Christopher Hitchens Article 'Believe Me, It’s Torture': Waterboarding is a Form of Torture

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Ian Glasse Mr. Brown English 110 26 September 2019 Submersion As George Orwell said, “The object of torture is torture.” (1984) Renowned author and journalist Christopher Hitchins, however, got the opportunity to experience an interrogation method known as waterboarding first hand. A procedure that includes the use of a cloth and water poured intermittently to simulate drowning for an immobilized captive, is used frequently by respected national militaries to militia groups. In his article “Believe Me, It’s Torture,” Hitchins uses a combination of his notoriety as a journalist and columnist, his firsthand experience getting waterboarded by military servicemen, and statistics and facts on legal torture to establish that waterboarding is an unethical form of interrogation. In the Vanity Fair article, Christopher Hitchens guides the reader through the process of waterboarding that was something less of a tortured war veteran he nonetheless gets his point across to the reader. He starts by providing some background information on waterboarding to express to the reader the potential threat and significance of the situation. The bulk of his argument relies on his account of waterboarding, playing on the readers' emotions for the victims of this method of interrogation. The remainder of his article cross-examines both viewpoints on waterboarding and logically states his final position and thoughts on the matter. With multiple books and political discourses published, contributions numerous reputable magazines, and expressive socio-political commentary on matters such as NATO intervention in the Bosnian war, Hitchens has established his name as a journalist with credibility to speak on the employment of the torture method known as waterboarding. If his believability of a non-biased viewpoint on torture was questioned, The author and journalist proceeds to go through the terrors of simulated drowning.

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Hitchens, an English-American male in his late fifties of average size and stature provides a figure to identify with for readers of his article. His strategy of putting himself through such a brutal punishment entices the reader to question, what if that was me getting drowned. Or how can we proceed with this horrendous method on people considered “threats to national security” that we later find out are innocent or do not even have to information that waterboarding tries to yield? If Hitchens, a heavy supporter of the war in Iraq, believes waterboarding, which has become analogous with anti-terrorism measures, is barbaric than that must hold weight to the fact that the procedure of simulated drowning is more physically and psychologically damaging than it is beneficial for gaining information. If the ethics of waterboarding are still at large and Hitchens’ credibility on the matter is still unconvincing, Christopher Hitchens also provides an almost nauseating amount of imagery of his experience with waterboarding. “…On top of the hood, which still admitted a few flashes of random and worrying strobe light to my vision, three layers of enveloping towels were added. In this pregnant darkness, head downward, I waited for a while until I abruptly felt a slow cascade of water going up my nose…I held my breath for a while and then had to exhale and—as you might expect—inhale in turn. The inhalation brought the damp cloths tight against my nostrils, as if a huge, wet paw had been suddenly and annihilating clamped over my face.”

His description paints a horrifying picture of utter sensory deprivation. The lack of sensory information, in this case, causes the brain to trigger extreme panic and anxiety. Add to that the inability to breathe while water fills your lungs and you slowly drown. The chilling image that Hitchens creates is effective in showing how unethical this practice is to be used on people. With the journalistic expertise Hitchens has, he illustrates that only those desensitized from fear and pain could reason to believe it may still be a fine method to use. If you're going to torture then torture is what Hitchens argues when looking at the issue from a binary perspective. “When contrasted to actual torture, waterboarding is more like foreplay. No thumbscrew, no pincers, no electrodes, no rack. Can one say this of those who have been captured by the tormentors and murderers of (say) Daniel Pearl? On this analysis, any call to indict the United States for torture is, therefore, a lame and diseased attempt to arrive at a moral equivalence between those who defend civilization and those who exploit its freedoms to hollow it out and ultimately to bring it down.”

The cogent argument that Hitchen provides, that waterboarding is not as torturous as other methods, slightly weakens his argument when he says that, “contrasted to actual torture, waterboarding is more like foreplay”. This statement seems contradictory to his claim of waterboarding being a form of torture. It causes the reader to second guess whether he has effectively proved his point regarding waterboarding is a form of torture. However, his use of logos towards the end of his article eliminates any other further doubt the reader may have previously had on his position on the matter. “Waterboarding is a deliberate torture technique and has been prosecuted as such by our judicial arm when perpetrated by others. If we allow it and justify it, we cannot complain if it is employed in the future by other regimes on captive U.S. citizens. It is a method of putting American prisoners in harm’ way. It may be a means of extracting information, but it is also a means of extracting junk information. (Mr. Nace told me that he had heard of someone’s being compelled to confess that he was a hermaphrodite. I later had an awful twinge while wondering if I myself could have been ‘dunked’ this far.) To put it briefly, even the C.I.A. sources for the Washington Post story on waterboarding conceded that the information they got out of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was ‘not all of it reliable.’”

Christopher Hitchens strategically provides hard facts and statistics about the matter to bring to light the reality of waterboarding and how it is perceived, effectively using logos in this portion of his argument. In closing, Christopher Hitchens successfully uses a variety of rhetorical strategies to strengthen his argument and persuade the reader that waterboarding is, in fact, a form of torture. When analyzing the success of this article it is important to take into account its intended audience when and where it was published. This article was written for Vanity Fair in the politics section of the magazine and meant to persuade the audience on a highly controversial and political issue. After reading the article and carefully scrutinizing the material presented in his argument, it is clear that Hitchens has successfully made and defended his point on the matter. After reading this article it made me see waterboarding in another light and change my original opinion on the issue. His claims in the article are reasonable and he uses facts and expert testimony to recount his experience.

Not only does he provide facts appealing to logic and demonstrate his knowledge on the matter of establishing his credibility, but he also plays on the readers' emotions by using his personal experience. This further strengthens his argument because he has personally experienced the process of waterboarding, therefore making his argument more credible and powerful than if he had been merely stating facts and arriving at a conclusion on the matter. Therefore, Christopher Hitchens successfully utilizes ethos, pathos, and logos to prove that waterboarding is a form of torture.

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