“This government does not torture.”
- George W. Bush -
All right! Waterboarding is a very unpleasant experience, which is sometimes fatal. I can also imagine that a small percentage of root canals are fatal, but no one routinely refers to them as torture—just very unpleasant.
That said, if I were grabbed off the street by five guys in ski masks who jabbed a hypodermic in my neck, threw me in the back of a van, striped me to gooseflesh, gave me an enema and jammed a wad of cotton where only a proctoscope belongs, forced me into diapers and an orange jumpsuit, plugged my ears, duck-taped my eyes and put a sack over my head, shackled me in a stress position to the cold, aluminum deck of an unheated cargo plane for 15 hours, strapped me in a chair at some black dental site in Karachi and commenced the root canal in a shower of Punjabi expletives . . . then okay, maybe taken in toto I’d consider that experience torture.
On February 13 the Senate narrowly passed—on a 51-45 party-line vote—an intelligence bill that will, among other things, ban waterboarding as an “enhanced interrogation technique,” a Bush-era euphemism for torture.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese, traded his principled stance against waterboarding for a White House endorsement of his candidacy and voted against the ban. Torture is now officially a plank in the GOP platform. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama were too busy campaigning to go on congressional record as either supporting or opposing the ban.
Such a narrow political plurality against the torture of a human being is possible in an overly-religious nation because of the mistaken notion that torturing a person begins and ends with “waterboarding” and because that term sounds a lot like “waterslide” and “water park.” Who hasn’t gotten water up the nose while playing in a pool but still enjoyed the overall experience?
Dick Cheney refers to waterboarding as “a dunk in the water.” Attorney General Mukasey refuses to call it torture unless, of course, it’s happening to him. Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) defended his vote against the ban on waterboarding by saying, “It is not like putting burning coals on people's bodies. The person is in no real danger . . . the impact is psychological."
I have news for Mr. Lieberman. If I were strapped in a straitjacket and locked in a 2x3x7 foot box, the exquisite psychological pain of that experience would find no rival in burning coals. And I would say anything to make it stop. Torture, physical or psychological, is about as singularly personal an experience as birth and death.