Monday, May 16, 2011

Waterboarding = Results!

I just thought I would link to this cartoon, by Gary McCoy:

It's clear, it's succinct, it makes a connection between the practice of torture and the very brief capture of bin Laden by way of flat surfaces and water. I'm not so interested here in rehearsing the lies that undermine the fallacious assertion in the side-panels; the factual inaccuracies erased by the concision of wit are numerous and well-documented.

The depiction of the torture is fairly interesting. There's some muscularity and some tension in the drawing - the victim's back is arching, he's straining against the faceless, moustachioed torturer - but not a lot; it doesn't make waterboarding look pleasant, but it doesn't make it look so terribly bad.

But what really interests me is the depiction of the torturers. One is gloved with a cropped but moustachioed face, the other very much has a face: in fact, his tongue has come out of his mouth as he concentrates on the task at hand. It's a lovely little detail. It suggests that this act is one of conscientious and even quiet, if mildly-strenuous, focus and not a slapped-together act of violence, gruesome and cruel and messy; and at the very same time, it's childish and homely, lending the torturer an almost touching innocence and familiarity. The fact that they're burly, fat white guys dressed in quasi-military colours suggests a certain comfort with the notion that they might be contractors, or it might be another homely touch: these are two guys who like barbecues and drink a few too many beers after work with their buds.

Once again, torture does its work. It invites us to presuppose the recognisable humanity of the torturer but not the faceless victim, to disavow its complete wretchedness and violence, to look at it as a mechanism for making people talk even when it prohibits talking (who can talk while being waterboarded?).


DJ said...

Waterboarding really is the kind of torture a PR department would come up with - it isn't bloody or physically violently, it conceals the victim's face to de-personalise them, and it can apparently be done by two people looking like medical students practicing putting in an IV drip line.

sw said...

Yes, and its name is wonderfully banal too: it's like something Californians decided to try after getting bored with surfboarding and boogie-boarding.

Everybody should read The Body in Pain by Elaine Scarry.