September 25, 2006

The Digest of American Torture

Waterboarding: A Prestigious Tradition (scrolling required)

So, who’s right? Is waterboarding torture, or is it merely a stressful psychological technique?

Interestingly, the United States has long since answered that question. Following the end of the Second World War we prosecuted a number of Japanese military and civilian officials for war crimes, including the torture of captured Allied personnel. At one of those trials, United States v. Sawada, here’s how Captain Chase Nielsen, a crew member in the 1942 Doolittle Raid on Japan, described his treatment, when he was captured, (and later tried for alleged war crimes by a Japanese military commission):

Q: What other physical treatment was administered to you at that time?

A: Well, I was given what they call the water cure.

Q: Explain to the Commission what that was.

A: Well, I was put on my back on the floor with my arms and legs stretched out, one guard holding each limb. The towel was wrapped around my face and put across my face and water was poured on. They poured water on this towel until I was almost unconscious from strangulation, then they would let me up until I'd get my breath, then they'd start over again.

Q: What was your sensation when they were pouring water on the towel, what did you physically feel?

A: Well, I felt more or less like I was drowning, just gasping between life and death.

Accountability Is For Losers

Although Section 1003 applies to the CIA, and some of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as "waterboarding"(16) may be outlawed under the legislation,(17) CIA activities remain largely secret and are exempt from new military rules on interrogation when outside a Department of Defense facility (see below). Thus, there is no way of monitoring whether or not they may continue to use interrogation techniques which violate international law.

Disturbingly, the legislation included another amendment (section 1005, also known as the Graham-Levin amendment(18)) which curtailed the right of the Guantánamo detainees to federal habeas corpus review and barred them from seeking review by US federal courts of their treatment or conditions of detention.(19) The amendment also allows evidence obtained by coercion (and therefore, possibly, torture) to be weighed for its probative value by the Combatant Status Review Tribunals in Guantánamo. These measures serve to fundamentally weaken the prohibition against torture or ill-treatment by removing key enforcement mechanisms.

The impact of the Graham-Levin amendment was graphically illustrated when the US government recently sought to have a torture claim brought by a Guantánamo detainee before a federal court thrown out. The detainee sought an injunction from a federal judge to ban "extremely painful" methods of force-feeding which included improper use of a restraint chair and heavy nasal tubing, which his lawyers described as "amounting to torture".(20) During the proceedings, government lawyers reportedly contended that even if the treatment breached the "cruel, inhuman or degrading" ban in the McCain amendment, detainees in Guantánamo had no recourse to the US courts on account of section 1005 (above).(21)

"Whoops, I Think You Killed Him": Keeping the Agony Non-Fatal

The American Civil Liberties Union today made public an analysis of new and previously released autopsy and death reports of detainees held in U.S. facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom died while being interrogated. The documents show that detainees were hooded, gagged, strangled, beaten with blunt objects, subjected to sleep deprivation and to hot and cold environmental conditions.

"There is no question that U.S. interrogations have resulted in deaths," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "High-ranking officials who knew about the torture and sat on their hands and those who created and endorsed these policies must be held accountable. America must stop putting its head in the sand and deal with the torture scandal that has rocked our military."

The documents released today include 44 autopsies and death reports as well as a summary of autopsy reports of individuals apprehended in Iraq and Afghanistan. The documents show that detainees died during or after interrogations by Navy Seals, Military Intelligence and "OGA" (Other Governmental Agency) -- a term, according to the ACLU, that is commonly used to refer to the CIA.

Spreading More Than Democracy

Bodies found in the Baghdad morgue "often bear signs of severe torture", said the human rights office of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq in a report.

The wounds confirmed reports given by refugees from Iraq, Mr Nowak said.

He told journalists at a briefing in Geneva that he had yet to visit Iraq, but he was able to base his information on autopsies and interviews with Iraqis in neighbouring Jordan.

"What most people tell you is that the situation as far as torture is concerned now in Iraq is totally out of hand," the Austrian law professor said.

"The situation is so bad many people say it is worse than it has been in the times of Saddam Hussein," he added.

Do It For Machiavelli

"The Bush Administration has adopted exactly the right posture on the matter. Candor and consistency are not always public virtues. Torture is a crime against humanity, but coercion is an issue that is rightly handled with a wink, or even a touch of hypocrisy; it should be banned but also quietly practiced. Those who protest coercive methods will exaggerate their horrors, which is good: it generates a useful climate of fear. It is wise of the President to reiterate U.S. support for international agreements banning torture, and it is wise for American interrogators to employ whatever coercive methods work. It is also smart not to discuss the matter with anyone."[17]

This appears to be exactly what the Bush Administration did. "We now know that at the highest levels of the Pentagon there was a shocking interest in using torture and a misguided attempt to evade the criminal consequences of doing so," said Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth. But, Roth added, "[i]f [the Pentagon's] legal advice were accepted, dictators worldwide would be handed a ready-made excuse to ignore one of the most basic prohibitions of international human rightslaw."[18]

Legal Advisors Say Torture "a Go"

Torture is allowed as part of President Bush’s "ultimate authority" as commander in chief, and neither treaty obligations nor existing congressional statutes can stop him (or those acting on his orders) from torturing if he believes it is necessary. That’s what two high-level legal memoranda prepared by the White House counsel and a special Defense Department working group have concluded.

Meet the Killjoys: Kimmons Edition

I am absolutely convinced [that] no good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tell us that. . . . Moreover, any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress, through the use of abusive techniques, would be of questionable credibility, and additionally it would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. And we can't afford to go there.

Some of our most significant successes on the battlefield have been -- in fact, I would say all of them, almost categorically all of them, have accrued from expert interrogators using mixtures of authorized humane interrogation practices in clever ways, that you would hope Americans would use them, to push the envelope within the bookends of legal, moral and ethical, now as further refined by this field manual.

We don't need abusive practices in there. Nothing good will come from them.

Meet the Killjoys: Powell Edition

I just returned to town and learned about the debate taking place in Congress to redefine Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. I do not support such a step and believe it would be inconsistent with the McCain amendment on torture which I supported last year.

I have read the powerful and eloquent letter sent to you by one my [sic] distinguished predecessors as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Jack Vessey. I fully endorse in tone and tint his powerful argument. The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk.

I am as familiar with The Armed Forces Officer as is Jack Vessey. It was written after all the horrors of World War II and General George C. Marshall, then Secretary of Defense, used it to tell the world and to remind our soldiers of our moral obligations with respect to those in our custody.

Posted by Jared at September 25, 2006 02:21 PM | TrackBack