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Donald Trump and the politics of torture

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I guess, like Arlo Guthrie, doing the chorus again in concert, it’s come ’round again on the guitar.

I ain’t proud.

Donald Trump is a moron. Not in the sense that he’s stupid. He’s not. He’s a canny bastard, and a pretty good politician (in an age where “politics” has long moved from The Art of the Possible” to the realm of the panderer; appealing to prejudice has always been a useful tool to the candidate,  but it’s rarely been required to keep the office, once gained. That’s a whole ‘nother topic).

This however is either ignorant; beyond belief, or evil.

Blitzer brought up Salah Abdeslam — a chief suspect in the Paris attack who was detained last week and who it has been speculated might have connections to the Brussels attackers — and asked Trump whether he would begin “torturing him right away,” since Belgian authorities have said Abdeslam was already talking to investigators.

“He may be talking, but he’ll talk faster with the torture,” Trump said, suggesting torture could have prevented Tuesday attacks which have left at least 30 people dead.

The amount of wrong in that sentence is massive. The errors are layered, from top to bottom, like sheets of pastry, and it only gets worse as he goes on. Extracting information is something I’m good at.  I did it for a few years as a journalist.  I did it for more years as an Army interrogator. On top of those skills I spent years teaching others how to do it.  I understand the theory, and practice, of interrogation a lot better than he does.

If Abdselam was talking, there wasn’t anything to do to “make him talk faster, and, contra Trump (and the Right Wing Wurlitzer) this is wrong too:

“I would be willing to bet that he knew about this bombing that took place today,” Trump said. “We have to be smart. It’s hard to believe we can’t waterboard which is — look, nothing’s nice about it but, it’s your minimal form of torture. We can’t waterboard and they can chop off heads. “

That is 100 percent what’s wrong with torture as a tool. Trump is sure Abdselam knew about Brussels. How is he sure?  Well Abdselam is Muslim, and he is supposed to have taken part in a different attack; hundreds of miles away, with people who had no connection to the attack on Brussels, but he’s a Muslim so…

Even if Abdselam were aware of the Brussels attack how would Trump get it out of him?  How would Trump know to ask? That’s the main problem, one can’t just say, “what do you know” and get the subject to vomit up the info you want. Assume, for the sake of argument, that Abdselam *did* know about the Brussels attacks. The interrogator doesn’t.

We can also assume, that if he knows, he doesn’t really want to give up the info. Hitting him will only remind him that the info is important. If he knew about them, he also knows there is a time limit. If he holds out long enough either his confederates can get away, or the plan will have been carried out. So where does The Donald start his line of investigation?

Seriously. Where does one start? “Tell us about the other plans!!!!”.

Weak. It tells the subject you don’t know.  He can spin yarns until the plans he does know about are immaterial to the investigation.

“Tell us about the people you know in…”  Where?  How does one choose where to start?  He was arrested for attacks on Paris. Logic implies that any information he is guaranteed to have is about things in Paris. Ok, he’s Belgian. Maybe he is involved in something happening in Belgium.  Maybe the five months he’s not been caught after Paris have convinced him it’s safe to go back to plotting.  But against whom?  His MO is to work some distance from home (which is not a bad MO, if one can bland into the local environment; there is less chance of being IDed by someone at the scene, which means other leads have to be followed. If one is careful one’s odds of avoiding capture go up, a lot).

So how does one choose what line of investigation to start?  Which is the answer the victim is refusing to yield? Which, “I don’t now about that” is the lie which justifies torture?  When the victim *is* ignorant, and honesty leads to pain, what will keep them to telling the truth when just giving in and confessing to the required crime will stop the pain?

Because that is what will happen. One of the principle part of SERE school, where pilots and aircrew are trained in what it’s like to be tortured, is that everyone breaks.  Everyone. Even when it’s known that the tortures are part of the drill, and one won’t be maimed, much less killed, they all break. So why do our politicians, and pundits, pretend that “bad guys” are different?

Because it sells. Because there aren’t enough people holding them to account. Because part of the narrative is comforting. The fable that we can be protected, if only we have the resolve to “do what must be done.” It’s a convenient lie, that safety can actually be created by force of will. It can’t. Bad actors will figure out how to do bad things.

If you don’t believe me just look at prisons. In environments where the state has total control, weapons are made, assaults; even to the point of murder, are committed. Conspiracies for revolt are made, and carried out. If we can’t stop it in places where the populace is constrained, contained, and enslaved, what makes us think torturing a small subset of those who are freely able to move will?

Fear sells. Torture advocates (you can’t call them apologists when they use the word, and say we need to do the deeds) are selling fear, and fear is like yeast, once you put it in the dough, it won’t stop so long as it is fed.

 

 

*though like him I’m tired, even if I’ve not been singing the song quite as long.

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One thought on “Donald Trump and the politics of torture

  1. I’ve never understood how the right-wingers convinced themselves that torture would be great. Part of the point of SERE was to help Americans hold out under torture meted out by regimes that wanted to record false confessions, for use in propaganda. You’d think the SERE instructors would’ve explained to them that torture is great at getting people to talk, but the truth-value of the words that come out is extremely dubious.

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