The war on terrorism and the use of torture

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The end of the American engagement in Afghanistan produced a moment of stocktaking for the nation. Everything about this war will inevitably be reviewed by commentators. Its origins in the attacks of September 11, 2001 are already at the center of all attention. So is its crucial role as a prelude to the real war in Iraq. There are other important considerations, such as the evolution that led to the replacement of the previous generation’s carpet bombing strategies with drone warfare or the much more complex question of how the tragedy of war serves people. interests of the military-industrial complex.


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Then there is the torture. The Bush administration preferred to call it “enhanced interrogation” and saw it as essential to the success of all their missions abroad. Last week, Tyler Weyant, deputy director of operations at Politico, sought the advice of retired general and former CIA director David Petraeus on the subject of “what went wrong after the September 11th “. Weyant specifically raised the question enhanced interrogation. The general responded with this simple statement: “It has done a lot of damage to our reputation. “

Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary Definition:

Reputation:

The entirely superficial feeling of having a good reputation in society closely tied to achievement, which in modern times has permanently replaced the neglected notions of honor and moral quality that ancient civilizations used to judge the integrity of a person

Contextual note

Reputation was not the only victim of the practice of torture by the US military. Petraeus added that diplomatically, “it has damaged our relations with countries where we have black sites.” This is a side effect that the media rarely mentions in their reporting on the practice of torture by the US military. Petraeus seems to claim that black sites are not problematic on their own or would not be if they remained black, which means hidden in plain sight.

Black sites only become problematic when the media gets wind of them, as happened in 2004 when the Abu Ghraib prison scandal erupted. What Petraeus finds regrettable is the effect on allies that the United States has asked to host such sites. After all, these nations too have reputations to uphold. Associating with sadistic foreign criminals may not perform well among their own people. Their complicity in hosting American sites dedicated to torture is quite simply damaging to their public relations. This in turn becomes detrimental to the interests of the United States itself, as it could in the future dampen the appetites of those governments to cooperate with Washington on other illegal operations. At least Guantanamo is in a country the United States doesn’t care about and refuses to cooperate with.

This line of reasoning demonstrates another characteristic of political morality today. In the past, political entities, whether ruled by kings or princes, used torture not only to extract information, but also and perhaps primarily to intimidate and instill fear. Machiavelli identified this goal as a basic need of any successful leader. It is more important that the use of torture be known than hidden.

The times have changed. Reputations are now created and nurtured exclusively through the media. The fear and apprehension that governments can create today stem from the expensive, visibly awe-inspiring and instrumentally oppressive technology they use to establish and enforce control over their own people as well as instill fear in their potential enemies. The technology includes weapons used by the military and police, but also increasingly powerful and ubiquitous surveillance technology.

In other words, torture as an official means of instilling fear has become obsolete and is even considered shameful. She developed a public image identified with the barbarism and bad practices of primitive societies. If a government now resorts to torture, its interest is to avoid bringing it to the attention of the media.

The official moral status of institutions and public figures, as well as the range of values ​​that contribute to the moral status of an individual or an institution, no longer derive from the values ​​promulgated by recognized moral authorities, whether religious or philosophical. Only the media have the power to determine whether their audience approves or disapproves of certain types of actions.

Historical Note

With the advent of the Global War on Terrorism, the Bush administration coined the term enhanced interrogation simply to distract the public from its perception of torture. The fact that the war was no longer waged against an army but against the abstract notion of “terror” meant that it would not be the tortured who would suffer but the terror itself.

The film “Dark zero thirty», Published in late 2012, less than a year after the assassination by the Navy SEALs of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, illustrates Hollywood’s usual collaboration with the CIA and the Pentagon. With the same seriousness as many other media productions designed to influence the public’s perception of the need to resort to aggressive tactics in the interest of suffocating terrorists, the film specifically sought to make reinforced interrogations appear useful and productive. , and therefore morally acceptable.

In 2016, Ardoise reported that David Petraeus, who had resigned from the CIA just a month before the film’s release, was at the time opposed to torture and could have talked about the film. “When the film Zero Dark Thirty was released in December 2012, some friends of Petraeus encouraged him to speak out against his claim that information gleaned under torture led to the tracing of Osama bin Laden, a thesis he knew to be false. At the time, however, Petraeus was embroiled in the scandal surrounding an adultery case with his biographer that prompted his resignation. He does not say anything. Film critics praised the film. Torture has maintained its positive reputation.

On the Bush administration’s judgment of the Democrats on the practice of torture, Adam Serwer writing for The Atlantic in 2018 noted that Barack Obama summed up his position on torture before taking office, saying “we need to look ahead rather than look back.” Throughout his eight years in the White House, Obama maintained a policy of refusing to hold anyone responsible for torture. Reinforced interrogations were no longer encouraged or celebrated, as was the case by the Bush team. She was tolerated and even secretly admired.

With Donald Trump in the White House, the wind began to turn against the practice of torture, even in Hollywood. Democrats realized that if this was left in the toolbox of someone as obnoxious as Trump, there was cause for concern. In 2018, Fox News recalled former George W. Bush Vice President Dick Cheney to explain that there was no raison to worry. “I think the techniques we used were not torture,” Cheney said. “A lot of people try to call it that, but it wasn’t considered torture back then. People want to go back and try to rewrite history, but if that was my call I would do it again. “

No longer mired in scandal and with Trump out of sight, Petraeus can now speak openly about the detrimental effect of torture on the country’s public relations. “The use of improved interrogation techniques in other places then found its place, in a way, in Abu Ghraib,” he noted. It was indeed a shocking moment when the audience got to see what an enhanced interrogation really looked like. Without the survey report of Seymour Hersh, Abu Ghraib would have remained a secret. But even after this monumental scandal, the practices continued and could be justified years later by Hollywood.

One wonders what Petraeus meant by “in a certain way” when he mentioned that torture techniques “found their way into, in a way, Abu Ghraib”. The very idea that torture finds its way, as if it were some kind of sentient being, should surprise the reader. But “in a way” sounds like he thinks it would have been better if Hersh’s reporting had never happened.

Petraeus added another observation, noting that the US military “relied too much on drones in the effort in western Pakistan from 2009 to 2011”, in some cases creating more enemies than drones have. eliminated. Again, it is not the lives lost or damaged that deserve his concern, but the fact that such acts can create new enemies.

Whether it’s an individual or an institution, managing your reputation has never been easy. This is something that CIA generals and directors fully understand.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Fair Observer.


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