This is my latest article, and it will soon appear on BrooWaha New York Edition
When is interrogation considered torture?
by Robert Amoroso
published in BrooWaha New York
A loaded question…perhaps. However, if you were Jewish and living in Nazi occupied Germany in the mid 1940’s, it would be almost inevitable that you would be tortured and perhaps murdered, and there would be no doubt as too its definition.
However when we ask the same question of ourselves, the answer of torture becomes once again clouded in ideology, as demonstrated recently by the CIA’s foolish destruction of interrogation video tapes, foolish in that we’ve allowed ideology to once again drive the debate to the point of being unable to set an effective policy, and in so doing we’ve created another scandal and yet another crises.
This of course, is a serious matter, and any destruction of video tapes pertaining to interrogations, the war in the Middle East, 9/11, or anything that deals with national security is indeed troublesome, and needs to be investigated. That being said however, I fear we’ll once again play into our enemies’ hands. We’ll again debate on “prime time” TV (what should be kept secret), how we interrogate our enemies. The Congress will again demand hearings and attempt to appear bipartisan before the cameras, as they once again try to redefine “torture”.
Of course the grandstanding and posturing by this congress will be transparent to every serious thinking” individual, except for our enemies who will once again reap the benefits of propaganda, thanks in part to a divided nation.
Why then would an agency potentially risk putting itself at odds with the courts, the congress and the 9/11 Commission? The answer seems to lie in how we now view ourselves as a nation; we’ve become so polarized in our thinking, that even the obvious becomes blurred.
Blind ideology has given way to reason and it now seems to drive almost every debate in Washington, everything we do collectively as a nation, seems to be always second guessed, our principles seem to change constantly, to suit the current political trends.
All one needs to do is listen to the current crop of presidential candidates on both sides of the political aisle to understand where we are as a nation. Few, if any of the leading candidates will stand by their convictions if it means losing a portion of their base, every word uttered is crafted to appeal to their core.
Ironically, the CIA may indeed be guilty of obstruction-of-justice, even though the interrogation methods used are reported to have complied with Justice Department guidelines.
The question again, is why? Why, would the CIA knowingly destroy tapes? My sense is that we’ve come to a pivotal point in our history, where we no longer as a nation take for granted that our institutions will live up to the principles instilled in us as children.
I believe a nation (like an individual) can collectively have a breakdown, not in the traditional clinical sense, but rather in the subtle ways we view our principles and our way of life. It seemed (not all that long ago), that even though we lived in a dangerous world our leaders were in control, and knew how to protect us; however all of that has changed.
I have no idea what official guidelines we use to define torture; however I do know that we’re in an unprecedented time in our history, and while we struggle with the “rules of engagement” designed to encompass some form of civility under the Geneva Convention, our enemies follow no such guidelines, they have no problem in attacking us without provocation, strapping on explosives and killing innocent civilians, or beheading none combatants, they play by a different set of rules.
Anyone who’s ever served in the military, or has gone trough “boot camp”, can attest to moments when they felt close to being tortured. I recall my own experiences at Parris Island. Forced marches, physical and emotional intimidation and sleep deprivation, were all part of the training regiment.
In the Marine Corps every recruit goes through an amphibious training regiment, which includes a water survival technique course termed “drown-proofing”, in which a fully dressed and geared recruit jumps into a 9-foot pool of water, and tries to stay afloat. The theory being that a proportion of individuals have the body mass to stay buoyant within rough seas, and can bob up and down, similar to that of a cork.
Obviously not all of us have the body mass to stay buoyant, most simply drop like a stone into the water. One can imagine the obvious terror I felt at sinking into a 9-foot pool of water (in full combat gear) and not being able to move, and forced to repeat that process over and over again. Oddly enough, I never thought of that experience at the time as “torture”, and it seems neither has the United States Congress, and yet one can’t help but wonder what’s the difference?
A recent article published in 2005 by ABC News, entitled “CIA’s Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described”. The article briefly outlines a series of interrogation methods used. Some again mirrored my own, and I would imagine countless other Marines in boot camp, of course “water-boarding”, (which now has become synonymous with torture), was the method described most in detail. Simply stated this method of interrogation mimics the sensation of drowning. Ironically within the elite branches of the armed forces experienced military personal go through advanced training in which similar training methods are used, and while the threshold for us may differ as to what truly constitutes torture, ABC News had no problem in defining it. The article went on to outline other methods of “harsh interrogation”.
One in particular I found amusing and somewhat bizarre, states and I quote, “The detainees were also forced to listen to rap artist Eminem's "Slim Shady" album. The music was so foreign to them it made them frantic, sources said”. Obviously, ABC News and in particular Brian Ross and Richard Esposito (who wrote the article) should get out a little more often, or perhaps I need to change my music selections.
Seriously, the interrogation method of “water-boarding” used by the CIA has apparently saved untold American lives and yet because of misplaced ideology, and political posturing, some within the congress and the media would rather denounce the policy and once again place American lives in danger. What is even more astounding is that this method of interrogation appears to leave no lasting effect, other then the obvious simulated feeling of drowning, and perhaps no different then this “boot” felt a few generations ago at Parris Island.
Obviously, no one in this country or for that matter “any country”, should ever be tortured, however most reasonable and thinking human beings understand the difference between interrogation and torture, and the one common thread that binds them. That being “fear”, and perhaps that’s what confuses the political pundits. Perhaps they equate fear with torture, and if that’s the case, then it isn’t torture that’s the issue, but rather the whole notion of interrogation.
The Israelis know all to well “terrorism” and they’ve lived with it for almost 60 years, they’ve learned through death and destruction how to deal with it. Their methods at times may appear harsh to us. However we’ve never had to experience homicide bombers in our streets, as they have. Imagine for a moment if Main Street, USA became the next battlefield on our war on terror, think for a moment of the carnage and bloodshed, the images of innocent and broken bodies strewed across our land, imagine if you can, the terror one would feel, the venerability of not being able to protect your loved ones or your homeland from invasion.
Hopefully 9/11 was a one time event, and we’ll never have to experience that horror again, and perhaps that’s where the conflict within us lies. How far do we go in interrogation of known terrorists, in order to gain valuable information that may save American lives?
More articles by this author:
» The Politics of Defeat and Deceit
» There is no joy in "Mudville" - mighty Casey has struck out
» Billy and Hillary and Eliot! Oh my!
» The invisible "Americans" among us
Copyright © 2007 Robert Amoroso
Amoroso is a writer for BrooWaha Nation