When a little bit of soul slips through your fingers
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”.