Friday, January 07, 2005

Andrew Sullivan and the confusion of non-torture

Andrew Sullivan writes about torture today (as he does almost everyday). He writes in today's post titled "Anti-Islamic Torture": 'One of the remarkable features of this whole disgusting phenomenon is the anti-Muslim techniques. We now have the use of sexual humiliation, rape, the force-feeding of pork, forcible pouring of liquor down an inmate's throat, wrapping someone in the Israeli flag, forcing inmates to kneel and pray and then kicking them in the head, and now placing duct tape over the mouth of someone reciting the Koran.'

Look at that list. Notice how easily he mixes in torture and non-torture. How exactly is "wrapping someone in the Israeli flag" anything at all like "rape?" How is "sexual humiliation" like being kicked in the head? The answer is "they are not alike." It is this confusion that makes the veins on my head pop out. By broadening the definition of torture to include wrapping someone in a fucking flag the word threatens to collapse into meaninglessness, if it hasn't already?

Sullivan goes on to quote "a first-hand sworn Red Cross deposition of an interrogation in Abu Ghraib":

They took me inside the building and started to scream at me. They stripped me naked, they asked me, "Do you pray to Allah?" I said, "Yes." They said, "Fuck you" and "Fuck him." ... Someone else asked me, "Do you believe in anything?" I said to him, "I believe in Allah." So he said, "But I believe in torture and I will torture you. When I go home to my country, I will ask whoever comes after me to torture you." Then they handcuffed me and hung me to the bed. They ordered me to curse Islam and because they started to hit my broken leg, I cursed my religion. They ordered me to thank Jesus I am alive. And I did what they ordered me. This is against my belief. They left me hang from the bed and after a while I lost consciousness."

It's easy to let knee-jerk emotion and blind sentimentality overwhelm you when reading that. It's easy to say that the man was tortured horribly and turn away. He was tortured but not in the manner Sullivan implies. The torture does not begin until they hung him from his bed. The torture continues when they hit his broken leg. But that's it. Insulting someone's religion is not torture. What's next, you can't say his momma is ugly either? Except for the hitting, the recruits were treated worse in Full Metal Jacket. You can't threaten someone? How are threats torture? If that's the case I want reparations for the 8th and 9th grades when I was routinely threatened (which I didn't mind nearly as much as actually being hit.)

This anti-Islamic treatment may be ill-advised. It may be counter-productive in the long run. It may be stupid and short-sighted. It is certainly blasphemous and rude. I won't argue against any of that (at least not here). But I refuse to accept that any anti-Islamic treatment is by definition torture.

Update: Welcome Instapundit readers (and thanks to Glenn). Here are two other recent posts on the topic. Remembering Ezra Pound and Torture? Your Lame Jokes Are Certainly Painful. (link repaired. sorry.)

13 Comments:

Blogger Sean said...

That's what you get for still reading Sullivan.

Whatever it takes to bash Bush: not exactly intellectual honesty.

7:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The description of the treatment is from a sworn red Cross statement, apparently from the recipient of the questionable treatment. This statement is accepted at face value. There is no question that the retained individual has a motive to lie or exaggerate about his treatment.

The clue that he is lying or exaggerating the mistreatment is that it is about religion to him. The war against terror isn't about religion in the US, and I would be very surprised if US soldiers cared that much about his religious beliefs.

Mike

7:29 AM  
Blogger Daniel in Brookline said...

A very good point! We need to be reminded, from time to time, that "torture" is not defined as "anything that makes someone uncomfortable".

I hope you don't mind, I've linked to you in my latest post. I like what you have to say, and the way you say it.

respectfully,
Daniel in Brookline

7:41 AM  
Blogger David said...

How could anyone doubt a sworn statement? Just because some terrorist would slice off the head of an innocent civilian is no reason to think he might lie under oath, is it?

9:08 AM  
Blogger DanKlob said...

This witness is a fake!

So he said, "But I believe in torture and I will torture you. When I go home to my country, I will ask whoever comes after me to torture you."

Either the Red Cross fabricated the witness or the witness fabricated the statement. I have a hard time imagining a statement like this could even result from a misunderstanding or from a poor translation from Arabic.

9:53 AM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

your second link is bloggered

11:15 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

"But I refuse to accept that any anti-Islamic treatment is by definition torture."

I would like to point out that Andrew Sullivan is not commenting on "torture" per se, but on the anti-Islamic nature of some of it. He makes no comparison equating rape with "flag-wrapping".

Speaking of "knee-jerk emotion",.....

12:10 PM  
Blogger reverse_vampyr said...

Sullivan DID equate rape with flag-wrapping by including them in the same sentence.

I really enjoyed your post today, and totally agree about this "torture" being mostly a non-issue. For one, this Red Cross deposition seems a bit fishy. Also, we have no idea who the person in question might be. He's not some innocent civilian that's been snatched off the streets of Baghdad, he's probably a terrorist who's been captured while trying to kill American soldiers. Anyhow, good rant. Thanks!

12:52 PM  
Blogger Thomas the Wraith said...

Patrick, I disagree. Sullivan's title alone tells you that it is the anti-Islamic nature of the techniques that concerns him. His is not merely another post against torture. And what exactly is anti-Islamic about the torture in this case? How are beatings specifically anti-Islamic? Nothing. It is the insults to Islam that Sullivan is addressing. But it is these insults that I do not consider to be torture.

He explicitly lists "wrapping someone in the Israeli flag" among other tortures, including rape. He is equating, to some degree, all the techniques listed. I don't know how else to read that sentence. The very grammer equates them. But thanks for commenting.

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Sullivan DID equate rape with flag-wrapping by including them in the same sentence' - reverse_vampyr

'I don't know how else to read that sentence. The very grammer equates them.'-Thomas the Wraith

'He dragged her from the car, called her a slut, spat on her, put a bag over her head, then he raped her'. Which one of those actions is equated with rape because it resides in the same sentence?
Oh, if your going to mention grammar, try spelling it correctly.

5:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's be honest, even if we serve them tea and cookies they'll still walk out of prison claiming "torture". We may as well go ahead and do it then. It may yield some valueable information and save some lives.

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Oh, if your going to mention grammar, try spelling it correctly."

Actually, what you're looking for is :

"Oh, if you're going to mention grammar, try spelling it correctly."

There, we're even.

6:30 PM  
Blogger Thomas the Wraith said...

Anonymous Grammer Critic - In an attempt to prove that Sullivan was not equating rape with wrapping prisoners in the Israeli flag, you gave this example, "'He dragged her from the car, called her a slut, spat on her, put a bag over her head, then he raped her'."

This sentence depicts a series of chronological events that are not equated. One follows the other. Sullivan's sentence is not a chronology but a list of independent actions. He is elaborating on the previous sentence by providing examples of anti-Muslim techniques. He is equating them. Sorry, nice try. But thanks for reading.

7:41 PM  

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