Monday, November 21, 2005

It All Depends on What the Meaning of Torture Is

Bush and crew often respond to questions regarding US policy on the interrogation technologies captured with digital cameras and placed on the internets with a simple, non-responsive statement: "We do not torture." They do not say, “We do not abuse prisoners,” or, “Prisoners are not beaten or terrorized.” They will not discuss what they consider to be torture, only that "we" don't do it.

The common understanding of sexual relations includes oral sex. And the common understanding of torture includes "Water Boarding" and "The Cold Cell." Clinton lied about an affair. Bush lied about approving torture:

The CIA sources described a list of six "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" instituted in mid-March 2002 and used, they said, on a dozen top al Qaeda targets incarcerated in isolation at secret locations on military bases in regions from Asia to Eastern Europe. According to the sources, only a handful of CIA interrogators are trained and authorized to use the techniques:

1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.

2. Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.

3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.

4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.

5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.

6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.


Imagine if Saddam had done this to a US soldier. No one would hesitate to call it torture.

Unfortunately, speaking in simple plain sentences does not necessarily mean one is "plainspoken" or a "strait shooter." I have thought for some time that Bush's seeming inability to actually say something meaningful has been a political benefit. Sure, a few people might call him dumb, but nonsensical, vague and incoherent statements sound good to most people without actually committing him to any detailed position (which could then be attacked).

With respect to torture, he can always say "We don't torture." Instead of conforming US interrogation policy to not include torture, Bush simply redefines torture to exclude what the US does (Water boarding just isn't painful enough). Instead of ensuring no US government officials are torturing prisoners, Bush redefines "we" to exclude those who torture, e.g., the "bad apples" of Abu Garib.

As an added bonus "We Don't Torture" is a present tense statement. When confronted with torture of the past they can say, "Well, we don't torture, now. It isridiculous to think we torture now. It must have been some bad apples."

Not only is torture illegal and inhuman, it also gets you bad information:
Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi, after two weeks of [torture], made statements that were designed to tell the interrogators what they wanted to hear. Sources say Al Libbi had been subjected to each of the progressively harsher techniques in turn and finally broke after being water boarded and then left to stand naked in his cold cell overnight where he was doused with cold water at regular intervals.

His statements became part of the basis for the Bush administration claims that Iraq trained al Qaeda members to use biochemical weapons.[...]al Libbi had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment.

Of course, that depends on what your definition of "bad" is.

see Balkinization

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