Everybody's Got One
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Sunday, December 04, 2005

Criminal Intent  

I saw a disturbing and profoundly dishonest episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent tonight.

A psychologist, tormented by her participation in “torture” at Guantanamo - redefined to mean using psychological fears, awkward postures, noise, sleep and light deprivation, and various other forms of non-physical coercion - brainwashes a barely-functional techno-nerd into a murderous psychotic break through some sort of guilt-driven experimental therapy. (Don't worry if that makes no logical sense; it isn't supposed to. It's just a convoluted plot point to work up a narrative centered on the indisputable fact of Americans committing torture at Gitmo.)

You see, such psychological stresses are monstrous and inhuman. They violate the humanity of the subjects, who don't have lawyers and respect like criminal suspects do. They're unforgivable. They're evil. (All direct quotes from the sympathetic main characters.) And they turn those who practice them into felons, fit for handcuffing in the triumphant final shot.

And how do our detective heroes draw forth the confession that “breaks" the case? Through non-physical coercion. By persuading the suspect that her patient was undergoing light deprivation and noise and forced posture. He wasn't, except in her imagination – but the psychological effect on her was exactly as if it were actually happening. By playing on her compassion and sense of decency - making her think someone else was being abused away from her sight - they broke her will.

What's the lesson here? That actual “torture” is unspeakably evil, but if you can convince someone that torture is actually happening when it isn't, that's clever and admirable. As long as it never happens, you and Detectives Goren and Eaves and the preening knowledge class can wallow in a posture of moral superiority, vociferously condemning others for allegedly doing what you only pretend to.

It never has to really take place, as long as people think it is. Write enough "news" stories and editorials and NGO press releases and television scripts and you can get the same results without getting your hands dirty, and continue to sleep the sleep of the smug. Until the real torturers come.

As I say, profoundly and deeply dishonest. And disturbing. Some might call it evil.

posted by Kelly | 11:09 PM link