December 11, 2014
Torture Reasoning

Here is a commenter on The Dish, defending waterboarding:

Hot irons are not the same as slapping someone or verbal threats of physical punishment. Plain and simple. Loud music and cold-water immersion are not the same as wrenching off toe nails. We aren’t talking nuance; we are talking intellectual honesty and reasoned examination. It may be ugly, and it make be torture, but there are levels, degrees, etc., of abuse and pretending otherwise is effective only when preaching to the choir.

And here is Long Island Republican Congressman Peter T. King, a piece of rough trade if ever there was one:

“I don’t believe these are torture at all. For instance, waterboarding, there were medical personnel present during the whole time. It creates tremendous discomfort – there’s no doubt about it. It creates tremendous fear, but the fact is there was no lasting damage to these people and we got information from them, which is very helpful. … We’re not talking about anyone being burned or stabbed or cut or anything like that. We’re talking about people being made to stand in awkward positions, have water put into their nose and into their mouth. Nobody suffered any lasting injuries from this.”
And here is me, on September 14, 2006. I repost it now to remind us of the exact nature of the crimes committed by Bush, Cheney, Addington, Libby, Tenet, Bybee, Ashcroft, Gonzales, Yoo and the many others in a chain of command that stretched directly from the Oval Office to the secret overseas torture chambers of the CIA. None of these criminals will ever be brought to trial, the way they do it in Chile or Argentina or Germany or Cambodia. We’re the world’s greatest democracy, and we’re below that kind of thing.
Since the torturer Bush won’t tell us specifically what he has done, let’s turn to somebody to whom it was done half a century ago. This is from a 1958 book called The Question. The author, a French newspaper editor in Algeria named Henri Alleg, had already resisted a month of hideous torture at the hands of his own country’s paratroopers, including electric shock and having his testicles burned. The worst, inflicted only when all else had failed, was yet to come:

A few moments later L— came into the room. Twenty-five years old, short, sunburnt, pomaded hair, small forehead. He came up to me, smiling, and said, “Ah! So you’re the customer? Come with me…”

L— now laid on the ground a black plank, sweating with humidity, polluted and sticky with vomit left, no doubt, by previous “customers.”

I lay down on the plank. L— , with the help of another man, attached me by the wrists and ankles with leather straps fixed to the wood…

Together they picked up he plank to which I was attached and carried me into the kitchen. Once there, they rested the top of the plank, where my head was, against the sink. L— fixed a rubber tube to the metal tap which shone just above my face. He wrapped my head in a rag, while Captain D— said: “Put a wedge in his mouth.”

With the rag already over my face, L— held my nose. He tried to jam a piece of wood between my lips in such a way that I could not close my mouth or spit out the tube. When everything was ready, he said to me: “When you want to talk, all you have to do is move your fingers.”

And he turned on the tap. The rag was soaked rapidly. Water flowed everywhere: in my mouth, in my nose, all over my face. But for a while I could still breathe in some small gulps of air. I tried, by contracting my throat, to take in as little water as possible and to resist suffocation by keeping air in my lungs for as long as I could.

But I couldn’t hold on for more than a few moments. I had the impression of drowning, and a terrible agony, that of death itself, took possession of me. In spite of myself, the fingers of both my hands shook uncontrollably,

“That’s it! He’s going to talk,” said a voice.

The water stopped running and they took away the rag. I was able to breathe. In the gloom, I saw the lieutenants and the captain, who, with a cigarette between his lips, was hitting my stomach with his fist to make me throw out the water I had swallowed. Befuddled by the air I was breathing, I hardly felt the blows.

“Well, then?” I remained silent. “He’s playing games with us. Put his head under again!”

This time I clenched my fists, forcing the nails into my palm. I had decided I was not going to move my fingers again. It was better to die of asphyxia right away. I feared to undergo again that terrible moment when I had felt myself losing consciousness, while at the same time I was fighting with all my might not to die.

I did not move my hands, but three times I again experienced this insupportable agony. In extremis, they let me get my breath back while I threw up the water.

The last time, I lost consciousness.

M. Alleg, shown below in a 2004 photo, never broke under the torture and was sent away to ten years in prison, from which he escaped and fled to Czechoslovakia.

aHenriAlleg.jpg

Webding3.jpg

Posted by Jerome Doolittle at December 11, 2014 03:10 PM
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Talking about intellectual honesty and nuance: Of course it's much more humane to gas unsuspecting people than to make them dig their own graves and shoot them in the gut or hack them to pieces. No question. Always assuming you *have* to kill them. And that may be a matter of neccessity. Or even compassion. Think about all those poor cripples spending their life in agony while costing society a lot of money at the same time. Wouldn't it be both reasonable *and* compassionate to just give them a heavy shot of morphine, make them happy for a little while and then be done with it?

I wish these people justifying torture even now would either have a soul or a little brains. It would make them shoot themselves and we'd all be better off. Wouldn't we? I mean, following their own reasoning?

Posted by: Peter on December 12, 2014 7:23 AM

You probably heard on NPR yesterday the report on study of who tortures and who doesn't. The data shows what we already know to be true: if they do it, it's torture; if we do it, it isn't.

For years I've stuck with my own belief: if you kill, you kill your own self-respect. If a society kills? Same. That holds for all forms of violence, including torture. It tears individuals and societies apart.

I was thinking about this the other day in terms of 9/11. What would the best response to 9/11 have been -- in practical as well as other terms? What have we gained -- what have we set right -- by our response?

What does retaliation get us? The same thing torture gets us: nothing but more trouble.

Posted by: PW on December 12, 2014 8:47 AM
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