7/29: torture and trump

Connie Bruck’s article on Guantanamo for The New Yorker (8/1/16) mentions a terrifying truth behind one of the problems we’ve had in closing the base, which is that some people actually do believe in what it stands for. People like Trump, who is quoted here as saying:

Don’t tell me it doesn’t work–torture works,” and “If it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway, for what they’re doing to us.

Perhaps he’s operating from the market-mentality in which Guantanamo becomes affordable when it’s stuffed to the gills with prisoners, as opposed to its slender current incarnation, in which the $150M operation costs for the 166 remaining prisoners comes out to roughly a million dollars a prisoner. (And he’s definitely ignoring any legal fees that might be incurred by these incarcerations–or celebrating the fact that this extrajudicial system is designed to prevent due process and lawsuits.)  But whatever the case, the fundamental problem is the one in which we believe that someone deserves harm, period. 

Imprisonment is a necessary evil, one in which we separate those who intentionally harm people from the rest of society, so as to better keep those who obey the law safe. Ideally, those who are incarcerated spend their time being rehabilitated, so that they can rejoin the public and contribute to it (which is why penalizing them when they are released probably explains high rates of recidivism); at the very least, perhaps they do some sort of community service from within the prison that allows them to work off the cost of their jail sentence. Of course, this system begins to fall apart once you realize that there are people in jail who are simply awaiting their trial (and can’t afford bail), or who are innocent, but pled guilty after seeing no other options, or were found guilty because of a manipulation of facts or outright lies from so-called witnesses and and planted evidence.

That’s why the death penalty is so dangerous. You can release someone who has been falsely imprisoned, provide them with some sort of monetary compensation (which will never be enough); you cannot do that if you’ve killed someone. The same goes for torture, especially when you get it wrong. In cases like this, a person is likely to implicate other innocent people, because when you’ve pushed a person far enough, they will tell you whatever you want to hear. But even if you’re right and you get actionable intelligence, your use of reprehensible violence only serves to recruit more people to fight against you. Trump’s statement goes one step further, too: he isn’t even concerned with getting information, so much as he wants to hurt people.

This sort of behavior is what leads people to gun down random police officers. It’s the Us versus Them mentality, and it’s a no-win situation–one in which largely innocent people die at the behest of zealots. Every death justifies the other’s position, and the only way to minimize the violence is to stop contributing to it. The pre-crime actions of drones, which seek to take out terrorist leaders before they can plan an attack, should be illegal whether innocents died or not. Surveillance is one thing, thwarting the transport or use of weapons is crucial, but killing people in another country because they have thoughts that differ from yours? It’s a hypocritical act, at best.

Nobody “deserves” violence. What we “deserve” is safety, and as Game of Thrones put it, “Violence is a disease. You don’t cure a disease by spreading it to more people.”

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