Sarah A. Hoyt weighs in on CIA torture

There have been a number of different reactions to the recent revelation about the actions of the CIA during the Bush Administration. I thought Sarah A. Hoyt had an interesting insight into the question in The Judgement of the Safe. She ultimately takes a realistic approach to the whole question and avoids much of moral posturing that so many others have fallen into. It doesn’t hurt that Sarah has a good grasp of history and understands the whole issue in a broader perspective. Have a read …

One of the advantages of being interested in history is that it gives you perspective. Sometimes – often – the perspective it gives you is “Thank heavens I was born in the mid twentieth century and not the mid sixteenth.”

One of the reasons for this is their treatment of prisoners. Normal Judicial Procedure in Shakespeare’s England was to sweep up all suspects and witnesses, dump them in jail and at the magistrate’s leisure interrogate them to determine if they were in fact guilty of anything.

So, suppose you’re on the street, and the guy next to you gets stabbed. You’re going to jail. While in jail, you’ll have to pay for your own food and you’d best have some bribes available for creature comforts.

But Sarah, you’ll say, we’re not in the sixteenth century. We’re more civilized now. Yes, and thank heavens, though in many ways we’re also softer, and I want you to remember that, as we go on.

Torture was extensively used in the sixteenth century. We’re not talking “won’t let you sleep” or “you must stand up” or even “no water.” No, we’re talking really honest to Bob torture, where they tore you apart bit by bit until you were permanently damaged. It was the only way they knew to get people to talk. Hold on to this, too, there is a reason.

I know in Marlowe’s time – so just before Shakespeare got big – there was a playwright who was arrested on suspicion of nothing much, and when he came out he couldn’t write again, because he couldn’t hold a quill. (And he couldn’t walk, and other stuff.) It’s been very long since I worked in that time period, so I don’t remember his name.

One of the reasons most of us, sane human beings, think that Anne Boleyn was innocent was that the confessions were not only tortured out of her supposed lovers, they were REALLY tortured. We’re talking the stuff of nightmares. Think of the worst possible way to torture someone. Yep, that’s it.

Torture of that kind is used almost nowhere in the world these days. Correction, it’s used nowhere in the western world. You and I and even the anonymous people reading this blog to go scream on twitter what a horrible person I am, know this still goes on, at this level or close enough in the Arab world and in some of the more benighted parts of so called “developing countries.”

When I posted Cedar’s article on police corruption, an Indian FB friend posted that at least police don’t routinely flog the soles of your feet, just because they can, etc.

Yes. So, this goes on in a great part of the world, up to and including the unimaginable Elizabethan tortures if you’re talking Iran or Syria or any of those charming places.

Even next door, I have heard you REALLY don’t want to be arrested in Mexico.

But Sarah, say you, what does this have to do with us? We’re the United States. We believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We believe in individual rights. Our criminals aren’t tortured, why should our enemies be?


First, let me say I disapprove of torture – by which I mean REAL physical torture. Do I need to say this? Oh, yes, I do, there are idiots and SJWs (but I repeat myself) reading this.

I disapprove of pulled fingernails. I disapprove of cut this and that. I disapprove, even, of cane flogging the soles of someone’s feet. Other things I disapprove of – not a complete list – include but are not by any means limited to: beating someone with rubber hoses, burning someone with cigarettes, etc, etc, etc.

What about other levels of torture, i.e. “enhanced interrogation techniques” – sleep deprivation, loud music, etc – how do I feel about them.

Oh, I don’t like them. Depending on the severity of them they can extract false confessions, and I don’t think they should be used on citizens, protected by the constitution of the United States.

Besides, to be fair, the resistance of someone raised in modern America is not that of a man in the sixteenth century. Sure, if you read student doc, a blog on the er… interesting things that show up in emergency rooms in urban America, you probably suspect as I do that such resistance to pain and discomfort is much higher of someone raised in the underclass. Thus the observation that someone who has a low ratio or teeth to tattoos can show up shot through the heart and survive something that a normal suburbanite would never have endured two seconds. But I guarantee they’re still pampered princesses compared to people in the third world who, themselves, might be more sensitive than ANYONE including the upper class in Elizabethan England (who lived in conditions we can’t even fully imagine.)

And that, you see, is the rub. The rub is that first that life, liberty, pursuit of happiness thing? Those are rights given to us by the constitution. By us, I mean Americans by birth or adoption. We are not in fact mandated to give that protection to anyone else. And in many cases it might be ill advised.

Oh, boy, I can hardly write for the screams of the SJWs at that last one.

Chill. Listen. I know reading comprehension is not your forte, and also that you know a lot of things that just ain’t so, however do try to comprehend that this is not a civil war, in any sense. The people on the other side aren’t Americans. They don’t think like Americans, they don’t believe like Americans and they haven’t grown up like Americans.

They’re not also the little brown peoples of your pampered (and racist) imaginations where, because people can tan (to about my level, but never mind) they are inoffensive, clueless, a bit stupid, and will only do bad things in reaction to American evil. Do try to understand these people, though very different from you and htough, perhaps, raised in conditions of privation and material want, are fully realized human beings with their own agenda.

Their beliefs are not the same as yours, but they are – to them – just as important and as real as your beliefs are to you.

Oh, sure, some of their beliefs match yours. They’ve been told by their teachers, just as you were, that America is the source of all evil, and that if they wipe America from the map everyone will be happy or at least that they get to rule. (In this last one they’re at least more realistic than you are, not that they would, get to rule, I mean.)

They and you are wrong. In their case they were told this by their corrupt leaders who are afraid that America will prove so attractive it undermines their tyranny. In your case, you were told this by your corrupt leaders, who want to cater to your vanity and lead you to destroy the constitution and rules that keep them from becoming full tyrants.

But that is a side spur to this. What matters, right here, right now, is that these people are fully actuated human beings, possessed of self determination. And they hate us.

No, please, don’t say “not me”. Be you ever so “progressive” and ready to throw your co-citizens under the bus, they still hate you. In fact, they might hate you more. Their values aren’t ours but tribal honor and loyalty is something the Arab world understands at a gut level.

What this means is that they will try to harm us. 9/11 served as a wake up call for some of us. I suspect it did for you too, and that’s why you’re already siding with the enemy because you think they’ll win. That’s because you view every American through the lens of your circle. Trust me, some of us are neither cowards nor wilting flowers.

And that’s the rub. The other part of the rub. Neither are our enemies.

The people who want to hurt us grew up in conditions that make our normal treatment of prisoners a summer vacation.

Worse, they come from a part of the world where internal restraint of possible violence is not a thing. If you don’t torture them, they don’t assume it’s because you are holding back due to your impeccable morals. No, they assume that you’re not torturing them because you can’t – either because you fear their retaliation or because you’re soft. That means that they will be more sure than ever of their side’s win, and they’re not going to talk. Because, hell, if they talk, their side will do unspeakable things to them. Things that would make Elizabethans blench.

But Sarah, you say (well, those of you who aren’t SJW’s. Those are already shrieking and I don’t understand banshee), that doesn’t make it right for us to torture them or even to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” on them.

Right according to whom? Right how? By whose moral law?

Yeah, sure, it’s against most of the religions dominant in the west (though not where these people come from.) It is also morally repulsive – to us, by Western codes – to hurt someone who can’t defend himself.

Is it realistic, though? Meaning, is it something that can work outside of a movie?

I don’t know. And neither do you. It is not your job to do this, and you can’t know. They’re dealing with a completely different culture, with people raised in much higher hardship levels than even poor people in Detroit, okay? More, they’re dealing with people raised in a culture where might makes right, and who turn that around and assume if there’s no might, there’s no right. Worse, they’re dealing with males in a culture that is a true and extreme patriarchy, a culture where most of these guys think of themselves as invulnerable and untouchable by virtue of being male and by virtue of their religion. If you don’t pierce that cultural bubble, they’re not going to talk.

But surely, Sarah, you say, we’re civilized and there’s stuff we can do to get the truth without torturing people.

Um…. M’kay then. I like science fiction too!

The truth is that the whole psychological science thing never came along as sf writers thirty or fifty or even seventy years ago predicted. The human animal is too unpredictable for an exact science.

Which leaves with the old, icky methods.

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