Tu Quoque

Translation: "You, also" or "You're another", Latin



Q: Now, the United States government says that you are still funding military training camps here in Afghanistan for militant, Islamic fighters and that you're a sponsor of international terrorism.… Are these accusations true? …

Osama Bin Laden: …At the time that they condemn any Muslim who calls for his right, they receive the highest top official of the Irish Republican Army at the White House as a political leader, while woe, all woe is the Muslims if they cry out for their rights. Wherever we look, we find the US as the leader of terrorism and crime in the world. The US does not consider it a terrorist act to throw atomic bombs at nations thousands of miles away, when it would not be possible for those bombs to hit military troops only. These bombs were rather thrown at entire nations, including women, children and elderly people and up to this day the traces of those bombs remain in Japan. The US does not consider it terrorism when hundreds of thousands of our sons and brothers in Iraq died for lack of food or medicine. So, there is no base for what the US says and this saying does not affect us.…

Source: "CNN March 1997 Interview with Osama bin Laden" (PDF)



Tu Quoque is a very common fallacy in which one attempts to defend oneself or another from criticism by turning the critique back against the accuser. This is a classic Red Herring since whether the accuser is guilty of the same, or a similar, wrong is irrelevant to the truth of the original charge. However, as a diversionary tactic, Tu Quoque can be very effective, since the accuser is put on the defensive, and frequently feels compelled to defend against the accusation.


S. Morris Engel, With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies (Fifth Edition) (St. Martin's, 1994), pp. 204-206.


Julian Baggini, "Tu Quoque", Bad Moves, 10/1/2004

Analysis of the Example:

A perfect example of the fallacy of Tu Quoque. Notice that Bin Laden never addresses the question of whether he sponsors terrorism, instead simply turning the accusation back against the accuser. This is an irrelevancy designed to distract the audience from the question at issue, that is, it is a Red Herring. Even if all of Bin Laden's accusations are true, they have nothing to do with the question, and thus are irrelevant.

Reader Responses:

Lindsay Brown sent the following comments:

I have a problem with the example [of tu quoque] you provide, and would like you to reconsider it. I realize it is a debatable issue, but it is also a sensitive one. Hopefully that consideration will weigh in, illogical though it may be. So here is my quick case:

Bin Laden's response is not a good example of the tu quoque fallacy because he is speaking directly to the issue by first pointing out the petitio principii problem with the question that was posed to him. He is exposing the error of implicitly equating certain forms of "military training camps" and "fighters" with "terrorism", and not others. One convenient and not fallacious way for him to do so is by pointing out the similarities between the activity of the criticizer (U.S.) and the activity about which he is being questioned. To label one "terrorism" and not the other is, he is arguing, itself a fallacy. As such, the range of possible answers has already been begged by the way the question was asked. Bin Laden is saying: the question is fallacious as posed, and not answerable (it is a complex question). Tu quoque is only a fallacy when one uses it so as to divert attention from the issue at hand, or to avoid or fail to respond to an argument that non-fallaciously gave one the burden of proof. Neither of those is the case in your example.

Lindsay, the question asked by Arnett is not a complex question, rather it is a conjunctive question, that is, two questions in one. The question is: "Are these accusations true?", which refers back to the following two accusations in the preceding statement:

  1. "You are still funding military training camps here in Afghanistan for militant, Islamic fighters."
  2. "You're a sponsor of international terrorism."

A conjunctive question is not necessarily a loaded (complex) one, and Arnett's question is not loaded in the way you suggest. A loaded question is one which traps you into conceding something no matter how you answer it, such as: "Have you stopped beating your husband?" For this reason, it is reasonable to reject such a question if one rejects the statement it is loaded with ("you have beaten your husband").

I see no basis for your claim that the question equates training camps with terrorism, even implicitly; these are two separate accusations, as Arnett's "these" indicates. As a matter of fact the training camps in question were undoubtedly camps training terrorists, but Arnett does not even say so.

Bin Laden could answer both questions without conceding anything. He could have denied both accusations, accepted one and denied the other, or accepted both. Instead, using the "politician's answer", he avoids answering the question and turns the criticism back against his accuser. This is a clear-cut tu quoque.


Nigel Warburton, Thinking from A to Z (Second Edition), "Politician's Answer", pp. 103-104.

Portia Jeffries asks the following question:

Isn't "Are you still funding military training camps here in Afghanistan for militant, Islamic fighters?" the same as "Are you still beating your wife?", which has been rephrased in the negative in your example. If so, isn't it a complex question?

The question does presume that bin Laden had funded such camps in the past, but not every question with a presupposition is a loaded one. A loaded question is one with a false, controversial, or question-begging presupposition. As far as I know, that bin Laden had funded these camps is none of these; though if so, he missed a chance to set the record straight instead of dodging the question. Nonetheless, if the presupposition is either false, controversial, or question-begging, then the question is a loaded one. To quote Lewis Carroll: "[I]f it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic."


Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 4.