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...if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.
July 2, 2008 8:54 AM   Subscribe

You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning—or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure.
Christopher Hitchens, Iraq War supporter, militant atheist, and now volunteer subject of waterboarding. With video.
posted by orthogonality (133 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Does it make me a neocon that I support the use of waterboarding on Christopher Hitchens?
posted by mediocre at 8:59 AM on July 2, 2008 [17 favorites]


Couldn'ta happened to a better guy.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:01 AM on July 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


This will fix everything.
posted by Mister_A at 9:02 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


OH GOD YES.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 9:05 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


The fact that that there is a "pro" side in a debate on waterboarding performed by the U.S. speaks volumes on how fucked up this country's foreign policy has become under the fascist neocons.

The Constitution is just a piece of paper, and freedom is just a word...
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:07 AM on July 2, 2008 [12 favorites]


Hitchens + waterboarding = punditry + carnival dunk tank
posted by Afroblanco at 9:07 AM on July 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


He says he has a nightmare problem now.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:08 AM on July 2, 2008


Hitchens + waterboarding = punditry + carnival dunk drunk tank

Fixed, etc.
posted by rooftop secrets at 9:09 AM on July 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


I find it absolutely stunning that the essay doesn't conclude with an unequivocal condemnation of the practice, if only for the fact that it is, quite clearly, torture, and as he touches on within, it produces junk information (as he most saliently points out with the apparent admission of being a hermaphrodite).

Isn't the fact that we prosecuted waterboarding as a war crime after World War II enough evidence to begin with?
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:11 AM on July 2, 2008


And this is not confirmation bias how?
posted by spicynuts at 9:13 AM on July 2, 2008


DoctorFedora writes "Isn't the fact that we prosecuted waterboarding as a war crime after World War II enough evidence to begin with?"

Well, in fairness, in WW2 we weren't frightened little pussies trying to obscure that we were in the war for oil concessions.
posted by orthogonality at 9:14 AM on July 2, 2008 [24 favorites]


where is your god now hitchens?
posted by slapshot57 at 9:15 AM on July 2, 2008 [10 favorites]


While he was doing this, there was a chance the interrogators might actually kill him, right? You know, like for the other people getting waterboarded?

I can't imagine getting waterboarded by your friends, while I'm sure it sucks, is anything like getting it done for real.
posted by inigo2 at 9:16 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Here are some more Hitchens headlines:

Hitchens: Ocean Large, Wet
Sun Describes Arc Across Southern Sky
Babies Simultaneously Cuddly, Smelly

Fuck this guy and his stupid stunt and his stupid war. No amount of sanctimonious self-indulgent penance will shrive Hitchens and his pundit pals of their guilt.
posted by Mister_A at 9:23 AM on July 2, 2008 [21 favorites]


While he was doing this, there was a chance the interrogators might actually kill him, right? You know, like for the other people getting waterboarded?

He had the luxury of two different "demonstration" enders ("red" and the hand held bars) that no Gitmo guest ever had and he still was shaken to his core.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:24 AM on July 2, 2008


I can't imagine getting waterboarded by your friends, while I'm sure it sucks, is anything like getting it done for real.

That's kind of the point. He did it under the safest possible conditions and was horrified.
posted by Nattie at 9:26 AM on July 2, 2008


Yes, it seems... Every culture has its own way of expressing its masculinity.
posted by R. Mutt at 9:27 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


And this is not confirmation bias how?

Well, for one thing, Hitchens felt that it wasn't quite torture - and then, having had it done to himself, said "Whoops, okay, it's definitely torture." So nothing was, er, confirmed.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:30 AM on July 2, 2008


I hope Hitchens will volunteer for an experiment I have devised–I will test the hypothesis that getting kicked in the nuts repeatedly constitutes torture.
posted by Mister_A at 9:30 AM on July 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


While I agree that in most ways Hitchens is a scumbag, I will give him some credit for agreeing to be tortured and publishing an article admitting he was wrong.

Get your cameras out now, folks, cause you won't see that very often from our other 'conservative thinkers' on talk radio, blogs, and magazines.
posted by uaudio at 9:35 AM on July 2, 2008 [26 favorites]


The only way that something like this could be useful is if Rush or O'Reilly were kidnapped and subjected to the same thing. Only then would right wing morons agree that it was torture.

A number of years ago in a great magazine called Gadfly, there was an article by (I think) a soldier of fortune who volunteered his services to kidnap Oliver North and bring him to any country who agreed to charge him with war crimes. To my knowledge, no country agreed. However, perhaps we could pool are micropayments and get him to dunk a windbag.
posted by dobbs at 9:39 AM on July 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


The interrogators would hardly have had time to ask me any questions, and I knew that I would quite readily have agreed to supply any answer.

And we come to the crux of the problem. I honestly hope his conscience now gets the best of him and he has more clarity on the subject.
posted by spiderskull at 9:39 AM on July 2, 2008


Filed under: too little, too late.
posted by lalochezia at 9:44 AM on July 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


The only way that something like this could be useful is if Rush or O'Reilly were kidnapped and subjected to the same thing. Only then would right wing morons agree that it was torture.

No, they would say that Rush had been brainwashed (only not tortuously). Or that the cases were different. Or that it's not torture if it isn't happening to (white and/or male and/or rich) Americans. Or that LA LA LA BABIES ARE BEING MURDERED BY GOD-HATING SANFRANCISCOENVIROFASCISTS.
posted by DU at 9:45 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


The video has a peculiar musical soundtrack during the WBing
posted by A189Nut at 9:46 AM on July 2, 2008


In the next issue of Vanity Fair, armed Christian thugs will invade his home, kill his family, destroy his most precious possessions, tear up the floorboards of his house looking for treasure and then refuse to leave, all the while subjecting him to recitations of pithy bon mots penned by the morally bankrupt.
posted by felix betachat at 9:51 AM on July 2, 2008 [15 favorites]


Does anyone else see the implicit conceit in the overall tone and content of the article? In that between bouts of false-self deprecation (which are only used to justify the bouts of self-aggrandizing), the argument is "it's torture now because I tried and and I say it is."

You know, the rest of us don't need to be hooded, strapped to a board, and have water poured down their nostrils to understand what civilized human beings do and don't do to one another. Next up, Mr. Hitchens declares war for oil bad after being shot for the 20 bucks in his wallet.
posted by rooftop secrets at 10:05 AM on July 2, 2008 [5 favorites]


Does it really take something like this to convince you that Christopher Hitchens is a mental lightweight with a heavyweight's accent? Makes me wonder if he would get an 1/8 of the respect he is afforded if he spoke like Tony Danza.
posted by any major dude at 10:06 AM on July 2, 2008 [5 favorites]


This is basically rough sex with a safeword and a nonverbal signal both.

There were videotapes of some real waterboarding, but they have been destroyed.
"The tapes posed a serious security risk," the CIA's director, Michael Hayden, told agency employees in a statement yesterday. "Were they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who had served in the programme, exposing them and their families to retaliation from al-Qaida and its sympathisers." (Guardian, Dec 7, 2007)

I guess anyone who would want to prosecute the waterboarders for war crimes are
al-Qaida sympathisers, too.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:08 AM on July 2, 2008


Couldn'ta happened to a better guy.

Oh yes it could. There's a list as long as your arm of people who thoroughly deserve to be waterboarded to death.

People need to stop being so nice about this. All of those people, and their fellow travellers, are at best eagerly contributing to the creation of an environment where the human soul, your soul (and I do not refer to any phantom entity that may or may not persist after death, I mean the core moral self of a human being), is at serious risk of irredeemable corruption; at worst, the corruption of all humanity into ant-like "work units" of no worth, no real use, and no dignity, is their explicit intention.

If a person believes what they do is right, they will be honest. The pervasive, choking disingenous dishonesty with which the right-wingers behave speaks, above all else, of the worthlessness of their cause. I have substantially less problem with the idea of torturing people (although I still have serious problems with it), than I do with all of the attendant bullshit and fabrications. I'd like to pull James Madison forward in time just to see what his failure to carve out a strong exception to freedom of speech, to explictly constrain elected officials or their representatives from lying, hath wrought over the last sixty years or so. How could he have been so naive?

Here's a good example of exactly what I mean. If you want to see honesty, sincerity and human decency in an atmosphere of violent action, we had a great example posted just the other day: Sherman to Atlanta.

Would Sherman have waterboarded anyone? Maybe he would have, maybe not; in his day, torture was a lot more common of a practice, though it was more about punishment and example, raising the morale of your side and lowering the morale of theirs, rather than trying to extract largely worthless information from semi-informed footsoldiers. Whether Sherman had people tortured is a question for historians; I wouldn't be overly surprised either way. But the man who wrote that letter, if he tortured people, would not have done it unless he was honestly convinced that it was necessary and worthwhile, he would not have pretended it was anything other than torture, he would not have lied about whether or not he was doing it, and in no case would he have allowed any subordinate of his to take a fall for the decision to do it.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:10 AM on July 2, 2008 [13 favorites]


The only way that something like this could be useful is if Rush or O'Reilly were kidnapped and subjected to the same thing.

Could we just have those scenarios arranged anyhow? I mean, just for fun?
posted by miss lynnster at 10:11 AM on July 2, 2008


Now do the rest of them with no safeword.
posted by fleetmouse at 10:13 AM on July 2, 2008


The Constitution is just a piece of paper, and freedom is just a word...

Freedom is just a word for nothing left to lose.
posted by nola at 10:14 AM on July 2, 2008


The video has a peculiar musical soundtrack during the WBing

Is that part of the torture? Having to listen to massage studio music while being slowly drowned?
posted by letitrain at 10:14 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


...the implicit conceit in the overall tone and content...

This is the entire conservative viewpoint: "If it isn't happening to ME, it isn't real." (Often coupled with "And if it IS happening to me, I'm a special case.")

- My kids go to private school, so public education doesn't need funding.

- I can afford decent healthcare--who can't?!

- I was told Iraq might bomb us, they look scary (i.e. different), why take a chance--bomb the hell out of them. It isn't me going to die over there anyway.

- I managed to work myself through college, so there are no conceivable set of circumstances that might prevent anyone else from doing the same.

- I'm never discriminated against, everything must be OK on the racism front.

- Sure, I may like to meet anonymous men in washrooms for gay sex, but I'm a special case because I feel bad about it afterwards and I've been under a lot of stress. I shouldn't be rewarded by being able to get married!
posted by DU at 10:14 AM on July 2, 2008 [58 favorites]


They tricked him into it by telling him they were going to stick his head in a tub full of whiskey.
posted by briank at 10:17 AM on July 2, 2008 [8 favorites]


lol, "militant atheist".
posted by Democritus at 10:18 AM on July 2, 2008


Not that I care about Hitchens' reputation, but I thought he went on a long tirade a while ago, stating he is not an atheist, rather an anti-theist. He stated that atheists just want proof, and that's not his point; he's stating theism of any sort of just flat out wrong.
posted by Dark Messiah at 10:26 AM on July 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


from the article: "Unable to determine whether I was breathing in or out, and flooded more with sheer panic than with mere water, I triggered the pre-arranged signal and felt the unbelievable relief of being pulled upright and having the soaking and stifling layers pulled off me."

Well there you go, just give the interrogation suspects a pre-arranged signal and everyone's happy. Sometimes the simplest solution is the best. Although, NOT waterboarding might be simpler....
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 10:28 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I had no idea MetaFilter hated Hitchens so much.

His political views clearly don't universally chime with those of your average MeFite (pro-atheist=good, pro-iraq war=not so good), but he's sincere enough about his beliefs that he's prepared to test and refute his previous position on waterboarding.

Get your cameras out now, folks, cause you won't see that very often from anyone on Metafilter.
posted by roofus at 10:31 AM on July 2, 2008 [15 favorites]


...I triggered the pre-arranged signal...

Obviously the torture victims aren't going to have such a signal and so are going to be in an even worse state. Perhaps less obviously: These victims also know that their torturers probably hate them and wouldn't mind if they died even if innocent. And that such a death would be covered up, not like it matters since there'd be no repercussions anyway.

This is probably all psychological torture even if WB itself weren't physical torture.
posted by DU at 10:34 AM on July 2, 2008


He only wrote this because he tried boardwatering first, and it turned out to be not that interesting.
posted by bwg at 10:37 AM on July 2, 2008


Did I miss the anti-Hitchens meme? Just about anything I've read by him has been worth the time spent. Even when I don't agree with him I still like his writing and he seems to touch on some interesting points. I expected the excessively religious to not be fond of the guy, but I'm sensing dislike for him is more spread out than I thought. Maybe I'm just hanging out in the wrong circles. Or the right ones.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 10:37 AM on July 2, 2008 [7 favorites]


roofus, do you sincerely believe that this is something that needed "proving"? His position on water-boarding was a cynical posture built on an insane definition of torture concocted by a US Department of Justice intent on justifying any barbaric act committed by the US military or its proxies in the name of the "War on Terror". No thinking person can honestly believe that this act is not torture. This was a stunt, a cynical effort to restore a reputation badly tarnished by his cheerleading for this brutal and senseless war, and his support for something that he well knew was torture. And it comes so late in the game, so to speak, as to be utterly meaningless. That is why, roofus, people are reacting somewhat negatively to Mr. Hitchens's self-indulgent penance.
posted by Mister_A at 10:39 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


The thing is Hitchens does nearly the same thing to himself with a bottle of gin every night!
posted by Pollomacho at 10:40 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think evangelical atheist is more apt.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 10:40 AM on July 2, 2008


I'm going only by pallor and tensity of Hitchen's skin on this one, but I'm going to guess that if they had used bacon grease instead he would have gone the distance.
posted by The Straightener at 10:41 AM on July 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Some of the reactions here are puzzling. It often makes me wonder why people claim to want to debate anything when seemingly, no matter where you go, there is more discussion about the person(s) making the argument, than the argument itself.

People you don't respect can still make valid statements. As roofus stated, very few of us keyboard warriors would likely subject our own arguments to such a test, let alone find a public forum to state "hey, I was wrong".

Too often, this place seems to echo hatred of the messenger, regardless of the message. Pretty sad, really.
posted by Dark Messiah at 10:42 AM on July 2, 2008 [10 favorites]


the corruption of all humanity into ant-like "work units" of no worth, no real use, and no dignity, is their explicit intention.

This is not what right-wingers want, let me assure you.

This is much more along the lines of what lefties want...
posted by tadellin at 10:43 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Released into Happy Daylight

(a found poem from Christopher Hitchins)


On a gorgeous day last May
deep in the hill country
outside a remote house at the end of a winding country road
I was grabbed from behind, pulled to my feet,
pinioned by my wrists (which were then cuffed to a belt),
and cut off from the sunlight

some weird music
some oddly spaced bright lights
came as pinpoints through my hood

there would be safeguards provided
these measures may fail
they may not prevent serious injury or death

not to bore you with my phobias
but pushed onto a sloping board
positioned head lower than heart
wasn’t able to flail
a few flashes of random and worrying strobe light to my vision
legs lashed together
the board and I one single and trussed unit

on top of the hood
three layers of enveloping towel added
this pregnant darkness
head downward
I waited for a while until I abruptly felt a slow cascade
the wave washes over me
held my breath for a while
and then had to exhale
and—as you might expect—inhale in turn
a huge, wet paw clamped over my face

the official lie: that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning

you feel that you are drowning
because you are drowning
or, rather, being drowned
not that that makes me special:
I don’t know anyone who likes the idea of drowning
even Green Berets in training or wiry young jihadists
whose teeth can bite through the gristle of an old goat

I have since woken up trying to push the bedcovers off my face
I find myself clawing at the air
the same (gasping and sobbing) breath

I find I don’t want to tell you how little time I lasted
posted by joannemerriam at 10:44 AM on July 2, 2008 [7 favorites]


Very few of us would try to convince anyone that waterboarding isn't torture, Dark Messiah. Very few of us believe that this is something that needs first-hand confirmation.
posted by Mister_A at 10:44 AM on July 2, 2008


the corruption of all humanity into ant-like "work units" of no worth

This is much more along the lines of what lefties want...

Yes, if there's one thing the Left is known for, it is the elevation of robber barons over human beings.
posted by DU at 10:49 AM on July 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


This is not what right-wingers want, let me assure you.

This is much more along the lines of what lefties want...


Please elaborate
posted by uri at 10:52 AM on July 2, 2008


Wow, he didn't last long at all. Perhaps the Surgeon General should move for a Warning: Cigarettes May Make You More Vulnerable To Waterboarding label.

His political views clearly don't universally chime with those of your average MeFite (pro-atheist=good, pro-iraq war=not so good)...

IIRC it also has something to do with that brouhaha with Galloway. And apparently, MeFi shares a surprisingly large membership overlap with the Temperance Movement.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:53 AM on July 2, 2008


This is much more along the lines of what lefties want...

Somebody's been drinking the kool-aid. Maybe even waterboarded with the kool-aid. Places like the Mariana Islands, where whole populations have been reduced to fungible cogs in the machinery of Wal-Mart manufacturing centers, have been pet projects of the right-wing for years now. If you mean to be on the side that opposes this:

the corruption of all humanity into ant-like "work units" of no worth, no real use, and no dignity, is their explicit intention.

...then you mean to be on the left, whether you'd ever admit it to yourself or not.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:55 AM on July 2, 2008 [10 favorites]


From the article:

if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.

Listen liberal Hitchens-haters like me, this is the sound of us winning! We could, y'know, not be such sore winners. Then maybe more people will want to change their minds as well.

Of course, if you just want to show how you've been so right all along, then full steam ahead with the silly invective!
posted by ferdydurke at 10:58 AM on July 2, 2008 [14 favorites]


Of course it's torture -- waterboarding is torture whenever it's done to Americans. Now that Hitchens is a citizen -- he became one, we always need to remember, in order to be able to vote for George W. Bush -- waterboarding him is automatically torture. Non-Americans remain fair game, because when it's dome to them it's a harsh interrogation technique. And no one cares anyway.

It's interesting to consider how this "participatory journalism" is something the late, much-missed George Plimpton would have done if, instead of being a great writer and a good man, he were a silly drunken warmonger in the desperate search for a stunt to make anyone care about his silly drunken warmongering Vanity Fair column.

Confronted by the harsh reality of being a major media cheeleader for a war that cost his adoptive country one trillion dollars, made the Middle East even more of a mess than it already was, destroyed the dollar and made gasoline about as expensive as heroin, poor Hitchens, terrified by the sight of his masters on the way out of the White House (possibly, who knows), now tries to lamely score points with the other side by "proving" what's obvious to everyone but Rush Limbaugh and his cavemen.

Comfortably numb with expensive Scotch via his fat Condé Nast expense account, Hitchens has no reason to worry -- unlike what might happen in less polite countries, the neocons who dragged America in this mess won't be found hanging from lamp posts anytime soon. He can sit back, relax, contact Dick Cheney's office to offer his services to write down the Vice President's memoirs -- the drunken English butler, after all, has always been comedy gold.
posted by matteo at 11:01 AM on July 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


They tricked him into it by telling him they were going to stick his head in a tub full of whiskey.

briank FTW
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:04 AM on July 2, 2008


What are we winning, ferdydurke, exactly? Are we supposed to give Hitchens a group hug because he admits that one of the more obviously barbaric practices of this war is indeed barbaric? Hitchens is a rat fleeing a sinking ship.
posted by Mister_A at 11:08 AM on July 2, 2008


Surf's up dudes. Waterboarding has an awesome name. It sounds like a lot of fun. Like the rack! You know boobies. Or the Iron Maiden! \m/Totally metal \m/.

My joke about waterboarding sounding like a fun name has sort of a faulty premise since I am pretty sure that CIA people sat around in a meeting to decide what they were going to call what had generally been called water torture since the Spanish Inquistion to make it sound less bad. Someone probably suggested they call it "towel torture" since you wrap the head in the towel before suffocating someone and the boss was like "No way Beetle Baily the whole point of this meeting is to not to call it torture." I bet someone also suggested calling it the wet blanket. I would have suggested that if I was America's top torture dude. I like puns way more than most people though. My point is someone was definitely brainstorming like:

-Fun things with water, fun things with water, squirt guns... no, no guns are too harsh, maybe water fight, no... fighting, the beach, the beach head has potential... but doesn't really do it. Water um ... swimming, um pool party, you're getting too cute now, no one would call it pool party, uh surfing, surf safari, surfs up, wet suit, maybe no.... no no, surf board, boogie board, water board. Waterboarding, totally.

"But Sir, we don't even use a board we just kind of lay them on the floor?" "Is their any reason why you can't use a board?"
"No Sir"
"Water Boarding it is! Everything's coming up Rumsfeld!"

And scene!

Happy Fourth Of July Everyone!
posted by I Foody at 11:18 AM on July 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


This is torture's true purpose: to terrorize--not only the people in Guantánamo's cages and Syria's isolation cells but also, and more important, the broader community that hears about these abuses. Torture is a machine designed to break the will to resist--the individual prisoner's will and the collective will.
From here.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:18 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


A somewhat related article in NY Times today reveals new details about how many of our new interrogation techniques were taken directly from China's torture playbook. Here's one especially striking passage from that:

"In what critics describe as a remarkable case of historical amnesia, officials who drew on the SERE program [whose findings in part informed the new interrogation techniques] appear to have been unaware that it had been created as a result of concern about false confessions by American prisoners."

It doesn't undo the bad feelings I have toward him for all the religious war cheer-leading he's has done over the last few years, but good on Hitchens for at least finally acknowledging what so many of us have been saying all along.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:20 AM on July 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


I propose a waterboarding experiment for every pompous, jaded "This Just In!" and "Water is Wet! OMG!" poster that come into seemingly every thread just to clog up the dialogue with their attention-hungry eye-rolling.

....and maybe mild electroshocks for everyone that finds it downright impossible to begin a rebuttal or correction comment without "Ummm...." or "Uh..."

That second one just seems rude to me.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:21 AM on July 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


@Mister_A Are we supposed to give Hitchens a group hug because he admits that one of the more obviously barbaric practices of this war is indeed barbaric?

Yes, we should. You reward the conduct that you want to see repeated. You don't punish it.

I have total sympathy for your desire to lash out (and really a Metafilter thread isn't going to make any difference, so my point isn't that big), but if you want to change a policy without using violence, the only means of doing so is to convince people who you don't usually agree with. You can't convince other people if you attack them when they agree with you.
posted by ferdydurke at 11:23 AM on July 2, 2008 [8 favorites]


The militant right will simply drop him like a bad habit. Look at the hatred so many of them have for McCain even though he votes with them in the end, simply because he occasionally makes a vocal stand on decency and principle, before running away from it in practice when a Bush looks at him hard or someone offers him a dollar. If you want to see what happens to a conservative who actually stands on principle, ask any one of an increasing number of generals.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:26 AM on July 2, 2008 [11 favorites]


Hitchens isn't my kid, nor is he my dog. I feel no need to reward him for his pompous self-aggrandizement. I believe this whole exercise is contrived to make Hitchens a more sympathetic figure in the public eye now that the winds of change are blowing hard. I want him to lose whatever influence and public prominence he has, and I am doing my part by voicing (typing really) my opinion that he is a cynical actor, not a convert to reason and compassion.

Hitchens is telling us that, of the thousands of unique cruelties visited upon civilians, soldiers, friends, and foes in this war, this particular one, only this one, this mostly non-fatal form of torture, is unacceptable. The bombs and the guns and the deaths of thousands still are acceptable, apparently.
posted by Mister_A at 11:33 AM on July 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Hitchens had an opinion and, being a writer, wrote about his opinion. He then got more information which caused him to reevaluate his opinion, which then caused him to change his mind. Again, being a writer, he wrote about it. I see less of a posturing agenda here and more of personal growth. I don't see the problem here.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 11:52 AM on July 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


roofus: If we were to compare notes on everything anyone could have a political opinion on, I'm sure Hitchen's and most MeFites wouldn't be too far apart. I know I wouldn't be, and I think most people here acknowledge that. I don't doubt his sincerity, either. So yeah, it's mostly the war that everyone fumes about (along with his other occasional flights of idiocy.)

But it's a massive sticking point. And one that he not only stubbornly refuses to admit error — though maybe he issued his mea culpa in the time I've spent trying to ignore him — but his hostility towards those who were, you know, right. [Exhibits A, B, C, D, E, F, and G]. After giving the anti-war folks the finger for five years, it's unsurprising that people would still be bitter.

I don't think he's that good a writer either, but that's a different point altogether.
posted by Weebot at 11:54 AM on July 2, 2008


He is a writer who vigorously proselytized a disastrous war, and then made a pointless gesture about a foregone conclusion. I reserve the right to hold a grudge.
posted by Mister_A at 11:56 AM on July 2, 2008


I honestly don't understand this article.

The title is Believe me, it's torture.

After describing the experience, he says:

I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.

Then, later in the article, he says:

I have had some extremely serious conversations on the topic, with two groups of highly decent and serious men, and I think that both cases have to be stated at their strongest.
...
When contrasted to actual torture, waterboarding is more like foreplay. No thumbscrew, no pincers, no electrodes, no rack. Can one say this of those who have been captured by the tormentors and murderers of (say) Daniel Pearl? On this analysis, any call to indict the United States for torture is therefore a lame and diseased attempt to arrive at a moral equivalence between those who defend civilization and those who exploit its freedoms to hollow it out, and ultimately to bring it down. I myself do not trust anybody who does not clearly understand this viewpoint.


How can he possibly hold both of these beliefs after the experience? Isn't he now effectively saying "it's torture, but we deserve a pass on being prosecuted for it because we're only torturing really bad people"?

I've liked Hitchens a lot in the past. He's built a reputation on calling bullshit where he sees it (I mean, he jumped all over Mother Teresa) and yet he keeps justifying this stuff. They tortured people and destroyed the fucking tapes. I just can't believe this isn't exactly the sort of behavior that would infuriate him. It totally mystifies me.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 11:59 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


(I mean, he jumped all over Mother Teresa)

And thank God he alerted us all to the dangers of that menace in time! /snark
posted by saulgoodman at 12:04 PM on July 2, 2008


While I agree that in most ways Hitchens is a scumbag, I will give him some credit for agreeing to be tortured and publishing an article admitting he was wrong.

Technically, Hitchens agreed to waterboarding not torture, on the dubious assumption that it is merely unpleasant. So, -50 pts. for discovering what ordinary, non-pundits have known since day 1 (or WWII, if your point of view allows).
posted by tommasz at 12:04 PM on July 2, 2008


I see...personal growth. I don't see the problem here.

You aren't looking in the right places. Try Gitmo. Or Iraq. Or any of a number of secret torture facilities around the planet.
posted by DU at 12:13 PM on July 2, 2008


i don't really understand metafilter's response to this. we all hate torture. we all know waterboarding is torture. someone who we disagree with on most points actually bothers to try it out and confirms what we assumed was true (but really had no first-hand knowlege).

and we attack him? he learned something. i learned something. hopefully some of his fans learned something. ain't nothing wrong with that. he might still be an asshole, but that's not my problem.
posted by klanawa at 12:16 PM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


To make this fair, shouldn't he be waterboarded by people who really hate him, don't care if he died, and think he is part of the problem with this country? I doubt real waterboarding is done by people who you trust.
posted by Ragma at 12:26 PM on July 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


To make this fair, shouldn't he be waterboarded by people who really hate him, don't care if he died...

Obviously the only way to make his experience as close to the real thing as possible would be if he were kidnapped by strangers and subjected to waterboarding and all of the mental cruelty that goes along with it, without a safe word or any way of knowing how it will end. But I wouldn't wish that on him or anybody else, no matter how curious I was to get a firsthand account of something I couldn't even imagine experiencing myself.

What he did an approximation of the physical process of waterboarding. He was upfront about the limitations of his experience and never claimed to have a complete grasp on what an actual prisoner goes through. Just the physical process. I'd put it above reporters that spend a night in jail and say they "walked in the same shoes the prisoners do" or dress up as a prostitute and spend a few hours (with a camera crew nearby) and pretend to understand the hardships of that world.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 12:40 PM on July 2, 2008


Now all he has do is watch England get invaded, 2 million die , about 10 million flee to France to beg and whore, a puppet government installed and everything given away to occupiers and he might have a clue how wrong he has been in conflating his opposition to fundamentalist religion with supporting an invasion and occupation.
posted by srboisvert at 12:41 PM on July 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


One of the dj's on WFMU's Seven Second Delay got waterboarded, live on air during their last fundraiser. Apparently the FCC had no problem with it, until he used a four letter word, live over the air. THAT... the FCC had a BIG problem with.
posted by R. Mutt at 12:49 PM on July 2, 2008


How can he possibly hold both of these beliefs after the experience? Isn't he now effectively saying "it's torture, but we deserve a pass on being prosecuted for it because we're only torturing really bad people"?

The portion you quoted is part of a pro versus con segment. Hitchens ultimately sides with the argument contra waterboarding.
posted by prosthezis at 1:06 PM on July 2, 2008


If Sherman were alive today:

You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable, and the only way the people of Atlanta the United States can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home, is to stop the war, which can only be done by admitting that it began in error and is perpetuated in pride.
posted by Justinian at 1:07 PM on July 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


Hitch looks a bit like Robert Downey, Jr. gone waaaaay to seed.
posted by gottabefunky at 1:14 PM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


The portion you quoted is part of a pro versus con segment. Hitchens ultimately sides with the argument contra waterboarding.

The last line clearly seems to be his opinion, not a presentation of the argument:
I myself do not trust anybody who does not clearly understand this viewpoint.
He's willing to call it torture, but I don't see anywhere in the article that he comes to the conclusion we shouldn't do it.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 1:18 PM on July 2, 2008


Understanding the viewpoint is not the same thing as buying the argument.

One used to be told—and surely with truth—that the lethal fanatics of al-Qaeda were schooled to lie, and instructed to claim that they had been tortured and maltreated whether they had been tortured and maltreated or not. Did we notice what a frontier we had crossed when we admitted and even proclaimed that their stories might in fact be true? I had only a very slight encounter on that frontier, but I still wish that my experience were the only way in which the words “waterboard” and “American” could be mentioned in the same (gasping and sobbing) breath.

That sounds like condemnation to me.
posted by prosthezis at 1:25 PM on July 2, 2008


Understanding the viewpoint is not the same thing as buying the argument.

But he's at least acknowledging that he thinks the viewpoint has merit, yes? I mean, the argument he's presenting boils down to this:

* When contrasted to actual torture, waterboarding is more like foreplay.

* The tormentors and murderers of (say) Daniel Pearl have done much worse.

* Therefore, indicting the US for torture is an attempt to make the US morally equivalent to people who are much worse.

This was a patently bullshit argument to begin with. Now that he's no longer laboring under the misapprehension that waterboarding is "like foreplay", why is he still presenting the viewpoint as having merit?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 1:43 PM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Prosthezis, what you said.

I don't agree with much of what Hitchens says about the war, but he is one of the most passionate, ardent, and thoughtful persons writing about national and world politics today. He makes the reader think, and doesn't even begin to pander.

Either one refutes Hitchens on the evidence, or one risks being labeled a gasbag. How many anti-waterboarding persons have been willing to find out if their assertions are correct?

Last, Hitchens uses language in a way that has nearly been forgotten. He's worth your time.
posted by MetaMan at 1:49 PM on July 2, 2008


He just came over from the other side, so to speak, and not so willingly, so of course he's going to be a bit sympathetic. He certainly did buy that argument in the recent past. He hasn't, of course, changed his tone on the war. I would like to see him be a bit harsher, and he does a great disservice to his argument, I think, by being patronizing like this as if he thinks we could just waterboard everyone just to prove it's torture. The worst part is that even after the waterboarding experience he's not all way there. His condemnation seems reluctant. I just wanted to point out that even though he soft-peddled he wasn't actually making the argument that it's okay when We do it to Them.
posted by prosthezis at 1:54 PM on July 2, 2008


1. I am one of "those" atheists. There's a section on my bookshelf that might as well be labeled "atheist screeds", and it includes Hitchens' God Is Not Great. And after reading it, and seeing some of his television appearances, I think he's kind of a dick.

2. Hitchens is not a "militant atheist". There are militant Islamists, and militant Christians, and militant Hindus—real militants, who actually kill people—but there are no militant atheists. This power of religion to inspire barbarism is, in fact, one of the reasons atheists speak out against religion.

To describe atheists as "militant", I feel, trivializes the tragedy of real ideological militancy. Hitchens may be a dick, but he's not a militant, and describing him as such makes light of the very problem he's trying to point out. If you disagree with his arguments, respond to the arguments; don't dismiss them with false charges and name-calling.

3. I don't think Hitchens needs to explicitly condemn the practice. I think it would be a less effective article if he did. Simply presenting the facts of his experience leaves the reader to decide for himself—and any sane reader will conclude that waterboarding is Bad. In any case, it seems implicitly obvious from the tone of the article that Hitchens disapproves.

4. Fuck. I hope I never get waterboarded.
posted by greenie2600 at 2:04 PM on July 2, 2008 [7 favorites]


Hitchens enjoys a good torture. (check the part about his wax job)
posted by Burhanistan at 2:09 PM on July 2, 2008


I don't need to know anything more about waterboarding other than that the Khmer Rouge used it. I'm pretty damn sure that they didn't play around with a lot of frivolous non-torture interrogation techniques when the had carte-blanche to be inhuman.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:14 PM on July 2, 2008


when *they* had (60 second edit pony please)
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:14 PM on July 2, 2008


Either one refutes Hitchens on the evidence, or one risks being labeled a gasbag.

Man, now that's a false dilemma. A rather sizable chunk of Hitchens' conclusions are based on tenuous logic or value judgments, rather than laying directly on facts.

This article has some of those problems. I respect that the guy has gone to directly experience waterboarding, and confirm what nearly everyone with firsthand experience who wasn't dissembling has also said: it's torture. That probably qualifies as evidence of some kind, and it's noteworthy.

But there's some conclusions already well-quoted in this thread that don't follow directly from that evidence (in particular, saying that calling the US to task for torture is a moral equivalence arguemnt), and rejection of them hardly qualifies anyone as a gasbag.
posted by weston at 2:26 PM on July 2, 2008


Mister_A: Hitchens isn't my kid, nor is he my dog. I feel no need to reward him for his pompous self-aggrandizement.

I think he deserves some kudos for this. Not only does he have a rather wide readership among both the left and the right, his article is likely to change far more opinions than sanctimonious drivel that serves little purpose other than to gloat.
posted by dhammond at 2:44 PM on July 2, 2008


Iraq War supporter, militant atheist

You forgot blowhard and idiot.
posted by doctor_negative at 2:55 PM on July 2, 2008


letitrain: "The video has a peculiar musical soundtrack during the WBing

Is that part of the torture? Having to listen to massage studio music while being slowly drowned?
"

Relax... Inhale deeply...
posted by symbioid at 3:11 PM on July 2, 2008


Not only does he have a rather wide readership among both the left and the right, his article is likely to change far more opinions than sanctimonious drivel that serves little purpose other than to gloat.

Not a lot of change over at Red State:
Let it be the policy of the United States that we will use all interrogation and punishment methods used by our enemies.
[...]
Al Qaeda cuts people's heads off? Well then, in comparison, waterboarding seems pretty darn tame. Removing your fingernails with pliers seems less drastic than sawing through your neck with a bowie knife. So we will go up to and including decapitation when dealing with Al Qaeda members.
[...]
In short, by adopting a reactive policy, backed up with a default that is extremely weighed against forceful interrogation, we can put multiculturalism to work for us, instead of against us.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 3:19 PM on July 2, 2008


where is your god now hitchens? - Awesome!

Was he saying that those oafish rednecks in ski masks who did the torturing were members of some special forces club ? And that cheesy logo they flashed that looked like bad t-shirt design from the Jersey Shore belongs to this club?
posted by Liquidwolf at 3:26 PM on July 2, 2008


Churchill said that a zealot is someone who can't change their mind, and won't change the subject. Kudos to Hitchens for changing his mind - shame that some people on Mefi won't get over his support for the invasion of Iraq to accept that he might have done a good thing here. His article here will do infinetly more to persuade some sections of society that waterboarding is torture that any number of protest meetings or internet posts.

OT, but there are no militant atheists. Oh really?
posted by prentiz at 3:27 PM on July 2, 2008


Good post. Thanks, orthogonality.
posted by homunculus at 3:30 PM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


HURF DURF WATER BOARDER
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:46 PM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


The only way that something like this could be useful is if Rush or O'Reilly were kidnapped and subjected to the same thing. Only then would right wing morons agree that it was torture.
Rush or O'Reilly would deny it was torture, no matter what.

I'm not saying they would withstand it. They would succumb immediately, as has everyone that I am aware of who has done this little experiment, despite the fact that, unlike in actual practice, they have control over making it stop. They would be blubbering and begging for an end to it as soon as it began, just like everyone else.

I'm saying they would later deny it was torture. Even if there was video of them, shaken to their core, demonstratively claiming otherwise.
posted by Flunkie at 3:49 PM on July 2, 2008


Flunkie, the right thing to do is to have the interrogator make O'Reilly agree that he is being tortured. Then, in order to repudiate his confession that he was tortured, he'll have to say that he only said it because he was being tortured.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:21 PM on July 2, 2008 [7 favorites]


he'll have to say
No, he wouldn't have to.

And he wouldn't.
posted by Flunkie at 4:34 PM on July 2, 2008


prentiz: Kudos to Hitchens for changing his mind - shame that some people on Mefi won't get over his support for the invasion of Iraq to accept that he might have done a good thing here.

Except that he didn't change his mind. When you really bother to read his argument, it's still that the valiant members of (American) civilization are permitted to use any means necessary to defend against the raging Islamist horde.

On this analysis, any call to indict the United States for torture is therefore a lame and diseased attempt to arrive at a moral equivalence between those who defend civilization and those who exploit its freedoms to hollow it out, and ultimately to bring it down. I myself do not trust anybody who does not clearly understand this viewpoint.

The definition of torture is a sideshow. The big moral issue is whether US actions were criminal, who should be prosecuted, and what checks need to created to prevent further crimes.

He responds to this with the same argument that he's used since 2001: any criticism of the US is an immoral attempt at creating moral equivalence between the glorious standard-bearer of western enlightenment, and ravening Islamic hordes. When you cut through the rhetorical fluff, it's always the same thing from him.

And his concluding paragraph doesn't condemn torture, it condemns the fact that by admitting that maybe, possibly, we've used torture methods like waterboarding, that we've given the enemy valuable moral ground and intelligence.

Which returns us to my starting point, about the distinction between training for something and training to resist it. One used to be told—and surely with truth—that the lethal fanatics of al-Qaeda were schooled to lie, and instructed to claim that they had been tortured and maltreated whether they had been tortured and maltreated or not. Did we notice what a frontier we had crossed when we admitted and even proclaimed that their stories might in fact be true? I had only a very slight encounter on that frontier, but I still wish that my experience were the only way in which the words “waterboard” and “American” could be mentioned in the same (gasping and sobbing) breath.

In other words, torture is now bad because we we no longer deny we did it. The frontier Hitchins regrets crossing is not torture, it's admitting fallibility.

Admitting that waterboarding is torture is a trivial admission, if you still hold forth that the U.S. military and intelligence services need a carte blanche to defend against ravenous and evil brown men from a different culture. And while he throws in a dissenting opinion, none of it says "torture is wrong" just "torture is bad for Americans." (And he takes great pains to present Nance as one of his fellow travelers.) Then he comes to the conclusion that yes, torture is bad for the American war on Islam.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:38 PM on July 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Isn't he now effectively saying "it's torture, but we deserve a pass on being prosecuted for it because we're only torturing really bad people"?

That's how I interpreted what he said. It makes sense and isn't really hypocritical, if you accept on premise a bunch of things that I suspect Hitchens does, but that I doubt most of the MeFi audience would. E.g., that torture isn't universally wrong, that sometimes it's justifiable, and that it's justifiable in the instances where it has been employed by the United States.

If you accept those premises — or even easier, if you accept a racist premise that nothing is wrong if you're doing it to brown-skinned people, or perhaps a religious argument that nothing is wrong if you're doing it to infidels — then it's not a conflict to simultaneously believe that waterboarding is torture, and the United States is doing nothing wrong by waterboarding detainees.

In terms of hypocrisy, that's not really a hard corner to get out of. Neocons say things on a daily basis that are significantly more dissonant than that.

It's a bit of an academic argument anyway, though; I think it's only a very, very small minority of the U.S. population that really believes the "waterboarding isn't torture" line. I know a lot of people on the far-right, and most of them would probably admit freely that it's torture: they just don't care because of who it's directed at. There's no point in arguing with someone like that about whether what's being done to the detainees is torture, because after you've wasted your breath they'll just shrug and admit that they don't really care either way; as long as it's just the detainees, they're fine with it.

If you want to convince someone on the far-right that torturing the detainees is a bad idea, your time would be better spent discussing the practical reasons why torture isn't a useful interrogation technique (along with explaining that "24" is not a how-to guide for anti-terrorism procedures). Even if torture were both legally and morally OK, it still wouldn't be good practice for reasons having nothing to do with law or morality.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:14 PM on July 2, 2008


Yeesh. Not like I expected mefites to all of a sudden write love poetry to the guy, but as much as this is a stunt, it's one that's generally positive in terms of how Americans understand what their military and CIA have been up to for the past few years.

(And yeah, even writing that indicates how far down the rabbit-hole America has gone, but try and enjoy a minor victory once in a while.)
posted by bardic at 5:40 PM on July 2, 2008


It's a bloody good think I'm not mega-wealthy, because I swear to god I'd spend a lot of my loot paying professional underworld creeps to kidnap members of the Administration, to put them through the water torture test. Let's find out how Bush and Cheney respond to Congress's questions when they're backed up by the threat of drowning. Let's find out how strongly Rice and Perino defend Bush and Cheney when they're dunked repeatedly.

And while I was at it, I'd be having a few dictators — Mugabe, you're currently at the top of my list — marked for assassination.

But I'm stone cold broke, so I guess it ain't gonna happen on my dime. Sigh.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:42 PM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


c/think/thing/. &c.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:43 PM on July 2, 2008


Christopher Hitchens: proving that Contrarianism is just another "-ism."
posted by hell toupee at 5:50 PM on July 2, 2008


I swear to god I'd spend a lot of my loot paying professional underworld creeps to kidnap members of the Administration, to put them through the water torture test.

Really? I mean, I'm no stranger to hyperbole on the blue, but honestly -- think about what you're saying.
posted by bardic at 5:57 PM on July 2, 2008


This all seems like an Outward Bound experience, or maybe EST, and while I can't remember exactly who or when there have been several other articles with the author submitting themselves to this obviously awful experience. To debate what is or isn't torture is obscene, to that I am starting the F.Y.Y.W. Society (fuck you your wrong), want to discuss the merits of torture, genital mutilation, withholding drugs to poor countries and on and on, I just flash my F.Y.Y.W. card.
posted by pianomover at 6:41 PM on July 2, 2008


If you accept those premises — or even easier, if you accept a racist premise that nothing is wrong if you're doing it to brown-skinned people, or perhaps a religious argument that nothing is wrong if you're doing it to infidels — then it's not a conflict to simultaneously believe that waterboarding is torture, and the United States is doing nothing wrong by waterboarding detainees.

Which is, when you wash away all the fancy words and polemic, what Hitchins is mostly about these days. He an unapologetic ethnocentrist who argues for converting the world to enlightened secular democracy by the sword if necessary. He doesn't quite grasp the possibility that "those who exploit its freedoms to hollow it out, and ultimately to bring it down" include the conservatives who have chosen to ignore just about every principle of government since the Magna Carta.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:01 PM on July 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Christopher Hitchens is a hermaphrodite?
posted by liza at 7:04 PM on July 2, 2008


The video has a peculiar musical soundtrack during the WBing

The album that's playing is Enigma's The Screen Behind the Mirror.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 7:12 PM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


[five fresh fish] I swear to god I'd spend a lot of my loot paying professional underworld creeps to kidnap members of the Administration, to put them through the water torture test.
Really? I mean, I'm no stranger to hyperbole on the blue, but honestly -- think about what you're saying.


My reading is that five fresh fish is justifiably resentful of the horrible crimes committed in his name by his government and understandably wanting to punish the leaders by inflicting upon them a tiny portion of the horror that they have inflicted on others.

Is this really such an unreasonable idea? Are you not aware that there are probably hundreds of millions of people who have at least thought of doing the same thing?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:27 PM on July 2, 2008


"I call as my main witness Mr. Malcolm Nance. Mr. Nance is not what you call a bleeding heart. In fact, speaking of the coronary area, he has said that, in battlefield conditions, he 'would personally cut bin Laden’s heart out with a plastic M.R.E. spoon.' He was to the fore on September 11, 2001, dealing with the burning nightmare in the debris of the Pentagon. He has been involved with the sere program since 1997."

Previously.
posted by homunculus at 8:11 PM on July 2, 2008


He an unapologetic ethnocentrist who argues for converting the world to enlightened secular democracy by the sword if necessary.

Exactly. And that's what makes him, contrary to what a previous comment in this thread suggested, quite literally a militant atheist: His ambition is to drive all fundamentalist religious belief out of the world at the point of a gun, and he thinks his small role in that larger historical struggle is to use his (tortured and hackneyed) political and social commentary to agitate for the use of Western military force to completely destroy the cultural and religious systems of Islam, which he sincerely regards as a galling example of anti-modernist religious superstition at its worst.

He'd like to think he can use Western religious fundamentalism to further his own ultimately secular agenda. He's less fearful of Christian fundamentalists because he knows from experience that our fundamentalist churches tend to be led not by true believers of the kind that most frighten him (because of the sheer alien-ness of their non-materialistic world views), but opportunistic hypocrites whose religious convictions are seldom as deeply held as they are vigorously expressed. Like many of the rest of us, he suspects that, at the end of the day, our most prominent religious leaders' real motivations are profits of a more material than spiritual nature--and crass materialism is something Hitchens understands and is quite comfortable with.

That masses of faithful Muslims bow their heads in prayer five times a day without a trace of self-reflective irony or cynicism (at least, that's likely how he imagines it: millions of heads bobbing in perfect, robotic unison, faces wearing expressions of unnatural, indecipherable calm) defies all conventional explanation to a guy like Hitchens. But then, he doesn't really seem to get how much more fervent the true-believers on the Christian side have been getting in recent years either.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:26 PM on July 2, 2008


Really? I mean, I'm no stranger to hyperbole on the blue, but honestly -- think about what you're saying.

I'm saying that I'd happily have the evil bastards who planned and approved of Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, prison ships, and black-ops prisons tortured with a taste of their own medicine. I believe it would awaken them somewhat to the atrocities they have commanded others commit.

I really don't have a problem with that. What's the point of having unlimited wealth if it isn't used to kick some ass and achieve some change? We've put up with this bullshit for far, far too long.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:09 PM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


He an unapologetic ethnocentrist who argues for converting the world to enlightened secular democracy by the sword if necessary.

I've never read an argument of this nature by Hitchins. I've read arguments couched in the need to do something about Saddam, I've read arguments based on the genocidal intentions towards the Kurds. I may have even read arguments based upon the need to do something about hotbeds of terrorism (though I don't actually recall those.)

But I've never read arguments in which he makes a case for invasion based solely upon religion. Where does he argue this?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:03 AM on July 3, 2008


My reading is that five fresh fish is justifiably resentful of the horrible crimes committed in his name by his government and understandably wanting to punish the leaders by inflicting upon them a tiny portion of the horror that they have inflicted on others.

Is this really such an unreasonable idea? Are you not aware that there are probably hundreds of millions of people who have at least thought of doing the same thing?


Ah, you see you only underline how utterly shit people can be. So you can find situations to justify torture. So could they. You really aren't different at all.
posted by srboisvert at 2:15 AM on July 3, 2008


PeterMcDermott: Well yes, and his ultimate justification for all of those actions is that Islam will tear western culture to shreds if we don't act aggressively towards it.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:58 AM on July 3, 2008


Oh it is not. His whole (misguided) rationale for supporting the invasion of Iraq was solidarity with the Iraqi secular left.
posted by dydecker at 6:05 AM on July 3, 2008


So you can find situations to justify torture. So could they. You really aren't different at all.
I'm not a fan of retributive justice, but there is a difference. The argument goes: it is not wrong to kill a killer, to torture a torturer, pluck out the eye of an eye-plucker, there is a difference between the bandit and the guard, because the bad guy took the action first, and did it to an innocent party. They started it. There is a reason why children cry that phrase out when unjustly punished. That, in a nutshell, is the very definition of "the bad guy", in tradition, myth, literature, and the underlying assumptions of modern criminal justice: the one who starts it. Police in an enlightened society do not pre-emptively arrest people who might harm others, they reactively arrest those who have harmed others. (At least, that's the theory of liberal democratic justice.)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:23 AM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not a fan of retributive justice, but there is a difference. The argument goes: it is not wrong to kill a killer, to torture a torturer, pluck out the eye of an eye-plucker, there is a difference between the bandit and the guard, because the bad guy took the action first, and did it to an innocent party. They started it.

Couple of problems here:

Retributive justice is more directly referred to as vengeance. Justice is, hopefully, a bit more noble pursuit.

As to "they started it" - who,exactly, is "they" in this case? The Middle East is a centuries-long case study of "who struck John". We will never reach any kind of accord if our mindset starts with "radical Muslim extremists". That is cheap, easy, and convenient political misdirection. And utter bullshit.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:46 AM on July 3, 2008


Hey, you know what? It turns out I'm for torturing terrorists, too. That scenario where the terrorist knows where the bomb is, and the only way to find out where it is is to torture him? I'm down with that.

That isn't to say I don't believe there should not be consequences. If I end up going to jail for life because I tortured the bastard, so be it: it's a price I'm willing to pay to save a million lives.

Killing Hitler at the Nuremberg rally would have meant instant death for oneself, but it's still the right thing to do.

The advantage of being a gazillionaire is, of course, that one won't be going to jail. Heck, that's why so many of the Administration are going to get away with the horrific acts they've perpetrated: they're untouchables.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:15 AM on July 3, 2008


Hey, Benny, maybe you should start paying some attention to what's going on around you. "They" is a corrupt administration who (a) started a war on false pretexts and (b) personally defined and approved the torture techniques to be used in Abu Ghraib and other prisons.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:16 AM on July 3, 2008


And an after-thought: the Administration is guilty of commissioning war crimes and has arguably committed treasonous acts. The latter crime carries a death penalty.

I'm okay with that, too. Perhaps my hypothetically mega-wealthy self should just skip the waterboarding punishment.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:40 AM on July 3, 2008


Like most of us here I don't often agree with him, but bravo to Hitchens for that article. It's a small ray of sunlight on an otherwise overcast day. Maybe more journalists will also find their moral compass and start to lead us out of the dark.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:45 AM on July 3, 2008


> That scenario where the terrorist knows where the bomb is, and the only way to find out where it is is to torture him? I'm down with that. That isn't to say I don't believe there should not be consequences.

Sure. It's really not hard to come up with hypothetical scenarios where torture is, if not outright justified, at least the least-bad of a number of really bad options.

Where the neocons have gone all wrong is in thinking that means it ought to be legal, or that we should craft the law to deal specifically with those sort of extraordinary circumstances. That's a terrible idea.

Unfortunately it's difficult to combat the impulse to do just that. I deal with it all the time in other contexts. For example, I spend a lot of my time helping businesses write internal policy and rules. Nothing important, the usual day-to-day business crap; who gets to approve what expenses and for how much, what coversheets to put on the TPS reports, etc. It's a constant struggle to keep people from writing rules for every possible hypothetical situation they can think of, and producing a bloated mess that's full of holes and inconsistencies as a result. Instead, you have to write the rules for the most common situations, the ones you actually know will happen, and understand that there will doubtless be situations you never anticipated, and will need to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis when they do occur.

Regarding torture, a "24"-esque "ticking time bomb" scenario is the exception. Far more common are situations where there's really no immediate emergency, no certainty that the person in custody actually knows anything and is withholding it, and the fallout from torturing someone greatly exceeds the possible gains. That's the rule; that's the most-likely scenario. It makes no sense to write the laws, which are supposed to be general guidelines used all the time, with the exceptional case in mind.

If a nuclear weapon were about to go off in a major city, and by some bizarre chance the police had someone in custody that they had a reasonable suspicion knew where it was, or how to stop it, I would want them to use whatever means they thought would be expedient to prevent the disaster. I would want them to get creative. I would still want it to be illegal. I would want them to torture, in full knowledge of the fact that it was illegal, and that they could be earning themselves the death penalty.

The only situations where I think anyone ought to be even considering torture are those hypothetical cases where the stakes are so high, it doesn't matter whether it's prohibited or not. And in those cases, we have a whole series of "safety valves" in our justice system that would let someone off the hook for the crime, if it really was perceived afterwards to have been justifiable. (Everything from a Grand Jury's refusal to indict, to straight-up jury nullifcation, to Executive-branch pardons on the state or national level.)

It's stupid and dangerous to take such ridiculous hypotheticals into account when crafting llegislation, yet it's done constantly -- and in doing so, we allow behavior that ought to be tolerated only in extreme circumstances to be legitimized as everyday occurrences. (It happens with a lot of things far more banal than torture, but torture is perhaps the most visible and frightening example.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:05 AM on July 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Christopher Hitchens lets Vanity Fair blow off his legs, kill his entire family, destroy his home; he writes about it
posted by homunculus at 10:01 AM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hitchens in his own words makes the view I attributed to him earlier plain:

"Islamic belief, however simply or modestly it may be stated, is an extreme position to begin with. No human being can possibly claim to know that there is a God at all, or that there are, or were, any other gods to be repudiated."

If Islam begins from an inherently extremist position as Hitchens avers here, owing to its ontological claims about God and its repudiation of other Gods, then all Abrahamic religious traditions are inherently extremist because they all rest on similar claims (there is no God but the one true God; there is no path to salvation but through Christ; etc.).

But Hitchens doesn't see fit to argue passionately here that Christianity is likewise an inherently extremist religion because it suits his particular purpose more to gloss over that unavoidable consequence of his own argument and instead cheer-lead for more anti-Islamic sentiment.

Why is that? Could it be because he actually relishes the prospect of seeing the world's major religious cultures whipped into an apoplectic frenzy, lashing away at each other in a blind fury, because it reinforces his own belief in the superiority of his secular worldview and ultimately increases the worldly suffering of the faithful, whom he despises as much for their guileless sincerity as for their provincialism and resistance to modernity?

Well, that'd be my bet, anyway.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:53 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is just to say

I have been tortured by
the special forces
that were in
a secret underground room

and which
you were probably
saving
for foreigners

Forgive me
it was torture
posted by No-sword at 3:18 PM on July 4, 2008


New Book Contradicts Bush’s Claim That He Never Saw Secret Red Cross Report On Torture
posted by homunculus at 1:36 PM on July 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


Forgetting His Vote To Allow Waterboarding, McCain Says ‘We Could Never Torture Anyone’
posted by homunculus at 2:35 PM on July 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


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