Time To Think About Torture

It’s becoming an exercise in masochism, reading back over what was said in the early days of the Bush administration, back when many people still thought the president was due the benefit of the doubt.Jonathan Alter, who still gets invited to all the right parties, for example:

In this autumn of anger, even a liberal can find his thoughts
turning to… torture. OK, not cattle prods or rubber hoses, at least
not here in the United States, butsomething to jump-start
the stalled investigation of the greatest crime in American history.
Right now, four key hijacking suspects aren’t talking at all.

we at least subject them to psychological torture, like tapes of dying
rabbits or high-decibel rap? (The military has done that in Panama and
elsewhere.) How about truth serum, administered with a mandatory IV? Or
deportation to Saudi Arabia, land of beheadings? (As the frustratedFBI
has been threatening.) Some people still argue that we needn’t rethink
any of our old assumptions about law enforcement, but they’re
hopelessly “Sept. 10”–living in a country that no longer exists.


We can’t legalize physical torture; it’s contrary to American values.
But even as we continue to speak out against human-rights abuses around
the world, we need to keep an open mind about certain measures to fight
terrorism, like court-sanctioned psychological interrogation. And we’ll
have to think about transferring some suspects to our less squeamish
allies, even if that’s hypocritical. Nobody said this was going to be

I got pointed back to Alter’s toolier prose (yes, he was at one time toolier than he is now, though I know it’s hard to fathom) by this:

“If you don’t violate someone’s human rights some of the
time, you probably aren’t doing your job,” said one official who has
supervised the capture and transfer of accused terrorists. “I don’t
think we want to be promoting a view of zero tolerance on this. That
was the whole problem for a long time with the CIA…”

This lengthy article, by Dana Priest and Barton Gellman, appeared inThe Washington Post
on December 26, 2002, only months after the capture of Abu Zubaydah. A
similarly lengthy report followed a few months later on the front page
ofThe New York Times (“Interrogations: Questioning Terror
Suspects in a Dark and Surreal World”). The blithe, aggressive tone of
the officials quoted—”We don’t kick the [expletive] out of them. We
send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of
them”—bespeaks a very different political temper, one in which a
prominent writer in a national newsmagazine could headline his weekly
column “Time to Think About Torture,” noting in his subtitle that in
this “new world…survival might well require old techniques that
seemed out of the question.

The reason we here left blogtopia get so het up over faux-liberal put-upon pussitude like Alter’s is that we’ve been listening to it nonstop for like nineteen thousand fucking years, for fuck’s sake. It’s been going on forever, it’s the same dumb pose it always was, and Mark Danner’s piece demonstrates pretty clearly that it bore real consequences in the form of people having the shit kicked out of them. People Jonathan Alter has never met, probably doesn’t care to meet, and has forgotten he wrote about them in the first place, if hiscurrent crop of columns bemoaning the death of true bipartisanship are any indication.

Either it never occurred to them that if they were wrong about this whole badass Manly Men Kick Tied-Up Dudes For Fun pose they’d look like just the world’s biggest dicks, or they didn’t care because eight years later we’d all be freaked out about something entirely different and thus wouldn’t give enough of a shit to try to get them fired for being the world’s biggest dicks.

Either way, seems to be working out pretty nicely for Alter. Not so much, for others:

A naked man chained in a small, very cold, very white room is for
several days strapped to a bed, then for several weeks shackled to a
chair, bathed unceasingly in white light, bombarded constantly with
loud sound, deprived of food; and whenever, despite cold, light, noise,
hunger, the hours and days force his eyelids down, cold water is
sprayed in his face to force them up.

Nobody said this was going to be pretty.


3 thoughts on “Time To Think About Torture

  1. I think your right, we should be talking about torture. Since many people think it is OK to torture people who are thinking about doing harm to the U.S., we should be Torturing people who already have done harm to the U.S. Starting with AIG executives.

  2. we need to keep an open mind about certain measures to fight terrorism, like court-sanctioned psychological interrogation.
    It has been shown that psychological torture is STILL torture. It’s as if PHYSICAL torture is taboo because you can see it. The RW radio hosts still go on about how waterboarding doesn’t leave a mark. Just the feeling that you are going to DIE from drowning. Post traumatic stress syndrome anyone?
    On the tv show 24 they are dealing with the whole “torture thing” by having the people who are against torture mouth platitudes to Jack Bauer. Then when Jack’s methods work and he is always successful, they go about making sure the people against torture are either killed or fail in some way.
    Bill Buchanan said that he couldn’t torture. Dead
    The Senator who was prosecuting Jack for his torture crimes. Dead.
    The FBI agent who wants to follow the book? Failed.
    The FBI agent who sees that Jack’s ways work? Succeeds.
    The President’s deal to get info with out torture? Fails.
    Jack’s torture? Succeeds partially.
    Your JOB as a writer on that show is to prove time and time again that Jack’s world view is right and his methods work. The whole show is designed to prove it over and over again.
    This season, if they wanted to, they could have Jack’s methods fail and the people against torture not be losers mouthing straw men arguments.
    Instead they keep using the same argument again and again. THERE IS NO TIME! Torture is what REAL men do (and occasionally women who have seen time and time again that Jack is right and the head of FBI who is against it is wrong). All this sends a very clear message. Torture works! And it’s sponsored by Sprint! And Comcast.
    Yes it is entertainment, and they have no obligation to anyone except to entertain. I get the pacing and the design of the show, as long as we know it’s not real, just a TV show we can watch it for his “excitement” like we watch any action thriller.
    I do wish that the media would at least not dismiss the power of entertainment to impact people’s world views. Think about how BSG dealt with the rape and torture of Six on the Pegasus?
    The cast of BSG at the UN will be mocked. Maybe they should have the cast of 24 on. Will they be lauded? 24 deals less realistically with the issue of torture than BSG. But because it’s science fiction vs. regular entertainment it is mocked.
    You want science fiction? How about Jack Bauer always getting a signal on his phone no matter where he is? Now THAT’S science fiction!

  3. Every time torture comes up, I keep turning back to that quotation about slavery: “Those who are its most ardent advocates never seem eager to have it practiced upon themselves.” In Alter’s macho fantasy, he’s always the kicker and never the kickee. And that’s basically the problem — you can’t convince these guys that torture doesn’t work (because the person being tortured will either hate you more, so they won’t talk — or worse, tell you the exactly wrong thing, or they’ll break and tell you exactly what you want to hear), you can’t convince them that torture is wrong strictly on ethical grounds, you can’t convince them that torture is wrong on legal grounds (it’s punishing someone for being suspected of a crime), you can’t seem to get it through their thick skulls that torturing people makes other people (who may be disinclined to like you in the first place) like you even less than they did before, and, because they’re so convinced that they’re Good and Righteous and Patriotic, you can’t convince them that the slope is precisely slippery enough that there’s no reason why the next person the roving broomstick-rape squads come for might bethem. After all, they haven’t done anything wrong…

Comments are closed.