Hawking Up Hairballs

Friday, December 19, 2008


Last week I was watching The Daily Show on The Comedy Channel. The last third of the show is usually devoted to an interview with someone who is pimping his book or upcoming movie. On this particular show, the guest was a former military interrogator who has written a book about his experiences in the role. I don't recall the name of the guy, nor the name of his book, nor do I much care. I don't plan on reading it.

The only reason I mention this at all is because it got me to thinking. This guy's argument was that the Bush people have been going about things all wrong. He didn't believe that it's necessary to use torture, nor that it was productive. He claimed to have achieved much better success by showing the prisoners respect and consideration while developing a relationship with them. I have no doubt that he's right. When the likes of Rumsfield first proposed the use of torture, they had in mind a subject who was a professional, someone who had been trained to resist interrogation. This was made clear in the arguments that the administration and its proponents put forth when arguing for extreme methods. They kept talking about scenarios like the one where a terrorist attack is imminent and a captive has information that will enable them to stop it. As the argument went, they have only hours to thwart the attack and they need the information the captive has. What other choice then is there but torture? Come on now, this isn't one of those movie thrillers. How often has a situation like that ever arisen? Can they document even one?

The fact of the matter is that the overwhelming majority of those in Iraq and Afghanistan who end up in US military custody are insurgents. They're people who have been caught up in fighting the US occupation of their countries. Their motives for fighting are probably many and varied. Some probably really do want to chase the infidels from their country. Others may be seeking vengeance for the death of their relatives. There are probably even those who are fighting because that's what the men in their communities are doing. What does torture accomplish against such people? Most likely it will serve only to harden their anti-American sentiments. Treat them like human beings and show them some respect, and there will undoubtedly be some who will decide that the Americans aren't so bad after all. Such people might even provide useful information.

Now, lest I sound like one of those bleeding heart TV liberals*, let me say this. I don't think that the wars the US is conducting in the Middle East are just. The behavior of US forces is criminal and unethical. For example, the very idea of using air power in urban settings, where the death of innocent civilians is inevitable, is repugnant to me. I also don't think that the fellow who wrote this book was some kind of good guy interrogator, and he may have been engaging in practices that amount to torture. One question that has to be answered is, under what conditions were these people being held? If they were being held in isolation that constitutes torture. The best thing we can do is leave those people alone. True, if the US military were to pull out overnight, it would probably lead to political chaos, but there are remedies for that. Let a UN force take over, one that's constituted of troops from the region, troops with a culture and religion in common with those who are living there.

* I am not a liberal. I'm a leftist. Liberals merely believe that the system as it exists merely needs to be reformed. They're constantly looking for heroes like Barack Obama. I think the system needs to be replaced with a truly democratic socialism that addresses the needs of the people as a whole, not those of the moneyed few.


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