Saturday, July 26, 2008

Is ‘Torture’ Among Your Weekend Reflections?

Updated Monday, July 28. See end of article.

“Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence.”
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 1970

“The UK can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use torture, and we recommend that the Government does not rely on such assurances in the future.” British House of Commons, July 9, 2008

The subject of “torture” is probably not on your list of weekend reflections, but maybe it should be.

On Thursday, I attended a lecture by Dr. George Hunsinger, professor of Systematic Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary and the founder of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Whenever I write or read or hear about the subject, I still find myself reeling that this has been perpetrated by my own country, and that our own president has rationalized and authorized it. My reaction was no different Thursday as I listened to Dr. Hunsinger’s lecture.

I do not know personally persons who have been tortured under the auspices of the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” but I have personal friends who were tortured in Taiwan’s period of “White Terror” in the 1960s and 1970s. I know what it did to them. It’s not over when the torture session ends; it is with the tortured the rest of their lives. I suspect that it changes the person who does the torturing as much as the tortured.

President Bush has said repeatedly, “We don’t torture.” This weekend in your reflections, consider these words from the annual report on human rights around the world by the British House of Commons Committee on Foreign Affairs, issued July 9, 2008:

We conclude that, given the clear differences in definition, the UK can no longer rely on US assurances that it does not use torture, and we recommend that the Government does not rely on such assurances in the future. We also recommend that the Government should immediately carry out an exhaustive analysis of current US interrogation techniques on the basis of such information as is publicly available or which can be supplied by the US. We further recommend that, once its analysis is completed, the Government should inform this Committee and Parliament as to its view on whether there are any other interrogation techniques that may be approved for use by the US Administration which it considers to constitute torture.
And then, let your mind wander to these words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his lecture when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, a lecture smuggled out of the Soviet Union.

We shall be told: what can literature possibly do against the ruthless onslaught of open violence? But let us not forget that violence does not live alone and is not capable of living alone: it is necessarily interwoven with falsehood. Between them lies the most intimate, the deepest of natural bonds. Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence. Any man who has once acclaimed violence as his METHOD must inexorably choose falsehood as his PRINCIPLE. At its birth violence acts openly and even with pride. But no sooner does it become strong, firmly established, than it senses the rarefaction of the air around it and it cannot continue to exist without descending into a fog of lies, clothing them in sweet talk. It does not always, not necessarily, openly throttle the throat, more often it demands from its subjects only an oath of allegiance to falsehood, only complicity in falsehood.
I sat in Hunsinger’s lecture Thursday and wondered why there didn't seem to be a national sense of scandal and outrage at the torture perpetrated and authorized by this administration.

Sadly, I think I know the answer, or at least part of it. Many are still unwilling to believe that a president of the United States of America would condone, let alone authorize, the use of torture. If he says, “We do not torture,” many believe him.

During the question period after the lecture, one asked why people could still advocate the use of torture when we know it doesn’t work. I almost screamed, “Because the conventional wisdom says it does work!” We live in a culture ready to believe that lives can be saved by torture. How many spy movies have brainwashed us? (See update below)

For the third part of your weekend meditation, try to imagine why George Bush and Dick Cheney opted to authorize torture. Meteor Blades has an excellent - and troubling - analysis.

We suggest four reasons why George "I don’t care what the international lawyers say" Bush and dark-side Dick Cheney opted for torture:

1 - Deceit: Granted, torture does not yield truthful information. It can, though, be an excellent way to obtain the untruthful information you may wish to acquire. All you really need to know is what you want the victims to "confess" to and torture them, or render them abroad to "friendly" intelligence services toward the same end.
One case that speaks volumes is that of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who was captured and rendered to Egypt, where, under torture, he told his interrogators precisely what they wanted to hear. ...

2 - Sadism: Cheney’s open advocacy of waterboarding speaks volumes, but what about the President? Sad to say, as psychiatrist Justin Frank, author of Bush on the Couch, has noted: "Bush’s certitude that he is right gives him carte blanche for destructive behavior. He has always had a sadistic streak: from blowing up frogs, to shooting his siblings with a BB gun, to branding fraternity pledges with white-hot coat hangers (explaining that the resulting wound was ‘only a cigarette burn’)..."

3 - Intimidation: Are you perhaps in some "shock and awe" at the prospect of the President designating you an "enemy combatant" and sending you off to the Navy brig in South Carolina for an indefinite stay? He now has court approval to do precisely that, and we are proceeding on faith that this joint article will not bring us "enhanced interrogation techniques." ...

4 -- Because We Can: Lord Acton was, of course, right. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. And closeness to it does the same. ...
The very transparency of the excuses for torture serves to demonstrate that this kind of power is in place, and is not to be questioned.
On this weekend, I’ll focus my reflection on the words of Solzhenitsyn as he continued in his lecture:

And the simple step of a simple courageous man is not to partake in falsehood, not to support false actions! Let THAT enter the world, let it even reign in the world - but not with my help. But writers and artists can achieve more: they can CONQUER FALSEHOOD! In the struggle with falsehood art always did win and it always does win! Openly, irrefutably for everyone! Falsehood can hold out against much in this world, but not against art.And no sooner will falsehood be dispersed than the nakedness of violence will be revealed in all its ugliness - and violence, decrepit, will fall.
I am weary of thinking and writing about torture. I want to forget about it and enjoy the weekend. But I think we dare not forget; we must keep remembering, thinking, writing, acting, and be the “courageous” persons Solzhenitsyn calls for who will not partake in falsehood, not to support false actions, nor tolerate them by our President.

- Milo
I didn't mention any spy movies, but today I found an article by Dahlia Lithwick titled, "The Bauer of Suggestion: Our torture policy has deeper roots in Fox television than the Constitution."
The most influential legal thinker in the development of modern American interrogation policy is not a behavioral psychologist, international lawyer, or counterinsurgency expert. Reading both Jane Mayer's stunning The Dark Side and Philippe Sands' The Torture Team, I quickly realized that the prime mover of American interrogation doctrine is none other than the star of Fox television's 24: Jack Bauer.

This fictional counterterrorism agent—a man never at a loss for something to do with an electrode—has his fingerprints all over U.S. interrogation policy. As Sands and Mayer tell it, the lawyers designing interrogation techniques cited Bauer more frequently than the Constitution.

According to British lawyer and writer Philippe Sands, Jack Bauer—played by Kiefer Sutherland—was an inspiration at early "brainstorming meetings" of military officials at Guantanamo in September of 2002. Diane Beaver, the staff judge advocate general who gave legal approval to 18 controversial new interrogation techniques including water-boarding, sexual humiliation, and terrorizing prisoners with dogs, told Sands that Bauer "gave people lots of ideas." Michael Chertoff, the homeland-security chief, once gushed in a panel discussion on 24 organized by the Heritage Foundation that the show "reflects real life."
I must confess that I have never watched 24. Maybe I should. It's not the role for art that Solzhenitsyn hoped for, but it was a role he saw art play often in the Soviet Union.

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