13 February 2010

Sleep dep and torture

Via Matthew Yglesias, I read this article by Alex Massie which I really think everyone who cares at all about the torture debate should read. (The fact that I even typed the words "torture debate" makes me sick to my stomach.) What sickens me most is the way that people have successfully softened the language used to make things not sound as bad.

This article focuses on "sleep deprivation," which honestly doesn't sound so bad. We've all been "sleep deprived" at some point or another. But this article shows the difference between not sleeping due to an all-nighter vs. going a whole week without any sleep because guards are constantly hitting you, pulling you upright, blasting you with light, and blaring heavy metal/kid's song at you 24/7. Is it any wonder that after just a few days people snap?

The same is true of waterboarding. Even when we call it "simulated drowning," it doesn't sound any worse than being dunked in the pool when you were a kid. However, the point of waterboarding is that it completely destroys your autonomy and your ability to keep your lungs from accepting the water. You feel the water going into your mouth and nose (even if it doesn't actually go in, the feeling is there, causing gagging and possibly asphyxiation.) Anything that causes your body to act as if it is dying must be torture.

We need to think about the full strength of semantics in this debate, and make sure to clearly put forward the true horror of torture.

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