"I want them in Guantanamo where they don't get the access to lawyers they get when they're on our soil. I don't want them in our prisons. I want them there. Some people have said we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is, we ought to double Guantanamo."
-- Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney
"You say that nuclear devices have gone off in the United States, more are planned, and we're wondering about whether waterboarding would be a bad thing to do? I'm looking for Jack Bauer at that time!"
-- Presidential Candidate Tom Tancredo
I used to be a big fan of FOX's TV show 24, at least during the 2005 and 2006 seasons, but during the past year I began to have serious second thoughts as it became somewhat schizophrenic and increasingly disturbing.
On the one hand, the writers seem to want to point out the dangers of stereotyping, of scapegoating, and the potential peril of having ultra-conservative, Nixonian rogue elements working against the rule of law in the White House.
On the other hand, they glorify violence and torture, and worse yet, try to give the impression that torture actually works. Even if we were willing to throw our ideals and Constitution into the trash, interrogation experts from other western democracies seem to know better. They know that for the most part, it does not, or that it at least has points of diminishing returns and is often counter-productive. It was a bit disturbing to me to learn that Dick Cheney watches and likes this show... Who knew he had that kind of time on his hands?
Plus, on a less serious level:
- Having a nuclear device actually go off on American soil was way, way over the top...
- Having Jack kill fellow CTU-agent Curtis was wrong... just plain wrong...
The writers, the director, and Kiefer Sutherland himself (who plays the elite counter-terrorist "Mr. Fix-it" Jack Bauer) came under increasing criticism this season for the all-pervasive "finger-snapping" torture elements that could be found in the program week in and week out. It was being noted that US interrogators, officers, and troops were looking at the Jack Bauer model of interrogation as one to emulate in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo, with harmful results. The producers seem non-committal about where they are going to go with this. The 24-hour format of the show lends itself to this approach almost out of necessity.
Looking past the show itself, it leads to a larger question of how we actually come to look at the use of torture in our society in a post-9/11 world. You see the comments from two of the Republican candidates above. A little while ago, Mike McG had pointed out to me some disturbing numbers about how Americans, and Catholics in particular, look at torture. According to this Pew Study, 21 % of Catholics said that it was "often" justified to torture terror suspects and 35% said it was "sometimes" justified. This 56% majority number was sufficiently higher than the public as a whole (15% and 31 % respectively).
This, in spite of the fact that the Catechism states (no Inquisition wisecracks, please):
2297 ... Torture, which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.
2298 In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.
What are American now willing to accept? I can't recall where I read the following, but it was a narrative that went somewhat along these lines:
Imagine a Special Forces/Northern Alliance Team holding a group of three hardcore Taliban or Al Qaeda prisoners in late 2001, after then-CIA operative Cofer Black had insisted that "the gloves had been taken off."
(To the first prisoner)
"Where's Osama bin Laden"
"I don't know."
"Sorry, wrong answer." Bang
(To the second prisoner)
"Where's Osama bin Laden"
"I saw him in Khost about a month ago."
"Nope. Too long ago. That's not good enough..." Bang
(At this point the third prisoner starts talking and can hardly be stopped)
Alright, then. Where is Osama bin Laden in 2007? Still at-large, which underlines another problem with torture, even if one was able to equivocate over the moral issues associated with it. Tortured suspects have a tendency to tell their interrogators what they want to hear, if they can be made to speak at all, which means a lot of what you get out of tortured suspects is garbage.
An Atlantic article by Mark Bowden, The Dark Art of Interrogation, which is actually somewhat sympathetic to the Bush administration's approach towards interrogation in some ways, points out some of the pitfalls of using torture:
Fear works. It is more effective than any drug, tactic, or torture device. According to unnamed scientific studies cited by the CIA's Kubark Manual (it is frightening to think what these experiments might have been), most people cope with pain better than they think they will. As people become more familiar with pain, they become conditioned to it. Those who have suffered more physical pain than others—from being beaten frequently as a child, for example, or suffering a painful illness—may adapt to it and come to fear it less. So once interrogators resort to actual torture, they are apt to lose ground.
"The threat of coercion usually weakens or destroys resistance more effectively than coercion itself," the manual says.The threat to inflict pain, for example, can trigger fears more damaging than the immediate sensation of pain ... Sustained long enough, a strong fear of anything vague or unknown induces regression, whereas the materialization of the fear, the infliction of some form of punishment, is likely to come as a relief. The subject finds that he can hold out, and his resistances are strengthened.
Furthermore, if a prisoner is subjected to pain after other methods have failed, it is a signal that the interrogation process may be nearing an end. "He may then decide that if he can just hold out against this final assault, he will win the struggle and his freedom," the manual concludes. Even if severe pain does elicit information, it can be false, which is particularly troublesome to interrogators seeking intelligence rather than a confession. Much useful information is time-sensitive, and running down false leads or arresting innocents wastes time.
By similar logic, the manual discourages threatening a prisoner with death. As a tactic "it is often found to be worse than useless," the manual says, because the sense of despair it induces can make the prisoner withdraw into depression—or, in some cases, see an honorable way out of his predicament...
Religious extremists are the hardest cases. They ponder in their own private space, performing a kind of self-hypnosis. They are usually well educated. Their lives are financially and emotionally tidy. They tend to live in an ascetic manner, and to look down on nonbelievers. They tend to be physically and mentally strong, and not to be influenced by material things—by either the incentives or the disincentives available in prison. Often the rightness of their cause trumps all else, so they can commit any outrage—lie, cheat, steal, betray, kill—without remorse. Yet under suffi-cient duress, Koubi says, most men of even this kind will eventually break—most, but not all. Some cannot be broken.
"They are very rare," (an Israeli interrogator) says, "but in some cases the more aggressive you get, and the worse things get, the more these men will withdraw into their own world, until you cannot reach them."
On the Drudge website, I've noticed there is often a link to Newsmax, which is hawking a sensationalist book called The Day of Islam, by Paul Williams The blurb states:
FBI Director Robert Mueller, in an interview with NewsMax, confirmed Williams' main claim. Mueller said al-Qaida's paramount goal is clear: to detonate a nuclear device that would kill hundreds of thousands of Americans...
Mueller told NewsMax that at times, the threat feels so real he lies awake at night thinking about the prospect.
Williams maintains that al-Qaida is not content on blowing up one nuclear device or even simply a "dirty" nuke — but wants to explode real nuclear devices in seven U.S. cities simultaneously.
Williams says these cities are New York, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Miami, Boston, Houston, and Los Angeles.
Suppose for the sake of argument, that the Williams book is credible. What if such a scenario was to unfold? What would the response of this country be? (Even if, apparently, a bunch of us posting and reading here wouldn't live to see the aftermath)
Is the fear that keeps Mueller awake at night the same fear that lets Americans accept the idea of torture, even if torture is part of what makes the scenario that is so feared more likely to occur? In addition, if such nukes did go off here, with no return address, what would the response be? What should it be?