Duncan's blog

April 18, 2009

The worst thing in the world

Filed under: Politics — duncan @ 2:58 pm

I don’t know what your opinion is of torture, but personally I’m against it. The US Government has published some secret memos detailing the legal justification for their torture enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA in the ‘war on terror‘. Mostly these are just self-serving legalistic jargon explaining why the end justifies the means.

The techniques range from relatively mild (slaps to the face or abdomen, shoving captives against a wall) to the extreme (sleep deprivation, prolonged stress positions, water boarding).

The first of these memos (PDF) has the following section:

In addition to using the confinement boxes alone, you also would like to introduce an insect into one of the boxes with Zubaydah. As we understand it, you plan to inform Zubaydah that you are going to place a stinging insect into the box, but you will actually place a harmless insect in the box, such as a caterpillar. If you do so, to ensure that you are outside the predicate act requirement, you must inform him that the insects will not have a sting that would produce death or severe pain. If, however, you were to place the insect in the box without informing him that you are doing so, then, in order to not commit a predicate act, you should not affirmatively lead him to believe that any insect is present which has a sting that could produce severe pain or suffering or even cause his death. [censored] so long as you take either of the approaches we have described, the insect’s placement in the box would not constitute a threat of severe physical pain or suffering to a reasonable person in his position. An individual placed in a box, even an individual with a fear of insects, would not reasonably feel threatened with severe physical pain or suffering if a caterpillar was placed in the box.

Does that remind you of anything? The following excerpts are from George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four:

‘The worst thing in the world,’ said O’Brien, ‘varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.’

‘In your case,’ said O’Brien, ‘the worst thing in the world happens to be rats.’

‘By itself,’ he said, ‘pain is not always enough. There are occasions when a human being will stand out against pain, even to the point of death. But for everyone there is something unendurable–something that cannot be contemplated. Courage and cowardice are not involved. If you are falling from a height it is not cowardly to clutch at a rope. If you have come up from deep water it is not cowardly to fill your lungs with air. It is merely an instinct which cannot be destroyed. It is the same with the rats. For you, they are unendurable. They are a form of pressure that you cannot withstand, even if you wished to. You will do what is required of you.’

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