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Did you get that memo? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Johnston   
Thursday, 23 April 2009 23:23

Towel and Water

It seems so innocuous, doesn't it? A jug of water and a towel. Perhaps the symbols that remind ourselves of Jesus gathering in that final week with his friends after a long day and humbling himself as a servant to wash the dust from their feet. A selfless act of humility. Jesus expressing in action and word that he had come to serve others and not to be served by others. 

But this jug and this towel do not represent that beautiful imagery of service to others in this post. Far from it. I've been ruminating a lot this week about the subject of this post; for this post is not about a beautiful image, it is about a ghastly dark evil that is finally being dragged into the light. [There's more...]

Last week in response to a law suit in the USA, President Obama released a number of devastating memos that were written by the Office of Legal Counsel, a part of the Department of Justice, to President Bush in 2002 and 2005. These were legal memos that sanctioned the use of torture by the CIA in prisons such as Guantanamo Bay.

The existence of these memos has long been known about, though the contents have only been hinted at in the past. There are numerous books on this subject, a number of which I have felt the burdensome duty to read and have mentioned in this blog before. With the release of these memos the grim reality of what has been happening in black prison sites around the world has been unveiled for all to read.

You may remember President Bush saying "We don't torture!" back in 2007 when the allegations and stories about torture techniques became overwhelming. The truth is now clear. Torture has been systematised and brought into the mainstream of policy for dealing with prisoners by the USA (and, lest we feel all superior, our Government is not blameless in this either in their acquiescence to the previous Bush Administration and in the increasing allegations of complicity.).

Reading these legal memos is deeply frightening. On a legal note the consensus is that these are some of the shoddiest legal documents ever produced. They are one-sided and logically flawed, and have clearly been written to give the ruse of legal cover for the actions that Bush/Cheney desired to be used.

Nonetheless the shocking detail of what was being done to these prisoners is truly repellent. Remember that these prisoners are held without charge, without time limits, and until recently without legal representation.

One of the techniques used and the one that seems to have captured most press attention is waterboarding. This is an ancient torture technique used, for instance, in the Spanish Inquisition. It was used by the Japanese during World War 2. After the war, those convicted of carrying out this method of torture, as it was called then, were executed. In our Orwellian universe of newspeak today that we see clearly in these memos, waterboarding is reclassified as an interrogation method and is allowable. 

On the American airwaves, particularly on the Republican dominated channels, these interrogation techniques are almost being lampooned as being nothing (which, of course, begs the question how you can also claim they are so effective).

Just a game?

My desire to experiment and trial things coming out in me, I wanted to know for myself. This evening I convinced Carolyn to use the technique on me. And so we return to the image above of a towel and water. Now bearing in mind this was in a situation in which I was in complete control, and in which I could immediately stop what was happening to me if I wished, without any fear or worry. And in which we weren't using a jug of water, just a kid's cup. I didn't even last ten seconds. 

A sheer panic took over within seconds of the water soaking through the towel. To waterboard someone is to simulate their drowning. Holding my breath I could feel the water and began to sense a smothering, this alleviated slightly as I breathed out lightly but when I tried to take a breath and immediately felt the sensation of breathing water I panicked. Bearing in mind this took place over a matter of a few seconds, Carolyn thought I was joking with her when I twitched. I wasn't. I was freaked. 

I wanted it to stop immediately. The thought of being unable to control it, of being harnessed to a bench and about this being done 183 times, as mentioned in the memos, is simply beyond my comprehension. Even under the controlled environment I experienced it in, I can imagine saying anything to make it stop. Which is, of course, what happens with all forms of torture. The prisoners will say anything, whatever they think the torturer wants them to say in order to make it stop. It is why torture has always been used as a way to create false confessions, it does not elicit truth.

1984 and 24

In the fictional world of Orwell's 1984 we see exactly this happening to Winston Smith as he is tortured and finally having been completely broken, confesses his love for Big Brother. In the process anything resembling truth has long since evaporated.

It is the utter lie and fallacy of television shows such as 24 in which torture is frequently deployed to "get the truth" that will save the day - that vital bit of evidence that allows Jack Bauer to stop the terrorist attack. That this show is broadcast on Fox, one of the most conservative and Bush-supporting networks is surely no surprise. But it is fiction. In the last years, however, that fiction portrayed weekly on people's TV screens has almost become a reality in people's minds. If torture works for Jack Bauer, then why shouldn't we use it too?

Reading some comments this past week on news websites you see again and again the "ticking nuke" argument: "Yes, torture is wrong, but if you knew that this particular person had the information that would allow you to stop a nuclear bomb in Glasgow, London, New York, or wherever, wouldn't you do anything and everything in your power to get that information? It is one person's life against millions of others, afterall. It is for the greater good." But torture doesn't work like that.

Despite the bluster of the last weeks' performances from Vice-President Cheney directly contradicting what the current President is doing nightly on the American airwaves, by saying that torture was effective and has helped protect Americans lives, there is no evidence for this. Even President Bush's own chief of the FBI admitted last year that no terror plots had been foiled as a result of the use of torture on prisoners in American custody.

Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld lied constantly about the use of torture, so of course these same people are now going to lie about its efficacy when the rug is lifted to reveal what they approved.

Here's an ex-CIA agent, Jack Rice, talking about the fallacy of what is being said in support of torture today:

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I can understand why Cheney et al are going down kicking and screaming. They must be scared about possible outcomes of what they have done. Torture is, afterall, a war crime. 

So why did they do it?

If you remember all the way back to post 9/11 and the steady steps towards the invasion of Iraq, the constant mantra from the White House, and particularly from Dick Cheney, was about the connection between the 9/11 events and Saddam Hussein. When the Americans started detaining people in Afghanistan, the CIA were being pushed to discover what the link was between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. 

Most of the world knew there was no such link. Indeed there was hostility between Hussein and Al-Qaeda. However, Cheney was not to be moved and was demanding that a link be found. And so, the interrogation techniques were ramped up daily, week by week, to ever more extreme levels, 183 waterboarding sessions in a single month, sleep deprivation, stress positions, humiliation, cold, nakedness, and on and on until Cheney got what he wanted. Could this be why they did it? But remember, what is torture for? It is used to elicit false confessions. It is not about the truth.

In the aftermath of 9/11 I can understand the desire to do something, to ensure to the best of your ability not to let something like that happen again. But in that overwhelming desire all reason was lost. And the insanity of an evil spiraling downward path towards institionalised torture was the consequence.

In their use of torture, the USA (and her allies) have fuelled the fire for a new generation of terrorist sympathisers, playing directly into the hands of Al-Qaeda. I sincerely pray for President Obama as he tries to find a way to move to a different place and a different way of leadership.

There must be a better way. There is a better way. It is not a cheap way, it can be a painful way, it can mean getting hurt, it means sacrifice, it can mean laying down your life for the sake of others. It is not about seeking safety at the cost of others, it is about serving others no matter the cost, it is turning the cheek, it is reaching out and expressing love to enemies, it is about repudiating violence as a solution, it is speaking truth even in the face of hatred, it is the Way of Christ.

Comments (1)add comment

Carolyn said:

Just to clarify!
Just wanted to clarify as to exactly how much 'waterboarding' Peter experienced at my hands!

He had a towel over his face, and I poured a small amount of water on the towel and stopped. No reaction, so I poured a bit more and stopped - that's when Peter twitched, so I didn't pour anymore - just asked him if he was OK and was he trying to spook me (since I wasn't so keen on doing this, but he's been curious about it for a long time).

And it turned out, he wasn't joking - it was really a horrible experience.

I hadn't even used a whole kiddie cup full of water (maybe about half of the water in the small cup was gone).

Seeing how Peter reacted to that, I really can't imagine this being done to anyone under the kind of situations and for the length of time American prisoners experienced it. smilies/cry.gif
April 24, 2009
Votes: +0

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