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June 04, 2007

Torturer confidential

I'm not sure what to make of this article about an American torturer-turned-whistle blower who confessed to abusing prisoners in Iraq.

To some extent, the piece validates the torturer's own self-pity. He is truly a pathetic figure. It takes a lot of nerve to complain about how much you've suffered because you tortured other people.

Yet, it seems clear that he managed to damage his own psyche in the process of destroying others. Maybe this evidence will make some difference to those who argue (incorrectly) that torture "works." Even if it did, the whatever benefits accrued would have to be offset by the social and security costs of creating more emotional wrecks like the subject of the article.

I don't feel sorry for the torturer, just angry at everyone who encouraged and enabled him.


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I understand where you're coming from, but I think it's a mistake to feel no compassion for the torturer. What he (and I underscore HE) does is abominable. But he's also a victim--of a different kind and on a different scale than the tortured. No human being who destroys the identity of another through torture is whole himself. There's a malaise at work in him. There's poison.

Compassion is due. But he's not a victim. We use the word "victim" all too readily, and in doing so we destroy the dignity of people who do have, in fact, the right and the duty to treat others decently. Victim? No. He could have walked away. Lagouranis' case is yet more proof of the corrosive effect of torture on the torturer and the torturer's society, quite apart from what it does to the real victim.

The article is a funny juxtaposition. This guilt-riddled guppy from the US is not like the Israeli and the RUC interrogator. Sheriff and James don't betray any guilt, and to the extent they feel anxiety it is simply pragmatic: the did bad things to scary people and now must live in fear of revenge. James is certainly an unrepentant racist, fuming that the Irish have a voice in the Ulster now. I suspect Sheriff is as well. What they really want is to hurt more people in the service of their tribe. The American, by contrast, does not seem to fear his victims or their friends, or to harbor any belief that he belongs back in the torture chamber serving his tribe. He's having trouble living with himself, which is a sign that he lacks the single-minded hatred to be a good torturer.

The story is, in short, incoherent. I suspect the reporter had to work with a hodgepodge of material and couldn't do better with it than this dog's breakfast.

It's difficult to sympathize with someone who holds hands with the devil while in process of destroying the American sense of right and wrong and justice.

It's not a question of *sympathizing* with torturers. It's a question of realizing that something in them is so broken that they perform the barbarities they do. They could've walked away? Maybe. But this presumes that torture is a rational decision. I just think it's more complicated than that.

Lagournis says he was "eager" to use his "enhanced interrogation techniques." Well, it's a cruel God that grants your fondest wish. He got what he wanted along with the consequences.

People like Lagournis wouldn't be so good at what they do, of course, if they weren't exploiting the fears, weaknesses and insecurities that they know exist in themselves. Now they have to live for the rest of their lives knowing just how those fears can be twisted by anyone with knowledge of them, and that means that essentially that they spend the rest of their lives doing it to themselves. I wish him a long life with a good memory.

I have been hearing stories from actual torture victims (mostly not from Iraq) who have learned to forgive, accept, and in some cases care for their torturers. In one case, an Iranian woman ended up marrying her torturer, having figured out that he, too, had been a victim of torture, before turning his hand to torturing others.

I suspect we who are lucky enough to know only what we have been told about torture know next to nothing about what goes on the the mind of the victim or the the mind of the victimizer.

Franz Fanon had a lot to say about this. 'Wretched of the Earth' is a good starting point. Fanon was a writer who participated in the Algerian resistance. As a psychiatrist he also counselled and administered therapy to French torturers of Algerians.

As a torturer who violated the laws of war and society, he should be tried and penalized. As a human who has suffered (self-inclicted) psychic pain, he deserves counseling and healing. Society doesn't benefit from having more psychically damaged people. But his victims deserve greater assistance, sooner.

It is essential to remember and see the humanity in everyone, including your enemies and oppressors. One of our greatest mistakes is to try to become the worst aspects of our enemies in the process of battling them.

Really, what would Jesus do? What would Gandhi do? More PTSD sufferes on short fuses isn't going to help society.

I have a book called "The Good Old Days" where former concentration camp guards from WWI explained how depressing and demoralizing it was watching people slowly die under their enforcement. It's a common psychological trait, apparently. Perhaps in a general sense, self-pity is a means of avoiding or watering down empathy for others.

"It's difficult to sympathize with someone who holds hands with the devil while in process of destroying the American sense of right and wrong and justice." --Contniuum

The poor, poor soul. He actually had to destroy other human beings. He was just so very broken. So very sad. Just like his other fellow Americans he was a deer caught in headlights.

I feel so bad for Americans, really. It's so sad. You have been so wronged.

Here, I bleed for you....

In the military, there's a certain culture; you're supposed to do your job, and if you're told your job is to treat people badly, well, that's what you'd expect folks would do.

If Lagournis had decided, on his own, that torture was a good idea, well, then I'd have no sympathy for him. However, it looks as if he was told that this was how it was to be done, that this is what we were doing, and this was being done to protect America. He didn't make the decision himself. He was told this was lawful and proper, and he did what he was told to do.

Should he have refused? Maybe. It's wrong to obey unlawful orders, but if he was told by JAGs that the orders were lawful, then his choices were to obey or face discipline... and someone else would carry out those orders anyway.

If he wasn't given those assurances, then he should be punished, but those who gave the orders should be as well.

One other thing to consider when judging him: there was a prisoner they called the Gollum. They kept him locked in a 2 square meter cell, no light, no water, no toilet, no bedding.

Is that torture? You bet your ass it is.

But is it *obviously* torture? Does it *look* like torture?

Well, to someone who understands, and can empathize, with the effects of that kind of treatment, yes, it does look like torture. To someone who doesn't have this understanding or empathy, it probably doesn't.

That kind of torture is easier to justify to one's self. It's easier to accept as a lawful order. It's not *right*, it's just, I can imagine a private more easily accepting that a prisoner wouldn't be there if it wasn't okay.

Beat up a prisoner, and it's obvious. Leave them alone to suffer horribly, well, that's disturbingly easy to do.

It's easy, from here, to feel superior.

But I know how much work it is to avoid the temptation, to just give in and take out all the frustrations and fears which are boiling in one's mind.

It's easy enough to come up to that line in training. Milgram points out that anyone can end up committing abuses.

I've come right up to the edge of the abyss. It was an excercise. It was with a willing subject, and the power I had was scary.

He knew he wasn't going to be hurt. I knew that was I was contemplating wasn't going to be more than transiently unpleasant.

And I saw more apprehension, and fear and dislocation in the moment before I called it quits, than I ever want to see again.

I didn't even have the excuse that it was in a combat zone, that I was scared, or that people were being killed, and this guy knew the answer.

I came a hair's breadth from crossing that line; because it was all, "a game."

Do I think what he did was awful, immoral and unforgivable? Yes, yes, and probably.

But I am also certain that, there but for the grace of God, could go any of us.

I don't feel superior, but I'm not sure I'm prepared to feel pity either. I know I could succumb to temptation and social pressure as easily as the next person, given sufficiently dire circumstances.

But if I murdered someone on the street as a common criminal, I wouldn't deserve pity for the emotional trauma I inflicted on myself in the course of taking the victim's life. No doubt, killing someone would be emotionally devastating--but I would deserve the opportunity to show remorse and perhaps earn forgiveness. I wouldn't deserve pity.

The thing is, Logouranis says he was trained not to do a lot of the things he now feels terrible about. I have sympathy for folks who engaged in "harsh interrogation" techniques that were nominally legal. I feel especially bad for some of the young soldiers at Abu Ghraib who were put in charge of interrogating prisoners with zero interrogation training and massive pressure to "soften the prisoners" up in any way they could think of. Some of those men and women really were victims as well as victimizers.

I'm going to read Logouranis' book when it comes out. Maybe I'm being too harsh on him. However, I get the sense that he was a well-trained interrogator who knowingly overstepped his authority.

I was a victim of torture during the Pinochet regime, more than 30 years ago. In the year 2001 I decide to go back to Chile and confront the men who imprisoned me and tortured and killed my friends after the coup of 1973.
I confronted more than 20 officers and believe me, just a few of them said sorry, but not for what they did to me, but rather for what took place in Chile. Now from my new home town (Berkeley, Ca) I am doing a documentary and exposing all of them so they can finally confront their victims and paid for their crimes.
Hector Salgado

Remember the Stanford Prison Experiment?

"[B]ut most of the guards seemed to be distressed by the premature end to the study - it appeared that they had become sufficiently involved in their role that they now enjoyed the extreme control and power which they exercised. This is referred to by Zimbardo as pathology of power."

I heard a recent interview with Zimbardo (on Democracy Now! in which he says that the effects on the "guards" was more pronounced than he had previously reported.

Those who do evil are eventually crippled by it. That’s no hollow aphorism; it’s the truth. And if any of you thinks you’re immune to becoming torturers yourselves, based on your superior morals, think again.

Why, you can even spare pity for the poor souls, secure in the knowledge that you yourself will never need to be pitied for having participated in the destruction of others.

I'm not sure that I'll never be in that guy's position. Nobody ever knows.

On the other hand, I really hope that if I ever rape or murder or torture someone, I'll have enough pride not to point out to people how much I'm hurting as a result of my crimes against others.

I hate to tell you this, Lindsay, but if you ever become a torturer, you’ll quickly learn that personal pride is the first thing to go. Anything you do to someone else, you do also to yourself on some level. If you treat someone as a subhuman, you’ll eventually become subhuman. If you rob someone of his dignity, you’ll eventually have none yourself.

You honestly think people who demoralize and kill other people for a paycheck get to have pride? LOL.

About the only kind of pride that kind of criminal ever gets to keep is the pride of knowing he or she never stooped so low as to apologize to the victims.

All apologizing does is place an extra burden on those who were victimized: “Oh, oops. Sorry I tortured and humiliated you. Ya forgive me, right? I’m real sorry I left burn scars on you, etc. I was just following orders. Nothing personal.”

I mean, would an apology, however sincere, really matter? Like, even a little bit?

These people will eventually come home and some of them may move in right next door to you and me. I wonder if the 28%ers have any clue what their president has done to this country.

Bite Me: You're awfully belligerent.

Just because someone has come to treat people as things, doesn't mean they don't have pride. People have amazing powers to compartmentalise things; it's how prison guards manage to see the people in their care as animals, and still see their kids as people.

Apologies are useful. People change, they come to realise what they did was wrong. They can make amends. There's a reason part of the 12 steps is to address all the things you've done to people, and let them know you realise it was a harm.

Maybe one can't forgive, but knowing that people who have harmed you are sorry for what they've done makes a difference.

Lindsay: I have mixed feelings about Logurainis. He was trained to not do things. He says he did them. That puts him outside the bounds of what I consider acceptable behavior.

Is he hurting? I'm sure he is. Where does the culpability lie? Some is with him. Some is with the system. He was outside the wire, his support network, the other people who do this job; who know the limits, weren't anywhere near. The people who were near didn't have his training. They don't believe that torture doesn't work.

I know this. I spend a lot of time trying to explain to people that torture doesn't work (I'm in one of those at>Slacktivist right now, with someone who is hiding behind tautologies to avoid admitting that he endorses torture.

That guy doesn't have the "justification" that people he knows, likes, suffers with, are encouraging him to step up to the fine edge of torture.

He's not afraid that not getting the information is going to get him killed.

Logurainis was living inside the ticking-bomb scenario, and lots of people are saying that's a justifiable time to torture people.

So I have some understanding for him. I don't know if I have forgiveness, or even pity.

He needs help. I don't think I am able to give it to him right now. I'm having enough problems of my own.

I hate to fall upon this old cliché, Pecunium, but you know not whereof you speak: apologies of this kind aren’t worth the air breathed to utter them. All they do is salve the torturer’s guilt, even while imposing the ‘necessity of forgiveness’ on his victim.

So I say again, someone who truly feels guilty for his acts will most likely never apologize, at least not directly. He knows deep down that nothing he says will ever make his victims like they were before. That is the only pride he has left.

As to your claim that torturers can compartmentalize, that neat little trick only works for so long. As Exhibit A for my claim, I offer the aforementioned Logurainis, who lives in a fog of nameless fear every minute. He’s not sure what he’s afraid of, but I daresay that I know: he’s afraid that he and his family could fall prey to a monster – that he may face retribution in the future at the hands of someone as callous as he had been.

Bite Me: How many torturers have you personally met? Because I can count to six the number I have known.

That's known as in lived with for months.

There are some other people I think probably count, because of whom they worked for.

So when you tell me what they can, and can't do... well I do know whereof I speak.

I look at the S. African model, and the reconciliation committees worked. So public admissions, and apologies can, and do work.
No one has to forgive. I've got a small number of people who have wronged me, and apologised, to whom I didn't give an iota of forgiveness.

Logurainis (and Sheriff, and Jack) have problems not because they tortured per s, but because they were told it was wrong, and told that before they did it, not after.

Mr. Salgado expects someone to apologise for what was done to him, and the others tortured under Pinochet. You can say that he's deluded, but since he was tortured, perhaps he knows better than you what is, or isn't hurtful to the victims.

Good day.

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