The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Torture and Human fallibility

I was recently asked: why do I think it inevitable that innocent people will be tortured if currently debated policies are continued?  Here is my answer:   It is inevitable for the exact same reason that innocent people are arrested and convicted, and DNA evidence has released people on death row--human fallibility.  And this is assuming the very best training on the part of FBI and police academies--not military personnel in the field who are not specifically trained to sort wheat from chaff.  Shall we add the problem whenever "Group A" is in a position of power over "Group B."  Even if they are of the same race/nationality (say, Protestants over Catholics in Ireland) a disproportionate number of the subjugated group will make their way into the prison systems.  Add a color or language difference, and the problem increases.  You can replicate this result anywhere in the world you look, with any colonial group: Maoris in New Zealand, Abos in Australia, blacks in Apartheid South Africa, Native Americans in New Mexico, Oklahoma, etc.  African-Americans in America.  Human perception is fallible, human beings have prejudices, our senses fail us.  And note: everything I've said assumes absolutely positive intentions, high ethics, and no hidden agendas.  Do you want to believe that ANY  group is composed solely of such saintly folks?  And if not, what happens when you add in negative intentions, low ethics, situational stress and hidden agendas?   How about the tendency to think that any group you're fighting is subhuman?   You have the potential for a nightmare.  With Miranda laws, Constitutional prohibitions against unlawful search and Seizure, and the ACLU and other advocacy groups, you STILL get bad cops, bad judges, coerced confessions, prejudiced juries, incompetent lawyers and so on...and this in what I honestly believe to be among the  best legal systems in the world.  ALMOST EVERY   BLACK MAN I KNOW has stories of being harassed, arrested or otherwise mistreated by white police officers.  Every single one.  Think about that. Those who’ve read Lion’s Blood can guess I believe that the situation would be precisely reversed if the social power was in black hands rather than white.  It’s just the way human beings are.   And I believe that cops are, on the average, good guys committed to protecting their community.  Now...what possible reason do I have to think that the people arresting "terrorists" are of a higher caliber than this?  With all of America's laws and protections of our rights, people STILL get arrested, confined, convicted unjustly.  The statistical chance that no innocent person has been executed in America is about as close to zero as you can get.  Add it up.  There is just no way, regardless of good intentions, training, safeguards, or anything else, assuming the highest moral character and most scrupulous oversights, that no innocent person will be accused and dragged screaming into the dark.  In all of human history, no legal system has ever been perfect.  Human beings are fallible.  If you are in favor of torture, make very very certain you have made peace with the inevitability of mistakes.  Otherwise, in my mind, you are simply lying to yourself.

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