Torture Should Be Accounted For

Torture is among the most heinous crimes known to humankind. It should never be excused, it should never go unpunished. It is not about who the tortured are, or what the tortured know. It is not about what they have done, what they believe, or whether they would do the same. It is about who we are, and how human beings should be treated. It is about our humanity, that is all.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Pouring and Forcing

The torture topic, shall we say, is getting legs. After Elsinora's post on Daily Kos, Marty Lederman wrote on Balkinization about the distinctions John Ashcroft was hiding behind, and that all coincided with the non-release of 7,000 documents by the CIA, and its revealing motions for summary judgment to justify turning down a Freedom of Information Act request from the Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, and the New York University International Human Rights Center.

When all this was going on, I was still pouring over the past, still intrigued with how the highly defined tortures that the Torture Council was presiding over, which seem to have been at the Black Sites, had moved to the generalized torture and abuse of the military prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba.

Oddly, it was time for a break. Please forget and forgive that I would take a break from studying torture to study the Albigensian Crusade, take a break from the study of modern evil to study the evil of an extermination in the past. I do actually study other things, and even spent a reasonable period during that time musing over the construction of fractal maps. But it turns out that the history of excuses repeats itself. And perhaps it's no accident that a bumper sticker arrived on the American scene in the 1990's that read, "Kill them all, let God sort it out."

Torture, like the past, repeats itself

The astonishing revelations that have come out of the Bush administration about torture in the last six months point to a well organized effort, and to many of the players knowing full well that the path was leading downward, knowing even, in the case of the CIA, what the consequences were likely to be, but pursuing the path nevertheless, with a sense of righteousness that persists in the public statements as often as reluctant reporters confront officials as to why they did what they did. And while it is perfectly reasonable to consider the effects of dehumanization, control, and anonymity, together with the pressure to get information -- the necessary preconditions for the Stanford Prison Experiment effects, in this case it is also perfectly reasonable to consider another once benevolent power, that as it moved to dominate the world and defend its borders, also moved to disqualify human beings of their humanity on an ideological basis, and rationalized itself, over time, into a regime of torture.

Torture doesn't really work as a method for acquiring information. We've been told that, principally by authors and journalists citing the FBI, or in the FBI's words themselves, over and over for the last several years. Internal memos dating back as far as the 1960's can be found telling ourselves these things. Eventually, they seem superceded by internal memos detailing the hows and whys of torture, then by the public justifications and the splitting of hairs, and finally, the limiting of torture in application, that is the ultimate justification, and the ultimate fallacy.

The evolution of Ad Extirpanda

There is an empire that conservatives, neo-conservatives, liberals, and everyone else in between, constantly draw comparisons to, in the ideological battles over the past 7 years. That empire is Rome. I am going to do the same. But rather than dealing with the transition from republic to empire, from government by the Senate to government by the Emperor, I call your attention to the other Roman empire, the empire after the Catholic church took over the reigns of power, and ruled on the authority of promoting the Good News, and a doctrine of faith and good works, the love of god and neighbor. Were we to see our desires to export democracy as a parallel to the Church's desire to export the Christian faith, we might see this Roman empire as a sharp warning to our efforts. After all, in the name of love, forgiveness, and turning the other cheek, the Church promulgated 6 crusades, an infamous Inquisition, and provided the forces of hatred and prejudice that wracked Europe right up into the Holocaust in the 20th century.

The Cliff Notes version of all that was that someone wrote a book called the Malleus Maleficarum, and then a pope who read it took Europe on a witchhunt, via the Inquisition, that led to centuries of burning witches at the stake. Ignored in that version is the fact that burnings at stakes and the Inquisition, and the whole spiral downwards for that empire of goodness and righteousness, were already complete and in place by the time Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger ever wrote the Witch's Hammer. Ignored today is the fact that the FBI did not originate the notion that torture doesn't work, either. It was in Church writings at the beginning, not the end, of the descent into inquisitorial hell. As Brian Harrison has documented, in 533 A.D., the Digest of Justinian states

It is declared in the Constitutions that torture should be considered neither as always trustworthy, nor as always untrustworthy. And as a matter of fact it is a fickle and dangerous business that ill serves the cause of truth (etenim res fragilis est et periculosa, et quae veritatem fallat). For there are not a few who are possessed of such powers of endurance, or such toughness, that they scorn the pain of torture, so that there is no way the truth can be wrung from them. Others, however, have so little resistance that they will make up any kind of lie rather than suffer torment; and that can lead them to keep changing their story, even incriminating others as well as themselves.
But then came the era of perpetual enemies. The Church began fighting Crusades in the Holy Land, originally with a papal edict asking Christians to come to the aid of the Byzantine empire against the Turks in 1095. Although the Crusades were to continue for centuries against the Muslims over Jerusalem, on the side, the face of the enemy diversified. There were crusades against Bogomil heretics in Bulgaria and the Balkans (the Tatar Crusade), and against Aragon in Spain. And against the Cathars in Languedoc. The last, called the Albigensian Crusade, is important, because it was against heretics, the non-state actors of their time. It began officially in 1209, and mobilized forces from Northern France and England. But they had been denouncing and burning Cathars, by that point, since 1167. The dehumanization involved in the denuciation looks oddly familiar in some respects. They practiced a religion that was an amalgamation of various influences, most prominently Manichaeanism, itself an amalgamation of Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Buddhism. As a result, the monastic class, the perfecti, did not eat meat, and practiced strict celibacy, poverty and non-violence. They came to stand for an indictment on the corruption of the Catholic Church, and gained a large popular following in Southern France. They were a challenge to the doctrinal supremacy of the church, and because of different land ownership beliefs, a challenge to the emergent kings of the time, and their refusal to submit, and willingness to perform last rites on each other and go to the stake to be burned, meant they did not, as the often mouthed phrase goes, "have the same concept of death."

By 1219, with the siege of Beziers, they had, in contemporaneous values, been declared illegal enemy combatants. To wit, although chivalry and the codes of ethics of the times seemed to forbid the killing of women, children, and the elderly, with the Cathars, these restraints were overridden by the necessity of removing evil from the face of the earth. Consequently, the origin of the bumper sticker mentioned above, is that siege, when Arnaud Amalric famously ordered his generals, "Caedite eos! Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius." In English, "Kill them all, God will recognize his own." After the battle, he reported to Rome that he had killed "20,000 without regard for age or sex." The perfecti were hunted down, and in town after town, were burned at the stake, until the last known one was burned in 1311.

Knowledge of where the Cathari threat would next emerge became paramount. As it did so, the question of obtaining that knowledge inevitably came up. And so did the fine print on torture. Confession, and conversion, were supposed to be voluntary, by Church doctrine, and were invalid unless under those circumstances. That meant that torturing Cathari to get them to convert was off the table. But the Catholic Church was clearly fighting a new kind of enemy, one that loved death the way good Catholics loved life. And a one percent doctrine became the norm, with the existence of so much as one heretic the cause for and inquisition, an excommunication, or a siege. The long hard slog to rid the world of beliefs that could not be allowed to exist had begun. Even voices that said diplomacy would work better than war were ignored (Francis of Assisi) or excommunicated (Francis Bacon).

We hear the statements that the Church does not torture. In the 11th century local church councils banned the death penalty for heresy. All during that period, doctrine is debated, and in 1252, Pope Innocent IV issues a papal bull titled Ad Exstirpanda ("until eradication", much like our war on terror seeks eradication of terrorists), defining permissible torture narrowly, as legal when the goal is interrogation, much as Antonin Scalia publicly talked about torture for the purposes of interrogation, and not punishment, being not prohibited by the Constitution. The tortures allowed for interrogation, much like the Yoo memo that narrowed impermissible torture to causing death or organ failure, are to be performed on the heretics, theives and bandits, (ours are against terrorists, and non-state actors), and, they are to be coerced, "although one must stop short of danger to life or limb." It also made burning heretics alive official Church policy.

Demonization and Dehumanization

Demonization and the threat of a perpetual enemy were the cause of the Catholic Church turning on its humane edicts and eventually going against all social and military norms, and adopting the language and the practice of evil. Parsing of the minutiae of when a technique was allowed, when it constituted a banned practice, were also evident. We don't know if anyone made a distinction between forcing and pouring during the Albigensian Crusade, we don't know if anyone purposely set out to devise methods that would conform to the ban on danger to life and limb while allowing the utmost of pain and suffering. We do know that sexual humiliation was performed, the Cathars were sometimes marched naked out to be burned, and were constantly accused of homosexuality, we do know that the threat of death was used, and the threat of death to family members, and burning, and beatings, and withholding of food.

Dehumanization goes on all the time, it is a natural reactive measure like euphemism in its personal, normal version, the use of an abstraction of other, and of treating a collection of people as a crowd, is a very mild form, that is used to insulate the personality from too many emotional attachments and shocks. Out of this can grow the version we usually think of when we think of dehumanization, that of treating the other as less than human, even in an emotional exchange. And from there, the collective version is the demonization of the enemy. Atrocities are a fact of all wars. But there are combined factors of institutional memory and permanent demonization that gnaw on the restrictions that the world periodically puts on the atrocities of war. Institutional and permanent are harsh words. But it takes only about 30 to 40 years for memory to become institutionalized, for the memory of war as a normal state of being to become the only memory of a majority of the population. Permanent is a very short thing for a species that cannot often live past 100 years.

And the world has been here before, has been through the rationalizations, the pouring not forcing, the endless memos, the signed directives, and the descent into pogrom. The descent of the Christian Roman Empire led to exterminations that did not stop until 1945. It began with something very close to "exporting democracy" worked its way through "They hate us for our freedom," and ended in torture and genocide.

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