The Bastinado, The Rack, The Iron Maiden, and the Waterboard: A Historical Perspective

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by Caren Besner

Webster’s Third International Dictionary defines torture as the infliction of intense pain in order to punish or coerce someone; or to give sadistic pleasure to the torturer. In times past, devices such as the Bastinado, the Rack, and the Iron Maiden were used to extract information or confessions from individuals suspected of everything from witchcraft to heresy.

It is therefore not surprising, under the circumstances, that people would admit anything in order to get the torturers to stop.

Surviving records of people admitting under torture to being in league with Satan, would of course, not be admissible as evidence in any modern court of law; but were seen as valid for hundreds of years from Medieval times through the Inquisition.

Only with the advent of the Enlightenment did civilized societies come to view torture as archaic, obscene, and repugnant.

Torture today, has an entirely new face, as new techniques have replaced the old. Instead of the Bastinado, we have the slap in the face.

In lieu of the Rack, we have Waterboarding, and in the place of the Iron Maiden, we have sleep deprivation, hoods over the head and exposure to a cold concrete floor.

Come to think of it, compared to torturers of old, their modern day CIA equivalents are wusses by comparison; not that anyone would want to experience a Waterboarding session.

It is at best, an extremely unpleasant procedure, albeit one that has been used by our own military in the training of US Navy Seals and other special operation forces.

Does it constitute torture according to the dictionary definition? That would depend on one’s interpretation of the term “intense pain.”

It is also unlikely that our modern day torturers derived any sadistic pleasure from their actions; although an extreme dislike of the subjects of their enhanced interrogation cannot be ruled out. They are dealing with individuals, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; the mastermind of 9-11, the man who beheaded Daniel Pearl and an individual with the blood of thousands of Americans on his hands.

In an ideal world, no sane person would condone the use of torture. But we do not live in an ideal world. If tears must be shed for any perceived “victim,” better it be for the families of those who died in terrorist attacks, both before and after September 11, 2001. On that day, our world changed irrevocably, as an age of innocence suddenly and violently came to an end.

The recent release of a report detailing the methods used by the CIA to interrogate captured terrorists serves as both a reminder and a warning of the terrible choices we are forced to make in order to ensure the safety of our population.

The report, based on material supplied by the CIA to a Senate Investigative Committee led by Senator Dianne Feinstein, came to the conclusion that NO useful information was obtained from the use of enhanced interrogation techniques.

That absolutely NO useful information at all was ever obtained is a suspicious statement in and of itself; but the fact that none of the CIA’s three previous directors, nor the current director, or any of the agents involved in the program was interviewed or put under oath shows a remarkable lapse of judgement and evinces a possible bias toward an already pre-determined conclusion.

The fact that this committee was composed entirely of Democrats also raises questions about the impartiality of the decision and the statement that “no useful information” was obtained contrasts sharply with earlier statements by government officials.

Previously, we had been told that the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan was possible only because the name of his courier was divulged during an enhanced interrogation session of a major al-Qaeda terrorist, supposedly Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Before we became aware of his function, this courier was just another name in a very long list of suspected terrorists. After we learned of his role, we had only to follow him until he eventually led us to bin Laden’s lair.

There are probably instances of other terrorist attacks that have been thwarted using information gathered during these sessions, but security protocol’s prevent them from being disseminated.

The re-emergence of al-Qaeda, the conquests of ISIS, the resurgence of the Taliban, and the exponential growth of other Islamic terror groups such as Boko Haram, Ansar al-Sharia, al-Shabab, Hamas, and Hezbollah serves as a warning that we cannot relax our guard for an instant.

We need intelligence from whatever source we can get and if that means a terrorist has to get slapped or Waterboarded; then that is a better option than the sight of a mushroom cloud over a major American city.

The attacks of 9-11-01 and the murder of 3000 innocents should serve as constant reminders of the nature and intent of the enemy we face and of the failure of the intelligence community to heed the warning signs.

One has only to read accounts of the depredations of ISIS and other terrorist groups from the Middle East to Africa and even on our own home soil to come to the conclusion that we are at war with an implacable foe.

Reports and videos of beheadings, mass executions, crucifixions, abductions, forced slavery, rape, and even being buried alive are commonplace, yet we seem to be more concerned with the perceived ill-treatment of a terrorist than of the aforementioned atrocities.

It has been said that all societies make compromises with their core values during times of distress. The implication here being, that the threatened society will re-embrace those core values once the crisis has passed. We can only hope that the compromises we must make during these troubled times do not compromise us as a nation.

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