Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Official Torture Policy

Many torture apologists make much of the fact that official policy regarding "enhanced interrogation" meant tactics that didn't cause permanent damage. Waterboarding probably won't kill you. Sleep deprivation, stress positions, use of insects. You'll survive.

As awful as this logic is, the fact of the matter is the real techniques were not limited to these methods. We know from Nazi war crimes trials that when official policy permitted the above, in reality these methods would be frequently extended. Take the case of Manadel al-Jamadi. He was strung up by his arms from behind. The door closed. An hour later he was dead. Sabrina Harman was told by her superiors that he died of a heart attack, but she was skeptical, so she took some photos. She found evidence that he was beaten savagely and realized she was being lied to.

Maher Arar was shipped to Syria where he claims he was confined to a coffin size box and whipped with cables, among other torture methods. Binyam Mohamed says that he was cut with scalpels and razor blades across his penis and chest.

It gets worse. It is beginning to look like KSM's children were tortured to encourage his cooperation and to get information from them. They were younger than 10. His are not the only children tortured.

The al-Jamadi case is supported with photographic evidence. The rest are unproved. We do know that at Guantánamo the evidence is intentionally destroyed. We know that the video of José Padilla's interrogation has been "lost". We also know that Bush lawyer John Yoo won't answer the question when he was asked if the President had legal authority to bury someone alive.

This was all done to keep us safe, right? It was used to prevent further attacks, not extract false confessions, right?

What has happened to conservatives, who used to be pessimistic of expanded government power?

Is Waterboarding Torture?

Hispanic Pundit would like to know how a person would react to the argument that waterboading isn't torture. It's a good question in that it does reflect a common response from the advocates of Bush's "enhanced interrogation" techniques.

I might start by asking such a person if they thought the display of one of Pol Pot's waterboards was out of place at the Genocide Museum in Cambodia. I would note that Ronald Reagan championed and signed the UN Convention on Torture, which appears to define torture in a way that would include waterboarding. I would also direct them to additional torture law, which includes U.S. law, and I would ask them to explain how waterboarding wouldn't qualify under the definitions in that law.

Finally I would note that the United States has repeatedly prosecuted others for waterboarding as if it was a serious crime.

I think many that don't regard it as torture just don't understand what is happening. For instance Bob Dutko said yesterday on the air that when somebody is waterboarded, water doesn't actually make its way into the mouth and nose. This is just entirely wrong. So he obviously doesn't understand what is happening. Watching Chistopher Hitchens or Mike Guy get waterboarded would probably be helpful for such people.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Debate Tactics

You think you're ready to debate William Lane Craig? Well, you're not.

Andrew over at Evaluating Christianity has advice for anybody that thinks they're ready. This is excellent material and very well worth reading if you are interested in being an effective debator. So far it's in 5 parts, all of which are linked at his latest addition.

I've learned a lot from calling in to Christian radio shows, and I think I've improved. Speaking is quite a bit different from writing. More challenging. If you ever want to consider doing it just remember that it's OK to lose. It's just like going to the gym and working out. If you've never been to a gym you're probably small and weak. You're intimidated by everyone else. But remember that everyone else was once small like you are now. Everyone had to go through the same thing. To improve you need to get in there and put up with it. You'll get better and you'll fit in eventually.

One area where I think I could improve is the fact that I sometimes let my opponent dictate what we're going to talk about. Take my recent talk with Bob Dutko. I started by laying out a basic case against torture based on the opinions of the founding fathers. Bob basically entirely ignored my argument. He went off into discussions about being searched at an airport. I allowed this. Eventually while listening to him I realized that he was turning the discussion away from torture entirely. It took me too long to realize this, but I did finally, and I brought the discussion back. But he never bothered to deal with my central argument about the founding fathers.

Of course this is a radio show so maybe this makes things a little different. I'm partly satisfied that I was simply able to express my point and maybe that's about the best I can hope for. It's not like an equal time scenario.

In my experience Greg Koukl really takes this to the extreme. He always seems to put me at the top of the hour where there will only be a few minutes and he can be done with me, and in the few minutes that I have he'll just talk over me even though he misunderstands me. So there's not much by way of tactics that you can do about that. For this reason I'm not very interested in calling him. Wait an hour on hold just to be talked over, misunderstood, and then swept aside at the top of the hour? Pretty lame.

What If Your Loved One Is In Danger?

I want to answer one question that that the caller after me asked when I spoke with Bob Dutko last Friday. I didn't record the call, but he asked what I would do if my wife or daughter's life was on the line. Would I waterboard KSM?

Maybe I would, but that doesn't mean it is right. There is a reason that a judge would recuse himself in a case if he is in any way personally tied to the events in question. He understands that his judgment could be impaired by this. He might not be as objective as he would otherwise be. Or even if he is, the accused may suspect that he's not being objective, and this would taint the whole trial. We might suspect the trial wasn't fair. If my loved one is affected by my decision to waterboard I'm probably not going to be impartial about the decision, which means I'm not qualified to make the decision.

But I can offer a similar hypothetical of my own. What if granting the government the authority to torture did prevent an attack today, but bequethed to our children a government with carte blanche to do whatever they want. And your daughter ticked of some government official, who then trumped up some charges and had no need to prove his case against your daughter. Then your daughter was tortured and killed. Would you waterboard then?

Of course you could never predict such a thing, but my point is there is risk on both sides. Do I really think Obama is going to torture pro-lifer's or defenders of the 2nd ammendment? No. But I do understand that Jefferson was right when he said it is the natural tendency for government to grow and liberty to yield. Obama himself may not be the danger. The danger is further down the road, but it is huge.

If we do nothing about the Bush torture regime, what can we expect the future to hold? Our government has learned that they really can torture without bothering with due process. The worst that will happen is we'll yell and scream about it, but in the end do nothing. We can expect that when some future President really thinks he needs to torture, he'll know that he's in no danger from the law. And when a person assumes the reigns of power he always manages to convince himself that he's serving the greater good by ignoring those protections our founding fathers bequethed to us.

What of foreign governments? We can be sure that more will torture in the future. America does it. Why shouldn't we? Unfortunately, they'll be right. The world is a far more dangerous place. Unless we prosecute those that authorized torture.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Torture Costs American Lives

From Matthew Alexander via Andrew Sullivan:

"As a senior interrogator in Iraq, I conducted more than three hundred interrogations and monitored more than one thousand. I heard numerous foreign fighters state that the reason they came to Iraq to fight was because of the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. Our policy of torture and abuse is Al-Qaeda’s number one recruiting tool. These same insurgents have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of our troops in Iraq, not to mention Iraqi civilians. Torture and abuse are counterproductive in the long term and, ultimately, cost us more lives than they save."

Bob Dutko and I Talk Torture

Bob goes into full spin doctor mode in this one, repeatedly misrepresenting what I'm saying, denying what he himself had said. The Nazi style spin of how mild the torture techniques are continues, though I wasn't able to come back on him for this. Listen to my talk here.

Bob reads caller emails before he opens up the phone lines. One email expressed shock at how wimpy these terrorists are. As mild as waterboarding is, as silly as a caterpillar in the box is, their leaders must be furious when they return that they gave up so much information after the mild treatment. Bob also thinks this is funny. It doesn't occur to them that perhaps Bob's descriptions are way off the mark. In fact Abu Zubaydah's interrogators suffered trauma simply from observing the depths of human depravity on display as they waterboarded him repeatedly when he had nothing further to say.

A couple of points on facts Bob and I discuss. Bob denied that Nazi's were convicted for "enhanced interrogation." See here. He asserts that waterboarding KSM prevented an LA style 9-11 and I say it didn't. See here and here. However I also made a mistake in that I claimed that José Padilla was released from prison, but in fact that's not true. He was ordered to be released, but that order was subsequently overruled. So I withdraw that claim with apologies. However my point that the majority of detainees at Guantanamo have been released without charge is true.

The next two callers after me partly discussed my own call. I failed to record the first one, but got the second one, which you can hear here. The caller says that torture is barbaric. Bob responds by saying that dropping grenades in caves or shooting people is also barbaric, but you have to do what you have to do. He demands that his caller show a distinction. Apparently Bob figures there's no difference between the two. All those war crimes tribunals, international law, even military rules regarding this kind of behavior are all off the mark as far as Bob is concerned. Strange that our own military resisted the call for torture, but was overruled by Rumsfeld. We should make no distinctions, and have no more prohibitions on torture than we would on legitamate kills in a combat zone.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Which 10 Commandments?

If you haven't heard Todd Friel interview Christopher Hitchens, check it out. It's a treat. The Friel/Comfort/Cameron method is to ask you how you're doing upholding the 10 Commandments. Since they say nobody is keeping them, this is why we need Jesus, etc, etc.

What a lot of people don't know is that there are two versions of the 10 Commandments. When Friel asked Hitchens how he's doing keeping them they both assumed he had in mind the more traditional ones, which are summarized below. These are from Exodus 20.

1-Have no gods before me.
2-Make no graven images
3-Don't take name of the Lord in vain
4-Observe the Sabbath
5-Honor your father and mother
6-Don't kill
7-Don't commit adultery
8-Don't steal
9-Don't bear false witness
10-Don't covet

If it were me I'd probably ask Friel to clarify which set of 10 commandments he has in mind. The Exodus 34 version is also cut out of rock into tablets, and this is the only one actually referred to as "The Ten Commandments" in the Bible. Here they are:

1-Worship no other God but YHWH
2-Make no molten gods
3-Observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread
4-The firstborn is mine
5-Rest on the seventh day
6-Observe the Feast of Weeks
7-Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice with leaven
8-Do not let the Passover sacrifice remain until morning
9-The firstfuits of the land go to the House of the Lord
10-Don't boil a calf in its mother's milk

Those don't look quite so good displayed in a court room. They also don't fit well into Todd Friel's spiel. Which is why they are ignored.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Getting to Know James White

Christian apologist James White recently posted a youtube clip where he responded to some things his sister, Patty Bonds, had said.

I suppose there's a sense that maybe that one thing that could come out of this that would be good would be people to see just how crippled she has become because she just lives in this realm of victimhood and everything is defined by that. And there are so many people who have bought in to that. It is one of the most debilitating aspects of our modern society, that you blame your parents, you blame the people that you grew up with, you blame your circumstances, you blame events from 150 years ago anymore as if you know I just could never be a success in life because of X, Y, and Z. Thankfully I've never bought into that. Everyone's parents are fallible. I think of myself as a parent and I think of each of my young people and I could have been there for them, I could have been this better. I think every parent, hopefully every parent, every Christian parent anyway, sits back and thinks about these things. But you know I've never passed on to my kids this idea of a victim mentality. You are responsible before God for who you are. You stand before God for the decisions you make. Blaming other people is just, it's pathetic, and it shows a tremendous lack of maturity.

Generally that sounds reasonable. No parent is perfect. All have made mistakes. Any person that wants to blame their current situation on their parents mistakes from the past would have grounds to do so since every parent has erred in some way. You can't let that be an excuse for failure.

But what does James White have in mind here? What is it that really defines Patty Bond's victimhood? What is she upset with her parents about? Was it that her Dad wasn't there for her? No. Was it that there were things that he could have done better? Yeah, that's getting closer. He'd have been doing much better if he had abstained from raping her continuously for 10 straight years from the time she was 10 years old. That's her claim, and it looks credible to me.

What could her mother have done better? Maybe some protection rather than knowingly permitting her father's nightly visits to her bedroom? Maybe not grilling her and yelling at her for the situation? Maybe not threatening her with a gun for discussing the situation?

Maybe I'm not getting James White here. I'm sure he'd say she's lying about the whole thing anyway. But the quote above seems to say even if it's true, so what? Get over it. Stop whining. No parent is perfect. Stop blaming our parents. You're a professional victim. His criticism is not for his father, or his mother. It is for a woman raped at the age of 10 continuously. Am I missing it here? Did I misunderstand? He can't be this big of a monster. Can he? Someone help me out here.

Monday, April 6, 2009


I spoke with Bob Dutko previously about how certain viruses in both our genome and the chimpanzee genome indicate that we share a common ancestor. Bob responded that he "has no problem" with certain similarities in the genetic structure. We can see that chimpanzees and humans have anatomical similarities. We might expect the Designer to likewise use similar "stuff" in making similar creatures.

Could be. But what I wanted to say to Bob is that I'm well aware he has no "problem" with these evidences. He likewise would have no problem if the genetic code was different. That would be the way God did it. If we find creatures that appear to look like transitional forms, that's no problem. God made them that way. It's one of God's unique creatures. If however we don't find transitional forms, that's obviously fine. God didn't choose to make them.

Junk DNA common to chimps and humans? Formerly useful DNA now de-activated common to chimps and humans? No problem. That's the way God did it. But what if we didn't share junk DNA or de-activated useful sequences? Would that be a problem for the God did it hypothesis? Nope. That would just be the (other) way God did it.

You can see the problem here. The God did it hypothesis explains every observation that we can ever encounter. Do creatures (such as an ostrich) have limbs that appear to be designed for a purpose they no longer use, as if their ancestors used to fly? No problem. God made them that way. Suppose life in the future is easily made naturally. No problem. God made it that way intentionally. But the opposite is also fine for the God did it hypothesis. If no animals had features that appeared intended for a purpose they no longer use, that's obviously fine. If life can never be made naturally that's also fine.

The God did it hypothesis was once used to explain lightning, meteorites, thunder, and of course the diversity of life on this planet. God is no longer needed for these, but there are still some unexplained things out there. God is still invoked in these areas.

Take the big bang. Pretty complex stuff. Time had a beginning? How can I make sense of that? I don't get it. So the Christian rushes in with his all explaining explanation. God did it. Problem solved. What about numbers? Do they exist independently of human minds and if so how can we make sense of this? No problem. Shove God in that gap. Morality? God did it. Logic? God did it. Or how about the origin of life. Scientists have reasonable, plausible explanations that don't require miracles. But nothing has been proven. Try God.

But is this really useful? what I like about scientific explanations is that they offer conditions by which they can be falsified. With evolution, if we find a rabbit in Precambrian era rock, if we find no evidence of chromosomal fusion in humans (since humans have 23 chromosomes whereas other primates have 24), if we find a virus sequence common to a mouse that a chimpanzee does not also have, then evolution has a problem. What about the God did it hypothesis? Would it have a problem? The evidence could go either way in each case and it makes no difference. God did it always works.

So even if I can't explain morality, logic, or mathematics, I think I'm justified in accepting their truths. Maybe one day we'll have a good explanation for these things. And maybe we won't. But to demand that I insert the universal all explaining explanation is not warranted.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The End of Christian America?

Newsweek on the decline of Christianity in America.

Hitchens Doing What He Does

Just a random, fun Hitchens clip.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

More on Ahmed/Habermas

The Carrier/Craig debate has created a good amount of internet discussion. Some people think Carrier performed great (that's my view), but maybe not to the level where you'd declare him the winner. Some Christians think he did very poorly. But for some of these Christians it seems that the skeptic always does poorly. One Christian reviewer that thinks Carrier did poorly also thinks Habermas defeated Ahmed. I couldn't disagree more. In my view if you are a Christian and you think Ahmed lost to Habermas then you simply have difficulty ever recognizing when your side has lost in a debate.

In what follows I will explain in more detail why I saw this as a clear Ahmed victory. This will serve to show that if you can't recognize that the Christian lost here, you're just not objective, and your opinions on these issues should simply be ignored.

In this debate, Ahmed made three arguments that he expressed very clearly. I outline the arguments here. He provided them in syllogistic form and asked Habermas to identify the premises he denied. Ahmed put it this way after he presented his first argument.

"The argument is the form of 3 premises and a conclusion, so 1, 2, and 3 are the premises and 4 follows from them. If 4 is false, then one of 1, 2 ,and 3 must be false. So my next question for Gary is which one of those premises 1, 2, and 3 he denies and why."

During the initial interactions between Ahmed and Habermas, Habermas perhaps implied a denial of one of the premises to one of the arguments, but it wasn't clear. The first questioner from the audience put it to Habermas again. The questioner pointed out that Habermas has not told us which premise he denies in the three arguments. Tell us now. Identify the premise by the number on the printed page. Do it for each argument.

Habermas offered no clear answer. Ahmed responded "I couldn't discern an answer to the question in that response." Ahmed said that he believed Habermas implicitly denied one premise in the third argument and he countered what he took to be Habermas' argument.

Another questioner said to Habermas "You've spent the entire evening and you haven't answered any of the questions he's tried to put before you. Let's be honest about it." Habermas responded by saying among other things "I believe I responded to all three." Ahmed replied that we still don't know which premise of the first two arguments Habermas denies and we have no good reason to deny the 2nd premise in argument three.

Finally in the closing moments of the debate Habarmas offered this:

"For those of you that have been waiting for this, I will dispute the 1st argument, premise 3, 2nd argument, premise 3, 3rd argument, premise 2. I thought I made it plain and may not have. I think the resurrection data upset those points."

So a simple numerical identification of the premises he denied without much by way of explanation or justification. No time to explain himself. No opportunity for Ahmed to respond to an explanation.

Now, it would be one thing if Ahmed made dozens of arguments that weren't clearly formulated and Habermas wasn't able to get to them all. That was not the case here. He was repeatedly asked to answer the questions and just would not. Anybody that left that debate would have left with no idea of how to deal with the arguments Ahmed made. The first two arguments were for the most part ignored. Habermas attempted to counter the third argument. Ahmed countered and Habermas never got back to it. Any one of these three arguments is rational grounds for rejecting belief in the resurrection. Habermas left these arguments unanswered.

Yet our Christian reviewer can still chalk it up as a win for Habermas. How is this possible? He cites three issues. Ahmed assumed Mk 16:18 was regarded by Habermas as genuine, he referred to Mormons when he should have said Jehovah's Witness in one instance, and he decides he doesn't think Ahmed knows much about I Cor 15 (though I see it more as disagreeing with his understanding of I Cor 15). Oh, and also the fact that his "philosophical arguments are weak." So two utterly inconsequential errors, one opinion (fairly baseless) that Ahmed doesn't know much about I Cor 15, and his own bare assertion that his arguments are weak. None of this makes belief in the resurrection rational. Each of Ahmed's arguments makes disbelief in the resurrection rational. Yet somehow Habermas wins this debate.

What if the Christian in the debate ran from the room sobbing and screaming as part of his first rebuttal. At that point would the skeptic have earned himself a victory? For some of these Christians you wouldn't be sure.