With A Grain Of Salt

The argument of whether we torture or not I think has come very close to being solidified, at least within political debate circles.  Professional spinmasters have kept up enough distortion and legalese that the mainstream folks may have questions, but when this is what you do every day, you’re definitely a one or the other kind of person.  You think we torture, or you don’t.

Much of this is, of course, centered around the definition of torture, a debate in and of itself that has drawn the battle lines of the greater argument, and for this reason, there is likely to be little movement one way or the other.

It should be known, however, that to say we don’t torture is not to say that we do not use certain techniques; you will find few who will deny that the US has engaged in certain techniques, it is the calling of those techniques torture that has created a rigid opposition dynamic.  New evidence, in such an environment can hardly help.

If someone is willing to say waterboarding is not torture, or that forced standing and stress positions are not torture, despite being confronted with medical evidence to the contrary, it’s a lost cause.  That makes the apparent leaking of this Guantanamo Bay document all the more useless.

The document, which goes into detail on the infamous Camp Delta, is itself not particularly noteworthy.  There is some stuff of significance in there, perhaps most notably the following:

The manual shows how the military coded each prisoner according to the level of access the Red Cross would have. The four levels are:

  • No Access
  • Visual Access — ICRC can only look at a prisoner’s physical condition.
  • Restricted Access — ICRC representatives can only ask short questions about the prisoner’s health.
  • Unrestricted Access

The No Access level troubles Dakwar.

“That actually raises a lot of concerns about the administration’s genuineness in terms of allowing ICRC full access, as was promised to the world,” Dakwar says. “They are the only organization that has access to the detainees, and this raises a lot of questions.”

The idea of keeping some prisoners invisible, or “ghosts”, is highly suspect; one can hardly imagine that they are being kept off the list because we don’t want anyone to know just how good they got it.

But what has bothered me about this document from the beginning was the veracity of it.  It comes from a newly started website called Wikileaks.org, a site intended to facilitate the leaking of important documents by whistle blowers, and prior to reaching the Wikipedia-esque page you are treated with a single quote, “News is what someone else doesn’t want you to know.  Everything else is advertising.”

It’s the kind of thing you would expect to headline a truther’s website.

What bothers me about this new wiki isn’t its goal, I find the encouragement of whistleblowing a noble enough enterprise, but instead the same problem that any wiki has anywhere; the tendancy for manipulation to the point of uselessness.

Now, I’m a Wikipedia junkie.  That’s to say that I can literally spend hours jumping from one topic to another, sometimes starting at a favorite television show and finding myself an eternity later reading up on a music group I’ve never heard of.  It’s a lot of fun.  I also use it a little for my work here at Comments, but only sparingly so.  I may, for instance, check out the Wiki entry for a country I have little knowledge about to give me more background for a story I’m working on, but I would never go to Wiki for the details, nor would I base an article on the site.

Because this is user controlled content, the problem with Wikis have always been and will continue to remain one of questionable integrity.  For non neutral subjects it is too easy for an entity with significant interest in the topic at hand to alter the provided information for one’s own benefit.

With Wikileaks, the stakes are ever so much higher, and the higher the stakes, the more likely it is, I think, for people to want to post less than credible content for their own gain.

In the case of this document with Guantanimo, for instance, what we see is not a great deal of new information; we’ve already known that there have been questionable techniques practiced there, and I remember Michael Otterman covering Gitmo’s ghosts in his book American Torture (if memory serves me well).  As a matter of stacking this document up with the rest of the evidence that already exists against Guantanamo, that would be all fine and dandy, except, the veracity of the document itself needs be verified first.

Given that the posting is anonymous, and the website goes through great lengths to maintain that anonymity (for good reason), the only entity that can actually validate the report would be the government; the very organization that the document had to be leaked from in the first place.

And so, what may seem like a good idea falls apart in the vicious vortex it creates itself.  I would love to be able to trust the documents leaked onto the site, but given that their integrity intellentionally can not be verified, sadly, I have to take it all with a grain of salt.

5 Responses to “With A Grain Of Salt”

  1. In defense of Wikipedia (though not necessarily wikileaks): even on controversial subjects, wikipedia is in some ways quite reliable on the aggregate. You have to remember that anyone with an opinion- on either side- can alter the entry. Over time, the pro-and con- forces will tend to balance each other out. Hence, the study last year that found wikipedia to be as accurate as the regular encyclopedia. Not that this makes it a particularly valid source- but it’s not usually good form to cite an encyclopedia of any sort in a serious endeavor.

    As a libertarian, I feel compelled to defend this most libertarian of institutions!

  2. Yeah, I mean, yeah; I love Wikipedia, and have used it to give myself some decent historical background on a few articles just so when I started writing about the real deal, I would know what the hell I was writing about. And I’m totally with you on the pros and cons eventually and usually cancel each other out, but because I can’t verify what someone puts up there, I’m not going to bet the farm on Wiki info.

    When my life calms down some, we’re going to have a liberal v. libertarian talk you and I.

  3. mick says:

    their integrity intellentionally can not be verified

    Um, “intellentionally”? Did you mean “intellectually” or “intentionally”? Or did you just make up a kind of cool word that means both? Like, “intentionally intellectual” or “intellectually intentional”? I think you got something there.

  4. I am so awesome, even when I screw up it turns out grand! *note to self; edit when I get a chance before anyone else catches it.*

  5. Mark says:

    Hey, as I said in my most recent post, I’m just trying to reclaim that word “libertarian” from the damn neo-cons. There’s an entire group of people who now call themselves “neo-libertarians”, which is really just repackaged neo-conservatism without the evil connotations.

    Since y’all (ok, maybe not you specifically) are pushing for the word “progressive” to describe yourselves, that leaves the word “liberal” wide open for us…. If the neo-cons are going to steal our invented word, then we’d be happy to reclaim the word that gave fruit to our origins.

    As for wikipedia, it really is a libertarian institution: I don’t know about Larry Sanger, but Jimmy Wales is a die-hard Objectivist (which makes him more than a little insane even by libertarian standards) who reluctantly calls himself a libertarian (like I said Objectivists are insane). Wales has also discussed at length the influence of Hayek’s “Spontaneous Order” theory on the formation and evolution of Wikipedia.


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