Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Can Torture be ever justified in a Democracy? (2006)

When Minister of Interior, Wolfgang Schäuble, was asked in an interview by the Süddeutsche Zeitung (16.December 2005) whether or not those who committed the attack on 11th of September 2001 were criminals or combatants, he replied as follows:

“The terrorists of 11th of September are in any case criminals. But certainly I know, that the Security Council allowed after 11th of September the deployment of military forces in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charta. With that we are in the American discussion, but I put a great deal of value on the fact, as careful as I am, that I cannot lead as German Minister of the Interior the American debate. Whether combatant or not, in accordance with international law, there do exist certain rules. Torture is ruled out independent of the status of combatant.”

What is so significant in this quote beginning with a clever tautology, namely that terrorists = criminals, are the recollections to bridge the time between then and now. Schäuble recalls what were some of the important responses immediately in the aftermath to 9/11, including the resolution of the Security Council allowing (or rather legitimizing America) to deploy ‘military forces’. This has to be read very carefully since you don’t chase ordinary criminals with an entire army. There is, therefore, a horrific escalation in the meaning given to terrorists as criminals to justify the going to war first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq. It is more than mere manipulation of words when they are upgraded into full scale ‘combatants’.

To recall, all NATO partners had to declare their solidarity with America as foreseen in the NATO treaty, if one of its members has come under ‘attack’. 1 Only a few, perhaps not more than three European countries, protested against this automatic evocation of the NATO treaty. For it was unclear what would warrant such declaration of solidarity, if America has been hit by terrorists but was not under ‘attack’ when compared with Pearl Harbour. However, if the word 'attack' was evoked, it would mean more than a single blow by a group of terrorists; and it would imply moreover that there was an army outside of the United States was standing by, ready to launch an even greater assault and ready to occupy the entire country. Even if organized crime would have behind 9/11, it still would not warrant all what followed. Consequently the term ‘America under attack’ plays a huge role in what was then evoked at international and institutional level with both the Security Council and NATO involved to legitimize what was to follow practically blindly.

The significance of that can be downplayed as does Schäuble in the interview by just referring to this question whether or not terrorists are just ordinary criminals or indeed combatants. But depending on how viewed, defined and categorized, if called combatants then military means to fight them is more easily justified than, if only ordinary criminals. The significance can be immediately felt when America declared on the basis of having been attacked that it is at war with terrorists and therefore is legitimized to go to war i.e. use military means to combat them.

How vague terms are, and yet what tremendous consequences they have when interpreted in a certain way, that became also clear in the aftermath. Two examples can be given to illustrate that point. The first one is that one woman, a well known international lawyer, and whose husband was one of the 3 000 who died in one of the Twin Towers, said the life of her husband would be rendered meaningless, if his death would be a reason for the United States to go to war. For her husband had been throughout his life an advocate for peace. This evokes then the question, but how important a term is ‘victim’, especially if all Americans have been transformed by 9/11 into victims? Grace Boggs believes this was done deliberately so as to evoke a sense of collective anger which would justify in turn the going to war. She added as well that being a victim meant no one had to take responsibility for all the damages US foreign policy had created over the years.

Politically speaking, victims are innocent bystanders suddenly hit, so what does legitimize the government of the United States to undertake extra efforts, in order to protect its citizens? There was made audible the objection that under the many victims who died as a result of the two Twin Towers collapsing, there were not merely Americans – the NATO declaration refers only to them - but many non-American citizens, including migrant workers, foreign personal and just ordinary visitors who happened to be on that day either in the Towers or just in the vicinity. Yet the international aspect was completely shoved aside since everything became a matter of highest national security concern and priority for the American government. This can be interpreted as becoming itself a victim of mass panic, something being then the case, as Freud explained, if the enemy appears suddenly to be stronger than what one had entrusted in the own army to defend the country, or else it is a way to underline the fact that America had become like a wounded grizzly bear very angry.

The second example is a debate which took place amongst the Greens in the European Parliament. They want to know for themselves on how to respond to subsequent developments and, therefore, what would shape the course after 9/11. Clearly most of the MEPs argued against the need to start a war; instead they preferred much more a criminal investigation against ‘unknown’. For they admitted readily no one was really sure who was behind 911. Although everyone assumed that Bin Laden was behind this attack, there was definitely no such proof. More important, there was no proof for any connection at all to Saddam Hussein. How could he have been behind such an attack when he was himself at odds with Bin Laden. Consequently they felt a need to deal with something ‘unknown’, something much greater than what the entire intelligence community of the United States (and of the international world) was capable of knowing. A judicial inquiry involving the International Court would have set in motion also something like setting some standards i.e. no state having the right to undertake counter punishments if damage had been inflicted upon its people and institutions. Hegel had stated already in his 'Philosophy of Law' that the vicious cycle of revenge can only be overcome when perpetrator and victim do not continue to revenge on each other, but that the state has to step in-between to bring about justice. But with the United States insisting on having the Right to punish the perpetrator themselves, not only justice is taken into own hands, but war as act of revenge perpetuated.

Naturally, once seen from another perspective, it must be admitted that 911 came apparently out of nowhere and destroyed a myth of the United States, namely to be 'invincible'. At the same time, since it was 'unknown' who did it, as there was no certain way of identifying the hijackers since they all had crashed and not only died, but gone up together with the other passengers in flame, this posed an even greater threat. For no one knew for sure what would happen next. Even President Bush disappeared from public view for an entire day. It set off the highest possible alarm, and all the more so since it exposed the entire security system of the United States. Not only was there a complete failure to anticipate or to connect the 'dots', as was admitted later on, but nothing was done to prevent either the four planes from having been hijacked, or at the very least to prevent the second plane from crashing into the second Twin Tower after the first one had already hit the first one. Strangely enough, everything could be followed on CNN as they happened to have a camera on a high roof overlooking New York, and with direct exposure in the direction of the Twin Towers. Anyone watching at that time became a live witness as it happened when the second plane came in and in a split second afterwards the explosion happened on the upper floor of that second tower. Altogether it exposed a vulnerability of the United States not thought to be conceivable until then.

Why this ‘unknown’ appeared to be so dangerous? One main reason was because it linked up with not only a lack of a clear answer as to who is the 'real enemy' but also with a lack of experience on how to handle invisible, equally determined ‘terrorists’. Still, there had been made already once a bomb attack to the Twin Towers, but at that time the damage was limited to what took place below ground.

There is, however, another side to this deeply unsettling question, namely where did all these terrorists with so much hatred against the United States come from in the first place? To the embarrassment of the American establishment, it was known all along terrorists were a home product. The United States had made them into a global phenomenon or at least contributed a fair share to the rise of this phenomenon. This is due because the USA financed first of all Bin Laden, so that he would fight the Russians in Afghanistan.

Bin Laden can be compared to what Hollywood films like to show, namely a killing machine or a robot-like man constructed first to protect the country, but then he gains suddenly not only independence from his inventors, but starts to turn his deadly weapons against them. In knowing the capacity to kill and to inflict huge damage, including the capacity to launch a new global war, the inventors realized this robot has gotten out of control, and has to be 'liquidated' or be 'aborted' in accordance with Plan B. Moreover once it was realized that Bin Laden could not be killed so easily, and especially after 911, some other counter measure had to take shape. This is when the ‘war against terrorism’ was invented. It is an extreme measure with the prime aim to cover up all the own failures to control one's own invention. It proved to be a most convenient concept since the 'war against terrorism' allowed the military to map such a strategy which could convince Congress and the rest of a sceptical public that this was the only way forward. Indeed, it was easier for politicians to justify something which reminds of a traditional war rather than having to admit, that there is no real enemy and, therefore, a fight against 'terrorists' cannot be done by the means of an ordinary army. This admittance would also entail the risk of having to show a real sense of responsibility for all the threats to world peace having not come from abroad, but from America itself. Yet such self critical stance is impossible when the myth has to prevail to be always victorious and on the right side, both militarily and morally speaking.

Despite this cover-up, the 'war against terrorism' altered the strategy of war for the simple reason that terrorists operate outside any normal 'playing' field. Basically it means the war zone cannot be declared as there are not clearly defined borders where the terrorists hold up or are at home. What made them even more unpredictable is that they had, so it seems, no clear objectives. If they do not aim to control a particular territory but can congregate as quickly at one hot spot, as they dissolve just as fast, in order to disappear to another location, they could not be held accountable for their actions like an ordinary state. Only the latter has a responsibility as to what happens within its territory or else what comes out of its territory. Yet all that was not really taken into consideration when mapping the strategy on how to respond as to what happened on 911.

By launching a war with an army attacking first Afghanistan, and then two years later by invading Iraq, conventional terms of war fare prevailed. It meant following the need to have a concrete enemy, and since no terrorist could be readily identified, then as the second best target, there would have to be held responsible those governments which could be accused of supporting these terrorists, while in reality the main targets became innocent populations. The ‘unknown’ obtained through these deliberate encounters a first concrete image in the Talibans in Afghanistan; and second, when it came to Iraq Saddam Hussein became the prime target but it dragged the entire population of Iraq into war and with it one of the oldest civilizations on earth. Since both the Talibans and Saddam Hussein could be connected with terrible stories, they could be easily framed negatively and thereby be made, so the thought, into easy targets. It should be noted that all of this took place at mere image level, and was, therefore, subject to spin doctors' abilities to fabricate new stories of atrocities they had committed. The aim was to justify the going to war, while making them into still more concrete ‘enemy targets’.

In reality, these targets disappeared while entire innocent populations were subjected to war and consequently became involved in something they had nothing to do with. Still, it meant that the American army had found something suitable to fight against, even if it meant in the end occupying a certain territory for only a certain or limited time with ever more uncertainties attached as to its future. In the meantime they could go through the motions of an army taking over control, mount all its forces and have whenever needed to justify all the expenses incurred a real enemy to shot at.

Still, that 'unknown' would continues to play a role till to date, and this failure to uncover the real source of disturbance is linked to the use of torture. For the higher the costs, the more desperate the entire apparatus gets. Everyone wants to see results. It includes above all the politicians who signed off in public for such a war.

Bush did his best to hide the costs. Contrary to the past, no military honour was given, for instance, for dead soldiers being returned from Afghanistan and Iraq. Their coffins came in, so to speak, by the back-door, without so much freedom give to the press to report about it. This procedure was designed to keep the American public at bay. This much the military had learned out of the disaster in Viet Nam i.e. what the impact the body count had on the morale of the people back home.

Military strategies do take moral and psychological ramifications not only into consideration, but very serious. Everything is done to avoid a moral confrontation. Such problems as a 'guilty conscience' are best circumvented by doing everything as quietly possible, with only a few people in the known and everything done to avoid some egos ready to announce something in public, if only out of a wish to shine in the limelight of the press and thereby gain fame. Handling the media was one prime objective of this war against terrorism. The invasion of Iraq is known largely by the army having entrenched journalists with them and who share all the risks of warfare, so that censorship was naturally connected to the practical insight no news should get out which could endanger the troops.

Since in both campaigns, Afghanistan and Iraq, costs were piling up, while all along and over time not many good results were achieved, something had to be done to alleviate the politicians back home and who felt the pressure slowly rising. When the daily costs of such operations overseas climbed up to astronomical heights, more decisive actions were decided upon to get some substantial results. Since 911 it meant hunting down primarily Bin Laden, but due to the evasive nature of terrorists who could be anyone, anywhere, it can explain why politicians and military operators felt justified that they could endorse the method of torture. They did so out of the urgent need to squeeze some information out of those they had managed to capture.

In other words, torture is an indication as to what the military felt to be up against. It is directly linked to the description and understanding of who these often would-be terrorists are. Basically it blended in with those in power ready to denounce any opposition as being terrorists – Assad in Syria the best example of how this facilitates him fitting in with the 'international community' which has made the war against terrorism into priority number one.

When following discussions about terrorists, it becomes apparent that security officials, military staff, and members of the overall 'intelligence and security community' are ready to concede that they were up against a cunning, invisible, highly dangerous and extremely intelligent enemy. As a matter of fact, a terrorist by definition goes way beyond any normal description. This is to say no concrete profile of such an enemy can be made. This renders many screening processes useless or risks in becoming highly arbitrary. As those hijackers of the planes demonstrated, they could easily blend into daily life, that no one could except to have a terrorist living next door. The conclusion was repeatedly drawn, and reinforced by the same message over and again, namely 'that still nothing concrete had been found.' It became even an absurd conclusion that President Bush needed Bin Laden to be around to ensure that he would win re-election with his security agenda. The latter would simply state that even more extra efforts were needed, and therefore more money should be given to the military and intelligence community, in order to wage this 'invisible war'. It justified directly that extra efforts should be undertaken to protect the home land against future attacks. One of these extra efforts became torture in its own rights.

So to come back to the statement made by German Minister of Interior Wolfgang Schäuble, it should be clear by now that when he departs from ‘terrorists’, he never questions his presumptions although the terms 'terrorist' and 'terrorism' were and are still used so widely, that they cover almost everything. Such an absolute setting of a concept is counter productive, insofar it makes no sense to claim to know something when in reality no one knew really at first (and perhaps even still today) who was really behind the 9/11 attack, and what is, concrete speaking, a 'terrorist'. To pretend to know had and has not only legal, political and social consequences for the kind of debate everyone was forced to participate in since 911. For it meant whether willingly or not, adopting a highly sophisticated, equally straight forward pseudo- if not conspiracy theory, while blinding everyone to the fact that while a war was being prepared, it was done not merely for the false reason but with a false enemy picture.

One prime censorship principle was automatically invoked at the outset of such a debate: it may not be anti-American! Otherwise one would be risking to be categorized as showing not only too much understanding for the terrorists but as being against America when only solidarity is asked for. This model of an one sided approach to terrorism blends out all the reasons for war and below that level for all violent conflicts, bombings included. While the official course of even killing innocent people is fully legitimized due to use of very crude anti-terrorist methods, and waging a full scale war is definitely the worst case, one false example can be cited when it comes to use of the term to legitimize 'illegitimate actions': Israel. While Israel has been practising for a long time by now vis a vis the Palestinians, namely to name them to be 'terrorists', the same term cannot be used with intent to criticize the actions by the Israelis. Instead the Right to defend oneself is invoked as if this legitimises everything. It does not. But once this principle linked to the 'war against terrorism' was established, the entire world was polarized along the lines Bush drew, namely “who is not with us, is against us.” It meant any debate about 911 and its consequences was charged with plenty of misunderstandings and ready made accusations, even if false, the moment there were signs of not agreeing with the main line which had to be adopted by everyone, namely to be fully in favour of the American government and nothing in-between.

Strangely enough, this was accompanied by many moralist statements. They were made especially by would-be politicians in Europe and in the USA but not only. Often they would became so outraged at 'terrorists' in a similar way as Fundamentalists, if only to condemn those who would stand in the way of not only war, but a highly undemocratic process which accompanied this. Of interest is that the very same Western politicians hardly dared to criticize directly those religious leaders in the Muslim world out of fear of a backlash from their supporters. After all these fundamentalists were embedded in religion, and that meant linked to the 'masses' which were looked upon at one and the same time as the legitimate base but at the same time as blind followers. That ambivalent attitude had consequences for the policies adopted towards the part of world still under dictatorship, whether now Iran or Egypt. At the same time within the Western world there prevailed only one option, namely of adopting a loyal attitude towards America. Who dared to go against this would feel it immediately. It became more evident when first France criticized, and then Germany opposed more fully the going into Iraq. Chancellor Schröder was severely criticized for having damaged the German-American relationships since he did not let German troops join the coalition, while at still other levels the consequences were more severe for those who dared to go out into the open and criticize Western power.

Overall it can be said the debate that followed 911 showed rather than being a conflict between civilizations, it reflected much more a rupture of politics from the public. With public is meant a knowledge linked to something being 'rational' and accountable. This can be best achieved by being linked to an open deliberation processes designed in such a way as to sound out the best possible decisions with the least possible negative consequences. However, already Helmut Schmidt had reduced the role of parliament to that of making only acceptable the decisions which had been taken already. That loss of sovereignty was definitely the case when the Article 5 of NATO was invoked almost automatically. It made impossible that a rational attitude would prevail towards what happened in New York on the 11th of September 2001. Instead there dominated in particular in America, but reinforced by NATO the gut feeling who dared to do something like that and think he would get away with it unpunished? This announcement that punitive actions can be expected, that was already said in the first press release by NATO on the same day when 911 happened.

All of this can partially be explained by convictions having replaced ‘belief in reason’. Also modern global news agencies ensure that images count more than in depth analysis. Once any debate becomes largely media orientated, then the dependency upon loaded images will grow exponentially. Not how the entire story unfolded shall be told, but repeatedly one image shall be shown to replace the telling of the story e.g. the planes crashing into the Twin Towers. These images are meant to speak for themselves. As a kind of ontological statement, they leave no room for doubt or for any nuanced observations, never mind for going into important details. More and more of the news casters had started anyhow to replace thorough investigations and invested much more money in modern technological means to bring the images across. CNN is the best example of claiming to follow up a story in depth, when in fact it hardly scratches the surface. This is due to the fact that they depend upon their star correspondents who parachute in where ever the next crisis point has reached that level of perception which merely confirms that this global war on terror is an ongoing affair, or rather a continuous onslaught with many more, but ever more unaccounted civilian deaths. It seems as if innocence has no place or right to exist in such a world made up of contrived reasons.

But it is time to step outside the context of 9/11, since four years later 'torture' has become the key issue not only due to what images were made public as to treatments of prisoners in Guantanamo bay or in Iraq prison cells, but also because of the CIA flights taking prisoners to countries where they can be apparently tortured because there the legal-illegal mix is more favourable, and besides it does not happen on American soil. It serves the purpose to obtain what is believed to be crucial information, while at the same time the methods used to extract that kind of information cannot be challenged back home, either legally or politically speaking. Always the justification is given that this can save lives. This legitimization is given despite what Schaeuble stated, namely regardless of status – whether criminal or combatant – torture is not allowed. So why does it happen, and especially outside any legal jurisdiction?

A first answer could be that torture takes place anyhow outside all legalities, in order to avoid legal consequences. This would reaffirm the statement made by a former Yugoslavian citizen who explained the eruption of violence in his country was largely due to the indifference of the world. He stated that lawlessness started to reign in local communities once people felt to have been abandoned completely by the world i.e. forgotten, and left to their own fate. Immediately gangs and contra-bands started to seize power in such a vacuum.

That raises then the interesting question in the case that the presence of the world is felt, if it leaves such an imprint, that human behaviour can be constrained, and thereby ensures that human dignity is upheld? For sure, presence of the world is not identical with 'international community'. And here can be digressed to the importance of having a sense of the world in one's immediacy (in German 'Unmittelbarkeit'.) For instance, Thomas Mann stated when returning from exile to Germany after the end of Second World War, that he was missing this special presence of the 'world' in the immediacy (Unmittelbarkeit) of Hamburg's streets. This can be the case of nation states which confine their culture to be just one local or provincial thing, while the rest of world would be quite another thing. The latter is all the more strange if upheld in these days since the 'otherness' or 'strangeness' has all but disappeared in a world gone global (James Clifford).

The global world is not marked so much by alienation but by a split or rift between lower and upper levels of society. For there are those who are trapped in the various global networks, and who would no longer know how to relate to diverse opinions and still uphold democratic principles when it comes to making decisions on behalf of the whole. At the same time, there are those at the lower level of society and who are cut off from the international flow of not only ideas, but funds. A way to bridge this gap would be to ensure everyone feels that they do participate in life. As this can only happen in recognition that the whole can never be know fully, all relationships would depend on a dialogue with the others being upheld. Finding such a solution would, therefore, depend on a dialectical unfolding of taking an active interest in both local and global affairs. This has to be linked to the private having a historical dimension while the cultural orientation does not replace the need for being conscious of the 'political'. If all the structures in which people live and have to move in are reduced by dictates of a global system, as is in the case of war, then the world would press upon the locality such a scheme which can be applied only in an exploitative way. The outstanding case being then that no one takes care of all the ramifications.

The exploitative way is made evident when parallel to military also such business interventions are allowed like those by Halliburton in Iraq after 2003. It is done without any clear accountability to anyone and yet golden opportunities are reaped. It lets these global firms make quickly lots of money at the cost of million other people. Repeatedly that is also the case when the Olympic Games are held: the high costs, in reality the debt, is left behind and which the local population has to bear while the global firms simply move on.

Nevertheless, it is crucial that people feel that they have not been abandoned by the world. That applies even more so to the one who is being tortured. He or she must surely scream out so loud not only because of the physical pain, but because horrified to be abandoned by everyone. Human pain is inflicted in this invisible way but becomes ever more audible when the person being tortured is left completely alone with his or her tormentors.

When five gang up against one, one is on top of it chained to the chair and cannot defend him- or herself, then that is group terror par excellence against the individual. It indicates what impact the practice of torture has upon society. For the knowledge that it is being practiced begins to spread around the world. It will find soon enough ever more imitators. It will have the same message everywhere whether in the situation of a gang rape or a group beating up one man in a dark alley. This message says no one should dare to intervene in what the group wants to do, and says in turn all the hatred against the free conscience of the individual is unloaded in a group which grants itself the Right to do with that individual what anyone likes to do. The random choice includes as making gestures of love, if only to be replaced by signs of extreme hatred. Altogether there can be read into the faces of those who torture but one thing, namely their frustration that they did not stay on the side of humanity but allowed themselves to be brutalized. This means in reality not only those who are tortured are left stranded, for sure, but also those who do the 'dirty work'. For they need to destroy first of all the moral impulse in themselves, before they can go so far as to inflict pain upon the other, in order to extract some information. The strange thing is that they do it even though in most cases they do not even know what they want to hear. Definitely not a confession, and in any case no court will accept evidence solicited under torture as it is considered to be the most unreliable information. For many will do anything, and therefore tell lies, just to escape the pain.

It has hard to imagine what is done to people when being tortured, or what more can be done to them if this process remains completely unchecked. And it is even harder to imagine all the consequences in a world which seems no longer attentive enough, or does nothing about it although it was thought some lesson had been learned from having left the Jews to their own fate despite knowing what Holocaust with all its concentration camps meant. As for those who are tortured, they shall be heaved by this double pain -the physical and the human one - into an abyss of not knowing if they are about to die or shall face yet another round of torture. They can escape only the pain by provoking their torturers to beat them so hard, that they become unconscious.

The loneliness of someone being tortured cannot be compared with the loneliness felt by a poet when walking alone through the streets and longing for signs of life. Life does exist everywhere but not in such a world, especially not if it has so little regard for what happens to people. Justice can only be ensured when any form of group terror is made impossible. That structure leading to group violence has yet to be understood and political consequences drawn. Like mobbing, whether in the school yard or in the European Parliament, once all turn against one it should trigger an alarm. For then immediate interventions are needed on behalf of the individual to ensure justice with a sense of proportion can prevail, and this means as well those judging do not become inhumane themselves. That was the case during the witch trials in the Middle Ages. Once people trespass the need to respect the other as human being, they will no longer notice that life exists within them and needs just the same Rights and protection. Only when all realize torture is the utmost negation of a human sense for life, then no one and no authority can be indifferent as to what takes place in prisons, but also at home, in schools and in dark alleys.

Certainly torture can take place wherever there is no rule of the law. Practically it means that the legal system is not being upheld by a clear understanding of the constitution. The latter, if properly formulated and upheld in practice, exists to safeguard the Rights of every individual and therefore is meant to be the prime protection against any abuse of power whatsoever. It is best done by the constitution inspiring people to do everything to respect and to safeguard human dignity.

Here has to be said as well that 'human dignity' is not the same as 'human pride'. As a matter of fact, the latter is much more conducive to producing misunderstandings. As Pablo Neruda would put it, pride produces also 'loneliness' but of a self assertive kind. It acclaims to be able to live in a self-constituted sphere of superiority over others, and should not be touched in whatever form. In effect, such loneliness ends all communication with others. More so since any criticism thereof would be taken as an insult.

A derivative of such a system which lacks consistency with regards to upholding 'human rights' is the deliberate weakening of the law speaking out against torture. This is done by allowing grey zones to enter apparently through semi legal procedures. Schäuble was asked, if he condones that the Americans brought Zamar, a German citizen, to Syria and whose authorities in turn allowed German officers to interrogate him in Syria. He replied to this question that “it is of no big surprise since the man has also a Syrian passport and the Americans brought him to that country.” Amazing are two things: the legitimization of a rendition practice and in what other light Syria is suddenly brought, namely as a partner in a mutually agreed upon operation. Often enough Syria has been singled out by American critics especially with regards to the supportive role Assad gives of the Hezbollah in Lebanon or to Hamas in the Gaza strip. Instead of taking all of that into account, Schäuble underlines in the interview how well the German secret police works together with the Syrian secret police. The latter had made the offer of interrogation possibilities. When it took place, Zamar complained about having been beaten up while in jail. Again Schäuble re-phrases it as being ‘his claim’ – and adds if it happened, then presumably not in Syria, but in Lebanon or somewhere else.

Schäuble adds then one important qualification: “I have no cause to assume that the federal investigation office has profited from a praxis which could be signified as being torture.” With this statement he affirms that the means are justified by the end, namely to obtain information which is needed, if danger to one’s own citizens are to be averted. It leads to the conclusion that a certain praxis is legitimized especially if the person has been imprisoned on the suspicion of having direct or indirect involvement with terrorist activities. The moment such suspicion and speculation has the 'legal means' to put such a heavy and determining label on someone, he becomes ‘a second class citizen’, that is a citizen without any rights. Basically it shows to what extent legal rights have been undermined by the 'war against terrorism', and since not fought at any defined front, it is applied wherever needed, even back home but then exported so as to avoid taking any responsibilities for such illegal practices.

When the so called ‘red line’ has been trespassed by state officials in the pursuit of vital information, remains unclear. Apparently Schäuble gives a greater priority to the need by the state to retain the 'image' of being capable of protecting its citizens than being clear about the need to draw the line in time so as to avoid the own police becoming something else.

Likewise Bush uses similar arguments to legitimize not only torture but every measure homeland security requires, including eavesdropping, entering the private emails of citizens etc. All that shows no account was taken as to what happens if certain civil liberties are curtailed and definite rights given up for the sake of an overall priority called 'security'. Insofar real security cannot be produced by only police control, but requires both personal and public trust as a common good, this formal process has all the dangers inherent to eliminate completely the need for informal safety and protection measures. It has to include the Right that any citizen can demand of the police what they are doing there and not be send away with the words 'mind your own business'. But Bush elevates the deflation of Rights to another level and assumes he has found the adequate answer which allows him to justify all these measures when he claims that 'people cannot be left free as birds as if still in the Middle Ages'. He made that comparison in the interview.

A more systematic reason for torture is that 9/11 triggered off something in the American mind that was expressed by Johnny Cash shortly before he died. When he was asked by Larry King of CNN how he felt when he heard about those attacks in New York, Johnny said that he was watching television when the news broke and he immediately thought first of all that 'the whole of America was under attack’. Such exaggeration is possible when no one steps outside their living room and is, therefore, completely dependent upon the images flickering across the television screen. A step outside the house throughout the United States would have ascertained that no armies were marching down the street or some other invaders were blowing up still other cars or sky scrapers in Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, Texas, or New Orleans. As everyone knows a terrorist attack is a single handed event, unexpected, lethal, yes, but not repetitive nor the unfolding of a greater plan as had Hitler in mind when he invaded Poland by risking war once he crossed the German-Polish border with tanks and soldiers. Alone the logistics for a full scale attack would require as anyone knowing the American army a huge logistical support system and many more resources available than just a few sleeping cells of terrorists. How long did it take to build up the army needed for invading Iraq? It took trains after trains to move American troops from Germany to the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam prior to March 21, 2003, the day the first air attacks were launched upon Baghdad. Here it suffices to say that Johnny Cash, himself in and out of jail, had that impression that America was under attack and therefore his thought underlines what America made out of 9/11, namely an attack against everything America stands for. This needs still further analysis in order to understand why America responded so viciously and violently as expressed already in that anger out on the street when people started to shout ‘Go bomb them’ while everyone hung the American flag out of his or her window.

More significant in that conjunction was what Johnny Cash said in his second statement when interviewed live on the Larry King show of CNN, namely that he thought ‘who would be so crazy to do that and think he can get away with it?’ For he knew immediately then that America would lash back as if a wounded tiger more in terms of pride and myth of invulnerability having been scratched than in real physical terms. The pattern was clearly set then. America would do everything to hit back and undertake everything, in order to find out who did it. There was, however, deep panic in the air. Since terror comes never alone, but works with fear due to the unknown, what is really needed is not fighting units nor a huge logistical support but thoughtful debates in order to find out the best possible response. And this has to overcome the fear of the unknown by learning to work with it. Otherwise the media will simply do the terrorist a great service by making all of this into breaking news and spreading the message so to speak free of charge. Indeed, the frightening thing was not only that someone managed to bring down those two towers in New York but also to keep everyone in the ‘unknown’.

The ‘unknown’ is one of the most terrible things people can be exposed to. It is sufficient to say once such panic grips not only people in the streets but also the entire US administration, then the path to torture is not very far. For the fear of the unknown seems to legitimize the trespassing of even the last human rights by no longer respecting that every human being has his or her dignity which should not be infringed upon. Instead this inner fear of the unknown makes all means appear appropriate to find out who did it.

In this overall context the Bush administration has adopted a policy which violates the Rights of every USA and Non-USA citizen. By the way, human rights cannot be separated into American and Non American spheres and be only applied to the former. However, the Bush administration has given itself the right that “detainees are being herded like animals into the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where many were abused and denied the right to challenge – or even hear – the charges against them”, writes Bob Herbert in the International Herald Tribune (December 20, 2005, p. 9). He goes on to remark that “whether they were innocent or guilty made no difference.”

A part of the same system is the practice of ‘extraordinary renditions’ by which people are abducted and taken to countries were the regime has no problem in torturing people. In other words, the use of torture is a logical consequence of that kind of mind set the Bush administration is known for best when speaking about the Right to hunt down every terrorist. That this has gone too far by now, this is at least slowly but steadily becoming conscious to many Americans who no longer feel obliged by a wave of Patriotism to keep their mouths shut when they see flagrant abuse of human and civil Rights.

As to the German discussion to which Schäuble has contributed with his wish to be able to use information even if gained from people under torture, a typical feature of German politics is that it becomes again anachronistic to the rest of the world. Instead of condoning torture not only in principle, but in making the definition of torture so clear that no abuse of power during interrogations is possible, he oversees a point that Mary Robinson made on the BBC. When she was asked to comment upon Rice’s admittance to Merkel that the United States have erred in its policy to fight terrorism, if that means having become permissive in the use of torture, she replied with a yes, namely that such clarification of the definition is needed once torture as such has been condoned. Merkel must wonder by now why Schäuble prefers less of a clarity or rather it may be that the new German government’s policy is to continue the hard road as advocated already by Schäuble’s predecessor since the former Minister of Interior, namely Otto Schily of the SPD, originally from the GREENs and before that lawyer defending the RAF, wanted ‘preventive arrests’ to be made legal.

There needs to be said something else in response to the position presumed by Schäuble: this is not only a moral issue linked to upholding Human Rights around the world, something which should be self understood and be upheld not merely for one’s own citizens, but for everyone. Rather at a practical level it is highly naïve, politically speaking, to think information obtained under conditions of torture has any authenticity to it. As pointed out already rather the opposite is the case. For people will do everything to avoid torture and therefore make confessions by saying anything the torturers may want to hear. There have been cases before when entire governments were misled by not checking their sources of information. Furthermore, it should also be known by now that truly important information shall never be concealed even under conditions of the worst possible torture. Who does not recall the novel by Oriana Fallaci about the Greek Alexandros Panagoulis who was imprisoned by the Greek Junta and repeatedly tortured. She describes how he would provoke his torturers to hit him even harder, so that they would knock him unconscious. He was then relieved by no longer feeling any more pain. But more important was the fact that they never broke him. Whatever they wished from him, he kept his secrets, and never revealed them. Consequently what gets out is false, indeed distorted information.

There has to be added still another dimension to this distortion. The torturers themselves stand under huge pressure since all those up higher ranks know that a definite risk is being taken that all shall be implicated once it becomes known what is taking place is in reality a breach of both the law and human morality. In turn, it means a cloak of secrecy has to envelop all so that no one leaks anything to the media. Hence the torturers are forced to succeed under very special circumstances. The more secretive the operation the better, but it means in turn no validation possibilities are given. Without the higher authorities really able to check, torturers are willing by inclination to help produce information, even if false but which no one can check since obtained under conditions of absolute secrecy and anonymity.

By the same token, no one wants to take responsibilities under which conditions this information was obtained. There is a high degree of vagueness and here precisely Mary Robinson said that it is important to know if America is against torture, that the ‘water board’ method is no longer used. That method consists of blind folding a person and tying him to a board and then pouring water over him to simulate that he will be drowning, if he does not signal in time that he is ready to talk. There are many more methods by which intimidation combines with sadistic forms of humiliation until the dehumanization process sets in. However, this does not affect only the prisoners but as well those who do the torturing. As a matter of fact, they become more and more the fait accompli of an entire system and do carry their own tortured souls into a society which does not know how to deal with them until it is too late. The gun control debate in the United States has never made this connection to having in the midst of apparently friendly towns such personalities who have become the 'wretched of the Earth' (to quote Franz Fanon).

Here then the difference between individual soldiers carrying out secret or explicit instructions and chain of command all the way up to the President or Minister of Interior is no longer decisive, since everything has become a part of a twisted logic. This is then no longer hidden dimension of the fight against terrorism but rather its hideous and most obvious face. Once the unexplored fear of the unknown becomes an explicit driving force and leads to adopting questionable method to fight something concrete as abstract, namely fear translated into lack of security, then because it is thought everything is possible, everything possible is undertaken to prevent that. Already Robert Musil had predicted a society which has lost any sense of truth will base its decisions on probabilities very much like Rumsfeld would argue that at any time one has to assume the probability of a terrorist attack. He only failed to acknowledge what Musil concluded, namely that this will lead to just one outcome: 'terrorism'. To this can be added the unknown: not knowing if this fear stems from the other would be terrorist and who has been given a concrete identity with Bin Laden or it stems rather from a fear coming up inside and no one knowing its source.

Torture is not a dance of ecstatic as described by Herrmann Broch in his analysis of Fascism from an angle of political psychology he had wanted to develop after Second World War. The ecstatic dance is a way to overcome that inner fear by repeating the same movements in a most static way over and again. It is like dancing on one spot. Broch referred to such type of dance being used by tribes to over the most terrible fear of all fears, namely the fear of the ‘unknown’. For it creeps up inside and in not knowing where it comes from, spreads itself throughout the entire body and mind that the person can be driven into a frenzy and become paralysed. By analogy, torture can be interpreted as a futile effort to unlock that static fixture caused by a fear which paralyses body and mind. For something which does not move, does not solicit any information. This includes batting the eye lid when asked a question. Hegel knew already in his model 'master-slave' that control and power depended upon the slave moving and thereby giving information often unconsciously to the master so that he could anticipate the slave's next moves and subsequently keep him under control. Likewise in Wild West films, the one who shoots between the legs of the other and makes him dance, he is in control of the situation. The crucial aspect those who apply methods of torture do not realize, and seem to forget every time, is that their very method produces much more the static composition of the human being rather than making that person move i.e. give information.

Once fear has driven people into a wish to overcome it by reaching a new level of ecstatic, then those who do the torturing, they can only do so by becoming so dehumanized themselves, that they fail to resist such a wrong move. As a matter of fact, they do not just follow orders. Rather they end up disobeying their own 'inner' voices cautioning them that they cannot overcome the fear inside of themselves by beating up others. For only after having lost that inner voice and moral impulse every human being has to preserve his or her dignity, they become the torturers. By definition they become cowards who have lost all self respect. In their furry over these inner losses of self respect, they inflict more pain upon the other. It is done out of wish as a secondary effect of their inhuman practices to extract something out of the prisoners they can use themselves to become human again. As someone writing in Chile about his mother who was tortured by the helpers of Pinochet put it so eloquently, they did so out of a wish to hear human screams of their victims, in order to mask themselves with these human gestures before going back out into society again, in order to pretend as if they are normal human beings. But they are not. One needs merely to pull off their faces these masks.

There is still another deep flaw in this hunt for terrorists. Presumably the intelligence community is caught up in such information which has been extracted from some, in order to be used not only in the fight against terrorism. Here the Miligram experiment revealed already to what extent people are prepared to apply similar methods of punishment if a child or a student would not learn. In other words, the real aim is to break down any sign of resistance as the overall demand is complete compliance and full co-operation, but which in the end only a dead man can perform. That then shows that the definition of terrorism is highly problematic, if not basically wrong. If terrorism is not the method of a specific organization, but merely a ‘tactic’ to demonstrate resistance while demanding to know the truth – and anybody can throw a bomb into the middle of a square – then this hidden power working with the unknown is the type of enemy which has no concrete person or group. Rather it is everywhere present as this tactic works with the ‘expected unexpected’ and extends the revolt against a society which has lost any sense of truth. Political wisdom should prevail here before attributing singularly all these acts to one single group based on a mythological figure like Bin Laden. Anyone can provoke the use of such tactic while the very terror lies exactly in keeping up the factor of the ‘unknown’. No one knows who did it and even why but even more important is no one knows to recognize the truth, if it would reveal itself.


The very response of the Americans before going to war over 9/11 was to give the ‘unknown’ a concrete face, indeed country and therefore people and government which could be attacked. The fictitious production of an enemy picture is exactly what a military needs, in order to know who should be bombarded, even if it means innocent civilians will loose their lives just because for want of anyone else who could be blamed for the attack. Iraq under Saddam Hussein had to fill in that void. This is why many people in the streets said worst of all wars is the one fought for no reason at all.

Now that Merkel has come back from her first successful appearance at European level where budgetary plans of the European Union were resolved for the time period after 2007, there is a need to go back to what she said in the presence of Secretary of State Rice when visiting Berlin. Merkel used the typical academic formulation of ‘einerseits ….anderseits….’ i.e. on the one hand….on the other. She reiterated like Schäuble the present legal position but now at horizontal level that terrorism needs to be fought within the legal framework of a 'working democracy'. But that was only on the one hand. On the other, she explained, the secret services should not be hindered in their work i.e. the facilitation of their work needs to be taken as serious as the protection of human rights and civil liberties of every individual. Now this is a strange formulation: the state as facilitator of the work of the secret police. Coming from a woman who spent most of her formative years in a country, namely East Germany, that was virtually ruled by the secret police, it is amazing why no alarm bells were ringing immediately after she said that? Anyone in both East and West Germany had countless encounters and experiences with how the Stasi worked. As part of a system that meant no public scrutiny of the work by the police, it was ordered and more over designed as such that they could work under conditions of anonymity and beyond the reach of public accountability. This then is the crucial question but how does Merkel understand the need for facilitating the work of the secret police, for if anything is to be feared, then misuse and abuse of power rather than citizens being protected?

It is highly naïve to think once certain structures are created they will not be abused. The moment someone has power over another human being outside of any control, i.e. public scrutiny, there exists the danger that such one sided power position will be misused. When reading the countless reports on how prisoners were treated not only in concentration camps but in police custodies during the Third Reich, then brutal beatings, food and sleep deprivation, humiliations inflicted by all kinds of sadistic forms, had become daily practices, in order to intimidate and more so, as the main thesis here, to suppress that 'inner fear' everyone had. There is this inner knowledge about what one is doing especially if deeply wrong. It cannot be disputed. Freud would add it cannot be suppressed but will show itself in one form or another.

However, this deeper knowledge connected to the conscience is suppressed when torturers are trained in such a way, that they are ready to extract what ever it takes information from prisoners. It is a well known method that only once someone becomes a malleable tool in the hands of power, then all inner human feelings have been given up. In German it is called ‘den inneren Schweinehund hervorkehren’ – to show what inner swine one is.

Once general images provide legitimization, then the fear of a most dangerous terrorist becomes a real drama which will unfold in the prison cell. Fear expresses itself through how the other is treated especially if considered to be most dangerous. That this a part of the myth which works both ways, namely in favour of the terrorists, but also into the hands who wish to legitimize torture, that is not self understood but the direct outcome thereof. Once torture is not merely the rule of the game but even before it is condoned, the practical norm, then the unknown becomes a replica of the tortured soul pressed to reveal why one has so much fear of the opponent. It becomes something like running away from one's own shadow being lengthened as the sun sets and darkness is about to descend to blend everything into one darkness. Such blindness America knows how to produce when the world is to be dominated for the sake of a 'business with fear' (Michael Moore). While shaking off the losses of the initial attack, the lashing out means already a need to prepare for the next attack. Since everything will follow the logic of revenge as no one has stepped in-between to make a break in this vicious cycle of war and suppression. In the end, it means everything and nothing can be legitimized any more. By the same token, those elected to Congress will only wish to produce results which favour their specific clients. They are besides the big corporations made up of a tightly knitted version of the former military-industrial complex which Eisenhower tried in vain to dismantle after Second World War.

There is a still another angle on the use of torture. That becomes explicit when used not to extract information a prisoner may have, but to silence him and others. As one Chilean female professor said only years later could she speak about it, but then, and immediately thereafter, she stopped engaging herself politically speaking, because she had seen her students being tortured while she got out free after only 15 days of imprisonment. The fact that she was a witness without being tortured herself made her feel guilty and ashamed towards those who were. By being overwhelmed with guilty feelings, she felt so responsible for what happened that she withdrew from any political activities. Side effects as these are more telling sometimes than what happens to the prisoners themselves.

The sad thing is that the efficiency of methods to combat crime is linked nowadays with the war against terrorism and that makes it all the more dangerous. For once states mix the two together, in order to have at least some lethal weapon against terrorism, then the 'war against terrorism' shall go hand in hand with a program aiming to criminalize a large portion of the population to keep them at bay alone out of self guilt.

So, to answer the question, if torture can ever be justified in a democracy, it is quite obvious and self-understood: 'no', it cannot, under any circumstance. Only if democracy reveals itself as being uncompromising when it comes to safeguard human dignity, then human rights shall be upheld everywhere, whether in prisons and in all places where people live and work.

Hatto Fischer


The article was first published in heritageradio



1“The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) responded to the terrorist attacks on the United States because its charter states that an attack on any member nation is considered an attack on the alliance. The language is contained in Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, signed April 4, 1949, in Washington, D.C.: "The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense…will assist the Party or Parties so attacked." It was the first time Article 5 had been invoked by NATO since its founding.” (Source: http://www.answers.com/topic/why-did-nato-respond-to-the-9-11-attacks )


See also

Ali H. Soufan, (2013) „Torture, lies and movies“ in: Paris: International Herald Tribune, p. 6


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