Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Torture as the first resort!
If, as many people believe torture should be used only as a last resort, why is there so little discussion on the first resorts??
The most common justifications for torture often seem to start with a hypothesis phrased by Alan Dershowitz and many others. They site an example where there is a ticking time bomb in a place like New York city and they have a “terrorist” who knows where it is they have no way of finding out where the bomb is unless they torture him. This is a carefully crafted scenario that seems to be designed to create the justification for torture not to figure out how it generally happens in the real world. There is little or no effort to understand the circumstances that led up to this scenario or what the root causes of this conflict are. This appears as if it may be similar to when someone decides what the conclusion they want to find then looks for a justification to back it up instead of trying to figure out what is true or if it is justified.
In the current war on terror there is a long history of events that led up to the current situation which a large percentage of the public isn’t aware of. The Mass Media and the government is giving the public a carefully selected set of facts that amounts to war propaganda designed to justify the actions the government wants to take and they don’t include telling the public about many of the facts that led up to the current situation including a long history of escalating violence and torture. Just like other forms of violence one case of torture often leads to another in retaliation. Some academics including Alfred McCoy author of “A Question of Torture” have done a much better job of looking into the root causes that led up to this situation and to find out if torture is justified and effective at accomplishing the goal they claim they are trying to accomplish.
General Richard Myers justified their activities by saying “We certainly don’t think it’s torture” and he adds “Let’s not forget the kind of people we have down there (Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan). These are people that don’t know any moral values.” Professor John Yoo has made a similar argument saying “Why is it so hard for people to understand that there is a category of behavior not covered by the legal system? Historically, there were people so bad they were not given protection of the laws.” Their justification seems to be these are evil people without morals therefore they shouldn’t have any rights. Few people doubt that many or perhaps all of these people may have acted in an immoral way but the way to deal with this in the modern world is supposed to involve figuring out whether or not they are guilty of something, what and why. Even if they are guilty of something this doesn’t mean that torturing them should be justified. There should be some attempt to figure out why they came to hate us and how they came to be so violent. Whenever there is a serious problem the most effective way to solve it involves finding the cause and preventing it. Part of the problem is that they learned some of their activities from organizations working for the US government. This conflict goes back dozens of years if not centuries. Many of the organizations we are fighting against were once the allies of the USA or they were pout in power because there was a rebellion against tyrants that the USA once supported. This includes Osama Bin Laden, the governments of Iraq, Iran the Philippines and many others. All three of these governments were once supported by the USA and the governments the USA supported all used torture to maintain order and they all led to more violence. In the case of Iran the USA put the Shah in power in 1953 and helped train his troops, the Savak, to maintain order through torture. During a interview with Le Monde, a French media outlet, he said “Why should we not use the same methods as you Europeans? We have learned sophisticated methods of torture from you. You use psychological methods to extract the truth we do the same.”
Alfred McCoy and Howard Zinn have both cited evidence that the CIA has taught the Savak to use torture, some of this has come from congressional testimony or other official sources. The use of torture in both Iran and the Philippines and many other countries has only led to more resistance. This has also happened in Iraq under the USA occupation. Part of the ongoing resistance has been inspired by the use of torture by the USA. Some have argued that this may not have happened if the newspapers didn’t report it. They fail to understand that even before the newspapers reported it the Iraqis already knew about it. In many cases they were released and they told other people and the alternative is that they don’t release them. This would be similar to the stories that were told about the Soviet Union to justify our opposition to them only now it is our government that is doing it. There is one difference though they aren’t doing it to are own people, or at least not to those with enough political clout. The claim that these people don’t deserve rights because they don’t have moral values could just as easily be applied to the people advocating torture. These people have supported the governments that tortured people in the past and led to the current circumstances and they are as responsible for this war if not more so than the enemy. They have more political power and access to more experts that could help them understand what is causing the problem but they use them only when it supports their cause which seems to involve protecting the capitalist ideology and the oil supply for the USA.
When trying to prevent future acts of violence or obtain sincere justice for past acts of violence it is important to understand what led up to the violence and take into consideration any mitigating or aggravating circumstances. In American courts they claim this is what they try to do, unfortunately in practice they may not always do it especially when emotions and biases are allowed to take over. Mitigating circumstances for some of these so called terrorist may include the fact that they were raised in violent societies where they were abused as a child and taught violence from birth. They may also include the fact that they lived in societies that were suppressed by governments that received support from multinational corporations and the most powerful western governments. They may have been told by demagogues that the USA is to blame and they may have seen evidence in their own countries to indicate that this was at least partially true. This may have included exaggerations that led them to act in a violent manner. The aggravating circumstances may have included the viciousness of the crimes and in some cases the fact that they may have struck out at innocent civilians. They could argue that this may have been part of the war to fight against repression though.
Similar arguments could be made for the supporters of the capitalist system that helped to support the authority of many of the tyrants like the Shah, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden and others. They could argue that they did it to support the cold war against the USSR and that they were trying to defend the USA against terrorist. However if this is put up to thorough accurate scrutiny many of the facts may not hold up. This is an enormous amount of evidence to indicate that the USA has often stood up primarily for corporate interests first the best interest of the rest of the country second if at all. If this information is taken into consideration then they will have a much more difficult time arguing for mitigating circumstances. They could argue that these are the beliefs they were raised on and they were taught to accept them without question but they may not seem like as sympathetic a set of mitigating circumstances. This may sound like they were taught to behave this way and they weren’t accustomed to being held accountable. This would also depend on whether these circumstances were even allowed to be presented to the public. Under the current circumstances the Mass Media and the government of the western countries control the most powerful institutions that can get messages across to the masses and they have a strong interest in presenting it in a manner that will enable them to preserve their power. The Mass Media has gone through consolidation over the past couple of decades putting the control of speech that reaches the masses into a very small percentage of the public and they have a very narrow set of interests that mainly involve maximum profit for the corporations. Addressing this issue may require media reform or new media institutions that can reach a much larger percentage of the public and allow more people with different points of view to get their message across including academics who have sorted through many different sources and members of the public around the world that have previously been ignored.
When listening to academics it is also important to listen to the right academics with expertise ion the right scientific fields. After the scandal at Abu Ghraib made the news there was a petition circulated signed by 481 prominent professors of law and political science including Dershowitz condemning the abuses of torture however this letter also recommended consideration of some coercive interrogation. One possible problem with this may be that these aren’t the right academics from the right scientific field to address this situation. To understand why this may be true it may help to understand two of the basic principles these fields of study operate on. One of these principles is that they seek the truth. Another one is that they advocate for the best interest of their clients. In the study of law the fact that they advocate for the defense of their client is quite clear although they may be obligated to abide by some ethical standards. Even if it isn’t quite as clear in the field of political science it is still true. They usually associate with one political party or another and take positions that tend to agree with that party. The problem is that these two principles may at times contradict each other. In many cases looking out for the best interest of their client may not involve acknowledging certain inconvenient facts. Political science may often involve studying how people used political methods to accomplish their goals. These may not always be honest political methods. The way they address this conflict almost certainly will not involve coming out and saying “The truth does not support the beliefs of my client.” It may be more likely that they become more concerned with the perception of truth. Under these circumstances they may be more inclined to rely on perceptions and prejudices than accurate scientific principles.
The history of many activities by lawyers and political scientist also seems to support the possibility that many of them may be more concerned with the best interest of their clients which usually consist of the upper classes.
When the country was founded they provided a constitution primarily to protect the rights of those with political power at that time, which didn’t include blacks woman or native American. These groups later obtained power only when they stood up for their rights and the greatest obstacles often included the legal community. This is indicated by the fact that the constitution provided more representation for the slave states initially by counting 3/5’s of the non free population to decide representation then giving the control of these votes to the slave holder not the slave, the Dred Scott decision, the approval of separate but equal for almost a hundred years, the Ingraham v. Wright decision that declines to protect children from cruel and unusual punishment and many others. In the case of separate but equal the Supreme Court was given credit for overturning it unanimously but this was only after there was a major protest and it was clear that the people wouldn’t stand for it much longer. It is possible they did this to maintain the appearance of just authority. If they really were more concerned with the truth than looking out for the best interest of their clients as some sincere lawyers and political scientist may be they may recommend that we consider the research done by other academic fields. Some lawyers and political scientists have done this in the past especially when it suites their cause. They are less likely to do so if it doesn’t suite their cause and at times they have shopped around for academics to make the argument they want to hear. This isn’t the way it is done in the academic community; instead they usually cite their own work as well as the work of many other academics that support their beliefs. The academic community is educated enough to know not to accept this type of behavior but the public isn’t and the politicians and Mass Media routinely present selective and biased studies to them. If that is the case we should go directly to the academics from those fields instead of allowing the lawyers to screen the perception of the research.
Academics that have input on this subject should include psychologists, sociologists, psychiatrists, historians etc. Some of these may also be corrupted but they generally do a much better job showing the work for those that are willing to look through the details and they go through peer review so it will be much less likely for corruption to go unnoticed assuming people are allowed their chance to provide input. Many of the psychologists, sociologists or other academics I have cited have not directly addressed the torture issue in their books but they have provided an enormous amount of research repeating that fact that violence routinely leads to more violence and that when ever this goes unchecked that it can escalate. They have made it clear that the most effective way to minimize violence should involve minimizing or eliminating child abuse or even spanking if possible. Alfred McCoy has done research that directly addresses the use of torture and he has found that it leads to more problems in the long run and it doesn’t even accomplish the short term goal which is to obtain accurate information from the suspect. Some of the cases he cites involve interrogations that were initially conducted by the FBI and later taken over by the CIA. The FBI, who may have the assistance of their behavioral science unit, has often had more success obtaining information by using non-coercive methods, then when the CIA took over and used coercive methods the success has often come to a halt. Their have been many cases where these methods have led the suspect to tell the interrogator what ever they want to hear even if it isn’t true. These examples may include interrogations by the CIA, police grilling suspects that obtain false confessions and Inquisitors working for the Catholic Church at the height of the inquisition.
None of the Psychologists that I have taken a close look at have indicated that they would support torture; however there have apparently been many that have worked with the CIA to research torture and manipulation tactics in the fifties and sixties. One of the most notorious ones may have been Stanley Milgram who conducted a study in the sixties to determine whether people who were told that they were part of an effort to use electric shocks to “educate” a student. These students were given shocks when they provided the wrong answer to questions. The shocks weren’t real but the “students” behaved as if they were and the person administering the shocks didn’t know they were in on the research project and that they were the ones that were actually being studied. This research project was designed to study peoples willingness to follow orders given from authority. Milgram obtained funding from the National Science Foundation with the support of the Office of Naval Research. McCoy believes that they may have been acting as a front for the CIA since this wasn’t typical of the research supported by either of these two organizations and it was typical of research supported by the CIA who also have a history of working through other organizations as fronts. Many researchers have criticized Milgram for doing the research at all on ethical grounds. Philip Greven has also cited this project and he has criticized Milgram for not looking into the childhood upbringing of the participants. He believes that if they did the research they should have looked into whether early abuse influenced the willingness of these people to follow orders even when it involved torturing people. This research project may have been very similar to what happened at Abu Ghraib. McCoy doesn’t believe that the “hillbillies” blamed for this torture came up with it on their own.
He claims it is similar to methods taught by the CIA in brochures exposed in the seventies that were distributed among Central American countries to teach soldiers of governments supported by the USA to use these tactics against the rebels opposing the local governments. He believes that the CIA almost certainly was responsible for the torture at Abu Ghraib and other locations around the world. If this is true and it is exposed then Philip Greven may have his chance to look into the background of the people involved to find out if they were raised in authoritarian manners. It appears as if the torture in Abu Ghraib may have relied on the willingness of the “hillbillies” to obey orders from their superiors and they may have been chosen because someone thought they would be more inclined to blindly obey orders. This may, as Philip Greven suspects, be because they were raised in an authoritarian manner. In fact this indicates the possibility that these research projects may have already been carried out by the CIA and there may be records of it somewhere in their files. McCoy has cited more research that the CIA has done in the fifties and sixties while we were at the height of the cold war and many people were in fear of another world war. McCoy has done further research in the development of covert activities in his book “Policing America's Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State (New Perspectives in Se Asian Studies)” where he investigated the research and development of espionage activities and how they were carried out starting almost fifty years before the CIA was created. The CIA may have done much more research into how to manipulate people than most people are aware of. Many of the claims about the CIA are often hard to believe and without confirmation there is no way of being certain of it but some of it has been confirmed by other sources. This includes some of the psychological work they have done. Most of the sources I have cited are far more credible since their work has been done in the open and it has been subject to peer review. Research by academics including Philip Greven, Alice Miller, Murray Strauss, James Garbarino, Ellen deLara and many others have all supported the fact that child abuse makes people more violent later in life and desensitizes them to violence. These surely must include torture. In fact the abuse many children go through as a child should fit the definition of torture.
Not only are most abused children more inclined to be violent and support the use of torture for the purposes of obtaining information even though it almost certainly doesn’t work but they are more likely to support it for revenge or even entertainment. It has become clear that many of the biggest mass murderers have also had a history of bullying people and torturing animals. There is also a much bigger tendency for people who have been raised in a hostile environment to find dog fighting, cock fighting and bull fighting amusing and adopt it as part of their life style betting on the fights in many cases. Gambling and torture have one thing in common when it comes to entertainment value. When people are losing money they are much less likely to find it amusing and torture is much less likely to be considered amusing if you are the one who is being tortured. Both these activities are much more common among insecure people who make many of their decisions on emotional grounds instead of reacting logically. People who are educated properly about both these subjects are much less likely to participate in either one of them.
By trying to justifying torture for the war on terror the supporters of torture are relying on the emotional beliefs of the public. This will not help protect democracy; quite the opposite since it only incites more hatred it only leads to more violence. Espionage is similar it doesn’t help protect democracy since the public needs accurate information to make important decisions and espionage involves making sure they don’t have it. Protecting democracy can never be accomplished by supporting either espionage or torture but by minimizing or eliminating both. The current efforts to support torture are designed to roll back many of the civil rights that more educated people have been trying to improve for decades if not centuries. If the leaders who are supporting this understand what they are doing they should know this which would indicate they may be using divide and rule tactics. By maintaining a constant state of war they maintain the excuse they need to keep the public in the dark about how the government is being run. If on the other hand they don’t fully understand the consequences of advocating torture then they aren’t qualified to make the decisions on this subject and they should be removed from power. Either way we should give much more attention to the academics who actually understand the subject and show the work behind their arguments and allow peer review.
First posted on Tripod on 03/08/10
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