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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.

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 foundation comes from a lecture about of all things Thucydides and a lecture on  "The Peloponnesian War:" He writes
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.

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.

Please keep reading.

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 enterprises
and 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.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (20+ / 0-)

    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 04:29:24 AM PST

  •  So you say that torture does not work and it (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dood Abides, palantir, LNK, ramara, kurt

    debases the ones who use it.  Powerful arguements for an end to torture use on the basis of practical and moral considerations.

    •  it is professional interrogators who say (12+ / 0-)

      it does not work.  Consider also what the likes of FBI interrogator Ali Soufran has had to say.

      Under torture people will say whatever they think you want to hear to make it stop.  That makes most of what they say useless.

      The rationalization of the ticking time bomb has no basis in reality, at least not according to professionals who have spoken/written about it publicly.

      I can speak to the moral issues.  I can point at what professionals say about the practical issues.

      "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

      by teacherken on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 05:01:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  When I consider who was in charge (9+ / 0-)

        of the torturers during the Bush (Mis)Administration, & what their intended use of the resultant "information" was, I can only conclude that this--

        Under torture people will say whatever they think you want to hear to make it stop
        --wasn't a bug, it was a feature. It slapped a veneer of justification on the actions the warmongers were damned & determined to take anyway. And that was all they wanted. They sure as hell didn't want any new information that contraindicated their predetermined plans.

        The greatest trick the GOP ever played was convincing the devil they had a soul to sell.

        by Uncle Cosmo on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 05:37:54 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Torture intimidates others (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I think there was a case where a suspect spilled the beans when told he might be turned over to another country that does engage in torture but that was 20 years ago.

          I'm sure many of us here have had the thought cross our mind that we, too, might be the victims of torture--thing of that poor guy whose only mistake was to talk to a friend of a colleague and he got picked up and shipped to a torture prison in Syria. Canadian guy, names escapes me.

          If you want to know more about why torture happens, read the works of psychology professor Zimbardo (curious footnote = it was his then girlfriend who made him stop the experiment):

  •  Lincoln understood this. (7+ / 0-)

    He fought a bloody war, but ultimately the success of that war was due to his refusal to dehumanize his opponents. His profound empathy for the people on there other side led him to want to "bind up the nation's wounds", not "crush the serpent with his heel" (as Julia Ward Howe put it in the Battle Hymn of the Republic).

    Our endless wars in Asia keep going because we refuse to understand our opponents. We know we are virtuous and therefore they must be evil. Resistance must be met with force and the serpent crushed beneath our heel. Of course from their perspective this is more like Orwell's 1984- a boot stamping on a human face- forever.

  •  Thanks for keeping hope.... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, palantir, ramara, kurt

    ...for our collective national soul alive.

    This issue was and is the fire-brand for me throughout the Bush dark ages... while happy with him, I have kept Obama at considerable arm's length because he never sought to prosecute any of them... just as in the filibuster reform, YES, you absolutely MUST risk the country tearing itself apart.

     I love the unintended humor of your quote selection... remembering the sheer torture of having to sit through many of my lectures in college.... ;)

    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


    "Generosity, Ethics, Patience, Effort, Concentration, and Wisdom"

    by Dood Abides on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 05:04:42 AM PST

  •  In defense of the liberal arts (4+ / 0-)

    A little over a year ago, I attended the inauguration of the new president of a small liberal arts college.  The liberal arts are systematically being cut from the courses of study in many universities and small liberal arts colleges are struggling to stay alive.  The keynote speaker at that inauguration gave a wonderful speech about why the liberal arts are so important to our society.  

    I searched to see if I could find a copy of that speech on line but was unable to do so.  However, I did find several other examples of similar writings defending the liberal arts and why they are so important to our society.  I am excerpting two passages from one of those writings.

    The first  passage is instructive as to why a more broadly based education is important to our society.

    But the liberal arts train students to write, think, and argue inductively, while drawing upon evidence from a shared body of knowledge. Without that foundation, it is harder to make — or demand from others — logical, informed decisions about managing our supercharged society as it speeds on by.
    This second passage touches on where we are heading by ignoring the liberal arts as a part of our education and how dangerous it will be to our humanity and our society.
    And without citizens broadly informed by the humanities, we descend into a pyramidal society. A tiny technocratic elite on top crafts everything from cell phones and search engines to foreign policy and economic strategy. A growing mass below has neither understanding of the present complexity nor the basic skills to question what they are told.
    As this relates to your diary is very important.  We are on the verge of losing our humanity as a society.  The acceptance of torture and drone warfare are symptoms of what is wrong in our society today.  And those of us who are cognizant of that know that dehumanization of other human beings is ineffective as a tool of war and is symptomatic of our own lack of humanity.

    "I don't want to run the empire, I want to bring it down!" ~ Dr. Cornel West "It was a really naked declaration of imperialism." ~ Jeremy Scahill on Obama's speech to the UN

    by gulfgal98 on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 06:19:40 AM PST

  •  I am not sure that people who order others to (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wonmug, ramara, kurt

    torture or, for that matter, to kill in cold blood, are capable of being debased. I think they are already as base as they can be, and cowards to boot.

    The Gang of Eight

    Speaker of House — Boehner
    Minority Leader — Pelosi
    Leader of the Senate — Reid
    Minority Leader — McConnell
    Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chair–Feinstein
    Senate Select Committee on Intelligence V.Chair –Chambliss
    House Intelligence Committee Chair — Rogers
    House Intelligence Committee V.Chair — Ruppersberger

    who have allowed themselves to be fronted as the conscience of the nation should be ashamed. When this arrangement for plausible deniability was first set up, they might have been innocent participants. Now, it seems, they are enmeshed in an association by guilt and don't know how to get out.

    Obamacare at your fingertips: 1-800-318-2596; TTY: 1-855-889-4325

    by hannah on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 06:30:49 AM PST

  •  OT, Harvard (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gfv6800, ramara

    I wish I could find the exact quotation I read yesterday while reading up on Texas, JFK yesterday. One of the Texans (an oil man? circle of LBJ?) said something to the effect that the Harvard boys couldn't stand up to the Texas men.

    I am afraid this is very much the 'macho' bravado attitude of too many Americans.

  •  A distressing feature of current discussion of (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ramara, Another Grizzle

    education is the emphasis on "job" preparation.  Rather than feature the benefits of liberal arts, talk seems directed toward the idea of college being more of a "trade" school.  I have no problem with "trade" training, but it doesn't achieve the goals of a liberal arts course.  Thank you for this diary!

  •  I believe in liberal arts education (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and have been appalled over the past several decades to see it disappear in favor of the teaching of skills. School should be for learning how to learn, how to appreciate, how to reason. The person who has learned this can learn many jobs and the skills necessary to perform them.

    Among other things, we need to learn to appreciate beauty - in nature, in the arts, in language, in human character. I just read an address given to the Israeli Knesset by the head of Rabbis for Human Rights, urging them to oppose the Prawer Plan, which would displace 40,000 Israeli Bedouin, reminding them that only by doing right can they become a city of righteousness; only by recognizing that the stranger (other) is also made in God's image.

    We need to be able to make moral choices, and for this we need to understand the connection between things, and our entire culture has become more and more dehumanizing.

    I'll have to check out this book.

    Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

    by ramara on Sat Nov 23, 2013 at 12:53:16 PM PST

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