Cognitive Dissonance Watch


A reader observes:

During the the hostage/POW (depends on the context) ordeal, British "confessions" offered contrite prisoners, apparently well-treated and healthy. After a relatively brief period, they were returned home where they immediately repudiated the "confessions" as coerced.

The conventional wisdom response: "of course they were coerced." Honestly, did anyone believe for a second that the British Navy had equipment so sketchy that they couldn't settle their location? No, the sailors said what they needed to in order to get home.

Meanwhile, the U.S. position is that torture (or torture-like) techniques garner valuable information as opposed to false statements engineered to end discomfort. Anybody else see a disconnect here?

Count me in - but the public doesn't seem to grasp this. It's especially telling since we dismiss the statements of the captive British soldiers as the fruit of coercion even though their treatment was like a bed and breakfast compared to what has taken place at Abu Graib, Camp Cropper, Bagram or Gitmo. Why are we unable to make the same assumptions about other coerced testimony?

One possible answer is simply that as long as the victims of torture are not white or Western, they are not seen as fully human victims of torture - and therefore none of the rules we apply to full human beings count. Since any information from sub-humans is sketchy anyway, why not torture it out of them? It's as legit as anything we're likely to get out of them by conventional techniques. "Treat them like dogs" was General Miller's express instructions at Abu Ghraib. And he saw the prisoners as dogs. In fact, if animal shelter workers in the West treated its dogs as some US forces have treated some detainees, they'd be fired for cruelty.

The scenario changes instantly when the victim of coercion is white or an allied soldier. It's striking, isn't it, that the only cases of torture in Gitmo and elsewhere that have had any traction in the wider culture have been people who do not fit the ethnic profile of Arabs. Jose Padilla is Latino; David Hicks is Australian. When they're tortured, we worry about the reliability of the evidence. But when we torture "information" out of men called al-Qhatani or Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the information we get is allegedly saving "thousands of lives." How do we know this? Because the torturers, i.e. the Bush administration, tell us so. And so the circle of cognitive dissonance tightens until it becomes airtight.

(Photo: Royal Navy personnel (from L) Mne Joe Tindell, OM Arthur Batchelor, Cpt Christopher Air, Lt Felix Carman, Mne Adam Sperry and OM Simon Massey speak during a press conference about their experiences while being held captive in Iran at the RMB Chivenor in Devon, 06 April 2007. The 15 British sailors freed by Iran told Friday how they were subjected to intense "psychological pressure" and threatened with prison during their two weeks in captivity. By Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty.)