Choose your torture

One of the more entertaining things of my holiday is the, frankly, bizarre attitudes I have encountered. While part of me finds the American support of the military heart warming, it seems to border upon an unhealthy obsession. However, this is something I may return to on another day because I have also read the USA Today newspaper’s letters page. (*)

Although I initially thought I was hallucinating, it seems there really is a letter titled “Waterboarding is not harsh enough to be torture” (see it online) from Barbara A. Volz which seems to begin well:

“The use of the word “torture” in referring to waterboarding is a sad dumbing down of the word’s meaning and an insult to the legions of victims of torture throughout history”

It is true that there is a lot of dumbing down over the meaning of words today – we have a war on terror for example – and it can also be argued that torture should still carry a huge amount of shock value when someone is accused of conducting it. However that is where the sanity here seems to end. Sadly, Barbara continues:

Waterboarding involves no bodily mutilation unlike torture of the past, especially in the 20th century. It is a harsh interrogation technique, but given the choice between this and techniques that are more damaging, I think many of these victims would have chosen waterboarding.


Is this real? If this was on USENET or Yahoo!Answers then I would assume it was some idiotic troll. Sadly it echos letters I have read over the last few weeks in several US newspapers.

It is insane. It is purely based on the assumption that torture is only torture if the person ends up scarred. It assumed that bodily marks are more damaging than any psychological distress. It is crazier than a box of frogs thrown into a pool of butter. It is more insane than pretty much anything I can think of at the moment so I am lost for any further analogy.

Is a husband who bullies his wife mentally less abusive than one who “just” hits her? Is a school child taunted by his classmates to suicide suffering less than one who is beaten up? It genuinely defies belief that someone can think this.

Waterboarding is torture. That a civilised nation in the 21st century can even begin to debate if it should be used is shocking. The idea that it can ever be justified (especially given the farcical idea that it might produce useful intelligence) shocks and saddens me. The objective part of me can see why the people who authorised this activity (and the ones who carried it out) wont be punished, the emotional part of me is crying out for them to be tried as the war criminals they actually are.

Most worrying of all is the attitude this shows. The idea that Waterboarding is “torture lite” is horrific. It is a sign that people are, as Barbara implies early on, becoming immune to the shock value of certain phrases. When we hear that person X has been tortured we should be outraged and we should demand justice.

Why dont we?

* I accept that a letter in a newspaper is not an indicator of the opinions of a whole nation. However, tied loosely with the military obsession this is an attitude I have encountered many, many times during my holiday.

2 thoughts on “Choose your torture

  1. By the way – the Wiki discussion page on this is very depressing. It is a good reason why community encyclopaedias should never be allowed to become mainstream.

  2. Pingback: America Scares Me » Why Dont You Blog?

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