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I’ve been meaning to write about torture since October when I saw an episode of Mythbusters and one of CSI. The Mythbusters episode is the one where the team decides to test Chinese water torture to see if, in fact, it’s actually torturous. Adam Savage undergoes the water torture (drip, drip, drip of water on the forehead) without being restrained and, other than being a bit annoyed by the water, suffers no ill effects. Kari Byron undergoes the water torture while shackled to a table and has a panic attack. At the end of the experiment, an expert on torture talks about how dangerous it is to do such experiments, even if in the company of trusted people, because of the potential long-term psychological effects.

The CSI episode I caught in October was replayed last night. In it, the CSI team has to figure out who is killing people in such a way that they appear to become statues. The very last victim in the episode is a little boy who is shown strung up in the air on a bicycle. His eyes and mouth are taped into position.

Have you ever noticed that when you get interested in a subject, suddenly you hear about that topic everywhere? Such is the case with my research into torture. I have a long list of bookmarks related to the topic, plus it keeps cropping up in the news, especially in regards to Guantanomo Bay. Trent Reznor’s post about how the music of Nine Inch Nails is being used as part of that torture revitalized my interest in posting about the topic.

With both of the TVshows, my mirror neurons were firing like mad. Any time I see, hear, or read about torture, I feel panic arising in my chest and stomach. My muscles tighten. I cringe at the mere mention of the word torture. Thus, it should be no surprise that I am disgusted with the Bush Administration’s use of torture on “enemy combatants” in the War on Terror, many of whom have been released without ever having been charged with a crime.

It’s a sure bet that if I was stuck in a small, cold, dark room without regular food, shackled or restrained in some way, I would go stark raving mad or die. End of story. I cannot understand how those who are ordering torture techniques to be used on prisoners, or those who carry them out, can shut off their sense of empathy or mirror neurons and blithely continue their activities. Actually, within my research, I’ve discovered that those who have to carry out acts of torture suffer psychological damage because of their actions. Those who torture by continuous loud music also have to listen (and shout over) that loud music.

It should be a no-brainer that if the torturer suffers along with the torturee, that torture the world over should come to an end.  But it doesn’t. I think that’s because those who decide torture is a good idea are nowhere near the scene of the crime. (Ahem, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld.) If they aren’t participating in the torture, their mirror neurons aren’t firing and they don’t have a chance to feel sick inside.

I’ve also discovered that those who think torture is a good idea tend to think that they could survive torture if it happened to them; that they can train to resist torture. There’s a military group called SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) that conducts torture resistance training, however, it’s been revealed that those who’ve undergone SERE training are taking what they’ve learned and are using that knowledge to torture others.

The most common rationalization these people use to explain the use of torture is that they have to get critical secret information out of dangerous prisoners. Any third grader can tell you that if you want to know today’s big playground secret, you don’t run up to the person with that secret and kick her in the shin. Instead, you buddy-up to the secret bearer.  How is it that adults, who should know better, can’t seem to remember this?

Not only do we not remember this, but those who order torture subvert this lesson so they can continue on their merry torturing ways. There have been soldiers who have reported the use of torture on prisoners of the War on Terror because it violates the Geneva Convention. They were told by those higher up the military food chain that those being held weren’t “prisoners of war,” but, instead, are “enemy combatants,” which aren’t covered by the Geneva Convention, so it’s okay to torture them. When it comes to sadistic people who want to do what they want to do, they’ll happily change the language so that they can get around the rules.

Regardless of what the Geneva Convention says about torture, the United States did, at least in principal, agree to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Heck, Eleanor Roosevelt was chair of the Commission on Human Rights when it was written.  Article 5 of the Declaration of Human Rights says, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” I don’t see any sort of categories about specifically who should or should not be tortured within that statement, do you? No “prisoners of war.” No “enemy combatants.” No “supposed terrorists.” Just human beings. None of whom should be tortured. Ever.

But, then, the United States tends to want to make up its own rules when it is in the best interests of the current rulers of the country. So, we have not as yet formally ratified this Declaration and have dragged our feet on making other human rights covenants part of our law, which means our government can bend and tweak things (including body parts) as it likes, changing our language so as to make it look like we are still in compliance with treaties we have ratified.

And the sad thing is that they are doing it in my name, your name, and in the names of all of the country’s citizens. If our government can do this to people of other countries without remorse, when is it going to decide that its disagreeable citizens deserve the same treatment?

Are your mirror neurons firing yet?


The most complete article I’ve read on torture is one I found posted as a link on the Nine Inch Nails forum. It’s called “You arein a place that is out of the world . . .”: Music in the Detention Camps of the “Global War on Terror” by Suzanne G. Cusick. The article can be found through Cambridge Journals Online. Try this link: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=6&fid=1674932&jid=&volumeId=&issueId=&aid=1674928

If that doesn’t work, go to http://journals.cambridge.org and type a portion of the title into the search box.

[Addendum 12/24/2008: Jonathan Turley discusses the Milgram torture test on his blog.]