Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Managing of Impressions - Part I

Eric Umansky (via pajamasmedia) posts today about reports of mistreatment of prisoners at Gitmo, in the wake of the suicides and suicide attempts there. His source is one of the attorneys representing several prisoners there. He also quotes a psychiatrist on more clinical matters. My disagreements with the psychiatrist I posted in the comments there.

A prisoner’s attorney is both the best of sources and the worst of sources. The attorney usually has considerable direct knowledge of circumstances, is able to speak with the prisoner and make his own observations. A lawyer also has specific training in questioning people, seeing the story behind the story, and noting inconsistent information. Additionally, an attorney often has background information which cannot necessarily be shared openly, but informs his impressions. In that sense, Umansky’s source is among the best we could hope for to be our eyes and ears in holding the military accountable.

But a prisoner’s attorney is also the worst of sources. It is his job to manage the impression created, to tell only one side of the story, and to put his client’s actions in the best possible light. That is not only true in wartime situations, but in every legal situation. A student makes an accusation against a school via her attorney. The school administration may be unable to respond because of confidentiality, or able to respond in only the most general way. A patient alleges malpractice; the doctor and hospital cannot respond. A prosecutor has to be exquisitely careful in what she is allowed to reveal. The defense attorney can say anything.

Eric did not throw up any red flags when passing on this information. Eric is also attempting to manage impressions, eh? I had this same discussion with a Gitmo attorney over at Obsidian Wings. People were amazed that I didn’t consider a rights attorney an unimpeachable source. I think it’s madness. I’ve sat across enough tables with legal advocates, and been cross-examined by enough in court, to know that what they are trying to get you to believe is sometimes completely ridiculous. Why in the world would anyone take their comments at face value? Note: I make a sharp differentiation between attorneys willing to represent difficult defendants and attorneys who make rights-protection their gig. Those who know both will know what I mean.

I have no direct knowledge for the following speculation. It is, however, an educated guess. What sort of personality becomes a full-fledged jihadi?* There might be a few rather manicky folk, or even a few psychotics. Depressives are unlikely. But Al Qeada has more than its share drawn from the following categories: Antisocial Personality Disorder; Borderline Personality Disorder; Narcissistic Personality Disorder; Paranoid Personality Disorder. Those of you familiar with those categories, please take the time to go over each in turn and see if you agree. I encourage you to post even minor quibbles with my list. I base this speculation on the people in the American population who join gangs, violent political and religious groups, organized crime, and family/clan criminal organizations. This is somewhat similar to an American prison population, though that would be predominantly Antisocial PD’s.

Their attorneys try to paint them in a different light, suggesting that they are not very different than the boys who join our own military or work as counselors at church camp. Just enthusiastic kids with a patriotic streak, caught up in violent events, y’know? (Once in awhile, it’s even true.) Ever hear only one side of a divorce, or only one side of someone’s firing?

But, do you think that when an American inmate calls his attorney to claim he has been abused and his rights violated, there might occasionally be a discrepancy between his story and the facts? Thus also with Gitmo. A prisoner at Gitmo tells his attorney how he was injured. The attorney tells Eric Umansky. Eric reports it to us as reliable.

Inmate abuse does occur, of course. And schools do mistreat students, and doctors commit malpractice. It’s always a real possibility, and whenever one of these complaints comes before the public, it is good to investigate.

Thus - it is good to mentally assign credibility to all the players, and better still to reserve judgement until the data is in.

*And don’t even get me started on what sort of personality becomes a rights attorney.

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