FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Waterboarding is Merely Unpleasant … Right?

by ROBERT WEITZEL

“This government does not torture.”

– George W. Bush

All right! Waterboarding is a very unpleasant experience, which is sometimes fatal. I can also imagine that a small percentage of root canals are fatal, but no one routinely refers to them as torture-just very unpleasant.

That said, if I were grabbed off the street by five guys in ski masks who jabbed a hypodermic in my neck, threw me in the back of a van, stripped me to gooseflesh, gave me an enema and jammed a wad of cotton where only a proctoscope belongs, forced me into diapers and an orange jumpsuit, plugged my ears, duck-taped my eyes and put a sack over my head, shackled me in a stress position to the cold, aluminum deck of an unheated cargo plane for 15 hours, strapped me in a chair at some black dental site in Karachi and commenced the root canal in a shower of Punjabi expletives . . . then okay, maybe taken in toto I’d consider that experience torture.

On February 13 the Senate narrowly passed-on a 51-45 party-line vote-an intelligence bill that will, among other things, ban waterboarding as an “enhanced interrogation technique,” a Bush-era euphemism for torture.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese, traded his principled stance against waterboarding for a White House endorsement of his candidacy and voted against the ban. Torture is now officially a plank in the GOP platform. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama were too busy campaigning to go on congressional record as either supporting or opposing the ban.

Such a narrow political plurality against the torture of a human being is possible in an overly-religious nation because of the mistaken notion that torturing a person begins and ends with “waterboarding” and because that term sounds a lot like “waterslide” and “water park.” Who hasn’t gotten water up the nose while playing in a pool but still enjoyed the overall experience?

Dick Cheney refers to waterboarding as “a dunk in the water.” Attorney General Mukasey refuses to call it torture unless, of course, it’s happening to him. Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) defended his vote against the ban on waterboarding by saying, “It is not like putting burning coals on people’s bodies. The person is in no real danger . . . the impact is psychological.”

I have news for Mr. Lieberman. If I were strapped in a straitjacket and locked in a 2x3x7 foot box, the exquisite psychological pain of that experience would find no rival in burning coals. And I would say anything to make it stop. Torture, physical or psychological, is about as singularly personal an experience as birth and death.

Waterboarding has become the cause célèbre in the torture controversy that began in this country with the revelation of tortured Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib. Considering the attention it gets-3,810,000 Google hits-one can be forgiven for thinking it is the only “enhanced interrogation technique” being used. In reality, it is only the most benign sounding of the Bush-era chamber of horrors, which includes, but is not limited to: electric shock, hypothermia, heat injuries, forced sexual acts, prolonged stress positions, beatings, dog attacks, withholding food, water, and medical attention, sleep depravation, sensory overload, and mock execution.

We have already become a nation “comfortable” with the idea that waterboarding is torture. In a November 2007 CNN poll, 68 percent of the respondents agreed that waterboarding constitutes torture. But only 58 percent of the respondents believe the U.S. should not use the technique. For now, there is a narrow moral plurality against its use.

Waterboarding is the thin edge of the wedge that will work its way into the political and moral discussion and slowly, but inexorably, desensitize the nation to the overt and covert use of all forms of torture. Torture will become a “regrettable” but necessary weapon in the war on terror, much as the madness of “mutual assured destruction” was thought to be integral to surviving the Cold War. Once in the arsenal, torture, like nuclear missiles, will become an unassailable tool of national defense.

Keep in mind, a particular torture technique is not applied in isolation, but is part of a longer torturing experience that includes kidnapping, extraordinary rendition, prolonged isolation, denial of legal rights, no communication with family, draconian sentences, loss of hope, psychosis, suicide, and execution.

Keep in mind also that too often the victims of a torturing experience are the innocent, the constitutionally protected dissenter, the political opponent, the disenfranchised . . . the children of the disappeared.

On June 18, 1940 the Russia army invaded Lithuania and began arresting community leaders and intellectuals. My aunt’s mother was a librarian, one of her town’s intellectuals. She was arrested and charged with espionage. To extract a confession, her interrogators used pliers to rip the flesh from the inside of her upper arms. I don’t know what she told them. She was, after all, just a woman who loved books. Regardless, she was convicted and condemned to death. After languishing for months in a death cell waiting to be executed, her sentence was commuted to fifteen years in a Siberian gulag. She did not see her husband or her children for a quarter of a century.

Her torture did not begin or end with the pliers-a Stalin-era “enhanced interrogation technique.” The scars from the pliers were visible on her arms, which she hid under long sleeves. The scars of twenty-five years were visible in her eyes, which she hid in books for the remainder of her life.

A society that accommodates itself to the idea of torture, be it torture of minutes or hours or months or years, forfeits the right to think of itself as moral or humane. That nation is not the beacon light of liberty and justice shining on less enlightened countries. It is the umbra.

ROBERT WEITZEL is a contributing editor to Media With a Conscience. He can be contacted at: robertweitzel@mac.com

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
Robert Fisk
The Hypocrisies of Terror Talk
Lee Hall
Purloined Platitudes and Bipartisan Bunk: An Adjunct’s View
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of Collective Punishment: Russia, Doping and WADA
Nozomi Hayase
Cryptography as Democratic Weapon Against Demagoguery
Cesar Chelala
The Real Donald Trump
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Propaganda Machinery and State Surveillance of Muslim Children
Denis Conroy
Australia: Election Time Blues for Clones
Marjorie Cohn
Killing With Robots Increases Militarization of Police
David Swanson
RNC War Party, DNC War Makers
Eugene Schulman
The US Role in the Israeli-Palestine Conflict
Nauman Sadiq
Imran Khan’s Faustian Bargain
Peter Breschard
Kaine the Weepy Executioner
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail