Thursday, December 11, 2014

The banality of evil

Is a phrase that springs to mind when watching ex-CIA directors and conservatives of various kinds declaring that torturing people was justified because it delivered useful information, not that anyone was actually tortured or anything, OK?

The cognitive dissonance (or lying weaselry, take your pick) is most effectively highlighted in this interview with George Tenet, the CIA director who implemented the torture programme on behalf of President George W. Bush (watch from 8:45 onwards).  Tenet intersperses "We don't torture people" with declarations of how America was under threat and what he did prevented further attacks, ie special pleading that torturing people was OK when he did it.  When the interviewer points out he's saying there was no torture while offering special pleading for how effective torturing people was in getting results, he just disavows the ability to recognise the meaning of his own statements.

The fact that the CIA did torture people is now beyond question, and if you're up for it there's some descriptions of the stuff we actually know about in this article (which is restricted to the CIA's own activities and doesn't include the torture they outsourced to third-party providers).  That it provided results is also beyond question.

That's the weird thing here - the utterly unprincipled approach to this by conservatives.  Yes, of course torture gets results - that's a "Well, duh" and explains why the powerful have employed it liberally throughout history.  That it gets results isn't the point.  When western democracies banned the use of torture, they didn't do it because torture is an ineffectual means of getting people to talk. They banned it firstly because brutalising people is in and of itself immoral, and secondly because torture victims tell their torturers what they think the torturer wants to hear.

Tenet and others know the torture programme was worthwhile because the victims totally confirmed all the torturers' worst suspicions.  Yes, just as every torture victim throughout history confirmed all the suspicions that the torturers wanted confirmed, so too did the CIA's victims.  Tenet regards this as a success - those of us not suffering the banality of evil can only bang our heads on the desk at such idiocy.


The Veteran said...

PM ... Good post. I don't care whether it's torture by the so called 'Right' or the 'Left' and the argument that the end justifys the means (not withstanding 9/11 and the aftermath et seq) doesn't wash with me.

Once you resort to torture you have forfeited any moral authority you might have and lowered yourself to 'their' level. Yes, you may be dealing with terrorist scum whose norms are probably light years from yours but once you embrace their norms you become in effect one of them.

Just like real men don't hit women, real interrogators don't need to employ torture to get what they want .... It may take a little more time and that may be an issue but that is the price we need to accept.

For the record I do not count isolation, sleep deprivation and the like as torture. Those are legitimate interrogation techniques.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

The most hardened fundamentalist Islamic terrorist would turn to jelly after just half an hour of Catherine Delahunty's speeches.

Anonymous said...

Playing by the Queensbury Rules while the other side labours under no such compunction, is going to get alot of the wrong people killed.

Let's wait until the other side of the story comes out. This just reeks of the biased slant of Dirty Politics.

Mrs Danvers

Paul G. Buchanan said...

Torture is mostly about punishment and deterrence, not obtaining information. And even under the dubious "lesser evil/greater good" defense, torture can only be justified in the pursuit of tactical intelligence with real time constraints--say, trying to find out from an individual the location of a bomb panted in a mall with a 10 minute timer. But even then it has proven to be very unreliable, as hard core zealots will not betray their cause and others will say anything, thereby generating false leads. In his speech on the Senate floor right after the report was released, John McCain said as much.

As for obtaining strategic intelligence on AQ via torture--not possible if for no other reason than that irregular warfare groups like AQ operate in a decentralised, cellular fashion so captured adherents do not have the complete big picture and therefore cannot betray the larger operation.

In a former life I had occasion to associate with military interrogators. The point they made to me was that even during "hard" interrogations where people were put under duress in controlled conditions (say, by sleep deprivation), they always had to have the "light at the end of the tunnel" option. That is, they had to believe that cooperation gave them an opportunity not only to end the duress but to someday walk free. This was especially important when the objective was to "turn" prisoners into double agents.

Torture has the effect of removing that option.

So the practice of torture as an interrogation technique is unethical and inefficient as well as illegal. The fact that contractors were used indicates that those operating the EIT program knew that what they were doing was illegal.

All in all, the report shows what desperation will do to policy-makers: a descent into irrational barbarism that undermines the moral foundations they supposedly stand on in discharging their duties. No amount of conservative bluster can hide that fact.

The Veteran said...

Paul ... Put much more eloquently than I .... let those who have ears etc

Tom Hunter said...

. No amount of conservative bluster can hide that fact.
Dianne Feinstein's a conservative now?
"“We have to do some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.”

Or how about Porter Goss, Pelosi’s chairman on the House committee.
“We understood what the CIA was doing, ...
We gave the CIA our bipartisan support; we gave the CIA funding to carry out its activities.”

Perhaps this cartoon best sums up the evolution of "Liberal" politicians in the USA.

Pretty much my attitude too. Interrogation of members of such a fractured, decentralised outfit as Al Qaeda was never going to be much use. Much better to just drone their ass as Obama has decided to do - well apart from the occasional rendition perhaps.