Open Under New Management

The BBC reports that several people have died after being tortured by militias in Libyan detention, citing Amnesty International. “It claimed to have seen patients in Tripoli, Misrata and Gheryan with open wounds to their head, limbs and back.”


Meanwhile, charity Medecins Sans Frontieres has suspended operations in Misrata after treating 115 patients with torture-related wounds. … “The torture is being carried out by officially recognised military and security entities as well as by a multitude of armed militias operating outside any legal framework,” a spokesman for London-based Amnesty said. …

Medecins Sans Frontieres said it was being “exploited” as some patients were being brought to them between interrogation sessions.

Back in 2011, the Daily Mail ran a special story on “Gaddafi’s torture chamber”. “The walls were hung with pictures of Tripoli’s beautiful old city because the former primary school was serving as the headquarters of the historic buildings society. But behind this innocuous facade lay scenes of horror. For this was where Muammar Gaddafi’s secret police kept watch on the traders and residents of the city centre – and beat them if they stepped out of line.”

Now the Libyan torture chambers are back under new management. There’s something very sad about a “revolution” that only manages to change the signage on the offices of the secret police. Feliks Dzherzhinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police, the Cheka, recruited many of his agents from its predecessor, the Okhrana, which served the Czar. “His recruiting technique was highly effective: threat of exposure and execution unless they joined.” Stalin himself was often accused of working for the Okhrana, both before and after he seized power.


Stalin’s apparent ease in escaping from Tsarist persecution and very light sentences bore rumours of him being an Okhrana agent. His efforts in 1909 to root out traitors caused much strife within the party; some accused him of doing this deliberately on the orders of the Okhrana. The Menshevik Razhden Arsenidze accused Stalin of betraying comrades he didn’t like to the Okhrana. The prominent Bolshevik Stepan Shahumyan directly accused Stalin of being an Okhrana agent in 1916. According to his personal secretary Olga Shatunovskaya, these opinions were shared by Stanislav Kosior, Iona Yakir and other prominent Bolsheviks. …

In his 1967 biography of Stalin, Edward Ellis Smith argued that Stalin was an Okhrana agent by citing his suspicious ability to escape from Okhrana dragnets, travel unimpeded, and rabble-rouse full time with no apparent source of income. One such example was the raid that occurred on the night of April 3, 1901, when nearly everyone of importance in the Socialist-Democratic movement in Tiflis was arrested, except for Stalin, who was apparently “enjoying the balmy spring air, and in one of his to-hell-with-the-revolution moods, [which] is too impossible for serious consideration.”

Revolution, far from being glamorous, is a supremely dirty business. Ho Chi Minh, for example, “betrayed Phan Bội Châu, the head of a rival revolutionary faction, to French police in Shanghai for 100,000 piastres.” He later explained “that he did this because he expected Chau’s trial to stir up anti-French resentment and because he needed the money to establish a communist organization.”


As Paul Berman noted in Slate, even Che Guevara was in the execution and concentration camp business. “The cult of Ernesto Che Guevara is an episode in the moral callousness of our time.”

Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster. Many of the early leaders of the Cuban Revolution favored a democratic or democratic-socialist direction for the new Cuba. But Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction, and his faction won. Che presided over the Cuban Revolution’s first firing squads. He founded Cuba’s “labor camp” system—the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims.”

The sad fact is that nobody has yet found a way to civilize war. When you consider what it could do the truly marvelous thing about the US Armed Forces is how restrained it is, relative to its capabilities. That’s not to say that war is not Hell. But some hells are hotter than others.

Part of the reason that such restraint was possible was the US Armed Forces’ overmatching power against potential foes. Humane behavior is ironically a luxury made possible by the possession of a design margin. That is not to say that humanity in itself is an unworthy goal, but the price for being be able exercise it is the ability to shrug off the comparatively puny blows of the opposition. Anyone who wants to act magnanimously must never put himself in the position of desperately having to fight for his life. The idea, deeply held by some pacifists, that weakness leads to kindness is untrue. Necessity and cruelty are close cousins.


The intractable nature of cruelty in man is a hard thing to come to terms with. It is probably easier to convince people of the existence of the Devil than to make them believe in a God of ultimate goodness. For proof of the Devil they only have to look into their hearts. Consider that it takes years of study in medical school before a man learns to heal; but any damned fool can torture and kill. Perhaps the most encouraging thing about human civilization is how few of its societies have explicitly surrendered themselves to evil. There remains, even in the most ludicrous of circumstances, some vestigial nod to the good. In one of the Libyan documentaries, one torture victim exclaims “how can you do this to me, a fellow Muslim?” The line between tragedy and farce is narrow indeed.

Broken windows and empty hallways
A pale dead moon in the sky streaked with gray
Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it’s going to rain today

Bright before me the signs implore me
To help the needy and show them the way
Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it’s going to rain today.

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