Contradictions About Torture

cross posted from The Dream Antilles


The Original Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy

This is really fascinating.  And short.  Whoever is playing Edgar Bergen has apparently temporarily lost control of his sockpuppet Charlie McCarthy.  The story is that the voices of Bushco apparently don’t agree today on the legality of waterboarding torture.

Join me on stage.

The New York Times blog pulls it all together:

Steven G. Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, seemed set to shake up one of the fiercest debates in Washington today by offering a clear and concise statement about the controversial interrogation technique known as waterboarding, which simulates drowning.

”There has been no determination by the Justice Department that the use of waterboarding, under any circumstances, would be lawful under current law,” he says in prepared remarks for a House hearing today that were obtained in advance by The Associated Press.

The administration’s current interrogation rules are “narrower than before” waterboarding was used five years ago by the C.I.A., he said. Earlier this week, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said that “in order for it to become part of the program, its legality would have to be passed on.”

Sounds like Bradbury, who hasn’t been confirmed, says that waterboarding is not legal under current law.  Hmmm.

But then there’s this:

About two weeks ago, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey wrote a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee saying that the technique was not clearly illegal, as The New York Times reported:

“But with respect, I believe it is not an easy question,” he said. “There are some circumstances where current law would appear clearly to prohibit the use of waterboarding. Other circumstances would present a far closer question.”

The letter did not define any of the circumstances.

“Not clearly illegal” means “sorta legal?”  Or illegal but not totally? incompletely illegal?

And that’s not all:

Last week, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said the legality of waterboarding was “not certain … under current statute,” a view he attributed to himself and lawyers at the C.I.A. and the Justice Department.

When legality is “not certain” it means maybe it’s legal, maybe it’s illegal, I don’t know?

What is next?  Retractions all around?  Retractions called “clarifications” all around?  A more “nuanced” response from some/all of the talking heads?  A gag order from Edger Bergen?  Stay tuned.


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  1. And while we’re at it, close Gitmo, stop illegal wiretapping, restore habeas corpus, repeal the Military Commisions Act.

    Thanks for reading.

    • nocatz on February 14, 2008 at 20:13

    which simulates drowning.

    it drives me fucking NUTS!!! It IS just don’t (usually) DIE!  It’s not ‘drowning in front of a green screen’, or ‘cartoon drowning’ or ‘drowning in Matrix’…it”s fucking DROWNING!!!

    That’s like saying dowsing someone with gas and setting them on fire ‘simulates’ burning.

    • Edger on February 14, 2008 at 22:39

    is torture for them.

    I think that torture is the one issue that can bring the whole house of mirrors down in the space of a day or two, once the foundations erode far enough.

  2. of no-touch, sensory deprivation torture developed by the CIA and apparently quite “legal” according to the way the bush gang, with the approval of congress, has re-written the laws.

    Note the blindfold, the gloves, the devices to block out sound and the awkward position the detainees are forced into in order to bring on self-inflicted pain.


    They will find a way to get around the law and do whatever they want to do and congress will let them.

    In September of 2003, General Sanchez issued orders, detailed orders, for expanded interrogation techniques beyond those allowed in the U.S. Army Field Manual 3452, and if you look at those techniques, what he’s ordering, in essence, is a combination of self-inflicted pain, stress positions and sensory disorientation, and if you look at the 1963 C.I.A. KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual, you look at the 1983 C.I.A. Interrogation Training Manual that they used in Honduras for training Honduran officers in torture and interrogation, and then twenty years later, you look at General Sanchez’s 2003 orders, there’s a striking continuity across this forty-year span, in both the general principles, this total assault on the existential platforms of human identity and existence, okay? And the specific techniques, the way of achieving that, through the attack on these sensory receptors.

    AMY GOODMAN: And Rumsfeld’s comment, when asked if it was torture, when people were forced to stand hours on end, that he stands at his desk?

    ALFRED McCOY: Right, he wrote that in one of his memos. When he was asked to review the Guantanamo techniques in late 2003 or early 2004, he scribbled that marginal note and said, you know, “I stand at my desk eight hours a day.” He has a designer standing desk. “How come we’re limiting these techniques of the stress position to just four hours?” So, in other words, that was a clear signal from the Defense Secretary. Now, one of the problems beyond the details of these orders is torture is an extraordinarily dangerous thing. There’s an absolute ban on torture for a very good reason. Torture taps into the deepest recesses, unexplored recesses of human consciousness, where creation and destruction coexist, where the infinite human capacity for kindness and infinite human capacity for cruelty coexist, and it has a powerful perverse appeal, and once it starts, both the perpetrators and the powerful who order them, let it spread, and it spreads out of control.

    So, I think when the Bush administration gave those orders for, basically, techniques tantamount to torture at the start of the war on terror, I think it was probably their intention that these be limited to top al-Qaeda suspects, but within months, we were torturing hundreds of Afghanis at Bagram near Kabul, and a few months later in 2003, through these techniques, we were torturing literally thousands of Iraqis. And you can see in those photos, beyond the details of the techniques that we’ve described, you can see how that once it starts, it becomes this Dantesque hell, this kind of play palace of the darkest recesses of human consciousness. That’s why it’s necessary to maintain an absolute prohibition on torture. There is no such thing as a little bit of torture. The whole myth of scientific surgical torture, that torture advocates, academic advocates in this country came up with, that’s impossible. That cannot operate. It will inevitably spread.

    Alfred W. McCoy on torture – there’s more here

    • Edger on February 15, 2008 at 13:50

    The Bush Administration’s Torture of U.S. Citizen Jose Padilla

    Glenn Greenwald

    He was kept in a unit comprising sixteen individual cells, eight on the upper level and eight on the lower level, where Mr. Padilla’s cell was located. No other cells in the unit were occupied. His cell was electronically monitored twenty-four hours a day, eliminating the need for a guard to patrol his unit. His only contact with another person was when a guard would deliver and retrieve trays of food and when the government desired to interrogate him.

    His isolation, furthermore, was aggravated by the efforts of his captors to maintain complete sensory deprivation. His tiny cell – nine feet by seven feet – had no view to the outside world. The door to his cell had a window, however, it was covered by a magnetic sticker, depriving Mr. Padilla of even a view into the hallway and adjacent common areas of his unit. He was not given a clock or a watch and for most of the time of his captivity, he was unaware whether it was day or night, or what time of year or day it was.

    In addition to his extreme isolation, Mr. Padilla was also viciously deprived of sleep. This sleep deprivation was achieved in a variety of ways. For a substantial period of his captivity, Mr. Padilla’s cell contained only a steel bunk with no mattress. The pain and discomfort of sleeping on a cold, steel bunk made it impossible for him to sleep. Mr. Padilla was not given a mattress until the tail end of his captivity. . .

    Mr. Padilla’s dehumanization at the hands of his captors also took more sinister forms. Mr. Padilla was often put in stress positions for hours at a time. He would be shackled and manacled, with a belly chain, for hours in his cell. Noxious fumes would be introduced to his room causing his eyes and nose to run. The temperature of his cell would be manipulated, making his cell extremely cold for long stretches of time. Mr. Padilla was denied even the smallest, and most personal shreds of human dignity by being deprived of showering for weeks at a time, yet having to endure forced grooming at the whim of his captors.

    A substantial quantum of torture endured by Mr. Padilla came at the hands of his interrogators. In an effort to disorient Mr. Padilla, his captors would deceive him about his location and who his interrogators actually were. Mr. Padilla was threatened with being forcibly removed from the United States to another country, including U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was threatened his fate would be even worse than in the Naval Brig.

    He was threatened with being cut with a knife and having alcohol poured on the wounds. He was also threatened with imminent execution. He was hooded and forced to stand in stress positions for long durations of time. He was forced to endure exceedingly long interrogation sessions, without adequate sleep, wherein he would be confronted with false information, scenarios, and documents to further disorient him. Often he had to endure multiple interrogators who would scream, shake, and otherwise assault Mr. Padilla.

    Additionally, Mr. Padilla was given drugs against his will, believed to be some form of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or phencyclidine (PCP), to act as a sort of truth serum during his interrogations.

    Padilla Torture Claims Detailed

    It was someone very close to me, serving the last of several enlistments in the US Navy to include SEAL school, who initially brought the torturing of detainees to my attention back when we all first saw the photos of folks in orange jump suits kneeling behind fences at GITMO. He asked, “You know those guys are being tortured, don’t you?” “Huh?!” I replied, not understanding the effects and goal of the stress position. He then went on to tell me exactly how it works, ending with, “Go kneel on your driveway like that for four hours, if you can make it that long, and see if you can even walk afterward.” He also told me of the treatment of intercepted Haitian refugees at the hands of Navy personnel that I would consider torture.

    For any of you who may be interested and missed them, check out the relevant interrogation manuals available at George Washington University’s National Security Archive (“Prisoner Abuse: Patterns from the Past”), especially the 1963 KUBARK* manual. The gist of the military’s post-WWII/Vietnam era approach was to use advances in psychology and related fields to switch to indirect methods that force the person being tortured to fight against themself instead of having a torturer upon whom to direct their attention: self-defeat being more complete and effective than defeat by another which may include external resistance and resentment. Thus the introduction of stress positions, and other passive, non-aggressive measures instead of hot lights and rubber hoses. Apart from the more complete capitulation and destruction of the tortured, the side benefit is that to many outside observers the techniques do not look like torture or even cruel and unusual punishment (fraternity pranks, anyone?).

    *CIA, KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation

    Under the subheading, “Threats and Fears,” the CIA authors note that “the threat of coercion usually weakens or destroys resistance more effectively than coercion itself. The threat to inflict pain, for example, can trigger fears more damaging than the immediate sensation of pain.” Under the subheading “Pain,” the guidelines discuss the theories behind various thresholds of pain, and recommend that a subject’s “resistance is likelier to be sapped by pain which he seems to inflict upon himself” such rather than by direct torture. The report suggests forcing the detainee to stand at attention for long periods of time.

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