Zakaria on Incentive Design

by on January 14, 2010 at 7:17 am in Current Affairs, Law | Permalink

As for the calls to treat the would-be bomber as an enemy combatant, torture him and toss him into Guantanamo, God knows he deserves it. But keep in mind that the crucial intelligence we received was from the boy's father. If that father had believed that the United States was a rogue superpower that would torture and abuse his child without any sense of decency, would he have turned him in? To keep this country safe, we need many more fathers, uncles, friends and colleagues to have enough trust in America that they, too, would turn in the terrorist next door.

From an excellent op-ed by Fareed Zakaria.  Hat tip to Jeff Miron.

DanC January 14, 2010 at 7:41 am

I think most parents who thought their child was on a path to torture and abuse would take steps to prevent it.

Just as parents in the United States who think their child is on a path to go to an American prison, where the child may be abused and tortured by other inmates, will go to the police to get early intervention for their child.

You just need to know that you can receive mercy and forgiveness for cooperating.

The biggest danger to this type of cooperation is that terrorist will attack the families of those that cooperate with the United States.

While there are many reasons to oppose the use of torture, this is a very weak argument.

Zamfir January 14, 2010 at 7:59 am

DanC, are you that confident that the US will not torture before the act? Part of the scariness of Guantanamo and the “extraordinary renditions” was the attitude that the prisoners were surely guilty of something, even if not the thing they were picked up for.

bradley stephens January 14, 2010 at 8:59 am

What is truly telling about Sen. Feinstein’s comments is the word “react”. Since the 1993 WTC bombing, reaction has been the status quo when it comes to stateside terrorism. If you consider the responsibilities ranging from multi-national CEO to Boy Scout, preparedness is crucial and expected. What is ludicrous is that we have never held the powers that be accountable for waiting and then reacting to acts of aggression. It is this reactionary, passive stance that allows, and in fact gives creedence to all manner of paranoid conspiracy theorizing that goes on – not to mention the true cost of terror – the root canal that is modern air travel.

DanC January 14, 2010 at 9:13 am

BTW, the crucial information we gained about the would-be bomber was from his father. It is unclear that his father was able to give the far more crucial information about the network that the son had joined. Should we be happy that we had information on the would-be bomber or should we strive for a full understanding of those he worked with?

Gabe January 14, 2010 at 9:59 am

His dad was a IMF banker, maybe we should pre-emptively torture all the IMF bankers.

otto January 14, 2010 at 10:06 am

Surely, the father had every right to think that the US “would torture and abuse his child without any sense of decency” but turned him in anyway?

Dan * January 14, 2010 at 10:17 am

otto – That may be the case in this instance. Without fully knowing the father we can’t understand his motivation. However, Zakaria’s point is that we need to be a nation that encourages such actions as much as possible. Perhaps the father would not have turned in the son if the attacks were on China, a nation that doesn’t have much goodwill around the world. Perhaps the father would not have turned in the son if they were Saudis, as Saudis do not have the same opinion of the USA as Nigerians. Really, the greater popularity the USA has throughout the world, the lowered the risk of terrorism.

Kevin Postlewaite January 14, 2010 at 10:53 am

“God knows he deserves [to be tortured]”

Actually, my God doesn’t know this.

Elvin January 14, 2010 at 11:27 am

I think the boy’s father knew the US wouldn’t kill or maim his son, too. For all the talk of Gitmo and Abu Ghraib prisons, the US has one of the highest human rights standards. I don’t know if he would have informed Chinese or Egyptian authorities. Who would you rather contact if your son was nuts and about to kill people?

libert January 14, 2010 at 11:38 am

oblong goat:

By the principle of revealed preference, torture is worse than death for a potential suicide bomber. I think the argument makes perfect sense.

Laserlight January 14, 2010 at 11:41 am

Playing Devils advocate for a moment:
“if your son commits an act of terrorism, we will torture him (if he survived) and also you, your wife, your brother…whereas if you turn him in and give us full information, we won’t need to torture anyone.”

Dan * January 14, 2010 at 11:59 am

Jim – First off, the job of national security is performed by the United States government. The job of the New York Times is to report the truth. They did their job by presenting the story on Abu Ghraib. The US government did not do it’s job by allowing Abu Ghraib. Second, the information was crucial because it was everything we needed to stop a man from attacking the US. It was ignored and we were attacked, even if it was a pathetic failure. If you think the Danish filmmaker’s cry was the only bit of crucial information, then we have no need for intelligence in national security. I really hope you’re not claiming that all national security should be dealt with in a purely reactive posture. Finally, you contradict yourself on the subject of torture. There are various calls to treat him as an enemy combatant, which has many would equate with the possibility of torture. You state a poll that more than 50% of Americans aren’t just ok with torture, but are actively encouraging torture if he doesn’t talk. I would have assumed it goes without saying that Zakaria wouldn’t assume anyone is calling for torture if he does talk, so why would you assume that?

Kevin – Fully agreed.

Wade Nichols January 14, 2010 at 12:08 pm

To keep this country safe, we need many more fathers, uncles, friends and colleagues to have enough trust in America that they, too, would turn in the terrorist next door.

Sure! That strategy is working extremely well in our euphemistic “inner cities”, it should also work for the parents of Islamic terrorists also!

How’s that strategy working again?:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Snitchin

vasantha January 14, 2010 at 12:12 pm

The person/people who need to be locked up in Guantanamo is not the alleged bomber, but those who are running the CIA, TSA, and what’s-its-name the new uber intelligence authority, etc.

Gabe January 14, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Are IMF family members more likely to be terrorists? the whole things smells fishy to me. The IMF Nigerian nbanker was probably a crook…there is corruption there right? the military industrial complex/porn machine company that is paying Chertoff millions to promote terrorism and their product needed some terror. So they took a crooked nigerian banker and told him to help corroborate their terror story or else he was gonna be busted for his financial crimes. The dad didn’t like his wacked out son anyway so he went along. His Patsy son must be a “terrorist” because even his own dad warned us…of course the CIA/Homeland security goons did nothing with the info because this was all about the money/power grab that comes in reaction to the situation. Hegelians philosophy at work. False flag attacked again. Chertoff has his pre-packaged spiel all over TV fight on cue and taxpayers are stuck with rights infringements and a bigger tax bill.

Andrew January 14, 2010 at 12:43 pm

There seems to be this view from the right that says “we should do whatever we want, because we are us, and the sooner we provoke these people the sooner we know they are our enemy and we can kill them, because they are either with us or against us (and thus only worthy of death).”

Playing Devils advocate for a moment:
“if your son commits an act of terrorism, we will torture him (if he survived) and also you, your wife, your brother…whereas if you turn him in and give us full information, we won’t need to torture anyone.”

Here’s why that doesn’t work (Andrew Edwards makes one good point about uncertainty versus the absolutism employed by the security forces):

First, that is basically the way authoritarian regimes run. We are not that (yet). Becoming that will reduce security by (1) reducing freedom and (2) reducing actual security by motivating domestic as well as foreign aggressors.

Second, you need to keep in mind that the enemy isn’t domestics (unless we make them the enemy by motivating them by being evil). They have their own point of view. They see things from their point of view, not ours. The enemy is a fluid group that has some amount of sympathy for the actual terrorists that is borne out of their view that we are being evil. The enemy is us, to the extent we are. Not only should we not make the entire world our enemy, if we do we won’t win either. Not good. Not smart.

I think we need to constantly communicate that:
1. If you leave us alone, we leave you alone, we are not your enemy.
2. We do not want to control your country or intervene in internal conflicts or pick sides.
3. If you want to trade with us, great.
4. If your government captures too much of the wealth and oppresses you, we sympathize, and yet that is your responsibility, see #2.
5. If you don’t want to trade with us, we are strong enough to be patient until you do.

John Thacker January 14, 2010 at 12:44 pm

If you believe that waterboarding is not torture, then people loudly claiming that it is (falsely, in your view), would make people like this father less likely to turn in his son.

So don’t think that this argument unequivocally points in only one direction.

Brad January 14, 2010 at 1:37 pm

The tea party idiots will never listen to any rational thinking…They will support torture of anyone they don’t like.

mulp January 14, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Just as parents in the United States who think their child is on a path to go to an American prison, where the child may be abused and tortured by other inmates, will go to the police to get early intervention for their child.

Where is the evidence for this? Are fewer young people ending up as criminals as a result of the War on Drugs and the War on Crime?

Do you argue that the increased civil liberties in the US has resulted in increased crime because parents haven’t gone to the police to have their kids beaten up by the police?

I guess I can’t figure out how throwing a kid in prison for a decade for smoking pot is something parents would expect to help their kid and cause them to narc on their kid.

Surely you aren’t arguing that the police are going to be government agents fixing the kids of bad parenting?

Perhaps you think kids should be arrested and prosecuted for wanting to have illegal sex between minors.

If you do, should the police be taking guns from people who just might use them to kill people?

The question is whether the government should imprison people for things some think they are thinking of doing and thus might do, instead of imprisoning people for things they have actually done.

Further, should people be imprisoned for things others imagine they might do, but haven’t taken any steps to actually do? Parents have a lot of fears about what their kids are doing, heightened by their kids not admitting they are thinking of doing such things when their parents project their own actions at that age onto their child’s intense desires.

Sometimes parents are very justified in their fears, but more often, their fears are unfounded and they have totally missed the things they should worry about. When parents are so often wrong, do you trust government to better determine the well founded fears and then act to imprison your kid?

anon January 14, 2010 at 2:22 pm

The job of the New York Times is to report the truth.

Hahahahaha!

Oh, you weren’t kidding. My mistake.

Let me fix that for you:
The job of the MSM, including the New York Times, WSJ, Fox News, CBS, WaPo, etc., etc., ad nauseum, is to report the truth.

Hahahahaha!

DanC January 14, 2010 at 4:36 pm

I think mulp needs some serious help and I hope it is able to find it.

Please contact agencies in your area. There are many free sources of help for people who are going through an emotionally difficult period.

You will be in my prayers tonight.

Gabe January 14, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Mencken:
“All government, in its essence, is a conspiracy against the superior man: its one permanent object is to oppress him and cripple him. If it be aristocratic in organization, then it seeks to protect the man who is superior only in law against the man who is superior in fact; if it be democratic, then it seeks to protect the man who is inferior in every way against both. One of its primary functions is to regiment men by force, to make them as much alike as possible and as dependent upon one another as possible, to search out and combat originality among them. All it can see in an original idea is potential change, and hence an invasion of its prerogatives. The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are. “

Cheney January 14, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Mr Bilderberg,
You are right, but what would be the point in peace?…how would we get the really big weapons contracts? besides we need to cause more chaos so that when that the masses are clamoring for more of our “solutions”. Problem-Reaction-Solution…Hegelian dialectic

tiffany world January 21, 2010 at 9:08 am

The biggest danger to this type of cooperation is that terrorist will attack the families of those that cooperate with the United States.

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