Saturday, June 18, 2005

Our strength and defiance

Lileks is on fire, re: "torture," and with a fine Star Trek analogy to boot: If you recall that episode of Star Trek – and I would be rather stunned if you did not – there were two warring planets that had long ago decided against waging physical war, and started to wage a virtual one. Computers fought the war, and if your planet’s computer somehow let the other guy’s virtual cobalt bomb in, it would calculate the death toll. Those people who lived in the area hit by the virtual bomb would walk into a Disintegration Chamber and poof! Very tidy, and the infrastructure was left standing. Kirk, naturally, put a stop to it by wrecking the mainframes and snarling “now you have a real war on your hands, Chancellor.” Supposedly the planets would be so frightened by the prospect of ruptured sewer lines they would immediately sue for peace. They never did go back to that system. I would have liked to have seen if the planets stopped warring, or got together and started invading others, or just blew each other up six times over. But that was Kirk: he got the ball rolling, and that was his job. Anyway. Here’s the deal. We decide what constitutes torture, and identify it as the following: insufficient air conditioning, excess air conditioning, sleep deprivation, being chained to the floor, and other forms of psychological stress. The United States is free to use these techniques against hardened terrorists. Those who disagree with the techniques sign a register that records their complaints. When the terrorist finally spills the details of a forthcoming attack, on, say, Chicago, the people who signed the register and live in Chicago are required to report to the Disintegration Chamber. Very simple. Everyone’s happy. Well, no, I imagine not. The standard response would be “I want the interrogators to get the information, but not if it makes prisoners crap in their pants or pull out their hair.” Agreed. I would like them to get the information without any sort of effort whatsoever. It’s a fair cop, guv. Here’s where we’ve stored the fertilizer and here are the names of my associates. Now if you’ll show me to my cell, I’d like to get started whiling away the time until most of the networks are compromised and the Iranian government has fallen, after which we can talk about letting me return home. Jolly good!” But I don’t think that’s going to happen. Conversely, I don’t want them to beat the hell out of these people until they spit names and teeth, in no particular order. But I don’t care if they make them stay awake most of the day for a month or two. I really don’t. I’m sorry. We’re talking about people who will not be satisfied until Israel is gone and the United States crippled. I’d like to know what they know, and if they wet themselves in the process, I do not regard this is as the equivalent of uprooting several million people to Alaska to build a canal dressed only in long johns. There is a very wide gap between what even I'm willing to admit are uncomfortably harsh interrogation techniques, and actual torture. Causing mere discomfort is not a crime against humanity. What the enemy would like to do to us, to civilization and liberal democracy, to the world at large...those are. If it takes a few rough men willing to do precisely the calculated amount of (psychological) violence necessary to prevent the next terror attack, so be it. To reject anything that seems more painful to the softer citizens of the west than a trip to the chiropractor as de facto wrong is to hand an important psychological and strategic victory to the next group of terrorists who come along; they can be sure we're too weak to do what's necessary to break them, and thus act with impunity. If they know that even the most improbable claims of abuse will be pounced upon by a political class baying for blood, of course they'll make more, feeding into a never-ending cycle of self-flagellation imposed upon us by the useful idiots of the media. I agree: I don't want random executions, or slave labour camps, à la the Gulags. I know we're above physical torture of the mindlessly bloody medieval variety; there's no need for amputations or electrodes to the genitals. But failing those, I don't care what has to be done, and I'm certain we could well lose the longer-term war by relentlessly navel-gazing over the issue.


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