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Friday, December 20, 2013

Hostage's Dilemma

Some people asked me to explain some stuff about my post Security?  ( ), in which there is:
Director of the National Security Agency Gen. Keith Alexander doesn't believe amnesty is the answer to ending Edward Snowden's leaks of classified documents.
In an interview that aired on CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sunday, Alexander likened the scenario to a hostage situation: If an individual was to shoot 10 of 50 hostages, Alexander explained, he shouldn't be set free in exchange for the 40 remaining hostages.
"I think people have to be held accountable for their actions," Alexander said. "Because what we don't want is the next person to do the same thing, race off to Hong Kong and to Moscow with another set of data knowing they can strike the same deal." ...
My first comment on this was:
 1) There is absolutely no parallel between a hostage situation, in which people are killed, and a leaking of secrets one or two at a time. Go back to whatever thing you call an office and re-think this.
and the question was why I said this. It seemed that the seriatim commission of crimes was sort of a parallel, and as such General Alexander was "more correct" than was I.

Logically, I thought of it as:

There is an entity, X, who gathers together a number of other entities. This gathering contravenes some law or statute of the land, and this is crime 1.

Subsequently, X does the illegal action Y  - crime 2 - on the group of objects he has gathered, and he does it to the objects one at a time, leaving a gap between occasions of doing Y.
So fill in the blanks with "forcibly takes hostages" or "surreptitiously steals secrets", "kills a hostage" or "releases a secret", and you have two situations that do not resemble each other in the least:
(a) a man forcibly takes a group on hostages, then he kills them one at a time until his demands are met;
(b) a man steals secrets, then he releases transcripts of secret data.

The only thing they have in common is a criminal act involving the gathering of discrete items, and then subsequently committing another crime involving members of that group. The criminal acts themselves are far from being commensurate. It seems to me that General Alexander uses a moral logic that is capable of seeing a parallel between stealing some Girl Scout cookies, then willingly eating them one at a time, with something like a slow motion genocide in Ruanda.

Of course, General Alexander was not at the point of saying that accountability should be the same for each action... at least, I do not think that's where his head was at.
But then what was he saying, other than each of us bears responsibility for one's actions? Hardly great news requiring the Sunday morning talk-a-thon.
And if someone who has been sinned against chooses to forgive his oppressor, who are we to say no? Who are we to maintain our draconian judgement superior?

We may as well force the Amish of Nickel Mines to reconsider, and to learn to hate the gunman who killed their children.


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