Monday, July 7, 2008

Hitchens, Waterboarded

Christopher Hitchens describes being waterboarded:

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.

See also: George Packer's take on Hitchens, which I agree with.

PS "flooded more with sheer panic than with mere water" is wretched writing. I guess what happened was that Hitchens wanted to put this graphically without mixing images, which forces either elegant variation or zeugma; he chose the latter and tried to muffle it with a pair of adjectives; however, the obvious adjectives rhymed, with disastrous consequences. (Removing either "sheer" or "mere" -- but not both -- cures the sentence.) Either that, or he found the rhyme irresistible.

PPS I'm reminded, for no good reason, of this verse from Auden:

Face down in the flooded brook
With nothing more to say
Lies one the soldiers took
And spoiled and threw away.

4 comments:

Alan said...

I am Chris's bulging ego.

Sarang said...

I'd have taken you for his flaccid id.

Alan said...

Must've caught me at a bad time.

slikk01 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.