24 Apr 2009


, ,


[adopted from the French torture (12th century Dictionnaire général de la langue français Hatzfeld & Darmesteter, 1890-1900), adaptation of Latin tortura twisting, wreathing, torment, torture; from torquēre, tort- to twist, to torment]

1. The infliction of excruciating pain, as practised by cruel tyrants, savages, brigands, etc. from a delight in watching the agony of a victim, in hatred or revenge, or as a means of extortion; specifically judicial torture, inflicted by a judicial or quasi-judicial authority, for the purpose of forcing an accused or suspected person to confess, or an unwilling witness to to give evidence or information; a form of this (often in plural). To put to (the) torture, to inflict torture upon, to torture. …

historical examples of usage omitted

2. Severe or excruciating pain or suffering of mind or body; anguish, agony, torment; the infliction of such. …

figurative meanings omitted

— Oxford English Dictionary, 1971, p. 3357.


The left has loudly and persistently accused the Bush Administration of violating International Law, the US Constitution, the Geneva Convention, and conventional standards of human decency by torturing detainees.

These accusations have been advanced by a large variety of allied voices at every level of print and electronic publication employing the same inflammatory characterizations, the same reliance on preassumed conclusions, and the same intimidating tone of exaggerated emotionalism.

The left’s punditocracy naturally avoids ever questioning whether modest forms of coercion, such as waterboarding, slaps to the face or abdomen, sleep deprivation, and deliberately-caused temperature discomfort, etc., carefully and deliberately calculated to stop short of inflicting any enduring harm to the subject, actually do rise to the level of meeting the normal (non-figurative) definition of torture.

A slap to the face may be painful, humiliating, and unpleasant, but it is really “excruciating” or “severe?” Most of us (of the older generation, at least) actually have been slapped in the face in childhood by other children and even by adults. My elementary school principal did not like an angry letter to the editor about her school policies I had composed in the 8th grade and slapped me across the face. I can’t say that I ever thought of myself as a torture victim or an appropriate case for an investigation by some International Committee on Human Rights.

When I read over the list of coercive measures sanctioned by the Bush Administration for use in extracting information from only three of the most important participants in a conspiracy which brought about the violent deaths of more than 3000 innocent American civilians and which was actively in the process attempting further such attacks on an even greater scale, most of them remind me of the ordinary cruelties inflicted on small children commonly by schoolyard bullies.

Waterboarding amounts to the victim being briefly deprived of breath by facial immersion in an attempt to use fear of drowning to compel cooperation. Is there really anyone in America who didn’t have his or her head held underwater at least once by a larger bully or childhood playmate?

Abu Zubaydah was placed by CIA interrogators into close propinquity with a caterpillar. I’m afraid that when I search my own conscience I can recall dropping a caterpillar down the back of at least one female classmate back in the third grade myself.

The controversial coercive interrogation methods were employed by the Bush Administration against, we must remember, only three spectacularly guilty murderers whose hands were dripping with innocent blood, and were clearly not excruciating. They were capable of, and intended to, induce discomfort, probably even anguish, but not agony.

Severe is a relative term, I suppose. But, in the context of forcible interrogation, surely a severe form of coercion would be a practice capable of producing permanent injury or death.

What traditionally defined real torture, more specifically than the OED’s definition, was the permanence of the result. Someone would not be refered to as “tortured,” who had been beaten up or simply slapped around. A person referred to as having been tortured would have to have suffered, at the very least, lasting serious injury.

Torture has always conceptually involved pieces of one’s anatomy being cut or burned, fingernails pulled out, bones broken, and joints dislocated. Having your head dunked or your face slapped or being confronted by a caterpillar may be unpleasant, but only in the context of figurative speech is it torture.

A common perspective on the subject is that real torture has to include an ultimate threat of ending with death. The audience finds credible this viewpoint as illustrated in the 1941 John Huston film version of The Maltese Falcon.

Sam Spade finding himself unarmed in the presence of Caspar Guttman and his criminal allies successfully defies threats of torture because his adversaries can’t afford to kill him.

Joel Cairo: You seem to forget that you are not in a position to insist upon anything.

Caspar Cuttman: Now, come, gentlemen. Let’s keep our discussion on a friendly basis.

There certainly is something in what Mr. Cairo said…

Sam Spade: If you kill me, how are you gonna get the bird? If I know you can’t afford to kill me, how’ll you scare me into giving it to you?

Caspar Guttman: Sir, there are other means of persuasion besides killing and threatening to kill.

Sam Spade: Yes, that’s…That’s true. But none of them are any good unless the threat of death is behind them.

You see what I mean?

If you start something, I’ll make it a matter of your having to kill me or call it off.

Caspar Guttman: That’s an attitude, sir, that calls for the most delicate judgement on both sides. Because, as you know, in the heat of action, men are likely to forget where their best interests lie, and let their emotions carry them away.

Look at the first definition again. The coercive tactics employed by the Bush Administration did not produce “excruciating pain.” The US Administration was not a cruel tyranny (whatever the infantile left may chose to think). Our intelligence officers were not savages or brigands, though the three interrogation subjects certainly were. The discomforts inflicted on the three interrogation subjects were not done out of hatred or revenge, but to protect innocent lives. The only small portion of the Oxford Dictionary’s definition which fits is the purpose of causing unwilling witnesses to provide information. But that is only a descriptive portion of the definition, and the vital and key “excruciating pain” element of the definition is completely missing.

QED: The coercive tactics employed by the Bush Administration against three Al Qaeda detainees were not torture, not by the best dictionary definition of the word, and not by our conventional “ordinary language” understanding of the meaning of the word.

4 Feedbacks on "Torture"


George Soros continues as the nemesis of George Bush and his administration. President Obama is simply the instrument of the Soros hatred.

sallie parker

I’m sure Soros has a hand in it, though he would be happy to champion real torture in other cases.

But more practically: what we see here is just more of the nyaah-nyaah-nyaah that has characterized the Obama administration. Inauguration Day, the new White House website greets you by denouncing the old administration’s reaction to Katrina, a natural event that was made hideous for some unfortunates by the incompetence of the Democrat governor and mayor of the locale, and ritually blamed on Bush and Brownie.

This is the Obama game. It is subtle, elusive and persistent. More to come!

Attuallah ibn Suleiman

Whilst the precise definition of what is or is not torture will remain a point of debate between those who favour its use a particular situation and those who do not, the sticking point for me is if these coercive techniques are not permissible for use against the worst domestic criminals, even those previously convicted of other heinous crimes and under a sentence of death, then why should they be permitted for use on those who, for all we may believe in their guilt, have not been subject to those legal processes and happen to have been detained by an intelligence agency.

If Abu Zubaydah had been picked up by the NYPD then all this simply would not have happened.

Those of us fortunate enough to live freedom loving and, for the most part, right-thinking, God-fearing (which ever version of God that may be) societiesare fortunate to be protected by our laws and our governments. Should we not extend the same courtesy to those less fortunate than ourselves?


The gentleman has clearly never been arrested or imprisoned.

In many countries, certainly in the US, police and prison guards not infrequently respond very harshly to insults or violence, and sometimes express private moral indignation concerning a criminal’s acts violently. If Abu Zubaydah fell into the hands of the NYPD, and the press were not watching very closely, I suspect he’d have been a lot worse off than he was in the hands of federal authorities.

Beyond the realities of the world, even excluding the imperfect application of the rules, there is a traditional difference between a citizen or resident of a country arrested and charged under domestic law and a foreign enemy captured outside the country bearing arms against that country. The former obviously enjoys a variety of rights and protections under domestic law, and pertaining to domestic legal procedure, which have no legitimate application on the battlefield ouside the national borders. A representative of the government of the United States, in time of war, can shoot an armed enemy to death on sight. No judicial procedure, no inquiry, is required.

If a foreign enemy is taken prisoner, there ought to be a determination by the officer in command of the prisoner’s status. If he is a legitimate combatant and not obviously guilty of violating the laws and customs of war, he should be given quarter and treated as an honorable prisoner of war. If, on the other hand, he is a pirate, a brigand, or a terrorist, attempting to kill others on his own authority and on behalf of no legitimate government or authority, or if there is strong reason to believe that he has been violating the rules of war, he ought to be tried promptly and expeditiously on the spot and summarily executed. If that outlaw, who is entitled to no rights and no quarter, is believed to be in possession of information valuable for the preservation of innocent life, that information should be forcibly extracted from him by any means necessary and effective, and then he should be executed, unless the authority in command chooses to exchange mercy for cooperation.


Please Leave a Comment!

Please note: Comments may be moderated. It may take a while for them to show on the page.

Entries (RSS)
Comments (RSS)
Feed Shark