December 13, 2005

ON TORTURE, VI(B): The Truth that Lies Within, and the Truth that Many Will Not Face

Children who become too aware of things are punished for it and internalize the coercion to such an extent that as adults they give up the search for awareness. But because some people cannot renounce this search in spite of coercion, there is justifiable hope that regardless of the ever-increasing application of technology to the field of psychological knowledge, Kafka's vision of the penal colony with its efficient scientifically-minded persecutors and their passive victims is valid only for certain areas of our life and perhaps not forever. For the human soul is virtually indestructible, and its ability to rise from the ashes remains as long as the body draws breath. -- Alice Miller, at the conclusion of the "Afterword" to For Your Own Good
I have read extensively in my life, and Alice Miller is the most profoundly courageous writer in the world today to my knowledge. She writes unflinchingly and with a gaze that never turns away from what it perceives, no matter how horrifying it may be. Miller describes the untold cruelties that are inflicted on the most innocent and defenseless of victims -- infants and very young children. Almost all of us accept these cruelties to one degree or another. I am not speaking only of the obvious cruelties, of corporal punishment and similar barbarities -- although we should never forget that the great majority of parents believe that spanking is sometimes necessary. I will begin to trace the connections here at the outset: just as Charles Krauthammer maintains that we are "morally compelled" to utilize torture in rare circumstances in the name of our own survival, so most parents believe that physical violence is sometimes morally "required" if their children are to be taught to be "civilized."

Let us try to be as brave as Alice Miller: what we mean by "civilized" when we speak in this way, is that children must be taught to obey. If the principle of obedience is instilled in children from earliest infancy, and if parents further teach their children that physical violence is the means of commanding obedience, why do we wonder that some adults will torture those who have been rendered helpless and delivered into their control? They are merely reenacting what their parents taught them.

But we refuse to see this. We will not acknowledge what has been done to us. Miller continues in her work, because she understands better than anyone that these issues must be understood if the horrors are to be stopped. But she has met with fierce resistance every step of the way. In a similar way, although on an immensely more modest scale, I have found that many readers who agree with me on many issues -- and many readers who may have followed this series so far, nodding their heads in confirmation at every point in my argument -- will stop here. They will not acknowledge these particular truths, because they are too threatening.

This is because there is a necessary corollary to the obedience we are taught: the idealization of the authority figures in our lives. As children, we dare not question what our parents do: we depend on them for life itself. To comprehend fully what is being done to us would be unbearable, and it might literally kill us. So we must believe that, whatever our parents do, they do it "for our own good." To believe otherwise is the forbidden thought. So we must deny our own pain when we are young; such denial is necessary if we are to survive at that stage in our lives.

But if we maintain the denial when we become adults, it spreads throughout our lives. When such modes of thought are established in our psychologies, they cannot be isolated or contained. We deny our own pain -- so we must deny the pain of others. If we acknowledge their pain fully and allow ourselves to realize what it means, it will necessarily call up our own wounds. But this remains intolerable and forbidden. In extreme cases, we must dehumanize other human beings: they become "the other," the less-than-human. By using such devices, we make inflicting untold agonies on another person possible: if they are not even human, it doesn't matter if we torture them. This is always how we create hell on earth.

I said I was not referring only to the obvious cruelties inflicted on children by physical violence. Just as important, and often of much greater significance, are the psychological agonies to which parents subject their children. How often do we hear parents say to a child who will not follow an order: "Why are you making me so unhappy? You don't want to make your mother unhappy and sad, do you, darling? Now just do what I say." We should recognize this for what it is: emotional blackmail. The unstated threat -- but the threat that is deeply felt by the child, even if he is not able to understand it -- is that the parent's love will be withdrawn unless the child obeys. Since the child knows that his life depends on that love, the threat is a terrifying one. Such blows are delivered countless times every day, by millions of parents around the world.

This knowledge is inaccessible to the majority of adults. We are taught to obey, and we learn to idealize our parents. We tell ourselves they did the best they could, or they couldn't help it. In one sense, that is true: they raise their children as they were raised. They learned obedience very well, and they do to their own children what was done to them. But most of us cannot leave this truth at this point: to maintain the veneration of our parents, we must insist that they in fact were right -- that they did it "for our own good." That is where the great danger lies.

When the idealization of the authority figure spreads once we become adults, it can encompass additional authority figures. There are two primary such figures: God -- who may have been there from the beginning, if the child is raised in a very religious household where God is the ultimate authority, and the parents only speak on His behalf; and country. When one's nation becomes such an authority figure, there are subsidiary ones as well: the nation's leaders, and the nation's military.

I realize that people often do not follow links. If this subject is of interest to you, I hope you will make an exception here. An earlier essay of mine presents a fuller version of this argument: When the Demons Come. I trace the connections between cruelties inflicted on children -- methods of "discipline" such as "hot saucing," and the kinds of punishment recommended by religious leaders such as James Dobson -- and atrocities committed by adults, such as those committed by U.S. troops in Vietnam. That piece also summarizes some of the major themes in Alice Miller's work.

Many of today's hawks exhibit the kind of denial to which I refer in an extreme form: because they will not acknowledge any of this, they must insist that the U.S. military could never commit such atrocities. It must all be a vicious lie. As I explain in that earlier piece, this was the ultimate root of the hatred heaped on John Kerry: he dared to speak the truth about what had happened in Vietnam. For the deniers, this is the one crime for which no forgiveness is possible. As I wrote about this kind of denier (and Rich Lowry and Andrew Sullivan were the particular writers to whom I was responding, but the same is true of many millions of additional people):
With no effort at all, you could multiply examples such as these a thousandfold, every single day. In this manner, defenders of our current foreign policy wipe out of existence all the facts, all the costs, all the deaths, and anything else that might bring into question what is an absolute of their faith: the United States is right, what we have done and are doing in Iraq is right, our military is right, we are inherently unable to make mistakes, and the authorities must not be questioned.

These are the victims described by Miller -- now grown into adulthood, continuing their denial, with additional authority figures added to the ones they first had. Besides the original parent, they now revere our government and our military and, beyond a certain point, nothing they do is to be challenged. ... [T]o do so would bring into question these individuals' entire false sense of self, it would undermine their worldview completely, and it represents a threat that cannot be allowed to come too close. As always, what is dispensable in all this are facts, untold national wealth, reputation and prestige, and above all, the lives of human beings.

As I have said before, it is in this manner that horrors are unleashed upon the world. And if this mentality is carried far enough, you will finally end up with the kind of thinking, and the kind of psychology, that lies behind the journal entry from World War II (written by a German soldier) that I quoted in the previous part of this essay:

"On a roundabout way to have lunch I witnessed the public shooting of twenty-eight Poles on the edge of a playing field. Thousands line the streets and the river. A ghastly pile of corpses, all in all horrifying and ugly and yet a sight that leaves me altogether cold. The men who were shot had ambushed two soldiers and a German civilian and killed them. An exemplary modern folk-drama. (1/27/44)"

If you never allowed your authentic self to develop (or your parents never allowed you to develop one), if you denied and continue to deny the reality of your own pain, then you will deny the pain of others, even as the corpses pile up -- and you will be prepared to believe anything.

And the horrors continue, beyond all human reckoning -- and without end.
In "When the Demons Come," I also offered a brief summary of my own of Miller's central thesis (from another essay):
By demanding obedience above all from a child (whether by physical punishment, by psychological means, or through some combination of both), parents forbid the child from fostering an authentic sense of self. Because children are completely dependent on their parents, they dare not question their parents' goodness, or their "good intentions." As a result, when children are punished, even if they are punished for no reason or for a reason that makes no sense, they blame themselves and believe that the fault lies within them. In this way, the idealization of the authority figure is allowed to continue. In addition, the child cannot allow himself to experience fully his own pain, because that, too, might lead to questioning of his parents.

In this manner, the child is prevented from developing a genuine, authentic sense of self. As he grows older, this deadening of his soul desensitizes the child to the pain of others. Eventually, the maturing adult will seek to express his repressed anger on external targets, since he has never been allowed to experience and express it in ways that would not be destructive. By such means, the cycle of violence is continued into another generation (using "violence" in the broadest sense). One of the additional consequences is that the adult, who has never developed an authentic self, can easily transfer his idealization of his parents to a new authority figure. As Miller says:

"This perfect adaptation to society's norms--in other words, to what is called 'healthy normality'--carries with it the danger that such a person can be used for practically any purpose. It is not a loss of autonomy that occurs here, because this autonomy never existed, but a switching of values, which in themselves are of no importance anyway for the person in question as long as his whole value system is dominated by the principle of obedience. He has never gone beyond the stage of idealizing his parents with their demands for unquestioning obedience; this idealization can easily be transferred to a Fuhrer or to an ideology."
At the conclusion of the previous part of this series, I noted two types of person that almost no one seeks to explain: the man or woman who will refuse to inflict unbearable agony on another human being, even when that refusal ensures his or her own death; and the person who will engage in torture, even when he knows that torture does not work, and even if he senses in some vague form that he is engaging in sadism for its own sake. He knows there is nothing to be gained from his unforgivable cruelty, yet he does it anyway.

About both types of person, I asked a simple question: Why? Why does one person refuse to act cruelly, while another does so with an eagerness that horrifies us? Since last evening, I have been struggling to find another way of identifying the chasm that separates my approach from that utilized by someone like Andrew Sullivan. The difference is crucial, especially because Sullivan condemns torture in no uncertain terms. But as I explained, the entire perspective that informs his condemnation is profoundly different from mine. Therefore, identifying the difference in our outlooks with precision is of immense importance.

In the previous essay, I analyzed how Sullivan approaches the question of torture as a political one: he considers the legitimizing of torture in terms of its effects on the United States as a political entity. He discusses torture's ghastly effects on the victim -- but only in very abstract, impersonal terms, as if he were writing a textbook on political theory. And, very significantly, both Krauthammer and Sullivan -- even though they come down on opposite sides of this dispute -- exhibit the same blind spot: the reality of the person who will always refuse to inflict torture on another does not appear to exist for them. We are left with the sense that, in their world, if the order comes down to torture, the order will be obeyed. So the critical question for them is whether that order should ever be issued. Krauthammer says it should, and Sullivan says it must never be.

For me, the question is a profoundly different one. I recognize that the order will not necessarily be obeyed. So for me, the key lies right there: why will some people refuse, while others won't? Krauthammer and Sullivan never ask this question. They are both the victims that Miller describes. Obedience is the ruling principle that informs their approach -- and the only question is: obedience to what? (I note the following, because it is very revealing of the extent to which the principle of obedience dominates Sullivan's approach. Sullivan is an openly gay man, who writes extensively about gay issues -- and also about his Catholicism. It is quite striking to see the enormous struggles that engage Sullivan -- struggles which are entirely self-selected and to which he voluntarily submits -- as he tries to reconcile his own homosexuality with a Church that continues to explicitly condemn gay people for their sexuality. He cannot make peace between these warring parts of his worldview and of himself because, in fact, no such peace can ever be attained. But he refuses to give up the principle of obedience that is still represented by his allegiance to the Catholic Church.)

As I was reflecting on these issues, I recalled a line I once heard or read somewhere. I've tried to remember its source, but I can't. It is not the way I would choose to make the point; it's a sentimental, not fully serious manner of expressing the thought. The line went something like this: "Nothing happens in politics, that did not happen first in the human heart." Let us set the style aside: there is a great truth contained in that statement. It is crucial to appreciate what it is.

For me, the ultimate truth of any question is an individual one. Individual human beings are the ultimate components of all the questions that concern us, whether they are philosophical, political, aesthetic or of any other kind. Politics represents the summation of many individual actions. In all the heated debates about politics or foreign policy, we too often forget where the final consequences of our actions are felt: by individual human beings, by people who are happy or sad because of what we do, by people who all too frequently today live or die as the result of our actions. Obviously, this is why politics and foreign policy matter so much: the lives of countless people are affected because of the decisions we make. This is why I spend so much time on these questions myself.

But the final significance of all these issues is intensely personal: these questions matter so desperately because of how they affect me, and you, and all of us. And this is why, when I consider a subject like torture, the most critical question for me is the personal one: why are there some people who will refuse to obey the order? If everyone refused, the problem would never arise. This is another way of expressing an old cliche. It may be a cliche, but it goes to the identical personal issue: "What if they gave a war and nobody came?"

Think about that for a moment. What if no one did come? Put it another way: why are so many people willing, even eager, to engage in violence? Almost all of us reject violence on the narrower scale: we all condemn the thief, or the individual murderer. But when violence is engaged in on a wide scale by governments, many of us enthusiastically embrace it. We allow ourselves to forget the personal impact, and the horror becomes manifest. And when it comes to the question of torture, some of us will approve it, while refusing to consider its ultimate source -- and while refusing to acknowledge that some people will never permit themselves to act in such a manner. Still others, while they condemn it, similarly refuse to consider the issue in any but the most impersonal and abstract of terms. They cannot imagine the person who simply says, "No" -- because they themselves would not. They have been taught to obey, and they will not challenge the principle that lies at the foundation of their identity.

This is why, even though I agree with his ultimate condemnation, I reject Sullivan's approach and the means by which he arrives at his conclusion absolutely, and across the board. He is incapable of seeing what the critical question is: he cannot understand the roots of such violence, nor can he see that our current foreign policy itself embodies that same violence. In the end, his condemnation is irrelevant and futile. People who condemn torture for the reasons Sullivan does do nothing to stop the violence that threatens to engulf the world.

Because she is the preeminent expert on the subject, I will leave the final words to Alice Miller herself. Here is the main page of her site. Because it utilizes frames, I recommend you follow the links, until you get to the page that lists "Articles," "Books," "Interviews" and other categories, and you will be able to access the particular articles I mention from there, in addition to a wealth of other exceptional and illuminating material.

From her article, "The Origins of Torture in Endured Child Abuse":
Many people have claimed to be appalled by the acts of perversion committed by American soldiers on ADULT people, Iraqi prisoners. Amazingly, I have never heard of any such reaction in response to the occasional attempts to expose similar practices committed towards CHILDREN, as for instance in British and American schools. There, these practices come under the heading of "education." But the cruelty is the same. The world appears to be surprised that such brutality should rear its head among the American forces.

After all, America presents itself to the international public as the guardian of world peace. There is an explanation for all this, but hardly anyone wants to hear it.

It is definitely a good thing that light has been cast on the situation and that the media have exposed this lie for what it is. Basically it runs as follows: We are a civilized, freedom-loving nation and bring democracy and independence to the whole world. Under this motto the Americans forced their way into Iraq with devastating results and still insist that they are exporting cultural values. But now it turns out that alongside their bombs and missiles the well-drilled, smartly dressed soldiers are carrying a huge arsenal of pent-up rage around with them, invisible on the outside, invisible for themselves, lurking deep down within, but unmistakably dangerous.

Where does this suppressed rage come from, this need to torment, humiliate, mock, and abuse helpless human beings (prisoners and children as well)? What are these outwardly tough soldiers avenging themselves for? And where have they learnt such behavior? First as little children taught obedience by means of physical "correction," then in school, where they served as the defenseless objects of the sadism of some of their teachers, and finally in their time as recruits, treated like dirt by their superiors so that they could finally acquire the highly dubious ability to take anything meted out to them and qualify as "tough."

The thirst for vengeance does not come from nowhere. It has a clearly identifiable cause. The thirst for vengeance has its origins in infancy, when children are forced to suffer in silence and put up with the cruelty inflicted on them in the name of upbringing. They learn how to torment others from their parents, and later from their teachers and superiors. It is nothing other than systematic instruction by example on how to destroy others. Yet many people believe that it has no evil consequences. As if a child were a container that can be emptied from time to time. But the human brain is not a container. The things we learn at an early stage stay with us in later life.


The media quote psychological experts who contend that the brutality displayed by the American soldiers is a result of the stress caused by war. It is true that war unleashes latent aggression. BUT TO BE UNLEASHED IT HAS TO BE ALREADY THERE. It would be impossible for individuals who have not been exposed to violence very early, either at home or at school, to abuse and mock defenseless prisoners. They simply couldn't do it. We know from the history of the last World War that many conscripted soldiers were able to show a human face, even in the stress of war, if they had grown up without being exposed to violence. Many accounts of the war and the conditions in the camps tell us that even such extreme stress will not necessarily turn adults into perverted individuals.
From another Alice Miller article, "Taking It Personally: Indignation as a Vehicle of Therapy":
There is no shortage of books and articles informing us about horrific deeds and circumstances (cruelty to animals, exploitation of nature, torture, despotism, etc.), and it is only natural that we should respond to such accounts with strong feelings. The reaction displayed by a large majority of the thinking and feeling population is one of indignation. But there is an exception to this rule. To a striking degree, reports on the physical abuse of children in the form of spankings or beatings meet with almost total indifference. Most people are still convinced that for children physical "correction" is both necessary and harmless.

How can anyone possibly believe that youngsters will benefit from being beaten, particularly at a time when they are still growing and their brains are developing? One might perhaps assume that the advocates of corporal punishment have never heard of the fact that the human brain is still at the development stage in the first three years of life, and that it is precisely in this period that violence is learned by example. But what explanation is there for such ignorance? After all, this knowledge is not a closely guarded secret. At least educated people like teachers, priests, or lawyers (politicians, statesmen, ministers) must surely have been confronted with the facts of the matter at some point.

Reports on cruelty to children have been common knowledge for at least 20 years, yet there are still no signs of revulsion and horror at this ruthless exploitation of the helpless situation children find themselves in. Cruelty of this kind serves one single purpose: the discharge of the feelings of hatred pent up in adults, parents, and so-called caregivers. But what do we say when we hear a child has been beaten? "So what? That's quite normal, isn't it?"

In the last 20 years or so, some people have been raising their voices and insisting that it is in fact anything but normal, that it is both dangerous and ethically unconscionable. But these people are still a small minority. My numerous attempts to persuade the Vatican to assist me in enlightening young parents about the dangers of hitting their children have all failed. I have invariably come up against a wall of indifference and silence.

How can we explain this? We can hardly assume that there is no single person in the Vatican able to react with indignation to the violence done to children. This surely cannot be the reason why no one felt prompted to pass my information on to the Pope. Yet my experience indicates that nothing of the kind has in fact been done. And this applies not only to the Vatican. All over the world, governments have done very little indeed to put a stop to these barbaric practices.


Time and again, I ask myself why it is so difficult to communicate this knowledge, why the perfectly normal response - horror and indignation - fails to materialize when the question at issue is cruelty to small children. Deep down I know the answer, though I keep on hoping I am mistaken. The answer I have found is: Most of us were mistreated as children and had to learn to deny this fact at a very early stage in order to survive. We were forced to believe

"that we were humiliated and tormented 'for our own good,' that the beatings we received did not hurt and were harmless, that such treatment served to protect the community (as otherwise we would have turned into dangerous monsters)."

If the brain stores this aberrant information at a very early stage, then the message it conveys will normally retain its effect throughout our lives. It causes a persistent mental bias. In therapy, such biases may be resolved. But most people are not prepared to question and abandon preconceptions of this kind. Instead they chant this perverse litany: "My parents did their best to bring me up properly, I was a difficult child, and I needed strict discipline." Obviously, people who have been brought up to believe this cannot conceivably feel indignation about cruelty to children. Since their own childhood, they have been dissociated from their true feelings, from the pain caused by humiliation and torment. To feel their indignation they would need to get back in touch with that childhood pain. And who will want to do that?


Both in forensic psychiatry and in psychoanalytic circles we constantly hear it said that the abominable deeds perpetrated by mass murderers could hardly be the fruits of childhood abuse because some of these killers come neither from broken homes nor from families with an appreciable history of violence. However, if we take the trouble to inquire more closely into their parents' upbringing methods, we are invariably confronted with horrors that are just as execrable as the crimes committed by serial killers. Indeed, as these perversions were visited upon children - for years on end - what we usually refer to as corporal punishment fully deserves to be branded as murder - murder of the soul. As the book Base Instincts by Jonathan Pincus demonstrates (cf. Thomas Gruner's article "Frenzy" on this website), it is by no means difficult to elicit details about parental cruelty from murderers because they themselves hardly ever consider them to be evidence of perversion. They see them as instances of a perfectly normal upbringing. Like almost all people abused in childhood, these killers are fond of their parents and prepared to go to any lengths to shield them from blame and accusation.
From the same article, this is the most crucial point of all:
So what about terrorist attacks, or instances of genocide as in Rwanda, former Yugoslavia, and so many other places in the world? Can we imagine people wanting to blow themselves sky-high if they were loved, protected, and respected as children? I refuse to accept the idea that people capable of such abominable deeds should be regarded as incarnations of pure evil, thus relieving us of any attempt to identify the roots of this compulsive destructiveness in their biographies. These roots are readily discernible once we open our eyes to the fact that, horrific as the crimes of these adults may be, they are no more appalling than the tortures these criminals were exposed to as children. Then, suddenly, the apparent mystery is solved. We realize that there is not one single mass murderer or serial killer who as a child was not the victim of all kinds of humiliations and psychic murder. But to see that, we need the capacity for indignation that normally lapses into abeyance when we think and talk about childhood. (Once again, let me point out that my concern here is not to condone the crimes of adult sadists but to understand the sufferings of the children they once were).
And, because this subject is a very grim one, and because these horrors are all too real, I also repeat Miller's statement set forth at the beginning of this final installment:
For the human soul is virtually indestructible, and its ability to rise from the ashes remains as long as the body draws breath.
That is a great truth we must always remember, and the hope we must never lose.

And I think the other great truth is the personal one, as I have described it. It lies within every one of us -- and it lies within you.

Each of us must struggle to find it and, as may be required, we should tell others about what we discover. That intimately personal truth, that inviolable part of ourselves where we can choose what we are and what we will be, is where our humanity lives, and where the possibility for glory may be found.

Each of us must find it -- and then we must make it real.

December 12, 2005

ON TORTURE, VI(A): The Truth that Lies Within, and the Truth that Many Will Not Face

I have covered many aspects of torture in the earlier parts of this series. First and foremost, and the most crucial point in the debate over whether any government should officially condone torture in any circumstances, is the fact upon which the experts agree: torture does not work. As I've noted repeatedly, that ought to end the debate immediately. Yet it does not. Why doesn't it? The answer may not lie exactly where you think it does. We'll get to that shortly.

I've addressed the manner in which torture is an integral and necessary part of the apparatus of any totalitarian police state, relying on Hannah Arendt's immensely important writing. I've also explained the fundamental contradiction that fatally undercuts the opposition of someone like Andrew Sullivan to the use or approval of torture: it is not possible to continue to support the goals of our foreign policy -- which necessitate the imposition, by means of military force, of our form of government on cultures and societies that have no history, traditions or intellectual roots to sustain the specific political forms we have adopted -- while decrying the inevitably implied and necessary means of achieving those ends. If you want empire, you must use the means by which empire establishes and sustains itself. Moreover, it is simply not true that everyone wants what we want, and that everyone yearns for freedom in the particularly Western mode, as Barbara Tuchman has memorably discussed ("The assumption that humanity at large shared the democratic Western idea of freedom was an American delusion. 'The freedom we cherish and defend in Europe,' stated President Eisenhower on taking office, 'is no different than the freedom that is imperiled in Asia.' He was mistaken. Humanity may have common ground, but needs and aspirations vary according to circumstances.").

There is no question that torture has become a critical, systematic element in the Bush administration's policies regarding its ill-defined "War on Terror," as I discussed in Part III. I offered some indispensable excerpts from Darius Rejali's work on torture in Part IV -- concerning why torture does not work, and how it damages not only the person who is tortured, but the one who tortures. And much more than this is damaged: as Rejali explains, the systematic utilization of torture erodes and eventually destroys any political system that routinely employs it. Torture's destruction reaches in all directions: no one is exempt from the lethal power it exerts.

Even those of us who passionately protest against our government's policies in this regard are not untouched: how can we remain unaffected when our government engages in such monstrous acts, and does so allegedly to protect us, and in our name? It is not that I believe in notions such as collective guilt; I most emphatically do not. Guilt is individual, and belongs to those who have earned it by their wrongdoing. But when a nation's leaders institutionalize the methods of sadistic monsters and make them part of the government's formal policies (even if they simultaneously lie and insist they have not done so), the corruption affects the entire society. We live in this country and this society, and we cannot escape its atmosphere even if we wished to. That is precisely why those of us who deeply oppose our government's course must speak out in every way we can, and as often as we can -- that, together with the fact that the Bush administration does claim to commit these crimes in our name. It is our obligation, to ourselves and to all those who watch and judge what we do and all those who are affected by our actions, to make it clearly understood that this administration does not act for us in these ways. The Bush administration has polluted our nation's cultural and political atmosphere in ways that may not be reversible, at least not in our lifetimes. Now we all breathe its poisoned fumes. The administration's inhuman cruelty affects even those who so mistakenly support and encourage its policies. Their humanity is also diminished and perhaps destroyed, even if they accede in that destruction. In their case, the guilt is earned to varying degrees -- but better leaders would have chosen a very different course.

In Part V, I discussed the utterly flawed arguments offered in defense of the administration, and in defense of torture itself, by Charles Krauthammer. Every argument that Krauthammer offers is invalid -- but the issues that Krauthammer mentions only in passing or that he omits entirely are even more significant. Andrew Sullivan wrote a lengthy response to Krauthammer, disagreeing both with Krauthammer's arguments and with his conclusions. Even though Sullivan disagrees with Krauthammer on every aspect of the torture question, he omits the same elements from his own reply. That failure on the part of both men -- men who do not agree on any point in contention, but who both fail to raise or answer the identical questions -- is the central key, both to this debate and to what is so profoundly destructive and evil about torture itself.

In Part II, I explained the contradiction in Sullivan's views. The tone of that essay (much of which was originally written in May 2005) is admittedly very harsh. In addition, I scathingly condemned Sullivan for certain deeply offensive aspects of his own approach. Since he himself had brought those elements onto the field, it was legitimate for me (or anyone else) to criticize them in the manner I did. But there will be none of that here. These issues are much too important to engage in any kind of debate about "personalities." In fact, and this is why I hope you will be patient as I work through these points and follow me through these questions, I do not think there are any more crucial issues now facing us. In the end, I think these issues are the most critical ones for our future -- if we are to have a future that remains civilized in any meaningful way at all.

Sullivan makes a number of points in his reply to Krauthammer that are entirely valid and useful; in fact, he covers many of the same issues that I discussed myself. But Sullivan uses an entire framework that differs radically from mine, and that framework informs every element of his article. Sullivan essentially views the debate about torture in political terms. His most basic criticism of the endorsement of torture is that it will ultimately destroy the United States as a political entity. He begins by identifying torture as the antithesis of freedom and liberty:
Torture is the polar opposite of freedom. It is the banishment of all freedom from a human body and soul, insofar as that is possible. As human beings, we all inhabit bodies and have minds, souls, and reflexes that are designed in part to protect those bodies: to resist or flinch from pain, to protect the psyche from disintegration, and to maintain a sense of selfhood that is the basis for the concept of personal liberty.
For Sullivan, torture is the route to totalitarianism: "What you see in the relationship between torturer and tortured is the absolute darkness of totalitarianism. You see one individual granted the most complete power he can ever hold over another." This may appear to be closely related to Arendt's point -- but in fact, it is not the same point at all. I'll return to this question in an upcoming essay.

If we incorporate a "right to torture" into the United States in formal, political terms, Sullivan contends that we will destroy our country by inevitable implication:
Any polity that endorses torture has incorporated into its own DNA a totalitarian mutation. If the point of the U.S. Constitution is the preservation of liberty, the formal incorporation into U.S. law of the state's right to torture--by legally codifying physical coercion, abuse, and even, in Krauthammer's case, full-fledged torture of detainees by the CIA--would effectively end the American experiment of a political society based on inalienable human freedom protected not by the good graces of the executive, but by the rule of law.
Sullivan's approach grows out of the way he characterizes the current world conflict, which is, of course, also the way the Bush administration describes it. Sullivan sees the conflict as the "clash of civilizations" -- between Enlightenment values, liberty, and the possibility for achievement in all fields on one side, versus primitive fundamentalism, totalitarianism and nihilism on the other.

This claims far too much, and this approach easily shades into the vision of the Apocalyptic Crusader. That earlier essay of mine described this phenomenon at length, and relied in large part on James Carroll's invaluable work in this area. Toward the end of that piece, I wrote:
Even though we employ somewhat different terms, the extent to which Carroll and I are describing the same phenomenon is very striking to me. The dynamics we both discuss involve redemption through death on a mass scale, leading (its exponents hope) to an entirely new world – and the greater the scale of death and destruction, the better, from the perspective of the apocalyptic-millennialist world view. The same dynamics also lead to an "external" and an "internal" enemy. This time, the internal enemy comprises not only Muslims and Arabs, but everyone who fails to echo the administration line, and who thereby proves himself to be a "fifth columnist" who wants "the other side" to win, whether he will admit it or not.
It should never be forgotten that Sullivan was one of those most responsible for poisoning the cultural atmosphere after 9/11, with his interminable condemnations of the vile "fifth columnists" here at home -- which group was made up of anyone and everyone who failed to support Bush's plans for "benevolent worldwide hegemony" with the degree of enthusiasm Sullivan himself brought to the task. (On an issue of this significance, and given Sullivan's record in this regard, I will never hesitate to "personalize" these kinds of debates.)

As I've noted, Sullivan sees torture as perhaps the critical turning point for the survival or destruction of the Western form of government -- and survival or destruction depends on whether we reject or condone torture. This similarly claims far too much, and it misses several crucial points. To pick an obvious alternative hypothetical: our government could completely reject the use of torture, but it could simultaneously declare that it has the right to imprison all those it declares to be "enemy combatants" for the rest of their lives. It could say it is not obligated to defend or explain its actions, and it could maintain that its decisions on all such matters are absolute and unappealable. In fact, and with the critical exception of the rejection of torture, this is what the Bush administration claims it has the "right" to do. But it could ban torture altogether. You'll be in prison or in a detention camp until the day you die, but otherwise no one will harm a hair on your head.

The fact that the Bush administration has been rigorously pursuing its "right" to exert absolute dictatorial power in the Padilla case (and others) for several years can cause one to wonder exactly why Sullivan chooses the issue of torture upon which to stake his claim on behalf of liberty, and to write:
In order to retain fundamental American values, we have to banish from the United States the totalitarian impulse that is integral to every act of torture. We have to ensure that the virus of tyranny is never given an opening to infect the Constitution and replicate into something that corrupts as deeply as it wounds.
But it is tragically true that there are any number of other "openings" in addition to torture by which "the virus of tyranny" can fatally undermine liberty in the United States, and the Bush administration has been systematically and unrelentingly trying to exploit more than a few of them.

Or choose a less extreme example of the same kind, or one that at least appears to be less extreme. The government could ban torture across the board, but announce that it now has the power to decide what kind of work each of us must do. We live in wartime; our greatest resource is human labor and skill. Only the government can allocate human "resources" most effectively. So the government will decide how and where you will work, and what tasks will consume your days. You will never be tortured, and the government keeps its word on this point. You'll be a slave, but you will be unharmed physically. (In fact, there was talk for a while during World War II that the Roosevelt administration would do precisely this, and the debate about general "labor conscription" grew very heated. The proposal was ultimately defeated by the labor unions, who declined to let their members be made serfs belonging to government bureaucrats. The Roosevelt administration maintained, with logic and consistency on its side, that since almost everyone acknowledged that the government could draft people into the military -- and order them to be injured or killed -- it could draft citizens into any other occupation. After all, we were engaged in a world war, and the labor force at home was critical to victory. People who today so casually endorse military conscription would do well to remember this episode, because the same inexorable logic may still come back someday to enslave us all.)

Torture is not necessary for freedom to be destroyed; liberty can be lost in an infinite number of other ways, as human societies have proven throughout the tragic arc of most of human history. But Sullivan's approach is instructive: a danger to which those who defend our foreign policy are particularly susceptible is their unending effort to force every issue that arises into the pre-existing ideological framework to which they are already committed. In Sullivan's view, torture assumes such great importance because of its significance in the "clash of civilizations" and in the "War on Terror."

Sullivan's approach can be described in another way: it is very abstract, and it is almost entirely depersonalized. Yes, he talks at length about how torture assaults personal autonomy on the most basic level -- but consider exactly how and in what terms he does so. For example:
The infliction of physical pain on a person with no means of defending himself is designed to render that person completely subservient to his torturers. It is designed to extirpate his autonomy as a human being, to render his control as an individual beyond his own reach.
Or note the way Sullivan introduces his article:
In this inevitably emotional debate, perhaps the greatest failing of those of us who have been arguing against all torture and "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" of detainees is that we have assumed the reasons why torture is always a moral evil, rather than explicating them.
I would prefer not to use myself as the counterexample, but in this instance I have no choice. Consider my own essay condemning Krauthammer's position. I offer many facts, and trace through a number of arguments. But the tone of my piece and that of Sullivan's come from different universes: my tone is impassioned and, once I have set forth my reasons, I have no hesitation about identifying Krauthammer for what he is: a monster. Sullivan takes a clinical, almost textbook-like approach, and uses words like "extirpate" and "explicate" throughout -- when he is discussing the most brutal and sadistic of crimes. Part of the explanation for the difference may be simply that Krauthammer is Sullivan's "friend," and that this kind of "gentlemanly" style is typical of the chummy punditocracy. But that can't be the entire explanation, especially when the most basic issues of our humanity itself are involved.

And it is very far from the entire explanation -- because of what Krauthammer and Sullivan never discuss at all. In his defense of torture, Krauthammer writes: "Torture is a terrible and monstrous thing, as degrading and morally corrupting to those who practice it as any conceivable human activity including its moral twin, capital punishment." That is almost the only mention in Krauthammer's entire piece about what torture does to the torturer. Krauthammer broaches the subject only in one or two other instances, and the mentions are similarly fleeting. And Sullivan's focus is the same: his entire condemnation of torture focuses on what it does to the victims, to those who suffer the torture. And he talks at length about the consequences of torture on the United States as a political entity -- but what about what it does to those individuals who administer the torture?

It is obviously not at all the case that I do not care about what torture does to those who are its victims; consult all the previous entries in this series to see my repeated denunciations of these kinds of criminal and unforgivable acts, and the many other posts where I set forth the details of these acts of brutality (such as this Addendum to this series). But above all else, there is one fact that appears forever invisible to both Krauthammer and Sullivan, and one kind of individual who does not exist for them.

When the order comes down to treat a prisoner with unspeakable cruelty, to "waterboard" him, to electrocute him, to cut him, to hang him on hooks from the ceiling for days on end, or to commit any number of other unforgivable crimes, there is always the man or woman who will say -- without bravado, without show, without explicitly staking any particular moral claim, but as a simple, unadorned statement of fact:
No. I will not do this. You can torture me, or say you will kill me. I cannot and will not do this to another human being. I will not do this.

Every conflict in history sees such people -- people who will not be moved from what they know to be right, to be human, to be decent, to be civilized. Many of us celebrate their stories. We draw inspiration from their unbreakable courage. They are the people who will not compromise their most fundamental values, or what they know to be the essence of their humanity. They refuse to surrender it -- no matter the cost, regardless of the pain they themselves may bear as a result, setting aside all the consequences that may ensue.

They will not do it -- even when they know to an absolute certainty that their refusal will mean their own death.

Yet the defenders of torture, and even many of those who condemn it, never mention these men and women. For them, it is as if such people never existed, and are nowhere to be found in our world today. Why?

There is an equally important, critically related question: every expert attests to the fact that torture does not work. Surely everyone in our military knows that, or has access to this information. And yet, when the order comes down -- even if only indirectly or implicitly -- we know, all too tragically, that many people will become sadists. They know (or easily could know) that torture is worse than futile, that it will not help to acquire "useful" information and will most likely lead to the opposite outcome, and that it will lead to many other profoundly negative and destructive results.

But they do it anyway. They turn themselves into sadistic monsters, and far too many of them do so with genuinely horrifying enthusiasm and commitment. Why?

These are the most vital and crucial questions of all, and they deserve considered, careful and detailed answers. I'll turn to this subject in what will be, for the moment, the final installment of this series.

December 11, 2005

ON TORTURE, ADDENDUM: More from the Annals of Horror

From the UK Independent:
Benyam Mohammed al-Habashi is accused by the US government of planning a dirty bomb attack in America. He says he was tortured until he admitted the crime.

He was arrested at Karachi airport in April 2002, with a passport under the name of Fouad Zouawi, a friend, and with a ticket to Zurich and then on to London.

In documents compiled by the human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, he describes an encounter with someone he believes to be an MI6 officer and details the horror of his torture. Mr Habashi says the officer told him 'I'll see what we can do with the Americans'. "They gave me a cup of tea with a lot of sugar in it. He said 'Where you're going you need a lot of sugar'."

He was taken to Morocco and questioned, then tortured after refusing to admit [...] al-Qa'ida links.

"They took the scalpel to my right chest. One of them took my penis in his hand and began to make cuts. I was in agony. They must have done this 20 to 30 times in maybe two hours. They would do it to me about once a month."

The treatment continued in the so-called "Prison of Darkness" in Kabul, where he was kept from January to May in 2004.

"The US military told us 'Bin Laden had his laugh on 9/11 so it is now our time to have our laugh'," he said. "They would hang me up. I was allowed a few hours' sleep on the second day, then I was hung up, this time for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb."
And so, after this repeated torture, he finally confessed. Wouldn't you? Wouldn't anyone -- simply to make it stop? Wouldn't you "confess" to any crime at all, just to make the agony end?

Of course you would. So would anyone in the world, guilty or innocent. At this point, and given the overwhelming number of such accounts that continue to surface, no one has the slightest reason to wonder why more and more people hate us with every day that passes, or why more and more people wish to do us grievous harm.

ON TORTURE, V: A Monster's Confession, and the Choice to be Human

With regard to everything that follows, I urge you always to keep in mind two crucial facts. The first is the very simple truth that ought to end all the debates about torture before they even begin: TORTURE DOES NOT WORK. Torture does not lead to accurate intelligence, it does not aid us in any ascertainable, identifiable way in preventing atrocities visited upon either combatants or innocent civilians, and it does not take us one step closer to victory over our genuine enemies. For anyone who remains at all decent, that stops the discussion immediately. But it does not -- only because of certain truths a dangerous number of us refuse to face.

The second fact, which cannot ever be emphasized too often or too much, identifies the actual nature of torture. As I put it in Part III of this series:
Torture is the deliberate infliction of unbearable agony on a human being -- a human being who is intentionally kept alive precisely so that he will suffer still more and for a longer period of time -- for no justifiable reason. This is the embrace of sadism and cruelty for their own sake, and for no other end whatsoever.
I suppose it is only appropriate, in an especially grisly manner, that Charles Krauthammer, a leading and particularly vicious hawk, should have written a "defense" of torture recently published in what is probably the most profoundly irresponsible, dishonest and uncivilized periodical in the United States today, The Weekly Standard. The title and subheading of his article are themselves instructive: "The Truth about Torture -- It's time to be honest about doing terrible things." Krauthammer tells the "truth" and is "honest" in the same manner we might view Hitler or Stalin as "truthful" and "honest": his article is one lie piled on top of another. The distortions and contradictions are endless. Only a man who is deeply uncivilized and who is contemptibly dishonest could have authored such a piece; the same is true to varying degrees of anyone and everyone who has praised it, as many hawks have.

The deeply sickening and repellent tone of Krauthammer's paean to inhumanity is revealed in his opening paragraph:
DURING THE LAST FEW WEEKS in Washington the pieties about torture have lain so thick in the air that it has been impossible to have a reasoned discussion. The McCain amendment that would ban "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment of any prisoner by any agent of the United States sailed through the Senate by a vote of 90-9. The Washington establishment remains stunned that nine such retrograde, morally inert persons--let alone senators--could be found in this noble capital.
Those who question the advisability of embracing barbarism as national policy are employing "pieties about torture," and they make it impossible for the monsters in our midst to have "a reasoned discussion" about what degree of sadism for its own sake is "proper," and precisely when it should be employed. Only "retrograde, morally inert persons" could oppose the McCain amendment. It is a wonder that even one such monster could be found "in this noble capital."

This is the cheaply sarcastic tone appropriate to a high school bully who happily terrorizes those he believes to be weaker than he is, not to any sort of serious consideration of an issue that directly calls into question whether we still deserve to be called "civilized" to any extent at all. The survival of our nation's soul is at stake, as it has been for at least the last several years -- and Krauthammer deliberately throws himself into the gutter and rolls around in the mud. Perhaps we should be grateful that people like Krauthammer finally recognize what is their natural environment. But the fact that a commentator who is viewed as "respectable" even in the most minuscule degree speaks of this subject in this particular way contaminates all of us.

Krauthammer very grudgingly and ungracefully concedes that John McCain "deserves respect" for his opposition to the official government approval of torture, but McCain's own history makes it impossible for anyone to do otherwise. (Actually, now that I recall the manner in which certain conservatives have smeared Murtha, Max Cleland, and others -- and McCain himself -- I probably am no longer safe in maintaining even that much. Certain conservatives will undoubtedly smear McCain himself in unforgivably ugly ways before this debate is over.) And I would not object to Krauthammer's statement: "But that does not mean, as seems to be the assumption in Washington today, that a critical analysis of his 'no torture, ever' policy is beyond the pale" -- if Krauthammer did not proceed to engage in lies and endless misdirection in the service of evil.

I will not spend a great deal of time on Krauthammer's effort to prove his "honesty" and "truthfulness," by beginning with "a few analytic distinctions." In the end, such distinctions are completely irrelevant: see the first two fundamental points above. Krauthammer identifies "three kinds of war prisoners" relevant to a discussion of "torture and prisoner maltreatment": "the ordinary soldier caught on the field of battle" (in which case "we have no right to disturb a hair on his head"); "the captured terrorist," who is "by definition, an unlawful combatant" (and who therefore "is entitled to no protections whatsoever"); and "the terrorist with information." It is with regard only to this last category that Krauthammer maintains "the issue of torture gets complicated and the easy pieties don't so easily apply."

To demonstrate his "seriousness," Krauthammer immediately employs the utterly misleading hypothetical that he calls "the textbook case":
A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City. It will go off in one hour. A million people will die. You capture the terrorist. He knows where it is. He's not talking.

Question: If you have the slightest belief that hanging this man by his thumbs will get you the information to save a million people, are you permitted to do it?
I discussed this hypothetical in some detail in Part I of this series. I explained why it is a fantasy concocted by Hollywood scriptwriters who are unoriginal hacks of the first order, and why it has nothing whatsoever to do with how this problem would ever arise in the actual world.

By employing this example, one which has been discredited countless times -- and many times by experts on these subjects -- Krauthammer confesses not only his intellectual dishonesty, but his utter ignorance of torture itself, and how it works and fails to work. See Part IV of this series, and Darius Rejali's treatment of the "ticking bomb" problem. Here is a brief excerpt:
With regard to the "ticking time bomb" scenario, so beloved of torture's advocates, Rejali writes:

"What if time is short, as with a 'ticking bomb'? Does torture offer a shortcut? Real torture -- not the stuff of television -- takes days, if not weeks. Even torturers know this. There are three things that limit torture's value in this context."

Those "three things" are the medical limit, the resource limit, and the psychological limit. Consult the article for details.
As is usually true of men engaged in evil of this kind, Krauthammer is well aware of what he accomplishes if he gets you to accept his invalid hypothetical. Here is the heart of his argument:
Torture is not always impermissible. However rare the cases, there are circumstances in which, by any rational moral calculus, torture not only would be permissible but would be required (to acquire life-saving information). And once you've established the principle, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, all that's left to haggle about is the price. In the case of torture, that means that the argument is not whether torture is ever permissible, but when--i.e., under what obviously stringent circumstances: how big, how imminent, how preventable the ticking time bomb.

That is why the McCain amendment, which by mandating "torture never" refuses even to recognize the legitimacy of any moral calculus, cannot be right. There must be exceptions. The real argument should be over what constitutes a legitimate exception.
Krauthammer knows exactly what is at stake here, and that is why his dishonesty is eternally unforgivable: "once you've established the principle" that torture would be required in certain circumstances, the argument is over. Krauthammer is hoping you won't notice that no meaningful distinction would exist any longer between us and the most loathsome, inhuman monster on this planet, in the entire span of human history.

The contradictions that Krauthammer permits himself, and which he hopes to foist on you, are further revealed in two other excerpts that deserve mention. With regard to "the terrorist with information," but not information about an allegedly impending catastrophe, Krauthammer writes:
A rational moral calculus might not permit measures as extreme as the nuke-in-Manhattan scenario, but would surely permit measures beyond mere psychological pressure.

Such a determination would not be made with an untroubled conscience. It would be troubled because there is no denying the monstrous evil that is any form of torture. And there is no denying how corrupting it can be to the individuals and society that practice it. But elected leaders, responsible above all for the protection of their citizens, have the obligation to tolerate their own sleepless nights by doing what is necessary--and only what is necessary, nothing more--to get information that could prevent mass murder.
As Krauthammer will shortly tell us, we are "morally compelled" to embrace measures that we know to represent and embody "monstrous evil." To translate this into plainer language: we are morally compelled to act in ways we know to be immoral -- and not simply immoral, but monstrously evil. Morality, according to Krauthammer, thus necessitates its own destruction. If the subject were not so horrifying, I would consider it ironic in the extreme that Krauthammer and hawks like him dare to accuse our enemies of being nihilists: to destroy the very concept of morality, and to do so in the name of saving it, is indeed a monstrous accomplishment that not even our worst enemies would have thought to attempt. The shrewder of our enemies might have realized that the worst among us would accomplish that particular destruction all on their own. But Krauthammer insists that "we must" cross this particular Rubicon -- but that "we need rules." The "rules" will save us. Every slaughtering dictator in history has said the same.

And then there is this:
[I]t simply will not do to take refuge in the claim that all of the above discussion is superfluous because torture never works anyway. Would that this were true. Unfortunately, on its face, this is nonsense. Is one to believe that in the entire history of human warfare, no combatant has ever received useful information by the use of pressure, torture, or any other kind of inhuman treatment? It may indeed be true that torture is not a reliable tool. But that is very different from saying that it is never useful.
Once again, let us translate this to make its meaning unmistakably clear: Because it is possible that on even one occasion torture might lead to "useful" information and save lives, there is no reason to resist the explicit embrace of the "reasoning" that has justified the most murderous regimes in history.

One final dishonesty in Krauthammer's article requires discussion. This particular dishonesty also reveals that Krauthammer and those who accede to this argument understand nothing at all about principles, or why specifically moral principles are so crucial to civilization. Krauthammer takes McCain to task for McCain's statement that, in the case of the invalid "ticking time bomb" scenario, McCain said, "you do what you have to do. But you take responsibility for it." Krauthammer then asks: "But if torturing the ticking time bomb suspect is 'what you have to do,' then why has McCain been going around arguing that such things must never be done?"

In this manner, Krauthammer and others of his kind eject themselves from civilization entirely, and forever. McCain's point is that we still do not consider sadistic, inhumane treatment as valid -- but if the circumstances demonstrate that, in the particular case, the use of torture in fact led to the saving of many lives, then, but only then, will we decline to impose the punishment that would otherwise be imposed. But the principle would remain intact. The exception would remain the exception: we still would not approve such conduct, and thus make it acceptable and sure to spread further in its use. We would recognize that a genuine emergency might carve out an exception only with regard to the punishment imposed, but not with regard to the behavior that we condemn in no uncertain terms.

Krauthammer wishes to convince us that he is "serious" and "truthful." Fine, then let us be "serious" and "truthful." I have no doubt, and neither does any other adult, that in a genuine emergency of the "ticking time bomb" fantasy variety, torture has been and will continue to be employed. But the point of the prohibition is to make those who may choose to use torture to remember the great and terrible significance of what they do: that torture is never to be used routinely, or even in a certain "category" of cases. Such "categories" are easily subject to manipulation and in the service of sadistic brutality. Even a scant knowledge of the twentieth century confirms that point, more times than we would care to remember. The rest of human history provides several encyclopedias of confirming evidence.

The further point is that, in such a case, the person or persons who used torture would be asking for mercy, i.e., that the law not be applied to them given the extraordinary nature of this specific case. If we were convinced that they acted with sufficient justification in this one case, we would grant them that mercy. Again, the principle and the prohibition would be preserved.

The full monstrousness of Krauthammer's purpose becomes clear in the scope of its horror at the very end of his article:
But if that is the case, then McCain embraces the same exceptions I do, but prefers to pretend he does not. If that is the case, then his much-touted and endlessly repeated absolutism on inhumane treatment is merely for show. If that is the case, then the moral preening and the phony arguments can stop now, and we can all agree that in this real world of astonishingly murderous enemies, in two very circumscribed circumstances, we must all be prepared to torture. Having established that, we can then begin to work together to codify rules of interrogation for the two very unpleasant but very real cases in which we are morally permitted--indeed morally compelled--to do terrible things.
This is the same justification that every cowardly, bloodthirsty murderer has always used: "You have left me no choice but to be a monster. Because I am helpless to resist what I know to be evil, I am still moral. I still uphold the values of civilization."

A word that is stronger and more damning that "evil" is needed to convey the nature of this kind of argument. Krauthammer seeks to make us all monsters, and to make us all accept that we must be monsters: "We must all be prepared to torture." And even worse: we are "morally compelled" to be monsters.

The confession is undeniable. Be absolutely sure to grasp what it is: Krauthammer thus confesses that he is already a monster, but he does not want you to condemn him for it. To the contrary, he wants you to become a monster too, to accept that you were "compelled" do so in the name of morality itself, all so that you will fear judgment in the same manner, and for the same reason.

Thus, these monsters seek to reduce every one of us to their level -- to make all of us sadistic brutes, who inflict pain for the sake of pain, and who continue to maintain that they are "morally compelled" to do so, that they are upholding civilization in so acting, and that they had no choice in the matter.

But it is all a lie. It is the single worst lie any human being can ever tell. We always have a choice. The choice is what makes us human. That is where the essence of our humanity lies -- and where the possibility for true nobility of action and spirit resides.

It is also where the capacity for evil lies. Krauthammer and those who believe as he does have told us in unmistakable terms that they are already monsters. They deny it, but the truth is that they have chosen to be monsters. Krauthammer's entire article is nothing but a series of lies, and a series of rationalizations to disguise his own evil.

They are monsters. They now seek to turn us into a nation of monsters. Never, ever forget it.

ON TORTURE, IV: Becoming Monsters, and Ensuring Our Ultimate Defeat

[I wrote the following essay and first published it on September 20, 2004. I offer it again in this series because the two authors whose articles I excerpt here, Darius Rejali and Mark Danner, have done invaluable work on the subject of torture. These particular excerpts set forth some of the reasons why torture represents such an immense evil, and why it must never be accepted or legitimized as a valid means of warfare. I recently found yet another article by Rejali, which offers some crucial further insights and gets us closer to the underlying motives that drive those who endorse and support the use of torture. I'll discuss that article in an upcoming piece. This essay appears as it was originally written, except that I have deleted a two-paragraph parenthetical aside. It distracted from the major points I want to emphasize once again, and it wasn't necessary to the logic of the presentation. In all other respects, the essay is unchanged. This piece was originally titled: "The Case of the Hooded Man: Have the Terrorists Already Won?"]

The Bush administration has committed many far-reaching and momentous errors in its ill-conceived and woefully executed "War on Terror": an apparent inability to understand the nature of our enemy, which has led the administration to pursue and exacerbate a foreign policy which transmutes the United States into Osama bin Laden's "only indispensable ally"; a decision not to pursue our advantage against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan when we might have, but instead to divert crucial resources of intelligence and manpower to Iraq, a completely counterproductive detour in our efforts to improve our national security; a dangerous overstretching of our military capabilities, which makes us vulnerable to our enemies in ways we had not been previously, a weakness which might persist for an indefinite future period; and any number of additional errors, many of them growing out of these more fundamental mistakes.

But one fatal misjudgment has been especially damaging, and its corrosive effects will last for decades. That mistake attacks the meaning and symbolic importance of the United States at the most fundamental level: it undercuts the United States as a force for moral good in the world. The fact that our enemies can now portray us as embodying evil to a significant extent may be the worst legacy any administration has ever left our nation. The fault, the blame, and the cause of this disaster lie squarely with the Bush administration -- and with the President himself.

The most potent symbol of this horrific and grievous error is the story of the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, but the full story encompasses much more than this single storyline can convey. Reading a great deal of commentary on this subject reveals to me that many people still do not grasp some essentials of the subject matter involved, so a brief review of those basics is necessary.

I would prefer to begin with the moral argument, but I will not. I'll come back to the moral considerations in the middle and final parts of this essay. Instead, let's begin with one single overwhelmingly significant fact, one which far too many people seem to be entirely ignorant of: even if one constructed an argument to make torture "acceptable" given certain exigent circumstances, the simple fact is that torture does not work. In a saner, more humane world, the fact that it does not work would end the argument. But our world is far from sane at the moment; war causes humanity to lose sight of the fundamentals of reasoning, and great fear leads people to abandon what they know to be right when they are not so threatened.

Darius Rejali first learned about torture growing up in Iran, "under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, whose government relied on Savak, a secret intelligence agency formed with the help of the CIA in 1957." He researched modern torture for 20 years, and studied "stealthy" methods of torture -- "those that leave few visible marks (i.e., blood or scars) on the victim. I noticed that stealthy techniques appeared more often in the wars of democracies than in those of dictatorships."

In a lengthy article published by Salon in June of this year, Rejali wrote:
Few things give a rush quite like having unlimited power over another human being. A sure sign the rush is coming is pasty saliva and a strange taste in one's mouth, according to a French soldier attached to a torture unit in Algeria. That powerful rush can be seen on the faces of some of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib, a rush that undoubtedly changed them forever. The history of slavery tells us that one can't feel such a rush without being corrupted by it. And the history of modern torture tells us that governments can't license this corruption -- even in the cause of spreading democracy -- without reducing the quality of their intelligence, compromising their allies and damaging their military. ...

My research shows, however, that torture during interrogations rarely yields better information than traditional human intelligence, partly because no one has figured out a precise, reliable way to break human beings or any adequate method to evaluate whether what prisoners say when they do talk is true. Nor can torture be done in a professional way -- anyone who tortures is necessarily corrupted by the experience and is often turned into a sadist. The psychic damage to the soldiers who conducted the torture at Abu Ghraib is likely to be permanent.

What's more, a democracy that legalizes the use of torture in its desperation to gain information loses something more important -- the trust of its people, the foundation of a democracy. In Iraq, the United States was desperate as it sought to find and stop those responsible for the insurgency. When "intelligence" was not forthcoming from prisoners, senior U.S. Army officials decided to turn over interrogation to military intelligence personnel, who were instructed to use aggressive, even brutal techniques. These methods were rationalized as necessary in the overall global war on terrorism, but as my research has shown, institutionalizing torture in such a manner only ends up destroying all the individuals involved -- and the military and political goals of the government in whose name torture is carried out.
Rejali then turns to the question of torture's "utility":
Aside from its devastating effects and the wasted time and resources, does torture actually work? Organizations can certainly use torture to intimidate prisoners and to produce confessions (many of which turn out to be false). But the real question is whether organizations can apply torture scientifically and professionally to produce true information. Does this method yield better results than others at an army's disposal? The history of torture demonstrates that it does not -- whether it is stealthy or not.
He goes through a number of details to demonstrate the grounds for his conclusion. I could hardly bear to read it and will not reproduce it here, except for this excerpt:
As a victim feels less pain, torturers have to push harder, using more severe methods to overtake the victim's maximal pain threshold. And because victims experience different types of pain, torturers have to use a scattershot approach. No matter how professional torturers may think they are, they have no choice but behaving like sadists. Even though many of the interrogators at Abu Ghraib were using techniques approved by their superiors, it is no surprise that they went far beyond these techniques, trying anything that worked.

Competition among torturers also drives brutality. As one torturer put it, each interrogator "thinks he is going to get the information at any minute and takes good care not to let the bird go to the next chap after he's softened him up nicely, when of course the other chap would get the honor and glory of it." Torture, as New York University economist Leonard Wantchekon has said, is a zero-sum game.
Even our former enemies understood this point:
The interrogation manual of Japanese fascists put it this way: "Care must be exercised when making use of rebukes, invectives or torture as it will result in his telling falsehoods and making a fool of you." Torture "is only to be used when everything else has failed as it is the most clumsy [method]."
Lest you think this is merely an academic discussion, Rejali points out that "good intelligence requires humans willing to trust government enough to work with it." This is a point that the insurgents in Iraq understand, but we clearly do not -- and the results have been disastrous, as all the world is now witnessing every day:
Even guerrillas know this truth. An internal report from Iraq, quoted by Seymour Hersh in the May 24 New Yorker, states that the insurgents have depended mainly on "painstaking surveillance and reconnaissance" by the Iraqi police force, "which is rife with sympathy for the insurgents" and "pro-insurgent individuals working within the [Coalition Provisional Authority's] so-called Green Zone." Not surprisingly, the insurgents' "strategic and operational intelligence has proven to be quite good."
With regard to the "ticking time bomb" scenario, so beloved of torture's advocates [and which I discussed in Part I of this series, where I pointed out its fundamental errors], Rejali writes:
What if time is short, as with a "ticking bomb"? Does torture offer a shortcut? Real torture -- not the stuff of television -- takes days, if not weeks. Even torturers know this. There are three things that limit torture's value in this context.
Those "three things" are the medical limit, the resource limit, and the psychological limit. Consult the article for details.

And here is the most crucial, overarching point:
Abu Ghraib should teach us what America's founders would have told us: that we are our own worst enemy. Leaders of dictatorships sign on to the Geneva Conventions only out of prudential fear of what other states might do to their POWs. Leaders of democracies sign on to them because they understand the evil that lurks in the heart of all human beings. Those who choose to abide by the rules do so not simply to restrain others but to restrain themselves.

Unrestrained power leaves behind a legacy of destruction that takes generations to undo. Torture, like incest, is the gift that keeps on giving. Democratic societies that legalized torture or tried to constrain its use have come to two ends. Some, like the Greeks and Romans, created tiered societies where authorities could torture whole classes of people (slaves or lesser citizens) and those who were beyond torture. Others, like the Italian city-states, were unable to prevent the executive branch from torturing more and more citizens and in the end fell to its dictatorial power.
The second part of Rejali's article deals with the Battle of Algiers, an example often cited to support the use of torture. However, as Rejali writes, the real lesson lies in the other direction:
The real significance of the Battle of Algiers, however, is the startling justification of torture by a democratic state. Algerian archives are now open, and many French torturers wrote their autobiographies in the 1990s. The story they tell will not comfort generals who tell self-serving stories of torture's success. In fact, the battle shows the devastating consequences of torture for any democracy foolish enough to institutionalize it.
Part II of the article contains the details of the prohibitively high costs of any government sanction of torture. Moreover, as Rejali also explains, France won the Battle of Algiers "primarily through force, not by superior intelligence gathered through torture."

People often forget the other effects of torture, the effects that are felt at home, away from where the war is taking place:
Those who authorize torture need to remember that it isn't something that simply happens in some other country. Soldiers trained in stealthy techniques of torture take these techniques back into civilian life as policemen and private security guards. It takes years to discover the effects of having tortured. Americans' use of electric torture in Vietnam appeared in Arkansas prisons in the 1960s and in Chicago squad rooms in the 1970s and 1980s.

Likewise, the excruciating water tortures U.S. soldiers used in the Spanish-American War appeared in American policing in the next two decades. For those who had been tortured, it was small comfort when, on Memorial Day 1902, President Roosevelt regretted the "few acts of cruelty" American troops had performed.

It is easy to criticize the leaders and torture apologists who misled us and continue to do so. What is harder is to determine how to repair the damage. One crazy man can block the well, but it takes the whole village to remove the stone, an Iranian proverb says.
[I have written about the neglected part of this story -- the common use of torture and abuse in the prison system here in the United States -- in some detail. I will be reposting those essays here in the near future.]


The reason I revisit this subject -- one I first discussed at length well over a year ago -- is because Rejali's article was written before the various governmental investigations into the Abu Ghraib story were completed. Now that those investigations are over, and their reports duly issued, Mark Danner has written an extensive article for The New York Review of Books surveying the findings, and their meaning. I strongly recommend that you read Danner's article (as well as both parts of Rejali's), but here are a few significant excerpts:
They have long since taken their place in the gallery of branded images, as readily recognizable in much of the world as Marilyn struggling with her billowing dress or Michael dunking his basketball: Hooded Man, a dark-caped figure tottering on a box, supplicant arms outstretched, wires trailing from his fingers; and Leashed Man, face convulsed in humiliation above his leather collar, naked body twisted at the feet of the American female in camouflage pants who gazes down at him without expression, holding the leash casually in hand. The ubiquity of these images in much of the world suggests not only their potency but their usefulness and their adaptability. For the first of the many realities illuminated by the Global War on Terror--or the GWOT, as the authors of the latest reports listed here designate it--is the indisputable fact that much of the world sees America rather differently from the way Americans see themselves.

Out of the interlocking scandals and controversies symbolized by Hooded Man and Leashed Man, the pyramids of naked bodies, the snarling dogs, and all the rest, and known to the world by the collective name of Abu Ghraib, one can extract two "master narratives," both dependent on the power and mutability of the images themselves. The first is that of President Bush, who presented the photographs as depicting "disgraceful conduct by a few American troops, who dishonored our country and disregarded our values"--behavior that, the President insisted, "does not represent America." And the aberrant, outlandish character of what the photographs show--the nudity, the sadism, the pornographic imagery--seemed to support this "few bad apples" argument, long the classic defense of states accused of torture.

The facts, however, almost from day one, did not.

The second "master narrative" of Abu Ghraib is that of the Muslim preacher Sheik Mohammed Bashir, quoted above, and many other Arabs and Muslims who point to the scandal's images as perfect symbols of the subjugation and degradation that the American occupiers have inflicted on Iraq and the rest of the Arab world. In this sense the Hooded Man and the Leashed Man fill a need, serving as powerful brand images advertising a preexisting product.
Danner reminds us of the manner in which many of the Iraqis imprisoned in Abu Ghraib were captured -- and military personnel themselves admit that as many as 85% to 90% of the prisoners had no or severely limited intelligence value:
Representatives of the Red Cross, who visited Abu Graib nearly thirty times in this period, offered a more vivid account of "cordon and capture":

"Arresting authorities entered houses usually after dark, breaking down doors, waking up residents roughly, yelling orders, forcing family members into one room under military guard while searching the rest of the house and further breaking doors, cabinets and other property. They arrested suspects, tying their hands in the back with flexi-cuffs, hooding them, and taking them away. Sometimes they arrested all adult males present in a house, including elderly, handicapped or sick people. Treatment often included pushing people around, insulting, taking aim with rifles, punching and kicking and striking with rifles. Individuals were often led away in whatever they happened to be wearing at the time of arrest--sometimes in pyjamas or underwear...."
Danner also explains how the Abu Ghraib story represents a failure at the most fundamental level:
The system was self-defeating and, not surprisingly, "interrogation operations in Abu Ghraib suffered from the effects of a broken detention operations system." Indeed, these reports are full of "broken systems" and "under-resourced" commands, from Abu Ghraib itself, a besieged, sweltering, stinking hell-hole under daily mortar attack that lacked interpreters, interrogators, guards, detainee uniforms, and just about everything else, including edible food, and that, at its height, was staggering under an impossible prisoner-to-guard ratio of seventy-five to one, all the way up to the command staff of Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, which lacked, among other vital resources, two thirds of its assigned officers. In Iraq, as the Schlesinger report puts it bluntly, "there was not only a failure to plan for a major insurgency, but also to quickly and adequately adapt to the insurgency that followed after major combat operations." And though they don't say so explicitly, it is clear that the writers of these reports put much of the blame for this not on the commanders on the ground but on the political leadership in Washington, who, rather than pay the political cost of admitting the need for more troops--admitting, that is, that they had made mistakes in planning for the war and in selling it to the public--decided to "tough it out," at the expense of the men and women in the field and, ultimately, the Iraqis they had been sent to "liberate."
Danner also graphically explains the various methods of "water-boarding" (since we still do not know exactly which method Americans might have used). I could barely read the descriptions, and I think you will find them very difficult to take in as well, because they are so horrifying. And remember Rejali's point: the people who used such techniques will, at some point, return to civilian life -- here in the United States.

Danner additionally identifies the bureaucratic maneuvers by means of which the Bush administration has so far avoided having blame placed where it squarely belongs -- on the shoulders of the political leaders in Washington:
With no fear of a full, top-to-bottom investigation from a Congress that is firmly in Republican hands, administration officials, and particularly those at the Department of Defense, have managed to orchestrate a slowly unfolding series of inquiries, almost all of them carried out within the military by officers who by definition can only direct their gaze down the chain of command, not up it, and who are each empowered to examine only a limited and precisely defined number of links in the chain that connects the highest levels of the government to what happened on the ground in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in the war on terror. Thus General Taguba investigated the military police, General Paul Mikolashek, as the Army's inspector general, reported on detention procedures, General Fay on military intelligence, and so on.
By means of all the strategems employed by the Bush administration to minimize and explain away any possible damage, the most serious casualty is the question that still has yet to be seriously addressed:
What has been on trial, thus far, however is the acts depicted in the photographs and these acts, while no doubt constituting abuse, have been carefully insulated from any charge that they represent, or derived from, US policy--a policy that permits torture. Thus far, in the United States at least, there has been relatively little discussion about torture and whether the agents of the US government should be practicing it.
But the most disturbing result of all this, and ultimately the most damaging, is the one identified by Danner at the end of his article:
Meantime the Hooded Man has taken his place among the symbols calling forth, in some parts of the world, a certain image of the United States and what it stands for. Sheik Bashir, who said of the occupying soldiers that "no one can punish them, whether in our country or their country," has thus far been proved right. Only those at the lowest rung of the ladder have so far been punished and the matter of what was actually happening within the interrogation rooms of Abu Ghraib, not to mention in the secret detention centers of the CIA, has hardly been debated. The Iraqis know this, even if many Americans do not. Meanwhile the political damage to US interests in the world has been very great. ...

It has become a cliche of the Global War on Terror--the GWOT, as these reports style it--that at a certain point, if the United States betrays its fundamental principles in the cause of fighting terror, then "the terrorists will have won." The image of the Hooded Man, now known the world over, raises a stark question: Is it possible that that moment of defeat could come and go, and we will never know it?
In the first part of this series, I wrote:
Please remember these sentences [from Hannah Arendt]: "Torture, to be sure, is an essential feature of the whole totalitarian police and judiciary apparatus; it is used every day to make people talk. This type of torture, since it pursues a definite, rational aim, has certain limitations: either the prisoner talks within a certain time, or he is killed." An essential feature. Do you truly want to endorse torture as a legitimate government policy -- and endorse "an essential feature of the whole totalitarian police and judiciary apparatus" -- and possibly open the door, even by just the smallest amount, to the further horrors described by Arendt?

I would urge all those who advocate the legitimated use of torture as official government policy to consider these points -- and, much more importantly, to read all of Arendt's profoundly important book, and then to rethink their views on this subject. I would deeply, deeply hope that they would alter their views. You may view this step that you advocate as only a very small one -- but it is by means of such small steps that one descends into the deepest pit of hell.

One final personal comment. The fact that we have been having this discussion at all is the most disturbing aspect of this entire matter to me, particularly in light of the lessons of the twentieth century and its almost nonstop train of horrors -- lessons which we appear to be in peril of forgetting, if indeed we ever learned them at all. And it suggests to me that we may be in even greater danger than I had thought.

But I still hope to be proven wrong, with every atom of my being.
The events that have transpired since I wrote those words can only lead me to think that the danger is much greater than even I had thought.

And if Bush is reelected, and if he should launch another war, or if -- God forbid -- there is another major terrorist attack here in the United States, I am no longer confident that we would choose not to go down the path outlined in articles such as those I have discussed above. In such a case, I fear my remaining hope might grow very, very faint.

Nonetheless, I will still hope to be proven wrong. God, and what I still think is the basic decency of the American people, willing, I shall be.

ON TORTURE, III: Brutality and Sadism as National Policy, and the Monsters of Our Time

Before proceeding to some crucial truths about torture, why torture is always, absolutely wrong, and why torture must never be affirmatively condoned -- directly or indirectly and even in the slightest degree, if an individual or a nation wishes to remain civilized in any meaningful manner -- we should briefly review where we find ourselves today. Among the many crimes and immoralities that can be placed directly at the feet of the Bush administration, the fact that we have now crossed a critical line and begun the descent into a moral abyss that may destroy us in time is undoubtedly the worst. What the Bush administration has done in this respect can be accurately described in only one way: their actions are profoundly and unforgivably evil.

Evil is a word from which we tend to recoil, both in our personal dealings and when we consider issues of national policy. My reasons for applying the word to the Bush administration -- and to all those who support the administration's position on the question of torture -- will become clearer in the final two parts of this series (which will follow this installment, later today). For the moment, only one key fact needs to be remembered, and we must never, ever forget it: Torture is the deliberate infliction of unbearable agony on a human being -- a human being who is intentionally kept alive precisely so that he will suffer still more and for a longer period of time -- for no justifiable reason. This is the embrace of sadism and cruelty for their own sake, and for no other end whatsoever. As we shall see, the rationalizations used to make torture "acceptable" on even one occasion are only that: rationalizations for other motives and other concerns. The excuses used to justify the practice of torture are the lies that serve only to disguise the nature and extent of the evil being committed.

In an article first published in Salon, Mark Follman provides some necessary background:
Five days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney instructed the nation that the U.S. government would begin working "the dark side" to defeat its enemies in a new global war. "A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion," Cheney declared on NBC's "Meet the Press." He added, "It's going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal."

More than four years later, the Bush administration has delivered on Cheney's vow to wage war in the shadows, free from oversight and accountability. Policies for seizing and interrogating suspects - conceived and commanded at the highest levels of the White House - have permitted numerous acts of torture and even murder at the hands of American soldiers and interrogators.

The grim acts unleashed by those policies are no secret today. Cruel and wanton abuses have been exposed at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, and other lesser known U.S. military bases and prisons around the world. In November, the Washington Post uncovered a global network of covert CIA prisons known as "black sites," top-secret interrogation facilities reportedly operating in far-flung locations from Eastern Europe to Thailand. Still, many dark details remain unknown.

"There is no instance in American history where we've been exposed as being so deeply involved in actually conducting torture on a routine and regular basis," says Thomas Powers, an expert on national security and the author of two books on the CIA.

In recent months, a fierce backlash against the abuses has not only been rising in Washington, but well beyond. Many Americans on the front lines of national security are demoralized and angered by the fact that only a few foot soldiers have been punished - such as Pvt. Lynndie England of Abu Ghraib infamy - while commanders in the field and policymakers have remained untouched. A growing number of military and CIA personnel, according to officers from both realms, admit that the Bush policies, hatched in the fearful weeks and months after 9/11, have deeply corrupted military and intelligence operations over four years of war.


Following the revelation of the black sites, President Bush stated: "We do not do torture." Much evidence proves otherwise, but what else could the president of the United States say? Torturing prisoners is both illegal and morally reprehensible. Committed by Americans, it has undermined the mission to bring democratic reform to Afghanistan, Iraq and the greater Middle East. It has done profound damage to America's image at home and worldwide. And most intelligence experts, including CIA director Porter Goss, agree that when it comes to gathering useful information, torture simply doesn't work.


[E]vidence of widespread use of torture by the United States under the Bush administration is indisputable, including the policy of rendition, or the handing over of prisoners to foreign allies like Jordan and Egypt who are known to torture. European leaders have been in an uproar as further evidence emerges that the CIA has secretly used European airports to transport prisoners for interrogation.

The numbers alone tell a chilling story. According to recent reports by the Associated Press, the United States has held more than 83,000 prisoners since the war on terror began, primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, more than 14,000 remain in U.S. custody, mostly in Iraq, where U.S. military officials have acknowledged in the past that many prisoners were of little or no intelligence value. Military officials have said the same of the majority of prisoners held in Guantánamo Bay; yet from Guantánamo to the war zones, more than 4,000 prisoners have been held for a year or longer, with several hundred held for multiple years.

As of March this year, 108 detainees were known to have died in U.S. military and CIA custody. Of those, 22 died when insurgents attacked Abu Ghraib prison, while others reportedly died of natural causes. At least 26 deaths have been deemed criminal homicides.
And the warhawks who refuse to question any aspect of Bush's foreign policy -- except to insist that the administration is not brutal enough and has failed to kill sufficient numbers of people -- and who simultaneously insist that they and only they care for the welfare of our own troops should note the following:
Army Capt. Ray Kimball is among the growing number who say that interrogation by torture is anti-American, ineffective and categorically wrong. In an interview with Salon, he said it also causes severe harm to U.S. soldiers themselves.

"Torture not only degrades the victim, it also ultimately degrades the torturer," said Kimball, who served in Iraq and now teaches history at West Point. "We already have enough soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder after legitimate combat experiences. But now you're talking about adding the burden of willfully inflicting wanton pain on another human being. You tell a soldier to go out there and 'waterboard' someone" - strap a prisoner to a board, bind his face in cloth, and pour water over his face until he fears death by drowning - "or mock-execute someone, but nobody is thinking about what that's going to do to that soldier months or years later, when it comes to dealing with the rationalizations and internal consequences. We're talking about serious psychic trauma."
Follman provides these further details:
More soldiers are starting to come forward with the support of groups like Human Rights Watch, which conducts leading research on torture in the war on terror. Although unwilling to talk on the record for fear of retribution by the military, a number of active-duty soldiers who've spoken with Human Rights Watch are increasingly angry about the torture scandals, according to researcher John Sifton. While some soldiers are wary that media and human rights groups are out to make the military look bad, Sifton says most of them realize that they are taking the sole blame for the abuses.

A number of soldiers we've talked to have told us they were ordered by military intelligence to torture," Sifton told Salon. "And not just at Abu Ghraib but at forward operating bases across Iraq." According to Sifton, several soldiers who tried to report misconduct say their superiors told them to take a hike.

One of them was Army Spc. Tony Lagouranis, who worked as an interrogator at Abu Ghraib prison and in a special intelligence unit that operated across Iraq in 2004. After multiple attempts to report wrongdoing, he became frustrated by stonewalling inside the military and took his knowledge of abuses to the media.

"It's all over Iraq," Lagouranis, now retired, told the PBS show "Frontline" in late September. "The worst stuff I saw was from the detaining units who would torture people in their homes. They were using things like ... burns. They would smash people's feet with the back of an axe-head. They would break bones, ribs." At the root of the abuses, he said, was a lot of "frustration that we weren't getting good intel," and murky directives regarding the treatment of prisoners. Inevitably, Lagouranis said, those conditions gave rise to instances of "pure sadism," like the ones at Abu Ghraib.


Beginning almost immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, policies crafted inside the Bush White House set the conditions for rampant abuses by the military and CIA. In the first fearful weeks and months after the attacks, top administration lawyers in the White House and Justice Department drew up a series of secret legal memos that recast the rules for the treatment of so-called enemy combatants, those considered terrorist suspects from no easily identifiable army or nation. The memos argued that captured enemy combatants were not entitled to fundamental protections of U.S. or international law, including the obligations of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, a treaty the United States ratified in 1994 explicitly outlawing "torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of prisoners.

The administration also relied on a classified document known as a "presidential finding," authorizing broad covert action by the CIA to capture, detain or kill members of al-Qaida anywhere in the world. The finding, which administration legal advisors apparently ruled lawful, was signed by Bush on Sept. 17, 2001. A day later, Congress granted the administration additional power by authorizing the use of "all necessary and appropriate" military force at the discretion of the president.

This November, in response to the torture scandals, the Pentagon issued a new high-level directive requiring that interrogations be conducted using "humane" treatment. That term replaced language in an earlier draft of the directive modeled after the international rules against torture - a change that was made following intense pressure from Cheney's office.

According to one senior Army officer, a judge advocate general who has been involved in discussions with Pentagon officials on the issue, reaching a consensus on what constitutes "humane" treatment can be exceedingly difficult - and vague language remains precisely the strategy of the Bush administration's legal maneuverings on detention and interrogation.


The rising backlash against torture today indicates more military and intelligence officers are realizing that the Bush administration is sinking the United States into an unprecedented moral quagmire - one that could lead to an especially dire end. "The problems with this are huge and they're hitting home now," Powers says. "How do you let these people go, especially the ones deemed to be of no intelligence value, after they've been treated so badly? Are you just going to hold them forever? You have to ask whether or not they will eventually reach the stage of just summarily killing them. It may have happened already. This policy isn't just ineffectual - it's complete madness."


While Durbin and fellow lawmakers responsible for oversight were kept in the dark on covert interrogation operations, before he left the committee he and others viewed hundreds of classified photos of torture from Abu Ghraib. According to Durbin, a number of the images they witnessed were even more horrific than the public has seen to date, though he declined to go into detail, because they remain classified. "In all of my years of public service, I'll never forget that day. I was standing there in a room with fellow senators, some of whom were in tears, as we watched brought up on a screen hundreds and hundreds of photos showing the most unimaginable treatment of prisoners."
The denial by the administration and its defenders has spread to another inevitable result of our embrace of sadism: our policies have now created our own monsters in Iraq. Bush and his fellow gang members mindlessly repeat that we are spreading the blessings of "freedom" and "democracy." But the Iraqis look at what we have actually done in their country and what we continue to do -- and they then unleash their own brand of cruelty, sadism and barbarism, knowing that the United States has no legitimate ground for complaint.

A story in the Christian Science Monitor provides some additional background on this part of our horror story:
Privately, half a dozen US officers have acknowledged to the Monitor that prisoner abuse by Iraqi police is common.

Now, one officer is speaking out. Major R. John Stukey, a US Army doctor who served in Baghdad from January to June, frequently visited Interior Ministry facilities on the east side of Baghdad to assess the health of prisoners. He says he personally treated about a dozen men who had been tortured and observed an environment of overcrowding and neglect.

Many more of his patients alleged torture, but in most cases this couldn't be verified, since he often saw them for the first time months after their initial arrests and interrogations.

In one east Baghdad facility run by Iraq's Interior Ministry, a few miles from the secret jail that was raided by US forces on Nov. 13, Major Stukey says about 220 men were held in filthy conditions in a space so crowded that many couldn't lie down to sleep.

Stukey visited the facilities with members of the 720th US Military Police Battalion. The MPs filed frequent reports to their commanders about the ill-treatment and, Stukey says, did what they could to prevent torture and improve the prisoners' conditions. They made a point of distributing soap, toothbrushes, and Korans whenever they visited.

"We did report what we saw, but it was like trying to put out a forest fire with a bucket of water,'' says Stukey by telephone at Fort Rucker in Alabama, where he is currently based. "The MPs submitted reports at least several times a week on detention issues. We knew about it, and we tried to change it, but it was just one of those things you had to deal with."

Officials from the 720th, now back at its base in Fort Hood, Texas, did not respond to requests for comment.

Coalition troops, fighting a deadly insurgency, say they don't have the manpower to compel better behavior from their Iraqi partners, and that to do so would require them to court frequent conflict with their closest allies inside the country.

The Bush Administration has sent mixed messages on the subject. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that the US "does not authorize or condone torture of detainees." The US has also signed the UN Convention Against Torture. But administration officials have also argued that the treaty rules on "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment do not apply outside US territory.
At the bottom of the first page of its article, the Monitor provides a graph containing information from a recent poll taken in several different countries. About 1,000 respondents in each country were asked this question: "Do you feel the use of torture against suspected terrorists to obtain information about terrorism activities is justified?" Note that the question asks about suspected terrorists -- in other words, people who may be entirely innocent. And as the articles excerpted above and many others demonstrate, the great majority of individuals who have been subjected to such inhumane, intentionally sadistic treatment have turned out to be innocent.

In terms of the respondents' support for torture, the United States came in second -- behind only South Korea. In response to the question, 23% of Americans said torture should "rarely" be used, 27% said torture should "sometimes" be used, and 11% said torture should "often" be used. Only slightly more than a third of Americans, 36%, said torture should "never" be used. Keep the much larger figure in mind: 61% of Americans approve of using torture.

For reasons I will explain further, especially in the final part of this series, you should not take comfort from the fact that a lie is built into the question. With very rare exceptions, these are the terms in which torture is debated today -- and our criminally irresponsible media do nothing to correct the lies for the most part. The question asks if torture is "justified" "to obtain information about terrorism activities." Actually, the phrasing represents a double lie: obviously the question assumes that such "information" is accurate information, although it does not state that explicitly. As the Follman article indicates, and as I will be examining in much more detail, that is one of the central indisputable facts about torture -- the point on which every knowledgeable expert agrees. As Follman puts it: "when it comes to gathering useful information, torture simply doesn't work."

I would certainly be very interested to know how people would answer the question if it were asked truthfully: "Do you feel the use of torture against suspected terrorists to obtain information about terrorism activities is justified -- even though almost every expert on the subject agrees that torture never results in obtaining accurate information and that it simply doesn't work?" A blunter version of the question would come considerably closer to the truth: "Do you approve of the use of brutal, unimaginably sadistic treatment of our enemies -- and even of those who are only suspected of being enemies -- to show the world that we mean business, that we are real sons of bitches, and that if you fail to do as we tell you, we will make your life an unbearable hell on earth?"

In the middle of its article, the Monitor offers a passage which I find almost impossible to grasp, so horrifying is it in its continued denial of truths that can no longer be denied by any honest observer:
Pat Lang, a retired colonel and former head of Middle East Intelligence for the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, says it's important for the US to have a zero-tolerance policy toward torture.

"We know that left to their own devices the Iraqis are going to do these kinds of things, and there's no chance of stopping it all over the country,'' he says. "But to me, this is more about us than it is about them. We can't tolerate this when we see it. I don't want our standards eroded any further."
"Left to their own devices..." This is the sickening condescension of the most disgusting kind of white imperialist -- who is infinitely worse than the alleged barbarians he claims he seeks to "civilize," and who continues to regard those poor, non-white natives as subhuman. The genuine monster involved is the vicious colonialist himself -- but he has intentionally broken the mirror that would insist that he contemplate his own reflection.

So this is where we are today: even though the administration continues to peddle its pathetic lies -- lies that everyone knows are lies, including those who repeat them every day -- the United States has now officially implemented the use of torture. We have done so in a manner that is systematic and comprehensive. We know that torture "simply doesn't work," and that it produces no useful intelligence that in fact helps us in this war -- and yet we insist that we must continue to do it anyway.

We are now a barbarian nation. What we do is infinitely worse in one crucial respect: we insist that we must behave like sadistic monsters precisely so that we can uphold the values of civilization, of "democracy," and of the rule of law. We are not even honest monsters, if "honest" is a word that can be meaningfully used in this context.

But if we continue much farther on this path, that day too will come: the day when we announce our barbarity and inhumanity proudly to the world, and no longer engage in the pretense of making apologies or excuses for it. In fact, and as we shall see in the concluding part of this essay, some of the administration's most fervent defenders already do this. The final excuse they employ is the most pathetic one of all: we must act like monsters, they say, because our enemies have made us do it. These repellent, vile frauds, who trumpet their own strength of character and "manliness" because they enthusiastically embrace what ought to repel any person who is remotely civilized to any degree at all, are revealed by their own words to be the most contemptible of weaklings: they are helpless to resist evil because the enemies they identify as the essence of evil compel them to do so.

This is the final defense of the coward who has placed himself beyond redemption for all time: the coward who renounces the last remnants and protections of civilization and joyfully reduces himself to the level of the beasts of the jungle. But that does a disservice to those actual beasts: animals do not regularly engage in the cruelties that human beings commit so routinely throughout their history and, when they do so, they do not lie about it.

Barbarism and sadism are now the official policy of our government. And the defenders of that policy still tell the world that we, and only we, can ensure that the values of civilization are transmitted to the future. They seek to destroy the unique value of human life, and they have rendered themselves incapable of understanding the nature of the destruction upon which they have embarked.

Can there ever be forgiveness for choosing a course that is evil to this extent? History will make the final judgment. But I am entirely confident that if humanity does survive this catastrophe, as it has miraculously managed to survive other catastrophes of the past, its judgment will be simple, final and absolute: No. We do not forgive the monsters of the past -- and we should not forgive the monsters of our own time.

And if you support these policies of the administration to any extent at all, you are one of them.