September 28, 2006

An Open Letter to John McCain:

dogDear Senator McCain,
This morning on NPR I overheard your fellow Senator and Republican, Trent Lott, say that using dogs for torture was understandable and acceptable. It was not a big deal because as he said they were simply barking at the detainees and haven't we all had a dog bark at us when we delivered a paper or something else to a neighbor? Sure, there are reports of a few cases where people have died from heart failure after receiving this treatment, but that isn't the intent.

It was this insight from Senator Lott that lead me to understand your change in position on torture. After all, many of the things we are "squabbling" about are really nothing more than everyday occurances.

I would like to straighten this out for my fellow Democrats after the break - if they have a strong stomach.

strappadoFirst, the process of hanging someone on hooks by their shoulders to break their shoulders. This was a very popular method of "coersion" in the Vietnam era, but should we consider it torture? I mean, who among us hasn't taken a hit in a sporting game that caused a "stinger"? This really isn't any different than that, as described here.

Two homemade metal handcuffs (made of reinforced steel bar and an iron lock) are put on the victim's wrists. Then, the victim's arms are lift up, parallel to the shoulders. The palms face down. The arms are twisted and pulled to the back. At this point, the palms have turned 270 degrees . The victim's arms are pulled back forcibly and unnaturally at the shoulder joints, until both arms form a 90 degree angle with the body. After that, the handcuffs on the two wrists are tied together with a shoelace.

...In the best case, the victim's arms are numb, the shoulder joints have no strength and the victim feel jolts of pain for more than one year. In the worst case, the victim's arms are disabled permanently.

Now, I know that many of you in Vietnam had this carried out until that stage where their arms were permanently damaged and disabled, but remember that isn't the intent. The intent is to do no permanent harm and to gain valuable intelligence information. Here's such a case.
When my senses returned I discovered I had been blindfolded and trussed into the "pretzel" position. Thick leg irons shackled my ankles, my wrists were tied behind me, and a rope bound my elbows just above the joints. The guards tightened the bindings by putting their feet against my arms and pulling the ropes until they couldn't pull any harder. Then they tied my wrists to my ankles and jammed a 10-foot pole between my back and elbows. After a few hours the leg irons began to press heavily on my shins and feet like a vise. The ropes strangled my flesh, causing searing pain and making my arms go numb and slowly turn black.

In the middle of the night, one of the less hostile guards, whom we called Mark, sneaked in and loosened the ropes a little. If he hadn't, I'm sure I would have lost both arms. In this case I would have vanished with the other badly injured POWs who never were repatriated.
Of course, they didn't get any information from this fellow prisoner.

water_boardingOkay, for number 2. Everyone's favorite, waterboarding. In waterboarding, well, why not let the same fellow prisoner describe water boarding.
Then I was told to write a war-crimes confession, saying I was sorry I'd participated in the war. When I refused, I got to serve as a stress reliever for about 20 guards -- each took his turn beating me to a pulp. They pounded me for six or eight hours. By then I was getting pretty shaky. Then they got serious. I was introduced to a bowl of water, some filthy rags and a steel rod. The guards stuffed a rag in my mouth with the rod, then, after putting another rag over my face, they slowly poured the water on it until all I was breathing was water vapor. I could feel my lungs going tight with fluid and felt like I was drowning. I thrashed in panic as darkness took over. As I passed out, thinking I was dying, I remember thanking God that we had made a stand against this kind of society.

Again, sure somebody might die from this kind of thing accidentally, but that isn't the intention. But, perhaps most importantly, this is really no different than getting knocked down by a big wave at the beach on a hot sunny day. Or, playing tag in the pool and getting an accidental mouthful of water, or even blowing milk out your nose. Now, I know there are some former POWs that say things like:

johnmccainpow2For instance, there has been considerable press attention to a tactic called "waterboarding," where a prisoner is restrained and blindfolded while an interrogator pours water on his face and into his mouth—causing the prisoner to believe he is being drowned. He isn't, of course; there is no intention to injure him physically. But if you gave people who have suffered abuse as prisoners a choice between a beating and a mock execution, many, including me, would choose a beating. The effects of most beatings heal. The memory of an execution will haunt someone for a very long time and damage his or her psyche in ways that may never heal. In my view, to make someone believe that you are killing him by drowning is no different than holding a pistol to his head and firing a blank. I believe that it is torture, very exquisite torture.

But, that guy, pictured here, probably doesn't understand how today's world has changed the "math" of torture.

And, of course there are other torture methods that are really no worse than other everyday occurances, like Senator Lott says.


For instance, Admiral James Stockdale was "physically tortured no fewer than 15 times. Techniques included beatings, whippings, and near-asphyxiation with ropes". But, is that really so different than what happens to frat brothers during rush each year?

And, as for beatings, well...


No, all in all, I guess ol' Trent Lott is right, many of these torture techniques are nothing more than good old fun. It makes a person wonder why so many people are up in arms? But, at least we understand now why you are not against torture, because you've lived through the fun and games and understand that it's just another barking dog, another mouth full of water, and another broken kidney. No biggie.mccain


Robert P.

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