Thursday, October 26, 2006

torture itself is just another prop

* independent:
" One German agent was said to have compared the actions of the US interrogators to Serbian war criminals during the break up of Yugoslavia. "The Serbs ended up before the international court in The Hague for this kind of thing," he was quoted as saying."
ya know, i've been thinking about this all day - since Bush's presser today - people criticize Bushco for 'playing politics' and for 'being incompetent' and so on - but that so misses the point (and no, this isn't a new thought.)

Buscho say that they want to 'win' the war in iraq, and the TWOT etc - but i actually dont even believe that. Mind you, I have no idea what they are trying to do - but in many ways, I can at least understand war ciminals like the serbs and whatnot - and I can understand people going to war over territory, or heck, i can even understand genocide - but i haven't got a clue what today's war criminals are about.

As for torturing people in jails as quoted in the Independent above, again, I could somewhat understand the policy (however flawed) if they thought that there really was a TWOT - but I don't even believe that they believe that. So why torture people?

and yes, I understand the difference between grunts in the field implementing the torture and those who authorize it - but the world is so topsyturvy these days that it's almost as though the torture itself is just another prop.

and that's fucked up.


steven andresen said...

I have thought that the use of force has been justified in their minds by how effective it is. It is more effective at getting things done than using words or arguments. The seemingly convincing test for this is that you can torture people into saying or doing anything and that is more effective than trying to talk to them or persuade them.

These American torturers have a very narrow understanding of what life is all about. For them, it's all about doing what one is told without question. It's about being on the right side. It's about being on the right side which, amazingly enough, is the one that they are on. They don't think about things any deeper than that. Their salvation in this life is a matter of eliminating the terrorists, not worrying about the why's and wherefore's.

I'm told people don't do evil willingly. When they do, it involves their being deluded into thinking the evil they do, i.e., the torturing, etc, is really good, because it's for a good cause, for instance.

Getting the Americans to stop stealing from and then torturing their victims will take more than pointing out that what they are doing is evil. Because, to them, it is only evil to you. To them, that you think their actions are evil makes you a terrorist and danger to them.

If you aren't with them, you are one of the terrorists.

starroute said...

I agree it's all about control -- but that's a very broad and general statement. The real question, first off, is how they think it will help them maintain control, despite the obvious disadvantages in terms of alienating public opinion.

Perhaps the best answer is that they really do believe in ruling by fear. In that sense, torture isn't even about the terrorists -- it's about the rest of us. They want to keep us terrified of stepping out of line by making the price of dissent too high for any reasonable person to be willing to pay.

A second answer might be that they're after some form of Total Information Awareness and think that with sophisticated data mining techniques even the garbage obtained through torture can be processed and refined to give a clear picture of what's going on among People Who Lurk in Alleyways and Want to Do Us Harm. (Which is an illusion in itself, similar to those entertained by the people who painstakingly analyze the data of the Inquisition in search of the truth about witchcraft -- or the data of UFO sightings in search of the truth about space aliens. But that doesn't stop any of them.)

However, there's another and more crucial question, which is, why do they need so strongly to maintain control? And the obvious answer to that is that they already feel control slipping out of their hands, and that makes them more and more desperate to hold onto it.

So who is the "they" that's trying to hold on? Roughly speaking, it's the corporate masters, the modern-day robber barons, Bucky Fuller's Great Pirates. The people who see the rest of us as nothing more than raw material to be exploited for all we're worth. The aristocracy of Capital -- allied at times (especially in Europe) with what remains of the old-time aristocracy of Land -- and hiding behind the mask of being honest, hard-working, free-market enterpreneurs. (Which is the last thing they really are, but it enables them to pass themselves off as socially productive rather than as bloated parasites.)

The first great threat to their power in the 20th century was Communism -- which was why Communism had to be relentlessly persecuted and hounded, stamped out ruthlessly in more democratic nations and allowed to persist only in improverished and autocratic societies like Russia, where it could be further demonized, and finally dismissed as a discredited experiment, doomed to fail because it ignored the facts of human nature.

The current greatest menace to their power -- at least in their own eyes -- seems to be the environmentalists, the anti-globalizers, and anybody working for social and environmental justice. That is why such obscene amounts of money flow from the right-wing foundations and firms like ExxonMobil into anti-regulation, anti-environmental, and even anti-civil rights policy groups and lawfirms. I mean, ask yourself, who would deliberately take a stand on principle in favor of big tobacco, unless they conceived even the right of municipalities to ban smoking in restaurants as an ideological threat to their right to profit by selling anything, anywhere, to anyone, at any time?

It's that's true, then the war on terror does seem to be a kind of diversion -- something hastily cooked up in 1979 to replace the fading war against Communism and tailored more to the specifications of the Israelis, the rogue CIA, the arms merchants, and the crazy geostrategists of CSIS than to the needs of global corporate capitalism.

But even if the WOT itself is a kind of false step, one that is currently scheduled to be hastily dismantled, written off the books, and consigned to the dustbin of history, the methods of control it's helped develop will be with us a lot longer. In fact, it's already segueing neatly into the next war -- with groups like ALF and ELF being listed as terrorists and attempts underway to define any activity that causes a corporation to lose profits (like saying in public that their products are crap) as terrorism.

Combine that with the control mechanisms already established via the war on drugs and the war on kiddie porn (most significantly, a massive forfeiture of the right to privacy and unthinking acceptance of the intrusion of police power into the personal sphere), add in the burgeoning war on file sharing, and you really do have a system of total control.

But the more onerous the control becomes, the more people bridle against it, and the more difficult it is to maintain. That's where torture comes in -- both as the ultimate threat and as the ultimate way to insure there can be no such thing as an ability to keep secrets.

The war on terror has made torture socially acceptable again, and that may be its real function in the overall scheme of things.

Correspondingly, the right to keep secrets may turn out to be the essential right on which all the others depend.

steven andresen said...

Sometimes I think that I won't be budged from my insistance that I have a right to my privacy. This right, ...makes it sound like there's someone who will back up one's insistances,...seems just your right to keep a secret.

Both are susceptible to the argument that one should be willing to reveal whatever you hold secret as proof that you have done nothing wrong. That is, if you've done nothing wrong, you should have nothing to hide.

The problem with giving in to this argument is that it is a way of being bludgeoned into agreeing that the person, or persons, who are demanding you give up your privacy, or your secrets, are themselves without fault or blemish. They, of course, have provided no argument to justify such a claim.

I'm saying that if your position has come down to a defence of your privacy, or the right to hold secrets, and you have been unable or unwilling to challenge the "Great Pirates'" argument that you should prove your innocense by revealing your private affairs, then you are lost. You are, at that point, without an argument except a meager plea for mercy.

Unfortunately, they have no mercy.

I recommend looking at their idea that control or the use of force will accomplish their goals. I would try to look at what their goals might be.

Personally, I think their goals are to survive, at the expense of everything else. There may be more to it than that, but not much. They would think, I believe, that the most effective way to survive would be to use force, instead of arguments. So, control would be another variation on the use of force.

The idea is that they recogbize that most people would reject their assumption that life is about survival at the expense of everyone and everything else, and that the way to accomplish that would be by using force, control, torture, or what have you.

But, they are not doing any of this thinking they need our approval. All they have to do is make us think that they have our interests at heart. They want us to think they are benign, or that it's crazy to think they could get together to do us harm. If they are successful in that, getting us to believe we're all in this together, then we will be unable to save ourselves from them.

We will be unable to save them from themselves.

Why torture anyone? You'd think the United States would oppose the use of torture. What would have been the point of WW2, for example, if not to live in accordance to the claim that stealing from and torturing people was unacceptable? Yet, this President now argues that Hitler may have had a point. He wasn't so bad, he says. The only question is, "who benefits?"

What he's done is legitimized the thinking of the Nazi's, and made the war on terror merely a question of which side are you on? There would have been nothing wrong with the gas chambers and the ovens, so long as we would have got our cut.

So, the problem cannot just be how we can preserve our rights, like the right to keep secrets. They would be willing to just kill us and let us keep our secrets.

The problem has to be what claims they are making about themselves and the rest of us, and how have they justified those claims. Our task should be to challenge the arguments that justifies to them what they think and do.

We have to challenge the rationalizations for their inhumanity.

lukery said...

hi steve - welcome, and thanks for your considered comments. and thanks starroute for yours as well, as always. i apologise for not responding earlier.

i wish i had more time to respond more comprehensively - but if i can just pick up on a couple of points.

firstly, steve, yes, i agree with your comments about those who are actually implementing the torture - that they are (probably) 'just following orders' - and they might actually believe that they are trying to save the empire (although there appears to be substantial literature that suggests that at some point torturers don't even bother asking questions any more - and simply torture for the sake of it and/or the sadism)

i didn't explain particularly well in my post - but my original point was that there seems to be a perverse charade going on - where the 'authorities' (cheney et al) don't actually believe that there's a serious threat, but that they need to get their minions to torture people in order to 'prove' that there really is a threat and they are doing everything they can to stop it.

it's difficult not to get lost in an endless loop of circular logic - but (if we assume that the folks in charge don't really think that there's an existential threat) then i can understand how they might choose to use fear to sufficiently scare the populace in order to implement a police state, or a fascist state, or whatever the hell they are trying to achieve - but there's no (rational) reason that i can see where they'd actually need to go that extra step and torture innocent 70 year-old people. in this scenario, AFAIC, the only reason they'd torture people is to somehow complete the charade - which is pretty fucked up.

as i tried to indicate in the post, i can imagine a scenario where torturing people might 'make sense' (aka be 'justifiable' on objective grounds) - e.g. if i) they think that there was an existential threat AND ii) they thought that torture was 'effective.' The problem is that I simply, honestly, don't think that condition i) is true - which makes condition ii) kinda moot. so i'm left with WTF?

the alternative argument is to go with starroute's "torture isn't even about the terrorists -- it's about the rest of us" - but the flaw that i see in that argument is that they don't really seem to be trying to implement that either, AFAIC, because they haven't really threatened any of 'us' - yet. there doesnt seem to be many people who look at jose padilla or Maher Arar and think 'that could be me' - so that threat doesnt seem to be working. for starroute's thesis to hold, we would have to presume that the egadministration is really just warming up, and chipping away at the edges of the constitution to create precedents that they can use at some point in the future - which would appear to mean that either:
1) the Bush radministration doesn't plan on going anywhere soon, by hook or by crook or
2) we'll see a massive escalation in the next two years, or
3) the Dems will be just as bad (aka, there's a DeepState/MIC Operation in play)

none on those options would surprise me - but it seems that we have to believe that at least one of those options is in play if we are to accept starroute's version of why they torture. yuk.

gotta run.

and thanx again steve.

lukery said...

posted to front page

steven andresen said...

Hello again,

I appreciate the feedback and the original comments on this topic.

I first wanted to comment on something starroute had said.

The last comment was about how, in the face of torture being made acceptable, we should think our rights, and particularly our supposed right to privacy, could protect us.

I wanted to say that, if our society has changed so much that it would tolerate torturing people or to have our right to habeus corpus to be taken away, I doubt we could save ourselves by appealing to some right to privacy, or the right to keep a secret. Having rights seems to me to be a fragile thing. If you allow as many exceptions as we have beeen lead to believe the President now has, we no longer have a society where rights having "rights" means much.

I also wanted to say that we are not without any way to respond. The torturers have persuaded themselves that they are doing a good thing when they kill men women and children in their sleep, ior in the back of their heads, or take away their only means of existence, or trip them and laugh. They are doing a good thing, they think, and they think anyone who would disagree with them on that issue are part of the same terrorist menace.

The thing we need to do to stop the torturing is find out how they've made themselves into these human monsters. How does one come to invade a foreign country that has not done anything to us and kill hundreds of thousands of them?

I also wanted to give my two bits worth on the question of why the American people don't effectively object to what's being done in their name.

The people who are the torturers are not that much different than most Americans. In fact, the soldiers who do the killing, carry out the orders, are committed to many of the same ideas and ways of looking at things as the Bush family, the Cheney's, Rumsfelds, et al. So, I suspect there's a large number of people who agree with the stealing and the killing. They just don't want to have the end result brought up to them in polite company.

The rest of us...I think are intimidated by the fact the the United States does sponsor terrorism in foreign countries. The thought would be that the guys we hire could easily be told to do their work closer to home.

I suspect there is quite a lot of that already going on. JFK, RFK, MLK, and Sen. Wellstone come to mind. There's also a question whether many of the killings and crime sprees arwere not psy ops projects to frighten the population from political activism. So, by eliminating organizers and dissapating organizations that could generate and focus dissent, we have been made pretty docile.

Thank you, though, for talking about all this.

lukery said...

thnx again steve. another great comment.

wish i had time to respond substantively.