In a report released today, the Washington Post claims that a pair of White House memos endorsed and condoned the use of waterboarding as an interrogation technique (read TORTURE) on al-Qaeda detainees. That’s right, we now have proof that the White House (Bush, Cheney, et al) not only knew about the waterboarding and other (mis)treatments of detainees, but that they specifically called for it.
The memos date from 2002, so it’s not like the administration was waiting for any ruling on whether or not waterboarding is considered torture. They went right ahead and issued the memos granting explicit permission to the CIA and others to use this technique to gain information from suspects.
Interrogation is an essential part of information gathering. If we don’t ask questions, we cannot get answers, but interrogation through torture is something else entirely. Not only is it barbaric it is not so effective. Sure, the torturees will speak for fear of pain, but what they say may not be the truth. It is more likely, in fact, that whatever information gained under torture is invalid and false.
I always think of the scene in Star Wars a New Hope. Grand Moff Tarkin has targeted the Planet Alderaan with the Death Star. He asks Princess Leia fort he location of the secret Rebel base. She tells him (her answer is a lie, but he only discovers that later) and he blows up Alderaan anyway. Now, Tarkin did not physically torture the Princess (that was Vader’s job), but he did put her through emotional torture. He did make her watch as he destroyed her homeworld, after all, and still she did not tell him the truth. She gave him information, sure, but it was false. And this, generally, is the kind of information we get when we use torture to interrogate.
So the White House condoned the use of waterboarding, which for some reason has not been classified as torture.
It’s in German, but the meaning is pretty clear, I think.
Torture: n–the act of causing someone severe physical pain done out of cruelty, as a punishment, or to force someone to give information.
It’s a pretty straightforward definition. There is very little gray area to work with, and yet our government has found a way. And what’s worse, we have let them define torture to fit their needs. What is torture today has the real possibility of being allowed tomorrow, and we as a people just don’t care that much. We are, understandably, concerned with other things–putting food on our tables, keeping a roof over our heads, who will be the next star cut from Dancing with the Stars. All of these things occupy our time to the extent that we cannot be bothered to take a stand against torture, and therefore we condone it, whether or not we really condone it. Our inaction on the matter is just as good as agreeing with it. It is within our power to shape this country into something better than it is. We have to realize that, and then take the steps necessary to make it happen.
Waterboarding: the act of drowning to simulate death.
It sounds pretty torturous to me, but then I guess it doesn’t cause severe physical pain. There is still the mental and emotional pain, though. I’ve never been waterboarded, but I have been held underwater for too long a time. It is a scary experience. Your heart speeds up, your body freezes and thrashes and freezes and thrashes as the anxiety of needing to breathe builds. It is an unpleasant, to say the least, experience, and to me it is torture. Even if it doesn’t fit the exact dictionary definition of that word.
And I wonder how much water is being wasted during all of this drowning torture, excuse me, drowning interrogation technique.