NPR on “waterboarding”


It is a macabre reflection that Americans can make torture sound hip, like the latest fad sport. Waterboarding. Soon enough, they’ll have a players’ union.

At any rate, NPR took a look at the history of this “controversial” interrogation technique.

Its use was first documented in the 14th century, according to Ed Peters, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania. It was known variously as “water torture,” the “water cure” or tormenta de toca — a phrase that refers to the thin piece of cloth placed over the victim’s mouth.

Eric Weiner’s article accompanies the audio for Jacki Lyden’s interview with Darius Rejali, of Reed College, on the same subject.

A turning point for waterboarding — in any form — came around 1800. As the Enlightenment swept across Europe, many countries banned the practice and people, in general, found it “morally repugnant,” Peters says. Waterboarding moved underground, but did not disappear by any means. In fact, it has experienced something of a revival in the 20th century.

Enlightened civilizations may have condemned the practice, but convenience makes it attractive to those who would call themselves noble, true, and honorable. No marks, no foul. The only object is suffering.

Why is it so important to be able to hurt other people senseless? Information extracted via torture is unreliable. It seems that, at some level, torturing our enemies is simply about being able to torture our enemies. An eye for an eye is impossible, so let us do useless things and pretend they make us feel better.

My fellow Americans, have we yet realized just how badly our twenty-first century has opened? Do we realize yet that things are likely going downhill from here? Seriously, let us pretend for just a moment that global warming is not some bizarre conspiracy hoax designed to weaken human resistance to the final invasion by our reverse-vampire overlords. It would be nice to have a few years of common decency before the next crisis begins when the whole place officially goes to hell.

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