Disclaimer from Sekhnet about this piece:
“I hated it. ‘I hated it’ was an understatement. I urge you to take this down, people will not realize it’s fiction. They will think this is something that really happened, you acting like a complete asshole. It’s horrifying, and very realistic, it’s plausible to people who never met you. It seems to have been written from life. They will think this is an actual story from your life, and it’s a sick story. And the connection between the narrator’s torture debate with his colleague is not made to what the asshole narrator does to his guest. It’s just plain stupid.”
Rest assured, this is a harmless work of complete fiction:
The Torture Debate
A classmate of mine from law school I hadn’t heard from in decades, a striving type who’d gone to work for “the man”, and “done very well”, called to check in with me, the great idealist. Our career trajectories could not have gone much differently. He was very wealthy, loved the new tax cuts, I was still idealistic, and paying off my student loans on the drip, drip, drip plan. I got a couple of laughs out of him before he turned serious, began talking politics.
It wasn’t long before we found ourselves coming from our respective corners, the then-contentious subject of torture reared its ugly head, specifically the issue of Americans and foreign partners collaborating in the torture of terrorism suspects. His points were predictable: the human right of one particular individual, or hundreds, not to be handled inhumanely did not equal the human rights of a little blonde girl not to get blown up by a fanatic on her way to school.
We eventually “agreed to disagree,” with appropriately fake phone smiles, about things like whether a stress position, forced enemas, a freezing cold cell or prolonged sleep deprivation were actually torture or merely forms of tough, but perfectly legal, ‘coercion’ to get vital information to save the lives of those innocents whose deaths from a terrorist’s bomb were imminent. After we reached this lawyerly agreement I thanked him for calling and told him I had to get going. He said he’d be in town the following week and asked if I’d be free to meet him at some point. He cheerfully accepted my invitation to come by for a drink.
He liked the drink I served him very much, the last of a bottle of 12 year-old MacCallan’s. We drank a toast with that lovely single malt, followed by a round of Johnny Walker Black, also good. We chased the whisky with small glasses of cold seltzer and, being both suddenly thirsty, found ourselves musing over the peculiarly unambiguous American use of the word “drink.”
“I haven’t had a drink in ten years,” I said, setting up the old gag.
“Boy, you must be thirsty!” he said, smiling like he’d spiked the winning shot at the Canker, Boyle and Whitehead annual volleyball tournament.
“If you are, in fact, thirsty,” I said, “I can get you a delicious drink I just re-discovered. I think you’ll find it quite refreshing.” I brought him a tall, frosty glass of fresh squeezed pink grapefruit juice, very sweet, spiked with a splash of ice cold seltzer. I had one too. The delicious combination of the sweet liquid fruit and the cold bubbles really hit the spot. He liked it very much, too. I offered him a refill and he smiled, thanked me and drank that also.
When I came back from the bathroom I asked if he’d like one more. Best to avoid dehydration while drinking whisky, I reminded him. With a slightly sheepish smile he said he wouldn’t mind one more, if I had enough. I assured him I did and brought him another tall, frosty drink. We had another shot of whisky, too.
When he got up to go to the bathroom I stood, put a firm hand on his shoulder and restrained him.
“No,” I said.
Unable to dislodge my hand he quickly became indignant. He started using his words. Being stronger than him, and determined, I was not obliged to pay the slightest attention to his arguments. I would remain, for purposes of this particular dispute, the proponent of argumentum ad baculum, which the internet informs us is the fallacy committed when one appeals to force or the threat of force to bring about the acceptance of a conclusion
We were locked this way for over an hour, maybe two hours. Every time he tried to get up, I’d press down with force. The futility of this exercise of trying to stand, once it became clear that I was determined to argue like a “Might Makes Right” asshole, finally overwhelmed him.
After the ignored legal and moral arguments came the cursing and the attempts at intimidation. When the cursing was done, the appeals to my common decency, the ethical standards of our shared profession, to our long ago friendship, began. The consciences of my dead parents, who he’d met at graduation, were eventually dragged into his shameless appeal. The appeal got so personal I had to stop looking at him. Eventually, he was quiet.
It took a moment before I realized my work was done. His chair was in the middle of a dark lake. His ride home would be embarrassing, his tailored leisure pants would need a dry cleaning and his expensive shoes appeared to have been ruined.
Then the tears began, which was horrible to see, really. Hosing down the tile floor afterwards, I knew that my old classmate now had every right not to call me next time he comes to New York. Worse, I’ll never get to find out who won that long-running debate between us about the exact nature of torture.