Thank God for Noam Chomsky. Not for his lifetime of eviscerating assaults on our political hypocrisy, but for his linguistics. Long before I knew him, undergraduate Fisk laboured at his university linguistics course, where Chomsky’s work first alerted me to the pernicious use of language. Hence I condemn at once the vile semantics of the Pentagon and the CIA. Not just that old, wolfish, obscene phrase “collateral damage”, but the language of torture.
Or, as the lads who torture on our behalf call it, “enhanced interrogation techniques”. Let’s take a closer look at that. “Enhanced” is a word of improvement. It suggests something better, more learned, even less costly. For example, “enhanced medicine” would presumably involve a more streamlined way of improving your health. Just as “enhanced schooling” would suggest a more worthy education for a child. “Interrogation” at least gives a hint of what this is all about. Asking questions and getting – or not getting – a reply. But “techniques” beats the lot. A technique is a technical skill, is it not? Usually, so my dictionary tells me, in artistic work.
So the “interrogators” have special skills – which implies training, learnt work, application, the product of brains. Which I suppose, in a way, is what torture is all about. It’s just not the way I would normally describe the process of slamming people into walls, half-drowning them in water and ramming hummus up their rectums. But in case that’s a bit too graphic, the US press lads and lasses have got round it in a familiar form. The whole process of “enhanced interrogation techniques” is now called “EIT”. Like WMD – another whopper in our political vocabulary – the whole filthy business is wrapped up in a three-letter abbreviation.
And then we learn that this is all part of a “programme”. Something carefully planned, you understand, a syllabus, a performance, regular, approved, even theatrical. My trusty old American College Dictionary even defines “programme” as “an entertainment with reference to its pieces or numbers”, which is what I suppose the sickos in the CIA were enjoying when they set about their victims. Strap him down, cloth over the face, pour on the water, whoops, not too many bubbles please. Ah well, slam him into the wall again. A programme indeed.
Dick “Dark Side” Cheney used the word “programme” when he condemned the US Senate report on CIA torture. Oddly, however, his description of the document as “full of crap” contained an unintended side effect of the process which he applauds. For those under torture often urinate and defecate, and – as we know from those who suffered these “programmes” – the CIA often let their victims stand naked and soil before them.
Cheney wishes us to believe, of course, that these poor men gave important information to the vile creatures who were torturing them. That’s exactly what medieval inquisitions discovered when they accused the innocent of witchcraft. Almost to a man – and woman – the victims admitted that they had flown through the air. Perhaps that’s what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, after being waterboarded 183 times, told his CIA torturers. He could fly through the air. A terrorist human drone. I suppose that must be the kind of “vital information” Cheney claims the victims gave the CIA.
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