Thursday, December 11, 2014

The decision to torture

With the recent report on torture by the CIA by the Senate Select Committee on Intellingence the research I did on the a democratic country`s decision to torture has become relevant again. In my thesis dissertation I use the abuses at Abu Ghraib as a case study to gain insight into why a country would decide to use torture even though it is extremely ineffecient. It also touches on the lack of political will to address the issue in the Obama camp and a possible means to efficiently address the issue. I have included the abstract of the dissertation in this article. The full dissertation can be downloaded at:

This dissertation’s primary focus is why torture is used when torture is not an effective means of gathering intelligence. To answer this question the argument for the use of torture, commonly known as the ticking time bomb argument, is discussed. Due to psychological and physiological processes during torture interrogation it was found that torture cannot be relied upon to deliver truthful information.

Torture was also found to adversely affect the institutions that are needed for its establishment. After torture has been found to be of no utility in terms of the appropriation of information the question of why torture is still used is answered by means of discussing societal dynamics as well as the political process surrounding torture. On the societal front it was found that American public opinion towards torture is ambivalent. The reason for this includes a host of socio-psychological factors such as the in-group out-group bias as well the War on Terror as a political ideology in its own right.

The notion that anybody is likely to torture is also explored by means of discussing the Milgram’s Obedience Experiment as well as the Stanford Prison Experiment. On the political front the notion that the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay were the work of a few bad apples is dispelled since it formed part of a deliberative political process that tried to make torture a legitimate foreign policy measure.

The reason for the existence of this process is the failure of international and domestic checks and balances. On the international front U.S. unilateralism as foreign policy principle is cited as the reason for the ineffectiveness of international measures to stop torture. On the domestic front the permanent rally around the flag effect due to the permanent state of mobilization in the War on Terror is cited as the reason for the failure of domestic checks and balances.

The lessons learnt from the research enables the creation of measures on how to stop torture even when it is found that the necessary political will is not present within the Obama administration. In the absence of political will it must be manufactured by means of the actions of civil society, the free press and the international community. It was found that the most effective means would be the creation of a committee of inquiry to create the political memory of the use of torture and how it was established. Additionally a memorial must be erected as well seeing that inquiries create political memories but they do not sustain it.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Nothing never happens - The conflict of knowledge

Maybe I didn`t look at areas, regions and places the same way other people do. Maybe it is my small town-upbringing. Maybe I`m just paid attention to something entirely different while other people concentrated on their spatial bearings. Irrespective of the reason(s) behind it, I spent a certain percentage of my life blissfully or anxiously ignorant of where I am. 

Amsterdam, with its relatively small, interconnected but unique neighbourhoods and the combination of century old grachten and the more modern city layout on the periphery really punishes the navigational happy-go-luckies of this world. This has frustrating consequences and one particular early-morning-two-hour-drenched-in-rain-only-to-figure-out-that-I-was-in-the-wrong-side-of-the-city bike ride comes to mind. 

I didn`t need a life coach or self-help book to figure out that this was a major point of self-improvement. The first step in this approach was putting a name to the region I was in. The place that gives you the quintessential Amsterdam feeling (gezellige pubs and old houses with high ceilings on the grachts) is the Jordaan. The area were people put a concerted effort into distinguishing themselves from each other but end-up looking remarkably similar is called De Pijp. Eventually I developed a type of affective shorthand for all the areas I would frequent. 

The problem was that I would know the name of the place I was but that didn`t help me get to the place where I wanted to be. To be able to navigate independently I would need to understand the interconnected nature of the districts of Amsterdam. I needed to figure out that from Vondelpark if you went East you will pass through the Museumkwartier, then Nieuwe Pijp and going over the Amstel you would be in a peculiar part of the city called Transvaalbuurt.   

Apart from being named after a province of apartheid South Africa one will also notice the names of Afrikaner leaders and battles fought by the Afrikaner in the 1800s. For instance Tugelaweg (in reference to The Battle of Tugela Heights) runs parallel to Retiefstraat (in reference to the Great Trek leader Piet Retief). The streets were named this way by the Dutch to show camaraderie and support of the Afrikaner after losing the Second Anglo-Boer War against the British. A war in which the British used inhumane tactics to counter the recently invented guerillawarfare of the Afrikaners. 

A lesser known fact is that some Dutch families took the sentiment further and immigrated to South Africa in support of the Afrikaner. One of these families being the Verwoerds and their son Hendrik. Hendrik would grow up to become the so-called Architect of Apartheid.   

The way we classify historic events gives an episodic feel to it but there is no start or end to the doings of mice and men - one event has many causal linkages to what happened before it in the same way that one area of a city is interconnected to the next. 

This brings me to the central conflict of knowledge. We need classification to understand and analyse but the very mainstay of knowledge also misleads us into a superficial understanding or less useful knowledge by taking our attention away from where events/places overlap as time/space changes.