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.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Past and the Future

The origins of our current system of treatment for those in military and other detention are bound up in the desires of the players in the current administration. But we could have seen a lot coming before it happened. And we can glean something from the protections they built for themselves, if only in that no one builds so many protections without a prior motive of using them.

The origins of the future system are in place. Our future system of treatment of those in military and other detention is written in the framing of the issues, and that is bound up in the portrayal by the press. We can likewise glean something about the future of U.S. torture by looking at the accepted wisdom, accepted even by those who claim to disagree.

An Interesting List

At a panel a few weeks ago at Stanford University, Anant Raut, Barbara Olshansky, and Mark Falkoff took questions from the audience on an array of subjects related to prisons and prisoners. Ostensibly, the focus was Guantanamo. However, there were other prisons to report on. A whole network of them. And the list of countries they appear in led me to think about why that list, what determined the choices. There is a large network of prisons in Afghanistan. There is a large network of prisons in Iraq. But the other two countries mentioned, and the list was not given as exhaustive, were Morocco and Somalia.

My immediate thought was failed states. In countries in which the central government is weak, it is possible to run any kind of lawless operation one desires. Indeed, the American military operates with impunity in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to some degree in Northwestern Pakistan. Should Pakistan also be on the list, then? There was a prison operated at Kohat in 2001-2002, there. Indications are that the people in charge were the CIA, not the American military. But it is a fair question. Then why Morocco?

Perhaps the prisons are run near perceived threats? At least to the Administration, there was or is a perceived al-Qaeda threat in each of the four countries, and operations out of Morocco have been cited, connections to the Madrid train bombings, principally. But if that were true, then why Morocco and Somalia, rather than Bosnia, a country where our troops already operate, and where at least one of the detainees listed in the Human Rights Watch report on solitary confinement at Guantanamo hales from?

Here's a list that should accomodate all the choices of countries for the U.S. to create prisons for mistreating those it accuses of terrorism:

Azerbaijan ..... Myanmar
Eritrea ...........Pakistan
India .............Philippines
Indonesia ...... Somalia
Iran ..............Sri Lanka
Iraq ..............Thailand
Israel ............ Turkey

and of course, the United States of America -- at Guantanamo maybe?

Most of these countries have an insurgency of some type going in them, even if small. Many of them have large or segregated Muslim populations. Please, what is the clue? What is the list on which Morocco, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan show up?

The above list is the list, minus some small countries and island nations, of those countries which have not ratified the 1977 First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions. That's the protocol that requires that the treatment of captured combatants, whether they are entitled to prisoner of war status or not, follow the entire Third Geneva Convention. If you look up this protocol on, say, Wikipedia, you'll see that it is controversial. Actually, it was intended to close any gaps in the basic dignity of human beings. The only controversy is whether or not a person must earn the right to be treated humanely, earn the right to be treated as human, or not.

It is often remarked that certain features of the current administration's actions have roots in the past. For instance, it is widely written about that Vice President Cheney's desires to expand the powers of the executive branch have their roots in his beliefs formed as Gerald Ford's Chief of Staff, when the Church Committee was putting together regulations to rein in the "imperial presidency" after Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover. His feelings on this subject were well known: He authored most of the minority report of the Iran-Contra committee in which he wrote down his distaste for measures he felt tied the President's hands. Another person related to the committee who would later feature prominently in the views of the current administration was David Addington, who was later Cheney's counsel, and now Chief of Staff, and figures in both the expansion of presidential power and in the current mess over treatment of prisoners and torture.

The Iran-Contra committee was operating and writing around the same time that the subject of ratification of the First Additional Protocol came up. It was not difficult to persuade a president who had endured the Beirut Marine Baracks bombing that terrorists deserved less rights than ordinary human beings, and Douglas Feith was determined that the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which, to be fair, really did hope to legitimize itself by signing the Geneva Conventions, and which was on the list of terrorist organizations, should get less rights as prisoners (Indeed, if you look at the list of nations that have ratified the protocol, Palestine shows up in parentheses because it applied for such recognition, but was turned down because its status as a nation state was controversial) So began a gap in the Geneva Conventions where none had been before.

If you watch old World War II movies on TV, one of the things you might notice is the difference in treatment between the American and British prisoners of war and the Russians. At the time, Germany honored the prisoner of war status of those nations who, like Germany, had signed the 1929 Geneva Protocols, and the Soviet Union had not. So their prisoners got a lower status. And that was the original distinction in 1949: Soldiers from countries which had signed got the full prisoner of war status, soldiers from non signing states got the protections of Article 3. People who did not follow the rules of war with respect to wearing uniforms got more limited protections under the Fourth Geneva Convention which governs the treatment of civilians.

When it became apparent that the language of the Conventions was going to be used to deny prisoners or civilians humane treatment, due to the fact that it did not include a full range of belligerent behavior, the work of preventing that from happening became eventually the 1977 First and Second Additional Protocols. But Douglas Feith, and many others, who believed that humane treatment should be a reward for compliance with the treaty, worked tirelessly against the ratification of the additional protocols. To this day, the United States has signed neither of them. The U.S. has also opted out of subsequent treaties, either because of concerns about "sovereignty" or more probably, because they might imply the fundamental rights that some felt should be earned.

And what does it say, that the U.S. would put its prisons where these protocols are not ratified? It says, quite simply, the same thing that the U.S. was arguing about Guantanamo in the Boumediene v. Bush decision that was just handed down. The prisons are located where the Administration believes them to be beyond the reach of this particular international humanitarian law. The were deliberately located where "harsh treatment" would imply less legal risk to those who planned it. All of which pretty much says one thing: That Antonio Taguba is right. The administration deliberately set up to systematically torture and practice cruel treatment. Its legal opinions, from those written by Yoo and Bybee to later ones written by Goldsmith, Levin, and others, have all been about protecting a regime from prosecution under international law for war crimes or worse.

The past yields a clear trail from the 1980's to the present in the domain of mistreatment of prisoners, of deliberately clearing the way legally for the dehumanization of populations that could be labeled terrorist. And it is clear now, in the vocabulary of those who argue in favor of the treatment at Guantanamo, and in Afghanistan. They complain bitterly that terrorist prisoners should not get the same rights as soldiers, that foreign prisoners should not get the rights as citizens. In essence, that sub-humans should not get the same treatment as human beings.

The Frame of the Man Too Evil for Rights

Looking to the future, the tea leaves were written in an expose that graced the front page of the New York Times on Sunday the 22nd. Scott Shane wrote Inside a 9/11 Mastermind's Interrogation, having interviewed Deuce Martinez, one of the interrogators of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad at a CIA Black Site in Poland. From start to finish, it is a blow to all those who would see torture disappear from the earth. Here another type of person undeserving of any human rights is encountered: Someone who has committed a heinous crime.

A listen to Senator Christopher Dodd's impassioned speech on the Senate Floor Tuesday night in opposition to the FISA amendments should give a clue to what is wrong with Mr. Shane's article. After reminding us of just how many deaths, how many horrible deaths the men in the docket at Nuremburg were responsible for, "45 million dead, 10 million burned," he invokes the memory of his father, who was the number two man to Justice Robert Jackson:

My father, Senator Tom Dodd, was the number two American prosecutor at the famous Nuremberg trials. And I have never, never forgotten the example he set.

As Justice Robert Jackson said in his opening statement at Nuremberg: “That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.”

Mr. President, what is the tribute that Power owes to Reason?

That America stands for a transcendent idea.

The idea that laws should rule, not men.

The idea that the Constitution does not get suspended for vengeance.

The idea that this nation should never tailor its eternal principles to the conflict of the moment, because if we did, we would be walking in the footsteps of the enemies we despised.

True humanity, true adherence to the rule of law, real justice, does not base the rules of the game on what we think of the accused. But that mentality has overtaken the United States in many ways, both a growing movement before September 11, to be seen in the number of incarcerations, the demand for mandatory sentencing, trying children as adults, the whole campaign against furlows conducted by George H.W. Bush in 1988, and after September 11, with the demands that prisoners taken in the "Global War on Terror" should not be given the basic rights guaranteed by our laws and Constitution, nor by the international laws to which we are party. We have, to paraphrase Senator Dodd, suspended the inalienable rights of man for vengeance.

This suspension has been effected in the framing of the press. Indeed, with the exception of the audience of the media outlets and print media, there is no one who truly believes this kind of logic. Humanitarian organizations and human rights watchdogs, like the International Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, or Physicians for Human Rights, have never believed it. They've been out to stop the suspension of human dignity in time of war for a hundred and fifty years. Our forefathers never believed it, General Washington ordered humane treatment for all prisoners, and Abraham Lincoln had the Lieber Code. And the above discussion of the drive to keep us out of the First Additional Protocol, the Yoo memos, the Golden Shield Memo by Jay Bybee, the President's directives denying Geneva Convention protections to "unlawful combatants" from the Taliban or al Qaeda, the move to put prisoners in some legal black hole, what does it mean? It means that these people had to create a legal framework for the notion that protection of human dignity could be suspended. They didn't believe it existed in the United States, either.

That leaves the press. The framing in Mr. Shane's article is eye popping. In it, the interrogator Deuce Martinez is portrayed as the "good cop" to the bad cops, "knuckledraggers" who practiced torture, deprivation techniques and stress positions. The interrogation effort is portrayed as an enormous success, with,

The intelligence riches ultimately gleaned from Mr. Mohammed were reflected in the report of the national 9/11 commission, whose footnotes credit his interrogations 60 times for facts about Al Qaeda and its plotting — while also occasionally noting assertions by him that were “not credible.”

Those managing the interrogation worry that as the number of waterboardings climbs from 60 to 100, they are coming close to crossing the line into torture. Arguments are provided, by the CIA naturally, that the confessions that seemed ludicrous when we first heard them are actually factual. And all the way through, the atmosphere of the article is that such treatment is justified by the need to prevent another attack and, most of all, because Khalid Sheikh Mohammad masterminded the September 11th attacks, which killed 3,000 innocent Americans.

No where in the article is the legality of what these people were doing discussed. It seems assumed, because the prisoner was Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. In fact, under our obligations under the Convention Against Torture, none of the information derived from this interrogation can be used in any proceeding whatsoever. Deuce Martinez is guilty of torture, since his interrogation rests on it, even though he plays the good cop. The psychologists he now works for, Mitchell and Jessen, are at the heart of a fierce controversy within the American Psychological Association over forbidding its members from participating in such interrogations, and they are under investigation by congressional committees for having designed parts of the illegal interrogation regime that originated at Guantanamo.

This is the frame which will perpetuate torture by the United States, in contravention of its principles, in suspension of its laws. The very heart of why we torture is because we have discovered a crisis so desperate, and prisoners so evil, that they supercede any prohibition, even one which prohibits torture regardless of the emergency, and regardless of who the torture victim is or what they have done. It is believed, at some level by the American Press. Defending the human rights of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad is not a way to sell news, and it is not perceived as a way to write news articles.

Someday, if the United States pulls itself back on track, it will look back at this behavior, and not fondly. Senator Dodd mentioned that in his speech, with regards to the provisions in the FISA bill, but he could just as well have said so about the inhumane treatment and torture at U.S. military and CIA prisons around the world. He talked at length about the latter, because he was trying to speak about a pattern of lawlessness. But the Shane article shows a much deeper problem.

Below the pattern of lawlessness is a perception, a very ugly cognitive frame, conceived in vengeance, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are not equal and that there is no treatment too ghastly for some of them.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

There's Something Worse Than Banal

It's been a big week. Senate Committee hearings, Human Rights Watch published a report on solitary confinement at Guantanamo. McClatchy News published a five-part series on multiple aspects of the life as prisoners in the U.S. military prisons. A report was issued by the Physicians for Human Rights detailing data from examinations of former detainees done under the Istanbul Protocol. Next week is the International Day Against Torture. It seems like the heat is finally on the U.S. to do something, like the Congress is finally beginning the investigations it needs to do to end this sorry chapter in U.S. history.

Wouldn't that be nice?

A Picture Does What Words Cannot

It was a lot to absorb, and to watch, and to worry about for a week. Retired Military Patriot recommended The Bill Moyers Journal, on which he interviewed Douglas Blackmon, the Atlanta Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal about his book Slavery By Another Name, documenting the use of detention and work camps from the late 1800's to around World War II, as a source of forced labor, an effective re-enslavement of blacks in the United States. Pictures of cruelty in the work camps, and the statement by Blackmon that the pictures exist because the wardens had no problem with journalists and photographers coming and going as they pleased, since they didn't think there was anything wrong with selling forced labor to manufacturers.

And you start to wonder: It is said by many that the reason the Civil Rights Movement occurred the way it did was that the brand new medium of TV allowed people living in parts of the country that had never seen a black person, for whom the Civil War and slavery were something only studied in text books in high school, to see what was being done in America to people, and those people, whose vision of America was of a country much better than that, began to say what was happening was wrong. Today, people see everything. The medium of the internet, if it can reasonably be called a medium and not a bundle of media, allows a person to learn things far outside their specialized training, about places far away from their daily life, about people they will never meet but can come to feel they know. Where formerly only stars had a permanent persona that could be called up and examined, now average people leave permanent marks, and can be seen by anyone and everyone.

And this began to worry me. This is not the 1960's, and there is not a great motherlode of people somewhere out there who have no access to what is happening, on whom to dawn a growing feeling that our society is doing something wrong. There is no one out there who will suddenly feel a great revulsion and demand that their government stop what it is doing in their name, because it is all out there, all accessible to the 150 million people in this country with access to the internet, and yet it continues to happen.

But Thousands of Words Create A Picture

But that is not true. The Senate hearings were many hours long. The McClatchy series is 5 days at one article per day, about 20 minutes per day to read. The Human Rights Watch report is 57 pages. The PHR report is 125 pages, and is densely written. One section of the PHR report and all of the HRW report are written legal style, with copious footnotes taking up a third of a page in some cases, in fine print. If one was not familiar with the process involved in either, they might take forever to read. And there are very few pictures of what is happening. HRW provides pictures of the cells, and of the recreation space at Guantanamo, the rest is up to the imagination at best.

Anyone who didn't read Dana Priest and Amy Goldstein's four part series on Careless Detention can be forgiven when they get to page 64-66 of the PHR report, and don't recognize the use of Haldol as a restraint, don't take it back to the immigrant detention complaints (they administered it on the plane rides as they were deporting people), and can't remember that it's been ruled illegal as a drug to be used on a prisoner in the United States, unless specifically beneficial to the prisoner's psychological condition, because it has so many incapacitating side effects. The prisoner in question, "Rasheed", was given neuroleptics with frequent and major side effects after he became agitated because he was going insane from too much isolation (p.67). But with no picture, no Rasheed on the TV screen, will anyone know about it? How many people will be reading the PHR report in its entirety? The major news outlets read the executive summary, and the preface by retired Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba. For a day, or so, at least people were treated to the headline that general Taguba had accused the administration of systematic torture and war crimes. The Pentagon dismissed the report as being about events long ago, based on much later data.

And so the public forms an opinion. Shall we go with people who say our country has committed major international crimes, or with those who say they've visited Guantanamo, and the prisoners are living like they are in a hotel, gee the food is good! If you were juggling a million things in your daily life, and along come two opposing views, and one fits your view of yourself and your country, and the other is damnably black and dark, which will you choose?

Human Rights Watch, in their report, also mention that the food is good:

The US government points to the fact that detainees are housed in cells that contain an arrow pointing to Mecca and provided regular, high-calorie meals that all meet the halal dietary requirements as evidence that the detainees are treated with sensitivity and care. It also claims that they pray under the guidance of a detainee chosen to lead prayers.

But while these measures are positive accommodations to detainees’ needs, they cannot themselves equate to “humane” treatment in view of the isolation imposed. The reality is that these men live in extreme social isolation, with little outside stimuli, and little to do all day but stare at the walls. (p.18)

So maybe the message can't get out, and it can't get out because it is a lot to absorb, it is very frightening, and it does not fit with the image we have of ourselves, or the image we have been taught about terrorists. And where one picture of a black man, shackled to a pick handle, in Bill Moyers' presentation strikes deep into our sense of injustice, one can see it in an instant. In that one instant, all the revulsion at the practices of slavery, forced labor, racism, and subjugation of black Americans comes up, a coherent frame, as George Lakoff would call it, that adds this new information to a long list of obvious wrongs.

Forming a Frame

Would that that might happen when someone mentioned a torture technique. I suppose it may be that I've been writing on this blog for a while, but the words "stress position" float up in my mind when I see that picture too. They don't for most people, most people don't know what the famous Rumsfeld/Haynes memo was talking about, stress position. When Senator McCaskill belabored the lack of constraints in that memo on removal of clothing, after Jim Haynes asserted, rather ridiculously, that that did not imply nudity. Nudity bothers us Americans. Stress positions? Hey, I stand for 9-10 hours a day at my desk. But they should conjure up a distinct revulsion. Remember strappado and squassation? I wrote about them once before. In not one, but two accounts of the treatment of individual detainees interviewed by PHR doctors and psychologists, they show up:

He stated, “After that they hanged me. There was some kind of machine — a winch — that pulled me up after each question…and because of this torture, I lost consciousness two times… and when I [lost consciousness] they pour[ed] cold water on me and [went] on questioning me.” He noted that his shoulder was dislocated as a result of being suspended. He also reported losing feeling in his arms while being suspended, and the numbness persisted for approximately three months afterward. (p. 21, "Hafez")

[O]ne time they took me to be questioned and there was a chain coming from the ceiling. It was a winch. They pulled me [by my wrists, from behind] and they left me for about four hours. Only my toes were touching [the floor]. I started saying to them, “It is very painful — I have a very severe headache,” and after that I passed out. (p. 18, "Kamal")

In both cases, medical examination found that nerve injury had occurred, and in one case problems with range of motion of the shoulder, consistent with the use of this technique, a favorite of the Inquisition. A third detainee was suspended, it isn't clear from his statement that it was necessarily this method, but he did pass out from the pain. Keep in mind that leaving the toes on the ground is also a well studied torture technique: It's used to slow the inevitable dislocation of the shoulders. Stress positions. Oh, and in the case of Hafez, a "doctor" attempted to reduce the dislocation, and then, once satisfied that the shoulder had been put back in place, told the interrogators to "continue" (p.21).

Does a frame start to develop? This is medieval, screams and crunches torture. Does it sound wrong? Or does the fact that the person may have been a terrorist mean it's okay? All of the people in the PHR study were released. They were interviewed after they had been let go. None of them had been told what they had been detained for, few of them had actually been interrogated in any meaningful way. These are not accounts of people who knew where the ticking bomb in Los Angeles was. They are accounts of people who were swept from their homes in the middle of the night. In some cases, it seems dubious to call them enemy combatants at all, since they don't appear to have ever fought, they weren't in a military, and they were arrested in their pajamas. That would make the Iraqis in question civilians. And that would make them eligible to the full protection of the Fourth Geneva Convention, no playing any games and reducing it to common Article 3. The Convention Against Torture applies regardless of whether or not there is a war going on, although the administration is seriously trying to claim that it is superceded by the Geneva Conventions in that case, an argument the rest of the world finds ludicrous.

The Human Rights Watch study is of inmates at Guantanamo. Many of those are also slated for release. In the case of the Uighurs, they also don't know why they were detained. They are being held in solitary confinement. The military says it isn't solitary confinement because they can shout to each other when their meal slots are open. But the confinement is more isolating than any supermax prison in the U.S. (p.20-21), and it is hard to see how some of the cases can be realistically claimed to not be solitary confinement of the most extreme sort. Do these prisoners deserve it? Aren't they the worst of the worst?

I've had a pretty grotesque week. Wading through chapter 3 of the Physicians for Human Rights report is sickening. Story after story of people having their testicles stepped on, or a screwdriver punched through their cheek, or being beaten into unconsciousness, or sodomized with objects or guns, or being put on leashes or soaked with water and put in the cold, or being told their sisters and daughters were being raped. Those people were all released because they hadn't done anything. They can't live their lives, they visit their families rather than living with them because their PTSD is so profound that they're sure their families recoil from them.

Où sont les pals, les grils, les entonnoirs de cuir?

And then you get to the end of the Human Rights Watch report. More stories, this time of prisoners driven insane by solitary confinement. Of lawyers pleading that their clients are no longer sane enough to stand trial because they can't communicate anymore. These prisoners have names and histories (the PHR study protected the identities of the participants since they could be endangered). But still, the devil is in the details: A footnote on page 42 takes you to the report of the U.N. Committee Against Torture in 2006. If you follow it, you come to the conclusions of the committee relative to the United States. There you will find that the committee which has the same status with respect to the treaty that the ICRC has with respect to Geneva, believes that the U.S. violates the treaty in our prisons, some of our law enforcement, and our use of tasers, quite apart from our recent detention of "unlawful enemy combatants." Our supermax prisons are already listed as inhumane conditions of solitary confinement. As is our failure as a nation to stop prison rape. And our use of electric shocks as restraints.

And then the coup de grace to the arguments that we've heard since early 2002, on why we need to engage in torture and inhumane treatment. In a cell at Guantanamo Camp Echo and then at Camp 3, there is a Bosnian-Algerian prisoner named Sabar Lahmar (HRW report at p. 29). He was picked up in October 2001 in Bosnia because the U.S. said he was part of a bomb plot. Maybe he was. The Bosnian courts didn't think so, the Bosnian Supreme Court ordered him released for lack of evidence. Instead of being released he was handed over to the Americans, and wound up at Guantanamo. Been there since January 17, 2002, so about the entire time the facility has been open. Emily Bazelon wrote about him in Slate after the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act in 2006.

Only he isn't anymore as she described him.

Since 2006 Lahmar has been housed in extreme isolation, with virtually no human contact other than with the prison guards and occasional medical staff or interrogators. From June 2006 to November 2007 he was housed in an 8-by-6-feet cell in Camp Echo, with the only window in his cell painted black so that he would not be exposed to any natural light. His lawyers report that he was denied paper and pen, allowed no reading material other than the Koran, rarely allowed out of his cell, and given only a sheet to sleep with at night, which was taken away in the morning.

Sometime around November 2007 Lahmar was moved to Camp 3, where he continues to be housed 22 hours a day in a single cell, with nothing to occupy his time other than his Koran. He cannot speak to other detainees over the noise of machines that many detainees believe is designed to prevent them from communicating with each other. Even his recreation time is totally solitary. (HRW, p. 31)

The report states that a year ago -- a year ago -- his lawyers wrote to the Justice Department seeking relief for his state. He was losing, perhaps now permanently, the use of his legs from atrophy and nerve damage consistent with his lack of movement and never got the therapy a doctor had prescribed for it (p.48-49). His mind is also going, he lies in his cell and stares at the wall. He seems beyond reach of his lawyers, he refused to leave the cell to meet with them, due to his deteriorating mental condition, a condition caused by his solitary confinement. Part of what is exacerbating his condition is that when solitary confinement is arbitrary and without purpose it causes profound psychopathology.

If you need a strut for that frame in your head, if you need a reason to doubt that it is all in the name of national security, if you need a reason to complain as an American, on June 26th about what is done in your name, if you never follow another link from this blog site, go to the report, and read the appendix (pp. 47-54), the letter the lawyers wrote, on behalf of Mr. Lahmar, and have waited over a year for a reply. He was put in solitary because someone misread an instruction from a general, who wanted him put in better conditions as a reward for his behavior. And he is still there. Is this clear enough to suffice, since we don't have a picture? Does it shock the American conscience yet?

Tout cela, je devais le dire pour les Français qui voudront bien me lire. Il faut qu'ils sachent que les Algériens ne confondent pas leurs tortionnaires avec le grand peuple de France, auprès duquel ils ont tant appris et dont l'amitié leur est si chère.

Il faut qu'ils sachent pourtant ce qui se fait ici EN LEUR NOM.

Henri Alleg, La Question, November 1957.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Interrogating the Interrogators

Today, the Senate Armed Services Committee performed an interrogation. First there were two panels of witnesses, including Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, the woman whose legal brief ended up being the sole legal advise attached to the list of interrogation techniques written by William J. Haynes II, and signed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in late 2002. Including Lt. Col Daniel Baumgartner and Dr. Jerald Ogrisseg, from the SERE program, who testified repeatedly that the program was never intended to train people to interrogate enemy prisoners.

Evidence has mounted that the idea of using SERE this way originated in the Pentagon, not down at Guantanamo at one of Diane Beaver's brainstorming sessions. We didn't hear about the show '24' today, but that was another source for those sessions, as it also informs at least one of the august justices at the Supreme Court, the very one who wrote a dissenting opinion to last week's habeas corpus ruling, Boumediene v. Bush, warning of death at the hands of "radical Islamists" (p. 111).

The Senate Hearings

The testimony changed to interrogation when Jim Haynes was empaneled. People really were expecting to hear this person, whom Philippe Sands believes was at the nexus of the torture team that created the regimes of torture that were used first on Mohammed al Qahtani, a.k.a. detainee 063, later on others at Guantanamo, and spread to Afghanistan and Iraq, surfacing for the American public in the nightmarish photographs from Abu Ghraib (Philippe Sands, The Torture Team).

There were expectations of fireworks on FireDogLake, where they live blogged the event. I cleared my schedule, rearranging to do things from my desk, where I could watch on CSPAN-3 while I worked. After all, the man had agreed to testify, voluntarily. During the earlier sessions a lot of blanks got filled. SERE is not just a testosterone laced nightmare training regimen, like we see in the movies, it includes all forms of interrogation, even those more to the liking of the FBI, and Dr. Ogrisseg testified that, at least in the program he was both a constructor of, and a program evaluator for, backed up by journal articles and logs of findings, they don't do waterboarding. The reason is just as chilling as the technique itself: The point of their program is to build up defenses against interrogation, for the purposes of helping captured troops to defend their dignity, their honor, and their sanity. Waterboarding breaks a person, and even afterward, the person to whom it is done retains an inordinate fear of the waterboarding devices. Consequently, since breaking peoples' personalities is inconsistent with building them up, the technique is not used in his training. Likewise, the sleep deprivation (extreme closed confinement was not discussed by Dr. Ogrisseg) is not extreme, they aren't trying to hurt people, just train them.

Chilling, for what it says about the real techniques, so expertly reverse-engineered, that their real application is too injurious to use for training.

Chilling that with the very real inhumane and torturous treatment that went on in al Qahtani's case, at Guantanamo, that one of the people who helped construct that program, Diane Beaver, should let slip her outrage at Captain Carolyn Wood, who she regards as a really malevolent person who creates real torture: Under her watch at Bagram, people were beaten to death, and then she worked up the techniques used at Abu Ghraib.

Mr. Haynes Knits His Brow in Vain

But the star of the show, the man who was going to tell everyone just how the techniques studied for the SERE program ended up being used for interrogations, his testimony consisted of admitting the obvious whenever a Senator angrily stated that they had the letters from [name your source, chiefly the military JAGs] to prove it, but otherwise repeatedly failed to recall meeting after meeting after memo after trip after phone call, in a manner that would have made former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales very proud. When someone made the mistake of asking him what he did recall, the Washington Post got their take home quote of the day: "What I remember about the summer of 2002 was a government-wide concern about the possibility of another terrorist attack as the anniversary of September 11." To be fair, they, like much of the press, found more that was newsworthy by poring over the documents the committee released than listening to Mr. Haynes' much promised fireworks.

But if you are looking for the mindset that led to the judgements that Senator Lindsey Graham so aptly characterized, "The guidance that was provided during this period of time, I think, will go down in history as some of the most irresponsible and shortsighted legal analysis ever provided to our nation's military and intelligence communities," if you really want to know how such a thing happened, then perhaps questioning Mr. Haynes on what everyone pretty much already knows, and knows he won't disclose, isn't the right place to look.

That mindset has been building for a long time. You could hear it when the House Judiciary Committee Republicans questioned David Rivkin, and chuckled over the idea that anyone would believe that rapport building would be effective against the unhuman al Qaeda operatives. You could hear it when Senator Inhofe was doubting whether a man who was a twentieth hijacker would respond without more incentives, citing a list of all the reasons for haste in getting information in December 2002. You could hear it in the comment of Senator Jeff Sessions. Mr. Sessions ridiculed the notion that the techniques to which Mohammed al Qahtani was subjected were in any way harsh. He singled out one for disdain. In a comment reminiscent of Donald Rumsfeld's priceless footnote to Jim Haynes list of tactics, Mr. Rumsfeld famously complained that 4 hours of standing was too short, after all he stood for 9 or 10 hours a day at his desk. Today, Jeff Sessions remarked that 30 days of solitary confinement wasn't much, after all, we confine people in federal custody for longer than that.

The Knowing Chuckle Frame

Does anyone notice these little comments, does anyone pay attention to the frame that they build? The ridicule of thirty days is a ridicule of Articles 89 and 90 of the Third Geneva Convention, perhaps Mr. Sessions believes it's, um, quaint. The standing, is double the limit in Article 89, which limits "Fatigue duties" to two hours. If thirty days is light, given U.S. prison conditions, and it is for some U.S. federal penitentiaries, then the criticism is on the penitentiaries, not on the Geneva Conventions. Humanitarian law is based on the essential dignity of man, what Alberto Mora today termed inalienable rights, rights that should accrue to every member of the species. The Supreme Court opinion finds the basis for the rock bottom fundamental nature of habeas corpus in the works of that guy Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, those documents in which the Federalist Society and Samuel J. Alito, Jr. find tea leaves supporting signing statements, unitary executives, and unbridled power.

The building of the frame of scoffing at international agreements on human dignity, the frame in which people need to earn the right to be treated as human beings, the frame in which inalienable rights are confined to the prepared statements of quiet heroes, has been going on for a long time. It is a swirling mess: Ancient enmities from around the globe, generation long disputes over small territories in the Middle East, child soldiers, slaves, and genocide ignored in Africa, hardening over starvation in Somalia, suicide bombing out of a bitter Hindu-Buddhist war in South Asia, all descending on minds and drying them to an unfeeling core that believes that they are the only sensible people left, and so the insanity they create is the only proper response to the great evil always outside the gates. One almost expected Jeff Sessions and Jim Haynes to lean back over their laugh and reach for a brew, and reminisce about the old days, when men were men and torture victims could be starved, put in the hole, and beaten for a lot more than a mere 30 days without doing a wimpy thing like going insane or dying. I'm reading La Question, by Henri Alleg, I'll let you know about the good ol' days when I finish.

If America truly wants to become something it has ceased to be, it will need to heed the statements of genuine humanitarians like Alberto Mora, and remember that it once thought human beings were endowed with inalienable rights, and that We the People do not believe in cruelty, and that we'd rather dissolve the ties which bind men into nations than see people imprisoned without habeas corpus. In this country, such humanitarianism is obligatio erga omnes, lest that 'new nation' perish from the earth.

Notice: There is a new panel on the sidebar, for June 26th. As we discover them, we will add events people have planned to help end torture this month. They can be sent to any of us, if you have them. Feel free to use the graphic if it helps with your efforts. Get some orange ribbons, or find a local lecture. Or set one up: I've been surprised how much people who do the work on this issue appreciate the opportunity to talk to any crowd you can assemble.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Practical Compassion

It's been a busy week again. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has launched its Torture Awareness Month, and they have churches across the U.S. displaying banners against torture. If you live in any sizable population area, there is a good chance there are churches near you that are participating (we have 4 in the area around where I am). For details, lists of churches and how you can participate, please go to their website.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on interrogation methods, centered on the report from Glenn Fine about the FBI relation to them. In testimony, John Cloonan, a former FBI interrogator, revealed that the FBI had obtained usable intelligence from Ibn al Sheikh al Libi by establishing rapport, before he was subjected to harsh methods by the CIA. In the case of al Libi, the harsh interrogation was done by the Egyptians, and the committee also heard testimony on the legal fig-leaves used to pretend that the U.S. did not know what type of interrogation al Libi would undergo if they handed him over. A synopsis of the hearings in three parts is here, here, and here, at Firedoglake. The prepared statements of all the witnesses are available here. Interestingly, the hearing was interrupted. Apparently Mitch McConnell tried to call numerous votes to keep the hearing from proceeding, a tactic which failed when Harry Reid moved to recess the Senate.

The testimony from Mr. Cloonan is very damning, and is largely corroborated by the report that Mr. Fine and Ms. Caproni were presenting. Ms. Caproni also testified that she was denied access to information about the interrogations -- she is Counsel to the FBI. One wonders whether an investigation into all details of the interrogation policies of the U.S. government is possible, given that the lead investigating branch of the Department of Justice can find itself disallowed from accessing information. It doesn't seem possible that the FBI could not have the proper security clearance to look at government documents.

What Mr. Cloonan paints is a picture in which rapport building has produced intelligence from even so called high-level targets, like al Libi, and probably would have from Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, had it been used, but in which the preferred course was abuse and torture, with the result that the information was never obtained. I have remarked before on this blog that the so-called intelligence that people have claimed to have got from prisoners during the "War on Terror" by torture has amounted to confessions on facts that were obtained through alternate means and forensics. What emerges is a picture in which there are tactics that work that are not used, and tactics that don't work that are used, chiefly because those making the decisions believe something about the various tactics that is 180 degrees opposite to the truth.

What emerges from George Lakoff (Don't Think of an Elephant!), and from Glenn Greenwald (Great American Hypocrites, and his blog on Salon), and others who have tried to analyze the emotional or metaphorical process behind such thinking, is that there is a belief that if one doesn't act tough, one can not defeat these terrorists. Torture is the ultimate in acting tough, rapport building is the ultimate in what George Lakoff calls the nurturant parent model. In order to maintain a belief system that the terrorists are evil without question, that model can not be allowed to succeed, and the model that advocates toughness, harsh tactics, and "a dunk in the water" must be shown to be expedient, even if the results are not forthcoming.

That would certainly explain the metatorture. When thousands of prisoners are kept in temporary pens exposed to the harsh elements in Afghanistan, the reason can not be because they all have useful information, and they are waiting in line in some interrogation backlog. If the motive is punishment, as it was in some instances at Abu Ghraib (according to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez), or the motive is to instill fear, as Gerald Gray claims about the abuse, on what to do with the prisoners can be that imprecise. The immediate objective is the mistreatment itself, all that is needed is to make sure it happens.

Be very careful about what is claimed here: The reason for the abusive treatment is to prove, either to themselves or to the rest of us, several things:
  1. The abusive treatment works.
  2. The people we are dealing with are so evil that it is the only language they understand.
  3. The United States has a right to do so, either because of sovereignty or justice.
  4. That those who do not believe in the treatment are dangerous.
Jack Cloonan's testimony and the FBI report address points 1, 2, and 4, with force. The abusive treatment doesn't work, not just because the information obtained under duress is unreliable. Such treatment can often cause the subject to stop talking. And he made note of the fact that all prior information on Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was that the man liked to brag, and was proud of what he did. To the interrogators at the FBI, that looks like a gold mine, just let him brag. Point 2, that those who do not believe in cruel or torturous treatment are dangerous because they are refusing to get the intelligence or permit someone to get the intelligence that will save the nation is frequently repeated, and we will probably hear it a lot during the election season, regardless of John McCain's expressed views on torture, as rumors and whispers fill the air. It rests on the premise that anyone who can't take the final step over the line to the dark side is unwilling or unable to do everything in their power to defeat America's enemies. When it is being used, remember to watch the metaphors and frames. People rarely come out and say that the tactic will work, only that you are a coward for not trying everything. If it does not work, it is not a matter of bravery, is it?

Point 2 is exceedingly complex, and will not be defeated easily. The people who make this argument are attempting multiple things at one time: They are attempting the ultimate in dehumanizations, that the person we are dealing with is so evil they are not human, deserve no rights, must be silenced, must be held secretly, everything other than what are the inalienable rights of a human being. They are attempting to assert that there is a language for talking to such walking demons, and it is the language of pain, humiliation, and psychological destruction. They are attempting to finish that argument off by asserting that they know which are the demons and which are the humans, often without much information (say, for example, only that they have paid a reward for them to the Pakistani ISI). The point man on this dehumanization policy has always been Douglas Feith. He began working on it under Reagan, as has been documented here before, by pushing for the U.S. not to ratify the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions, which would have detailed the rights and responsibilities of non-state actors in conflicts of various international and non-international character.

He was joined by others, but the final set of work involves no ratification of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which would have dictated that the U.S. comply with the additional protocols because they had been signed, even if we didn't enforce them because they had not been ratified. It involves no ratification of the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court. It involves a general reluctance to sign or ratify any treaties out of the U.N. be they on land mines, on cluster bombs, or the Convention on the Rights of the Child. A full list of the U.N. treaties and the status of the U.S. is online, there are a lot of gaps.

As the Torture Awareness Month continues, and the International Day Against Torture approaches, it is worth questioning something very basic about American foreign policy. Would someone who wished to repudiate the dehumanizations and abominations of a policy, based on invocation of extreme evil and finding places beyond the law, also be willing to take a fresh look at those gaps? As Scott Shane reports on Jack Cloonan's testimony in the New York Times,

“Gaining the cooperation of an Al Qaeda member is a formidable task, but it is not impossible,” Mr. Cloonan said. He said he saw Qaeda operatives who had pledged loyalty to Osama bin Laden “cross the threshold and cooperate with the F.B.I. because they were treated humanely, understood what due process was about and were literally seduced by our legal system, as strange as that might sound.”

That being the case, how much easier would it have been to seduce away the whole war on terror, had the status of the terrorists been clearly delineated by the 1977 Additional Protocols? Is it really true that ratifying them would be wrong because it would give unwarranted status to terrorists, or is it rather true that in a world in which mistreatment is universally wrong, as the Christians say, even unto the least of my brethren, such terrorists would have been easily found, interrogated, and brought to justice in a court of law? All indications are that compassion even to the worst of the worst isn't just good behavior, it's effective police work and good policy.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Framing for Containment

At a recent panel discussion at Stanford University, one of the panelists, answering a question about how the struggle was going for finding facts, defending prisoners, and getting rights at Guantanamo, said something at once surprising and depressing. Amant Raut, finishing up his response, suddenly said, "They're framing things before we can, they're inventing vocabulary so fast we can't keep up."

The Language of Frames

I'm not a stranger to the language of framing, of cognitive science with it's processes of recruitment and its interaction with language. But just to be sure, I went and took a look at George Lakoff, and read about why I shouldn't think of an elephant. The essential point is that if a situation is described well by a frame, that is, an empty prototype which is then filled with the specifics to become an interpretation. If the frame is well established, a word or two from the frame become a metaphor, and then becomes the symbol for the subject matter. This is powerful politically, if one side of a debate can adequately frame the issue and construct a powerful metaphor, every time the issue is discussed, the mere use of what has become the standard vocabulary by that point, draws up a frame that is advantageous to the party that framed it. We speak in metaphors most of the time, and we don't examine them usually (George Lakoff, Don't Think of an Elephant, see ch. 1).

So how has torture been framed recently? Say torture in the mainstream media right now, and they will talk about waterboarding within the paragraph. The words illegal enemy combatants, and probably enhanced interrogation methods, and Guantanamo Bay will show up soon after, perhaps the words high value detainee. The frame in public opinion is that some high value detainees were waterboarded soon after September 11, it was a different time, it was legal then because they were illegal enemy combatants, we were worried about another attack, the president approved enhanced interrogation methods, those to whom the methods have been applied are at Guantanamo Bay, they are being brought to trial in front of the Military Commissions. Right?

In this atmosphere, what ensues next is a discussion over whether or not detainees at Gitmo were tortured, and a discussion over whether waterboarding is drowning or simulated drowning, and inevitably a discussion over whether or not torture produces useful intelligence or only what the interrogator wants to hear. Here is the list of words, remember these, these are the frame:

torture = waterboarding
prisoner = detainee
detainee = illegal enemy combatant
imprisonment = Guantanamo
torture victim = high-value detainee
information = prevent another attack
back then = right after September 11
now = trials, laws have changed
court of law = Military commission

Dry Drowning and Torture

In the context of this frame, I got an email of the video of the CNN report on dry drowning from Jim White -- we should look at this, it shows that waterboarding can cause lasting harm, even death. I demurred, there are some things about that video. What happened is that a young boy in South Carolina had a near drowning incident at the pool, after which he walked home. His mother noticed he was acting tired while bathing him, he said he felt so, and he lay down for a nap. He stopped breathing, when he was noticed, and rushed to the hospital, he did not survive. The incident is being called dry drowning because he wasn't in the pool when he stopped breathing. The video is a little odd in places due to strange use of terminology and interpretations, the correspondent keeps saying ingest instead of aspirate, and she has a strange interpretation of the symptoms of hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain).

Actually, most drowning occurs with very little water in the lungs, until either deep unconsciousness or death relaxes the muscles and the water enters. A natural reaction is laryngeospasm, which closes the passage to the lungs keeping the water out, before that. The spasm can fail to release again, or it can occur when there is very little water present, all are called dry drowning. Further, water or salt water aspirated into the lungs can cause damage there, which leads to pulmonary edema and the alveoli ceasing to function, again resulting in asphyxia. The last is closer to what happened in this case.

And Jim White is right, the subject of dry drowning is apropos to the subject of torture and the debate on the government's use thereof. And it is related to waterboarding, and does show how you could die from it.

And according to Professor Lakoff, if that's what we do, we will reinforce the current frame. So we can instead use the sad dry drowning incident to create a different frame, and populate it with different views of torture, and perhaps not do that reinforcing that leads to protecting those in the administration and around it who have done things they should not have.

In one incarnation especially, waterboarding is dry drowning. The version with the saran wrap placed over the victims mouth, especially. When the water is poured on, the inability to breathe through the saran wrap, coupled with the water being poured on the victim, make the victim believe he is drowning, and trigger the reflex - the panic, and the laryngeospasm, which closes off the passage to the lungs. The victims frequently pass out, they are drowning. This is why it works without actually forcing aspiration of water into the lungs, a distinction that the administration has been using to split hairs and say that this is not the water torture of Torquemada, but rather that of Pol Pot. But as the sudden interest in dry drowning leads people to the triggered reaction being the direct antecedent to drowning, it becomes obvious that waterboarding is drowning, nothing simulated about it, as Malcolm Nance has frequently tried to get people to understand.

But what happened to the boy is actually closer to something that happened to someone else. The other kind of dry drowning occurs because the lungs become damaged, causing pulmonary edema (swelling in the lungs in which they fill with fluid), leading to the hypoxia and in this case to death. Do you remember the Ice Man, Manadel al Jamadi, whose body was photographed at Abu Ghraib so famously? He died because he asphyxiated due to being in a position called (in the doctor's report) "Palestinian Hanging". That kind of asphyxiation is often brought on by having previously sustained an injury that either because of shock or lung damage aggravates the effects of being in a position in which it is difficult to breathe. The MPs on the cell block learned that he was dead because they had been asked to tighten up his restraints because he'd gone loose. That would be the "high cuffing", the aforesaid Palestinian Hanging.

The Spanish Inquisition Again

While waterboarding has grabbed all the attention, and is without a doubt cruel treatment amounting to torture, this "high cuffing" or "Palestinian Hanging" has plenty of documentation, and no one has claimed that it has been performed on only 3 "high-valued detainees". There is picture after picture of this position at Abu Ghraib. It is uniformly referred to in administration documents as a stress posture.

It is a modification of an Inquisitional technique called strappado. Strappado, and its more brutal cousin squassation, were the most used of torture techniques by the Spanish Inquisition because they were cheap and easy to do: throw a rope over a rafter, tie the prisoner's wrists behind his/her back, and hoist them into the air by their wrists. It becomes squassation when the prisoner is then dropped by slackening the rope and then caught by tightening it. This causes dislocation of the shoulders, and the Inquisitors found that it generally caused death in about 3 to 4 drops. Strappado, without the drops, causes nerve damage in about 15 minutes. Darius Rejali notes that, "The strappado can easily dislocate the shoulders and maim victims permanently. However, the same approximate condition can be achieved, without overall damage and for a longer period of time, by raising the handcuffed hands behind the back until the prisoner is standing on his toes; his hands are then attached to a hook." (Rejali, Torture and Democracy, p. 296). Or maybe a bed frame, or a bar in a prison window.

Can this form of torture kill, in it's milder form of high cuffing, the stress position? It killed the Ice Man. He died of dry drowning in a way, lung damage causing pulmonary edema plus a difficulty breathing due to his position.

That calls into question the frame above. Obviously torture is not equivalent to waterboarding. Instead, waterboarding is one possible means of torture, out of many that have been used. On this site, we have detailed the privation tortures: extreme solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, being deprived of food, extremes in temperature. There are pictures of many more than 3 cases of strappado, there is documentation of a lot of solitary confinement, and sleep deprivation. Jane Mayer documented sensory deprivation done at black sites. Prisoners have lesions due to frostbite in outdoor pens in Afghanistan. Homicides were documented at Bagram due to damage caused by pounding muscle tissue.

Framing to Reduce the Issue

And what of the other parts of the frame? If torture = waterboarding is not true, are any of the others? A detainee is normally one being detained for a short period of time, prisoner is what people who inhabit prisons are called. The excuse for not using such plain language is to avoid a term that might be confused with prisoner of war, which the people held in U.S. military prisoners are not, supposedly. This is the handiwork originally of Douglas Feith, who as far back as the Reagan administration sought to carve out a special place in the Geneva Conventions where the law did not apply, to put anyone who could be designated as a terrorist, a strange term in its use that implies someone who can be fought with a military, but treated like a criminal, but need not be charged like a prisoner of war, but need not be treated well, like a person from a country that hasn't signed the Geneva Conventions. If there is ambiguity there, it is also Feith's work, the Additional Protocols of 1977 were intended to fix it, and it was because of this man they were not ratified by the U.S.

From there, just a memo or two by John Yoo creates a new status for these people, illegal enemy combatant. Notice that this title requires two legal findings: that they are combatants, and that they are illegal, but they are called that in advance of either finding. These people are not in their greatest numbers, confined at Guantanamo Bay, which houses only 275 inmates. There are well upwards of 34,000 of these prisoners, but if the frame says Guantanamo, then the problem is much smaller. The title high-value detainee also requires determination. It implies that these people are guilty of a crime, which requires a legal determination, and it implies that they have information of value. The assumption of this status in even a single case in which the person is innocent will result in endless, brutal, interrogation. Never mind whether or not torture will produce reliable intelligence, it certainly will not if the person knows nothing, and there is no method we have heard of for determining that in advance.

Information can only prevent an attack if two things are there: it must be new information, and it must enable someone to prevent the attack by taking specific actions (that presumes that an attack was imminent). The record of the FBI statements given to the Department of Justice Inspector General, and interviews by Philippe Sands (The Torture Team, ch. 14) is one of information being given to interrogators on paper, from other forensics and sources, and, at best, they believe they have got intelligence out of a prisoner when the prisoner confirms these data. That isn't new information, it's a confession. The record also shows interrogations spanning weeks and months, before these confessions are reached. Not a record of prevention of imminent attacks at all.

Finally, we have the supposedly changed legal climate. The evil deeds were all performed back then, in the aftermath of September 11, when we were desperate to prevent an attack. The laws have changed. No, what has changed is the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act, plus some Supreme Court rulings. The last do not represent a change in the laws. The Court ruled that the treatment, at least as far as access to a properly constituted court and habeas corpus, was not legal. It is a very strange interpretation of a court ruling to assert that this means it was legal until the court pronounced it illegal. And treatment in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture is still being reported. Those prisoners in the Afghani pens? Still going on. Solitary confinement to the point of madness, that one is still going on even at Guantanamo. And the prisoners being arraigned are not appearing in court, they are appearing in front of Military Commissions, procedures so flawed that they have seen numerous defections from the ranks of their prosecutors, numerous suspension of the proceedings, and are now widely rumored to be moving swiftly in response to political pressure in an election year.

In the end, none of that frame is accurate. But focussing on only one part, waterboarding and Guantanamo, the purpose of repeating these two, that the torture we are opposing is waterboarding and the detainees that need to be freed are in Guantanamo, reduces the whole mess to a manageable one for the administration. It can be written by the papers in their sleep at this point. It's containment. And it's anything but the whole truth.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Not When We Do It

Oh, here we go again. On Monday, Glenn Greenwald wrote about the new appointee to John McCain's campaign team, Michael Goldfarb. Among his other opinions, which were more the subject of that analysis, Mr. Greenwald cited a post that Mr. Goldfarb did on the Weekly Standard blog site, called, Trivializing Torture. Quoting at length,

And for what? The Times indicts the Bush administration for exposing terrorists captured abroad to "head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures." Boo hoo. And why does the Times consider this such a dangerous policy? The reporters end the story with this quote, from former Navy lawyer John Hutson, which they must believe to be compelling:

“The problem is, once you’ve got a legal opinion that says such a technique is O.K., what happens when one of our people is captured and they do it to him? How do we protest then?” he asked.

As Jules Crittenden notes in response:

[The] article neglects to mention we are fighting an enemy that considers powerdrills into kneecaps and videotaped beheading of captives business as usual. That in fact, we have yet to face an enemy in the modern era that observes anything approaching the standards we do. Germany, Japan, North Korea, North Vietnam, Iran, Iraq. Disorientation, isolation, beatings, starvation, summary executions, torture … of the bone-breaking, organ-smashing, electrocuting, bloody-drawing variety.

That is, real torture. And it trivializes the seriousness of it to apply the word to "head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures." It also trivializes the seriousness of real war crimes for someone to throw around the charge so promiscuously.

I see. Real torture. Apparently, Messrs. Goldfarb and Crittenden are experts on what constitutes real torture. Darius Rejali also worries about broadening the definition of torture. There are two ways he discusses that broaden it beyond its legal definition. One trivializes by asserting that many other indignities are torture. Oddly enough, for Mr. Goldfarb's argument, the other is by broadening it to include conduct of "insurgencies and rebel groups", by which Mr. Rejali means what are commonly referred to as non-state actors (Torture and Democracy, p.38) It's strange isn't it? These people deny prisoners status on a regular basis because they are not the military parts of a recognized state, and do not comply with the state requirements for a military. The same people completely gloss over the same distinction made about torture, when it suits them.

Personally, I'm all for granting the broadening of the legal definition to non-state actors. The behavior is abhorrent, it should be prosecuted and punished. But let's not have any illusions that the law does not put a higher burden on states, and therefore on our actions. Our founding documents put such a burden on us as well.

The Istanbul Protocol

As for what is, and what is not, real torture, the list these two authors subscribe to is quite interesting. They reject "head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures." They assert "[d]isorientation, isolation, beatings, starvation, summary executions." I will give them the benefit of the doubt that the last one was written in a burst of passion. Summary executions are summary executions, not torture. They have their own criminal category, both under U.S. and international law. And why is this list better? They are of the "bone-breaking, organ-smashing, electrocuting, bloody-drawing variety." This is an odd assertion of reality here. Unless torture looks like what you see in TV shows and movies, it isn't real. If it looks like what is described in, for example, The Istanbul Protocol, it trivializes torture.

Fortunately for the rest of us, the Istanbul Protocol isn't an international treaty that the people from the Weekly Standard can lobby against signing or ratifying. It's a medical protocol for examining victims of torture. It goes into necessary detail. It does not assert that there must be bone breaking, nor organ smashing, nor electrocution, nor drawing blood. It does detail examining for these things. It dwells a lot on neurological damage. That's when the beating has been specially designed to avoid the kinds of evidence Messrs. Goldfarb and Crittenden demand. Like Falanga, the beating of the feet (p. 37), which has been alleged to be practiced on people in Iraqi police custody.

It also dwells on sexual degradation, on stress positions, on skin damage, on PTSD and depression, on the effects of sensory deprivation or solitary confinement, and near asphyxiation, as may be due to submerging the head in water, or preventing air from entering the nose or mouth, e.g. with a plastic bag, ...(there is a list on p.28, asphyxiation is discussed on p.39), you get the picture. It's interesting that these two experts do believe disorientation, isolation, beatings and starvation to be tactics of their real torture. There are people in U.S. custody that have been in isolation for years. There are disorienting tactics that include sensory deprivation for extended periods of time. There have been beatings: common peroneal strikes, I believe they were called in Afghanistan, some of which did such damage to organs that the victims died. Does that qualify as organ-smashing?

When a prisoner is subjected to "frigid temperatures" to the point of hypothermia, for instance Mohammed al Qahtani, who had to be hospitalized for bradycardia and low core temperature after such exposure, or people kept in outdoor pens in Afghanistan, some of whom have had water poured on them, resulting in frostbite injuries to their integumentary organ (I'm sure the two experts are aware of this organ, here's a hint, it's the largest organ in the human body), when hypothermia causes decreased level of consciousness, when it threatens to kill the prisoner due to the possibility of ventricular fibrillation, I would guess that the only reason these people do not believe that is torture is because no bones are broken or blood is spilt.

Note: For those interested in a more readable source on the types of tortures and their medical consequences, there are two excellent documents on the Physicians for Human Rights site. Go to here, and scroll down, the links are on the right.

The Real Definition of Real Torture

Simulated drowning, what is widely referred to as waterboarding, isn't torture, it doesn't break bones or spill blood, apparently. But if our enemies do it, then disorientation, isolation, beatings and starvation are torture, and we have never done anything that approaches what they do. We have a prisoner in captivity, Ali Saleh Kahlah al Marri, who is losing his sanity from isolation. That was in the list of tortures when the enemy does them that Jules Crittenden gave. We already had a few that did so, Philippe Sands details Mohammed al Qahtani (The Torture Team), we've FBI documentation on prisoners tearing their own hair out as a result of positioning and isolation. We've regularly used sleep and sensory deprivation on prisoners, not to mention that the frigid temperatures that Messrs. Goldfarb and Crittenden are so derisive of prevent sleep when they aren't causing hypothermia and frostbite. We've subjected prisoners to high temperatures and to extreme positioning, one man, the so-called Ice Man of Abu Ghraib died as a result of being stepped on and then positioned in a Palestinian Hanging (hung from his wrists from behind and above).

Positioning that allows no or almost no motion for long periods of time can cause rhabdomyolysis, when core temperatures above 106 degrees Fahrenheit cause the body's chemicals to denature. Either one causes poisons to be dumped into the blood stream, poisons which cause the kidneys to self-destruct. Would that count as organ smashing? How about being caged in the desert then?

These two experts belittle the statement of the Navy lawyer, John Hutson, about the treatment of our troops. It is obvious from the list, equating the disorientation, isolation, beatings and starvation that our enemies in the modern era have done with their preferred definition of bone breaking, organ smashing, and blood letting, that if these techniques are performed on our troops, they are torture. It is similarly obvious from the ridicule of head slapping, simulated drowning, or frigid temperatures, that if the same tactics are performed by our troops, or our CIA, or maybe directed from the White House or the OLC or the Pentagon, that it is simply not in the same ballpark with torture.

Which brings us to the operative version of torture that the Weekly Standard appears to employ: It's torture if done by evil people we designate, and it's not torture if done by the United States government. When the army of the righteous smashes organs, it's reasonable defense against an existential threat, when the axis of evil does it, it's torture. It is reinforced by a definition of torture based on Hollywood, or perhaps on Jack Bauer. Those are reality, what is done in U.S. military prisons is not. That bears repeating once more: What you see in the movies is more real than what is really done. Since we don't do what they do in the movies, We Don't Torture.

To me, that may not be trivial, but it's the most childish definition of torture I've yet seen.

A correction to previous posts:

I had used the figure 27,000 for the number of people in U.S. custody abroad, taken from the estimated 13,000 in Afghanistan and adding an estimated 14,000 in Iraq, although there are people elsewhere making up at least 500-1000. The Pentagon released figures about Iraq indicating that there are 21,000 prisoners there that they wish to disclose. So I will correct my total estimate to around 35,000 for now. But I would caution that if the rate of disappearance of prisoners in Iraq is anywhere near that in Afghanistan or elsewhere, then this number needs to be 40,000 or more. Apparently the war on terror is won just like all the other war ons. By imprisoning as many people as possible.