Balkinization  

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Moral Philosophy from the Godfather of Rendition

David Luban

Michael Scheuer is an ex-CIA analyst, former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden squad, and founder (during the Clinton Administration) of the extraordinary rendition program. (Scheuer discussed it in a December 2005 interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit, available in English here.) Since leaving the CIA, Scheuer has become an accomplished self-promoter, and he has always aimed to project a swaggering image of patriotic ruthlessness. There was his claim in the 2005 interview that the reason the CIA relied on foreign police forces rather than doing the dirty work themselves is that "The American government is full of cowards." Or this:


Die Zeit: Did you not have doubts concerning the use of torture in these countries?
Michael Scheuer: No, my job was to protect American citizens by
arresting members of Al-Qaida....90% of this operation was successful and only 10% could be considered as disastrous.
Die Zeit: Which part was the disaster?
Michael Scheuer: The fact that everything was made public.

– made public, he adds, in part because of "this troublemaker in the Senate, John McCain."

Scheuer was in top form on the same themes two weeks ago, when he testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee about extraordinary rendition, complaining bitterly that

the Washington Post’s correspondent Dana Priest revealed information that damaged U.S. national security and, as result, won a journalism prize for abetting America’s enemies, and when such lamentable politicians as Senators McCain, Rockefeller, Graham, and Levin followed Ms. Priest’s lead and began to attack the men and women of CIA who had risked their lives to protect America under the direct orders of two U.S. presidents and with the full knowledge of the intelligence committees of the United States Congress. Both Ms. Priest and the gentlemen just mentioned have behaved disgracefully, and ought to publicly apologize to the CIA’s men and women who have executed the Rendition Program.

(Small puzzle: Scheuer did not explain how those who executed the Rendition Program risked their lives under Clinton if, as Scheuer insisted in his 2005 interview, "the CIA did not arrest or imprison anybody themselves" because "the local police or the local secret services took care of that.") As for the people rendered, he adds:

I would not, however, be surprised if their treatment was not up to U.S. standards, but this is a matter of no concern as the Rendition Program's goal was to protect America and the rendered fighters delivered to Middle Eastern governments are now either dead or in places from which they cannot harm America. Mission accomplished, as the saying goes.

(Mission accomplished indeed, and that's why we're so much safer now. Two days ago, the Washington Post reported that "the number of serious international terrorist incidents more than tripled last year, according to U.S. government figures, a sharp upswing in deadly attacks that the State Department has decided not to make public in its annual report on terrorism due to Congress this week." State then decided to make the information public, indicating a fourfold increase in terrorist incidents. The report is here. More of that darn bad publicity.)

In today’s Washington Post, Scheuer explains a bit more about his moral philosophy as compared with the old softie, George Tenet, who Scheuer evidently loathes:

I did not – and do not – care about collateral casualties in such situations, as most of the nearby civilians would be the families that Bin Laden’s men had brought to a war zone. But Tenet did care. "You can’t kill everyone," he would say. That’s an admirable humanitarian concern in the abstract, but it does nothing to protect the United States. Indeed, thousands of American families would not be mourning today had there been more ferocity and less sentimentality among the Clinton team.

Almost every word of Scheuer’s moral code deserves thought.

1. "I did not – and do not – care about collateral casualties in such situations..." In one way, Scheuer's boast mirrors the international law of armed conflict, which indeed permits "incidental loss of life...to civilians" unless it is disproportional to the "concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated." That’s the doctrine of proportionality, one of the cornerstones of the law of war. (Note: The quoted phrases come from two treaties the U.S. isn’t party to – Additional Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute of the ICC. But the U.S. military fully accepts the doctrine of proportionality as binding law of war. And the U.S. military also accepts another aspect of the law of war, the duty of care to avoid collateral damage, which Scheuer clearly has no use for.) There is, of course, the question about whether there was a war going on during the Clinton Administration – the current administration says yes, the war against Al Qaeda has been going on since 1997, even if we didn’t know it until 9/11; while some human rights groups deny that it’s ever been a war, pointing out that to call it a war simply validates the martial fantasies of murderers like Khalid Sheik Mohammed. But assume for the sake of argument that it was a war back then. Scheuer still doesn’t mention the proportionality restriction, and it soon becomes clear why: he doesn’t believe in it.

2. "...as most of the nearby civilians would be the families that Bin Laden’s men had brought to a war zone." This, not such niceties as proportionality, is the stated reason Scheuer doesn’t care about collateral casualties: the innocent victims are the children and wives of jihadists.

Of course, many people think that visiting the sins of the father unto the children is a bit too medieval and collectivist to be morally sound. (The provision in our own Constitution that forbids punishment by "corruption of blood" – disinheriting the children of traitors – is a good example of the kind of individualist moral scruples that seem to have passed Scheuer by.) Innocents don’t lose their innocence because their fathers or husbands are jihadists. They are no less innocent than Scheuer’s own family, and he should be just as willing to blow up anyone’s family (including his own) if it nails Bin Laden. Maybe he is. But it sounds more like Scheuer thinks the reason that "nearby civilians" don't count is that they have the wrong relatives. To be fair: his reference to "a war zone" might be shorthand for the argument that under the law of war fighters can't use civilians to immunize themselves from attack, which is true. But then why bring up whose relatives the civilians were?

3. "‘You can’t kill everyone,’ he [Tenet] would say. That’s an admirable humanitarian concern in the abstract, but it does nothing to protect the United States." -- So I guess that means you can kill everyone. It's good to know. Or rather, you can kill everyone unless traitors like Dana Priest and John McCain publicize it. Then it causes the only kind of collateral damage Scheuer cares about, political fallout.

4. "Indeed, thousands of American families would not be mourning today had there been more ferocity and less sentimentality among the Clinton team." That’s supposing that if Bin Laden had been killed, 9/11 would never have happened. Maybe that’s right. But in truth, Scheuer's view sounds simplistic. The last six years have shown that Al Qaeda leaders are as replaceable as drug kingpins. It was KSM, not Bin Laden, who planned 9/11. A year ago, U.S. forces in Iraq killed Zarqawi, the barbaric leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. It did not slow down the pace of violence one bit. Iraq’s bloody reality should have dispelled any illusion that killing the leader kills the terrorist organization. Scheuer's invocation of the 9/11 victims is a cheap shot, combining ferocity and sentimentality. (One afterthought: reading Scheuer's paragraph carefully, it appears that what he is referring to as "sentimentality" is Tenet's tenet "You can't kill everyone." So much for that pesky old "sentimental" Sixth Commandment.)

Scheuer wants to sound like a hard-nosed realist smacking down starry-eyed humanitarians. He's more like a starry-eyed realist.


Comments:

Okay, Scheuer opinions do definitely appear troublesome, but you could at least be fair and provide context for the quotes you pull.

For example, Scheuer states, "I did not – and do not – care about collateral casualties in such situations, as most of the nearby civilians would be the families that Bin Laden’s men had brought to a war zone."

If you provide the context, it reads, "The hard fact remains that each time we acquired actionable intelligence about bin Laden's whereabouts, I argued for preemptive action. By May 1998, after all, al-Qaeda had hit or helped to hit five U.S. targets, and bin Laden had twice declared war on America. I did not -- and do not -- care about collateral casualties in such situations, as most of the nearby civilians would be the families that bin Laden's men had brought to a war zone."

If you read the whole quote in context and read it from the context of the entire piece, his comments are much less objectionable. He is complaining that Tenet always talked down the actionable intelligence that we had against Bin Laden. Reading his statement he is rather obviously making the point that Al Qaeda was bringing their families into these terrorist compound. He is arguing that we couldn't let the fact that these terrorists bring their families in as quasi-shields prevent us from taking action against the terrorists themselves. Now, granted, he should show some concern (which he states he does not have, and so this is troublesome). But, if you read his whole WP piece those comments aren't nearly as objectionable. The only crime is when terrorists hide behind civilians (and as long as we aren't purposefully targetting these civilians and are making reasonable efforts to avoid unnecessary collateral deaths).
 

Sorry, someone: I don't think the context helps at all. First, the fact that the US had good reasons to act violently against Al Qaeda doesn't affect the concern about collateral damage. Second, there is no reason whatever to think that "Al Qaeda was bringing their families in as quasi-shields." Scheuer doesn't even hint that that's true, and it's deeply unlikely. Al Qaeda had no reason to suspect that the US would exhibit restraint because their families were there: remember Reagan's strike against Qaddafi, which missed him but killed his children. In my post, I mentioned the "human shield" argument only to say that it doesn't seem to be the one that Scheuer is making.
 

First, the fact that the US had good reasons to act violently against Al Qaeda doesn't affect the concern about collateral damage.

Indeed not. In fact, it's only the existence of "good reasons" which permits any attack in the first place. The ONLY time we should ever worry about civilian casualties is when we have a good reason for military action. Thus, asserting that we had good reasons to go after bin Laden adds nothing at all to the evaluation of the risks of killing innocent persons.
 

You're being charitable with Scheuer. His testimony on April 17 was a national disgrace. Here are some excerpts:

REP. DELAHUNT: And John O'Neill, who was the FBI chief of counterterrorism, you had this to say about him: "Mr. O'Neill was interested only in furthering his career and disguising the rank incompetence of senior FBI leaders."

MR. SCHEUER: Yes, sir. I think I also said that the only thing -- good thing that happened to America on 11 September was that the building fell on him, sir.

And:

MR. SCHEUER: I think you missed -- you missed part of this hearing, Mr. Markey. I have said that I personally don't think torture is a very good idea in terms of getting information. I also said that I don't care if it happens.

And:

REP. DELAHUNT: What about those that -- what about those that clearly eventually were determined to be innocent?

MR. SCHEUER: Mistakes are made, sir. And if you can --

REP. DELAHUNT: Mistakes are made.

MR. SCHEUER: -- and if you can prove that there was not due diligence in designing the target package or assembling the information that caused that operation to go forward, then you have a case against someone. Otherwise, it's a mistake.

REP. DELAHUNT: It's just a mistake?

MR. SCHEUER: Yes, sir. They're not Americans. I really don't care.

Scheuer is also no genius:

REP. DELAHUNT: But it was another interesting statement that I read that is attributed to you. And again, we're talking about, you know, secret prisons, you know, renditing to other nations, where --

MR. SCHEUER: Sir, I've never talked about secret prisons, because that's a leak of classified information, sir.

As they say: oops.
 

Innocents don’t lose their innocence because their fathers or husbands are jihadists.

To flog a favorite horse of mine, we killed thousands of innocent children, with their mothers and the rest of their families, in our "area bombings" in WW2.

I strongly believe that if we had forced ourselves to recognize those acts for the war crimes they were, then it would be much harder for the Scheuers to utter their platitudes about "collateral damage" today.
 

Here is what I wrote today in my blog PBS Monitor (http://pbsmonitor.blogspot.com/2007/04/who-are-these-people-in-cia.html)

What type of person do we have working for the CIA? The answer is disconcerting and upsetting after reading Michael F. Scheuer's opinion piece today in the Washington Post.

Scheuer's bio says he was the founding head of the CIA's bin Laden unit. His job was to catch or kill Osama bin Laden prior to the attack on 9/11. Scheuer, I think, correctly calls George Tenet to account for trying to shift the blame for that attack. But Scheuer also reveals his own dark side. In trying to get to Osama bin Laden, Scheuer expresses his disdain for innocent civilians who might be killed.

"I did not -- and do not -- care about collateral casualties in such situations, as most of the nearby civilians would be the families that bin Laden's men had brought to a war zone. But Tenet did care. (emphases added) "You can't kill everyone," he would say. That's an admirable humanitarian concern in the abstract, but it does nothing to protect the United States. Indeed, thousands of American families would not be mourning today had there been more ferocity and less sentimentality among the Clinton team."

Okay, let's see how Scheuer would feel if he were one of the "collateral casualties." Scheuer tries to justify this killing in two ways. First, he says most of the civilians would be members of bin Laden's family. Oh, this is a good argument. Children deserve to die because they are merely related to bin Laden? No, this is a baseless and foolish argument. The children and families did nothing wrong. What justifies Scheuer and the CIA in killing them?

Second, Scheuer argues that such collateral killings would be justified if bin Laden himself were killed, thus preventing thousands of American families from losing loved ones in the 9/11 attack. Suppose the CIA reckoned that 1,000 bin Laden family members would be killed. Would Scheuer still justify the killings? Suppose the number were 5,000? Could Scheuer still argue that they should be killed? Then the question becomes are the lives of Americans worth more than the lives of Afghans or Saudis? Apparently Scheuer's ethics would have him answer yes.

I hope Scheuer is not typical of the person who works
 

Anderson,

I'm just curious, do you think the US and Britain should not have engaged in their bombing campaigns. Forget the mass firebombings, what about the normal ones--that just killed "a few thousand" civilans at time. And, to keep it more focused, let's just talk about Germany.

Or, are you saying that they may have been necessary, but we should at least spend more time recognizing on what we did?
 

Roberto,

I largely agree with your comments. Scheuer's attitude seems to be "If they aren't Americans, damn them." I still think Professor Luban's post was unfair, but even on my own understanding, Scheuer's "moral calculus" is very troubling.
 

I'm just curious, do you think the US and Britain should not have engaged in their bombing campaigns. Forget the mass firebombings, what about the normal ones--that just killed "a few thousand" civilans at time. And, to keep it more focused, let's just talk about Germany.

The U.S. mostly attempted precision bombing in Europe, with increasingly good results once we had the Mustangs to escort the bombers.

But area bombings *were* the "normal bombings" for the RAF's Bomber Command. They began the war with a policy of terror bombing, from which they were restrained by the government and by their own technical limitations.

It's the deliberate targeting of civilians as such that I'm condemning. Thus, I'm actually of two minds about the issue of bombing bin Laden's compound, and my comment was probably motivated more by my knee-jerk condition regarding our failure to come to terms with the atrocities we committed in WW2.
 

Does anyone know the context of Tenet's quote that "you can't kill everyone"? Without context, to my ear it sounds more like a claim that any attempt to do so would fail, leaving at least one survivor, as opposed to a claim that it would be wrong to try -- which is what Scheuer is taking it to mean. I'd be curious to see if the context supports his interpretation.
 

Re: my point about Scheuer and carpet bombing, I find I may have spoken better than I knew, based on this quote from Imperial Hubris:

"To secure as much of our way of life as possible, we will have to use military force in the way Americans used it on the fields of Virginia and Georgia, in France and on Pacific isalnds, and from skies over Tokyo and Dresden. Progress will be measured by the pace of killing and, yes, by body counts. Not the fatuous body counts of Vietnam, but precise counts that will run to extremely large numbers. The piles of dead will include as many or more civilians as combatants because our enemies wear no uniforms."

Doubtless there's someplace in the book where S. says how regrettable that is.
 

Amazing how much people are able to get away with saying because the media doesn't know anything about the law of torture. (Witness, for instance, Tenet last night on 60 Minutes asserting that we don't torture, without getting challenged about what established law holds to be torture by the interviewer.)

Here, Scheuer says the following:

"I would not, however, be surprised if their treatment was not up to U.S. standards, but this is a matter of no concern as the Rendition Program's goal was to protect America and the rendered fighters delivered to Middle Eastern governments are now either dead or in places from which they cannot harm America."

Well, Mike, if you look at the "refouler" provision of the Convention Against Torture (just google refouler convention torture), you will find that if you are "not suprised" that the detainees are mistreated, you have violated international and US domestic law and committed a war crime by rendering them to another country. Someone ought to point this out to the man.
 

What I found most interesting about Scheuer's morality was how it turned Machiavelli on it's head. In his testimony, he reiterated several times how killing innocents wasn't his problem - if it was anybody's, it was congress's problem. He seem to be implying was that as an agent of the state, he was not morally responsible outside of his job description; that he assumed that the morality was inherent in the state.

Of course, we know that reality is the reverse - that all states are inherently amoral, and morality enters via individuals and the demands of their consciences.

It became particularly stark in his relations to CIA lawyers. He repeatedly stated that he did not commit any crimes (no kidnappings) because the CIA lawyers signed off on everything he did - therefore, by definition they were not crimes. One of the Senators played on this, saying that he had too great a faith in lawyers (IANAL). But, at the same time, he continually complained that he couldn't use the toilet without getting a lawyer to sign off. So, he wanted both to be absolved of moral responsibility by pushing it back on the lawyers, and then he wanted to whine about the fact that the lawyers tied his hands. Well Mr. Scheuer, you can't have your cake and eat it too!

I kept on wishing that one of the Senators would point out the Nuremburg principles - following orders is not a defense.

In the end, he impressed me as a very smart guy, who technically understood what was going on. But morally, he had the universe upside down. Full of resentment and blame, but completely unwilling to accept any responsibility for his own actions. There's a qualitative difference between being an agent of the state, and being the agent of a private individual, particularly concerning the morality of actions taken as an agent. We can't expect every issue to be fully vetted by every bureaucrat along the chain of command, but at some point bureaucrats have to feel some accountability. If they can't take the heat, they should get out of public service.
 

(Mission accomplished indeed, and that's why we're so much safer now. Two days ago, the Washington Post reported that "the number of serious international terrorist incidents more than tripled last year, according to U.S. government figures, a sharp upswing in deadly attacks that the State Department has decided not to make public in its annual report on terrorism due to Congress this week."

Not against US citizens or interests outside the Iraq and Afghan war zones.

We had this discussion before and attacks against US citizens or interests since the liberations of Afghanistan and Iraq (not to mention these renditions) can be counted on one hand.

1. "I did not – and do not – care about collateral casualties in such situations..." In one way, Scheuer's boast mirrors the international law of armed conflict, which indeed permits "incidental loss of life...to civilians" unless it is disproportional to the "concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated."

This simply means that we cannot destroy a city to kill an al Qaeda cell. However, if bin Laden is hiding among civilians in a building, the US can and had better kill bin Laden and the civilians in that building.

There is, of course, the question about whether there was a war going on during the Clinton Administration

Not to al Qaeda. They or their allies have been warring on us since 1993.

2. "...as most of the nearby civilians would be the families that Bin Laden’s men had brought to a war zone." This, not such niceties as proportionality, is the stated reason Scheuer doesn’t care about collateral casualties: the innocent victims are the children and wives of jihadists.

There is a moral argument that the terrorists are even more culpable for the civilian deaths if they are not only hiding among civilians, but also move the civilians to the location.

The last six years have shown that Al Qaeda leaders are as replaceable as drug kingpins.

Operational capability has not been replaceable. al Qaeda has not been able to launch an international attack of any size for years and only a handful of very small local attacks against US citizens or interests.
 

"Bart" DePalma:

[David Luban]: (Mission accomplished indeed, and that's why we're so much safer now. Two days ago, the Washington Post reported that "the number of serious international terrorist incidents more than tripled last year, according to U.S. government figures, a sharp upswing in deadly attacks that the State Department has decided not to make public in its annual report on terrorism due to Congress this week."

Not against US citizens or interests outside the Iraq and Afghan war zones....


... on even-numbered Thursdays ending in the letter "W".

We had this discussion before and attacks against US citizens or interests since the liberations of Afghanistan and Iraq (not to mention these renditions) can be counted on one hand.

Here ya go, "Bart". "Mission Accomplished", as some semi-famous doofus once said.

[David Luban]: The last six years have shown that Al Qaeda leaders are as replaceable as drug kingpins.

Operational capability has not been replaceable. al Qaeda has not been able to launch an international attack of any size for years and only a handful of very small local attacks against US citizens or interests.


I get a feeling my AFP buddy would want to kick your ass (and could easily do it) if you said that in his presence, "Bart". Of course, he's actually doing sumptin' about chasing down and arresting terrorists, instead of speding his time defending drunks in Clorado Springs and sucking Dubya's peanuts on the blogs.

Cheers,
 

Two days ago, the Washington Post reported that "the number of serious international terrorist incidents more than tripled last year, according to U.S. government figures, a sharp upswing in deadly attacks that the State Department has decided not to make public in its annual report on terrorism due to Congress this week."

The misreporting of the findings of the annual State Department terrorism report by the media is yet another exhibit in the indictment of that institution.

Here is the rest of the story...

Outside of the Middle East and Afghanistan, terrorist attacks fell across the world.

The Dems want to pull out of the country which has the most terrorist attacks and is bar none the primary battlefield where al Qaeda operates - Iraq.
 

"Bart" DePalma:

The misreporting of the findings of the annual State Department terrorism report by the media is yet another exhibit in the indictment of that institution.

What's been "misreported"?

Here is the rest of the story...

Outside of the Middle East and Afghanistan, terrorist attacks fell across the world.

The Dems want to pull out of the country which has the most terrorist attacks and is bar none the primary battlefield where al Qaeda operates - Iraq.


Outside of the debatable "fact" that it's al Qaeda that's responsible for most of the 3300 dead U.S. soldiers (Gen. Petraeus said just recently that there's only a couple dozen foreign terrorists in Iraq at any time), do we really need to ask more as to exactly how brain-numbingly stoopid the Iraq fiasco has been?!?!?:

From "Bart"'s linked page:

"Once you get past the lede of these Reuters and Associated Press pieces, you'll discover the small detail that the increase in terrorism was almost entirely due to Iraq. Nowhere in either piece do you learn the fact that aside from the Middle East (which does not include Afghanistan according to State [and who's said differently?]), the number of terrorist attacks worldwide is down from a year ago by over 300 incidents. The number of deaths from terrorism was only up 14 percent.

"In other words, the Bush administration's idea that making Iraq the "central front in the war on terror" seems to be working...."


"[W]orking" for whom?

"... According to the State report, terrorism in South Asia is down by 10 percent from a year ago. In Europe, it's down 18 percent. In Central and South America, terrorism-related deaths are down 54 percent."

And these are areas where the U.S. is not actively pursuing its War on Terra-ism. Yep, sounds like the evidence is in. "Bart", of course, is oblivious as to what it's saying....

Cheers,
 

Re: "Bart"'s claim of "misreporting":

Here's at least one RW site that managed to dig through the "spin" and get the story right. Thank goodness we have such sites to keep track of the vicious lies of the Liberal Media....

Cheers,
 

Another RW site clarifies the State Department report for us as well, just so we're not confoozed about how well Dubya's War on Terra-ism is going. Thank goodness that the RW is keeping on top of that nefarious LW plot to "misreport[...] the findings of the annual State Department terrorism report".

Cheers,
 

I don't remember the priest telling me when I went to Confession when I was a kid, "Well, Lance, it was wrong of you to disobey your mom and talk back to her like that, but since you set the table every night and do your homework and sent your aunt a birthday card, what the heck! You're a good kid. Your sins are forgiven automatically. No need for you to do any penance." 糖尿病 文秘 心脑血管 糖尿病 高血压 高血脂 冠心病 心律失常 心肌病 心肌炎 中风 低血糖 胰岛素 血糖仪 胰岛素泵 And maybe it's happened a few times and I haven't heard about it but I can't recall a judge ever letting somebody walk on the grounds the crook was a good guy and his friends really like him.
 

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