Monday, July 30, 2007

Monday Morning Shocker

Even on a Monday morning, it's hard to pass by an op-ed piece with the following title, "The erotic undertones of the administration's words on enhanced interrogations." The column by A.S. Hamrah appears in today's Los Angeles Times and makes a pretty good case that "the more the White House refines the rules, the pervier things get" (its subtitle).

Right before his recent colonoscopy, Bush announced that he had issued an executive order banning cruel and inhumane treatment in interrogations of suspected terrorists. This clarified interrogation guidelines he had issued last fall banning techniques that "shock the conscience." While the guidelines appear to be a step toward more concrete protection of human rights, the administration's constant rejiggering of the border between interrogation and torture reveals something else: a Sadean interest in the refinement of torture, a desire to define what is and is not "beyond the bounds of human decency," as the order puts it.

The claim that there is an element of sexual perversity in the government's interest in prisoner abuse may seem broad, but consider how officials discuss it. And when it comes to pictures documenting torture, they react in ways that should be as interesting to psychoanalysts as they are to constitutional lawyers, civil libertarians or investigative reporters.

In April, former CIA Director George Tenet appeared on "60 Minutes," telling interviewer Scott Pelley -- between swigs from a tiny bottle of Evian and his insistent, repetitive bark that "we don't torture people" -- that the reason he has never personally seen the evidence of the interrogation techniques he refuses to talk about is because he is "not a voyeur." ...

Maybe the reason members of the Bush administration are reluctant to look at evidence of torture is that if they did, they would be forced to admit that, for them, what happened at Abu Ghraib really wasn't torture. For them, evidently, it was sex, and that's why they won't watch.

It's not like government officials have never come right out and said that. In 2004, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) bridged the gap between the painful and the erotic by dismissing the Abu Ghraib abuses as a mere "sex ring": "I've seen what happened at Abu Ghraib, and Abu Ghraib was not torture. It was outrageous, outrageous involvement of National Guard troops who were involved in a sex ring." When asked to clarify, Shays backtracked and dug himself in deeper at the same time. "It was torture because sexual abuse is torture

This is more about pornography than torture."

Last winter, when an Australian TV network released photos and videos from Abu Ghraib, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, speaking for the coalition forces, called the report "unnecessarily provocative." He didn't say the images were wrong or criminal.

Instead of just banning torture outright, as the high school students asked him to do, Bush's new executive order, which purports to be an "interpretation of the Geneva Convention Common Article 3," reduces torture to a series of deviant acts. It dwells on "sexually indecent acts undertaken for the purpose of humiliation, forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually, threatening the individual with sexual mutilation."

It's the exact kind of list you'd expect to find from the kind of people who go on TV and announce to the public that they're not voyeurs. Now that they've defined torture so carefully, it should be much easier for them not to look at it.

That's an interesting analysis, one that, to our shame as a nation, rings true. It also explains a lot about this current administration on issues that go beyond the torture of prisoners.

Heckuva way to start the week, but I'll take it.



Anonymous Nora said...

I'm personally disgusted and horrified that here, in the year 2007, we are actually having a public discussion about what does and what does not constitute torture, and that we're having that discussion in the context of determining just how far our people can go in their "interrogations" before they cross the line.

All my life, I'd thought this was a simple question, no more worthy of debate than the question of whether the earth revolves around the sun. We don't torture. It's wrong. Period.

I suppose next we will have a debate about that suspicious heliocentric theory, which is, after all, only a theory.

5:37 AM  
Blogger WGG, Rogue Scholar & Tokin Lib'rul said...

Nora: torture is a long-standing american tradition (Tar & feathers is not any kind of fun if you are the one experiencing it; tar has to be very hot to make it liquid enough to pour over someone): cops have used it--and still do, mainly via beatings--enthusiastically for ever, to extract confessions from the members of the 'lower' orders...
torture's most useful in getting confessions (remember the Inquisition?), not in deriving useful information, cuz to end it, forls are inclined to tell their torturers whatever they wanna hear...
it's an act of intimidation, of state terror.

btw, these little typing puzzles suck

8:35 AM  
Blogger shrimplate said...

Torturers themselves do it because they enjoy it as a kind of psychopathological sport. It has nothing at all to do with obtaining information, and this has been well-known for centuries.

But Bush would have us go back to burning witches at the stake.

9:20 AM  

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