03 Nov 2007

Waterboarding: Tempest in a Facecloth

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The United States has conducted for several years a ridiculous, melodramatic, and embarrassing debate about the supposed “torture” of murderous terrorist prisoners. Most of the controversial methods of brutality denounced by many of the blogosphere’s most prominent sissies in alliance with the high-minded mahatmas of the mainstream media, obligatory standing, shaking, and face slaps, were punishments routinely doled out in the elementary school I attended by nuns.

The most controversial, of course, was a technique not actually favored by the Sisters of St Casimir (presumably because it would have been too messy), i.e. water-boarding, a form of negative reinforcement in which a supine prisoner has a cloth or a piece of cellophane placed over his face and then gets water poured over it.

Water-boarding has been variously imagined and discussed in the media. Initial reports pretty much equated water-boarding on the scale of man’s inhumanity to man with the rack-and-pincers or the death of a thousand cuts. So terrible was the simulated experience of drowning, press reports breathlessly observed, that the fiercest and most fanatical jihadi could be reduced to a quivering pile of jelly in a matter of minutes, eager to tell interrogators all he knew. The terrible Khalid Sheikh Mohammed allegedly won the admiration of interrogators by holding out for two and a half minutes.

A recent journalistic stunt in which Kaj Larsen paid two former SERE instructors $800 to waterboard him for 24 minutes tends to undermine that earlier perspective.

10:03 video

Larsen is obviously far from the toughest hombre who ever came down the pike, and he not only endured being waterboarded voluntarily for a lot longer than Khalid Sheik Mohammed, he is seen laughing at its conclusion. Kaj Larsen’s exercise in moral instruction also backfires by revealing to everyone that US military personnel routinely experience waterboarding during SERE training.

And now, after considerable national, international, and Senatorial fuss, we learn that only three al-Qaeda terrorists were ever waterboarded, no waterboarding has occurred since 2003, and that the CIA banned waterboarding some time ago.

What all this demonstrates is that contemporary bourgeois life in Western societies is so safe and so non-violent that a profound physical cowardice, an exaggerated fear of violence inflicted by others upon one’s person, is a common characteristic of members of the Western intelligentsia. That cowardice becomes for many an incapacitating phobia, which impairs their judgement and destroys all sense of proportion.

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