What Fresh Hell Is This?

January 5, 2015

Jack Kelly Sunday

With this column, the Post-Gazette's Jack Kelly tries (and fails yet again), to retro-define waterboarding as something completely, conclusively, "you-know-in your-heart-I'm-right" not torture.

It's a strange little column coming as it does only two weeks since his last failed attempt to retro-define the torture.

He starts with some horror stories hoping to get his readers to agree with him about the necessity of the Bush-era war crimes:
Anti-Muslim sentiment flared as chilling images from Australian media showed people, believed to be hostages, with their hands pressed against the glass of the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Sydney’s central business district,” CNN reported Dec. 15. “They were holding up a black flag with Arabic writing on it reading, ‘There is no God but God and Mohammad is the prophet of God.’ ”

During a 16-hour siege, Man Haron Monis, 50, an Iranian who’d been granted political asylum in Australia in 1996, murdered two of the 17 hostages he took.
And so on.

But then he stumbles into something requiring some much needed fact-checking:
During the siege in Sydney, Rachael Jacobs, a lecturer in education at Australia Catholic University in Brisbane, described an encounter with a young Muslim woman sitting next to her on a commuter train. The woman had tears in her eyes as she removed her head scarf, evidently out of fear it might make her a target, Ms. Jacobs wrote.

“I ran after her at the train station,” Ms. Jacobs wrote on her Facebook page. “I said, ‘Put it back on, I’ll walk with you.’ She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute, then walked off alone.”

Though no one had accosted the woman, Ms. Jacobs drew praise from liberals around the world for her courageous stand against anti-Islamic bigotry.

Which never happened. She never spoke with the woman, who might not have been a Muslim, Ms. Jacobs admitted in an article she wrote for the Brisbane Times.

Even though she’d made up virtually all of her story, it was important because it launched “a pre-emptive strike against racism and bigotry,” Ms. Jacobs said.
Really, Jack? She admitted in the Brisbane Times the event never happened?  That she never spoke to the woman?

Did you think I wasn't going to check?

Here's what Rachel Jacobs wrote in the Brisbane Times:
Confession time. In my Facebook status, I editorialised. She wasn't sitting next to me. She was a bit away, towards the other end of the carriage. Like most people she had been looking at her phone, then slowly started to unpin her scarf.

Tears sprang to my eyes and I was struck by feelings of anger, sadness and bitterness. It was in this mindset that I punched the first status update into my phone, hoping my friends would take a moment to think about the victims of the siege who were not in the cafe.
Then she admitted wrote:
By sheer fluke, we got off at the same station, and some part of me decided saying something would be a good thing. Rather than quiz her about her choice of clothing, I thought if I simply offered to walk her to her destination, it might help.

It's hard to describe the moment when humans, and complete strangers, have a conversation with no words. I wanted to tell her I was sorry for so many things – for overstepping the mark, for making assumptions about a complete stranger and for belonging to a culture where racism was part of her everyday experience.

But none of those words came out, and our near silent encounter was over in a moment. [Emphases added.]
If it's "near silent" then it wasn't silent.  Words were spoken, Jack.

But Jack, you said Rachel Jacobs admitted in the Brisbane Times to never talking to the woman.  You said Jacobs admitted that the event never happened.  You even implied that she rationalized making up "virtually the entire story" because it launched a (and you quoted her here) "“a pre-emptive strike against racism and bigotry."

But did she?  Here's the actual paragraph she wrote with that phrase:
[M]y role in this movement was minuscule and unworthy of the attention received. The #illridewithyou hashtag, started by Twitter user @sirtessa and embraced by thousands, is the real story of inspiration. The movement has inspired thousands to publicly and loudly stand up for a decent and humane world. It's a pre-emptive strike against racism and bigotry. We know what fear can do to a society, and rather than fall victim, thousands have pledged to be part of the force that fights for tolerance and compassion. [Emphasis added.]
No rationalization, no confession to making up virtually the entire story.  Nothing like that.



But let's move on to the torture.  Jack writes:
Grandstanding journalists have volunteered to be waterboarded to prove it is “torture,” which indicates it isn't.
I am not really sure what this means.  How does that "prove" (or even indicate) that waterboarding isn't torture?

Especially since, with a little googling we find this from the Guardian:
Christopher Hitchens got waterboarded (if that is the verb) for Vanity Fair last year, to see first-hand whether or not it was torture. He concluded that if waterboarding did not constitute torture, there is no such thing as torture. The world didn't erupt with one voice of adulation at his piece, but it was generally accepted that he didn't do it to be macho. His was a serious exploration of the constitutional and moral implications of forcing a wet rag into a prisoner's mouth to persuade him that he is drowning. And that is at the centre of self-imposed waterboarding, for journalistic or other research purposes - it has to be serious, otherwise it is obscene.

There has been a whole spate of voluntary waterboardings lately whose sincerity, acuity and purpose are more debatable. The journalist Kaj Larsen paid some interrogators $800 to torture him in this manner: his conclusions were the same as Hitchens' - it was uniquely unpleasant, and he would have told his torturers anything to get them to stop. [Emphasis added.]
So two of the "grandstanding journalists" who volunteered to be waterboarding say it is torture.

Jack?  Can you explain how it indicates that waterboarding isn't torture?

There is one "grandstanding journalist" (if that's indeed the correct term) who did volunteer for  waterboarding and who's held consistently that it isn't torture - Sean Hannity.

The only problem is that he's never followed through with being waterboarded:
Fox News host Sean Hannity is so adamant that waterboarding is not torture that he once offered to be waterboarded at a charity event and donate the proceeds to soldiers’ families. Four years later, a yet-to-be-waterboarded Hannity did not take kindly to being called out about it on his own radio show.

On April 22, 2009, Charles Grodin appeared on Hannity’s Fox News show and asked Hannity, if he doesn’t believe waterboarding is torture, would he agree to be waterboarded. “Sure,” Hannity said. “I’ll do it for charity. I’ll let you do it. I’ll do it for the troops’ families.” But four years later, Hannity has yet to follow through on his offer.
Which indicates that it is torture - or else he'd man up and get it out of the way, right?

But again, Jack, let's go to the treaty signed by your old boss, Ronald Reagan:
For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.
And so no amount of the "But they behead people!" distraction or the "But it worked!" distraction or the "But person-X says it isn't torture!" distraction or any other distraction is going to change the fact that holding a person down and pouring water over his or her face in order to trigger a drowning response in that person's body isn't torture.

It is and it's a crime and for the sake of our continued insistence that we are a nation of laws, we have to prosecute the torture.

If only to make sure it never happens again.

Prosecute the torture.

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