Andrew Ellis Johnson, “Hush Now Don’t Explain” (2018), digital collage, 9 5/8 x 12 inches (courtesy of the artist)

The building is bright, the atrium spacious, the terrazzo floor immaculate. Its inset granite seal, a 16-point compass rose, is polished.

The plants are well tended, statues orderly, and flags well stationed.

The guest book is open at the reception desk.

To the left there is a vast black sphere or circle behind which nothing is seen or heard.

Enter stage left:

Authoritative voice: Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Part I

Article 4

1. Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offenses under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.

2. Each State Party shall make these offenses punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature.

Adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 39/46 of 10 December 1984
entry into force 26 June 1987, in accordance with article 27 (1)

H: So one question I have not heard you answer is, do you believe that the previous interrogation techniques were immoral?

H: [Indistinct babble.]

The board to which H. is tied is inverted and H.’s nose and mouth are filled with water. H is drowning. After a period of time H is inverted again and coughs up water from lungs.

H: It’s a yes or no answer. Do you believe the previous interrogation techniques were immoral? I’m not asking do you believe they were legal; I’m asking do you believe they were immoral?

H: [Incomprehensible utterance.]

H. again is drowning. After a period of time, H. struggles and respires.

H: It’s a yes or no answer.

H: [Indecipherable vocalization.]

H. is stripped, hosed with water and laid on a plastic sheet in a pool of ice water. After a period of time without light, food, or sleep, H. is unchained from the concrete floor and questioning resumes.

H: Please answer yes or no. Do you believe in hindsight that those techniques were immoral?

H: [Slurred stammering.]

H. is electrocuted and placed in a confinement box without light, food or water. After a period of time H. returns.

H: Can you please answer the question?

H: I think I’ve answered the request, the question.

H: No, you have not. Do you believe the previous techniques, now armed with hindsight, do you believe they were immoral? Yes or no?

H: [Inchoate blather.]

H. remains convulsing and removed for anal feeding and rehydration. After a period of prolonged exposure to deafening sound and intense light, H. appears.

H: Okay, so I understand that your, that you have not answered the question, but I’m going to move on.

H: My parents gave me a very strong moral compass.

Authoritative Voice: Yes, you can hear them down the hall.

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Andrew Ellis Johnson

Andrew Ellis Johnson was born in Cortland, New York to a jazz guitarist, civil war historian father and science major mother who, together, won many bowling...