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The Death of Osama bin Laden


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assassinate: to murder (a usually prominent person) by sudden or secret attack, often for political reasons

Works for me on all counts. It's interesting to see people backpedaling from the word, though. Osama was resisting, so it couldn't have been an assassination (as if people complacently let other people stroll up and shoot them in the head). Osama was armed (actually, no he wasn't).

Call it what it is. It was an assassination. This is what we're cheering.

"shoot to kill" order, assassination, manhunt, "targeted kill," whatever ...

Sun Tzu argued the value of assassinations in The Art of War. Machiavelli argued the same thing in The Prince. Elisha argued the same thing to Jehu. Is there anyone at all here who would have objected to the assassination of Hitler? I seem to remember Ehud doing just fine morally when he lost his sword in Eglon. There is nothing wrong with taking out a tyrant, terrorist, or other evil leader. The "Mossad" doesn't hesitate over little details about exactly how much resistance the "target" is putting up. There is nothing wrong in terms of speaking of the "good guys" and the "bad guys" here. All political incompetence and bad publicity aside, the Navy Seals in this instance were the good guys and they did their job well.

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assassinate: to murder (a usually prominent person) by sudden or secret attack, often for political reasons

Works for me on all counts. It's interesting to see people backpedaling from the word, though. Osama was resisting, so it couldn't have been an assassination (as if people complacently let other people stroll up and shoot them in the head). Osama was armed (actually, no he wasn't).

Call it what it is. It was an assassination. This is what we're cheering.

"shoot to kill" order, assassination, manhunt, "targeted kill," whatever ...

Sun Tzu argued the value of assassinations in The Art of War. Machiavelli argued the same thing in The Prince. Elisha argued the same thing to Jehu. Is there anyone at all here who would have objected to the assassination of Hitler? I seem to remember Ehud doing just fine morally when he lost his sword in Eglon. There is nothing wrong with taking out a tyrant, terrorist, or other evil leader. The "Mossad" doesn't hesitate over little details about exactly how much resistance the "target" is putting up. There is nothing wrong in terms of speaking of the "good guys" and the "bad guys" here. All political incompetence and bad publicity aside, the Navy Seals in this instance were the good guys and they did their job well.

There's that pesky Jesus guy, though.

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Yeah, but you're gonna have to connect the dots on that one. I don't recall a passage where Jesus speaks about government-sanctioned assassination.

Uh... How about "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do"?

Jesus' death was many things, but assassination it was not.

Edited by Ryan H.
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Maybe not in the "sudden or secret attack" sense, but the rest of the definition fits, methinks ...

The "sudden or secret attack" is the key part of the definition. Otherwise you can count every unjust trial that results in a death verdict for an important political figure as "assassination."

Edited by Ryan H.
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Maybe not in the "sudden or secret attack" sense, but the rest of the definition fits, methinks ...

The "sudden or secret attack" is the key part of the definition. Otherwise you can count every unjust trial that results in a death verdict for an important political figure as "assassination."

Check. Execution and assassination are two different things.

As an aside, whether waterboarding actually yielded actionable intel in this case is apparently unclear.

To conclude: the only "evidence" we have that torture "worked" is that people who stand to lose a lot for being discovered as war criminal tell us, on the basis of nothing, that their war crimes a) were not war crimes and B) worked.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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There's that pesky Jesus guy, though.

Who, among other things, told his disciples to sell their coats in order to buy swords for particular uses. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a follower of "that pesky Jesus guy" and a supporter of assassinating tyrants.

Yeah, but you're gonna have to connect the dots on that one. I don't recall a passage where Jesus speaks about government-sanctioned assassination.

Uh... How about "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do"?

A quotation that could never, upon any interpretation, be reasonably applied to the adventures of Ehud.

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As an aside, whether waterboarding actually yielded actionable intel in this case is apparently unclear.

To conclude: the only "evidence" we have that torture "worked" is that people who stand to lose a lot for being discovered as war criminal tell us, on the basis of nothing, that their war crimes a) were not war crimes and B) worked.

I also don't understand all the kerfuffle about waterboarding or torture in this particular instance. Regardless of what happened in this particular case, proponents and opponents seem to both be able to agree that (1) sometimes, torture interrogation tactics, can work to obtain actual information, and (2) more friendly, psychological interrogation tactics have been proven to be more successful in order to obtain actual information. It's the good cop/bad cop routine. Most of the time, they talk to the good cop, and most of the time, information provided to the "good cop" is generally more reliable than that provided under physical force.

If information leading to bin Laden's discovery was indeed provided due to waterboarding, this does not prove that the same information couldn't have been provided by different, less questionable interrogation techniques.

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There's that pesky Jesus guy, though.

Who, among other things, told his disciples to sell their coats in order to buy swords for particular uses. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a follower of "that pesky Jesus guy" and a supporter of assassinating tyrants.

Yep. But my point is that this is hardly a monolithic view that has been supported throughout the long history of the Church. Christians can and do disagree about these things. There are many Christians who would claim that following that pesky Jesus guy unequivocally precludes them supporting the assassination of anyone, including a tyrant. My own view is that this is what Jesus teaches. It's hard for me to understand "Love your enemies; bless those who curse you" in any other way. We could go round and round about individual vs. societal responsibility, etc., and I've gone round and round many times before. I don't want to do it again. I'm simply stating that your interpretation is not universally held within the Church.

Edited by Andy Whitman
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Andy Whitman wrote:

: assassinate: to murder (a usually prominent person) by sudden or secret attack, often for political reasons

Ah, so Merriam-Webster incorporates the implicitly moral component ("murder") into its definition (rather than a more neutral word like "kill"). Interesting.

mrmando wrote:

: Well, "torture" was the word I thought we were discussing, although the spectrum of opinions does more or less mirror that associated with the killing/murder/capital punishment debate.

Quite so. But are there words for separate places on the "torture" spectrum, the way that we have "kill" and "murder" and so forth? And I mean something colloquial; obviously "enhanced interrogation technique" is just a bureaucratic euphemism, like the Obama administration's preference for "man-caused disaster" rather than "terrorism".

: But was it, morally/ethically, or even tactically, the right thing to do?

Hmmm. I'd say it was morally justified, but that isn't necessarily the same thing as saying it was "the right thing to do." Perhaps there's a spectrum of rightness, and some things are more right than others -- but it doesn't necessarily follow that anything short of absolute perfection is necessarily wrong.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Quite so. But are there words for separate places on the "torture" spectrum, the way that we have "kill" and "murder" and so forth? And I mean something colloquial; obviously "enhanced interrogation technique" is just a bureaucratic euphemism, like the Obama administration's preference for "man-caused disaster" rather than "terrorism".

Hm. Well, there are military field manuals and protocols and such, outlining what U.S. personnel are and aren't officially allowed to do to prisoners ... these could go some way toward defining what is torture and what isn't, if you accept them as authoritative.

: But was it, morally/ethically, or even tactically, the right thing to do?

Hmmm. I'd say it was morally justified, but that isn't necessarily the same thing as saying it was "the right thing to do." Perhaps there's a spectrum of rightness, and some things are more right than others -- but it doesn't necessarily follow that anything short of absolute perfection is necessarily wrong.

Certainly. I'd say there was a menu of acceptable outcomes, and the outcome we got is somewhere on that menu ... but not necessarily at the top.

Edited by mrmando

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: But was it, morally/ethically, or even tactically, the right thing to do?

Hmmm. I'd say it was morally justified, but that isn't necessarily the same thing as saying it was "the right thing to do." Perhaps there's a spectrum of rightness, and some things are more right than others -- but it doesn't necessarily follow that anything short of absolute perfection is necessarily wrong.

"The right thing to do" carries some connotation of obligation or binding force. Not everything that is not necessarily "the" right thing to do is necessarily wrong. There is a wide scope of permissible but non-obligatory actions; indeed, most action that are not wrong probably fall under this heading. One may reasonably ask whether this act, even if it was not necessarily "the" right thing to do, was a right thing to do -- whether it was permissible, first, and prudent, second.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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Torture/harsh interrogations are precisely that - interrogations to get intelligence information - it's not like we're putting them on video camera and sawing their heads off.

I know it's probably unfair to single out the sentence above, out of a fairly long and thoughtful post - much of which I agreed with. But I'd like to make three points in response to it:

1) Although one can surely try to elide it out of existence with a chain of false equivalencies – "torture" -> "harsh interrogation" -> "interrogation" – torture remains, stubbornly, torture. I understand the point you're attempting to make, i.e. that we tortured not because we're sadists or because we want to terrorize, but in order to extract actionable intelligence. You apparently think that because we were dispassionate about it, rather than depraved, that made it alright. I couldn't disagree more, but I suspect we'll have to agree to disagree about that. Also, just how dispassionate we always were when we tortured is contested. Details are understandably hard to confirm, but it appears that more than a few detainees – possibly hundreds – died as a result of our "interrogations."

2) We actually did film at least one of the waterboarding sessions we conducted. Of course, this recording was never intended to "get out." The purpose for filming seems to have been so that if investigators missed or misunderstood anything that was said by the detainee during the session, there would be a way to review things later. It may also have been thought that the recording had value as a "training aid." Only later, after it dawned on some people who knew of its existence that the recording might well represent prosecutable evidence of a war crime, and only after express orders were given that the recording not be destroyed, was the recording destroyed.

3) I'm guessing that the phrase "putting them on video camera and sawing their heads off" is a reference to the Daniel Pearl video, or others like it. Al-Qaeda has certainly tortured many people, in worse ways than we have. But is it right for us to relativize our own use of torture in this way? Is it right to allow the most barbarous conduct imaginable to be any sort of moral barometer for our wartime conduct? It's understood that we may not always be able to live up to our ideals under the exigencies of war, but shouldn't we always strive to do so? If the harsh realities of war often inhibit our asking "What would Jesus do?" – are we not at least required to ask "What would Ike do?" I may be wrong, but I don't think Eisenhower would have ever condoned torture.

[i fear that last part may get me in trouble. It probably won't be fifteen minutes before someone replies (with embedded links) to the effect that Ike wasn't as noble in wartime as all that.]

Edited by tenpenny

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Invading Iraq was good al-Qaeda recruitment over the years, but it was the sort of recruitment we want - forcing al-Qaeda to fight in order to prevent their own people from being free instead of to fighting at our homeland is winning the fight within both public relations and national security spheres.

Um...huh? You realize that for much of the decade we did exactly what Bin Laden wanted-right? He wanted us to go into Iraq. He wanted us to be pouring money into unending war upon unending war. He wanted to do to us what he did to the Soviet Union. Exhaust us physically and financially. And when I listen to people talk about our financial future in this country? It sounds like he may have won the war. His death strikes me as much less a clarion call (even with people celebrating) that would necessarily fulfill that. Granted, I can see how if we followed the suggestions of some (burying him in pig fat, his head on a pike at ground zero) would incite some... but there is a reason we did not.

There seems to be zero evidence that bin Laden wanted us to go to Iraq. Indeed, the fact that al-Qaeda has been constantly sending & financing insurgents to fight both us and the newly elected Iraqi government logically leads to the conclusion that al-Qaeda does not want a representative Democracy in Iraq. This is contrary to the will of the majority of the Iraqi people who do, in fact, want to elect their own leaders.

Thus, comparing our military action in Iraq for al-Qaeda recruitment purposes to the death of bin Laden for al-Qaeda recruitment purposes is a false comparison. The war in Iraq recruits al-Qaeda terrorists to fight against establishing a Western form of government in Iraq, while bin Laden's death (and American celebration) could easily recruit terrorists to simply hate and kill more Americans. This is a big difference, particularly as to completely different geographical fronts - one of which is our homes and families. Laying the financial problems of our country at the door of the war in Iraq is completely ignoring so many other factors that you might as well abolish learning anything at all about economics altogether. Osama bin Laden, for all he was guilty of, was not guilty for our government's financial incompetence.

This thread seemed directed at the question of whether bin Laden's death ought to be celebrated. Concluding that the answer is no, for Christian, moral, practical, diplomatic, public relations, and tactical reasons is not to conclude that we should not have killed bin Laden the way we did.

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There seems to be zero evidence that bin Laden wanted us to go to Iraq. Indeed, the fact that al-Qaeda has been constantly sending & financing insurgents to fight both us and the newly elected Iraqi government logically leads to the conclusion that al-Qaeda does not want a representative Democracy in Iraq.

It's my understanding that Al-Qaeda doesn't want any form of government, in Iraq or anywhere else, other than a particular interpretation of Islamic law enforced at gunpoint. I've heard tell that Al-Qaeda's uber-objective is the abolition of nation-states.

Edited by mrmando

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But my point is that this is hardly a monolithic view that has been supported throughout the long history of the Church. Christians can and do disagree about these things. There are many Christians who would claim that following that pesky Jesus guy unequivocally precludes them supporting the assassination of anyone, including a tyrant. My own view is that this is what Jesus teaches. It's hard for me to understand "Love your enemies; bless those who curse you" in any other way. We could go round and round about individual vs. societal responsibility, etc., and I've gone round and round many times before. I don't want to do it again. I'm simply stating that your interpretation is not universally held within the Church.

I guess I'd just recommend the films Friendly Persuasion and Sergeant York, both of which included characters with the beliefs you are referring to. While I think Christian pacifism has both sophisticated and legitimate theological arguments, I'd lean towards still considering it the minority view.

1) ... I understand the point you're attempting to make, i.e. that we tortured not because we're sadists or because we want to terrorize, but in order to extract actionable intelligence. You apparently think that because we were dispassionate about it, rather than depraved, that made it alright. I couldn't disagree more, but I suspect we'll just have to agree to disagree about that. Also, just how dispassionate we always were were when we tortured is contested. Details are understandably hard to confirm, but it appears that more than a few detainees – possibly hundreds – died as a result of our "interrogations."

Not quite my point - instead, it was that (1) physically painful interrogation tactics can result in useful information, and (2) psychological (non-torture) interrogation tactics generally work better. Does admitting these two presuppositions lead one to conclude that technique #1 is always morally wrong under every single conceivable circumstance? Not necessarily. But that doesn't mean we can't have a policy preference towards technique #2. Given that there is no evidence that we have killed hundreds of suspects during interrogation, I see no reason to speculate on the possibility that we have. I also, unlike others on the right, have zero interest in proving that water-boarding was used to give us the location of bin Laden, since that still doesn't prove it was necessary.

Only later, after it dawned on some people who knew of its existence that the recording might well represent prosecutable evidence of a war crime, and only after express orders were given that the recording not be destroyed, was the recording destroyed.

I can't remember any time when water-boarding was actually a secret. When I was in the army, a couple of my friends and I decided to "water-board" each other just to see which of us could last the longest without tapping out. So we tried it, of our own accord, without any authority telling us to. So, having experienced the sensation of drowning that it gives you, and having lasted for a much shorter time than I thought I'd be able to last, I can say it is a form of "torture." What I don't understand is the huge controversy about it. We can and have frowned upon questionable methods of interrogation for years - and we ought to be able to do so without forcing men like Lieutenant Colonel Allen West into retirement.

3) I'm guessing that the phrase "putting them on video camera and sawing their heads off" is a reference to the Daniel Pearl video, or others like it. Al-Qaeda has certainly tortured many people, in worse ways than we have. But is it right for us to relativize our own use of torture in this way? Is it right to allow the most barbarous conduct imaginable to be any sort of moral barometer for our wartime conduct? It's understood that we may not always be able to live up to our ideals under the exigencies of war, but shouldn't we always strive to do so? If the harsh realities of war often inhibit our asking "What would Jesus do?" – are we not at least required to ask "What would Ike do?" I may be wrong, but I don't think Eisenhower would have ever condoned torture.

It's not relativizing to say that there is still a moral difference between us and them. We are striving for completely different goals. These sorts of comparisons still remind me of news media comparisons between the CIA and the KGB during the Cold War, arguing that both used the same barbarous conduct and thus both were morally equivalent ... or the old hat "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" schtick. I think it was Buckley who said that making these sorts of comparisons is on the level of saying that the thug who knocked down an old lady in order to steal her purse was no worse than the boyscout, who knocked down an old lady in order to save her from an incoming speeding car, on the simplistic grounds that both the thug and the boyscout knocked down old ladies.

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Hmm. I watched that, and didn't chuckle in the least. I usually find Ferrell's Bush funny, even when I disagree with his point. In this case, I couldn't figure out what his point was at all. The video seemed to be made on the proposition that Ferrell's Bush is just funny in and of himself, as a character, regardless of what he does or says. I clicked the "DIE" button on that one.

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1) ... I understand the point you're attempting to make, i.e. that we tortured not because we're sadists or because we want to terrorize, but in order to extract actionable intelligence. You apparently think that because we were dispassionate about it, rather than depraved, that made it alright. I couldn't disagree more, but I suspect we'll just have to agree to disagree about that. Also, just how dispassionate we always were were when we tortured is contested. Details are understandably hard to confirm, but it appears that more than a few detainees – possibly hundreds – died as a result of our "interrogations."

Not quite my point - instead, it was that (1) physically painful interrogation tactics can result in useful information, and (2) psychological (non-torture) interrogation tactics generally work better. Does admitting these two presuppositions lead one to conclude that technique #1 is always morally wrong under every single conceivable circumstance? Not necessarily. But that doesn't mean we can't have a policy preference towards technique #2. Given that there is no evidence that we have killed hundreds of suspects during interrogation, I see no reason to speculate on the possibility that we have. I also, unlike others on the right, have zero interest in proving that water-boarding was used to give us the location of bin Laden, since that still doesn't prove it was necessary.

The paucity of evidence regarding the true number of detainee deaths in custody is due to the very active suppression of it by the U.S. government, supposedly on the grounds of national security, but probably on the grounds of ass-covering. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Only later, after it dawned on some people who knew of its existence that the recording might well represent prosecutable evidence of a war crime, and only after express orders were given that the recording not be destroyed, was the recording destroyed.

I can't remember any time when water-boarding was actually a secret. When I was in the army, a couple of my friends and I decided to "water-board" each other just to see which of us could last the longest without tapping out. So we tried it, of our own accord, without any authority telling us to. So, having experienced the sensation of drowning that it gives you, and having lasted for a much shorter time than I thought I'd be able to last, I can say it is a form of "torture." What I don't understand is the huge controversy about it. We can and have frowned upon questionable methods of interrogation for years - and we ought to be able to do so without forcing men like Lieutenant Colonel Allen West into retirement.

You're right, of course, about waterboarding not being a secret. What I should have said, then, is that while everybody knows that waterboarding was done, it may very well be that the only thing that keeps the people who participated in it safe from war crimes prosecution, is the fact that the tape of it never got out (if you doubt this, then explain why direct orders to preserve the tape were flagrantly disobeyed). Because if they were ever presented with the visual and audio record of what actually happened in that session of torture, the public might actually believe their own "lying eyes," instead of the bland bureaucratic reassurances of the government press minders, and demand some actual accountability for a war crime. As it stands, there's been zero accountability for our torturing.

I confess that your reasoning on this topic is baffling to me. You say waterboarding is torture, but then you act like it's no big deal, because we've always frowned upon it, so why the huge controversy? It's like the fraudulent post-9/11 legal reasoning used to justify torture never happened. News flash: Torture wasn't frowned upon during a sizable chunk of the years of Bush's presidency. Then Obama came into office and (so he says) he rescinded torture as national policy. Hadn't you heard? It was in all the papers.

3) I'm guessing that the phrase "putting them on video camera and sawing their heads off" is a reference to the Daniel Pearl video, or others like it. Al-Qaeda has certainly tortured many people, in worse ways than we have. But is it right for us to relativize our own use of torture in this way? Is it right to allow the most barbarous conduct imaginable to be any sort of moral barometer for our wartime conduct? It's understood that we may not always be able to live up to our ideals under the exigencies of war, but shouldn't we always strive to do so? If the harsh realities of war often inhibit our asking "What would Jesus do?" – are we not at least required to ask "What would Ike do?" I may be wrong, but I don't think Eisenhower would have ever condoned torture.

It's not relativizing to say that there is still a moral difference between us and them. We are striving for completely different goals. These sorts of comparisons still remind me of news media comparisons between the CIA and the KGB during the Cold War, arguing that both used the same barbarous conduct and thus both were morally equivalent ... or the old hat "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" schtick. I think it was Buckley who said that making these sorts of comparisons is on the level of saying that the thug who knocked down an old lady in order to steal her purse was no worse than the boyscout, who knocked down an old lady in order to save her from an incoming speeding car, on the simplistic grounds that both the thug and the boyscout knocked down old ladies.

If you can't see that by equivocating on our use of torture you are undermining the very thing, the very moral difference, that separates "us" and "them" - then far be it from me to be a candle to your darkness. Your argument, with references to schticks, boy scouts and old ladies, is a non sequitur in terms of my position.

For the Word of God and God wills always and in all things to accomplish the mystery of his embodiment. – Maximus the Confessor

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CrimsonLine wrote:

: It IS a very subtle and layered verse, when quoted in full, isn't it?

Perhaps. The implicit idea, though, that God will punish you in this life for your actions -- and that your enemy's future success will be Your Fault -- doesn't sit well with me. I could never quote verse 17 in good conscience without quoting verse 18, because I don't want to fall into that evangelical trap of moralistic proof-texting or pulling verses out of context. But I don't know that I could quote verse 18 in good conscience At All.

mrmando wrote:

: Hm. Well, there are military field manuals and protocols and such, outlining what U.S. personnel are and aren't officially allowed to do to prisoners ... these could go some way toward defining what is torture and what isn't, if you accept them as authoritative.

I might accept them as authoritative; I don't know that I'd accept them as colloquial. ;)

Incidentally, with regard to the debate over whether waterboarding and the like contributed to bin Laden's execution, it's my understanding that the intel on this goes back to 2005, when one of the people who identified one of bin Laden's couriers was captured (or something like that). So even if Obama HAS suspended the practice, that doesn't mean Bush-era policies didn't contribute to the success of this mission somehow.

: I'd say there was a menu of acceptable outcomes, and the outcome we got is somewhere on that menu ... but not necessarily at the top.

Keeping in mind that the "moral/ethical" menu and the "tactical" menu might prioritize those outcomes differently.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Andy, I know you don't want to go around and around on a lot of this, but I can't help but think that using Jesus' more pacific utterances to criticize government actions (as opposed to individual actions) renders Jesus remarks incoherent. How does a nation turn the other cheek (and how many turns and when does one say "enough"), give its cloak too? I accept that individuals and fellowships can eschew violence and/or retaliation full stop. I cannot see how one must expect a government, who's only real mandate is to protect its citizens ( and a forward defense is infinitely more succesful than a static defense) and to keep the peace among its citizens at bottom can be expected to conform to individual mandates without serious contortions and serious vulnerability to its real purpose. It would seem to me that it was for the individuals in Seal Team Six and their commanders to wrestle with this, not the administration.

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"During the contest trial, the Coleman team presented evidence of a further 6500 absentees that it felt deserved to be included under the process that had produced the prior 933 [submitted by Franken, rk]. The three judges finally defined what constituted a 'legal' absentee ballot. Countable ballots, for instance, had to contain the signature of the voter, complete registration information, and proper witness credentials.

But the panel only applied the standards going forward, severely reducing the universe of additional basentees the Coleman team could hope to have included. In the end, the three judges allowed about 350 additional absentees to be counted. The panel also did nothing about the hundreds, possibly thousands, of absentees that have already been legally included, yet are now 'illegal' according to the panel's own ex-post definition."

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The implicit idea, though, that God will punish you in this life for your actions -- and that your enemy's future success will be Your Fault -- doesn't sit well with me. I could never quote verse 17 in good conscience without quoting verse 18, because I don't want to fall into that evangelical trap of moralistic proof-texting or pulling verses out of context. But I don't know that I could quote verse 18 in good conscience At All.

Doesn't really bother me that much. It's not the most pleasant idea, but I don't find it abhorrent. There are more difficult Biblical passages to wrestle with than that one.

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