Does anybody remember torture? It used to be quite the scandal stateside, as the abuse and misconduct of officials at places like Guantanamo Bay made news, but you don't hear about it as much anymore. Is that's because things have taken a turn for the better in Gitmo? After more than a decade, the stories coming out of America's Cuban military prison focuses more on prisoners' interest in the next episode of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air than in heavy-handed interrogation techniques.
Maybe the shock at hearing from Gitmo—or hearing about its prisoners being treated with anything remotely resembling compassion—has to do with the way we've started abiding torture-type techniques a bit too much in our society.
One of those interrogation techniques, waterboarding, has clearly left the confines of the military prison, appearing in the news most recently in connection with a Delaware doctor -- ironically an expert in children's near-death experiences -- accused of using the technique on his own young daughter. Earlier, some U.K. burglars allegedly waterboarded their victim.
The report from Guantanamo, by McClatchy's Carol Rosenberg, reminded us that we haven't heard much lately from the notorious prison, once synonymous with "enhanced interrogation techniques" (see: torture), after George W. Bush signed the so-called torture memos just over ten years ago. It was a glimpse into the day-to-day life of the prisoners, whose collective favorite show is Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which has trumped the Harry Potter series in popularity at the prison library:
“I just ordered all six seasons,” says [Gitmo] librarian Milton, a Defense Department contractor who gives only his first name to visiting journalists. He offered no explanation for the sudden popularity of the half-hour sit-com about an inner-city Philadelphia kid who moves in with his affluent cousins in California beyond the observation that comedy is widely popular among requested items from the detention center’s 28,000 book and video library.
Meanwhile, in Delaware, a doctor and his wife have been charged with disciplining their 11-year-old daughter by holding her head under a faucet, essentially waterboarding her, which suggests that the technique has made its way out of CIA interrogation facilities and into our culture:
[An] 11-year-old girl told police that her father, pediatrician Melvin Morse, would hold her face under a running faucet causing the water to shoot up her nose, the Delaware State Police said. The punishments happened at least four times over a two-year period and the girl's mother, Pauline Morse, witnessed some of them and did nothing, police said.
Maybe part of it is a whitewashing problem: The legal tangles of Gitmo prisoners looking for freedom became unwieldy, as in the case of Abu Zubaydah, who's never been charged (but whose notoriously long detention went otherwise ignored). But shows like 24, widely seen as glorifying torture, and real-life exposure such as the waterboarding experience at Coney Island, not to mention some journalists' at-home waterboarding experiments appear to have taken some of the torture-chamber taboo away from the technique.