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In: politics16 Sep 2003
The Atlantic Monthly: "Mark Bowden, the author of "The Dark Art of Interrogation," on why the practice of coercion is a necessary evil".
Interesting interview. I’m especially in agreement with this quote:
"[Q] Was it difficult to do that? You’ve written very candidly about torture. And I imagine that some of the people you interviewed, such as the people from Amnesty International, would find this article inappropriate or even morally wrong.
[A] I expect that some people will condemn me for not having adopted what is generally accepted to be the humane line on this. But I think that’s too easy – I think that Amnesty’s position in this particular instance is too easy. They equate someone like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed with a teenager on the Ivory Coast who had his hands lopped off. I think that there’s not a moral equivalent. I believe that there is a special issue posed by terrorists’ plotting mass murder and that we have an obligation as a society to think long and hard about these things."
This discussion was brought up when I was training as a reserve officer (damn, nearly 10 years ago) and I also discussed that issue a couple of times with my father, a retired Colonel from the French Corps of Engineers. If there’s an organization where people want to do what’s right, it’s the Army. It’s very easy to take a moral high stance regarding torture until you look at a) the practical reality of combat (some forms of warfare such as long trench fights – e.g. WWI Verdun – are quite similar to mass torture for practical purposes), and b) the consequences of not having information you might have gotten through torture.
In some cases, and I realize it might sound horrible, I think people committing torture are sacrificing their "soul" [*] for the greater good, and that’s something I might have respect for, in some circumstances. They get the nasty nightmares and haunting memories, you get the safety. Sometimes you have to dirty your hands to get the job done, and Bowden provides a welcome break from a conventional wisdom that doesn’t think too hard about the consequences of its stance. The likes of Amnesty International provide in-a-box Moral Stances that don’t look so bright in the light of real circumstances.
[*] I’m agnostic and I’m not sold on the idea there’s such a thing as a soul, so for me it’s synonymous of conscience.
I'm CEO of an online trade publishing firm in the marketing and defense verticals. We try to make news and data digestible and useful in an environment that is more noisy each day. This personal blog mixes my thoughts and interests on politics, business, software, and more, based on my business and personal experiences. Over the years I have posted items that turned out spectacularly wrong, and a few posts that stood the test of times better. Personal views only.