Monday, December 04, 2006

The Purpose of Torture

Part of the problem we have with punishing/torturing suspected terrorists is that we’re not allowed to talk about it.  Because we’re a democracy and democracies aren’t supposed to do that kind of thing.  It’s just sooo tacky.  But that’s the whole point of these tactics.  Not necessarily to punish the guy that you’ve already got (and will probably keep for the rest of their lives), but as a warning to the others.  That they see people “disappeared”.  And they hear the horror stories.  And they know that that’s what’s going to happen to them if they don’t steer clear of trouble.  That’s the whole point.  It’s not about stopping one person, but stopping everyone else.

And so what is up with the horrible treatment of Jose Padilla?  Because nobody was supposed to know about it.  The government wants this stuff hush-hush because they know that few people would agree to what we’re doing.  So what’s the point?  I mean, I could see them doing this for maybe the first few months or so, at the most.  I don’t agree with it at all, but there are at least some interrogation purposes to be served by this type of behavior.  And after all, when you’ve got God on your side, a false confession is just as good as the real thing.

But why would they keep doing this?  What good could it possibly do?  Even if Jose once knew something, it’s unlikely that they’re going to get it from him now and it surely has to be very out-of-date.  But even the deterrence factor is gone.  People described Saddam as a madman for using his torture, but at least he had real reasons for using it.  We know there were coup attempts that he foiled due to his techniques.  And many of these same people were citing Saddam’s suppression of the 1991 Shiite Revolt as a key reason for why Shiites weren’t dancing in the streets following our invasion in 2003; which again would indicate that Saddam’s evil deeds paid-off for him.

In fact, while reading the Time Magazine article I quoted above, I stumbled upon this example referring to a CIA backed anti-Saddam group:
Two years ago, it published a fake issue of Babil, the daily newspaper owned by Saddam's eldest son Uday. The expertly counterfeited copy, distributed for one day in Baghdad, exposed many of Saddam's atrocities. The tactic backfired, however, because readers were more frightened than infuriated by the revelations.

These days, any Iraqi group that distributed newspapers documenting America’s misdeeds in Iraq would surely be labeled a terrorist organization, be shutdown, and require a huge influx of pro-American propaganda to counter it.  I’m sure Saddam would be proud.

But what sense does the treatment of Padilla and the others make?  The more people hear about what we’re doing, the worse off it is for us.  When Americans find out, it just makes us mad and Republicans are forced to cover their ears and to deny something they’d like to be proud of.  And when the Iraqis and other Muslims find out, it just makes them hate us more.  Sure, they hated Saddam too, but Saddam had methods for keeping those people in check.  Plus, he wasn’t an invading force, which is always fairly humiliating.  Saddam might have been a brutal dictator, but he was their brutal dictator, and that seems to have made all the difference.

None of this is to suggest a moral equivalence to Saddam, as many of his more gruesome tactics are outside the realm of our own (so far…).  But merely to state that our abusive tactics are clearly counter-productive and seem to have no other purpose than to inflict cruelty; at the expense of maintaining America’s moral dignity and status as an all-around good guy.  They’re punishing Jose Padilla, not as a warning to others, but merely because they can.  All this makes me wonder if there are aliens somewhere close-by, setting us up for an experiment that we’re failing miserably.

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