Torture, Control, and the Slippery Slope
"Well, professional Warriors DO NOT ESTABLISH EXIT STRATEGIES, WE ACHIEVE AN END STATE!" Major General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., USMC
Six years ago I was in the lobby at a literary convention when an editor friend was assaulted from behind by some twit. The twit covered my friend's eyes and played a "Guess Who" game that would be annoying coming from a charming seven-year-old, but was infuriating coming from a snide twenty-something. It turned out that the maturity challenged one was a dinner guest and I needed to put my fury over the incident away. Late that night I was manning the programming desk when the I was called me in some distress to ask for help in defusing one of the worst dinner parties in history. The snide twit had gone out with the Editors and an author friend of mine. My author friend is a great writer and a very hard man, a proven two-percenter
. Over the dinner, the twit had acted out his nature, and proceeded to infuriate my friend to the point where he felt it necessary to choke the life out of the manipulative little bastard. Cooler heads prevailed, no assault charges were filed, and in trying to talk the recipient of harsh treatment down, I discovered that he had been abused as a child.
Since that rather too exciting evening, I came to the conclusion that the twit had never won any kind of honest fight in his life. His way of controlling situations and people is to manipulate them. It looked and sounded to me like he gets a special thrill in manipulating people to the point where they get angry at him. The ultimate indicator of control for him is when people are infuriated to the point of assaulting him. I think that at some point in his life he saw a slippery slope and dove down it headfirst, trying to drag as many with him as he possibly could. What a loser.
What got my goat over this individual and his behavior is not so much that he was immature, manipulative, and selfish but that he claimed that he was justified afterwards. The echoes of that annoying little man I heard in the claims of the Abu Gharib guards left me cold. Something ignored by the selective attention of the media in their portrayal of the disgraceful events of one evening, is that the photographs revealed no softening techniques ever used by military interrogators. The enthusiasm on the faces of those soldiers was not the zeal of dutiful interrogators; that was the sick excitement of control freaks bullying those under their control. That glee is our enemy.
If America has any lingering contribution to world history, it is our unique perspective on power and responsibility. The United States of America exists as an expression of individual rights. From George Washington's magnificent retirement to the maintenance of constitutional democracy to the current questioning of the Washington governor's race, our identity as Americans continues to be the opposition to regal power. The concept of "my breath is law" is anathema to American identity, and denouncing it is celebrated as the highest expression of citizenship. Muckrakers breaking the Oil Trusts, Eliot Ness bringing onetime lord of Chicago Al Capone to justice, bloggers bringing down CBS and CNN's leadership all are examples of speaking purifying truth to corrupting regal power with effect instead of affectation. Regardless of need, abusing prisoners is a control method that violates our ideals because it imposes regal power.
What distinguishes Tomás de Torquemada is not his viciousness, but his openness. The Spanish Inquisition operated as an open activity, known by all, and they are remembered for it. The faceless villains of Lubyanka who have more blood on their hands more recently are forgotten because the KGB had a functional reign of terrified silence and the complicity of the western press. If the Orange Revolution in Ukraine tells us anything, it is that the days of an invisible Lubyanka are over. In our operational environment, we must face the reality that cell phone text messaging, omnipresent digital cameras, and weblogs have eliminated the possibility of covert behavior staying covert. To make things tougher for torturers hoping to be forgotten is that data storage capacity is growing exponentially.
Torture is a control measure antithetical to the ideals of the United States of America. When Americans envision successful conflict, we are the ones stopping torture. In the main, this is an accurate vision. For every actual lapse cited by our detractors, there are dozens of verifiable incidents where Americans are literally leading the charge to save those oppressed, persecuted, and in peril
. Regrettably, for every actual lapse our detractors imply and imagine a thousand more. The calculus of torture in the age of the internet has to include the consequence that the act will be remembered forever and distributed everywhere.
This matters because the United States is not solely engaged in fighting the battle of Iraq or Afghanistan; we are fighting to win the War on Terror. Any decision to abuse a prisoner must be weighed not just against the operational reality of the immediate situation, but against the lasting impact of the act on our national image. It is not merely our foreign detractors refusing to assist us because of allegations of torture, but the effect on our own national will that must be kept in mind. We have accomplished more in Afghanistan and Iraq than any military of any size at any time in history has, but all of that was put in dire jeopardy due to some idiot prison guards having a birthday party one night and taking pictures of humiliated prisoners to impress somebody's girlfriend.
If you find the ticking atomic bomb under Grand Central Station, is the world going to ignore the wounds of the guy who told you about it? Certainly. Anything less than that large and that imminent a threat is going to be questioned severely, and for good reason. Engaging in a pattern of indiscriminate prisoner abuse will be found out and will lose this war and maybe the next one, too. Acts of prisoner abuse must be measured against the requirement to achieve an end state instead of accepting an exit strategy.
Hat Tip: All the people who left comments and analyzed my earlier posts.