“Context matters—everyone agrees about that. And it’s the context that distinguishes the ordinary kinds of communication, protected by the First Amendment, from those kinds of statements, like threats or defamatory comments, that are crimes. The law recognizes that a threat is a kind of injury, over and above the language in which it is communicated. If I were to move my hand swiftly toward your face, and you flinch, that’s an assault because you’ve been made to reasonably fear for your safety. When exactly the same act is carried out through language, the protection that communication normally receives should not cover up the criminality of the underlying assault. Holding Elonis responsible for his actions threatens no serious threat to the First Amendment.”
– Timothy Sandefur, making an argument about how threatening messages issued via social media, etc, should be regarded from the point of view of free speech. I need to reflect a bit more about what I think about the cases he’s cited, but the whole article is worth reading.
A few hours ago, the heavily redacted 500 page executive summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program, a.k.a. “The Torture Report”, came out.
Here are just a few things I’ve learned from it.
In November, 2002, a man named Gul Rahman, who was totally innocent of any crime so far as we can tell, was being systematically tortured by the CIA at a top secret site named COBALT in an unnamed foreign country. It was felt that he was being “uncooperative”, probably because it is hard to even convincingly lie about having information when you were arrested for no reason and have no basis on which to spin a story. To make him “more cooperative”, he was shackled naked in his unheated cell 36ºF cell. The next morning, his jailers found his body. He had died in the night of hypothermia.
This is just one of the literally hundreds of horrors to be found in the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s crimes against humanity. It is described on page 54 of a 500 page summary of a 6,000 page report we will never see.
Gul Rahman’s murderers will never be brought to justice. Indeed, the man responsible for this, known in the unredacted portion of the report only as “CIA OFFICER 1″, received a $2,500 spot bonus four months later for his “consistently superior work” [page 55 of the report.]
Page after page after page recounts things like this and far worse. You can go almost anywhere in it and find things that beggar the imagination. Picking at random, for example, page 50 informs us: “One senior interrogator told the CIA OIG that “literally, a detainee could go for days or weeks without anyone looking at him,” and that his team found one detainee who, “‘as far as we could determine,’ had been chained to the wall in a standing position for 17 days.””
Oh, and the full 6000 page report’s creation was hampered by systematic destruction of evidence by the CIA and by their deliberate attempts to infiltrate, disrupt and harm the investigation, almost the least of which were deliberate lies made to Senate investigators, the CIA’s Inspector General, and other authorities. Hell, they even hacked the committee’s computers to try to disrupt their work and spy on them. The Director of the CIA also lied repeatedly to Congress. (See the report.) Who knows what sort of things are recounted in the evidence that was destroyed or never seen?
Anyway, back to our modern oubliette. Gul Rahman was just one of many, another statistic, another “oops” in a series of “oopses”. A man chained to a wall standing up for 17 days? Also an “oops”. We’ve all become so hardened to this that it doesn’t even shock us or surprise us that the State tortured an innocent man and froze him to death and never even considered punishing anyone for it. It no longer shocks us that someone might be chained to a wall standing up for 17 days. It no longer shocks us that a CIA interrogator killed a man he was torturing but was none the less allowed to continue working. It doesn’t shock us that two psychologists with no real qualifications were paid $80m to consult on how to torture people more effectively, not that a lick of useful information appears to have been uncovered, and it doesn’t even shock us that the CIA systematically lied to make it seem like brutal torture was producing intelligence when it came up empty.
Oh, yes. That too. All this sadism, much of which was bizarre, vicious and extemporaneous, yielded nothing. Yes, I’m sure there will be counterclaims, as the CIA has been busy lying about that for years, but the report’s authors, who had all the right clearances, examined all the evidence in detail and found nothing of value was produced — absolutely nothing.
Anyway, this sort of outrage is now just part of the background we live under — pervasive digital espionage, censorship, “extraordinary rendition”, force-feedings at Guantanamo, and all the rest. It is routine, uninteresting, not worth your trouble. Move on. There’s nothing to see here. This is just the way the world is. Nothing will happen even if you get angry, so why waste your time?
O tempora, o mores.
Pornography is the canary in the coal mine of free speech. It is the first freedom to die.
– Myles Jackman
Quoted at the end of this Adam Smith Institute blog posting by Charlotte Bowyer
In Nepal people are apparently killing half a million animals for religious reasons. Celebrities are protesting. Animal rights activists want me to email the Nepalese government to “to ensure this is the last time it ever happens”.
The trouble is, “ensure this is the last time it ever happens” is just a polite way of saying “jail people for killing their own cows”. In fact, thanks to an Indian interim law banning the transportation of animals to Nepal, 114 people have been arrested and 2,500 animals stolen by the Indian government.
I do not find this event aesthetically pleasing. I do approve of reducing the suffering of animals; but not at the cost of doing violence to humans.
I have also come across the suggestion that, since the sacrificed animals will not be eaten, stopping this event may do something to help with poverty or starvation. But interfering with people’s private property only ever makes poverty and starvation worse in the long term. Update: And in any case it seems like the meat and hides do get used.
Via a mailing from Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, I was directed to this interesting development:
Vladimir Putin’s Russia Adopts Concealed Carry
Russia, which according to official figures has the fifth highest murder rate in the world, has relaxed its gun ownership laws.
Yep. The land of Vladimir Putin, run by an oligarchical collection of cronies and criminals, is about to relax their gun laws… And not by just a little. After the reforms, they’ll make some US jurisdictions look positively Soviet. While places like New York and Washington DC continue to make it (almost) impossible to get a permit for carrying a handgun, Putin’s Russia is about to make it easier.
Previously, Russians were only permitted to own firearms (subject to approval) for hunting or sporting. But under the new law they will soon be allowed to carry guns, open or concealed, for the purposes of self-defense. (Yeah… A background check and training will be a prerequisite.)
And let’s face it, having a gun for self-defense is probably not the worst idea in Russia. While America saw its share of homicides in 2011 (roughly 13,600), Putin’s homeland saw far more… Despite having a population that is almost half of the US, Russia recorded over 21,000 homicides in the same year. (Wow… So much for believing that gun control works, right Chicago?) The new laws aim to curb that trend, and add to Russia’s homeland defense against outside threats.
The report above is by Michael Schaus and links in turn to this report by Tom Porter in the International Business Times.
So Oxford student Niamh McIntyre writes in the Independent. She says,
The idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate has a detrimental effect on marginalised groups. Debating abortion as if its a topic to be mulled over and hypothesised on ignores the fact that this is not an abstract, academic issue. It may seem harmless for men like Stanley and O’Neil to debate how and if abortion hurts them; it’s clearly harder for people to see that their words and views might hurt women . . . In organizing against this event, I did not stifle free speech. As a student, I asserted that it would make me feel threatened in my own university; as a woman, I objected to men telling me what I should be allowed to do with my own body.
Oxford Students For Life (OSFL) originally planned to hold the debate in Christ Church college. The Oxford magazine Cherwell quotes the Christ Church JCR Treasurer, Will Neaverson, as saying:
“I’m relieved the Censors* have made this decision. It clearly makes the most sense for the safety – both physical and mental – of the students who live and work in Christ Church.
A blog post by OSFL (see link above) indicates that Niamh McIntyre’s pleasure and Tim Neaverson’s relief that debate had been shut down were not spoilt by anyone finding an alternative venue. You can, however, read what Tim Stanley had planned to say had the debate taken place in an article in the Telegraph.
Hat tip: Instapundit and Eugene Volokh.
*The two Christ Church Censors are the equivalent of college deans and only occasionally censors in the other sense.
But the reality of Chakrabarti’s On Liberty, an awkward amalgam of the semi-personal and the mainstream political, never even comes close to realising the promise. Instead, it turns out to be a desperately dull encomium to the human-rights industry, a verveless trudge down Good Cause lane, with every battle against New Labour anti-terror legislation, each scuffle with the ASBO-happy authorities, eventually turning into a victory for the indispensable European Court of Human Rights. Hooray for Strasbourg! If John Stuart Mill wasn’t so liberal (and dead), he’d be within his rights to sue Chakrabarti for calumny.
– Tim Black
A hotel has a policy of charging guests an extra £100 if they leave a bad review of the hotel on any website. Should the state permit individuals to enter into such a contract?
When a couple was so charged, they went and talked to the press. “What happened to freedom of speech?”, they asked.
John Greenbank, north trading standards area manager, said it was a “novel” way to prevent bad reviews.
He said: “I have worked for trading standards for many years and have never seen anything like this. The hotel management clearly thinks they have come up with a novel way to prevent bad reviews, however we believe this could be deemed an unfair trading practice.”
The beautiful thing is that the state turns out to be completely redundant in this case. Things did not work out so well for the hotel, and it now serves as a terrible warning for anyone else with similar ideas. Now its reputation is trashed on Trip Advisor because of freedom of speech. And because The Internet. Though I do wonder about libel…
As has been pointed out before, we are not edging closer to be becoming a police state in the UK, we already are one.
Two effigies of Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond have been withdrawn from bonfire celebrations in an English town after a storm of protest on social media. Thousands of people attended the bonfire celebrations in the East Sussex town of Lewes. Sussex Police said the effigies of Mr Salmond would not now be set alight (…) Just before 21:00 on Wednesday, Sussex Police tweeted: “For those enquiring we have been advised that there won’t be any burning of the Alex Salmond effigies this evening in Lewes. It is understood three effigies – two Alex Salmonds and one Nessie – were confiscated and removed”
I would be curious to know what legal grounds were invoked to confiscate these items of private property that were being used for political expression.
UPDATE: The BBC article has been changed and now no longer contains the following section which I cut and pasted from the original article:
“Just before 21:00 on Wednesday, Sussex Police tweeted: “For those enquiring we have been advised that there won’t be any burning of the Alex Salmond effigies this evening in Lewes. It is understood three effigies – two Alex Salmonds and one Nessie – were confiscated and removed”.
And indeed I do not see that on the Sussex Police twitter either. Removed? Interesting.
UPDATE 2: Ah, this makes me proud to be English
(This is the text of a talk I gave at the Adam Smith Institute last week. More than one person has asked me for it, so I make it available here.)
I am here to defend the Human Rights Act. It is not an idealistic defence but a pragmatic defence, rooted in historical context. Should classical liberals support the Human Rights Act against repeal? Do we need it? My answer is yes.
Our reactions to phrases become readily conditioned. And so it has been with “human rights”. Let us remember for a moment that the full title of the agreement that is under siege here is the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. If it were called the Fundamental Freedoms Act would it be as easy to undermine?
Sad to say ‘human rights’ do have a bad name, and they have that bad name for good reasons. Their strongest proponents often do the most harm to their reputation – not because of the legal content of what they say, but of their approach to the law.
This comes in two forms which sometimes overlap: the rarer is soft revolutionism from the far left – human rights as a transitional demand. This approach makes human rights a movement more than a doctrine or legal concept.… a means to control the terms of any political debate.
More common is a not entirely conscious belief that human rights and the Human Rights Act in particular embody the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth of how states should treat people. It’s a sort of human-rights fundamentalism, a desire for revealed wisdom in which “but that is contrary to Art 6″ is a morally conclusive statement.
→ Continue reading: The Human Rights Act as a constitution of liberty [no, really]
I could write for an hour on why this is logically unjustifiable, practically unenforceable, systemically corrupting, and morally wrong:
Northern Ireland ban on paying for sex is approved by Stormont assembly.
Then again, why bother? A brick wall is conveniently placed and sticking plasters are cheap.
Everyone is very, very cross. The welfare reform minister, Lord Freud, has caused outrage for saying that some disabled people are “not worth the minimum wage”.
Spoken without tact but with truth. Some of our fellow human beings are incapable of doing work that is worth anyone’s while to pay six pounds and fifty pence per hour to have done.
Freud had been responding to a question from David Scott, a Tory councillor from Tunbridge Wells. Scott had said: “The other area I’m really concerned about is obviously the disabled. I have a number of mentally damaged individuals, who to be quite frank aren’t worth the minimum wage, but want to work. And we have been trying to support them in work, but you can’t find people who are willing to pay the minimum wage.
While it is certainly true that many people with a disability also have abilities or dispositions that allow them equal or surpass as workers their able-bodied and able-minded colleagues – it is also certainly true that many others, sadly, don’t. This is particularly often the case for the mentally disabled. Long ago, I was a teacher. I saw some sad sights, few sadder than the dawning awareness in a child’s eyes that he or she would never be able to do all that “the others” could.
Still, people are resilient. Such a child might very well grow up to be quite capable of sharing and rejoicing in the dignity of work – real work for real employers, not charity – were it not illegal. Only those whose labour is worth more than £6.50 an hour are allowed to sell it. Those less able are compelled by law to be unemployed.
We have these spasms every few years. Allow me to recycle my post from the last one, in which the speaker of inconvenient truth was Philip Davies MP who said,
“Given that some of those people with a learning disability clearly, by definition, can’t be as productive in their work as somebody who hasn’t got a disability of that nature, then it was inevitable that given that the employer was going to have to pay them both the same they were going to take on the person who was going to be more productive, less of a risk, and that was doing those people a huge disservice.”
And I said then and repeat now:
Within hours so much outraged commentary flowed out of newspaper columnists, charity representatives and politicians of all parties, including Mr Davies’ own, that you’d think there’d been an outbreak of indignation dysentery.
Not one response of all the many I read even tried to argue that Mr Davies was factually wrong. They were outraged, disgusted. They asserted what no one denies: that mentally disabled people are equal citizens and often prove to be hardworking employees, valued by their employers. But I could not find one article that argued that Davies’ description of the way things go when a person with an IQ of 60 or a history of insanity seeks a job was inaccurate, or gave reasons to believe his proposal would not increase their chances of landing one.
A quote from Charles Murray: “It seems that those who legislate and administer and write about social policy can tolerate any increase in actual suffering so long as the system does not explicitly permit it.”