Apologias and apologies

by Henry on May 2, 2004

“Jacob Levy”:http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=scholar&s=levy043004 has a very good column in TNR, about politics and responsibility. Levy refers to Clinton’s persistent habit of making apologies that weren’t really apologies, because they weren’t accompanied by any real consequences for the people involved (as Jacob notes, this is preferable to not making apologies at all). There’s something similar going on in the current breastbeating over Abu Ghraib. Many of the condemnations, including George W. Bush’s statement, seem to me to be either complete disclaimers of responsibility, or non-apology apologies. By implying or stating that these are the actions of a small group of individuals, who will be duly punished, they’re saying that there isn’t any wider problem, nor any need for those who weren’t directly involved, or supervising those directly involved to take responsibility. They’re not so much apologies as apologias – speeches for the defence.

The problem is, that the abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib do indeed seem to be symptomatic of a more general problem. The individuals who are involved are claiming that the problem extends high up the chain of command. They too are very likely trying to pass the buck – but there’s good evidence to suggest that they’re telling the truth. The US has unquestionably and undeniably loosened its strictures on the use of torture post-September 11. Usually, however, it has subcontracted out the nasty bits. As described by the (pro-war, pro-war on terror) “Economist”:http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=1522792

bq. officials are quoted as saying that many prisoners have been transferred to the intelligence services of other countries—Jordan, Egypt and Morocco are named—well-known for using brutal methods of interrogation. Sometimes these transferred prisoners (“extraordinary renditions” in the euphemism), are sent with lists of specific questions that American interrogators want answered. Other transfers are made on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” basis, with American officials taking no part in directing or overseeing subsequent interrogations, but happy to receive any information gleaned from them.

This isn’t as likely to attract television news reporters as the Abu Ghraib abuses – there aren’t any lurid photographs that can be shown on national television. But there’s little doubt that US military investigators are willing to gather evidence through torture (including forms of torture that are very likely far more savage than those used in Abu Ghraib), as long as the direct responsibility for this torture can be passed on to someone else. I’d like to see the condemnation of what happened at Abu Ghraib leading to a proper investigation, for example, of the “Maher Arar”:http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2004/01/arar_14_a_plea_.html case, or of the many others who apparently have been subject to ‘extraordinary renditions’ to regimes where they can be tortured for information. But I’m not holding my breath, and to the extent that these other cases suggest that there’s a more general administration policy of turning a blind eye to torture, it isn’t only the reservists at Abu Ghraib who should be under indictment.

{ 33 comments }

1

paul 05.02.04 at 6:52 pm

And of course, the article is framed as “Clinton sucked, but Bush is worse”

Along the lines of taking responsibility, journalists might want to try to criticize the present without having to criticize the past in order to achieve the appearance of “balance”.

Bush sucks. Whether Clinton sucked (and he surely did in some respects) is not the issue.

2

Anonymous 05.02.04 at 7:32 pm

Given the number of times I have received the catch-all reply “But what about Clinton?”, or similar, from American conservatives, I don’t find it all that surprising that journalists would choose to do that.

3

Brian Wilder 05.02.04 at 7:56 pm

Authoritarianism never makes a real apology, because, institutionally, the executive is never held to account, and personally, authoritarian leaders lack genuine empathy and, intellectually, authoritarian ideologies do not connect actions (policies) with consequences, rationally or accurately.

Interrogation by torture is as much a part of the Bush authoritarian policy as pre-emptive war, detention without judicial review, and secret policy-making.

Authoritarian government substitutes apparent ruthlessness for effectiveness. Interrogation by torture satisfies the authoritarian need for a vengeful ruthlessness, and within an authoritarian mindset, it is regarded as effective. In the real world interrogation by torture is generally ineffective and counter-productive, but the authoritarian rarely allows facts their obvious meaning.

The “crime” of the unfortunate MPs was photographing their work, and God help the poor jerk, who allowed those photos into the hands of CBS news.

Prediction: Bush will seek to “correct” the situation, by increasing secrecy.

4

Sebastian Holsclaw 05.02.04 at 8:58 pm

“By implying or stating that these are the actions of a small group of individuals, who will be duly punished, they’re saying that there isn’t any wider problem, nor any need for those who weren’t directly involved, or supervising those directly involved to take responsibility.”

It appears that a huge portion of the chain of command, extending up as far as colonels and captains are going to be court martialed over this. Which is precisely what ought to happen. While I realize that you want this to be a totalizing attack on the Bush regime extending throughout the entire government, I don’t see that as needed if the US government both punishes those at fault and makes it clear that such actions are not tolerable (which is what punishing those at fault helps to do.)

Take this in direct comparison with the response to the UN food for palaces and bribes scam. It may be the biggest bribery/skimming scam in the history of the world, yet so far it appears that those directly involved (much less the rest of the regime) will not even lose their jobs much less be punished. So far as accountablilty goes I suspect the US military, as usual, will be performing at a higher standard.

5

roger 05.02.04 at 9:11 pm

Sebastian, you are right about the UN scandal. Except that it is a double scandal. For the paper trail that would instantiate it was given to the INC, with the complicity of the CPA. So the chain of evidence is inevitably tainted — and more than tainted. Thus, we have already recieved word on some of the juicy bribes the French got — but why no word on the bribes given and received by the two French subsidiaries of Halliburton, that were designated by Cheney in 96 to go around U.S. sanctions law?
By trying to use these documents as a weapon of blackmail, rather than having impounded them for an impartial court, we are going to be deprived of a lot of necessary knowledge, especially now that the Bush people are pushing the UN to confer legitimacy on their ‘limited sovereignty’ deal. It shows egregious contempt for those people who chose to support the war for human rights to treat a serious scandal as a powermongering blackmail deal — but that is how the CPA thinks.

6

Henry Farrell 05.02.04 at 9:55 pm

Sebastian – you seem to be completely missing the point that I’m making. If people are going to be punished for this ‘up the chain of command,’ shouldn’t those who are responsible for ‘extraordinary renditions’ a la Arar be punished too, and perhaps even more severely (in line with the severity of the torture inflicted in Syrian, Egyptian and Jordanian prisons). Has the US government to date made _any_ publicly disclosed efforts in the last year to punish those responsible for extraordinary renditions? From the Washington Post and the Economist’s accounts, it seems quite clear that the US government has adopted a policy of condoning the use of torture to extract information (such torture usually being subcontracted out to foreign intelligence services). Is this something that you’re prepared to defend?

The contrast with the UN food for oil scandal is indeed an interesting one. First, it’s unclear how much of a scandal there is (read the _Economist_ article on the subject this week). Second, in contrast to the US administration, the UN has invited in a team of well qualified and apparently impartial outsiders (Paul Volcker etc) to conduct an inquiry. Can you seriously imagining the US doing the same under any imaginable circumstances?

7

halfway 05.02.04 at 10:15 pm

Comparing it to the UN “scandal” makes Sebastian at least a bit more imaginative than general Meyers. He used the following comparison:

(From the LA times)

Myers called the abuse “deplorable and appalling” but insisted the Iraqi enemies were much worse.

“They cheer every time they kill some innocent man, woman or child,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/iraq/la-050204abuse_wr,1,3089659.story?coll=la-home-headlines

How do they come up with those lines?

8

Thomas 05.02.04 at 10:33 pm

Henry, under what possible abuse of the word “invite” did the UN “invite” the Volcker investigation? The proper phrasing is that the UN caved.

And that’s in a situation in which the UN was under pressure from the US, a member of the UN Security Council.

As has been revealed before, the US government received assurances from the government of Syria that Arar would not be tortured.

US authorities are more restricted than many governments around the world in the actions they can take. For example, it is controversial in the US for the US to hold combatants captured in Afghanistan. Why would it be surprising that the US would, in light of those domestic issues, send detainees to countries which might be able to interrogate them effectively? That seems reasonable, if assurances are given that torture–defined in a traditional sense, and not meaning, as some would have it, any coercion whatsoever–will not be used.

9

Sebastian Holsclaw 05.02.04 at 10:35 pm

“First, it’s unclear how much of a scandal there is (read the Economist article on the subject this week).”

Maybe I’m reading the wrong articles, but I haven’t seen anything including the articles in the Economist which suggests that it is anything other than one of the largest bribery scandals ever.

But that is to distract from the issue. Yes these abuses are awful. And so far there is absolutely zero indication that the US government is trying to avoid punshing the wrongdoers. If you want to totalize this into a statement about the US government you are of course free to do so. But I don’t think you would be right. And the proof of it is in the fact that quite a few people, quite high in the chain of command are being investigated for court-martial. And if anyone here knew the history of US investigations of this type, they would know that they are anything but whitewashes.

10

armando 05.02.04 at 11:33 pm

Had the accusation of torture of Iraqis by the US/UK been made over a week ago, it would doubtless have been denounced as anti-americanism by the hawks. This is despite the fact that there have been reports of it for some time.

Now, when Amnesty is claiming otherwise, we are supposed to believe that these photographs represent isolated incidents. Despite the continuing practice of indefinite detention without trial, the continuing reports of torture and the involvement of high ranking officers.

As a commentator said elsewhere on CT, this can hardly be surprising if we accept with equanimity the cluster bombing of urban areas, sniping of ambulance drivers and civilian death toll approaching 10,000 (we suspect. Our overwhelming compassion prevents us from accurately assessing the damage we are doing.)

FTR, I think that the coalition forces are behaving much better than most imperialist forces have done historically. By that standard, and frequent comparisons to the Saddam Hussein, there is little that we can fail to excuse in ourselves.

11

kevin 05.02.04 at 11:41 pm

Sebastian

So far, I have not seen anything about punishment other than the original six. Do you have links?

On the other hand, I have not heard of the end of the practice of sending suspects to nations known to indulge in torture, and I have heard that the Army is already saying the abuse is not widespread

As for investigations not being whitewashes, well, sometimes, unfortunately, that is not the case.

This is not to say that the Army will whitewash this investigation, only to point out that assuming the US government will do everything correctly is a kind of blindness on par with assuming that the US government will do everything incorrectly. At the moment (and, again, if you have more update information, please correct me), we know that

1)Its indisputable that some abuses took place in the prison

2)The current US government has a history of sending people to nations that use torture — a practice that as far as we can tell continues to this day

3)There is at least one Army report that calls the abuse systematic.

In the face of these facts, it hardly seems that Henry is being overly suspicious.

12

Dan SImon 05.03.04 at 12:13 am

But there’s little doubt that US military investigators are willing to gather evidence through torture…as long as the direct responsibility for this torture can be passed on to someone else…to the extent that these other cases suggest that there’s a more general administration policy of turning a blind eye to torture…

“[T]urning a blind eye to torture”…”as long as the direct responsibility for this torture can be passed on to someone else”…isn’t this the basic antiwar position on Iraq?

Granted, this is a cheap shot. And I understand that there are some fine-but-important moral distinctions involved here. But let’s face it: foreign policy, in the highly imperfect world in which we live, is one long, perennially ugly exercise in turning a blind eye to all manner of horror. And this is much, much more true of a quietist foreign policy than of an idealistically interventionist one.

So while one can certainly criticize this specific instance of Americans letting others do their dirty work, perhaps all the unctuous contempt is a bit unseemly, coming from those who have come out in favor of letting others do their own dirty work.

13

offut 05.03.04 at 12:34 am

“… God help the poor jerk, who allowed those photos into the hands of CBS news.”

The pictures were released by the Pentagon. The incident has been an active case since January. A general, some colonels, and others have been relieved of duty, will probably be cashiered for not knowing what was happening (in their place, I would have expected a few incidents and gone looking: they were eedjuts).

When you Google stuff like this, don’t just look at the “top” story or Reuters.

14

JFD 05.03.04 at 12:39 am

“Clinton” and “suck” in the same sentence…must…resist…obvious…joke…

15

Henry Farrell 05.03.04 at 2:34 am

bq. So while one can certainly criticize this specific instance of Americans letting others do their dirty work, perhaps all the unctuous contempt is a bit unseemly, coming from those who have come out in favor of letting others do their own dirty work.

Dan – when precisely have I, or anyone else on CT, come out in favour of torture? How precisely are torturers in Iraq or elsewhere doing our ‘dirty work?’Or is opposition to the war by definition a vote in favor of torture (what I think you’re trying to argue, or more precisely imply)? It doesn’t seem to me that there’s any real argument being advanced in your comment – just a combination of a cheap slur and ‘it’s a hard world, isn’t it’ cliches. But perhaps I’m mistaken – enlighten me if I am.

16

gt 05.03.04 at 3:27 am

Jesse Taylor’s career continues its downward spiral: first, mowing his mommy’s lawn; then paralegal boy; now, jerry springer’s boy.

17

gt 05.03.04 at 3:28 am

Jesse Taylor’s career continues its downward spiral: first, mowing his mommy’s lawn; then paralegal boy; now, jerry springer’s boy.

18

John Isbell 05.03.04 at 4:19 am

Torture certainly brings out the worst in some people. I shall call them objectively pro-torture (as ong as it’s not inflicted on them).

19

daveb 05.03.04 at 4:59 am

What seems to be missing from most of the reports is the usefulness of torture as a means of gaining good information. What I remember from my (long-ago) history courses is that torture elicited things that the torturer wanted to hear rather that what the subject gave up. Torture was/is used as a device to install fear into a subject The effectiveness of torture seems to be the domination of one group over another group. Torture may show dominance but over time causes resentment and hatred of the dominators. As far as the above post that the soldiers were not trained in the Geneva Convention rules; as a veteran that arguement does not carry much weight. Boot camp, even 30 years ago, taught that there were things the US military does not do to prisoners. Also, did these soldiers/officers ever learn The Golden Rule (the religious version-NOT the military one ‘those that have the gold make the rules)?

20

provocateur 05.03.04 at 5:04 am

John Isbell, that’s an awful thing to say about Henry. I’m confident that even he would agree that torture is an terrible practice when committed by the United States.

21

Dan Simon 05.03.04 at 5:28 am

Henry–allow me to clarify: the antecedent of “their” in my last sentence was “others”, not “those”. I’m certainly not accusing anyone who opposes the use of torture by American forces in Iraq of somehow being complicit in anybody else’s use of torture.

But you’re going further, and indignantly placing a comparable (presumably not equal) burden of guilt on those who apparently failed to act with sufficient vigor to prevent these cases of torture, which they had the power to prevent. You treat similarly those who accepted disingenuous promises of good behavior from obvious torturers, because the alternative–taking action to prevent the torture–would have weakened the struggle against a dangerous kind of lawlessness. And suddenly, the analogy to the antiwar movement’s stance on Iraq is quite striking.

You can call these “‘it’s a hard world, isn’t it’ cliches”. I call it dealing with difficult moral issues in a difficult world, and I think it calls for a good deal more circumspection and humility than I have seen displayed here.

22

Katherine 05.03.04 at 6:16 am

Dan Simon–Sins of omission and comission aren’t the same thing. They aren’t. That’s not some newfangled moral distinction–it’s as old as the hills, and certainly as old as our criminal laws. You can only be sent to jail for failing to help someone in a few, narrowly defined situations.

It’s also the basis for the difference between “negative” (e.g., the right not to be tortured, abritrarily detained, or killed by your government) and “positive” (e.g. the right to food, shelter, education, health care) human rights.

750,000 people were murdered in the Rwanda genocide. 3 million people have been killed in the Congo civil war. Hundreds of thousand in Bosnia, before we acted. I don’t know how many people in Liberia and Sierra Leone. And those are only wars; the number of people dying from treatable or preventable diseases is surely much higher. And it doesn’t only happen in Africa; there are people who are homeless or hungry or without health care in America.

We bear some measure of responsibility for all of that. In some cases there was not much we could have done, but in other cases there was. But it’s just not the same as if we killed them ourselves, or if other soldiers from our country killed them. Nor is it the same as if we knowingly sent them to their torturers from JFK airport, because we thought torture and interrogation could give us useful information; or turned a blind eye to abuses of Iraqi prisoners by soldiers under our command.

23

Dan Simon 05.03.04 at 7:33 am

Katherine, I don’t by any means discount the distinctions you’re making–indeed, I agree with most, perhaps even all of them. And I’m glad to see you discussing them.

Now let’s discuss some more distinctions. Did the higher-ups in the US military give explicit orders to torture? Or did they do so implicitly? Or did they implicitly send the message that they would condone torture? Or did they explicitly order their subordinates not to practice torture, but fail to take the necessary precautions to ensure that their orders were being followed? (What would the necessary precautions have been in these circumstances?)

Similarly, under what circumstances are foreign interrogators who are prone to use torture given access to prisoners? Do the host countries have to justify the interrogation–for example, by declaring the prisoner a wanted criminal in the host country–or are they simply acting as proxies for US interrogators? What are the terms under which the prisoners are handed over? A nod and a wink? A disingenuous “promise” not to use torture? A serious promise that is not always honored?

Finally, what are the circumstances of these “extraordinary renditions”? The Economist asserts “fewer than 100”–how is the decision made? What are the criteria? Is the practice increasing, decreasing, or fairly constant? At what level has it been approved?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, and I certainly believe that reasonable people can differ as to what answers to them are acceptable, what answers are morally unacceptable, and what answers should be considered criminal. I welcome further careful, distinction-respecting discussion of this very difficult issue. I just hope that it will crowd out some of the blithe moral posturing that has preceded it.

24

cafl 05.03.04 at 1:27 pm

Dan — It is unlikely that your questions will be answered with facts as long as the present administration remains in the White House. Unfortunately, in the absence of answers, given their secrecy and their record of lies, I assume the worst.

25

Henry 05.03.04 at 2:09 pm

Dan – It could be that the Washington Post, the Economist etc are wrong or are basing their stories on falsehoods (this isn’t at all likely – but it is possible). But this possibility aside, I don’t think that there’s any doubt that US military interrogators (a) know what is going to happen to the people that they are sending for extraordinary renditions, and (b) are directly complicit in what happens. Quoting from the Washington Post

bq. According to U.S. officials, nearly 3,000 suspected al Qaeda members and their supporters have been detained worldwide since Sept. 11, 2001. About 625 are at the U.S. military’s confinement facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Some officials estimated that fewer than 100 captives have been rendered to third countries. Thousands have been arrested and held with U.S. assistance in countries known for brutal treatment of prisoners, the officials said.

bq. At a Sept. 26 joint hearing of the House and Senate intelligence committees, Cofer Black, then head of the CIA Counterterrorist Center, spoke cryptically about the agency’s new forms of “operational flexibility” in dealing with suspected terrorists. “This is a very highly classified area, but I have to say that all you need to know: There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11,” Black said. “After 9/11 the gloves come off.”

bq. According to one official who has been directly involved in rendering captives into foreign hands, the understanding is, “We don’t kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them.”

My question is a simple one – do you think that this is justified? Or could be justified? What is the gray area involved in turning over individuals to others under the expectation and desire that they be tortured? How are the people who do the turning over – sending them to other countries so that these other countries can ‘kick the [expletive] out of them’ morally distinguishable from those who are actually doing the torture? You seem to be inventing subtleties and nuances here that are eluding me. It’s quite plain from the Post’s account that the US officials responsible for extraordinary rendition know what’s going to happen to the people involved, and _want_ it to happen. If you think that the Post is lying or is otherwise somehow mistaken, say so, and state the reasons why. If you think that torture is justifiable under some circumstances, come out and say it. But stop waffling about this “difficult issue.” Either you favour the use of torture under some circumstances, or you don’t. If you do, you may be coming from a reasoned and even reasonable position – but you owe it to us to state what that position is.

26

NB 05.03.04 at 2:14 pm

Would the present situation have occured if the US had not entered into the war? Probably not (at least not at the coalition’s doing). However, torture and forms of human cruelty are prevalent always, and that is ever so true in times of war. Thus do the leaders who initiated this war bear moral responsibility for these consequences? Absolutely, but for their actions this state of affairs would not have arisen.

Yet to ask for an ‘apology’ is a hollow point, some will see it as no more than PR, whilst for others it will change nothing of their opinion of what has occured of those responsible. The immediate culprits should face prosecution (and one that we should hope would be administered by an international court some day), but to seek to make a show of this trial to make an indictment of all people within higher positions, seems like an attempt to make a trial of war in general. that would tend to abuse justice for the purpose of politics; something we should try to avoid at all times.

27

Katherine 05.03.04 at 3:02 pm

Also, Dan–even if you think extraordinary rendition could ever be justified, or that the Post and the Economist might be mistaken–a lot of those questions you asked cannot be answered with certainty right now. I’ve looked a fair bit into extraordinary renditions. All of this information is classified.

The one case we know a lot about is that of Maher Arar, since he’s a Canadian citizen and since he got out. There have been a lot of stories in the Canadian press on it, and there’s an investigation beginning. Arar was taken from JFK airport, detained and interrogated at an immigration facility, driven to Newark airport, flown on a small plane to Washington, and than flown on a jet–alone, accompanied by a bunch of U.S. government intelligence agents of some sort–to Jordan, then driven to Syria. I believe there was some “assurance” that he would not be tortured, but that may have only been because Arar explicitly said he would be tortured & this would put the U.S. government in violation of the Torture Convention. In any case, we had no reason to believe the assurances of a country that we list as practitioner of torture, and one a lot of hawks want to invade. The Syrian government claims they only took him as a favor to us. He seems to have been arrested based mainly on confessions beaten out of other people tortured in Syria–so it seems clear that Syria was sharing the information gained from torture session with the U.S. and Canadian governments. The other men were Canadian citizens too, but they travelled to Syria voluntarily. It seems very likely that Arar was innocent. It’s less clear that the other two men were, but if I had to guess I’d say they were too.

The White House has not answered any questions about the practice of extraordinary rendition; they’ve barely been asked. What we need is a serious investigation–that’s what’s happening in Canada in response to the Arar case. And that, and not an empty apology, is part of what Henry is calling for (if I’m not mistaken.)

28

John Isbell 05.03.04 at 4:37 pm

Before I reach a verdict on the practice of torture, I want to know the height of all involved. Until then, I intend to withhold judgement.
Now, do you have any information on the height question? Can you perhaps track down some links for me?

29

roger 05.03.04 at 7:24 pm

In the Washington Post story that quotes released Iraqi prisoners, torture seems to be standard procedure in the prisons to which we confine Iraqi prisoners — captured, by the way, not in battle, but in extraordinarily haphazard raids. A picture of a man with a gun can be the basis for arresting someone, stripping him, tying him up, depriving him of water and sleep, and shooting rubber bullets at him.

Of course, these terrible things aren’t exactly confined to the American treatment of Iraqis. They originate in the American treatment of American prisons, right here in our own homeland. Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have documented decades of abuses in American prisons, and they are only getting worse, as the prisons are privatized. A report is here: http://hrw.org/reports/2001/prison./ Of course, this is well known to the American public, which takes gleeful pride in the fact that sodomy rape awaits the average prisoner. HRW reports a 70 percent assault rate in 2001, so I do mean average prisoner. Saddam hired his torturers to jam legs and heads into paper shredders, kill and maim — being more entrepreneurial, Americans usually subcontract out a lesser dose of torture. We are, after all, humane, and on the right side of the clash of civilizations.

30

roger 05.03.04 at 7:25 pm

In the Washington Post story that quotes released Iraqi prisoners, torture seems to be standard procedure in the prisons to which we confine Iraqi prisoners — captured, by the way, not in battle, but in extraordinarily haphazard raids. A picture of a man with a gun can be the basis for arresting someone, stripping him, tying him up, depriving him of water and sleep, and shooting rubber bullets at him.

Of course, these terrible things aren’t exactly confined to the American treatment of Iraqis. They originate in the American treatment of American prisons, right here in our own homeland. Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have documented decades of abuses in American prisons, and they are only getting worse, as the prisons are privatized. A report is here: http://hrw.org/reports/2001/prison./ Of course, this is well known to the American public, which takes gleeful pride in the fact that sodomy rape awaits the average prisoner. HRW reports a 70 percent assault rate in 2001, so I do mean average prisoner. Saddam hired his torturers to jam legs and heads into paper shredders, kill and maim — being more entrepreneurial, Americans usually subcontract out a lesser dose of torture. We are, after all, humane, and on the right side of the clash of civilizations.

31

Dan Simon 05.03.04 at 9:50 pm

Since you ask, Henry, I’ll tell you–yes, I think that in extreme situations, torture can be justified. I’m not exactly sure where to draw the line, and I’m quite sure that routine torture is unjustified. That’s one reason why the “fewer than 100” figure stood out for me–it shows that whoever is making the decisions is at least not being wildly indiscriminate. Similarly, farming out the torture to other countries in no way lessens anyone’s moral culpability. But by imposing a cost, and eliminating the need for a domestic torture infrastructure–which would tend, like all organizations, towards expansion–the delegation of torture to other countries probably helps keep the practice confined to extraordinary cases.

I’m also leery of the popular practice of lumping anything less than five-star accommodations for detainees under the rubric, “torture”. I consider torture to consist of the deliberate, methodical infliction of extreme pain or suffering. (Of course, “extreme” is open to interpretation.) That doesn’t mean that treatment that’s not torture is necessarily justifiable, but precisely because torture is so horrible, it’s important not to allow its meaning to be diluted through overuse. (The term “terrorism” is, I fear, suffering such a fate, with the result that it no longer carries the moral force that it once did.) The Washington Post article mentioned in a subsequent CT posting, for example, discusses “stress and duress” techniques–not pleasant, to be sure, but most likely a picnic on the beach compared to what the “extraordinary renditions” undergo when handed over to their interrogators in various Middle Eastern countries.

Finally, the selectivity with which these few incidents are being singled out for worldwide attention strikes me as odd. In America, of course, as well as in Iraq, this is perfectly reasonable fodder for domestic political wrangling. (And I can think of much worse, and much more popular, reasons to vote for a particular candidate than that he or she will crack down harder on his or her own government’s use of torture.) But some of the claimed wider implications of these revelations are a bit odd. Judging by “NB”‘s comments above, for instance, one might infer that the incidence of torture in Iraq has actually increased with the arrival of American troops. At some point, such selectivity starts to look suspiciously like it’s in the service of an agenda other than reducing the worldwide use of torture.

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nick 05.04.04 at 9:06 am

At some point, such selectivity starts to look suspiciously like it’s in the service of an agenda other than reducing the worldwide use of torture.

And imputing such suspicions reflects badly upon you. As has been mentioned elsewhere, the ‘well, other torturers are much worse’ argument is something of a slippery slope; and it actively inhibits those who campaign against torture when other regimes have the luxury of saying ‘well, even the Americans do it’.

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NB 05.04.04 at 5:02 pm

I have to second Nick’s opinion on this one. My comments limited in their depth as they may be, relative to the sharp insight others have posted, would be stretched at your own urging to infer such as statement as you drew from them.

My premise and conclusion are simple. But for our presence in Irak we could not have subsequently been accused of torture at an Iraki jail. The simple point i am trying to make is that the soliders’ involvement should not be used as pretence for a general trial of the war in Irak as a whole. Perhaps in the same way as the 9/11 investigations, in my opinion, are not so much about seeking the truth in security failures, as they are pre-electoral tactitcs at damaging Bush’s credibility.

The thrust of M. Farrell’s argument is well taken though. Certain quoted publications have recognized the use of terror in small amounts. It is not so much a stretch of the imagination to think given the reprehensible nature of torture, it is most often kept secret, thus what is known is probably but the tip of large iceberg of abuses. The experience of the French occupation of Algeria, which appears increasingly similar to the current Iraki conflict, (http://www.worldpress.org/Europe/210.cfm), shows us that these atrocities are going on, and all too often we realize them only much after the harm is done.

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