Atlantis and The Terrorists
August 31, 2009
' 12- ATLANTIS AND THE TERRORISTS: A NEW BIRTH OF FREEDOM?
The Ethical Strategy
I was recently checking out a website reporting on the efforts of the current Obama administration to interrogate terrorist POWS. How do we obtain the desperately needed information from the prisoners while eliminating the tortures employed by the former administration as being ethically intolerable in a humane democracy, as well as practically ineffective in producing usable information. The use of torture in Abu Ghraib and Gitmo had moreover vastly stimulated sympathy and support for the terrorist cause, with concomitant increase in the numbers and commitment of their recruits. In view of the success of our torture policies, controversial as they have been in the West, as the top recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, it's hardly surprising that the terrorists have never publically resorted to torture themselves. It would weaken what appears to be their top drawing card. (Such evidence that exists for even limited torture inflicted by terrorists is thin enough and may even have been planted as a means of defending our own practices.) Their shocking on camera beheadings, nasty but swift, seem chiefly a means of forcing us to take seriously the plight of the hostages they have taken in order to bargain for the release of Qaeda prisoners. One of the weaknesses of our foreign policy is that under some administrations it appears to be directed towards gaining devoted support from the most tribalistic-chauvinistic of our voter bases, with no perceptible regard for its effects on foreigners, disastrously counter-productive as they may be. Hypnotized by the politics of Podunk, we seem, at times, to have lost sight of our global strategy. Can't we find something better than these attempts to deal with our presumed enemies by shock and awe, by torturing suspects, and relying on military action that seemingly hurt our potential friends as much as our declared foes? These are, after all, the tactics, that have evidently produced a seemingly unlimited supply of enemies so convinced of the righteousness of their cause that they are prepared to make any self-sacrifice if it will in some fashion express their hatred for those they regard as imperialist oppressors.Well, let's take a deep breath and see what improvements, short or long term, we could make in our current practices. The new mode of "friendship" interrogation, as related recently in some encouraging reports, however successful tactically and improved morally, does evidently involve certain elements of lies, trickery and at least mild coercion.
Not surprising then that after some years of the ˜enhanced interrogation' moral and political disasters, even the Bush administration decided to adopt less harsh and more productive measures, as related so convincingly by such authors as Matthew Alexander in his How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq and Chris Mackey in his The Interrogators: Inside the Secret War Against al Qaeda. Essentially, such coups as the tracking down of public enemy number one, Al Zarqari, were achieved by working towards a kind of strange but highly effective ˜friendship˜ between interrogator and ˜client'!Let's think further about into the shift of tactics that lead to such successes. Where the friendship ploy has clearly proved itself on the tactical level, applied more broadly and consistently to the best and brightest on either side of political turbulence the results could be far more widespread, and might in principle create groups of people who would have both understanding of and credibility with both sides. Aiming for long term and well rooted increase of would of course use none of the ethical shortcuts justifiable in a warzone. Thus the Atlantis tutorial method could very naturally evolve into a means of bringing students together from both, or all , sides of areas affected by political, racial, and religious hostility.
The Atlantis Approach
The procedures themselves would not be difficult to set up. Students and tutors familiar with and experienced in the Atlantis tutorial methods would prepare themselves by preliminary sessions devoted to reaching an adequate standard in eg. English and Arabic. They would then be ready to work in international tutorials across the cultural and other barriers on projects of mutual interest and benefit, thereby gaining an understanding and appreciation of the "other side" hardly thinkable by any other method. There are so many subtle aspects of a culture that can hardly be assimilated by straight academic instruction. Nor would it be possible otherwise to gain the ability to exercise a familiarity and a light heartedness talking to the "Others" simply by a passive study of the different cultures. Thus we would progressively be bringing together 4 student tutorial groups with, say, an American, a Swede, a Sunni and a Shia working together, or Israelis and Palestinians, Pakistanis and Hindus, maybe even Liberals and Libertarians! Six four-student tutorials can happily work within a class of twenty four, so long as they have sufficient interests in common to be able to get together profitably for more general discussion, lectures, and presentations by visiting experts, tutors, and of course the students themselves as their projects mature. Thus real bridges can be build between real people rather than simply relying on wary formal contacts between diplomats and generals. Or, for that matter, between sparring chieftains and warlords, or the less formal contact of the heavy boots smashing through the doors of quivering suspects rudely awakened at 3 am, or yet the electronically controlled contact achieved by the unsuspected missile leaping down out of the clear sky guided to its target by a bombardier sitting comfortably in a control room half a world away. If we are truly looking for a new birth of freedom, respect for the individual, and the responsible democracy that would naturally arise from those conditions, then the Atlantis insistence of giving personal contact priority over institutional coercion can play a significant role. So far, what else is there?