Saturday, May 31, 2014

On Sarah Palin's Waterboarding Statement

Recently, conservative Christian and former GOP presidential candidate Sarah Palin recently made a joke regarding waterboarding. She said to the National Rifle Association (NRA), "[W]aterboarding is how we [would] baptize terrorists.”

And not everyone greeted it kindly. Many of us in the libertarian blogosphere condemned it as blasphemous and immoral of her to make a horrendous joke. And others also joined us in the (deserved) condemnation party. However, her fans were trying to argue that such condemnation was resembling of political correctness, that her statement was really a joke, and that we condemners are all just stupid for saying such. The great William N. Grigg rightfully referred to her as "Nuremberg Barbie".

However, I believe that Sarah Palin's awful joke is not only representative of Palin herself, but her defenders are reflective of a pretty big chunk of the evangelical Christian population, most of whom believe that torture by the U.S. government against terrorist suspects is acceptable in some or all circumstances. It is representative of the hypocrisy of believing in limited government and limitation on power except with regard to those whom the government suspects as being enemies and terrorists. It is also representative of a seriously blasphemous joke in comparing water-torture used against suspects to the sign of regeneration that all Christians have participated in. In some ways, it represents the darker spirit of modern day conservatism and especially religious-right conservatism, the desire to use control for grand purposes. Such motive is bound to failure and often is rooted in selfish purposes and desires.

The Real Danger of the Statement

The statement itself, even if it were a joke, is very wrong, because it jokingly refers to what is essentially an act of torture (or "enhanced interrogation," for those desensitized enough to call it such) as a sign of regeneration that is only for Christians. It views torture as a sign of purification for the torture victim. And it represents a sign of gung-ho American nationalist statism which has pervaded much of modern conservatism—especially in some of the more grassroots elements of conservatism, especially in the Tea Party.

First, waterboarding itself is torture. Yes, it may be "helpful" in obtaining information, but it's still essentially torture. Laurence Vance says of torture:
Rather than saving American lives, the torture of Muslim prisoners serves as a recruiting tool for al-Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist organizations. Yes, the crimes of terrorists are many. But why give them reasons to commit more of them? "If we forfeit our values by signaling that they are negotiable in situations of grave or imminent danger, we drive those undecideds into the arms of the enemy," says former commandant of the Marine Corps Charles C. Krulak.
Second, this statement reeks of a belief that torturing a terrorist suspect in order to get information is justified and moral. This view was held by a majority of conservative and neoconservative Christians (though some neocons did say that waterboarding was torture). Some would even say that it isn't "torture" because we are doing it for right reasons and right purposes. However, this was held as torture when other nation-states like imperial Japan and Soviet Russia exercised such actions. Why should it be different when Israel, U.S.A., or Great Britain does it?

Third, I believe that even if Sarah Palin was joking (as her defenders would argue) and that her detractors are all wooly-hearted pinkos, I still don't believe that that justifies her statement. It's still wrong, and it still reflects a darker trend in much of conservatism that has existed since the history of conservatism: the state, while imperfect, is the locus of social order, and thus almost any means are justified in keeping order. That includes waterboarding, torture, or any thing that is deemed "strong" enough for the state to exercise and assert its power. However, the danger of this is summed up in Lord Acton's statement: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." If the State has the power to exercise torture against those deemed "bad," then it can be used to exercise it against those who are innocent but whom the state deems as enemies. Also, as Murray Rothbard argues in The Ethics of Liberty:
In every crime, in every invasion of rights, from the most negligible breach of contract up to murder, there are always two parties (or sets of parties) involved: the victim (the plaintiff) and the alleged criminal (the defendant). The purpose of every judicial proceeding is to find, as best we can, who the criminal is or is not in any given case. Generally, these judicial rules make for the most widely acceptable means of finding out who the criminals may be. But the libertarian has one overriding caveat on these procedures: no force may be used against non-criminals. For any physical force used against a non-criminal is an invasion of that innocent person’s rights, and is therefore itself criminal and impermissible. Take, for example, the police practice of beating and torturing suspects—or, at least, of tapping their wires. People who object to these practices are invariably accused by conservatives of “coddling criminals.” But the whole point is that we don’t know if these are criminals or not, and until convicted, they must be presumed not to be criminals and to enjoy all the rights of the innocent: in the words of the famous phrase, “they are innocent until proven guilty.” (The only exception would be a victim exerting self-defense on the spot against an aggressor, for he knows that the criminal is invading his home.) “Coddling criminals” then becomes, in actuality, making sure that police do not criminally invade the rights of self-ownership of presumptive innocents whom they suspect of crime. In that case, the “coddler,” and the restrainer of the police, proves to be far more of a genuine defender of property rights than is the conservative.
This means that preventing torture is not "coddling" the terrorist but rather being careful in the use of force and coercion. Opposing waterboarding and other state exercises of violence against terrorist suspects is not equivalent to coddling criminals or supporting terrorism, despite what some conservative extremists would have you believe. It is an upholding of the Bill of Rights, of libertarian rights, and of good morality and values. Terrorism, however heinous and politically motivated, can't be compared to the act of invasive warfare from another State or army. Terrorists usually act on grievances and are often individuals not connected with a State. They may be celebrated by a certain State, but that doesn't necessarily make them State-endorsed. They often act independently of any state apparatus. Thus, terrorism isn't an act of war and shouldn't be treated as such. And that includes wiretapping, which is a criminal invasion of property rights.

Sarah Palin's statement rejects this, and her bad joke is a reflection on it.

Feel free to leave your comments at the comment section. They are welcome.

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