Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Abuse Excuse

A Disgruntled Republican: Regarding Torture:
"It is worth keeping in mind, that the CIA was not operating in a vacuum. This was not just George W. Bush and Dick Cheney acting independently or the CIA going it alone. There was Congressional oversight. Top legislators knew of interrogations. The CIA briefed Democrats and Republicans on the congressional intelligence committees more than 30 times about the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. Congress could have stopped it. Congress did not object or withhold funding.

Among those who were briefed and tacitly approved the techniques were many of the same Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, who now want to prosecute George W. Bush. We should keep in mind, that these techniques occurred in the aftermath of 9/11 when everyone thought that another attack was eminent. If I would I have been one of the congressmen who sat in on the CIA briefing, would I have objected and publicly condemned it? I don’t think I would have. Maybe later I would regretted that I did not, but at the time, I would have probably acted no differently than the congressmen who sat in on those briefings. If Bush is prosecuted for approving the use of torture, so should Nancy Pelosi and every congressman who acquiesced and did not publicly object and try to stop it at the time. That is all of them."
I've written and blogged a fair bit about torture and abuse over the years, and have a rather personal perspective on the effects and causes of it, having suffered more than my share.

"Quantity has a quality of it's own," as the old Soviets used to say. I shall spare you and your readers the details; simply put, though, a child who is abused both in school and at home has no safe place or people to trust.

I have galloping PTSD and have suffered from chronic depression since grade school. Aside from being on the Autistic Spectrum - something I was born with - I became as a consequence a polyfragmented multiple personality as a means of survival. I've been involved in various awareness campaigns over the years, and in each and every attempt to bring attention to the consequences of abuse by the "pillars of the community" against those weaker and less well connected, one feature is always some socially-justified apologea such as this.

Perhaps the argument is novel to the writer, it is not to me. It's a transparent attempt to evade personal and collective guilt by making responsibility for the evils committed so universal as to be meaningless. And that, frankly, is bullshit.

"If I would I have been one of the congressmen who sat in on the CIA briefing, would I have objected and publicly condemned it?"
Yes. I would have. No doubt this would have precluded my being briefed in the first place. Or are you so naive as to think that anyone on those "oversight committees" is one likely to operate from any genuine ethical or moral perspective? Those unwilling to "go along to get along" are always excluded from the club. But then, such a club is one I would not knowingly join, for I intuitively know the price of such moral compromise - as do we all, now.

These are people who have played the political game since grade school, have profited and triumphed along the way, having left metaphorical and perhaps even a few literal corpses in their wakes; certainly shattered hopes, ruined careers and frustrated dreams. In order to look at themselves in the mirror every morning, they have internalized the emotionally convenient myth that the opportunity to abuse someone proves that that person deserves to have been abused. They are "losers" and "losers" exist to prove that the winners won.

There are ways to explore this dynamic ethically and to the mutual satisfaction of those with complementary kinks for submission and domination - but I do not see much evidence of the concept of Safe, Sane and Consensual evidenced in the halls of Congress or Parliament.

The effect upon my life by people like Dick Cheney and Nancy Pelosi has been catastrophic; quite reasonably comparable to surviving childhood in a war zone.

This in turn led to a lifetime fascination with the sorts of people that would do that sort of thing, and what means they would use to make it seem needful to those who might otherwise interfere with them. And I say it having had unfortunately intimate experience with both sides of the coin. Having been raised by a sadist and a masochist, I have lived my life with that as my primary perspective of natural human relationships. Unlike my parents, I preferred to explore alternatives to accepting my fate as part of a package labeled "Traditional Family Values," so I've managed to avoid harm more often than not.

I can tell you, the most usual way to deal with the inevitable blow-back is to make the resistance to authority abuse a mandate for yet more abuse. CF: War On Terror, War On Drugs, scholastic Zero Tolerance policies. Goodness, the US BATF can trace it's roots to The Whiskey Rebellion! It's quite a fulfilling little pattern of denial - for professional perps.

Ultimately, I've found no better answer than what I wrote here; None Dare Call It Sadism.

It's about power, and the pursuit of power and it's exercise over others is a perfume with appeal that is irrelevant to partisan politics - and subversive of any principles that one on the quest for power might yet retain when they grasp the rose.

Human nature leads us to lash out, to focus our rage and fear upon a target and make them live with the insecurity we felt. It is, indeed, quite cathartic, even vicariously. And, as one can easily discern from just a slight insight into the political dynamics in Washington surrounding the commission of unquestionable, documented, brutal war crimes; complicity in a crime "for the greater good" is one of the better tools for building and maintaining a power base.

This might also give you some insight into the real reason for warrantless wiretapping. If there's no need for warrants, one does not need to explain exactly why one wishes to tap Nancy Pelosi's telephone.

Speaking for myself, I can say with certainty that while I completely understand the urge to punish those associated with grave crimes and extract from them whatever they may know about other participants in the process of making them justly suffer - I am also absolutely convinced that it is futile, largely by the experiences of those who have done it, and had it done to them.

Torture gains you words that you wish to hear, not information that you need to know. It's emotionally rewarding, but it in no way serves the task of making any nation or person safer. But then, a genuinely safer nation is not at all in the interests of those who's power base depends upon a strong "national security" infrastructure. The perceived threat must exist to justify the expense and the moral compromise. So the paradox is both inevitable and necessary; that the offenses committed in the name of security create new and greater threats to the security of the people.

The horrific and incompetent injustices committed upon the innocent and the possibly guilty alike have made cause for those outraged to hang all the slights, insults and offenses of the last century upon, and ram them home with the full force of international law.

It could, conceivably, become a pretext for war - for George Bush set the precedent for that, citing the mistreatment of political prisoners as one reason to invade and "clean up" Iraq.

And yet, people like Sheriff Joe Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Sheriff Tim Swanson are allowed to run around and brag about their approaches to criminal justice.

You see, torture becomes excusable when we are already numb to the routine abuse of authority, when is seen as a tool to be used when necessary for the greater good - and it's misuse can be cloaked in the wishful misunderstanding that anyone who IS mistreated must therefore have deserved it.

This, in regards to the notorious Hope Steffey case.

Just to give you an example of some of the things being said on the Internet:

Wow. I can’t believe how much you guys are throwing a fit over this. The LEOs knew two things:

1) She was trying to get someone arrested and prosecuted for a violent offense for which he would probably end up imprisoned and beat/raped.
2) She was lying to them.

And you think that they’re wrong for what they did?! What the effin eff?!
posted by jock@law at 6:52 PM on www.metafilter.com

I guess we can’t expect much from a guy who calls himself “jock@law”.

Of course, far from enhancing the rule of law, such actions and excuses for such actions make contempt for the law - and law enforcement professionals - normal and expected.

Mercenaries almost always prefer massive overkill - because it minimizes their personal risks. Of course, it also means they consider themselves separate from and not answerable to the folks they may find themselves shooting. Hell, Hessians didn't even consider themselves part of the same physical Empire!

Now, when I see street cops expressing that same attitude, of not even being in the same empire as the ordinary schlubs they deal with every day, it seems to me that we have become two entire empires - those who get to tell the police who to beat up, and those the police get to charge with the "crime" of scuffing the officer's shoes with their objectionable asses.

In fact, torture and more generally, the abuse of power against those weaker is inherently corrupt, can never be excused nor permitted, for when it becomes commonly allowed, it pervades and corrupts the society as a whole - from family to government, and every single human institution in between.

It saddens me that I say nothing greatly different than would have Jefferson, Hamilton, Locke or Mill; indeed, I say nothing here that Sun Tsu would disagree with.

The last couple-hundred years have made it clear that the resolution to act justly in the face of perceived threat is more difficult than might have been thought - but that price is still lower than the price of becoming what we abhor.

In order to deal with genuine threats justly and appropriately, we must abandon the idea that it is ever a reasonable thing to torture another human being, to impose our will upon others to force them to do as we would have them do, to make them bend the knee and serve our desires, whether it be abstractly - for power, prestige and petroleum, or in the ultimate personal sense, for the sense of personal victory, or sexual conquest.

For at the root, it's no different, and the stain is no less persistent for being a collective debt. Further, in pandering to the false idea that security is something that people in power over us are able to provide - rather than co-ordinate and inform - we abandon our own ethical and practical responsibilities to one another. We are our brother's keepers - and no artificial distinctions between peoples and nations changes that elemental fact. Where there is hunger and poverty, where there is strife and fear, any policy that increases those deficits will also increase those risks - and, by fact of being crimes, justify, in a legal or at least arguable sense, attempts to gain recompense.

That is not a philosophy of "Liberal Appeasement," it's a matter of fact as illustrated by history, empowered by the most basic insights into human nature. If you do not wish to be the target of terrorism, the first and most basic policy is to make it a matter of practice to NEVER scare anyone so badly nor place them in such an impossible situation that it seems both reasonable and the only possible course of action.

Only those who profit - financially or emotionally - from the direct or vicarious abuse of others find this to be arguable. So if you find yourself arguing with me - don't expect me to regard your arguments with much sympathy. I've heard them. They were not novel in the times of Sophacles or Jesus. They were dismissed by the Buddha and embraced by Sun Tsu as a fatal weakness to be exploited in an enemy. These insights led in great part to the various victories of Mao Tse Tung, Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh - as much due to the complling lack of moral standing held by western powers as to the moral and philosophical high ground they claimed. Indeed, they did not have to be far above moral sea level to shine by contrast in light of what the various popular movements had directly experienced. Hell, they only needed to keep their moral nostrils above water to benefit!

And in each case, it took a great deal of rhetoric and scare-mongering to excuse the history we had been culpable of facilitating, profiting by or directly participating in.

I am in my fifth decate of life, and I have yet to see an example in practice of the ends having justifed the means in retrospect. At best, I can say that there have been some examples of the triumph of the lesser evil - but that that any advancement of the greater good has been largely in spite of such outbursts.

3 comments:

Bob King said...

The illustration for this post is available in my Graphictruth zazzle store as greeting card. Inside, it asks, "what's wrong with this picture?"

Feel free to link to it as an embed, or you can also grab the image directly from this page.

usofc said...

A great article. It pushes all my buttons - even though I have never suffered the kinds of abuse that you have and not diagnosed with ASD I still have strong feelings about the culture of abuse all around us, the culture that classifies all dissenters and 'inadequates' as abnormal. Have you read any Derrick Jensen? He suffered abuse and then went on to write Culture of Make Believe and his current opus Endgame: The Problem of Civilisation in which he characterises civilization as an inherently bullying, abusive, conformist-centric, and genocidal concept.

Bob King said...

No, I haven't read Jenson, but I'll have to see if I can find him through my local library.

Or perhaps I can get review copies..

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