Now Topping the List of Companies I Won’t Work For . . .
Check out this article from Sunday’s Washington Post. It describes a lawsuit by a company employee alledgedly waterboarded by his supervisor and sales teammates as part of a team-building exercise. Even though both the supervisor and the victim/employee disclaim any knowledge that they were involved in waterboarding, the whole event frightens me on multiple levels. First off, there’s the supervisor’s purported money quote, “You saw how hard Chad fought for air right there. I want you to go back inside and fight that hard to make sales.” But, outside the confines of the event itself, I have concerns about how these stories, much like earlier tales of journalists willingly undergoing waterboarding, affect our cultural view of the practice, which in turn may affect the relevant legal questions. So, will this be part of a story by which a practice long regarded as torture somehow undergoes a metamorphosis into a practice that, while bad, isn’t “torture.” In other words, are we at risk that waterboarding may become more mainstream not only in the lexicon, but in practice, and thus weaken its claim as torture? I’d hope not, particularly when one considers the role of context: it’s one thing to volunteer for a team-building exercise (in the Post story, the previous exercise was an egg toss) on a grassy Utah hillside that goes horribly wrong, and quite another to isolate and coercively interrogate individuals in confined conditions that suggest death will result from lack of cooperation. Obviously, national security and other very real interests drive the need for information, and we need to accommodate those interests. At the same time, however, most everyone seems to agree (rhetorically at least) that there is a line that cannot be crossed, and we use “torture” to define that line (see The Daily Show’s recent compilation of government statements on this point). And if the “torture” line can get blurred at team-building exercises in middle-America, how much harder will it be to draw that line at places like GTMO? Or, put another way, how much more reasonable will it be for decision-makers to argue waterboarding presents a hard question that may not be torture after all?