Friday, March 23, 2007

Slate's article; what we already knew

Amnesty International USA

Not to diminish the fact that this was written, but consider why all these blogs have signed up to be against torture; Torture Is Counterproductive (The response to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's confession proves it) Click on the title for the full article, as usual, here is an excerpt:

The Daily Telegraph, normally the most pro-American newspaper in Britain, wrote that it hardly mattered whether he was guilty, since whatever the conclusion of the military tribunal that will try him, "the world will condemn the procedures by which the verdicts were reached." Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung concluded that "the Bush administration has nobody but itself to blame for the fact that the actions and motives of the perpetrator are now playing second fiddle to the practices used by the Americans in fighting terrorism."
In another article, Anne Applebaum writes about the torture myth:

Given the overwhelmingly negative evidence, the really interesting question is not whether torture works but why so many people in our society want to believe that it works. At the moment, there is a myth in circulation, a fable that goes something like this: Radical terrorists will take advantage of our fussy legality, so we may have to suspend it to beat them. Radical terrorists mock our namby-pamby prisons, so we must make them tougher. Radical terrorists are nasty, so to defeat them we have to be nastier.

Perhaps it's reassuring to tell ourselves tales about the new forms of "toughness" we need, or to talk about the special rules we will create to defeat this special enemy. Unfortunately, that toughness is self-deceptive and self-destructive. Ultimately it will be self-defeating as well.

Which brings me back to this self image I feel Americans have in the face of external criticism; those with all the bravura attitude of toughness are like the little children or bullies we see who feel the need to prove themselves. It is a sign of immaturity, true immaturity, and lack of experience. Especially when it comes to war on home turf, and the fear that comes from being occupied.

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Blogger Chuck Cliff said...


This idea of "tough", "taking off the gloves", etc., is part of a larger paradigm, which might be called "Dirty Harry" or something like that.

Whatever, it is a partial explanation of why prison is a growth industry in the US and why a ghastly (3% I think) of the population is in the system.

What I am saying is that acceptance (approval, actually) of torture is a symptom of a deeper malady in the national soul.

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2:31 AM  
Blogger Beaman said...

Interesting site. It seems to be directed at American acts of 'torture' but hardly mentions acts committed by other nations and groups. Am I wrong?
Surely China, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and even Turkey need more spotlight cast upon them. Not everything negative is American linked.

2:28 AM  
Blogger Gary said...

Good post Ingrid. Thanks for visiting my blog - I'm in retreat a bit these days, mostly personal stuff, but work never ends either!

9:07 AM  
Blogger elendil said...

Beamen, Thank you for your comment.

First, I'm working on the assumption that it was a sincere question, rather than a rhetorical tactic, or a thinly veiled ad hominem. For saying "but so-and-so is worse!" is never a justification for wrong action, and implying that the messenger has suspect motives does not change the message itself; these are only a tactics used by those who would rather create a diversion than admit their errors and face up to their responsibilities, and I am sure you wouldn't do something like that.

I believe that the primary moral obligation of any person is to mind their own conduct, and take responsibility for the consequences of the actions that they can control. The overwhelming majority of the members of Bloggers Against Torture are citizens of the Coalition countries. These are not authoritarian regimes but open, democratic countries. For all their faults, it remains true that they are governed, ultimately, by their citizens. Consequently, we citizens are not only morally culpable for the conduct of our own governments, but we are able to address that conduct through the democratic process when we disagree with it. Bloggers Against Torture is an expression of that.

However, many of our members also blog on human rights abuse in other countries -- Latin America, Middle East, Russia -- to name a few. Others blog on other humanitarian topics. Each chooses topics according to their knowledge and the time they have available to them: I think it would be missing the point to criticise a campaigner for focusing on issue X when something could also be done about issue Y.

Finally, I noticed that you put the word torture in quotes. I have created a partial list of torture incidents, organised by technique (my full list is available here). As you know, the definition of torture has become controversial, so rather than telling you that this really is torture, I'm going to let you decide for yourself. You have a conscience and moral judgement -- you tell me if this deserves to be called torture, or just 'torture'.

8:14 PM  
Blogger elendil said...

(In response to a conversation also occurring here.)

Beaman, in response to "I notice many, if not most, even all, of the tortures also happen in Arabic states and not in American custody" -- It is true that many of the torture incidents on the list I gave you occurred in Egypt, Pakistan, Syria -- ironically enough, some of those very countries you expressed such concern for in your first comment, and criticised us for not focusing upon. However, that does not mean that Coalition countries are not responsible for what occurred there.

I would encourage you to find out about what they call "extraordinary rendition", or less ambiguously, torture by proxy. In short, Coalition countries have set up a programme by which detainees are kidnapped and sent to these countries to be interrogated by their people. It is a way for them to distance themselves from the methods that are used there, and to take advantage of the lax human rights standards of those governments. An interesting conflict of interest, don't you think? How can we act determinedly to address human rights abuses in these countries when we are using those very structures of abuse and torture to our own ends?

You wrote "Terrorists are liars", with which I don't disagree, but not all detainees are terrorists. That is determination to be made in a court of law. I want to see terrorists punished, but I want to see it with the full weight of justice behind it, not in some squalid hell-hole carried out by people who are guilty of their own abhorrent crimes against humanity.

You also wrote "I just wonder if these cases of torture you so wish the Americans and British to end might not in fact be stopping 5,000 innocent NY'ers, Londoners, Berliners or Tel Avivers from being murdered on their own streets." My thoughts on that are here. Unfortunately reality is not as neat as a dichotomous question: "either torture this guy or thousands of Americans die". My own blog is a testimony to how a reasonable hypothetical question, when implemented on the ground, leads to thousands of non-Americans being abused, tortured, and even killed. But then, I am not one who determines the value of a human life based upon the person's creed or nationality.

Finally, I have made an observation about how your argument has developed that I'd like to share with you. You started off expressing concern for the human rights abuses occurring in those other countries, implying that you were strongly opposed to that. You also put the word 'torture' in quotes, implying that real torture, which you oppose, was not being done by the Coalition. But then, when I presented evidence that the Coalition were indeed torturing people, you changed tact. You then said that torture is justified in some circumstances.

So which is it? If you believe that torture is justifiable, then why did you waste all of this time distracting from your own argument by saying that torture elsewhere was wrong, or that it wasn't occurring. Why didn't you just say "I am pro-torture", and leave it at that?

4:04 PM  
Blogger Beaman said...

I have written a post about our discussion. Take a look at my site. Thank you.

4:25 AM  
Blogger elendil said...

(The conversation with Beaman continues here

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12:35 AM  
Blogger Cheri Montagu said...

I think that this commentator, like most members of Amnesty International, is missing the point concerning torture by our government, especially the CIA. The CIA has spent decades perfecting techniques of torture in order to brainwash people into being what they want them to be. And the horrifying fact is, THESE METHODS DO WORK. They work not for the purpose of obtaining intelligence, which was never the CIA's objective, but for creating new personalities, "Manchurian candidates", or today, phony terrorists. That in turn helps to support the impression that we are threatened by external forces when in fact, the worst terrorists in the world are in our own government. And they do not feel impotent because they are NOT impotent: they are the most powerful force in the world today and we must do whatever is necessary to fight them. Unless you grasp the true purpose behind torture as it is practiced by the U.S. government, you cannot fight it. See Colin Ross, MD, THE CIA DOCTORS, or my blogspot, Incidentally, I thank Ingrid for the intelligent comment she made on my most recent blog: it has been posted.

12:09 AM  
Blogger Amoral said...

Torture works. It all depends upon how motivated is the victim and what information the torturer is demanding. If someone was pulling out your fingernails until you provided the PIN number for your ATM account, would you give it up? I would. If he was demanding the wherabouts of your children so he could kill them, maybe we could resist a bit more. Virtually all American POWs during the war in Vietnam gave up classified info, or signed "confessions" under torture. Few people are more motivated than Navy pilots, yet none could resist the abuses they endured in the Hanoi Hilton. Torture may be wrong, but to argue that it should be prohibited because it doesn't work is doubly stupid. First, it DOES work. Second, you imply that torture would be OK if only it worked, which surrenders the moral high ground.

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