Wednesday, February 13, 2008

waterboarding and other unnecessary evils

This picture is from Wikipedia, but the original is on display at Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh. I happened to see it in 2004. Not the waterboarding in question but it's a good contrast given the US position on Pol Pot's regime.

On Friday The Washington Post ran an editorial depicting the current US administration's use of torture during the course of interrogations where the CIA went on record that they've resorted to this form of torture but only in certain instances in the past. I don't know about you, but that seems like a line that has no business being crossed.

The current administration seems to think there are laws, and then there are laws. There are laws that apply to the world, and laws that apply to them. There are ways to treat people, and then there are ways they treat people.

And it begs the question: what the hell is going on here?

In case it's unclear, Waterboarding is a form of torture that consists of immobilizing a person on his or her back, with the head inclined downward, and pouring water over the face and into the breathing passages. Through forced suffocation and inhalation of water, the subject experiences the process of drowning in a controlled environment and is made to believe that death is imminent. In contrast to merely submerging the head face-forward, waterboarding almost immediately elicits the gag reflex. Although waterboarding can be performed in ways that leave no lasting physical damage, it carries the risks of extreme pain, damage to the lungs, brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation, injuries (including broken bones) due to struggling against restraints, and even death. The psychological effects on victims of waterboarding can last for years after the procedure. (Wikipedia)

And even average citizens seem somewhat conflicted about whether or not waterboarding is torture. In a telephone poll of 1,024 American adults by the CNN/Opinion Research Corp. in early November 2007 about whether they considered waterboarding torture, 69 percent of respondents said that waterboarding was torture while 29 percent of respondants said it was not. In addition, 58 percent of those polled stated that they did not think that the U.S. government should be allowed to use this procedure against suspected terrorists as a method of interrogation.

But what's legal? The United Nations Convention Against Torture has agreed there is no legal exception for waterboarding and the US participates on the Committee Against Torture. But it seems that everyone's still looking for a loophole. Because although the Pentagon's written policy prohibits cruel or inhumane treatment domestically or in other countries, our Secretary of Defense can approve case-by-case exceptions. And somehow we've decided waterboarding sometimes falls into this category.

Press TV recently reported that The United Nations' torture investigator has slammed the White House for defending the use of waterboarding as an interrogation method. Manfred Nowak, the UN's special rapporteur on torture, also urged the US to give up its defense of "unjustifiable" methods. "This is absolutely unacceptable under international human rights law," Nowak said. "Time has come that the government will actually acknowledge that they did something wrong and not continue trying to justify what is unjustifiable." The comments came a day after the Bush administration acknowledged publicly for the first time that waterboarding was used by US government questioners on three terror suspects. Testifying before Congress, CIA Director Michael Hayden said the suspects were waterboarded in 2002 and 2003. The White House on Wednesday defended the use of waterboarding, saying it is legal.

And legal sidestepping aside, what's moral? I am pleased to see that all three frontrunners for the Presidency oppose the use of torture. But it's too little, too late. We have allowed an administration to make it's own rules, to ignore international policies, and to hide this information from it's people. And why did they hide it? Because just like everything else they've misled the general public about, it's wrong and they know it. And they do not care what we think.

Change is coming. But it begs the question: is it too late? All the more reason to support a candidate who does not and will not support waterboarding and war. This just isn't funny anymore. The Republicans have had their shot. It's time for change.

Cross posted at MOMOcrats

29 comments:

Gwen said...

I feel sick. Sick and angry and impotent.

Having endured the rigors of the Hanoi Hilton, McCain would be somewhat less than human if he were in favor of torture.

Sober Briquette said...

Excuse me, but WTF?!?!? are the people who are not saying it's torture thinking of waterskiing?

Your summation "Because just like everything else they've misled the general public about, it's wrong and they know it. And they do not care what we think." is right on target. We're all feeling pretty dirty because of this administration.

I don't think it's too late. It's just time for the pendulum to swing.

wheelsonthebus said...

Sometimes I think I know how all those ordinary German citizens felt. Helpless.

Magpie said...

How do they live with themselves? How?

kristen said...

it can't ever be too late, i have to believe that change can happen. i don't really understand how water boarding can be anything but torture...but looking at our current government, it's no surprise that this is justified, everything else has been.

thailandchani said...

You are essentially right. "They" don't care what "we" (meaning: the rest of the world) think. Waterboarding is clearly torture by any definition. I wish I could say it is uncommon but if you look into the history of the CIA's activities, you'll find this is nothing new.

They're just getting caught more these days because of mass media and the availability of instant transmissions from worldwide locations.

crazymumma said...

This is fucking disgusting. And wrong. really really fundamentally wrong.

Her Grace said...

I'm not sure that the current candidates are all necessarily against waterboarding. They are against "torture", but in some circles (like the current Administration) waterboarding doesn't constitute torture.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/11/would-hillary-clinton-waterboard/

You're right, though. It needs to change. We're not animals; in fact, often animals behave better.

Deezee said...

It's hard to digest how far we've fallen as a country.

Kyla said...

The only news I watch is on Comedy Central, because I can't stomach it in any other capacity...but even hearing about it in that venue makes my skin crawl.

If it was wrong when the Japanese did it to our soldiers back then, it is wrong for us to do it now. These are INDIVIDUALS being tortured, not their governments. These are people...like you or me.

I feel so sick today...just sick of all of this. Why is common decency and concern for others so difficult for people to grasp?

Oh, The Joys said...

A voice from the choir weighing in with an "AMEN!"

mamatulip said...

I didn't know what waterboarding was until I read this post. I knew it was a form of torture and I knew it was bad but...ignorance is bliss, I guess, because I couldn't bring myself to read about it. Until now.

Thank you, Jen, for writing about stuff like this. You educate me on a daily basis.

Maria said...

It is definitely torture and should be by no means legal. It disappoints and disgusts me that we as a society can be torn on this issue.

Jennifer said...

I have had the same thought as Wheels On the Bus and it scares the hell out of me.

I am not conflicted. The idea of a loophole makes me ill. Looking at this photo made me ill.

Get these bastards "in charge" in the White House the hell out of my country. NOW.

Blog Antagonist said...

Um, how could it NOT be torture? We need to get our heads out of our collective asses.

Hetha said...

I agree with Chani, we've been breaking international law for decades but modern technology and media have made it harder to hide. Whoever becomes president will have to assemble something akin to the holy trinity to restore our credibility around the world and most especially AT HOME.

ewe are here said...

If captured american soldiers or citizens were being subjected to waterboarding by foreign governments or terrorists, those poll figures would say, with 100% certainty, that they were being tortured.

Because waterboarding is torture. And this fact doesn't change just because *we're* the torturers.

sigh

It escapes me how americans who support this kind of behavior still believe we are the land of the free, upholders of democracy, believers in due process, innocence before *proven* guilty.

So very sad.

anna said...

Yes to all that and it really pissed me off that they chose to admit that they had waterboarded those detainees on SUPER TUESDAY when the whole country was watching election returns.

Defiantmuse said...

I think our government (and probably many Americans) only considers waterboarding torture if it's done to a white person. If the individual is brown, yellow or any other shade under the sun then it's fair game.

Mad Hatter said...

I just learned the other day that the US admitted to using water boarding. It makes me sick. It all just makes me so sick.

Kevin said...

Well, I am glad that the Senate voted to ban waterboarding. I am sad that Senators Feinstein and Schumer allowed that jerk Mukasey to become Attorney General in the first place. And, I am also finding it enormously ironic and pitiful that John McCain, a victim of torture, did not vote to ban waterboarding.

Our government is one of the most corrupt, hypocritical entities on the face of the Earth. I am amazed every day at the new ways they find to sell out the Constitution and the American people in favor of profit and power.

deb said...

I'm glad you wrote it. And maybe somebody can tell me why anybody would believe anything somebody says under torture.

QT said...

I remember reading a New Yorker article about this being investigated back when Alberto Gonzles was going through his confirmation hearings. Why would you believe anything a person said after having this done to them?

blooming desertpea said...

If it's not torture why not give Bush and his administration a taste of it?

**fuming**

Amy Y said...

OMG! I have never heard of this before... I can not believe things like these still go on in our world.
Sick, just sick.

Wayfarer Scientista said...

It's criminal, and I for one hope it catches up with the members of this administration, and not only on this issue. I also believe that the fact that the name being used is like many other things used in the last 8 years, it doesn't sound like what it really is and lulls the public into a false sense of security. The whole reason treaties exist is to say that no one is above the rules. I too hear echoes of other terrible regimes again and again and yet much of our populace is too busy being entertained to really pay attention. Thanks for your post.

Julie Pippert said...

It's wrong. Oh so wrong.

I feel sick when I think of some of the things that happen. Okay most all of them.

I can't even go on here.

Good for you highlighting this.

Let's end the culture of fear that encourages us to do this sort of thing to other humans.

END IT NOW.

The Expatriate Chef said...

When a leader of a nation so blatantly disregards ethics in favor of getting what he wants, it has been like a green light to all the corporate folks that being unethical is okey-dokey, just look at how well it works for W. It's time to hold our leaders accountable and to have someone who leads by good example, someone who can inspire a nation to be better than this.

patches said...

It's never too late to make a difference, but it is impossible to undo that which has been done.