Thursday, July 9, 2009

NPR, 2009; Le Monde, 1956

So, having refused to be interviewed by Glenn Greenwald about her defense of NPR's avoidance of the use of the word "torture," NPR ombudsman Alicia C. Shepard did agree to go on an NPR show immediately before him. That way, it could be almost like an actual adult conversation but without, you know, any pesky conversing involved.

Shepard's defense of NPR's practices in her segment here is just mind-boggling -- so much so, in fact, that Kevin Drum assumed Glenn Greenwald was exaggerating when he paraphrased it. He was not. Here are Shepard's actual words, when pressed on why NPR had no problem referring to a journalist in Gambia being tortured:

...these were strictly tactics to torture him, to punish him, versus these in the United States in the way that it's used these are tactics used to get information.
Um, excuse me? It's not torture if it's used to "get information"? As Greenwald points out, even laying aside the glaring falsehood here re. the pristine purity of US motives for the use of torture, this is wrong, wrong, wrong. Torture is torture, regardless of motive. Does Shepard think the Gestapo wasn't torturing French Resistance members when they put them through excruciating pain -- beatings, kickings, whippings, electrical shock, burning, needles, etc., often ending in death -- in an attempt to glean information about their networks of fellow resisters? How about French use of torture during the Battle of Algiers, as part of a systematic effort to locate and destroy the Algerian National Liberation Front in the city? Hey, they were just using some "tactics" to "get information"!

I don't believe Shepard thinks that -- because it's just too absurd to countenance. What she really means, of course, is that it's not torture when we do it. This kind of blind, my-country-right-or-wrong "patriotism" was also present in France during the Algerian War, and it helped lead plenty of people -- including people who actually understood perfectly well what France was up to in Algeria -- to publicly deny that any torture was going on.

In my mind today, I've been putting that kind of logic, the logic that seeks by any means possible to deny wrongdoing by one's own country, next to that of the French historian of early Christianity Henri-Irénée Marrou, writing in Le Monde in 1956, before many people in France were talking about torture. Marrou's op-ed contribution was called "France, ma patrie" ("patrie" is a little tricky to translate -- it means homeland, fatherland, or simply country) and, in the name of his love of France, Marrou denounced the French use of torture in Algeria. Here's a rough translation of some of the piece:

I am neither a professional journalist nor a politician; I testify here as a simple citizen whose conscience torments him, and who notices that he is not the only one to feel this heavy discomfort, this worry, this anguish...

...[E]verywhere in Algeria -- it is denied by no one -- veritable laboratories of torture have been installed, with electric bathtubs and everything that is required, and this is a disgrace for the country of the French Revolution, and of the Dreyfus Affair: I cannot, without shuddering, think about the day when I was charged with representing the government of the Republic at an exposition organized by UNESCO at the Galliera museum, in honor of the Declaration of the Rights of Man. There was a whole display panel devoted to the abolition -- not, oh hypocrisy, the renewal -- of judicial torture.

....Yes, French grandeur is in peril. I speak to all those who like me, a professor, are educators; who, like me, have children and grandchildren: we must be able to speak to them without shame about Oradour [site of a WWII massacre] and about the Nuremberg trials. We must be able to reread in front of them the beautiful pages of our classics about love of country, about our France, 'patron and witness (and often martyr) for freedom in the world.' Yes, before we become further engaged in the infernal cycle of terrorism and reprisals, each one of us must hear from the deepest, most profound part of his heart the cry of our fathers: 'La patrie is in danger!'

And, by the way, when readers wrote in to protest publication of Marrou's piece, Le Monde editor-in-chief Hubert Beuve-Méry (whose son was actually fighting for the French in Algeria at that moment, and who was no great fan of the Algerian independence fighters) responded that patriotism "does not consist of imitating or adopting, even as reprisals, the practices that we condemn on the part of the adversary. And no more does it consist of carefully dissimulating that which, chez nous, might be blameworthy."

I think they say it pretty well. The America that I want to live in doesn't use torture. And that means it doesn't use torture, not "it calls torture by some other name."


  1. I think they say it pretty well.
    And no more does it consist of carefully dissimulating that which, chez nous, might be blameworthy."

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