Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Art of the State

So the Sunnis are declaring that there's more torture going on under the U.S. occupation of Iraq than there was under Saddam Hussein -- not an easy feat; we really had to work for that one. But that aside, I have to wonder:
  1. If the recent Iraqi Interior Ministry's investigation is correct, where does systematic prisoner abuse end and the ever-shifting U.S. definition of torture begin?
  2. The Administration and Chucky Krauthammer have been trying to parse a moral argument for the use of torture. Cheney wants to make provision for it; Chucky wants to start using it as soon as possible. Cheney sees torture as justified; Chucky sees it as imperative. Both men draw on the Ticking Time Bomb scenario which states:
      1. There's a bomb in NYC
      2. It's going to go off in 1 hour
      3. We've got a guy who knows something about it
      4. He won't talk
  3. Now ... since the recent investigation found 120 abuse cases in two of Iraq's 1000 prisons, is it safe to assume that the Iraqi police forces followed our advice and thereby prevented 120 bombs from exploding? Golly, that's a relief!
Maybe I'm confusing garden variety prisoner abuse (negligence) with sanctioned torture (malice). That's why I ask #1 up there.

But, here's what I don't understand about the Ticking Time Bomb scenario. I can't make qualified statements about the efficacy of torture -- I don't know if it's more or less effective than, say, executing the hypothetical prisoner's family in front of his eyes. What I want to know is: How did we come to learn the first 3 of the above-mentioned 4 conditions which would logically satisfy Krauthammer and the Administration?

In the Ticking Time Bomb scenario, we suddenly have the intelligence capability to know the location, method, and timing of an attack -- when has this ever happened? And how do we know the hypothetical guy knows where it is? The Ticking Time Bomb scenario operates on the premise that we can practically SEE the little LED screen ticking away and, better than that, we can see into the head of this prisoner and know what he knows, we just need him to tell us that he knows what we hope he knows.

I believe this gauntlet of conditions necessary to legalize the use of torture would never happen. More likely, we would resort to torture to obtain the information (conditions 1-3) to construct a Ticking Time Bomb scenario in the first place. Does anyone realize what an achievement it would be to even HAVE knowledge of conditions 1-3? Has this Administration ever come that close to profiling an attack at home or abroad?

ART of the STATE

The Ticking Time Bomb scenario (Bomb in New York! Millions Dead! One hour! One suspect!) is not drawn from existing military After-Action reports or Lessons Learned in any of the Anti-Terrorism/Force-Protection literature that I've read. And I've read plenty. One of my first jobs out of college was to help design Level III AT/FP training modules for the Joint Chiefs. I studied the Khobar Towers incident, the USS Cole Incident and 9/11 and none of the after-action reports said:

"Damn, we HAD a guy in our prison who knew about this and he would have told us how to stop it. If only we'd been allowed to pull out his fingernails while force-feeding him a shit-milkshake as we raped his daughter with a rolled-up copy of the King James Bible! Damn you, liberals back home! Damn you!"

No. Khobar Towers, USS Cole, the African Embassy bombings, and 9/11 didn't happen because we were weak in our interrogation room tactics. The Ticking Time Bomb Scenario doesn't come from military history or even the responsible projection of future military action. It has been manufactured by columnists and the Administration. The TTBS doesn't wash historically, tactically, or even on the basis of its own closed system of logic.

For whatever it's worth, it doesn't have an ethical basis, either. The instant we codify the use of torture, we forfeit the right to be outraged when one of our people comes back missing his thumbs and testicles.

Krauthammer is a trained psychiatrist so I can only assume he's working from some post-conventional morality a la Kohlberg. Developmentally, we start out believing only in rules that benefit ourselves. Then we switch to strict obedience of social contracts. Finally, we find ourselves rushing to the hospital with a loved-one bleeding to death in the back seat and we violate a social contract by running a red light to get there in time. That third stage is morally justified, even though it violates a social law. But here's the catch -- you have to have the social law in the first place. You can't make social laws from a post-conventional viewpoint. Social laws constitute the conventional morality behind the traffic light. Post-conventional morality lets you violate the law under certain conditions (civil disobedience, as Andrew Sullivan recently explained, and the TTBS, and saving a dying loved one).

And get this! The legal system is there to let you enunciate post-conventional violations of conventional law -- often to the validation of the perpetrator who may, on deliberate reflection of the evidence, be exonerated. But just as I can manufacture a hypothetical to validate my violation of basic traffic laws, that doesn't mean I'm asking for the abolition of traffic law.

So go back to your psych 101 book, Chucky. Taking post-conventional exceptions and trying to legislate them as conventional law doesn't advance our quest for Justice. It takes it back to pre-conventional (egocentric) standards. I would expect this mincing of terms from the Administration -- but not from Krauthammer.


Pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional. These are not dialectical states in the evolution of social justice. The evolution of social justice stops, for the purposes of Kohlberg's schema, at Phase II: the Conventional. Since the torture debate is still a social justice issue (no matter what side you're on), we have to stop there, too, with an eye on what post-conventional entitlements might exist. The American Right repeatedly mistakes Pre for Post: hurling us forward into Middle Ages.

I find a similar confusion in the art world that can only be clarified by borrowing Ken Wilber's Pre-Trans Fallacy. In short: it's easy to mistake Pre for Post when we deal with aesthetics and philosophy, too. That's why so much absurdist and postmodern theatre is just pre-rational bullshit instead of the enlightened, trans-rational artifice it often claims to be.

More on that later.


MattJ said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MattJ said...

When I read this I thought of Hobbes, and I quote the glorious wikipedia:

"Self-defense against violent death is Hobbes's highest human necessity, and rights are borne of necessity. In the state of nature, then, each of us has a right to everything in the world. Due to the scarcity of things in the world, there is a constant, and rights-based, "war of all against all" (bellum omnium contra omnes). Life in the state of nature is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short"

And here's the link to the whole Hobbes article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobbes

I think this Hobbesian construction of "man's natural state" disturbingly bears resemblance to both the torture conversation, the "art of the state," and the "states of art." Scary.

Justin Rimbo said...

Funny, when I read this, I thought of Die Hard. The third one. With the bombs and all.

Email me.

Justin Rimbo said...

I mean, seriously, Karl.

There's only 3 weeks left until I'm in Baltimore for a fortnight. Email me.

Amy E. said...

Where did you go...?
You haven't blogged in awhile and quite frankly my psyche can't handle it....