Liam Farrell: Disappointing inability to shock

I've always loved America. I love its energy, its lack of false modesty, its willingness to dream, its jealously guarded freedoms. But I love it too much; like the smell of coffee or the prospect of making love to a beautiful woman, it can never live up to my expectations.

And it has let me down again. The revelations on the methods of torture used have left me disenchanted; I expected so much better from the leader of the Free World.

One method, apparently, involved putting prisoners in a box with an insect, after first reassuring them that the insect had neither a venomous sting nor bite. A shining example of the banality of evil or what?

I'll bet the terrorists/insurgents were shaking in their shoes at the thought of it. If it was me I'd sing like a canary; 'Please don't throw me in that briar patch, Brer Fox,' I'd carol.

Was that the most inventive torture they could come up with, I ask wonderingly? Is this the same country that boasts the breadth of imagination and unremitting artifice of Disney? Could there be a more potent symbol of the decadent weakness of the West?

The Yanks could learn something from the British Army; those chaps know a thing or two about extracting enthusiastic confessions.

One of my patients told me how, during the Troubles in the 1970s, when they were arresting people for being called Paddy or Seamus, the Army blindfolded him, took him up in a helicopter, and then pitched him out the door.

Only when he landed did he realise that the helicopter had lifted a few feet off the ground. It would have been almost funny, except that he badly sprained his left pinky and was lame for quite a few hours afterwards, another Martyr for Old Ireland.

'Now that was real torture,' he said, misty-eyed. 'Those were the days, when men were men. We might have been deadly enemies but we respected each other.

'You'd have told your interrogators whatever they wanted to know just to see them happy and smiling, even embroider the truth. That's why the sun never set on the British Empire without asking permission.

'Those were hard times,' he said. 'I still have nightmares about them.'

'You're still not getting any sleeping tablets,' I said.

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com.

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