the war on intent.

Is the cynical manipulation of reality even fucking funny anymore? The Torture Debate

Again and again, the spectre of 'future attacks' is raised. Here's a quote:
"If we capture bin Laden tomorrow and we have to hold his head under water to find out when the next attack is going to happen, we ought to be able to do it."

-- Rep. Peter T. King, chairman of Homeland Security Committee

Of course, what we've learned about the domestic aspect of the 'terror war' is that it has not focussed on defensive measures at all. More often than not, it has been necessary to manufacture threats in order to thwart them, or at least aid and abet lonely cranks until they can become scary enough to arrest. I'm thinking specifically of Toronto's own 17 suspects, whose only access to explosives was the police operation that set them up for prosecution, or the so-called 'liquid bombers' who didn't even possess passports when they were snatched up, as per a special request from the Americans.

And then there's torture, whose only accepted capability is not to extract truth from prisoners, but to ensure the prisoner's complicity in a wholly manufactured truth. In other words, torture victims don't tell the truth, they only tell their interrogators what they think they want to hear. Can anyone remember the farcical 'confessions' of the Stalinist regime?

The objective of torture and counter-terrorist efforts is not to thwart existing opponents, but to manufacture an adversary that can be beaten-- repeatedly, dramatically, and yet, never completely. Remember that apparently now empires... create their own reality. States have essentially set up their own cottage industry of terrorist threat in order to more conveniently wage war against it. And with the eventual normalizing of torture, the authorities will have even more power to create realities... through coerced confession.

The actual threat posed by dissident groups is no longer important. Did the arrest of the 'liquid bombers' stop security forces from barring bottles of water from flights? No, it did not... it's almost as if the act itself is irrelevant. The intent is what is prosecuted and what is reacted against. The intent-- however vague and ill-defined, however constricted it is by the lack of resources-- is what exists outside of modern society's capacity for control. The intent to harm is taboo in our society, and the source of endless fascination.

It’s unacceptable to think that there’s any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.

And so, our modern notions of morality have developed loopholes of thought and understanding. What's implicit in Georgie's little diatribe here is that the intentions of America are good, a priori. The intent is benevolent. The violence which results is nothing but mechanical oversight. Abu Ghraib was an 'accident', for example. The grunts insist that they were ordered to humiliate prisoners, 'take the gloves off', so to speak. The generals insist that they had 'discipline problems.' Neither knew what the other was doing. When it suits them, institutions can become as senile as your grandmother. When we drop cluster bombs on a village, and a kid get's blown up stepping on a bomblet, there are literally millions of avenues through which to assign blame: the wind was off, the informant was corrupt, the pilot was asleep, the dispatcher was drinking nyquil, the bomb was defective, the map was out of date, the president was drunk. Any one of these will do, see, because what's beyond reproach is the intent. It goes without saying that our intent was not to kill a child.

In our judicial system, intent is weighed very heavily in calculating punishment. To a certain extent, and I really regret saying this, the terror war is indeed a clash of civilizations. We both use mental motivators to orchestrate the horrific. Al-Qaeda types can steep themselves in a nostalgic-religious view of morality, where ancient wrongs cry out for vengeance. In this case, the intent to do harm is normal, natural, and sanctioned by the righteousness of revenge as a moral obligation. Americans too have 9/11 to fuel their own deluded sense of retribution. But overall their sense of righteous bloodlust is outside of the mainstream: American troops using ethnic slurs are not shown on television, and avenging warcries scrawled on missiles are presented with some trepidation. They are part of the public discourse, and they are held in sympathy, but mainstreamism requires that we view them with distaste.

No, our real enabler in orchestrating the horrific is our good intentions. This sort of morality has its roots in utilitarian thought: in that the ends will, in time, justify the means. Adherents to this school of thought have claimed for themselves the label of 'realists.' But since the ends can never truly be anticipated, a new axiom has to be created: that the intent will justify the means. Adherents to this school of thought can probably be better described as 'magical realists', since the invocation of benevolence, of the Iraqi people's 'best interests', is usually sufficient to continue destroying the village in order to save it. Like warriors dabbing themselves with cow's blood to deflect the bullets, realists believe that the noble intent will save them from the consequences of their actions.

The rest of us are being locked into an escalating conflict with two clashing views of morality, both self-perpetuating and self-justifying. Revenge by its very definition must condone the inevitable inverse reaction perpetrated by the adversary. And noble intent, because it is wholly subjective, can never truly be repudiated. Bush's brain is as classified as a Pentagon document. Like 9/11 vengeance, questioning the intent can't quite occur in the mainstream. Jon Stewart can dance around the issue, sarcastically denying that it was 'all about the oil', but to flatly state the obvious remains taboo. After 3,000 Americans dead, it's simply not allowed that "we" should not "get the job done"... it's unacceptable that "they died for nothing", etc. When the current situation looks more and more hopeless, the appeal to benevolent intent must be proclaimed ever louder.

As war deepens, the opposing populations must find comfort in their camps. Terrorist cells are self-motivating, alienated from community, inwardly-drawn. No coincidence that the human desire for destruction is also the drive for self-annihilation. Meanwhile, the magical-realists flock to speeches rife with bad metaphors, queueing at the security checkpoints, undergoing the cold etiquette of strip searches and questions. Terrorist bombings are orchestrated for maximum emotive power... they are, after all, a means of communication. And the airstrikes continue, a distant thunder, and then the efficient obliteration of life.


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