03 July, 2008

Self-inflicted truth


A most interesting story in Vanity Fair, as the pugilist Christopher Hitchens agrees to undergo waterboarding to decide for himself if it is torture. My initial reaction was against the implicit arrogance of the maneuver: now that I, Christopher Hitchens, have willingly undergone this procedure, we can safely call it torture. Thanks, Hitch. Now willingly have your fingernails pulled off and report back to us on that one.

But for all that, the pain and terror he undergoes is real, and he produces a thoughtful reflection on the experience. Its not too long, check it out. The most important point he makes is not that waterboarding is indeed torture (which is a relatively low bar), but rather that we should reject the "tiering" of torture, in which waterboarding is acceptable given the much worse torture practiced by our enemies. That false distinction not only puts Americans in harms way by destroying the reciprocality of the Geneva Conventions, but it also produces verifiably unreliable intelligence -- a lose-lose situation.

1 comment:

Cassady said...

Arrogant, yes. Interesting? Way yes.

I'm not always a huge fan of Hitch, and this move, although bold, leaves my feeling both impressed and aloof.

I'm impressed that he had the idea and willingly underwent the process, but I'm aloof and confused because I'm not sure what he hoped to accomplish.

Much like you, Elliot, I'm feeling like I didn't need the bold and courageous Christopher Hitchens to tell me that this abhorrent procedure is torture. It's just kind of neat that he actually did it. Plus I kind of like the way he writes.