Monday, April 27, 2009

Times Square In Twenty Years?

Matthew Alexander, former senior military interrogator (via Andrew Sullivan):

As a senior interrogator in Iraq, I conducted more than three hundred interrogations and monitored more than one thousand. I heard numerous foreign fighters state that the reason they came to Iraq to fight was because of the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. Our policy of torture and abuse is Al-Qaeda’s number one recruiting tool. These same insurgents have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of our troops in Iraq, not to mention Iraqi civilians. Torture and abuse are counterproductive in the long term and, ultimately, cost us more lives than they save.

The current debate about torture focuses on two broad considerations: the moral and the practical. On the latter, I haven't seen much discussion about the issue of blowback. I think if I or a member of my family was tortured/abused, I would dedicate the rest of my life to revenge -- against both the individuals and the country or cause they represented. I wonder how many of our victims or their relatives have made such a vow. When you think about how many prisoners went through Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, and the other detention sites, then multiply that by the number of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, kids and cousins, you're talking about many thousands of potential avengers.

As the means of mass destruction get ever-smaller and more accessible to individuals via vials and backpacks, blowback becomes an even more important issue. It only takes one person from the countless lives that have been damaged or destroyed during the long occupation of two countries. Factor in a culture that puts a premium on honor and grudges and revenge and generally takes a long view of history, and we might not find out for many years exactly how much danger we've put ourselves in.


Blogger nbb said...

TCR, you are right. With Bush's way to pursue the so-called "war on terror" the US has locked itself into a more dangerous bubble than the subprime mortgages. A false sense of security and toughness as the potential retribution builds up under the radar screen.
I therefore diverge from Obama on the issue of prosecution. The US has to prosecute those guilty of torture, and do it fast, and in a visible and convincing way. It's not about looking back vs. looking forward, it's about trying to clean up that blood stain that calls for revenge. It is in the interest of national security not to keep those things under the carpet, but to get them out and taking distance from them as decisively as possible. Of course observing a delicate balance not to punish people who thought they were just serving their country, but clearly single out and prosecute those who are responsible for generating this madness.

My guess is Obama is trying the soft approach to this - go for gradual improvement, looking "to the future" etc - as with the economy, fearing that the situation is so bad that the whole thing will blow up in his hands is he makes any sudden move (his metaphor of the big cruiser vs the speedboat). I don't know about the economy, but on this I'm not with him.
As an outside observer, I find it mind boggling that America can still debate whether it is OK or not to torture (after denying the facts for a long time). I mean, come on!!

4/27/2009 11:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look, it's only fair:

Bin Laden saved Bush's floundering political fortunes on September 11, 2001.

With Iraq and the policies that came to light at Abu Ghraib, Bush gave ObL the greatest recruiting tools anyone could ask for.

See, Bush doesn't **always** stiff folks who've done him a favor!
-- sglover

4/27/2009 11:17 AM  
Blogger Vijay said...

You would dedicate revenge against "the country?" Why would you do that? You seem intelligent enough to recognize that the people in a country are distinct from the State. Or did you mean the more general "I", as in you believe others would do this.

To me this is the foundation of all instances of violent chaos that have occurred in the last most barbaric of centuries. The rejection of the enlightenment and that the individual is the fundamental moral unit and the rise of the State to replace it.

As Randolph Bourne wrote in 1918, War is the Health of the State

4/27/2009 1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your point is on the mark.

The whole thing surrounding 9/11, and how we handled it seems reactionary and misdirected.

Let's forget for one moment, we are suppose to be better (and being better is really hard work), a bright beacon in a dark sky, but we just showed, by example, how to treat prisoners.

Some news at Democracy Now:
- "2002 Military Memo Warned Torture Produces “Unreliable Information”"

- "CIA Never Studied Whether Torture Was Effective or Necessary"

It was the administration, not the American people. Protesters and those that tried to speak out were silenced, in almost a McCarthyism manner, and the media was either absence or aided the admin.

"A report by the Senate Armed Services Committee released Tuesday night says that torture techniques used at Abu Ghraib prison and approved by officials in the George W. Bush administration were applied only after soliciting a "wish list" from interrogators."

4/27/2009 2:54 PM  
Blogger Cath said...

My father served 35 years as a carrier pilot in the US Navy and went through SERE training.

One of my Dad's vivid descriptions of his experience was that "you know the experience is temporary, you know they're doing it to you for your own good, you know that they're Americans on your side, and that you really, really, really hate them (your captors)."

One of his close friends had been a POW in Korea and was treated so badly that for the rest of his life could not deal with being around Asians. He intellectually did not blame Asians but he had such strong physiological responses that he tried to avoid contact.

For the record, he is adamant that the techniques described in the recent declassified memos - in particular the treatment described in the May 10, 2005 memo under the title "A Prototypical Interrogation" are definitely torture and brought forth a torrent of "sailor speak."

4/27/2009 3:32 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Another practical benefit of taking the moral high ground is that would-be enemies will be more likely to come over to our side.

I wonder if Werner von Braun or Albert Einstein would have been as helpful in our nuclear program if we had tortured civilians and soldiers in the first World War.

4/27/2009 7:51 PM  
Anonymous goldhorder said...

The threat is small. The real threats to this country wear 3 piece suits to work and live mainly on the Northeast coast of the United States...and mostly received expensive educations from the same part of the country.

4/28/2009 11:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any blowback that comes to our shores as a result of this hideous descent into madness, would be a well-deserved come-uppance, tempered, of course, with the knowledge that there can be no "re-conciliation", there isn't going to be a veterans of both wars get together years from now where we exchange phone numbers with surviving Iraqi veterans. This is on a scale of the Turkish genocide of Armenians in the earlier part of the last century. What we have done is to alter our course in history. yes, I mean " we" Do you pay taxes? Then, you have a part in all this.
THis allying ourselves metaphysically with the Nazi's is on a par with the taking of slaves and the genocide of the natives. In our history, we who pretend to have a unique brand of government haven't learned a f- thing! Like a rabid dog, we chase our tails, telling ourselves that YES! we ARE making progress, REFUSING to see the obvious, that the only "progress" we ever make is in circles!
After what happened at Abu Ghraib, and other prisons, there most certainly will be blowback, of a kind we never would have forseen.

4/29/2009 9:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL. Yeah right, I'm sure you would be out bombing markets and the police if your family was totured. That's pretty funny. You should change the name of your blog to Naive Unrealist.

4/30/2009 10:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I agree with Goldhorder on this. Foreign terrorists took pretty much their best shot and fell well short of destroying the US. The powers that be on the Potomac could easily remake the country into something drastically different -- through malevolence or pant-soiling terror.

-Medicine Man

5/03/2009 11:12 PM  
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In my opinion every person must go through this.

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