War, Terror, and Torture

War is the father of all, and king of all;
and some it shows as gods, others as men;
some it makes slaves, others free.

Heraclitus of Ephesus, Fragment 215, The Presocratic Philosophers,
G.S. Kirk & J.E. Raven, Cambridge University Press, 1964, p.195

The British philosopher Bertrand Russell, who had been jailed in World War I for his pacifism by a government of which Churchill was a minister, is considering [in 1940] whether he should abandon those pacifist beliefs if Britain faces imminent invasion. He does not think that passive resistance would work against Hitler. These considerations do not prevent Russell from confiding to his philosophy students at the University of California in Los Angeles (this writer among them) that world peace, in the long run, will probably be better served by Hitler's victory. World peace, Russell posits, cannot be had without world government. Over the long years ahead, he says, civilizing influences will operate to soften the bestial edges of Nazi rule.

Richard W. Jencks, "Why Capitol Hill Needs a Churchill Reminder," The Wall Street Journal, May 11-12, 2013, A13

The laws of war, codified in international agreements such as the Geneva Conventions, exist for the purpose of imposing some kinds of limitations on war, for the sake of humanity. Since one might think that, for the sake of humanity, war might be ended altogether, there must be some reason why, given that war cannot be simply prohibited, there is an expectation that any limitations on it will be honored. This turns out to be a problem; but in general we expect limitations to be honored where a mutual benefit is enjoyed by the belligerents. That war cannot be simply prohibited, as was attempted with treaties after World War I, is evident from the circumstance that aggressive regimes, the kind that actually start wars, like Nazi Germany, will never honor the prohibition. And there are ideologies, not the least influential of which was that of Friedrich Nietzsche, that actually valorize and celebrate war, as now does the Jihadism of Islamic Fascism. As Heraclitus already said, war is life and peace is death. There is little prospect of durable peace when some people believe in violence [note].

Chief among the limits imposed on war is the principle that civilians are to be separated from combatants. This serves to limit the suffering to be endured by those, the non-combatants, who have not overtly been engaged and prepared to participate in war. A strong motivation for such provisions came from the experience of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), when armies not only lived off the land, taking the food and fodder they needed for the armies to survive and function, but they actively looted the land, even torturing and murdering peasants and tradesmen in the hope of finding hidden money and other valuables. Such behavior did not seem particularly relevant to the purposes of the War, unless those were to devastate the land and population of the enemy. That, indeed, may have been an unstated purpose; but the result, which effected considerable depopulation in parts of Germany, did not strike anyone in retrospect as a very good idea. Germany took a long time to recover, and it is arguable that, after a fashion, it never recovered.

To separate civilians from combatants, three things are essential:  (1) combatants must be easily recognizable, which means they are in distinctively military uniforms, in obviously military conveyances (including naval warships), or otherwise wear something to distinguish them as soldiers; (2) combatants target only other combatants and not civilians; and (3) combatants do not hide or mix themselves among civilians while continuing to fight, which would require that the enemy, to fight back, cannot avoid injuring the civilians. It is intriguing that such rules already figure in the Mahâbhârata, specified to the point where combatants only fight their counterparts of the same social station. Equally noteworthy is the way in which the rules are broken, on the advice of Krishna, by the heroic victors.

The first war where these principles began to have marked effect was perhaps the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). Uniforms were coming into common use, and the logistical supply of armies was maturing. The extraordinary march of the Duke of Malborough from the Netherlands to Bavaria in 1704 was the wonder of Europe for the manner in which he placed supplies along the line of march. Soldiers would arrive at depots to find even new shoes. The rest of the 18th century seemed to demonstrate the practicality of largely confining war to the warriors. But the 18th century wars of dynasty and commerce, often conducted by people with elevated senses of manners and honor, would prove to be special cases.

The French Revolution introduced national wars. Nowhere was that clearer than in Spain, where the treacherous French occupation provoked intense hatred. We see the consequences in two great paintings by Goya, The Second of May 1808 and The Third of May 1808. The former depicts a clash between a Spanish crowd and Mamlûk mercenaries of the French. This was part of a popular uprising against the French, precisely the sort of thing where civilians and combatants cannot be separated. They are one in the same. There is a romance to the citizenry spontaneously rising up against the aggression of a tyrannical foreign enemy, who are directed by a dictator such as Napoleon, even if it has little chance of success; but it undermines the principles of the laws of war.

The Third of May portrays the executions carried out by the French after they were able to put down the uprising. Goya brilliantly contrasts the faceless French soldiers with the bright illumination and the agony of the victims. A Christ-like figure spreads his arms, perhaps in hopeless supplication of the French.

The saying is that hard cases make for bad law, and civilian uprisings are a particularly hard case if the purpose of the laws of war is to separate civilians from combatants. Like spies, irregular combantants, out of uniform, who cannot be distinguished from civilians, cannot expect any protection from the privileges afforded to proper prisoners of war. They can be shot. Indeed, the logic of the situation is that they cannot be protected by those privileges, or they would have no motive to fight in uniform and to respect civilians. Indeed, one problem of civilian uprisings is that they typically target other civilians, namely those believed to have collaborated with the enemy. So, when civilians enter combat, they can neither expect to be treated as civilians, which they no longer are, nor to be treated as proper soldiers, which they have not become. If civilians wish to be separated from combat and be treated accordingly, they must behave as civilians. Otherwise, they warrant the fate of those who seek to evade the laws of war or seek advantage through deception.

Thus the laws of war must strike a balance in this situation also. Where civilians harbor irregular combatants or become such combatants themselves, they will be subject to the ordinary conditions of combat and/or punished for failure to observe the proprieties of their status. On the other hand, the international determination has been that belligerents faced with these actions cannot carry out blanket reprisals against a general civilian population. The specific offenders must be punished, not a larger group. Yet this may be easier said than done. Which civilians have been engaging in combat? Which civilians have been harboring the irregular forces? It is often difficult to impossible to tell -- which is the very idea in a guerrilla war. A belligerent faced with such difficulties may lose patience, whether they are the French in Napoleon's day, the Germans some years later, or the Americans in Vietnam. But we cannot expect a power to patiently endure endless provocations without some effective response, even the French or the Germans, who had no business being where they were and doing what they were doing in the first place.

The Germans in World War II were infamous for carrying out mass reprisals against civilian populations; but the Germans had been developing this approach long before the Nazis. In the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), the French employed irregular Francs-tireurs, or snipers, against the Germans, with a sense that this was part of a mass citizen army rising up against the German invasion. The Germans, of course, found this improper and felt justified in dealing with it harshly, as, to an extent, they were indeed justified. However, by World War I the Germans were self-righteously committing war crimes. Having violated Belgian neutrality, the Germans seemed to think that Belgium was obliged to observe its own neutrality and not fight back. Belgian army snipers were immediately taken to be Francs-tireurs, so that the Germans could retaliate against the civilian population. With a little help from Allied propaganda, the world reacted in horror to what the Germans did in Belgium. But the Germans, who, without provocation, had gratuitously bombed the civilians of Liège from Zepplins within days of the start of the war, were guilty; and any exaggerations promoted by the Allies paled beside widespread German practices in World War II, when whole villages, of men, women, and children, might be killed in retaliation for nearby partisan attacks or assassinations. It was clear that the Germans had no intention of punishing guilty individuals or even manifestly guilty populations. Thinking in racial terms, they were exacting vengeance against an entire enemy people and intended to inspire terror in them, or wipe them out.

The problem of irregular combatants and guerrillas has only grown worse over time, not better. At the same time, the scale of national war that began with the French Revolution developed into its full form in the World Wars of the 20th century, when civilians might be targeted just because the whole productive capacity of society had become the instrument of combat. This has come to be called "Total War," and in fact the collectivist and totalitarian ideologies of the era (Fascism and Communism) were perfectly comfortable with whole populations targeted as enemies and combatants.

A conflict that posed awkward questions for the laws of war was the Civil War in the United States. Foreign powers objected, for instance, that the United States could not impose a naval blockade on the coast of the Confederacy because a blockade required a state of war with a sovereign enemy, and the United States did not recognize the Confederacy as a sovereign state. However, the United States imposed a blockade anyway, on the not unreasonable principle that it could control its own waters and prohibit ships from entering, on pain of seizure. More awkward was the determination that Confederate privateers would be treated as pirates and hung. None ever were, and later such persons, even after actually being convicted of piracy, quietly began to be treated as de facto prisoners of war.

The care with which Union and Confederate forces initially determined to respect private property is touching; but as the war dragged on, this determination was undermined. What broke the ice at first was the question of slaves running away to Union lines. The slaves were private property, even under the laws of the United States, and the slave owners requested their return. Early in 1861, Union Major General Benjamin Butler refused to return three escaped slaves, ruling that they were "contraband of war," having been used as labor for military purposes, and could be confiscated by the Union Army. Late in the year, both the Lincoln Administration and the Congress regularized this novel theory and soon prohibited the return of slaves, who henceforth were commonly called "contrabands." For a war that initially was merely to preserve the Union, and which even now is said by many not to have been a crusade to liberate the slaves, it is nice touch that in practice it quickly began to liberate slaves.

As the Civil War progressed, and became an increasingly desperate business, both sides began to employ looting and vandalism as ways of harrassing the enemy or degrading their capacity to wage war. The South had a relatively limited ability to inflict much of this on the North, and extensive irregular combat and actions against civilians and their property tended to be confined to divided and disputed areas, such as Missouri. A single campaign, however, lingers in memory as symbolizing a "Total War" against civilian property and the whole productive capacity of a region. This was the "March to the Sea" of William Tecumseh Sherman. Having fought his way to Atlanta and secured the city, Sherman cut loose from his logistical supply line and set off towards Savannah, with the army living off the land and raising hell with its infrastructure and anything that would contribute towards the Southern war effort. Civilians were not attacked as such, but their possessions might be freely looted, vandalized, or destroyed. Slaves, of course, followed in the army's wake and were sometimes viciously targeted by Confederates. Although the March to the Sea covered a relatively limited area, Sherman was remembered as more or less having devastated the whole South, and Marching Through Georgia became one of the signature songs of the whole war.

The propriety of such actions remains a matter of controversy today. As do comparable actions in World War I and World War II. The issue became particularly acute in the latter because of the practice of aerial bombing. The Civil War first raised these troubling questions, as it also highlighted problems concerning the belligerents in any civil war. Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions attempted to apply the general laws of war to the conditions of civil war. There were veritable contradictions to be resolved. The privateers could be hung as pirates; and in fact any person fighting for the Confederacy or even pledging allegiance to it might be prosecuted for treason and executed, under laws that otherwise would have been non-controversial. Confederate soldiers captured on the battlefield conceivably could be transported directly to military trial, summarily sentenced, and hung. That none of this happened -- in fact no person whatsoever was executed for treason because of the Civil War, and even Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy, was eventually released from prison -- was in great measure because of the prudential and mutually beneficial considerations that we can imagine led to many of the laws of war in the first place. For Davis himself had threatened to execute Union prisoners if any of the Confederate privateers were executed. Abraham Lincoln thus quickly determined that the safety of Union soldiers required that Confederate soldiers and even privateers be accorded the status of prisoners of war, even if the United States regarded them as rebels and traitors and did not recognize the Confederate Government as a sovereign entity.

The mechanism associated with prisoners of war thus came into play. The fundamental consideration in this is that a soldier captured in combat is not, as such, a criminal. He is not held in custody as punishment or pending some kind of judicial disposition of his case. Yet he may be held indefinitely, the purpose of which is simply to prevent him from returning to combat for the enemy. Thus, the detention is as indefinite as the duration of the war, after which his returning to combat is no longer an issue. The logic of this is an essential consideration even now. The detention of prisoners of war -- those not to be held over for judicial disposition because of war crimes -- is then modified by two considerations. One is that prisoners may be paroled, i.e. set free on the basis of a solemn oath that they will not return to combat. Traditionally, only officers might be paroled, because only officers could be counted upon to be "gentlemen" and only "gentlemen" could be expected to give their word of honor and, indeed, honor it. This all was a remnant of the days when officers were, or were the equivalent of, feudal nobility, whose honor was essential to their status. Noble status was actually required to become an officer in ancien régime France or Second Empire Germany.

Parole for the "men," i.e. common soldiers, of armies never became standard -- although Ulysses S. Grant paroled the entire garrison of Vicksburg when the city surrendered in 1863. He originally asked for unconditional surrender (his trademark) but then figured that the men mostly just wanted to go home anyway, which was pretty much the case. Grant also paroled Lee's entire Army when it surrendered in 1865, reasoning that the War was over, as it was. Apart from these unusual examples, if you and the enemy have captured equivalent numbers of each other's soldiers, it will put no one at a disadvantage if you simply swap them. So the exchange of prisoners became the norm, and in the Civil War we even see exchange commissioners on each side, whose job is to arrange and conduct exchanges. Exchanges also will likely involve equals for equals, that we don't want the enemy keeping our officers while we give them theirs. Officers on parole will also be exchanged, even though they are already free. This releases them from their oaths and allows them to return to combat.

The exchange system in the Civil War came to grief, like so much else, on the issue of slavery. Slaves fled areas under control of the South and began seeking refuge with the Union Army. By 1863, when the slaves in Rebel areas had been legally freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, they began to be accepted into the Union Army. By the end of the war, 10% of the Army (and up to 15% of the Navy) was black, despite blacks comprising only 2% of the population of the North. This angered the South. The Confederacy passed a law that captured white officers of black units would be executed (as encouraging a slave revolt) and black soldiers who were escaped slaves would be returned to slavery. At that point it was Lincoln's turn to threaten retaliation, that Confederate prisoners would be executed for any Union prisoner treated that way, and that Confederate prisoners would be set to hard labor for any black soldiers returned to, or placed in, slavery. It is not clear that the Confederacy ever officially executed any white officers, but there is evidence that this was often done summarily. Lincoln does not seem to have retaliated.

The issue reached a breaking point because of the "Fort Pillow Massacre" on 12 April 1864. The Confederates under Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest, later the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, launched a cavalry raid behind Union lines. Forrest was able to take the Union Fort Pillow, on the Mississippi River in Tennessee, and in the aftermath a large number of mainly black Union soldiers were evidently killed as they attempted to surrender. Because of this, General Grant demanded of the Confederates assurances that black prisoners would be treated like white prisoners by their forces. The Confederates refused, and the Confederate Secretary of War said, "I doubt, however, whether the exchange of negroes at all for our soldiers would be tolerated. As to the white officers serving with negro troops, we ought never to be inconvenienced with such prisoners." This confirmed previous Confederate intentions, and Grant consequently stopped the prisoner exchange program. There was not, to my knowledge, any specific retribution for suspected summary executions of white officers by the Confederacy -- although we might consider the general devastation of the South a kind of retribution, as Sherman intended.

The effect of the suspension of exchanges was overcrowded prisoner of war camps. We hear little of the Northern camps, even though conditions seem to have been pretty bad. But the Southern camps, and especially the Andersonville Prison in Georgia, became a cause of outrage in the North. Prisoners were given no shelters and were only able to construct flimsy tents. Little was provided by way of sanitation facilities or even food. The space provided ended up housing something four times as many prisoners as was intended (i.e. 40,000 instead of 10,000). Escaped prisoners found their way to Sherman's Army, and we have photographs of them. They are starved and look like Nazi concentration camp survivors. For all the vast extent of Sherman's March, he was nowhere near Andersonville, and the full horror of the place was not revealed until the end of the War. The only Confederate official ever tried, convicted, and executed for war crimes was the commandant of Andersonville Prison.

Thus, the principles of humanity embodied in the rules for prisoners of war and prisoner exchanges ran afoul of the inhumanity of the Southern views of race and slavery. Indeed, we might expect that was really what the War was all about.

By the time of World War II, we see very little, or nothing, in the way of the parole or exchange of prisoners of war. The United States often brought prisoners from Europe back to the States, perhaps to discourage escape or to avoid burdening the logistics of the war effort there -- even as troop transports were dead-heading back across the Atlantic. How Allied prisoners were treated depended on who and where they were. The Germans made some attempt to treat, or at least appear to treat, American and British prisoners correctly, even if they were Jewish. This seems to have involved a mixture of ideology, that the Americans and British (in general) were racially comparable to the Germans, with prudence, that surviving prisoners might put in a good word for their captors when the camps were liberated. On the other hand, the Nazis had little racial or prudential regard for their Russian prisoners, a majority of whom died in custody. Since the Russians treated their German prisoners similarly, and even kept survivors long after the War had ended, we see a complete breakdown, for ideological reasons, of the system of mutually beneficial regard that underlay the humanity of the proper rules of war and prisoners. The Germans and the Russians simply hated each other, officially and severally, with a ruthless passion. This kind of problem has only grown in seriousness since.

Allied prisoners in the Pacific were at the tender mercies of the Japanese, who had not signed the Geneva Conventions and whose own traditions dictated contemptuous, brutal, and murderous treatment of prisoners. They expected no less themselves, and Japanese soldiers were officially instructed not to be captured alive. The ones who later were captured often expressed surprise that they were not beaten, tortured, or mutilated. We thus learn that Japanese indoctrination found it awkward to inculcate the desired level of inhumanity without implying, or asserting, that the Allies would be equally inhumane with the Japanese.

Meanwhile, many of the scruples of traditional war had been lost. By the end of World War I, General Billy Mitchell commanded an Allied airforce in Europe that included newly developed heavy bombers (which, as biplanes, hardly look formidable now but were large aircraft in comparison to the popular image of the small World War I fighter). He suggested bombing German cities. His superiors reacted with horror. The Germans had done things like that, with Zepplins, gratuitously bombing Liège soon after the War had started, but the Allies would never stoop so low. Since the Zepplin raids on England had been ineffective and were then ceasing because Allied fighters could begin rising to their altitude, there was no military penality to renouncing attacks against German cities. In between the Wars, the Germans remained notorious for bombing the city of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.

In World War II, Total War arrived in the air. The Germans, who had been concentrating, effectively, on taking out British air defenses, for the strategic purpose of preparing the way for a cross Channel invasion of England, shifted to bombing British cities. This happened after the Germans had accidentally dropped some bombs on London and then the British retaliated against Berlin. Hitler, in a fury, determined that this retaliation would not go unavenged. Soon bombing cities became a strategic goal in itself, both for the Germans and the British, and Americans also. There had been much prewar theory that war could be won with aerial bombing, with the thought that the productive capacity of the population and the morale of the people were a military resource. This was indeed an argument to give one pause. Wars were now won as much by production as by strategy and tactics. If the ability of civilians and their factories to provide the matériel of war is broken, then the war will end, to the benefit of all. At least, that's the theory.

In practice, the power of "strategic" bombing to significant reduce the productive capacity of belligerents was open to question then and now. The producive capacity of Hiroshima was certainly wiped out in an instant, but anyone should be excused for thinking that the principle purpose of the bombing was psychological -- and, since other atomic bombs were not yet ready after Nagasaki, more than a bit of a bluff. And the Germans had to have known that the London Blitz, let alone the later Buzz Bomb and V-2 attacks, amounted to little more than a terror campaign. Hence the bitter controversy over the Allied fire-bombing of Dresden, a city with little to no strategic value. One might get the impression that it was hit just because late in the War valuable targets to flatten were becoming scarce and the bombers needed something to do. The bombing enthusiasts never lost their faith, but the prewar predictions of mass death, total destruction, and demoralization were not really born out -- until Hiroshima. Meanwhile, as the Allied bombing campaign was flattening and burning Tokyo, to the point where, after the War, Mt. Fuji was visible from the Ginza, Kyoto was deliberately spared for its historic and cultural importance.

The advocates of strategic bombing certainly had trouble believing that the amount of damage they were inflicting did not have some impact on the ability of the enemy to wage war. And they may have been right. Also, the wholesale destruction of an enemy nation was an unavoidable consequence of later preparations to launch nuclear attacks. The whole classic theory of nuclear war was based on the principle of making it as irrational and pointless as possible:  MAD, or "mutually assured destruction." This worked, as long as the enemies were elderly, comfortable, and essentially bureaucratic pragmatists (in the Kremlin), rather than religious fanatics (i.e. in Iran). But a line had been crossed there. Large scale war could no longer really distinguish between soldiers and civilians. Fortunately, such war has not again occurred -- yet. Other wars since World War II had been of more limited scope, but they have also raised troubling questions about the boundary between combatant and non-combatant and about other limits that the rules of war sought to impose on it.

A mixure of ideologically motivated brutality and self-righteousness has curiously characterized all the enemies in American wars since World War II:  North Korea, North Vietnam, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Afghanistan of the Tâlibân, and terrorist organizations like al-Qai'da. None of these entities has ever shown the slightest scruple about torturing, mutilating, and murdering prisoners, killing civilians, or cynically using their own civilians as shields and drawing attacks that they then can denounce as war crimes. The North Koreans pioneered much of this in the Korean War (1950-1953), when they regarded prisoners, although from forces under the aegis of the United Nations itself, as ipso facto war criminals, who deserved none of the traditional protections of prisoners of war, let alone the protections that criminal defendants might expect in Western courts. Instead, we learned of forms of torture from which we get the expression "Brain Washing," in which the Koreans tried to get prisoners to defect to the Communists and/or to voice Communist propaganda and denounce the "imperialism" of UN forces. In the time since that war ended, the horrors of the regime have largely only been inflicted on its own prison camp slave state; but the practice and paradigm were eagerly picked up by other enemies of the West. Of course, much of this was no more than an application of the Police State techniques developed in the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin. Torture and forced confessions were nothing new in Russia. Consequently, we may suspect that the North Koreans were prepared to treat anyone with the same brutality, whether or not they thought that enemy combatants were "criminals."

These regimes and organizations certainly never had any particular regard for their own citizens. A telling case was the disposition of Russian prisoners of war in Germany when World War II ended. Few of them wanted to go back to Russia. They knew that, by being captured by the Germans, they were already the equivalent of traitors and spies. The best treatment they could expect back home would be a labor camp. One might think that the Soviet Union would then be more than happy to disown them and allow them to stay in the West. Oh no. The People's Republic needs to visit the People's Revenge on anyone so disloyal as to be captured by the Germans and survive. The Russians resorted to extortion to get back the people they wanted to punish. They could do this using the combatants of fellow Allies who had fallen into Russian hands. Since the Soviet Union was actually neutral in the war against Japan, until its very last days, American and other combatants who came onto Russian territory were, very properly, interned. When Russia declared war on Japan, however, those internees could expect to be promptly repatriated. They weren't. Instead, they were held hostage as collateral for Russian prisoners in Germany. The Soviet Union demanded prisoner exchanges, as though they were dealing with enemy belligerents, not with allies. Rarely noted, this is nevertheless one of the most revealing events in the aftermath of World War II for Soviet attitudes towards both its own (luckless) citizens and towards its (ostensible) allies.

Of course, the Soviet Union had always regarded its Western Allies as future enemies, even as it had always displayed a furious and vindictive hostility to anyone disinclined to accept and treasure the privilege of living under the Soviet system of "workers' democracy." These characteristics should still be noted well, since the Left always promoted the idea that the hostile West had imposed the Cold War on the innocent, peaceful, and inoffensive Soviet Union. This is still Soviet propaganda promoted by American leftists like film-maker Oliver Stone. Capitalist democracies, we are told, are always looking for enemies, so that the military-industrial complex can enrich capitalists. Today, Islamic Terrorism is supposedly a fiction similarly conjured up for the same purpose. In line with these fantasies, we notice the vindictiveness of the political Left in episodes like the reaction to "Joe the Plumber."

These points remain relevant to the next issue, which is the manner in which, indeed, Islamic Terrorism now has fallen into conducting war, and the ways in which all the forces that are hostile to American and Western interests have chosen to regard this. This phenomenon is the result of a combination of bitter-end Leftists, who could not believe or accept the failure of Communism and the end of the Cold War, with Islamic reactionaries, who have responded to the failure of Islamic countries and societies to achieve economic and political power in the post-colonial world with the bizarre notion that a revived and purified Islam will make up for this, or at least bring on an Apocalypse which will wipe out everyone and deliver believers and unbelievers to the mercy of God, for eternal reward and punishment, respectively. Western atheists who have spent their entire lives sneering at religion suddenly are solicitous of Muslim sensibilities and of all the ritual and moral requirements of Islamic law. This does not stop them, of course, from insulting Christians at every opportunity; but anyone voicing worries about Islamic Terrorism is guilty of "Islamophobia," a hate crime, and belongs in jail. Since the exception proves the rule, we see the conspicuous atheist Christopher Hitchens (19492011) consistently condemn Islam, Christianity, and the totalitarian Left.

Contemporary Terrorism began with the Palestinians. After the creation of Israel and the occupation and/or annexation of the rest of the British Mandate of Palestine by Jordan, Egypt, and Syria, Arab Palestinians, although largely then citizens of Jordan, were in a practical sense stateless. When Israel occupied the rest of Palestine in the Six Day War of 1967, this brought much of the Arab population, the part that remained and did not flee, within the limits of Israeli control. Before long, Arabs began crossing over to work in Israel, most of which was within easy commuting distance of the West Bank and Gaza.

Yasser Arafat, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the paramilitary organization Fatah, saw all this as a great opportunity to pursue a guerrilla war against Israel. Fighters could vanish among the Arab population that way the Viet-Cong vanished into the jungle and villages in fighting the Americans in Vietnam. He did not get very far with this. Palestine is not a jungle, and in fact a fair amount of it is open desert. Nobody is hiding very effectively out there (although Bar Kochba did successful hide in caves for a while in his revolt against Rome). And if fighters vanish into a Palestinian village, the Israelis can seal it off and search house-to-house until they find whatever it is they are looking for. So Arafat's guerrilla war went nowhere.

The solution was the inception of modern Terrorism -- a term borrowed from the French Revolution, when "Terrorists" and their "Reign of Terror" were terms embraced by the Terrorists themselves. Robespierre had said that Terror was simply the application of Virtue -- a sentiment not far from the modern Jihadist, although they don't like to be called "Terrorists" (even the supposed Right Wing cat's paw of Fox News tends to call them "militants"). But Lenin also used the term "Red Terror" for the actions he took to secure his regime. With Palestinians, at first there were what were essentially stunts, namely the hijacking of airplanes and holding passengers for ransom. This escalated into attacks on Israeli or Jewish targets outside Israel, leading to the kidnapping of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972. As a German team tried a hostage rescue, the Terrorists murdered all the Israelis. The Israelis determined to track down all the Terrorists involved in the operation, including one survivor who had actually been released by the Germans. In a ficitonalized form, this counter-operation is recounted in the movie Munich [2005]. In fact and ficton, the daring high point of the business was a raid into Beirut that killed three Terrorist leaders. The low point, left out of the movie, was a botched operation in Norway, where an innocent man was killed and the Israeli team was captured by the Norwegians.

An additional element to Terrorist activity was introduced in 1983, when a suicide-bomber drove a truck full of explosives into an American Marine barracks in Beirut. American troops were in Lebanon as "peacekeepers" in the aftermath of the Lebanese civil war. The civil war itself was often conducted in the form of kidnappings, murders, and mutilations. Although things had quieted down in Lebanese terms by 1983, a new factor was the Israeli invasion of 1982, which effected the ejection of Palestinian organizations from the country. There was still really no civil peace to be gotten out of the situation, even with American troops. So they left.

Although the Marines were definitely a military target, the source and manner of the attack soon became characteristic of the developing arsenal and motivation of Islamic Terrorism. With the Palestinians gone from Lebanon, this cleared the way for the rise of the Lebanese Shi'ite community. The Shi'ites had originally been only the third largest "Confessional" group in the country, after Maronite Christians and Sunni Muslims. But the numbers of the Shi'ites had slowly been growing, restrained only by the heavy hand of armed Palestinians. Now that was gone, and the Shi'ites had in the meantime become inspired by the fanatical Revolution in Shi'ite Iran. An arm of that Revolution was established in Lebanon in the form of the organization Hizbullâh, i.e. the "Party of God," often given its Persian pronunciation, Hezbollah.

Shi'ite Islam had something that Orthodox, Sunni Islam did not:  A tradition of suicidal martyrdom, patterned after the death of the Imam Hussein at the Battle of Karbalâ' in 680 AD. Thus, Shi'ism displays what often look like Christian features, e.g. a tradition of flagellants, which is now rare even in Christianity. The action of the suicide-bomber in 1983 thus reflected a Shi'ite mindset, something that had briefly appeared in the Middle Ages in the form of the infamous "Assassins" (who were Ismaili Shi'ites), but otherwise seemed more characteristic of the Japanese Kamikaze pilots of World War II.

But suicide attacks were not destined to remain a Shi'ite specialty. As dramatically introduced on September 11, 2001, airplane hijackers could turn aircraft into weapons if they were willing, like the Kamikaze pilots, to die in the process. In this case, it was Sunnis, agents of the Terrorist organization al-Qa'ida, who developed the tactic. Although working well initially, this was bound to be less effective once measures were taken against it. But suicide attacks as such, with explosives, soon became a favored weapon, used against Israel, against American forces in Iraq, against sectarian targets in Iraq (whether Shi'ite or Sunni), and elsewhere. In Palestinian territories, the older organizations, like Arafat's Fatah, lost influence, and new Islamic fanatics, such as Ḥamâs, became popular.

The tactics of Terrorism are the opposite of all the traditional scuples of the laws of war:  (1) combatants are now indistinguishable from civilians, whether friendly or enemy; (2) combatants preferentially target civilians, as many as possible, and without much regard for friendly collateral damage, precisely to instill, as the name implies, terror; and (3) combatants mix and hide among their own civilians in order to discourage retaliation or, once it is provoked, to cynically claim that the enemy is committing war crimes by targeting civilians. This ideology developed, again, among Palestinians in confrontation with Israel, initially on the principle, stated to me personally when I lived in Lebanon, that there are "no civilians" in Israel. Men, women, and children, as Zionist occupiers of Palestine, are all combatants. Since guerrilla war had always involved the concealment of friendly combatants among friendly civilians, the definition of "no civilians" among the enemy precisely creates the terms of Terrorist warfare. The addition of suicide attacks, including suicide bombings, increases both the terror and often the effectiveness of the attacks. Thus, a suicide bomber at an Israel checkpoint may be discovered and may be unable to carry out his mission as originally planned, but he still has an excellent chance to kill the Israelis, and anyone else, at the actual checkpoint. The mission thus has a flexibility that an attack with conventional arms would not have. With the enlarged Jihad of the post 9/11 world, the principle, in effect, is that there are no civilians anywhere.

Most of this is actually contrary to Islamic Law. Kidnapping a civilian and then decapitating him on camera, as Terrorists have done, most notably in Iraq, has no basis either in Islamic Law or on the manner in which wars were conducted in Islam in the Middle Ages. One can imagine the horror, alarm, and indignation of someone like Saladin that such things would be done in the name of Islam. Indeed, much of the ideology of the Jihadist and Islamists begins to look like a particular early and classic heresy in Islam, namely that of the Khârijites, who held that sinners, who did not obey Islamic moral strictures, were no longer Muslims and could be killed as apostates. The Khârijites originated when they rejected the Caliph 'Alî after he began to negotiate with the rebel Mu'âwiya. When a Khârijite then assassinated 'Alî, Mu'âwiya became the first Omayyad Caliph. The Khârijites also helped inspire the Zanj Rebellion against the Abbasids, 869-883 AD, when the Black slaves in Southern Iraq revolted and very nearly overthrew the Caliphate. When modern Islamists target other Muslims because they are insufficiently committed to the Jihad, this begins to look like the application of a Khârijite priniciple. The Sunni campaign of Terrorist bombings against Shi'ites in Iraq hardly looks like anything else, since the Orthodox (i.e. Sunni) principle has been since the Middle Ages that the rightness or wrongness of Shi'ism is left to be decided by God on the Judgment Day. If Sunnis decide that Shi'ites should be killed, this is a radical and revolutionary idea that is foreign to Islamic history. But then so much of current ideology, from a theocratic "Islamic Republic" in Iran, to the murder of civilians, to suicide terror attacks, to indiscriminate attacks on Christians, let alone Jews, is foreign to Islamic history. Indeed, there is little doubt that the attitude and tactics have been picked up from the Fascist and Communist ideology of the 20th century, which was already, as we have seen, unconcerned about the traditional proprieties of war or the innocence of civilians, even one's own. Hence the appropriateness of the characterization of all these developments in Islam as "Islamic Fascism."

How to address the international acts of Islamic Terrorism has confused Western opinion. The sympathizers of Terrorism at the United Nations, to whom Terrorists are simply "freedom fighters," have attempted to extend the full protections of prisoners of war to Terrorists. A segment of opinion in the United States, including the main stream of the Democratic Party, not only has agreed with this but simultaneously has promoted the idea that Terrorists should be treated, not as prisoners of war at all, but as criminal suspects, with all the safeguards and civil liberties that apply to criminal law in the United States. Extending the status of proper prisoners of war to Terrorists, however, would be bad enough. It contradicts and undermines all the principles of the laws of war, since the actions of Terrorists are contrary to every principle and motivation that underlies them. Nor do Terrorists ever observe the laws of war in the treatment of prisoners or kidnap victims in their custody. According the traditional dignity to such lawless persons concedes that what they do is morally and legally acceptable.

But even this is not going far enough for radical ideology and the bien pensants of trendy Leftist opinion. If Terrorists are held as any kind of prisoners of war, then they can be held indefinitely, without charges or trial. The Left (with, unfortunately, libertarians also) feigns outrage over this, as though they had never heard of prisoners of war being held "for the duration." The "outrage" merely betrays sympathy for Terrorism, or a cynical desire for political advantage. At the same time, since such prisoners are guilty of war crimes, there is also feigned outrage over the use of military courts to try them. Military law does not observe the same Constitutional priniciples as civilian courts; they can keep some evidence secret for military reasons; and they do not allow trials to become the sort of political circuses that Terrorists and their sympathizers want them to become. The determination of the Bush Administration to use "military tribunals" to try Terrorists provoked reactions along the lines that the United States had clearly become Nazi Germany. And the chance that some Terror suspects might be American citizens led commentators to liken President Bush to Hitler himself. It is all conveniently forgotten that the ideal and sainted President of the Democrat universe, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had used military courts to try, and condemn to death, German saboteurs, including American citizens, who had been landed from a German submarine in the United States. The Supreme Court never ruled against these actions by the Roosevelt Administration. The dishonesty of the anti-Bush furor is particularly revealed by two things:  (1) it continued even after the precedent of Roosevelt's actions was frequently cited, without any acknowledgement that there had ever been such such thing; and (2) it mostly stopped abruptly when the Obama Adminstration realized that even a Democrat controlled Congress was not going to allow Terrorists to be brought into the United States from Guantanamo Bay either to be held in prison or to be tried in civilian courts. The vow of candidate Obama to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, as a stain on America and on civilization, quietly evaporated as the alternatives were closed off. Now the Terrorists are back in military courts, at Guantanamo Bay. Meanwhile, Congress passed a law prohibiting the trial of American citizens in military tribunals. One wonders if FDR would have signed such a law. After all, American citizens, fighting in the German Army in Europe, were known to have impersonated American soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge. Are we now supposed to have shipped them back to civilian courts in the United States, rather than shot after a Court Martial in Europe? [note]

The Bush Administration chose to house Terrorists at Guantanamo Bay because of a post-Civil War Supreme Court decision. President Lincoln arrested some Southern sympathizing civilians in the North and tried them in military courts. Long after the fact, the Court ruled that outside the war zone, where civilian courts were functioning normally, this was improper. President Bush thus was advised not to risk the chance of radicals making claims for Terrorists being held on American soil. The Supreme Court undercut this with a ruling that a writ of habeus corpus could be filed in an American court for a person in American custody anywhere in the world. This bit of folly nevertheless has had limited consequences, since the Court has not ruled, yet, that Terrorists are other than prisoners of war. Even habeus corpus is not going to get them out.

In 2013, President Obama has again vowed to close Guantanamo Bay, despite the impossibility of getting Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, to cooperate. Nevertheless, this determination was praised by The Economist, which called the use of the facility "shameful," apparently without the slightest reflection that it is simply a prisoner of war camp, not an "international limbo," raising far fewer moral questions than the British detention (and treatment) of IRA suspects during the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland -- let alone British "concentration" camps (they invented the term) for civilians used in the Boer War.

Meanwhile, controversy continues over the treatment of Terrorist prisoners. Since the Terrorists themselves torture and murder their prisoners, considerations of reciprocity, so significant in the logic of the traditional rules of war, do not apply. The treatment of Terrorist prisoners depends on no more than considerations of humanity. But humanity swings both ways. A Terrorist with knowledge of plans for mass murder does not rate the same consideration as a mere cog in the Terrorist machine. When the Bush Administration used "enhanced interrogation," i.e. torture, to extract information from captured Terrorists, the United States was suddenly, to its enemies, back in the position of Nazi Germany again. In 2008, both John McCain, who had been tortured by the North Vietnamese, and Barack Obama, vowed that they would not allow anything of the sort again.

But what right does a Terrorist have to withhold information that could preserve hundreds or thousands from death in Terrorist attacks? None. He is not a civilian suspect protected from self-incrimination by the Fifth Amendment; and he is not the kind of prisoner of war who is protected by the laws of war from divulging information. The morality of this has been considered here separately along with other moral dilemmas. Even leftist civil libertarian Alan Dershowitz initially advocated the torture of Terrorist suspects. But there is torture and there is torture. My definition of "torture" is simply the infliction of pain either to coerce some kind of action, or as punishment, or just for the hell of it (for sadistic reasons). Clearly, in terms of any kind of reasonably civilized war, the coercion of information is what we are talking about.

In world history, the use of torture in judicial proceedings has been universal. There is a papyrus that records the trial of tomb-robbers in XX Dynasty Egypt. Witnesses were beaten on the soles of the feet, a technique known in modern times as "bastinado." In Roman law, slaves could not give evidence in court unless under torture. In traditional Chinese courts, defendants could not be convicted without a confession, and confessions often could not be obtained without torture. How this was done is recounted by Dutch diplomat Robert van Gulik in his Judge Dee novels. The Chinese had the extraordinary rule that, if it turned out that an innocent person had been made to confess, the punishment he received would be inflicted on the judge. This was called or "reversed judgment." The Spanish Inquisition observed the curious scruple that blood could not be shed during interrogations with torture. The result was devices to dislocate or crush joints and bones, which could inflict a tremendous amount of pain and damage, but might not break the skin. In Mediaeval England, the use of judicial torture was gradually curtailed, until abolished in 1640. Most European countries followed suit in the 18th century.

There were humanitarian considerations in the abolition of judicial torture, but there was also another factor that is all too apparent now. If the purpose of a system of justice is the truth, and justice, confessions extracted under torture are not reliable. An effective torturer can make almost anyone confess to almost anything. This was actually the point of torture in the Soviet Union, where quotas of confessed political criminals were often imposed on various authorties. If you don't fulfill your quota of counter-revolutionaries, Trotskyites, or "wreckers," then you are probably one of them yourself. Stalin didn't care whether given individuals were really guilty of anything or not. They should be willing to confess to anything if the Party required that of them. This sometimes actually seems to have been the case in the Show Trials of the late 1930's, when old Bolsheviks confessed in court to the most remarkable things and would even assure people in private that they did it out of obedience. Otherwise, "criminals" who managed to endure torture and refused to confess would never even appear in court at all but went directly to execution or labor camps.

In pursuing its "War on Terror," the Bush Administration used "enhanced interrogation" techniques that it denied were torture but that sounded like it to most observers. International agreements prohibiting torture define it as inflicting "severe" pain or suffering, either physical or "mental," for the purposes of obtaining information or confessions, for other forms of coercion, or for punishment, etc. "Severe" is vague enough to allow disputes, but I would simply define torture as inflicting any pain for coercive or other purposes. This then raises the most starkly the question whether, morally, any such thing is permissible when the lives of innocents, perhaps into the hundreds, thousands, or millions, are at stake. There is also the issue seen in World War II, where the willingness of the Germans to bomb cities persuaded the Allies that, rather than be at a dangerous disadvantage, they needed to bomb German cities also. Since Terrorists pay no attention to the laws of war or other international agreements, and routinely torture, mutilate, and murder even civilian hostages and kidnap victims, does this similarly free anti-Terrorist powers from scruples about torture?

For an answer, the logic of the situation must be kept in mind. Judicial torture is still unreliable. Indeed, we have now seen many cases in the United States were the police have extracted confessions from suspects simply by using extended verbal interrogations and lies, inflicted on people who, being innocent, do not avail themselves of counsel, and who may be assured by police that asking for counsel is like an admission of guilt. The people who end up confessing in those situations have difficulty believing that the police or prosecutors would lie to them (something prohibited in Britain) and are reluctant to believe that, despite their innocence, they are well advised, in the face of official misconduct, to obtain the advice of counsel. Juries also have difficulty believing that innocent persons could be made to confess without, indeed, torture -- the jury didn't even believe that Patty Hearst was tortured and brain-washed into joining the Symbionese Liberation Army -- and so even defendants who repudiate confessions they have made have difficulty undoing the impression that their existence makes during trials.

The only possible justification for an "enhanced interrogation" then would be to obtain information of such a nature as to save the lives of others. The attitude towards this sort of thing in public culture is curious. The 2004 movie, Man on Fire, features Denzel Washington as some sort of retired operative, presumably with the CIA, who has taken on the job (obtained for him by Christopher Walken) of bodyguard for a young girl in Mexico City, where kidnappings for ransom have become common. His young charge (Dakota Fanning) is indeed kidnapped, despite his efforts, and has been, he believes, murdered. He therefore sets out to kill the perpetrators, in the course of which he discovers that the girl lives. He rescues her, although at the cost of his own life. His technique of investigation is to track down people who participated in the kidnapping or know about it, to torture and often mutilate them, and then kill them. Audiences applaud. International agreements about torture apparently don't apply, and few commentators or reviewers seemed to have much in the way of moral problems with Washington's actions. He's good. The bad guys are bad. And they deserve it. They really deserve it. But this did not translate into the same complacency when it came to the "enhanced interrogation" of the Bush Administration "War on Terror."

Pragmatic, rather than moral, arguments against the Bush "enhanced interrogations" were that the information obtained in such a way was unreliable, like any other confessions under torture, and that, in fact, no valuable information had been obtained. The latter claim appears to be false; and I am given to understand that even the information that ultimately led to the discovery of the whereabouts of Usama bin Ladin was obtained from severe interrogations. At the same time, the first part of the argument is irrelevant. Information obtained from coercion is indeed unreliable, which is why it must be corroborated. Often you can simply go and see if it is true. The point is that it might not be suspected where to go and see without the information obtained from the interrogation.

The essential considerations concerning "enhanced interrogations" are:  (1) Terrorists do not have the privileges and protections accorded to proper prisoners of war who have been observing the laws of war; (2) Terrorists do not need to be convicted or even charged with a crime to be held indefinitely since, as prisoners of war, they are to be held for the "duration" of the war, which, being waged in an irregular fashion by stateless groups, is unlikely to be resolved in a conventional manner; and (3) only scruples of humanity will limit the kinds of techniques to be used in interrogations. The basic technique of interrogation by torture has always been, and remains, blunt force beatings; but this is precisely something that considerations of humanity and justice must preclude, given the potential for physical harm and permanent injury that is morally unconscionable for persons who may prove to be innocent, or at least relatively innocent. At the same time, this rules out most of what Denzel Washington was doing in Man on Fire, treatments that tended to be prejudicial to the future well being, or even the corporeal integrity, of his subjects. Instead, devices to disorient and confuse subjects, by sleeplessness, drugs, etc., may be stressful and coercive without much risk of long-term harm.

The signature interrogation technique of the Bush "War on Terror," of course, was what has come to be called "water-boarding." This was to give subjects the sensation of drowning by tipping them head down and pouring water up their noses. In his 2006 movie Black Book (Zwartboek), Paul Verhoeven shows Nazi interrogators using such a technique. His idea seems to be, and is clearly expressed in the DVD director's commentary, that the Americans doing this sort of thing are the moral equivalent of Nazis. The politically expedient wing of the self-righteous in American politics would heartily agree. Unfortunately, much of the thrust of Verhoeven's movie seems to be drawing a moral equivalence between the Nazis and the Allies in general in World War II (who, after all, bombed German and Japanese cities just like the Germans bombed London, etc., only worse -- the Germans and Japanese never used nukes), and between the Nazis and modern Israelis, who figure in the narrative frame of the movie. There may be some Dutch defensiveness and bad conscience in this attitude, since the Dutch seem to have been much more cooperative in deporting Jews during World War II than, say, the Danes or even the Italians; and the Netherlands was one of the better recruiting grounds for the Nazi SS. There is indeed a small industry of the morally pure who regard Allied actions in the War as so bad that there really is little reason to prefer them over the Nazis. The absurdity of such arguments aside, one begins to suspect that for such people the standard of moral scruple is so high that nothing would ever actually be done to resist evil, lest some kind of wrong be effected in the process. We hear this today when confronted with the Fascist and Terrorist regime in Iran, whose malevolent actions and intentions have been met with little more than international dithering for more than a decade. But I would hate to think that Paul Verhoeven's level of self-righteousness in comparing people to Nazis would have translated into the kind of complacency or collaboration that far too many Dutch apparently enjoyed during the War.

But this is not the first time that Verhoeven has lost his moral compass. His 2000 movie Hollow Man completely muddled the moral lesson of Plato's story of the "Ring of Gyges," as I have considered elsewhere. Much worse, his 1997 movie version of the 1959 novel Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein, represented a betrayal of Heinlein's work and another self-congratulatory exercise in his own moral superiority. Heinlein's indeed questionable thesis was that only military veterans should have the right to vote, since only they have put their lives on the line to defend all the citizens of their nation. Not surprisingly in the generation of World War II, and in a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Heinlein found military service to be noble. Whether we want only veterans running the government is a good question, but Heinlein expands his story with an invasion of intelligent extra-terrestrial insects, which puts to the test of battle all the young recuits whom we have previously met. Since the "bugs" are very hostile and aggressive and there is no apparent way to communicate with them and find out why they are doing what they are doing, all that can be done is fight them off and kill them. This is a reasonable premise in a science fiction context, and it has figured in other movies, such as Independence Day [1996] and Cowboys & Aliens [2011]. Heinlein saw his book as a tribute to anyone who ever fought to defend America, especially in World War I and World War II. To Verhoeven, although he does a fine job visually in bringing all this to the screen, the whole thing simply makes Heinlein some kind of Fascist. And by the end of the movie, when he is telling us just what he thinks in the director's commentary on the DVD, we see the stars of the movie arriving in uniforms that could have been pulled right out of the "German Army" wardrobe department of any Hollywood studio. And so we learn, in effect, that the moral equivalence of the Allies and Nazis was no accident. It was inevitable that the militarization to fight off the Germans created Fascism among the Allies also. So why bother? We might as well join the SS and get those cool leather coats.

Consequently, the moral judgment of Paul Verhoeven, or his like, is nothing to entrust with the fate of any nation or its people. If Verhoeven, and Nancy Pelosi, think that it would be better for a nuclear weapon to go off in New York City rather than water-board some al-Qa'ida leader, they do not understand the duties of a statesman. There are indeed ethical dilemmas involved in these things. This introduces a moral complexity to human life that I am sure we would all be happier not to need to deal with. But we do need to deal with it, as, actually, Machiavelli understood better than anyone. I suspect, however, that as a politician like Pelosi engages in her own cynical and opportunistic designs, she probably thinks that Machiavelli simply counseled cynical and opportunistic designs, which she would publicly disclaim. Indeed, Frederick the Great of Prussia denounced Machiavelli in his Anti-Machiavel [1740], right before doing things (e.g. invading Silesia) that made him in the eyes of Europe the most cynical and opportunistic monarch of his time. His audacity is almost admirable, but it does raise questions about the value, let alone sincerity, of his advice.

The essence of moral dilemmas, as I understand them, is that frequently a choice must be made between what, independently, would be a moral wrong, and what will be a bad, worse, or terrible outcome should one decide to do what, in isolation, would be morally right. The statesman, with the lives of his people in his care, must do what is necessary to protect them. If George W. Bush (or Dick Cheney) needed to pour water up the nose of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed at Guantanamo Bay to find out where Usama bin Ladin was, he went no where near as far as Denzel Washington did in Man on Fire, and he was just doing his job -- for which the Nation, and Civilization, should be grateful.

The Curious Case of Zero Dark Thirty [Annapurna Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 2012]

The movie Zero Dark Thirty, directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal, is the somewhat fictionalized story of the decade-long hunt for 'Usâma bin Lâdin. There was a movie about the hunt for bin Lâdin already in the works when the man himself was found and killed on 2 May 2011, and the project was quickly revised to tell the whole story. Bigelow had won Oscars, including Best Director and Best Picture, for The Hurt Locker [2008], about the war in Iraq, and it seemed logical that she was the one to tell the bin Lâdin story.

Conservative critics suspected that the movie would be a propaganda piece for the Obama Administration, and its release may have been pushed back until after the November 2012 election precisely to defuse such accusations. When the movie was released, however, it became the target of a very different set of accusations. Since it showed "enhanced interrogation," i.e. torture, of al-Qâ'ida suspects, and traced the information from them, about a courier used by bin Lâdin (Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti), to finding and killing him, it tore open publicly the wound that is the moral dilemma posed by the methods used in response to the 9/11 attacks.

The most interesting reaction was a open letter sent to the chairman of Sony Pictures by Senators John McCain (who himself was tortured by the North Vietnamese), Dianne Feinstein, and Carl Levin. Their approach was that the movie was factually false because no useful information had ever been obtained from "enhanced interrogation," which they had just demonstrated in a report written for their Senate Committee. This objection may betray a certain defensiveness, with the implication that their problem with harsh interrogation might have less force if, in fact, important information, perhaps saving lives, had been obtained that way. So they have chosen to question the effectiveness for intelligence of this, or any, kind of interrogation through torture.

If torture could be used to obtain information that might be used to save, perhaps, thousands or even millions of lives, this raises the issue of moral dilemmas that I have already considered above. Here I would wonder about the particular claim of McCain, Feinstein, and Levin. It is the sort of thing that in many contexts has never been taken seriously by anyone. For instance, in the 1974 novel by John le Carré (David John Moore Cornwell), Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a classic of Cold War literature, the entire story, in a sense, revolves around the interrogation and torture of a single British spy, Jim Prideaux, who has been shot and captured by the Russians in Czechoslovakia.

We are told in some detail about Prideaux's state of mind and his strategy for dealing with the approaching interrogation. All his devices, however, were defeated, and before long he told the Russians everything -- all about the suspicions of "Control," the head of British intelligence, that there was "mole," a hidden Soviet agent, in his own agency. He had narrowed the suspects down and given them code names based on the children's "Tinker, Tailor" rhyme. Prideaux then gave all this information to the Soviets, who were able to use the mole, Bill Haydon, to discredit and get rid of Control, quash the investigation, and erase all memory and record of the "Tinker, Tailor" suspicions. Haydon, who seems to have been Prideaux's lover at Oxford, got him repatriated; but then Prideaux was placed in a boys school and isolated from anyone who might be curious about his case. When the cover-up began to unravel, and George Smiley (played by Alex Guiness in the BBC television miniseries) was brought in to investigate, his interview of Prideaux tipped the man off that he had been betrayed into his shooting, capture, and torture. When the traitor was exposed as Haydon, Prideaux, who feels even more betrayed that this was his erstwhile friend (and is still troubled by the gunshot wound), uses all his spy skills to quietly murder him in one of the last events of the book [note].

Of all the comment about the 1974 book, the 1979 miniseries, or the 2011 movie (with Gary Oldman as Smiley), no one ever objected that the story was implausible to impossible because the Russians never would have been able to torture accurate information out of Jim Prideaux. Instead, it was simply assumed as an axiomatic given that this is precisely what they would be able to do, and it would not be too difficult to obtain information about how such things were done. There were many testimonials from victims of the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, and North Vietnamese about it. The historical issue may be clouded with the circumstance that victims were often being tortured to confess to crimes of which they were innocent, for propaganda purposes, but that purpose had nothing to do with the interrogation in Tinker, Tailor, or many real world intelligence situations. They hurt you, so you tell them something. Then they find out it is untrue, and they hurt you more. So eventually you tell them what they want to know. Some people are able to spin the process out longer, or provoke the interrogators into killing them first, but mostly the interrogation is eventually going to work. It even worked when done by amateurs on Patty Hearst. Another example in fiction where it is believably assumed that this can be done, although without the literary or intellectual heft of Tinker, Tailor is in the recent Liam Neeson movie, Taken [2008], where Neeson tortures information, rather quickly, out of one of the Albanian kidnappers of his daughter.

Thus, one wonders who McCain, Feinstein, and Levin think they are kidding. But, as I said, there is a certain psychological defensiveness to it all; and we can only sympathize with anyone who is torn between inherently inhuman means and the necessity of preventing even more inhuman attacks and slaughter. Meanwhile, Bigelow has apparently been black-balled by the sort of knee-jerk politically correct tools in Hollywood to whom no sympathy is owed; and the prospects of Zero Dark Thirty for the awards it probably deserves have been blighted. Bigelow was not even nominated for a Best Director Oscar.

At the same time, McCain, Feinstein, and Levin waded into a debate that had been going on for some time. Various people had previously argued that accurate intelligence could never be obtained from coercive interrogations; but people involved in the interrogations, or responsible for them, had already affirmed that such intelligence had indeed been obtained. In response to the Sentators' letter, Leon Panetta, the Obama Administration's own Director of the CIA and then Defense Secretary, publicly asserted, "There's no question that some of the intelligence gathered was the result of those efforts." But the problem of the moral dilemma was raised by screenwriter Mark Boal himself, who told The Wall Street Journal, "Let's be honest, what are we really going to do the next time there is a ticking time bomb situation?" ["The Art and Politics of 'Zero Dark Thirty'," Saturday/Sunday 16-17 February 2013, p.A11]. The Senators may have written their letter precisely because the "polls show, 'a narrow majority of Americans' believe torture can be justified as a legitimate way to gather intelligence" [Matthew Kaminski, ibid.]. While many would find that alarming, at one level it is simply common sense. If a Terrorist attack killed many Americans again, and it turned out that a suspect with relevant knowledge had been treated with Marquess of Queensbury Rules, there will be political hell to pay.


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War, Terror, and Torture, Note 1

I do not want to revisit the long debates about a "just war"; but I do want to specify what to me are the conditions that do justify war:

  1. Self-defense. If you are invaded by your neighbor, you have a right to stop them. It is less clear that if your neighbor appears to be preparing to invade you, or threatens to do so, you have a right to attack first. This works best without warning. This is a "preemptive" strike, and it is, strictly speaking in traditional international law, improper, especially if it is done without a declaration of war. However, it is foolish not to be prepared to do this, especially if one will otherwise be at a disadvantage without doing so. I think it is morally justified if its purpose is not conquest but only a kind of "forward" self-defense against an aggressor who is trying to achieve their aims by threat and coercion, with a manifest ability and intention to carry out the threats. Paradigmatic cases of preemptive warfare are the initiation of the Boer War in 1899 by the South African Republics and of the Six Day War in 1967 by Israel.

  2. It is in one's self interest. The primary duty of any government is the protection of its citizens. This means that wars should be waged for their own protection and in their own rightful and legitimate interest. This is contrary to the implications, if not the explicit statements, of much anti-war discourse and rhetoric. Thus, we may be given to understand that war should be waged, if at all, only out of a disinterested concern for justice and never because it is just for the benefit of one's own nation. This is all backwards, and it is a perversion of prudential considerations into a kind of moralistic altruism. It is also likely to involve one in thankless adventures for which there is no benefit, even for the supposed beneficiaries. Nevertheless, there are times when, in a larger sense, the defense of others seems justified. There is certainly nothing wrong with coming to the defense of another nation that is subjected to attack, and it may be that the ultimate aims of a successful attacker will become directly theatending to oneself if nothing is done about it. Thus, at the beginning of World War II, anti-war protesters in France used the slogan, "Why die for Danzig?" referring to the demand of Germany for the internationalized city of Danzig. Indeed, there was no particular reason to die just for Danzig, but any sensible person knew that Danzig was simply a pretext and that Adolf Hitler had larger goals in mind -- although even some recent writers seem to think that Hitler would have been satisfied with continued appeasement. France and Britain declared war when Germany invaded Poland, not even because the defense of Poland was so directly in their self-interest, but because the manifest distortion of the balance of power that the German conquest of Poland would entail was a threat to everyone else in Europe. Similarly, the United States defended South Korea and attempted to defend South Vietnam from attack by their northern, Communist counterparts because the geopolitical expansion of Communism posed a threat, not just to America, or even to the freedom of others, but to civilization itself.

    A more difficult case would be the temptation to defend a people from their own government. Sometimes this is easy. If a dictatorial government is unpopular, and also threatening or invading its neighbors, a surgical strike may be possible, efficient, and effective. Unfortunately, complications may arise when the dictatorial government isn't all that unpopular, and when a nation may not culturally be ready for any other form of government. The cases of Germany and Japan in World War II thus may have been deceptive. Both regimes seemed very popular, and neither country had much history of democratic or liberal government, but both quickly adapted to the imposition of more progressive constitutions. It is clear now that each society in fact possessed a certain level of sophistication and was amenable to liberation. The international experience since then has been much less edifying.

    Saddam Hussein was a particularly nasty dictator, with an internal government of ferocious brutality and terror, including the use of poison gas, and external actions that included the invasion of two neighbors, Iran and Kuwait, and an occupation of Kuwait with indiscriminate looting, kidnapping, and murder. The invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Hussein in 2003 would thus have seemed a fairly obvious example of a favor both to Iraqis and humanity. Nevertheless, Western critics were able, with straight faces, to argue that the man was both popular and more progressive than the Islamic regimes that were beginning to appear. I was thus personally told by a Ph.D. in economics that Iraq was "better for women" than a regime like the T.âlibân in Afghanistan -- unless, of course, one was a woman being personally raped and murdered by Saddam Hussein's infamous sons, or their friends. Removing Hussein, however, revealed a society that was little prepared for the benefits of liberal democracy. Instead, the brutality and terror of the former regime seemed merely to reflect a brutality and terror subsisting in Iraqi culture. The American civilians murdered and hung from a bridge in Fallujah in 2004 were an eerie echo of King Faysal II and Prime Minister Nuri as-Sa'id murdered and hung in public in the coup of 1958. Iraq subsequently had nothing but dictatorship and terror. As violence exploded in 2004, the confessional communities -- Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds -- were all too eager to settle old scores and vent their hatreds regardless of prudence, common sense, humanity, or political advantage. The treatment of the Iraqi Christians, with kidnappings, murders, and bombings, seemed to demonstrate a fanatical hostility to people who were really an insignificant presence in Iraq, both demographically and politically -- demonstrated by the only rare reports of these actions in the Western press, where editorial policy tends to kill stories about Christians as victims.

    A similar experience in American and then NATO actions in Afghanistan consequently demonstrated that no good action goes unpunished and that some societies are simply not ready for the 21st century, or perhaps even the 18th century. This is becoming grimly obvious in 2012, with groups of religious fanatics, like the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt, coming to power after the hopeful "Arab Spring" and demonstrating their preferences for intolerance, bigotry, and savagery. The dilemma of prefering moderate dictators to democracy is a calculation of Real Politik that is suddenly revealed as an unwelcome reality -- but mostly after the choices have been made. The support of Russia for the vicious dictatorship in Syria, with Islamist influence among the rebels, may be giving the experts in the U.S. State Department a moment of sober wondering whether the Russians are right.

    Thus, engaging in altruistic wars may open cans of worms that are not easily dealt with -- or may even be hopeless. Nevertheless, if removing Saddam Hussein or the T.âlibân was of obvious geopolitical and national benefit, what is one to do? It may be that there is nothing to do but muddle along until the effort can be conveniently abandoned, without any confidence that evils will not arise similar to what was in place originally. Afghanistan bedevilled the British and the Russians, and it is unlikely to prove very beneficial to anyone any time soon, let alone the Afghanis.

  3. It's doable. A prudent estimation about any war is whether its goals can be accomplished with any kind of dispatch or economy. This is notoriously difficult to do. Both the American Civil War and World War I were expected by all to be over in weeks. Years of slaughter followed. Consequently, no one should have any confidence in any such predictions. On the other hand, some goals now seem foolish. The desire to accomplish "nation building" in Somalia, Afghanistan, or Iraq now seems naive, although actions were undertaken in these places despite abundant cautions about their good sense.

    The unconfortable truth may be that sometimes interventions are necessary for limited aims even though no further good will come of it. The British invasion of Ethiopia in 1868 was simply to free hostages; and the country was immediately abandoned with no attempt made, after the death of the Emperor Theodore II, to leave any kind of government in place. Left to anarchy, the country needed to right itself, which in short order it did. A modern country apparently unready to do the same was Somalia; and its own anarchy has become an international threat, with groups of pirates operating from its ports. Under such circumstances France occupied Algeria in 1830, ending centuries of piracy and slaving in the Mediterranean. That this may now be necessary in Somalia is an unpleasant, indeed horrifying, prospect that international opinion, let alone any domestic opinion in the West, is unwilling to contemplate. The only effective alternative, in the continuing absence of a reponsible government in Somalia, is to destroy the ports and keep them destroyed, using stand-off naval and air action -- another prospect that the powers are apparently unwilling to contemplate. And where is the Royal Navy when we need it? Pirates in the 19th century could expect short shirft from British naval military justice. But now, even though there are NATO forces on patrol off Somalia, their effectiveness is often undone by dithering and hand-wringing over the human rights of apprehended pirates. "Non-interventionist" libertarians are reduced to advising people to stay out of dangerous waters, although those encompass a fair portion of the Indian Ocean and the essential route from the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to points East and South.

    Thus, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq may be judged to have been expedient, and the remedy for immediate evils, even if the prospects for the future were dim, or even hopeless. Keeping a limited sense of the doable, some narrowly doable things may just need to be done all over again later.

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War, Terror, and Torture, Note 2

When the Obama Administration asserted the right to target with drone strikes American citizens within the United States, libertarian Kentucky Senator Rand Paul engaged in a filibuster (6-7 March 2013) until the Administration clarified under what circumstances it would do this.

Since the use of drones, principally in Pakistan and Yemen, has become increasingly alarming to the Left and to libertarians, Senator Paul was really looking to energize public opinion in opposition to any such policy. Also, the Administration was being deliberately obtuse, as though for some reason it wished to keep its policy hidden.

As it happens, the circumstances of using any military action, let alone drone strikes, against American citizens anywhere are easily specified:  They must be engaged in making war against the United States and cannot be apprehended before their activities inflict great harm. The Constitution obviously countenances the application of the laws of war within the United States in cases of "Rebellion or Invasion." The infiltration of Terrorists, whether American citizens or not, is clearly a case of invasion. Similarly, Terrorists in Pakistan or Yemen, where they survive because of the inability or unwillingness of the local governments to deal with them, opens them to American military action. But, again, the whole debate is confused by misconceptions. I still see Abraham Lincoln faulted in print for suspending habeus corpus, even though the Constitution authorizes just such a thing and there is little doubt that such a measure was necessary in the circumstances of the Civil War.

Some of these questions also arose in connection with the apprehended Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Some Republican Senators asked that he be held as an enemy combatant and prisoner of war, even though he had recently become a naturalized American citizen. On the other hand, there was a firm legal precedent that, as a matter of public safety, he could be questioned for 48 hours before being read his Miranda rights and being provided with a lawyer. Information obtained in that way could not be used against him in legal proceedings, but then there clearly was enough evidence against him already that such a restriction would be no worry. Other legal procedures also could have delayed Mirandizing him. However, long before the 48 hours were over, a Justice department lawyer showed up with a judge and advised him of his rights. He stopped cooperating with the FBI.

This hasty termination of the interrogation seems part of the moral loftiness of the Left and others, to which the Obama Administration seems to be acutely sensitive. The national Libertarian Party complained that Tsarnaev was not Mirandized as soon as he was apprehended. What these attitudes amount to is unconcern for the safety of the public. The concern instead seems to be a self-righteousness that is contemptuous of the wisdom of the laws of war and of the considertions that motivate things like the 48 hour window, let alone the forms of military justice. But it is not righteousness if the result is to get more innocent people endangered or killed.

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War, Terror, and Torture -- The Curious Case of Zero Dark Thirty, Note

Parenthetically, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy evokes some other issues of interest in American politics. The story of Bill Haydon is based on the infamous British "Cambridge" spies, Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, and Anthony Blunt, who were recruited at College, just like Bill Haydon, in this case Cambridge rather than Oxford, as Soviet spies. They were able to do incalculable damage, including betraying nuclear secrets to the Soviets, before being exposed. While others were accused of belonging to the Cambridge ring, Philby, Maclean, and Burgess confirmed their guilt by defecting to the Soviet Union and accepting "patriotic" honors, and Blunt, although staying in Britain, later confessed publicly.

On the other hand, Soviet spies exposed in the United States, particularly Alger Hiss, are still the beneficiaries of an apologetic that continues on the American Left. The elite bien pensants still do not believe (sincerely?) that Hiss, or many other Cold War communists and traitors, actually were the communists and traitors that they were. And since Hiss and the likes of John Stewart Service toughed it out and never admitted guilt, it has been possible to promote a pro-Soviet Cold War revisionism in American Universities. This is far beyond being merely of historical interest, since the apologetic has effectively rehabilitated Soviet economics and totalitarian politics among American intellectuals and "educators." Many of the evils of American politics and education in 2012 are the result of this.

In Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy we learn that Bill Haydon was attracted to the Soviet Union in great measure because he really hated the Americans. There seems to be some sympathy for this in John le Carré himself, whose public statements about American foreign policy seem to involve some antipathy. This is another theme relevant to American politics. To people like Haydon/le Carré, the most economically successful country in history, and the most vibrant democracy, is, well, just too vulgar for the sensitive and resentful taste of the British upper classes. In turn, American political and cultural elites have taken this up with gusto, all with a show of caring for the workers and the masses but actually as part of a naked strategy of self-aggrandizement, both morally and economically -- so that seven of the ten wealthiest counties in the United States now ring Washington D.C. Thus, the "masses" have effectively been deceived to vote for politicians whose ideology is profoundly anti-American and whose policies mean nothing in the long run but poverty and peonage for their presumed beneficiaries. Demagoguery at its sophistical best.

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