Flimsy Sanity: Torture

Flimsy Sanity

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Sunday, August 31, 2008


I think single issue voters are rather naive when they are gun or abortion ones, but I am seriously considering becoming a single issue person myself. I think torture is such a horror that POW McCain's former maverick stand against it was the one thing that redeemed him. Now that he is an advocate for the same, I have come to believe all the stories about his preferential POW treatment because he was the son of an admiral. I just don't see how anyone who was supposedly tortured could ever agree to do it to others unless it was the detachment that comes with PTSD in which the victim no longer has empathy - which should make him too unstable to be President.

As to torture itself, media devotes a little attention to waterboarding but the psychological things are worse. Take sleep deprivation for one example.

This American Life is in my humble opinion the most interesting thing available on any media. This week's episode (on most NPR stations on Sunday night and available free next week on the site) contains a segment interviewing a winner in the Longview Texas Patterson Nissan "Hands on a Hardbody" contest in which people get a free pickup if they can be the last one standing. He talks about how you go insane without sleep. The contest is no longer held because of this settlement over a suicide.

Most people think that the suit was frivolous because the contestants volunteered to remain sleepless. This comment on the case is especially interesting:
We are the trial lawyers who prosecuted and settled the Patterson Nissan “Hands On A Hardbody” case for the widow, infant son and mother. It never fails to astound either of us when yahoos are willing to read a few lines of a news article and make immediate, outrageous conclusions about things they know very little or in some cases absolutely nothing about.

Simply stated, those who are condemning this suit and the settlement this family received have the distinct advantage of not being encumbered by any of the relevant facts…….
Are you aware that multiple previous contestants lost their sanity while in this contest? One thought he was in Oklahoma, another thought a jet plane was landing in the parking lot, another jumped a fence and ran out into traffic, another thought he was pushing daisies down on the hood of the car, while another thought temporary power cables were huge black snakes that were coming after the contestants.

The contest had been so bizarre in the past that a full length documentary (Hands On A Hardbody, directed by S.R. Bindler, 1997) had been made. Using sleep deprivation to bring on forms of insanity gained notoriety when the North Koreans used it to get information from our soldiers in the Korean War. Scientists have discussed the seriousness of sleep deprivation for years. See: Current Biology 2007 “Human Brain without Sleep” where a study by doctors from Harvard University Medical School and The University of California, Berkley used radiologic findings to link sleep deprivation to “…mood disorders (including bipolar disorder) and losses in the ability to react appropriately to negative stimuli …”. Martin C. Moore-Ede, M.D., Ph.D. is one of, if not the, the leading sleep deprivation experts in the world. Dr. Moore-Ede wrote a very detailed report to the Court in this matter explaining that proper, recognized safety procedures were not followed by the dealership; people suffering from insomnia have a four-fold higher rate of attempted suicide according to a 1984 published study; a 1997 study concluded that with only 24 hours sleep deprivation people are impaired as if drunk; and 80% of people suffer hallucinations by 48 hours according to a 1989 study.

Ironically, the effect of sleep deprivation steals the contestants’ ability to make a logical decision to drop out of the contest once they begin to loss mental capacity, leaving some contestants trapped.

The balance test for liability in this type of case compares the possibility of harm and the gravity of harm on one side of the scale and the costs of avoiding the risk on the other. A simple exit strategy in which a qualified health care professional cleared contestants to leave would have avoided all of the examples I listed and many more. Without this precaution someone in the contest was destined to either harm themselves or another.
Blake Bailey, Tyler , TX
C.D. “Chuck” Cowan, Tyler, TX

Inducing insanity is so much more cruel than drowning a person since I think most people would prefer death to destruction of their sanity.


  • At 8:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I once knew a man who did councelling work for VAST (Vancouver Association for the Survivors of Torture)as a kindly volunteer.

    He was mostly working with refugees from el Salvador at the time, but he'd worked originally with people returning from Vietnam and he said the same thing about both groups: You keep on with the torture (mostly on yourself) until it's finished (mentally) for you.

    Maybe some people feel they have to torture others until they've 'gained control' over the process.

    In any event, it's far more efficient to use forensic science to figure out what's happened than to depend on faulty human memory, especially when pain distorts brain function so much.

    It's not even used as punishment, unless you figure that someone else needs to be punished for your own wonky prejudice. Not logical.

    From my own experience, i feel that torturers are only seeking to destroy the final acre of personality; they're not seeking either information or justice.

    - anan

  • At 10:21 AM, Blogger ryk said…

    I also lost all respect for McCain over the torture issue, a couple years ago when he rolled over and let the Bush administration negate his "torture bill" with a signing statement that basically said they were above the law. If he of all people is a phony on torture, then he really has no principles.

  • At 2:40 PM, Anonymous R J Adams said…

    We had a level of honor and dignity, upheld by the Geneva Conventions, that meant we would never stoop to the levels of the German Gestapo or Japanese Kempeitai. Those Americans agreeing to Bush's 'Torture Bill' wiped all that honor and dignity away with a single stroke of the pen. McCain was one of them.

  • At 8:53 AM, Blogger wagelaborer said…

    Actually, the US spent a billion dollars in the 50s and 60s to develop more effective means of torture. Sleep deprivation is one of the techniques they came up with.
    Read "A Question of Torture" by Alfred McCoy.
    There was a scandal in the 80s when a CIA booklet explaining how to torture (for our little brown fascist friends in Central America) was exposed. The US denied it at that time.
    The difference in the Bush years is that now we torture openly.

  • At 9:11 AM, Blogger wagelaborer said…

    I wrote about the limited, modified hangout that was the waterboarding controversy in Feb.

  • At 9:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    As novelist Amoz Oz said, "It may sometimes be hard to define good, but evil has its unmistakable odor. Every child knows what pain is. Therefore, each time we deliberately inflict pain on another we know what we are doing. We are doing evil."

  • At 9:57 AM, Blogger Nader Enthusiast said…

    Wage Laborer: Excellent Feb post. Everyone likes to think of themselves as good, so when someone deliberately inflicts pain on another, it is at an ever escalating level. Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson in the book Mistakes Were Made said: "In the horrifying calculus of self-deception, the greater the pain we inflict on others, the greater the need to justify it to maintain our feelings of decency and self worth. Because our victims deserved what they got, we hate them even more than we did before we harmed them. which in turn makes us inflict even more pain on them."


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