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Torture: How the Good Guys and Bad Guys Handle It

It used to come as a shock to me to hear presumably grown-up American public officials refer to "good guys" and "bad guys", as if world affairs were a space opera, and you could tell the evil dudes by the odd placement of their eyeballs. We're way past that point now, with evil empires and axes of evil and evildoers dominating our discourse about the world beyond our borders.

So, this weekend brought something of a challenge to that worldview, two different statements from representatives of two different governments about the notion of torture being used or condoned by their regimes. First, from Iran, the admission by a senior official of the judicial branch that protesters arrested in the wake of the apparently fraudulent election have been tortured. A highlight from his statement:

...the prosecutor general, said "mistakes" had led to a few "painful accidents which cannot be defended, and those who were involved should be punished."

Then, from London, a statement by high officials of the British government on persistent allegations, including some from a Parliamentary committee, that the government has winked at, colluded in, or approved torture of certain detainees. Here's the most salient graf:

Whether passing information which might lead to suspects being detained; passing questions to be put to detainees; or directly interviewing them, our agencies are required to seek to minimise, and where possible avoid, the risk of mistreatment. Enormous effort goes into assessing the risks in each case. Operations have been halted where the risk of mistreatment was too high. But it is not possible to eradicate all risk. Judgments need to be made.

Reverse the sources of those two statements, and it helps to cement our notion of good guys and bad guys -- the former admit mistakes and call for punishment, the latter weasel around with bureaucratic obfuscation. But that's not the world we're living in. Meanwhile, speaking of torture, what's happening at Bagram?

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