torture

David Foster Wallace on the impossibility of being informed & the seduction of dogma

From David Foster Wallace’s “Introduction” (The Best American Essays 2007):

Here is an overt premise. There is just no way that 2004’s reelection could have taken place—not to mention extraordinary renditions, legalized torture, FISA-flouting, or the
passage of the Military Commissions Act—if we had been paying attention and handling information in a competent grown-up way. ‘We’ meaning as a polity and culture. The premise does not entail specific blame—or rather the problems here are too entangled and systemic for good old-fashioned finger-pointing. It is, for one example, simplistic and wrong to blame the for-profit media for somehow failing to make clear to us the moral and practical hazards of trashing the Geneva Conventions. The for-profit media is highly attuned to what we want and the amount of detail we’ll sit still for. And a ninety-second news piece on the question of whether and how the Geneva Conventions ought to apply in an era of asymmetrical warfare is not going to explain anything; the relevant questions are too numerous and complicated, too fraught with contexts in everything from civil law and military history to ethics and game theory. One could spend a hard month just learning the history of the Conventions’ translation into actual codes of conduct for the U.S. military … and that’s not counting the dramatic changes in those codes since 2002, or the question of just what new practices violate (or don’t) just which Geneva provisions, and according to whom. Or let’s not even mention the amount of research, background, cross- checking, corroboration, and rhetorical parsing required to understand the cataclysm of Iraq, the collapse of congressional oversight, the ideology of neoconservatism, the legal status of presidential signing statements, the political marriage of evangelical Protestantism and corporatist laissez-faire … There’s no way. You’d simply drown. We all would. It’s amazing to me that no one much talks about this—about the fact that whatever our founders and framers thought of as a literate, informed citizenry can no longer exist, at least not without a whole new modern degree of subcontracting and dependence packed into what we mean by ‘informed.’8

8 Hence, by the way, the seduction of partisan dogma. You can drown in dogmatism now, too— radio, Internet, cable, commercial and scholarly print— but this kind of drowning is more like sweet release. Whether hard right or new left or whatever, the seduc- tion and mentality are the same. You don’t have to feel confused or inundated or ignorant. You don’t even have to think, for you already Know, and whatever you choose to learn confirms what you Know. This dog- matic lockstep is not the kind of inevitable dependence I’m talking about—or rather it’s only the most extreme and frightened form of that dependence.

A beheading in Saudi Arabia

Judith Beheading Holofernes, Oil on canvas, 19...
Image via Wikipedia

From Adam St. Patrick’s “Chop Chop Square: Inside Saudi Arabia’s brutal justice system” (The Walrus: May 2009):

This is Saudi Arabia, one of the last places on earth where capital punishment is a public spectacle. Decapitation awaits murderers, but the death penalty also applies to many other crimes, such as armed robbery, rape, adultery, drug use and trafficking, and renouncing Islam. There’s a woman on death row now for witchcraft, and the charge is based partly on a man’s accusation that her spell made him impotent. Saudi Arabia executed some 1,750 convicts between 1985 and 2008, yet reliable information about the practice is scarce. In Riyadh, beheadings happen at 9 a.m. any given day of the week, and there is no advance notice. There is also no written penal code, so questions of illegality depend on the on-the-spot interpretations of police and judges.

… The Saudi interpretation of the Koran discourages all forms of evidence other than confessions and eyewitness accounts in capital trials, on the theory that doing otherwise would leave too much discretion to the judge. But at any time until the sword strikes, a victim’s family can pardon the condemned — usually for a cash settlement of at least two million riyals ($690,000 or so) from the convict or his family.

Many who live to recount their experience in the Saudi justice system report that police promised freedom in exchange for a confession — or tortured them to get one.

In Riyadh, beheadings take place in a downtown public square equipped with a drain the size of a pizza box in its centre. Expatriates call it Chop Chop Square. … The job is a coveted one, often passed from father to son. In a Lebanese TV clip now on YouTube, a Saudi executioner shows off his swords and describes his approach: “If the heart is compassionate, the hand fails.”

What’s wrong with the Republicans


Creative Commons License photo credit: bobster855

From Andrew Sullivan’s “Who Will “Sister Souljah” Them?” (The Daily Dish: 5 May 2009):

… the GOP is poison to me and many others. Why?

Their abandonment of limited government, their absurd spending under Bush, their contempt for civil liberties, their rigid mindset, their hostility to others, their worship of the executive branch, their contempt for judicial checks, their cluelessness with racial minorities and immigrants, their endorsement of torture as an American value, their homophobia, their know-nothing Christianism, and the sheer vileness of their leaders – from the dumb-as-a-post Steele to the brittle, money-grubbing cynic, Coulter and hollow, partisan neo-fascist Hannity.

Syrian-style torture via family connections

From D. Ghirlandaio’s “Comment to Stephen Griffin’s ‘Torture and the Ticking Time Bomb'” (10 October 2006):

The Syrians had a technique for the ticking bomb scenario. Give the man who knows where the bomb is a cell phone. “Call your mother.” At the mother’s house, a man picks up the phone.