Sunday, January 02, 2005

It ain't torture if it don't really hurt

84 meters beneath Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, there's a secret tunnel that runs from the Whitehouse to the Justice Department (with a small offshoot tunnel that leads to a "viewing booth" of the first floor women's bathroom at the Supreme Court -- a hold-over from the Clinton era. At John Ashcroft's request, the President hasn't had that tunnel bricked-up, yet. Now that Ashy is gone, though, it will probably be lost.) Anyway, halfway between the Whitehouse and the Justice Department, there is a small, dark conference room. Many clandestine decisions are made in that room. And last week, the following meeting took place between a high level Whitehouse official and Daniel Levin, the Acting Assistant Attorney General.

Anonymous: "What's the plan, Danny Boy? I'm getting hammered by the press over this torture defibrilution thingy."
Levin: "Definition, sir."
Anonymous: "Right. Right. I know. I don't need my speech writer here to tell me what you mean."
Levin: "Well, sir, your current definition of torture says that the pain inflicted on a detainee must be at least as bad as the pain of organ failure before it's considered torture."
Anonymous: "So, like the the pain a hog feels when you chop off its nutsack with a ten inch Bowie knife?"
Levin: "Umm, no sir. Testicular castration is just the removal of the scrotum. It's nonlethal and isn't quite as painful as say a heart attack or liver failure."
Anonymous: "Are you saying I don't know my nobbly organs from my squishy organs? Don't try me, boy."
Levin: "Of course not, sir. I was just saying that the old definition of torture left a lot of room for, uh, pain, sir. Lots and lots of pain."
Anonymous: "What's wrong with that? Isn't that what torture is supposed to be, painful?"
Levin: "I guess what the Congress is upset about is that your old definition doesn't say that torture is painful, it says that inflicting pain isn't torture unless it's very very very bad pain."
Anonymous: "Worse than castratin' a pig, right?"
Levin: "Much worse."
Anonymous: "I see. So what we need to do is give a better defad-, defuh-, whatchamacallit..."
Levin: "Definition."
Anonymous: "Right. We need to come up with a better definition of exactly what torture is, so that we can get away with it more often."
Levin: "Not quite, sir. We need a better definition so that our interrogators will stop torturing people."
Anonymous: "Ah... and why is torture bad?"
Levin: "Because torture is wrong, barbaric, uncivilized, and abhorrent to America's basic beliefs in the inalienable rights of individuals."
Anonymous: "That's good."
Levin: "What's good, sir?"
Anonymous: "That word you used just now. Abundant."
Levin: "Abhorrent?"
Anonymous: "That's it. Be sure to use that in your new definition."
Levin: "I'll see how I can work that into the memo, Mr. Presi-"
Anonymous: "Whoah, Danny! Careful what you call me in here. Not sure if there are any of them blaggers hacked in and listening. Just call me Head Cheese when we meet in here."
Levin: "OK, sir."
Anonymous: "Go ahead."
Levin: "Go ahead, sir?"
Anonymous: "Use my code name."
Levin: "Um, OK, sir."
Anonymous: "In a sentence. A complete sentence. Nouns, verbs, practiciples, all that."
Levin: "Um, OK, sir. here goes. I'll try to use the word 'abhorrent,' mister uh Head Cheese, in the memo we write that officially redefines the word torture."
Anonymous: "That was good, Danny Boy. Real good. You sure talk purty."

Later that week, the Justice department released the memo that started:
Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms. This universal repudiation of torture is reflected in our criminal law...
And contained several definitions of the word "torture," including:
... The term "torture," in United States and international usage, is usually reserved for extreme, deliberate and unusually cruel practices, for example, sustained systematic beating, application of electric currents to sensitive parts of the body, and tying up or hanging in positions that cause extreme pain.
Note, did you know that a person not "acting in an official capacity" and not "intending to cause extreme pain and suffering" can't actually commit torture, according to the memo? It's true. Read it here.


Blogger Mitch said...

What up dog! I'm in Jackson Hole, Wyoming right now, and chilling like a villian. Spreading the turner|phelps like so much mayonnaise on the snow... if you know what I mean.

Yeah... that's right... I'm jizzing on the snow because it's that good. Turner|Phelps rocks!

10:00 PM  

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