The last couple of weeks have been dominated in the news cycle by the Obama administration’s de-classification and subsequent release of CIA documents around the enhanced interrogation techniques employed against high value terrorists. I have to say that I am a bit peeved about the whole thing. Probably not for the reasons that you may think, however. I am going to talk about interrogation here as I know it. I will talk about some of the allegations that have come up during the news cycles and what I know about them. I will attempt to discuss the morality of the situation and the line that we cross at some point. And I will discuss quickly the idea of prosecuting the folks that were involved in the interrogation of Khalid Sheik Muhammed and Al Zubaydah. Because it seems to me that these are criminals chasing criminals. So off we go…
Let’s start by doing the relevant thing here. Inevitably the conversation is going to end up with someone talking about Geneva Convention and what that means. It is important to understand that more than the “Geneva Conventions” are at play here. The defining of torture falls under the United Nations Convention Against Torture (signed by the US in 1988, and ratified in 1994). The definition of torture according to this document (and as noted agreed to by ratifying member USA) is:
Article 1.1: Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
So that is the agreed upon definition of torture. It is important to note that the United States of America signed and ratified this document, of our own free will. We were not forced to do so.
So already you are thinking to yourself, “Uh Oh, that seems pretty clear cut as to what is allowed, and it sure seems like we crossed that line fairly quickly”. Yes you are correct, whether or not we like it, the definition of torture according to this document is clear (or is it?), and it is clear that the United States has violated this document with their treatment of prisoners, not only in this particular instance, but in Abu Gharib prison as well (but remember that is not the topic here!). The pictures from there did not lie.
Article Two of the Convention clearly lays out the conditions of when torture is not allowed. It states:
Article 2 of the convention prohibits torture, and requires parties to take effective measures to prevent it in any territory under its jurisdiction. This prohibition is absolute and non-derogable. “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever” may be invoked to justify torture, including war, threat of war, internal political instability, public emergency, terrorist acts, violent crime, or any form of armed conflict. Torture cannot be justified as a means to protect public safety or prevent emergencies. Neither can it be justified by orders from superior officers or public officials. The prohibition on torture applies to all territories under a party’s effective jurisdiction, and protects all people under its effective control, regardless of citizenship or how that control is exercised.
I know, “Uh Oh again”. Because it seems to me that this clearly spells out that terrorist acts and even war can be invoked to justify torture, as defined in Article 1. And it further states that it cannot be justified by orders from public officials or as a means to protect public safety. It seems pretty clear that the justification that we are seeing produced is a clear violation of the convention. However there is one aspect not being discussed if we simply jump to this conclusion… The use of the word severe (highlighted in red) in article one.
We aren’t talking morality here. We will get to that later. We are talking about whether the people responsible for the interrogations should be prosecuted under violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture. It is clear that the rest of this hinges on the definition of severe. And there is the lone gray area that allowed this to be authorized and may, in fact, save those involved. So what are we talking about in terms of procedures? The released interrogation memo’s show fourteen procedures being authorized and the justification for how injury risk is reduced and why the legal group felt they were not torture under the above convention.
Sleep deprivation “Generally, a detainee undergoing this technique is shackled in a standing position with his hands in front of his body, which prevents him from falling asleep but also allows him to move around within a two- to three-foot diameter.”“It is clear that depriving someone of sleep does not involve severe physical pain … Nor could sleep deprivation constitute a procedure calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses, so long as sleep deprivation (as you have informed us is your intent) is used for limited periods, before hallucinations or other profound disruptions of the senses would occur.”
Walling The interrogator “quickly and firmly pushes the individual into the wall. … The head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel … to help prevent whiplash. You have informed us that the sound of hitting the wall will actually be far worse than any possible injury to the individual. The use of the rolled towel around the neck also reduces any risk of injury. While it may hurt … any pain experienced is not of the intensity associated with serious physical injury.”
Confinement with insects “You would like to place Zubaydah in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us that he appears to have a fear of insects. You plan to inform Zubaydah that you are going to place a stinging insect into the box, but you will actually place a harmless insect in the box, such as a caterpillar. If you do so, to ensure that you are outside the predicate act requirement, you must inform him that the insects will not have a sting that would produce death or severe pain.”
Cramped confinement “Cramped confinement involves the placement of the individual in a confined space, the dimensions of which restrict the individual’s movement. The confined space is usually dark. It may be argued that, focusing in part on the fact that the boxes will be without light, placement in these boxes would constitute a procedure designed to disrupt profoundly the senses. As we explained in our recent opinion, however, to ‘disrupt profoundly the senses’ a technique must produce an extreme effect in the subject.”
Attention grasp “This technique consists of grasping the individual with both hands, one hand on each side of the collar opening, in a controlled and quick motion. The facial hold and the attention grasp involve no physical pain. In the absence of such pain it is obvious that they cannot be said to inflict severe physical pain or suffering.”
Water dousing “Cold water is poured on the detainee either from a container or from a hose without a nozzle. … The water poured on the detainee must be potable, and the interrogators must ensure that water does not enter the detainee’s nose, mouth, or eyes. Consequently, given that there is no expectation that the technique will cause severe physical pain or suffering when properly used, we conclude that the authorized use of this technique by an adequately trained interrogator could not reasonably be considered specifically intended to cause these results.”
Stress positions “These positions are not designed to produce the pain associated with contortions or twisting of the body. … They are designed to produce the physical discomfort associated with muscle fatigue. Any pain associated with muscle fatigue is not of the intensity sufficient to amount to ‘severe physical pain or suffering’ under the statute, nor, despite its discomfort, can it be said to be difficult to endure.”
Nudity “A detainee may be kept nude, provided that ambient temperatures and the health of the detainee permit. Although some detainees might be humiliated by this technique, especially given possible cultural sensitivities and the possibility of being seen by female officers, it cannot constitute ‘severe mental pain or suffering’ under the statute.”
Dietary manipulation “This technique involves the substitution of commercial liquid meal replacements for normal food, presenting detainees with a bland, unappetizing, but nutritionally complete diet. Although we do not equate a person who voluntarily enters a weight-loss program with a detainee subjected to dietary manipulation as an interrogation technique, we believe that it is relevant that several commercial weight-loss programs available in the United States involve similar or even greater reductions in caloric intake.”
Abdominal slap “In this technique, the interrogator strikes the abdomen of the detainee with the back of his open hand. The interrogator must have no rings or other jewelry on his hand. Although the abdominal slap technique might involve some minor physical pain, it cannot, as you have described it to us, be said to involve even moderate, let alone severe, physical pain or suffering.”
Facial slap “The interrogator slaps the individual’s face with fingers slightly spread. … The purpose of the facial slap is to induce shock, surprise, and/or humiliation. The facial slap and walling contain precautions to ensure that no pain even approaching this level results. … The facial slap does not produce pain that is difficult to endure.”
Waterboarding “This effort plus the cloth produces the perception of ‘suffocation and incipient panic,’ i.e., the perception of drowning. The individual does not breathe any water into his lungs. During those 20 to 40 seconds, water is continuously applied from a height of 12 to 24 inches. … The sensation of drowning is immediately relieved by the removal of the cloth. The procedure may then be repeated. Although the subject may experience the fear or panic associated with the feeling of drowning, the waterboard does not inflict physical pain. … Although the waterboard constitutes a threat of imminent death, prolonged mental harm must nonetheless result to violate the statutory prohibition infliction of severe mental pain or suffering. … Indeed, you have advised us that the relief is almost immediate when the cloth is removed from the nose and mouth. In the absence of prolonged mental harm, no severe mental pain or suffering would have been inflicted, and the use of these procedures would not constitute torture within the meaning of the statute.”
Facial hold “The facial hold is used to hold the head immobile. One open palm is placed on either side of the individual’s face. The fingertips are kept well away from the individual’s eyes. The facial hold and the attention grasp involve no physical pain. In the absence of such pain it is obvious that they cannot be said to inflict severe physical pain or suffering.”
Wall standing “Used to induce muscle fatigue. The individual stands about four to five feet from a wall. … His arms are stretched out in front of him, with his fingers resting on the wall. Any pain associated with muscle fatigue is not of the intensity sufficient to amount to ‘severe physical pain or suffering’ under the statute, nor, despite its discomfort, can it be said to be difficult to endure.”
So the question is whether these techniques are severe. I have to tell you, before I saw this list initially I was expecting some stuff FAR worse than what I see here. The implications given by the MSM were that waterboarding was just one of many horrible things being done. It is clear to me that waterboarding is by far the harshest of the techniques used, hence why it is what is being called out. Not a single one of these techniques causes permanent damage. And it should be noted that the interrogators went as far as to seek permission before doing something as simple as grabbing someone by their collar. My 8th grade shop teacher did that to me several times, and I don’t recall him getting White House approval.
One of the arguments used by officials is the fact that all of these techniques are used in the United States Military S.E.R.E (I will remove the periods now that I have done it correctly at least once) School to US military personnel, so they aren’t torture. After all they wouldn’t torture American soldiers! (However they have let liberals flourish, so that “we wouldn’t torture Americans” claim is out the window.) As you all know, I keep my military background to myself, but let’s just say I know a thing or two about SERE school. They didn’t waterboard there in my time. Maybe they do now. But I can tell you that what they did do in SERE school was worse than what is listed up there. You know why? Because they were preparing soldiers for what every OTHER country would do to them if captured. Anyway…. It is one of the worst schools in the world.
So the bottom line for me, with morality out of the picture, is that I would not define the techniques that are listed above as severe”. I therefore do not deem the techniques above to be torture. I know that some of you will disagree and I am willing to debate the issue. But That is how I see it. I have heard people say that America needs to be real; that “we know what torture looks like and this is it”. I say I DO know what torture looks like, and this doesn’t qualify.
Now that being said, that doesn’t mean that I approve 100% of what has happened. Because while the techniques above don’t look like “torture” to me, an overuse of them might change the tone a bit. KSM was waterboarded 183 times. Zubaydah was waterboarded 87 times. Is this too much? After a while they would get to know the outcome was not going to really hurt them, so I am unsure whether the repetition constitutes torture or a stupid waste of time. I mean if repetition changes the answer, it would have to change the severity, and I don’t think it becomes more severe with repetition.
So let’s take a quick walk down morality lane so that I can give BlackFlag something to harp on. He could find immorality in me pinching myself. Since I don’t define the above actions as torture, are the enhanced interrogation techniques (EIT’s) morally right? Initially I said to myself that there was no way to justify that treatment of someone this way, whether torture or not, cannot be moral. But upon further introspection, I think that maybe they are. IF they were effective in preventing the deaths of hundreds or thousands of innocent people, then I think they are moral given that the guys the EIT’s were used on were confirmed terrorists. So long as the techniques did not result in permanent harm, they were bad people with information about the impending deaths of hundreds of innocent people. I know this might be dipping into the land of moral relativism, so I am open to debate on this. But this is my initial thought.
I will say this. I agree with Obama that America should take the steps to ensure that we hold the moral high ground in regard to treatment of hostile captives. You will notice I did not take the tact that “they cut off our heads so anything goes”. We are a better country than that and should conduct ourselves as such. Perhaps if we did that more often, the rest of the world might not be so critical of what we do.
And that brings me to my next point. If these techniques actually did directly lead to information that stopped pending attacks or exposed other terrorists in waiting, then I think that the memo’s stating so should be released as well. Former VP Cheney referenced such memo’s last week and asked for them to be released as the other side of the issue. If those documents exist there is no reason not to release them. After all, that information would be irrelevant now as the disasters would have already been averted. This being the case would point to the release of the information being purely a political move. And that would lower Obama’s stature in my head even further for blatantly playing games, as he is the one who released them.
And that brings me to the end question. Should members of the administration be prosecuted for the acts by the current lackey, Eric Holder. It is a sad state that we have seen so much back and forth on this issue. The President claims that we aren’t going to look to the past and therefore won’t seek to prosecute. Then silly children in Congress cry like little bitches that they aren’t getting to go after the bad Bush people. And the President and Holder suddenly say Ok maybe we will go after prosecution.
On one hand I say two wrongs don’t make a right. If this is determined to be torture it is clear that the law requires that this be prosecuted. And all the little crying Democrat bitches in Congress and scream with joy and talk about how bad the Republicans are. But if that is the case, then the Republicans should move to have the same treatment applied to the criminals in the Democratic party. Pelosi, Franks, Dodd, Maxine Waters, Geithner, the list goes on and on. It pains me to no end that the same bitches crying in Congress for prosecution may be some of the most crooked people ever to hold the title of Senator or Representative. And this is what I meant by Criminals chasing criminals. Any time that we start hearing about members of the United States Congress calling for the prosecution of ANYONE, we should immediately throw the bullshit flag and assess a 15 yard penalty.
I would take this a step further and demand the prosecution of all criminals in Washington politics, but it is clear that there would be no one left. Not a single blood sucking leech in Congress would remain if we prosecuted all the criminals. The hypocrisy in Washington is thick, so thick a chainsaw couldn’t cut it. And if you don’t think your party in Washington is filled to the brim with criminals, then you are a partisan hack who refuses to see reality. And that applies to BOTH parties. Those of us on this site fall under no such illusion.
I won’t even get into whether releasing the memos was a good idea in terms of national security. People can discuss that if they like, but I could get into another 1,000 words on that one. And I just don’t have time.
So fire away. Are the techniques listed above severe? Is what we are talking about here torture? Should the memos be released that tell us what the results gained were? And should the crooked members of Congress be going after Bush administration officials for prosecution? I look forward to everyone’s thoughts.
You can find the list of techniques I listed above here:Interrogation Techniques – Interactive Graphic – NYTimes.com