By Juan E. Méndez, United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment
More than once, I begged my torturers to kill me. Years later, I think about it and wonder if I really meant it. I think I did, at the time.
I was tied up, nude and blindfolded, and electrically prodded all over my body. Twice they pretended they were executing me by placing a gun to my head or in my mouth and clicking the trigger.
To my abusers, who interrupted this torture with question after question, this was merely “enhanced interrogation.”
That was decades ago, in Argentina. But today, U.S. political figures — including presidential candidate Rick Perry — are using this same euphemism to describe the CIA’s torture and ill treatment during its secret detention operations from 2002 to 2008.
And earlier this month, John Oliver’s HBO show “Last Week Tonight” reported that of 14 declared U.S. presidential candidates, only four said they would keep an executive order put in place by President Barack Obama in his first days in office that seeks to ensure the U.S. does not commit torture.
When U.S. media and political figures repeat the euphemism enhanced interrogation, they reframe the debate in a way that implicitly downplays the pain and inhumanity of torture. Instead, torture becomes a matter of rational decision making and calibrated legality.
Unfortunately, this linguistic ploy is working. Torture is a crime under U.S. and international law, but enhanced interrogation hasn’t been prosecuted in the U.S. Thus, while Obama abandoned the flawed legal reasoning the Bush administration used to justify torture, not one person has been charged for authorizing or committing torture in the CIA’s secret detention program.