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Torture and Human Rights

April 17, 2009

Rights-groups have their panties in a twist over the news that Barack Obama does not intend to prosecute those CIA agents (and others) who performed controversial torture techniques on suspected terrorists, who were captured and deemed dangerous by the government.

Now, before I get into this, I am all for human rights. I think that the situation at Abu Ghraib was disgusting. I’m so glad that Obama has decided to stick to his word and shut down Guantanamo Bay. I think that torture techniques such as water-boarding are horrendous and should never be used. Despite Bush’s claims to the contrary, Iraq and Afghanistan are wars, and prisoners-of-war should be treated as such.

Yet, I don’t think these CIA operatives are necessarily the bad guys. Soldiers are conditioned to kill. They’re conditioned to see their enemy as less than human, and to take emotion out of the equation. I read a book a few years back called “On Killing” by retired Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. In the book Grossman compared military data from as far as back as the War of Independence to show that humans have a natural aversion to killing, but are trained and conditioned by the military to kill enemy combatants more effectively. For example, in the old days when two armies would meet on the battlefield, line up and shoot towards each other, far less men died than statistically should have. Even if you take into account the failure rates and inherent inaccuracies of both the guns and the shooters, Grossman concluded that many soldiers either didn’t fire or would aim to miss. In each subsequent major conflict, as military training and conditioning increased, the death rate increased proportionately.

My point is that these men are military professionals and are trained to kill, trained to devalue human life and trained to follow orders without question.

But the real issue is that these orders came straight from the top. So if these particular men didn’t torture prisoners, then someone else down the line would have. Therefore it seems silly to prosecute them, when the real criminals were the ones who ordered and condoned this type of behaviour.

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