Monday, November 26, 2018

PART 2 of 'Alternatives to Torture'

There is an alternative to torture, of course there is. It's called 'being nice to people' and giving them things.
Before you dismiss such an idea as crazy and misguided, it's worth remembering that it has been tried quite recently, and it achieved favourable results. I'm referring to the situation in Iraq, just a few short years ago. At that point, the Americans had drawn up a list of the Most Wanted, and had put a price on each one of their heads. Mr Saddam, you may recall, was top of the list and the figure was twenty five million dollars. When someone tipped off the authorities that the great man was hiding in a hole in the ground, no doubt the cash was paid over. After all, that was the aim – to find the tyrant, alive.

Ah, you say, but we know all about Rewards. They worked in the Wild West, over a hundred years ago. Outlaws like Billy the Kid had a price on his head. Eventually he was tracked down by Marshall Pat Garret, as a recent film shows. Right, so how many people were tortured then – in an effort to find out where the bad young man was hiding? Well, none. The alternative - paying for information, not squeezing it out of people in pain - was equally effective and consistently produced results. Nobody saw any need to use torture to track down gangs, gangsters and cowboys on the run in those days.

Strange, then, that in these modern and enlightened times, we seem to have forgotten the lessons of the past. When it comes to spies and terrorists, we have lost the imagination we once had. We don't wave a chequebook in their face, to those people down there in Guantanamo Bay, we wave a rubber cosh. And we don't tempt them with an electronic transfer of funds, we inflict the pain of an electric shock. Does it work? Well, there's two answers to that. From the government, the answer seems to be a consistent 'Yes'. That's the first answer. When was that then, you may well ask? When did that happen? Nobody knows, is the second answer. Well, strictly speaking, it's 'We can't tell you', but hey, that's the same thing. Sorry, but it sure is a topsy-turvy world in counter-espionage, the 'alternate universe' of spying. The torturers always manage to look sinister and mysterious and tell you that their system works, but - and they’re really sorry about this - they’re just not willing to give you any details that might justify the allegations they make. Who knows, if YOU found out what they know, then maybe they'd be forced to make you the next victim.

Anything else won't work, they say. There's no mileage in trying to bribe these fanatics, we're told. Their families are back in the home country and would be terrorised by the other terrorists still living there. Okay, so logically what it would need is for the suspect you've got in custody, plus all his relatives, to be relocated – new names, new homes. Hey, that doesn't sound impossible, and it could all be done for a few millions, far less than the disruption caused by terrorism itself.

There's also one major pay-off. Torturers will tell you that the trick is to get the person being interrogated to a point where they give up and realise they're not going to escape. At that point they tell you everything, (they say). Unfortunately, by the time you've checked on whether the info is worthwhile or not, it's too late to do anything about it, because your prisoner has given up - just like you intended - and likely died, usually. If they realise that, if they know they're going to die, then they might as well lie, mightn't they? Yes. So, one big advantage of bribing instead of paining, is that the suspect is still alive, (even if in hiding). If what they told you was wrong - or, in fact, if you've got any complaints at all - you can go and see the person and remonstrate with them. If you're irate at the bribery not working, you can go back to Plan A and get the thumbscrews out. What have you lost? If you chose the former route, (the more usual 'modern' example), there's no second chance, ever. Not very smart, is it?

So, money. There's a suggestion for the anti-terrorism units all over the world. I don't expect it to be popular, because of course, there's another item on the agenda, isn't there? Torturing 'suspected' terrorists is, first of all, a lot of fun for the person holding the whip or the electrode. They can get a big kick out of inflicting pain. Ever tried it? It's great, apparently. Second of all, it makes the whole counter-terrorism thing seem important. Hell, if your government is telling you that you have the right to skin someone alive, then you must be a pretty important person, right? And the work you're doing must be Top Priority too, eh? Yes, that's the reality of it all. Torture is self-justifying. It's so awful that it must be right, otherwise why would any sane, sensible, educated person take part in it, support it, or condone it? It's bad, right? And you're only allowed to do bad things if there's a good reason. So there must be a good reason, mustn't there?

What if there's not? What if all the torture committed since 9/11 hasn't produced that alleged long list of names, phone numbers, and leads, that makes it all worth doing and justifiable? What if the entire top-heavy, administrative enterprise isn't worth a damn? Well, let's not go there, let's not think about! Because that would mean – Oops, our government, and the governments of our allies, has been involved in inflicting inhuman treatment on people who've never even made it into a court of law – for what? To make themselves feel good, look important and justify their salaries. Not much in the way of a 'good' reason, is it? 

Want to read more? This article - and others like it - have been gathered into a collection of essays published by Mike on the internet. It's available on Amazon Kindle (although other bookstores are available). Click the link below and a new window will open. (It's Magic.) 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

OLD ARTICLE (goes into New book)

Here's an article, from several years ago.
Where is it now? (answer at end)


We live in a tough old world. As a recent film tries to tell you, it's possible that you will be snatched off the street tomorrow by people you don't know, bound and gagged and flown off to some far-distant part of the world where you can be interrogated, harshly. Oh, all right, then, we'll tell you the truth. You'll be tortured. Pain will be inflicted on you as a way of encouraging you to confess the crimes that you're assumed to be thinking about, conspiring to happen and planning, such as terrorist attacks on the Western world. This is all in the name of 'security', patriotism and anti-terrorism - all good stuff. If all goes well, you'll tell them what they need to know and lives will be saved. That is, if you are a terrorist. Things start going wrong if you aren't.

Let's imagine, purely for the sake of argument, that you aren't a terrorist, haven't been and don't plan to be. You're strung upside down and people you don't know and haven't been properly introduced to are beating the soles of your feet with iron bars. They ask you questions, and you hesitate, because you know you don't have any answers. In fact, as soon becomes clear, these people are pretty sure they already know the answers to the questions they're putting to you – they just want you to confirm their suspicions. What do you do? At first you might figure they will come to their sense, realise you aren't a threat and let you go. If they don't seem willing to do that, you might come up with another plan: you'll admit anything they put to you. That way, at least they'll stop the pain. Of course they won't let you go either, but at least you might get a day in court and then you can plead your innocence. Trouble is, you've just admitted your guilt. Not to worry, you'll tell the court your story, tell them you only made an admittance so that they'd stop doing the bad things they were doing. So they might believe you. But they won't. The record shows that people who admit their guilt – such as the Birmingham Six in Britain in the 1970s – and then retract their forced confessions on the grounds it was beaten out of them - aren't believed later.

So, torture works. At least, if you are the person aiming to find someone to admit to being guilty. Like the Birmingham Six. You, the torturer, then have people you can blame for the bombing of civilians and the state can send them to prison and announce that justice has been done. In that case, unfortunately, as it emerged later, they got the wrong men. It took many years but it was later proved that they had nothing at all to do with the crime. The judges had to let them go. But why? Why were they in jail? Because they'd admitted they had done it. Why? Why would anyone admit they were guilty unless they were? Because they were smacked around for days, deprived of sleep and threatened. This, in a civilised country like England. In any other part of the world it would be called 'inhumane and degrading treatment', in other words, torture. Not here. We don't do torture in Britain, (we say.)

But we did once. It was back in the time of Shakespeare and shortly after. Then we tortured witches, regularly. We know they were witches because they admitted they were witches. That's why they were then killed, because of all the evil things they admitted to doing, like consorting with the Devil and flying around on broomsticks. Now here's the problem. No one does that sort of thing anymore, (at least, as far as we know). Oh sure, there are some people who call themselves White Witches and claim to mix potions and cast spells – but only to do good. So here's the issue: we live in a scientific age and think that talk of witchcraft is nonsense. No one can really fly around on a broom, (except in movies). But did they ever? If they did, then why can't we do it now? If they didn't – because it's impossible, we know – why did they ever say they could? We know they said they could do those things, because we have the records. Why would people say such a thing? Well, one reason might be because they were routinely tortured. That's how our ancestors extracted the confessions. Maybe, just maybe, there never have been people who can fly or cast bad spells. But that means – well, that the people who said so were in fact lying, for some reason. Maybe - is it possible - inn order to stop the torture, perhaps.

In the modern world it's different. We know that terrorism exists, because we've seen it happen, and we know that terrorists are out there somewhere, planning it. The problem is, using torture, that we have no way of knowing – for sure – if the people who admit to it are being genuine, or lying, to save themselves pain. Ah, you say, but if only one life is saved – yes, well then, any amount of inflicted pain might seem justified. The problem with that is that we aren't being told if it's currently effective, for the sake of 'security'. Well, sorry, but that doesn't add up. If our side uncovered a terrorist cell because we had a spy in their camp, then no, we wouldn't want to reveal the source and so ruin their placement. But if we torture information out of a person? Well, then we already have them as a prisoner. It does no harm to reveal who they are and what they're alleged to have done or be doing, doesn’t it? So we should be seeing spy cells broken and terrorists arrested. Regularly. Why aren't we?

There could be one simple reason. Maybe the sad fact is that not a bit of useful information is coming from torturing detainees at this present time. The truth might possibly be that doing torture in the modern world is merely 'busy work', making it look as though we're fighting the threat of terrorism without actually doing anything useful – such as catching the real bad guys, perhaps by intelligent means. After all, if we could do that, we wouldn't need to torture anyone, anymore. Is that an alternative?

Thank you.
That article has been put in a New book, as part of a collection of essays.
The collection can be had as an e-book, if you follow this link below.
LINK: click here