Thank God for Noam Chomsky. Not for his lifetime of eviscerating assaults on our political hypocrisy, but for his linguistics. Long before I knew him, undergraduate Fisk laboured at his university linguistics course, where Chomsky’s work first alerted me to the pernicious use of language. Hence I condemn at once the vile semantics of the Pentagon and the CIA. Not just that old, wolfish, obscene phrase “collateral damage”, but the language of torture.
Or, as the lads who torture on our behalf call it, “enhanced interrogation techniques”. Let’s take a closer look at that. “Enhanced” is a word of improvement. It suggests something better, more learned, even less costly. For example, “enhanced medicine” would presumably involve a more streamlined way of improving your health. Just as “enhanced schooling” would suggest a more worthy education for a child. “Interrogation” at least gives a hint of what this is all about. Asking questions and getting – or not getting – a reply. But “techniques” beats the lot. A technique is a technical skill, is it not? Usually, so my dictionary tells me, in artistic work.
So the “interrogators” have special skills – which implies training, learnt work, application, the product of brains. Which I suppose, in a way, is what torture is all about. It’s just not the way I would normally describe the process of slamming people into walls, half-drowning them in water and ramming hummus up their rectums. But in case that’s a bit too graphic, the US press lads and lasses have got round it in a familiar form. The whole process of “enhanced interrogation techniques” is now called “EIT”. Like WMD – another whopper in our political vocabulary – the whole filthy business is wrapped up in a three-letter abbreviation.