How I gave up Roulette


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Some things shouldn’t be left to chance.

God as my witness, I still don’t know how I feel about this story. It all involves calculations that are alien to me. Trading in lives and the uncertainty surrounding war.

I don’t actually consider it very likely that the United States is responsible for the torture of a great number of people. Not from any sense of patriotism or idealism, but from a passing knowledge of the limitations of torture. The way it has been explained to me, all information has an expiration date. In a battlefield situation, usually 12 to 24 hours. So if you can get the answer you’re looking for out of a person in that time, you can act on it. But if you fail to beat this deadline, your enemy changes his plans/tactics in order to make the captured person’s knowledge irrelevant.

So you are left with the torturer’s conundrum if you torture someone too strenuously you will kill them. If you take too long, the information is worthless. Not to mention, how do you know if they are telling the truth?

I just can’t see it being very useful. That doesn’t mean that we haven’t done it. Or that having the threat of such actions isn’t useful. Here’s an except from a Washington Post article entitled “The Torture Myth”

retired Air Force Col. John Rothrock, who, as a young captain, headed a combat interrogation team in Vietnam. More than once he was faced with a ticking time-bomb scenario: a captured Vietcong guerrilla who knew of plans to kill Americans. What was done in such cases was “not nice,” he says. “But we did not physically abuse them.” Rothrock used psychology, the shock of capture and of the unexpected. Once, he let a prisoner see a wounded comrade die. Yet as he remembers saying to the “desperate and honorable officers” who wanted him to move faster, if I take a Bunsen burner to the guy’s genitals, he’s going to tell you just about anything,” which would be pointless. Rothrock, who is no squishy liberal, says that he doesn’t know “any professional intelligence officers of my generation who would think this is a good idea.”
Also consider this excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article entitled, “Too nice for our own good.”

Frustrated interrogators across the globe concluded that their best hope for getting information was to recreate the “shock of capture” that vulnerable mental state when a prisoner is most uncertain and most likely to respond to questioning. Many argued for a calibrated use of “stress techniques” prolonged questioning that would cut into a detainee’s sleep schedule, for example, or making a prisoner kneel or stand.

A crack interrogator from Afghanistan explains the psychological effect of stress: “Let’s say a detainee comes into the interrogation booth and he’s had resistance training. He knows that I’m completely handcuffed and that I can’t do anything to him. If I throw a temper tantrum, lift him onto his knees, and walk out, you can feel his uncertainty level rise dramatically. He’s been told: They won’t physically touch you,’ and now you have. The point is not to beat him up but to introduce the reality into his mind that he doesn’t know where your limit is.” Grabbing someone by the top of the collar has had a more profound effect on the outcome of questioning than any actual torture could have, this Army reservist maintains. “The guy knows: You just broke your own rules, and that’s scary.”

But jerking the guy around by his collar violates the Geneva convention, which protects soldiers from “any form of coercion”. But the people being interrogated are not, by any stretch of the imagination, bound by the Geneva convention, or acting as soldiers.

It’s just a mess I can’t sort out. But if the CIA sees fit to create an imaginary character called Leonard T. Bayard to cover it’s clandestine activities well, they’ve moved in on the Seanachai’s turf. And I’m well within my rights as a storyteller to hijack LT and ask him some questions. Even if he can’t give me any answers.

The Chicago Trib article is available at

George Kaplan is the name of the fictious agent who’s identity Roger Thornhill (played by Cary Grant) assumes in North by Northwest.

The title for North by Northwest is taken from Hamlet “‘I am but mad north-northwest; when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw” So I threw a quote from Hamlet in. I’m not sure how well it works. There is something terribly existential and Hamletian about a man who doesn’t exist talking to us. I was hoping to do something about that, but seriously folks, the thing is eight minutes already.

And, finally, no one should ever play roulette, the house always has an edge. If anything learn a good Blackjack system. Better yet play poker with friends for pennies and nickels and laugh a lot. Because life is short, the world can be cruel and we should enjoy the luxury of our serenity to it’s utmost.