Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Waterboarding, Hypocrisy, and Cheney

In response to my statement (regarding torture) that, "Whatever we do to others, we give others moral permission to do to us," a member of the studio audience responded:

Does this apply both ways? In other words, do we have moral permission to saw heads off of captured non-military (Pearl, Berg, etc.) or military men?

This suggests that something a bit more precise is in order.

More precisely, the proposition that it is morally permissible for me to do A under conditions C implies that it is morally permissible for anybody to do A under conditions C. The proposition that it is morally permissible for America to waterboard its captives implies that it is morally permissible in general to waterboard captives. If it is generally permissible to waterboard captives, then it is morally permissible for those who capture Americans (soldiers or civilians) to waterboard them.

In other words, let us assume that some Somalia pirates capture a ship that has American crew members on board. They decide to waterboard their captives. According to the definitions of torture that the American government adopted, the waterboarding of captives does not count as abusive behavior worthy of condemnation or punishment.

We may charge them with piracy and kidnapping, but, we would be hard pressed to charge them with the abuse of those captives for waterboarding them, since we have declared that waterboarding captives is a legitimate practice.

Or, let us say that some foreign agents attack an American convoy and capture a group of soldiers. They are considering waterboarding those soldiers. According to the Bush Administration, we could not have said, "If you waterboard those American soldiers we will hold you guilty of war crimes and punish you accordingly." Because the Bush Administration had already adopted the policy that torturing soldiers is not a war crime.

In other words, by defending waterboarding, the Bush Administration decided to put the official weight of the U.S. government on the side of those who would waterboard captured Americans, rather than on the side of those Americans who would be waterboarded.

In logic, if A implies B, but B is false, then A is false.

"If the boss was working in his office, then the light in his office would be on. The light in his office is not on. Therefore, the boss is not in his office."

"If it is permissible for Americans to waterboard its captives then it is permissible for others to waterboard captured Americans. It is not permissible for others to waterboard captured Americans. Therefore, it is not permissible for Americans to waterboard its captives."

Former Vice-President Cheney, in defending waterboarding, has two options. He must either admit that it is morally permissible for other agents to waterboard captured Americans, or he must admit that his original position on the permissibility of waterbaroding its captives was mistaken.

Of course, he has the option of asserting a moral contradiction. This is not a limitation on what a person is physically capable of asserting or even of thinking. It is only a limitation on what reason permits.

So, every time Cheney gives a speech on a talk show or before any audience and declares that it is morally permissible for America to wateroard its captives, Cheney is, at the same time, giving a speech that says that it is just as permissible for other agencies to waterboard captive Americans (or any of their other captives for that matter).

That is how his should hear his speeches. We should hear every one of his speeches as a speech about what foreign agencies may and may not do to American captives.

If, in hearing Cheney defend what foreign agencies may legitimately do to captured Americans, we declare find that we have reason to believe that they are false, then comparable claims about what America can permissibly do to its captives must also be false.


Baconsbud said...

I would like to see some reporter ask him about this. I figure Cheney would do some serious tap dancing to get away from that question.

When you received that comment you based this post on I didn't really think much about it. It isn't only torture you can apply this view to. Any action we take as a nation should be what we expect other nations to do to us. I think we will continue to have people who supports action which is morally wrong until they learn that.

With the line of logic that the commenter had then we should all be willing to commit murder on a daily bases. Some people believe that murdering others is the right thing for them to do so doesn't that mean it is the right thing for all to do.

Mike said...

The poster is confusing the "Golden Rule" with the "Code of Hammurabi"

It's "Do onto others as you would have them do to you", versus "Do onto others what they do to you."

One is an investment in a moral future, while the other is a withdrawal from an immoral past.