Thursday, December 13, 2007

How Modern is Your Torture?


Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern tries to show the political links behind the CIA's decision to destroy video tapes showing "harsh" interrogation techniques against suspects in the war on terrorism. He says the scandal should move the U.S. to abandon tactics, such as waterboarding, that find their origins in the Spanish Inquisition.

What's interesting is that now, unlike during the Inquisition, we have the technology to record the images of such practices. The CIA tapes might have recorded felonies taking place. But what could they reveal about the tortue itself or about the people who inflict this kind of harm on others? Reporter John Barry recounts here how he was able to watch torture films from Iran and Greece many years ago and how it dispelled some myths about what torture might be like.

Of course, one of the myths we might want to dispel is that torture is a tactic that is a hold-over from more brutal days or that it only developed in the context of authoritarian societies, such as the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. If you look at the introduction to Darius Rejali's Torture and Democracy, you realize that there is a whole genre of "clean" torture methods developed in the 20th century by the world's strongest democracies (America, France, UK) that have spread and found their way into use by the dictators. But they started here, with the intent of being undetectable, not leaving marks on the body. Rejali's book is intended to be a civic primer for democratic citizens on the deployment of these practices of violence in our own societies. Perhaps we need to stop worrying about plunging back into the Dark Ages and start asking how much of our modern political institutions are literally built on the broken backs of victims.

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2 Comments:

At 7:42 AM , Blogger nolocontendere said...

The whole question of torture should be repugnant to our society, instead spineless leaders debate it's fine points.
How far we've fallen.

 
At 7:58 AM , Blogger Dennis said...

If waterboarding is "modern" torture (i.e. torture that does not leave marks), what is postmodern torture?

I'd leave a witty answer, but it's before 8 A.M.

 

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