Sunday, March 02, 2008

Who Tortures? The Loyal. Who Won't Torture? Those with a Higher Loyalty

This week Centre College was visited by Darius Rejali, one of the leading experts on torture in the world. In his public lecture, he said that torturers are not chosen for their intelligence, but for their loyalty. One consequence of this fact is that torturers often can't tell when their victims have told them the truth. Their cruelty is for nothing.

In private remarks to another group at the college, Prof. Rejali was talking about the whistleblower at the Abu Ghraib military prison scandal, as well as in some other cases of torture. The whistleblower is usually someone just like the torturers in rank, in class background, in authority at the torture site. What they differ on is their commitment to a higher standard that gives them the courage to say "this is wrong, even if my superior says it isn't." Among Americans, the whistleblower is usually an evangelical Christian.

I think all of us have the capacity of be torturers if we thought it was the only way to protect our loved ones. Scholars like Prof. Rejali can convince our heads that torture does not work to do that, and creates worse harm to society. To move our hearts and guts to say no and stop torture usually requires an additional conviction, from a more spiritual source.


Anonymous said...

Just to be fair, torture does work in some cases. To say it never works is to show a bias that belies the study.What is torture? Some people believe loud Rock music is torture. Sounds as if this person may have an ax to grind which weakens his case.

Gruntled said...

I should probably have mentioned that Prof. Rejali defines torture as inflicting pain by a state agent for a state purpose. And he does allow that it works for some things, such as intimidation and getting false confessions. These are not things that democracies are ever supposed to do, though.

Tausign said...

Great post. Torture is something that is intrinsically wrong regardless of the results. It just doesn't stand up to the light. Can we pin medals and honor those who inflict torture?

For my further thoughts try this: