Waterboarding and torture: An apology anyone?

http://southdakotapolitics.blogs.com/south_dakota_politics/images/2007/07/20/waterboarding.jpgAbout fourteen months ago I wrote a post called ‘An apology anyone’.  As I recall there were lots of calls for public apologies from the latte sippers by the right in triumphal mode.  I asked if anyone could point me to any – but no-one could, so perhaps I am imagining it. I made this invitation in the post.

For a while now Ive been thinking that maybe someone who called for apologies then while supporting the Bush Administrations bizarre adventure in Iraq, might like to apologise and say they were wrong. I think they should tell us what they think of the President of the most powerful nation the world has ever seen lobbying Capitol Hill for powers to torture people in secret – having already done so in any event.

Anyway, the post didn’t go over too well.  Whoeverheis started it off by asking what was the point of all that gloating.  As if I was gloating. It was, it seemed to me a plea for sanity. A plea that surely some things are beyond partisan sympathy.  Anyway the thread degenerated into a shouting match about apologies.

I offered this comment.

1) The Water Torture. Facsimile of a Woodcut in J. Damhoudère's Praxis Rerum Criminalium: in 4to, Antwerp, 1556.

I dont think much of the rights calls for apologies from the left mainly for reasons enunciated by Mark. Its usually a heavy moralising kind of bid for advantage with a strong us or them flavour.

I hope my post conveyed some of my distaste for this kind of tactic. Even so, I think to ask former communists when did you decide to give it away? is a legitimate and worthwhile question.

Was it at the time of the show trials, by which time Orwell and Koestler were rearranging any admiration they had had. Was it when Nikita Khrushchev blew the whistle on Stalin? The Invasion of Hungary? Checkoslovakia? When?

This doesnt have to be in the spirit of moralising – though I dont think a bit of moralising about the misery and deaths of millions of people is all bad. Lots of people who did support communism do feel bad about it. But aside from moralising, the answer to the question might provide a measure of how receptive to the evidence they were.

My post then goes on to suggest that the picture President Bush campaigning for torture on Capitol Hill should be a similar wake up call to his supporters – a moment when people who might identify with the right might see a reductio ad absurdam in their own position, like so many communists jumped ship at around the time of the milestones mentioned above.

In that spirit, I reproduce below the fold Ezra Klein’s post on water-boarding.

For those who think Waterboarding is no big deal, I’d recommend reading this account by a self-described tough guy who gave it a shot under soft, controlled, conditions. His initial impression is that the technique is light, survivable. But then he begins to amp up the danger, moving closer to the conditions used by our torturers interrogators. After traying it through saran wrap, this is what he says:

The water fills the hole in the saran wrap so that there is either water or vaccum in your mouth. The water pours into your sinuses and throat. You struggle to expel water periodically by building enough pressure in your lungs. With the saran wrap though each time I expelled water, I was able to draw in less air. Finally the lungs can no longer expel water and you begin to draw it up into your respiratory tract.It seems that there is a point that is hardwired in us. When we draw water into our respiratory tract to this point we are no longer in control. All hell breaks loose. Instinct tells us we are dying.

I have never been more panicked in my whole life. Once your lungs are empty and collapsed and they start to draw fluid it is simply all over. You [b]know[b] you are dead and it’s too late. Involuntary and total panic.

So, is it torture?

I’ll put it this way. If I had the choice of being waterboarded by a third party or having my fingers smashed one at a time by a sledgehammer, I’d take the fingers, no question.

It’s horrible, terrible, inhuman torture. I can hardly imagine worse. I’d prefer permanent damage and disability to experiencing it again. I’d give up anything, say anything, do anything.

The Spanish Inquisition knew this. It was one of their favorite methods.

It’s torture. No question. Terrible terrible torture. To experience it and understand it and then do it to another human being is to leave the realm of sanity and humanity forever. No question in my mind.

http://www.nancarrow-webdesk.com/warehouse/storage2/2007-w44/img.51724_t.jpgAnd as he notes, this is terror locked within a rational understanding that he is in control, that he will not be hurt, that he will not die. When a prisoner is tortured, when he knows his family can’t find him and lacks the power to free him, when his captors are screaming at him and radiating hate, the fear must be unimaginable.This is, without a doubt, torture. We are torturers.

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13 years ago

Also should we really be wasting water like this in the middle of a drought?

And the next time someone on a thread here says it’s not that bad really, I’ll offer to subject them to it as part of a controlled experiment.

“But you’ve been such bastard to me online, how do I know you won’t stop in time and maybe go too far?”


Graham Bell
Graham Bell
13 years ago

Nicholas Gruen:
Waterboarding, like any other form of torture, is dangerously useless in hetting worthwhile information that can be processed into intelligence.

What a commander in the field needs for a successful operation is RELIABLE intelligence, not a collection of wild guesses and incomplete pictures contaminated by the desperate ravings of the tortured. Wonder how many good American families are grieving because some Hollywood-trained action-heroes brutalized their captives until they got the unconfirmed stories they wanted to hear – then retold those same fairy-stories to commanders in the field – who then sent their troops, unwittingly, into ambushes.

As for any apologies from the “Right”. Forget it.

There are a lot of conservative, free-enterprise, libertarian, tory and suchlike people around; honourable, insightful, observant and intelligent people; ones who may believe torture can provide useful information. These people are open to persuasion otherwise – if they are given credible evidence that would make them change their minds. An apology could be expected from such people if they find they were misinformed, misled or mistaken about an issue.

Not so the “right-wing” ratbags. Nothing. Absolutely nothing …. apart from the latest edict or whim of their great infallible Master or their all-wise all-knowing ruling clique …. can get them to change their minds. No amount of rock-hard evidence. No logical well-informed discussion by eminent authorities. Nothing. They are hard-wired for destruction; often it is their own self-destruction. They are cannon-fodder and can never ever be anything else. Expecting an apology from them is like asking a cat to play a violin or or a fish to play football. Don’t bother wasting your time and energy trying to get an apology out of them – try working on their adored Glorious Leaders instead …. and the herd will follow [but without apologizing themselves].

13 years ago

I heard that ‘being nice’ to terriers produced better results. Plus feel that you’re graphic and it not be yours alone I realise, perhaps should come with a warning. “Do not try this at home on your younger brother/sister the dog etc..”

Enemy Combatant
Enemy Combatant
13 years ago

Great post, Nicholas.
Our veneer of civilization is as thin as the sneer on former AG, Philip Ruddock’s dial. Phil is a lawyer who was aware that Australian citizens were being water-boarded in Gitmo; tortura del agua, as Holy Mother Church’s Inquisitors christened/baptismed it. Banal Phil nevertheless doublethought his conscience with a definition of torture that permitted him nights of undisturbed slumber while his Amnesty International badge, snuggled against his lapel with a tenure more secure than a barbed-wire enclosed burning candle, awaited furthur exposure at an appropriate media opportunity.