is the title of an op ed that appeared in yesterday's Harvard Crimson and which I read, and you can read, at Reader Supported News. The author, Glenn L. Carle, is a Harvard graduate who spent 23 years in the CIA, and wrote about his experience in a book titled Te Interrogrator. He write bluntly
Torture does not work and provides virtually no useful intelligence.The foundation comes from a lecture about of all things Thucydides and a lecture on "The Peloponnesian War:" He writes
I was involved in the enhanced interrogation program and served as a senior officer responsible for terrorist reporting. The foundation of my understanding, however, came not from my government training but from the lecture halls of Harvard.
The Melian dialogue, of course, is perhaps the most distilled case in the Western canon of the clash between morality and realpolitik. But it was Thucydides' psychological insights that were most relevant to me in my career; few of my peers had studied the humanities as I had.Please keep reading.
Thucydides teaches that understanding the deep human motivators of fear, honor, and interest enables us to understand foreign relations as well as our enemies. Understanding those motivators also makes a good operations officer, one better equipped to recruit spies and conduct successful interrogations.
The occasion of Carle writing the piee to which I refer is that the Senate Intelligence Committee has written a report examining our program of "enhanced interrogation," a practice in which he refused to engage, but like so much that in recent years has ostensibly been done in our name and on our behalf, that report is classified and we do not have access to what it says.
Carle argues that
intelligence work and interrogation are profoundly human enterprisesand for this reason I would posit that study of the humanities is crucial to those who make policy and who engage in the application of that policy in intelligence work, and especially in interrogation. He goes on to write this powerful paragraph:
My superiors, and particularly the neoconservative armchair interrogators who designed and ordered "enhanced interrogation," lacked this psychological insight. They equated power with strength and were obtuse to human nature. It was clear that "enhanced interrogation" was illegal; it was also clear to me that enhanced interrogation created fear and anger, and made psychological understanding, and therefore successful interrogations, impossible. Torture is atavistic, an expression of power, the humiliation of a foe. It has nothing to do with obtaining intelligence. These impulses are rooted in our fears and in our amygdalas, not the reasoning portion of our brains, and so torture recurs whenever humans are afraid, or angry, and have power over one's imagined foe. Only our laws - reason codified and applied - can protect us to any extent from our impulses.I teach government. I also teach in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program, courses in Policy, Research, and Environmental Media. I have also taught History, English, and Religion among other topics. I was a music major as an undergraduate, but read extensively in a variety of fields. For myself my world view has been shaped as much by my reading in the humanities as it has in the examination of contemporaneous events: political, geopolitical. While not a scientist or engineer, I did spend more than two decades in software and have some understanding of how easy it is to get caught up in what might be technically feasible and detach oneself from the morality of the actions in which one engages.
To me the most serious gap in our current approach to educational policy is that we are moving in a direction that takes us further way from requiring our students to engage in moral thinking and understanding. We study history in part to understand the past, to be sure. But that past contains lessons for how people have wrestled with moral issues. OFten the working out of that understanding comes through literature. Some, like Thucydides, will present itself as factual, as history (although his work is far more than a mere historical recitation, as I discovered when I first read it in 8th grade). We encounter as well in literature: novels, plays and poetry; in music - sometimes in opera, sometimes in ballet accompanied by music, sometimes in the wordless sounds that touch us in ways we cannot expect; in the tangiable arts of painting, sculpture, architecture; in understanding how people structure their societies and their lives.
One of the most profound musical works of the 20th Century is a War Requiem, composed by Benjamin Britten, whose 100th birthday was, ironically, yesterday. His text is not merely that of the Latin Requiem Mass, but also the poetry of Wilfrid Owen, a Brit who died shortly before Armistice. The occasion of the work was the dedication of the new Anglican cathedral in Coventry, constructed next to the ruins of the ancient one destroyed in a bombing raid the British knew was coming, but where they felt they could not act upon that intelligence because the Germans would then realize their codes had been compromised: they preserved that secret on the principle of a greater good, the kind of rationalization fo which those engaged in military and intelligence work must regularly engage. Is it not worthwhile to consider implications, to wrestle with those issues? The vocal artists at the premiere were an English tenor, a Soviet soprano, and a German Baritone who had served in the War which destroyed the old cathedral as a member of the Wermacht. Is it possible that understanding why Britten, who conducted the premiere, selected these artists we are able to deepen our moral understanding about healing? Cannot we combine that with several of Lincoln's texts in combination, that of the Gettsyburg Address, whose sesquicentennial was this past week, and of his final major public address, a Second Inaugural given only about 6 weeks before his assassination (and address that sought to bring the nation back together with its line of "malice towards none")?
Carle tells us
I had learned from Thucydides to understand the subject, while the architects of enhanced interrogation believed it necessary to "break" them. And as they ignored their opponent's humanity, we became inhuman ourselves, failing both practically and morally.There are TWO reasons not to torture
- for all the arguments by its advocates, it is not a practical, efficient or effective means of interrogation
- it debases us, that is, those who do it to be certain, but those on whose behalf it is done.
Here the words of the great moralist Pogo, looking upon the devastation of the swamp, come to mind:
We have met the enemy, and he is us.
Perhaps the piece by Carle helps me understand some of the decisions in which I have engaged in recent years, why even despite my active participation in electoral politics and policy I have foregone multiple opportunities to engage in those fulltime, and keep returning to the classroom: I want my students to engage in moral thinking. I want them as those who in the future will be responsible for this nation to be capable of considering the implications of actions before they do them, and to acknowledge when things have been improper and move to rectify them - something that will not occur if we continue to insist upon classification of the very examinations that should help us understand where our policies need to change.
Carle has two final brief paragraphs that make these points:
I am sure the blocked Senate report on enhanced interrogation will show what I lived: Enhanced interrogation does not work. Interrogation based on rapport does. The report needs to be published so that the truth is known and the false debate ended.
Absent disclosure and open debate, how can we the American people properly exercise our responsibilities as the sovereigns of this nation that it is living up to its stated ideals? If we are denied that right, does the Republic still persist?
I re-read "The Peloponnesian War" 30 years after taking "The Great Age of Athens" as a sophomore and years after interrogating my al-Qaida detainee. It made me cry.The power of tears, the willingness to acknowledge when we should feel shame - these are part of what keeps us human, prevents us from acting as sociopaths or psychopaths.
I write this as a teacher of adolescents.
Should not our responsibility as educators be to insist upon our students developing and learning how to apply moral reasoning?
Should not we realize how much we can learn from those who went before us, who wrestled with issues of the human condition?
Consider this my Saturday morning reflection on teaching, on a day that begins 9 days without seeing my students.
I hope these thoughts are of some use to those who encounter them.