Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Torture and the English Language

Los Angeles Times April 26, 2009, has as it’s lead front page story “Harsh Tactics Weren’t Analyzed.” What are “harsh tactics”? That’s doublespeak for torture. George Orwell defined doublespeak as language that lies in order to hide difficult truths. So why can’t the Los Angeles Times says “Tortures Weren’t Analyzed.” That’s too truthful and upsetting. Well, torture IS upsetting.

In paragraph eleven the newspaper article finally spells out what the torture victimes suffered: “depriving prisoners of sleep for up to seven days; throwing them up against walls, forcing them into tiny boxes and subjecting them to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding.” But even this description doesn’t fully describe the horror of the tortures used. Hemingway said after World War I the writer must avoid abstractions but write with exact names, colors, sizes. According to Brian Tamanaha, Professor of Law at St. John’s Univeristy, on the blog “Balkanization” on April 19, 2009, the tactics were

1) throwing a prisoner’s head and shoulders against a flexible wall “twenty or thirty times consecutively when the interrogator requires…”’;

2) dousing detainee in constant flow of cold water; 41 degrees for no more than 20 minutes, 50 degrees for no more than 40 minutes, and 59 degrees for no more than 60 minutes;

3) sleep deprivation “may continue to the 70 to 120 hour range, or possibly beyond for the hardest resisters, but in no case exceed the 180 hour time limit.” (The prisoners were kept awake by chaining them in a standing position so that, if they dozed off, they would be awakened by the sense of falling and by the jolt of the weight of their body against the chains.);

4) a maximum of two waterboarding sessions (strapped to the board) a day on a prisoner, each session lasting no longer than two hours; no more than 6 episodes of waterboarding per session; and no single continuous dose of water exceeding 40 seconds;

5) for cramped confinement, “confinement in the larger space [standing room] may last no more than 8 hours at a time for no more than 18 hours a day; for the smaller space [sitting room only], confinement may last no more than two hours."

How about the opening sentence of the Los Angeles Times front page story: “The CIA used an arsenal of severe interrogation techniques on imprisoned Al Qaeda suspects. “ What is “severe interrogation techniques” ? It is, of course, another form of doublespeak for torture: the torturer could throw the person against the wall 30 times at one sitting, douse the person in 41 degree cold water for 20 minutes, sleep deprive the person for eight days, confine them for two hours in a small space, and waterboard twice/day. So a more honest version would be the following: “an arsenal of torture techniques.” An “arsenal” of techniques sounds like metaphorical guns, bombs, weapons as if the writer finally was getting a little truthful in his metaphors.

Calling the victims “imprisoned Al Qaeda suspects” tries to justify that they deserved to be smashed against the walls 30 times. Dilawar, the taxi driver tortured to death at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, was innocent of all connection to Taliban or Al Qaeda. He arrived at Bagram prison on December 5, 2002, and was declared dead on December, 2002. The New York Times reported regarding the day Dilawar died,

On the day of his death, Dilawar had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days. A guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling. "Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying. Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned that most of the interrogators had in fact believed Mr. Dilawar to be an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

We need more facts such as how many people were tortured to death?

Paragraph 5 of the Los Angeles Times article discuss how to experienced interrogator ‘ever took a rigorous systematic review of the various techniques—enhanced or otherwise….” Using “enhanced techniques’ to describe torture is rather like describing a enhanced toothbrush that gives us cleaner teeth. “Enhanced” sounds like its better or cleaner or improved like enhanced detergent that really cleans one’s dishes. I had a friend who was waterboarded.

In paragraph 13 the article says “interrogation approaches” as if throwing someone against a wall again and again is an “approach” as in a approach rather like an approach to dating.

In paragraph 17 the article says, “A U.S. intelligence official who defended CIA interrogation practices” so now torture is obscured by the word “practice’ as if talking about tennis practice or piano practice.

In paragraph 23 the article says “Bush said that ‘alternative’ interrogation methods have been crucial to getting Al Qaeda … to talk.” “Alternative” gives the impression of a softer way such as questions over tea.

In paragraph 21 the reader learns that the “alternative interrogation methods” was not chats over tea but waterboarding and that two Al Qaeda suspects were waterboarded 263 times. In paragraph 23 the article says “the report faulted how agency operatives applied the methods, dumping large quantities of water on prisoners’ faces ….” Now we finally learn what happened. 263 times water was dumped on two prisoners’ faces making them believe they were almost drowning.

So let’s think of exactly what happened in these torture sessions. Let us be upset. Let us not use doublespeak. Let us abandon the vocabulary of “enchanced techniques.” Let us remember Dilawar who had daughter who lost her father.

1 comment:

xiaoxia said...

think of exactly what happened in these torture sessions. Let us be upset. Let us not use doublespeak. Let us abandon the Cheapest Zoobles vocabulary of “enchanced techniques.” Let us remember Dilawar who had daughter who lost her father.