According to the Discovery Channel website: “The Emmy®-nominated series MYTHBUSTERS aims to uncover the truth behind popular myths and legends by mixing scientific method with gleeful curiosity and plain old-fashioned ingenuity to create a signature style of experimentation.” In other words, Mythbusters is a reputable program that appears on an educational channel that is intended not only to entertain, but also to inform. Through scientific experimentation the team tests various myths and declares them either confirmed or busted at the end of the segment.
One of the “myths” that the team tested in Episode 25 of the 2005 season was pertaining to Chinese water torture; the premise was that, “Chinese water torture can cause one to become insane.” Two team members were subjected to Chinese water torture, one restrained and one unrestrained. The myth was “confirmed” with the final conclusion as follows, “The required torture equipment (and involuntary movement restrictions) is highly effective even without adding the discomfort of the water drip. The water drip itself, without the equipment, is almost negligible.”
The team member that was restrained, Kerry, lasted approximately 1.5 hours before they ended the experiment. Kerry became extremely upset during the experiment, experienced claustrophobia, and even cried. In her own words, “It was much scarier than I had expected…I think this actually would be a very good torture…I knew that I could get up at any time, but the restraints totally made me lose it.” Adam, the team member who was unrestrained, lasted significantly longer (over 3.5 hours) and eventually stopped the experiment to use the restroom. Even Adam conceded, however, that the torture method could be quite effective: “I felt the pressure. With the restraints it would have been a horrible experience.”
This portrayal of torture in the media is particularly interesting in that it is depicted in the format of an educational program rather than a more glamorized, Hollywood style show such as 24 or Law and Order. This makes it perhaps even more disturbing, as this program is intended to be taken more seriously and the topic of torture, at least at the beginning of the experiment, is handled in a very light-hearted tone. Gerald Gray, a counselor from the Center for Survivors of Torture, is consulted and appears very somber throughout the clip, but the team members themselves don’t seem to grasp the gravity of torture until they witness first-hand the effect the experiment has on Kerry. For example, while building the “rack” one team member jokes, “Why are we going through all this trouble to build this water torture device? I mean really, just buy them a six pack and they’ll tell you whatever you want to know.”
The use of “them” in this statement is very telling in that it represents the classic “us versus them” mentality that is associated with the othering that effectively needs to take place in order to subject another human being to torture. In his statement, the team member not only jokes about torture, but depicts the idea that torture is to be used on “them”, or the other. This ties in with Ph.D. Candidate Atef Said’s article, “Abu Ghraib Torture in Iraqi Narratives” in which, in his second narrative, Said proposes that the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib should be viewed as attacks against Islam and Muslims. This theory proposes that the use of torture on Iraqi prisoners was a result of the rise of Islamophobia in the West, specifically in the U.S, and that the increase of Islamophobia had an impact on the ideology of the U.S. army, casting every Muslim as a “potential terrorist”. In other words, in this case, “them” would be Muslims (perceived as terrorists or potential terrorists). This "us versus them" mentality also represents power dynamics with, from the United States' perspective, "us" having the power.
This episode of Mythbusters is also relevant in the debate between torture and torture lite: “Since torture is illegal according to the Geneva Conventions, the U.S. devised “torture lite” after 9/11 in an effort to torture suspected terrorists within international law. Most critics say that there is no real difference between torture and torture lite, except for semantics.” Many would attempt to qualify Chinese water torture as torture lite, as it does not violate prohibited interrogation methods such as physical abuse, using hoods, using military dogs, etc. (all of which took place at Abu Ghraib). Cast member Kelly, however, clearly doesn’t share this same sentiment. After experiencing Chinese water torture for herself Kelly said, “Absolutely it would be a torture.”
Course Guide Term List: “Torture Lite”
Said, Atef. “Abu Ghraib Torture in Iraqi Narratives”