Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production


Inquisitor's Chair, Spanish Inquisition

Inquisitor’s Chair, Spanish Inquisition

Someone left a bumper sticker on my care the other day.   They must know my politics.   The sticker says, “Proud of My Country, Ashamed of My President.”   Close, but not quite there.   First of all, I don’t use bumper stickers; I like my car without those long, ugly key scratches down the sides and the kick dents in the fenders.   And I remember well the UCLA study back in the Vietnam days when a prof sent half his students out with antiwar bumper stickers on their cars and the others as a control group without stickers. Guess which group got all the traffic citations.   Second, I’m not as proud of my country as I would like to be.   I admit its president goniffed his office, but the country that impeached a president for quasi-adultery re-elected a lying s.o.b. who has shamed us before the entire world.   As far as I’m concerned he’s not mypresident.   And now this president wants to become the Torquemada of the 21 st Century.   Sorry, the bumper sticker just doesn’t quite do it for me.

America is probably rather new to the torture game. Not sufficiently horrified by the Abu Ghraib photos it has lapsed into debating not the morality or propriety of it, but its definition.   The political answer is easy: If the people want more guard dogs to chew off Iraqi genitals then that’s what the people should have.   That’s politics. [1]

The Public relations answer is that “torture” is what the enemy does to our people, and “interrogation techniques” are what we use on them.   Now that we have an administration in Washington that uses the definition of things as what their PR people can get voters to believe they are (e.g. the Clean Skies Initiative), they just keep insisting that this is a “war on terror” and using any method of interrogation is justified to “keep American safe” and our women from not having to wear burkhas .   Oh, I forgot, you also have to keep insisting that this is a new and “different kind of war,” and all those old rules just don’t apply any longer.


The latest has been the Lawyers’ (many of them members of Congress) answer.   A lawyer acquaintance of mine (not a member of Congress) told me recently that I was overreacting to the torture thing.   “What’s a little slapping on the belly?   You can’t go calling that torture,” he admonished me. [2]   Easy for him to say.   By that ridiculous logic there also wouldn’t be much reason for the slappee to confess to anything with just a little belly slapping.   What the lawyer doesn’t comprehend is that you have to slap the detainee on the belly for a few days, maybe weeks, morning, noon and night, you know, just little slaps, and, voila, he’s ready to give up his whole family as well as his country and comrades.   Let me slap his belly for as long as it takesand I’ll get this lawyer to confess he sodomized Judge Judy at home plate in front of capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium. [3]


But that wasn’t my main point, which is that lawyers just love to parse things out to where they find the “line.”   That’s what Bush is trying to do (yes, I know he’s not a lawyer); he wants, he says, a clearer definition of cruel and unusual punishment, of the section of the Geneva Conventions that he claims is unclear.   He doesn’t get it either.   What’s a few drops of water falling on your head, George?   “A shower?”   Right.   Now what’s a few drops of water on your head for a week, George? “A, ah, long shower?”   See what I mean?   George doesn’t get that you wouldn’t want to be in a shower that long with Angelina Jolie. [4]   (But George is a very stupid guy, so I’m not sending this to him.)


Then there is the matter of what one is trying to achieve with torture.   What torture generally proves that: a) you can cause somebody to die rather cruelly without saying anything, in which case you have wasted some good time and torture instruments for nothing; b) you show them the thumb screw and they’ll tell you anything you want to hear (Heck, they got Galileo to say the sun revolved around the earth).   So you get a lot of useless bullshit to waste you time on; c) some people really get their jollies brutalizing other people. All that creaming is music to their ears. Yes, you can get some useful information, like where you can find more people to torture.   Of course the image put in everyone’s mind is that the person being tortured has immediate information on when and where a bomb has been placed.   Even were that information available, do you believe that the idiots that botched the chance to apprehend the 911 perpetrators would know what to do with it?   Condi would call it “historical background.”


Real torturers know that its not so much what you do, but how, and how long you do it.   Mind you, these brutal bastards can outdo Abu Ghraib.   Read a real history of the Roman Empire, the Inquisition, American Indians, hell, anywhere and anytime , and you’ll find torture.   Think of the worst thing that you would not want to have happen to you—drowning, having all your bones broken, being eaten by rats, being immersed in a tank of human waste, being roasted on a rotisserie (getting sick yet?), OK, being eaten alive, being sexually humiliated, being forced to listen to an endless loop of the speeches of George Bush—had enough?   Well, make it worse, imagine watching it being done to someone you love.   Well, it’s all been done, it’s being done.   Auschwitz, SR21, Abu Ghraib, Unit 731, and in countless dark, nameless places, places where Bush has detainees “renditioned” off to so the blood won’t splash on him, because the light is too strong on Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.


Sure, we can all think of a few people who deserve what even the worst tortures we can inflict.   But the fact is, that these people usually die in the beds at a ripe old age; it’s the innocent people that usually get the torture.   Like Mr. Arar, the Canadian engineer that was swept up in the American torture net and sent off to Syria for a little rendition and rough stuff.   An investigation buy the Canadians finds him completely innocent, but his life was made a mess, his career ruined, name smeared, and what happened to him in Syria yet to be disclosed.   Alberto Gonzales, that champion of justice, blew it all off with “it was all done within our laws.”   Like I said, lawyers.


I just don’t get it.   How come we are trying to keep from being conquered by people who are religious fundamentalists that believe religious people should run the state, that treat women as second class citizens who have no rights over their own bodies, who have schools that do not teach what science has learned if it does not agree with their scared texts, who believe there is one true religion, who detain people without charging them and deny them due process of law, who spy on their own people and abridge their rights to privacy, and who feel it is OK to torture anyone who threatens their society?   Let ‘em in, they’ll feel right at home.   That’s the genius of those Islamic religious extremists—with surprisingly little effort they are terrorizing us into become mirror images of them.


As to defining torture, well you can get rather torturous with how much, what kind, how long, etc.   Maybe, it is, what one hears a lot of by way of definition these days, “what it is.”   Believe me, you’ll know it when you feel it.

Translation of “regulations” at SR21 torture facility Phnom Penh, Cambodia Photograph by the author.   ©2001, UrbisMedia

Translation of “regulations” at SR21 torture facility Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Photograph by the author. ©2001, UrbisMedia

©2006, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 9.24.2006)

[1] Three Republican senators that originally opposed Bush’s desire to skirt the Geneva Conventions went up to the White House this week and emerges with what might be the most (excuse me) tortured compromise that essentially makes Bush & Co, immune from prosecution, and in contravening out own Constitution withdraws habeas corpus rights from detainees.   One of the senators was John McCain, who had his integrity gland removed when he was being tortured as POW in Vietnam.

[2] I confess that I had not heard of the belly-slapping torture technique until this exchange.    So I administered it on my own belly for a while and, damn it, now my belly seems larger!

[3] That’s not true, of course; but torture has little to do with truth.   (Anyway, it was Wrigley Field.)

[4] Hello, Jim.   This is Brad.   I agree with everything else you are saying; brilliant, if you ask me.   But I don’t think you should knock the long shower with Angelina thing until you’ve actually tried it.