Christopher Sullivan had an excellent guest blog post over at Political Violence @ a Glance yesterday. It’s a fascinating, rigorously academic look at an important question: does the use of torture actually help a state accomplish its security goals (i.e. reducing violence by terrorists or insurgent movements)? As a side note, it’s interesting that debates on torture inevitably fall back onto the empirical “does it work” side, which says something about the persuasive condition of moral discourse in our society – but that’s a point for another day.
Sullivan tackles the “does torture work” question by examining the conflict in Guatemala in close analytic detail, looking for micro-level correlations between the use of torture and various conflict outcomes (increased or decreased violence). Unsurprisingly (even to him), he found that the use of torture by the government did not have any effect on the level of violence by the insurgents, whom the torture was presumably supposed to help stop. This is an unremarkable finding, although it is good to have it verified in a careful and objective fashion.
What Sullivan did find surprising was that the use of torture was “robustly associated” with an increase in killings by the counter-insurgent forces. That is, the same people (or, at least, people on the same side) who were committing the torture also became more likely to engage in killing in other conflict contexts. He offers no explanation for this finding, at least in his blog piece, but does seem somewhat surprised by it.
At Fort Hood yesterday, four people died and many more were injured in a shooting spree by active duty soldier Ivan Lopez. This is the third shooting on a US military base in seven months, and comes just a few years after an even more gruesome shooting spree at Fort Hood. The dozens of people who have died in these mass murders have names, identities, and families – most of them are also active duty military.
These victims have names, identities, and families like the tens of thousands of civilian victims of the “war on terror” that the US military is “fighting” abroad; or the tens of thousands of victims of Cold War proxy wars, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the Gulf War, and the like.
It is not only their humanity that these victims have in common – it is that they are victims not only of the perpetrators of the crimes or wars that kill them, but of militarism itself.
A militant group is considering a move from drugging to electroshock therapy to promote awareness and functionality in its spies and its killers. For more than half of the organization’s history, it has been using stimulants to provide its militants with the alertness and motivation to fight. The stimulants are in the food, in chewing gum, in drinks, often without the knowledge of the militants consuming them. These stimulants have been a key part of motivating the militants to work, fight, and kill, but the leaders of the group are concerned that it is not enough – and other drugs aren’t working as well as they had hoped. They have been exploring more radical programs of DNA-based injection and now shocks to the brain.
The leaders describe the shock program as “non-invasive” but “complicated” especially in terms of knowing “what to turn on and what to turn off.” A Harvard Medical School professor suggested that the shock process “seemed to work” to increase awareness and motivation among militants even though there is “almost no data” about long term effects. Concerned with “performance issues,” the militant organization continues to drug its militants, and is working on the sustainability of the shock program.
That militant organization is the US military.