Now that Obama has gone all namby-pamby on torture accountability, and
it's beginning to look like some leading Congressional Democrats knew
and even approved of torture, I'm covering my bets and coming out in
favor of torture. Bring it on, I say! The more, the merrier! Torture all
Damn, I feel manly when I talk that way.
I mean, look, it's not as if I'M the one getting tortured. The
government promises to only torture people they don't like, and darn it,
I'm a likeable guy. They won't come after me.
But you know, if we're going to have torture, we have to make it as
efficient as possible, and one of the main problems good freedom-loving
Christian nations have when they decide to make torture a function of
state policy is that of getting the right people for the job of torturing.
Given how many New York Yankee fans there are, you would think that
it would be easy to find people who are smug, or even delight in the
suffering of others. And there are quite a few of those. But when it
comes to doing so in the name of the United States of America, some do
better than others.
It's a generally well-known observation in the literature that children
who gain pleasure from the sadistic torture of animals are predisposed
to grow up to become psychopaths; if not serial killers then at least
severe social misfits, with no real empathy for anyone.
This leads to this question: if children who torture animals are likely
to be socially maladjusted and even dangerous, what are adults who
torture other adults?
Psychopathy lends itself nicely to torture. Psychopaths have a lack of
empathy, are incapable of forming deep bonds or caring about others.
They are oblivious to the pain of others. The act of torturing someone
doesn't bend them because they were already bent.
They don't necessarily enjoy inflicting torture, and for outfits like
the US military, that makes them ideal for the positions of official
state torturers. If it's just a living to them, they aren't going to get
overexcited and kill the American state victims before any information
can be extracted from them.
Psychopaths make darned good torturers, and America should start a
breeding program to make sure the country always has enough torturers to
beat the Russians or somebody.
There's another personality type that is good at torture (psychopaths
aren't usually predisposed to such behavior) and that would be those who
have Sadistic Personality Disorder. They didn't set fire to kittens when
they were children because they were bored; they did it because they
enjoyed the pain the kitten experienced.
When people think of psychopaths, they tend to think of Thomas Harris'
brilliantly spooky character, Hannibal Lector, “Hannibal the Cannibal.”
But Lector enjoyed hurting people, and this made him nearly an
archetypal Sadistic personality. That he had psychopathic elements to
his personality is an accurate portrayal on Harris' part; the two
disorders are not mutually exclusive, and often have what is called
“comorbidity”, which means (loosely) that the two often show up in the
The trouble, though, is that they tend to go through victims at a pretty
fast clip, and will cheerfully lie about information obtained just to
make their bosses suffer, too. This is Not Good.
There are other personality types who are at least capable of torture.
Fundamentalists can be persuaded to torture in the name of a Cause,
usually a religious one. Torquemada is the classic example, from the
Spanish Inquisition. The trouble is they tend to see their victims as
transgressors rather than suspects, and, being emotionally bonded to
whatever McGuffin it is that motivates them (god, the state, their
race), take perceived defiance of their McGuffins rather personally. In
their eyes, you don't violate the law, or merely oppose the state. You
transgress. And that is evil, very evil. A conscientious officer will
want to keep an eye on those types, since they prefer to punish, rather
than extract data. This tends to use up a lot of Canadians of Lebanese
extraction who had the misfortune to be in Yemen in 2001. Since you
can't justify your torture department to the Senate Military
Appropriations Committee if all your detainees are dead, fundamentalists
tend to be a rather iffy choice for the role of Extractor for the United
Narcissists are another poor bet to be official state torturers, even
though they, too, will often have an affinity for the role. They like
dominating and subjugating others for their own self-aggrandizement.
However, as you may have guessed from the name of their condition,
people with Narcissistic personality disorder tend to be somewhat
self-absorbed. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it's all about them.
A narcissistic torturer might have a delightful day rubbing his
testicles on the faces of bound captives or making them watch in horror
as others rape their children, but at the end of the day, the
narcissistic torturer is going to have an empty feeling. It was fun,
sure, but at the back of his mind, he knows that he was just doing it as
an agent of the United States of America, and sure, he loves his country
and all that, but it isn't just the SAME. When he forces a Iranian woman
to teabag him, it isn't his balls being washed—it's Uncle Sam's,
metaphorically speaking. America has the power, and he's just the agent
for that power, and that's a position that doesn't sit well with
narcissists. He'll want to go home and assert his own authority in his
So he'll torture the neighbors' dog to death, or maybe a few random kids
a few blocks away, just so he can say that he is THE torturer, he's the
one who's running the show, dammit, and what he does down at CIA
headquarters is just the day job. It's not even that important to
someone like him. He'll show them. He'll show them ALL.
The astute reader can see where this would lead to problems for the
administration. Therefore, they should avoid narcissists as state
Because the psychological profile of those willing to engage in torture
is so very similar to those who engage in child rape – two very similar
activities, when you think about it – there is the added plus that quite
a few child molesters will be on the taxpayer payrolls and off the
public streets, and working their singular talents at the direction of
the administration, rather than just randomly. Any American will feel a
thrill of pride knowing they we've taken such people and made them happy
and productive citizens.
The very worst type to hire as torturer is the person who doesn't have
any significant personality or affective disorders. There are a few of
those left, but they tend to be in prison, or some other country. We
have a rough time of it, you know.
Normal people don't really have any affinity for torture at all, even
though after watching a few episodes of “24”, or even “American Idol”,
they claim to be for it. It's the ticking bomb thing. Anyone hauled in
for parking tickets secretly knows the location of a nuclear weapon
that's going to go off in downtown Bakersfield in about two hours.
Which is what gives the government a training program for torturers.
First, give them a rationale. The “ticking bomb” rationale is absurd,
but an amazing number of people – over half, according to polls,
consider that an acceptable excuse for torture.
Next, convince them that it's an “us versus them” situation. Along with
indoctrination about how all Moslems (or whatever bogeymen it is this
week) hate America, put them in controlled experiments where they can
get rewards if they administer mild electric shocks to people sitting in
a face-to-face situation. While obviously a more confrontational
situation than what you get with someone strapped to a waterboard, it
does excite the “flight or fight” response, and a surprisingly high
percentage of people will press the button and administer the shock.
The best possible training ground for turning ordinary and reasonably
emotionally healthy people into torturers is the role of prison guard.
There's a superb German movie, “The Experiment,” that shows how this
works. You take two sets of people, arbitrarily divided out of one
amorphous group, and put them in a 24-hour-a-day,
cut-off-from-the-outside-world setting for a month. One group are
prisoners, the other group are prison guards. At first, it's all in fun,
and the subjects joke with one another and it's all very relaxed and
happy. But then, one of the “prisoners” pushes back a little too hard
against the unconsciously-assumed authority of one of the prison guards,
and the two groups separate, mutually disliking, distrusting, and
disrespecting. Because they wield the power, the guards can make the
prisoners suffer, and in order to show that they have the power, they
do. That is why so many prison guards are such scumbags, little better
than their charges and often worse. It's a great way to cultivate
torturers from a population that wasn't mental to begin with.
America has always prided itself on its morals and resourcefulness, and
we owe it to the world to have the very best torturers we can find,
people willing to torment without (too much) joy and able to extract
answers, even when they know there are none to extract.
Good torture is a delight in the eyes of God. Bad torture is just tacky.
May 11, 2009