Thursday, August 27, 2009

Making Torture Patriotic and "The Right Thing to Do"

I went to a dinner party with some old friends the other day. I had fallen out of touch and they invited me to their beautiful house for dinner. As we sat around in the tastefully decorated dining room eating grilled corn on the cob, BBQ tri-tip from Trader Joes and drinking Two Buck Chuck, we talked about home remodeling, the economy and torture. I was the one who brought up torture.

During the process another old friend say, "Wow Spocko, you've gotten dark! You used to be so funny. Where's that funny guy I knew?"

A bit more about the group:

International: People from the UK, US and Africa,
Racial: middle eastern, black and white
Religion: Atheist (Brights), Catholic, Christian, evangelical Christian and Greek Orthodox
Professional: Law enforcement, tech, marketing, sales and design

Photo by John Curley published under Creative Commons license

I asked six questions to everyone in the group.
  1. Is torture wrong?
  2. If yes, how do you know that, what informed you?
  3. If it is your religion that told you this, what are your religion's current official views on torture?
  4. Would you torture?
  5. The ticking time bomb scenario is described: now would you torture?
  6. If yes, and if this is different from your earlier answer, what has changed?

I really appreciated the diversity of the group and the honesty of their answers.
They helped me to understand how the right goes about making torture patriotic and "the right thing to do".

This conversation, and my conversation later with one of my brilliant dinner companion and with my friend Interrobang helped me with a few rhetorical responses.

How You Become a Torturer: The Right Wing Way.

1) The Right makes torture the right thing to do by making you, in your imagination, the personal protector of life.
"What if it was YOUR child, your wife who was in the building that was going to be blown up with this time bomb. Would you torture this terrorist to get the information?" Now if you say no, you, become the bad person. In this scenario (which they love to use) torturing is the right thing to do. Photo by NTodd. Adorable child by Thers and NYMary

In the ticking time bomb scenario you are forced to chose between protecting adorable children and hurting a terrorist. "What would you do? What would you do? THERE IS NO TIME!" screams Jack Bauer.

    2) By evoking your deepest protector or parental feeling, they often overwhelm a stated religious conviction or an insufficiently developed intellectual argument. They use the power of your imagination and the immediate emotion of your desire to protect women and children, your family and, by extension, your country.

    3) In the scenario they propose, you -- the torturer -- are the hero. If you do NOT torture, in the scenario, you are the villain.

    Marcy Wheeler at FireDogLake and Glenn Greenwald at Salon can go on in detail with the legal arguments and the inside baseball methods that John Yoo, David Addington, Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzalez used to make torture part of the standard operating procedure for the CIA, the military and the groups that they are in charge of. Marcy's and Glenn's work is vitally important for the country so that we can get back to real principles of the constitution.

    But someone also needs to work on the emotional logic that the right used and still uses to make torture okay for their listeners/viewers.

    There are a couple of ways to counter this. I'll write about some more later.

    One I learned from the brilliant radio broadcaster Sam Seder.

    Stop them at the first premise. I'll call it the Seder Premise Stopper. Here is how Sam might deal with a caller. (He didn't actually do this exact call, I'm just using his style as a model. )

    Caller: Let's say you have captured a terrorist who has...

    Sam Seder Clone: Wait wait wait. So are you in the military?

    Caller: No, but that's not important

    SSC: Actually it is. You say you've never served. So you are basing this on something other than direct experience in working with terrorists. What are you basing your views on? The TV show "24"? Because who has "captured" this terrorist makes a difference. Did you know that hundreds of the people at Gitmo were turned over to the military by warlords who wanted to get rid of rivals and get $5,000 bucks in cash?

    Caller: Yes, I know that but I'm talking about the worst of the worst who

    SSC: Did you know that hundreds of those so called "worst of the worst" in Gitmo were released without charges?

    Caller: Yeah, (sensing a coup) but they are all right back there in the field now being terrorists!

    SSC: Really? How many of them are we talking about here? Give me some numbers and then explain how the army screwed up and released them. Do you think it might be possible they weren't a terrorist before and are now, or maybe they were always a terrorist and the army just didn't notice? Are you are in favor of indefinite detention?

    Caller: Yes.

    SSC: Really? Do you think that should apply to US citizens? Would you like it if President Obama decides that the guns you stockpiled after the election and the fertilizer in your shed, combined with calls from the neighbor who sent your email about health care misinformation into the White House are cause for indefinite detention?

    Caller: Now wait a minute! I'm no terrorist!

    SSC: Do you or do you not own multiple guns?

    Caller: I believe in the Second Amendment and the right of all citizens to bear arms

    SSC: Do you or do you not own multiple guns? Yes or no?

    Caller: Yes, but

    SSC: Do you think President Obama is a natural born citizen?

    Caller: What? What does this have to do with terrorists and torture?

    SSC: Nothing. Just like your scenario has nothing to do with actual torture as it is practiced in the field. Torture as practiced by the US is not about ticking time bombs it is about protecting political views and getting false confessions (since that was the model it was created on). It is a fiction designed to help cover for a horrific immoral act that has been used, not to protect women in children from a time bomb, but to protect an image of ourselves as good Americans. It is designed to protect the Bush/Cheney administration from the consequences of their lies. Your premise is flawed, your facts are non-existent but you got one thing right.

    Caller: What's that?

    SSC: You aren't a terrorist, just an sad, uninformed person who needs to grow up and understand how torture and the imaginary need for torture is used in the real world by the military and CIA and by politicians and talk radio hosts who want you to reject your own religious views and intellect as well as the violate the Constitution.
    Good day sir.


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