Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Torture and tortured verbiage

There's been a lot of hot wind blowing around about waterboarding, 'simulated drowning', stress positions, and torture in general these days. Much of this talk seems to me to be as usual missing the whole point. People talk about the aptness of the name waterboarding. It seems to me that one reasonable definition of waterboarding would be 'the sensation of drowning without (normal) danger of dying'. That sounds very cruel and unusual to me.
Stress positions, as well, seem to be very uncomfortable and may have the potential to do lasting physical damage. I have heard the lasting physical damage complaint issued time and time again in the press, but I think that to even bring it up implied a definition of torture that includes as a necessary component lasting physical harm. While waterboarding may be done with no lasting permanent harm done, so can rape, but this does not make rape, even when done in controlled conditions and supervised by psychologists, an acceptable form of interrogation.
So we find ourselves with a concept, torture, that is ill-defined and murky in the public and legal imagination. People's immediate reaction is to go with their default reaction. Liberal hearts around the world gush in empathy with the hooded and besodden victims while eye-for-an-eye justice hungry conservatives feel a rush of hot vengeful blood to the head and rush to the defense of harsh interrogation techniques. Neither side gives a thought to whether these techniques are torture, why they are torture, or whether they work. People who view every morcel of information on the war with intense scrutiny seize upon memes like 'harsh interrogation tactics don't work' and blindly trumpet them without a second thought to their veracity. The other side points to successful results of harsh interrogation with the same blind faith in information that bolsters their own practically inborn opinions.
That's just weak. I equate the interrogation debate to the abortion debate, in that I think both are matters for professionals to figure out without letting politics get in the way. If harsh interrogation doesn't work, why would professional interrogators use such methods? Because know-nothing people in the administration are pushing them for intel that simply isn't there or isn't available, or because the administration wants to send some sort of method? For every mook on the street in America to have an opinion about something they know nothing about is nothing new, but in this case the amount of scrutiny given to a necessarily unsavory-looking task like intelligence gathering techniques is bringing a lot of very embarassing attention to our government. Honestly, it's not even a matter of knowing how the sausage is made anymore. If we open up the slaghterhouse doors to observation by every knucklehead in town we're going to wind up with no knockwurst at all.

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