US Government’s Illegal Torture Policies in the Middle East

A friend of mine came across this documentary and passed along the link.  I’m studying Middle Eastern history as my major, so he thought it would be relevant to my interests.  It’s 79 minutes and the audio gets steadily further and further out of sync with the video, but hey, it’s free, and it’s worth the information you’ll glean from it.

What I saw in this video is nothing more than what I expected.  I have little faith in the US government anymore.  I mean, seriously.  They can’t fix our economy.  They can’t stop giving tax breaks to huge corporations.  They can’t take care of Americans.  They can’t do anything but blow up other countries to hide their own deficiencies.  It also bothers me how caught up most people are in glorifying war and the military in this country.  I think Americans are losing sight of what this country is supposed to be about.  War isn’t a destination.  War was a means of achieving a free society where people have inviolable rights.  All people.  Not just the ones we like.  War is not glorious, and just because someone is from another country, they don’t lose their human rights.  They’re still human beings.  Why would we take someone for whom we have no evidence of wrongdoing and then treat them worse than we treat serial murderers, rapists and child molesters in the US?

I can understand the situation that was created in these prisons and it’s completely absurd to blame the front-line soldiers.  In the military, there’s a whole other culture, distinct from regular American culture, and there’s a separate legal system and even a different way of thinking about things.  For the most part, you do what you’re told, even when things start to spiral into the absurd, because that’s what you get trained to do: follow orders.  When soldiers question orders, they’re reprimanded, disciplined and sometimes humiliated in front of their peers.  They can lose pay, rank or status.  So, there’s a lot of pressure to just follow orders, and I’m sure first-hand experience with public humiliation makes it easier to take the first step towards severe humiliation of prisoners whom your told have no rights and are something less than human.

So, things just get done because that’s what was ordered, and because everyone else is doing it.  What I’m describing is just based on what I remember from my experiences in non-combat units.  I can’t imagine the added pressures involved in dealing with people that you’re told are enemy combatants.  This whole situation seems like something Stephen King would have cooked up for a horror novel, rather than reality.  In the end, though, the unit commander should be ultimately responsible for the actions of the unit, both good and bad.  A common saying in the Army is that “shit rolls downhill,” meaning from the top of the chain-of-command to the bottom, but it should also roll back up when something goes wrong like this.

Instead of trying to find ways to justify unwarranted violence and illegal torture, our politicians should be finding ways to stop blowing up other countries, defend our own, and fix our financial issues.

Unthinkable Is a Brutal, Must Watch Movie

unthinkable-review The movie Unthinkable uses the current problem of Muslim extremists attacking the US as a backdrop for a psychological thriller that wants you to question how far you would go to protect your country.  The big issues in the film are justice versus torture and whether the good of the many should be sacrificed for moral uprightness.  I think the use of Muslim extremists in the film was meant to keep the story contemporary and give it a modern backdrop that people could understand and relate to.  It could have been any terrorist of any ethnicity or religion in that chair.  It could have been any country, well, any democratic country that respects human rights anyway.

I had no idea what the movie was about when I started watching it.  I just saw that it was popular and got a copy.  As the story unfolded I became completely engrossed in it.  The acting was done well, the sets are believable and the storyline is well written.  I was kind of shocked at how graphic the movie is.  There’s a lot of violence and a lot of bloody visuals.  It doesn’t pull punches.  It wants you to know just how extreme the measures being employed are.  It wants you to connect with the characters and become emotional about the outcome.  For me, it succeeded.  I was hooked.

The weird twist in the movie are the demands that the terrorist has.  They’re not demands in the usual idea of demands because what he wants isn’t something that’s going to be detrimental to the US.  In fact, they’re demands that most Americans have of the government that are being unmet by the administration, regardless of the promises Obama made during his campaign, or they’re just demands that make sense anyway.  I won’t give it away because I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone, but I think his demands were completely reasonable.  Even so, his methods for trying to reach his goals are insane, and there’s no way to justify them.

As for the torture, I’m sure that somewhere, right now, someone is being tortured, backed up by US funding.  It’s been done before, and I’m sure it’ll continue to happen.  It just won’t be done publically.  Does that bother me?  Sure, but only because the US government is, by and large, ineffective and I’m sure that innocent people get caught up in the meat grinder.  But, if the person that’s being tortured is definitely in possession of information that could save lives, I don’t see why every means necessary shouldn’t be employed to extract information.  Can you really say that it’s not worth it to torture one man, when it could save 10s of millions of people?  But how far would you take it?  Would you take it past him?  Would you use his wife and children against him?  Would you put them in the torture chamber right along with him?  Those are tough questions.

At the end, I was left thinking over the issues that the movie presented.  It’s really quite good.  I think the biggest question I had for myself at the end of the movie was, ‘What would I do if I were in their position?  Could I justify it to myself?’  Would I take the moral high ground or would I be practical and save millions of lives?  The answer is yes.  Yes, I could and would.  Being ethical and morally upright is great, but how would you tell millions of relatives of victims that they can rest easy, because you took the moral high ground and stood up for the terrorist that killed their children, brothers, parents, or spouses?  Personally, I’d rather have blood on my hands and know that I saved millions of lives.  That would be my sacrifice, but it would be one that I could easily live with.

The caveat to this is that this is just a movie, and this type of ideal situation, with all of the concrete evidence and things falling so smoothly into place probably doesn’t happen very often.  I’m not advocating the widespread use of torture, but in particular instances, like the one in the movie, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.