Monday, July 13, 2015

Torture, Another look

So, dear reader, I want to revisit the whole torture debate. I originally wrote about it here. Now, being prescient can stroke one's ego, and I wrote about torture before the Senate and the CIA had their little spat. Not a hard thing to predict, not when our policy and our view on the other (and our fellow Americans) is that they deserve what they get, the law, the morals, the constitution be damned. This is nothing more than anti-Americanism at its finest. Par for course and as usual I would never remain silent on such topics. 

I found it funny that at the time I wrote on the matter, most people thought things were settled, that Obama had put an end to the worst excesses of the Bush's hapless foreign policy. And so it goes. To say that we tortured some folks is nothing short of a cover up. [1] That no one at the top was ever, and will ever, be taken to court over this just goes to highlight the iniquities of our system. So let me add something else to the current torture debate

That there seems to be some backlash against torture is great. But already it seems to resemble something like a tribal one, or mob reaction: that the focus is on merely the CIA agents and what they did (ostensibly without informing Bush and the leading Republicans/Democracts that they were doing specifically what they did) is already troubling to me. [2]

It takes the Abu Ghraib tact and doesn’t do what is needed: completely re evaluate the system from which this stems (at home and abroad). Note that these members aren’t the only ones that commit torture in the States. Daily 1000s of prisoners are tortured (kept in isolation—torture, by any sane person’s definition) within our borders. Many think that’s fine as those are “criminals”. It’s my unsubstantiated view that it’s this same meme that allows people to see “terrorists” as deserving of worse (more of “it’s needed” platitudes) and even more so when you throw in the idea that this will save lives. [3]

Note that I know that I myself am on thin ice, intellectually speaking, since the main reason in the past I’ve been against torture is that it doesn’t work. Pure and simple. But that’s weak in the sense that I’m basing this on a calculation of efficacy [4]. 

Let me entertain another view on torture, though I understand that there is less of a standing here: that those methods of torture leak into a society making it inherently worse and certainly less democratic [5]. Or through empathy, a very strong emotion, from others in the world and those within out ranks, we will weaken our own stance, create more enemies and people unwilling to work with us. [6]

It is here that one must either say: that’s why we have values and stick to them. But that’s not the world we work in, isn't it? And that’s not, no matter what you think, how humans or any human institution can be: without humanity. For it will make mistakes; you cannot know beforehand if it’s a mistake, so by accepting torture, you know you’re going to torture some innocents. This is why one needs values, as metaphysical as that may sound. [7]

This is a topic that is certainly hard to tackle, but that's my final point. Any holes that you see and can take apart? Please add them in the comments. 

[1] Again, like most things that I've worked on, like the Iraq war and so on, the debate is weak at best. What you have is weak doves saying something like we need to stop it because we look bad, while those on the right claim that they need to be around incase we get the ticking time bomb scenario. In other words, we've stopped it for some time and it won't take much for us to pick it back up again. I'll say nothing of how we torture our own prisoners (usually political) to keep them docile (the one thing that torture does work for: that it silences the dissent in any given group). 

[2] Note again that what we have is the emotional reaction, the tribal reaction which leads to no laws adjusted to make sure this doesn't happen in the future, which means the lawmakers want this to happen again in the future. And it also makes sure that we blame a handful of bad apples and can go on in some childish belief in the self. What ends up happening is that there will be two laws, again. For those who can (the powerful) wrap themselves in State power and can torture, and the rest of us. 

[3] Note that when torture is used for political purposes it's usually best when used to silence (doesn't always work, as it's a proven fact that Al Qaeda grew from Egypt's torture chambers) as well as when it's used to extort false confessions for propaganda purposes.

Is torture something that's built into the systems of nation-states? One doesn't have to look hard to find it in many societies, shouldn't the nations of laws help to defeat it in all forms? As for ourselves, one can see that though our founders very much based our nation on the ideals of the enlightenment (some of them, at any rate), it didn't take long for things like torture to take hold. Slavery being the biggest torture system ever. And how did they squeeze such good results from these victims? Torture. And back then, as now, the meme that the torture was justified, that these people were not people was used, as the same excuse is used nowadays (note that back then the threat of another Haiti, the threat of a slave revolt also allowed for much torture, to say nothing of profits).

[4] And someone will always say that we have a way to make it work, won't they? Also it's the same rubric as someone saying: it’s one bad person versus the possible deaths of man good citizens, thus the world should not worry about the “negative” charge. Or even a “GDP” sense, which claims GDP is above all matters—in this case said terrorist is neg GDP, destroys the economy, innocents are positive GDP, why calculate anything else as torture would save these lives?

[5]  Those who do it will bear some cost and spread it to society; of course, there’s also the argument that these torturers, like soldiers are in many ways sacrificing themselves or bearing a burden for the greater good.

[6] This takes something of an efficacy argument, that we can never win the war for hearts and minds with torture, but again will become something of an easy tradeoff, especially with the ticking time bomb scenario that torture proponents so want to tout. 

[7] For a second, let's regard the fact that we need laws that are humane, and that, on top of that, we need laws that will overcome the very idea of efficacy. As for hearts and minds, I think those in favor of torture would wish that all people who complain about torture are making the world worse by informing our enemies of what has been done.

Now, perhaps you want to live in—Republicans think this, it would seem—a world where all of this is kept strictly silent. Stalinism, it would seem, has many adherents. Torture, “purify”, then kill, erase, repeat. Let’s leave aside this way of living as a society and at least agree that these who espouse this sort of view have no moral leg to stand upon: that they know this (fear of backlash means that they cannot argue their own position, that they understand its inherent weaknesses) and that they want nothing close to a democratic discussion on the matter. 

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