"Justifiable" Torture and “The Ends Justify the Means”
By Dennis Loo (1/18/13)
One of right-wingers’ - and others, including some liberals’ - favorite, allegedly devastating, retorts to the revolutionary Left is that the Left adopts the argument that “the ends justify the means.”
Never mind that the genuine Left does not and never has held this position. That has not stopped the Left's biggest opponents from saying it ad nauseum. Truth, after all, does not determine what these folks say.
You can find this line about the Left – “the ends justify the means” - being delivered in films, including literally, by movie villains carrying out all kinds of evil deeds against the "righteous forces of good" while inflicting terror, harm, and death upon innocents. These movie villains are sometimes fighting for good causes, but they use such despicable means that their cause is tarnished irrevocably in the filmgoers’ minds by their egregious strategy and tactics.
This fiction trope is a nifty device for taking an issue that many or most people in real life regard as a legitimate reason for grievances – for example, Israel’s shameful and grotesque treatment of Palestinians - and discrediting the issue by making those most concerned in the film (book, article, etc.) appear to be irrational criminals and terrorists with no regard for human life.
Who’d want to be seen in the company of such crazies, anyway? It’s a clever means of backhandedly acknowledging that there are some injustices in the world, but then saying that anyone who tries to do anything about it is nothing but a homicidal maniac.
(To be clear, the 9/11 attacks were the act of reactionaries, but what is missing in Zero Dark Thirty is any hint that the people being tortured by the U.S. and its allies in the real world include overwhelmingly people who have nothing to do with al-Qaeda and that these torture sessions, which have killed at least one hundred people, are part and parcel of a war of terror upon the world in the interests of U.S. empire, not part of the hunt for bin Laden. Even if you are holding an al-Qaeda terrorist (such as KSM), employing torture is wrong and by the way, for those who don’t know, it didn’t work either.)
The “ends doesn't justify the means” strawman argument I have always considered among the most dishonest, meant to pillory all those who see injustice and have the courage to do something about it, rather than remaining complacent in the face of grave injustice.
While those who despise the Left like to invoke the noxious nostrum, “Do you consider that the ends justify the means?” (as if the extreme Right’s own ends and means were not utterly shameful), the genuine Left regards the means as inextricably tied to the ends. The means you choose must correspond to the ends you seek, or the ends you seek you will never see. The Left seeks a society in which authentic popular rule is increasingly realized, and for that to happen, educating people about what is really going on, treating people as ends in themselves rather than as spectators who cheer on the real actors and real leaders, and getting people involved in the political process directly—as well as in every other arena of human existence including science and art—are both necessary and desirable. (Globalization and the Demolition of Society, p. 322)
If you’re following the debate around Zero Dark Thirty, especially the comments by the filmmakers and by those who support them, it’s startlingly clear that those who endorse torture are now adopting with glee the argument that they and theirs have derided so passionately for so long: the end justifies the means. If your end is saving American lives, then any means, including torture, is justified.
Even if one adopts the argument that torture does save lives, which they have not shown since bin Laden’s courier’s identity was in fact discovered using old-fashioned detective work and not torture, despite ZDT’s distorted telling otherwise, and even if, most importantly of all, you adopt the argument that some torture is ok, as one G. Roger Denson does at Huffington Post[i] who angrily rebuked me. His retort came after I pointed out in his article’s comments thread that torture is intentionally indiscriminate because it is designed to terrorize whole populations and therefore torturing innocents is part of torturers’ strategy. In response to this Denson said that the CIA in the film never used “INDISCRIMINATE torture” and only tortured Ammar “to save lives,”[ii] and thus torture is ok, in other words, if your motives are pure.
That’s right Virginia: along with “legitimate rape” I want you to learn that there is “justifiable torture.”
Apparently, if you’re paying attention to what our government leaders and media pundits are now saying and doing, their slander against the Left all these years was really not a slander but envy.
They believe that the means of torture does justify the ends of saving lives, as long as those lives that you are claiming to protect are Americans. In fact, according to Kathyrn Bigelow and Marc Boal, this makes you not only justified, but a hero. The credo for the new age: The Ends DO Justify the Means, as Long as We’re Doing It. (I'm waiting for them to publish their mea culpas to the Left: "Those things we used to say about you and the ends justifying the means? Well, we've now come to see the light. It's a good idea after all. In fact, we now realize that we were wrong to claim that you took that position and it's really our position, not yours. It's you on the Left who refuse to recognize and admit that torture is a perfectly justifiable, indeed, admirable act in order to save Americans' lives. You refuse to co-operate with this, which only shows how contemptuous you are of America and how patriotic we are compared to you.")
What a great country this is, huh?
[i] To see his comment (“ZDT does not show INDISCRIMINATE torture”) click on “There are More Comments in This Thread” after my comment (denniswcw) that begins with “Torture IS terrorism…”
[ii] Denson: “That was the reason torture was applied to Ammar--to save lives.”