The dark side

I don’t have the stomach to watch it, myself, but I am going to write about it anyway. Alex Gibney’s Taxi To The Dark Side is about torture in the war on terror.

The free bus paper, the Metro, had a powerful interview with the filmmaker. The full content doesn’t appear in the online version of the review.

Which is a pity, because the director made some very strong points. He said that most of the military whom he interviewed were horrified by the descent into torture. This included an interview with his own dying father who had been a naval interrogator in World war II. His father had said that they would never have condoned torture. Not only was it utterly unethical, the information that it produced would be of no value.

However, when the director showed the film to non-military audiences, he often got the response that the war on terror was different and meant that we had to go to “the dark side” to fight it. The film maker’s response was that Charles Manson had also been uniquely evil, but the USA hadn’t needed to dismantle its entire justice system to convict him.

I am going to pick up on two bits of this interview.

First, Gibney’s brilliant response to the popular idea that there is such a serious threat now that we have to drop human values to confront it. In the UK, Gordon Brown and others seem determined to use the argument that the old rules don’t apply not to justify torture – yet – but to gather support for daily more repressive laws. Brown explicitly said that the old war-on-terror was nothing like the new one. (He pretty well iimplied that the old one was almost cosy homegrown friendly disagreement.)

Just in case, anyone is convinced by this argument. The BBC’s On this Day has a handy Northern Ireland “bombings and shootings timeline.” This shows, for example, that by 1978, 1,000 people had died. That’s barely 7 years from the first event.

Cast your eye down the list. There were attacks on Parliament, on the Tory party conference, on two prime ministers, ambassadors, members of the royal family and so on. You would think that targeted attacks on the members of the establishment would have achieved total repression, if nothing would. And that was quite apart from all the thousands of normal humans who were killed and injured in pub bombings and shopping centre bombings, and so on.

Obviously, that was different. (There were no Americans killed, for a start.) Now, I think the Charles Manson point is unarguable. If the UK didn’t fall to pieces under that terrorist threat, why is it hellbent on doing so now?

Secondly, Gibney’s observation that it was usually people with no experience of the reality of war who are calling for the most horrific measures. This brings up a point that Grumpy Lion blogged about a couple of months ago – the biggest verbal “hawks” tend to be those people who have no idea what they are actually calling upon their troops to do. People, driven mad by fear, somehow lack the imagination see what sorts of actions they are endorsing. Some of the poor buggers who have to carry out these evil actions will themselves be scarred for life, quite apart from the unspeakable effects on their victims.

Sorry for a depressing blog. One of my own armchair warrior faults is that torture enrages me beyond measure. There is never a justification for it. People who condone it are well nigh as guilty as those who carry it out in their name. And there can be no truer sign of descent to “the dark side” than to come to treat it as just another option.

5 thoughts on “The dark side

  1. “Some of the poor buggers who have to carry out these evil actions will themselves be scarred for life”

    Good post, except for that bit. None of them ‘have’ to commit torture. They can say no and walk away. Instead they would rather retain the approval of their fellow criminals and their overseers, and hang on to their jobs or their position in the military or the clandestine service. Every person who tortures chooses to do so. Every one. They deserve whatever they may suffer. They are criminals of the most vile sort and should be treated as such.

  2. Ric, I agree and this is the reason why (currently) they are rightly tried as criminals should they cross the line.

    However, I don’t think it is always such a cut and dried situation. The military are there to (supposedly) implement the will of the nation and there is an element of “if I dont do it, some one else will” that stops people from walking away from horrible tasks, not to mention the punishments for failing to carry out your duties.

    I am not, in anyway, trying to excuse their actions. You are completely correct in saying they are “choosing” to torture, the torture victim is the one who can not just walk away. I think, and I think heather was trying to say, though, that no matter how much the “torturer” may feel s/he can handle the after effects this is not likely.

    If we, as a society, send people out to torture and they carry out our orders, what sort of person will return home? (Thinking back to the Stamford Prison Experiment… )

  3. You know why the UK didn’t bend itself over backwards to eschew personal liberties and human rights during the Northern Ireland bombings? They were done by fellow Britons, countrymen who other countrymen could speak to in their native English tongue and could pronounce their names. I really hate to sound so cut-and-dry racist about it, but truthfully that’s why.

    Rights in both the UK and the US are tossed aside in this “war on terror” because we’re fighting the “other” although, there is no “other”. We know who we’re fighting against, we know where they’re from. We might not be able to say their names or speak to them in their native Arabic tongue. Hell, both countries have considerable populations of the “other”. But because they’re the “other”, we’re absolutely terrified of them. It’s like a modern day reworking of global-centric Crusades. We’re all scared of the minimal fanatical population of the Middle East, so we’re going to war with all of them for good measure.

    I mean, you don’t see either country going to war with terrorists in Southeast Asia, India, or Russia. Or any other place with terrorists.

  4. James, I agree completely. It is easy to demonise the enemy when they look different, sound different, have different names, dress differently etc.

    Sadly, this is also what leads to atrocities being carried out (easy when the other side are thought of as less than human), and will make finding any long term solution impossible.

  5. TW –

    Let’s not forget the Milgram experiment either.

    As for the ‘if I don’t, someone else will’ argument, that’s nothing more than a rationalization for a failure of courage and morality, a failure to accept responsibility for heinous action. The people who order torture, from the top all the way down, the doctors and psychologists who enable it, and the people who carry out the actions are all equally vile, equally culpable, and should suffer the severest punishment available.

    And they should get additional punishment for incompetence, since torture is the least reliable way of gathering useful intelligence and is a waste of resources and time.

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