Saturday, May 2, 2009

Tortured misconceptions

As I read the latest coming out of the Internet tubes, I am struck by the level of obtuseness that seems to characterize what passes for discourse on torture. First, just looking at the comments to the recent ABC story on the psychologists who were hired as private contractors to develop torture techniques at Gitmo. Let's just start by noting that Jessen and Mitchell were private contractors (their company is Mitchell, Jessen, and Associates, LLC) - NOT CIA employees (as many times as I've read comments to the effect that these two clowns were CIA agents, I have to wonder how many of the whingers bothered to read the fucking article). Valerie Plame Mitchell and Jessen are most definitely not. Second, let's clear up the misconception that Brian Ross and his research team broke the story. They did not. The story had been circulating in online sources such as Salon, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair for a good year or two. Although I will gladly give Ross and his team credit where credit is due insofar as they finally managed to get the story some publicity that it would have never otherwise received, these particular journalists are, as one might say, late to the party. Along with some of my fellow psychologists, I wish that Ross and company had been willing to push the story to the foreground a bit sooner.

Let's look at some other misconceptions.

1. There is no reason to believe that the use of torture has prevented a terrorist attack. Now there have been some thwarted terrorist attacks since 2001, but those attempts have perpetrated by the same sort of demographic that attended the "tea parties" a few weeks ago (in other words, start thinking about home-grown right-wing militia types a la Timothy McVeigh). Those attacks have been prevented by simple good old-fashioned torture-free investigations.

2. Contra Charles Krauthammer and other fellow wingnuts, the so-called "ticking time bomb" scenario is fictitious - at best the stuff of Hollywood or the ravings of Ivy League academicians and former OJ Simpson defense attorneys. As has been mentioned elsewhere, even under dire circumstances, traditional nonviolent interrogation methods work much more effectively at getting intelligence.

3. Similarly, contra Krauthammer and other fellow wingnuts, the so-called justification of torture in the case of allegedly "high-value" detainees in order to "save lives" is so full of loopholes that just about any unsavory dictatorship or terrorist group could use it as a justification for their own human rights abuses. Think about that the next time an American gets kidnapped overseas and is tortured mercilessly in the name of "saving the lives" of fellow jihadis. My guess is that to our torture apologists, the incident will seem far less "heroic" than when our government tortures those unfortunate enough to be of Central Asian or Arabic origin.

4. As I've mentioned before, what Krauthammer and his ilk have offered is all based on the false premise that torture "works." For over 2000 years, we've been given ample reason for skepticism, from the observations of such great thinkers as Cicero and Seneca all the way to today's professional interrogators in the military and FBI. The only "purpose" for torture is not to get at the truth, but rather to intimidate target groups of people (e.g., those of a colonized or occupied territory, or perhaps one's own citizenry at home). Usually such techniques are resorted to when other forms of persuading a populace to accept a regime's legitimacy have failed.

Surely the psychologists featured most recently in one of Brian Ross' reports shouldn't be the only ones under fire for their criminal actions. I've been on record for quite a while now of advocating that those who have crafted and signed off on the "legal" justification of torture should be punished, as should those in Congress who enabled these perps. Similarly, those in professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association who chose to look the other way while members of their organizations participated in torture, or who in one way or another collaborated with torturers should face appropriate repercussions - at bare minimum they should never be allowed to hold positions of influence within their professional organizations ever again.

Update: Regarding Jessen and Mitchell, the torture psychologists to whose defense many right-whingers are coming, they have some egg on their faces since it looks like Jessen and Mitchell have advertised before their work as private contractors for the CIA:

The CIA would not comment on Mitchell and Jessen's work for the agency, though the contractual relationship is not one Mitchell and Jessen entirely concealed. They advertised their CIA credentials as exhibitors at a 2004 conference of the American Psychological Association in Honolulu.

I agree with Tbogg - these people really are stupid.

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