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What makes torture torture?

November 11, 2008

That’s a question that has obsessed me since America began debating whether torturing people is “warranted” or not. The debate started a few years ago, with the insistence of the Bush Administration that torture is the only way to get vital national security information out of bad guys. There was a heated public conversation about whether that is true, and even if it is, whether that is ethical.

There was a great rhetorical trick to that heated public conversation. So often, you’d hear people say, “Well, is sleep deprivation really torture? Are ‘stress positions’ really torture? Is waterboarding”–for the non-Americans, I’m not making this up. We had this debate–“Is waterboarding really torture?” It was a rhetorical question, its answer insinuated by the person who posed it; rarely was it taken up.

So I decided to ask that question, from a medical perspective. To do that, I met with some doctors–two great doctors in particular, who run a clinic in Queens, New York, that treats torture survivors. So this story is partly their story, and partly the story of the history and ethics of torture. All of it together is meant to make the conversation we have about torture less theoretical and more human.

So, check out my story, Reading the Wounds, and let me know what you think.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 14, 2008 1:35 pm

    Thought it was an excellent article. Particularly interesting with reference to what makes something torture, and the role of doctors in sanctioning torture. Not cheery reading, but thanks for that.

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