Monday, January 10, 2005

Torture echo chamber

"Torture" needs defining. Just as one man's "terrorist" is another's "freedom fighter," "torture," too, depends on individual perspective. In my view, it extends along a continuum: using threats and fear (psychological) seems to occupy the more acceptable end of the spectrum, while mutiliation or death (physical) fall at the other end. In between are the proverbial rubber hose or electric shocks that leave no physical marks.

Likewise, photos of Iraqi prisoners humiliated by some American soldiers at Abu Ghraib (made to go naked or wear underwear on their heads) differ in degree from videos of Iraqis being physically mutilated (e.g., having fingers chopped off) by agents of Saddam's regime. Both may have the same intended purposes: recorded for deterrence (and unintended: war crimes trials...).

Further, ends and means are in play along the continuum: if the objective is to obtain information (interrogation), that seems a higher motive than public humiliation or disfigurement as ends in themselves (or as punishment for betraying the state or collaborating with the state's enemies).

After enemies of the state fly airliners into office buildings killing thousands, rules of war and the use of "torture" (as specifically defined) must be reexamined.


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