Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Face Of Evil Is A Mirror

I'm disabling comments on this post. Those of you who agree with what I may have to say are unlikely to have anything more to contribute, as I believe you'll understand by the end of the piece. Those of you who disagree?

You can find your own way out. Thanks.

Nietszche famously said: "Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." The quote refers to the danger of being changed by the process of struggling against what you hate into the very thing that you hate.

Since late 2001, by virtue of decisions taken largely by the US government, and to a lesser extent the governments of a group of nations including England and Australia, our society has been involved in a so-called 'war on terror'. We are repeatedly assured that it's for our freedom's sake. That we are the Good Guys. That the Bad Guys are Just Plain Evil.

But what's the real difference between good guys and bad guys? It's not motivation, that's for certain. Some of history's most terrifyingly evil acts have been carried out with what seemed to be the best of motivation.

The difference lies in walking the walk. In the doing. In the actions you take. In the rules you follow. In the limits you place on yourself.

And in this soul-destroying war on a fiction, as a society and as a people, we've crossed the lines. Really. Pay attention to what I'm saying: we aren't the fucking good guys any more. If we ever were.

This isn't some piece of hack lefty moral equivalence. I'm not suggesting that identifiable terrorists and religious extremists have become the 'the good guys'. I'm saying, very loudly, that there are no longer any 'good guys' in this fight.

We set rules for ourselves. We broke them. We created standards of human decency and treatment. We defiled them. We proudly trumpeted ideals of equality, justice, representation and liberty. And we abandoned them.

I've spent nine years of my life, now, calling for a more thoughtful and measured response to the insults put forward by the Taliban and their ilk. I supported the war in Afghanistan because even the Afghan people were being abused by the Taliban, and they needed our help just as much as we needed to take away the safe haven the place offered Al Qaeda. I still support action in Afghanistan to help the Afghans rebuild, and to strengthen their society so it never again needs to slide into theistic totalitarianism.

I never supported the war in Iraq. I opposed it vocally, and at length, in the face of some very nasty personal criticism from people who should have known better. I lost friends over that one - though I'm proud of the friends who argued sanely, rationally, and logically... and eventually had the courage to admit to errors.

And I've screwed up from time to time as well. Who hasn't? This situation is a pile of shit.

But I've never, ever supported some of the measures we've been taking. And I have been distressed, dismayed and horrified to see the descent of the liberal-minded, freedom-loving society of my upbringing brought closer and closer to some sort of Orwellian parody of itself. Invasive searches of children at airports - the alternative being high-dosage X-rays. 'Free Speech Zones'. 'Total Information Awareness'. 'Great Internet Firewalls'. "Extraordinary Rendition". 'Children Overboard' - and concentration camps for desperate refugees in leaky boats.

The worst, I think, is the torture. And the fact that we've never even tried to hold anyone accountable for it.

Torture? Yes. I mean waterboarding. And if you don't know what that is, you're blissfully ignorant. Go and look it up. And if you disagree that it constitutes 'torture', consider that our side convicted several Japanese soldiers of precisely this crime after the second world war. Try this article as a beginning.

Of course, we've known for some time that waterboarding went on in Afghanistan and Iraq. But like any war, more information comes to light over time. It's now clear and public that President Bush authorised the use of waterboarding. And that a depressingly large number of people were complicit.

What is now coming to light is a range of details. Facts. Observations. Things which were done by our people, in the name of our freedom. Terrible, vile things. I direct your attention to this article from Salon.com:

"Self-proclaimed waterboarding fan Dick Cheney called it a no-brainer in a 2006 radio interview: Terror suspects should get a "a dunk in the water." But recently released internal documents reveal the controversial "enhanced interrogation" practice was far more brutal on detainees than Cheney's description sounds, and was administered with meticulous cruelty.

Interrogators pumped detainees full of so much water that the CIA turned to a special saline solution to minimize the risk of death, the documents show. The agency used a gurney "specially designed" to tilt backwards at a perfect angle to maximize the water entering the prisoner's nose and mouth, intensifying the sense of choking – and to be lifted upright quickly in the event that a prisoner stopped breathing."

The remainder of the carefully written and researched article is here, and I urge you to read it, because I want to make three important points which relate to this.

The first point is: I have been unable to find anywhere any evidence to suggest that the use of waterboarding or any of the other so-called 'enhanced interrogation techniques' (because we can't call it 'torture', can we? We're the Good Guys, right? When we do it, it's not 'torture'.) has ever, at any time, yielded information of significant value.

Furthermore, the whole of the literature with which I am familiar in this area suggests that torture does not provide useful information. Time and again, the evidence shows that alternative techniques work far, far more effectively. I'll say it again: torture doesn't work. And if it doesn't work, it is pointless.

The second point is: we claim to live in a democratic, representative society. If that is so, then we the people are ultimately responsible for what is done in our name. You. Me. Our friends and relatives. We may not have poured the water, tilted the boards, held the cloth over the heads of screaming victims -- but the people we put in charge arranged for this to happen. It is our fault. If you choose to disagree with this, the only real alternative that you have is to argue that we do not live in a democratic, representative society... and that would be my case made for me, wouldn't it? Because what I keep saying is: we are not the Good Guys any more.

The final point I want to make is personal: if you can read that article and find it in you to approve of what was done, or if you can make some kind of justification or rationalisation to exonerate the people who did it and the people who authorised it -- go away.

Truly. Really. I don't need you. I don't want to know you. I have nothing to say to you. Go elsewhere. Don't come back to this place until you've had some kind of a change of mind, or a change of heart. I don't care who you are, or how long I've known you. It's not a permanent condemnation, because I believe even the wrong-headed can grow up and change, and I'll be happy to welcome you back when you do. But very simply: I don't have time or space in my life for people who can support this. It is absolutely unacceptable in any society that dares call itself 'civilised'.

I do not support this. Nor ever have. We may not be the Good Guys any more, but I'm hoping like hell, and working as hard as I can, to change that -- for my children, if not for me.