Torture Should Be Accounted For

Torture is among the most heinous crimes known to humankind. It should never be excused, it should never go unpunished. It is not about who the tortured are, or what the tortured know. It is not about what they have done, what they believe, or whether they would do the same. It is about who we are, and how human beings should be treated. It is about our humanity, that is all.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Banning torture in U.S. courts

There was a court hearing to determine the sanity of Aafia Siddiqui yesterday. At least, that is what the various news sources seemed to be reporting on. Formally, it was a hearing for both the prosecution and defense psychiatrists to present their documents and reasoning on the fitness of Ms. Siddiqui to stand trial for attempting to kill U.S. government agents in Ghazni, Afghanistan. Informally, I think I was left wondering whether the U.S. justice system could deal with the case at all.

No, I'm not getting ready to pitch alternative justice. I'm not a big believer in the Military Commissions Act of 2006, I would like to see it repealed. President Obama's speech advocating a system of indefinite detention chilled me to the bone. And the trial balloon floated by Benjamin Wittes and Colleen Peppard made my blood boil. The U.S. judiciary has handled crises, criminal trials, trials with heavy political overtones, civil rights, human rights, corporate rights, and every other thing that has been thrown at it and remained resilient.

Torture eats at the court

But not this. I am increasingly of the opinion that there is no possible way for a U.S. court, based firmly on the rule of law, deriving its powers from common law, the Constitution, the U.S. code, and all the international laws, treaties, and customary law, a court in which due process is guaranteed to everyone without regard to background, and which strives to mete out justice and observe the innocence of the accused until proven guilty -- a court with such high ideals and aspirations -- no possible way to accuse someone of a crime and try them in this court, while there is an unspoken allegation that the government bringing the accusation has, in fact, tortured the defendant for years while holding them in conditions of enforced disappearance and incommunicado detention. Because the unspoken rule in a U.S. court of law is that the government bringing criminal charges against the accused has, itself, committed no crime against the accused, and certainly not one of the most heinous of crimes, one for which there is no affirmative defense at all. Whether or not the charges against the government are true, there does not seem to be any way to conduct a real trial when the government stands accused variously of incommunicado detention, torture with threats of death, possible killing of a child, nudity, rape, extreme isolation, and druggings.

First, there is the issue of her appearance in court. Ms. Siddiqui was brought into court by force yesterday. But this is the first time this was done. It wasn't important to have her at court for her arraignment, for her bail hearing, or for her hearing remanding her to Carswell for psychiatric observation. The first time it is totally necessary for her to come to court is when she faces a devil's choice: From her point of view, the prosecution seeks to imprison her for life, the defense seeks to drug her and imprison her for life. Whether or not she is sane, she ascribed her talkativeness to the fact that it might be her last opportunity to try to tell her side of her story -- as she put it, "I've seen people on the drugs, they can't talk."

How was she supposed to sound, and what should she have said or not said? If the charge of 'malingering', leveled at her by prosecution psychiatrists is true, it indicates she will say or do anything to avoid what? A conviction that would put her in jail for 30 years to life. The prosecution psychiatrists also say that recordings of her calls from Carswell to her brother Mohammed (did she know she was being surveilled, and does she have a right to?) indicated that she is fully cognizant of the charges and what is happening with the trial. A Ph.D. in neuroscience doesn't need to be told that a finding of 'psychologically unfit to stand trial' means either forced medication to produce fitness for trial, or indefinite incarceration. If she will take that risk to avoid trial, why would she not take any risk to say anything at all that she thought might help her case, once in front of the judge? Why then would her 'outbursts', no matter how 'rambling', be anything other than an attempt at the preferred outcome? How is it that a court can think of her as crazy when she interrupts them, and sane when she says things to psychiatrists?

In earlier court documents, one of the psychiatrists at Brooklyn MDC, had stated that she might be suffering from the effects of torture. There is a standard protocol for examining a victim of torture for psychological scars and effects. There is no record in any of the public information, certainly not in any news coverage, that the two words Istanbul Protocol were ever spoken in Judge Berman's court, that any of the five psychiatrists who testified at her competency hearing yesterday conducted tests according to that protocol, or that there is any intention of anyone connected with the court, not the prosecutors, not the FBI, not the judge, nor the defense counsel, nor any psychiatrists or anyone else, to follow through and determine, in a standard method used to begin investigation of the victim in case of an allegation of torture, whether or not Aafia Siddiqui has, in fact, been incarcerated or tortured.

Because determination of this fact is distinctly not part of the case, the case is allowed to stand in for others, and behaviors get interpreted as they are not. To begin with, although Aafia Siddiqui was for nearly 5 years the only woman on the al Qaeda top ten wanted list, she is not charged with any crime related to terrorism, the "war on terror", al Qaeda, or even the plot for which she was put on that list. She can't be. Any case that did consider the plot, supposedly a plot to cripple the nation's energy infrastructure by blowing up gas stations, would need to consider where that plot came from. But using that plot in court requires a discussion of how the information of the plot came to be known, and that implies dealing with information obtained from Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, which, since February, definitively involves torture and black sites. So the plot is only mentioned in reference -- only in the complaint and not in the actual charges does any reference to terrorist plots occur, and only in a document supplied to the judge by the prosecutor, asking the judge to consider the case as being linked to that of Uzair Paracha is her relationship to the actual plot participants mentioned.

Detailing how the information was obtained would pinpoint when it was that the manhunt for Aafia Siddiqui began, and that would lead to consideration of when she disappeared, March 29, 2003, a few weeks after Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was captured and rendered to a black site for torture. Since the prosecution psychiatrists testified that Ms. Siddiqui told them she was back and forth from Afghanistan to Pakistan during the intervening years, again we are stuck with a choice: We can believe the words of this woman as sane and fit for trial, and believe her statement of whereabouts to the psychiatrist and the FBI, and then we will have to believe that the FBI could not find one of the ten most wanted persons in the world, and the Pakistani ISI and military had no idea of her whereabouts, while she worked at a college in Karachi. Or her ex-husband, who contends the family secretly kept her around Karachi to maintain the fiction that she'd been disappeared. Does he also dispute FBI information that she had re-married? That information was also taken from Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, so maybe he does. Or we can believe what she has consistently, along with her family, told others for at least a year, which is that she was abducted on March 29, 2003 by agents and incarcerated, while she was on the way to the train station in Karachi. Take your choice. And remember, this is someone the FBI contends will say anything to anybody in order to secure her freedom.

Next, we can believe that she was picked up with handwritten notes on July 18, 2008, detailing biological and chemical WMD attacks in the New York area. The defense psychologist has argued that the notes prove she is delusional. They detail all sorts of theories on how to create germ weapons -- crazy theories -- going after only people who eat chicken, creating a germ that only attacks adults and not children. They are crazy because she has an undergraduate degree in biology, and a Ph.D. in neuroscience, and knew more than that about germs. When did she write these notes? Many believe that she was under U.S. control at the beginning of July, 2008. That was when Yvonne Riddley and Moazzam Begg began making noises about Prisoner 650, the Grey Lady of Bagram. Pressure grew when Imran Khan and Amina Masood Janjua joined the chorus, and then British Lord Nazim Ahmed, resulting in identifying Aafia Siddiqui with the Grey Lady, to the denials of the American military, which said there had never been a woman prisoner at Bagram. All of which happened before she was taken into custody on July 18, when a shooting occurred.

For this reason, bringing up the subject of whether or not she was incarcerated will bring up whether or not she was left in Ghazni by American or Afghan authorities to be found or killed. In which case did she write the notes in prison, or on the street corner where she was found? Because the Governor of Ghazni contends she was in pitiful condition when found, he photographed her in the famous shot that has had people contending she looks malnourished and abused. The FBI should remember to ask him if she had a pen, and how old the notes were.

Which brings us up to the circumstances of her arrest. It was convenient for Larry Neumeister to write his pieces in twos after her court hearing yesterday. The first, shorter pieces, went out on the wire, where news agencies the world over were waiting for news of the case, and quickly found their way into print in Pakistan and elsewhere. They mysteriously neglected to mention she'd been shot. That came in the follow ups, the more complete articles, after many papers went to print elsewhere in the world. But that's the case. And the FBI and CIA, and all U.S. officials contend they had no idea where she was until the day they came to interrogate her -- the day she was shot, July 18, 2008. But they also contend she was a "'treasure trove' of information on al Qaeda". She was shot and flown to Bagram hospital, where she underwent surgery, which had her still weak from bleeding and infection on her first court date in early August. During the time she was in the hospital, she was restrained, she was in a brightly lit room, and there was an FBI agent there the entire time. After that, she was on the plane, where the FBI again contends she was coherent and talkative, and then in Brooklyn MDC.

So let's talk again about torture. In the small. What was her treatment during those two weeks when she had the only opportunity, according to the FBI timeline, to be a "treasure trove" of information about al Qaeda? And was she then sane during that time? Then why the incoherent, crazy notes at the time of arrest? And what of the arrest? The Ghazni police had contended that she did not grab a gun and fire, that she only approached the Americans, to complain about her treatment in Afghan custody, and they panicked and shot. The Governor of Ghazni did not consider her to be dangerous, his assistant was shown in pictures he took (including the famous one) trying to get her to remove her burqa. He served tea to her and to her son on a couch at his residence. He took a picture of her, which her husband, in some of the same story the psychiatrist relied on to corroborate her whereabouts before 2008, contends was taken after a domestic dispute in Boston. It would seem that her husband's testimony is being relied on only because it makes investigation of the allegation of detention and torture unnecessary, and that Leslie Powers believes it because she can change her testimony to one of malingering from one of 'depressive psychosis'.

Is A Justice System that Systematically Avoids Torture Mentally Competent?

The effort that is being expended to prevent so much as one verdict of torture in the United States is incredible. In this particular case, it is distorting everything about the case. In the related case in Pakistan, the Pakistani government has been ordered to provide for Aafia Siddiqui's defense, negotiate her return to Pakistan with the U.S., and to determine the whereabouts of her children. Oh, yeah, the children. The eldest of those children has spoken in an interview and recalls being moved about, being incarcerated, and being shackled. Perhaps he and his mother, and his family, and Moazzam Begg, Binyam Mohamed, Nazir Ahmed, and others are just collectively hallucinating the incarceration. Perhaps they are all delusional. Except that the number one supposedly delusional person in all this is the very one that the U.S. government contends is sane. Because otherwise they might have to explain how she got that way. So she is 100% sane, but her 'outbursts' in court are delusional. And torture as a word, as a deed that should require investigation, has been banned from all American courts. And extreme isolation, which has a collection of symptoms three of which are exhibited by behavior corroborated both by the characterization of her court appearance and by psychiatrists for both prosecution and defense, is not a candidate for those symptoms no matter what the law of parsimony might say.

Or even if the outbursts from the FBI, the CIA, the President, the court psychiatrists, and everyone else sound delusional and 'rambling. Binyam Mohamed will eventually get his pictures, I have no doubt that the ACLU and Clive Stafford Smith will make sure of that. As for Aafia Siddiqui, the only child whose whereabouts is known is in Pakistan, while her defense and prosecution lawyers decide which kind of incarceration to put her in for the rest of her life. Of course she chose to speak out in court, no matter what she sounded like, no matter what people thought. Anything else would have been a Sophie's choice. And the government and her lawyers should recognize that, and do what they can to re-establish the rule of law in District Court. Until they bring torture into a court room in the United States, perhaps it is the government which is not competent for trial.


Benjamin Weiser of the New York Times has got a hold of a letter written by Aafia Siddiqui that the court released after the hearing. Since the letter is marked by the author as personal and confidential and not for the public, it is strange that it should be released by the court, even stranger that this is the sole piece of primary material made available to the public by the press and the court from this hearing. Mr. Weiser characterizes it as a rambling screed against the Zionists/Jews. To be frank, the letter is anti-Semitic, blaming the conflict between America and individuals and countries in the Muslim world entirely on Israel and the Jews, and asserting that "history repeats". But why is no mention made of the long paragraphs opposing war, or the part that reads (after blaming most everything on Israel and the Jews),
...of the kind that are kidnapping people from overseas with children and even babies!), torturing them directly and using their little children as a tool of torture -- or -- simply brainwashing simple-minded youth by pretending to be religious scholars and giving anti-American verdicts...all this in an attempt to make them say/do/write something that can be used to foment war between the US and their otherwise allies (such as the people of Pakistan and most other Muslim countries in the middle-east)...This is true! I am a first-hand witness/victim to this horrible game! It is the sheer favor of my and your GOD, and none other, that I am still "around" and able to write this.
Anti-Semitism is not evidence of attempted murder, nor justification for torture. So while it is certainly true that it is offensive, Mr. Weiser does a disservice to the truth to fail to point out that it is the anti-Semitic and conspiracy theory tone of the letter, and only that, which makes it seem at all insane. If that were the case, there are plenty of people on the internet who fit both those criteria. And paranoia and dread of conspiracies are, as well, on Dr. Grassian's list of symptoms of extreme isolation (along with hallucinations, poor impulse control, and oversensitivity to stimuli). And while Ms. Siddiqui's comments are being cherry picked for all that might offend, in the center of the letter is the allegation, still unanswered by either the government or by news organizations like the one Mr. Weiser works for, that Aafia Siddiqui was kidnapped and tortured by threatening or hurting her children.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Torture Temptation

What I find most remarkable about America's debate regarding torture -- beyond the fact that such a debate could even be necessary in America -- is the continual recourse of both proponents and opponents to the question of whether torture works. I can't think of any other illegal behavior -- not murder, not rape, not kidnapping, not assault -- that receives this kind of rhetorical makeover. When a murder has been committed, you don't hear people agonizing over whether killing can never, ever be justified. When someone has been raped, people don't ignore the crime in favor of a discussion of whether a rapist's satisfaction could possibly be proven to outweigh a victim's trauma and horror. If a child is kidnapped, the airwaves aren't polluted with discussion of whether kidnapping might actually be an effective way of acquiring ransom money. And so on.

Torture, apparently, is different. Let's talk about why.

Unlike other crimes, torture has a constituency, in the form of the architects who created America's torture regime. These are the people who feed the public discourse with a steady supply of, "Can you really say that torture never, ever works?" And, "What would you do if your child were kidnapped and the kidnapper refused to reveal the child's location?" And, "How can you compare enhanced interrogation techniquing one terrorist to the 3000 people killed on 9/11?" Etc. The architects, and their media allies, know that as long as the talking heads of television and gatherers by office water coolers, literal and electronic, are discussing the morality and practicality of torture, they won't be talking about the illegality of torture.

But this supply-side explanation is only part of what makes torture different. The supply would have nowhere to go in the absence of demand. And the demand is what we most need to guard against. Purveyors of torture excuses will come and go, but our psyches will never change.

I believe some deep place in the human psyche is attracted to torture. A fundamental aspect of human nature is an abhorrence of powerlessness and a concomitant will to power. And what greater confirmation of power, and banishment of powerlessness, is there than utter control over another human being -- body, mind, and soul?

We also abhor helplessness. It's horrifying to consider that over time we will never be able to entirely prevent terrorist attacks. We prefer to believe 9/11 happened because we failed to do something we could have done, that there's some extreme we can still resort to that will make us safe again, that if we do that thing from now on, we can gain greater mastery over the possibilities that frighten us. Because, for the reasons set forth in the paragraph above, torture is already seductive, we seize on it like a talisman custom-made for our fearful psyches.

So it bears reminding that the reason torture is universally illegal in the civilized world is a consensus that torture is not only evil, but also insidious, and that therefore we must guard against the temptation to torture by enacting and enforcing strict laws against it. These laws provide not just a bulwark against a recrudescence of torture, but act also as a signpost, wisely erected by generations before us, warning us to stand fast against the dark sirens of our worst impulses.

Leave aside the irony that it's self-styled "conservatives" who are so eager to ignore the accreted wisdom of generations past. That the consensus against torture is the work of generations -- the product of generations of mistakes and of continual, improbable appeals not just to morality, but to wisdom, too, to the better angels of our nature -- makes the more debilitating the right's progress in once again coloring torture as something respectable, even desirable.

It is nothing of the sort. Torture is an abomination. It is without exception illegal. Those who have authorized it and those who have carried it out have committed crimes. In the face of clear laws and clear evidence of violation of those laws, a rhetorical resort to theory or morality or practicality isn't just an attempt to obscure the commission of crimes. It's also an implicit debasement of the value of the law itself. Most of all, it's a profoundly unconservative attempt to reingest an evil seed civilization has over time and in the face of dark, conflicting impulses, managed largely to expel.

-- Barry Eisler

Cross-posted at Heart of the Matter. More here:

The Torture Mentality, Part 1

The Torture Mentality, Part 2

The Torture Mentality, Part 3

The Torture Mentality, Part 4

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Call For Action

A brief progress report

June 26th is the International Day Against Torture. It is the anniversary of the entry into force of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment. This year, we have a new president in the United States, one who made a commitment to end torture on his second day in office. I have already written about how hard I thought that commitment would be to live up to. We are seeing the difficulties mount with every new facet, just bringing the truth out for the American people to judge on their own is nearly impossible, apparently, as is actually closing down the machinery that has been set up, not to mention bringing perpetrators to justice.

Over the months we have seen the Obama administration uphold state secrecy in court, move against habeas rights for those held in Afghanistan, as if where you are held determines how much of a human being you are, ask for a continuation of the infamous military commissions, and most recently, fight tooth and nail to keep photographic evidence secret that the ACLU says proves the high level involvement in the types of supposedly "unauthorized" tortures we saw at Abu Ghraib. The President delivered a speech calling for indefinite preventive detention of some people, for a period characterized by the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as "until the end of this conflict, which means terrorism, against the United States, against her allies, and in the world abates." The prisoners at Guantanamo are not deaf. I personally don't think it's an accident that shortly there after, Muhammed Ahmad Abdallah Salih decided that indefinite was too long.

Over the same months we have seen the media, and the proponents of torture, narrow the debate to only the consideration of waterboarding applied to three men, and whittled down to a discussion over whether the current Speaker of the House was informed and when she was informed. An ongoing push is still in progress -- not to deny, any longer, that torture occurred -- but to argue that it was effective, and worth it, and stopping its practice will endanger national security.

Time to stop and take a look around

But this is not what has happened, it is not the proper list of facts, it is not the proper perspective of what has happened to this country. The torture has been widespread. It makes no difference whether those photographs show rape of children, as some assert, or merely show pictures of a prison door, like the picture shown in Torturing Democracy, that proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the treatment the prisoner inside was receiving was a matter of following very strict, and very detailed orders. Yes, getting it all out will show that many horrible things have gone on. There has been detention of children, there has been abuse of children. There has been detention of women, there has been abuse of women. There has been mass torture, and mass inhumanity. There have been all these things.

But if, in the American mind, it is necessary to have graphic brutality, to have blood spurting across the screen, and heads crunched against walls, to have intense and explicit physical pain and the scars to prove it, then we will never end torture in this country, and never again serve as a beacon for human rights in the world. Rightly or wrongly, we did once. Moazzam Begg makes one so very heartrending comment in the film Torturing Democracy. He says, "If the Americans are doing this, then what hope is there?"

The image of Saber Lahmar, dying on his mat in Guantanamo in solitary confinement springs to mind. Nothing is being done to him in that image. Nothing but loud mechanical noises from some equipment near his cell. Nothing but lights all day and all night all week and all year. Nothing but no contact with the world, no chance to see daylight, no chance to converse with other prisoners.

There is no photograph to shock the conscience in that treatment. There is no blood, no scars, nothing but a man slowly losing the feeling and movement of his limbs, his eyes, the windows to the soul, slowly clouding over, and with them the fog descends on his mind and destroys that soul. And none of the debates in Washington, none of the restraints that will make the detentions "better", none of the improvements to the military commissions, no debate over whether or not information was obtained, no declarations that we must move forward with the Muslim world, no speeches, no hearings, no photographs, will deal with the fact that one of the most deleterious tortures practiced in this whole sordid episode -- has been absolutely nothing. Lots and lots of absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing by the day, by the year, punishment for not providing the intelligence someone wanted to hear, or absolutely nothing for no reason at all.

When the United States comes to terms with how much torture has occurred, and why, it will have to come to terms with the tortures the American people would still not notice and not recognize. All the reversals of the present administration, all the debates, and all the forces that keep our country from looking at its own deeds, will have to be expanded. From three people who faced the waterboard, we must demand accounting for those who were stripped naked and shackled. From those stripped and shackled, we must demand accounting for those denied any sleep. From those denied sleep, we must demand accounting for those who faced the insanity of deprivation. And from those who faced deprivation, we musd demand accounting for those just disappeared and locked away, with no hope of being released, solely because someday whatever was in their minds might have once been thought useful.

A time for action

So torture hasn't stopped, and the fight to expose it hasn't stopped. And it goes without saying that those who ordered or committed it have not been brought to justice. And so another June is upon us. We must use this anniversary as a time to demand accounting and to bear witness.

I have updated the list of activities for this year, and will continue to update them. I appreciate any comments left here with more events, leave a link, I will check that the link works and add them to the list.

We would like if in addition to the usual orange ribbons, people would wear black, an armband or clothing, in a symbol launched in Pakistan for the rule of law. There's something about a black armband -- people ask you why you are wearing it. It's an opportunity to tell them why the rule of law is so important. It's an opportunity to ask for support for accountability on torture.

We would ask that people leave comments wherever you leave comments, asking for support for activities that will call attention to torture and demand action. Writing is good, dates and times are good.

We would ask that if there are local events in your area, that you support them and attend them. There are teach-ins this month, they are easy to set up, and many sites contain instructions. There are vigils and marches for those who like to speak with their feet. And if there aren't, well, there's always starting your own. Some movie houses may be amenable to a one time showing of their films if you are not charging money, and these provide a wonderful springboard for teach-ins. Call them. You may be surprised (If they are amenable to having their terms posted publicly, write me a comment and I will post them).

Over the month, I will try to be more attentive to posting again. And I shall have help. We will try to have some guest blogging on this site, and will begin within a few days with the comments of Barry Eisler. We will try to get more.

Please help. Torture isn't something that just goes away. And it's always been wrong.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Worst Constitutional Crisis Since...

Yesterday, the new government, the one we had hoped would repudiate torture in all its forms, invoked the State Secrets provision in court in San Francisco, in a case in which the only threat to national security still left seems to be the threat of a court decision that the United States government tortured and rendered prisoners into torture.

Washington is having a rough time with torture. The international community is having a rough time with torture. In his book, Torture and Democracy, Darius Rejali recounts what happened in France in the late 1950's, when torture became an instrument of the state during the Battle of Algiers (pp.47-48):

What is important here is that democratic institutions were unwilling or unable to stop the turn to torture. One after the other, the judicial system, the legislature, the opposition parties, and the press failed. The police and military soon operated outside the law. In effect, they formed a closed state within the state. The military used its privileged position to establish covert torture, delay investigations, shape information, recruit political allies, and mobilize the public opinion for the war. The consequences for France were severe. In 1958, the army threatened to intervene in national politics for the first time since Napoleon's coup of eighteenth Brumaire, leading to the collapse of the Fourth Republic. In 1961, the army finally did organize a putsch and failed.

To be specific, above all, the judicial system faltered. Lacking information, prosecutors in Algiers depended on the press to identify the victims. The victims did not always have marks, so how could one bring charges against the police in these cases?...

At first, the government disputed press reports and suppressed publications about torture. La Question, the prison account of the well-known editor Henri Alleg, became the first book suppressed since the French Revolution....

Eventually, the government was compelled to investigate the allegations. It recruited investigators who were sympathetic to the police and military....

The old leftist parties and the press also failed. The internationally minded Communist party, for example, had its own torture skeletons in the closet, notably Stalin's victims....The press at first described "torture victims" in proper inverted commas. Even as the left-wing press became more vociferous, there were notable lapses....

Some military and police commanders broke ranks, resigned and denounced the torture, but there were just as many officers who wrote vociferously in favor of torture and threatened meddlesome amateurs. "You will be made to pay, all you academics. You will pay for lecturing us." Prowar journalists lionized the torturers in popular novels, asking the public: If you knew this terrorist had planted a bomb, would you not torture him too? The secret service recruited an author to write a book of counterpropaganda. The archbishop of Paris was reminded that certain funds might be cut if he was too publicly outspoken.

Okay, it differs in some details, doesn't it? But haven't we seen precisely these actions in our national anguish over torture and rendition? What does it mean, the new administration campaigns on the rule of law and both parties claim on the stump that torture is wrong, but then the same invocation of the State Secrets privilege, not 3 weeks into the new regime and the new Democratic majority?

Washington, in particular, and the nation at large, acts like a social brain, ruminating on what to do to avert the looming crisis. Like any functioning intelligence, it desperately sorts through its memories of the past, looking for an antecedent, some solid bedrock of experience on which to base its actions, in hopes of reducing the fear of the unknown and improving its chances of a good outcome. Most clearly, we see this right now on the financial crisis. Though the behavior is to lurch from solution to solution, or to get distracted in minutiae of exactly how and when to implement some fix, there is always a solid knowledge of things past, a daily reading of what happened before, even as the chorus of opinions on what should be done now cause settled history to change and mutate and take on different tones depending on the mood of the moment. But always, there is the antecedent. This is the worst financial crisis since 2001. This is the worst financial crisis since Japan in the 1990's. Since Argentina. Since the Great Depression. But the invocation of a crisis we have never seen before by President Obama, leads to a tone of genuine fear as reporters query the new president with real trepidation about the unknown:

[Jennifer Loven of AP]: Thank you, Mr. President. Earlier today in Indiana you said something striking. You said that this nation could end up in a crisis, without action, that we would be unable to reverse. Can you talk about what you know or what you're hearing that would lead you to say that our recession might be permanent when others in our history have not? And do you think that you risk losing some credibility or even talking down the economy by using dire language like that?

I will try to say this in the starkest of terms:

Torture is the worst Constitutional crisis we have faced since slavery.

The worst since slavery. Since the crisis which, once it could no longer be avoided, plunged the nation into the deepest of crises, literally ripping the new nation apart, and causing a war that still tops the list of all American wars, in numbers of American dead. And that, the fact that there is no nicer antecedent, is why the nation will do anything to avoid facing the crisis, even as it is dragged inexorably towards creating its own judgment day. There are three horsemen of the very real jus cogens apocalypse, and they are slavery, genocide, and torture. And when a country does not avoid them, and cannot live with itself if it bargains with them, then it faces judgment.

It's our fault, us the civil libertarians, the humanitarians, the human rights advocates and activists, just as it was the abolitionists fault the last time. Or was it the next to last time. We had a crisis with genocide. We sanctioned it, postponing civil and human rights, suppressing a frank appraisal and a forswearing. Our government sanctioned massacres and deportations, breached treaties and looked the other way from suffering. The industrial revolution was happening at the same time, and the mood of the nation not to look too hard at itself in the mirror, tolerated that injustice, and many more, power grabs by corporations, loss of voting rights and registrations, laws that would have to be repealed and actions that would beget apology and remorse, generations later. Gangs surrounding the Civil War generals, never asked to stand down, marauded the Great Plains in private criminal wars against the Cheyenne Nation. Arguably, we did not emerge stronger from a battle not fought. Arguably we stalled the gains of facing down slavery by a hundred years. Arguably, the strength of We the People in this democracy was permanently reduced. Arguably, you cannot make peace with the unthinkable and not lose something of yourself.

But this time, we move towards the crisis. We may try compromise. Our denial is no longer viable, our anger is evident, we begin to bargain to forestall the inevitable. As the facts seep out, so do proposals for Truth and Reconciliation commissions, proposals to investigate but not prosecute, proposals to acknowledge the great guilt of those at the top and be lenient on those who carry out orders. Yes, the State Secrets got invoked yesterday. But things are changing: It provokes editorial vehemence now, before the fact. Where most major news outlets did not cover the news of torture meetings in the Situation Room in the White House when it first broke, news outlets could not help but cover yesterday's court surprise. Where angry letters to senators and congressmen once provoked a tired, patterned response, now senators rush to sign on to some kind of investigation. Where one or two "fringe" representatives once called for a full accounting and prosecution, now eyes are watching as the House Judiciary Committee moves forward.

The bargaining and depression in Washington are part of the process. There will be an investigation of torture by the United States during the years following September 11, 2001. There will be an understanding that we may have lost our best chance for bringing all the perpetrators of that act to justice because we tortured and rendered. There will be prosecutions. They are unavoidable. The world will not sanction what we have done, even if we would like to. And just as our economic woes are calling into question a generation's assumptions about a healthy economy, our crisis over torture will call into question several generations acceptance of the "closed state within a state" where, in our case, the military and the intelligence agencies "operated outside the law". Most of us have never lived in a democracy not protected by a state secrets. And now the state secrets have threatened our democracy.

The sooner we accept that the battle between the privilege of keeping state secrets and the inevitability of judgment for breaking a law that upholds our humanity is a battle that must be fought, that cannot be avoided, and that will bring pain and pit friend against friend and sibling against sibling, the sooner we can begin to talk realistically about how to avoid the worst of all possible consequences. Because we know we should not solve this with violence. Powerful forces are allied with those who tortured, and powerful emotions, exhibited only in the tiniest fraction during the election cycle, could really and truly tear the country apart. Torture stands as the personification of all the secret government that some believe is necessary for our very existence. They will not relinquish it willingly. But we know that torture cannot continue to tear at our fabric any more than slavery could. The worst moral and Constitutional crisis. Not since Clinton, not since Nixon. Since Abraham Lincoln. I hear Barack Obama is a fan. People need to make sure he understands: The economy is not the only unique crisis we face.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Response from the International Criminal Court

Note: Since the letter to the court was from the signees from this site, comprising 129 electronic signatures, I am posting the response here (and will cite it elsewhere) in the belief that it is essentially addressed to us all.

Please notice that the issue is jurisdiction, and that the countries in which the alleged crimes took place can place the matter within the Court's purview by acknowledging its jurisdiction. That would place the onus of bringing this matter to bear at least somewhat on the citizens of those countries, as it has always been on Americans, like myself, who must continue to pressure our own government about our own government's torture abuses. You who frequent this site from other countries, take heed.

Here then is the response from M.P. Dillon, Head of the Information & Evidence Unit, Office of the Prosecutor, of the International Criminal Court, in its entirety:

The Hague, Monday, 27 October 2008

Dear Sir, Madam,

On behalf of the Prosecutor, I thank you for your communication received on 8/6/2008 as well as any subsequent information.

As you may know, the International Criminal Court ("the ICC" or "the Court") is governed by the Rome Statute, which entrusts the Court with a very specific and carefully defined jurisdiction and mandate. A fundamental feature of the Rome Statute (Articles 12 and 13) is that the Court may only exercise jurisdiction over international crimes if (i) its jurisdiction has been accepted by the State on the territory of which the crime was committed, (ii) its jurisdiction has been accepted by the State of which the person accused is a national, or (iii) the situation is referred to the Prosecutor by the Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

Based on the information currently available, it appears that none of these preconditions are satisfied with respect to the conduct described. Accordingly, as the allegations appear to fall outside the jurisdiction of the Court, the Prosecutor has confirmed that there is not a basis at this time to proceed with further analysis. The information you have submitted will be maintained in our archives, and the decision not to proceed may be reconsidered if new facts or evidence provide a reasonable basis to believe that the allegations fall within the jurisdiction of the Court. The decision may also be reviewed if there is an acceptance of jurisdiction by the relevant States or a referral from the Security Council.

I hope you will appreciate that with the defined jurisdiction of the Court, many serious allegations will be beyond the reach of this institution to address. I note in this regard that the ICC is designed to complement, not replace national jurisdictions. Thus, if you wish to pursue this matter further, you may consider raising it with appropriate national or international authorities.

I am grateful for your interest in the ICC. If you would like to learn more about the work of the ICC, I invite you to visit our website at

Yours sincerely,

M.P. Dillon

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Does the United States Torture Women?

In the world as it should be, things are not going well for the U.S., or perhaps the Bush administration, when it comes to keeping the torture thing down. At the end of September, HBO aired Taxi to the Dark Side, finally. I'm not one to follow the Oscars too closely, but I cannot recall a time when there has been a movie that won an Oscar, in this case for best documentary film, and the movie was shown nowhere in the weeks following the Academy Awards. If that has ever happened before, I've never heard of it. Equally mysteriously, the film was not available on DVD at all, either. Neither was the Errol Morris film Standard Operating Procedure until this month. And Scott Horton documents the difficulties with a new documentary prepared for WNET, Torturing Democracy, that should be aired by PBS but whose producer was told "no time slot could be found for the documentary before January 21, 2009." (h/t Anonymust). His piece also sheds light on the long lag for Taxi to the Dark Side. A long time ago, I had written as to whether these documentaries and dramatizations were doing badly at the box office. Scott Horton's piece raises some questions about whether there were more nefarious reasons why.

In a world where the testimony of government law enforcement officers and U.S. soldiers is unimpeachable, the indictment against Aafia Siddiqui should be ironclad. After all, there is an affidavit signed by an FBI agent to back it up, to say that what happened in a room at the Ghazni police station in Afghanistan was that the woman stealthily got a hold of a soldier's gun and came out shooting, was scuffled with and then shot twice in the torso in "approximately 2 shots".

There is no such world, not after Pat Tillman, not after Jessica Lynch, not after repeated attempts to pretend that there was no intention to torture on the part of high government officials, just memos and documents, and written testimony from a sitting Secretary of State and her lawyer, and now a new S.O.P. published on the website accompanying the show that can find no timeslot, all detailing, I suppose, the sincere desire of the American government and military to have the whole truth reach the surface.

So what might have been a 'he said she said', to use the frequent term in the press, between the Afghan National Police and the FBI over what happened at that police station in Ghazni, what might have been a 50-50, 'who you gonna believe', now tips towards the Afghans, who contend that there was a custody and jurisdiction dispute, the Americans were disarming them, and Ms. Siddiqui approached the Americans, who panicked and shot an unarmed woman in police custody twice. That and the question of how the frontal torso of a person struggling over a rifle is a clean target that a revolver can hit twice in two shots.

Mark Benjamin of Salon is writing today of yet another case in which the American military is apparently unable or unwilling to tell the truth, even in the face of evidence on an incident of American soldiers shooting at the wrong time. It's a heartbreaking story, but I combed it for a deep reason that the military would go to such lengths not to tell the truth, and could find none. In the case of Ms. Siddiqui, there is very little, I suspect, that the United States government would not do to keep the truth from coming out, and I believe that the outlines of why are beginning to emerge. I've tried many times to write this post, I have erased it just as many times. If you are reading this, it means I finally didn't delete it anymore.

The existence of female enemy combatants

Yes, it is another post generated from my attempts to collect facts about Aafia Siddiqui, Prisoner 650, and related matters. And what I would like to say is not one hundred percent unimpeachable, since some of it follows from inference, and the chain of inference does not always have to be correct. Nevertheless, I believe it to be as accurate as I can get, given the difficulty getting information.

The main pivot point is this: Between the speculation, started by Moazzam Begg and Yvonne Ridley, principally, about Prisoner 650, a.k.a. The Grey Lady of Bagram, and the response to a letter requesting information by Lord Nazir Ahmed of Britain, a letter that he says he thinks precipitated the arrest and shooting of Aafia Siddiqui, and about which he spoke in a press conference on September 9th, the government of the United States has admitted twice that there have been undisclosed 'female enemy combatant' prisoners at least at Bagram. The second admission (other than the letter written by the U.S. embassy to Lord Nazir Ahmed) was actually the first, a response by Central Command spokeswoman Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green on August 13th.

Both admissions were virtually identical: That Aafia Siddiqui is not "Prisoner 650". Specifically, she is not the prisoner who was at Bagram 2003-2005, whom the statements both say was repatriated to her country, and who they say did not match Siddiqui's name or physical description. Taking the U.S. military at its word, then if Aafia Siddiqui was a prisoner, that makes two female enemy combatants, and begins to look like the tip of a larger iceberg. There may, in fact, be more. There is a claim from CagePrisoners that the ICRC was aware of and visited a female prisoner at Bagram who was registered with them in 2004/5. This may or may not be the same prisoner that the military has admitted to. The dates do not match, and the U.S. military should be asked to explain that, if so. And if the ICRC registered and visited the prisoner, then it was probably not Aafia Siddiqui. When the Red Cross visits, prisoners are allowed to fill out messages, which are subject to censoring but not holding by the country that is detaining the prisoner, in this case the U.S., and are then forwarded through the network of ICRC and IFRC offices and branches, and delivered to usually next of kin. The Siddiqui family has asserted that they heard nothing from Aafia Siddiqui from March of 2003, and that means that she was not a prisoner reported to the ICRC. If Prisoner 650 of Moazzam Begg's description, and the military's detainee, and the prisoner the ICRC is alleged to have visited are the same (Begg was told the ICRC had visited a prisoner between 2003-2005), then someone needs to account for the mental state which Moazzam Begg alleges the prisoner to have been in, and the allegations of himself and others that she had been abused.

Was A Woman Interrogated at a CIA Black Site?

Ms. Siddiqui was assumed by multiple news outlets, as late as 2006, to have been in the custody of the CIA at a "Black Site". WTVJ Miami reported "intelligence officials" as "interrogating" her in 2003, while the FBI disclaimed that they had her. In 2006, when President Bush claimed that he had closed the black sites, many news organizations and human rights groups looked askance, the number of "high-value detainees" he was transferring to Guantanamo from the black sites was 14, and the human rights organizations had counted either 36 or 37 prisoners they believed to be at that point held in those sites. The Christian Science Monitor, in 2006, citing Reprieve, included Aafia Siddiqui as one of those possibly still at a black site after the supposed closing, and Common Dreams echoed this question a few days later.

There are two other facts that make the CIA more likely to have been the organization holding Siddiqui than the military, and further distancing her case from the Prisoner 650 case. The first is that her statement to the Senate delegation from Pakistan that when abducted, she was given an injection and woke up in a cell seems to point there. The CIA is known to have used drugs during extraordinary rendition flights. The only other allegations of drugging as a preliminary to being rendered to another country are from the U.S. DIHS in deportation of immigrants, which is not a possibility going from Pakistan to Afghanistan (if that is where she was held, her description mentions only interrogators whose English was fluent and might have been Afghan).

The other fact is the cohort who was picked up at around the time she disappeared. These included basically all those who were apparently named by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed during the time immediately after his arrest, when he was being tortured at a black site himself (he is widely known to have been waterboarded, and was reportedly subjected to sensory deprivation over an extended period of time, among other techniques). Ms. Siddiqui was among them, in fact, the whole group alleged to have been plotting with Majid Khan, currently on trial at Guantanamo and himself a high-value detainee from a black site, one of the 14, were taken to black sites, and all or most of them have alleged torture. One person, Uzair Paracha, has been found guilty in U.S. court of material aid to al Qaeda for helping Majid Khan pretend he was in the United States. The original contention of the FBI, before she was alleged to have been anything else, was that Ms. Siddiqui opened a post office box in Baltimore as part of the same attempt to pretend Majid Khan was in the U.S. And her gradual transmigration into an al Qaeda mastermind, who did everything from transact blood diamonds to develop anthrax weapons, is also consistent with considering her as high-valued, and with the persons sent to black sites.

Which makes Siddiqui's detention, if it proves to be real, at least the second instance of a female enemy combatant detained, and the first of one who was not reported to the ICRC, or anyone else, and who may have been interrogated at a black site by the CIA under the "golden shield" rules of the Bybee memo, not the Rumsfeld approved interrogation techniques.

So how real is it? I do not believe there is any more doubt that she was detained, that she was subject to at least some of the techniques at the black prisons, which may be what she means when she asserts that she was "brainwashed". Whether or not she was subject to further abuse is a matter for investigation, but given the rules in effect at the time, and the belief that these high-value detainees had to be tortured for the good of the country, I believe it more than a little plausible and will have more to say about it below.

For the time being, as proof of her incarceration, I would be willing to take her mental state, as well as her own assertion and that of several human rights groups, and the assertion in an affidavit by her lawyer in court. Her mental state, given the competing histories, must arise from either of two mechanisms (or perhaps both, but that isn't relevant here): Either her problems arise from brain damage consistent with her severe injuries when she was shot at Ghazni, or they arise from prolonged detention, deprivation and inhumane interrogation techniques. As for the former, it is possible that she suffered brain damage after being shot. There are three immediate reasons why this is possible: loss of blood causing hypovolemic shock or her breathing stopping, tension or hemo- pneumothorax caused by a bullet entering her chest cavity, or cardiac tamponade due to the same mechanism. All three would be forms of anoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain). Anoxia causes a range of symptoms, including memory loss, movement and sensory deficits, seizures, coma, speech or comprehension deficits, depending on which parts of the brain it affects.

The second mechanism, that of prolonged sensory deprivation/bombardment, prolonged severe solitary confinement, prolonged interrogation sessions, and some of the other techniques known to have been practiced at black sites, cause a very different set of symptoms, which Stuart Grassian had put together as a cluster of symptoms in his work on solitary confinement. They include paranoia, heightened reaction to stimuli, perceptual distortions, visual and auditory hallucinations, memory loss, impulse control problems, intrusion of obsessive thoughts and ruminations. Others include depression and many forms of PTSD.

Aafia Siddiqui's evaluation by first a prison psychologist, then a more comprehensive statement by a prison psychiatrist at Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center showed paranoia, Axis I depressive psychosis, possible PTSD, visual and auditory hallucinations -- she related that she had seen her daughter in her cell and had problems distinguishing that from reality. The psychiatrist spoke to her while she covered herself in a blanket in the corner, her lawyer reported that she sat in her cell and cried and screamed. Among these symptoms, the visual and auditory hallucinations stand out, since Grassian contends that the combination is rare, excluding schizophrenia that usually manifests itself at adolescence, and old age dementia.

By way of graphic comparison, the following is from Philippe Sands, The Torture Team, a description of prisoner 063, Mohammed al Qahtani, after several months of bombardment by sound and light, sleep deprivation, and total solitary confinement(The Torture Team, p.162): November 2002, FBI Agents observed Detainee [redacted] after he had been subject to intense isolation for over three months. During that time period, [redacted] was totally isolated (with the exception of occasional interrogations) in a cell that was always flooded with light. By late November the detainee was evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma (talking to non-existent people, reporting hearing voices, crouching in a corner of the cell covered with a sheet for hours on end).
Consequently, even if other circumstantial evidence weren't already pointing in the direction of her incarceration and prolonged abuse at a CIA black site, her symptoms point towards that, since otherwise the U.S. government is faced with the task of explaining how someone could be an al Qaeda WMD mastermind one minute, and reduced to Axis I depressive psychosis the next, with no intervening cause. Jonathan Hafetz speculated in the Jerusalem Post,
"It could be precedent-setting in terms of transitioning people from extralegal detention into the criminal justice system," said Jonathan Hafetz, director of litigation for the Liberty and National Security Project at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice. "You could have a judicial inquiry into how someone was treated at a black site - it would be incredibly valuable."
Currently, I suspect, the only way her case will blow the lid off anything is if she is allowed to file under the Torture Victims Protection Act, and a full scale investigation ensues. Otherwise, she'll follow Uzair Paracha to prison if she ever goes to trial.

Why is this important?

Aside from any importance attached directly to Ms. Siddiqui's case, and there is much - it is an international human rights incident between Pakistan and the United States, and emblematic in that country of the plight of their "disappeared", the implications of multiple female enemy combatants in U.S. custody, and of one in "high-value" black site incommunicado detention are profound, which may indicate why the U.S. government has gone to such lengths to protect this information above all else: above admissions of waterboarding, above admissions of extraordinary rendition flights through Europe, above admissions of homicide and abuse at Guantanamo, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq.

It means, without any speculation about Ms. Siddiqui's detention whatsoever, that there was a female in custody at Bagram during the period following the time when prisoners were killed there in interrogation, and during the period when all of the "torture memos" those by John Yoo, Jay S. Bybee, and William Haynes/Donald Rumsfeld, were in effect. For a period that spans the entire Abu Ghraib set of photographs, the ensuing scandal, and the reports of that scandal and the homicidal interrogations at Bagram which are the center of "Taxi to the Dark Side", spans the timespan when the Black Sites were reported, spans the time written about in Erik Saar and Viveka Novak's book, Inside the Wire, which details, among other things, sexual humiliation of prisoners at Guantanamo by interrogators of the opposite sex.

In Saar's book (Inside the Wire, pp. 224ff.) he details for several pages an attempt to break a male inmate at Guantanamo, by a female interrogator who first taunted her prisoner with sexual remarks, then rubbed her breasts against him and touched him, then finally unbuttoned and put her hand into her pants, withdrew it, and pretended to smear his face with menstrual blood. Saar comments that afterward the interrogator, "looked at me and began to cry...I knew she hadn't enjoyed this. She had done what she thought was best to get the information her bosses were asking for." (p.228). This is the language of a person who is performing sexual humiliation under orders. A high-value detainee was subject to many things that ordinary prisoners were subject to, and the CIA played by harder rules than the military, and is still permitted to, as far as we know. It is not hard to speculate what those rules permitted against someone known to have a Muslim woman's fear of nudity, cavity searches, or other humiliations, at a sight with no Red Cross oversight, highly classified, and the sense of mission that would put people on a waterboard.

We know as well that prisoners were stripped and placed in stress positions at Guantanamo, at Bagram, and at Abu Ghraib. Stripping was S.O.P. at Guantanamo. We know from the above example that exploiting "Muslim sexual fears" was fair game. We know prisoners were raped anally with rifle barrels. We know some high-value detainees were not only tortured with the approval or memos from the OLC or the defense department, but with the blow by blow approval, if not in real time, by members of the National Security Council, with the approval of the President. We know that high value detainee torture was considered necessary.

It has seemed alright for us to know this, many of these facts have come out of government officials themselves, testifying before Congress, writing written testimony, and in many of the books that have come out about the White House and the players in this high stakes torture game. What has been more confidential than anything, what has been more classified than any other fact, what has been hidden so hard that the stories that have to be concocted to keep it secret begin to make no sense is this: That this was done to women as well. Aafia Siddiqui had 3 children with her when she disappeared, only one has been accounted for. She says she was threatened and made to sign documents by telling her harm would come to her children. One is a girl. One was an infant boy. Is there another shoe to drop?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Active Denial of the Torture Industrial Complex

The other day on Glenn Greenwald's blog, bystander cited Digby who remarked about a nasty crowd control device that has been documented by the BBC recently. That led to track down more about the two systems referred to in the article, the Active Denial System, and the Silent Guardian. It turns out that the relationship between these two is that Active Denial System is the U.S. military's requested, and largely implemented weapon for something in between crowd control and counterinsurgency, and that Silent Guardian is Raytheon's implementation of the main weapon, a collimated 1 millimeter (95GHz) beam 45 inches square, and has a range of 250 meters.

A Device for Crowd Control?

I posted a longish set of quotes about this device and plan, and Reilly referred me to the complete shebang, a mobile device that has gone under the rubric of Project Sheriff. This mobile unit includes both weaponry for shooting and killing enemies after they are flushed out of crowds, but for the crowd flushing operation itself, the vehicle has brilliant laser driven lights to disorient, painfully loud noises, and, of course the Silent Guardian. The rationale is that you point these devices, whose specific purpose is to create disorientation and pain, and an overwhelming reflex to run away, and anyone who doesn't run away must be enemy and can be shot.

Comparisons on military discussion sites and sites for weapons afficianados are to the Taser, a device that shoots two straightened fishhooks on wires at the target, and then delivers specially "shaped" electrical charges of between 0.75 and 1.5 joules, causing the target to collapse in involuntary reflex. That device is common already among police departments, where it was originally introduced as a substitute for firing a gun at someone, but has been much more widely used than guns ever would be, in no small part because each use, unlike a police revolver, does not have to be accounted for in detail.

Raytheon describes this new device, the Silent Guardian, as a pain gun, they dislike the use of the term ray gun. Their interviews with the BBC, with Michael Hanlon (who has tried the demonstration, and posted the pictures), allude to a highly sophisticated manipulation of nocioceptive pain, to create a weapon that causes pain, but no lasting physical or psychological damage. Many of the commentators cited above have made the connection with torture, one would be remiss to fail to do so. But before delving into that, some care should be used examining that claim, which would, if true, amount to an achievement of something of a 'Holy Grail' of what Darius Rejali calls 'clean torture' (Rejali, Torture and Democracy), and what Physicians for Human Rights refer to as "Leave No Marks". Not that that is anything to celebrate, anyone who shares goals with the worst of the French Gestapo has nothing to be proud of.

But, to Raytheon's claim: The device is not a transmitter of signals directly to sensory or nocireceptor nerve endings at all. Most devices that do such things in the most direct way would be electrical, would require contact, and would have to be exquisitely precise to only affect the nerve endings in the dermis, as most electrical devices affect nerves considerably deeper and in a larger area (for instance, the Taser). The device causes burning pain over most of the body facing the beam, even through light clothing, this is supposed to cause a reflexive desire to flee, as when your hand accidentally encounters boiling water. It does this, however, by actually heating the first 1/64th of an inch of skin to 50° C, in three seconds, the one-millimeter wave does not penetrate any deeper into the skin, and herein is the claim of no physical damage.

Newton's law of cooling provides a simple approximation for what happens if the time increases beyond three seconds, or even for what really transpires within that time. If the surface of the skin is at 50° C, and the deep layers of flesh, or perhaps the bone and organs, are at 37° C (normal body temperature), there is a linear gradient between the two temperatures, and heat flows from the higher temperature to the lower one. So as time goes by, giving Raytheon the benefit of the doubt and assuming that the statistics after 3 seconds are maintained (they aren't), the heat flows into the body at a rate somewhat higher than that of the sun on a day at the beach. In time, that body will lose it's ability to maintain its temperature with so much heat being added, failing progressively through heat exhaustion to heat stroke, at which point the maintenance fails and the core temperature rises. Since 50° C is higher than 41° C, the temperature at which body chemicals begin to break down or denature, the body literally starts to come apart chemically and a person will die if not treated. However, long before this happens, the level of heat will continue to rise and the result will be burns. Even Raytheon admits that these have been observed after 250 seconds.

And, as usual when people are trying to create clean pain, tests are run on volunteers, who are carefully screened and protected from adverse consequences. Were someone to pass out or become unable to walk in front of the device (perhaps trampled by the crowd as they reflexively ran), they would be an injured party sustaining an injury they could not avoid, and if conscious, they would be experiencing an intolerable pain that they could not stop, from a hostile source, that provoked flight reactions to avoid death that could not be acted upon. In other words, there isn't much difference between the device used on anyone who cannot run, and, say, waterboarding. The potential for abuse is quite clear, as is the attempt to preempt concern for it. By specifically referencing no lasting physical or psychological damage, promoters are referencing only one set of documents: The Convention Against Torture, or its implementing laws.

A Torture Industrial Complex?

What is truly disturbing about this is the collection of tools on the Project Sheriff Active Denial System machine, and the insistence that this is a pain gun. Further is the military's lengthy planning for the device, and the apparent belief that the device will civilize war the way the Taser is supposedly civilizing police use of force. The military is already set to deploy more than a dozen of these. But if you throw in the Taser, the list of "less than lethal" weaponry has an eerie ring: Bombardment with intense light, bombardment with intense sounds, application of burning heat, and application of electric shocks, all heralded as a good thing, and all in production and deployment. To be sure, there are a couple of other methods of delivering "clean torture", stress positions and prolonged solitary confinement, but otherwise, the list is fairly complete, compared against the cleaner techniques of the Gestapo, or of the Soviet NKVD, as precursor to the Chinese techniques that gave rise to all the consternation about brainwashing, the experiments on sensory deprivation, and the development of the now notorious SERE program, the KUBARK manual, and all the other toxic brew that went into the U.S. torture program of the past few years.

Tasers are big business, and were carefully constructed to avoid laws requiring accounting of each application of force for deadly weapons like guns, among the police. The company that makes them, and their advocates, of which there are many, insist that they are used for a gun substitute and not control or punishment, and try to counter each instance of a death from Taser use with alternative explanations.

Now there are companies or corporate divisions which specialize in the application of intense light, or intense sound. There is this new collimated beam weapon, which appears to perfect the "electric bench" of the Vichy Gestapo (Rejali, Torture and Democracy, p. 113). These are, for the time being, military contractors, members of the Military Industrial Complex, if you will. Sensory and sleep deprivation is practiced at Guantanamo, documented by Human Rights Watch, in 2008. Solitary confinement is practiced at U.S. supermax prisons by what is now even commonly known as the Prison Industrial Complex (also documented in the HRW document).

We are now creating, or amalgamating from other "Industrial Complexes" an industry that supplies the government of the United States with clean pain. Clean pain for crowd control, clean pain for counterinsurgency, clean pain for punishment, for interrogation, for confession. All of it ludicrously justified as legal and even humane because it supposedly does no lasting damage (the current very narrow definition, which somehow fails to take into account the severity of the pain). But none of it is tested on real subjects -- that is to say people who are hostile, who are captive, who do not volunteer for a test that will soon end. Those tests will come in the form of lawsuits under the Torture Victims Protection Act, or perhaps in the Hague. Because clean pain isn't really clean. And the psychological damage, and probably the physical damage once the device becomes routinely used (as in the Taser), are real. And no amount of lobbying from any Torture Industrial Complex will change that.