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The torture myth essay

Just for a moment, let’s pretend that there is no moral, legal or constitutional problem with torture. Let’s also imagine a clear-cut case: a terrorist who knows where bombs are about to explode in Iraq. To stop him, it seems that a wide range of Americans would be prepared to endorse “cruel and unusual” methods. In advance of confirmation hearings for Attorney General-designate Alberto Gonzales last week, the Wall Street Journal argued that such scenarios must be debated, since “what’s at stake in this controversy is nothing less than the ability of U.S. forces to interrogate enemies who want to murder innocent civilians.” Alan Dershowitz, the liberal legal scholar, has argued in the past that interrogators in such a case should get a “torture warrant” from a judge. Both of these arguments rest on an assumption: that torture — defined as physical pressure during interrogation — can be used to extract useful information.

But does torture work? The question has been asked many times since Sept. 11, 2001. I’m repeating it, however, because the Gonzales hearings inspired more articles about our lax methods (“Too Nice for Our Own Good” was one headline), because similar comments may follow this week’s trial of Spec. Charles Graner, the alleged Abu Ghraib ringleader, and because I still cannot find a positive answer. I’ve heard it said that the Syrians and the Egyptians “really know how to get these things done.” I’ve heard the Israelis mentioned, without proof. I’ve heard Algeria mentioned, too, but Darius Rejali, an academic who recently trolled through French archives, found no clear examples of how torture helped the French in Algeria — and they lost that war anyway. “Liberals,” argued an article in the liberal online magazine Slate a few months ago, “have a tendency to accept, all too eagerly, the argument that torture is ineffective.” But it’s also true that “realists,” whether liberal or conservative, have a tendency to accept, all too eagerly, fictitious accounts of effective torture carried out by someone else.

By contrast, it is easy to find experienced U.S. officers who argue precisely the opposite. Meet, for example, retired Air Force Col. John Rothrock, who, as a young captain, headed a combat interrogation team in Vietnam. More than once he was faced with a ticking time-bomb scenario: a captured Vietcong guerrilla who knew of plans to kill Americans. What was done in such cases was “not nice,” he says. “But we did not physically abuse them.” Rothrock used psychology, the shock of capture and of the unexpected. Once, he let a prisoner see a wounded comrade die. Yet — as he remembers saying to the “desperate and honorable officers” who wanted him to move faster — “if I take a Bunsen burner to the guy’s genitals, he’s going to tell you just about anything,” which would be pointless. Rothrock, who is no squishy liberal, says that he doesn’t know “any professional intelligence officers of my generation who would think this is a good idea.”

Or listen to Army Col. Stuart Herrington, a military intelligence specialist who conducted interrogations in Vietnam, Panama and Iraq during Desert Storm, and who was sent by the Pentagon in 2003 — long before Abu Ghraib — to assess interrogations in Iraq. Aside from its immorality and its illegality, says Herrington, torture is simply “not a good way to get information.” In his experience, nine out of 10 people can be persuaded to talk with no “stress methods” at all, let alone cruel and unusual ones. Asked whether that would be true of religiously motivated fanatics, he says that the “batting average” might be lower: “perhaps six out of ten.” And if you beat up the remaining four? “They’ll just tell you anything to get you to stop.”

Worse, you’ll have the other side effects of torture. It “endangers our soldiers on the battlefield by encouraging reciprocity.” It does “damage to our country’s image” and undermines our credibility in Iraq. That, in the long run, outweighs any theoretical benefit. Herrington’s confidential Pentagon report, which he won’t discuss but which was leaked to The Post a month ago, goes farther. In that document, he warned that members of an elite military and CIA task force were abusing detainees in Iraq, that their activities could be “making gratuitous enemies” and that prisoner abuse “is counterproductive to the Coalition’s efforts to win the cooperation of the Iraqi citizenry.” Far from rescuing Americans, in other words, the use of “special methods” might help explain why the war is going so badly.

An up-to-date illustration of the colonel’s point appeared in recently released FBI documents from the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. These show, among other things, that some military intelligence officers wanted to use harsher interrogation methods than the FBI did. As a result, complained one inspector, “every time the FBI established a rapport with a detainee, the military would step in and the detainee would stop being cooperative.” So much for the utility of torture.

Given the overwhelmingly negative evidence, the really interesting question is not whether torture works but why so many people in our society want to believe that it works. At the moment, there is a myth in circulation, a fable that goes something like this: Radical terrorists will take advantage of our fussy legality, so we may have to suspend it to beat them. Radical terrorists mock our namby-pamby prisons, so we must make them tougher. Radical terrorists are nasty, so to defeat them we have to be nastier.

Perhaps it’s reassuring to tell ourselves tales about the new forms of “toughness” we need, or to talk about the special rules we will create to defeat this special enemy. Unfortunately, that toughness is self-deceptive and self-destructive. Ultimately it will be self-defeating as well.

the torture myth essay The Indy Language: Response to  The Torture Myth

This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

As stated by some theories, myths are distorted accounts of historical events*1. Through narratives myths provide an explanation to natural and social facts and answer puzzling questions raised by people hence mythology is considered to be "the womb of mankind's initiation to life and death" *2

As a matter of fact one can assert that the reason behind the immortality of the myth lies in its universal and timeless themes.

Hence mythology is nothing but an attempt to elucidate social structures and ideologies.

The mythical representation is akin to the historical discourse as the reality to which they refer is a bygone one. Myths are important to the extent that "humans live through their myths and only endure their realities"*3

Prometheus ; An immortal myth

Prometheus has long been and lasts a stirring and a suggestive figure to many poets as well as dramatists.

As the search for freedom and the defiance of tyranny and oppression are the concerns of mankind throughout ages and centuries. The myth is therefore "a statement about society and a man's place in it and the surrounding universe"* 4

Prometheus is by far a source of inspiration and an object of interest for many writers and poets mainly romantic poets as their concerns powerfully dovetail with Prometheus' ones.

The different re-writings of the mythical figure of Prometheus not only translate and reflect deeply the psyche of the poets but also contribute in immortalizing the myth.

*4= Middleton "myths and cosmos"

Prometheus in the Romantic Era and the importance of the context in the re-writing of the myth :

One of the major reasons behind the rise of Romantic poetry is the tumultuous political events of that period.

The story of the mythical figure was alluring to artists of the romantic era as the identity of Prometheus as both "rebel and liberator"*6 apostrophize vigorously to poets working in the shadow of the revolutions and national movements.

The fact that makes Prometheus' rebelliousness against Zeus strongly correspond with the romantic poet's rebelliousness against tyrannies and injustices of his period.

The myth therefore serves the context in which it is written.

*5= W.H Auden

*6= Paul Bertagnolli "Prometheus in music; the representation of the myth in the romantic era"

Hence the mythical as well as the poetic text cannot be detached from its context. As they both represent hope, fears and needs of mankind as a whole.

Prometheus is a heroic example of overcoming limits the fact that is used by romantic poets as a metaphor of the endless human thirst for freedom which in front of it man at the colonial era feels chained and paralysed.

Prometheus upholds the idea of personal freedom, promising individuals a liberation from powerless anonymity by defining themselves beyond external forces.

The dialectics between the freedom of the individual and the pressure of the surrounding are the core of romantics' concerns.

Hence the myth of Prometheus is highly appealing to the romantic poets since it embodies themes of the defiant who strives for the romantic ideals of knowledge and ambition as opposed to tyranny and oppression.

*8= Donoghue ( 1973 p 26)

The identification with the mythical figure in Goethe, Byron , and Achabbi's poems :

The re-writing of the myth paved the way to many romantic poets to further explore the status of man in the universe. As "an artist does not tinker with the universe he recreates it out of his own experience and understanding of life"*9

The following texts which are : Goethe's "Prometheus", Lord Byron's " Prometheus" and Abul Qasim Achabbi's " Nachidou al jabbar" along with Aeschylus' original text are nothing but an analysis of the ideological and political scene of totalitarianism and tyranny.


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