Quote: The “cool, carefully considered, methodical, prolonged and repeated subjection of captives to physical torment, and the accompanying psychological terror, is immoral.” Philip D. Zelikow, executive director of the 911 Commission, quoted in the New York Times.
Figure of Speech: merismus (mer-IS-mus), the distribution figure. From the Greek, meaning “part.” Also called a merism (MER-ism) in English.
Groucho Marx’s quip that “military intelligence” is a contradiction in terms may have been unfair, at least when he made it. During World War II, highly trained interrogators educed crucial information German and Japanese prisoners without torture—also known as “harsh techniques” in White House-ease. The Intelligence Science Board, a group of experts advising government agencies, has issued a review of current methods and concluded that they’re less effective than the old WWII methods.
The 911 Commission’s Philip Zelikow says they’re also just plain wrong. Zelikow, who edited the law review at the University of Houston, offers a lawyerly definition of—not torture, exactly, but it’s clear what he’s talking about. America does not torture people. We’re not that kind of country.
His rhetorical device, the merism, takes a concept like “cold-blooded” and names its constituent parts instead. The Biblical God merismizes himself as “Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.” Use the merism as a subtle form of hyperbole; instead of telling the boss you worked on Saturday, throw him a merism: “I worked from dawn till dusk.”
But don’t say it was torture.
Snappy Answer: “Carefully considered? At least that’s a start.”