[Marxism] An eleven second withdrawal

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jul 3 07:38:12 MDT 2008

Hitchens Gets Waterboarded, Withdraws from Iraq in 11 Seconds
By John Dolan, AlterNet
Posted on July 2, 2008, Printed on July 3, 2008

Stop the presses! Christopher Hitchens just noticed that waterboarding 
is torture!

Hitchens announced the news like he'd brought it down from Mount Sinai, 
in a Vanity Fair article. "Believe me," he told a waiting nation, "it's 
torture." Well, yeah. It usually is, when it happens to you. When it 
happens to somebody else, it's "extreme interrogation." I thought 
everybody over the age of 5 knew that, but as usual, I misoverestimated 
the media. Hitchens' tame little torture session is the biggest S&M 
video on the web since "9½ Weeks."

Hitchens' video is totally fake -- there's even soft-rock background 
music playing on the video, better music than you usually get at the 
dentist's office, and his "interrogators" treat him more like a client 
getting a mud pack at a spa than a real suspect in Iraq. That makes it 
even more disgusting that Hitch caved in after only 11 seconds of having 
water poured over a towel on his face. Eleven seconds! Think about the 
timeline here: For five long years he supported this stuff when it was 
happening to other people. Once it happened to him, he needed exactly 11 
seconds to see the light.

Of course if Hitchens had been a real Iraqi suspect, they'd never have 
had to waterboard him at all. They do that to tough suspects, not wimps 
like him. In a real torture cell, everything would be a lot tougher from 
the start. For example, Chris wouldn't be in the nice dress shirt and 
slacks he's wearing on the video. He'd be naked -- a gross image, what a 
lifetime of booze and lying does to the body, but we have to be 
hard-nosed here -- because keeping the prisoner naked is basic 
interrogation strategy, especially with a culture as horrified of 
gettin' nekkid as Arabs are. You'll recall that in those Abu Ghraib 
pictures, the prisoners were naked.

So that's fake already, and the video gets faker as it goes. The guys 
"interrogating" him are fat, middle-aged, mild-mannered dudes. They 
don't even yell at him. A real suspect in Iraq would be snatched off the 
street, smacked around until he passes out, stripped and dumped into a 
cell with a hood over his head. He wouldn't be able to sleep off his 
misery, either, because sleep deprivation is one of the oldest, most 
effective tortures. The interrogators would maintain this schedule for 
hours, days, weeks, depending on how well and how soon the victim breaks 
down. When they think he's ready -- like, they notice with satisfaction 
that he screams like a steam whistle every time he hears footsteps in 
the corridor -- they drag him out of his cell and strap him onto that 
waterboarding table.

Well, Chris is a busy man and didn't have time for all that background 
research, so what you see in this video is a guy who hasn't been so much 
as slapped or yelled at. Who probably just finished a 10-martini lunch 
at some upscale restaurant. That's ridiculous enough, but the 
interrogators make it even more ridiculous with their little 
introduction to the torture session. One guy says, "All right, listen 
up, I'm going to give you some instructions ..." Then he tells the fat 
man on the table, "We're going to place metal objects in each of your 
hands," and if he feels "unbearable stress" at any time, all he has to 
do is drop the objects and they'll stop.

I've had dentists who did root canals on me without being that nice; 
they stuck to "this is going to hurt." More to the point here, putting 
the victim in "unbearable stress" is, uh, the whole point of torture, or 
"extreme interrogation," or whatever you want to call it. The last thing 
you'd ever do is give the victim a sense of power, like he can stop the 
process by dropping a "metal object" on the floor.

That kind of etiquette is what you get from those expensive dominatrixes 
English dudes like to get whipped by, or those nerf BDSM sites that talk 
about "consensual power exchanges." What reminded me most of those BDSM 
sites is the "code word" they tell Hitchens he can use to stop the 
waterboarding: "That word is red, R-E-D." They ask him if he understands 
and he says, "Yes, sir." That "sir" only added to the ridiculous porn 
feel here, like Hitchens was paying a hundred pounds an hour to have 
Baron Whipsong or Lady Cruella, whichever way he likes it, wear out 
their riding crop on his eager little bum.

The real thing isn't nearly so nice. After you've been beaten on bruises 
(which hurt more each time) for a few days, they slam the cell door 
open, screaming abuse at you, kick you to your feet and take you down 
the corridor, slamming your head into the walls as often as they feel 
like it, and strap you down. And all the time they're screaming: "OK, 
you worthless (Arabic obscenity here) -- We're through with you! We 
don't even want you any more! Ever drown before, (obscenity)? Ever go 
swimming head-first, (obscenity)?"

If you remember "The Big Lebowski," you can get a better idea of what 
waterboarding is like by remembering the scene where the Dude walks into 
his bungalow, where Jackie Treehorn's yuppie thugs are waiting for him. 
The blond one grabs the Dude's hair and runs him headfirst into the 
toilet, screaming, "Where's the money, Lebowski? Where's the money, 
shithead?" See, the point is to show overwhelming, terrifying power over 
the suspect, not give him little safety words.

But all that niceness doesn't matter once the torturer's helper takes a 
plastic milk container full of water and pours it, bit by bit, over a 
towel covering Hitch's face. The "metal object," whatever it is, drops 
after 11 seconds. And of course these fake interrogators are all over 
Hitch, making sure he's OK. That's also totally fake, but why bother 
listing any more fake features of this nonsense? The truth is that 
anybody who's been through as much dentistry as I have knows that nobody 
holds out under torture. It's not just the pain, it's the fear of the 
pain. I used to try to be a hero like the ones in my war books every 
time I went to have a root canal from the mean old Armenian who did our 
dental work. He scrimped on the Novocain, so I had plenty of scope to 
practice. And I learned the same thing any sane person knows by the time 
they grow up: Nobody can resist torture. Just like anybody knows what 
having water poured over a towel on your face is like: It's like 
drowning. Duh. Anybody who wanted to know that already knew it.

So why does Hitchens make such a big show of just realizing it now, 
after five years of supporting it? To me, the answer's easy: He's 
withdrawing from Iraq, making a big Jesus-on-the-cross demonstration, 
like a public punishment, for supporting the war all this time. By 
getting himself tortured in this half-assed way, he gives himself a 
reason to see the light, desert from the Neocon forces before it's too 
late. Karl Rove won't be happy, though, because the last thing the GOP 
wants is for people to start realizing what we're actually doing in 
Iraq. Reminds me of the debate about abolishing flogging with the 
cat-o'-nine-tails in the British Navy. The first time the bill was 
introduced, everybody laughed at how ridiculous a notion that was. Then 
somebody thought of having a real cat-o'-nine-tails introduced to the 
House of Commons, a bloody old Exhibit A. Nobody said a thing; they just 
voted unanimously to forbid it.

That's all it takes to change anybody's mind about torture, getting one 
little 11-second whiff of it, even if it's nowhere close to the real 
thing. The interesting thing is not that Hitchens changed his mind; it's 
the strategic thinking that made him decide to do it now. The timing of 
this little martyr is the key here, and what it tells you is that 
Hitchens is declaring martyrdom and getting out. He just unilaterally 
withdrew from Iraq, and in only 11 seconds.

John Dolan is an editor of the Moscow-based English-language alternative 
paper The eXile. He is the author of, most recently, Pleasant Hell 
(Capricorn, 2005).

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