Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pain Is Fleeting, Shame is Forever

Although I can probably be classified as a news junkie, I'm not much of a fan of television news, or television editorial shows that purport to rip their topics from the headlines. Most of the shows have an "I'll yell at you then you yell at me" format that doesn't exactly illuminate the topic. Others are one-sided and these days make no pretense of pushing an agenda rather than examining an issue. In other words, most of the news/current events fare on television is blather or blatant titillation of the target audience (O'Reilly: Tonight we're going to expose how the pornography is ruining America, coarsening our society, and possibly endangering your kids. Here to talk with us about this situation is Jenna Jameson...)
The Dining Facilities (DFACs) here run big screens on either side. Usually on one side they'll have sports and sports highlights shows, across the hall on the other side, they'll show news programs. Usually the Mungadai hit the DFAC as a team, and sit in the neutral middle where the television programming isn't an issue and doesn't intrude. On those rare occasions when I go alone, I'll generally sit on the news side, on the off chance that I'll learn something that I didn't know.
So the last day or two, they've been running repeats of a show where the guest is some shock jock radio personality who decided to get "waterboarded" and is now apparently news because he's decided that waterboarding is definitely, categorically torture.
This is bullshit. I'm not going political here, it's just that words mean things. If one wants to declare waterboarding as abusive, extreme, "enhanced," or uncalled for technique, or argue it should be barred from our (apparently rather limited and limpid) menu of enhanced interrogation techniques, that's fine. But calling waterboarding torture demeans the experience and anguish of those who have undergone real torture, and dilutes the severity of the accusation when we level it against rogue states and dictatorial regimes that employ real, no-shit torture.
But first, a few words about our country's most newly minted and celebrated subject matter expert on what is, and isn't, torture: who came up with this clown? He has no basis to ascertain what real torture is; he looks like the hardest thing he's ever done in his life is, when bravely trying to drop a couple of the forty or fifty extra pounds he lugs around, he took the stairs one time instead of the elevator ("can't keep doing those stairs man; they're torture"). This guy has never known physical privation or hardship, so what does he use a measuring stick to determine the "torture index" of any given endeavor? This guy would think that a paper cut is torturous. He has the musculature of a 12-year old fat kid, and I'm pretty sure that he wouldn't last any longer mano a mano with my 12-year old daughter than he did on the "water board." Actually, I have a daughter who is even younger than 12, but she's a bit of a heller and it wouldn't be fair to Twinkie Boy the disc jockey to put him on the same card as her. The 12-year old is a peace loving flotist who would still roll her eyes and then knock the snot out of this guy.
Second, the guy wasn't waterboarded. I know waterboarding, and that wasn't it.
Third, no one can evaluate the "torture index" of an event if tapping out is an option and you can quit whenever you want, as was the case here. A significant component of torture is the absolute helplessness of the victim to stop the evolution and the power of the torturer to determine how much, how long, and how intense.
I'm not going to even try to generate a laundry list of factors that determine whether an event is torture or not. That's too subjective and it's too contentious right now--and I do think that reasonable people can disagree. Instead, I'll offer an anecdote that greatly informed my personal definition of torture.
Some years ago I was designated as an escort officer for a VIP for a period of about five days. Being an escort officer can really suck, as everything that goes right is transparent to your charge and everything that goes wrong (reservations, transportation, appointments, etc) is obviously your fault. But this one was an honor: I was the escort officer for Senator Jeremiah Denton,RADML (R). Like most real heroes, he was pretty self-effacing and didn't view his actions as a POW in Vietnam, which won him the Navy Cross, to be all that heroic.
Jeremiah Denton was a POW in Vietnam for a little under eight years. During that time, he suffered horrendous torture at the hands of his captors. He was subjected to privations that would probably kill Tinkerbell the disc jockey just thinking about them. In a 1966 North Vietnamese propaganda piece "interview," he negated the credibility of the propaganda by blinking T-O-R-T-U-R-E in morse code as he delivered his scripted lines. And yeah, he was "punished" pretty severely once the NV figured out what he did. Big. Brass. Balls. I'm not going to go into detail about the ways in which he was tortured; his book, When Hell Was In Session, tells the whole story.
But most informative (from a "what is torture" perspective) was his acknowledgment that, if he were forced to go back and do it again, even knowing that his captivity would be followed by (at that time) thirty years of a happy life, he would elect to commit suicide first. Think of the hell that our guys went through. I know that different POWs have different personal definitions of torture; although I think that they all pretty much agree that the United States should eschew its use. But do you think that the Gutsack radio boy would turn away from even one minute of the air time that his "torture" has garnered him? Let alone turning away from the rest of his life before getting back on that table?
I'm telling you, television news is da Devil.

1 comment:

  1. easy on the 12 year old fat boy comments....some of us transform(in the long run) to an elite form of human being know as "The Immortals"....