Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bring out the comfy chair!

Last night I was watching my favorite reality TV (C-Span) and caught part of a show titled, "Is it torture yet?" It turns out that the show was actually a field hearing held by Senator Benjamin Cardin to investigate the new hot topic. With all the talk of waterboarding, destroying of interrogation tapes, and "enhanced interrogation techniques," there was plenty to talk about.

When I tuned in, a Human Rights attorney was talking about the cruel and inhumane treatment received by the interrogated (or are they called interrogatees?) Of course she talked about the cruelty of waterboarding, and basic indecency (as seen in photographs from Abu Ghraib.) With every technique, she mentioned the potential risks and dangers involved. Some involved possible organ failure and other serious risks, but many also held the risk of "mental illness, such as depression."

Depression? Are you kidding me?

I'm no advocate of torture, but Depression? I'm not a psychologist either, but guilty or not guilty, if someone lands themselves in a position to be interrogated like that, it's probably not their first experience with mental health issues.

The Human Rights attorney went on at length about the danger and cruelty of sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation? Is that really in the same league as waterboarding? As frustrated as I am with the Bush administration's reluctance to denounce torture, I had a hard time taking this woman seriously. Maybe we should tickle people until they confess! No one likes to be tickled, but I know from experience it wouldn't be an effective interrogation technique. Do you know how many "uncles" I surrendered? They really weren't my uncles. I just wanted the tickling to stop.

But this is all part of the problem, every interrogation technique can lead to a bogus confession, which is why many people just want Bush & Co. to denounce torture for once and for all. Why won't he do it? I have no idea. Is it damaging to our international reputation? Absolutely. But does dialogue like this help?

I understand that we do not want the reputation as a country who advocates torture. We intend to be above that. But on the other hand, do we want a reputation as a country who hands out Prozac to our detainees? I can't help but think that there's some middle ground here that's being overlooked.

The Bush administration has handled accusations of torture horribly with disingenuous insistence that "the U.S. does not torture." Well, we'd have to define torture before we could make that claim, and for some reason that seems to be the big hurdle. Until then, we can expect the verb "waterboard" to remain a household word.

While I was perplexed by the civil rights attorney, other witnesses made a valuable contribution. A man with a commanding presence was introduced as Malcolm Nance, a 20 year veteran in the intelligence community combating terrorism. Maybe it's just me, but when I hear a man talk about what he experienced when he was waterboarded, I find myself at a loss for smart remarks. When that man talked, I listened without condescension. Perhaps someone should introduce him to George W. Bush.

Unfortunately, I rarely hear voices like Malcolm Nance talk about torture. I hear legislators talk about it, and I hear reporters try to get politicians to admit and condone it. I'm guessing those are the voices heard abroad.

My point is this: when our President refuses to denounce torture, it does not reflect well upon the country, and it doesn't bode well for any potential American POWs in the future. So, people speak up to try and separate the American people from the American president. That leaves two voices: the people saying that Bush sucks, and the Bush administration and supporters saying things that actually suck. What does it do for our reputation abroad when all we do is argue about the important issues? Because, I find that to be rather shameful as well.

I don't know who the next president will be, but I look forward to a day in the future when I have a president that is articulate. It would really be nice if the president's efforts to seem intimidating didn't appear to be a childish refusal to cooperate. Actually, I think I'm really starting to appreciate Ronald Reagan.

(By the way, the hearing really was titled, "Is it torture yet?")

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