Remembering Christopher Hitchens, 1949–2011

Remembering Christopher Hitchens, 1949–2011

The death of Christopher Hitchens on Thursday night, of complications from esophageal cancer at the age of 62, ended one of the greater intellectual careers of the last 40 years. Born in Portsmouth, England, and educated at Balliol College, Oxford, Hitchens started his career as a Trotskyite at The New Statesman, working along with noted authors, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan, who would become his lifelong friends. In the early 1980s, he moved to the United States, becoming a citizen in 2007, and began working for liberal magazine The Nation, writing some of his earliest attacks on the conservative government and American foreign policy.

A prolific author, Hitchens left behind a massive body of critical writing, with more than a dozen books and hundreds of essays targeting everyone from the British Monarchy to Bill Clinton to George Orwell to God, usually with wit and more often than not, vicious and cutting remarks. Even those who hated his politics could not help but admire his skill as a writer and ability to craft a sharp turn of phrase, and many called him a friend.

Perhaps his most famous book was The Missionary Position, a scathing attack on Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity church, an organization that he called a cult. Hitchens described Mother Teresa as a “fraud” and accused her of glorifying poverty to enrich herself and the Catholic church, rather than truly helping the poor. The book infuriated Roman Catholics around the world, as well as politicians and celebrities who he claimed had used the charity and her reputation to mask their own evil deeds.

A later work, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, accused the former Secretary of State of “war crimes,” and argued that Kissinger should be prosecuted for “crimes against humanity, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture” for his involvement in atrocities in Southeast Asia and Central America. As a critic of the Bush administration’s use of torture, Hitchens filmed himself being waterboarded to demonstrate the cruelty of the practice. Hitchens claimed that, “The official lie about this treatment … is that it ‘simulates’ the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning.”

Hitchens had an enviable career arc that began with his own brand of fiery journalism at Britain’s New Statesman and then made its way to America, where he wrote for everyone from The Atlantic and Harper’s to Slate and The New York Times Book Review. He was a legend on the speakers’ circuit, could debate just about anyone on anything and won innumerable awards.

Christopher Hitchens was a wit, a charmer, a troublemaker and was a gift, if it dare be said, from God.

Read much more about the life and enviable work of Christopher Hitchens in The New York Times here, in The Atlantic here and in Vanity Fair here.

The Immoral Rejoinders of Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens Gets Waterboarded

Photo-Gallery: Remembering Christopher Hitchens, 1949–2011

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Photo of the Day: Waterboard SpongeBob

Photo of the Day: Coney Island’s Waterboard SpongeBob

Photography by: Joseph O. Holmes, NYC

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Waterboarded: You Are Being Watered and Drowned

Vanity Fair magazine describes how the author Christopher Hitchens underwent the controversial drowning technique, at the hands of men who once trained American soldiers to resist, not inflict it. What more can be added to the debate over U.S. interrogation methods and whether waterboarding is torture? Try firsthand experience. Here an abstract of Christopher Hitchens’ description of his experience:

“This is the most chilling way I can find of stating the matter. Until recently, “waterboarding” was something that Americans did to other Americans. It was inflicted, and endured, by those members of the Special Forces who underwent the advanced form of training known as sere (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape). In these harsh exercises, brave men and women were introduced to the sorts of barbarism that they might expect to meet at the hands of a lawless foe who disregarded the Geneva Conventions. But it was something that Americans were being trained to resist, not to inflict.

You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning, or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure. The “board” is the instrument, not the method. You are not being boarded. You are being watered. This was very rapidly brought home to me when, on top of the hood, which still admitted a few flashes of random and worrying strobe light to my vision, three layers of enveloping towel 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. Determined to resist if only for the honor of my navy ancestors who had so often been in peril on the sea, 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 annihilatingly clamped over my face. Unable to determine whether I was breathing in or out, and flooded more with sheer panic than with mere water, I triggered the pre-arranged signal and felt the unbelievable relief of being pulled upright and having the soaking and stifling layers pulled off me. I find I don’t want to tell you how little time I lasted.”

Last March, after President Bush announced that he had vetoed legislation that would have banned the use of waterboarding, I wrote this:

Let Us Call It by Its Proper Name: Tortur

Let us not forget that on Saturday, March 8, 2008, President Bush announced that he had vetoed legislation that would have banned the CIA from using harsh interrogation methods, such as waterboarding, to break suspected terrorists because it would end practices that he said have prevented attacks. The bill that he rejected would have provided guidelines for intelligence activities and has the interrogation requirement as one provision. The bill would have limited CIA interrogators to the 19 techniques that are allowed for use by military questioners. In 2006, the Army Field Manual banned the use of methods such as waterboarding or sensory deprivation on uncooperative prisoners.

Therefore, at this moment in history, let us not forget what is still being executed by our government. Rather than simply describing it as an “advanced” or “enhanced” interrogation technique, let us call it by its proper name: Torture.

Let Us Call It by Its Proper Name: Torture

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Let Us Call It by Its Proper Name: Torture

Let Us Call It by Its Proper Name: Torture

Let us not forget that on Saturday, March 8, 2008, President Bush announced that he had vetoed legislation that would have banned the CIA from using harsh interrogation methods, such as waterboarding, to break suspected terrorists because it would end practices that he said have prevented attacks. The bill that he rejected would have provided guidelines for intelligence activities and has the interrogation requirement as one provision. The bill would have limited CIA interrogators to the 19 techniques that are allowed for use by military questioners. In 2006, the Army Field Manual banned the use of methods such as waterboarding or sensory deprivation on uncooperative prisoners.

Therefore, at this moment in history, let us not forget what is still being executed by our government. Rather than simply describing it as an “advanced” or “enhanced” interrogation technique, let us call it by its proper name: Torture.

Let Us Call It by Its Proper Name: Torture

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President Bush Vetoes Legislation Banning Waterboarding

Update:

On Saturday, March 8, 2008, President Bush announced that he had vetoed legislation that would have banned the CIA from using harsh interrogation methods, such as waterboarding, to break suspected terrorists because it would end practices that he said have prevented attacks.

The bill he rejected provides guidelines for intelligence activities and has the interrogation requirement as one provision. It cleared the House in December and the Senate last month. Supporters of the legislation say it would preserve the United States’ ability to collect critical intelligence, while also providing a much-needed boost to country’s moral standing abroad. The bill would have limited CIA interrogators to the 19 techniques allowed for use by military questioners. In 2006, the Army field manual in 2006 banned using methods such as waterboarding or sensory deprivation on uncooperative prisoners.

President Bush’s veto will be one of the most shameful acts of his presidency,” Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, said in a statement on Friday. “Unless Congress overrides the veto, it will go down in history as a flagrant insult to the rule of law and a serious stain on the good name of America in the eyes of the world.”

“ENHANCED” INTERROGATION

The Origins

In the medieval form of waterboarding, a victim was strapped to a board and tipped back or lowered into a body of water until he or she believed that drowning was imminent. The subject was then removed from the water and revived. If necessary the process was repeated.

Although in a technical sense there are actually several other forms of water-based interrogation, all variants have in common that the victim reliably almost drowns but is rescued or re-animated by his captor just before death occurs. The technique is designed to be both psychological and physical. The psychological effect is inherent in the fact that the victim is given to understand that he shall be killed outright by dint of enforced drowning unless his cooperation as demanded is indeed produced promptly. This perception reinforces the interrogator’s control and gives the victim sound cause to experience mortal fear.

The physical effects are extreme pain and damage to the lungs, brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation and sometimes broken bones because of the restraints applied to the struggling victim. The psychological effects can be long-lasting.

Modern Waterboarding

The modern practice of waterboarding, characterized in 2005 by former CIA director Porter J. Goss as a “professional interrogation technique“, involves tying the victim to a board with the head lower than the feet so that he or she is unable to move. A piece of cloth is held tightly over the face, and water is poured onto the cloth. Breathing is extremely difficult and the victim will be in fear of imminent death by asphyxiation. However, it is relatively difficult to aspirate a large amount of water since the lungs are higher than the mouth, and the victim is unlikely to actually die if this is done by skilled practitioners. Waterboarding may be used by captors who wish to impose anguish without leaving marks on their victims as evidence. Journalists Brian Ross and Richard Esposito described the CIA‘s waterboarding technique as follows:

The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt. According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda’s toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last over two minutes before begging to confess. “The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law,” said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.

In the United States, military personnel are taught this technique, ostensibly to demonstrate how to resist enemy interrogations in the event of capture. According to Salon.com, SERE instructors shared their torture techniques with interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp. According to the CIA’s own description of the waterboarding torture technique, the prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

Waterboarding has often been described in the media in a “matter-of-fact” manner. In the past, The Washington Post has simply referred to waterboarding as an interrogation measure that “simulates drowning.” But what does waterboarding look like? Below is a photograph taken by Jonah Blank last month at Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The prison is now a museum that documents Khymer Rouge atrocities. Blank, an anthropologist and former Senior Editor of US News & World Report, is the author of the books Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God and Mullahs on the Mainframe. He is a professorial lecturer at The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and has taught at Harvard and Georgetown universities

This photo shows one of the actual waterboards used by the Khymer Rouge:

What follows below is a demonstration of a “waterboarding.” It certainly captures the essence of this technique that is now directly authorized by the president, and used by the CIA at the behest of the president and vice-president. If you believe that what you are watching is “severe mental or physical pain,” then it is torture under U.S. law, and the U.N. Treaty. It is undeniably a violation of the Geneva Convention. If it is torture, according to the president himself, then it be should stopped. At this moment in history, let us at least look at what is being done by the government and call it by its proper name.

Waterboarding: A Live Demonstration

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