Friday, April 26, 2013

Boston Bombings

You guys know about the bombing in Boston and how they caught the surviving bomber, but what you might not be aware of is Representative Greg Ball of the US House of Representatives advocating torturing the Dzhokar Tsarneav.
For more people saying we should torture Dzhokhar Tsarneav you can just check out the Twitter search (admittedly, there are a fair number of people opposed to it too).

Torture in this circumstance comes from two motivations. The more reasonable is interrogation. While Chechens are usually known for terrorism against Russia, the explosives knowledge and a choice of targets (a high-profile, internationally celebrated event with minimal security) might indicate some outside help. Certainly, applying pressure to get information on that outside help is going to be more effective than asking nicely. The beauty of torture is that you can ask nicely, then apply that pressure. Personally, I don' t think torture is very effective, but then I admit there's a liberal bias in a lot of my media feeds.

The worse reason is retribution. My fellow countrymen have an unhealthy attitude with retributive punishment that really ends with terrorists. We have an entire party that wants to punish people for bad life decisions and sees prison less as a place of reform and more as the expensive shelf to keep black people on so they don't clutter the place up. What I'm saying is that retributive torture is part of a long, bad cultural excitement over making certain people suffer.

Skipping over the topic of folks who allow no impairment of the second amendment while gleefully penning exceptions to the sixth and eighth, it's discouraging to have to remind people that we are supposed to be the good people here. The use of righteous outrage as a source of infinite justification for any retributive action is the action of the enemy, not of the self-purported leader of the free world.

The leader of the free world would have a fair, open trial. The defendant should be able to collect evidence to defend themselves and the government's prosecutors should be forced to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, not just to a jury but to the onlooking public, that they are prosecuting the right person.

Last year, Norway brought Anders Breivik to trial for his 2011 attacks which caused the deaths of 77 people, 55 of them under the age of twenty. When they did so, it was with almost no malice. I'm not glossing over the fact there. The love and support for the victims, survivors, and families didn't merely outweigh the hatred and outrage directed at the killer; it was the norm. When you read about Norwegians calling for the death penalty and expressing outrage over giving Breivik a forum for his world view, it's jarring in contrast to the actions of the rest of their country.

Why wouldn't we give these terrorist fuckers their day in court? Because they might make a mockery of it? If one man, in prison, with a single lawyer, and a few words in a public forum can make your legal system look like a mockery, that's not a reason to avoid trials; it's a reason to improve your legal system.

Because it would give him a platform for his beliefs? What beliefs? That some distorted version of the US should be annihilated? That we're corrupt conquerors? Like most extremist views, when you boil them down past the distractions and the inherent conflicts in which they take place, when you focus them on their central tenets, you find nothing but an irrational cathedral of hatred, built from the spire down and lifted up with walls of fantasy and paranoia.

Like Westboro Baptist Church, when you silence these people, you make the conversation about silencing them. When you put people in secret prisons and try them without due process, the conversation becomes about secret prisons and military tribunals, about what we're doing instead of what they believe.

It's foolish to think that ideology and a moral high ground are worthless next to arrests, air strikes, and bullets in a global war against an ideology whose adherents possess nothing but their moral certainty in the face of a spiritually inferior opponent.

If you are the world's greatest and most free country, if you have the strength of your convictions, you don't need to annihilate or humiliate everyone who opposes you. Force is the last resort of the fearful, not an expression of power. The truly powerful, the comfortably righteous, would let their enemies talk themselves out of breath before nodding sadly and putting them in a time out until they've learned their lesson.

No one takes the impotently fuming toddler in a corner seriously because when you do, there's an assumed parity between the two of you. There should be no parity between The United States government and extremist terrorists.

By default, we are a collaborative civilization which acts with humility, values truth, and trusts one another. We are not perfect. As powerful as we are, we often make mistakes, to the detriment of the people we share the world with.  That we have done wrong before is undeniable, but that we are indifferent or malicious is wrong. The mistaken belief in that is the basis of their existence; that they are the plucky rebels and only force that can engage and stop our amoral empire.

When we treat the deaths of innocents as a release from our obligations to our principles, we feed that falsehood and create the impression that we are locked in a battle of peers with a formidable enemy.  When we use those innocents as an excuse to lash out in the name of justice, we look afraid, as if we're fighting equals. When we give into the urge to denigrate and punish individuals in a fit of righteous pique in the name of justice, we are not fighting terrorism, deterring lone wolves, or making each other safer.

We are engaging in a dialog of violence with a child, and while we might be able to shout louder, it is not an argument we will ever win because the argument is validation enough for them.

Does this mean we might be less safe? Might it cost us battles to win the war? Will more innocents die? John Stuart Mill, a thinker of some repute, once penned some lines with which I believe all US Marines are familiar and which I am fortunate to be aware of because of my association with them. The most salient of those reads, "A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

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