Monday, March 2, 2009

Ninety-Two Shamings and Another Cowardly Telling

Count them -- the CIA destroyed 92 tapes of interrogations:

The tapes were made in 2002 and showed the interrogations of two suspected al Qaeda leaders, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. According to former CIA officer John Kiriakou, some of the videos showed harsh interrogations, including the use of waterboarding, which is said to simulate drowning and is considered by most people to be a form of torture.

Government officials have said the tapes were destroyed in November 2005 at the orders of Jose Rodriguez, then head of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, with the approval of NCS lawyers. [emphasis mine]
The bolded section, with its careful hedges and gutless qualifiers -- "... said to ...," "... simulate ...," "... considered by most people ..." -- exemplifies the brand of pusillanimous news reporting that helped make these disgusting and illegal abuses possible.

Waterboarding is "said to simulate drowning"? I suppose it is "said to" do that. Does someone say otherwise? Is the professional journalist referring us to a school of thought in which, I don't know, waterboarding is "said to" gently comb the locks of fair-haired little girls?

It "simulates drowning" insofar as it carries out an actual smothering attached to a non-binding implication that it will be followed by a revival. The terror of it, and therefore its effectiveness, would be diminished if it came with an iron-clad assurance that it was merely the simulation of drowning. The uncertainty is part and parcel of its confession-extracting power.

Whether it is "considered by most people" to be drowning is, in at least one important sense, irrelevant. It's not a question of counting Yeas, Nays, and abstentions, nor of reading public opinion polls. It has long been recognized as one form of torture among many.

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