Monday, December 15, 2014


I agree with the notion that torture is unambiguously immoral, therefore it's no more appropriate to debate whether it's an effective interrogation technique than it is to debate whether slavery is an effective economic system. But those of us who feel this way are a dirty-hippie minority of Americans; to our right, the torture debate we're having focuses to a disturbing degree on effectiveness. Even a majority of moderate and conservative Democrats (53%) think CIA torture provided intelligence that prevented terror attacks, and nearly all of those people (48%) think torture was therefore justified, according to a new Pew poll.

But the attacks we've been facing in the West these days simply aren't hatched in melodramatic meetings of international terrorists who then send the operatives off on transcontinental jets so they can execute elaborate plans for mayhem. What we're seeing instead are mostly solo attacks -- the Boston Marathon bombing was a two-man job -- that don't involve terrorist cells or centralized brain trusts. Inspiration comes from terror groups overseas via the Internet, but there aren't conspirators per se -- angry locals just seem to answer the online call, working on their own.

In the case of Man Haron Monis, the hostage-taker in Sydney, it's not clear whether there was any particular call for terrorist activity that he was answering or whether this was just the latest in a series of sociopathic acts on his part, some of them of a jihadist nature, others allegedly just garden-variety violent criminality, and all of them none of them part of a bigger conspiracy, as far as we can tell.
Monis was charged in 2013 as an accessory before and after the fact to his ex-wife's brutal murder; Noleen Hayson Pal was stabbed and set on fire. He was also charged in 2002 for sexual assault. Some reports say he is facing up to 40 sexual and indecent assault charges....

Monis previously achieved minor infamy in Australia for sending letters to the families of soldiers who had died fighting in Afghanistan, telling the families that their loved ones were murderers. He sent a similar letter to the family of an Australian trade official killed in a Jakarta hotel bombing.
He arrived in Australia in 1996 as a political refugee from Iran, and since the he's set himself up as a jackleg preacher -- a phony "sheikh" and "ayatollah." The sexual assault charges involve a victim who sought him out in this capacity:
His alleged victim, who was 27 at the time, allegedly saw an advertisement for "Spiritual Consultation" in a local newspaper and contacted Monis. He told her he was an expert in astrology, numerology, meditation and black magic and advised her to visit his clinic.

The woman visited the clinic twice within a week. On the first occasion it will be alleged that Monis indecently assaulted her. A week later he is alleged to have indecently and sexually assaulted her. "The assaults are alleged to have been undertaken under the guise of a spiritual healing technique, and the man warned the woman not to tell anyone about them," police said in a statement.
Since at least 2007, when he began sending those hate-filled letters, he's been known to Australian Muslims as a fraud and an unstable individual; see the collection of story excerpts here, at The American Muslim.

The point is, he's a bad guy, and he's been on the radar of Australian authorities for a while -- and yet there's no sign that he engaged in a deep, subterranean conspiracy that intelligence services need to get to the bottom of, any more than he did when he allegedly raped a spiritual advisee, or when he and his girlfriend allegedly plotted the murder of his wife. We may find deeper ties to organized groups, admittedly -- but that hasn't been happening in the case of other recent "lone wolf" attacks.

And yet we're reopening the debate on torture. Already, Fox's Elisabeth Hasselbeck is linking this attack to the torture report:
"Meanwhile, the actual individuals here at home who have been looking into and trying to stop attacks like this, and perhaps future hostage situations -- we are still at war, indeed, with ISIS and terrorism -- are the CIA," she explained. "And have been painted as the bad guys at home."
But, morality aside, even if torture were effective, it wouldn't stop attacks like this. This is DIY terrorism.

The torture of the Bush years was morally abhorrent and provided evidence of dubious reliability. Both of those things are still true of torture -- but now torture (even as described by its biggest cheerleaders) doesn't even fit the plots we're facing. Yet we'll probably do it again someday.


Never Ben Better said...

Doesn't matter whether or not torture works; that's just the rationalization, the veneer of justification over the amoral reality. Torture is good and worthy for the authoritarians because it inflicts pain and humiliation on their enemies. Period. That's what it's for. And if it permanently damages the targets? Even kills them? All the better! They're subhuman anyway, and no loss.

The fact that so many citizens of this country think that way, feel that way, is both depressing and terrifying.

Victor said...

NBB said what I wanted to say - and said it better and quicker.

I'm afraid of what this country is turning into.

Like I said, I'm thinking of getting the hell out.
I've protested our actions since the mid-70's, and we get worse and worse despite the efforts of people like me.

There comes a time when if you can't change people, it's time to change places.

Glennis said...

While the world news was fixated on this guy in Sydney, in good ole middle-American Pennsylvania, another nut-case ideological fanatic killed six people and wounded three.

Happens at least once a month in the good ole USA.

Philo Vaihinger said...

When war is successful it can stop.

Philo Vaihinger said...

>>But, morality aside, even if torture were effective, it wouldn't stop attacks like this. This is DIY terrorism. <<

Perfectly true. No idea how anybody would propose to use it to deal with this sort of thing. Is that a man of straw you're arguing with?

Steve M. said...

No, a man of Fox. Or maybe a woman. Or several of each.

Steve M. said...

This is for Philo:

Fox News Exploits Deadly Hostage Situation In Sydney To Justify Torture.

Ten Bears said...

Forty-four years ago I swore an oath to defend this land against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

I've got something for pillow.

No fear.

Ken_L said...

I've noted in some comments threads that a few rightie extremists are now openly calling for ethnic cleansing and genocide. I'm sure the moderate, responsible conservatives will condemn these comments any day now.