Thursday, November 24, 2005

Conspiracy theories and torture flights

David Shayler was on Newsnight Scotland tonight repeating the wackjob notion that 9/11 was orchestrated by the Pentagon. He said something like, "If you look at the balance of evidence, it's seems highly probable that they were involved." But the whole point about conspiracy theories is that regardless of what inconsistencies and circumstantial evidence people think they've found that refutes the official version, they are intrinsically improbable because the number of people involved is directly related to the size of the conspiracy, making it more likely that it will be discovered. Which is another way of saying that if this one had any truth in it, at least one of the people involved would have appeared on Oprah by now.

Conspiracy theories tend to flourish wherever there is secrecy. The earliest example I can think of was the story circulated (deliberately) in ancient Rome that Christians were practicing child-sacrifice during communion services. The primitive church separated the eucharist, which they then held in private, from the love-feast where all comers were welcome because when they were combined, some were getting drunk at the communion table (see II Corinthians). People were ready to believe this rumour because of the tendency to assume that if someone wants to do something in secret, they must be up to no good. The same pattern can be seen in history right up to the present day with, for example, the Free Masons and government intelligence services everywhere.

In the case of secret services, there's the added factor that the assumption they're up to no good is at base an entirely reasonable one, although conspiracy theorists fail to take the obvious point that this is because we know they've been up to no good in the past because it's been discovered.

Which brings me to the issue of rendition flights, a euphemism for the practice of airlifting terrorist suspects to countries like Egypt and Jordan by the CIA to be interrogated without the constraints of human rights legislation. It appears that both Glasgow and Prestwick airports have been used as refuelling points for these rendition flights. A conspiracy of sorts in that obviously the government didn't want people to know about this but it has been exposed anyway because of the amount of people this has to involve.

By turning a blind eye to this the British government is complicit in the slide into barbarism this represents. As well as being morally disgraceful, such clandestine activity is politically unwise also, for the reasons outlined above: secrecy in and of itself has a tendency to produce conspiracy theories at the best of times and they are all the more likely to be believed when it becomes known that governments are found to be involved in such grubby and shameful behaviour as this.

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