Defining Torture Down

by Sonny Bunch on December 16, 2012

One of the things worth pointing out in the whole Zero Dark Thirty kerfuffle is the absurd defining-down of “torture,” something Kyle Smith gets at quite nicely in his column this weekend:

Does “ZD30” glorify torture? No, because no one is tortured in it. The worst procedure shown is waterboarding, and while this is an extremely unpleasant process (it’s not even easy to watch a movie simulation of it), it isn’t torture.

Any reasonable definition of torture must exclude procedures that sane people would undergo on a lark. Journalists such as Kaj Larsen and Christopher Hitchens have volunteered to be waterboarded in exchange for nothing more than a cocktail-party anecdote and some copy. (Indeed, Larsen paid $800 for the privilege.) A mixed-martial-arts trainer named Ed Clay volunteered to be waterboarded because he was upset about the general tenor of discussion during a Republican presidential debate and wanted to prove something or other.

Method actors are being waterboarded. Not only did “ZD30” star Jason Clarke volunteer to undergo the procedure for the role — though his character is the guy administering punishment, not taking it — even Denzel Washington says he consented to the procedure while preparing to make the silly thriller “Safe House.” It’s getting so you can’t attend a dinner party in Washington, New York or Beverly Hills without meeting someone who agreed to be waterboarded.

Would any of these people have agreed to undergo having their fingernails ripped out one by one? Would any have said, “I need a topic for my next column/something to talk about for my profile in Entertainment Weekly. Will someone please sever my little toe with a rusty butcher knife?”

You see this elsewhere (for example: Bradley Manning was “tortured,” according to some, because he, um, was held in solitary and was forced to sleep naked, or something). If you want people to take you seriously when discussing such issues, you’re well served by not getting hyperbolic and breathless.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Judith December 16, 2012 at 2:25 pm

“If you want people to take you seriously when discussing such issues, you’re well served by not getting hyperbolic and breathless.”

I’m nearly as sanguine as you. Given the tenor of our public discussion, it seems to me that getting hyperbolic and breathless is the fast track to being a prophet/ess or, at the very least, a genuinely, brow-furrowed, [i]concerned[/i] and thoughtful individual.

Think sheep.


Jason Bealle December 16, 2012 at 2:36 pm

I don’t necessarily disagree that torture is sometimes appropriate in extreme situations, but it is silly to deny that waterboarding is torture because a few actors and journalists agreed to try it once. Lots of people have voluntarily been tasered on a lark, but it would undoubtedly be torture if the cops tasered you over and over until you confessed. KSM was waterboarded 183 times until he broke. Hitchens and Denzel “trying” it once under conditions where they could stop it at any time is not the equivalent. I’m not losing sleep over it, but let’s be honest and admit we tortured the guy.


Rob Crawford December 17, 2012 at 3:58 pm

You do the efforts against REAL torture a disservice by grouping mild discomfort in with it.


tgt December 18, 2012 at 6:59 pm

“You do the efforts against REAL rape a disservice grouping simple random groping in with it”.

That X is not as bad as some forms of Y does not mean that X is not Y.


Rob Crawford December 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Waterboarding is so horrible lefties did it to each other in the street, in view of police, and were not charged with any crime.


plewis December 17, 2012 at 4:02 pm

The reason one can readily consent to “trial” of waterboarding is that there is a certainty death will not result. In the real world no such assurances are given. But since it isn’t torture , only an interrogation method, I assume you would not object to American sevicemen being interrogated in such a way.


tgt December 18, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Didn’t the U.S. already agree that waterboarding was torture when it was done by our enemies?


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: