Thursday, May 19, 2005

Questions On Hostage Taking

There has been considerable media coverage of an Australian-born contractor who has been taken hostage in Iraq, and the attempts to secure his release. This has made evident two questions that probably have not had the ethical discussion they deserve. So, the Editor decided to post them and hopefully commence the discussion. Firstly, can the taking of hostages, in any situation, be justified ethically? Secondly, should the demands of hostage takers be meet?

13 comments:

michael said...

the present time produces another question to be considered in relation; are those accused of drug smuggling, if given the death penalty against our government's wishes, the victims of a similar hostage situation? the government seems to want them returned to australia, but their captors are refusing to cooperate - these ones don't even have demands that, theoretically, could be met to secure their release.


In terms of the ethics of hostage taking it could be seen as the modern day form of revenge - that action outside the law, but still accesable as a last resort in an attempt to secure what one believes to be rightfully theirs. So here obviousely those how take hostages feel themselves ethically justified in doing so, so 'yes' to your first question.
Whether the demands should be met must be considered from not the hostage takers perspective but from that of the society of the hostage. So, to continue the revenge analogy, this society would see the other as not outside their ethic, but within its bounds and acting incorrectly rather than people forced to work outside the ethic and use a last resort to get what they feel to be their right.

To talk on ethical terms here we need an ethic that transcends both sides of the argument. But here arises the point, because the problem arose due to a lack of such an ethic. Obviousely if we had an ethic within which all parties were working it would be a completely different situation.

So to say whether or not the demands ought to be met, I feel, would be to impose an ethic over the two groups that neither is aware of. As is the interested parties will have to work out what they feel to give the best result, but I'm not sure there is an ethic available to turn to.

Cooly McCool said...

The taking of hostages is generally an act of despairation - thus the threat. If you weren't desperate, then the threat of killing the hostage isn't as real. You have to ask then, what are the hostage takers desperate to achieve, and feel powerless to do so by other means. It is obvious that they are responding to the occupation of their country by a hostile enemy and it is not surprising that we should be seen as such, as we (being our government) have certainly been apart in this occupation. In this view, the taking of a hostage seems ethically insignificant and reasonable considering the greater moral crime committed against the Iraqis.

That the hostage is not part of an occupying force, but an aid worker. Is this ethically wrong? From our view yes. But aid should really be 'aid'. From the Iraqi perspective, regardless of aid worker's intentions, it could be argued that the building of bridges is an excercise in troop mobility and occupying logistics. Also, the indebtedness created by such aid work is can also be detrimental to a country's autonomy. Just think Vietnam - they one the fighting, but the U.S. bankrupted them, rebuilt the joint and in doing so effectively made it an american subsidiary, or 'colony'. The same happened in Europe.

What is really the issue is as Ming (Michael) said: perspectives.

That said, the argument against withdrawing troops in response to the hostage is bowing to bully's demands. If you submit once, then they'll think they can do it again and again. I mean really - whose desperate, and whose the bully? They are using the same logic, only they have less confusion over roles; we are the bully's and they are taking desperate measures - if they let us invade and occupy, then we will continue to do so because no opposition was made. We like to preach standing up to bully's and that's what they are doing. Ethically I think the award is currently going to the hostage takers.

And John Howard thinks leaving troops in Iraq so he can be the man of steel (dubya's deputy) is more important than the hostage's life. I think, sadly, John Howard is the weak moral link in this sordid affair.

It is hard because the hostage's intention in being there seem nothing other than benign, but I'm sure so were the many dead Iraqi civilian's.

P.S. I believe Ming, that Indonesia isn't so much as taking hostage's as we are outsourcing the death penalty.

Editor said...

The Editor requests that discussion of the detention of alleged drug smugglers in countries other than those of their residence be reserved for a different forum. [At present it is intended for Friday - to correspond with the Corby sentencing in Bali].

michael said...

an editorial point for clarification: in Cooly's P.S. he missed, though I'm sure intended, a comma between "believe" and "Ming" clarifying the fact that this is his, and not my, opinion.

On the topic of troops in Iraq, which seems inevitably tied up with aid workers in Iraq, it would seem to me that since we helped bomb the shit out of that country we ought to help rebuild it, particularly given that in our bombing the shit out of that country we destroyed the existing power balance and did not replace it, and as the situation stands there is a three way tug-of-war for power. To withdraw with or without a hostage taker's demands to spur us on would seem to be shirking our duty of care.

Vietnam is a touch different, as they had been occupied by France, then Japan, then France, then America without a break in between to re-establish their autonomy. And the Viet Com were recieving aid from China, who have been trying to invade for centuries, so I think that similarity can safely be dismissed. The similarlty to Europe completely alludes me.

As far as the "moral crime" of invading Iraq goes, Iraq is made up of three tribes, and Saddam's government represented one of them. So in the name of self determination this invasion could be justified, as all three tribes are represented in the new government.

By giving his "ethics award" to either side Cooly shows that he has completely missed the point of my earlier post, which was that each side is working under their own code of ethics. These codes are mutually exclusive, and so any comparison between them is meaningless; the only way to enable comunication between the two parties is to produce an ethic that encompasses both existing ethics.

Here's a question; who was holding the iraqi civilians captive - the government of America or Iraq?

Cooly McCool said...

A little information about Iraq is needed to say who was holding 'captives' if you are going to ask whether the American or Iraq government were. What you need to understand is that these 'tribes' you mentioned are religious groups, and as we all know relgion and politics don't mix very well, as proven in Afghanistan by both the Taliban and then their successors (put there by Americans after invasion). For all the crimes against humanity that Saddam commited, he did do one thing very well and in the interest of the greater Iraqi populace, and explains much of the now tumultuous circumstances in Iraq - and that was that he kept the government secular and was himself a secular leader. With removing him, as we have seen, these 'tribes' have began waring for governmental power. That aside, there were no captives in Iraq - no that would have been a nice way of doing it - the Americans simply bombed the crap out of them indiscriminately. Why we were there to overthrow him puzzles me, and if you want an arguement about quwait, america and rumsfeld's handshake and arab history, I'm more than happy.

Vietnam's pre-war history is kind of irrelevant when considering what took place between the Americans and the vietnamese in its aftermath - the truth is that exactly what I described took place (granted in a more complex fashion). And the reference to Europe is to the war aid given by america, whose purposes where again to rebuild their economies, but by way of indebtedness to America. We are not talking military aid to fight a war, i.e. that recieved from china.

Morally I agree that if you help blow the crap out of the place, you should help rebuild it, but sadly, it is a cash bonanza usually for those who caused the damage. The point I was making however was that our interpretation of 'aid' isn't the same as that of the Iraqi's. History tells us that 'aid' is often where a war is really won by the the victors - how do you think empires are built, how do you think tributaries are formed? America just doesn't refer to them as such anymore.

And despite a moral obligation to do so, it sadly isn't that simple that if you're there as an individual with good intentions that you are actually producing your desired outcomes.

Just think how foreign occupation of your home would feel, and that's why we should pull all troops. We are obliged to give aid, but that should be non-military.

When powerless, you use what weapons are at your disposal, and hostage taking is sadly one such weapon. Note that it is when you are powerless that you do so. That doesn't make it right, but waying up the moral weight of different actions, it pales against the attrocities of our own and the american governments.

You are right that there are two mutually exclusive ethics in play - that of oppressor and that of oppressed. What is needed is not one that encompasses the two, but one where neither need exist and this can't happen while there is foreign occupation in Iraq.

Rosie said...

Ming- hmmmmmm....(slightly disaprovingly said)
Cooly- Agree with most said.
Here's how I see it-
Consider Israel and Palestine. How often do we hear Israeli's terrorists? Hardly ever. How often to we hear the Palestinians called terrorists? Mush more frequently. Yet they both inflict violence on the other, at least an equal amount and probably the Israelis even more so, but they do this differently. the Israeli's carry out their violence in the name of retribution (as do the palestinians) with tanks, a strong, instituitionalised army, guns, rank, mortars, planes, curfews, taxes ra ra ra ra ra. the Palestinians, without these things at their disposal, commit suicice bombings, car bombs, attempts at civil disobedience and the famous shot of throwing rocks at tanks. Both commit crimes against the other, and as a result of resources, the Israeli crimes are generally bigger in size (only in size, not making a value judgment). Yet we rarely hear this called terrorism, but we do hear the palestinians called terrorists. So what exactly is a definition of a 'terrorist'? Seems to have to be a not that well of minority who is named by the rest of the world with no power to object to that name. Don't get me wrong, this doesn't make them all lovely. Sorry, tangenting, but heres the point.
FOr us to call some an act of terrorism, and therefore something hugely morally heinous, it is often un-institutionalised (is that a word?), carried out by a relatively small network of people, and seems messier. For some reason though, we are comepletely happy with what is in effect terrorism if it is state based. It doesn't look the same because money and power is involved. Hostage taking is, as Cooly said, the outlet of the powerless. It is no more morally atrocious a crime as many others, but as it is never the people in power who take hostages, and it is the people in power who said the rhetoric of moral standards, hostage taking is painted as the evil cowardly acts of a horrible nation.
I've sort of forgotten the question now, but I think I've said what I wanted. May have rambled so might post of bit of a clarification post later.

michael said...

I'm going to ignore any further discussion on historical basis because we are obviousely not going to see eye to eye on that, but I will say that both Cooly's and Rose's attempts to equate acts of war with acts of terror is absurd.

If an act of war is an act of terror then there is not necissarily much terror in terror. there is a distinction between horror and terror here. War is a method of political negociations. Terror is not. there are laws in place to govern the running of said hostilities. very few people will claim that a POW is a hostage.

Terror is so named because of its incalculable nature, primarily that it is entirely unexpected, whereas if two countries are "at war" there is no surprise thatthere are hostilities there. Don't try to tell me that because autrocities are conducted during war time that these laws are irrelevent; its just wrong.

on the topic of non-military aid isn't the military there primarily for keeping the peace, and defending those giving aid in non-military ways?

the reason Isreal and Palistine level accusations of teror at each other is because the hostilities that they are refering to are outside the legalities of war.

to descry war in the same breath as terror is to vilify war and justify terrorism. hostage taking is firmly in the realms of terror, and I don't think that blurring this line is at all productive.

I claimed the need for an ethic that encompasses both rather than one where the situation is not required because if it is recognised but not needed to exist then the ethic covers both. I was being practical rather than dreamy.

Cooly McCool said...

Sadly, it is a matter of perspective whether something is an act of war, or an act of terror. Usually it is the dominant force which decides these terms use. You should also ask, what are the legalities of war you talk about. Back to history (which you think is not valuable here, but of immense value in your post on education): do you think vietnam could have fought a conventional war against the Americans? What about the Boer war? Could the Boers have assembled a battle line and fought a pitched battle gainst the English? How about the Cuban revolution? Again, it is those with power who dictate the formal 'legalities of war.' Another thing, why do you think they call it Guerrila warfare? Because it is a legitmate tactic if you have neither resources or troops to fight. And have you ever heard of a guerilla invasion? No.

I have capitalized a few lines of interest of 'masters of war' by Bob Dylan, that might be worth considering when declaring the difference between war and terror is 'terror':

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

YOU'VE THROWN THE WORST FEAR
THAT CAN EVER BE HURLED
FEAR TO BRING CHILDREN
INTO THE WORLD
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

And no, your the one being dreamy: this so called ethic that encompases the two is silly - why should the Americans be deserving of ethical consideration in Iraq? What claim do they have to be there? Why are they there? Dialectics are all well and good, but you really are opting for a dreamy synthesis where we all go home happy by way of a dubious theoretical excercise rather than looking at actual historical and political fact (as well as assuming that the implementation of said 'ethic' might actually work outside of sleepy byes time. What way do you think it works: change the ethic and get a new society? Dream on. Ethics are probably resultant of the historical conditions). What we rally need is an ethic where people don't invade other people and deprive them of their rights, masking self interest as humanitarianism.

Finally, I present the American definition of terrorism for you:

"[An] act of terrorism, means any activity that (A) involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life that is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jursidiction of the united states or any State; and (B) appears to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by assassination or kidnapping." (United States Code of Congressional and Administrative News, 98th Congress, Second Session, 1984, Oct. 19, volume 2; par 3077, 98 STAT. 2707 [West Publishing Co., 1984).

I fail to see how the Iraq invasion does not classify as terrorism, rather than coercive diplomacy (what's the difference Ming?).

michael said...

notice the "and". It did not violate the criminal laws of the United States or any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jursidiction of the united states or any State. We do have international law courts.

Guerrila warfare is not an illegal means of carrying out a war.

there are laws that may have been agreed on by the victors of the first world war, but that doesn't mean they change each time those in power do.

If you have an ethic that encompasses neither side of the hoostage argument then how can you make an ethical claim about it? riddle me that.

I didn't say history wasn't important; I said we would not be able to agree on the historical facts so was not going to discuss them.

too much cynicism leads to not living in the real world. at least that way you don't have to worry about the hostages.

Cooly McCool said...

America, by means of military coercion (war), without substantive reason, effected the sovereignty of a state (Iraq's) by (ii) influencing the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, and therefore an act of terror by their own definition.

Further, the so called international law that was mentioned condemned the actions of america, who is currently holding Sddam Hussein, who should rightly stand trial for crimes against humanity, but is instead being held, effectively as a hostage by the U.S. government, as there seems no legal reason for them to do so. This would mean that (iii) has also been contravened.

And the policy of 'shock and awe' or bombing the crap out of the place indiscriminately amounts to (i).

The AND was exactly what I had considered when I posted it.

Riddle me this: if I repeatedly kicked you in the balls for no reason at all, and then you threw a pebble at me in retaliation, should an ethic encompass my concerns in that I was benefitting at your expense (My pleasure at causing your displeasure) and would like to continue to do so?

If guerrila warfare is a legitimate tactic, then so is 'terror' as what has been labelled terror by the U.S. is essentially the weapons of the enemy, and that is guerrila war.

The war on Iraq was fought because Saddam had weapons of mass destruction that went against the legalities of war coming from WWI, but the only side to use Diasy cutters (small nuclear arms that should be considered illegal) was america. But I am not talking about those specific conventions. What I was refering to was in any historical period, there is a dominant military institution dictated (not literally) by the major players, which has traditionally been in the form of pitched battles. Whenever a new tactic/weapon/style of warfare arises, it is often condemned by the military status quo, which currebtly is the americans.

Rosie said...

What if the laws are wrong??? Isn't there a duty to change them, and, even though I never condone violence, maybe for some that seems to be the only option. How can they act within the laws if it is those laws that are oppressing them. Lets have this chat in person one day. I bet when I call you when you're 40 and you've become a good person you'll feel differently :) hehe

michael said...

Rowan, Saddam was in contravention to the peace terms of the first gulf war, which accounts for your first two paragraphs.
third para. comes under horror rather than terror
Fouth. dealt with,
Fifth. yes
sixth. you are just wrong
last para. just because America is doing something illegal doesn't mean it is wrong for them to stop others from doing so. hypoccritical maybe, but not wrong.

Rose, if enough people want to change the laws they can.


And again, what about those hostages? none of this helps the hostages. the original question was a hypothetical question about hostages, and so was the second. So for now I don't care about America or Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Michael said: if enough people want to change the laws they can.

If those people wanting the change are a majority of the wealthy demographic, if they are organised with a reasonable alternative to the said law they are trying to change, if the government allows said people to put forward a bill for change…

In our country for example any change requires kilometres of red tape, millions of trees and lots of frustration. But I suppose if no one tried to change we would be a stagnant society with no beach bathing