Bend Me, Shape Me, Tie Me to a Surfboard


Headline news  is full of the  Torture Memo, written in 2002 by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee to the CIA. It outlines the sorts of things that  Bybee, on behalf of everyone, decided would and would not be allowed while “interrogating” suspected terrorist types.

I’ve made a chart for easy reference: 



Waterboarding[1] Anything with the intent to inflict severe pain or suffering
Confinement in a space small enough to restrict movement Leaving him in the small space for more than 2 hours
Putting a harmless insect in the small space with the detainee if he has a fear of insects Not telling the detainee that the insect is harmless
Keeping the detainee naked and in a diaper Leaving the detainee in a soiled diaper (exactly who’s being tortured here?)
Putting detainee on a liquid diet  
Slapping the face or abdomen with the back of the hand  
Stress positions  
Water dousing[3]  
Facial hold[4]  
Wall standing  
Sleep deprivation  

Some of these are nasty. Some of these I don’t get. The rest remind me a lot of being a mother with an infant.

If I’m every captured by the CIA, I’d spill my guts, and the guts of everyone I know, right away. I reckon they’re going to get what they want from me in the end anyway, so I might as well save myself a lot of agony. I’ve learned this valuable lesson by parenting a teenager.

However, if, for some reason I have a very important secret that I stubbornly believe I need to hang on to no matter what, here are some ways they could torture it out of me quickly.

  1. Make me sit in a full-day management meeting.
  2. Sit me in a confined space and pipe in techno-pop.
  3. Tie me to a comfy chair and make me watch back-to-back episodes of CSI Miami.
  4. Teach me to knit.
  5. Force me to call Bell Canada tech help or anyone at Air Canada.
  6. Tell me I have to ride the #8 bus to Gatineau every morning and every afternoon during rush hours for a month.
  7. Threaten to move my workspace next to Fragrant Ilene’s (Woman-of-a-Thousand-Fragrances-that-She-Wears-all-at-Once)
  8. Lock me in a room full of mosquitoes and crickets.
  9. Lock me in a room with someone whose iPod is on loud enough for me to hear.
  10. Give me moment-by-moment updates on Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.
  11. Make me wait for hours in a room full of crusty 5-year old magazines.
  12. Sit next to me or facing me and chew gum.  

[1] Immobilizing the victim on his back on a board, with the head inclined downwards, and then pouring water over the face and into the breathing passages. By forced suffocation and inhalation of water the subject experiences drowning and is caused to believe they are about to die. It can cause extreme pain, dry drowning, damage to lungs, brain damage from oxygen deprivation, other physical injuries including broken bones due to struggling against restraints, lasting psychological damage or, ultimately, death

[2] A flexible false wall is built. The detaineel is placed with his heels touching the wall. The interrogator pulls the individual forward and then quickly and firmly pushes the individual into the wall. The detainee’s shoulder blades that hit the wall. The head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel to help prevent whiplash.

[3] Dousing the detainee with cold water with buckes or hoses.

[4] The facial hold is used to hold the head immobile. One open palm is placed on either side of the individual’s face. The fingertips are kept well away from the individual’s eyes.



36 responses to “Bend Me, Shape Me, Tie Me to a Surfboard

  1. Funny, I might actually like the CSI Miami torture, at least for an hour or two.

    For me it would be tied to a comfy chair and be forced to watch back-to-back episodes of any of the following:

    – Dora the Explorer (No Backpack!!! I’ll talk!)
    – any reality show
    – The Wiggles (unless under the influence of certain illegal substances, then The Wiggles could be kind of cool, especially the puppets episodes)
    – Live with Regis and Kelly
    – Sportsdesk
    – did I mention reality shows?
    – anything with Miley Cyrus, Zac Efron, or overly cute smart-ass children
    – reality shows.

  2. Torture to me is Wallmart and being stuck in a very crowded area for long periods of time. Nickelback and Celine Dion could also be considered weapons of torture. LOL.

  3. This article explains it well:

    Ice Water and Sweatboxes
    The long and sadistic history behind the CIA’s torture techniques.
    By Darius Rejali
    Posted Tuesday, March 17, 2009, at 5:23 PM ET

    “In the 20th century, there were two main traditions of clean torture—the kind that doesn’t leave marks, as modern torturers prefer. The first is French modern, a combination of water- and electro-torture. The second is Anglo-Saxon modern, a classic list of sleep deprivation, positional and restraint tortures, extremes of temperature, noise, and beatings.”

  4. Actually, I think this post trivializes something that is genuinely appalling. Just because these techniques don’t seem as brutal as burning someone with hot irons doesn’t mean they won’t leave lifelong psychological damage – much of it probably inflicted on innocent people.

    While it seems this administration doesn’t have the stomach to prosecute the torturers, it seems worthwhile to hope that they will spend the rest of their lives unable to travel to states that take international law and human rights more seriously, for fear that they will be arrested and prosecuted.

  5. This post made me laugh out loud. I am SO with you on the CSI front — I’ve made several posts about how angry that show (the original mostly, as well as all its derivatives) can make me. I can’t imagine the horror of being forced to watch more than one episode. Sir Monkeypants can’t imagine the horror of having to listen to me after I’ve watched just a single episode :).

    The funniest one, though, was the Angelina and Brad one. I think I’d actually like to have that job — the torturer job — just for the hilarity. “And now, they are taking Shiloh to the potty…Angelina is reading to her from ‘Elmo Goes Potty’ — she is peeing — and flushing — oh, Shiloh did not wash her hands! Call the press!”

  6. I’m with you. I’d make an extremely poor agent. “Oh my god… is that water? Please… just… I’ll tell you everything. Please just put down the bucket and the bug and back away slowly.”

  7. Alison – Are you insane? An hour or two of David Caruso taking off his glasses and saying self-important things? There is no one more annoying on TV today (and that includes Oprah – but just barely)

    Hannah – Oh ya, how could I have forgotten WalMart. Those announcements every 13 seconds made my screechy-voiced teenagers – aarrrggghhhh

    Milan – I was in no way trying to trivialize the horrors human beings inflict on each other. I don’t think there is such a thing as humane torture, although this memo is trying to imply that there is. That’s exactly why I’m mocking it. Thanks for the links.

    Lynn – At least the original CSI makes fun of itself so it’s kind of funny. The other two are just gratingly ridiculous, but especially Miami. And thanks for the Brangelina updates. Now I’ll tell you anything you want to know.

    Mayopie – Let’s form our own spy agency of Operatives Who Can’t be Trusted with the Most Benign Information. (OWCTMBI)

  8. OMG, you’ve made me laugh today, thanks, I have learned my lesson though, I cannot read you while at work, the desk thumping and loud laughter just give it away that I’m not working!

    I particularly love your post about taking your cat to the vets….I can totaly relate, as the vets eyes glaze over realising they won’t be making “easy money”…

  9. The sad part is that these assholes are never sure they have got everything out of you so you’re going to get tortured whether or not you spill your guts.
    I understand that at the end of it all though they give you a signed picture of Caruso.

  10. Unethical interrogation techniques to some. Cheap thrills for others.

    There are probably entire Twitter Groups who get off on this kind of stuff, and would pay someone $$$$ to do these things to them.

    Though I’m with Alison about Dora the Explorer. Add Caillou and the Urine-stain Bears to the list. And that would be my WORST form of torture.

    That, and Oprah.

  11. Laurel – Is that what that thumping was earlier?

    Bandobras – You’re right, they’d probably keep torturing me anyway since they have all the equipment and got all psyched up for it and everything.

    Friar – And you call yourself a children’s author! My kid is too old to have been exposed to Dora or Caillou, though we did read those bear books. And there was Barney…shudder…

  12. @XUP
    Well, I’m not a children’s author…yet. Just a wannabee.

    But I was more into Mr. Dressup, the Friendly Giant and the Mighty Hercules.

    Oh, and don’t’ forget Rocket Robin Hood.

  13. I worked for one day at a massage clinic that played Pachelbels Canon on an endless loop.

    It was a good thing I had very neatly trimmed nails.

    Seriously, I hear about these, and other, tortures and wonder how these people can survive afterwards. I feel almost suicidal thinking about them.

  14. Oddly enough, many intelligence agencies recognize that information obtained under torture is useless, which makes me wonder why so many of them appear to be so keen on torture. And why representatives of my government are sanctioning torture in my name, and refusing to prosecute members of the previous administration who evidently not only condoned but encouraged the brutal treatment of detainees.

    Far from being “humane,” these techniques have been linked to the deaths of numerous detainees in American custody. (And, of course, to detainees held by other intelligence services in our “top secret” torture camps in other countries.)

  15. The problem being, of course, that even if you were to rhyme off every one you know and quite a few people you didn’t, There is absolutely guarantee that they would stop. (In fact, I read a piece where they tortured a man to see “how far they could go without killing him.”)

    Then could you live with yourself knowing that the information led to detention of an innocent in Syria where he is tortured for many months then comes home unable to find work because (1) he’s got PTSD, and (2) the entire country thinks he’s a terrorist.

    (sorry I’m of the torture, like nazis, isn’t funny camp. I know you didn’t mean it that way. But since you provided the soapbox.)

  16. My niece, when she was three years old, used to use the “facial hold” grip-of-death on me while saying “Look at me when I’m talking to you” — usually while trying to frown, which involved also rolling her eyes up into her head. Very effective. 😉

    — which makes me wonder why so many of them appear to be so keen on torture —

    Because it works for Jack Bauer? It must be good if Jack can get super important, country-saving stuff out of people in one real-time episode. History, literature, movies, and television have been indoctrinating people for centuries, if not millennia, that torture is an effective tool. Overcoming that isn’t going to be a quick or easy task. And the fact that you might actually get usable information a fraction of the time doesn’t help. Of course, if you’re psychopathic (which I’d imagine many torturers are), you might just like the torturing for the sake of torturing, and not because you actually care about the reliability of the information.

  17. We all seem to forget that government is not some nice uncle there to help you. It is a huge costly enterprise created by those in power to govern, control, coerce, force, the underlings to do as they are told.
    As such it is perfectly reasonable for them to use torture, not primarily as a way to get information, but as a warning that they are willing and able to abuse anyone who stands in their way.
    I know this doesn’t apply to nice democratically elected governments like ours, oops wait a minute yes it does a CSIS just announced to almost universal apathy on the part of all corporate media.

  18. I like CSI shows except David Caruso. I cannot bear to watch that one. You hit that right on the nail. That and Angelina and Brad. Who Cares!!

    The thing that got me with this whole torture thing, was that within a couple of weeks, the reason for our Cuban embargo almost exactly matched all the crap it came out that Bush had allowed on Gitmo. So, the lesson is. It’s okay if we do it but not if someone else does it.

    And, my God, if Sarah Palin IS ever elected. We will have to listen to that voice weekly? Make room for me, Canada, here I come.

  19. Bandobras, I think that the willingness to torture does not act as an effective deterrent/demonstration of power. It ignores a lot of the core beliefs of Islamic fundamentalists (and terrorists/marginalized communities in general), in fact, because by torturing people, we make them into martyrs and heroes. So, in fact, that rationalization for using torture doesn’t really hold water.

  20. I’m not necessarly talking about torturing “others”, the fact is most governments are quite handy at finding justifications for the use of force against their own citizens as well as anyone else in the way.
    Pepper spray for your next protest or would you prefer tear gas.
    Water cannons or dogs, Tasering or the billy club.
    Governments are created by the powerful to control the weak and are never too terribly concerned with ethics and morality.
    George Bush and gitmo or the Canadian government declaring people enemies without trial or habeus corpus. It’s the same all over it’s just some governments are a bit better than others at hiding the violence.

  21. Funny the CIA seem to keep their hands off sexual organs. South American (Argentinian) police force could give them a couple of ideas…
    What on earth is habeas corpus all about anyway?

  22. I think I met fragrant Ilene in an elevator today. By the time I got off I thought I was going to choke to death. I’m with you on that one.

  23. All but #9 and #12 would kill me, and #9 and #12 would just make me stronger. As for the serious side of torture and stuff, I say… wait I’m not going to say it because controversy, to me, is like strong perfume. It’s intolerable.

  24. Friar – I met Mr. Dressup once when I was a grown-up working in a theatre at which he was performing. He wasn’t nearly as much fun in real life
    Violetsky –I’m not sure that they DO survive them really. Maybe they come out of it alive, but as Milan said, they’re certainly never the same again.
    Meloukhia – It is so hugely insane – that they would sit down and compose a memo on this thinking that 10 little rules is going to make everything okay. Positively and quite literally mediaval.

    Nat – I hope to hell I never have to find out what I would do when tortured. And ya, pretty much everything in life when you stand and look at the stark reality of it is not funny.

    Louise – I don’t think you choose “torturer” as a career goal unless you’re at least a little bit twisted or maybe they turn perfectly normal people into paranoid, sadistic people at the CIA after a while. Bu back to your first statement – as I mentioned, there is a lot about dealing with children that is torturous, from having to squeeze a human being out of yourself, to months without sleep to having to listen to the same 5 notes of a children’s song over and over and over for years.

    Bandobras – Internment camps…do people still believe the “for the people” part of government?

    Savanvleck – Oh ya, we’re all very good at the “do as I say not as I do” philosophy.
    Patsy – I’m sure they have all the bases covered. Just because we don’t hear about it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
    Charlene – Ours is in the ladies at least 4 times a day re-applying make-up and scent and hairspray. You really can’t go in there for a good half hour after she’s been.

    Geewits – Ya, this isn’t really the forum for discussing big issues. This is more the forum for slapping big issues around a bit and mocking them if at all possible.

  25. *puts glasses on with authority* you mean… *really long pause* horatio… doesnt rock your nuts?


    and sorry dude, i love ya and all but i am NEVER telling you any secrets. the cia is going to read this and get the techno music ready and you will have it all out before they hit play

  26. Hehhe… you actually managed to make a post about torture funny. You are a GOOD writer. I don’t know many people who could do that and succeed. but yeah, arbitrary. not to mention that some of that stuff is EXACTLY THE SAME! in the allowed and not allowed columns.
    But for real, it makes it that much scarier when I realize I personally knew the wife of a man who spent a year in similar situations (Maher Arar and Monia Mazigh). Same story, different governments… ridiculous…

  27. Jobthingy – CSI Miami would be freakin’ hilarious if they weren’t trying to desperately to play it straight. And…um…er… if you have secrets that haven’t already been explored on the blogs, then I don’t think I want to know them.

    Lolo – We all inspire each other.

    Noha – It’s not the torture itself I find the least bit funny, but the idiots who are trying to convince us that they’re torturing people in “nice” ways. You know Arar? I’m very sorry for your friend. I can’t even begin to say how much.

    Jo – Meh, hockey’s okay compared to some of the other mind-numbing stuff on TV. But to each his own poison, ya?

    Linda – French verb conjugations?

  28. i love how you’ve characterized this, “Fragrant Ilene’s (Woman-of-a-Thousand-Fragrances-that-She-Wears-all-at-Once)”

    i always get a migraine from other’s perfumes if they’ve put on too much. the smell gets stuck in my nose.

    i’m not sure what my torture would be, it’s nothing as lighthearted as your list.

  29. Jazz – I’m beginning to think we’re twins separated at birth.

    Leah – You’re a lot tougher than I am, I guess. How about unnecessary dental work without novocaine (a la Marathon Man) ? Would that make you spill your guts? Is it safe?