Tuesday, December 9, 2014

In praise of torture, revisited

Today the Senate democrats have once again aided and abetted the mortal enemies of the United States, this time by releasing their partisan screed condemning what they self-define as “torture.”

Setting aside the democrats’ ulterior political motive, their congenital anti-national-defense philosophy, and their strutting posture as saviors of humanity, their opposition to “torture” is rationally and morally indefensible. Indeed, the conduct hypocritically   condemned in the report—principally “waterboarding”—is considerably less affronting to the human body than Obama’s drone strikes that not only kill but leave some targets (and innocents) literal basket cases.

Because I have tired of making this point over and over, especially to those who should know better, instead of writing yet another essay “in praise of torture” below is an essay I wrote for this blog about a year-and-a-half ago.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Several years ago I wrote that “recently we witnessed Chechen rebels taking over a Moscow theater, capturing hundreds of hostages, and threatening to kill them if the intruders’ demands were not met. Let’s assume the same thing happens in the United States, but with al-Qaeda terrorists. Assume further that we capture one of the terrorists who knows the plans of his comrades, but he won’t talk. Should we use torture to force this crucial information out of him?”

Well, Boston has just experienced an analogous situation. Brother 1 (the elder) and Brother 2 (the younger) detonate two IEDs (improvised explosive devices) at the Boston Marathon killing at least three innocent bystanders and maiming scores of others. Brother 1 is killed in a shootout with police. Brother 2 survives. Not initially having been “Mirandized” (“You have the right to remain silent,” etc.) he is to be politely questioned by crack FBI interrogators who cannot lay a finger on him (are you listening Senators McCain and Graham, and your weak-kneed cohort?).

Let’s say, hypothetically, that Brother 2 tells them that there are other bombs stashed in Boston, ticking away, and set to explode in public places beginning Thursday morning. Perhaps Fenway Park, maybe in a subway, at a race track or Prudential Center Mall. Why not all of them? Or elsewhere. Anywhere.

But there’s a problem. Brother 2 won’t provide any details. He just lies in his hospital bed muttering the mantra of “tick tock, tick tock.”

Frustrated—and plenty scared, after all Brother 2 has proved his bombing creds once already, to devastating effect—the interrogators would like to torture the information out of the terrorist.

"Torture"—commonly defined as "the inflicting of severe pain to force information or confession"—comes principally in two varieties: physical (e.g., the "third degree") and psychological (e.g., sleep deprivation). The literature on torture is voluminous, most commentators concluding that torture is odious and unacceptable at all times and under all circumstances, especially in a democracy.

But is it? Should it be?

Some of the commentators, in their analysis and discussion of the phenomenon of torture, admit being deeply troubled by how a democracy deals with the question of torture generally, let alone in the extreme example of the so-called "ticking time bomb" situation such as the one I posit here.

Until recently the question was hypothetical. Sadly, in the United States of America it no longer is.

There are variations on the ticking time bomb situation, but the essence is in this plausible, even worse, scenario: A known terrorist in FBI custody, whose information is credible, won’t disclose where in Washington, DC, he has secreted a "weapon of mass destruction" – a nuclear bomb – set to detonate in twenty-four hours. The Bureau is certain that the terrorist will never voluntarily reveal the bomb’s location. Within a day our nation’s capital could be wiped from the face of the earth, our government decimated, surrounding areas irredeemably contaminated, and the United States laid defenseless to unimaginable predation by our enemies.

What to do?

Accepting these facts for the sake of argument, we have only two choices. Do nothing, and suffer the unimaginable consequences, or torture the information out of the terrorist.

There are those among us—nihilists come to mind–who would probably stand by idly and endure an atomic holocaust. But most people, realists, would doubtless opt for torture, albeit reluctantly.

They would be correct. They would be entitled to be free of even a scintilla of moral guilt, because torture – of whatever kind, and no matter how brutal – in defense of legitimate self-preservation is not only not immoral, it is a moral imperative.

Unknown to most Americans, one case in two different courts in the United States—a state appellate court in Florida, and a federal Court of Appeals—have, albeit implicitly, endorsed such a use of physical force, and thus of torture, if necessary to save lives.

Jean Leon kidnapped one Louis Gachelin, who was held at gunpoint by Leon’s accomplice. A ransom was arranged, a trap was sprung, and Leon was arrested.

Fearing that the accomplice would kill Gachelin if Leon didn’t return promptly with the ransom money, the police demanded to know where the victim was being held. Leon wouldn’t talk.

According to the Third District Court of Appeal of the State of Florida, when Leon "refused, he was set upon by several of the officers. They threatened and physically abused him by twisting his arm behind his back and choking him [and, allegedly, threatened to kill him] until he revealed where . . . [Gachelin] was being held. The officers went to the designated apartment, rescued . . . [Gachelin] and arrested . . . [the accomplice]."

While this was happening, Leon was taken "downtown," questioned by a different team of detectives, and informed of his Miranda rights. He signed a waiver and confessed to the kidnapping. But before Leon’s trial, he sought to exclude his police station confession, arguing that it was the tainted product of the cops’ literal arm twisting, choking, and threats. (No self-incrimination issue arose from Leon having revealed the victim’s location because that information was not sought to be used against him at his trial).

The trial judge denied Leon’s motion to suppress his confession on the ground that the force and threats used on him at the time of arrest were not the reason for his confession. In other words, the conceded coercion at the time of Leon’s arrest had dissipated by the time of his confession, which the trial judge ruled had been given voluntarily.

Leon appealed. The Florida appeals court affirmed, reaching the same conclusion as the trial judge: Whatever had happened at Leon’s arrest, the coercion had dissipated by the time he’d confessed. Thus, it was proper to use Leon’s confession against him at trial.

That ruling should have been the end of Leon’s first appeal because the only question in the case was the admissibility of Leon’s confession. Yet the appeal court’s opinion went further than the facts of the case required. In language lawyers call dicta—judicial reflections in no way necessary for a decision—the appellate judge added, gratuitously, that "the force and threats asserted upon Leon in the parking lot were understandably motivated by the immediate necessity to find the victim and save his life."

Consider the implications. Even though the motive for using force, and the police’s use of it, were irrelevant to the decision, the appellate court’s 2-1 majority saw fit to give its express approval of physical and psychological coercion in this situation, so long as the product of that coercion (the confession) was not used against defendant Leon at his trial.

Lest anyone think that the dicta in this decision was an aberration, we need look only at the unanimous three-judge decision in Leon’s further appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

The facts were not in dispute. Once again, the only issue on appeal was whether the physical and psychological coercion at the time of arrest tainted the confession, or whether the coercion had, by then, sufficiently dissipated to make Leon’s confession voluntary.

First, the federal appeals court dealt with self-incrimination. As to Leon’s arrest statement concerning where his accomplice was holding Gachelin, there was no issue since the prosecution, properly, had never tried to introduce that statement at the trial. Next, whatever coercion had been used, it did not taint Leon’s later confession because, according to the court, "the totality of the circumstances . . . clearly confirms . . . that the second statement was voluntary." Therefore, that statement was both voluntary and admissible.

The federal appeal court’s ruling concerning the voluntariness of Leon’s confession completely disposed of the case. But, as with the earlier appeal, this court took the unnecessary step of including dicta to the effect that the use of coercion at Leon’s arrest was "motivated by the immediate necessity of finding the victim and saving his life," and that "[t]his was a group of concerned officers acting in a reasonable manner to obtain information they needed in order to protect another individual from bodily harm or death."

Since the appellate courts, both state and federal, went out of their way to express their approval of coercion in a life-threatening situation, their dicta is noteworthy because it signals their acceptance of coercion in principle—a legitimization, as it were.

 If, without objection from a state and a federal appeals court (indeed, with their apparent approval), the Florida police could employ a relatively benign form of coercion to save the life of a kidnap victim, it follows that the same rationale would support actual torture (physical and/or psychological) in a ticking time bomb situation.

Once that threshold is crossed—once the principle is accepted that torture legitimately can be employed to save lives—all that remains is the application of that principle to concrete cases. While that application could be difficult—requiring some showing of probable cause, judicial oversight, and the like—the need to create such important procedural safeguards does not negate the argument that, in this country, where killers are routinely put to death for the commission of a single murder, it is neither immoral nor illegal in principle to employ non-lethal torture—waterboarding, for example—in the name of saving thousands of innocent American lives. 

Indeed, failure to do so is immoral.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Alan Greenspan Story (Part II): The Long Way Home?

In March 2009 I wrote and posted on this blog the article which appears under the asterisks below. Although it disappeared, thanks to some of the recipients of this blog I have it again. I’m reprinting it now for two reasons: First, because hundreds of people have joined this blog since I posted the essay five years ago and have never seen it. Second, because per the title of today’s blog, Alan Greenspan may in his old age be returning to a belief in first principles regarding “gold (and silver) and economic freedom.”

Here is an excerpt from Mr. Greenspan’s recent appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations. (Asterisks signify material I have omitted. For the entire transcript, see Transcript. I have added the emphasis.)

Alan Greenspan on Central Banks, Stagnation, and Gold.
A Conversation with Alan Greenspan.

Speaker: Alan Greenspan, President, Greenspan Associates LLC; Former Chairman of the Board of Governors, Federal Reserve System
Presider: Gillian Tett, U.S. Managing Editor, Financial Times
October 29, 2014, New York
Council on Foreign Relations 

This is [an excerpt from] the corrected transcript of the meeting in its entirety.

TETT: OK, well, good morning, everybody, and welcome to this morning's breakfast debate with Chairman Greenspan. My name is Gillian Tett. I'm the U.S. managing editor of the Financial Times, so I hope you've all got your free copy of the FT out in the lobby.
*          *          *
TETT: I'm going to turn to the audience for questions in one minute, but before I do though, I just want to ask though, one of the really interesting chapters in your book is about gold. And there's been a lot of media debate in the past about your views on gold.

You yourself pose a question as to why would anyone want to buy this barbarous relic -- I don't know whether John Paulson is in the audience -- but it's an interesting question. But do you think that gold is currently a good investment given what you're saying about the potential for turmoil?



TETT: Do you put...

GREENSPAN: Economists are usually perfect in equivocating. In this case I didn't equivocate. Look, remember what we're looking at. Gold is a currency. It is still by all evidences the premier currency where no fiat currency, including the dollar, can match it. And so that the issue is, if you're looking at a question of turmoil, you will find, as we always have in the past, it moves into the gold price.
But the gold price is actually sort of half a commodity price, so when the economy is weakening, it goes down like copper. But it's also got a monetary characteristic which is intrinsic. It's not inbred into human beings -- I cannot conceive -- of any mechanism by which you could say that, but it behaves as though it is.

Intrinsic currencies like gold and silver, for example, are acceptable [with]out a third party guarantee. And, I mean, for example at the end of World War II, or just at the end of it, Germany could not import goods without payment in gold. The person who shipped the goods in would accept the gold, and didn't care whether there was any credit standing -- associated with it. That is a very rare phenomenon. It's -- it's the reason why, for example, in a renewal of an agreement that the central banks have made -- European central banks, I believe -- about allocating their gold sales which occurred when gold prices were falling down, that has been renewed this year with a statement that gold serves a very important place in monetary reserves.

And the question is, why do central banks put money into an asset which has no rate of return, but cost of storage and insurance and everything else like that, why are they doing that? If you look at the data with a very few exceptions, all of the developed countries have gold reserves. Why?
TETT: I imagine right now, it's because of a question mark hanging over the value of fiat currency, the credibility going forward.

GREENSPAN: Well, that's what I'm getting at. Every time you get some really serious questions, the 50 percent of the gold price determination begins to move.

TETT: Right.

GREENSPAN: And I think it is fascinating and -- I don't know, is Benn Steil in the audience?

TETT: Yes.

GREENSPAN: There he is, OK. Before you read my book, go read Benn's book. The reason is, you'll find it fascinating on exactly this issue, because here you have the ultimate test at the Mount Washington Hotel in 1944 of the real intellectual debate between the -- those who wanted to an international fiat currency which was embodied in John Maynard Keynes' construct of a banker, and he was there in 1944, holding forth with all of his prestige, but couldn't counter the fact that the United States dollar was convertible into gold and that was the major draw. Everyone wanted America's gold. And I think that Benn really described that in extraordinarily useful terms, as far as I can see. Anyway, thank you.

 *          *          *


The Alan Greenspan Story: From Objectivist to Statist

In the mid-1960s my wife, Erika Holzer, and I were members of a small circle the hub of which was Ayn Rand, whose magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, had been published in 1957.

Another member—who by then had been associated with Rand for several years—was Alan Greenspan.

In addition to our social relationship with Rand we were also her lawyers, so frequently we made “house calls” to her apartment to conduct legal business. On more than one occasion when Erika and I arrived, Ayn and her husband would be finishing a private dinner with Alan Greenspan. It was apparent to us that Ayn had a special relationship with him, an impression buttressed by comments Ayn made occasionally to the effect that Alan was a brilliant man.

In those days, Rand and her erstwhile “intellectual heir,” Nathaniel Branden, edited and published The Objectivist, a journal devoted to expounding and disseminating her ideas.

One was allowed to write for The Objectivist only if the content was in accordance with Rand’s philosophy, and could withstand the laser-like editorial scrutiny she unmercifully delivered (but to the great advantage of the essay’s author). Erika and I were victims/beneficiaries of Rand’s almost supernatural abilities as a non-fiction editor.

In the July 1966 issue of The Objectivist there appears an essay entitled “Gold and Economic Freedom.” Its opening paragraph is as follows: “An almost hysterical antagonism toward the gold standard is one issue that unites statists of all persuasions. They seem to sense—perhaps more clearly and subtly than many consistent defenders of laissez-faire—that gold and economic freedom are inseparable, that the gold standard is an instrument of laissez-faire and that each implies and requires the other.” (My emphasis.)

The essay goes on to explain the role of gold in a free society, the meaning of money (see my Blog of February 12, 2009), and the history of the Federal Reserve System. Then, the author notes critically that “[w]hen business in the United States underwent a mild contraction in 1927, the Federal Reserve created more paper reserves in the hope of forestalling any possible bank reserve shortage. * * * The Fed succeeded: it stopped the [British] gold loss, but it nearly destroyed the economies of the world, in the process. The excess credit which the Fed pumped into the economy spilled over into the stock market—triggering a fantastic speculative boom. Belatedly, Federal Reserve officials attempted to sop up the excess reserves and finally succeeded in braking the boom. But it was too late: by 1929 the speculative imbalances had become so overwhelming that the attempt precipitated a sharp retrenching and a consequent demoralizing of business confidence. As a result the American economy collapsed.” (My emphasis.)

The balance of “Gold and Economic Freedom” emphatically endorses the gold standard, disdains government interference in the economy, and condemns the statists who repudiated the former while fostering the latter.

The essay’s penultimate and concluding paragraphs eloquently reiterate this point: “In the absence of the gold standard, there is no way to protect savings from confiscation through inflation. There is no safe store of value. If there were, the government would have to make its holding illegal, as was done in the case of gold [see my Blog of January 25, 2009]. If everyone decided, for example, to convert all their bank deposits to silver or copper or any other good, and thereafter declined to accept checks as payment for goods, bank deposits would lose their purchasing power and government-created bank credit would be worthless as a claim on goods. The financial policy of the welfare state requires that there be no way for the owners of wealth to protect themselves. This is the shabby secret of the welfare statists’ tirades against gold. Deficit spending is simply a scheme for the ‘hidden’ confiscation of wealth. * * * (My emphasis.)

The author of “Gold and Economic Freedom” is, of course, Alan Greenspan.

The “statists” whom Dr. Greenspan rightly condemned are adherents to, and promoters of, “statism”: “concentration of economic controls and planning in the hands of a highly centralized government often extending to government ownership of industry.” (Merriam- Webster Dictionary, On Line).

Or, as Greenspan’s editor, Ayn Rand, once explained it: “The political expression of altruism is collectivism or statism, which holds that man’s life and work belong to the state—to society, to the group, the gang, the race, the nation—and that the state may dispose of him in any way it pleases for the sake of whatever it deems to be its own tribal, collective good”: (“Introducing Objectivism,” The Objectivist Newsletter, August 1962, p.35).

Since it was Ayn Rand herself speaking through Alan Greenspan in “Gold and Economic Freedom” in the author’s lauding of laissez-faire and condemnation of statism, it was incredible that he accepted Gerald Ford’s appointment as Chairman of the President’s Council of [three] Economic Advisers.

Putting aside four of the Council’s main duties and functions, the fifth is “[t]o develop and recommend to the President national economic policies, to foster and promote free competitive enterprise, to avoid economic fluctuations or to diminish the effects thereof, and to maintain employment.”


An acolyte of the political philosopher who, among other achievements, built a moral foundation for capitalism, signing on with a statist President to “develop national economic policies” (like the bureaucrats in Atlas Shrugged?), “to foster and promote free competitive enterprise” (through stricter anti-business anti-trust laws?), “to avoid economic fluctuations” (by wage and price controls?), and “to maintain employment” (with FDR-like public works projects?)?

Not only did Greenspan sign on with Ford, but Rand signed on with the both of them—sanctioning the new Greenspan-Ford economic partnership by her glowing presence at the new Chairman’s White House swearing-in ceremony.

Soon after Rand died, President Reagan put Greenspan in charge of a boondoggle called the National Commission on Social Security Reform. One of its recommendations was an anti-laissez-faire, pro-statist, large tax increase.

Then came the Fed job, making Greenspan the world’s economic/financial puppet master.

According to a 2007 speech by a Federal Reserve Board member Frederic S. Mishkin, “In a democratic society like our own, the ultimate purpose of the central bank [the Fed] is to promote the public good by pursuing a course of monetary policy that fosters economic prosperity and social welfare. In the United States, as in virtually every other country, the central bank has a more specific set of objectives that have been established by the government. This mandate was originally specified by the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 and was most recently clarified by an amendment to the Federal Reserve Act in 1977. According to this legislation, the Federal Reserve's mandate is “to promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates.” (My emphasis.)

So for year after year, the fallen pro-laissez-faire, anti-statist, Objectivist, Chairman of the Fed, went about pulling on the Fed’s strings, doing the government’s business of “promoting the public good” and “fostering social welfare.”

Repudiating everything he had written, and Rand had sanctioned, in “Gold and Economic Freedom,” Greenspan manipulated the “creation” of “money,” opened and closed the credit valve, and virtually if not actually controlled the economic/financial system of the United States and thus of the world.

And then, finally, at the end of 2008 when the system imploded, Rand’s brilliant acolyte finally confessed . . . and his confession continues: Yes, he was wrong about self-regulating capitalism. Yes, this time laissez-faire didn’t work. Yes, the bailouts were/are necessary. Yes—and that noise you hear is Ayn Rand spinning in her grave—the government must now nationalize banks (in the “public interest, and only “temporarily,” of course).

And with these unrepentant anti-capitalism confessions, Alan Greenspan is nakedly exposed for what he became when first he drank from the inebriating waters of the Washington trough, abandoning not only “Gold and Economic Freedom,” but the moral principles which it implies, and about which he wrote with Rand’s approval those many years ago.

Alan Greenspan is a person whom he, and Ayn Rand, deplored: just another statist.