Over the last week or so, there's been a lot of discussion about whether or not waterboarding constitutes a form of torture. Examples of lively--if not exactly useful--dialogues can be found here and here. Although any form of waterboarding has been considered a war crime both during the Second World War and in Vietnam (see also here) (US soldiers in Vietnam were brought to courts-martial, no less, for inflicting this on prisoners), I find it fascinating how many people, mainly on the right, are still trying to find ways to justify the use of this "enhanced interrogation technique". Some examples:
- People who are waterboarded usually recover in about 10 minutes. Except the 'people' here are the US Special Forces who experience this as part of their training for the SERE program. It should be noted that this enhanced technique is done in a controlled environment, where the trainee knows that it's only for training, and that if he or she is in distress the trainers will stop immediately. A prisoner has no such knowledge. I personally doubt anyone would be able to recover in 10 minutes if they were waterboarded 20 times in a row until they lost consciousness from oxygen deprivation after each run.
- These terrorists are so evil ('mjkoch' at Salon labels them as murderers without remorse) that they deserve to be tortured. Oops, I mean served with enhanced interrogation techniques. This of course leaves out the small yet salient caveat that the potential terrorists the US 'arrested' might actually be innocent. Many guests of Guantánamo ended up in Cuba just because they were at the wrong place and wrong time.
- According to one OS member, "…Waterboarding was the Japanese soldiers' idea of being human." Waterboarding might have indeed been 'gentle' compared to the other atrocities the Japanese committed during the Second World War. We well know that Japanese soldiers committed much more despicable acts of torture at the time, but please note that waterboarding was also prosecuted as a war crime at the end of WWII. And seriously, even if waterboarding was 'mild' compared to other torture techniques the Japanese employed, does that really make it okay? I'm also wondering whether Mr. Ernest A. Canning would agree with the 'humanity' of what was done his father.
- The so-called 'Ticking Bomb Scenario'. This is popular on 24, where the entirely fictional Jack Bauer is consistently being forced to poison, electrocute and beat people to make them tell him where the threat of the week is minutes before it goes off. Of course, 24 is a TV show. It's doubtful this would work in reality, even if such an unlikely scenario ever actually happened. Besides, if after all the investigative work they're down to the wire and still don't know where or what the threat is, it's probably too late and we're all screwed anyway.
For those interested in a demonstration, see how long this journalist lasted when he volunteered to be waterboarded. And remember that this was done in a controlled environment.
The truth of the matter is that all these discussions about what constitutes torture or not and why we need to use it just make Americans (I include myself here, since I am one as well) look like a bunch of bullies.
No one likes bullies much. These days, the US Department of State has the following advice for Americans going abroad on its website: "As much as possible, avoid luggage tags, dress and behavior that may identify you as an American." As far as I know, no other developed countries recommend their citizens hide their nationality. Nowhere on the Canadian Government website do they recommend not putting a Canadian flag on your backpack (as shown below).* At what point will it be impossible for Americans to travel outside the US? The election of Barack Obama may have helped improve our image abroad, but we have a long road ahead to restore it to a level were Americans could travel the world freely.
Picture taken by Yamica
Seeing comments like the ones I listed above, I fear we are going down a very wrong path. What people need to remember--what people need to keep in mind all the time--is that Americans are torturing human beings. It doesn't matter how we spin it, it doesn't matter how we justify it, this is what it is, and this is what we are doing. America is better than that. We are better than that. And it's about time we started acting like it.
* For those interested, this website used to provide clothes and other items for Americans who would like to pass themselves as Canadians; it looks like the store no longer sells these products. Perhaps Roots Canada could be a good substitute.
I would like to thank Rat4Cat and Taste_is_Sweet (my darling wife) for their input.