Thoughts on Torture

Written by Shiva Rodriguez (2014)

I see there has been a lot of talk about torture in the news. To be clear, I haven't sat down and watched it, nor have I spent much time reading news articles. However, I have caught a few memes floating around and decided to toss in my two cents on the subject.

First of all, torture doesn't work. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that a good many people will say just about anything to get severe pain to stop. And those who just glare at their tormentors are usually just showing defiance and not about to give their enemies the pleasure of hearing them scream. As for the people out there who do have big secrets that we'd love for them to tell us about... well, it's just as easy to serve up a steaming heap of false information as it is to spill the beans while under that kind of pressure.

There are also people who have unshakable willpower, often paired with a damned good reason to embrace death over giving in to the tormentors. A great example being Giles Corey, the only accused person who was pressed to death in Salem during the witch hunt. He wasn't even being tortured into confessing to sorcery. He was tied spread-eagle on the ground and had heavy stones set on his chest one-by-one until he either perished or agreed to plea “Guilty” OR “Not Guilty”. Why did he elect to be crushed like a bug instead of saying one or two simple words? Because he wanted his property to go to his children rather than the government if he was convicted and the trial couldn't move forward unless he entered a plea. If memory serves, his last words were “More weight.”

When people think of torture, many think of the ghastly chambers that were used during the Spanish Inquisition. They imagine the bloody and torn victims of brutal toys such as the rack, the pincers, and the iron maiden. The torture going on for days until the poor victim screamed out his/her confession even though it's pretty safe to say that most (if not all) of the convicted did not so much as dabble in tea leaves.

What isn't well-known is that the torture was designed to make people confess regardless if they were guilty or not. It didn't matter if that nice old lady never put a pox on her neighbour. Her confession was crucial because they could not execute her without one. Seriously, that was the law. If someone could hold their tongue in the torture chamber without expiring during the sessions, they wouldn't be burned at the stake.

Torture may work if you need someone to physically do something. I could probably get my husband to mop the floor with his tongue if I started tearing his fingernails out until he agreed to it. But using that same method to try to get him to tell me who stole the last cookie in the jar?  Even if he names someone else, there's a 50/50 chance that he's telling the truth. If I don't already know the answer to my question, I really have no way of knowing if he's being honest when he tells me that our neighbour broke into the house and stole my Pecan Sandies. If I don't believe him and apply the thumbscrews, he might just blame the dog next time. If I still don't like his answer, he might confess to the deed himself when he sees I'm about to tear his nuts off even if the damned dog trots right by me with a cookie in its mouth.

Okay, if the dog can screw the top off of a glass mason jar, take a cookie, and then re-lid the container and put it neatly back on the shelf...well, then I'm putting his furry little butt on trial for witchcraft!

There are two more reasons for the use of torture to consider. The first being when it is applied as either punishment or as an execution method in itself. Yes, people have been condemned to be racked to death. Spanking naughty children is still commonplace today. The practice of inflicting pain to make a point is older than recorded history itself.

The other reason? Pure sadistic enjoyment on the part of both the torturers and the spectators. Usually for the sake of revenge. We've all felt it. We believe that someone has wronged us and we want nothing more than to get even.

Sometimes it comes in the form of just saying something nasty or maybe doing a little something to put the subject of our anger in some sort of discomfort. In fact, many people believe that complaining about a service and getting an employee in trouble will result in being targeted for some sort of revenge. Piss off a waiter and he might pee in your coffee.

Hell, exacting revenge is almost an art form with some people. We like to talk about how we made our ex-spouses, bosses, or once-friends pay for something they did to us.Often we use the euphemism “practical joke” when we really mean to say that we made someone suffer a bit because we felt they deserved it for some reason or another. (Tell me again how replacing someone's conditioner with hair remover is different than the torture practice of shaving someone's head in order to humiliate them.)

But when finding yourself in a position of power in an atmosphere that is friendly to it, like for instance in a POW detention center, forcing prisoners to do some pretty disgusting things may seem like a good way to get revenge for being shot at.

I'm not saying that I agree with it. I'm just saying that I understand the mentality behind it.

What I haven't been able to figure out is what is considered the line between what is “torture” and what isn't. If we define torture as being the act of intentionally putting someone into a position of physical or mental discomfort, than I can say that I have worked for some real sadistic pricks over the years. Does that mean I've been tortured on the job? I suppose it boils down to being a matter of opinion.

The last meme I saw on the subject showed a photo of a terrorist-style beheading victim and claimed it was a picture of torture. In my opinion, it was an execution (or murder, if you prefer) more than it was a method of inflicting suffering. Trust me, I'm a student of execution history and I can tell you that beheading takes much less time to end a life than the modern execution methods in the USA do. Some people will argue that our execution methods are also torture, but the courts in states that enjoy capital punishment don't seem to hold that opinion.

My guess is that the intended torture victims are those who involuntarily witness the aftermath (or act of) the beheading and are now stuck with that horrible image in their head. (You do remember why we call them “terrorists”, right? It's because they do things to terrorize groups of people.)

So thanks, Meme Posters! You just inflicted mental torture on everyone on your Friends List.

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