Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Friday, June 17, 2005

German torture

By Aussiegirl

Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens describes a recent social encounter with a German diplomat in New York wherein he found himself subjected to a form of "Turnspeak" in "The German Chair" -- which for all the world sounds like a Monty Python skit -- but is lamentably true. Maybe he should have mentioned the war -- he might have gotten away with it.

The German Chair
A tale of torture at the hands of an America-hating diplomat.

In Beirut last month, I met a Lebanese man who had been savagely tortured over the course of a 12-year odyssey in Syrian prisons. Among the things he had endured were electrocutions, beatings with electric cables, and being hanged from ropes by his ankles.

And then there was "the German chair."
The German chair, as he described it, was something akin to a medieval rack, in which progressively greater doses of pain are administered an inch at a time.

Yet why was it known as the German chair? It's a question I neglected to ask. But I found my answer several weeks later, in New York.

. . .But the diplomat had no patience for my small talk. Apropos of nothing, he said he had recently made a study of U.S. tax laws and concluded that practices here were inferior to those in Germany. Given recent rates of German economic growth, I found this comment odd. But I offered no rejoinder. I was, after all, a guest in his home.

. . . The diplomat, however, was just getting started. Bad as U.S. economic policy was, it was as nothing next to our human-rights record. Had I read the recent Amnesty International report on Guantanamo? "You mean the one that compared it to the Soviet gulag?" Yes, that one. My host disagreed with it: The gulag was better than Gitmo, since at least the Stalinist system offered its victims a trial of sorts.

Nor was that all. Civil rights in the U.S., he said, were on a par with those of North Korea and rather behind what they had been in Europe in the Middle Ages. When I offered that, as a journalist, I had encountered no restrictions on press freedom, he cut me off. "That's because The Wall Street Journal takes its orders from the government."

. . . Torturers, however, are those rare people who can inflict injury on the defenseless, work which is made easier for them because they know most people are unable to respond in kind. Thus it was with the German diplomat. Seated at his table, I submitted to his rules. But rather than oblige my submission with courtesy, he took the opportunity to inflict his insults--insults to which I, as a guest, was bound not to resist. I was, so to speak, in his German chair.


At 12:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bret is a coward.


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