Torture

24 MB MP3

The idea that necessity, crisis, and emergency is an excuse for comprimising deeply-help values is something that history teaches us as a very bad idea.

Richard Weisberg from Sag Harbor, NY, 6/23/05 on Open Source

Chris’s Billboard

Torture, it turns out, is a forbidden practice that Americans do, to suspected terrorists being interrogated at Guantanamo, for example. Despite a taboo as clear-cut as the rule against incest, torture is something our high officials have sought to micromanage with refined definitions of non-lethal coercion of prisoners. Torture is something that more and more citizen moralists want to talk and argue about: the question for starters how official torture went from the realm of the unimaginable to the loosely conversational without ever passing through outrage. But there are trickier questions, too: do we talk about torture because its grotesque face keeps popping up? Or is it becoming more commonly tolerable precisely because we’re learning the vocabulary of cruelty that might be useful in a pinch?

Darius Rejali

professor of political science at Reed College, author of Torture and Modernity: Self, Society and State in Modern Iran (Westview 1994), the forthcoming Torture and Democracy (Princeton 2005), and Approaches to Violence (forthcoming Princeton 2006),

[over ISDN from Portland, OR]

Elaine Scarry

author, The Structure of Torture: The Conversion of Real Pain into the Fiction of Power

[in studio]

Richard Weisberg

Walter Floersheimer Professor of Constitutional Law

[over phone, Sag Harbour, NY]

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  • shpilk

    Let’s clear the air about one thing.

    Durbin at no time assailed the military in his statement, at least not from what I could find. He did assail the administration’s policies or lack of clear enunciation of same.

    Perhaps the other part of the issue that needs examination is – who is doing the abuse? Private contractors, active/ex CIA or others?

  • The opening question is a bit leading here. The death penalty and abortion are reprehenisble to some people (and associated with fascism and genocide to boot), but they are still discussed and debated.

    Torture is open to discussion even more than the other hot-button issues precisely because of the fact that it appears to hold the promise of the tangible benefits of saving lots of lives.

    The flipside is the sheer impracticality of torture; it hardly ever achieves its local purpose (by contrast, the death penalty and abortion are quite final). It doesn’t work, as compared to other methods; it brings the danger of retribution. The Atlantic Monthly has regularly dived into this; Mark Bowden’s 16,000-word The Dark Art of Interrogation from October 2003 is recommended reading.

  • I think the question needs to be asked whether a prisoner chained in a jail in a “fetal postition” in air conditioning or with the air conditioning turned off, is torture at all. Please! Our soldiers in Iraq are living under worse conditions. How hot do you think it is there? These prisoners in Gitmo are muderers, experts at cutting off heads. But we are treating them well. They are eating better than our soldiers in Iraq, dress in clean clothes, a compass painted on the floor showing them the direction of Mecca, a prayer rug, and a Koran provided to each. And how do the former insergents treat their prisoners? They put a video camera in front of them, force them to give a statement expressing feelings they don’t truly hold, then they saw their heads off, with the victim screaming their heads off and blood everywhere. I don’t think a Bible was provided. Where is your common sense? If the prisoner wants to sit in a fetal position, so what? And he is shaking with cold, so what? David Berg was shaking with fear! Where is your sense of porportion? Are we cutting their heads off? A little discomfort, even a lot of discomfort is not torture. So are you on the left accusing our soldiers of cutting heads off, shoving needles under fingernails, cutting off hands, as Saddam did? Or are we just making some prisoners feel really uncomfortable?

  • Elaine Scarry is a great read. The Body in Pain is a very important preface to her new book. Her writings on 911 challege the theory that the military protects our country. Her insights is that its the ordinary citizens who protected our county on 911.

  • shpilk

    Bruce said ..

    “These prisoners in Gitmo are muderers, experts at cutting off heads.”

    And what of all those at Abu-Ghraib? The same?

    Really? ALL of them? Have they been found guilty in a court of law?

    There are teenagers of high school age {and younger} held at Gitmo and Abu-Ghraib, and God knows where else; doctors, lawyers, taxi drivers, teachers, laborers – many that were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Some are guilty, no doubt.

    The issue of torture, EVEN FOR THEM is wrong. Americans are supposed to set a moral example for the rest of the world to follow.

    But, back to your statement – are all these people guilty?

    If so, please explain why 203 have been released from Gitmo.

  • Mr. Shpilk,

    You missed my point. They are not being tortured at Gitmo was my point, nor at Abu Grab for that matter. They are living better than prisoners caught by the insurgents, or any where else in the world. Which would you rather be, a prisoner at Gitmo with 3 squares a day, a prayer rug, a compass painted on the floor showing the way to Mecca, and a free Koran, or in an abandoned warehouse in Iraq in front of a camera with a big butcher knife blasting through your neck? Leave the prisoners to the military to sort out….Or maybe you don’t trust our military in the first place. If you don’t, then you do have a problem. Our men and women in the armed forces are the ones securing the freedoms we have to even be able to speak this way in a forum such as this. War is not a court of law. It is WAR. And no other country in the world conducts itself with higher moral standards than our military.

    …By the way, great interview of Mr. Kanan Makiya!!!!

  • KenLac

    Or, pehaps one would prefer to be stacked naked in a human pyramid, or perhaps have electrodes strapped to one’s body while perched on a box. Really, it all depends on which prison you chose.

  • KenLac

    (Re, previous posting by me: wow! Typo-rific!)

  • Pingback: Open Source » Blog Archive » Tonight: Torture()

  • bvb

    In a world full of grey areas: is abortion justifiable? is it moral to purchase products made by exploited people? Is professional baseball worth anyone’s attention? the issue of torture is so clear that I am almost guilty at my lack of ambivalence. Torture is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG in a very absolute sense, regardless of context. For anyone to perform or order torture in the name of the US citizenry is, morally if not legally, treason. It makes us just as bad as the worst terrorist. Even suspending constitutional guarantees is handing a clear victory to the terrorists — they have successfully brought down the system! Bush et al and many Americans, seem to take the view that the crimes committed by the terrorists are so horrible that it gives us free license to strike at anyone in any way. The crimes are indeed horrible, but how can we be sure once we descend to the same level? Even if you agree that the terrorists deserve torturing, how can you sleep if even one innocent person is tortured or killed because you misjudged their connection to the horrible acts?

  • shpilk

    There is a difference between what one feels, and vocalizes and what one does. I am sure that most of us felt rage at the images of the WTC towers and Pentagon on 9/11.

    Some of us feel rage, when we are stuck on Storrow Drive on a Friday afternoon, too. It’s OK to feel rage – but it’s not OK to act it out on it.

    What we have done is to allow 9/11 be justification for a regression into our reptilian brain.

    It has been both expressly and tacitly offered as acceptable by the highest levels of authority in this country – it has degraded our moral standing, our “shining city on the hill”.

    Why does some Americans feel that we are somehow entitled to commit torture in repsonse to an attack on out homeland? Does this not imply that everyone else in the world who has ever suffered attack on their homeland is entitled too, or are Americans just “special” – better than everyone else?

    It’s not just what separates man from being an animal, but what we have come to call enlightened Western Civilization vs the great abyss of darkness.

  • shpilk

    I keep hearing ‘Post 9/11’, as some sort of special event?

    It was the first time we were attacked in the US, but the whole world has been suffering this for thousands of years.

    Why are Americans so special?

    Is Spain OK with torture since they got bombed in Madrid, but the Swedes can’t because they have not been attacked?

    Dershowitz and ticking bomb – someone please find us one case – ONE – where this is the logic and facts behind this.

  • Where is Dershowitz when we need him?

  • shpilk

    One more thing – the ‘generational difference’ that was just brought up.

    How much of this ‘acceptance’ of torture is a result of mass media portrayal in video games and movies of over the top violence?

    Are we allowing ourselves to be dulled to the aversion of harming another?

  • If torture isn’t an effective tool how do we answer the ticking bomb conundrum?

  • John Gunther

    The fallacy in the Ticking Bomb Conundrum is in the word “know”. There is no way to know whether the person in custody is responsible for the bomb, or for that matter if there really is a ticking bomb, to a degree of certainty adequate to torture a possibly innocent person. It would be hard enough to judge whether an English-apeaking American was so clearly guilty that they should be tortured. Now give the decision to throw someone into an extralegal hell hole for an unliited time to a 20-year old Marine, who’s never before been away from Brooklyn or Iowa City, barging into a Muslim household where the guilty and innocent look incomprehensibly identical. You’d have to be omniscient to justifiably torture someone for information, and being omniscient you wouldn’t need to. Just picture yourself as an innocent condemned as heinous by zealots with no need to justify that judgment — kind of like a dishwasher on the 103rd floor of the WTC. You can’t necessarily prevent a crime – even a heinous one. All you can do is find, prove, and punish the guilty – as unsatisfying as that might be.

  • shpilk

    There MAY be a time when truly we have a mad bomber and a ticking bomb.

    Dershowitz works – IN THEORY. Nice theory.

    Please, someone, anyone: show one case – IN FACT.

    Has there any claim by the ‘administration’ that they have prevented an attack based upon something they got by torture?

    One?

  • shpilk

    Mr. Shpilk,

    You missed my point. They are not being tortured at Gitmo was my point, nor at Abu Grab for that matter. They are living better than prisoners caught by the insurgents, or any where else in the world. Which would you rather be, a prisoner at Gitmo with 3 squares a day, a prayer rug, a compass painted on the floor showing the way to Mecca, and a free Koran, or in an abandoned warehouse in Iraq in front of a camera with a big butcher knife blasting through your neck? Leave the prisoners to the military to sort out….Or maybe you don’t trust our military in the first place. If you don’t, then you do have a problem. Our men and women in the armed forces are the ones securing the freedoms we have to even be able to speak this way in a forum such as this. War is not a court of law. It is WAR. And no other country in the world conducts itself with higher moral standards than our military.

    …By the way, great interview of Mr. Kanan Makiya!!!!

    ———————–

    Acutally, I am not sure how you think you know that I am a ‘mister’ – but that’s OK ..

    I don’t know if you have spent time looking at the news reports, but a number of people have been killed while in detention by US forces; at Gitmo, at Abu-Ghraib, and god knows where else. They have been beaten, sexually humiliated, attacked by unmuzzled dogs .. the pitcures show the undeniable truth.

    One US soldier during an ‘exercise’ at Gitmo, where he was told to play the part of a prisoner, was so badly beaten {even as he tried to tell his fellow soldiers he was one of them} that he now has brain seizures 6 to 10 times a day.

    Here is a link, if you are inclined to read about it. I was unaware of this case until just yesterday {thanks American press for covering this one so closely} ..

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/11/02/60II/main652953.shtml

    I read with interest your comparisons of the soft cushy life at Gitmo for people who you claim are ‘better off’, and the blazing heroics of our troops, in every aspect of what they do. Somewhere, far off in the distance is reality. Your description has quite a ways to go, however.

    I see our troops as ill-equipped, poorly trained for the task of nation building, and a military chain of command that is, at the very least culpable of allowing mayhem, and at the worst, promoting it. I see an administration that is allowing massive fraud, waste of billions of taxpayer money and not much to show for it.

    I happen to have friends and family in the military, so I am not pleased by the tone of your comment concerning my trust in the military. Our men and women are not securing anything in Iraq that was not already ours. Iraq was not a threat to the United States, to you or to me. Iraq could have been controlled by applying pressure from it’s neighbors and the world community – but this was not given enough time.

    Our men and women in Afghanistan have been held back from doing the correct job by poor leadership in Washington – the proliferation of the poppy fields and warlords there show that the US adminisitration has no political backbone, common sense or honor.

    The issue is not trust in the military – my concern is with those civilians who lead the military.

  • Where is this torture? May I refer you to an article about how we are “torturing” at Gitmo: http://www.time.com/time/press_releases/article/0,8599,1071230,00.html

    I find no torture in this definitive article about how we are torturing people in one part of the world out of supposed many. Some darn forceful interrogation to be sure. And there have been abuses and deaths from those abuses, and these are not condoned by the military But “torture”, no. However, we do know that the North Koreans are starving their entire population to feed their military machine. We do know that the Chinese kill little girls because boys are more favored. We do know that millions were slaughtered in Rhowanda in the 1990’s. We do know people are killed if they meet together to worship Jesus in Saudi Arabia.We know that the Taliban were involved in all kinds of atrocities such as: http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,4305530-103681,00.html I think the indignation at the rough treatment of Taliban prisoners and others is missplaced. Where is all the outrage at the REAL torture that goes on in the world?

  • I believe that the Abu Gareb incident was similar to a “Girls Gone Wild” video, where the individuals who perpetrated the abuse were not professional torturers by any means, but individuals, for whatever reasons, were caught up in the highs of power and humiliation. I don’t think it’s fair to hold up that as an example of torture, however, to find a valid example may be difficult due to the secrecy and blackness of the art. Professional torturers are rarely photographed by their friends, and seldom show up on CNN, Fox News, or NPR.

  • dead,MD

    Well, I was simply dazzled by Elaine Scarry’s big, busy brain. Too clever by half, to be sure!

    Ms. Scarry, how do *you* suggest we interrogate interred combatants? (This presumes you even believe in combat and internment in response to attacks on US civilians…)

  • PrinceofDarkness

    After reading the comments here, I’m at a loss following all of the urls – they don’t really say much about torture. Abuse, yes, but torture? I’m curious if anyone looks beyond the Press anymore? You know, like checking out a history book at the library or something like that. I’ve also noticed a strong digression into political sides, when the focus should be on facts, especially historical facts and factual information about torture, not abuse or human rights violations.

    I agree that our leadership could be doing more in Iraq and Afghanistan, but having been to Afghanistan (and many other places), it’s not as simple as storming the beaches of Normandy, or dropping a bomb on Nagasaki or Hiroshima to make the “enemy” surrender. One writer commented on the drug trade in Afghanistan. We’ve already proven that winning the War on Drugs is near to impossible. It’s very difficult to win any war when there are so many factors other than what we read in the papers, see on television, or hear on the radio. The old economic rule about supply and demand seems the real winner in a lot of these types of cases – Drugs, Oil, News Stories – but what about some actual factual information for a change without a political spin to it?

    I’ve also found that most media sources do not seem to have very much investigative spunk when it comes to looking at actual historical events and how they relate to current issues. The closest Afghanistan and the opium trade has ever come to being controlled since the invention of the poppy was probably during the reign of the Taleban. Should we have praised the Taleban for stemming the flow of opium and heroin during their reign, or condemned them for their abuse against woman? There are more factors here, oh yeah, and don’t forget that 9/11 incident and Usama bin Laden supposedly being camped out in Talebanland. Where do we put the weight of our decisions? Incidently, the Taleban did stem the flow of opium and heroin for a period, but stored it in nice warehouses to sell at a much dearer price when there was less available (supply and demand? economics? general business common sense?), but I digress…