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Better Living Through Torture | The Nation

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Better Living Through Torture

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I should have been a torturer. You too, reader. Well, maybe not an actual physical torturer, because then there'd be a small chance I'd go to prison like Lynndie England or Charles Graner. My picture might be in the paper doing nasty things to naked men with a goony smile and a thumbs-up. I might even have disturbing memories and bad dreams, because surely, unless one is a sociopath, throwing people into walls and hanging them from the ceiling all day is likely to have its troubling moments. What I mean is, I should have been a member of the torture creative class--a conceptual torturer, a facilitator of torture, perhaps an inventor of torture law, an architect of the torture archipelago, a dissimulator, concealer, denier, rationalizer, minimizer and pooh-pooher of torture. As a word person, I could have come up with circumlocutions to confuse the media, bureaucratic phrases like "special methods of questioning" and "enhanced interrogation techniques." According to New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt, just figuring out whether to call a given action "harsh" or "brutal" has kept editors busy for years! Or I could have written copy for the CIA. For example, I could have suggested they call putting people in coffinlike boxes full of insects "studio picnics," because studio apartments are small and picnics have bugs, and I could have nicknamed waterboarding "drinking tea with Vice President Cheney," although come to think of it, waterboarding is a euphemism already. Maybe that's why people didn't catch on that it was the same thing we prosecuted Japanese interrogators for doing in World War II. In the Tokyo trials it was called "the water treatment," or "the water cure," or just plain "water torture." Calling it "water torture" was probably what got those Japanese into trouble. That, and losing the war.

Editor's Note This column has been corrected to note Douglas Feith is an adjunct visiting scholar at the Belfer Center of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

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Katha Pollitt
Katha Pollitt
Katha Pollitt is well known for her wit and her keen sense of both the ridiculous and the sublime. Her "Subject to...

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Why should I have joined the torture creative class? Because now I would be having a great life. Consider:

John Yoo

. In 2002, while working for the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Yoo wrote a crucial memo saying that terror suspects weren't covered by US commitments to treaties and agreements banning torture. Now Yoo is a tenured professor of law at Berkeley. Eat your heart out, Ward Churchill! And he isn't hiding away in his office, either. This semester Yoo's a visiting prof at Chapman University School of Law, where he spoke at a public forum and defended torture as necessary to protect the country. "Was it worth it?" he asked, according to the Los Angeles Times. For John Yoo, definitely.

Donald Rumsfeld

. The former secretary of defense, who famously encouraged interrogators to force prisoners to stand for long periods of time ("I stand for eight or ten hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours?"), got a one-year appointment in 2007 to the Hoover Institution at Stanford. In his announcement Hoover's director, John Raisian, said "Don" would "pursue new insights on the direction of thinking that the United States might consider going forward." Or maybe might not consider...

Jay Bybee

. While assistant attorney general at the OLC, Bybee signed memos narrowing the legal definition of torture to physical pain "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death" and mental pain that results in "significant psychological harm of significant duration." Cruel, inhuman or degrading but not as painful as having your kidneys ripped out? OK! And if "necessity" or "self-defense" requires it, just go ahead and wall the guy, already. In 2003 Bybee was appointed judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, a position he still holds. According to friends quoted in a recent story in the Washington Post, Bybee feels a little bad about those memos and insists that saying something is legal is not the same as saying you should do it--a sentiment every parent can get behind. Also, one friend says he took the job at the OLC only because he wanted to be a judge. Et voilà!

George Tenet

. Not content with the $4 million advance for his memoirs, the former head of the CIA makes enormous sums of money directing companies with government military or intelligence contracts; also Allen & Company, described by UPI as a New York bank "with a reputation for secrecy."

Dick Cheney

. As the only Republican able to project a sense of personal dignity, the King of the Dark Side is having the time of his life, writing his memoirs by day and bashing Obama on Fox by night. Lunches with visiting pooh-bahs, speeches and fishing trips are also on the calendar.

Douglas Feith

. Remember him? His hand was in those torture memos, too. He now divides his time between the Hudson Institute and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, where he's a Belfer Center adjunct visiting scholar. Good times!

Bill "I'm ambivalent on torture" Kristol

. The Man Who Was Wrong About Everything lost his gig at the New York Times, but not to worry: he's back at the Post, where editorial page editor Fred Hiatt describes him as "very smart and plugged in." The Bradley Foundation has awarded him $250,000. Icing on the cake: he's teaching a course on Xenophon at Harvard with archconservative Harvey "Manliness" Mansfield.

Paul Wolfowitz

. The former deputy defense secretary was keen on harsher methods of interrogation to extract more "intelligence" from detainees in the run-up to the Iraq War. Today Wolfowitz runs the US-Taiwan Business Council, which sounds rather lucrative, and is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, along with John Yoo, Lynne Cheney, Charles Murray, Newt Gingrich and similar. Can't somebody give Ayaan Hirsi Ali a job and get her out of there?

So there you have it: book contracts, money, fellowships, columns, TV, comfy berths in fancy places, fun. Torture works.

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