Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The World Turned Upside Down

"Before you go to a left-wing meeting, brace yourself for the likelihood that everyone you meet in the hall will be standing on their heads."

Nick Cohen, 12th December 2005.

I'm barely interested in blogging at the moment, I just don't feel moved to the sort of anger which occasions a post most of the time, and what time I'd otherwise give over posting goes to watch Seinfeld DVDs or recoding the backend of my blog, and it's all a bit of a mess, so I'll need to get my finger out before I can blog again. But there's one subject which still interests me, and strikes me as important, and I'm not seeing it covered by our crusading columnists. And this isn't a question of left or right, but one of fundamental human decency.

The still-reliable Telegraph: EU concealed deal with US to allow 'rendition' flights:

The European Union secretly allowed the United States to use transit facilities on European soil to transport "criminals" in 2003, according to a previously unpublished document. The revelation contradicts repeated EU denials that it knew of "rendition" flights by the CIA.

And someone on the Scotsman knows how to write with quite devastating irony 'Torture flight' inquiry ruled out:

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has ruled out a judicial inquiry into claims the US has used UK airports to fly terror suspects abroad for torture.
He repeated assurances that an internal investigation had found no record of any requests for "extraordinary rendition" flights to pass through the UK.
But, despite facing accusations that such denials were worthless, he rejected the idea of an independent inquiry.
Human rights groups and several EU governments have raised concerns over reports that suspects are being taken to countries with questionable human rights records.

Of course, saying Uzbekistan has a "questionable human rights record" is like saying David Blunkett has "questionable 20:20 vision."

This story concerns us. It concerns our elected leaders' judgement. No doubt Aaro could write another Times piece (backed with more evidence that he is accustomed to supplying) hounding previous Tory governments for what we now call human rights abuses in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. Aaro is good on the faults of the defeated. He doesn't help or pardon, and he doesn't waste a lot of breath on "Alas" either. The faults of the present shower, however, ... well, "look over there, Tories!" and "over there, Terrorists!" Do you want them to win? Tories, terrorists, tyrants, traitors, tetrahedra, tyrannosauri, any of them?

I've started getting emails from the New Republic. I must have signed up ages ago, but clearly they have a new web policy or some peachy keen intern or something. And the most recent one (which I got yesterday, and ignored) promoted Andrew Sullivan's The Abolition of Torture. Now I blow hot and cold on Andrew Sullivan as much as anyone. Sometimes he's perceptive, funny, and articulate. Most of the time, he's on autopilot, and too often on his blog, he's flaky and hobby-horse riding. But still, it's like gambling: you don't win often but it's the times you do that you remember.

Sullivan's subtitle is "Winning The War On Terrorism Without Sacrificing Freedom" and that's why I publishing this here. I disagree with both Nick and Dave's takes on TWAT (The War Against Terror), but that's normal. Andrew Sullivan is probably a lot closer to their positions (closer to DA than NC, I think), and he doesn't like the government he's supported.

What does it mean to "break" an individual? As the French essayist Michel de Montaigne once commented, and Shakespeare echoed, even the greatest philosophers have difficulty thinking clearly when they have a toothache. These wise men were describing the inescapable frailty of the human experience, mocking the claims of some seers to be above basic human feelings and bodily needs. If that frailty is exposed by a toothache, it is beyond dispute in the case of torture. The infliction of physical pain on a person with no means of defending himself is designed to render that person completely subservient to his torturers. It is designed to extirpate his autonomy as a human being, to render his control as an individual beyond his own reach. That is why the term "break" is instructive. Something broken can be put back together, but it will never regain the status of being unbroken--of having integrity. When you break a human being, you turn him into something subhuman. You enslave him. This is why the Romans reserved torture for slaves, not citizens, and why slavery and torture were inextricably linked in the antebellum South.
What you see in the relationship between torturer and tortured is the absolute darkness of totalitarianism. You see one individual granted the most complete power he can ever hold over another. Not just confinement of his mobility--the abolition of his very agency. Torture uses a person's body to remove from his own control his conscience, his thoughts, his faith, his selfhood.

(Yes, he's read Foucault.) We're not getting this in home-grown war supporters. Big Dave's good on the faults on Saddam, and so silent on abuses at home that you could test your stereo with him (do you hear anything? No? That's our Dave, quieter than electronic hiss.) I know possibly more regimes than I can count, let alone can name, are cruel in their own unique way. That's not for us; torture is for totalitarians. Norm points the finger at the Germans who knew the Holocaust was going on, but didn't speak out. (Well they were busy; there were the Reds to worry about, and the decadence of modern art and jazz, and, oh, those jewish conspiracies! I'm trying not to think, in order, of HP, Melanie Phillips, and Scott Burgess*.)

To go back to Seinfeld:

Jerry: The best revenge is living well.
George: There's no chance of that.

Season 2, Episode 12, The Revenge

When you can't beat them, join them. Maybe I should rephrase that.

*Because I believe in the Da Vinci Code, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and the Project. There's nothing like the truth, and all of those, etc.


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