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September 17, 2006

Torture

Dr. Steven Miles is the author of Oath Betrayed, Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror. Dr. Miles is a practicing physician and bioethicist at the University of Minnesota. He was named Minnesotan of the year in 2004.

The Talking Dog interviewed Steven Miles.

In this excerpt, TD and Dr. Miles discuss the effects of the publication of the Abu Ghraib photographs on the security of American troops in Iraq:

The Talking Dog: You've noted that prior to the Abu Ghraib photographs being published, around April of 2004, all American troops captured in Iraq were returned alive, and yet, after that, we have seen beheadings and other atrocities against our troops. (Indeed, the first, Specialist Keith Maupin, was around 2 weeks after the Abu Ghraib photos came out). One can certainly infer that, for example, the fears of the Judge Advocate General's corps that mistreatment of prisoners in our custody almost guaranteed reciprocity were realized, and Americans' giving up some semblance of the moral high ground where we needed the cooperation of the local populace for our own mission was itself not a really good idea, by and large, would you agree that most Americans simply just don't see the relationship between our mistreatment of others and the mistreatment of Americans?

Steven Miles: Most Americans see torture as a form of brutalization of a person. They do not understand that torture destroys civil society. Indeed in most cases, torture is used by authoritarian regimes with the intent of destroying civil society. To this end, journalists, activists, lawyers, teachers, students, labor organizers, and intellectuals are its primary targets. The use of torture in Iraq has made it impossible for the United States to serve as a midwife to civil society there. It has undermined the credibility of our appeals on behalf of the humane and legally fair treatment of proponents of civil society in countries like China or Myrnamar. At the largest level, promoting civil societies must be the overarching policy objective of the United States and other democracies. Such societies are necessary for peace as well as global public health and successful economic development. At the end of World War II, the international community concluded that no appeal to the needs of national soverignty could justify or excuse torture or genocide. The United States has undone that momentous conclusion. It has authoritatively introduced into international relations the precedent and assertion that a national executive with the assent of the national legislature may practice torture in the context of a national emergency.

At Phronesisaical, Helmut discusses what he calls the triangulation of torture.

Helmut and Miles both argue that the media's obsession with fantastic ticking bomb scenarios has completely skewed the public's moral and practical understanding of torture.

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Miles says: "The use of torture in Iraq has made it impossible for the United States to serve as a midwife to civil society there."
I suspect delivering civil society in Iraq was a lost cause for the U.S. and UK to begin with (which is not an excuse or good word for torture.)

"Helmut and Miles both argue that the media's obsession with fantastic ticking bomb scenarios has completely skewed the public's moral and practical understanding of torture."
This is a point worth generalizing, I think, to much persuasion and pedagogy. We often tell a recherche story to pin down essentials and mark off this from that in the foggy night of vagueness, but our story-telling hardly guarantees that the facts of a concrete case will square with our story's stipulations. OTOH, if the story is colorful or arresting enough, people in its sway can be the more likely to mistake the facts of the real-world case for the stipulations. The Ticking Bomb Scenario is just such a pernicious myth.

>The use of torture in Iraq has made it impossible for the United States to serve as a midwife to civil society there.

Precisely. Torture is vile (vile meaning either disgusting, unpleasant, or ignoble). It is beneath us as Americans, and is destructive to our own country. For our allies, even staunch supporters of the Iraq War, like Britain's The Economist magazine, it is an appalling, horrifying atrocity. It is also an embarrassment to our good causes. For our enemies, it gives carte blanche for them to sink to their lowest impulses as well.

For me, one of the things that made Saddam Hussein, Stalin, Hitler objectionable, was their use of torture. We have used Saddam's very prison, and tortured there. Our President and Secretary of State spoke out against torture, and that is good; our torture is less intense than Saddam's was, and that's good; but our President has now sought to redefine torture, so as to squeak out of actually condemning torture unequivocally. He is not doing my will, as I am one of his constituents. The fact that the US is now known as a torturing nation is causing deep division in our already divided country; helping ruin our alliances with our friends, when we need to stand together with them; and helping the repressive enemies of liberal democracy to justify their own torture. We should stop it, and now.

Bush's news conference on Friday was depressing. He never got that angry when the Abu Ghraib prisoner maltreatmentwas revealed to the public.

He never got that angry when Katrina went through New Orleans, and people were stranded on the top of their houses.

He is only angry if he can't torture his detainees.

It is beneath us as Americans, and is destructive to our own country.

Sixty years of continuous CIA atrocities say otherwise. Torture is an integral part of American policy toward non-Americans who aren't sufficiently timid and deferential to American corporations.

60 years, though, is a short time. We hadn't much of an intelligence community before 1941, with the OSS and the CIA. That's a very short time, historically speaking. Also, during World War II and the early Cold War, European and first-world public opinion wouldn't have said as much against the CIA, especially during the McCarthy era. So effectively, the issue has only had a few decades to surface. Since then, I would say that there has been a great deal of division in the west over the issue of torture, and I think that division has definitely come to a head, if it's one of the signal issues in the post-9/11 era. If the Iraq War-cheerleaders of the Economist show a figure being tortured on their cover, with the legend, "Resign, Rumsfeld," that means there's something _seriously_ wrong.

There should be _no_ division in the fight against terrorism in the post-9/11 era. We should be as united against it as all the NATO countries (and indeed such unlikely others as Pakistan) were after 9/11, when all of us, including the French, Germans and Canadians, went after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Instead, we now have deep divisions in the west over: 1) a pretty clearly idiotic non-sequitur of an invasion of Iraq, which is admittedly doing much more than mere torture would to ruin us, even if many Bush supporters still doggedly insist that they were not wrong about it; 2) America's indefinite detention of a seemingly great number of random people who happened to be in Afghanistan during our war there, along, probably, with a certain number of combatants as well; and 3) America's embrace of torture. I believe it is destroying us, in that it's destroying the unity of the western liberal democracies, with those who would otherwise be sympathetic to us.

Note: the above doesn't make this quite clear, but the COI, "Coordinator of Information," office, was formed before Pearl Harbor, in 1940; then the OSS, in 1941; both were headed by General William "Wild Bill" Donovan; and the CIA was only formed later, in 1947, with the National Security Act, signed by Truman, with the aim of centralizing intelligence.

There's a big difference between a country that looks the other way when torture is committed by a covert group and a country that enacts torture into law as common practice overseen only by the executive branch.

I'm not in any way defending country (a) - what the US has allowed to go on, particularly in Latin America, has been awful.

At the least, though, there was a possibility of prosecuting those who so trespassed, and there was the clear option of saying that what was happening went against not only the ideals of the nation but its laws. It's a tragedy, and one repeated throughout American history, inscribed at the start of American history, that the ideals, laws and actions of the nation continue to contradict each other.

But when we re-write the laws and re-interpret the ideals so that torture becomes common, legal practice, we take a dangerous step that must be opposed.

As a child I was introduced to a man, a gentle educated man. He had been tortured by the Gestapo for the sole reason that he was a college professor in Czechoslovakia. It ruined his family, it shattered his life and it left a gaping hole the fabric of his country. He continued to live, rebuilt his life in a new country and learned to live with the scars and deafness that the torture left him with.
Regardless of intent, purpose or perceived benefit, torture is evil. Its repercussions are evil and it leaves a scar on tortured and torturer. No nation should be training its citizens to become torturers and no nation should make it legal and therefore permissable for torture to occur. For a President or Legislature to continue to condone torture is to prove that they are no better than those they fight and simply to lazy or impatient to do the right thing.

Some time, ask Steve Miles what he learned about the party machine when he ran for US Senate.

On the subject of torture, a decision has come down in the Maher Arar inquiry here in Canada. This is what racial profiling and a fear-driven "interrogation" policy get you; an innocent man deported to a third world dictatorship, imprisoned without trial, tortured and beaten to sign false confessions.

Hs wifeMonia Mozigh is a remarkable character, by the way. An educated (PhD in economics)independant woman in a hijab, and in my opinion a real Canadian hero for her courage and determination in fighting to free her husband.

Love your commentary 1984, it's so true. Not alot I can add to it.

There's a big difference between a country that looks the other way when torture is committed by a covert group and a country that enacts torture into law as common practice overseen only by the executive branch.

The USA did more than that. It propped the tortueres, gave them intelligence, and trained them at the School of the Americas in various terrorist techniques.

Personally, I'd rather worry about stopping torture than about pretending to stop it.

Alon, or sending people to other countries for proxy torture.

>Love your commentary 1984, it's so true. Not alot I can add to it.

>Posted by: Count Zero | September 19, 2006 at 12:24 PM

Thank you my friend--you know I'm a fan of yours too, and of a lot of other people on this site, including all the commenters that I know here on this particular thread.

A Hermit, it really gets me--the lady you mention probably deserves every bit of her accolades as a Canadian hero. I've noticed the thoughtful way Canadians support their heroes. But in the US, I can guarantee that she'd be met with angry hullabaloo, because she'd be making someone's political party look bad. We'd instantly degenerate into the type of Jerry Springer hagdom that we're all too often known for. I'd just bet on it. There are many things I love about the USA, but that ain't one of them.

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