Terror, Torture, Treason, and D-Day

David Ryan

David Ryan is a boat builder and USCG licensed master captain. He is the owner of Sailing Montauk and skipper of Montauk''s charter sailing catamaran MON TIKI You can follow him on Twitter @CaptDavidRyan

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94 Responses

  1. E.C. Gach says:

    And yet we know for a fact that people can commit torture and not even be tried, whereas it has been made abundantly clear that Snowden would face a trial if he returned, and most likely be convicted (or more likely sit for years awaiting trial).Report

  2. James Hanley says:

    it has been argued that US interrogators need the latitude to interrogate aggressively and without fear of being second-guessed and jailed after the fact. But it seems to me this argument gives our intelligence officers too little credit for being brave and self-sacrificing.

    I don’t follow.Report

    • Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

      I believe he’s saying that torturers should be allowed to be like the soldiers landing on the beaches of Normandy, or something. And Snowden should allow himself to be like them, or something.Report

      • Don Zeko in reply to Chris says:

        I think the argument is that a well-enforced law against torture doesn’t doom us if we do wind up in a ticking time bomb scenario so long as the intelligence personnel in a position to torture decide to willing break the law and accept the punishment in order to prevent a catastrophic terrorist attack or whatever.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Yeah, that’s what I was saying.

        I’m actually quite cool with torturers being subject to the law, because they’re friggin’ torturers, and it’s against the friggin’ law.

        As for Snowden, I’m cool with him coming back if he’s likely to get a fair trial. Is he likely to?Report

    • gingergene in reply to James Hanley says:

      The idea I’ve heard before is that in the cases where there is a ticking time bomb, the interogator will use torture that is illegal and will subsequently stand accountable for the illegal means used. There might be a trial and/or punishment or there might not, but either way it was the right thing to do in this particular instance. The interrogator will face the consequences, good or bad, because he or she is “brave and self-sacrificing”.

      In other words, we can safely make torture illegal, because we can trust people to use their judgment to break the law when it is truly necessary. It’s illegality will only stop people from using it when there is no immediate need for it.

      I think that making torture illegal and enforcing those laws may, in fact, make some people less likely to torture in the case of a real live ticking time bomb. However, those cases are so rare and the evidence that torture provides accurate information is so thin that I think it’s a fair trade to reduce the liklihood of an interrogator using torture to gain critical information in order to gain back some of our humanity, which I think we steadily chip away at by permitting torture. (I can’t believe we could ever eliminate torture, for the reasons David implies.)Report

      • gingergene in reply to gingergene says:

        erg. Bad html. No biscuit.

        Also, I think he’s calling on Snowden to be a good civil disobedian (?is that a word?) and face the consequences for breaking the law, same as the Gandhi, MLK, etc.

        Of course, there is a difference between what civil rights activists, or Snowden were/are doing and the hypothetical torturer- the former were trying to change the laws they broke, while the latter would simply be doing what he or she thought was right, having been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, so to speak.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to gingergene says:

        This is, more or less, my own take on the matter. Convictions in real life ticking-timebomb scenarios would actually be hard to get, even if it were unambiguously illegal. It has its own failsafe, in that regard.Report

      • Don Zeko in reply to gingergene says:

        And even if you got a conviction, if the torturer had really done the right thing, there’s always the possibility of a presidential pardon.Report

      • North in reply to gingergene says:

        My position as well. The elegance in our judicial system is that multiple avenues are available for people to have their punishment mitigated if they were truly rightious in breaching the law. Making torture illegal has no downside at least as far as ticking time bombs go.Report

  3. Kazzy says:

    What I don’t understand about appeals to the ticking time bomb scenario is that they are often invoked when there is no ticking time bomb. “We reserve the right to torture in case there is a ticking time bomb!” “But there isn’t.” “But there might be one day!” “Okay, well, then — maybe — you can torture.” “We must torture now!”Report

    • Morat20 in reply to Kazzy says:

      There’s also the ever fun, but unspoken “If we don’t torture them, we won’t learn if there’s a ticking time bomb?”

      I mean who knows what this evil-doing evil-doer knows? Until we strap him to the waterboard, we won’t know if there’s danger!Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Morat20 says:

        My argument is that the torturers need to be put on trial afterwards and aggressively prosecuted.

        If the jury decides to nullify, then the jury decides to nullify. I’ve no doubt that if there were a ticking time bomb situation, the jury would, in fact, do so.Report

      • Chris in reply to Morat20 says:

        Can you imagine a situation in which a torturer were tried for torturing and in his or her defense would not argue that he or she was in a ticking time bomb scenario, or at least reasonably thought he or she was? And is there any way for us, not being in the moment, to determine whether he or she was in fact in a ticking time bomb scenario?

        In other words, ticking time bomb scenarios are sort of like gods: if we start with the assumption that they’re possible, it is impossible to prove that they aren’t actual.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Morat20 says:

        That’s not the worst solution, @jaybird , but if it led to a broader, “Torture ’em all and let the courts sort it out,” I’d be concerned. If we’re talking two or three cases a decade with one resulting in a possibly justifiable nullification is probably okay. Two or three cases a year with increasing pressure on the jury to nullify is basically an end run around the law.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Morat20 says:


        While we can’t really control jury nullification, we could set rules for affirmative defenses whereby which it is not enough for the defendant to have believed there was a ticking time bomb, but there actually has to be a ticking time bomb. While this does risk lower-level folks being hung out to dry by superiors who lie to them, we could use either the civil or criminal system to go after those folks as well.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Morat20 says:

        Let them argue that it was a ticking time bomb situation. And let the prosecution argue that what was at stake was 30 dollars worth of meth and a pack of smokes.

        I mean, yes, this *DOES* presuppose a non-corrupt system. That’s kind of silly of me.

        But I see the choice not as “torture vs. not torturing” but “torturing without a trial” and “torturing with one”.Report

      • Chris in reply to Morat20 says:

        If I reasonably believe that the gun in your hand, and that you’re pointing at me, is loaded, and shoot you, only to learn later that the gun was not loaded, should I be found guilty of murder?

        The problem with torture is not what we use to justify it, but that we use anything to justify it, and specifically that we use anything to absolve ourselves of the legal, if not the moral responsibility of using it. If we have come to the conclusion that under certain extreme, highly improbable scenarios we should use torture, and that the torturer should get away with it without suffering any consequences, then the value of any potential consequences for torturers as a deterrent is reduced significantly.Report

      • Chris in reply to Morat20 says:

        But I see the choice not as “torture vs. not torturing” but “torturing without a trial” and “torturing with one”.

        Yes, and I am arguing, in essence, that at least where national security is concerned, the possibility of jury nullification is the same thing as no trial.

        The very nature of “national security” as the context for certain behaviors makes it different from pretty much every other legal context. This is true in a variety of ways, but at the moment that one that is most salient to me is the fact that the only people who will have the information necessary to determine whether a scenario is, in fact, a ticking time bomb are the very same people who would be asking us for nullification. It’s not like we have some independent monitoring agency on the ground with the CIA or the FBI or the military, monitoring the available information, the same information that the potential torturers have, so that should torture occur they can then provide this information to prosecutors. The only people there will be the potential torturers and the potentially tortured.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Morat20 says:

        We really won’t know she’s a witch until we throw her in the water.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Morat20 says:

        Then we’re stuck with stuff like the occasional person bringing things into the light to allow them to be tried in the court of public opinion.

        Which sucks too.Report

      • Chris in reply to Morat20 says:

        If the only way you can enforce a law is by hoping for the occasional whistle blower, then either the law is worthless or the institution itself is illegitimate.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Morat20 says:

        Misthread see below.

        Let me suggest another data point: someone (probably several someones) waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed hundreds of times during his time as a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay. No doubt, KSM had lots of information in his brain, of diminishing value as time progressed, and was at least initially an unwilling interrogatee.

        Does this offer us a reasonable place to consider an exception to the default “no torture” rule?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Morat20 says:

        I’m under the impression that we *HAD* a default “no torture” rule. Didn’t we?Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Morat20 says:

        Yes. And I was under the impression that you were suggesting that this rule ought to have exceptions.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Morat20 says:

        Is saying “My argument is that the torturers need to be put on trial afterwards and aggressively prosecuted” an argument that there should be exceptions to a law?

        If it is, I wonder what not having exceptions would look like… maybe having a law on the books and not pursuing?Report

      • Zac in reply to Morat20 says:

        “I’m under the impression that we *HAD* a default “no torture” rule. Didn’t we?”

        We are signatories to the UN Convention Against Torture, which per the Supremacy Clause in Article VI, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution, is the law of the land:

        “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”Report

  4. zic says:

    I don’t know that I agree with this suggestion that we’ll hold people accountable for torture when they cross the line; and I suspect that Snowden might well end up being tortured. Look at what we’ve already done to Manning.

    I lived with a man who had been tortured, my mother married him. He was on a plane, a bomber, that was shot down during WWII over Czechoslovakia, and spent a year in a POW camp. The aftermath, it’s pull on his life, were difficult, and ultimately ended in their divorce. I think it’s a good thing that there’s a bright line here; even if there is a ticking time bomb. Somewhere, there will always be a ticking time bomb, always be people willing to sacrifice others.

    The presumption that people will be tortured spreads like an illness, it creates more torture. And there is so little evidence of torture providing useful information, so few lives saved because of it, that it seems there’s little to justify it’s lure of protection and a lot to indicate that it creates ever more enemies bent on harm.Report

  5. Kazzy says:

    Do CIA agents go through SERE training? I could see that making them — or some of them at least — more open to using torture techniques.Report

  6. Burt Likko says:

    I have a simpler rule to propose, one which we may reasonably anticipate will yield a like result as compared to the nuances of is-there-really-a-ticking-time-bomb or budgeting-for-jury-nullification-in-the-law. Here’s the rule; please tell me if you like it:

    No torture. Ever.Report

    • David Ryan in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I can’t drive 55.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I have here a memo explaining that this enhanced interrogation technique has been officially determined to not be torture if there is a ticking time bomb situation.Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        It’s not torture, it’s grue? (Since we’re talking about induction elsewhere.)

        I guess we’d better rigorously define torture in the statute then, eh?Report

      • Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

        I guess we’d better rigorously define torture in the statute then, eh?

        Not to be naive, but is this always as easy as it seems, aside from obvious things like “the rack”?

        I mean, if you flash strobes in my eyes and play Skrillex at volume 90 for 12 hours non-stop, that’s torture to me.

        But there’s lots of kids who’d pay good money for that.Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        I’ve paid money to have Skrillex, or something like it, played at eardrum-shattering volumes for extended periods of time with strobes flashing, but in other contexts that exact thing would be torture to me.

        I agree that torture is difficult to define, as most abstract concepts are, but I think we can have a pretty good go at it, right? Maybe even come up with a long list of things that, in the context of interrogation, we consider torture? It won’t be easy, but that’s often the things about the good: it’s more difficult than the evil.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

        Yeah, it wasn’t really a pro-torture argument or an argument against rigorous definition. But I do think some things will probably be ambiguous, especially when no immediate physical harm is being incurred (I mean, we still use solitary confinement on *regular* prisoners, and that s**t will eff you up.)

        It also seems like no matter what we define, interrogators are going to be resourceful, and find something else. I can imagine something plausibly-deniable like a mechanical device in the cell’s air vent that produces a loud, startling metallic CLANK at irregular 10-15 minute intervals, making regular sleep impossible.

        “Yeah, the A/C guys have looked at that, never could figure it out. Now, about those plans…”Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        I suppose we’ll have to define torture based on societal standards, which can of course change. So I guess all I can ask is that we make sure that once something is deemed torture, it is torture, regardless of whether we’re in a ticking time bomb scenario.

        And my point about my paying good money for something that might, under other circumstances, constitute torture is that my will has a lot to do with whether some things are torture. Loud music and flashing lights is cool until it’s used to keep you from sleeping for 96 hours.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Jaybird says:

        We have as workable a definition as we could reasonably hope for in 18 U.S.C. § 2340.Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        Works for me.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        But the authorities didn’t follow it anyway?

        Now what?Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        Now prosecute them.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        “There was a ticking time bomb situation.”Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        The law doesn’t say anything about ticking time bomb cases excusing torture. Prosecute them.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Jaybird says:

        Make it a ticking Twinkie (ideally, one thirty-five feet long, weighing approximately six hundred pounds), then we’ve got something.Report

      • zic in reply to Jaybird says:

        @Chris, can you please point me to understanding of induction? It has so many meanings; but my guess on these discussions is that it’s like we hear the 30% chance of rain, and fail to comprehend that 1) there’s a 30% chance 100% of a given area will get rain 30% of a specific time period or 2) there’s something approaching a 100% chance 30% of that given area will get rain through that time period. When it does rain, we see odds of > 50 sunshine, and someone says the weatherman’s wrong again, induction, when the weather man may of been 100% accurate, and there was 30% rain in that region for that time.

        With torture, it’s 100% likely that some % of people will torture given the perception of the ticking time bomb; and even knowing this, our goal should always be 100% this is wrong. It is still inevitable someone will torture, do we don’t ever even got close to the 100% non incidence. We all of us have the line we’ll cross given the right pressure points*. Think about the children.

        *I watched the third season of Sherlock last night, so ‘pressure points’ seems an apt concept in ticking-time bomb discussions.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Jaybird says:

        “There was a ticking time bomb situation” is not a defense to a violation of the black letter of 18 USC § 2340A, contra Professors Yoo and Dershowitz, nor does it seem to me to be either a virtue-based or deontological defense to the moral offenses inherent in inflicting torture. (A utilitarian’s mileage may vary.) Rather, this is an argument relevant at the sentencing phase or in an appeal for executive clemency. It is intensely context-driven.

        Do you not trust that judges and Presidents will take such things into account at the appropriate time? I think they will, and that sentencing and clemency phases of a criminal case’s disposition constitute backstop facets of our legal system to address precisely the sorts of injustices you contemplate when you invoke a ticking time-bomb scenario. This is one of the reasons that human beings, rather than computers, properly administer our legal system.

        I’ve also been reminded offline that there are also situations in which the realization of justice is impossible, creating a dynamic in which a would-be torturer must (rapidly) use a power-based rather than a morality-based calculus to determine a course of action. Which is why there are different legal and moral standards applicable to battlefields as opposed to, say, prisons. (Or vis-a-vis the subject of the OP, hotels in Moscow.) An implication of this thought is that perhaps, at least in some contexts, it is inappropriate for you and I sitting in our comfortable and safe chairs to pronounce judgment on someone else who was under the stress of extraordinary and exigent circumstances (e.g., combat).

        So let us contemplate a compromise:

        If you suggest that my proposed rule is too simplistic and unrealistic, and the rule must ultimately look something like “No torture, unless ‘X’,” then let ‘X’ be defined by actual experience, evaluated in context, instead of attempting to define it in advance.

        Should we do this, we must start from a position of “No torture, ever,” (that’s your give) and also from the position that this will not necessarily be the place consensus is ultimately reached (that’s my give).

        Thereafter, we must amass the experience of someone running afoul of that rule and offering a powerful justification for having violated it. Doing so will tell us what a real exception to the rule is. We can consider past experiences as well as future events, which of course we all hope will be few in number. (BL: I’ve made a minor edit to clean up the grammar of this paragraph; no substantive change was made.)

        If you’re willing to start from my position, then I’m willing to consider modifications to that position based on the accumulation of actual experience, assessed in actual context.

        What I’m not willing to do in this compromise is consider The Adventures Of Jack Bauer In Televisionland as part of the universe of “experience” from which exceptions to the default rule of “No torture” are derived.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        Has anybody been prosecuted for torture? I’m under the impression that the answer is “kinda”, given that, say, the Abu Ghraib soldiers were prosecuted but that’s not exactly what we’re talking about here, I don’t think.Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        Doesn’t appear so.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Jaybird says:

        Sure, the Abu Ghraib folks are in the arena here. They were charged with “conduct unbecoming,” IIRC, but certainly the substantive conduct at issue was akin to what we would call torture — some of what they did was merely humiliating rather than painful to their victims the recipients of their questionable conduct, but it’s at least in the ballpark.

        Nor need we limit our evidence-gathering to criminal cases, since we’re straddling the line of legality and morality.

        So, would we grant an exception to the “no torture” rule to the Abu Ghraib folks, and if so, why?Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Jaybird says:

        From a misthread, above:

        Let me suggest another data point: someone (probably several someones) waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed hundreds of times during his time as a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay. No doubt, KSM had lots of information in his brain, of diminishing value as time progressed, and was at least initially an unwilling interrogatee.

        Does this offer us a reasonable place to consider an exception to the default “no torture” rule?Report

      • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

        @zic, I’m not sure I know of a good, non-technical introduction to induction. Maybe someone else here does?Report

      • gingergene in reply to Jaybird says:

        @Burt Likko Here’s a question for the pragmatists to answer as well: prove that torture not only results acquiring information, but that it works better than non-torture methods (i.e. faster and/or more accurate).Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        It seems to me that we put the Abu Ghraib people on trial and they were found guilty.

        If we had an exception to the rules (something that I’m not aware of anyone arguing, but that’s fine), would the guards there have met whatever criteria the exceptions would require?Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Jaybird says:

        “It seems to me that we put the Abu Ghraib people on trial and they were found guilty.”

        only the peons. Nobody over the rank of E-6 went through any process other than NJP (though at least one of those cases was because the investigators screwed up and so charges were dropped due to procedural errors)Report

      • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird says:


        some of what they did was merely humiliating rather than painful to their victims the recipients of their questionable conduct, but it’s at least in the ballpark.

        Why did you strike out “their victims”?Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Jaybird says:

        As a caution. Because we had not yet established in this discussion that the Abu Ghraib jailors were, in fact, engaged in torture or that some legal or moral exception to the default prohibition against the administration of torture would apply. @jaybird is correct to note that they were, in fact, legally convicted and thus we have a demonstration that the law will not tolerate that sort of conduct. I think that’s congruent with the parallel discussion track of morality, too. I didn’t know if this was going to be proffered as an exception of some sort to my proposed rule of “No torture. Ever.”Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Jaybird says:

        So is there anyone actually arguing “no torture, except for x”?Report

      • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird says:


        Thanks for the clarification, but even if we stipulate it’s not yet agreed that they were “victims of torture,” I think it’s pretty clear they were victims of “questionable conduct” rather than mere “recipients.”

        But whatever, I agree, reluctantly, that “no torture ever” is the right way to go. I say “reluctantly” because it should go without saying.Report

  7. Jason Kuznicki says:

    I’ve said my bit about torture. Solzhenitsyn was right, basically. I’m not interested in revisiting.

    But while you bring up the subject of Snowden: The Espionage Act would forbid him from mounting the only possible defense of his actions, namely that he was acting as a whistleblower. Here’s Daniel Ellsberg, a guy who knows a thing or two about the subject:


  8. Philip H says:

    interesting analogy. Several problems:

    1. We know that agents of the United States Government tortured on orders from authorities in the United states government.
    2. We know that this was done against the highest law of the land in that the United States signed and then ratifies the UN Convention Against Torture in the 1980’s (Under St. Ronnie no less), meaning that treaty because a federal statute, which federal agents are subject to – making that torture not a brave act, but an act of cowardice in the face of authority. Bravery is refusing an unlawful order.
    3. We know that no federal agent who acted ion these illegal orders was (or likely ever will be) tried, making this a situation in which Moral Hazard develops.
    4. Given the Administrations track record on whistleblowers, it is certain the Edward Snowden would be tried if he returned to the US.
    5. Given this Administrations actions regarding US citizens it believes are aiding terrorists over seas, it is highly likely Edward Snowden would be rendered to a black prison if he attempted to return to the US seeking trial.
    6. Given the unwillingness of this Administration to try the “terrorists” it has in custody in Guantanimo, it is unlikely the Administration really want’s to try Edward Snowden in open court, meaning his return, while brave, would also be criminally insane.

    And all that has zilch to do with the courage shown by the Allies as they waded onto the Normandy Coast 70 years ago. frankly I’m a tad appalled that anyone tried to draw these events together.Report

  9. dragonfrog says:

    I may be falling victim to a subtle instance of Poe’s law – was this a satirical post drawing a link (that escapes me) between the foolishness of the Snowden-should-come-home camp and the torture-is-sometimes-alright camp?

    If it was a serious post, I think it must rely on a whole lot of background understanding I lack – the claims it makes are so outlandish, it would take something much more like a long-read essay to even make them comprehensible to me.Report

  10. Damon says:

    I’m happy to have Snowden come back. He should. When every us gov’t employee or contractor that has engaged in torture has been arrested, prosecuted for their crimes, and convicted, acquitted, and/or pardoned.Report

    • notme in reply to Damon says:

      Obama could arrest those accused of torture. Punishing those folks is not a legal requirement for punishing Snowden in the real world.Report

      • Damon in reply to notme says:

        It may not be a legal requirement, but it will demonstrate that amercia is more interested in actual justice than “the great game”.Report

  11. I suspect that David’s point, to the extent he would acknowledge having one here, has quite little to do with the morality/immorality of Snowden’s actions, but rather to do with the nature of patriotism, ie., that a necessary element of patriotism is a willingness to put everything on the line for what you view as the good of the country, a belief that service to your country is worth dying for. Given David’s longstanding interest in discussing “risk,” a way of putting it might even be that an element of patriotism is a proud acceptance of the “risk” to oneself that comes with combating what you perceive as a risk to one’s country.

    That something may or may not be patriotic does not, for what it’s worth, make it morally wrong or even necessarily morally right under this definition. Whether Snowden is a patriot under this definition is rather irrelevant to whether he was right to have blown the whistle (IMHO, he was), and whether torture is ever morally acceptable (it’s not) is irrelevant to whether it could have been viewed as patriotic if the torturers were willing to accept consequences for their actions. Under this definition, someone who truly believed in the Vietnam War and enlisted to go there could be said to have been a patriot even if one thinks their moral judgment was wrong, just as one would call someone like Muhammad Ali a patriot for being willing to accept the risks inherent in acting upon his – correct – moral judgment, and probably even someone who vocally opposed the war but went anyhow. This definition would not allow the same to be said about someone who opposed the war and went to Canada to dodge the draft, even if their moral judgment was correct, and certainly not someone who supported the war but failed to enlist.

    Similarly, as David says, “fairness” has little to do with this; rather it’s the willingness to deal with unfairness that is the key element here – it wasn’t fair that MLK sat in a Birmingham jail or that civil rights workers had to risk murder. They understood this unfairness and accepted it, and for that they were patriots.

    If this is David’s point, I’m undecided whether I agree with it, for what it’s worth. But I can certainly see its appeal as a reflection on the nature of patriotism; indeed, if we delete “self-sacrifice” from the definition of “patriot,” we quickly wind up with a definition that sounds an awful lot like “someone who advances a cause I happen to agree with.”Report

    • David Ryan in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      How about I give you my loggin credentials, Mark, and you can post as me. Easier for everyone. 😉Report

    • Chris in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      I wonder, does being a whistleblower who reveals such dangerous information knowing that, once one releases the information, one will have to leave one’s home, and one’s family, indefinitely, perhaps for the rest of one’s life, not constitute an acceptance of risk?Report

      • Mark Thompson in reply to Chris says:

        That’s where I struggle with this definition, and why I’m undecided on it, but I must admit that it feels closer to moving to Canada to avoid the draft than it feels to showing up for the draft and saying “here I am, I’m ready for whatever you throw at me, but I have no intention of helping to fight an immoral war.” While I’m sure he’d prefer to stay at home and not get prosecuted or risk something worse, he’s essentially signaling that he love life and freedom even more than he loves his country. Which I’m fine with as a moral matter, by the way – heck, were I in his situation I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same damn thing. But it very well may diminish the extent to which we can consider him a true “Patriot.”Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        I don’t see it that way, though I could probably be convinced. Moving to Canada was a purely selfish act by draft dodgers. All it did was protect the individual from the fate of so many other individuals who have to either go to war or go to jail. Snowden, on the other hand, at least felt like he was doing the country, and perhaps the world a service by releasing information about what he believed to be illegal and unconstitutional acts by the U.S. government, and he did so knowing full well that as soon as he did it his life as he knew it would be over, and his fate highly uncertain. Maybe he had other motives as well, fame, spite, whatever, and it’s not clear to me he fully understood the implications of his actions for himself or for the country, but at the very least I don’t believe his leaving the country indicates a lack of patriotism. Would his sacrifice for his country have been greater if he had stayed? Certainly. Does one have to die for one’s cause to be a patriot? I certainly hope not.Report

      • David Ryan in reply to Chris says:

        One does not have to charge straight at a machine-gun nest to be a Patriot, especially not if the better move is to flank it.Report

      • LWA in reply to Chris says:

        Going to Russia is a helluva flanking maneuver.Report

      • dragonfrog in reply to Chris says:

        Moving to Canada was a purely selfish act by draft dodgers.

        I think there may be some Vietnamese people they didn’t dump napalm on who would have a different take.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Chris says:

        “I think there may be some Vietnamese people they didn’t dump napalm on who would have a different take.”

        It’s a little know historical fact that American airpower didn’t kill or injure in horrible ways any German, Japanese, or Korean civilians from 1942 to 1953. It’s only in Vietnam that civilian casualties began.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to Chris says:

        Snowden risked and sacrificed a great deal to get the information on US surveillance to the public, and I think he should be lauded for that. Saying “he should have risked and suffered more” doesn’t make him wrong.

        Seeing how Manning is being treated, I don’t blame Snowden at all for getting out of the country. Being regularly stripped, degraded, and tortured isn’t something most people would be willing to submit to.

        (As for Vietnam – I think not going, even through draft dodging, was more morally laudable than going, since the war was immoral and unjustified. Refraining from killing innocents in service to a unjust cause is better than agreeing to kill innocents in service of an unjust cause. Ditto for Iraq – even though there wasn’t a draft, someone deciding that a war of aggression against a nation that hadn’t attacked the US wasn’t what they joined the military to be part of is a moral choice. Staying in the US and willingly facing punishment for refusing to serve would be even more morally laudable.)Report

    • Fnord in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      indeed, if we delete “self-sacrifice” from the definition of “patriot,” we quickly wind up with a definition that sounds an awful lot like “someone who advances a cause I happen to agree with.”

      If you want to argue that he’s not a patriot because advancing a good cause was against the interests of his country, that’s fair enough. But that would be admitting something interesting about the country that doing good is contrary to its interests.Report

  12. Fnord says:

    It hardly seems fair that a young man with the courage to board a Higgins Boat, stand steady as it neared the beach, then rush out into withering enemy fire would end up face down in the sand, body drained of blood, dead. No, that doesn’t seem fair at all. Snowden and his reputation may forever rest in limbo, and that might not be fair either.

    And, in this metaphor, the part of the United States is played by Nazi Germany. What does that say about us?

    And the beach is already taken. What’s revealed is revealed, the leaks are out there. And you want Snowden to face the German machine guns, not to accomplish an addition objective, but to satisfy your own standards of moral purity.Report