Saturday, July 05, 2008

Exactly [UPDATED]

Dennis Perrin:
If Hitchens is truly serious about experiencing life on the business end of empire, we should arrange to break into his home in the middle of the night, force his family on the floor at gunpoint, yell at him in a language he does not speak, kick him a few times in the balls, hood him, and drag him off to a black site where the waterboarding isn't choreographed ahead of time (and no safety words -- he can save that for his dominatrix), with plenty of beatings, sleep deprivation, and sensory derangement mixed in (a long Waco-style audio tape would be a nice touch, complete with the screams of slaughtered rabbits). I'd say a good two to three weeks of this should suffice, and who knows, Hitchens might enjoy it. The DVD special edition box set of his ordeal (yours free with a year's subscription to Vanity Fair) would give his career added freakshow boost. And really, isn't that what it's all about?
(Context here, in case you missed it.)

Just a tad ironic, isn't it, that the self-proclaimed keeper of Orwell's intellectual/ethical flame has to go through his own Room 101 experience to admit that – just maybe – the powers that be are not being entirely honest, and in fact may be employing euphemisms ("extreme interrogation") to conceal sordid realities ("torture")?

[Responding to Zach in the comments]:

And if the issue were rape, not torture? Would I still owe Hitch credit for denying reality until the prevailing political winds compelled him to cede that, yes, maybe it's a nasty thing, after all? Do you really have to be raped (under highly controlled and artificial circumstances) to admit that it's rape? Part of being an intelligent person is being able to understand certain truths without being (literally, in this case) beaten over the head with them.

There was never any ambiguity on torture. It's not a partisan issue and never was. The only people who asserted there were some grey areas were either naive, stupid, or corrupt. Which was Hitch?

And if you read Hitchens article, his "concession" is so filled out with pokes at straw-men lefties and assertions that both his torturers (and the people who support them) are noble, serious gents as to undermine the whole exercise. Really, what is the point of saying his interrogators are part of a "highly honourable group" and are "heroes"? Hitchens is at least smart enough to know that, where such crimes are concerned, the honour of the men perpetuating them is irrelevant.

So it's a stunt, and nothing more.

And if someone is wrong nine times in a row, he doesn't get double credit for being sort-of right the tenth time. In an ideal world, that person would lose all credibility, and would have to cede his place to someone who'd been right all along. (Doesn't work out that way, I know.)

Having said all this, I sincerely hope this is the start of a trend, and that more of Hitchens' empire-cheering gasbag friends sign up for Brubaker-esque stints in Gitmo, Saudi prisons, and CIA interrogation rooms at undisclosed locations around the world.


Zachariah Wells said...

I don't agree with Hitchens' position on the US colonization of the Middle East, but the guy deserves credit for this. He didn't have to undergo the waterboarding and having undergone it, he didn't have to tell anyone about it. Or he could have said it's not that bad. (Easy to imagine, say, Mark Steyn doing this.) It would be nice if Hitchens' knee-jerk detractors were as open to having their minds' changed...

Zachariah Wells said...

Your analogy doesn't work, Nathan, because people know what rape is, whereas "waterboarding," for anyone who has never witnessed or experienced it, is rather abstract. (It could easily, for anyone unfamiliar with it, be more the equivalent of sexual harrassment than rape: unethical and a violation, but not an abject one.) So most of those who said it was torture were just as ignorant or naive as Hitchens and those who said it wasn't. Their being right doesn't change that; in an either/or question, they had a 50% chance of being correct.

And listen, the people he's lauding are not "interrogators"; they're people who trained soldiers to _resist_ waterboarding inflicted by someone else. They may not be noble folks, I don't know. But just because they're engaged in such work doesn't make them ignoble villains. There are a fuck of a lot of good, honest, ethical people working in the armed forces. I don't envy them being jammed into this completely unethical war.

At any rate, I have the feeling that when Hitch is proven dead wrong about the necessity of this war, he'll admit it. It certainly wouldn't be the first time he changed his mind about something.

nathan said...

Read it again, Zach - he means his fake torturers when he says they are "heroes" and "noble." He includes them in a larger group that includes everyone in the armed forces, but he means his captors primarily.

And calling the proud men and women who serve proudly in the proud armed forces "heroes" is about as brave as calling kittens "cute." Those people are ordinary people (I know, because some of my family are them) who are occasionally called upon to do extraordinary things. Twisting that into a club with which to beat up on anti-war and anti-torture voices is cowardly and dishonest. Hitchens has no real thought for soldiers. That's all just a sop for his American readers.

And no, there is and was no ambiguity around waterboarding. That ambiguity was created by the people who, very cynicically, wanted to use it for their own means while maintaining the moral high ground. There are many detailed accounts of waterboarding written by members of those same armed forces who were forced to undergo it. Some very prominent ex-military people have come out firmly against the use of it in interrogation. Hitch didn't need to try it out to have his mind changed. To do so out of journalistic curiosity is perfectly defensible, but to then give us all a stern lecture about heroes on the ramparts, etc, is just laughable.

As for whether Hitch eventually decides the Iraq occupation was an immoral, illegal, destructive and expensive waste of time - who cares? Again, he gets not credit for eventually admitting he's wrong when he's been aggressively wrong for so long now. You're giving him a free pass he doesn't deserve. Honestly, why should anyone care if the man says, at some unspecified time in the future, "Hmm, maybe this was a cockup..." He has spent too much time demeaning everyone else against the war/occupation to wriggle free of it now.

JG said...


Saying that Hitch has "changed his mind about something" has to be the biggest understatement so far on this thread. He has more than changed his mind about the odd issue or two, he's done a complete 180 from his early rabid leftist beliefs and spent the second half of his career bullying anyone who doesn't share his new bizarre blend of Pax Americana, lap-dog capitalism and militant atheism (this last soap box mounted, no doubt, to prove to his younger Marxist self that he hasn't swallowed the whole right-wing personality package). How anyone can take anything this guy says seriously is beyond. His arguments against religion could be shredded by anyone with a first-year university student's understanding of 20th-century history and world religions, and his "analysis" of world events read like the dystpeptic rantings of the self-contradicting, capillary blasted Tory piss-tank ranting at the end of the bar.