Sunday, May 02, 2004

Thumbs-up in Baghdad 

There's been a lot of stuff in the news lately about torture, particularly now that the news is full of horrible and disgusting photos of American soldiers giving the thumbs-up over the miserable naked bodies of humiliated Iraqis.
The odd thing is, everyone KNOWS that torture doesn't work very well, that the confessions are likely false, and that there's no way to determine whether anything the torturee is saying is true at all. One of the best things that ever happened to police work in the last 40 years was the Miranda Warning -- it forced police to stop trying to beat often-false confessions out of people and start trying to talk them into true confessions (read the book Homicide for a description of how police now do this).
The dirty little secret is that in our popular culture, torture by the people who consider themselves to be the good guys makes the torturer feel righteous -- particularly when he feels justified in taking some kind of revenge on the torturee. Consider the hundreds of movies and TV shows we have seen over the last half-century where the nice-guy police officer finally "snaps", driven to a righteous rage by the heinousness of some crime and the despicableness of the perpretrator, and starts beating the guy's head against the wall -- "I'll wipe that smile off your face" is the cliche line. And doesn't the audience applaud? Doesn't it seem like the righteous thing to do? Isn't it an enormous release when we have an excuse to disobey society's dictate to "be good", when we just let 'er rip and damn the consquences?

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