Thursday, July 03, 2008

"Believe me, it's torture"

At the request of Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, Christopher Hitchens (one of the most consistent cheerleaders of the Iraq war and the Bush regime) undergoes "waterboarding", a technique being used by the Bush regime who claim it is not torture. His conclusion? "Believe me, it's torture."

He adds,

You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning—or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure. The “board” is the instrument, not the method. You are not being boarded. You are being watered. This was very rapidly brought home to me when, on top of the hood, which still admitted a few flashes of random and worrying strobe light to my vision, three layers of enveloping towel were added. In this pregnant darkness, head downward, I waited for a while until I abruptly felt a slow cascade of water going up my nose. Determined to resist if only for the honor of my navy ancestors who had so often been in peril on the sea, I held my breath for a while and then had to exhale and—as you might expect—inhale in turn. The inhalation brought the damp cloths tight against my nostrils, as if a huge, wet paw had been suddenly and annihilatingly clamped over my face. Unable to determine whether I was breathing in or out, and flooded more with sheer panic than with mere water, I triggered the pre-arranged signal and felt the unbelievable relief of being pulled upright and having the soaking and stifling layers pulled off me. I find I don’t want to tell you how little time I lasted.

This is because I had read that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, invariably referred to as the “mastermind” of the atrocities of September 11, 2001, had impressed his interrogators by holding out for upwards of two minutes before cracking....

And here's the video.

Incidentally, even while cheering the war Hitchens has previously spoken out against torture, for example here. But it seems to me that his language then was deliberately obscure and clouded with rhetorical and irrelevant questions. (I say "deliberately" because he is a master of prose and certainly knows how to make his meaning clear when he chooses to.) This time, he couldn't have put things more plainly.


Rahul Basu said...

yes, Rahul , he does clarify that it is indeed torture but note that he doesn't unequivocally condemn it. In fact he says it would be useful for a confession, but...and this is the only doubt he expresses..what if you got the wrong guy? He would then have some 'sympathy' for him.

Christopher Hitchen's move to the right over the Iraq war and, in fact, over the Bush presidency has been one of the most depressing aspects of the shift of Western liberal thought. Mercifully not too many Hitchens's have moved in that direction.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Rahul - while he doesn't use the phrase "I condemn torture" I don't see any other way of reading his article. He doesn't say it will be useful for a confession -- quite the opposite: it will always elicit some sort of "confession", and you have no way of telling how reliable it is.

He also approvingly quotes Malcolm Nance, who rebuts the pro-torture points. In particular, "Torture advocates hide behind the argument that an open discussion about specific American interrogation techniques will aid the enemy. Yet, convicted Al Qaeda members and innocent captives who were released to their host nations have already debriefed the world through hundreds of interviews, movies and documentaries on exactly what methods they were subjected to and how they endured. Our own missteps have created a cadre of highly experienced lecturers for Al Qaeda’s own virtual sere school for terrorists."

The best he can say for it is that it is not morally equivalent to the things terrorists do, like chopping off fingers and so on. He argues also that the people he met, who waterboarded him, should not be regarded as morally equivalent to terrorists. I would agree -- it is not morally equivalent. That doesn't mean it is right, and I don't think he anywhere argues that it is.

Anant said...

Dear Rahuls,

You may find this link interesting.


Rahul Siddharthan said...

Dershowitz has no ethics, not even academic ones. It's disgraceful that Harvard keeps him on their rolls.

Back to Hitchens -- here is a more insightful take on his current escapade and where it falls short.

Anant said...

Rahul S:

Thanks for the comment. What I find interesting about the article in the link I gave is the arguments. Even if it were not about Dershowitz, it would still be interesting.