"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Obama Uncovers the Instruments

"Generally bad people can do good things (even if for ignoble reasons) and generally good people can do bad things. That's why I care little about motives, which I think, in any event, are impossible to know. Regardless of motives, good acts (releasing the torture memos) should be praised, and bad acts (arguing against prosecutions) should be condemned." - Glenn Greenwald, "The Significance of Obama's Decision to Release the Torture Memos"

I agree completely with Greenwald that we should not inappropriately personalize these decisions. Such personalization smudges our perception of the real issues. But these obvious statements are a little too true to be entirely innocent. As we all know, there is a pattern in people's decisions that reveals what they represent as power to themselves. To pretend otherwise, even to support objective analysis, is mystification - pretending that the obvious tendency is the result of mysterious and unknowable motivations.

Let's examine what the probable effect of these two decisions on public attitudes toward torture might be. Withholding the details of the tortures would have mitigated public outrage among some, but would have disappointed those who demand assurance that those who threaten us are treated with sufficient cruelty. Promising not to prosecute such crimes against the human person essentially declares open season on "enemies" or "terrorists" or soon, probably, "environmental terrorists." If even a politician like Obama will not prosecute those who torture, then the message is clear that anything can be done to our enemies.

Naomi Klein wrote concerning torture, "But this fear has to be finely calibrated. The people being intimidated need to know enough to be afraid but not so much that they demand justice. This helps explain why the Defense Department will release certain kinds of seemingly incriminating information about Guantanamo--pictures of men in cages, for instance--at the same time that it acts to suppress photographs on a par with what escaped from Abu Ghraib. ...This strategic leaking of information, combined with official denials, induces a state of mind that Argentines describe as 'knowing/not knowing,' a vestige of their 'dirty war.'" - Naomi Klein, "Torture's Dirty Secret: It Works"

The purpose of letting people know some gruesome details of torture while holding back others is clear: "...when they use rendition and torture as a threat, it's undeniable that they benefit, in some sense, from the fact that people know that intelligence agents are willing to act unlawfully. They benefit from the fact that people understand the threat and believe it to be credible." - Naomi Klein, "Torture's Dirty Secret: It Works"

In other words, both of Obama's decisions inform potential dissidents that U.S. intelligence practices torture and that the practitioners will not be prosecuted even if they act in full knowledge of its unlawful nature.

At last, the pattern emerges: "This is torture's true purpose: to terrorize--not only the people in Guantánamo's cages and Syria's isolation cells but also, and more important, the broader community that hears about these abuses. Torture is a machine designed to break the will to resist--the individual prisoner's will and the collective will." - Naomi Klein, "Torture's Dirty Secret: It Works"

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