30 May 2007

Comfort words

If you call a rose an onion, it’s still a rose.

The buzz over the last few days has been over the discovery that the Nazis used the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques” instead of “torture,” just like the Bush Administration does. The Gestapo coined the term, apparently. How civilized. How droll. How ... coy of them.

Then, like today, people didn’t like to hear some words. “Torture” conjures horrible images of fingernails being pulled from fingertips with pliers while the victim screams in agony. Or of live electrical wires being touched to ultra-sensitive parts of the body, or of a glowing cigarette burning into the soft flesh under an eye. Fingers snipped off with garden shears.

We identify with the victim instantly. We imagine the complete terror, the outrageous, continuous pain, the hopelessness, the longing for the agony to end, even if it means escape into the nothingness of death. We imagine our dead bodies ugly, mutilated and disgraced, treated as rubbish, buried or burned without any respect for the life which once inhabited them, without memorial, without dignity. We imagine the anguish of our families, our friends.

The healthy human mind shudders away from such images. It reacts with revulsion. We consider those who condone torture depraved and wicked. Evil.

“Enhanced interrogation techniques,” on the other hand, is delightfully vague. It’s an all-over-the-place phrase that conjures no real images at all. We can’t identify with the person – certainly not a “victim” – whom they might be applied to. He’s faceless, amorphous, unreal, but obviously bad. The phrase is perfectly usable in polite company over luncheon.

In America, we associate the word “torture” with the Nazis, with Saddam, with Pinochet, with the Inquisition. We think of the rack, the Iron Maiden, thumb screws, near-drowning, eyeballs poked out. Anyone for a dentist’s drill?

Hard to imagine America doing horrific, evil things like that to any human being, to any living creature, for that matter, for any reason.

But we do accept the benefits of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and we don’t really mind that our country practices them against our “enemies” as long as they’re “necessary.” We’ll just leave the definition of those words to ... well, the Government. The Authorities. They know who the “enemy” is, right? They know when “enhanced interrogation techniques” are necessary. They have the benefit of information, of reasoned judgment. And, when it comes down to it, it’s simply a matter of “national security.”

Isn’t it?


Kevin Wolf said...

So why don't I feel better, safer, and prouder to be an American?

Wil Robinson said...

It's comforting to know that there is some precedent.

For a minute there, I thought Cheney & Son were making up rules as they went.