Saturday, January 24, 2009

Orwellian Euphemism

So I am innocently reading a book by Paul Theroux called Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. He begins in London and takes the train to Paris, then to Vienna, on to Budapest, Bucharest and finally to Istanbul for the first leg of his long journey. Theroux has a very distinctive voice and you know this is not a typical travelogue by the end of the first page even if you're not familiar with his writing. He doesn't travel in luxury and makes great effort to meet and talk to regular people along the way. Anyway, it's a very interesting unique way to write about travel. It's not a political book either. So imagine my shock when I come to this passage. He's talking to a young man from Bucharest who is also traveling to Istanbul. He mentions that he hasn't seen any foreigners on the train, which he finds unusual. The young man says, "Some Americans come here. We have bases."

Then Paul continues, " I might have known. Romania was in the news as America's friend in the war on terrorism. Its right-wing government, desperate for money, eager to join the European Union, had approved the imprisoning and interrogation of suspects. The process, called extraordinary rendition, meant that a man like the one described in the New York Times in July 2006 from Algeria, who was picked up by American agents in Tanzania, would be blindfolded and sent to a third country to be questioned--and questioning always involved some sort of torture, ranging from sleep deprivation, to the suffocation and simulated drowning called waterboarding, to being hanged by the wrists against the wall of a cell, all these methods going under the Orwellian euphemism "enhanced interrogation techniques."

"America's prisoners from across the world were shipped off to, among other places, jails in Romania, where humane conventions did not have to be observed and torture was allowed. But the incarceration and interrogation had been instigated by the United States and paid for by American taxpayers. The program was so secret that it was only when, after two or more years, a prisoner was released and interviewed by a newspaper (as several had) that the despicable program was revealed. Poland was also mentioned as a country of interrogation under torture."

I guess my point here is that the question of what we are going to do about the torture that took place during the last few years is not going away. As much as I believe in President Obama's emphasis on looking forward, not backward, we may be in too deep for that. And our tax dollars paid for this. That just feels ugly and shameful to me.

1 comment:

Sue Jacquette said...

You know what, it really was ugly and shameful, but we will be able to put it behind us. We will look to the future and not the past, because we have to. Society gets better this way, right? We do terrible things, then learn from them and grow and become a better place and better people. It's terrible, but for some reason it's how it works.