Obama Says the “T” Word

08/14/20142 Comments

by James Corbett
August 13, 2014

A rose is a rose a rose. And torture is torture is torture.

Obama's remarks, delivered at a White House press conference on August 1st, have already passed through infamy to become part of the internet lexicon. But why? He did not tell us anything new, did not impart any information that added to our understanding of the sexual assault, sleep deprivation, mock executions, forced medications, temperature extremes, or waterboarding that the US military and CIA have admittedly deployed on their captives in the years since 9/11.

No, we already knew that. This is not why Obama's words are so remarkable.

Less than one week after this speech, New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet came out with a remarkable statement of his own.

“Over the past few months,” read the statement, “reporters and editors of The Times have debated a subject that has come up regularly ever since the world learned of the C.I.A.’s brutal questioning of terrorism suspects: whether to call the practices torture.”

“When the first revelations emerged a decade ago, the situation was murky. The details about what the Central Intelligence Agency did in its interrogation rooms were vague. The word 'torture' had a specialized legal meaning as well as a plain-English one. While the methods set off a national debate, the Justice Department insisted that the techniques did not rise to the legal definition of 'torture.' The Times described what we knew of the program but avoided a label that was still in dispute, instead using terms like harsh or brutal interrogation methods.”

The Times claims that its sudden abandonment of the English language over the past decade in favor of tortuous, concocted phrases like “enhanced interrogation methods,” itself first coined by the Nazi Gestapo in 1937 to describe their own identical torture techniques, was necessary to preserve the distinction between common usage of the word “torture” and its legal definition. This is a lie. The new standard that the Times is using to employ the term—“incidents in which we know for sure that interrogators inflicted pain on a prisoner in an effort to get information”—is almost word-for-word identical to the definition under US law, specifically 18 USC 2340: “an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” The definition was always what the Times is now claiming they have discovered it to be. That they are now going to call torture “torture” should not be remarkable.

And yet these things are remarkable. Why? Because words, language, names have been used to obscure political realities for so long that when facts are simply described in plain language, it is nearly unfathomable.

The phenomenon of doublespeak is nothing new. As Orwell wrote in his classic essay “Politics and the English Language:”

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers.”

In fact, historians tell us that this phenomenon occurs almost as far back in history as we are prepared to look, back even to the 5th century B.C.

But in our current age, when virtually every act of the criminal and almost universally-reviled political class requires this reality inversion, any speaking of the plain truth is a revolutionary act.

It is sometimes said that words are merely words, and that, carrying no weight, they have no relevance in the real world. On the contrary, as the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein noted nearly a century ago, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” What is not expressible is not conceivable.

If the victims of US aggression are always and everywhere described as “terrorists” and “human shields” and “war criminals,” let alone “gooks” or “nips” or “sand niggers,” then defenders of those populations are at a disadvantage before they even begin their defense. Their opponents are defending “heroes” and “patriots” and “freedom fighters,” so how can they lose the argument?

Merely putting a word in the form of a derogatory phrase creates in the mind of the listener the impression of something unsavory. People who care about the truth are mere “truthers,” after all. Tenth amendment supporters are “tenthers.” Those who prepare for the future are “preppers.” Want to demonize someone who does good things? Call them a do-gooder!

Language is the great tool of the tyrants. It always has been, and always will be. Patriots are expected to abide by a PATRIOT Act that destroys their Bill of Rights, support “surgical strikes” against “enemy combatants” by the Department of “Defense,” and cheer the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to those who wage war.

Our language has been weaponized against us.

Taking our cue from Orwell, then, we might observe that telling the truth is a revolutionary act, and calling things by their right name a revolutionary idea.

Yes, a rose is a rose is a rose. And torture by any other name is still torture. Down with Big Brother.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Dr. Kropotkin says:

    Great video, needs to be shared.

  2. nancytime says:

    Another very well done video. Our cultural conditioning further establishes language to be the sole means for experiencing life. However, language/thought is a mere overlay upon Reality. We’re conditioned to think that our thoughts define us, therefore double speak can be a means of control. Those of us who realize (not conceptually) that we are not our thoughts, that there’s a greater Vastness beyond the thinking mind, cannot be controlled by this technique. Language is language is language… A thought is a thought is a thought…

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