Skip to Main content Skip to Navigation
Journal articles

The Moral Measure of a Civilization is in its Treatment of Enemies

Abstract : In the heat of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln made a speech in which he referred sympathetically to the Southern rebels. A member of the audience lambasted him for wanting to treat his enemies kindly when he ought to be thinking of destroying them. Lincoln's answer: "Why, madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?" Harshness and cruelty were to be banished from the moral imagination of the nation he was trying to save. The late Jack Maple, a famously flamboyant but phenomenally effective former deputy commissioner of the NYPD, wrote that "the more information a detective has, the more creative, authoritative and effective he or she can be." Under attack in 2001, and then at war in Iraq in 2003, American law enforcement, intelligence and military really didn't have much information at first. They rounded up the usual suspects, but didn't know what usual meant. So they smacked people around, and that was always a bad idea, as Maple said: "Forget that smacking somebody around is illegal and just plain wrong, it's also the quickest way to ruin the chances of getting a statement of any kind." Professional interrogators talk about building empathy and dependence. Maple would get down on his knees and pray with a suspect if he thought that would work. But the best technique? "If you can get them to laugh, you'll get a statement. That's always true." Internal CIA documents reveal that empathy is also likely what got Abu Zubaydah to reveal how Al Qaeda planned 9/11 and its other operations. His torture brought nothing of real value, only the moral demeaning of his tormentors....
Complete list of metadata
Contributor : Scott Atran <>
Submitted on : Friday, July 23, 2010 - 4:13:52 PM
Last modification on : Friday, July 2, 2021 - 9:58:02 AM
Long-term archiving on: : Thursday, December 1, 2016 - 1:44:43 PM


  • HAL Id : ijn_00505424, version 1



Scott Atran. The Moral Measure of a Civilization is in its Treatment of Enemies. Huffington post, 2009, pp.000. ⟨ijn_00505424⟩



Record views


Files downloads