Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Can Torture be Justified?

From the film, The Battle for Algiers:

COLONEL MATHIEU: Let us be exact. The word “torture” does not appear in our orders. We ask questions as in any police operation against an unknown gang. The FLN asks its members to keep silent for 24 hours if they are captured. Then they can talk. That's the time required to render any information useless. How should we question suspects? Like the courts and take a few months over it? The legal way has its drawbacks. Is it legal to blow up public places? When he asked Ben M’Hidi, what did he say?

Believe me, it's a vicious circle. We could talk for hours without reaching a conclusion. The problem is quite different. The FLN wants to kick us out of Algeria. And we want to stay. Even though we have different ideas, I think we all want to stay. When the rebellion started, there were no nuances. All the papers, even those of the left, wanted it suffocated. We're here for that. We are neither mad nor sadists. They call us fascists. They forget what we did in the resistance. They say Nazis, but some of us survived Buchenwald. We are soldiers. Our duty is to win; thus, to be quite clear, I'll ask you a question myself: Must France stay in Algeria? If the answer is still “yes,” you must accept all that this entails.
Sen. John McCain:

S. O'BRIEN: Aren't there examples, though -- where are examples, maybe, where torture is the only option left?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, torture doesn't work, as we have proved. Second of all, if there was a one in a million situation where that would happen, then the president would take responsibility for it.
DemocracyNow! contrasted that clip from the movie with the real press gaggle yesterday. It's worth listening to the clip to hear the rising anger in Scott McClellan's voice as he refuses to give a "yes or no" answer to the simple question: "Do we torture?" His argument sounds just like that of Col. Mathieu.

The irony? Here is how the Pentagon urged its employees to watch a screening of the film in 2003:

"How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas. Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafes. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film."
There was quite a lively discussion at Eschaton, over whether or not torture could be justified. Obviously Mr. McClellan is not anxious to engage that debate:

SCOTT McCLELLAN: Our most important responsibility is to protect the American people. We are engaged in a global war against Islamic radicals who are intent on spreading a hateful ideology and intent on killing innocent men, women and children.

HELEN THOMAS: Did we ask for an exemption?

SCOTT McCLELLAN: We are going to do what is necessary to protect the American people.

HELEN THOMAS: Is that the answer?

SCOTT McCLELLAN: We are also going to do so in a way that adheres to our laws and to our values. We have made that very clear. The President directed everybody within this government that we do not engage in torture. We will not torture. He made that very clear.

HELEN THOMAS: Are you denying we asked for an exemption?

SCOTT McCLELLAN: Helen, we will continue to work with the Congress on the issue that you brought up. The way you characterize it, that we're asking for exemption from torture, is just flat-out false, because there are laws that are on the books that prohibit the use of torture. And we adhere to those laws.
The question he never answers (nor, sadly, is it ever asked): Then why are you asking that the law be changed?

Because that is obviously the goal. Re-define "torture" so the President is not a liar ("We do not torture"), and change the law so that we can continue to say "we adhere to those laws."

The saddest part? As Robert Fiske points out, the Iraqis aren't really outraged by the stories of torture. Not because they aren't horrific, or unjustifiable; but because they simply assume this is who we are, and this is what we do.

And. as he says, it is, isn't it?

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