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Monthly Archives: January 2009

I really don’t get what the reliably problematic Robert D. Kaplan is doing in this post. Or I do get it: it’s a prime example of a genre of torture “think piece” that involves mashing up some contradictory thoughts and leaving the mess on the page/screen as supposed evidence of one’s deep consideration of the issues. This muddled ending is actually, sad to say, the clearest passage:

If we act like angels, and another, even more massive attack occurs in the United States, then the public might cry for blood, as it did to an extent in the immediate days and weeks after 9/11, when torture was occasionally spoken of in different terms than it is now. Remember that some Bush Administration policies were drawn up in the context of one public mood, and carried out in the context of another. Were that to happen, detainees’ rights might decline by, say, 50 percent. But if we push the envelope only 15 percent along that dangerous path, then we might avoid the 50 percent trap, and save many of our own lives.

But even 15 percent makes me queasy. To avoid the question, though, is itself irresponsible.

But that’s the end of his piece! Confusion passing for complex thinking? or “both a literary and moral failure“?

The latter. Kaplan is little more than an erratic concern troll at this point. (And this “percent” thing is a symptom of the pretence that torture can be “dialed up” or down precisely, which Darius Rejali and others have pretty much taken apart.) But this kind of thing makes clear why having Obama as president doesn’t magically fix what’s wrong here.

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Obama’s inauguration, and particularly the welcome string of Executive Orders since, appear to significantly change the context for my research on torture and performance.  After all, Obama is trying to close Guantanamo, so surely there will be no more performances documenting its abuses. And the US is on the way out of Iraq, so there will be no more Abu Ghraibs to make theatre about. Since US public opinion, represented by Obama’s election, has turned 180 degrees on torture, perhaps my own performance project has much less currency. Doesn’t Obama’s election mean an end to torture? Read More »