Torture and the New Yorker

Tropes of torture afloat in the 24 March 2008 issue of the New Yorker. An opening essay by George Saunders, who teaches English at Syracuse University, starts off dark, becomes  flip and cruel in the best neo-con tradition, remains generally tongue-in-cheek, and then signs off with a hard right hook. On the artistic merits of washboarding:

I myself have been washboarded. It’s true. I used to live downstairs from an oldtime jug band. And, believe me, it was not torture. It was torturous, yes—especially at three in the morning, what with the banjo and the jug and the WashboardingTongue%20in%20Cheek.jpghigh, whiny singing and (horror of horrors) the occasional harmonica—but torture?


Was it annoying? Yes, it was. Was it maddening? It was to me. Did it disgust with its ostentatious “embracing” of the faux nostalgic? Oh, big-time.

But was it torture?

At this time, I would like to decline to say. I do not want to give our enemies aid and . . . and that other thing we’re not supposed to give them. Comfort stations. I would like to deny our enemies comfort stations.


Well, it couldn’t hurt. After all, it’s a war. Do not threaten my culture, then ask to use our comfort stations.

Not going to happen.

Saunders’ message is quite serious, and you’ll need to read straight through to get just how serious he is. The same issue of the magazine features a brilliant expose on Sabrina Harman, the young U.S. Army reservist cum Abu Ghraib pictoriographer. Co-written by Phillip Gourevitch and Errol Morris, the report focuses on the essentially kind-hearted young woman who couldn’t hurt a fly (although she didn’t mind posing for glory shots with its corpse). The narrative offers a sensitive and balanced exploration of the moral ins and outs of survival at Abu Ghraib, somewhere between Primo Levi and Hannah Arendt in its scrutiny of the human condition. Well worth reading.

Saunders, George. "Y’All Torture Me Home." The New Yorker (28 March 2008): 28-29.

Gourevitch, Phillip  and Morris, Errol . "Exposure: The Woman Behind the Camera at Abu Ghraib." The New Yorker (28 March 2008): 44-57.

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