The Eclectic Quill

April 28, 2009

“24” Is Fiction

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kelly @ 3:30 pm

Were someone to say to me ten years ago that there would be a time when our nation was debating whether someone should torture I would have chalked them off as a nut job conspiracy theorist. Of course that was two years before the nut job conspirators started running the show. Once again the argument is surfacing over whether or not we should torture, what constitutes torture and whether torture works. Whenever I even hear the question brought up it’s all I can do to calm myself enough to not fly into a cathartic rage and lecture whatever poor soul brought up the subject, be it in my presence, or a numbskull on the TV that is not hearing a thing I yell at him with my DVR paused. So imagine my chagrin one day a few weeks ago while we were watching “24” and my wife asked, “What about “24?” Uncharacteristically, I kept my composure and reminded her, “24” is fiction.

Apparently some other people, namely those in the Republican Party and in the Republican media, also need the reminder. When you’re watching a TV show where the script says that the bad guy is the one getting tortured then it’s easy enough to say, “Yeah, you go get him.” In the scripted world Jack Bauer “knows” when the person is lying and when the person is telling the truth. In the scripted world, when the innocent are tortured it all comes out fine in the end. In the scripted world Jack knows best and we just need to trust Jack. Of course that’s all fiction.

The problem is that we aren’t talking about something scripted here. When the torturer knows the victim “knows” something he might be wrong. This can have a compilation of problems, such as wasting valuable time trying to get information of out someone who has none, getting false confessions pointing to other people who give their own false confessions and so on. Republican spinners will point to the “foiled” terrorist attack on the Library Tower in LA. This has two dubious qualities, 1) there’s a great deal of question as to whether the attack was actually anywhere close to operational, and 2) the attack was foiled without the use of the so called, “enhanced interrogation” techniques, as it was foiled before they were ever authorized. So once again, essentially what is being resorted to is more fiction.

Here are a few facts you should know about torture:

  • Confessions derived under torture are more often untrue than true.
  • False confessions are a much bigger problem than getting confessions.
  • Interrogators are less likely than an average person to be able to discern a lie from truth.
  • People cannot be “trained” to withstand torture.

The inherent problem with all the “24” fiction is that they guy who is getting tortured did it. Apart from the moral problems of torturing anyone, much less someone who didn’t do anything and has no information to give, is the reality that they can eventually “break.” What happens when you “break” someone who doesn’t know anything? You get lies, lies that validate the interrogators preconceptions, and the end result is that nothing is learned and everything is validated. It’s not hard to see how torture can actually encumber investigations.

I was watching an interview with John McCain and he’s talking about how he met this high up terrorist guy who was being held in a prison in Iraq, and the terrorist leader was telling McCain about how Abu Gharib was a big boon to the terrorist recruiting. This prison that he is being held at holds 20,000 Iraqi prisoners, all of whom I presume from the context are suspected terrorists. Now here’s the thing of it, the number was just tossed out lightly, and I had to rewind it to make sure I heard it right, but yep 20,000 Iraqi prisoners. I have serious problems, especially after it came out that as much of 90 percent of the prisoners being held at Abu Ghraib weren’t only not even guilty of anything, but weren’t even accused of anything, that all 20,000 of those prisoners are terrorists.

And herein lies the inherent flaw in all the pro-torture, neocon, logic. There entire case rests on a presumption of guilt. In the script we can know because well, it’s a script. In the real world that’s just not true. How many of those 20,000 prisoners are giving us what we want to hear so they can go home and be with their wives and children? How much bad information are we torturing out of people?

Sure, the neocons will just want to spin things a different way. They’ll say I’m more worried about protecting the terrorists than the innocent people the terrorists want to kill and so on and so forth. The problem is, that’s not the problem. I want

to stop terrorism as much, and dare I say more than they do. I say I want to more, because I, unlike them, am willing to resort to what works. It’s time to stop letting the blowhards railroad the conversation and get to the heart of the matter. It’s not about the morality of torture—that’s just something you either accept or don’t—it’s about the effectiveness of torture. If you want to stop terrorists, don’t torture!!!!

Now having said that I want to point to something else briefly. There’s this whole thing between Keith Olbmeran and Sean Hannity. Hannity said waterboarding isn’t torture. He was asked whether he’d be willing to be waterboarded, and he said, yes he would, for charity. Olbmeran called him on it and said he would give 1,000 for charity for every minute that bonehead was waterboarded, essentially calling his bluff. Whether he would actually allow himself to be waterboarded or not is another story, because it misses the essential point behind waterboarding. It’s about fear. Over 108 prisoners have died in these “camps” due to these kinds of interrogations. Waterboarding isn’t a matter of what happens over a couple of seconds while water gets poured down your throat. That’s awful enough. It’s having people come kicking down your door at 3:00 AM, dragging you by your hair to black sedan, driving you with a hood on your head to some mysterious place, flying you to another country on a cargo plane, and detaining you without even telling you why. Then they barely feed you, strip you naked, keep you from sleeping for days at a time. While you’re there you see perhaps one or two, or maybe three people leave their cell and never come back. You only see the body bag. Then, they take you into a room surrounded by people with guns and they yell at you and scream and try to get you to confess. Then they tell you if you don’t tell them what they want to hear they’re going to kill you. And as they grab you by the scruff of your next and hold your head underwater (or pour water down your throat) as your breath leaks away the image of that body bag is in your head. The image of your terrified wife and children is in your head. And the thought occurs to you, just tell them your neighbor is a terrorist and it’ll all stop. You reject the idea. They pull your head back up and then the moment you have a chance to breathe, the moment you have a chance to hope that you’re not going to die right there that put your head back under water. This goes on for several minutes and each time it’s easier to accept that, while you have nothing against your neighbor, you just don’t want to die, and so you “confess” that you’ve conspired with him. Days later your neighbor is woken up at 3:00 in the morning.

So here’s the thing Hannity is not getting. It’s not the feeling of drowning that makes it torture, it’s the threat of dying. When you are in control, that’s not a real threat. When you have a safe-word it’s not a real threat. If you don’t have that feeling of pee in your pants, raw, horrible fear that you are going to die NOW, it’s not the same thing. That fear is what makes it torture and that fear is what makes it so ineffective. It’s not the lie of the terrorist that you have to worry about, it’s the lie of the falsely accused. There’s no way that Hannity can experience that, and no way I can suggest that he should. I do find it recklessly irresponsible for him to suggest that it isn’t torture, or to reduce it to merely the violent act of feigning drowning someone, which is in and of itself an awful, evil act. It’s not the physical trauma, but the psychological trauma that makes it torture, and there’s no way Hannity can experience that without actually being tortured.




1 Comment »

  1. Good points all-around. Hannity is in over his head about waterboarding. Fear in itself is torture on many of us, but I agree that it isn’t torture unless one feels that.

    Very well done and thought out buddy!

    Comment by David Funk — May 5, 2009 @ 6:09 pm | Reply

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