Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Torture is not fun and games

Theoretical physicist Mano Singham is director of UCITE at Case Westrn Reserve. In this article he looks at hazing in a world-wide context and compares that to the torture and "aggressive interrogation" used in Guantanimo.
As a student and later as a faculty member, I personally hated the practice of hazing and would speak out against it, with the result that a pro-hazing leader once threatened to assault me. Those in favor of it said that it formed bonds of camaraderie. I found this to be a specious argument since it is unlikely that a good friendship can be built on an initial humiliating experience for one person at the hands of another. I have always suspected that hazing was a means for emotionally insecure people to find an outlet for their sadistic impulses, and that the people who enjoyed being hazed and subsequently became friends with those who hazed them had to have at least a streak of power-worshiping masochism.

But what people who argue that "torture is just fraternity-style hi-jinks" miss is that it is not the act itself that is often the problem. It is the context in which it carried out. There is a big difference between the experience of a fraternity pledge who has chosen to join a group with which he or she has some affinity and knows that they want him or her and that hazing is part of the initiation rites, and that of a prisoner in a strange country among people who he fears hate him and would like to see him dead.
When I was a faculty member in the university in Sri Lanka, I once came across a group of senior students hazing a first year student at the beginning of the academic year. They had forced him to put on a pair of shoes on his hands and run around on all fours like a dog. Since I was opposed to hazing on principle (and it was against university policy anyway), I stopped it and took the student to my office to get him away from the others. Although what he had experienced would be considered very mild by anyone reading the above description, the student was shaking with fear and crying. I think the fact that he was at the mercy of other people who seemingly had the power to humiliate him and make do anything they wished to him was what was terrifying, more than any single thing that they made him do.

Torture is barbaric. There is no other word for it. It should not be tolerated under any guise.

Mano Singham's Web Journal: Torture is not fun and games

He also has a "Part 2" article on the same topic.

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