Endless Curiosity

February 5, 2009

Rendition: Power and Torture

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alec @ 12:04 pm

I watched the movie Rendition yesterday on DVD, and had a definite roller-coaster of emotions. Sometimes I despised the abuse of power shown by people such as Meryl Streep. Sometimes I despised the abuse of religion as shown by the people who organized the suicide bombers. Sometimes I despaired over the attitude that one American dead is worth moving mountains over but that tens or hundreds of non-Americans dead is an inconvenience or an irrelevancy.

I started my book A God of Manageable Size because of my concerns about the way religion was being used, but it soon became just as much a discussion and critique of power as religion.

Most people know Lord Acton’s quote about “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely“, and to me that’s one of the key explanations of human behavior. Even if you think you would be different, Philip Zimbardo’s experiments suggest otherwise. His most famous was the Stanford Prison Experiment.  “In that study, normal college students were randomly assigned to play the role of guard or inmate for two weeks in a simulated prison, yet the guards quickly became so brutal that the experiment had to be shut down after only six days.”

R.J. Rummel has an even stronger perspective that Acton. Rummel’s dictum is “Power kills; absolute power kills absolutely“. As he points out, governments have killed far more of their own citizens than have been killed by wars between countries. Rummel has a whole web site devoted to information on democide, a term he coined to describe the killing of people by their own government.

What was particularly upsetting about Rendition was the casual use of torture by people far removed from the actuality. You only have to look at the history of witch hunts in Europe to know that people will make up anything to stop the pain, including telling the torturers about all the other “witches” in the area. And guess what, a lot of innocent people were killed.

Yes, I know about the ticking clock argument that a nuclear device is about to explode in minutes. Do you or do you not torture a suspect to discover where the device is? The trouble with this argument is that it postulates an extraordinarily unlikely event and uses this as a means to justify a universal policy.

Apart from the immorality of creating a universal policy from a single unlikely event, there are two arguments against this use of torture. First, the suspect could easily give you the wrong location, allowing the nuke to explode as you go on a wild goose chase. Second, why stop at torturing the suspect? Why not gang rape the suspect’s wife and daughters then gouge out their eyes until he talks? After all, haven’t we already decided that the end justifies the means? Hopefully that’s not a path this society wants to go down.

1 Comment »

  1. Pretty good movie though! I mean, it has to be if it made you think (especially so critically) afterwards.

    My perspective…no, you don’t torture to find out info (As we all know it doesn’t work), but an eye for an eye once you KNOW they were connected.

    Comment by Nikki — February 6, 2009 @ 7:14 pm


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