22 January 2012

Torturer’s Apprentice

You thought the Inquisition, and its interrogation techniques (a.k.a. torture), was evil? Here's an interesting article exploring the similarities between Bernard Gui's 14th century torture manual, "Conduct of the Inquisition Into Heretical Depravity", and the U.S. Army "interrogation" manual, the Human Intelligence Collector Operations. It's incredible to note that the previous "administration’s threshold for when an act of torture begins was the point at which the Inquisition stipulated that it must stop ". This article smartly goes beyond criticising the stance from the US administration/army (indeed, which countries can confidently claim they have not been tempted by torture, especially in “ticking time bomb” scenarii - see the movie, Unthinkable, for a good, full of suspense, introduction to that theme) and quotes the British thinker Isaiah Berlin to show how the claimed purity of motive ("I only have good intentions") is an arrogant conviction to hold the ultimate truth ("I know - better than you do - what's good for you") and can lead to disaster:

"To make mankind just and happy and creative and harmonious forever—what could be too high a price to pay for that? To make such an omelette, there is surely no limit to the number of eggs that should be broken—that was the faith of Lenin, of Trotsky, of Mao, for all I know, of Pol Pot … You declare that a given policy will make you happier, or freer, or give you room to breathe; but I know that you are mistaken, I know what you need, what all men need; and if there is resistance based on ignorance or malevolence, then it must be broken and hundreds of thousands may have to perish to make millions happy for all time."