Tuesday, May 30, 2006

When a little bit of soul slips through your fingers

The whole point of Guantanamo Bay was to provide a place in which the U.S. could discount any legal challenge to their manner of treatment of their prisoners. If people were encouraged by the McCain anti-torture amendment, they would have been naive to think that the Bush administration would actually abide not only by the letter of the amendment, but the spirit of it.

And the spirit is what needs to be discussed as well. There are plenty of reasons to be opposed to torture. One reason is not often discussed but it is very powerful. Torture destroys a person receiving it,… and inflicting it.

Speaking last November at a Middle East Institute conference, Frank Anderson, former chief of the CIA's Near East and South Asia division in the agency's Operations Directorate, made this insightful (!) comment;

"We ought to declare we don't do this. We ought to declare the intelligence isn't worth it,"
(speaking about torture)


“There's also the question of what brutality does to those who carry it out”

"I will rebel against anyone who wants my son to torture, because it won't ever heal,"

Rushworth M. Kidder wrote an interesting article called “What torture does to torturers”. As the president of of a non profit called ‘Institute for Global Ethics’ he poses the question; In taking advantage of undefended victims, are we degrading our own personal integrity? He talks about how a government (such as the Bush administrations’) expects and instills integrity, depends on it when ‘defending a nation through espionage and military action’ yet at the same time requiring “unethical actions” (such as torture I would add) by creating “sanctions of authority”. He notes how these unethical actions create an amoral numbness or anguished guilt.

It brings us back to the famous Stanley Milgram obedience experiment that was carried out at Yale in the 1960s. He recruited individuals who were told that they were to test the role of punishment to promote learning. They were told to follow orders from the experimenters and to administer increasingly powerful electric shocks whenever a “learner” (so they were told) gave an incorrect answer.

As some of you might know or remember, the whole experiment was a fake. The experimenter and the “learner” were both plants and shocks were never administered, the learner merely pretended to be hurt. The true experiment was to see how long the recruits would continue following the orders to administer the shock treatment. In other words, how obedient to the authority were they?
They were very obedient and kept it up for very long times.

Kidder gives the example of one of Milgrams’ recruits, William Menold. He had just been discharged from combat duty and as he became more and more upset for the learner that he was administering shocks to, he would complain to the experimenter. The experimenter told him to continue and that “he would accept full responsibility”! Afterwards, Menold remembers that he completely lost his reasoning power and during the whole experiment, he felt like a “basket case” and an “emotional wreck” which continued afterward when he realized “that somebody could get me to do that stuff”.

There seems to be an inner moral compass that we all share. We really do know right from wrong. We do get effected when we see another person in pain. On a very basic level, we want people to like us. We want to be loved. We know that we cannot be lovable when we do things to hurt others. Somehow, most people know, that they are deserving or undeserving of that basic emotion we all need, which is love. It is tied into our self esteem, our self worth. No, I did not study psychology. I have been around for a while and even when you haven’t, I think it’s safe to say that this is a basic understanding amongst most people, regardless of race, religion whatever else might differentiate ourselves from someone else. This we know. Intuitively. What makes a person accept instructions that goes against that basic understanding of inner morality? Probably the very same thing that makes pedophiles so successful; seduction. Pushing the envelope little by little.

Quoting Milgram Kidder says
“When an individual merges unthinkingly “into an organizational structure, a new creature replaces autonomous man, unhindered by the limitations of individual morality, freed of humane inhibition, mindful only of the sanctions of authority.”

Egil Krogh, convicted for his part in the Watergate scandal said this when remembering how he ‘sacrificed his conscience’ for President Nixon’s ‘unquestionable authority’ “when you do something like that, a little bit of your soul slips through your fingers”.


Blogger thepoetryman said...

A little bit of soul had best slip through someone's fingers rather soon or BushCo might ruin this country!


Keep up the great anti-torture work!

12:28 AM  
Blogger Ingrid said...

Thanks for the encouragement. I recently added the sitemeter so I'd know whether I was still 'talking' to myself and I have noticed some more traffic lately..thanks for stopping by and commenting. I do hope that the democrats will provide a more credible alternative this time although truth be told, I am not impressed by their shenanigans during the last presidential election campaign (speaking as an Independent). Still, the republicans will need to regroup after the divisiveness that Bush and Co (and is it ever a 'co'..you ought to read Robert Bryce's piece on Bush's state of the union address this year) has introduced (or exacerbated)..
Don't know if you're part of the anti torture bloggers but I say, every little bit helps..thanks for stopping by and commenting!

10:23 AM  
Blogger thepoetryman said...

Need to know where I stand? Stop on over at Poetic Justice (Don't burn the flag. Wash it!) and you will see... :>)


4:06 PM  
Blogger Ingrid said...

Poetry man, I actually stopped by as soon as I saw your post. I am still exploring the blogosphere and I actually had been to your site before.Probably when browsing through the anti torture blogroll. Unfortunately, with one toddler underfoot and one 8yr old getting ready to stay home for the summer holiday, my time on the computer during the day happens in snippets. I know people here in the US revere their flag (I call it 'cult of the flag' with all that 'tado' over it), but I can't help but think that somewhere you must be offending one of those followers with the mere thought of washing the thing. Is that allowed under those rules of what you can or cannot do with a flag?
You have quite the number of sites too I saw..busy guy you are!
I'll check 'm out in between kids and things to do..such is life for now..

4:17 PM  
Blogger Xanthippas said...

As torture degrades the torturer, so does it degrade our entire country. What we supposedly send our soldiers to fight for is demeaned by what we ask and allow them to do. I can promise you the founders of our great country did not have in mind that someday we would lock men up in secret prisons, here or anywhere else, in a perverted attempt to evade our own law and our own consciences.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Ingrid said...

Xanthippas, I have been thinking what the founding father's take would be on it. It so happens, that last week for my husband's birthday, I gave him the book "What Would the Founders Do?our questions, their answers" by Richard Brookhiser. It is in their somewhere and I was going to do a post on it. In the meantime, I think it's safe to presume that even if one did not know, you can figure out the answer to that one.
thanks for stopping by,

8:57 PM  
Blogger Dr. Strangelove said...

Ingrid, excellent post. We are making torturers out of Americans and little by little we are losing our humanity. I mentioned in another comment somewhere that torture always has at least 2 victims - the tortured and the torturer.

We as a nation are becoming victims by perpetrating torture.

8:26 PM  
Blogger Ingrid said...

You know, in this culture of mass consumption, pop culture and quick fixes, I think your last comment would be too cerebral. I am always amazed to find out that there's an ethics class or philosophy class somewhere because as a people, it does not show that there is any deeper thought into the status quo.
Thanks for the compliment, I try to be better and have you as a great example. That said, I am not beating myself up over it because I have my own set of distractions and there is only so much I can do..

8:47 PM  
Anonymous PA_Lady said...

Wonderful post! We have a military already predisposed to torture through their basic training. (loss of individuality, culture of cruelty, desensitization) All it takes is the right 'buttons' being pushed as authority (chain of command) winks and looks the other way. Or worse, actively encourages it.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Ingrid said...

PA_Lady, you are right that it comes with the territory of basic training. Naturally, if you are going to war, you are going to have to kill, that is what happens when you are in the military. That is only one of the few reasons I have for telling my son that I do not want him to EVER join the military..

12:41 PM  
Blogger Ingrid said...

PA_Lady, I tried to respond to you earlier but Blogger was experiencing 'trouble' yet again and gobbled up my message.
Thanks for the kind words. I had an interesting article to talk about which helped plus the topic is one of my interests. How people can follow someone or something without stopping to question it, to go against it, or to stand behind it full force. I suspect that you might have found this post by way of Mash's Docstrangelove, and he posted a BBC documentary which deals with the very issue. There are some 'characters' in the doc who totally are against the Iraq veterans against the war (or something like that) and this one guy is such an unbelievably dumb (!!) dumb (I better not say it and keep it clean)..suffice it to say, his stupidity, likening those vets to be more of a danger than 'those terrorists' is painful to watch and hear. ARGHH!
There are natural born followers, and natural born thinkers or 'heretics'! Glad to be in good company!

9:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi! Just want to say what a nice site. Bye, see you soon.

3:50 PM  
Blogger Aunty Ism said...

I just found your site (Jun 21) over at Mash's, via ABlog, I think. I find it easy to get lost among the rabbit holes.
Great post. Like you, I have home-work to tend to, and am in and out, on and off the web, so my posts are erratic and hurried. I still haven't been able to successfully add sites to my blog. I'll check in with you another time! Cheers.

1:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice colors. Keep up the good work. thnx!

4:11 AM  
Blogger Ingrid said...


10:42 AM  

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