Last week, President Obama released Bush Administration legal opinions from 2002 which had analyzed the legality of "aggressive interrogation techniques." Most of these techniques were revealed before, yet the memos were trumpeted as an expose, amidst calls for criminal prosecutions of Bush, Cheney, and past officials.
There are four things we can say for sure: (1) The United States should not engage in torture. (2) Terrorists have no rights under the Geneva Convention, which covers only soldiers fighting in uniform (3) Nothing that the Bush Administration did qualifies as "torture." And (4) there is no limit to the lies and distortions which liberals and America haters will engage in to bash the United States.
Trouble is, the definition of "torture" has changed. In fact, American politics is facing a crisis of confusion by re-definition of key words. Many actions are rough, unpleasant, nasty, or humiliating yet still not "torture." Using a new, altered definition, the national news media, liberals, Democrats in Congress, and international organizations have trumpeted charges that the USA engaged in "torture. Then, liberal officials in government and those pandering to the news media have joined in the chorus.
So a giant "echo chamber" has been created in which several million words have been written world-wide merely assuming that the USA used torture. Did we? Or is this just "The Big Lie?"
The only new information Obama "exposed" was about plans to put a caterpillar in a small cell with terrorist Abu Zubaydah who has a fear of insects. (The tough guy has killed or arranged the murder of hundreds of human beings.) Then we also learned how many times Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were waterboarded, around 200 times each. We also learned details about the medical supervision of interrogations mandated by the Bush Justice Department to ensure that subjects remained safe at all times.
Most Americans, however, naturally believe that if interrogation does not involve any physical injury, it does not qualify as torture. Simply knowing that there is a caterpillar in the room is not what most people call 'torture.' (In fact some therapists might recommend that as a cure for getting over Zubaydah's fear of bugs.) Nasty? Perhaps. But it simply does not meet the definition of "torture." One may oppose such techniques without calling them torture.
Most Americans believe that if an activity is regularly practiced by cheerleaders or part of the annual San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, it should not properly be termed torture. So creating human pyramids, wearing underwear on heads, having a leash harmlessly around one's necks, and being half-naked are events we can see both at Abu Ghraib prison and also in the streets of San Francisco during the annual parade celebrating homosexuality.
Most Americans feel that living conditions that U.S. soldiers must regularly endure should not be called torture. One technique involved keeping prison cells cold. Yet if our U.S. troops in the field have to endure cold, bad food, cramped conditions, and hard ground as a bed, or stay awake for days in a battle, well then, doggone it, terrorists can share the same conditions. Anything that our U.S. military has to put up with is good enough for the terrorists who were trying to kill our troops and who have murdered hundreds or thousands of people.
One of the oddest revelations -- in terms of liberal reaction -- was the Associated Press report that a female interrogator read "Harry Potter" books to a terrorist for hours. When a person reads books to a bed-ridden elderly patient, this is considered an act of kindness. But in "Liberal Land," reading the wildly-popular "Harry Potter" books to an inmate at Guantanamo Bay is now "torture."
Similarly, US interrogators "tortured" prisoners by playing Celine Dion records ad nauseum. When the film "Titanic" was released, those who heard the theme song by Dion played a hundred times a day for months, may well be tempted to call this torture. But we should leave such analysis to the film critics.
Some techniques which liberals claim was torture included yelling at the terrorist, using nasty words, lying to the terrorist about handing him over to the Mossad or the Saudis, leading a terrorist to believe that he might suffer bodily injury or be killed, or forcing a Muslim man to be in the same room with a woman.
However unpleasant an act may be, perhaps if it is advertised on "Craigs List" as as a paid erotic service, maybe "torture" is not the right word for it. Disgusting, yes. Inappropriate... absolutely. But "torture?" Not quite. At Abu Ghraib, being in the same room with a woman, being half-naked, wearing kinky outfits, or even being spanked . possibly aren't "torture" if people pay real money for these same acts by kinky escorts through ads in the "City Paper."
One of the most curious techniques used, reading between the lines, was to take photographs of terrorists half-naked with a female soldier. Interrogators would then threaten to send the photographs to the terrorists' Islamic hometown. This was apparently done to blackmail terrorists into talking. This technique involves no actual harm whatsoever, especially if the threat is never carried out. On the other hand, blackmail certainly does seem under-handed and troubling. This might be unethical, but torture it is not.
Nearly all the aggressive interrogation techniques were "old news," such as sleep deprivation. Prisoners were sometimes deprived of solid food. This brings to mind those TV ads for "Slim Fast" diet drinks. This author has fasted for a week with no food at all. Several pastors I know have fasted for 40 days without any food at all. This can be pure misery. Surely it would be uncomfortable, especially for a plump man like Khalikh Sheikh Mohammed who probably loves his food. But can we call it "torture" when we have diet companies selling liquid diets on television?
Interrogators were authorized to keep a prisoner awake for no more than 180 hours (8 days). During this author's fraternity initiation "hell week" I stayed awake for just under one week. And that included going to classes in college, and functioning as a student despite having no sleep. Terrorist detainees just sat in their cells, kept awake. Calling what fraternity pledges do voluntarily torture is a bit of a stretch.
Some inmates were kept naked. That is embarrassing, especially for a Muslim if women are around. But let's put things in perspective. Nudist colonies charge money for allowing a lifestyle of nakedness. It might not be everyone's taste. But if people pay money to walk around naked all day, can we really classify that as torture? Humiliating, yes. But "torture" is a different word.
As described by the USA TODAY from a Justice Department release, some of the other methods approved for "aggressive interrogation" by the Bush Administration did also include some rougher treatment. But even these are being misrepresented.
Perhaps the most disturbing technique was the practice of "walling" -- until we understand what it is. USA Today describes walling as: "A fake, flexible wall is built, and the suspect is pulled forward and 'then quickly and firmly' pushed against the wall. 'The idea is to create a sound that will make the impact seem far worse than it is.'"
But pay careful attention: An inmate is thrown into a FAKE wall, specially constructed for the purpose. This was a FLEXIBLE -- soft -- wall, designed to be HARMLESS. The idea is to make the terrorist believe he is going to be hurt... but in fact he is not hurt at all. This is a "Nerf wall!"
Another approved method that might trouble Americans includes stress positions: This included "kneeling on the floor while leaning back at a 45-degree angle" and "sitting on the floor with legs extended out in front of him with his arms raised above his head." This is one method that seems questionable and over the line, and might bother many people. Yet no actual injury is involved.
There were a few approved methods more of what we expect in rough interrogation: Attention grasp: "Grasping the individual with both hands, one hand on each side of the shirt collar opening, in a controlled and quick motion." Facial grasp: "Used to hold the head immobile. One open palm is placed on either side of the individual's face." Insult slap: "The purpose of the facial slap is to induce shock, surprise and/or humiliation."
Similarly, there is cramped confinement: The suspect is placed in a confined space that "is usually dark." Some spaces allow a subject only to sit down. Such confinement "lasts for no more than two hours."
Then there is Wall standing: Subjects are forced to lean with only their fingers for support against a wall 4 to 5 feet away from their bodies in a tactic "used to induce muscle fatigue."
And finally, of course, there is the now famous waterboarding: As described by the Justice Department release: "The subject is placed on a board with a cloth covering his nose and mouth. The cloth is saturated with water to simulate drowning. It creates "the perception of 'suffocation and incipient panic.' " The reason that the technique works is that terrorists do not know if the interrogator will go too far.
Among the released memos is one from then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee emphasizing that waterboarding "will be stopped if deemed medically necessary to prevent severe mental or physical harm." Another memo makes clear that supervising physicians were empowered to stop interrogations "if in their professional judgment the detainee may suffer severe physical or mental pain or suffering.
Despite the world-wide hysteria about waterboarding, the reality is a bit of a let-down. It should be well-known by now that US troops endure waterboarding as part of their training. The internet news outlet "Bleepin' Truth" held a live demonstration of waterboarding in Tampa, Florida. It was broadcast by Bay News 9 television news.
This demonstration was different from others in that an actual, trained military interrogator reproduced the technique accurately.
There is no question that the experience is very unpleasant. That is the whole point. But we see videos of hundreds of people who walk away afterwards, and talk normally to camera. YouTube contains dozens of demonstrations.
To put this into context, we might do well to visit a Florida swimming pool and talk to rough-housing boys who regularly push each other under the water. If being submerged under water -- and held there -- with the sensation that one is about to drown is "waterboarding" then it is happening a hundred times a week somewhere in Florida's swimming pools by rough-housing boys.
This author was diving in the Bahamas, 40 feet below the water, with no air, when our "Aquanut" air pump suddenly ran out of gas. It took several seconds to realize why it was suddenly so quiet, and then take a breath and find no air coming in. Struggling for the surface, my lungs were bursting, like a thousand pins all through my lungs. This was certainly unpleasant, but you could not call it torture. I was back down in the water again within ten minutes.
In order to have meaningful decisions on national policies, we must have clear and unchanging definitions of key concepts. We must not allow this liberal scam of changing the meaning of words in order to hijack national policy. The definition of words can control the entire direction of a nation.