Monday, November 12, 2007

Land of the Free, Home of the Cowards!

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Waterboarding of late has generated more publicity than even America's Sweetheart, Britney Spears. Whether or not you consider this practice torture seems to rely on what your political party affiliation is. There are some irrefutable facts you may want to consider if you're undecided or feel this practice is a necessary tactic for Blood and Guts Bush's War on Terror. According to an article I recently read in THE WEEK Magazine, the practice of waterboarding has been banned by both international law and U.S. policy for decades. It's an established fact the U.S. has throughout history regarded this practice as a criminal act. As far back as the Spanish-American War of 1898, a U.S. military officer named Major Edwin Glenn used this technique on Filipino insurgents and was court-martialed as a direct result of his actions. Hmmm, U.S. military personnel torturing perceived enemy combatants or insurgents nearly 110 years ago. I sense a certain eerily reminiscent ring to this terminology. It's nice to know the Bush administration is using the latest technological breakthroughs when it come to interrogating insurgents in order to save our lives.

We move forward to World War II, where several Japanese soldiers were charged and convicted of waterboarding Allied prisoners of war. Those Japanese soldiers were handed down sentences ranging from hard labor to the death penalty for this practice. In the Vietnam War, a U.S. soldier who had waterboarded a North Vietnamese prisoner was drummed out of the military with a Dishonorable Discharge for his courageous act under fire. Even noted right wing veteran and republican presidential contender, John McCain states that waterboarding is torture. In fact McCain's exact words described the practice as "very exquisite torture." Whether you like, loathe or feel totally ambivalent about McCain, he did honorably serve this country during the Vietnam War. He has the credibility to speak of torture because of his position as a former POW, and has done so almost as many times as Rudy Giuliani has reminded anyone who will listen that he was mayor of New York City on 9/11. George Bush and Dick Cheney really can't speak about the pros and cons of torture because that subject rarely comes up when you're a drunken AWOL deserter or a Brokeback Mountain cowboy with priorities other than honorably serving your country in a time of war. In their defense, Bush did kill a lot of Jack Daniels bottles and Cheney would mistakenly confuse an old man with some pheasants and drop the guy with one clean shot to the face.

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But enough about Chicken and Little. While the sky remains where it should, allow me to explain exactly how waterboarding works. The intended victim is normally tied up on an inclined board with his feet raised and head lowered, whilst he is blindfolded and has his face and mouth covered with a towel or washcloth. The interrogator then begins to pour water over the victim's face in a steady stream. The purpose of this is to cause the wet material of the cloth to cling over the mouth and nostrils. As the water continues streaming into the victim's face, some of it begins to penetrate the cloth and nostrils and begins seeping into the lungs. At this point, the victim begins the process of sensing he is beginning to drown and begins to buck and gasp for air in a panicked state. Few people can last very long in this position. Highly trained CIA interrogators who have undergone this procedure as part of their training were only able to last an average of 14 seconds before pleading for the practice to stop. An unnamed CIA agent explained that "while you're being waterboarded, you're inverted, thereby escalating the fear. It's not painful but it scares the living s*** out of you."

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The reason experts say this procedure is so terrifying is because the sensation of water filling your nose and throat triggers a very real primal survivor mechanism almost all humans have. Prisoners become desperate to escape the position but are unable to breathe or move as they simultaneously are fighting for air. Shortly after the procedure begins, the steady stream of water overwhelms the gag reflex and makes the victim feel as though he is dying. This continues until the the prisoner nearly passes out from this sense of strangulation. People cannot continually remain in this state for very long. A victim will soon become hysterical. In theory he will tell his captors anything they want to know at this point rather than endure another session. But like with all good things, there is some bad mixed in with the good. Most trained interrogators will agree that when captive prisoners finally agree to spill their guts, said spillage is not always the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me Allah.

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Just like the old adage there are no Atheists in foxholes, captured and tortured combatants are not notorious sticklers for every little detail. First off, if you or I were being barbarically tortured, the aforementioned truth may become the first casualty of the process. When a prisoner finally screams out, "I'll tell you anything you want to know," he means just that. He'll tell you whatever he thinks you want to hear. These are often two entirely different scenarios. If you ask me, for example, is Al-qaeda Johnson hiding under the latte machine at the Starbucks on the corner of Mohammed Ave and bin Laden Blvd, I will cheerfully announce he most certainly is. It's like meeting your girlfriend's father in high school, you quickly gauge what he wants to hear and that's exactly what you tell him and throw a sir on the end for additional style points. So as exotic and 007ish as torture may seem, the ultimate purpose may fall far short of psychologically breaking a person down and eliciting actual useful information that is reliable. Opponents would argue about time constrictions. Yeah you're right, better to hurry and get useless information from a terrified prisoner than getting reliable information a few days or a week later. I guess this is just one of many reasons the U.S. is kicking Iraqi and insurgent ass so impressively.

Tomorrow, Part II of waterboarding will address the early roots of waterboarding, the unnecessary panic and mental toll that stays with victims for years to come, and the Bush administration's willingness to use this useless technique. But Bush and useless seem to be unavoidable synonyms. Wednesday, I will use your letters and comments in my post so as a reminder, if you have an opinion or a comment, send them to me at:

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