The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, October 30, 2006

Two Conversations

Did anyone else catch the following strangeness?  Last week, (the 17th) on The Unit, there was a coming attraction for the next week’s show, in which Dennis Haysbert seemed to be having a romantic/sexual relationship with a slinky lady—not his rather frumpy wife.

The lady happened to be white.  Come the next week, instead of airing that episode, they aired a repeat. At the end of the repeat, they gave a glimpse of the upcoming episode…and it seemed to be one other than the aforementioned tryst.  Now, I’m not saying anything specific here, but it does seem a little strange to me.  Any information?
Two more conversations about torture.  The first took place at a Halloween party at Larry Niven’s house.  A young gentleman there works in military intelligence—I’ve known him since he was a sprout, and it’s been an honor watching him grow up, time transforming a gawky kid into a fine young warrior. 

Now, this young man (who might  well read this, and decide to chime in and offer his name.  I myself will not.) has worked in interrogation in Iraq, and I figured it would be stupid to waste the opportunity to ask his opinion of torture as an interrogation tool.

With a fervor I hadn’t expected, he  launched into an intelligent, and quite passionate explanation of a position he had been taught by his instructors, and had come to believe on his own: torture doesn’t work.  To put his explanation as simply as possible, (to the best of my recollection), it goes like this: the veracity of the “information stream” intelligence officers attempt to weave into a declarative web is poisoned by the techniques of torture, that this method produces a lower grade of information than other, less coercive techniques.  In addition, you turn the population against you, again reducing the flow of good intel.  And lastly, you corrupt your own people, horrifically.  If I’m misremembering, I ask that my friend write in and rap me upside the head.

One of the things he said was that there is a type of personality that really glories in the imposition of pain and control on others.  Nor surprising. I would also guess that there are times in social history when large groups of people want revenge on those they perceive as a danger.  And in this case, that revenge might actually DECREASE the chance of preventing future attacks.  But human nature is filled with contradictions like this.

As I’ve said previously, the apparently low level of efficiency or effectiveness of torture is quite surprising to me.  But the more I look into it, it seems my opinions about the efficiency of torture to extract valuable information was gained more from works of fiction than those of fact.    
I had another conversation, the next day, with a Republican conservative of long association and impeccable character.  She is supportive of the use of physical coercion.  When I told her what seems to be a consensus of the intelligence community and psychologists, she refused to believe it, offering some extremely torturous and purely theoretical scenarios designed to make it seem any reasonable person would torture.  All right, given the right situation, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was true.  But under sufficient pressure, most of us would go insane, as well—so the fact that people WILL do something, and justify it, doesn’t mean they should.

Because we feel “if someone put a blowtorch to my balls, I’d tell anything” is all well and good, but under most conditions, the world looks flat.  Doesn’t mean it is, and just because an imaginary, or roughly analogous situation would produce positive results is all well and good—but I’d expect a HELL of a lot more positive data if this was a road I wanted to travel.

Remember: it is statistically inevitable that innocent people will end up in custody, looking guilty as hell. That’s the way it’s always been, and probably will always be.  Be aware that any legal maneuvers placed in effect will control innocent flesh.  Inevitably.  When you make cold-blooded decisions about how innocent people will be treated, you place your soul in peril.

IF I believed that torture worked not just well but better than other techniques, and if for some reason I felt I had absolute knowledge that X had information vital to my family’s survival, I would probably risk my soul and rip someone’s fingernails out.  But with the kind of doubt I see here…and the risk of actually decreasing the results of the information gathering process…I think that this entire debate will be considered, in retrospect, far less than our finest hour.

1 comment:

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