The Water Detail (Part 1 of 2)


“It’s not torture when U.S. forces are doing it…” by Carlos Latuff. (Credit:

Now, this is the way we give them the water cure…. Lay them on their backs, a man standing on each hand and each foot, then put a round stick in the mouth and pour a pail of water in the mouth and nose, and if they don’t give up pour in another pail. They swell up like toads. I’ll tell you it is a terrible torture.

Letter by a U.S. soldier in the Philippines during the Filipino insurgency, 1899-1902.

Abject hypocrisy will bring about the collapse of the US Empire and the end of American democracy. Our tragic flaw was in resplendent, sartorial display last week: hypocrites accused each other of hypocrisy; crocodile tears were in abundance; psychological projections were the order of the day; pious, self-serving justifications were rampant; and all throughout the garish spectacle we could do no less than agree with Mark Twain and feel ashamed of the human race.


Gina Haspel as she appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee, 9 May 2018. (Credit: C-SPAN)

The President who proclaims himself a patriot even though he requested five deferments during the Vietnam War, who believes that waterboarding “works” in the face of evidence to the contrary, has nominated Gina Haspel as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. According to the Washington Post,

Haspel was in charge of one of the CIA’s “black site” prisons where detainees were subjected to waterboarding and other harrowing interrogation measures widely condemned as torture.

When those methods were exposed and their legality came under scrutiny, Haspel was among a group of CIA officials involved in the decision to destroy videotapes of interrogation sessions that left some detainees on the brink of physical collapse.

Jameel Jaffer, formerly deputy legal director of the ACLU, has concluded about Haspel: “quite literally a war criminal.” (See also, New York Times.)

At her nomination hearing in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Haspel was not helped by the fact that TV cameras made her resemble the very portrait of evil—bland, empty and banal—that Hannah Arendt so masterfully recorded in Eichmann in Jerusalem. At issue were the enhanced interrogation measures to which the US had subjected terrorist suspects in the decade after 9/11. Under questioning from Senator Kamala Harris, the following exchange ensued:

HARRIS: Do you believe in hindsight that those [previous interrogation] techniques were immoral?

HASPEL: Senator, what I believe sitting here today is that I support the higher moral standard we have decided to hold ourselves.

Haspel did not answer Harris’ question, and refused to pass judgment on the actions of her CIA colleagues.


General Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme allied commander, watches grimly while occupants of the German Concentration Camp at Gotha demonstrate how they were tortured by the Nazi sadists operating the camp. General “Ike” visited the camp during a tour of the Third Army Front. General Omar N. Bradley, 12th Army Group CG, and Lt. General George S. Patton, 3rd Army CG, are at the supreme commander’s right, 12 April 1945. (Credit: Moore, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park)

Senator John McCain, who as a former prisoner of war in Vietnam has been steadfast in his opposition to torture, publicly called—after describing Haskel as a patriot—for the Senate to reject Haspel’s nomination:

I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense. However, Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.

McCain, who is suffering from terminal brain cancer, prefaced his statement of opposition to Haspel with the following:

Like many Americans, I understand the urgency that drove the decision to resort to so-called enhanced interrogation methods after our country was attacked. I know that those who used enhanced interrogation methods and those who approved them wanted to protect Americans from harm. I appreciate their dilemma and the strain of their duty. But as I have argued many times, the methods we employ to keep our nation safe must be as right and just as the values we aspire to live up to and promote in the world.

And then, as if to cap absurd events with an even greater absurdity—loaded with a hefty dose of vulgarity and cruelty—came the finishing touch by an obscure white house aide, who commented on McCain’s opposition to Haspel: “It doesn’t matter. He’s dying anyway.” Her name—which will live in infamy if not in oblivion from here on—is Kelly Sadler. As of this writing, neither Sadler nor the White House have apologized for this remark.

Each one of our readers will react to the above comedy of errors according to his or her own foundational myths and political inclinations. Before I offer my own commentary, allow me to invoke, as a form of mind-clearing prayer or ablution, some lines from a play which has proven an old friend throughout the years, reminding me of the place of spiritual values in a fallen world:

Death … comes for us all, my lords. Yes, even for Kings he comes, to whom amidst all their Royalty and brute strength he will neither kneel nor make them any reverence nor pleasantly desire them to come forth, but roughly grasp them by the very breast and rattle them until they be stark dead! So causing their bodies to be buried in a pit and sending them to a judgment … whereof at their death their success is uncertain.

The play is Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, and the scene is Sir Thomas More’s trial for High Treason at the Hall of Westminster. When Sir Thomas concludes his discourse, Cromwell, his accuser, exclaims: “Treason enough here!”

What else is to be expected?

(to be continued)



“The meeting of Sir Thomas More with his daughter after his death sentence” by William Frederick Yeames, 1872. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons) “Themeeting_of_sir_thomas_more_with_his_daughter_after_his_sentence_of_death

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