA Watch

An article by a pastor who was tortured in Brazil in the early 70s, allegedly the same techniques used by US soldiers in Iraq.

Editorial from Foreign Affairs in 2000.

Given the ludicrous debate we're having about torture (ludicrous that we need to debate it at all) , it's important not to forget the goings on at SOA!


c.owen said...

ludicrous that we need to debate it at all, eh.

ah, armchair morality.

Gashwin said...

Well I was expecting something nicely reactionary from you, but this is just lazy. Be properly reactionary please!

[Snuggling into the armchair]

c.owen said...
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c.owen said...

Harrumph! Hack! Cough! Spit! Drag from old tobaccey pipe! Cough and spit again!

My good old boy chap mate, I shall take no position on torture here -- the point is that torture is not as obvious an enormity as Amnesty, for instance, finds it. It can be shown, I think, that if one accepts just war, just torture follows.

Hack! Spit!

My dear jolly old fellow, if certain emergencies do rouse us, and perhaps even obligate us, to use death and cruel pain to fight material evil, then war and torture are two of those means. And so, unfortunately, are all the weapons available on our happy planet. To foil those who would destroy the world or embroil it in war, if such either case were to arise, we must employ the safest, kindest, but ultimately the most effective means.

Again, cough! Again drag on the pipe!

Legislation against torture, against war (Kellogg-Briand...) and other things are luxuries of stable, liberal Western states that would have no call to use these tools against one another anyway. These laws are as such incompatible with a war on terrorism or any war of any sort. We will be reluctant to give them up until our enemies, who have no such qualms, raise the death toll sufficiently high. I am speaking here as an economist -- we will, I assure you, give them up after sufficient incentive.

By the way, there is nothing "idealistic" about a stance against torture, which has as its usual purpose self-congratulation and hubris. As such a vanity it would be a mere unmanliness. But if it is truly meant, it is a policy better suited to destroy us all.


Gashwin said...

Thank you. We've had this conversation several times in the past.

First of all, apart from the ius ad bellum aspect of the just war theory, there is the ius in bello portion as well. Just war doesn't give blanket approval for just about anything during the course of a war.

But mainly, I simply say that economic-sounding pragmatism is not the absolute moral principle.

(Besides, I know your somewhat irrational [to me] prejudice against protesters to begin with.)

Nor do I agree that human rights are a luxury that come only with a certain level of Western democracy and stability. That may, in fact, be the case on the ground. But one doesn't simply accept the reality on the ground as the normative reality, the way the world ought to be.

As Christians, we really need to be talking about the way the world ought to be.

And while I tend to agree with the particular pragmatic philosophy of yours when it comes to the world of economics, I certainly don't think that Marx was right in reducing everything to economic materialism.

Now to the armchair morality comment. I'm not seeing the analogy here. An armchair quarterback is someone who isn't really a quarerback but pontificates on the same from the armchair. The same with a traveler. So, an armchair morality is someone who practices armchair morality ... ie. is not really a moralist and therefore ought not to pontificate about morality at all? Or someone who doesn't really get it, so shouldn't speak at all?

So, you, then, "really get it" presumably? :)

Gashwin said...

[Whoops. Last paragraph should be "an armchair morality refers to someone who is an armchair moralist"

c.owen said...

Precision, old boy. Stiff upper lip, that's the spirit now.

I made no stand on the issue of torture, save that to categorically outlaw pain would serve only to massage egos and court disaster. I agree that i's in bella limits our methods. But since the debatability of torture was not itself debated, and since we are now in fact debating it, I trust my original point is established.

Now to a new one, this insistence that "economics" somehow misses out on deep spiritual realities, which we've talked about before.

Any science of choice under constraint can be said to 'economize'. One can even speak of the spiritual economy: "It profits a man none to lose his soul..." Tellingly, most parables took place on the property of a rich man in absence. I think we learn something very important through the economics of the 'only material': as we choose materially, so too we choose spiritually.

But no one believes me. So let's dispense with the market economy for a while, and clear away the notion that economics treats only the material. An economy exists wherever one wishes to find the "appropriate level" of something over a space of choices. Internet clients create an economy when they try to economize over the available servers to send bits and bytes. To be quite bald about it, somewhere between always torturing and never torturing lies the optimal level of torture. And I reassert, as an economist, that we will realize this level without any help from me after we endure a certain threshold of suffering, and to wait for this threshold is, I think, only economical.

Choice in warfare could be constrained by a number of i's in bella provisions, and once the criteria are in place, we sensibly optimize over the results of our permissible choices, and humbly find the right mix. If some forms of torture are acceptable, and the situation calls for their use, and the upside outweighs the downside, then we should use them to the appropriate level. So far I claim nothing about that amount, only that it exists and that it is not zero.

assiniboine said...

Ahem. I thought we had got past this notion of torturing confessions out of people (remember the Court of Star Chamber?) when we cut off King Charles I’s head. That was in 1649, remember, folks?

c.owen said...
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c.owen said...

Sure, vive la modernite and all.

But the argument I made? What about that? (I have taken no real stance on torture, I really need to repeat. And I did that to deflect a superficial critique.)