Personal and academic blog. Explores the borderlands between rhetoric, politics and intelligence.


Crossing the line: Abuse of prisoners and ad bacculum

Today New York Times writes about the recent British abuse of prisoner scandal: Court-Martial: British Major Say Looting Led to Abuse of Prisoners.

It describes how the abuse came about after repeated looting of aid. Prior looters had been dragged off to POW camps but were released as they weren't POWs. The British Major had then ordered for looters to be detained and put to work in the camp. The abuse was an unforeseen side-effect. But in other words: abuse springs from desperation about not being able to carry out your job as a soldier (protecting the base and the supplies) in a satisfactory way.

I have been writing on the threat, the ad bacculum argument, as a sort of "border-post" between language and violence (in "Papers").

"If the argument is to have any validity then there must be a risk that the audience is actually subjected to violence. The sender of the threat must be willing to cross the border. Or as Artz and Pollock writes:

After all, the threat of coercion is only "persuasive" to the extent that the audience in question believes that the rhetor would and could carry out the threat .

Violence thus gets its meaning through language in form of the threat."

This example shows that we further need to qualify that statement. There are to scales to bring into the equation:

* The military's conception of when threat should become violence
* The perpetrators willingness to endanger himself

I think I see some distinct features from the British example:

As violence in the form of shooting was unacceptable - with regard to the British troops' ethos (image) - and imprisonment didn't help, the threat was the only solution. However, against perpetrators who were willing to endure violence (and perhaps even death) no verbal threat was strong enough. And so you have symbolic violence, designed to leave a clear impression on the looter. To humiliate him as to send a message to him and others like him.

In my view this very strongly suggests that this kind of protection of certain installations, such as aid-material, should be done by a police authority and not the military. The military system just is not designed to deal with civilian matters as that. This makes the soldier frustrated and prone to symbolic violence when shooting is unacceptable.

But this is on the other side a classical example of the tension between nation-building and military intervention. The policing operation can only be effective if the threat of persecution is credible as shown above. And who are the only ones to provide that kind of credibility as of now?

The military.

The NYT article ends by mentioning the Danish case of abuse. Here the Danish officer Annemette Hommel is accused of interogating prisoners in an unacceptable way. Again a case from the borderland between language and violence.


Post a Comment

<< Home