Point/Counterpoint: “speaking truth to power” vs. speaking power to idiocy

Reflections on a Flamewar (May 14, 2011)

Spoiler: Actual change of opinion below!  You’ll need to read to the end, though.

I’ve learned that the only way to find out who reads this blog is to criticize famous people.  For example, when I criticized Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, legions of Objectivist readers appeared out of nowhere to hammer me in the comments section, while the left-wing readers were silent.  Now that I criticize Chomsky (or originally, mainly just quoted him), I’m getting firebombed in the comments section by Chomsky fans, with only a few brave souls showing up from the right flank to offer reinforcements.  One would imagine that, on at least one of these topics, more readers must agree with me than are making themselves heard in the comments—but maybe I just have the rare gift of writing in a way that enrages everyone!

Yesterday, I found myself trying to be extra-nice to people I met, as if to reassure myself that I wasn’t the monster some of the Chomskyan commenters portrayed me as.  I told myself that, if agreeing with President Obama’s decision to target bin Laden made me a barbarian unworthy of civilization, then at least I’d have the likes of Salman Rushdie, Christopher Hitchens, and Jon Stewart with me in hell—better company than Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.

In my view, one of the reasons the discussion was so heated is that two extremely different questions got conflated (leaving aside the third question of whether al Qaeda was “really” responsible for 9/11, which I find unworthy of discussion).

The first question is whether, as Chomsky suggests, the US government is “uncontroversially” a “vastly” worse terrorist organization than al Qaeda, since it’s caused many more civilian deaths.  On this, my opinion is unchanged: the answer is a flat-out no.  There is a fundamental reason, having nothing to do with nationalist prejudices, why Osama bin Laden was much more evil than Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush combined.  The reason is one that Chomsky and his supporters find easy to elide, since—like many other facts about the actual world—it requires considering hypothetical scenarios.

Give Kissinger, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush magic dials that let them adjust the number of civilian casualties they inflict, consistent with achieving their (partly-justified and largely-foolish) military goals.  As odious as those men are, who can deny that they turn the dial to zero?  By contrast, give bin Laden a dial that lets him adjust the number of Jews, Americans, and apostates he kills, and what do you think the chances are that he turns it from 3000 up to 300 million, or “infinity”?  But if, implausibly (in my view), one maintains that bin Laden would have preferred not to kill any civilians, provided that he could magically attain his goal of imposing Sharia law on the world, then the crux of the matter is simply that I don’t want to live under Sharia law: I even prefer living in George W. Bush’s America.  (One obvious reason these hypotheticals matter is that, once the Jihadists get access to nuclear weapons, the dial is no longer particularly hypothetical at all.)

So much for the first question.  The second, and to me much more worthwhile question, is whether the US should have made a more strenuous effort to capture bin Laden alive and try him, rather than executing him on the spot.  (Of course, part of the problem is that we don’t really understand how strenuous of an effort the SEAL team did make.  However, let’s suppose, for the sake of an interesting question, that it wasn’t very strenuous.)  It’s on this second question that my views have changed.

My original reasoning was as follows: the purpose of a trial is to bring facts to light, but this is an unusual case in which the entire world has known the facts for a decade (and the “defendant” agrees to the facts, having openly declared war on the West).  It’s almost impossible to conceive of a person who would be convinced after a trial of bin Laden’s guilt, who wasn’t already convinced of it now.  The people who need convincing—such as Jihadists and 9/11 conspiracy theorists—are people who can never be convinced, for fundamental reasons.  Therefore, while a trial would have been fine—if bin Laden had come out with his hands up, or (let’s suppose) turned himself in, at any point during the last decade—a bullet to the head was fine as well.

To put it differently: trials struck me as merely a means to the end of justice, just as college courses are merely a means to the end of learnin’.  Now personally, I always favor letting a student skip a course if it’s obvious that the student already knows the material—even if that means bending university rules.  It stands to reason, then, that I should similarly favor letting a government skip a trial if the verdict is already obvious to the entire sane world.

Many commenters made arguments against this viewpoint—often phrased in terms of bin Laden’s “rights”—that did nothing to persuade me.  The one argument that did ultimately persuade me was that, at least for some people, trials are not just a means to an end: they’re an end in themselves, a moving demonstration of the superiority of our system to the Nazis’ and the Jihadists’.  Here’s how a reader named Steve E put it, in a personal email that he’s kindly allowed me to quote:

I wonder what you think of the proposition that the Jews of Norwich [the victims of the first blood libel, in 1190] would have preferred a show trial to the mob justice they received. I’m not sure of this proposition, because I could also see a show trial being somehow worse, but on the other hand wouldn’t we all prefer a real trial to a show trial and a show trial to no trial when our lives hang in the balance? Trials perform a nontrivial service even if they don’t convince anyone who is not already convinced, just as human babies perform a nontrivial service even if they have no use, and particle colliders perform a nontrivial service even if they don’t defend our nation. Trials make our nation worth defending; they, like human babies, have intrinsic value not just for their potential. In this case, it may be true that giving bin Laden a trial would have been a bonus rather than a requirement, but wouldn’t you agree that it’d have been a bonus? Trying Osama bin Laden would have shown our moral high ground, maybe not to some who can’t be convinced of America’s goodness, but it would have done so for me! (I’m very proud that Israel tried Eichmann, not just because it showed the world about the Holocaust, but also because it showed me about Israel’s character. Let people react to the trial as they may. That trial had meaning to me.)

And so I’ve decided that, while assassinating bin Laden was vastly better than leaving him at large, and I applaud the success of the operation, it would’ve been even better if he’d been captured alive and tried—even if that’s not what bin Laden himself wanted.  For the sake of people like Steve E.


Noam Chomsky:

It’s increasingly clear that the operation was a planned assassination, multiply violating elementary norms of international law. There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 80 commandos facing virtually no opposition—except, they claim, from his wife, who lunged towards them. In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial. I stress “suspects.” In April 2002, the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, informed the press that after the most intensive investigation in history, the FBI could say no more than that it “believed” that the plot was hatched in Afghanistan, though implemented in the UAE and Germany. What they only believed in April 2002, they obviously didn’t know 8 months earlier, when Washington dismissed tentative offers by the Taliban (how serious, we do not know, because they were instantly dismissed) to extradite bin Laden if they were presented with evidence—which, as we soon learned, Washington didn’t have. Thus Obama was simply lying when he said, in his White House statement, that “we quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda.”

Nothing serious has been provided since. There is much talk of bin Laden’s “confession,” but that is rather like my confession that I won the Boston Marathon. He boasted of what he regarded as a great achievement.

There is also much media discussion of Washington’s anger that Pakistan didn’t turn over bin Laden, though surely elements of the military and security forces were aware of his presence in Abbottabad. Less is said about Pakistani anger that the U.S. invaded their territory to carry out a political assassination…

We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a “suspect” but uncontroversially the “decider” who gave the orders to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged…

There is much more to say, but even the most obvious and elementary facts should provide us with a good deal to think about.

President Obama:

Shortly after I got into office, I brought [CIA director] Leon Panetta privately into the Oval Office and I said to him, “We need to redouble our efforts in hunting bin Laden down. And I want us to start putting more resources, more focus, and more urgency into that mission” …

We had multiple meetings in the Situation Room in which we would map out — and we would actually have a model of the compound and discuss how this operation might proceed, and what various options there were because there was more than one way in which we might go about this.

And in some ways sending in choppers and actually puttin’ our guys on the ground entailed some greater risks than some other options. I thought it was important, though, for us to be able to say that we’d definitely got the guy. We thought that it was important for us to be able to exploit potential information that was on the ground in the compound if it did turn out to be him.

We thought that it was important for us not only to protect the lives of our guys, but also to try to minimize collateral damage in the region because this was in a residential neighborhood …

You know one of the things that we’ve done here is to build a team that is collegial and where everybody speaks their mind … And so the fact that there were some who voiced doubts about this approach was invaluable, because it meant the plan was sharper, it meant that we had thought through all of our options, it meant that when I finally did make the decision, I was making it based on the very best information …
As nervous as I was about this whole process, the one thing I didn’t lose sleep over was the possibility of taking bin Laden out. Justice was done. And I think that anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn’t deserve what he got needs to have their head examined.

Update (May 11):
Commenter “B” makes a wonderful point.  If Osama’s statements aren’t enough to convince Chomsky that al Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks, then why are Obama’s statements enough to convince Chomsky that the US was behind the raid in Abbottabad?
Update (May 12): Many of you have asked me to get back to quantum complexity theory, or some other topic that we know more about (or rather: that other people know less about).  Don’t worry, BQP’s a-comin’!  But in the meantime, I wanted to thank all of you (especially the ones who disagreed with me) for a genuinely interesting discussion.  I haven’t been forced to think so much about the philosophical underpinnings of vigilante justice since watching the Batman and Spiderman movies…

304 Responses to “Point/Counterpoint: “speaking truth to power” vs. speaking power to idiocy”

  1. vHF Says:

    Still, Chmosky makes one valid — if obvious — point in his otherwise inane diatribe: on what grounds exactly was Bin Laden denied due process of law?

    The most common response, seen also in President Obama’s quote above, seems to be to deliberately confuse moral and legal categories by speaking about what Osama ‘deserved’. I find this rather distasteful, if not insulting to the people’s collective intelligence.

  2. Scott Says:

    vHF: According to today’s NYT, the US had a team of lawyers, translators, and interrogators on standby, in case bin Laden surrendered and was captured alive. But that’s not what happened: contrary to what Chomsky claims, it appears the commandos were fired on, and bin Laden gave no indications whatsoever of wanting to surrender. (Why would he, when he’s spoken many times about his desire for martyrdom?)

    To be clear, I still would’ve supported this hit even had there been no contingency plan for capturing him alive: the violations of “due process of law” were so gargantuan on bin Laden’s side, as to justify some violations on our side. But Obama was pretty careful to dot the i’s, as presumably Bush would not have been.

  3. Vadim P Says:

    Due process has very little going for it during military action. While Bin Laden was a criminal defendant, he was also a military target, not much different – except in value – from any of the targets our Predator drones take out regularly.

  4. vHF Says:

    We know that the commandos were fired on, but that does not imply being given a free hand as to who can subsequently be killed, no?

    If (as it appears to be the case) the commandos met with initial resistance of one/two gunmen, killed them, and then proceeded deeper into the house where they found and killed an unarmed Bin Laden, this killing is murder, unless he did something to suggest resistance or danger to the assault team, like reaching into his pocket for example.

    That there was a team of lawyers, interpreters, etc. on standby is logically and legally irrelevant.

    I realise that you, and many other reasonable people, support this raid anyway. My point is simply that by doing so you (most likely) condone a violation of some very basic rights that all democracies afford to all individuals. This violation is of course for the extreme case of a mass-murderer, but then again these rights were supposed to be universal.

  5. Alexander Kruel Says:

    Here is another interesting post on the same topic by science fiction author Richard Morgan.

  6. vHF Says:

    to Vadim P:
    The (contentious) premise that Bin Laden was a military “target” (i.e. a party to a war) is double-edged: it justifies the raid itself, but does not justify killing him if captured/cornered and not actively resisting. In this case he is subject to the various conventions about POWs.

  7. Jr Says:

    “To be clear, I still would’ve supported this hit even had there been no contingency plan for capturing him alive: the violations of “due process of law” were so gargantuan on bin Laden’s side, as to justify some violations on our side. ”

    The monstrosity of his actions would seem to justify a unusually cruel punishment, rather than relaxing due process.

  8. Scott Says:

    I realise that you, and many other reasonable people, support this raid anyway. My point is simply that by doing so you (most likely) condone a violation of some very basic rights that all democracies afford to all individuals. This violation is of course for the extreme case of a mass-murderer, but then again these rights were supposed to be universal.

    Okay!

    I think about it in more utilitarian terms: a commando raid on bin Laden strikes me as a deal where you get maybe 10,000 units of justice for every unit of injustice invested.

    In the case of the police killing a garden-variety serial killer without due process, you’d maybe break even on your investment of injustice. In the case of killing an innocent person (especially one who contributes to society, say by writing STOC/FOCS papers ;-) ), you might as well be putting everything in AIG before the crash.

  9. vHF Says:

    I think about it in more utilitarian terms: a commando raid on bin Laden strikes me as a deal where you get maybe 10,000 units of justice for every unit of injustice invested.

    I think this is a justifiable viewpoint, even though it is not my own. However, in this case you must surely ask why the payoff was not optimised in the most obvious way: by capturing and trying Bin Laden? I think it provably gives greater or equal return of justice and strictly smaller “investment” of injustice.

    Are you really happy with a sub-optimal President? ;-)

  10. Stas Says:

    Is bin Laden worse than Eichmann? They risked a lot by brining him to justice in Israel and could have easily killed him in Argentina.

  11. Gus Says:

    Hi Scott,

    I confess that I find your post confusing. The Obama quote is pretty inane: lots of fluffy reassurance that he took the decision very seriously, little in the way of proper argument or hard facts.

    By contrast, I confess (again) that I find the Chomsky quote very compelling. I instinctively disagree with him, but I find it difficult to argue against him. (Chomsky can convince you that your own mother is an international war criminal.)

    To be sure, I’m glad the US finally killed bin Laden and I’m not at all bent out of shape over the details of how it happened. But if your intent in this post was that Obama make Chomsky look the fool then I confess (once again) that I just don’t see it. If anyone looks the fool in your comparison, it’s Obama.

  12. Lenny Sands Says:

    I’m disappointed in your reasoning, Scott. Given that bin Laden was unarmed and confronted by presumably the best special forces in the American military, people trained for exactly this sort of encounter, it is unreasonable to claim that they could not have taken him alive, no matter what sort of resistance he put up (this is an old man we’re talking about, remember). Bin laden was murdered, plain and simple–irrespective of the fact that some lawyers might have been waiting outside the compound. I say murdered and not executed because we execute people after they are tried in a valid court. bin Laden never got a trial. And Chomsky makes a good point: legal norms dictate that a confession is not enough to secure a conviction; there must be supporting evidence. With bin laden all we have is his confession and circumstantial evidence of his guilt. In a situation like that, a man deserves a trial, especially if his life hangs in the balance on the result–circumstantial evidence is highly subjective often times. It’s also disturbing that the US carried out this hit in Pakistan, without prior approval–you don’t believe America owns the world, do you?

  13. Scott Says:

    vHF and Stas: Interesting points!

    In the case of Eichmann, Israel’s main goal was to use his trial to bring the details of the Holocaust to light—at that time, they weren’t widely known or discussed. In this case, though, I think the world already understands what happened on 9/11 (and bin Laden already pled guilty to it), so a trial would be fine but probably not worth the effort.

    (Of course, a more practical consideration is that, being larger and more powerful, the US can often get away with stuff that Israel would be condemned for.)

    Even so, the similarities between the Eichmann and bin Laden cases are much more interesting to me than the differences. Then, as now, you had plenty of people screaming about the illegality of Israel’s actions and the violation of Argentine sovereignty—and usually, they were the very same people who didn’t raise a peep during the Holocaust itself.

  14. Scott Says:

    Lenny Sands:

    It’s also disturbing that the US carried out this hit in Pakistan, without prior approval–you don’t believe America owns the world, do you?

    I think that, given the Pakistan government’s well-documented collusion with jihadists, it’s completely forfeited the right to have its sovereignty respected. There are strategic issues involved, but no moral ones.

  15. Vadim P Says:

    vHF #6: I agree; if Bin Laden had his hands up and was trying to surrender, but was shot anyway, that would be abhorrent. We don’t have any evidence that it went down that way (and I tend to doubt that Bin Laden would have gone quietly) but shooting anyone who’s trying to surrender – even Bin Laden – is not something I’m comfortable with.

    On another note, I like Chomsky’s line, “Uncontroversially, his [G.W. Bush's] crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s…” I’m by no means a fan of George Bush and won’t get into the relative merits of his and Bin Laden’s crimes, but where is Chomsky hanging out these days where that statement isn’t at least controversial?

  16. Vadim P Says:

    Lenny Sands, do you mean get Bin Laden alive at any cost? Even if this were a purely domestic, law enforcement operation, deadly force would be justified if there was lethal resistance. It’s not reasonable to ask the US to suffer greater casualties to take him alive. Everything here comes down to the fine details, what went on inside the compound, broad principles won’t cut it.

  17. john Says:

    Rules get blurry during fire exchanges–is the story even clear?

    The public reaction was a bit odd to me, making me feel almost uncomfortable, like 911 but reversed. How important is the line between planned civilian deaths/murders and accidental (but expected) civilian deaths? Are civilian deaths justified because we publicly promote human rights? I think this event emphasized our culture’s unfortunate groupthink.

  18. Scott Says:

    Vadim:

    I’m by no means a fan of George Bush and won’t get into the relative merits of his and Bin Laden’s crimes, but where is Chomsky hanging out these days where that statement isn’t at least controversial?

    LOL! He’s hanging out in the Stata Center, the same building as me—but no doubt talking to a different set of people. If you read any of Chomsky’s writings, he reliably uses words like “undisputed” and “uncontroversial” precisely for those claims that are most disputed and controversial.

    (Incidentally, that sentence was probably the first thing I’d seen in a decade that made me want to leap to George W. Bush’s defense.)

  19. Scott Says:

    BTW, to answer vHF’s question:

    Are you really happy with a sub-optimal President?

    I’ll take him. ;-) He’s within a constant factor of optimal, which is a lot more than can be said for the last one.

    Speaking of which, academia and the nerd blogosphere are interesting places: places where it’s obvious to everyone that supporting President Obama makes you some kind of right-wing fanatic…

  20. vHF Says:

    I agree with Vadim that US cannot be expected to suffer extra damage to get Bin Laden alive; but I also think that Lenny has a valid point in that there is no reason to expect such a trade-off to be the case against Navy Seals unless Bin Laden was actively resisting using lethal force — in which case he could have been be shot, of course.

    Another interesting question is: does Bin Laden (or anyone else in his situation) have to actively surrender (come out into the open with arms up, ask for pardon, or sth equivalent) for the killing to be illegal? I’d say no. To my mind, the killing is only justified if there is a substantial and imminent threat from the person killed. And it is difficult for me to envisage the threat an unarmed 50-something poses to several well-trained commandos.

    I am saying all this because I anticipate precisely this kind of defence once (if ever) the right questions are finally asked aloud: Bin Laden, though unarmed, was killed because he ‘resisted capture’ or ‘made no attempt to surrender’. Nowhere near enough, I think.

  21. vHF Says:

    Speaking of which, academia and the nerd blogosphere are interesting places: places where it’s obvious to everyone that supporting President Obama makes you some kind of right-wing fanatic.

    Please do not think so on the account of my criticism; as I said I think your viewpoint justifiable (though dangerous).
    As for Obama, I am disappointed in him and his attitude in the past few days, but then again he is not my President, so I don’t really care that much.

  22. Moshe Says:

    I think that excessive concentration on Bin Laden misses the larger point. I don’t think you can provide a principled distinction that would allow you to assassinate him while not compromising larger ideas about the rule of law, due process and of the sanctity of human life. It is precisely such principles that were celebrated by bringing Eichmann to trial instead if killing him (these were, sadly, different times).

  23. Scott Says:

    Gus:

      By contrast, I confess (again) that I find the Chomsky quote very compelling. I instinctively disagree with him, but I find it difficult to argue against him. (Chomsky can convince you that your own mother is an international war criminal.)

    See, that’s exactly it! My point was precisely that, if your reactions are out of sync in this way (and you recognize it), then you need some internal recalibration.

    Chomsky is one of the world’s great sophists: for half a century, he’s deployed logically-impeccable yet batshit-insane arguments in defense of everything from Pol Pot to Holocaust deniers to claims about linguistics (e.g., the uselessness of statistical approaches) that mounting empirical data finally forced people to abandon despite Chomsky’s authority. In short, Chomsky is an intellectual bully.

    (This parody, in which Chomsky and Howard Zinn defend Sauron from Lord of the Rings, gets it exactly right.)

    However, once you’ve seen enough of Chomsky’s stuff to understand how he operates, you effectively “disarm” him. From that point forward, a president discussing the actual action that he actually took against an actual mass-murderer will probably make a better impression than Chomsky carping from the sidelines on the mass-murderer’s side, even if the latter wins some points as the better arguer.

    (Which isn’t to say I concede Chomsky is a great arguer! As I said, he’s a sophist: his arguments seem impressive only if we all agree to ignore the gaping holes in them, like Bush’s crimes “uncontroversially” far exceeding bin Laden’s.)

  24. Scott Says:

    Moshe:

      It is precisely such principles that were celebrated by bringing Eichmann to trial instead if killing him (these were, sadly, different times).

    So what about all the people who screamed that Israel’s capturing Eichmann in Argentina made a mockery of the rule of law, etc. etc.? If bin Laden had been captured alive and brought to trial in the US, do you doubt for a minute that Chomsky and those who think like him would then be protesting against the illegitimacy of the arrest and trial?

  25. Lenny Sands Says:

    Scott: I challenge you to ask Chomsy to justify the “uncontroversially” remark, and then report back what he says. You see him every day, so what’s the hesitation? Just ask nicely, don’t be combative, make sure you understand his reasoning, ask a few questions for the sake of clarity, then get the hell out of there before he makes you his minion. Why not go for it? Would sure make for a nice blog post; honest to god journalism, not just commentary.

  26. asterpix Says:

    What is really dangerous about your argument, Scott, is that you say Chomsky is “carping from the sidelines on the mass-murderer’s side …”

    If I say that someone should have a fair trial before they are indicted for murder and you say that I am “being on their side”, that is simply false and goes directly against our justice system. Standing up for someone’s rights is not the same as supporting their participation in a criminal act. Most of our justice system is based on this principle.

    And do you really think that we know what happened on 9/11? Why can’t we simply have an investigation? If it is so obvious that the US government didn’t “let it happen” or have any other indirect participation, then let’s prove that to the American people. We don’t accept someone standing up in a math talk and just saying that their proof is correct–we ask them to prove it. If it is so obvious, then let’s have a trial.

    Also, what Chomsky meant by “uncontroversial” about GW Bush being a bigger criminal than Bin Laden is that if you consider an objective measure of their crimes such as how many people were killed in Iraq vs. on 9-11, clearly GW wins hands down. The number of casualties seems to be a good objective measure. If it is not, then what measure do you propose?

  27. Moshe Says:

    I have little sympathy for Chomsky who seems to find ways to be unreasonable even when defending a perfectly reasonable position. Leaving him aside, including all the counterfactuals about his positions in various scenarios (no doubt they’d be obnoxious in some way or another), the point of principle remains. Framed correctly (which Chomsky doesn’t do) this is not about Bin Laden and his rights, this is about the rules that govern the use of power, and how seriously one should take them, and what happens when they start eroding, etc. etc.

  28. Aaronson is a muppet Says:

    The problem with some quantum physics nerds n co is that they start thinking their opinions on every topic will be taken seriously. US ‘forfeited its moral right’ ages ago when it exterminated the red indians, massacred vietnamese, dropped the atom bomb and toppled many democratic goverments, and killed a million Iraqis.

  29. arnab Says:

    So what about all the people who screamed that Israel’s capturing Eichmann in Argentina made a mockery of the rule of law, etc. etc.?

    Scott, I think you are merging two distinct concerns. One is the legal issue of Pakistan’s national sovereignty being violated. The second is the moral issue of Bin Laden being assassinated without due process.

    I don’t think anyone here is debating the legal issue. Since elements of Pakistan’s administration are undoubtedly complicit, it would have been stupid to let the operation be handled by the Pakistani police or the ISI. As far as I understand, there had been previous attempts to get OBL where Pakistan was also involved, and for those, he had always managed to escape unhurt. So, the legal issue would remain regardless of whether OBL was killed or captured, and I don’t see the point of talking about it.

    The more troublesome point is the moral issue. Wouldn’t it have given the US an upper hand from a moral/intellectual standpoint to bring the inhuman terrorist to justice and to demonstrate the power of law over vigilante justice (exactly the type of justice OBL and his followers want to practice)?

  30. vHF Says:

    arnab: The second is the moral issue of Bin Laden being assassinated without due process.

    How is this not a legal issue?

  31. the reader from Istanbul Says:

    I agree with Chomsky on this one.

    George W caused the deaths of a far greater number of innocent people than bin Laden. How is this controversial? Who decided to attack Iraq? For what reason? Based on what evidence?

    Is interrogation by torture OK or not? Is killing an unarmed and unconvicted man with no possibility of escape OK or not?

    I understand and truly share your hatred for bin Laden, (I was very close to one of the sites bombed in Istanbul in 2004) but I am saddened by this entire thing because some principles for the violation of which so-called civilized countries criticize other ones all the time have gone out of the window in this case, and you are not even slightly unhappy about this.

  32. arnab Says:

    vHF: Sorry, you are right. Forget about the descriptors, “legal” and “moral”. But I do believe the two issues are separate.

  33. Vadim P Says:

    The reader from Istanbul,

    If we have to debate it, isn’t it controversial almost by definition? Nobody doubts that both Bin Laden and Bush took actions leading to loss of life, but people certainly do disagree about their respective justification (or lack of). Heck, I even have internal conflict about the morality of these things, nothing could be further from uncontroversial.

  34. Lenny Sands Says:

    One of Chomsky’s general points is that America is hypocritical; it won’t let others do what it does. So, for those of you who find that Obama and friends did not violate Pakistan’s sovereignty: would you be bothered in any way if Cambodian military officials came to the US and assassinated Henry Kissinger?

  35. pbg Says:

    vHF said: To my mind, the killing is only justified if there is a substantial and imminent threat from the person killed. And it is difficult for me to envisage the threat an unarmed 50-something poses to several well-trained commandos. … I am saying all this because I anticipate precisely this kind of defence once (if ever) the right questions are finally asked aloud: Bin Laden, though unarmed, was killed because he ‘resisted capture’ or ‘made no attempt to surrender’. Nowhere near enough, I think.

    Really? The way you put it, it sounds like Bin Laden had already been given a TSA pat-down and full body scan.

    Everything is about probabilities.

    The SEALs entered a compound whose contents were very unpredictable. They were fired upon. They entered the room of a person known to be a dangerous terrorist. There were (reportedly) weapons in the room. Given what the SEALs knew at the time, there could have been weapons or explosives on Bin Laden’s body. He was moving, could have been moving to the weapons, and the SEALs had to make a split-second decision.

    That sounds like a substantial threat to me. And given the situation, I wouldn’t ask the SEALS to accept even a 5% chance of their own injury in order to protect Bin Laden. So the SEALs actions seem entirely justified.

  36. Scott Says:

    Lenny Sands #34: In the specific case of Henry Kissinger, I confess that I wouldn’t shed too many tears if Cambodian military officials took him out. But in that case, I’d strongly prefer a war-crimes tribunal, for several reasons. Firstly, the case against Kissinger is less “obvious”: unlike bin Laden, as far as I know Kissinger never actually exulted in civilian deaths. Also, Kissinger seems extremely unlikely to resist arrest, is not currently plotting more attacks against Cambodia, and poses little current danger except to those who read his bloviating essays.

  37. vHF Says:

    pbg,

    You can use this sort of storytelling to justify killing of any suspects by police or special forces. All moving people can be moving towards weapons, and virtually anybody can wear explosives or a concealed weapon.

    As has already been said, whether the killing of Bin Laden was justified depends entirely on what happened in that house, and we have precious few data. Still, it appears that Bin Laden was unarmed and has not fired on or otherwise attacked the commandos. Under these conditions I can imagine very little that would justify killing him.

    Personally, although I have no data to back it up, I have little doubt that the very purpose of the raid was to kill him rather than capture, and that he was shot on the spot as soon as found and recognised.

  38. Scott Says:

    Lenny Sands #25: Actually, I don’t see Chomsky every day; I think I’ve seen him twice in the four years I’ve been here. And I confess that, the more I read of Chomsky’s writings, the less interest I have in ever talking to him.

  39. asterpix Says:

    “Nobody doubts that both Bin Laden and Bush took actions leading to loss of life, but people certainly do disagree about their respective justification (or lack of).”

    Yes, of course. GW Bush and the western powers went to Iraq to get the oil. (In case you don’t believe this, see the recent revelations in the MSM:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/secret-memos-expose-link-between-oil-firms-and-invasion-of-iraq-2269610.html
    )

    That was their “justification”. They didn’t intend to kill anyone! They just wanted to steal the oil. (Note that stealing < killing.) The killing of a million people–oh well–that happens sometimes. It's happened before, actually, and it's no big deal if they are not Americans.

    Meanwhile, Osama *intended* to kill people. Can't you see that that is much worse? He didn't have any side goals, like harming the airline industry or demolishing the twin towers, in which case, maybe we could have given him a little leeway. He just wanted to kill people. So indeed, he is a much worse person.

    (Phew! Thank goodness we've already established that making sound arguments just makes you an "intellectual bully"!)

    [note: the above is sarcastic. I actually think Osama's major goal on 9-11 was damaging the US economy, knowing that with their huge military they would go start huge expensive wars, that would eventually bankrupt them. Of course, this unfortunately has come to pass.]

  40. Mark Says:

    Scott, perhaps I just missed it, but I haven’t found the part in this post or the subsequent comments wherein you actually show which of chomsky’s statements were false.

    You’ve called him a sophist and a bully, linked to a parody, and scoffed at people who find him convincing… But where’s the beef?

    The main claim I read him making here is that the killing of bin laden was illegal. Who can possibly claim that it wasnt? Now, it may have been just and prudent despite being illegal, but that’s a different argument, one that I don’t see Chomsky directly engaging here.

  41. Yury Says:

    @Mark: I believe that the assassination of bin Laden was legal. Since the United States is at the state of war with al-Qaeda, the US military can legally kill members of al-Qaeda. Bin Laden was killed as an enemy combatant not as a criminal. (I am not sure however that other people killed during this operation were legal military targets.)

    @Stas: The situation with Eichmann was very different. Since the WWII was over, he was not an enemy combatant at the moment of his capture. So the only legal option for Israel was to try him in the court (as a criminal).

  42. Mike Says:

    Mark (and others),

    “The main claim I read him making here is that the killing of bin laden was illegal. Who can possibly claim that it wasn’t?”

    Many do:

    “The targeting of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was consistent with the U.N. charter and U.S. law and not an illegal assassination as some critics have argued, two national security law experts affirmed.

    Law professor John Norton Moore and Robert F. Turner, co-founders of the University of Virginia’s Center for National Security Law, said bin Laden was a lawful target even before Sept. 11 because of his role in an ongoing series of armed attacks against American targets.

    “Article 51 of the U.N. Charter reaffirms the pre-existing right of states to use lethal force in self-defense,” said Moore, who serves as director of the center and is Walter L. Brown Professor of Law at U.Va.

    The article states, “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”

    The day following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1368, which among other things recognized “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence” in the context of those attacks.

    Sixteen days later, the Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 1373, which reaffirmed the right of victims of terrorist attacks to use force in self-defense and declared the attacks “a threat to international peace and security.” The resolution reaffirmed “the need to combat by all means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.”

    In 1981, President Reagan signed Executive Order 12333, which prohibits anyone employed by the U.S. government from engaging in assassination. “But that provision clearly does not constrain otherwise lawful killings during armed conflict,” said Turner, the associate director of the center.

    By definition, assassination is a form of murder, Turner said. “The targeting of Osama bin Laden is no more an assassination than was the intentional downing in 1943 of a transport aircraft carrying Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the mastermind of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Killing the enemy during armed conflict is not murder.”

    Moore and Turner are the editors of the casebook “National Security Law.” They chaired the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Law and National Security throughout most of the 1980s and early 1990s, and have testified before Congress dozens of times on national security matters.

    From 1991 to 1993, during the Gulf War and its aftermath, Moore was the principal legal adviser to the Ambassador of Kuwait to the United States and to the Kuwaiti delegation to the U.N. Iraq-Kuwait Boundary Demarcation Commission. From 1985 to 1991, Moore chaired of the board of directors of the U.S. Institute of Peace.

    Turner previously served as a member of the Senior Executive Service, first in the Pentagon as special assistant to the undersecretary of defense for policy, then in the White House as counsel to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board, and at the State Department as acting assistant secretary for legislative affairs. In 1986 and 1987, he was the first president of the U.S. Institute of Peace.”

    And, according to John B. Bellinger III, Adjunct Senior Fellow for International and National Security Law:

    “The Authorization to Use Military Force Act of September 18, 2001, authorizes the president to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against persons who authorized, planned, or committed the 9/11 attacks.

    The killing is not prohibited by the longstanding assassination prohibition in Executive Order 12333 because the action was a military action in the ongoing U.S. armed conflict with al-Qaeda and it is not prohibited to kill specific leaders of an opposing force. The assassination prohibition also does not apply to killings in self-defense. The executive branch will also argue that the action was permissible under international law both as a permissible use of force in the U.S. armed conflict with al-Qaeda and as a legitimate action in self-defense, given that bin Laden was clearly planning additional attacks.”

    Can legal counter arguments be made? Yes they can. Does the conclusion change if it wasn’t an “extensive firefight”? What constitutes self defense? And many others as well. But now we are in the realm of lawyers. And, being a lawyer myself, I know I could develop a “reasonable” argument to the effect that the killing was illegal under both international and national laws. Given a few more minutes on Google, I could come up with an argument that you would think “airtight.” But it wouldn’t be — there would be the quoted (and doubtless others not quoted) counterarguments. That’s what lawyers do.

    My only point here is that a justification can be made, and as always, it’s up to each person to weigh the relative strengths and weakness of the legal arguments, facts and circumstances, and the personal and national moral imperatives.

    As for me, I’m with Scott on this.

  43. Scott Says:

    Mark #40:

      Scott, perhaps I just missed it, but I haven’t found the part in this post or the subsequent comments wherein you actually show which of chomsky’s statements were false.

    Here are four specific statements by Chomsky that seem outright false to me:

    1. 1. It’s increasingly clear that the operation … multiply violat[ed] elementary norms of international law.
    2. 2. 80 commandos fac[ed] virtually no opposition—except, they claim, from his wife, who lunged towards them.
    3. 3. Obama was simply lying when he said, in his White House statement, that “we quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda.”
    4. 4. Uncontroversially, [Bush's] crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s.

    Statements 3 and 4 strike me as not merely false but laughable—so far into creationist/UFOlogist/moon-landings-were-faked territory that there’s no point even trying to refute them.

    There is much more to say, but even the most obvious and elementary falsehoods from Chomsky should provide us with a good deal to think about.

  44. Scott Says:

    AIAM #28:

      The problem with some quantum physics nerds n co is that they start thinking their opinions on every topic will be taken seriously. US ‘forfeited its moral right’ ages ago when it exterminated the red indians, massacred vietnamese, dropped the atom bomb and toppled many democratic goverments, and killed a million Iraqis.

    I find this an ironic accusation, given that for half a century Chomsky has been using his prestige in linguistics to get his opinions on every other subject taken seriously. If you don’t agree with me (or rather, despise my entire civilization), just say so; don’t pretend it has anything to do with quantum physics.

  45. Scott Says:

    asterpix #26:

      What is really dangerous about your argument, Scott, is that you say Chomsky is “carping from the sidelines on the mass-murderer’s side …”

      If I say that someone should have a fair trial before they are indicted for murder and you say that I am “being on their side”, that is simply false and goes directly against our justice system.

    Look, I wasn’t talking about a hypothetical reasonable individual who shares some of the same views as Chomsky. I was talking about Noam Chomsky himself. Just like in the Faurisson affair, where Chomsky went far beyond defending a Holocaust denier’s abstract free speech rights to defending the Holocaust denier’s actual “scholarship”, so in the essay at hand, Chomsky goes far beyond defending bin Laden’s right to a fair trial with statements like “uncontroversially [!!!], [Bush's] crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s.”

    That and other statements have the clear and obvious implication that, in the conflict between the US and al Qaeda, al Qaeda is, if not perfect, then the “vastly” more moral side. And I don’t grant Chomsky the privilege of leaving such implications hanging only to back innocently away from them if confronted.

  46. Larry D'Anna Says:

    I actually think they’re both right.

  47. Scott Says:

    Larry: Duuuude. That’s, like, some serious Zen stuff… ;-)

  48. Scott Says:

    I find it ironic that many commenters are talking about the importance of due process and the courts in distinguishing civilization from barbarism, when they seem unwilling to apply what you might call the “cheering-in-the-streets test”: the simplest barbarism-identifier ever devised.

    Both the US and the Islamists have pretty terrible records of carrying out operations that result in civilian deaths. But when we do it, we either deny it or else issue red-faced bureaucratic apologies about how regrettable it was. When the Islamists do it, they cheer in the streets, pass out candy to children, and talk about 72 virgin brides. It’s true that the victims are dead either way—but if barbarism is the thing you’re worried about, what more do you need to help you pick a side?

  49. Mark Says:

    Wow, Scott, so the wrongness of killing civilians is mitigated by denying it? I understand you didn’t *say* that, but I’m not going to grant you the privilege of leaving such implications hanging only to back innocently away from them if confronted.

    To be less flippant: I don’t think anyone is claiming that it isn’t barbaric for jihadists to murder civilians and dance in the streets in celebration. (By the way, who danced in the streets? When? How many?) Where is the irony? People are saying that we should adhere to the rule of law. What’s so ironic or hypocritical about that?

  50. vexorian Says:

    Two points, Chomsky’s 9/11 Alqaeda denial is annoying and wrong, but otherwise he, I got to say , does make a point.

    Is Obama’s response that if someone is responsible for many kills a country the country is able to invade whenever that person is hiding and kill him? Then I am afraid what Obama said actually does feed Chomsky’s analogy about Iraqis sending assassins against Bush. Of course, Obama meant that this is the deserved fate of anyone that does it to America. But of course, any non-american will quickly say, why should it apply to America only?

    I like to believe that international law exists for a reason, but Obama seems to have just made of it an obstacle that must be ignored in the name of revenge.

  51. Mark Says:

    Mike,

    Ok, I chose my words poorly. Obviously, there will always be people who claim that anything the president does is legal, if only because the president employs lawyers whose entire job it is to say that everything he does is legal.

    Anyway, thanks for your informative post. IANAL, and I don’t know how to evaluate any of those claims. It just seems strange to me that it could ever in any way be legal to carry out a military operation in the territory of a nominal ally, without their knowledge. Again, it may have been just and/or prudent (I happen to think it probably was), but I don’t understand what *legal* basis such an act could have.

    As for the actual murder of bin Laden, I am not surprised to see the “self-defense” defense make an appearance. I certainly can’t refute the claim that summarily and extra-judicially executing bin Laden was necessary for our self-defense. But the problem is that you can’t really refute that claim in *any* realistic scenario, ever, given the lax standards of proof afforded to the national security machine in its mission to do whatever it wants, whenever and wherever it wants to. (We have goatherds in guantanamo who remain there, uncharged, because they are “too dangerous to release”).

  52. arbguy Says:

    > Uncontroversially, [Bush's] crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s.

    The number of innocent civilians killed by Bush far exceeds the number killed by Osama. I don’t see how denying, apologizing for or regretting the deaths changes anything.

  53. Scott Says:

    Mark #49:

    Wow, Scott, so the wrongness of killing civilians is mitigated by denying it?

    No, the wrongness of killing civilians is mitigated by not wanting to kill them, and by trying to minimize rather than maximize the number that you kill. Being embarrassed rather than exultant about it is just a useful piece of evidence regarding your motives.

    By the way, who danced in the streets? When? How many?

    Here’s the famous video of Palestinians celebrating on 9/11, and here’s a discussion on Snopes confirming the video’s authenticity and that the phenomenon it shows is indeed representative of what happened in large parts of the Arab world. As Snopes writes:

      The footage was real. It’s a shame, in fact, that its provenance was doubted because the lives of journalists who have attempted to capture similar acts on video have been threatened. That this tape made it out at all is a miracle.

    Related to that, if you’re interested, here’s a decent collection of poll data about Palestinian attitudes toward suicide bombing and the 9/11 attacks. (36% called the 9/11 attackers “martyrs” or “freedom fighters,” compared to 37% who called them “terrorists.” The rest weren’t sure.)

  54. Scott Says:

    arbguy:

    The number of innocent civilians killed by Bush far exceeds the number killed by Osama. I don’t see how denying, apologizing for or regretting the deaths changes anything.

    I don’t get it: since when is motive irrelevant to crime (the word Chomsky used)?

    Also, wouldn’t a fairer metric be the number of innocent civilians killed by Bush, minus the number Saddam would have killed since 2003? After all, Osama wasn’t (misguidedly or not) trying to liberate Americans from a dictator known for butchering them; he was trying to be the butcher.

    The distinction between evil and stupidity matters, goddammit! :-)

  55. Mike Says:

    Mark,

    I note you chose not to respond to my comment regarding your remark about the legality of the killing. You had said it was the “main claim”, but apparently your focus has sifted to other more important aspects of the discussion.

    That’s OK, it’s not unusual for people who make outrageous and wholly unsupportable statements thinking no one will actually take them seriously, to change the subject when someone provides a response that takes them seriously.

    So, let me try something different. Since you have decided not to deal with the “legal” side of things, I’m going to assert something on the moral side that you (and perhaps many others) will really dislike. Nevertheless, the following should be read in conjunction with my prior “legal” post — because unlike with complexity theory, where justice is concerned, hard cases make bad law.

    The following is, however, something I think accurately characterizes much (though, to be charitable, perhaps not all) of your thinking. I know you won’t agree with this, but of course that’s the point of what I will say.

    The comment I’m going to paraphrase is not mine. And it wasn’t made recently. In fact, ironically, it was made shortly after 9/11. However, I think it summarizes what I want to say:

    “What happens now is that we (by which I mean the West) eradicate terrorism. And we can achieve that only by replacing all political systems that perpetrate or collaborate with terrorism, by systems that respect human rights both domestically and internationally.

    This will require, first of all, war. Then, it will require spectacular success at the notoriously difficult task of improving other nations’ political systems. But we have done such things before: we did it for Germany and Japan in 1945. We have also failed many times at it. We must succeed this time.

    But more: it will require changes in us. In our conception of the political landscape. It will take violations of old taboos and the creation of new understanding and new traditions.

    Mainstream Western culture has exhibited a major moral failure: a refusal to distinguish between right and wrong. The unique glories of our civilisation — self-criticism, tolerance, openness to change and to ideas from other cultures — have in many people’s minds decayed, under this moral failure, into self-hatred, appeasement, and moral relativism.

    Moral relativism always sees itself as evenhanded, and indeed it begins with a retreat from judgement or taking sides. But in practice it always entails siding with wrong against right.

    Attacks on the US were not motivated by a state of mind similar to that which is currently motivating the Western response. The Western stance — and even Western mistakes, are driven fundamentally by respect for human beings, human choices and human life. Western values are life-affirming and life-seeking. The murderers worship death. There is no symmetry between life and death.

    There is no “cycle of violence” that we have to “break” by making the murderers and their sympathisers feel less angry with us. Their anger is unjustified: To cleanse the Arabian peninsula of non-Muslims is an immoral aim, violating the human rights both of non-Muslim residents and of Muslims who wish to associate with them (and, perhaps more pertinently, to seek their assistance in defending themselves). To cleanse Israel of Jews is an aspiration similar in kind but much more evil both in its racist motivation and in its intention to destroy an entire nation. To replace secular or less-than-fundamentalist governments by religious fundamentalist ones in all Islamic countries is an utterly tyrannical agenda. And there is a fourth unjustified ‘grievance’ that goes implicitly with those three: they demand the right to punish the West, by mass murder, with impunity, if anyone in the West opposes them in pursuing any of those other ‘grievances’.

    The problem is not to find alternatives to defending ourselves against murderers. The exact opposite is true: this violence will end if and only if we defend ourselves, effectively. And effectiveness will depend in part on our saying truthfully what we are doing, and why our stance is not essentially the same as theirs.

    You can perceive our stance and theirs as symmetrical only by expunging morality from your analysis: seeing all political objectives as being legitimate, all rival value systems as matters of taste, treating murderers and their victims with evenhanded sympathy. You have to look at tolerance and its opposite, intolerance, and pretend that they are two versions of the same thing. You have to pretend that the richness and diversity and creativity of our civilisation are playing the same role in our lives as empty repetition, oppression, and pitiless enforcement of a monoculture play in theirs.

    People wring their hands and say that there must be “better ways of finding solutions” than warfare. Of course there are. We have already found them. The nations and people of the West use them all the time. They are openness, tolerance, reason, respect for human rights — the fundamental institutions of our civilisation. But no way of finding solutions is so effective that it can work when it isn’t being used. And when a violent group defines itself by its comprehensive rejection of all the values on which problem-solving and the peaceful resolution of disputes depend, and embarks instead on a campaign of unlimited murder and destruction, it is morally wrong as well as factually inaccurate to represent this as a case of our needing “better ways of finding solutions”. That is why we have to insist, by force if necessary, that everyone else in the world also respect, and enforce, the minimum standards of civilisation and human rights. Western standards.”

    Mark, you ask “where is the irony?” The simple answer is that in this situation irony is unfounded since fundamentally there is no basis to feel it, or believe it.

    There is no symmetry in relation to the killing of bin Laden that provides any basis for irony, or for the charge of hypocrisy. I know some people will disagree with this, but of course, we are lucky to live in a civilization where we can make unfounded charges and disagree with them without being blindfolded and beheaded.

  56. Mark Says:

    “No, the wrongness of killing civilians is mitigated by not wanting to kill them”

    That’s only true insofar as one ever had any realistic way of avoiding the civilian deaths. You can’t turn a bull loose in a china shop and claim that you didn’t want to break any dishes. I’m not so cynical that I think that Bush and company wouldn’t have *opted* not to kill any civilians, if they had had a magic genie who could have granted them their military wishes without “collateral damage”. But they didn’t have such a genie, and short of that, there is no way that their actions could possibly *not* have resulted in massive civilian casualties.

    As for the video, I’m aware of it, I was only drawing attention to the unjustifiable girth of your “islamist” brush. i.e., *some* people danced in the streets, but its not clear how much of the islamic world you are referring to with the word “islamist”. And if you don’t think Americans are capable of similarly bloodthirsty behavior or attitudes, I don’t think you’re looking very hard.

  57. Scott Says:

    For those who didn’t guess the writer of the comments that Mike #55 quotes: it’s David Deutsch (see here). And I’m with him on this one! :-)

  58. aram Says:

    I think one can be happy that bin Laden is dead while still wishing that it happened in a more legal fashion. The fact that he, or any other murderer, killed people without due process doesn’t mean that the principle of due process no longer applies to him. The point of due process is not to protect criminals, but to restrict government power.

    Even Nazi war criminals were brought to trial, although the Nazis were far more dangerous than al Qaeda. I think that the principles of Nuremberg (trials rather than summary execution, even for evildoers) are admirable and worth maintaining.

    Also, bin Laden may have been reaching for an AK-47 when the SEALs came in, or he may have been captured and then later executed. As far as I know, the administration’s claims are consistent with both of these possibilities.

  59. Scott Says:

    Mark #56:

    And if you don’t think Americans are capable of similarly bloodthirsty behavior or attitudes, I don’t think you’re looking very hard.

    Riiight … there are bloodthirsty Americans and there are bloodthirsty Islamists, and everything’s neat and symmetric, and “all else equal,” you should be indifferent whether you want to live in San Francisco or in Syria.

    Ironically, I’m sure some of the first people to dispute such an equivalence would be Islamists themselves: they’d be insulted to hear their bloodthirstiness and hunger for martyrdom challenged, and to be compared to soft and weak Americans.

  60. Mark Says:

    Ok, Scott, I’m done with this discussion. I didn’t say (and don’t think) that Islamic and Western cultures are equal or equivalent, and am annoyed that someone as reasonable as you *usually* are would intentionally misconstrue my statements that way.

    To be clear, western culture is preferable in every way worth caring about. But that’s mostly because *our* bloodthirsty lunatics are (mostly) confined to talk radio, while their bloodthirsty lunatics occupy actual positions of power. But they’re both bloodthirsty lunatics, and *THAT* was the only claim that I made, and I stand by it.

  61. Scott Says:

    Aram #58:

    Even Nazi war criminals were brought to trial, although the Nazis were far more dangerous than al Qaeda.

    As others already pointed out on this thread, the comparison seems flawed, since the Nazis were no longer actively fighting at the time they were brought to trial.

    Again, though, I personally would not have had a problem if thousands of Nazis had been rounded up after the war and killed extrajudicially, and would have preferred that to the comically-light sentences that many of them received. Nor do I have a problem with the small number of extrajudicial killings that I understand took place (anyone have a good reference?), e.g. by American soldiers and recently-liberated Jews.

  62. Mark Says:

    Mike, I don’t understand which of your statements you think I didn’t respond to, and further, I don’t understand your latest post at all, and suspect that you must not have understood mine. Unraveling these misunderstandings does not seem to me like a feasible prospect this evening.

  63. Scott Says:

    Mark #60:

      *our* bloodthirsty lunatics are (mostly) confined to talk radio, while their bloodthirsty lunatics occupy actual positions of power. But they’re both bloodthirsty lunatics

    That’s very well-put, I agree with it, and I wish you’d said it earlier! Sorry to see you go.

  64. asterpix Says:

    Yury: We are not in a “state of war with Al Qaeda”, because the US Congress never declared war. So it was not legal.

    “Both the US and the Islamists have pretty terrible records of carrying out operations that result in civilian deaths. But when we do it, we either deny it or else issue red-faced bureaucratic apologies about how regrettable it was. When the Islamists do it, they cheer in the streets, pass out candy to children, and talk about 72 virgin brides. It’s true that the victims are dead either way—but if barbarism is the thing you’re worried about, what more do you need to help you pick a side?”

    Well, it’s great to see that since Chomsky was (as claimed by Scott) a Holocaust *denier*, he is not a barbarian!

    “Also, wouldn’t a fairer metric be the number of innocent civilians killed by Bush, minus the number Saddam would have killed since 2003? After all, Osama wasn’t (misguidedly or not) trying to liberate Americans from a dictator known for butchering them; he was trying to be the butcher.”

    I don’t think Saddam would have killed a million Iraqi people after 2003. He was already responsible for killing about a million people during by starting the Iran-Iraq war (by invading Iran in 1980) with the approval of the US Government. But he only got “tried” for killing 100 or so people during some uprising. Anyway, even if Saddam could/would have killed another million people, do you think that makes it okay for the US to do it instead?

    “*our* bloodthirsty lunatics are (mostly) confined to talk radio, while their bloodthirsty lunatics occupy actual positions of power. But they’re both bloodthirsty lunatics”

    Really? Cheney and Bush seemed like bloodthirsty lunatics. Also, remember that we (US) are huge supporters of many Arab bloodthirsty dictators.

  65. B Says:

    Chomsky’s only basis to blame Obama for ordering the assasination of Osama bin Laden seems to be Obama’s “confession” which is like “my confession that I won the Boston marathon”. There isn’t even a body. So what is he complaining about?

  66. aram Says:

    The fact that WW2 was over seems somewhat beside the point. Once someone like bin Laden is captured, then he himself is no longer a threat, even if his associates are. Similarly, we can afford to give trials to Mafia bosses rather than summarily execute them, even if their organizations remain intact.

    And no American is going to shed a tear for these guys, but that doesn’t mean we should sink to their level. A common defense of torture and other illegal or immoral government acts is that the other side is doing things that are worse. But that’s like the childish defense: “he hit me first.” You can make a case for torture, summary execution, or whatever, on their own merits (maybe the alternatives would leave us vulnerable, or whatever), but the “we’re not as bad as al Qaeda” defense is a pretty uncompelling reason to abandon the Constitution.

    As for the light sentences of Nazis, one reason I’ve heard for this (not sure how significant) is that it was for pragmatic reasons related to securing their cooperation in the Cold War. So the difference here is that at the time there was high-level support for light penalties, whereas now there’s no one on that side. I feel I should be using this point to support some sort of argument, but I’m not sure how. :)

  67. Paul Beame Says:

    The information we have is not inconsistent with the position that the plan had a very strong preference for capturing Bin Laden alive so that he could be questioned. The “illegal” actions were to violate Pakistani territory and could not be avoided but everything else is a quite plausible outcome of a well-intentioned plan.

    It sounds like many situations in the US when unarmed people unfortunately end up being killed by cops. In that case you get nervous cops in stressful situations. We blame the cops or the culture of the police but we don’t usually think of it as a plan (except when a pattern emerges). Yes, Navy Seals are better trained than cops but the situation was likely more stressful relative to that training. All it can take is one member of the team. We can never know unless there is something on the live video that Obama was supposedly watching. Even if this was the plan, one can hardly imagine Obama excoriating one of the team for screwing up.

    Now one can make guesses about the actual plan based on assumptions about costs/benefit. Bin Laden dead seems likely an easier situation for the US since the US really has no idea how to conduct a show trial, even for others at Guantanamo. The US could also more easily control his burial to reduce future veneration. I think that we can use this “prior” to suggest the more likely plan but that is all it is – a Bayesian guess.

    I

  68. remember Says:

    An article from Sept 2001:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/sep/29/september11.afghanistan

    Interesting to read this again after Abbottabad.

  69. the reader from Istanbul Says:

    Well, sorry to say this really, but Bush *is* a bloodthirsty lunatic, his ideology, which drove him to his crimes, is, as far as I can understand, almost precisely isomorphic to the one that you call “Islamism”, which is really not very much different than the mindset of the present government of Israel, which committed some pretty clear crimes against humanity themselves, Bush *did* kill more innocent people than bin Laden, the fact that he was an idiot does not reflect well at all on the US, you defending him goes totally against your own ideals, symmetry would be broken only if one of those sides didn’t commit these crimes, and the fact that every sane human being would prefer San Francisco over Damascus has really nothing to do with all this.

    The problem with people

  70. the reader from Istanbul Says:

    Sorry for the broken sentence at the end of my previous posting. Here it goes:

    The problem with people (Nazis or whatever) being rounded up and executed without trial is that some of them may be actually innocent. Is it known for sure that the other people killed in the bin Laden raid were all bad guys?

  71. slw Says:

    Chomsky is misguided and Obama is being dishonest.

    Killing Bin Laden was not about justice or vengeance or 9/11. It was about putting on a show. Black helicopters fly in at night, elite special ops teams charge in and heroically kill the bad guy. It’s the money shot American public with all of their five-second attention span has been begging for the past 10 years. Summer blockbuster season starts early.

    Right and wrong in matters of politics and war is a function of perspective. Anyone claiming to have an absolute answer either way is an idiot.

  72. Faibsz Says:

    The chap from Istambul’s (#67) rant about Bush and ‘the present government of Israel’ reminds me of Libya charing UN’s Human Rights Council; Turkey hadn’t even said sorry for the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Armenian children and women (Hitler’s inspiration for the Holocaust). Today torture and murder are routine in Turkey’s war against Kurdish nationalism; hundreds are rotting in jail without any pretence of fair trial.

    How about a pause in picking on Israel and the US to own up to your own country’s barbarism?

  73. Mike Says:

    Scott,

    “For those who didn’t guess the writer of the comments that Mike #55 quotes: it’s David Deutsch”

    Yeah, well, I did say it wasn’t mine and that I was paraphrasing.

    Probably should have given his name, but you know, I just don’t want to get a “reputation”. ;)

  74. Little Says:

    Scott,

    “I think that, given the Pakistan government’s well-documented collusion with jihadists, it’s completely forfeited the right to have its sovereignty respected. There are strategic issues involved, but no moral ones.”

    I wonder what your opinion of the US government’s, also well-documented, collusion with the jihadists is.

    Also, would do you think of American Universities publishing violent textbooks for Afghan schoolchildren. I am thinking of you University of Nebraska.

  75. Mike Says:

    Mark,

    “I don’t understand which of your statements you think I didn’t respond to . . .”

    I apologize — when I prepared my (rather long) response, I hadn’t read your comment #51. It was a response, and a thoughtful one at that.

    “I don’t understand your latest post at all, and suspect that you must not have understood mine.”

    The point I was trying to make (apparently quite poorly) was put more succinctly in Scott’s later response to you when he said:

    “there are bloodthirsty Americans and there are bloodthirsty Islamists, and everything’s neat and symmetric . . .”

    I believe it is only by adopting such an unjustified and evenhanded symmetry that one can claim that irony or hypocrisy are important in these circumstances.

  76. CS prof. Says:

    The problem with Chomsky-type arguments, or any “far-left liberal” arguments for that matter, is that it already begs the question: it starts from the premise that the “legitimacy” of any action should be:

    1. Universally justified, and
    2. Legally sound, with respect to some “international law”.

    But the premise is already wrong in most practical or ethical frameworks.

    Example: If my family is in a threat. And I need to defend it. And the only way to do that, from my perspective, is to do a certain action X, then, IT IS MORALLY ACCEPTABLE TO DO X (by many consistent frameworks of morality), independent of the fact that X might violate “international law”, or is not universal.

    Note also that my action X is obviously not universal, because it is completely subjective: it is ME who want to defend its OWN family. Other people might not care for my cause.

    You can of course generalize this example to the national level: the Americans wanted to kill Bin-Laden, because Bin-Laden murdered 3000 Americans, was continuing to be a threat to its national security and to the moral and feelings of personal safety of US citizens. Hence, by their perspective, they were justified to kill Bin-Laden.

    When you understand this logic, and the intellectual error of Chomsky, issues that caused confusion and inconsistencies before, suddenly become clear. Which is also a sign of the advantage of this “theory”, over the banal Chomskian-type theories.

  77. Scott Says:

    Reader from Istanbul #70:

      Is it known for sure that the other people killed in the bin Laden raid were all bad guys?

    Well, none of them were children, and all of them were willingly living in a compound with Osama bin Laden! They were apparently Bin Laden’s adult son, his courier, and the courier’s male relative. And I think they were all resisting (though, as others correctly pointed out, we don’t yet know all the details, and even the SEALs themselves could have been confused in the heat of the event).

  78. john Says:

    CS Prof #75,

    You’re generalizing from an act of immediate self defense to an act of revenge (or possible prevention).

    Is it “MORALLY ACCEPTABLE TO DO X (by many consistent frameworks of morality)” if “X” consists of murdering your wife’s murderer? …We’re even further from that though, where the Osama situation is more like that of Boondock Saints.

  79. Scott Says:

    Asterpix #64:

      Well, it’s great to see that [Chomsky] is not a barbarian!

    No, the words “Chomsky” and “barbarian” don’t go together very well, do they? :-) I’d prefer to call him a barbarian-apologist.

  80. Scott Says:

    I’ll concede the following point to the Chomskyans: There are almost certainly people now living peacefully in the US, who were involved in crimes in other countries of such magnitude that, if those countries were to send commando raids into the US to kill the perpetrators, it would be morally justified. From that perspective, it’s a pity that those countries probably lack the will and/or operational capacity to carry the missions out! (But also, I can’t think of any example nearly as clear-cut as bin Laden.)

  81. Scott Says:

    Reader from Istanbul #69:

      the fact that [Bush] was an idiot does not reflect well at all on the US

    Well, we agree about something. :-)

    In case it wasn’t clear: I couldn’t be happier that Bush and Cheney, with their duplicity, incompetence, and arrogance, are gone—and one reason is that, without that complicating factor, the fight between the US and the Jihadists is as morally clear-cut as it always should have been.

  82. Mike Says:

    Scott,

    “if those countries were to send commando raids into the US to kill the perpetrators, it would be morally justified.”

    I’m not certain that I agree with this, but assuming it’s correct, there is the further question about whether such actions would be “legal” under international law. Many of those who criticize bin Laden’s killing do so based on the contention that, in addition to the moral issues, it was illegal under international law.

    Below is a statement by the International Legal Advisor to Human Rights First regarding the killing of bin Laden. Assuming that this analysis is a reasonable one — the test of whether the type of raids you posit are legal would need measured against the criteria discussed.

    Was killing Osama bin Laden legal?
    5-5-2011

    By Gabor Rona
    International Legal Advisor

    He was an evil mass-murderer. Does it matter how it went down? Absolutely.

    It matters to one of the fundamental humanitarian principles of the laws of armed conflict: if they are “hors de combat,” or “outside the fight,” then targeting even military objectives is a war crime.

    So first, was bin Laden a military objective? Assuming one accepts the idea that the United States is at war with al Qaeda, yes. In war, persons who directly participate in hostilities or who perform a continuous combat function in an armed group are targetable, and bin Laden certainly was the latter, if not the former.

    But what about “hors de combat?” Here’s what Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions says:

    “A person is ‘hors de combat’ if:
    (a) he is in the power of an adverse Party;
    (b) he clearly expresses an intention to surrender; or
    (c) he has been rendered unconscious or is otherwise incapacitated by wounds or sickness, and therefore is incapable of defending himself;
    provided that in any of these cases he abstains from any hostile act and does not attempt to escape.”

    The first reports had it that bin Laden was armed and put up resistance by using a woman as a human shield. Subsequent reports said wrong, not armed, no human shield.

    Does that render him “hors de combat?” No. It does not amount to either (a) or (b) or (c), above.

    Some law of war theorists claim that a person who poses no evident threat is also “hors de combat.” (To keep my students interested, I call it the naked soldier hypothetical). But unless and until that idea finds its way into the Geneva Conventions or into the practice of a substantial portion of the world’s militaries acting out of a sense of legal obligation, it will not be the law.

    What about the fact that he was an evil terrorist with the blood of thousands on his hands? If he was “hors de combat” that would be a matter for judge and jury to sort out, not Navy Seals. And that’s exactly as it should be because killing in war is not for the purpose of implementing justice. It’s for the purpose of neutralizing the enemy. I won’t argue with President Obama’s conclusion that “justice was done,” but I do think that term is more appropriate for what comes from a (legitimate) court of law than the end of a gun.

    But what if you reject the “war against al Qaeda” paradigm? In that event, human rights law, rather than the laws of war would be your guide. And human rights law prohibits arbitrary deprivation of the right to life. While the legality of lethal force is a closer question outside of armed conflict than in it, the totality of circumstances make it difficult to claim that the killing was arbitrary, even if bin Laden was not actively resisting or fleeing.

    All in all, probably a legal kill assuming the official version is true.

    Update: The Obama Administration articulated the right standard and analysis to this case when White House Spokesman Jay Carney said, ”The team had the authority to kill Osama bin Laden unless he offered to surrender; in which case the team was required to accept his surrender if the team could do so safely.” Carney also stated that ”(t)he operation was planned so that the team was prepared and had the means to take bin Laden into custody.”

    For those interested in understanding Human Rights First political orientation see:

    “Human Rights First”: Without political bias:

    http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article/_human_rights_first_without_political_bias

  83. CS prof. Says:

    To Mike,

    Any public debate about public matters such as the ones at hands should be done based on moral justifications. Not legal ones. Law is irrelevant, since the law is just a way to approximate morality and social order, nothing more. This also means that the notion of “international law” is inconsistent: different nations have different moral and normative systems.

    In other words, it is as interesting to look at the US operation from the “international law” perspective, just as other perspective. Why not argue about its aesthetic merits, military-operational merits, ecological, etc.?

  84. Mike Says:

    CS prof.,

    “Any public debate about public matters such as the ones at hands should be done based on moral justifications. Not legal ones. Law is irrelevant, since the law is just a way to approximate morality and social order, nothing more.

    I basically agree with you — perhaps I would say that legal issues are clearly secondary (that’s how lawyers talk). Take a look at my earlier posts above if you want.

    “Why not argue about its aesthetic merits, military-operational merits, ecological, etc.?”

    I only commented on the legal issue because other commentators were using a “legal” argument as part of their justification for opposing the killing.

    No one brought up “aesthetic” or “ecological” issues, perhaps because they are clearly more irrelevant than legal ones — not even secondary, but if they had, I would have tried mightily to refrain from commenting. :)

  85. Yury Says:

    Scott #77: “Well, none of them were children, and all of them were willingly living in a compound with Osama bin Laden! They were apparently Bin Laden’s adult son, his courier, and the courier’s male relative.”

    Also, according to Wikipedia, one woman, “identified as the courier’s wife, was killed during this” operation, and “bin Laden’s 12-year-old daughter was injured by flying debris”. It’s not obvious to me that courier’s wife could willingly choose whether to live in the compound with OBL or not.

  86. Scott Says:

    slw #71:

      Killing Bin Laden was not about justice or vengeance or 9/11. It was about putting on a show. Black helicopters fly in at night, elite special ops teams charge in and heroically kill the bad guy. It’s the money shot American public with all of their five-second attention span has been begging for the past 10 years. Summer blockbuster season starts early.

    Well, I’d pay to see this movie again! :-)

    (But I’m curious: if the American public only has a 5-second attention span, how could they have been begging for this for 10 years?)

  87. Mike Says:

    Yury,

    “It’s not obvious to me that courier’s wife could willingly choose whether to live in the compound with OBL or not.”

    Assuming that she wanted to leave, which even if true, no one, especially the Navy Seals, had any way of knowing, I think you’re right, it’s not obvious she could willingly choose to live in the compound.

    But what’s your point — simply to highlight a possible (though impossible to prove) inaccuracy in Scott’s comment — or, is your unstated point that, if the assumption is true, her presence somehow changes the moral and (sorry CS prof.) legal arguments supporting the killing?

    If your point is the later, I think it changes nothing.

  88. Annonymous Says:

    Scott,
    Just a question about understanding your writing (I’m not new to the blog, but perhaps newer than others). How was one supposed to know from the post that it was Chomsky you were parodying (well, maybe ‘parodying’ is the wrong word)? Was it from the title? I had gotten the opposite impression from the title.

  89. Scott Says:

    Yury #85: Sorry, I forgot about the courier’s wife, who might have been there “willingly” only under a strained definition of “willingly” (I don’t know). In that case, I guess it comes down to specifics: if they just shot her gratuitously, that’s extremely bad. If she was resisting, then they had the same right to shoot her as they did any of the men who were resisting. If she was being used as a human shield, then the issues are the same difficult ones that arise in any of the cases where the Jihadists use civilians as shields (Israel deals with this issue all the time).

    Can anyone point us to details?

  90. Yury Says:

    Mike #87: In my opinion, the operation was justified (see Yury #41) and I am very glad that OBM is dead.

    That being said, we should not forget that a civilian, whose involvement in any crimes was not proven in the court, and who arguably lived outside of the war zone, was killed. This fact doesn’t invalidate the moral and legal arguments supporting the operation (unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that often civilians die during military operations) but I do think that it is very important. Moreover, my only moral concern about this operation is that possibly (we don’t know the details yet) an innocent person was killed.

  91. Yury Says:

    I meant OBL (= Osama bin Laden) in my post above.

  92. Mike Says:

    Yuri,

    I agree. It is an important concern, both morally and legally, whenever non-combatants are put at risk and killed. I should have checked back on your comments before commenting myself.

  93. Scott Says:

    Anon #88:

      How was one supposed to know from the post that it was Chomsky you were parodying (well, maybe ‘parodying’ is the wrong word)? Was it from the title?

    Sorry, I wanted to let them “speak for themselves.” (Also, I have a weird tic where I have a hard time editorializing about certain topics until commenters actually ask me questions, or otherwise prompt me to respond.)

    But yeah, if you wanted to know what I thought, you could tell pretty easily from the title, any background knowledge you had about me, or (obviously) the comments.

  94. the reader from Istanbul Says:

    Faibsz #72: I think yours is called an ad hominem tu quoque claim. What you say does not invalidate my argument at all. So try again.

    I mentioned the US and Israel in what I wrote in order to include all three MidEast religions in this discussion about symmetry. I didn’t say that other countries had perfect records. I do not speak for Turkey. Personally, I am truly sorry for the huge loss of life during the forced relocation of some Ottoman nationals of Armenian ethnic origin at a date when even my father had not yet been born, and the present Turkish state did not exist. I am also massively sorry for the deportation and deaths of millions of Ottoman nationals of Muslim faith in the 19th and early 20th centuries in various countries which are now neighbors of Turkey. Are you sorry for the dead children of Gaza or Iraq?

    Your claim that Hitler was inspired by what happened to the Armenians is probably false. The infamous “Hitler quote” (something like “Who remembers the Armenian massacres today?”, almost everyone who “quotes” it uses a different wording!) grabbed first major attention in the November 24, 1945 issue of The Times of London, (after debuting in a 1942 book by an American journalist) basing its attribution to Hitler in an address given by him on August 22, 1939. Officers of the Nuremberg Tribunal located the speeches’ original minutes, as an attempt was made to insert the quote into the proceedings; these were admitted as evidence, and nowhere was there mention of Armenians.

    What you are claiming about “Turkey’s war against Kurdish nationalism” is at least 10 years old; torture and murder are no longer used, although hundreds (of both Kurdish and Turkish ethnic origin, and various political views) *are* rotting in jail without having been convicted of any crime, awaiting the outcomes of never-ending trials which don’t look fair at all. Consult some more current sources of information.

    So can you now own up to your own country’s barbarism, wherever you are from, or would you like to talk some more about things you don’t know very well?

  95. CS prof. Says:

    People here are talking about the US being behind the “mass killing of civilians in Iraq”. But the facts show that the ones to blame are actually Islamic Jihadists. They are the ones who commit these crimes. Not the US. As for “children being killed in Gaza” this is also inaccurate: if someone throws missiles on your civilians, then you have the full moral right (by most moral frameworks) to protect yourself by attacking those throwing missiles at you, even if they hide behind children (as they do).

    To Mike,

    I might have wrongly addressed you in my last comment, but in fact I was addressing Chomsky’s arguments themselves, trying to expose an error in them.

  96. Carl Lumma Says:

    ‘Justified’ or not, there is a war going on. There have been better military objectives than ‘realizing stable democratic governance in Afghanistan and Iraq’, but there we go.

    It’s obvious that ObL’s culpability has been generally overstated. It’s equally obvious that publicly threatening terrorist action against New York, having terrorist action occur in New York, and then publicly taking credit for the same will quite rightly land you in a lot of trouble.

    ObL could have been taken alive if desired. Clearly, it wasn’t.

    The public’s response to the execution was a bit primitive and disheartening. So is Chomsky’s claim that Bush is a war criminal. War evolves to be less deadly as civilization becomes more valuable. This is expressed in rules of engagement and “international law”, not the other way around. As the elected, constitutionally-limited leader of the world’s reigning military empire, it would be pretty difficult for Bush to commit war crimes by definition. I’ve also examined several claims of Geneva convention violations and found them tenuous.

    Descriptions of “al-Qaeda” are more interesting. All information I’ve seen is consistent with Adam Curtis’ claim (in The Power of Nightmares) that the “organization” was named (and to a large extent, formed) only after 9/11. From Wikipedia:
    “According to Wright (2006), the group’s real name wasn’t used in public pronouncements because its existence was still a closely held secret.”
    and
    “The FBI has stated that classified evidence linking bin Laden to the 9/11 attacks is clear and irrefutable. The UK government reached a similar conclusion although its report notes that the evidence is insufficient for a prosecutable case.”

    In short, the criminal case against ObL would probably be of the ‘criminal conspiracy’ type and not sufficient for execution. The military case against him clearly was sufficient for execution.

  97. the reader from Istanbul Says:

    CS prof. #95: The US is not behind the deaths of massive numbers of civilians in Iraq? The facts show this? Are we on the same planet here?

    Your talk of moral frameworks justifying various things done by your side reminds me of the famous Andy Tanenbaum quote: “The nice thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from, and if you don’t like any of them, you can wait for next year’s models.”

  98. CS prof. Says:

    CS prof. #95: The US is not behind the deaths of massive numbers of civilians in Iraq?

    No. Certainly not. The Islamic Jihadists are mainly behind the murder of innocent Iraqis.The US has no interest in killing or terrorizing Iraqis; the war against Saddam Hussain’s Iraq ended long ago.
    It is the Islamists who bomb themselves up and kill and terrorize Iraqis. Not US soldiers.

  99. Anonomous Says:

    Do you follow Paul Krugman’s columns and blog? Perhaps it’s interesting to contrast him with Noam Chomsky. Krugman is also a kind of “dissident” in that many of his views at odds with commonly accepted principles (with the public and the “experts”). He also comes across as very self-righteous, usually dismissing his opponents as stupid or dishonest. But he has me (who has really no expertise in economic matters) convinced that he’s the one who’s right.

  100. Scott Says:

    Anonymous #99: I do read Paul Krugman’s column from time to time (whenever I can stand the nauseating self-righteousness), and my impression is the same as yours: he’s usually right! (Chomsky, by contrast, usually strikes me as both self-righteous and wrong… :-) )

  101. Vadim P Says:

    Scott, I’m surprised by you being OK with the (hypothetical) rounding up and summary execution of thousands of Nazis after WWII. The point of a trial isn’t just to give the appearance of justice before rendering a predetermined verdict. If you rounded up 1,000 Nazis after the war and shot them without letting any of them make a case, how many do you think might turn out to be guilty of nothing more than being members of the Nazi party because they really didn’t have much of a choice at the time? Shouldn’t someone – hopefully someone fair – have a chance to hear evidence and decide what the accused is actually guilty of? A trial of foreign war criminals doesn’t have to take place in a civilian US court, but I’d want the accused to have some kind of fair trial, if not for their sake then for mine – I don’t want the indiscriminate slaughter of the innocent together with the guilty on my conscience [I'm not talking about Bin Laden here, since allegedly he was killed during an attempted arrest, I'm referring to extrajudicial killing without a pretense of due process]. If you still stand by what you said, then would you be OK with extending it into the domestic realm for obviously guilty criminals?

  102. Mike Says:

    the reader from Istanbul & CS prof.,

    Here’s what appears to me to be an honest attempt to analyze civilian deaths in Iraq. While the study analyzed a database of “only” 92,614 Iraqi civilian direct deaths from armed violence occurring from March 20, 2003 through March 19, 2008, I think we can for purposes of this discussion assume the same proportions roughly apply to the larger number of actual deaths.

    The peer reviewed study is located at:

    http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1000415

    The “Abstract – Conclusion” reads in full as follows:

    “Most Iraqi civilian violent deaths during 2003–2008 of the Iraq war were inflicted by Unknown perpetrators, primarily through extrajudicial executions that disproportionately increased in regions with greater numbers of violent deaths. Unknown perpetrators using suicide bombs, vehicle bombs, and mortars had highly lethal and indiscriminate effects on the Iraqi civilians they targeted. Deaths caused by Coalition forces of Iraqi civilians, women, and children peaked during the invasion period, with relatively indiscriminate effects from aerial weapons.”

    At least on its face, without knowing more, this analysis supports CS prof.’s conclusion.

    Of course, if one takes the position that the war was not justified and such lack of justification means the coalition forces are responsible for all deaths, however directly caused, then this analysis is without meaning.

  103. Mike Says:

    Vadim P,

    “[I'm not talking about Bin Laden here, since allegedly he was killed during an attempted arrest, I'm referring to extrajudicial killing without a pretense of due process].”

    Gee, I’m glad you added this. Thank goodness Scott’s post was about bin Laden and not about some thought experiment involving mass extrajudicial killings without a pretense of due process — oh, I’m sorry, that’s what bin Laden did.

    Anyway, I haven’t seen anyone on this post take the absurd position you posit. Everyone knows these are difficult issues, and I think people here, for the most part, have tried to be thoughtful in addressing them.

    I think your argument really is just the fallacy of refuting a caricatured or extreme version of Scott’s argument, rather than the actual argument he made made. It’s called a Straw Man — or a veiled version of argumentum ad logicam.

  104. Vadim P Says:

    Mike,

    I was refuting a specific quote of Scott’s, not something abstract:

    Again, though, I personally would not have had a problem if thousands of Nazis had been rounded up after the war and killed extrajudicially—ideally, using their own favorite methods—and would have preferred that to the comically-light sentences that many of them received. Nor do I have a problem with the small number of extrajudicial killings that I understand took place (anyone have a good reference?), e.g. by American soldiers and recently-liberated Jews.

  105. Mike Says:

    Vadim,

    I guess I stopped reading that comment after Scott said:

    “As others already pointed out on this thread, the comparison seems flawed, since the Nazis were no longer actively fighting at the time they were brought to trial.”

    Neverthelss, your point is taken.

  106. Roz Says:

    Lenny Sands (comment #12)
    Osama Bin Laden was 55 years old. How does that qualify him as an “old man”? He was young enough to have 4 wives –one of whom was only 29 years old! Sounds pretty frisky to me…

  107. asterpix Says:

    Reader from Istanbul:

    It’s interesting that as an American, I agree with everything you say about the US. The US destabilized Iraq and is responsible for all of the violence and death that occured due to that destabilization.

    However, the brainwashing that “reader from istanbul” exposes with respect to Turkey is quite disturbing. It is well documented (read Robert Fisk’s “The great war for civilization”) that the Armenian Genocide was not simply and event in which many people happened to die during a forced relocation. Children and babies were shot point blank. Men were tied together with strings and pushed over cliffs into rivers. Forcing one–at the point of a gun–to keep walking when they are starving and about to collapse is murder. A million people died this way.

    It’s sad to see that we all are taught to believe that no matter what terrible things our own country does/did, it was okay, because it was not “intentional”.

  108. dadvocate Says:

    then why are Obama’s statements enough to convince Chomsky that the US was behind the raid in Abbottabad?

    Since Chomsky presumably is calling for a warcrimes trial of Obama, not an assassination, I don’t exactly see how this is hypocritical.

  109. the reader from Istanbul Says:

    CS prof. and Mike,

    Of course I agree that the civilians being murdered nowadays in Iraq are killed by Islamic or ethnic maniacs and not by US soldiers. When I said that the US was behind the mass death of civilians, I meant the active invasion period, which is not that far in the past. And that was a crime of vast proportions. By W Bush. Agreed?

  110. the reader from Istanbul Says:

    asterpix: In which way am I brainwashed? At what point did I say that the deaths of innocent Armenians in that era is not murder and is okay? It was forced relocation, and many of the relocated were murdered on the way. (Note the dissimilarity with the Holocaust that many of the relocated *were* really relocated and helped to establish a new life in the new location by the state, and many Armenians living in nonproblematic areas were not relocated at all.) Am I hiding something? Am I justifying any crime? On the contrary, I think I’m just stating some additional facts that are pretty much hidden from the Western public as far as I know them here.

    Speaking of facts, the number of dead in that era is estimated to be far less than one million by many real historians (which Fisk is not.) But does my saying this make me a brainwashed apologist? I don’t think so, since even one innocent death is too many. That’s what we have been talking about here, right?

  111. Scott Says:

    Vadim: I think trials are better, for exactly the reasons you say.

    On the other hand, I’ve noticed a tendency (among many commenters on this thread, for example) to fetishize trials, whereas for me, trials are just a means to the end: justice! There are certain propositions—for example, al Qaeda’s guilt in 9/11—of which I think sane people are already sufficiently confident that no trial could do anything much to increase their confidence. If a trial reached the opposite conclusion, that would almost certainly say more about the trial than it would about the underlying question of al Qaeda’s guilt.

    This is one of about 10,000 reasons why I could never be a lawyer: because no explanation of why an obviously-guilty person was walking away free or an obviously-innocent person was being punished in terms of formal trial procedures (bad defense attorney, conviction overturned on a technicality, etc.) would ever satisfy me. I would tear my hair out and walk away after about a millisecond on the job.

    Having said that, while there are many aspects of (say) the US court system that seem broken and in need of fixing to me, within the normal operation of a civilized society I don’t see an alternative to having some court system—with examination of witnesses, the opportunity for the accused to defend themselves, and so on. (Juries, on the other hand, seem like a completely dispensable aspect, and indeed many other countries just use, e.g., panels of judges.) I’m even willing to accept a small number of obviously-guilty people going free as the cost of maintaining such a system.

    The cases we’re talking about, however, do not involve the normal operation of a civilized society, but are some of the most extraordinary cases in history. During the Holocaust, tens of thousands of people racked up astronomical levels up guilt, so large that we have mental difficulty translating the number of victims and the manner of killing them into any intuitive sense of the perpetrators’ guilt. And the “punishments,” such as they were, seemed to fall short of the crime by several orders of magnitude. A few high-ranking Nazis were sentenced at Nuremberg, others escaped to Argentina, and almost all of the rank-and-file murderers returned to their normal lives in Germany or Poland with no consequences at all. Forgive me for thinking that extraordinary crimes deserved a more extraordinary response.

    To answer your question: no, I would not want to execute Nazis who joined the Nazi party because they didn’t have a choice, who didn’t understand what was going on (they thought the SS was just a club for people who liked wearing uniforms), etc. If there were extrajudicial killings, I would support them only in cases where it was clear that all or almost all of those killed had directly participated in atrocities (for example, if they were taken prisoner at a death camp). I apologize if I seemed to suggest otherwise.

    I’d say much the same thing about the Armenian genocide, Japan’s WWII atrocities, the Gulag, the Great Leap Forward, Pol Pot’s murders, or the Rwandan genocide. In none of these cases would I shed a tear over extrajudicial killings of known perpetrators.

    Nor do I share the frequently-expressed worry that a desire for revenge against the perpetrators of such crimes makes us “just as bad” as the criminals. Again, I suspect people who say such things lack an intuitive understanding of just how much we’d have to do to become just as bad.

  112. Jon Tyson Says:

    Once again, Chomsky proves that complete mastery of Linguistics does not prevent one from constructing bogus sequences of words.

  113. DFR Says:

    Why can’t we go back to being nerds and talking about science and complexity theory? Or other things that we are at least slightly knowledgeable on?

    Most stories have two sides and nobody really cares about which side you are on, unless your decisions somehow matter. These sort of posts and discussions threads make me lose confidence in Shtetl-Optimized :(.

  114. Vadim Pokotilov Says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Scott.

  115. Moshe Says:

    Scott, I think this thread is an excellent example of how slippery and personal the intuitive concept of “justice“ is, which is the reason it is replaced with “process“ in organized justice systems. So, I am returning to my comment above – what is the principled distinction you’d make between ordinary crimes and obviously exceptional crimes, which justify exceptional steps. That should be phrased in terms of process: who do we trust to make those decisions, how are those decisions made and reviewed, how do we know this power won’t be abused etc. etc.

    What I am getting at is of course that no such process can be reliable, and creating an opportunity for extra-judicial justice for truly horrible crimes has more drawbacks than advantages. it is in our best interest to stick with the tedious and inefficient process we have, for practical and selfish reasons which have nothing to do with any morality competition with those other barbarians out there.

  116. Scott Says:

    Hi Moshe,

    Unfortunately, I don’t think I can answer your challenge without falling into an infinite regress. If I gave you a “process” for distinguishing ordinary from extraordinary crimes, you could reasonably respond: “why that process and not some other one? it all comes down to your personal, slippery, intuitive concept of ‘justice’!” And you’d be right.

    Now, it’s true that, for society to work, we somehow need to codify our intuitions about “justice” into a bureaucratic set of rules that approximates them. But I submit that the cases we’re talking about here—the Nazis, Osama bin Laden—are so extreme that some of our intuitions about justice are formed with respect to them, and that therefore, judging them by the bureaucratic rules would be sort of like judging Einstein by his score on the Science Citation Index. If he scores low, then so much the worse for the index!

    In the present context, the slogan would be this:

    I don’t judge the Nazis according to some legal system; I judge legal systems according to what they would do to the Nazis.

    Now, can I assure you that some other person wouldn’t find the Nazis (or Osama bin Laden) perfectly stand-up people, and extrajudicial killings justified only if the targets are kindly Canadian grandmothers? No, I can’t—you’d need to go to those people’s blogs and argue with them. But crucially, I don’t think any judicial system could solve the problem of those people’s existence, in the sense that they and I would both be willing participants in it. Keeping the crazies out of power seems like a task that precedes the formation of judicial systems.

  117. Matt Says:

    If we just called busting in on Bin Laden and shooting him in the head “terrorist court” would that make it legal and civilized? Because that’s the closest your going to get to a courtroom setting with friends of the world like Osama.

    Bin laden was an enemy of the American people. He sat around all day dreaming up way to kill American men, women and children. He had a network of devoted followers and a funding infrastructure to make those plans reality, both of which still exist. When those attacks would succeed, he would feel a sense of pride, joy and accomplishment which he would share publicly

    If any one of us were the president, if our job was to oversee America’s armed forces and it was our reputation depended on protecting American lives, we would make the same choices Obama did. We would eliminate the threat, and feel it was the right thing to do.

    Most of the comments here agreeing with Chomsky stem from a lack of understanding of stateless, international terrorist organizations. They are not common criminals. They are not rogue states. Duestch has it right. They are mad dogs employing brutal violence in the service of fantasy, killing opportunistically on behalf of no one and for no productive end.
    Those who join international terrorist organizations elect to leave the community of states that instantiate international law. Saudi Arabia hasn’t raised a single voice in protest of Bin Laden’s death because of this fact. Likewise Pakistan can never win international sympathy over US violation of its borders in the course of the raid. International terrorists exist in a legal limbo, the same place Guantanamo Bay and enhanced interrogation techniques come from. Shoehorning them into existing legal systems is something that cannot be done.

    We need to codify a system of rules and norms to prosecute international terrorists, a new creation. Lacking such a system, however, we don’t have to work ourselves into an intellectual crisis while we defend ourselves.

  118. Moshe Says:

    I think we agree more than you think, and my concern is less theoretical and more practical. I don’t object to the fate of Bin Laden, or necessarily to the way it was done, I just think that the “argument from incredulity” (in which both statements you quote are very similar) is misplaced. It is not completely ridiculous to ask if we want the president to have the authority to order executions (not that this is necessarily what happened here, but it is worth looking into details to see if it was). One should not have their heads examined if they worry about the consequences of accepting such a power grab (and wonder, for example, what president Palin will do down the road with such authority). I’m disappointed that Obama, usually an articulate person, could not come up with something better than expressing outrage that legitimate questions of that sort are even being asked.

    But anyhow, it seems like a good point to end this exchange. Incidentally, to date this is the first time I got sucked into discussing politics on a blog, I think I like the physics discussions better.

  119. Gigi Says:

    @Scott
    For a second, I read your blog and looked at the text and I felt good, as I thought that someone with brains is finally speaking out the truth about the US crimes around the world and is not ashamed to state his position publicly.
    Too bad, I quickly understood that you were just quoting Chomsky` s words.
    I always thought that simple uneducated men can be easily fooled by government propaganda.
    Today I have found out that educated ones can be fooled too.

    You have been fooled by your Government too like an 8-year old kid and now have blood on your hands.
    Shame on you, Scott.

    Gigi

  120. Gigi Says:

    “And I think that anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn’t deserve what he got needs to have their head examined.”

    Note the arrogance of this idiot..
    If you do not agree with me you are a crazy man.
    Or a terrorist.
    Or both.

    Gigi

  121. Gigi Says:

    “Saudi Arabia hasn’t raised a single voice in protest of Bin Laden’s death because of this fact.”
    -> No, as they are a despotic government bribed by the US

    “Likewise Pakistan can never win international sympathy over US violation of its borders in the course of the raid.”
    -> What exactly you mean by “international sympathy”? With how many Iraqi, Arabian, Egyptian Muslims have you talked recently?

    “International terrorists exist in a legal limbo, the same place Guantanamo Bay and enhanced interrogation techniques come from.”
    Waterboarding. Let` s call them “enhanced interrogations”

    “Lacking such a system, however, we don’t have to work ourselves into an intellectual crisis while we defend ourselves.”
    Nothing new.
    Stalin did not have any “intellectual crisis”
    Caesar also did not.
    Why should you?

    So much arrogance in this forum, mostly by Americans, unfortunately..

    Gigi

  122. Gigi Says:

    “According to the data, the Air Force began bombing the rural regions of Cambodia along its South Vietnam border in 1965 under the Johnson administration. This was four years earlier than previously believed. A report by historian Ben Kiernan and Taylor Owen states 2,756,941 tons of ordnance were dropped in 230,516 sorties on 113,716 sites. Just over 10 percent of this bombing was indiscriminate, with 3,580 of the sites listed as having “unknown” targets and another 8,238 sites having no target listed at all.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Menu
    Shall we expect Obama to send a commando to kill Kissinger as well?

    Gigi

  123. Scott Says:

    Gigi: I’ve expressed a lot of opinions on this blog (liberal, conservative, complexity-theoretic…), and have been fiercely attacked for almost all of them. I guess that’s only fair. But one thing I’ve resolved NEVER to do is to imply that my opponents hold certain views (in favor of the Republicans, against reducing CO2 emissions, whatever) merely because they’re “brainwashed.” I’m going to avoid that because I’ve learned how it feels to be on the receiving end of it. It basically amounts to a denial of someone’s humanity: “you’re just a sheep, whereas I (of course) think entirely for myself.” As abhorrent as I find Chomsky’s views, I’ve never suggested that people who agree with him must be his puppets. Is it really inconceivable to you that someone could understand both sides of the argument, and consider the world a better place now that a mass-murderer of 3,000 men, women, and children is gone? Or that a reasonable person might not mind having “blood on his hands,” if the blood belongs to the mass-murderer and his cohort? Or is the United States so irredeemably bad that, even if one agrees with some particular thing it does, one is morally obligated not to say so?

  124. Gigi Says:

    @Scott
    I have always appreciated you as a fine science divulgator, and I still do.
    But there are lines that can not and should not be crossed.
    I am OK to listen to many opinions, but if I would hear anyone say that, example, it is fine to rape a 8-year-ol child, I would NOT respect such opinion.
    Again, you can consider that as my personal limitation, I am for freedom of speech, up to a point.
    You have come very close to cross that line with this post which is blatant pro-America Government and against all other points of view.

    Also, you are putting words in my mouth I have never said.
    This is revealing.
    I have never said that the world is NOT a better place without bin Laden, my point is:
    1) Bin Laden had a right of a fair trial, like the Nazis had. Period. Was Bin Laden worse than Ribbentrop?
    The fact that OBL has been assasinated is injust at least, but even more, it is suspicious that the US Government did not want to have him on trial.
    2) There is NO United States or America, this is a public delusion.
    Countries (Sweden, Mali, USA, Germany) are just conventional names, they do not exist in reality.
    So the USA can not be good (or bad).
    The US Government is made by a bunch of bad people, like most other Governments.
    The Russian Governemnt, the UK Government, the Chinese Government are not much different.
    The “normal people” usually support such people.
    3) With “blood in your hands”, I was NOT referring to the death of OBL (let alone that every human being needs to be tried, if possible, in front of a tribunal, no exception. Period.) , but to the fact that you have been completely sucked up (and therefore, have become co-guilty) of the criminal actions of your government.
    Where by “criminal actions”, I talk about the bombing of poor peasants in Cambodia, the invasion of Iraq, the support of criminal dictators in Central and South America.
    The people who supported Noriega, Saddam Hussain and ordered mass killings in Cambodia are doing well and are rich, respected US Citizens and they caused directly and indirectly a large number of deaths ( much more than the 3000 that OBL killed), even if not of American Citizen deaths (which is why US media do not talk about this and you do not care).
    You are not writing anything against them but you still support OBL being executed.
    Hence your duplicity and your being guilty.

    Conclusion, yes, you have a lot of bloods on your hands, and not that of an handful of people, but the blood of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian bombed, Iranians killed by chemical weapons (during the Iraq-Iran war time when US supported Iraq), .. about whom you said nothing, while you talk about OBL who, if compared with Stalin, Mao, Showa Tenno, George W. or Pius XII is in comparison a “not-so-bad-guy”

    But you are not alone in this, do not worry, most of the people living in the world are brainwashed by their own propaganda.

    Gigi

  125. Scott Says:

    Gigi, the interesting thing is that you’re undermining the argument that most of the people who agree with you about OBL have been making on this thread! They’ve been saying: “no, this isn’t about the US government being ‘worse than Osama bin Laden’—it’s just about ensuring everyone receives a fair trial.” Then you come along and say: “no, it is about the US government being a rampaging murder machine, compared to which OBL is practically a saint!”

    I’m fascinated by the idea that, if the US government supports one side in a regional conflict (for whatever good or—extremely often—bad reasons), it therefore becomes responsible for all the deaths that occur in that conflict. There seems to be almost an implied racism in that view: “yes, of course those Third World savages are going to hack each other to death—that’s just what they do! But if the US sells weapons to one group of savages, even in a misguided attempt to protect it from another group, then it alone is the murderer, as surely as if it handed out guns to kindergartners.”

    Believe me that I share your distaste for Stalin, Mao, Pius XII, and George W. Bush (I don’t know if you’ve been reading this blog long enough to have seen the non-nice things I’ve written about every one of those, particularly the last).

    I appreciate that at least you’re an equal-opportunity hater of all governments everywhere. The trouble with such a stance is that we don’t have any example of a successful modern anarchist society, and we have innumerable examples of bad governments that were overthrown by utopian ideologues only to be replaced by far worse ones.

    In other words: someone who supports the US government’s continued existence (an insane, bloodthirsty position—I know! :-) ) might not particularly like much of what it does; they might just fear that the power vacuum created by its disappearance would be filled by something indescribably worse.

  126. Gigi Says:

    “[..]compared to which OBL is practically a saint!”

    N.B.
    Just noted that, again, you put words I have never said into my mouth.

    Gigi

  127. anonymous Says:

    The reason for trials even when we’re sure that someone is guilty is that if we don’t use them then, we’ll become comfortable killing people without trials. For example, how do you feel about the Obama administration’s stated goal of killing Anwar al-Awlaki? He is a US citizen who hasn’t been charged with any crime (nor has he publicly confessed to any), is far from any (legal) war zone, but has been targeted for assassination. Immediately after bin Laden was killed, the US tried to kill al-Awlaki, but missed and killed two other people.

    http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/05/07/awlaki/index.html

  128. Kyre Says:

    I see that most people agree that law wasn’t served here. Either Bin Ladin had some sort of legal rights and this was a botched police raid where the suspect ended up dead; or there is some sort of war going on and civilian rights don’t apply.

    Given that there isn’t any formal civil society above the national level, do you think there should be ?

    Did this raid and killing (as opposed to, say, capture and trial; or public presentation of the evidence of Bin Ladin’s crimes and location to the Pakistani government) move the world toward or away from a more civilized world ?

  129. Shmuel Says:

    Uncontroversially, his [Bush's] crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s

    The single word “uncontroversially” outs Chomsky as a nutter.

  130. Scott Says:

    Anonymous #125: I’m completely fine with their targeting Anwar al-Awlaki. As a few commenters on the Salon article pointed out, it’s possible to claim that targeting a US citizen who’s waging war against the US is something historically new, only by ignoring a lot of history:

      Between 1861 and 1865, the US government killed hundreds of thousands of US citizens–in the territory of the US and on the high seas all over the globe. Many of the killed were holding weapons, but plenty of others were just sleeping in their tents or houses when cannon balls came through.
  131. Gigi Says:

    @Scott
    “As a few commenters on the Salon article pointed out, it’s possible to claim that targeting a US citizen who’s waging war against the US is something historically new, only by ignoring a lot of history”

    I definitely agree with this point.
    The US Government has (directly or indirectly) killed civilians (probably millions of them, if you include the civilians that were killed thanks to US tacit consent or active involvement) who did not represent any threat to the US country nor to US citizens well until now.

    I am little bit sad as some of my previous comments do not seem to have passed the moderation filter (yet), but I am sure they will be displayed here soon.

    Gigi

  132. Scott Says:

    Gigi, I’ve let your comments through the moderation filter, except for one that was particularly vile, in which you referred to me as “boy” and repeated the absurd charge that I have “lots of innocent people’s blood on my hands.” That makes about as much sense as the charge that, if you don’t agree with current US counterterrorism policies, then you have the blood of every victim of Jihadist terror on your hands. (Actually even less sense, since you were referring to separate issues that weren’t even the subject of this post, and about which you simply inferred—wrongly, in some cases—what opinions I “must” hold!) If you want to continue participating here, you’ll have to learn a few manners (and as you can see by the stuff I’ve let through, I’m really not asking for much! :-) ).

  133. Gigi Says:

    “Gigi, the interesting thing is that you’re undermining the argument”
    -> I happen to think with my own head.

    “I’m fascinated by the idea that,[..]it therefore becomes responsible for all the deaths that occur in that conflict. ”
    -> Dear Scott, if you give military, political, economical assistance to Saddam Hussain (Who even became homorary citizen of Detroit!) when he is mass-murdering thousands of Iranian civilians and you have fully knowledge of what he is doing, you do not become co-guilty?
    Same goes for supporting Branco in Brazil.
    Same goes for supporting Videla in Argentina
    Same goes for Noriega.
    (to be continued)

    “There seems to be almost an implied racism in that view: ”
    -> Strawman

    “Believe me that I share your distaste for Stalin, Mao, Pius XII, and George W. Bush”
    -> I have read your post about OBL but I have missed the post where you called for bringin GWB to the Hague for the invasion of Iraq.
    Oh, wait, you are the one that does not want to wait for trials, please go directly to Texas and shoot GWB in the head

    “they might just fear that the power vacuum created by its disappearance would be filled by something indescribably worse.”
    -> Dear Scott, you need to study history better. You are not saying anything new.
    Stalin and Hitler used the same excuses to invade Poland and to mass execute kulaks

    Gigi

  134. Shmuel Says:

    There is NO United States or America, this is a public delusion.
    Countries (Sweden, Mali, USA, Germany) are just conventional names, they do not exist in reality.
    So the USA can not be good (or bad).
    The US Government is made by a bunch of bad people, like most other Governments.
    The Russian Governemnt, the UK Government, the Chinese Government are not much different.
    The “normal people” usually support such people

    It’s even more simple than this:

    “Normal people” want the freedom to say and do as they please, and to elect their leaders. “Bad” governments kill normal people when they point out that the state of affairs in their given nation is not amenable to this.

  135. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    Scott, I would strongly suggest doing more research about Chomsky’s actual positions and the contextual history. I would also suggest reading and listening to what he actually said rather than simply repeating what you heard his critics say about him. Since you are in his building, you could even go and talk to him about the statements he made that bother you; I’m sure he would be happy to have a discussion and debate.

    Most of your pronouncements about Chomsky’s positions are often-repeated but simply false, and easily debunked by a quick Google check. The two most glaring ones are his supposed support of Holocaust denial “scholarship” (where in fact what he defended was the freedom of speech “even for dedicated liars,” in his own words), and his “defense” of Pol Pot’s crimes – which is simply a complete fabrication. In a few years, when details are forgotten, I suppose you will also bring up this article (carefully avoiding any actual citation or quotation) as yet another example of Chomsky defending humanity’s worst monsters. Unfortunately, it will be just as false as your other unfair accusations.

    Chomsky’s central moral point in this article (and most of his writing) is one that is worth thinking about: we should apply the same moral standards to ourselves as we apply to others. So, for instance, if you accept the standards of the Nuremberg trial (which you may or may not), it IS uncontroversial that Bush is responsible for the horrific consequences of the Iraq war. He IS uncontroversially viewed as a major war criminal by the vast majority of the world population. When you say that such claims actually ARE controversial, you are ommitting an important phrase: “in elite U.S. opinion,” which just happens to be an extreme, violent minority.

    It’s interesting how the goal posts move when someone (rightly) suggests that by your logic, we should be cheering if Cambodian commandoes assassinate Kissinger (and his son) in his home in the US. Apparently, now the critical element for deciding between extralegal assassination and a fair trial is whether or not the suspect “exulted” in his crimes. To me, pretending that the crimes never even happened or dressing them up as the spreading of liberty and democracy is far more offensive than exultation.

  136. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    I should add (after a more careful reading of one of your posts) that you did distinguish between Kissinger and bin Laden in two other ways:

    (1) he resisted. This appears to be false; my reading of the reports is that nobody in the main house was armed, and the only resistance came from the guest house and was completely subdued before anyone even entered the main house. They were able to shoot his wife in the leg, but somehow still had to put two bullets in his head in spite of having 80-to-1 overwhelming force?

    (2) he was still involved in Al Qaeda. First, it’s not at all clear that he was still a major threat – the “plans” that they found on him have so far been at a very conceptual planning stage, and very old; second, arresting him rather than assassinating him presumably prevents him from orchestrating further attacks just as well; and third, you could easily argue that Kissinger’s current participation in the US system (and support of criminal US policies) is a continuation of his criminal past and should be stopped immediately.

  137. Shmuel Says:

    Bush is responsible for the horrific consequences of the Iraq war.

    All unintended consequences? Forever? When does Bush’s ownership of Iraq expire? I assume you also believe he is “uncontroversially” responsible for all the good consequences of the war. The ousting of Sadaam. Iraq’s first elections. Kurdish liberation. The resulting “Arab Spring” and everything that “uncontroversially” follows.

  138. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @shmuel: No, not all, and no, not forever. Determining where his responsibility ends would be a matter for a trial to decide.

    By the standards of both Nuremberg and the Geneva conventions, the U.S. does bear primary responsibility for the consequences of the invasion and (being the occupying force) the security of Iraq post-invasion. We can have an academic debate about exactly when their responsibility ends, but the conclusion cannot be that their responsibility never existed to begin with. German leadership was not responsible for every single death in WW2, and their responsibility for the local conflicts that occurred as a result of invasion ends at some point, too. Does that make them innocent somehow? Of course not – they still bear primary responsibility.

    I have to ask – were you sarcastic when you suggested that the “Arab Spring” was a result of the invasion of Iraq? That is a claim that I haven’t heard from even the most extreme U.S. propagandists; usually the most they claim is that its a result of Bush’s idealism and love of democracy.

  139. Scott Says:

    NoAcademicBacklash: Look, you can state your opinion, just please, please stop pretending that my views come from “not doing enough research” about Chomsky’s positions. For godsakes, I’m responding to what the man actually wrote, not to some secondhand account of it. Some of his fans might wish he had stopped at defending a Holocaust denier’s abstract free-speech rights, or bin Laden’s right to a fair trial, but Chomsky goes to considerable lengths to ward off any sane reading of his words. (I’m at a conference at Perimeter right now, using a web browser that doesn’t let me open multiple windows, but I’ll refer interested readers to the Egypt thread from a couple months ago, in which we discussed the incriminating “money quotes” from the Faurisson affair.)

    Now, regarding meeting Chomsky: as I hope you’ll understand, it’s not pleasant to talk to people who regard me, and almost all of my friends and family for that matter, as having “innocent blood on our hands” because we disagree with them. Completely independent of the question of whether those people are right, there’s really not much basis for a productive conversation if that’s the starting point. As you can see, I do interact with the “blood-on-your-hands” crowd from time to time via blog comments, but to do so in person is a different matter entirely.

    Now, you claim that outside “elite U.S. opinion” (“an extreme, violent minority”), it’s “uncontroversial” that Bush is a major war criminal (as opposed to just a really shitty president—a claim I heartily endorse!). I don’t know whether that’s actually true; I’d need to see evidence for it.

    For now, I’ll just point out that referring to “elite U.S. opinion” (whatever that means) as an “extreme, violent minority” isn’t particularly helpful if your goal is to win me over. It’s sort of like the people of Earth receiving a message from the Intergalactic Council:

      We, the beings of the Milky Way, have decided almost-unanimously to roast every human being alive while laughing about it. Given how provincial you Earthlings are, you might imagine this was at least a controversial decision, but guess what? It wasn’t! More than 80% of us agree that you’ll taste delicious, despite your ridiculous armpit hair and opposable thumbs.

    The story might sound absurd, but it’s not that far off from the actual situation that my ethnic group (i.e., Jews) have been in for most of their history, so the Earthlings’ obvious response (“well, if it’s really that unanimous, then fuck your unanimity!”) is one that comes relatively naturally to me.

  140. Shmuel Says:

    “We can have an academic debate about exactly when their responsibility ends”

    Why bother debating uncontroversial claims? I’ll leave debating such matters to all the silly non-fanatical types.

  141. Shmuel Says:

    But NoAcademicBacklash you never answered another part of my question: do you also hold Bush responsible for the positive outcomes of the Iraq invasion? Or do you, for example, deny the existence of Kurds?

  142. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    To reply to some of your points:

    (1) I read through the Egypt thread that you refer. I see lots of free-wheeling unprovoked Chomsky-bashing on your part, but no evidence of anything even remotely rising to the level of Holocaust denialism. The worst concrete thing that you can accuse him of is that he suggested that, at least in theory, one can deny the Holocaust and not be an anti-semite.

    (2) You omitted an important part of Chomsky’s statements about (and here I’ll use your paraphrase) “the blood of innocents on one’s hands:” he always makes it very clear that it is on his hands as well. I throw myself in there too. I am a citizen of the (at least partially democratic) United States; I do essentially nothing to prevent the atrocities I believe my state is and has been committing; hence, I think I am at least partially complicit.

    I have never personally spoken with Chomsky, but in every one of his public appearances that I’ve watched, he seems very kind, patient, civilized, and understanding (his debate with Dershowitz being a possible exception – but even there I think his behavior is exceptionally good when contrasted with that of his opponent). I think he would be a very pleasant and interesting person to talk to even if you disagreed with his political views. At the very least, it seems like the “right thing to do” before trashing him on the interwebs, especially given that he works just down the hall.

    (3) if I understand your space-aliens analogy right, you’re trying to say that maybe world opinion or unanimity shouldn’t be used to decide Bush’s guilt or innocence. I agree. But notice that the general agreement of public opinion (in this case, in the U.S.) is exactly the implied standard by which you are judging bin Laden’s status of undeniable guilt and his deserving of an extrajudicial assassination. Just like in the Awlaki case, the bar for “no trial necessary, just assassinate” seems to be “nobody in the U.S. that matters will complain about it.” That’s a pretty dangerous standard.

    I don’t really understand the part about (or the relevance of) your ethnic group at the end, so I’m not sure how to reply.

  143. Scott Says:

    It occurred to me that Chomsky, and quite a few commenters on this thread, have been making BOTH of the following arguments, despite their self-evident tension with one another:
    (1) The US government is a terrorist organization, whose iniquities vastly exceed those of al Qaeda.
    (2) If the US had simply put bin Laden on trial rather than assassinating him, that would’ve made all the difference regarding the act’s moral standing.
    The difficulty is this: if (1) holds, then how could the US possibly conduct a fair trial, any more than al Qaeda could conduct a fair trial for a captured American? Indeed, what difference does it make if a terrorist organization holds a “trial” before executing someone?

    So, I think the Chomsky-fans really need to pick one argument or the other… :-)

  144. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @shmuel: sorry, I’m already spamming Scott’s board even trying to answer just some of the things being said! :) To give Bush credit for the positive “outcomes” you list, one would have to assume that they would not have happened without the invasion. I disagree with that assumption. In fact, it’s quite reasonable to guess that without our horrible sanctions regime and our first-encouraging-then-backstabbing of the 1991 rebellions, Saddam would not be in power and the situation in Iraq today would be far better than it is now, including all of the positive outcomes you describe.

    @Scott: I don’t know of anyone who tried to make your claim (1). Things are more complicated than that. For example, nobody would deny that people have significant personal liberties and high living standards in the U.S. that they would certainly not enjoy as members of an Al Qaeda terror cell in a cave in Afghanistan. On the other hand, the combined death toll of the victims of the U.S. military in even one immoral war (say Vietnam) far outweighs the total death toll of all Al Qaeda attacks.

    This ties in directly with your claim (2). Violent imperialism abroad does not imply a totally unfair justice system at home. That is not to say that our justice system is perfect, but applying it universally is certainly far better than the government making arbitrary decisions about who should just be shot and who should stand trial. Of course, for now it’s just brown suspected terrorists who don’t get trials, so the rest of us can all still feel safe.

  145. Cody Says:

    I haven’t had a chance to read many of the comments, but figured I’d throw in my two cents anyway.

    I’m not happy with killing him though I don’t fault people who are, on account of my ethic including due process and excluding capital punishment, and the thought of him rotting in a jail cell for the rest of his existence—exposed as the mere human he was—seems to me a better PR outcome. (Plus the potential to extract information from him.)

    Celebrating death of any sort still strikes me as a throw back to our unenlightened barbaric origins. In my mind the justice of an event ought to be viewed in terms of the benefits provided to the society, and I see cost rather than benefit in actions that stroke our primal urges of revenge/blood/violence/death/etc.

    Not that I am a pacifist mind you, I agree he was a terrible person and he’s better dead than missing, this outcome just wouldn’t be my first choice.

    Also, concerning your last update—while I enjoy your academic writing as well, I also appreciate hearing intelligent people discuss topical issues. I only seem to understand my own feelings towards these events when I can reflect on others and hear them reflect on my mine, and much of the world provides much less interesting or sophisticated reasoning.

    On that point, I really want to know what Peter Singer’s take on all this is.

  146. Shmuel Says:

    “To give Bush credit for the positive “outcomes” you list, one would have to assume that they would not have happened without the invasion. I disagree with that assumption.”

    One could make the identical argument about the bad stuff that happened after the invasion (e.g. death count). Your arguments are self-serving.

  147. Gigi Says:

    @Shmel
    “All unintended consequences? Forever?”

    I agree with Chomsky’ s position on this.
    You are responsible for the foreseeable consequences of your actions.
    Could Bush foresee that invading Iraq could have brought to a civil war? Yes.
    There is a video of Cheney in Youtube about this
    Was Iraq a threat to the US?
    No, they did not have significant quantities of WMDs.
    Therefore, Bush IS responsible for the foreseeable consequences of his actions.

    Still, he is not being called “war criminal”, being brought to justice, not being called for assassination.
    Why?

    As he is the ex-President of a big country, this is why.

    Gigi

  148. Gigi Says:

    @Scott

    1) “The US government is a terrorist organization, whose iniquities vastly exceed those of al Qaeda.”

    -> This is not exactly what Chomsky says, as far as I know.
    He has claimed that when they do it is terrorism, when the US Government does it is called anti-terrorism

    2) “The difficulty is this: if (1) holds, then how could the US possibly conduct a fair trial, any more than al Qaeda could conduct a fair trial for a captured American?”

    -> The trial would not have been done in secret like Bin Laden assassination, but in public, and this would not have been done by the US Government, but by the US Judiciary system.

    Gigi

    P.S.
    Since other of my comments have been blocked, let’ s see if this one passes

  149. Mike Says:

    NoAcademicBacklash,

    “I don’t know of anyone who tried to make your claim (1) [The US government is a terrorist organization, whose iniquities vastly exceed those of al Qaeda]. Things are more complicated than that. For example, nobody would deny that people have significant personal liberties and high living standards in the U.S. that they would certainly not enjoy as members of an Al Qaeda terror cell in a cave in Afghanistan. On the other hand, the combined death toll of the victims of the U.S. military in even one immoral war (say Vietnam) far outweighs the total death toll of all Al Qaeda attacks.”

    I’m sorry, did anything you say here differ materially from what Scott’s comment (1) claimed? Not really. US iniquities (and your looking at only “one immoral war”; I can only imagine how “vast” our iniquities would be if you hadn’t restrained yourself) vastly exceed (outweigh the total death toll) those of al Qaeda. That’s what Scott said, almost exactly.

    You also did mention a logically unrelated and distinct point that notwithstanding our violent imperialism abroad, we do have certain internal “liberties.” So, I guess in an effort to make your first point even stronger, you went on cleverly and tied it all together by saying that if the system of justice we have at home is not always applied “universally” (you imply because of racism against “brown” people, but you could have just as easily inserted “thirst for oil” as others have done, or any other really, really evil motive), this makes our behavior under (1) even that much worse!! Well, no.

    I’m afraid that what we have here is a failure to communicate. We just view the world much, much differently. I think it’s impossible to deny that if bin Laden had had one hundredth of the resources of the United States at his disposal, the death and carnage he’d have inflicted would have dwarfed your and others worst and most distorted vision of role the United States (and the West generally) plays in the world. Even when it has made terrible mistakes (like in Vietnam and Iraq — each of which I opposed, though for different reasons), there is simply no comparison or symmetry here: we are not the same as bin Laden and his ilk.

    This goes back to something David Deutsch said shortly after 9/11, which I earlier paraphrased and part of which I think is worth repeating:

    Mainstream Western culture has exhibited a major moral failure: a refusal to distinguish between right and wrong. The unique glories of our civilisation — self-criticism, tolerance, openness to change and to ideas from other cultures — have in many people’s minds decayed, under this moral failure, into self-hatred, appeasement, and moral relativism.

    Moral relativism always sees itself as evenhanded, and indeed it begins with a retreat from judgement or taking sides. But in practice it always entails siding with wrong against right.

    Attacks on the US were not motivated by a state of mind similar to that which is currently motivating the Western response. The Western stance — and even Western mistakes, are driven fundamentally by respect for human beings, human choices and human life. Western values are life-affirming and life-seeking. The murderers worship death. There is no symmetry between life and death.

    There is no “cycle of violence” that we have to “break” by making the murderers and their sympathisers feel less angry with us. Their anger is unjustified: To cleanse the Arabian peninsula of non-Muslims is an immoral aim, violating the human rights both of non-Muslim residents and of Muslims who wish to associate with them (and, perhaps more pertinently, to seek their assistance in defending themselves). To cleanse Israel of Jews is an aspiration similar in kind but much more evil both in its racist motivation and in its intention to destroy an entire nation. To replace secular or less-than-fundamentalist governments by religious fundamentalist ones in all Islamic countries is an utterly tyrannical agenda. And there is a fourth unjustified ‘grievance’ that goes implicitly with those three: they demand the right to punish the West, by mass murder, with impunity, if anyone in the West opposes them in pursuing any of those other ‘grievances’.

    The problem is not to find alternatives to defending ourselves against murderers. The exact opposite is true: this violence will end if and only if we defend ourselves, effectively. And effectiveness will depend in part on our saying truthfully what we are doing, and why our stance is not essentially the same as theirs.

    You can perceive our stance and theirs as symmetrical only by expunging morality from your analysis: seeing all political objectives as being legitimate, all rival value systems as matters of taste, treating murderers and their victims with evenhanded sympathy. You have to look at tolerance and its opposite, intolerance, and pretend that they are two versions of the same thing. You have to pretend that the richness and diversity and creativity of our civilisation are playing the same role in our lives as empty repetition, oppression, and pitiless enforcement of a monoculture play in theirs.

    People wring their hands and say that there must be “better ways of finding solutions” than warfare. Of course there are. We have already found them. The nations and people of the West use them all the time. They are openness, tolerance, reason, respect for human rights — the fundamental institutions of our civilisation. But no way of finding solutions is so effective that it can work when it isn’t being used. And when a violent group defines itself by its comprehensive rejection of all the values on which problem-solving and the peaceful resolution of disputes depend, and embarks instead on a campaign of unlimited murder and destruction, it is morally wrong as well as factually inaccurate to represent this as a case of our needing “better ways of finding solutions”.

  150. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @shmuel: I don’t agree that one could make an identical argument about the bad stuff. There were plenty of deaths in the Iraq war (e.g., any of the thousands directly killed by the invading and occupying army) that are without a doubt the sole result of invasion and would not have occurred otherwise. The increase in terrorism was also an entirely predictable result (although maybe the degree to which it would increase was not.) In fact, it was predicted by all of the intelligence agencies of the invaders and this was well-known to the planners of the war.

    But all of this is irrelevant to the discussion. When someone is suspected of murder, we don’t decide if they should go to trial by balancing their murder against their service in the PTA and their volunteer time at the library. Even if you could successfully argue that lots of good things came about as a result of the invasion, Bush would still be guilty of the same crime for which we hanged some German WW2 leaders: unprovoked war of aggression.

  151. Gigi Says:

    @Shmuel
    One could make the identical argument about the bad stuff that happened after the invasion (e.g. death count). Your arguments are self-serving.

    You are responsible for the likely outcomes of your actions.
    If you shoot a gun to an innocent person in front of you and kill him, you will be hold responsible of what you did.
    If you carpet bomb Cambodia and kill peasants and babies there, you are responsible.
    If you invade Iraq on tenuous (to say the least) reasons, and people die because of this, you are responsible.

    @NAB
    “To give Bush credit for the positive “outcomes” you list, one would have to assume that they would not have happened without the invasion.”

    Let alone that I find the logic of “let’ s invade that country, 100000 people will die, but in 10 or 20 years maybe things will get better” quite appalling

    Gigi

  152. Gigi Says:

    @Mike
    “Even when it has made terrible mistakes (like in Vietnam and Iraq — each of which I opposed, though for different reasons), there is simply no comparison or symmetry here: we are not the same as bin Laden and his ilk.”

    This is exactly the point at hand, in my opinion.
    By which moral standard do you claim that the invasion of Iraq (if you refer to this with the word “Iraq”) as a “mistake”?
    You do not see some kind of double standard here?
    The US invaded a country that did not represent any threat to its security and caused tens (probably hundreds) of thousands of deaths, many of them civilians, that were direct consequences of the invasion.
    Most of the countries in the world were against that invasion!
    But this is been deemed as a “mistake” by many, mostly Americans.
    So, if it is a “mistake”, Bush will not get on trial for war crimes.
    But then, every crime on Earth can be deemed as “mistake”
    Soviet invasion of Afghanistan?
    A mistake!
    Imperial Japan invasion of China?
    A mistake!

    What about the bombing that Kissinger ordered on Cambodia?
    Was that also a mistake?

    Nobody is saying that the US Government is same as Bin Laden, it would be impossible, what I say is that the US Government should not do crimes first!

    The fact that the US society is free, means that people should (and they do not) stand up when their Governments do evil things.
    Why you do not?
    Why nobody went to trial for the US invasion of Iraq?

    Gigi

  153. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Mike: I think we read Scott’s argument differently. I interpreted it as saying “if the US is worse than Al Qaeda, then a US trial can’t be better than an Al Qaeda trial, which would essentially amount to assassination anyway.” My response was that I do not think that the US is worse than Al Qaeda *in every way* and, in fact, our justice system is one way in which we are vastly superior.

    This is independent of the fact that one way in which we *are* (in my view indisputably) worse than Al Qaeda is total number of innocent civilians killed.

    As to your more general arguments: I strongly disagree that “we” (as in the U.S. and the West in general) have a problem distinguishing the rightness or wrongness of the acts of our enemies. Turning on any TV news station, visiting any news website, or (apparently even) a science blog will expose you to a steady stream of unequivocated condemnation of the crimes of our enemies and our critics. What value is there to adding my voice to that unending, uninterrupted chorus, however much I may agree with it? None, especially when I have zero influence on, say, Al Qaeda.

    On the other hand, the crimes of the U.S. are severe yet very rarely discussed, and when they are brought up (as you just demonstrated) the critic is immediately accused of sophistry, false moral equivalence, insufficient criticism of our enemies, and so on. Combining this with the fact that I can have some (however minimal) influence on US policy and that my taxes pay for all these things… well, that makes the moral value of speaking out against our crimes much higher by comparison.

  154. Gigi Says:

    @NAB
    “On the other hand, the crimes of the U.S. are severe yet very rarely discussed, and when they are brought up..”

    I would like to add that, while the people living in Afghanistan may have very little access to internet, libraries and limited opportunities to speak their mind freely, this is not the case in the Western world, so Western people are comparatively much more guilty than, say, Iraqi or Kenyans for similar problems.

    Just about speaking of myself, I did not go out to denounce when the US-led invasion of Iraq, so I DO have (lots of) blood on my hands.

    Gigi

  155. Scott Says:

    Gigi #148:

    “The US government is a terrorist organization, whose iniquities vastly exceed those of al Qaeda.”
    -> This is not exactly what Chomsky says, as far as I know.
    He has claimed that when they do it is terrorism, when the US Government does it is called anti-terrorism

    Ah, I understand: Chomsky never called the US government a terrorist organization; he just said that we call others terrorist organizations when they do the same things.

    And you were the one comparing me to an eight-year-old? ;-)

    The trial would not have been done in secret like Bin Laden assassination, but in public, and this would not have been done by the US Government, but by the US Judiciary system.

    OK, fine, just three relevant points:

    1. The US had stated openly for a decade its policy to target bin Laden. It also made the Abbottabad operation public within hours of its happening (though not beforehand, for obvious reasons).

    2. If you were captured by al Qaeda, I expect you wouldn’t want to be tried by its Executive or its Judiciary branch. (So you admit that the US is better than al Qaeda in at least one respect! :-) )

    3. Judiciary system ⊆ Government.

  156. Scott Says:

    Gigi #154:

      Just about speaking of myself, I did not go out to denounce when the US-led invasion of Iraq, so I DO have (lots of) blood on my hands.

    Wow, then this entire comment section (and pretty much all of human civilization, apparently) is just one giant bloodbath! At least I have company. :-)

  157. Scott Says:

    NoAcademicBacklash #153:

      As to your more general arguments: I strongly disagree that “we” (as in the U.S. and the West in general) have a problem distinguishing the rightness or wrongness of the acts of our enemies. Turning on any TV news station, visiting any news website, or (apparently even) a science blog will expose you to a steady stream of unequivocated condemnation of the crimes of our enemies and our critics. What value is there to adding my voice to that unending, uninterrupted chorus, however much I may agree with it? None, especially when I have zero influence on, say, Al Qaeda.

      On the other hand, the crimes of the U.S. are severe yet very rarely discussed, and when they are brought up (as you just demonstrated) the critic is immediately accused of sophistry, false moral equivalence, insufficient criticism of our enemies, and so on. Combining this with the fact that I can have some (however minimal) influence on US policy and that my taxes pay for all these things… well, that makes the moral value of speaking out against our crimes much higher by comparison.

    It’s funny, I used to feel exactly the same way! I.e., even if I happened to agree with some “conservative” idea, what value could there possibly be in saying it, since others would be sure to say it a thousand times more loudly?

    Then I went to Berkeley for graduate school. There, I discovered that most of the students did reject all those ideas that were so obvious that they weren’t even worth stating—and that being an active, outspoken liberal Democrat suddenly made me into a right-wing monster indistinguishable from Rush Limbaugh!

    I was in Berkeley on 9/11, and the towers had barely collapsed before students were in Sproul Plaza passing out flyers about how America had basically deserved it.

    So, that’s when I decided that it might be worth saying something from time to time in support of the United States’ continued existence, which is not at all a universally-held opinion within academia (or, as you correctly pointed out, in much of the world!), even if it’s indeed pretty widespread in the US minus its university towns.

  158. Scott Says:

    NoAcademicBacklash #142:

    No, the issue is that the petition Chomsky signed (which was written by Holocaust deniers) went out of its way to praise Faurisson’s “research” and “scholarship,” and even put scare quotes around the word Holocaust. Later, Chomsky actually said, not merely that one could theoretically be a Holocaust denier without being an anti-semite, but that:

      I see no hint of anti-Semitic implications in Faurisson’s work.

    I think that, if you’re going to defend a Holocaust denier’s free-speech rights, you ought to go out of your way to signal that you’re doing so despite the loathsomeness of the views themselves (and the people who hold them)—and that that’s the entire point!

    But Chomsky actually went out of his way to signal the opposite: that Faurisson is OK (“a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort”), and it’s just the people who talk too much about the reality of the Holocaust (“apologists for Israeli repression and violence”) who he can’t stand!

    Do you not understand why many people consider this to reflect rather poorly on Chomsky?

  159. Scott Says:

    NoAcademicBacklash #142 (con’t):

    Alas, when I read Chomsky, “kind,” “patient,” and “understanding” are probably the last adjectives that spring to mind! Almost every sentence he writes seems larded with “glare words” (“clear,” “obvious,” “elementary,” “uncontroversial”) to intimate that, if you disagree with him even slightly, then you’re not only morally disgusting but stupid as well.

    (Reading Chomsky has had at least one positive effect on me: I resolved to check my own writing for glare words, with the goal of eventually eliminating them. :-) )

    I also watched a Chomsky/Dershowitz debate about Israel and Palestine, and came away with a very different impression than you: they were both pretty nasty to each other, but Dershowitz at least had some humor and personality, as well as some wacky-yet-interesting peace proposals (like a monorail between the West Bank and Gaza), in contrast to Chomsky’s predictable barrage of 100% negativity.

  160. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Scott: about Berkeley: I can’t speak for them, but I seriously doubt that any of those students think that killing civilians is OK for Al Qaeda but not OK for the US. Maybe you could be more specific about what obvious idea it was that they rejected.

    As far as Chomsky’s personality: I gave you my (of course subjective) impression from watching many of his speeches, interviews and debates, and especially his Q&A sessions. To me he seems incredibly patient when answering even the most inane student questions, and his capacity to talk in great detail about whatever random subject the questioner happens to bring up is impressive. I agree that his writing style leaves something to be desired; normally I just skip over those filler words you mention to get to the tidbits of fascinating historical facts and perspectives (and yes, I check a lot of them with conventional sources too).

    As far as the Faurisson stuff: I really think you’re reaching here. What exactly do you want the conclusion to be? That Chomsky is a Holocaust denier? That he should have stated the completely obvious and condemned Holocaust denial? I actually watched (some time ago) a video of Chomsky’s speech at the time in Paris; a group of students mobbed him afterwards with questions/accusations similar to yours. His response seemed quite clear to me: we should defend the freedom of speech for dedicated liars and people whose views we find completely abhorrent. If you need Chomsky to spell out for you that he finds Holocaust denial abhorrent, I’m sure you can go down the hall and ask him! :)

    I’m going to hope that the last paragraph in #158 was only (yet another) unintentional twisting of Chomsky’s words. What he actually said was that there was nothing anti-Semitic in pointing out that some are exploiting the Holocaust to justify Israeli repression and violence. Maybe you placed those parentheses in the wrong place, but it currently reads as if he is claiming that anyone who talks about the reality of the Holocaust a lot is an Israeli apologist. He never said that, or anything like it. So, no, when I read the actual quote of what he really said, I don’t see any issue at all.

  161. Gigi Says:

    @Scott
    “he just said that we call others terrorist organizations when they do the same things.”
    Exactly, and I pointed out at one example: the indiscriminate bombing of Cambodia ordered by Kissinger.
    Do you think that that bombing was legitimate?
    If not, why was not Kissinger tried for that?

    “2. If you were captured by al Qaeda, I expect you wouldn’t want to be tried by its Executive or its Judiciary branch.”
    Exactly.
    This is why I am NOT supporting Al Qaeda.
    And I would like to see the US Government behave better, not be at the same level as, Al Qaeda in that respect!

    “3. Judiciary system ⊆ Government.”
    In a public trial you have the possibility of defending yourself, something that was awarded even to the Nazis.
    Is Bin Laden worse than the Nazis?
    Second question: why are the US Government officials not being tried for having supported Saddam?
    http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB82/handshake300.jpg

    “Wow, then this entire comment section (and pretty much all of human civilization, apparently) is just one giant bloodbath! At least I have company.”

    Oh, you have the company of billions of people, do not worry!
    Massacres and the worst crimes do not happen because of Hitlers and Stalins, but as millions behind them blindly follow the line that such “leaders” propose.
    If 10% of the world population thought with their own head, there probably be no worse.
    This is why I urge you not to buy the line that your government is offering you

    As for your replies to NAB, it is interesting as you criticize Chomsky’ s 40+ years of work with a short sentence taken out of context and without providing any link.
    The rest of your critic of Chomsky is not based on actual issues, but about his style that apparently you do not like.
    I do not find your criticism much compelling..

    Gigi

  162. Gigi Says:

    Note for Scott
    “If 10% of the world population thought with their own head, there probably be no worse.”
    to be changed with:
    “If 10% of the world population thought with their own head, there probably be no war.”

    Gigi

  163. Scott Says:

    Gigi,

    Doesn’t it put you in a weird position to argue that the US was
    (1) unspeakably evil to have supported the bloodthirsty dictator Saddam, but then
    (2) also unspeakably evil to have overthrown him?

    Must we not have gotten something right at least one of those times? :-)

    Since you asked, here’s a link to Pierre Vidal-Naquet’s moving essay about Noam Chomsky and Robert Faurrison, which ends with the following lines:

      The simple truth, Noam Chomsky, is that you were unable to abide by the ethical maxim you had imposed. You had the right to say: my worst enemy has the right to be free, on condition that he not ask for my death or that of my brothers. You did not have the right to say: my worst enemy is a comrade, or a “relatively apolitical sort of liberal.” You did not have the right to take a falsifier of history and to recast him in the colors of truth.

      There was once, not so long ago, a man who uttered this simple and powerful principle: “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies.” But perhaps you know him?

    This is not about a single sentence taken out of context: it’s about a profound ethical lapse for which Chomsky has consistently refused to apologize in 30+ years, and which he’s only amplified in his subsequent statements.

  164. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    …it’s about a profound ethical lapse…

    This is getting silly. What profound ethical lapse? You keep insisting that Chomsky did something terrible. Well, what is that terrible thing? When pressed for evidence of any “ethical lapse” you offer paraphrases whose meaning is completely different from the actual quotes they come from; when this is pointed out, you refuse to correct yourself. Then you quote people who say patently false stuff like that Chomsky called Faurisson a “comrade” or that he “recast him in the colors of truth.”

  165. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    Notice by the way that this is a pretty standard response to critics of any state. Their actual criticisms are quickly dismissed or ignored; our energies are instead focused on a thorough and detailed inquiry into their person with close attention paid to any actual or perceived missteps or misstatements in their past. Once a sufficiently pleasing example is found or invented, we repeat it to ourselves and others over and over again until we are comfortable that the critic has indeed been sufficiently marginalized.

  166. Gigi Says:

    @Scott
    “Doesn’t it put you in a weird position to argue that the US was
    (1) unspeakably evil to have supported the bloodthirsty dictator Saddam, but then
    (2) also unspeakably evil to have overthrown him?”

    No. I will try to explain why.

    1) It is bad to support a bad dictator when he is using this support to kill civilians in another countries with brutal methods. I think we agree on this and that the US Government is guilty for this.
    Along with all the US citizens that did not speak out condemning this.
    Along with all the European Governments that turned a blind eye on this.
    Along with all the Europeans that did not go out in the street to protest against this.
    (me and my family included)

    2) it is patently immoral to start a war with another country
    a) on the basis of false information (mistaken information as they put it),
    b) when you are not under attack by this country
    c) when you are not likely to be attacked anytime soon by such country,
    d) when you supported the same Government doing abhorrent things years before,
    e) without the support of much of the international community (to say the least) and, most important,
    f) when you can reasonably presume it will end up in a blood bath like it did.

    As for point e), you can look here for confirmation:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:State_positions_Iraq_war.png

    What the US Government (and all western Governments) should have done is:
    1) do not support dictatorial countries (but they did with Iraq)
    2) do not attack other countries if not necessary, and if so, get the war approved by the UN Security council (long discussion, they did not)
    3) since we are here, work for an enlarged Security Council
    that comprises at least India, Brazil, Japan at least one African and at least one Muslim country as veto right holding permanent members (the US did not do this)

    But this is not even the point at hand.
    The point at hand is that US citizen and Western (and Japanese, Chinese) citizens do not cry foul when their Governments attack and kill other countries people but they brand as terrorist (or invaders, or criminals) people of other countries who do the same to them.

    As for the Chomsky point, you keep criticizing him about one point which is not even the point we were discussing.
    Prof. Chomsky has made clear millions of times that he is NOT an Holocaust denial.
    I do not believe that what Prof. Chomsky said he is right because he said so, but because it matches (my) common sense.

    Again, responsibility stands with the individual.
    If some Government does bad things and the citizens of that country and the citizens of other countries support such immoral actions, or turn a blind eye, they all become guilty.
    Responsibility stands with the individual.

    Gigi

  167. CS prof. Says:

    For all the Chomsky apologists here, did Chomsky ever issued an entire unequivocal condemnation of Islamic Jihadism?

    Ah, no. If he did, I would guess he could not have been a recent guest of honor of the Islamic Jihadist and terrorist Hassan Nassrallah:

    http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/2143

  168. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @CS prof: do you want him to give a loyalty oath too? The implication of your statement is clear: shut up already about *our* crimes, and start talking about *their* crimes like all the other good, well-behaved intellectuals. Your request has been put to Chomsky many times, and his response is consistent and clear (my paraphrase): we already know what to think about the crimes of Islamic terrorists, so I choose to talk about the crimes we ignore instead: ours.

    As far as his meeting with Nasrallah, yea… and a couple of weeks later he gave a speech at West Point, clearly signaling to the entire world his devoted support for the US military.

  169. Shmuel Says:

    I get the feeling that if Chomsky presided over a UFO cult and stated that the world would be destroyed on May 22, 2011 his followers would have no trouble making excuses when it didn’t. It’s just a feeling though.

  170. Scott Says:
      Your request has been put to Chomsky many times, and his response is consistent and clear (my paraphrase): we already know what to think about the crimes of Islamic terrorists, so I choose to talk about the crimes we ignore instead: ours.

    NAB, that’s a pathetic defense. Today, people publish their opinions for the whole world, not just for the country where they happen to reside. So when someone denounces to the world the ethical lapses of “our side,” it only merits special consideration (over and above their denunciation of anything they don’t like) if the person is first part of “our side” in any meaningful sense! So for example, I’d respect an Israeli general who said:

    “I now think the West Bank settlements are immoral, and we should unilaterally withdraw from them—and I feel obligated to talk more about that than about Hamas’s stated aim of wiping us out (which is also immoral) since the world already knows what I think about the latter.”

    With Chomsky, by contrast, the world doesn’t already know what he thinks about the latter (or, worse, it does). Chomsky is a world figure who happens to live in the US, with a global audience and devoted fans including Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, and the late OBL. He’s as much a part of “our side” as Anwar al-Awlaki (also a US citizen) is part of “our side,” and a denunciation of US crimes has about as much special standing coming from either of them.

    So as far as I can see, Chomsky hasn’t earned a special right not to talk about “their” crimes: if he thinks that violent Jihadism is as bad as US foreign policy, then he should denounce both with equal ferocity; if he doesn’t do so, then it’s reasonable to infer that he doesn’t consider the former as bad.

  171. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Scott: just because he chooses to focus on our crimes does not mean that he refuses to even mention or acknowledge the crimes of others; in fact, he does so all the time. So here’s a youtube video where he talks about Islamic extremism in Saudi Arabia and Afghan jihadists (pre-9/11, you’ll notice) in no uncertain terms. Inconveniently enough, we were supporting both of them at the time, so he talks about that too:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qw4mjTDx77w

    He has also called 9/11 a major atrocity many times. Here’s a video where he clearly states that he thinks Al Qaeda did it, and that the same network is responsible for a lot of other terrorist attacks:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6pGqYRi-PU

    Again, inconveniently enough, our role in supporting those networks is mentioned as well.

    So at worst you can claim that he does not talk about our enemies’ crimes enough for your taste. This is what you seem to accuse him of in the last paragraph (as if it’s some great crime), but I already replied to this: he believes (and I agree) that there is significantly more moral value in talking (esp. to Western audiences) about US crimes than about the crimes of our enemies, in part since the latter are already well-documented and talked about at length constantly by others.

    As to your last sentence, well, it’s an unfortunate truth that there is an explicit sense in which our crimes ARE undeniably and drastically worse than theirs: total civilian death toll.

  172. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Scott: as far as suggesting that Chomsky is somehow on “their side”: opposing our policy does not imply supporting our enemies’ policy. Again, Chomsky believes (and you may disagree) that he has zero influence on Al Qaeda but that he has some influence on Western policy and public opinion. From a moral standpoint, this makes focusing on Western crimes far more valuable.

  173. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    I like how we’ve jointly reached propaganda nirvana, by the way: instead of actually talking about any of the various atrocities (ours/theirs) and how to prevent them, we’re discussing whether or not Chomsky talks about them in a way we like.

  174. Scott Says:

    Chomsky believes (and you may disagree) that he has zero influence on Al Qaeda but that he has some influence on Western policy and public opinion.

    Yes, that’s an absolutely crucial point about which I do disagree with him (on both parts)! Chomsky has been lionized in countries with strong anti-US sentiment, where his statements have considerable propaganda value, but (as I’m sure you’ll agree :-) ) is not exactly an influential figure in the US, outside a few college towns.

  175. Shmuel Says:

    he talks about Islamic extremism in Saudi Arabia and Afghan jihadists (pre-9/11, you’ll notice) in no uncertain terms. Inconveniently enough, we were supporting both of them at the time

    Not “inconveniently.” Perfectly consistent with Chomsky’s anti-Western bias. He talks about this stuff when he believes they are on “our side” but doesn’t when they aren’t. Thanks for providing the perfect smoking gun.

  176. Gigi Says:

    @CS
    “Ah, no. If he did, I would guess he could not have been a recent guest of honor of the Islamic Jihadist and terrorist Hassan Nassrallah:”

    By the time of the 2006 ceasefire in Lebanon and Israel, according to Amnesty International and the Lebanese government, an estimated 1,183 Lebanese had died, about a third of them children. Over four thousand people were wounded and some 970,000 were displaced from a population of under four million.
    One hundred and fifty-seven Israelis had died, including 39 civilians. Over 860 Israelis were wounded.17
    http://www.chomsky.info/onchomsky/20060904.htm

    Had Prof. Chomsky met the Prime Minister of Israel and said exactly the same things, would you still accuse him of .. well.. whatever you accuse him now?

    Gigi

  177. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Scott: If by “influential” you mean “popular in US government policy circles and pro-US intellectual opinion” then yes he is not influential in the US.

    If by “influential” you mean “has a constant, packed speaking schedule to sold out audiences across the country, dozens of honorary degrees from US universities, a long list of bestselling books, and is among the most cited authors of all human history” then yea, he is influential in the US.

    @Shmuel: at least you are being consistent: shut up about our crimes, and talk about our enemies’ crimes instead; if it happens that we are actually supporting those crimes too, then make sure not to mention that or you might appear biased.

  178. gowers Says:

    The killing of Osama bin Laden was described by the US as self defence. That is a legitimate argument only if killing him was safer than not killing him. If it was clear that he was unarmed, then that was not the case: he would not have been a threat to the safety of those who carried out the raid, and after the raid he would no longer have been able to play any part in planning future terrorist attacks. In Britain, where we don’t have capital punishment, this killing leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.

    Of all the objections I have to it, the main one is that once again the West has squandered an opportunity to show that it behaves differently: what a fabulous example it would have set to show that even a mass murderer like bin Laden was treated with respect; what an incredible seizing of the moral high ground it could have been. I even dare to think that it might have made some potential terrorists stop and think about what they were doing. (Not all of course — I’m sensible enough to realize that many terrorists are such fanatics that nothing will ever influence them.) So my main reaction on hearing that he had been killed was relief that he had finally been found, coupled with angry disappointment that he had not been taken alive. Obama has gone down in my estimation.

  179. Gigi Says:

    @NAB
    “I like how we’ve jointly reached propaganda nirvana, by the way: instead of actually talking about any of the various atrocities (ours/theirs) and how to prevent them, we’re discussing whether or not Chomsky talks about them in a way we like.”

    Technically it is called “attack the arguer, not the argument”.

    It is a bit like if a policeman brings an alleged thief to the judge and the judge, who is friend or does not want to see the thief in prison, instead of making sure if the alleged thief has (or not) stolen anything, he releases the thief on the basis that the policeman has not run after another thief with the same speed in a totally unrelated case, say, 15 years before.

    As for me, the accusations above made by Prof. Chomsky would still be valid if made by me, you or Santa Claus.

    In case someone here is still interested to talk about the topic at hand and not about if Prof. Chomsky went on denouncing the crimes of Islamist groups with the required vigor to be seen as “respectable” in the West, I will rewrite here is questions, a little bit modified:

    1) Saddam Hussein (about 1000000 people dead during the Iran-Iraq war), Goring (one of the main actors of WWII, 50000000 people dead) were granted a trial.
    Bin Laden (3000 people dead) had no trial.
    Why?

    2) The US Government is responsible of multiple actions causing, directly and indirectly, a loss of innocent lives much larger than Bin Laden.
    Few examples:
    - support for Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war (about 1000000 people dead)
    - operation Condor (60000 people dead)
    - operation Menu (40000-150000 people dead, mostly civilians)
    - invasion of Iraq (hundreds of thousands of people dead, mostly civilians)
    Nobody in the US media is arguing to bring the perpetrators of such actions in front of a tribunal, let alone ask for a public assassination of, say, Kissinger or GWB.
    Why?

    Shmuel, Scott, CS can decide if you want to speak about the questions above or, in alternative, to discuss about the positions of Prof. Chomsky in regard to the Lebanon War.

    Gigi

  180. Gigi Says:

    @Gower
    “what a fabulous example it would have set to show that even a mass murderer like bin Laden was treated with respect; what an incredible seizing of the moral high ground it could have been.”

    Excellent point.
    By murdering Bin Laden without a process, the US Government has, at the same time:
    1) show that it is OK to assassinate a foreign person without a trial. Therefore, in the future, this “argument” may be used by some other organization to kill, say, Obama
    2) that American people enjoy (dance in the streets..) when an alleged criminal (I write “alleged” as he was not tried, let alone condemned in front of a tribunal) is killed like a pig
    3) instilled in people the doubt that there were many secrets around the whole 9/11 thing. If Bin Laden was really behind 9/11, why not try him in front of a public tribunal?

    Gigi

  181. Shmuel Says:

    shut up about our crimes, and talk about our enemies’ crimes instead; if it happens that we are actually supporting those crimes too, then make sure not to mention that or you might appear biased.

    No, I think you miss the point. Chomsky only makes observations about Islamist badness when he thinks he can make the US responsible for them in some way. If Islamist badness challenges US power however he turns a blind eye. The man simply lacks objectivity. One might even say this lack of objectivity is “uncontroversial” in “normal” circles.

  182. harrison Says:

    “2) it is patently immoral to start a war with another country
    a) on the basis of false information (mistaken information as they put it),
    b) when you are not under attack by this country
    c) when you are not likely to be attacked anytime soon by such country,
    d) when you supported the same Government doing abhorrent things years before,
    e) without the support of much of the international community (to say the least) and, most important,
    f) when you can reasonably presume it will end up in a blood bath like it did.”

    A caveat: Due to my personal beliefs, I consider aggression to be immoral on any grounds, including self-defense. So I’m playing devil’s advocate here.

    But… really? If there’s any such thing as a just war, shouldn’t the question of whether or not we supported our enemies in the past be completely irrelevant?

    I also want to point out that, while the USA has indisputably killed far more innocent civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., than al-Qaeda ever did, the US has a population of 300 million and an annual defense budget in the hundreds of billions of dollars, as compared to the thousands of members and few millions that al-Qaeda has. We have many, many opportunities to (inadvertently, usually, one hopes) inflict collateral damage, but most jihadists have relatively few chances to (deliberately!) kill innocents.

  183. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Shmuel: when you say “objectivity” what you really mean is “equal time,” and yes in that sense you are correct: Chomsky does not give equal time in his speeches and writings to our crimes and their crimes. I have already listed some of the numerous reasons for this.

    … Chomsky only makes observations about Islamist badness when he thinks he can make the US responsible for them in some way.

    That’s a clever turn of phrase. Chomsky is not “making the US responsible for them in some way”. We did that ourselves by training and funding them. What Chomsky is doing (that you do not like) is talking about it. Well, tough.

    Notice that nowhere in your criticisms do you question any of Chomsky’s factual statements. The worst charge that you can make is that you don’t like his topic of choice and that you wish he talked about other stuff instead (or in addition to). Again, tough.

  184. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @harrison: The fact that we created and supported bin Laden and Saddam in the past is very significant. For one thing, it helps us analyze the true motivations of the US in invasions like Iraq. The claim that we invaded in order to fight the “evil criminal Saddam and his potential future use use of WMD” is immediately debunked by the fact that his worst crimes (and those involving horrific use of WMD) were done with our full support. So our analysis can go on to look for the true motivations elsewhere.

    As to your last paragraph: do you really think that “well, we could have killed a lot more” is any sort of defense?

  185. Scott Says:

    NAB #177: I agree that Chomsky has quite a cult following. But is there any case in which he successfully influenced US foreign policy? If not, it doesn’t imply that his criticisms are wrong, but it does suggest that the argument that he needs to focus on US crimes (as opposed to everyone else’s) because of his disproportionate “impact” there is invalid.

  186. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Scott: you set the bar for “influence” far too high. Chomsky influences US policy in a way similar to (but with far greater force than) how you and I influence it when we vote. In both cases, this influence is much higher than our influence on the political situation inside Al Qaeda or North Korea. And in both cases, our choices with regard to this influence matter.

    Your argument could apply equally well to evening news casts and talk shows: does the choice of topics they cover not matter, since their influence does not rise to the level of direct influence on US policy?

  187. Steve E Says:

    Scott #185: You ask “But is there any case in which he successfully influenced US foreign policy?”

    Chomsky successfully influenced US foreign policy in East Timor in 1979.

  188. Scott Says:

    NAB #186: To whatever extent Chomsky has influenced how Americans vote, my guess is that it’s been a net negative influence—inducing people to vote for Nader rather than Gore in 2000! If you want to change America for the better through the electoral process, the first step is to support Democrats, something you can’t do if you consider both parties equally evil.

  189. Moshe Says:

    FWIW, I completely agree with your update, could not have said it better myself (evidence of that above).

  190. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Scott: I don’t know what he said about voting for Nader, but I did see him say explicitly that one should vote for Kerry and Obama (in their respective elections) if you’re in a swing state, and vote however you like in other states. This seems to be exactly the realist position you are advocating.

    As far as your update: there is much one could say in response. I thought the thread was generally a pretty reasonable discussion and debate. Did anyone actually call you a monster or a barbarian? Is it really fair to say that you were “firebombed” by Chomsky supporters? Most (if not all) replies that I see are reasoned-out and respective counters to your claims – and this is in spite of the fact that some of the stuff you said about Chomsky rose to the level of defamation. I’m sure you had to moderate some rude posts, but hey – it’s the internet.

    I guess in the end it’s your blog so you’re free to paint this discussion however you like on the front page. I just felt kinda crappy reading it after what I thought was a fair-minded and fun debate.

  191. Scott Says:

    Thanks, Moshe! (You were one of the people who persuaded me.)

  192. Scott Says:

    NAB: Sorry about that! You can take “firebombed” as a compliment on the vigor of your arguments. :-) I enjoyed debating you—you never once lapsed into personal attacks, as a couple others (like Gigi) did.

  193. Yatima Says:

    Hm. Why is offing an isolated guy in a foreign country particularly relevant anyway?

    Yes, he organized some terror action about a decade ago, became a fold hero and trolled hard on TV. Well, DUH! That was his life, innit.

    US navel gazing (and I would venture, immaturity) at its finest.

    Meanwhile, the Pakistani military are gearing up to rip the US drones (still busy blowing Talibs, women, children and goats to sizzling shreds) from their sky because the people are actually raging at the constant subservience to US interests. Which are well-remunerated of course. This web is tangled and getting more so.

    Anyone here read Chalmers Johnson?

    (And, please – the less said about the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate’s relative moral standing, the better.)

  194. Shmuel Says:

    Notice that nowhere in your criticisms do you question any of Chomsky’s factual statements. The worst charge that you can make is that you don’t like his topic of choice and that you wish he talked about other stuff instead (or in addition to). Again, tough.

    NAB: If an academic was obsessively interested in broadcasting the dry facts (statistics, etc.) of rapes committed exclusively by black African Americans (and only African Americans) would you suspect that academic of being racist? Or maybe you would even consider the recitation of these facts, to the exclusion of other facts, as actual racism in itself (regardless of the intentions of the academic). Furthermore, I will suggest, that if you encountered a defender of this academic you might consider that this person was also racist.

  195. Shmuel Says:

    re: Scott’s change of opinion.

    The nazis were already defeated when they went on trial.

    The jihadists are not.

    A public trial would (arguably) produce more harm than good.

  196. Simple mind Says:

    Reading your update Scott, I like you’re able to change your mind. This says something.

    But what if Bin Laden goal was not imposing Sharia law to every one, as you stated, but to break foreign influences in Muslim countries, as wikipedia states? Doesn’t change your opinion, right?

    Oh, just one other thing: wouldn’t have Bin Laden alive under interrogation been the best military outcome?

  197. Gigi Says:

    Replying to Scott’ s new introduction above:

    ” while the left-wing readers were silent.”
    We should not categorize people for their opinions.

    “Now that I criticize Chomsky (or originally, mainly just quoted him), I’m getting firebombed in the comments section by Chomsky fans, with only a few brave souls showing up from the right flank to offer reinforcements.”
    I disagree.
    I, along with other people, are not “firebombing” anyone and you should not take such criticism as a personal attack.
    It is legitimate to change each one’ opinions, and it is a good thing when we do, as it means we have learnt something.

    “One would imagine that, on at least one of these topics, more readers must agree with me than are making themselves heard in the comments—but maybe I just have the rare gift of writing in a way that enrages everyone?”
    If I may..
    Some people here, especially the ones who are supporting the assassination of OBL as it happened, have a way of talking to try to elude the argument at hand and instead point out that Chomsky held disputable positions on completely different topics.
    At this could matter for the topic at hand.
    This is called attack the arguer and it is not something that I like, personally.

    “Yesterday, I found myself trying to be extra-nice to people I met, as if to reassure myself that I wasn’t the monster some of the Chomskyan commenters portrayed me as.”
    I have yet to see anyone calling you a “monster” or implying that you are.
    Again, make such points out of words others have never said is not pleasant.

    “I told myself that, if agreeing with President Obama’s decision to target bin Laden made me a barbarian unworthy of civilization, then at least I’d have the likes of Salman Rushdie, Christopher Hitchens, and Jon Stewart with me in hell—better company than Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.”
    Again, nobody told you you will go to hell for your opinions.
    Also, you should not consider your opinion correct or not on the basis of if other say the same.

    “The first question is whether, as Chomsky suggests, the US government is “uncontroversially” a “vastly” worse terrorist organization than al Qaeda, since it’s caused many more civilian deaths. On this, my opinion is unchanged: the answer is a flat-out no. ”
    This is a kind of false problem, as it depends on how you define “terrorism”.
    If the point is if US Government is responsible of some of the worst crimes that happened after WWII, I think the answer is yes.

    “There is a fundamental reason, having nothing to do with nationalist prejudices, why Osama bin Laden was much more evil than Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush combined.”
    I find this argument of yours vastly disputable

    “Give Kissinger, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush magic dials that let them adjust the number of civilian casualties they inflict, consistent with achieving their (partly-justified and largely-foolish) military goals. As odious as those men are, who can deny that they turn the dial to zero? [..]”
    Interesting point, but I do not think that the point is to make rankings of bad guys.
    The point is that each of the men you quoted has unnecessarily caused a number of civilian deaths very high.
    If they are worse or less worse than OBL, I do not personally care.
    This should be enough to enrage all the people who should ask why they are not getting tried.
    But people are silent. WHy?

    “[..] It’s on this second question that my views have changed.[..]”
    Still there are many things I do not agree here as well, but I do not wnat to push it too much.

    Gigi

  198. Pete Says:

    Scott, Dwave is published in Nature. What do you say?

  199. Gigi Says:

    @Shmuel
    “No, I think you miss the point. Chomsky only makes observations about Islamist badness when he thinks he can make the US responsible for them in some way.”
    Which is exactly true.
    If you support Israel occupation of part of Palestine and the illegal blockade of Gaza, you are then responsible for people on the other side getting angry, maybe not 100% responsible for all the crimes the other side makes, but you should not commit crimes you first.

    @Harrison
    “A caveat: Due to my personal beliefs, I consider aggression to be immoral on any grounds, including self-defense. So I’m playing devil’s advocate here.”
    Good point, but I do not agree.
    If the other side is a dictatorship, you are not causing any direct or indirect harm or threat to them and they building up an arsenal, you have good reasons to be worried.

    “I also want to point out that, while the USA has indisputably killed far more innocent civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., than al-Qaeda ever did, the US has a population of 300 million and an annual defense budget in the hundreds of billions of dollars, as compared to the thousands of members and few millions that al-Qaeda has. ”
    This is as much an excuse as saying that, in a room with 20 people, the only people who has a gun has the right to kill anyone else just as he is the only one who has the gun.
    Being the fact that the US has a far larger arsenal than its alleged “enemies”, they should behave better, not worse or at the same level, than them

    @Scott
    “I agree that Chomsky has quite a cult following. ”
    Oh my, oh my.
    If now you agree with Prof. CHomsky on an issue, you are automatically a follower of a cult.
    Scott, please, try to think in terms of opinions, not ideologies or pretaken positions.

    @Scott E
    “Chomsky successfully influenced US foreign policy in East Timor in 1979.”
    Which has a lot to do with Osama Bin Laden, I assume.

    @Yatima
    “Meanwhile, the Pakistani military are gearing up to rip the US drones”
    This is not even the worst.
    Look at the site http://www.aristide.org

    @Scott
    “you never once lapsed into personal attacks, as a couple others (like Gigi) did.”
    I have replied on this in a private mail, I guess

    Gigi

  200. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Shmuel #194: there are plenty of black public figures (e.g., Bill Cosby) that speak frequently about black violence and hardly ever about violence committed by other ethnic groups. I don’t consider them racists. Your analogy is not very compelling anyway, since the concept of a state is so dramatically different from the concept of race.

    @Shmuel #195: Can you set some parameters for what a defeat of the jihadists (or non-state terrorism in general) will look like? When exactly will we be able to start putting people on trial again, instead of just blowing their brains out like we do now? And why does your argument not hold for plain-ol’ rapists and murderers too? They have certainly not been defeated either.

  201. Gigi Says:

    @Shmuel
    “NAB: If an academic was obsessively interested in broadcasting the dry facts (statistics, etc.) of rapes committed exclusively by black African Americans (and only African Americans) would you suspect that academic of being racist?”

    I think people have already replied to this before:
    1) Chomsky has never broadcasted ONLY the crimes made by the US Government
    2) if the number of the rapes made by, say, African Americans, (or Latino, or Whites) were the number 1 by far compared with other racial groups and in the same the least discussed on TV, I would not see anything bad on focusing on such subcategory of the rapes.

    Gigi

  202. Scott Says:

    Simple mind #196:

    But what if Bin Laden goal was not imposing Sharia law to every one, as you stated, but to break foreign influences in Muslim countries, as wikipedia states? Doesn’t change your opinion, right?

    At the least, we know that he wanted to impose Sharia law on the Muslim countries, which I think would be a disaster for the people of those countries and for the wider world. He also wanted to destroy Israel.

    Interestingly, some historians engage in a similar debate about Hitler: did he “merely” want to conquer Europe, or the entire world (North America, Australia, etc.)?

    In both cases, I think that the answer to the continent vs. world dispute is: better we didn’t find out… :-)

    Oh, just one other thing: wouldn’t have Bin Laden alive under interrogation been the best military outcome?

    What exactly would we ask him? “Where’s bin La–oh, wait…” ;-)

    If he lived up to his reputation even slightly, I’d assume he wouldn’t say anything except under torture—so then we’d be right back in the middle of a moral dilemma.

  203. Shmuel Says:

    Noam Chomsky = Bill Cosby

  204. Gigi Says:

    @Scott
    The comparison Hitler = OBL is not really appropriate.
    Hitler was the head of one of the strongest countries at that time, he could have conquered the world, maybe.
    OBL was not.
    If you want to compare Hitler to someone, you may well compare him to GWB, which would still be wrong, but maybe less inappropriate.

    “What exactly would we ask him? “Where’s bin La–oh, wait…”
    Just ask him information about how he manage to do the attacks, and try him in public allowing him to defend himself.

    @Shmuel
    ” Noam Chomsky = Bill Cosby”
    Being this all you have left to say, this seals here my conversation in this blog (for today).
    I have still to thank the owner (Scott) for not blocking my comments.

    Gigi

  205. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Interesting juxtaposition: Ayn Rand and Noam Chomsky.

    The RO view is that NC is (or was) a very bright guy who did some fundamental thinking on subjects of wide importance in areas including computer science. But his “common sense coprocessor” is faulty, installed backwards, or whatever, which has led him to into extreme social views. All of us who think we know everything enjoy ticking everyone off at times, and NC makes little effort to control the urge.

    The brief RO view is that AR is nuts. I recall checking out “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead” as a junior high school student because I mistook them for science fiction. I did not finish them because they are BORING! As I recall, they are full of crazy people reading manifestos. What a bummer compared to Heinlein’s books, where tough Americans duked it out with evil aliens!

    Who are these people for whom AR resonates? I live in a university town, so I know plenty of people who are proud to be Libertarians with a capitol L, but not who admit to following AR.

  206. Scott Says:

    NAB #200:

      there are plenty of black public figures (e.g., Bill Cosby) that speak frequently about black violence and hardly ever about violence committed by other ethnic groups. I don’t consider them racists. Your analogy is not very compelling anyway, since the concept of a state is so dramatically different from the concept of race.

    I think Shmuel’s basic points stand:

    (1) even without stating actual falsehoods, it’s possible to paint a wildly-distorted picture of reality, simply by one’s choices of what to say and what to omit, and

    (2) Chomsky is a master of this technique.

    I don’t expect you’ll ever agree to (2), so let me focus on (1).

    (1) is, of course, the reason why courtroom witnesses have to swear to tell “the whole truth,” not just “nothing but the truth.”

    As an illustration, let me now “prove” that Albert Einstein was both a terrible person and an idiot.

    He was shockingly-cruel to his first wife (stipulating in a written document that she bring him meals without speaking to him), had countless affairs, and was a largely-absent father. He was profoundly wrong about quantum mechanics, wrong twice about the cosmological constant, and wrong about the possibility of black holes (a research area he helped kill until the 1960s) because of elementary errors understanding his own theory. Special relativity just amounted to a few lines of algebra to rederive some formulas already known to Lorentz, while general relativity took him a decade where a serious mathematician might’ve needed just a few weeks. He wasted the last thirty years of his life pursuing a “unification” fantasy that was doomed to failure because (among other things) it ignored the strong and weak nuclear forces. In the 1930s, he failed to use his great prestige in the US to effectively communicate the dangers of Nazism. He was a mediocre writer, his political tracts were boring, naive, prolix, and repetitive, he saw a bogus moral equivalence between the US and the USSR, and he absurdly thought that Senator McCarthy might prove to be as bad as Hitler.

  207. Scott Says:

    Raoul #205:

    NC is (or was) a very bright guy who did some fundamental thinking … But his “common sense coprocessor” is faulty, installed backwards, or whatever, which has led him to into extreme social views.

    LOL, couldn’t have put it better! Indeed, let me now advance a new argument, which I call the Poverty of the Chomsky Worldview, for the theory that there must exist such a thing as a “common-sense organ,” which is shared by all normal humans and hardwired into the brain. The argument is simply that, were there no such organ, there would be nothing whose absence or failure could explain an otherwise-intelligent person such as Chomsky.

    Who are these people for whom AR resonates?

    In this post (which I know you saw) I tried to explain why The Fountainhead resonated for me as a 14-year-old. Indulge me as I reproduce one of my comments from that post:

      It might help to imagine a suburban teenage girl running off with a motorcycling, heroin-addicted gang member. Her choice seems like a puzzling one—until you find out that the stepfather she lived with had been an alcoholic abuser. (Note: this metaphor not approved by the Ayn Rand Institute.)

      In other words, if you find yourself imprisoned in the Soviet gulag or the American high school system, Rand’s ideas really will come to you as a liberation. She’s the one writer who actually seems interested in what you see all around you: the soft platitudes about tolerance, compassion, and equality used to justify the violence of the bullies; the jailers’ phony show of having the inmates “participate democratically”; the bureaucrats willing to inflict any amount of suffering so long as they can’t be blamed for it.

      It’s a shame Rand had to adopt so much of the moral certainty and imperiousness of the people she correctly despised. It seems to be a recurring problem for prophets…

  208. Simple mind Says:

    >we know that he wanted to impose Sharia law on the Muslim countries

    That would be difficult in Saudi Arabia, a US ally last time I checked, because well… it’s already in place yeah? BTW the point is it seems hard to argue US is not greater terrorist than Bin Laden because Bin Laden want to impose Sharia. I’d say US is not greater terrorist because it’s not a terrorist organisation. Simple mind really ;-)

    >What exactly would we ask him?

    I tought it was obvious: what is the next attack you were planning? Who are the other members and were to find them?

    >I’d assume he wouldn’t say anything except under torture

    Torture is a bit too popular in US these time. Why not simply asking what he is ready to say in exchange for a compass? For not revealing worldwide the amount of porn on his desktop? For maintaining the level of heroin added in his insulin?

    >so then we’d be right back in the middle of a moral dilemma.

    Exactly, Bin Laden dead is very convenient, politically speaking. I’m a bit unease it’s not optimal as regarded to moral justice and destructing Al Quaeda. But, hey, that still better than GWB was able to do.

  209. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Scott, Shmuel: I think we’re starting to talk past each other, but let me try to explain my POV on Scott’s criticism (which has also appeared in various forms earlier) in #206 one more time.

    I agree that if your ONLY source of information about the world is Noam Chomsky, then you will have a distorted view of reality. (Notice that this does not necessarily imply that HE has a distorted view of reality; most if not all of your public speaking concentrates on CS/Physics but this does not mean that you think nothing else matters).

    I also think that if you listen to the US intellectual consensus, you will have a distorted view of reality. (Notice that you have essentially no choice here: you are inundated with this POV 24/7 just by virtue of living in the US.)

    My point is that Chomsky’s goal in public speaking is not to achieve balance or “equal time to our crimes and their crimes” in his speech alone. His goal is to bring an already wildly unbalanced public discussion (which is 99% POV #2 above, i.e., their crimes and their crimes only) closer to what he believes (and I agree) would be true balance.

  210. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    (continued) To put it another way: even if you think that Chomsky focusing almost exclusively on US crimes is “a problem,” it is a microscopic and totally insignificant problem compared to the fact that 99% of US public discussion ignores our crimes completely.

    And when these crimes involve thousands or even millions of civilian casualties, this is no small problem.

  211. Shmuel Says:

    99% of US public discussion ignores our crimes completely

    Bullshit.

  212. Scott Says:

    NAB #209, #210: I actually have some sympathy for that argument!

    However, a serious difficulty with it is that, as you yourself pointed out earlier in the thread, Chomsky’s opinions are extremely popular outside the US. Indeed, on some issues (like Israel/Palestine), he simply expresses the “mainstream world opinion.”

    “Ah,” you reply, “but within the US those opinions are not mainstream, and that’s why we need gadflies like Chomsky within our borders, to remind us of what the rest of the world thinks.”

    But now, if we accept that argument for the US, it seems to me that we can repeat it on a smaller scale for American academia. Academia is another notorious example of an opinion echo chamber, in which Marxism was considered “mainstream” for much of the 20th century, postmodern gobbledygook is met with veneration rather than laughter, obvious truths about human nature (e.g., that it exists) have been vociferously denied only to be “rediscovered” decades later, and (incredibly) someone who’s a liberal Democrat in “real life” can be considered a right-wing fanatic.

    This self-imposed isolation has lots of bad consequences: politicians and the public see academics as petulant children whose funding ought be cut, and academics’ ability to influence “average Americans” about important issues is severely limited by the atmosphere of mutual contempt.

    Now, if you agree that this is a problem, one obvious remedy would be to have some gadflies within American academia. As a hypothetical example, an academic blog might contain occasional posts that reflected what the other 99% of the country was thinking…

  213. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Scott: I essentially agree with most of #212. The “echo chamber” in academia is a serious problem on many levels. I certainly do not have a problem with this blog post even though the topic is out of your normal field of specialization.

    It’s true that the argument of focus that I made doesn’t hold quite as well outside the West; but frankly, that doesn’t bother me. The military, economic and media power of the West over the entire world is so vast that the moral core of the argument still holds, in my view.

    @Shmuel: I actually think that 99% is a good guess. Put this way: for every one article or report in mainstream US channels that openly criticizes US policies (e.g., “Bush is a war criminal that should be put on trial”) I think there are at least a hundred articles and reports talking about the horrific crimes of Muslim terrorists, the danger to the world presented by Iran and North Korea, etc.

    Maybe you think the number should be lower, but I think it would be laughable to suggest that it’s anything less than 90%.

  214. Shmuel Says:

    I think it would be laughable to suggest that it’s anything less than 90%.

    I suppose I can’t argue with facts like that. (Bullshit.)

    Honestly, this is not any different than arguing with a Truther (i.e., utterly pointless).

  215. Shmuel Says:

    NAB: Seriously, a person could defend any obsessive political fanatic (from Meir Kahane to Louis Farakhan) with the identical argument structure you employ. It is a means of completely ignoring the moral content of the message. It is shameful and it is bullshit.

  216. Tomas Says:

    I am a leftie, and still think that when Chomsky pronounces himself on international matters he often is (or should be) an embarrassment to the Left. His statements often have certain internal logic, but not in this case: regardless of what one thinks of his actions as President, George W. Bush is not hiding in Texas, planning future attacks. (Hitchens has already pointed out that “Tomahawk” is a weapon, not a tribe.) Chomsky’s logic is slipping.

    And a more general observation: Why is it that Chomsky is the one quoted “left-wing US intellectual” in all matters of International Affairs? From what he writes about, he must be an expert on Central America, South America, Europe, Russia, Asia, the Middle East, and, well, basically, everything and everywhere. We need to find some new experts and intellectuals, and give Chomsky a rest. Maybe then he can return to his (more accurate) observations about the media in the US, something he does have lots of personal experience about.

  217. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Shmuel: I don’t ignore the moral content of Chomsky’s message; in fact, I fully endorse it. Notice that my argument does not support lying; it only supports focusing truthfully on underrepresented subject matter.

    If you feel that any of my claims or Chomsky’s claims are as ridiculous as Truther claims, it should be easy for you to provide evidence of that. Please go ahead.

    @Tomas: murderers that are not planning future attacks are still murderers, and presumably should still stand trial. It has already been pointed out several times that arresting bin Laden was (according to our current knowledge of raid details) entirely possible and would have prevented his continuing planning just as effectively (if not more so) than killing him.

    The rest of your post is standard fact-free Chomsky bashing that has been repeated in this thread ad nauseam.

  218. Tomas Says:

    @NAB: Let me try to explain it further: For the analogy to be “internally consistent”, so to speak, Chomsky should have chosen Obama, not Bush; or, another US Government official who is currently active, not a former one who is now retired.

    As for the second point, I don’t quite see it made already on this comment thread, but then, it is a very long one.

  219. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Tomas. I understand the point you are trying to make. Let me rephrase my counter:

    If the claim is that we assassinated him because he was still active, then the counter is that arrest would have been equally effective. If the claim is that we assassinated him as punishment for his previous crimes, then Chomsky’s analogy holds with full force, and we should also support a hypothetical assassination of Bush by Iraqi commandos.

  220. Shmuel Says:

    Notice that my argument does not support lying; it only supports focusing truthfully on underrepresented subject matter.

    Various radical far-right fanatics could, and do, support their own narratives using precisely the same amoral argument. It’s classic nihilism; the same stuff that has been attracting young pseudo-intellectual creeps from time immemorial. Dostoevsky had the type pegged over a 100 years ago in The Possessed. There’s nothing new or “revolutionary” about pathologically contrarian, privileged intellectual types getting angry at the relatively healthy governments that support their freedom to wear Che T-shirts and buy The Anarchist’s Cookbook. I love this country.

  221. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    I love this country.

    I love the essential freedoms that citizens of the US enjoy, and I love the fact that freedom of speech is not restricted like it is in the rest of the world (including Europe).

    I don’t love the corporate domination of the political sphere at home, and I hate the mass death that (I believe) we are responsible for abroad.

    But maybe I’m just a pseudo-intellectual creep. :)

  222. Shmuel Says:

    I hate the mass death that (I believe) we are responsible for abroad…But maybe I’m just a pseudo-intellectual creep

    If you think Western military forces are more evil than Al Qaeda then, yes, you are.

  223. Ron Says:

    The following POTUS reactions to Osama’s whereabouts pretty much sums up the US for me:

    With Scott as POTUS, Osama is captured and tried.
    With Barack as POTUS, Osama is shot dead by commandos.
    With George W. as POTUS, The Abbottabad compound is bombed.
    With Dick as POTUS, Abbottabad is carpet-bombed.
    With Sarah as POTUS, Russia is nuked.

  224. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Shmuel: if you define what you mean by “evil”, then I might be able to answer the question.

    I can offer two judgements, though: I think the way Western military forces treat their domestic civilians is far better than the way Al Qaeda treats their domestic civilians. I also think that Western military forces are responsible for more death than Al Qaeda by at least two orders of magnitude.

  225. Gigi Says:

    I still notice that many people here keep avoiding the main issues presented by Prof. Chomsky and still keep attacking him in a general way, calling him as lacking on common sense and on pointing at issues that have no correlation at matter at hand.
    In just the last few posts:
    #217 Tomas: “[Chomsky] often is (or should be) an embarrassment to the Left. ”
    #207 Scott: “(2) Chomsky is a master of this [paint a wildly-distorted picture of reality] technique.”
    #206: Rauol Ohio “But his “common sense coprocessor” is faulty, installed backwards, ”
    #204 Shmuel “Noam Chomsky = Bill Cosby”

    Notice that almost all the readers above fail to understand that it is NOT Chomsky the problem, but the issues that Chomsky arises that are.
    I have also tried to bring again the issue back on track and been ignored.
    I will try once again, the last time.

    1) It was wrong to go kill Bin Laden without awarding him a trial.
    I think this issue has been little bit clarified here, and Scott accepted
    I would also add that now there is a legitimate doubt that the Government had things to hide, considering all the times they have lied or hid things to the public.
    And I also add that seeing people dancing in the street for the death of Bin Laden reminded me the people dancing in the streets in other parts of the world after 9/11.
    But I will not push the issue forward and move to the most important issue 2)

    2) Responsibility of the US Government for their crimes
    This point has been made by Prof. Chomsky and I will enlarge it a little bit.
    As Scott rightly pointed out, you can with sofism turn black into white, Scott did not say that this technique has been vastly used by US media in the past 50 years or so.
    In order to avoid to be accused to be a sofist I will point out which are the moral grounds on which I personally believe:
    a) if Country A invades Country B without Country B representing a present or immediate threat to Country A and without Country A having a full and very clear mandate (I repeat, very clear and made public) from the UN Secutiry Council and most of the major world Governments still not having a permanent seat in the UN (Brasil, India, African Union, Japan, ..), Country A commits a crime. If, in consequence of this invasion, a lots of deaths happen, even if not by soldiers of Country A, Government of Country A is co-guilty of such deaths
    b) if Country A supports Country B militarily and/or economically and/or politically when Country B is attacking Country C without Country C being a direct, tangible and inavoidable threat to Country A or B, if then Country B commits war crimes to civilians of Country C, then Government of Country A is also co-guilty
    c) if Country A supports groups of people that aim to and/or overthrow existing Governments (especially if democratically elected) in Country B and establish there a dictatorship and do not actively engage such Governments to become democratic (i.e. hold free and fair elections), and such Government in Country B commits serious human rights violations, then Government of Country A is co-guilty
    d) If Country A imposes economical and commercial practices to a democratically elected Government of Country B despite Government of Country B opposes such a measure, and as a result of this Country B suffers humanitarian crises then Government of Country A is also responsible
    e) if people of Country A, Government and people of other countries have easy access to information showing that Country A is guilty of any of the above cases a), b), c), and d), have the right of freedom to speech and expression and fail to condemn the Government of Country A and actively seek justice (let alone supporting or provide justification at Government and/or private level the crimes of Country A), they also become co-guilty of the crimes above.

    I consider point a), b), c), d) and e) self-evident from a moral point of view, so I will not engage in explaining why.

    You can easily find that the Government of the US (alone and other times along with their allies) can be identified as the Country A above in cases a), b), c) and d), in particular:
    a) invasion of Iraq 2003
    b) support of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war
    c) too long list, let just mention the support of the Shah in Iran, Branco in Brasil, Videla in Argentina and Noriega.
    d) with Haiti during the Clinton administration

    The list is FAR for complete, and I am just pointing to the crimes of the US, but we should also consider the crimes of Russia (Chechenian war), Iran (not recognizing Israel, torture, etc.), Pakistan (suppor of “terrorism”), Hamas and Israel among others

    As for this, I do consider citizens of all free countries who (at least) do not speak out about the above crimes especially when the crimes are commit by their own government co-guilty of such crimes.
    Which means that most (95%, 99%?) of the people of the US, European countries, Japan, .. are guilty for every single South American journalist killed by a dictator, for every single child killed by a bomb in Baghdad, for every single civilian exposed to chemical gas in Iran being that such deaths are direct, foreseeable and preventable consequences of the actions of their Governments
    I include myself in the above 99%, at least up until few years ago when I had cheap access to internet and I could check facts by myself and understood how the world goes (but I am still today guilty, as I could do much more).

    Personal note:
    I have always thought that human race being inherenthly good one, with wars happening because of bad dictators, poor information, power structure, ignorance
    In the age of internet, with people having no restriction of speaking out, it is clear to me that I was wrong.
    I am not speaking only about the opinions of few people here in this thread, I am speaking more in general.
    This has very much changed my opinion on what is good and what is bad.
    Human people are NOT inherently good ones, but good at times, when it is convenient and not a big hassle to them, to say the least.
    I think I can no longer consider as “bad” robbing a bank, stealing, lying and cheating, when much worse thing happen in the world and usual people turn a blind eye to them.
    What is the problem with killing an innocent man when people turn a blind eye or even support their Government killing one thousands when unnecessary?
    Why helping other people and be kind, when such people are likely supporting (or turning a blind eye) to horrible crimes?
    Why not just steal when you can do it without being caught, why help when a person is in trouble when they justify horrible crimes?
    I believe that many people just “eat” the usual moral line that they are taught by television, Church, Government and at School without thinking about it.
    I do think about what I am doing, and I am rethinking about what is really good and bad in this world.

    Gigi

  226. Scott Says:

    With Scott as POTUS, Osama is captured and tried.

    I wouldn’t be sure of that—it would depend entirely on feasibility. Just as Obama may have, I would have given orders to “capture alive if possible but shoot if you’re in danger,” and then the judgment would have been the SEAL team’s to make.

    In any case, I’m not exactly as far left as you can get. What would President Chomsky do—go to Abbottabad himself to offer the US’s unconditional surrender? ;-)

  227. Gigi Says:

    @Shmuel
    “If you think Western military forces are more evil than Al Qaeda then, yes, you are.”
    I am better than Bin Laden, therefore it is OK to go out and rape an 8-year old girl.
    Strawman, again and again.

    @NAB
    “I also think that Western military forces are responsible for more death than Al Qaeda by at least two orders of magnitude.”
    You forgot to add the word “civilian” and “unneccessary” ahead of “death”.
    And the orders of magnitude are likely be more three and two.
    A point that has been sistematically either ignored, avoided or undermined with excuses ( we did it because we were fighting communism、Islamists, because we could kill more, etc.) by most readers of this thread.
    I am starting to lose faith that it will ever become properly addressed.

    Gigi

  228. Gigi Says:

    @Scott
    “In any case, I’m not exactly as far left as you can get. What would President Chomsky do—go to Abbottabad himself to offer the US’s unconditional surrender?”
    For which reason you keep twisting Chomsky` s words?
    Did he ever say anything remotely close to that?

    Gigi

  229. Scott Says:

    Gigi #225:

      I think I can no longer consider as “bad” robbing a bank, stealing, lying and cheating, when much worse thing happen in the world and usual people turn a blind eye to them.
      What is the problem with killing an innocent man when people turn a blind eye or even support their Government killing one thousands when unnecessary?
      Why helping other people and be kind, when such people are likely supporting (or turning a blind eye) to horrible crimes?
      Why not just steal when you can do it without being caught, why help when a person is in trouble when they justify horrible crimes?

    I actually agree with you that this attitude is more-or-less the logical conclusion of Chomskyism.

    You might call it the “Chomsky paradox”: if >99% of humanity consists of “sheeple,” swallowing their respective governments’ lies and propaganda, supporting or turning a blind eye to horrible crimes, then why bother with all that compassion-for-the-downtrodden stuff in the first place? In other words: if you despise all the people you pass by on the street, as complicit in the cold-blooded murder of millions of Iraqis and Cambodians, then why shed a tear for the Iraqis or Cambodians themselves, who are equally human and would no doubt be just as callous were the situation reversed?

  230. Scott Says:

    Yatima #193:

    Why is offing an isolated guy in a foreign country particularly relevant anyway?

    I think this thread supplies an answer: it’s relevant because it’s really just a proxy for bigger issues, like the moral foundations of Western civilization, and why and whether it’s worth defending against the significant fraction of the world that would gladly overthrow it if it had the means.

  231. Gigi Says:

    @Scott
    Valid argument, and I will try to reply at my best.
    1) 95% or 99% is NOT 100%, there are good people out there.
    NAB, say one, is actively engaging other people to think, I think his work deserves much credit.
    I am (trying to) do the same (still not even remotely enough).
    Professor Chomsky is another.
    Let alone that there are millions people out there that speak out against their goverment bad actions and try to do something.
    Still, very few if compared with the billions who do not.
    2) I admit I went a little bit over the line with the “killing an innocent man” example.
    I still think that even a right winger who staunchly supports carpet bombing of Cambodia does NOT deserve to be killed, at least unless you have some good reason that killing that one will likely prevent the deaths of many others (but this is a tough judgment!!)
    But if you expect me now to help the same right-winger to find his stolen car, even if I could do so I now probably would not.
    Would it be bad to scratch his shining new car with a knife just for fun if you are sure you will not get caught? Probably not.
    Avoid pay taxes to a bad Government if you can escape? Same reply
    3) most of the victims in such bombings were ignorant people, babies.
    Never went to school, no internet connections, much different situation from you and me.
    If they did anything bad, it is not 100% of their fault.
    If you or I do the same, it is a much different situation.

    I hope I have clarified my position

    Gigi

  232. Scott Says:

    Gigi #228:

    For which reason you keep twisting Chomsky` s words?
    Did he ever say anything remotely close to that?

    It was a joke! I can’t even imagine what a President Chomsky would do, any more than what a President Big Bird would do.

  233. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Scott #226: After your 40th cheap shot at Chomsky, I’m left wondering what the real reason is for your deep dislike of him and your inability to let it go; also, why are you spending this entire thread condemning him instead of Islamic Jihadists, our true enemy?

    #227: I don’t buy the premises of your “paradox.” Nobody has suggested that the Western population (or any population) is full of sheep that should be despised. More importantly, nobody has suggested that we should not value the lives of even those people that we view as sheep that should be despised.

  234. Gigi Says:

    @Scott
    “It was a joke..”

    I do not know and I do not care what Prof. Chomsky would do as President, I know what I feel it would be right to do, which is: do not invade other countries unless treathened to be attacked, (try to) promote democracy, deal with other countries with respect and on a fair basis, adopt a policy so that rich people pay a fair amount of taxes and poor people do not get sc**wed up.
    Nothing stellar, really..

    Anyway, we are moving away for the 100th time from the issue at hand.

    Gigi

  235. Shmuel Says:

    if you define what you mean by “evil”, then I might be able to answer the question.

    It’s a bit of a circular definition, but evil is what a creep needs a definition of in order to understand. Even Chomsky is comfortable using the word (in the quote above).

  236. Shmuel Says:

    why are you spending this entire thread condemning him instead of Islamic Jihadists, our true enemy?

    thats a joke right?

  237. the reader from Istanbul Says:

    I wish to say the following on “the first question”, on which your opinion is not changed:

    In your addendum, you state that Chomsky suggests that the US government is “uncontroversially” a “vastly” worse terrorist organization than al Qaeda, since it’s caused many more civilian deaths.

    I read your original Chomsky excerpt and made all my comments based on that. I don’t claim to know what Chomsky has written elsewhere, and I confess that I’ve just skipped over most of this flamewar that seems to have taken place after my last comment. But it is clear that, in that excerpt, Chomsky doesn’t say, and, and far as I can read, suggest, what you say he suggests about the US government. He talks specifically about W Bush, and what he says there is just plain correct; Bush *has* killed vastly more civilians than bin Laden, OK, he’s stupid, but even he *knew* full well that that would be the result of his orders, and I strongly suspect that he really *wanted* to kill more people than those killed in 9/11, for revenge if nothing else, since the brains of these fundamentalists work in this way all over the world.

    (I do *not* think that the *entire* US government is worse than al Qaeda. I do not want to live under sharia law, (BTW, this happening is much more probable in my part of the world compared to yours,) and also would prefer W Bush’s US to that.)

    Your magic dial argument just doesn’t work, since crimes are not supposed to be evaluated in that way. In the real world, some horrendous crimes have been committed, and some of the criminals are living happily in your country, with no sign of anybody seeming to care about bringing them to justice. This is just driving many other people in other parts of the world crazy, and making everything worse generally. And all that you are doing is to smugly say that it’s a pity that other countries don’t have the military capability to punish those criminals.
    You spend your political energy and intelligence against Chomskians, whereas humanity’s only hope of ever obtaining badly-needed justice in this case is truly intelligent Americans like *you*, Scott, and most of the other people in this discussion. Let’s focus on finding a legal and peaceful way to bring W Bush and company to justice. Believe me, this will make the world a much better place.

  238. Gil Says:

    The part of Chomsky’s piece that I find most interesting is this:

    “Nothing serious has been provided since. There is much talk of bin Laden’s “confession,” but that is rather like my confession that I won the Boston Marathon. He boasted of what he regarded as a great achievement.”

    Now, evidence on direct links of Bin Laden with massive terrorists operations is much stronger than evidence for Chomsky’s winning the marathon. This includes evidence gathered by individuals who are detained by the US and face trial for their involvment. (Also, even simply boasting about being part of massive crimes, and certainly reliable boasting is a much more serious matter then boasting about winning a marathon. If you call the Boston police claiming to hold ten hostages in your house you may find yourself in serious justified troubles.)

    So the interesting question is why does Chomsky make this claim to start with. His other claims do not rely on this one, and his view preferring bringing Bin Laden to trial on killing is on its own quite reasonable.

    I think the answer is simply that Chomsky knows he can get away with it. Chomsky gained a guru status and to exploit and promote his guru position he has to challenge and provoke his followers with claims of the kind “Bin Laden’s decleration of Al Kaeda’s involvment with the 9/11 attacks is rather similar to a confession by me of winning the Boston Marathon”.

    Gaining, maintaining and exploiting a guru status is relevant to various aspects of the larger story at hand.

  239. Scott Says:

    Gigi #234:

    Anyway, we are moving away for the 100th time from the issue at hand.

    Sorry! If you want the power to decide what “the issue at hand” is, you’ll need to start your own blog.

  240. Gigi Says:

    @RFI
    “In the real world, some horrendous crimes have been committed, and some of the criminals are living happily in your country, with no sign of anybody seeming to care about bringing them to justice.”
    This sums all the discussion!

    @Gil
    “Now, evidence on direct links of Bin Laden with massive terrorists operations is much stronger than evidence for Chomsky’s winning the marathon. [..]”
    Yes, but this has little to do with what Chomsky said.
    Chomsky was not talking about whether bin Laden actually planned 9/11, but about the validity of his alleged confession.
    Which is exactly as valuable as Chomsky` s claim that he won the N.Y. marathon, that is, worth zero.
    If you do not believe me, tell me which value can a confession that has not been made in a public office, not written not made in TV or whatever..
    Let` s assume for a second that Bin Laden did NOT plan 9/11 and you somehow knew that, would the fact that the Government tells you (without any proof, AFAIK) that Bin Laden confessed change your mind?

    Gigi

  241. Gigi Says:

    @Scott
    “Sorry! If you want the power to decide what “the issue at hand” is, you’ll need to start your own blog.”

    With the “issue at hand”, I am talking about the main text of this thread “Point/Counterpoint: “speaking truth to power” vs. speaking power to idiocy” where you quoted some words by Chomsky and Obama.
    I am suggesting that we should go back to the issue about the words you quoted in the main text of this thread along with the comments you first made.

    Gigi

  242. Scott Says:

    reader from Istanbul #237:

    Your magic dial argument just doesn’t work, since crimes are not supposed to be evaluated in that way.

    I think most courts around the world would punish an attempted murder more severely than actual, reckless but unintended killing (someone correct me if I’m wrong).

    Here we’re talking about the “attempted murder” of hundreds of millions of people (or rather: the actual murder of some people, with the underlying intent being to murder an unlimited number of additional people—which is a pretty good working definition of terrorism).

    Indeed, I suspect this explains a phenomenon some people have puzzled over: why, everywhere on earth, terrorism gets an amount of attention far out of proportion to the actual number of people killed. There’s a reason for it!

    In the real world, some horrendous crimes have been committed, and some of the criminals are living happily in your country, with no sign of anybody seeming to care about bringing them to justice.

    Believe me, I think there’s any number of things that Bush and Cheney might be tried for, including purely domestic offenses. I’m genuinely sorry on behalf of the US that I see zero chance of that happening (even Nixon was never tried).

  243. Gigi Says:

    @Scott
    “I think most courts around the world would punish an attempted murder more severely than actual, reckless but unintended killing (someone correct me if I’m wrong).”

    If you can prove that ordering a carpet bombing over villages in Cambodia is “unintended killing”, I may agree with you

    “Here we’re talking about the “attempted murder” of hundreds of millions of people”

    ??
    Who has exactly tried to murder hundreds of millions of people?

    “Believe me, I think there’s any number of things that Bush and Cheney might be tried for, including purely domestic offenses. I’m genuinely sorry on behalf of the US that I see zero chance of that happening (even Nixon was never tried).”
    Good to know.
    Let alone for a second the domestic offenses of Bush and Cheney that do not amount AFAIK to tens of thousands of civilian deaths.
    So, what exactly is the reason why you (along with other 300 million of fellow Americans and about 1 billion of people living in the West) are so desperately showing your joy for the death of OBL while you do not seem to move one finger to publicly ask for GWB to be processed for the invasion of Iraq and its foreseeable consequences (~100000+ deaths)?

    Gigi

  244. Shmuel Says:

    the invasion of Iraq and its foreseeable consequences (~100000+ deaths)?

    Hi Gigi, can you please send me links pointing to where Prof. Chomsky predicts the precise outcome of the Iraq invasion as such. If the outcome of an invasion was as foreseeable as you seem to think, surely a political genius like Chomsky must have published extensively prior to the war making accurate predictions. Note, arguments for why the invasion are “illegal” are irrelevant. I want evidence that Prof. Chomsky foresaw the outcome of the invasion.

  245. Tomas Says:

    @Gigi: I give points to Chomsky for raising hard questions, but often he is so wide off the mark (as in this case) that he ends up muddling the discussion. Any country as powerful as the US is bound to make mistakes — lots of them. I’m all for discussing US policy. But it is my opinion (purely an opinion)
    that with statements such as the one that started this thread, Chomsky is making this task harder.

    As to whether it was wrong to “go kill Bin Laden without awarding him a trial”, my reply to @NAB: Clarification taken, your counter-arguments are logical. But it should be clear — uncontroversial, even — that this was not just an
    “assassination as punishment”, given that Al-Qaeda is an active terrorist organization staffed with suicidal fanatics. As for an arrest being “equally effective”, this is not a foregone conclusion, given that Al-Qaeda is an active terrorist organization staffed with suicidal fanatics. And there’s a third
    possibility: that an operation designed to arrest *or* kill him while erring on the side of minimizing US casualties was justified, given that Bin Laden was the head of Al-Qaeda, an active terrorist organization staffed with suicidal fanatics.

    Yes, it would have been great if he had been arrested and tried in New York City. (The current Congress would never allow this, just as they did not allow closing Guantanamo. Doing both would indeed pose significant security challenges, but would have been worth it.) His demise is second-best.

    And three new thoughts for Gigi: (1) comparing number of deaths caused by Al-Qaeda to those caused by “Western military forces” is like comparing the number of deaths caused by Charles Manson to the number of deaths caused by the French Army. (2) Dancing in the street after the death of 3,000 civilians is very different from dancing in the street after the death of one terrorist who killed them. (3) I, for one, am in favor of making Bush administration folks accountable for their actions in Guantanamo and Iraq.

  246. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Scott: Indeed, I suspect this explains a phenomenon some people have puzzled over: why, everywhere on earth, terrorism gets an amount of attention far out of proportion to the actual number of people killed. There’s a reason for it!

    It is true that terrorism against Westerners gets an amount of attention that is far out of proportion to the actual number of people killed. Terrorism by Westerners, on the other hand, gets little to no attention outside the victim country in spite of the far larger number of people killed (here I’m using our own official definition of terrorism in the US code). And in those two facts (which hold pretty much universally, e.g., even if you replace “West vs Third world” by “powerful vs powerless” in some local setting) lies the true explanation of what you say is so puzzling.

    The reason has little to do with what you said; “x would kill everyone if they could so they are guilty of 300 million attempted murders” is illogical to begin with, since no such attempt can even be made (without trying to take over the Russian nuclear arsenal, I guess).

    The real reasons to me seem pretty obvious: the West implicitly puts far greater value on Western life and property and seeks to maintain its dominance over the rest of the world; 9/11 was doubly shocking in this sense since the victims were the power elites within the West – my guess is that if the victims were 3000 black people in New Orleans, say, the reaction would have been far less vigorous. A secondary reason is that terrorism against us can be (and always is) used quite effectively as a tool for grabbing domestic political power; but for this to work, it has to be blown massively out of proportion first.

    By the way, when terrorism against Westerners does occur, the reaction is brutal and results in massively disproportionate death and suffering, often for victims that had nothing to do with the original crime. This has been true since colonial times (look for instance at the British reaction to the Indian uprising of 1857).

    By the way, I suspect that a lot of Iraqis and Afghans would disagree with you about Bush’s altruism and peg his setting of your imaginary dial at “all brown people.” Should we use their subjective judgment or yours when determining his guilt and his punishment?

  247. Gigi Says:

    @Shmuel
    Small premise.
    I find interesting and revealing that you (and not only you) cherry pick one or few parts of my (and other` s) comments that look like debatable and do not engage in the main points of discussion, even if asked to do so.
    I personally consider this intellectually dishonest.

    Back to your question (as I personally reply to all your points in full), I do not why you are asking Prof. Chomsky to make predictions about all the possible outcomes of all possible wars.
    If Prof. Chomsky did not make any accurate prediction of the deaths of a possible conflict between South Africa and Zimbabwe, does this mean that South Africa is allowed to invade Zimbabwe?

    And I am not writing what I am writing here as Prof. Chomsky said so, I use my own head.

    As I wrote above, if Country A invades Country B without Country B representing a present or immediate threat to Country A and without Country A having a full and very clear mandate (I repeat, very clear and made public) from the UN Security Council and most of the major world Governments still not having a permanent seat in the UN (Brasil, India, African Union, Japan, ..), Country A commits a crime. If, in consequence of this invasion, a lots of deaths happen, even if not by soldiers of Country A, Government of Country A is co-guilty of such deaths.

    Country A = US
    Country B = Iraq

    I consider people like you who do not speak out against such crime as co-guilty of all the deaths of civilians in Iraq, since they have been a predictable outcome of the invasion.
    (I have been long time co-guilty too)

    (I do not even want to discuss about the fact that the US Government KNEW what would have happened had the US invaded Iraq, like this video proves: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YENbElb5-xY)

    Gigi

  248. Shmuel Says:

    9/11 was doubly shocking in this sense since the victims were the power elites within the West

    Bullshit. Many of those who died in the WTC where maintenance workers and food industry employees. Not to mention the passengers of the airplanes. This is a wicked distortion of reality.

  249. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Shmuel: you’re right, lots of lower class workers, firefighters, etc died too (not that their lives are worth more or less than those of bankers).

    I should have said “targets” instead of “victims”.

  250. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    Actually, what I should have said was “some of the victims” were Western power elites, although I believe (but can’t really prove) that they were the targets, too.

  251. Shmuel Says:

    Wait, so while you think Bush was engaged in an explicit project to massacre “brown people” on a global level Al Qaeda were merely “targeting Western power elites” when they hijacked passenger planes and flew them into the WTC.

    I don’t know how you became so fucked up, and I have no interest in chatting with you any longer. Ciao.

  252. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Shmuel: I never said that *I* think that about Bush (and I don’t), nor did I put “merely” in front of the targeting of any civilians… but I think you realize all of that. Ciao :)

  253. Gil Says:

    Gigi, you wrote “Chomsky was not talking about whether bin Laden actually planned 9/11, but about the validity of his alleged confession.”

    This is not correct. Chomsky directly questions the evidence that the 9/11 attackes were carried out by Al Qaeda. Quoting Chomsky: “Thus Obama was simply lying when he said, in his White House statement, that ‘we quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda.’ Nothing serious has been provided since.”

    “[Gigi continued] Which is exactly as valuable as Chomsky` s claim that he won the N.Y. marathon, that is, worth zero.”

    It is hard to defend even this particular (and peculiar) point. Al Qaeda and Bin Laden accepting responsibility for the 9/11 attacks is significant.

  254. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Gil: given his previous statements about 9/11 (see my links above), I think a more accurate assessment is that Chomsky doubts that our evidence of bin Laden’s guilt is sufficient for a conviction in court. I don’t think he doubts that Al Qaeda did it.

    I agree that their acceptance of responsibility is certainly significant; but again, this is not equivalent to a conviction in court. A serial killer is not just shot in the head after signing a confession – he still has to stand trial and be sentenced.

  255. Gigi Says:

    @Gil,
    let alone the fact that I am not interested to defend Chomsky` s views, again, you are mixing few things.

    1) “Thus Obama was simply lying when he said, in his White House statement, that ‘we quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda.’
    Focus on “quickly”.

    2) “Al Qaeda and Bin Laden accepting responsibility for the 9/11 attacks is significant.”
    Personal point I (not Chomsky) make
    How do you know A.Q. and OBL taking responsibility?
    By a video?
    I think any small-budget video company can provide you with an actor looking like Bin Laden, make some video and send it to the major TV channels?
    Or fake a sign on a paper?
    Did OBL went in public and in front of a court or 2000 people claimed responsibility?
    It all goes down in believing what your government tells you.
    Again, if the US Government had nothing to hide, why not bring OBL in court?

    But, again, I really look at the above like as details.
    It interesting to note that my points (which I consider far more important) of comment #248, #232 have not been addressed in full, with few just bickering about a confession signed by we-do-not-know who, we-do-not-know-where.

    @Tomas
    “that an operation designed to arrest *or* kill him while erring on the side of minimizing US casualties was justified, given that Bin Laden was the head of Al-Qaeda, an active terrorist organization staffed with suicidal fanatics.”
    Strawman.
    Nobody is talking about Bin Laden being or not at the head of terrorist organization. This is NOT the point.
    The point is: could have OBL been taken alive with (probably) no cost of human lives or no significant more risk than killing him?
    Reply: yes.
    Could this be important to avoid possibly further terrorist attacks?
    Reply: yes.
    So, why they spent the lives of thousands of people to invade Afghanistan and then did not even catch him alive?

    And three new thoughts for Gigi:
    (1) comparing number of deaths caused by Al-Qaeda to those caused by “Western military forces” is like comparing the number of deaths caused by Charles Manson to the number of deaths caused by the French Army.

    You are deeply wrong as you are implying that the US Army has the right to kill people as they like, just if they do not kill a lot of them.
    It is correct to say that, during a war such as WWII, you can not avoid to kill civilians of the other side.
    But if you take a POW, bring it to a camp, and without any reason of immediate threat by that civilian (neither direct or indirect) or his army, you kill him, you are committing a crime.
    Even if it is only one life.
    Think as if the POW is you, or your wife, and you will understand.
    What about the bombings of Cambodia, which involved far more than one civilian killed.
    What was the good reason behind it?
    Why noody saying anything?

    (2) Dancing in the street after the death of 3,000 civilians is very different from dancing in the street after the death of one terrorist who killed them.
    Maybe, not so much.
    Personal opinion: a person being killed is always a sad thing, even if you kill Saddam Hussein.
    Dancing in the street for someone` s death is a sign of being like (worse than) an animal (in my opinion).
    But this again is not the point.
    The point is why Kissinger has not been tried let alone killed?
    Why the people dancing for the death of OBL are not asking for Kissinger to be killed?
    This is the main point.

    (3) I, for one, am in favor of making Bush administration folks accountable for their actions in Guantanamo and Iraq.
    Very good to hear that.
    I hope by “accountable” you mean getting tried by a military tribunal and, if found guilty (not that there is much doubt about his responsibilities) be shot.
    Did you tell this to your friends, colleagues and relatives, did you bring this topic out in discussions with everybody as I did everytime as the topic arises?
    Did you write to your congressman and local authorities that you want GWB tried for war crimes?
    If you did, you have my respect.
    If you did not, you are an hypocrite.

    @Shmuel
    Interesting to note the behaviour of reader Shmuel, that after bickering for much times about strawmen about alleged claims that Bush intended to massacre brown people insults the opponent and (apparently) quits the conversation.
    I find this behaviour extremely disgraceful for an human being of more than 13 years of age.

    @Everybody else
    I think the main point that Chomsky made have been thourghly discussed, and by main points I am talking about the fact that OBL should have been taken alive and tried and, much more important, about the responsibilities of US and other free countries citizens in the deaths of hundred of thousands of civilians.
    The points made are there for anyone to see and have been explained in the utmost detail (even too much!).
    It is up now to everyone to take each one responsibilities and say clearly that they deplore the behaviour of the US Government (here and in public) or keep silent, ignore what has been said here, bicker about minor points, follow the propaganda and become co-guilty for the deaths of various (tens of? hundreds of?) thousands of human beings.

    Gigi

  256. Jon Tyson Says:

    I actually would have preferred a third option: That Bin Laden and all his housemates had been secretly captured and flown off to Guantanamo.

    Then the US would have had some more time to go through all the captured hard drives and perhaps act on the intel before the rest of the terrorist network had a chance to change their hiding places. Perhaps the CIA psychiatrists would also have been able to treat for Bin Laden’s psychosis (or at least loosen his tongue) sufficiently well that Bin Laden himself would have become a useful intelligence source. Another benefit would have been that anyone who came looking for Bin Laden could have been arrested or followed as well.

    But heck, a bullet in the head and a trove of captured hard drives wasn’t such a bad outcome.

  257. Gigi Says:

    @Jon Tyson

    I am waiting for you to add:
    “But heck, another two bullets in the heads of Henry Kissinger and of GWB would be an ever better outcome!”
    No need of hard drives with them, as we already know the crimes they are responsible.
    Failure for you to do so makes you little (or no) different from a staunch Al-Qaeda supporter.
    (just need to grow your beard little bit longer, and you would be perfect!)

    Gigi

  258. Tomas Says:

    @Gigi #225: (1) Please double-check your definition of “straw-man”. When I was proposing a third possibility, I was most certainly not using a straw-man argument. Now, when you say that I am “implying that the US Army has the right to kill people as they like, just if they do not kill a lot of them,” that is *definitely* a straw-man argument, since I *never* said that, and would never agree with it. It actually highlights the flawed logic I was trying to point out. So let me try to explain that particular point again: Al-Qaeda and “Western Military forces” are very different organizations that operate at
    very different scales, time frames, etc. Hence comparing the number of casualties they’ve inflicted is like comparing Manson and the French Army (or any other country’s army). The numbers themselves don’t tell the story. Clearer?
    (2) If we are to make fanciful comparisons after all, we might also want to reflect on what someone like Osama bin Laden would have done if given the power and responsibility of a US President for 8 years. (Connecting to Scott’s “magic dial” argument.)
    (3) I often denounce US policy in conversation. I’ve never written my local authorities about Kissinger, but I’ve never written them about bin Laden either. So there, I am consistent, not a hypocrite. Have you written to your local authorities about any and all abuses that may have been committed by your country’s army? If so, I commend you.
    (4) Kissinger is not in hiding, plotting new attacks (well, not that I know, it’s hard to tell with that sneaky guy). If during the war, Vietnam or Cambodia had found a way to kill him, dumped his body in the ocean, and danced in the street afterwards, that would be in keeping with the laws of war, and I
    would not begrudge them. Now that he’s retired, a trial at The Hague would be in order.

  259. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Tomas: Sure, comparing casualty counts does not tell the whole story; but it tells an important part of it.

    In fact, I think it is far more important than Scott’s imaginary dials argument – precisely because, in reality, there were *real* dials that killed *real* people and Kissinger/Bush/etc set theirs at “millions” while bin Laden set his at “thousands.” Surely that matters a lot more than what would have happened in some imaginary setting with imaginary dials that we made up.

    We are consistently told in the above thread and in US public discussion in general that, when it comes to war (crimes), the US is “better” than Islamic terrorists in some essential way. Well, surely comparing the total number of civilians killed by U.S. invasions and attacks in the last half-century to the total number of civilians killed by Islamic terrorism in the last half-century would help us determine if that is actually true in any real sense.

    What you seem to be saying is that this should be disregarded (or discounted) because the US is more powerful than Al Qaeda. But in this context, that amounts to saying “that measure is biased because the US scores so horribly on it.” To use your example, if someone was insisting that Manson’s crimes were worse than the crimes of the French Army, then it *would* be sensible to compare them in terms of total civilians killed. Of course, that annihilates their argument completely, as it should.

    Maybe what you are really grasping at is that we are better “per capita,” or something like that, but I don’t really know how to make a sensible argument out of that.

  260. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    It’s not clear from the context above, but the last instance of “civilians killed” means “civilians killed by French Army crimes,” e.g., during the Napoleonic wars, which were certainly illegal by today’s standards. Presumably civilian deaths caused accidentally during a legal war are (with some additional conditions, no doubt) not considered a war crime. I’m not an expert on this so please feel free to correct me.

  261. gowers Says:

    OK how about the following slight variant of the magic dial test? Osama bin Laden would have preferred it if 5000 people had died in the 9/11 attacks instead of 3000. Bush would not have preferred to have another 2000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan or Iraq.

  262. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @gowers: Look, I agree with Scott’s conclusion to his “magic dial” test: probably, Bush would have set the dial to the lowest number of casualties possible in Scott’s scenario and your scenario. And yea, that says something good about Bush. I’m sure he’s a nice guy and not a fire-breathing murderous lunatic… in person.

    The problem for me is that this is so contrived and so far removed from what really matters (i.e., the actual numbers of actual real no-longer-breathing people that died) that I don’t see the point.

    The real game was that he had a switch, not a dial. One side of the switch was labeled “no invasion” and the other was “illegal invasion, definitely thousands of casualties, possibly hundreds of thousands.” We all know what he picked, and what really happened. That is reality. It’s the reality that the brothers, sisters, parents, and children of those hundreds of thousands have to live with today, and that is what matters – not some imaginary game we invent on a blog to try to make ourselves feel better about our country.

  263. Gigi Says:

    @Tomas

    “[..]Clearer?”
    Maybe it is my problem, but I still do not understand what you are saying.
    Let me ask you directly: if during an operation, like for example, the bombing of Cambodia, US Government, people and/or soldiers bombed human beings that were not a threat to US territory or the territory of US allies, would you consider this a war crime or not?
    In the specific, the bombing of Cambodia ordered by Kissinger a crime or not?
    I would like to receive a yes or no answer, if possible.

    “(2) If we are to make fanciful comparisons”
    I am not comparing anybody to anyone, just saying that moral standards have to be the same.

    “I often denounce US policy in conversation. ”
    Again, “denounce” is a quite generic word.
    Let me ask it clearly.
    Do you expressely ask for GWB (and Kissinger, and ..) to be brought on trial and, if you are in favour of death penalty, for GWB to be shot?
    Do you make this clear whenever you talk about politics with your friend, family and colleague?
    If so, I agree that you are NOT an hypocrite.
    If you do not, then you are.

    “Have you written to your local authorities about any and all abuses that may have been committed by your country’s army? If so, I commend you.”

    I do not own any country, but I am an Italian citizen.
    Yes, I have repeatedly denounced (and being mobbed for doing so) the current Prime Minister and the previous one for taking part in the Iraqi occupation, for having offered help and visibility to Gaddafi, Mubarak, etc. etc. in public places and in private with my friends and colleagues, and for having asked for them to be on trial for crimes.
    Therefore, I do not consider myself as an hypocrite.

    “If during the war, Vietnam or Cambodia had found a way to kill him, dumped his body in the ocean, and danced in the street afterwards, that would be in keeping with the laws of war, and I would not begrudge them.”
    Why should Vietnam or Cambodia kill him and not the US Government?
    If the US Government is after war criminal as they claim they are, why they do not clean their house first?
    Are you actively telling your friends and family that Kissinger should be put on trial for war crimes?
    If not, you are personally responsible for letting war crimes pass by.

    Gigi

  264. Gigi Says:

    @gowers
    Let alone that you can not make an argument about the wishes about people.
    Stalin and Hitler said that they wanted peace.
    But I still agree that Bush is probably less a war criminal than Osama Bin Laden (not that I would consider this such a commendation), or someone else may argue that he was worse in some aspect (he provoked a large number of deaths, even if most of them indirectly).
    I am not interested in making rankings of war criminals.
    All of them should be put on trial.
    People asking for one of them to be killed (OBL) while other ones (GBW and others) are at large and doing the happy life speaks a lot about the duplicity and hypocrisy of people.

    Gigi

  265. gowers Says:

    @noacademicbacklash, I certainly don’t want to defend George W. Bush or the invasion of Iraq, but I think you’re slightly rewriting history there. At the time of the invasion, I think it was possible to believe that an invasion of Iraq would be quick and relatively free of casualties, that the ordinary people of Iraq would celebrate their freedom from years of oppression, etc. etc. With hindsight that seems incredibly naive, but I think that’s the way a lot of people expected it to play out at the time. And I wouldn’t be surprised if George Bush’s advisers encouraged him to think that way too. (I’m not denying that Bush may have had other, less worthy, motives for invading Iraq. I’m just saying that he may well have convinced himself that there wouldn’t be extensive civilian casualties.)

  266. Gil Says:

    Whatever he may or may not believe, Chomsky is flirting with the Al-Qaeda-involvement deniers views. He certainly welcomes this point of view in his camp. This is why he would not directly blame Al Qaeda on the 9-11 attack, and would refer to Obama’s statement that the US have quickly learned of Al Qaeda’s involvement as a lie.

    Also when Chomsky writes “Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s,” this cannot be seen as an academic truth-seeking writing but as a straight Chomskian political propaganda. Chomsky’s comparison is misguided to start with (but it is effective, e.g. in this thread), and his position is certainly not even widely accepted.

  267. Tomas Says:

    @Gigi 263: Here goes: Yes, I think Kissinger is a war criminal, agreeing with Hitchens on that one too. I am against the death penalty. Sure, I would like the US to bring to justice all evildoers, foreign and domestic, preferably all at the same time so that no bias can be alleged. Do I expect this to happen? No. The GWB case is more complicated. My opinion is that lumping him in with OBL in an apples-to-oranges comparison is not useful. If given a trial and found guilty, Bush’s sentencing should consider the hundreds of thousands of lives he helped save with his AIDS relief program in Africa. I hope that your country, by which I mean the-country-in-which-you-live-in-but-do-not-own, gets a better PM soon. Best wishes, T.

  268. Gigi Says:

    @gowers
    ” certainly don’t want to defend George W. Bush or the invasion of Iraq,”
    Which is not the question..
    The question is: to you openly condemn it as a crime?
    Do you tell your friends that GWB should be put on trial?
    If not, you are also guilty

    “I think it was possible to believe that an invasion of Iraq would be quick and relatively free of casualties,”
    Completely off the point.
    You do not invade another country that is posing no threat to you without a large UN consensus “hoping” or “believing” that it will be free of casualties.
    You have not to invade another country that is posing no threat to you without a large UN consensus. Period.
    Otherwise, you (gowers) and all the people supporting (or not condemning) this invasion are guilty of crimes.

    @Gil
    “Chomsky has dismissed 9/11 conspiracy theories, stating that there is no credible evidence to support the claim that the United States Government was responsible for the attacks.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noam_Chomsky's_political_views#Views_on_9.2F11_Conspiracy_Theories

    I arrived to the point where I can say.. who cares what Chomsky says!!
    You have your brain, I have mine!
    Do you openly condemn the war crimes by AlQaeda and publicly ask for punishment for their perpetrators?
    I do, you do.
    We are not guilty of AlQaeda crimes then.
    Do you openly condemn the war crimes by US Government and publicly ask for punishment for their perpetrators?
    I do, do you?
    If you do not, you are guilty.
    Period.

    Maybe in my next life, Scott, you, Shmuel, gowers, Tomas, Jon Tyson and all the readers who previously commented in this thread (and in the last few days are not commenting anymore) will reply to this simple question.
    Until that time, my question stands.
    Will someone reply maybe?

    Gigi

  269. Gigi Says:

    @gowers
    “I’m not denying that Bush may have had other, less worthy, motives for invading Iraq. I’m just saying that he may well have convinced himself that there wouldn’t be extensive civilian casualties.”
    When Kissinger ordered the carpet bombing on Cambodia, did he also expected that there would not be “extensive civilian casualties”?
    If not, he is guilty of war crimes?
    If yes, have you publicly condemned him?
    If no, are you also guilty?

    Gigi

  270. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @gowers: I think I was pretty fair when I said “thousands of casualties, possibly hundreds of thousands.” Sure, it is possible to believe that the invasion of a country of 25 million people and the toppling of its government could have gone off with little to no casualties and that everyone there would be happy about it, but only by ignoring all facts and all of human history – and admitting to that is not much of a defense. In the 90s Cheney exactly described the horrible civil war scenario that did occur, but as a defense against the calls to remove Saddam at that time. So they did know about the “possibly hundreds of thousands” part too. They were explicitly warned internally about the dangers of disbanding the army, but they did that too.

    @Gil: I provided a youtube link earlier where Chomsky explicitly states that he thinks Al Qaeda did 9/11.

    @Tomas: why is the GWB case more complicated than Kissinger? He ordered at least one (possibly two) illegal and deadly invasions. They were illegal by every international standard there is: Nuremberg, Geneva conventions, UN charter; hell, it was illegal under the US code too. If anything, GWB seems less complicated than Kissinger, since Kissinger can at least try to use the “I was following orders” defense.

  271. Gil Says:

    The (correct) presumption in the traditional approach to international relations and international law is that any military action by an organization like Al Qaeda (or the Red Brigades or many other) is not legal. Of course, the brutal actions, brutal intentions, and underlying ideology, makes Al Quade especially dangerous. But Al Qaeda as a military organization is not aloud to wage war. (The US extended this also to regimes which host Al Qaeda and similar organizations.) Overall, the decision to fight Qaeda by the US (and many other coutries) was justified. As mentioned amply above even in the war of Afghanistan there were regrettable innocent casualties. Bin Laden was not one of them. Part of the motivation for Chomsky’s recent critique is to raise the comparison of Al Queda and its leaders with state leaders (especially US leaders). This comparison is misguided to start with. (But is consistent with Chomsky’s overall approach.)

    Of course, the question if it was feasible or preferable to catch Bin Laden alive is a legitimate question.

    Unfortunately, decisions by countries to use military force or to avoid the use of military force have severe consequences and sometimes cost directly or indirectly many lives. For example, The US was criticized for not interfering in the 1991 massive killings by the Iraqi regime after the first Golf war. Certainly there were cases were in hindsight or even at the time a decision not to fight have led to disasters, and probably even more cases where a decision to fight have led to disasters.

  272. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Gil: I didn’t realize that broadcasting propaganda encouraging the military and citizenry of Iraq to rise up and then refusing to let weapons get through to the rebels qualifies as “not interfering.”

    I don’t pretend to know what really should have been done with regards to Iraq, but it seems to me that doing the opposite of what the US did at every stage sounds like a pretty reasonable strategy. Namely, don’t fund and support the brutal tyrant for decades, don’t encourage and financially+militarily support his horrific invasion of Iran, do support the 1991 rebellions, don’t strangle the country with sanctions that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands, and don’t invade and rip the country to shreds in 2003, sparking a bloody civil war.

    The only possible exception is the invasion of Kuwait, but I seriously doubt that would have even happened if the above strategy was followed.

  273. gowers Says:

    @gigi Perhaps you don’t understand English English. In the UK, if someone says, “I certainly don’t want to defend X,” there is a clear implication that that person disapproves of X.

  274. Gigi Says:

    @Tomas
    “Here goes: Yes, I think Kissinger is a war criminal, agreeing with Hitchens on that one too.”
    Excellent.
    I hope you do not want to see a fellow citizen of yours being a war criminal and stand not tried, so I am sure you talk with all your friends about this problem, and you urge them to take action to bring this war criminal to justice

    “I am against the death penalty. ”
    I did not see you criticizing the US Government for killing OBL, but maybe you did (I did not read all your comments here)

    “Do I expect this to happen? No.”
    Do I expect that suddendly all the 8-year old kid rapes in the world disappear? No.
    Not that I do not vigorously protest against people commit such crimes.
    As if I supported them, or even I did not do what I reasoably can to stop such crime if I could, I would be guilty too.
    Exactly like you are guilty if you did not explicitly denounce GWB and Kissinger` s crimes in public and take actions (for what you can) to bring them to justice.

    “Bush’s sentencing should consider the hundreds of thousands of lives he helped save with his AIDS relief program in Africa.”
    And Hitler` s sentencing should consider the fact that he took over a bankrupted nation and brought it to an excellent economical and technological level in just few years.
    (Later on, this very nation was destroyed by war, but maybe we should not consider this as his fault as he reasonably hoped to win).
    I expect you to deliver a compassionate speech to reabilitate the memory of late Adolf at the next meeting of the victim of the Holocaust.

    “I hope that your country, by which I mean the-country-in-which-you-live-in-but-do-not-own, gets a better PM soon.”
    I hope that you, Scott, and everybody else in this forum, in the US, and in Europe and in the rest of the world stop being apologists and failing to denounce war criminals, whatever their nationality.

    @Gil
    “Certainly there were cases were in hindsight or even at the time a decision not to fight have led to disasters, and probably even more cases where a decision to fight have led to disasters.”
    If you can prove you did an invasion full within the rules of the UN and with the support of all or almost all the international community AND with the significative participation of most of the major countries of the world AND you can prove that you tried all the best to avoid such conflict but you were forced to step in to avoid a mass killing of human lives I believe it is reasonable to say that you can take the decision of invading another country.
    If you invade another country with most of the other countries of the world not joining the intervention, or even not supporting your decision and then you cause the killings of many people, THEN you are directly guilty for the deaths of such people.
    Where by “you”, I do not mean GWB and Cheney, and Blair and Berlusconi only, but also you, Gil and all the war crime apologists of this forum (Scott, Smhuel, gowers, ..).

    @NAB
    “If anything, GWB seems less complicated than Kissinger, since Kissinger can at least try to use the “I was following orders” defense.”
    Not that this worked well in Nurenberg, but I guess this was only as in that case the “bad” people were on the side of the losers, not of the winners.
    Had Hitler, Goebbels and the other nice people won WWII, now we would hear many people writing (in German) that the Holocaust was not so bad, and that the invasion of the Soviet Union led to many victims but was somehow necessary, etc. etc.

    Gigi

  275. Gigi Says:

    @gowers
    Disapprove is not enough.
    I can not say I “disapprove” 8-year-old girls being raped while looking at a 8-year-old girl being raped in front of my eyes and do nothing (not even call the police)

    Gigi

  276. Tomas Says:

    @Nab #270: Your point about GWB’s responsibiltiy is a good one. It’s just that I see Kissinger as a more malevolent character, who also assisted some very bad things in Chile, Indonesia, Timor, and elsewhere. Plus, Kissinger cannot use the defense of “being-way-in-over-my-head” that GWB might more plausibly use. (I’m just trying to explain a gut feeling here, don’t expect it to carry any legal weight, and don’t want to trigger a thousand new posts).

    @Gigi #274: Thank you for an interesting demonstration of Godwin’s law, or one of its corollaries. I find your remarks about Hitler bizarre and offensive, a straw-man (or worse) of monumental proportions, signifying that we are reaching the end of productive conversation. Concerning the death penalty, my entire argument has been that since Bin Laden was the head of an active terrorist organization, it was legitimate to kill him in the field. If he had been taken alive, I’d be in favor of a trial and a life sentence.

  277. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Tomas: Agreed, on a moral level Kissinger was worse.

  278. Gigi Says:

    @Tomas #277:
    I was just applying the same way of discussing from one example to another, hence what you call strawman.
    That is, if it is OK to justify Bush` s crimes considering the good things he did, why not also justify Hitler` s, Mussolini`s, Putin`s and Hirohito`s?
    The same law you use for your ex-president can be used for everyone else.
    I understand that you, as Gil and others, prefer to flee the discussion when you are shown who you are.
    Please feel free to do so.

    “Concerning the death penalty, my entire argument has been that since Bin Laden was the head of an active terrorist organization, it was legitimate to kill him in the field. If he had been taken alive, I’d be in favor of a trial and a life sentence.”
    I have already told you that the label “terrorist organization” can be applied to AlQaeda and, for example, to the Israeli government for exactly the same reasons.
    I will be happy when you will also say that it is legitimate to kill Netanyahu.
    But now you will call this a strawman as well. Or maybe you have just fled the discussion, as opening your eyes on the crimes your country is difficult, I know that.
    Better to keep the easy and reassuring “we are good, they are bad” mentality

    Gigi

  279. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Scott,

    I admire your energy and tenacity to take on a topic like this, and duke it out with all comers.

  280. Gil Says:

    Gigi, In my opinion, the 2003 invasion of Iraq was not a war crime.

  281. Scott Says:

    Raoul: Thanks!!

    Gigi, NAB, et al.: I apologize for not participating in this thread recently! I got sidetracked by the relatively trivial matter of finals week at MIT… :-)

  282. NoAcademicBacklash Says:

    @Gil: the term “war crime” has a specific legal meaning; my understanding is that, under that strict meaning, the Iraq invasion quite clearly qualifies (there’s a pretty thorough Wikipedia article about this). This is essentially the same standard that made Hitler’s invasions illegal: war of aggression, not in self-defense. Of course, nobody was *convicted* of a crime, but that’s simply because there was no trial.

    So maybe you can say that you think the definition of war crime should be changed so that it doesn’t include the Iraq invasion. I’d like to see you do the gymnastics of coming up with a principle that would allow the Iraq invasion but still carry any weight at all.

    @Scott: no apologies necessary!

  283. Tomas Says:

    @Gigi #278: Your understanding of “straw-man” still seems a little fuzzy. To keep it simple, let’s say it is when A puts words in B’s mouth to make B’s arguments look ridiculous, often based on a misrepresentation of B’s original arguments. (I recommend the Wikipedia entry.) Your latest comment, “I will be happy when you will also say that it is legitimate to kill
    Netanyahu,” is not a straw-man, and I will not ignore it. I could give you a very long list of fundamental ways in which the Government of Israel is different from Al-Qaeda, but I suspect that it would not satisfy you. (This might be the crux of our irreconcilable differences.) Do I agree with everything that Israel does? No. Let me answer your question as a general principle: if person X is executing random attacks against civilians in country Y for whatever reason, then yes, country Y will be justified in trying to kill X. Finally, I was not “justifying” any of GWB’s potential misdeeds (there, you put words in my mouth that I never said). If any of the figures you mention went/had gone to trial, the defense should be allowed to bring up all the nice things they’d done *at sentencing* too, when deciding what the sentence should be.

  284. gowers Says:

    “I can not say I “disapprove” 8-year-old girls being raped while looking at a 8-year-old girl being raped in front of my eyes and do nothing (not even call the police)”

    That is a very silly argument. In your rape scenario the suggestion is that I could do something to stop it. If you think I could have done something to stop the Iraq war (which believe me I’d have loved to do) then you’re mad.

  285. Gigi Says:

    @Tomas
    “If any of the figures you mention went/had gone to trial, the defense should be allowed to bring up all the nice things they’d done *at sentencing* too, when deciding what the sentence should be.”

    My argument about condoning war crimes was not a straw man, I believe.
    I will propose another comparison, just as you do not seem to like references about Hitler.
    Let` s assume you are the assistant of a famous surgeon in an hospital.
    This surgeon has saved countless lives, and now wants to try a new risky treatment over a poor patient suffering of cancer.
    The patient could be treated with traditional cures and be saved with high range of probability, but the surgeon wants to try the new treatment and does so without informing his assistants, the head of the hospital and without the patient consent.
    Then the patient dies.
    However, the surgeon is a powerful one, the patient has no rich family and friends, so the surgeon is not even put on a trial.
    All the surgeon assistants do not care whether the patient could have been saves, or had better changes of been saved with a different treatment.
    Would the surgeon be held guilty of having tried the risky treatment without the consent of the patient and without properly inform the head of the hospital, his colleagues and his assistants?
    If any of the assistants came to know that the surgeon did what he did, should they go to the police?
    I think, yes of course.
    Otherwise they would become guilty too.

    If you just consider:
    surgeon= GWB
    cancer= Saddam Hussein
    colleagues of the surgeon= UK,Russia,China,India
    patient= Iraqi people
    Head of the hospital= UN
    assistants= American people (you included).
    this is the situation we have now
    (with the credentials of the surgeon be much better than those of GWB)

    You are just the assistant of the surgeon who, not willing to be seen as traitor, cowardly does not go to the police and do not denounce the surgeon, therefore becoming guilty too.

    @gowers
    “That is a very silly argument. In your rape scenario the suggestion is that I could do something to stop it. If you think I could have done something to stop the Iraq war (which believe me I’d have loved to do) then you’re mad.”
    Then please bring me to a psychiatric hospital, since I am definitely believe that you COULD have done much to prevent Iraq war from happening.
    You, me, Scott, and everybody else who could have gone out in the street, protest, give fliers to other people and just stand up in any discussion about war, then maybe there have been no war.
    Maybe only 20% of the people would have been enough.
    Maybe only 10%.
    But people who stood up were 1% or less, as the other 99% were busy in watching some TV drama..

    Gigi

  286. Gigi Says:

    @Gil
    Then you are not any different from the Al-Qaeda and Gaddafi supporters.
    IMHO

    Gigi

  287. Gil Says:

    NAB#282 and #272
    Both from the legal and moral point of view the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a rather complicated matter. (More complicated compared, e.g., to US earlier actions in Panama and Nicaragua.) For example, you proposed (#272) for the US: “do support the 1991 rebellions,” but such a support could have also ignited a bloody civil war, and could also be regarded as an act of aggression.

    Of course, there were plenty of good reasons to be concerned or to object to the war.

  288. Gigi Says:

    @Gil
    “Both from the legal and moral point of view the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a rather complicated matter. ”
    If an invasion of a foreign country that is not attacking you, not threatening to attack you, without clear consensum from the international community, basing your attack on failed intelligence is not a war of aggression, then someone tell me what war of aggression is.
    I would add that there is no reason NOT to denounce this war!
    Noted that you call the US crimes in Nicaragua as “actions”..

    Gigi

  289. Gigi Says:

    There are thousands and thousands of Iraqi children orphans due to the war.
    Why is nobody from rich nations taking care of them?
    Especially among the war supporters, why is nobody even lifting a finger for them?
    Please, I would like to receive an answer.

    Gigi

  290. Gil Says:

    Gigi, I realize that you feel (#154) that you have a lot of blood on your hand for not protesting the 2003 invasion to Iraq when it happened. Probably you are too hard on yourself. Still this feeling does not justify your aggresive and inappropriate style of debate over here.

  291. Gigi Says:

    @Gil
    I do not think I have any aggressive and/or appropriate style of debate.
    I just say things very much straightforward and without hypocrisy.
    As I said, I believe that I, my family and most of my relatives and friends are guilty for not having done enough (or almost anything) to prevent the disaster of the Iraqi War from happening.
    However, at least I am try now to do something to denounce this and to prevent other innocent victims to die in the future, you apparently are not doing so..
    I am not an hypocrite, as I apply the standards to you, me and anybody else, I do not think this is being aggressive, this is being honest.
    In any case, everybody seems to have lost interest in this debate..

    Gigi

  292. Gil Says:

    It is the nature of such debates that some claims to which one does not agree sound not just wrong but actually absurd or creepy. And it is interesting to understand this aspect of debates. Here are very few examples that I see this way:

    [NoamChomsky:] There is much talk of bin Laden’s “confession,” but that is rather like my confession that I won the Boston Marathon.

    [NC:] Washington dismissed tentative offers by the Taliban (how serious, we do not know, because they were instantly dismissed) to extradite bin Laden if they were presented with evidence—which, as we soon learned, Washington didn’t have.

    [NC] Obama was simply lying when he said, in his White House statement, that “we quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda.”

    [Gigi:] (regarding the above quote:) Focus on “quickly”.

    [Asterpix:] And do you really think that we know what happened on 9/11? Why can’t we simply have an investigation? If it is so obvious that the US government didn’t “let it happen” or have any other indirect participation, then let’s prove that to the American people. We don’t accept someone standing up in a math talk and just saying that their proof is correct–we ask them to prove it. If it is so obvious, then let’s have a trial.

    [ReaderFromIstanbul:] ” Note the dissimilarity with the Holocaust that many of the relocated *were* really relocated and helped to establish a new life in the new location by the state, and many Armenians living in nonproblematic areas were not relocated at all.”

    [NoAcademicBacklash:] He [Noam Chomsky] suggested that, at least in theory, one can deny the Holocaust and not be an anti-semite.

    [Gigi:] How do you know A.Q. and OBL taking responsibility?
    By a video? I think any small-budget video company can provide you with an actor looking like Bin Laden, make some video and send it to the major TV channels?

  293. the reader from Istanbul Says:

    Gil: If you are interested, I can point you to scholarly work on which I based my remarks that sounded not only wrong, but absurd or creepy to you.

  294. Gigi Says:

    @Gil
    I completely do not understand what you are saying.
    I may not agree with all the remarks above, but what is wrong, aggressive, creepy or inappropriate with any of the them?

    Gigi

  295. PlainTruth Says:

    The Serbian govmt has just announced that the war criminal Ratko Mladic has just been nabbed. He is alleged to be responsible for more than 8000 civilian deaths in the Srebrenica massacre in 1995, much more than Osama bi Laden is accused of. The NYT report suggests that although he was one of the top absconding war criminals, he was being protected by allies in the Serbian military and intelligence services, just like many people believe bin Laden was being harbored by the Pakistani military and intelligence services. Shouldn’t there have been a commando raid, without letting Serbian officials, to get him by the Dutch whose peackeeping forces were overrun by Mladic’s forces in 1995?

    Even Mladic, like Milosevic, will be tried in the Hague for his crimes. But then he just killed Muslim men and boys, not US civilians like Osama is accused of, so i stop complaining.

  296. Scott Says:

    PlainTruth: That seems like a strange thing to be complaining about here! I’m unreservedly thrilled that the scumbag Mladic was caught; indeed, the suspicion even arises that the Osama news might have played some role in spurring the Serbian government into action. I also would’ve been happy about a commando raid to kill Mladic, any time in the last 16 years, although I think a trial is preferable for the reasons that many commenters convinced me of above. How is that a double standard?

  297. Gigi Says:

    @Gigi above
    Just to avoid any possible misunderstandings.
    I am not claiming that the US (or UK, or English, or French, or Bosnian, ..) knew the location of and/or protected and/or did not enough to capture Mladic.
    In the same way I am not claiming that the Pakistani government knew the location of and/or protected and/or did not enough to capture OBL.
    The double standard is about the fact that while Westerners are crying foul and accusing openly Pakistan for not doing enough to help capture OBL, I am not hearing the same people crying in the same way for the alleged Bosnian Government (in addition to others )involvement in protecting Mladic.

    Gigi

  298. Ratko Mladic Says:

    Asked later whether he regretted supporting those who said the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated, Chomsky said “My only regret is that I didn’t do it strongly enough.”

  299. No Academic Backlash Says:

    You could at least fact-check your smear with a quick Google search before posting it.

    http://www.chomsky.info/onchomsky/20051031.htm

    To summarize, what you said above is one of several fabrications and misinterpretations from an “interview” that the Guardian later apologized for and retracted.

  300. Alok Says:

    I haven’t read the whole post yet, so this is just to record my own opinion (in case it changes after I finish reading your post): I think Ayn Rand’s world-view, and Objectivism in general, is mistaken. I also think that Noam Chomsky (and Arundhati Roy, etc) are also mistaken. Are they mistaken to the same degree? I don’t know, but I don’t think so.

    I think that the Ayn Rands of the world are more mistaken than the Noam Chomskys but I find the Chomskys more infuriating and embarrassing: because I myself am a somewhat left-leaning liberal and people like Noam Chomsky make weak, irrelevant, or false arguments for a leftist/liberal world-view when strong, relevant, sensible, and true arguments can be made. I despise them because their illogical noises weaken a good and justifiable position in politics.

  301. Jarrod Loeppke Says:

    Good post. Dont worry about them, some people just shouldnt even post

  302. jenia Says:

    Hey scott.

    I study software engineering in montreal and when I took a course in automata theory I stumbled upon chomsky.

    In any case, I don’t understand why you dislike his support for unconditional freedom of speech?

    Voltaire said: I hate what he says but I’ll die to make sure he can say it. In chomsky’s words: you don;t honor the victims of the holocaust by adopting the principles of their murderers.

    What do you think about this?

    Also, power already knows the truth ;)

  303. jenia Says:

    i reread the text quickly and you say that he endorsed not the right but the work itself.

    the work is not very good thats for sure. After the battle for Kiev, half a million russian pow’s were starved to death. In the city itself, a place called Babi Yar, thousands of civilians were executed.

    I know cause I was born in that city and that story is just in the common memory of the population in the area and the country really.

  304. sex shop Says:

    I do agree with all the ideas you’ve offered on your post. They’re really convincing and will certainly work. Nonetheless, the posts are too quick for beginners. May you please prolong them a bit from subsequent time? Thank you for the post.

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