Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Grammar of Torture

Jesse Ventura and Christopher Hitchens assure us that waterboarding is torture. They've tried it. But I've been hearing an argument against their testimony that really must be dismantled. I just saw Brian Kilmeade use it on Fox. Ventura says he's tried and it is torture. Kilmeade then asks, "Are you okay now?"

What? Ventura, like Hitchens, has tried it under circumstances that they could trust. Prisoners of war do not have such conditions. Hitchens and Ventura have experienced the basic mechanism (they know what the feeling is). But they have had the power to stop it.

If it was absolutely necessary to experience something to talk about it, we could pull out one of my fingernails to show that this really hurts. But the objection to torture is not the pain itself. It is the victim's ignorance of when it will stop. One's powerlessness to stop it.

Nor is that kind of ignorance or powerlessness itself torture. All prisoners in a sense feel it. And it can be very effectively used in interrogations. If you always knew when the session would be over, you could plan your responses accordingly. It's the combination of pain and powerlessness. It's the humiliation.

Obviously. That's why one doesn't want one's country to be engaged in torturing anyone. One does not want one's government to be humiliating.

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