So… that torture report.
One of the advantages of being interested in history is that it gives you perspective. Sometimes – often – the perspective it gives you is “Thank heavens I was born in the mid twentieth century and not the mid sixteenth.”
One of the reasons for this is their treatment of prisoners. Normal Judicial Procedure in Shakespeare’s England was to sweep up all suspects and witnesses, dump them in jail and at the magistrate’s leisure interrogate them to determine if they were in fact guilty of anything.
So, suppose you’re on the street, and the guy next to you gets stabbed. You’re going to jail. While in jail, you’ll have to pay for your own food and you’d best have some bribes available for creature comforts.
But Sarah, you’ll say, we’re not in the sixteenth century. We’re more civilized now. Yes, and thank heavens, though in many ways we’re also softer, and I want you to remember that, as we go on.
Torture was extensively used in the sixteenth century. We’re not talking “won’t let you sleep” or “you must stand up” or even “no water.” No, we’re talking really honest to Bob torture, where they tore you apart bit by bit until you were permanently damaged. It was the only way they knew to get people to talk. Hold on to this, too, there is a reason.
I know in Marlowe’s time – so just before Shakespeare got big – there was a playwright who was arrested on suspicion of nothing much, and when he came out he couldn’t write again, because he couldn’t hold a quill. (And he couldn’t walk, and other stuff.) It’s been very long since I worked in that time period, so I don’t remember his name.
One of the reasons most of us, sane human beings, think that Anne Boleyn was innocent was that the confessions were not only tortured out of her supposed lovers, they were REALLY tortured. We’re talking the stuff of nightmares. Think of the worst possible way to torture someone. Yep, that’s it.
Torture of that kind is used almost nowhere in the world these days. Correction, it’s used nowhere in the western world. You and I and even the anonymous people reading this blog to go scream on twitter what a horrible person I am, know this still goes on, at this level or close enough in the Arab world and in some of the more benighted parts of so called “developing countries.”
When I posted Cedar’s article on police corruption, an Indian FB friend posted that at least police don’t routinely flog the soles of your feet, just because they can, etc.
Yes. So, this goes on in a great part of the world, up to and including the unimaginable Elizabethan tortures if you’re talking Iran or Syria or any of those charming places.
Even next door, I have heard you REALLY don’t want to be arrested in Mexico.
But Sarah, say you, what does this have to do with us? We’re the United States. We believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We believe in individual rights. Our criminals aren’t tortured, why should our enemies be?
First, let me say I disapprove of torture – by which I mean REAL physical torture. Do I need to say this? Oh, yes, I do, there are idiots and SJWs (but I repeat myself) reading this.
I disapprove of pulled fingernails. I disapprove of cut this and that. I disapprove, even, of cane flogging the soles of someone’s feet. Other things I disapprove of – not a complete list – include but are not by any means limited to: beating someone with rubber hoses, burning someone with cigarettes, etc, etc, etc.
What about other levels of torture, i.e. “enhanced interrogation techniques” – sleep deprivation, loud music, etc – how do I feel about them.
Oh, I don’t like them. Depending on the severity of them they can extract false confessions, and I don’t think they should be used on citizens, protected by the constitution of the United States.
Besides, to be fair, the resistance of someone raised in modern America is not that of a man in the sixteenth century. Sure, if you read student doc, a blog on the er… interesting things that show up in emergency rooms in urban America, you probably suspect as I do that such resistance to pain and discomfort is much higher of someone raised in the underclass. Thus the observation that someone who has a low ratio or teeth to tattoos can show up shot through the heart and survive something that a normal suburbanite would never have endured two seconds. But I guarantee they’re still pampered princesses compared to people in the third world who, themselves, might be more sensitive than ANYONE including the upper class in Elizabethan England (who lived in conditions we can’t even fully imagine.)
And that, you see, is the rub. The rub is that first that life, liberty, pursuit of happiness thing? Those are rights given to us by the constitution. By us, I mean Americans by birth or adoption. We are not in fact mandated to give that protection to anyone else. And in many cases it might be ill advised.
Oh, boy, I can hardly write for the screams of the SJWs at that last one.
Chill. Listen. I know reading comprehension is not your forte, and also that you know a lot of things that just ain’t so, however do try to comprehend that this is not a civil war, in any sense. The people on the other side aren’t Americans. They don’t think like Americans, they don’t believe like Americans and they haven’t grown up like Americans.
They’re not also the little brown peoples of your pampered (and racist) imaginations where, because people can tan (to about my level, but never mind) they are inoffensive, clueless, a bit stupid, and will only do bad things in reaction to American evil. Do try to understand these people, though very different from you and htough, perhaps, raised in conditions of privation and material want, are fully realized human beings with their own agenda.
Their beliefs are not the same as yours, but they are – to them – just as important and as real as your beliefs are to you.
Oh, sure, some of their beliefs match yours. They’ve been told by their teachers, just as you were, that America is the source of all evil, and that if they wipe America from the map everyone will be happy or at least that they get to rule. (In this last one they’re at least more realistic than you are, not that they would, get to rule, I mean.)
They and you are wrong. In their case they were told this by their corrupt leaders who are afraid that America will prove so attractive it undermines their tyranny. In your case, you were told this by your corrupt leaders, who want to cater to your vanity and lead you to destroy the constitution and rules that keep them from becoming full tyrants.
But that is a side spur to this. What matters, right here, right now, is that these people are fully actuated human beings, possessed of self determination. And they hate us.
No, please, don’t say “not me”. Be you ever so “progressive” and ready to throw your co-citizens under the bus, they still hate you. In fact, they might hate you more. Their values aren’t ours but tribal honor and loyalty is something the Arab world understands at a gut level.
What this means is that they will try to harm us. 9/11 served as a wake up call for some of us. I suspect it did for you too, and that’s why you’re already siding with the enemy because you think they’ll win. That’s because you view every American through the lens of your circle. Trust me, some of us are neither cowards nor wilting flowers.
And that’s the rub. The other part of the rub. Neither are our enemies.
The people who want to hurt us grew up in conditions that make our normal treatment of prisoners a summer vacation.
Worse, they come from a part of the world where internal restraint of possible violence is not a thing. If you don’t torture them, they don’t assume it’s because you are holding back due to your impeccable morals. No, they assume that you’re not torturing them because you can’t – either because you fear their retaliation or because you’re soft. That means that they will be more sure than ever of their side’s win, and they’re not going to talk. Because, hell, if they talk, their side will do unspeakable things to them. Things that would make Elizabethans blench.
But Sarah, you say (well, those of you who aren’t SJW’s. Those are already shrieking and I don’t understand banshee), that doesn’t make it right for us to torture them or even to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” on them.
Right according to whom? Right how? By whose moral law?
Yeah, sure, it’s against most of the religions dominant in the west (though not where these people come from.) It is also morally repulsive – to us, by Western codes – to hurt someone who can’t defend himself.
Is it realistic, though? Meaning, is it something that can work outside of a movie?
I don’t know. And neither do you. It is not your job to do this, and you can’t know. They’re dealing with a completely different culture, with people raised in much higher hardship levels than even poor people in Detroit, okay? More, they’re dealing with people raised in a culture where might makes right, and who turn that around and assume if there’s no might, there’s no right. Worse, they’re dealing with males in a culture that is a true and extreme patriarchy, a culture where most of these guys think of themselves as invulnerable and untouchable by virtue of being male and by virtue of their religion. If you don’t pierce that cultural bubble, they’re not going to talk.
But surely, Sarah, you say, we’re civilized and there’s stuff we can do to get the truth without torturing people.
Um…. M’kay then. I like science fiction too!
The truth is that the whole psychological science thing never came along as sf writers thirty or fifty or even seventy years ago predicted. The human animal is too unpredictable for an exact science.
Which leaves with the old, icky methods.
Now, perhaps – perhaps – you can work on them with mercy and lovingkindness. Perhaps it works just like in the movies. I don’t know. I’ve never done this work. I knew someone who used to interrogate would-be communist terrorists (a different beast, from a different culture) who said if you have to slap a prisoner you are incompetent. For most prisoners you could get them to crack with the “good cop” routine. But he said in a pinch, and if you had an urgent need, you had to resort to sleep deprivation or making them break potty-training. (Apparently Heinlein was right about this having a devastating effect.) Which are I presume “enhanced interrogation techniques.” (Though not to the water boarding level.)
Here’s the thing: this is not my job, and it is not yours, and it certainly, thank heavens, is not the job of the Sandra Flukes of this world.
So – I don’t know under what time-pressure people were working, and I don’t know what they had to do. And I’m not going to judge them.
It is important to have supervision. People with power over others will get out of control. But it’s also important to know the person coordinating the compilation of this report was Harry Reid and what he’s trying to do. (Mostly make us look away from Gruber’s deposition and from the slo mo disaster this administration has brought to America.) And it’s important to remember two things: you’re not the men doing this and you don’t know their circumstances.
It’s also important to remember that most of the people being interrogated are NOT the peaceful camel herders that the movies portray. These people have histories that, to quote from Grosse Pointe Blanke, read like a demon’s resume. And that’s important, both for what they could do and what you have to get through to make them crack.
Put it this way: Imagine we had a president who really cared when innocent village girls are kidnapped by the Boko Haram. I mean, cared about it more than to have his wife tweet a pouty-face picture saying “Bring back our back our girls.” And kindly, don’t tell me that it’s a foreign country and none of our business. Note that “our girls.” Let’s say we’d captured one of the rat finks who kidnapped these kids. We have to find the rest before they are raped/killed/sold into perpetual sexual slavery to strangers.
What would you do to get that one guy to talk quickly? Think carefully and don’t flatter yourself. You’d do whatever you had to do.
To do anything else would be to go into a street fight and try to fight by Marquess de Queensbury rules. Those work fine in the boxing ring, if everyone is following them. In an alley fight, they’ll get you massacred.
So – do I think we owe it to our higher selves to be better than the parts of the world where prisoners are routinely tortured? Sure. If for no other reason, because it hurts those of our men having to torture. They’re not built or educated for this.
But I also think there’s times and circumstances, and I have neither the training nor the experience nor the knowledge of the circumstances to say “and you must never do this.”
The chokepear and the iron maiden should be out of bounds, but waterboarding? I don’t know. It depends.
To release a report of this kind, with this kind of sensationalism, devoid of context is to invite the ignorant public (and I’m part of this) to pass judgment on things they can’t even imagine.
We can demand that our agents work with as much decency as possible, but we can’t, from where we sit, decide where that line is. We simply don’t have the equipment to do it.
Yes, I believe in individual life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for as many people as possible. But make no mistake, I’m an American first and last. And if you need to violate the rights of those who aren’t Geneva signatories, who don’t recognize any rights and who would blow up men and women and children in a normal morning, in the middle of NYC, to preserve the life and liberty of Americans, it’s not even a contest. Do it.
It goes along with the right of self defense. We have the right to find out what they’re plotting so that we can use to stop attacks on us.
What about innocent camel herders? What about them? Most of these assets we interrogate aren’t so easy to capture that we’re sweeping up crowds, en masse, from the Arab street. Whatever movies tell you, trust me, if we were doing that, you’d have heard about it. In detail. These are people who have committed acts of terrorism in the past – proven, often watched and self-confessed – and will commit them again in the future.
Unless we can figure out what they’re up to.
So, do I like torture? No. I’m as capable of getting on my moral high horse as anyone else. A nd I think the Elizabethan system made for lousy policing, and if we start going that way, even internationally, that’s a BAD thing.
But I also think we’re nowhere near it and our agents, thank heavens, don’t have an unfettered hand in decisions. They are watched and overseen.
The rest of us, here on the street? Sure, they ultimately work for us, and to be fair, we should keep an eye on them. But unless you take the time to read all the reports and have a clearance that allows to you to get what the rest of us don’t, be aware what you’re reading is only half the truth.
And you can’t judge men doing difficult and morally perilous work on the front lines. You just can’t. You can say “I’d prefer we didn’t do this” – so can I. But screaming about the eebils of America? Oh, please. Try being picked up for a traffic violation anywhere in the third world.
Grow up. Understand you don’t know everything and that your moral rules and scolding are not and will never be the last word.
You can hold onto them only because rough men are willing to do rough things on your behalf.
You are not now, and if you’re very lucky you’ll never be, in the sort of morally perilous position where you have to choose between your moral beliefs and someone else’s life. You’re not in a position where you have to choose whether to be rough to a prisoner or risk territories being taken in which women and children will be raped, treated like chattel, and suffer unimaginable torture. (For illustration look at the areas taken by Isis.)
Your job is to understand this and to stop demanding that people choose between the black and white that exist only in your imagination and in the movies produced by people for whom a hangnail is unimaginable torture and going without their favorite bottled water an emergency.
Your job is also to wonder why this report was released now, on practices that started being discontinued in Bush’s second term, and to wonder what exactly the people in power now are doing that they’d rather hide behind whipped up outrage at actions since stopped than to examine the actions of the powerful right now.
Stop emoting and start thinking. Yes, your friends will think badly of you, and the SJWs will shriek some more. (We should harness that. Could power entire cities, I tell you.)
But you might prevent you and yours having to suffer far worse than is detailed in those reports.
Maybe. If you are very lucky.