Saturday, October 06, 2007

Whitewashing the Present Day Away

In December, 2004, the Justice Department stated: "Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms." However, according to the New York Times, that same department, in 2005, secretly:
provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.
The White House did not deny the allegations; instead, spokesperson Dana Perino stated, no less than four times: "we do not torture". And believe me, when Dana Perino says it, I count each time!

Dana, are you sure about the White House's policy? Because here are some basic descriptions of these and other techniques utilized by the CIA:
1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.

2. Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.

3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.

4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.

5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.

6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.
The sad part about this is how little TV news time is devoted to covering these issues. Listening to National Public Radio's "On the Media", I was surprised to hear that the three major news networks virtually ignored these stories. ABC never mentioned it all, CBS decided to report on how expensive airline tickets would be this holiday season, and NBC opened with another piece regarding the toe-tapping Senator in the bathroom! Then they (and only they) covered the 'torture' memo. Listen here:


While our class has talked about the whitewashing of the past, what do we know about whitewashing the present? Can you think of any other stories that seem to get less attention than they deserve?

13 comments:

Bernadette.Brandt said...

Torture seems to be one of those topics that is never discussed. Every family has them; money problems, a crazy relative, a looming illness. Except in this case, our unspoken woes plague the United States of America. I think in present day, there is the potential to make it harder to white wash stories. Now with everything being taped and recorded for the media, the truth should be told more often. But the public is also swayed by how the news and radio stations publish the facts. They can portray who is the bad guy, who is the victim, and how the crime happened. Another critical part of the news is editing. Leaving out parts of a story is the easiest way to whitewash the truth.
In today's world, many stories get little attention when they deserve to be on the cover of every newspaper. For example, there was a conflict in the Congo a couple of years ago that had been going on for a while. I knew nothing about it until a major magazine covered it. But for a war in Africa to be raging while nobody bothered enough to write about it is senseless. Another idea I think that gets left out of the media too often is uplifting stories. I know Katie Couric has a five minute segment once a week showing a cheerful story. But other than that the media seems to broadcast murder, rape, war, and crime only.

Bolos said...

"Now with everything being taped and recorded for the media, the truth should be told more often."

Bernadette, you are right on target with your insightful comments. I think your quote above reveals that while we do have unprecedented access to information, we can also suffer from a kind of "scandal fatigue" -- we become immune to the incessant noise of the news cycle!

Jarvis said...

After reading this blog i was interested to see what general information site would write about the term 'torture.' None of the site i found mentioned the United States usage of torture. It was always a thing of the Middle Ages, or Al Qaeda, but America? No way! And, the more I thought about it, the more I thought about how dishonest the American text books are. Today, one of the worst, and close to heart problems we have is dealing with hate crimes. Hate crimes happen everyday. Kids are harassed, beaten, and even killed because of their sexual orientation. Why don't we hear news reports on something that happened in the town next to us? America is ashamed of its own behavior. Most of the time, its easier to focus on how terrible other countries are.

Doc OC said...

Bernadette, you raise some good points here. The multiplicity of media sources (videocams, the web, etc.) has the potential to make whitewashing more difficult. A scandal a couple of years ago, in which Trent Lott, the leader of the Senate said wished a segregationist (white supremacist) candidate became president in the 1940's because then "we wouldn't have any problems these days." Though he said this to a room full of reporters, none printed it until a blogger insisted it get attention.

It's still difficult to be heard among the voices of the mainstream media, though. Think about who has an interest in determining what voices get heard.

Doc OC said...

Former President Jimmy Carter blasted the Bush policies yesterday, saying that the US has clearly violated torture laws and is now re-writing them to suit their military goals.

Carter, winner of the 2002 Noble Peace Prize, also added that it is interesting that both Bush and Cheney, who are so pro-war and pro-torture, avoided military service. (Carter served with distinction as the commander of a nuclear submarine in the US Navy).

Elizabeth L said...

Similar to others, torture is a main theme played in this post, but is exemplified through goverment and political figures. Although this is true and I do believe that it is defnitely present I also see though a parallel to our everyday in whitewashing. When you asked the question of "is whitewashing in our present day life" I immediately answered with YES. Even in school, I see it, if someone didnt do there homework they are going to attempt to whitewash over it making an excuse. Or if someone on Monday asks, "How was your weekend?" Normally without thinking baout it you simply reply "good", but a bad incident happened to you. As AMERICANS i find us repetedly trying to sugarcoat everything, because the world seems to always be watching us-but then again is a world like the movie Stepford Wives how we want our society to be, id think not. Yet, if we keep whitewashing over little things it will turn into big things and that is when we will get caught. So when is it ok or not ok to whitewash? Or should we never ever do it?

Amanda said...

Tim Eaton (Amanda's dad) said:

These torture stories exemplify the horrific things that have been going on without our knowledge post-9/11 in the name of national security. Liberties that we as a country have fought so hard for in two world wars are being sacrificed so we can supposedly become a more secure country. But the untold story or stories is how often this torture is being done on mere suspects who have been given no rights of counsel and no protections that we as a country pride ourselves on. Eavesdropping on telephone conversations, checking on library books being rented, racial profiling in issuing passports or security clearances are becoming more commonplace and the public does not seem to be addressing these concerns even when it does come to their attention. The major way in which these activities were whitewashed was when there was no congressional oversight when the same party controlled two branches of government ( and some might argue even a third). We are starting to see some of these activities now exposed but the damge that this has done domestically and internationally has been incalcuable. Our country has lost credibility when we preach freedom and yet deny fundamental rights to people we merely suspect of wrongdoing. We must be viligant in balancing our concerns about security with the protections we have long given our citizens. The more we hear about these stories the more effort we need to make to address the problems and the more effort we need to make to uncover what else is being hidden from us.

Jace said...

This is Jace's Dad.
How much space to I get to respond?! To those in power, whitewashing the present day away is done on a regular basis. So regularly that traditional concepts such as shame, ethics, integrity, character are nearly completely absent in corporate and governmental leadership today. Today's message as implied by the behavior of those in power is to stay in power at all costs. There is no value put on truth telling, corporate responsibility, fairness, or social justice. People have to fight those in power to get any of that. As a result, the character and moral integrity of the nation has fallen to dark lows, addicted to and guided by greed. Corporations and governments lie on a daily basis to cover their questionable deeds, as do individuals. Just this week we have heard innumerable times from Bush and Perino that we don't torture, when there are numerous reports of actual torture committed by the US military, the CIA, and the countries to which we outsource our torture. The hope for mankind that America once seemed to offer is dying due to these trends of lying, deceiving, covering up. Perhaps the most cancerous policy for democracy is the alarming increase in the use of government secrecy, and it's evil twin, propaganda. Weapons of Mass Destruction anyone?
I could go on about how the mainstream media has forgotten how to do it's job, and how that fact alone has allowed things to get out of hand. How controlling the media is key to making lies work, etc., etc., but I guess I have taken up enough space. Thanks for the opportunity to speak, and good on you for providing this education for our kids.

arcohen said...

Hi all, this is Ali's dad Mitch.
Whitewahing is alive and well as it has been since the begining of the written word. Passionate opinionated people (as media types generally are) will and always have slanted the news to thier and/or thier editor's beliefs. The beauty of living in todays world is that we have instant access to all sides of an issue via TV and the internet. Whitewashing in the media will never go away. We must encourage our children to search out multiple sources of information representing all sides of a story. Todays generation is lucky to have such easy access to information allowing them to form thier own valuable opinions.

kathy said...

The media treats the public like all we want to hear about is Brittany spears and Brad and angelina. I feel like they are turning us into a two class system, those who care about the world and humanity and those who want to put their heads in the ground and think that nothing can or will effect them. Is this about education and Class?

Jarvis said...

This is Hannah's Dad. I had an opportunity to attend a lively debate in Chicago featuring John Yoo, the author of the (infamous) torture memo that he wrote while at the Justice Department, providing the current administration with a legal alibi for justifying torture.

Mr. Woo is a very well educated man...and it seemed obvious that the powers that be had found an eager young lawyer to find the right angles -- and words -- to post-rationalize their policies.

Mr. Woo has a "I was just doing my job" approach to that memo, dismissing any culpabiltiy in terms of how his words were then used by his superiors. Echoes of other demons.

I don't think history will look very well upon the abusive -- and dangerous -- wordsmithing that our government has used to support its failed policies. But it does go to show just how fluid our language, law, and communications can be.

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

Tyler's Dad Here,
When i read this, i was really interested in the topic because its something that i really haven't spent alot of time thinking about. Torture is a serious topic that always just seems to be brushed over, which really is not okay. I Think that if we spent even just five minutes in a news report pointing out positives in the world, things in day to day life would be a little better. I also believe that in events of torture if it becomes a topic that can be discussed, people will be more aware, and willing to help out in the world.
Thanks.