We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Pot, Meet Kettle.

The United States Government, feeling that it does not have a sufficient worldwide reputation for completely lacking self awareness, has decided to indict members of the Chinese PLA for conducting computer based espionage against US commercial targets.

Note that the Snowden releases have revealed that the US has engaged in precisely the same behavior, including numerous attacks against Chinese equipment maker Huawei.

Indeed, we currently lack evidence that the Chinese state has conducted wholesale interception of calls from entire countries, but the NSA has done precisely that. We have no evidence that the Chinese have intercepted US equipment shipments and sabotaged them, but the NSA has done precisely that. We have no evidence that the Chinese have systematically undermined internet standards or bribed security companies to sabotage their own software to make communications less secure, but the NSA had done precisely that. Indeed, I could reiterate dozens of Snowden revelations here, but I won’t waste everyone’s time by doing so. (Note that I do not claim the Chinese government has not done such things, only that we do not have evidence of it, while we know for certain that the US government has done such things.)

Today’s rhetorical question is therefore this: if foreign countries begin indicting and arresting US officials for espionage and industrial sabotage, will the US government protest?

63 comments to Pot, Meet Kettle.

  • Kevin B

    I should think there would be a pretty pointed hashtag on twitter tout de suite.

  • Yet again that bloody Metzger beats me to a functionally identical post by a matter of minutes, haha :-P

    Yes, it would be hard to not be struck by the irony of the government of the United States of America… yes, that United States of America… nobly standing up to those wicked, wicked cyber-criminal foreigners poking around people’s private business without so much as a by your leave…

  • Concerning espionage, there is a lot to be said for not getting caught!!

    Best regards

  • CaptDMO

    Please note:
    It is the current US executive leadership, subsequently appointed Department heads, and their supporting party “representatives”, that are absolutely adept at the “atmosphere” of projection.
    I accept blame for this myself, for not voting early, or often, enough.

  • RRS

    And whatever happened to those Iranian centrifuge programs?

    Perhaps this will give the PLA people something closer to “Due Process” than was accorded to U S citizen Anwar al-Alawki.

    Bad times make for bad people -or- is it t’other way around?

  • Sigivald

    Note that the Snowden releases have revealed that the US has engaged in precisely the same behavior, including numerous attacks against Chinese equipment maker Huawei.

    And the Chinese government is welcome to indict anyone in the NSA they can finger, for espionage, aren’t they?

    That’s how international relations and spying work, last I checked.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    That’s how international relations and spying work, last I checked.

    Not quite. In particular, it is rather unprecedented to indict foreigners living abroad and working for foreign spy agencies. It is doubly unusual given that anger is being expressed over them performing actions the US’s own spy agencies perform.

    The real reason for the public show is to distract from the torrent of news stories centered around the actions of NSA and GCHQ, not because there is a legitimate grievance the US government has against the Chinese government.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    I can only claim, and hope I’m right, that the Obama administration isn’t the same thing as the US Government, at least in the long term. I wish I was surer of this.

  • Mr Ed

    Surely it’s the kettle calling the wok?

  • Vinegar Joe

    Obama & Co really know how to make friends and influence people.

  • Laird

    You people just don’t understand. We’re the good guys, so when the NSA spies it’s OK. The Chinese are evil, so when they spy it’s bad. Why is that so difficult?

  • Nick (Blame The French) Gray

    Laird, it’s because the Chinese don’t wear black hats- sorry! I meant African-American hats.

  • Barry Sheridan

    Umm! Not sure about this line of thinking. Firstly, as all ought to know, all the major States conduct intelligence gathering using whatever methods deliver. China has become very successful in gathering industrial, political and military secrets using State organised remote technical means such as computer hacking and the more down to earth efforts of its diaspora.

    I do not doubt for a moment that most westerners are naïve about the full scope of these activities. This might suggest then that some of the motivations for this peculiar action by the US has more to do with making everyone more conscious and careful. After all China routinely ignores western concepts of intellectual or patent rights when it comes to using its gains, this is to the detriment of those who toiled to produce such work.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    The Chinese are the bad guys. Their contempt for the value of life makes them one of the most poisonous forces in the world today.

    The Americans, nominally at least, are the good guys. If someone is going to be running the total surveilance state, the Americans are the best choice (although the Israelis would probably do a decent job with it too). To imply an equivalance between America and China here is disingenuous. Their actions do not have equal moral utility.

    When China does these things, it is worse than when America does these things because their motives and driving ideology are worse.

    That’s not to say it is good for America to behave this way. It isn’t. But if China had carte blanche to behave in this way, it would be far, far worse. Obama may be the death of it, but there is still a degree of truth to American Exceptionalism. They are special, and different rules apply to them.

    Of course, maybe that shouldn’t be the case. But there’s no point in pretending that this isn’t the case when discussing such matters.

  • If someone is going to be running the total surveilance state, the Americans are the best choice

    Not really Jaded but if that is what the world comes down to, we might as well give up now.

    I try to avoid saying ‘the Americans’ at times like this, preferring ‘the American state’ (Edward Snowden is an American too)… so is the American state preferable to the Chinese state? Yes. And so what? Really. So what? It is a bit like saying “Thugs A rapes, tortures and murders his victims…. Thug B merely murders them, ergo Thug B is preferable” Well yes, I suppose that is true in the most coarse utilitarian sense. Does that means in a confrontation between Thug A and Thug B, I must therefore hold my nose and stand with Thug B at the barricades? I think not. “None of the above” is actually a very viable option, particularly when it comes to issues like this (which is a transparent attempt by the USA to direct attention away from its own malfeasance).

    but there is still a degree of truth to American Exceptionalism

    Indeed, and what makes the USA so exceptional is its economic and military power giving it the ability to export not just the best, but also the very worse aspects of that remarkable place to the rest of the planet. And over the last decade, it has steadily done a larger and larger and larger proportion of the later rather than the former. Having a total surveillance state WILL turn the USA into something in no way, shape or form preferable to China in the long run. It is not just bad for the rest of the world, it is catastrophic for the USA.

  • but there is still a degree of truth to American Exceptionalism. They are special, and different rules apply to them.

    Exactly, JV – more stringent and demanding rules, at that.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I don’t doubt what you say about America’s future Perry, but right now America is infinitely preferable to China. It’s not a small difference, so to imply that it is the same as the difference between (rape+murder) and (murder) is untrue.

    Americans, for example, don’t arrest people en masse for speaking against the state, make pastors of house-churches disappear, tie women to beds and force them to undergo abortions, try to erase all reference to Tianamen from the internet etc. etc. The Chinese government is evil.

    Perhaps I’m an idealist, but I still perceive the American government as one that is for the most part well intentioned, but commits acts of evil out of an unfortunately flexible attitude to ethics when it comes to the defense of the state or its people. Think Jack Bauer with a blowtorch…..

    America is nothing like China morally speaking. I agree it is a problem that the distinction is narrowing, but they are still nothing alike. Maybe that distinction will be gone in 10 years – but I doubt it.

    And if there must be ethical Jack Bauers in this world, I much prefer that they’re American than Chinese. I admit this is largely selfish, since such people are much more likely to target those who would do me harm than they are to target me personally.

    When considering their actions in isolation yes America is “worse” than China but the point I’m making is that the relative actions of America and China are not the only consideration here. America generally speaking tends to do bad things but for broadly “good” reasons, whereas China does bad things for “bad” reasons. If you’re on the receiving end of some waterboarding perhaps this distinction wont seem to matter much, but to everyone else I think it is a relevant consideration. America may be a thug, but globally speaking they are “our” thug.

    None of this detracts from what you said about Americas behaviour of late being a problem, but I still think it unfair to compare America and China as if you’re comparing like for like. You aren’t.

  • America generally speaking tends to do bad things but for broadly “good” reasons, whereas China does bad things for “bad” reasons.

    JV, if by ‘America’ you mean the current US Administration, then I strongly disagree. It includes open Mao admirers, FFS.

  • I don’t doubt what you say about America’s future Perry, but right now America is infinitely preferable to China.

    Yes it is preferable. It is not infinitely preferable. Indeed China’s ability to spread its unmitigated poison beyond Asia is vast less than the USA’s ability to spread its better organised mitigated poison globally.

    It’s not a small difference, so to imply that it is the same as the difference between (rape+murder) and (murder) is untrue.

    The USA has magnificent enshrined gun rights… and the highest prison population per capita in the world (even if it could reasonably be argued that North Korea’s prison population is 100%. But if that is the mitigating comparison I have to make…).

    The USA has freedom of expression… and treats its subjects as taxable property of the state even if they leave the country forever.

    The USA has the magnificent 4th Amendment… and civil forfeiture laws that are pretty much without equal in how arbitrary and stacked they are anywhere in the First World. And these laws get used a lot. Really a lot.

    The USA has Habeas Corpus… and paramilitary law enforcement and large areas of the country that are essentially constitution-free zones.

    The USA does bad things all the time and it has vastly more global influence and power than China. Yes, China is evil, but I am more worried by the USA most of the time.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Perry and Alisa, those are all very good points. America could be so much better, and does indeed appear to be getting worse (especially since FATCA). But if you had to choose, whose troops would you rather have marching past your front door?

  • American troops for sure JV, which is lucky as one is VASTLY more likely to find American ones marching past your door than Chinese ones, pretty much anywhere other than China

  • Laird

    “The Americans, nominally at least, are the good guys.” I’ll accept that, JV, but note the important qualifier “nominally”. On a relative scale we may indeed be closer to the angels, but the difference is shrinking daily. That’s why it’s appropriate and necessary to cry “hypocrite” at times like these: to maintain the pressure on our government to keep at least a little mud off its white hat.

    However, and more directly to the specific matter at issue, according to Bloomberg, “By bringing the indictment, the U.S. draws a distinction between government surveillance for national security and the theft of commercial secrets of private companies to boost Chinese competitors.” That is actually a legitimate point. The US government may be archiving all of our emails and keeping “metadata” on our cell phone calls, but (as far as I know) isn’t using any of that data to benefit private commercial interests. Not yet, anyway.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    I’m not actually sure that American troops are better than Chinese ones during occupation operations. I recognize JV may not have been intending to ask this question quite so literally, but I think it is worth answering literally.

    The civilian death toll in Iraq during the occupation was astonishingly high. The US’s military rarely takes terribly strong measures to protect civilians during warfare overseas — what it does do is work hard to give the appearance of protecting civilians, which is not the same thing at all. During US occupations, the US military does not enforce US law — there was no first amendment in Iraq, no second amendment, no fourth amendment, no real rule of law at all. There were even a number of massacres of civilians that had no real consequence to the occupiers. I think the last time the US can be called an overall positive influence during an occupation was the end of the Second World War, when it appears to have done reasonably well by Japan and West Germany.

    Meanwhile, China does not have a recent history of overseas occupations to compare with it — for all we know, they might be indifferent, benevolent or malevolent. (I do not count Tibet, as that was an outright annexation.) What models we do have, like Hong Kong, would seem to indicate that they’re capable of leaving people’s rights mostly intact provided that there is no threat to the Chinese state back home in Beijing.

    Of course, I do not want to be a part of the experiment in any case.

    I believe Jaded Voluntaryist really means to ask “which country would you prefer to be stuck in”, and there, yes, certainly, the answer is the United States, though I will also point out that the trends on freedom in the US are moving generally downwards, while the trends in China have been improving with time. It is entirely unclear that in forty years that the situation may not have reversed itself.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    As an aside getting back to the original post: in the last 24 hours there has been extensive coverage of this story in the US media. In no case have I heard it even mentioned that the US government has also been conducting systematic industrial espionage.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Laird writes:

    The US government may be archiving all of our emails and keeping “metadata” on our cell phone calls, but (as far as I know) isn’t using any of that data to benefit private commercial interests. Not yet, anyway.

    I’m afraid that’s untrue. The Snowden revelations indicate that the product of NSA espionage has been used both to assist US diplomats during trade negotiations and to assist US corporations.

  • The US government doesn’t have to use our data to benefit private commercial interests. That’s Google’s job.

  • Barry Sheridan

    It must be said that no Constitutional safeguards will prevent the corruption of an established order should those living under it abandon their commitment to hold their leadership and themselves to honest account. While this judgement does not apply to everyone, there is little doubt that many American citizens have been tempted by other considerations whose combinations have eroded what has been best about the world’s premier nation. We see in the seductions offered by ‘pork barrel politics, the ‘legal extortions of the class action’ and the growing greed of the public sector at the expense of everyone else the means by which it has become difficult to hold fast to what has been honourable. Complicit in this decay is the decline of the US media. Whereas once it fearlessly exposed what might have threatened the independent social structures, that wellspring of instinctive American decency, it now acts to promote the irrational and dishonest fears of its own agenda, rather that sense. Little wonder then the decay is well set.

  • Julie near Chicago

    I would like personally to thank JV and also Alisa for specifically NOT confusing “America,” the body politic composed of my countrymen and me, with our frankly evil administration and the legislative bodies which one may be excused for thinking of (in the large) as whores both in and out of church.

    On the day when China holds open, honest courts-martial for such things as the dressing of prisoners’ noggins in ladies’ intimate lingerie*, we will compare and contrast the practical ethics of the American vs. the Chinese military. Until then, how about we put a sock on it.

    *Yes, I know there were other “abuses” at Abu Ghraib, and perhaps one or two or even three of them don’t deserve the quotes. But the biggest fuss was over the incident mentioned. The other really big fuss was over the Koran that wasn’t flushed at Guantánamo.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I believe Jaded Voluntaryist really means to ask “which country would you prefer to be stuck in”, and there, yes, certainly, the answer is the United States, though I will also point out that the trends on freedom in the US are moving generally downwards, while the trends in China have been improving with time. It is entirely unclear that in forty years that the situation may not have reversed itself.

    While I wouldn’t rule anything out, this would require a fundamental shift in the culture of both nations. America was founded upon, and many of its people still adhere to, the fundamental importance of the individual (especially their autonomy). This doctrine is the foundation of the concept of individual liberty. China on the other hand is governed on the principle (sometimes espoused as “Asian Values”) that the individual categorically does not matter, and that what matters is society as a whole. That is, you can do no end of horrible things to individuals as long as society as a whole can be characterised as benefiting. This doctrine is absolutely incompatible with a free society.

    Frankly I think America would descend into revolution long before it turned into China. Given the mindless Mao-worship you see among many Chinese, the reverse may also be true.

  • Frankly I think America would descend into revolution long before it turned into China.

    One would hope, and for a peaceful one at that :-/

  • Regional

    Yes Perry,
    Iraq has become a place of sunshine, rainbows and unicorns since the Seppos left while Iran is the epitome of a robust tolerant democracy. The Middle East with the Seppos withdrawing is becoming a much better place.
    If you don’t spy it’s to your own peril.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    “Regional” writes:

    Iraq has become a place of sunshine, rainbows and unicorns since the Seppos left while Iran is the epitome of a robust tolerant democracy. The Middle East with the Seppos withdrawing is becoming a much better place.

    Is there meant to be an argument in there somewhere? I see some innuendo, a bit of distraction, some conflation, but not an argument.

    Perhaps we should recall that a million or so excess civilian deaths have happened since the US invaded Iraq on the false claim that the Baathist regime was producing weapons of mass destruction. It requires quite an astonishing bit of work to make a country run by a bloodthirsty tyrant into an even worse place, but the United States managed that. This is not an excusable bit of unfortunate behavior we can all simply smile and agree to ignore.

    Your comment about the place being far from a tolerant democracy is, of course, evidence for precisely the opposite of your apparent opinion. The United States claimed it could fix the country and make it better. In fact, whether viewed on the level of realpolitik (the US took a country that opposed Iran and turned it into an Iranian ally and destroyed its reputation as a moral actor in much of the world), at the level of the “War on Terror” (the US spawned vast numbers of new terrorists in a country that was previously not a source of them), at the level of US financial interests (literal trillions of dollars were flushed down the toilet — more than enough to have cured Alzheimer’s, say, or to have made a serious impact on the hundreds of thousands of people who die every year from medical errors), at the level of war crimes (the US is documented to have committed a huge number of them during the occupation), at the level of civilian casualties, or on any other level, the war was a total failure, one of the most counterproductive policy decisions ever made by a government known for astonishingly counterproductive policies.

    And of course, you finish by saying

    If you don’t spy it’s to your own peril.

    — but of course, the US spied to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, and yet Iraq was still a botched operation from conception to finish.

    And, of course, none of this explains why the US should be going around indicting Chinese spies for doing exactly what US spies are doing.

    So what exactly is your point, “Regional”? Was there one, buried in that paragraph somewhere?

  • Regional

    Perry,
    Are you claiming more people have perished in Iraq because of American action than Germans perished during the Bombing Campaign against ‘Nazi’ Germany?
    The Seppos haven’t intervened in Syria, why?

  • Nick (Blame The French) Gray

    Hey, guys, the way to fix China, and all Asian countries, is to get them to grow wheat! Scientists think that rice-growing encourages group-think, because villages need to co-operate to grow the stuff. It needs more water than wheat. So get them to switch. Real Men Grow Wheat, that sort of thing! That’ll make them more individualistic!

  • Nick (Blame The French) Gray

    Where’s Eddie? That could be the next excuse to expand the warfare state! If you find him, don’t let on, just claim he’s elsewhere, and occupy that country. Does Edward Townsend really exist, or did the U.S. create him as the ultimate bogeyman?

  • Nick (Blame The French) Gray

    Please replace ‘Townsend’ with ‘Snowden’. I’m in desperate need of coffee!

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    “Regional” writes:

    Are you claiming more people have perished in Iraq because of American action than Germans perished during the Bombing Campaign against ‘Nazi’ Germany?

    The best statistics from both conflicts are approximate and only give us information to within a factor of two or so. They are, however, indeed roughly similar numbers — either might be the larger figure depending on where the unknowable truth lies. (I’m not sure, by the way, why you needed quotes around “Nazi”.) Note that I’m not quoting direct killings by US troops in Iraq, but rather deaths from violence in Iraq over the period of the US war and occupation, and comparing them (as you invite) to bombing deaths of civilians in Germany during WW-II.

    The Seppos haven’t intervened in Syria, why?

    If you start asking additional questions in non-pejorative fashion, and you restrict them to the topic at hand, it will perhaps then be worth answering them.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Actually, let me correct that. The high end of the estimates for civilian casualties due to the allied bombing campaign appears to be around 600,000, which is the low end of the estimated civilian death toll in Iraq, so Iraq was indeed probably worse, though it is slightly possible that, if the high end of the estimate for Germany is true and the low end of the Iraq estimate is true, that the German figure was higher.

  • Regional

    Perry Metzer,
    If you honestly believe the Americans killed a 1,000,000 Iraqis, where are the graves?

  • Chip

    Saddam was apparently killing 5000 people a month through outright murder and general conflict, so if you want to reduce this to math the question is now how many people are alive because Saddam is gone.

    And this doesn’t include deaths from malnutrition, lack of care and those sanctions. Of course there was also the matter of 5 million refugees.

  • Chip

    Will Iraq invade Kuwait again?

    What’s the benefit of not having 20,000 US troops in Saudi, which was Bin Ladens number one reason for attacking the US?

    Lower oil prices for the poor thanks to rising Iraqi production?

    Cost benefit analysis involves more than a study of deaths you plucked off the Internet – after initially being off by 400,000 dead.

  • I actually do think that shithole Iraq is a manifestly better off shithole now than it was under Saddam… however that has no bearing on the fact the NSA and American power generally makes the USA a global threat, whereas China is really a regional threat.

    And whilst that does not make the actions of Chinese state any more acceptable, to me the joke here is the USA acting as if it has the moral high ground in the arena of global espionage and specifically commercial espionage (what with the NSA spying on folks like that hot bed of terrorism Brazil, for what was obviously commercial reasons…)

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Regional writes:

    If you honestly believe the Americans killed a 1,000,000 Iraqis, where are the graves?

    In Iraq.

    By the way, I will repeat that I did not state that the US troops killed a million Iraqis, but rather that there were likely a million excess civilian deaths during US invasion and occupation, including such things as deaths from terrorist bombings, deaths from shootings by “civilian” security contractors, murders by local Iraqi death squads, etc.

    Note also that we don’t, and can likely never know, know the exact number. What we have are estimates, based on fairly rigorous statistical methodology.

  • What we have are estimates, based on fairly rigorous statistical methodology.

    Actually, what we have here for the most part are speculations of the what-if sort – as in: how many Iraqis would have died had the US not invaded Iraq, and Saddam continued killing Iraqis (and Saudis, Kuwaitis and Iranians) as before. Do you know, Perry? Because I sure don’t.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Actually, what we have here for the most part are speculations of the what-if sort – as in: how many Iraqis would have died had the US not invaded Iraq, and Saddam continued killing Iraqis (and Saudis, Kuwaitis and Iranians) as before. Do you know, Perry? Because I sure don’t.

    Field teams doing on-site surveys based on randomized statistical methodology and verifying death certificates with public authorities are not “speculation”. Verification of death rates through time by this means is also not “speculation”. Perhaps you don’t like the results because you find them irritating, but if this is “speculation” then so is every study that has ever been done using statistical methodology including medical experiments and political polling.

    As one example, the Roberts survey, published in the Lancet in 2006, is an exceptionally well done piece of research. I’ve read the paper myself and can find no fault with it. The authors were incredibly careful, explained their methods in considerable detail, and I’ve seen no serious detailed critique that makes any sense. The cluster survey methodology was developed for use in other conflicts and is well understood.

    Even the counts based purely on news reports are in the 150,000 deaths range, and it is reasonably presumed that news reports dramatically undercount casualties. That has certainly been the case in other conflicts that have been intensely studied. The survey studies therefore produce results that seem entirely consistent with the news report based counts.

    You state that “you sure don’t” know what the death rates might have been, but that can only be because of your own lack of attempt to become informed. The information is out there in the journals waiting for you to read it.

    I would like to repeat that Saddam Hussein was clearly a tyrant whose regime floated on a sea of blood. That does not make what happened during and after the invasion by US forces excusable.

    I will also repeat what is simply a fact: the invasion was predicated on the claim that the Baathist regime was constructing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, none of which were subsequently found in spite of an extraordinarily well funded and motivated search. The fact that there wasn’t even enough to base a politically exaggerated claim upon, in spite of the intense desire of the Bush and Blair administrations to provide such evidence, is I believe definitive proof that the original UN weapons inspectors reports were accurate and no such programs existed at the time of the invasion.

  • You state that “you sure don’t” know what the death rates might have been, but that can only be because of your own lack of attempt to become informed. The information is out there in the journals waiting for you to read it.

    Er, there is information as to what might have been? I find this fascinating, and would appreciate links to that information. Do these sources have other alternative-history information as well?

    An aside I would like to point out: even though you quoted my comment, you don’t seem to have read it, as I applied the term ‘speculation’ to what might have been (as above), not to what actually happened. That, because what actually happened is meaningless compared to alternatives. As is with everything in life, really.

  • Dom

    Julie:

    the biggest fuss [at Abu Ghraib] was over [putting women’s lingerie on a prisoner’s head].

    That simply isn’t true. Prisoner’s were tortured, often brutally. The biggest fuss was about water-boarding, a torture method borrowed from 1984.

  • Correction, should read:

    That, because what actually happened is meaningless when not compared to alternatives.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Alisa asks:

    Er, there is information as to what might have been?

    Death rates under the Hussein regime were fairly steady for some years. I agree that it is not possible to know for sure that they would not have suddenly spiked without warning, but there is no good reason to expect that would have happened, and every reason to believe that they would have persisted at essentially the levels they held for most of the 1990s.

    An aside I would like to point out: even though you quoted my comment, you don’t seem to have read it, as I applied the term ‘speculation’ to what might have been (as above),

    I presumed you could not have literally meant what you said and gave you the benefit of the doubt.

    Yes, of course “no one can know for sure”, but by that same argument a murderer should always be held blameless because the victim might have been struck by a car the next day. “How can we know the victim might not have choked to death on dinner that very evening? How can we prove the murderer did anything other than deprive the victim of a few unhappy hours of worrying about their income taxes and a painful death falling off of a pedestrian walkway onto a steel spike? Surely we must hold the defendant blameless.”

  • Perry, didn’t you comment earlier that the Iraqi deaths you cite are not the direct result of violence by the US – i.e. that the US government and its military is by no means the murderer you refer to in your analogy? How many people died during WWII around the world as a result of US intervention in the war? Conversely, how many would have died had the US not taken part in it? That is a much truer analogy, in my humble opinion.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Dom, my deepest apologies, I thought my point would be perfectly clear from the context of the previous comments.

    The issue was the comparative evilness of the American vs. the Chinese military. (And, as corollary, the comparative treatment of the alleged wrongdoers within the justice systems of each country’s military, as well as the degree of honesty in official and other reportage to the citizenry–not to say to the world at large!–of investigations and their results.)

    The point was that trivial, utterly trivial so-called “abuses” can result in honest investigations of the military in America, WITH courts-martial resulting therefrom, but the Chinese military are not held to the same standards. The Panties of Abu Ghraib and the Non-Flushable Koran are two examples. Have you heard anything lately about the Chinese military’s zealousness in prosecuting even trivial misbehavior?

    As to the waterboarding. There has been ongoing investigation of both the circumstances and the legal position of whoever was responsible for it, right up the chain of command to the Presidency. Reports on this are available not only for Americans, but also the entire world, to read. As with many, many legal cases there are arguments for and against punishable guilt at each (or almost each — not sure about the guys who did the actual waterboarding) level in the hierarchy.

    For the sake of the argument, let’s pretend that waterboarding rises to the level of what members of Falun Gong must endure if they are arrested by the Chinese. (See below.) Do we see similar actions against those responsible–right up the chain of command to the Premier? (Remember–the point is to compare American and Chinese methods, not defending the former’s. That issue is beside my point, though it surely requires discussion.)

    Also, as I remember it, there were only three persons waterboarded. (And there are statements that the number and timing of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s waterboardings was vastly overstated in some reports.)

    And there is a great deal of controversy over whether “waterboarding” as practiced at Guantánamo even is torture, within a reasonable definition of torture. People seem to think that undergoing waterboarding is torture EVEN THOUGH our own people do so as part of their training.

    Yet I have not heard of American training’s resorting to the kinds of real torture that the Chinese dish out to, for instance, captive Falun Gong members.

    . . .

    Following included to provide some comparison of waterboarding (as executed by us) vs. torture in China.

    For anyone who may not be aware — Falun Gong is a spiritual practice, completely peaceful, and not in itself of any danger to the regime nor the Chinese political system, except that which arises from allowing oneself a belief or practice not endorsed by the State. [Actually, it sounds to me as if they’re scapegoats. But I do not pretend to understand human psychopathology on the political (nor even the individual) scale.]

    (NOTE. In the interest of accuracy, I do not attest that their military is responsible in whole or in part for the fate of Falun Gong practitioners. But if it is not, I would think that if the civil authorities go so far, the military must be authorized to do likewise at least.)

    In any case, there are numbers of reports AND PHOTOS available. Search, for instance, the string (WITH quotes) “Falun Gong” torture . Excerpt from just one result, published a year ago:

    http://en.minghui.org/html/articles/2013/3/12/138485.html

    Torture and Sexual Abuse of Falun Gong Women is Rife in China’s Detention Centers and Labor Camps (Part 1)
    March 12, 2013 | By Qinyun

    Introduction

    (Minghui.org) 3,649 Falun Gong practitioners have been confirmed dead as a result of persecution and torture in China as of March 1, 2013. Because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has used its vast resources to cover up its crimes, the confirmed death toll is just a fraction of the actual total. The true number is certainly far higher.

    53% of those confirmed dead were women.

    In fact, tens of thousands of female practitioners have been subjected to unspeakable abuse, including rape, forced abortions, detention, physical torture, injection of unknown substances, and even live organ harvesting. And in addition, countless families have been broken apart.

    Several individual accounts are given, in various categories. Enjoy the photographs.

  • I am not sure justifying (any) US behaviour on the grounds that “China is worse because it does…” is really a great idea, as that leads to some alarmingly relativist lines of moral and utilitarian theorising.

    Yes, the Chinese state is ghastly, no doubt. And that is why the NSA need to have the capability to read my e-mail, not to mention various Brazilian and German government officials involved in political and commercial matters… uh… why?

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Julie near Chicago says:

    The point was that trivial, utterly trivial so-called “abuses” can result in honest investigations of the military in America, WITH courts-martial resulting therefrom

    Who has been indicted so far for torturing prisoners at Presidential orders? Note that torture is illegal under US law no matter what sort of strained DOJ legal opinions might be issued under secrecy, and a recently leaked investigation into the tortures found that they did indeed break US law.

    Who among the Bush administration was indicted for war crimes — and to be sure, war crimes were committed. Who in the Obama administration has been so indicted?

    There are currently a substantial number of people in prison at Guantanamo Bay who have been there for most of the past 14 years without charge, without trial, and in many cases without evidence that they’ve done anything of substance. Who has been charged with their unlawful imprisonment?

    There is an extant video, I think you’ve seen it, released “illegally” by one Pvt. Manning that shows events surrounding the killing of two Reuters reporters by a US helicopter that were manifestly at odds with the claimed version of those events in a US Department of Defense investigation of the same events. The report, in particular, makes claims to the effect that it can’t be known how the children within the van that was shot up were injured and that US armored personnel carriers did not run over the bodies of people shot in the street during the incident. Both were outright lies, and the video in question was classified to prevent people from learning of these lies. Both those lies and the improper classification are felonies under US law. Even if you somehow believe the incident itself was not a war crime, who has been investigated for the coverup, which was clearly a felony?

    There is substantial evidence that the US has been engaging in “double tap” drone strike operations in which rescuers are targeted. It is generally claimed that deliberately targeting those attending the injured is a crime under the laws of war. Who has investigated this within the US Department of Justice?

    A group of US security contractors working for Blackwater shot up a large group of civilians in September, 2007 at a square in Baghdad, killing 17 people in apparent violation of US law permitting such crimes to be prosecuted in US courts. Who among them was tried?

    I could go on and on and on.

    Your claim is absurd. A trivial fraction of offenses committed by US coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the surrounding “War on Terror”[sic] have resulted in any actual consequences for the perpetrators.

    Your further implication that the crimes in question amount to mere trivia like “The Panties of Abu Ghraib and the Non-Flushable Koran” is also absurd — we have substantial documentation of war crimes involving the actual deaths of at least hundreds of people that have resulted in no actual punishment for anyone involved, of tortures that amount to war crimes under any reasonable reading of the statutes in question (and which were substantially identical to war crimes the US has prosecuted in the past).

    Yes, to be sure, the US government has engaged in some show prosecutions — a single massacre in Afghanistan, a few of the Abu Ghraib guards — but for the most part those who committed murders during the course of the wars in question got away with it, those who committed torture got away with it, and it is unreasonable to trivialize the torture of human beings and the deaths of human beings.

    I frankly do not care if the Chinese are somehow “worse”. Likely they are. So what? Is that an excuse of some sort?

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Let us be perfectly clear: “I realize I killed 40 people, but Billy down the block killed 400, and only 20 of the killings I committed were intentional murders, the rest were merely depraved indifference to human life” is not an excuse under the rules of civilized societies.

  • Nick (Blame The French) Gray

    Re- Falun Gong. The reason for the Chinese Government crackdown is because of Chinese history. Hundreds of years ago, a group called White Lotus caused major disruption to the society of its’ time, and ever since then, all Chinese governments have kept a wary eye on all sects, whatever their claimed intentions. When you realise that Falun Gong sprang up overnight, and the Government hadn’t even been aware of its’ existence for years, you can understand some of their reaction to it. And I think I read that the founder used to be a member of the Communist Party…

  • Julie near Chicago

    Nick BtF,

    Thank GOD you’ve explained it to me! I tell you this has been keeping me from blessed slumber since at lest 2015.

    BC.

    :)

    Perry (dH),

    In my comment on May 21, 2014 at 9:16 pm, I began by responding to Dom’s criticism of May 21, 2014 at 3:44 pm, with this:

    “The issue was the comparative evilness of the American vs. the Chinese military.”

    Assuming your comment above is in response to that posting, I offer the following walk-through as explanation.

    This whole discussion quickly split into what are effectively two different threads: The one concerned with comparison of U.S. vs. Chinese generalized spying–to which the OP refers and which is therefore the official Topic–and the other, a comparison of the U.S. vs. China in terms of misbehavior of various kinds, but, especially farther down, with an emphasis it on the military.

    At May 20, 2014 at 9:53 am, you yourself wrote,

    “… so is the American state preferable to the Chinese state? Yes. And so what? Really. So what? It is a bit like saying “Thugs A rapes, tortures and murders his victims…. Thug B merely murders them, ergo Thug B is preferable”

    Now in fairness, the rest of that comment did relate to the surveillance issue. Nevertheless it opened the door for more general comparisons of the Mighty States of America (which you are careful to distinguish from America-the-group-of-people, and I thank you for that) and China. JV and Alisa both picked up on what I too thought was an opened door, an implicit broadening of the topic to a comparison of the morality of the two countries’ official (and officially unofficial) actions. (See JV’s comment, first para., at May 20, 2014 at 11:03 am.)

    Jaded Voluntaryist focusses perfectly on the overall issue (and the results of his analysis do go directly to which is currently still preferable if we MUST have a Surveillance State somewhere) in his posting at May 20, 2014 at 11:03 am., which fully develops the second thread of the discussion, “State” morality no longer restricted to spying and Snowden. And you yourself addressed America’s other faults, not just NSA and “surveillance,” in your comment of May 20, 2014 at 11:40 am, which lists some of the sins of our regime against our Constitution and our people (and if YOU are sorry, you should know how WE feel!! :( )and its penultimate sentence:

    “The USA does bad things all the time and it has vastly more global influence and power than China.”

    . . .

    However, it was Perry Metzger who brought up the specific issue of the military, and it was his comments that to me were the last straw and to which I responded in my first comment, at May 20, 2014 at 2:35 pm.

    At May 20, 2014 at 1:59 pm Mr. Metzger wrote:

    “I’m not actually sure that American troops are better than Chinese ones during occupation operations.”

    The second paragraph of my response:

    On the day when China holds open, honest courts-martial for such things as the dressing of prisoners’ noggins in ladies’ intimate lingerie*, we will compare and contrast the practical ethics of the American vs. the Chinese military. Until then, how about we put a sock on it.

    Which spoke directly to the evolved subtopic, as I’m sure you can see. Please note that I went on to say,

    “*Yes, I know there were other “abuses” at Abu Ghraib, and perhaps one or two or even three of them don’t deserve the quotes. But the biggest fuss was over the incident mentioned. The other really big fuss was over the Koran that wasn’t flushed at Guantánamo.”

    At this point there developed yet another re-fighting of the Iraq war and the consequences thereof..

    Now, my second comment was written specifically in response to Dom’s complaint about my first remark on the Abu Ghraib Panties incident, and the Case of the Non-Flushed Koran. At May 21, 2014 at 3:44 pm, he wrote:

    Julie:

    ………..”the biggest fuss [at Abu Ghraib] was over [putting women’s lingerie on a prisoner’s head].”

    That simply isn’t true. Prisoner’s were tortured, often brutally. The biggest fuss was about water-boarding, a torture method borrowed from 1984.

    Now, it was my response to that comment that you objected:

    ‘I am not sure justifying (any) US behaviour on the grounds that “China is worse because it does…” is really a great idea, as that leads to some alarmingly relativist lines of moral and utilitarian theorizing.’

    Which is why I have gone back over the comments that impinged on my train of thought. My attempt was not to justify (nor to denounce) misbehavior by the U.S. on any grounds, let alone the ones you suggest. It WAS, however, to try and set the record straight as to the relative excesses of the American vs. the Chinese military (one of Metzger’s pile-on-America issues), and to clarify why it is that we who think waterboarding may not be torture within the serious meaning of that term in this context, have arrived at that conclusion. In particular, some argue that American soldiers’ being waterboarded DOES NOT show that waterboarding isn’t torture, except maybe in a very loose sense. This argument fails, because we do NOT train our soldiers to resist the real and aberrant torture undergone by Falun Gong practitioners, for example, at the hands of the Chinese.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Perry (dH), I meant to add that as to your stated point, I certainly agree with you. :)

  • Chip

    One last point on Iraq. Most of the deaths following the invasion were the result of internecine fighting.

    It’s probable this would have happened without the US and following the eventual downfall of Saddam. It was already baked in, not unlike what is happening in Syria today.

    One could argue that the US presence reduced not only deaths under Saddam but those that would inevitably follow, while introducing a framework for investment and political stability.

    I’m not sold on the Iraq war either. But people seem very comfortable with the alternatives.

  • William O. B'Livion

    it is rather unprecedented to indict foreigners living abroad and working for foreign spy agencies.

    Everything is unprecedented until it happens.

    It’s only been ~20 years that international computer networks facilitated this sort of spying and the government is *always* a bit behind the times.

    It is doubly unusual given that anger is being expressed over them performing actions the US’s own spy agencies perform.

    No, it isn’t.

    “We” (for any value of “we”) are always upset when people do to our tribe what we do to theirs.

    This isn’t to justify what the NSA did, but either what the NSA did was perfectly reasonable in the game of nations, or charging foreign nationals for “attacking” our information infrastructure is perfectly reasonable.

    Heck, given the size of the US Federal Government, left hand, stand up and tell the right hand what you’re doing. Right hand, meet left. When she’s done it’s your turn.

    The rest of your comments about the death toll in Iraq and the US military are Guardinista Bullshit.

  • staghounds

    “draws a distinction between government surveillance for national security and the theft of commercial secrets of private companies to boost Chinese competitors.”

    Because obtaining secrets that make it easier for the Chinese to murder us is not as bad as obtaining secrets that will drive down the price of Cisco stock.