In the aftermath of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program that revealed, among other things, that two psychologists were paid $81 million to design and participate in the CIA’s so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques, Fox news got an exclusive interview with Dr. James Mitchell - one of the psychologists that Physicians for Human Rights is calling a war criminal.
I watched the interview online and found the experience equal parts disturbing and morally disorienting.
Dr. James Mitchell presents himself as a reluctant torturer. A man compelled to abandon his “moral high ground” by the events of 9/11 to save American lives. That the interrogation techniques were in fact torture (whatever legal definitions the CIA hides behind) is clear from the interview. Dr. Mitchell told Megyn Kelly that “the techniques are so harsh that it’s emotionally distressing to those who are administering them.” One can only imagine how distressing they are for the subject of those techniques.
In explaining how he managed to overcome his own (implied) emotional distress and moral reservations to design and implement the torture of another human being, Dr. Mitchell said something I found very revealing:
“Even though you don’t want to do it [enhanced interrogation], you’re doing it in order to save lives in the country. And we would just have to ‘man up’ for lack of a better term and carry forward.”He had to man up.
I instantly made the connection with something I had read years ago by Robert Jensen. A quick bit of googling found it again. This is what Jensen wrote in an opinion piece in 2006:
I don't think the planet can long survive if the current conception of masculinity endures. . . We have a simple choice: We men can settle for being men, or we can strive to be human beings.For Jensen, the masculinity celebrated in our culture and reinforced every time a boy is told to “man up” is a toxic notion. He summarizes it this way:
Men are assumed to be naturally competitive and aggressive, and being a real man is therefore marked by the struggle for control, conquest and domination. A man looks at the world, sees what he wants and takes it. Men who don't measure up are wimps, sissies, girls.This masculinity is celebrated in our culture’s heroes that “most often are men who take charge rather than seek consensus, seize power rather than look for ways to share it, and are willing to be violent to achieve their goals.”
Dr. Mitchell, the psychologist dealing with interrogators traumatized by participating in the torture of fellow human beings, apparently told them and himself that they needed to man up.
Fox News has helped me see that Jensen is right. We do have a choice to make as we seek to end our endemic and systemic violence revealed in our Guantanamos and our Fergusons. It is a choice between being a ‘man’ or being human. We cannot be both.
It is going to be a struggle to eschew violence and seek peace and justice but we are just going to have to human up!