More Lies About Torture In Guantanamo

cross posted from The Dream Antilles


This Is What Torture Looks Like

How gullible are we?  How much nonsense will we consider truthful?  How many lies and contradictions and just plain nonsense about torture do we need to be told before we say, “Basta ya!  Enough already!”  The photo clearly depicts the torture of detainees prisoners at Guantanamo: stress positions and sensory deprivation.  But today the WaPo reports that Bushco says its activities don’t really cross the line and aren’t quite torture.

Join me behind the razor wire.

The Bush administration allowed CIA interrogators to use tactics that were “quite distressing, uncomfortable, even frightening,” as long as they did not cause enough severe and lasting pain to constitute illegal torture, a senior Justice Department official said last week.

In testimony before a House subcommittee, Steven G. Bradbury, the acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, spelled out how the administration regulated the CIA’s use of rough tactics and offered new details of how simulated drowning was used to compel disclosures by prisoners suspected of being al-Qaeda members.

The method was not, he said, like the “water torture” used during the Spanish Inquisition and by autocratic governments into the 20th century, but was subject to “strict time limits, safeguards, restrictions.” He added, “The only thing in common is, I think, the use of water.”

Bradbury indicated that no water entered the lungs of the three prisoners who were subjected to the practice, lending credence to previous accounts that the noses and mouths of CIA captives were covered in cloth or cellophane. Cellophane could pose a serious asphyxiation risk, torture experts said.

So here we go again.  It’s “simulated” drowning, rather than asphyxiation. It’s regulated.  It’s limited. Right.  Naturally, these assertions called for a harsh response:

Martin S. Lederman, a former Office of Legal Counsel official who teaches law at Georgetown University, called Bradbury’s testimony “chilling.” In an online posting, Lederman said that “to say that this is not severe physical suffering — is not torture — is absurd. And to invoke the defense that what the Spanish Inquisition did was worse and that we use a more benign, non-torture form of waterboarding . . . is obscene.”

Bradbury is arguing that there is some magical, bright line between “quite distressing, uncomfortable, even frightening” conduct and torture, and that Bushco in its infinite wisdom and sensitivity knows just where that line is and that it always manages to stop before it crosses the line and actually tortures.  This is, of course, arrant nonsense.  If this were even close to being true, we’d be watching the videotapes of the 24,000 interrogations conducted at Gitmo and nodding our heads in agreement at how benign they were.

And, of course, Bradbury’s, and the WaPo’s attention to “waterboarding”, continues to make that activity the focus of inquiry when, in fact, that is just one of the many forms of torture the administration uses at Guantanamo and in “black sites” in other countries that are completely unacceptable in a civilized world.

But enough of the imprecision.  Slate has compiled a list of the techniques the US uses on detainees prisoners in Guantanamo as well as the documents that discuss the “authority” for doing these things.  Which brings us back to the photo above.

“Stress positions”, like the ones in the photo, kneeling on the ground for long periods of time in awkward positions, were approved by Donald Rumsfeld in a 2002 Memorandum.  Wrote the ever compassionate Donald R on the first page of the memo, “However, I stand for 8-10 hours a day.  Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”  This technique was also discussed in the CIA’s KUBARK manual.  And FM 34-52 recognizes that it is physical torture to force “an individual to stand, sit, or kneel in abnormal positions for prolonged periods of time.”  So what’s going on in the photo?  Are we being told that this is ok because it didn’t go on for long?  The person in orange is just sitting down for a second or two?

And what’s that on the person in orange’s head and hands and eyes?  The photo also documents the use of “sensory deprivation.”  Salon writes:

…sensory deprivation. The benign-sounding form of psychological coercion has been considered effective for most of the life of the (CIA) /snip

The technique has already been employed during the “war on terror,” and, Salon has learned, was apparently used on 14 high-value detainees now held at Guantánamo Bay.

A former top CIA official predicted to Salon that sensory deprivation would remain available to the agency as an interrogation tool in the future. “I’d be surprised if [sensory deprivation] came out of the toolbox,” said A.B. Krongard, who was the No. 3 official at the CIA until late 2004. Alfred McCoy, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has written extensively about the history of CIA interrogation, agrees with Krongard that the CIA will continue to employ sensory deprivation. “Of course they will,” predicted McCoy. “It is embedded in the doctrine.” For the CIA to stop using sensory deprivation, McCoy says, “The leopard would have to change his spots.” And he warned that a practice that may sound innocuous to some was sharpened by the agency over the years into a horrifying torture technique.

Sensory deprivation, as CIA research and other agency interrogation materials demonstrate, is a remarkably simple concept. It can be inflicted by immobilizing individuals in small, soundproof rooms and fitting them with blacked-out goggles and earmuffs. “The first thing that happens is extraordinary hallucinations akin to mescaline,” explained McCoy. “I mean extreme hallucinations” of sight and sound. It is followed, in some cases within just two days, by what McCoy called a “breakdown akin to psychosis.” /snip

Just like waterboarding, Massimino said, extreme sensory deprivation techniques “push people beyond the brink of what they can bear, physically and mentally. Once you understand that, the veneer of acceptability — the myth that ‘it’s not torture, it’s just harsh’ — completely falls apart.” But compared to the outcry over physical torture, she described a “deafening silence” about techniques like sensory deprivation.

Severe sensory deprivation clearly violates the Geneva Conventions and would be illegal under the Military Commissions Act’s ban on “severe or serious mental pain and suffering.”  In fact, some subjects never fully recover.  Put another way, sensory deprivation is torture.

How, you might wonder, can Bradbury speak before a House Subcommittee and make the statements he made and miraculously not be confronted with the widely available photos of stress positions and sensory deprivation?  Why, you might wonder, does Bushco’s defense of torture go on and on and on, and it’s dutifully reported by the Traditional Media, and yet nothing happens to stop the torture?  And how, given what it is doing in Guantanamo and in the “black sites,” can the US not be considered a pariah, a rogue among civilized nations?

Are we ever going to stop the torture and prosecute those who perpetrated it?


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  1. closing Guantanamo, ending the Military Commission Act, and restoring habeas corpus.

    Thanks for reading.  

    • pfiore8 on February 17, 2008 at 17:15

    perhaps you would consider giving this a series name? and add it to the ones you’ve already written, and tag them so.

    i’m also wondering if the politics tag is needed here.

    great work. i know it must be difficult. thank you for hammering away at BushCo’s grotesque veneer.

  2. … should be in prison for treason and crimes against humanity.

    You know they’ve sunk low when all they can dredge up as an excuse is that we’re nicer than those mean folks in the Spanish Inquisition.

    Didn’t realize that was the new model.

    Thanks for this series, David … I’ve read every one and you are doing a great service by providing these essays.

  3. abominable: stress positions and sensory deprivation.  Just fucking abominable.  Savage.

  4. this horrible matter of torture.

    It’s not torture so long as those authorizing it are not, themselves, enduring any form of our “non-torture.”

    Also, as I’m sure you’re aware, there have been deaths as a result of our “non-torture.”  But, even if not resulting in death, how could any human being suffer these methods of “non-torture” and go on to have a normal life thereafter, if they would be so lucky?  The damage is, I’m sure, permanent, as it is with many of our soldiers suffering untreated PTSD. And, the very worst part is that the bulk of these people were swept up en masse and not guilty of anything, except the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Frankly, I would give nothing more than to see Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al. given a sample of “water torture,” but seems we can’t even get beyond getting Impeachment back on the table.  

    • Temmoku on February 18, 2008 at 16:49
    • Valtin on February 18, 2008 at 17:18

    is a lie. The CIA must be abolished, and elected representatives of the citizenry must have their own civilian review boards to examine if the government tortures. That’s how bad it’s become.

    Thank you, David Seth, for this well-written article.

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