Friday, February 27, 2009

The eternal sunshine of the deadline-less mind

Haven't been able to write for quite awhile. Been feeling stressed. No, more like super-wound-up-tight-stressed.

As I left work this evening I had the amazing realization that, for the first time in maybe 8 or 9 months, I have no impending deadlines. Oh, I have a few, but they're safely in the distance and the tasks associated with them are light. And I even have a long weekend because I'm taking a vacation day Monday.

Met my latest deadline last evening. I was invited by a professor to come speak to her Contemporary Legal Issues class about US-sponsored torture, addressing specifically the argument that it does not work and is not necessary for the gathering of information. I found Darius Rejali's book Torture and Democracy to be very informative on that score. If you ever get the chance, read chapters 20 and 21. Some of the points he covers:
  • There is no "science" of torture. Torture cannot be meted out in any sort of regulated fashion, as each individual has a different pain threshold. Torturers end up using what Rejali calls a "scattershot" approach, subjecting their victims to a "regimen" of torments and constantly ratcheting up the intensity.
  • More torment actually produces less pain and risks bringing on unconsciousness or death.
  • It is not easy to distinguish true information from false, and even professionally trained interrogators are only successful 50 to 60% of the time ... or a little better than flipping a coin.
  • Most surprising: contrary to what is commonly accepted by historians, the French did not win the Battle of Algiers by torturing so many people... or anyway, they did not get the valuable information from the victims. They actually got more information from informants --even though some of those informants did come forward because of the atmosphere of terror created by the torture.
I know, more than you ever wanted to know about the efficacy of torture. Me too.

But do read David Luban's essay, "Liberalism, Torture, and the Ticking Time Bomb," in the collection The Torture Debate in America (Karen J. Greenberg, ed. Cambridge U. Press,2006). A brilliant argument and no details to make you feel squeamish.

I'm going to do some light reading this weekend. Maybe even see Slumdog Millionaire with my husband.

Oh and check out my photo at QuakerDave's place.

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