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The Waterboarding of Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens agrees to be waterboarded for Vanity Fair. Video (which I can’t seem to embed) here. Malcolm Nance, a friend of mine who has been waterboarded as part of his old torture resistance training — SERE — and who instructed Naval special forces how to endure it, described its brutality in gruesome detail to Congress last year.

But it’s different to see it. In April, we reported on Amnesty International’s waterboarding video. An earlier one appeared on Keith Olbermann’s show. It’s important to see this, again and again and again, to combat what I believe Hitchens used to call “the sin of euphemism.” When John Yoo says the “circumstances” determine if waterboarding is torture if it’s done to U.S. troops or when Michael Mukasey says waterboarding is “repugnant” but may not be torture or when Mike McConnell says it’s torture to him only because of his bad sinuses, that euphemism embeds itself into the American character. Today we learn from The New York Times that one of the places of origin of what George W. Bush euphemistically calls “enhanced interrogation” is Maoist China. What could be more un-American? What could be more anti-American? And what sort of person would apologize for this?

The most gruesome thing about Hitchens’ video is watching the slow, methodic preparation for his torture. See him hooded, strapped to the board, bonds squeezing his fat chest and stomach. See the hooded interrogator slowly explaining to him about non-verbal signals for “unendurable stress.” See the men in khakis and polo shirts daintily putting a towel over Hitchens’ hooded face. See his awful expression and gasping red face as he gives up within seconds. And recognize that the men who were waterboarded — whose waterboarding means, in a society allegedly devoted to the rule of law, that they will never be successfully prosecuted in any recognizable system of justice — never had the baseline mercies that these terrifying scenes nevertheless indicated Hitchens enjoyed.

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