Hurting Never Helps

Although I spent 29 years of my life actively associated with the military in one way or another, these days I find the notion of killing people in order to accomplish national goals to be a rather barbaric and ineffective approach to providing the quality of life that we all desire. Like the need for policemen, it’s hard for me to visualize a world where you don’t need an armed force for defense and dealing with the rough edges of society, but I (and some of my very senior military leader friends), came to the conclusion many years ago that wars and violence never accomplish what the politicians think they will.

The significant, lingering and unintended consequences of the organized process of killing people produce more problems than they solve these days. N.B. There has been no conflict that the U.S. has been involved in since WWII that has both fully resolved the problem that was the basis for the use of violence and not produced secondary issues that, in some cases, were more problematic than the one that started it all. Wars really don’t work. The same can be said unequivocally about torturing people (for whatever reason). Torture is really barbaric and is little different in concept than the common medieval and inquisitional approaches to dealing with undesirable situations that we now find so unpalatable. We’re getting better, though. Certainly we, as a species are (slowly) learning that that stuff doesn’t work, wouldn’t you think?

Appears not – particularly in the case of the U.S. Our country, which seems to think that it has a unique responsibility for criticizing how others treat their citizens, is this week now being exposed for the systematic torturing that it gave to a whole bunch of prisoners. We’re not talking here about the poor individuals who are presently being held in Guantanamo without any charges. It would be pretty easy to call that kind of behavior mental or emotional torture for sure. But what’s in the news today is a Senate Intelligence Committee study of thousands of pages that systematically shows that all of the torturing that we did to these prisoners did absolutely no good at all in terms of any intelligence gained. Watch this short video with Chris Matthews that recounts all of main points of the report.

They discovered all of this in World War II. There was a significant study that I read shortly after 9/11 summarizing the findings of interrogation methods after that big war; it was clear that far more intelligence was gained from being kind and friendly to prisoners than from threatening and torturing them. The most effective interrogator laid out very clearly how his approach was to befriend the prisoners and commiserate with them in their situation.

One of the points made was that the CIA actively tried to disinform the American people about their program, which is clearly against the law. This reminds me about another issue making the news: The Director of National Intelligence, retired general James Clapper, admitted last week that federal law allows warrantless searches of Americans and that the National Security Agency was, in fact searching the communications of millions of Americans . . . after he had told the senate committee earlier that the government wasn’t, in fact, doing exactly that. He has now effectively admitted that he lied to Congress, but the U.S. Attorney General who is supposed to investigate such things has so far refused to do so. Watch this video which summarizes the situation.

Here’s the big question in my mind: Will these exposes gain enough critical mass such that the American people demand change? There is a place – and we’re getting closer to it – where the pendulum swing in this direction will stop and head toward more control of the system. Maybe these, along with the growing list of issues of government and corporate deception, incompetence, and misbehavior, will force change . . . before the system itself implodes.

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