Search This Blog, All Links Referenced In All Posts, & Paranoid Links At The Bottom Of The Page

12 May, 2009

How Americans Think About Torture

Observations on “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”

Or “A Waterboard is something you bring to the beach”

How Americans Think About Torture

Based on this sampling of polling results, it is easy at first to be surprised and troubled by the degree to which Americans have expressed support for the inhumane treatment and torture of detainees. But public sentiment on such matters does not emerge in a vacuum. Rather, it often reflects the influence of carefully orchestrated marketing campaigns by powerful vested interests eager to shape opinion in support of a specific agenda or facts on the ground. Certainly it is now well known that the Bush administration embraced the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" in national security settings. It is therefore instructive to carefully consider the five-pronged message that they and their backers promoted to create a citizenry supportive of torture.

The first component involved fostering a "war on terror" environment of pervasive fear in which the prospect of massive, catastrophic harm was repeatedly given center stage. Spurred on by improbable ticking time-bomb scenarios where every second matters, perceptions of an urgent need to protect the country from looming disaster created a "whatever it takes" mentality in which efforts to extract crucial information through harsh interrogations and torture became a "no brainer."

The second element advanced the view that we need not be helpless against this threat because through torture-and torture alone-we can learn what we need to foil the plans of evildoers. Unsubstantiated evidentiary claims, hidden from inspection by veils of secrecy, were used to argue that specific interrogation techniques - regardless of how they might repulse us - were ultimately the only way we could protect ourselves.

Third was the frequent assurance that those we subjected to torture were themselves guilty of having participated in heinous acts of injustice that caused the loss of many innocent lives. This argument served to diminish concerns the public might have felt over the treatment these individuals received while in custody. Even in the absence of legal proceedings, the detainees could be deemed deserving of the physical and psychological pain inflicted upon them - they were responsible for their own suffering.

Fourth was the repeated assertion that the United States has a finely tuned moral compass and engages in torture only with regret and discomfort, only as a last resort, and only in the service of a far greater good. Sharp contrasts were drawn between "them" and "us"-between the detainees' innate evilness and our inherent goodness, between their vile aims and our righteous purpose. In this context, the interrogators were presented as courageous and heroic, worthy of praise rather than criticism.

Fifth was a concerted effort to stifle open debate when questions about the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" arose. Standard strategy here involved painting skeptics and critics-including human rights leaders and organizations-as untrustworthy, irresponsible, misinformed, weak, or unpatriotic. In so doing, the public was encouraged to discount, ignore, or condemn these voices of concern, and important words of warning therefore went unheeded.

In sum, this seemingly successful campaign of mass persuasion depended upon convincing the public to believe five things: (1) our country is in great danger, (2) torture is the only thing that can keep us safe, (3) the people we torture are monstrous wrongdoers, (4) our decision to torture is moral and for the greater good, and (5) critics of our torture policy should not be trusted. And all the while, the marketers painstakingly avoided using the actual word "torture"-and contested the word's use by anyone else. Of course, this strategy is by no means unique to the selling of torture. A similar approach, designed for hawking war, was used with devastating and tragic effect in building public support for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

No comments:

Post a Comment