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Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Blood Sacrifices: Violent Non-State Actors and Dark Magico-Religious Activities edited by Robert J. Bunker

I’m very pleased to announce the publication of Blood Sacrifices, edited by Robert J. Bunker, to which Charles Cameron and I have both contributed chapters. Dr. Bunker has done a herculean job of shepherding this controversial book, where thirteen authors explore the dreadful and totemic cultural forces operating just beneath the surface of irregular warfare and religiously motivated extreme violence.

We are proud to have been included in such a select group of authors and I’m confident that many readers of ZP will find the book to their liking . If you study criminal insurgency, terrorism, hybrid warfare, 4GW, apocalyptic sects, irregular conflict or religious extremism, then the 334 pages of Blood Sacrifices has much in store for you.

Available for order at Amazon

McCain: This question isn’t about our enemies, it’s about us

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Sen. McCain on waterboarding / torture ]

Having only a superficial glimpse of the depth of experience from which John McCain speaks, I find this statement to be grounded, moving, and — if it were necessary — persuasive:

I’ve plucked what I believe to be the key insight from this video clip, and placed it as the title to this post.

Ali Soufan on strategy & tactics

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — short and sweet ]

Everyone here knows that we are in a conflict with Islamic extremism. Everyone here knows that strategic outweighs tactical success. And most everyone here knows that Ali Soufan is one of the key voices on that topic — lead FBI agent investigating the Cole bombing, author of The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, and outspoken interrogator-spokesman against the use of torture.

Hear him on strategy & tactics:

The quantity of mercy is not strain’d?

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

[by Charles Cameron — some remedial philosophy at age 71 ]

I seem to be doing remedial political philosophy this week. As it happens, I read a Chinese comedian in my youth and was admonished against “sitting down while running round in circles” and have been aerating my brain with too much conscious breathing ever since — neither leaving me much time or interest for what in Oxford in my day was known, somewhat dismissively, PPE — Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

Which brings me today, and to grabbing lectures in just that sort of thing from Harvard’s Michael Sandel, courtesy of YouTube:

The video shows Sandel’s lectures, “Justice: Putting a Price Tag on Life”, and “How to Measure Pleasure” — salted with some dark humor:

Back in ancient Rome, they threw Christians to the lions in the Coliseum for sport. If you think how the utilitarian calculus would go, yes, the Christian thrown to the lion suffers enormous, excruciating pain, but look at the collective ecstasy of the Romans. .. you have to admit that if there were enough Romans delirious with happiness, it would outweigh even the most excruciating pain of a handful of Christians thrown to the lion.

I enjoyed the two lectures immensely — maybe I should rewind fifty years, and try PPE at Harcard?.


All of which caused me to wonder:

SPEC pinto and lincoln continental


  • Mark Dowie, Pinto Madness
  • W Michael Hoffman, Case Study: The Ford Pinto
  • See also:

  • ES Grush and CS Saunby, Fatalities Associated with Crash-Induced Fuel Leakage and Fires
  • **

    I mean, all of which made me wonder about Jeremy Bentham, I suppose.

    We had Locke at Christ Church, staring disdainfully from his portrait during dinners in the Great Hall — but Bentham? I don’t think I saw any utility in utilitarianism.


    But then I also wondered:

    SPEC trolley problem torture

    I wondered: how close is the analogy between the trolly problem and the ticking bomb torture questionn? Do we start from numbers of likely victims in each case and decide from there, or should we instead start by contemplating torture — and recognize the abyss staring back at us?


  • Wikipedia, Trolly problem
  • Michael Sandel, Justice: Putting a Price Tag on Life & How to Measure Pleasure
  • See also:

  • Kyle York, Lesser-Known Trolley Problem Variations
  • **

    What Shakespeare said, though — getting back to my title — was “The quality of mercy is not strain’d” — not the quantity, the quality — unquantifiable.

    In which John Horgan presents a DoubleQuote

    Friday, April 24th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — taking a very brief break from Bach for once — but Kanye? ]

    In what I’d term a DoubleQuote in the Wild, Dr John Horgan uses a simple textual and visual juxtaposition to good effect:


    The juxtaposition here “works” because “the American Dream” textually links the two images the way a rhyme does at the end of this couplet, a long-time favorite of mine, translated by J. V. Cunningham from the Latin of John Owen:

    Life flows to death as rivers to the sea,
    And life is fresh and death is salt to me.

    Thus there’s a bond first established verbally between Adam Gadahn and Kanye West, two people we might not otherwise think of together — and in thinking of them together, we open a wide range of possible associations, including a sort of parallel match between Kanye and another American jihadist, Omar Hammami — like Kanye, a rapper — also mentioned in JM Berger‘s piece today about Gadahn’s life an death. And from there our thoughts can fan out to Anwar Awlaki, and his son, Abdulrahman Awlaki, or to Deso Dog, the German jihadist rapper.

    In a word, the juxtaposition is provocative: thought-provocative.


    And what of the American Dream? Wikipedia currently defines it thus:

    The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers. In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” ..

    The idea of prosperity hrough hard work, it seems to me, has much in common with the Puritan ideal, captured by Ning Kang of the School of Foreign Languages, Qingdao University of Science and Technology, in these words:

    Puritanism shaped the Americans’ national character – acquiring wealth through hard work and thrift

    American Puritans linked material wealth with God’s favor. They believed that hard work was the way to please God. Created more wealth through one’s work and thrift could guarantee the God’s elect. The doctrine of predestination kept all Puritans constantly working to do good in this life in order to be chosen for the next eternal life. God had already chosen who would be in heaven or hell, but Christians had no way of knowing which group they were in. Those who were wealthy would obviously be blessed by God and in good standing with Him. The work ethic of Puritans was the belief that hard work was an honor to God which would lead to a prosperous reward.

    Is that about right? I’m not much of a puritan myself, but it seems to me that the aspect of the dream that has to do with purity gets lost when the American Dream becomes a Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and the metric of success and prosperity equates to a Kardashian spouse — while on the other side, purity in the form of burqas and “religious police” is the fetish that drives the Salafi-jihadists: Consider this, from an IBTimes report:

    Isis chief executioner found beheaded with cigarette in his mouth

    The corpse showed signs of torture and carried the message “This is evil, you Sheikh” written on it. The severed head also had a cigarette in its mouth. It is unclear who carried out the decapitation but the message was obvious.

    Islamic State’s (formerly known as Isis) ban on cigarettes is one of its signature polices. It has imposed a strict set of Sharia laws barring the use of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes in the territories it has conquered across a swathe of Iraq and Syria.

    IS has declared smoking “slow suicide” and demands that “every smoker should be aware that with every cigarette he smokes in a state of trance and vanity is disobeying God”.


    Contemplating John’s DoubleQuote, then, it seems to me that Gadahn has the puritanical streak in the original dream, adapted to its contemporary Islamist form, while Kanye has much of the prosperity side, largely detached from any kind of asceticism in preference for bling — but with a laudable concern that that bling not be derived from child labor, slavery, etc:

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