Those Authoritarian, Torture-Loving French

French documentarians conducted an
experiment
where they created a faux game show -- with all
the typical studio trappings -- and then instructed participants (who
believed it was a real TV program) to administer electric shock to
unseen contestants each time they answered questions incorrectly, with
increasing potency for each wrong answer. Even as the unseen
contestants (who were actors) screamed in agony and pleaded for mercy --
and even once they went silent and were presumably dead -- 81

French documentarians conducted an
experiment
where they created a faux game show -- with all
the typical studio trappings -- and then instructed participants (who
believed it was a real TV program) to administer electric shock to
unseen contestants each time they answered questions incorrectly, with
increasing potency for each wrong answer. Even as the unseen
contestants (who were actors) screamed in agony and pleaded for mercy --
and even once they went silent and were presumably dead -- 81% of the
participants continued to obey the instructions of the
authority-figure/host and kept administering higher and higher levels of
electric shock. The experiment was a replica of the one
conducted in 1961 by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram
, where 65%
of participants obeyed instructions from a designated authority figure
to administer electric shock to unseen individuals, and never stopped
obeying even as they heard excruciating screams and then silence. This
new French experiment was designed to measure the added power of
television to place people into submission to authority and induce them
to administer torture.

None of this should be at all surprising to anyone who has
observed, first, the American political and media class, and then large
swaths of the American citizenry
, enthusiastically embrace what was
once the absolute taboo against torture, all because Government
officials decreed that it was necessary to Stop the Terrorists. But
I just watched an amazing discussion of this French experiment on Fox
News. The Fox anchors -- Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum -- were
shocked and outraged that these French people could be induced by the
power of television to embrace torture.

Speaking as employees of the corporation that produced the highly
influential, torture-glorifying 24
, and on the channel
that has churned out years worth of pro-torture "news" advocacy, the
anchors were particularly astonished that television could play such a
powerful role in influencing people's views and getting them to
acquiesce to such heinous acts. Ultimately, they speculated that
perhaps it was something unique about the character and psychology of
the French that made them so susceptible to external influences and so
willing to submit to amoral authority, just like many of them submitted
to and even supported the Nazis, they explained. I kept waiting for
them to make the connection to America's torture policies and Fox's
support for it -- if only to explain to their own game show
participants at home
Fox News viewers why that was totally
different -- but it really seemed the connection just never occurred to
them. They just prattled away -- shocked, horrified and blissfully
un-self-aware -- about the evils of torture and mindless submission to
authority and the role television plays in all of that.

Meanwhile, the bill recently
introduced by Joe Lieberman and John McCain
-- the so-called "Enemy
Belligerent Interrogation, Detention and Prosecution Act" -- now has 9
co-sponsors, including the newly elected Scott Brown
. It's
probably the single most extremist, tyrannical and dangerous bill
introduced in the Senate in the last several decades, far beyond the
horrific, habeas-abolishing Military Commissions Act. It literally empowers
the President to imprison anyone he wants
in his
sole discretion
by simply decreeing them a Terrorist suspect -- including
American citizens arrested on U.S. soil
. The bill requires
that all such individuals be placed in military custody, and explicitly
says
that they "may be detained without criminal charges
and without trial
for the duration of hostilities against the
United States or its coalition partners," which everyone expects to last
decades, at least. It's basically a bill designed to formally
authorize what the Bush administration did to American citizen Jose
Padilla -- arrest him on U.S. soil and imprison him for years in
military custody with no charges.

This bill has produced barely a ripple of controversy, its two main
sponsors will continue to be treated as Serious Centrists and feted on
Sunday shows, and it's hard to imagine any real resistance to its
passage. Isn't it shocking how easily led and authoritarian the French
are?

UPDATE: Led by people like Rush Limbaugh, the American
Right celebrated even the most extreme torture brutalities
, such as
those at Abu Ghraib, by embracing them as "a good time," an "emotional
release," "blowing off steam," a "fraternity prank," and
S&M pornography. At least the contestants in the French show
acquiesced to torture reluctantly and even with resistance, rather than
with the demented pleasure, vicarious sensations of power, 24-type
entertainment, and primal arousal which many disturbed individuals on
the American Right derive from it. And, as always, no discussion of the
American torture and detention regime is complete without noting that
the vast majority subjected to its horrors was completely
innocent.

As for the McCain/Lieberman atrocity, it's been reported that
the Obama White House (a) is actively
negotiating with Lindsey Graham
on a bill to provide for indefinite
detention power and (b) has already designated
numerous detainees to be held indefinitely with no charges
of any
kind. It remains to be seen what their (and, then, their
supporters') position on this bill will be.

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