Monday, September 17, 2007

The Maiden Returns

I've been gone for three weeks. I needed the time off. Wading neck-deep in the literature of torture--memoirs of torture survivors, psychological profiles of torturers, clandestine torture operations of governments (democractic and otherwise), medical descriptions of the lifelong after-effects of torture, descriptions of torture techniques--makes me feel filthy and exhausted after awhile, and I simply have to get away to recover some equilibrium.

Torture survivors don't have that kind of luxury. They stay in the torture cell long after its actual door has swung open. They endure their torture to the end of their days. There's no vacation from it.
So I'm humbled that I, who have never been tortured, have so little psychological and physical stamina that I must periodically retreat from a blog where I merely write about torture. But so it is.
At any rate, I'm back, with more resolve than ever to help others comprehend what a brutal thing torture's malfiguration of self and society is.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Saturday at the Movies

A new weekly feature: movies on Saturday!
This week, a clip of Rev. Lennox Yearwood's speech earlier this summer against torture and The Decider's abuse of civil liberties. The occasion was a rally hosted by the Hip Hop Caucus, Amnesty International, and the ACLU. Yearwood, a peace activist, heads up the Hip Hop Caucus.
"We're in a state of emergency. We must come together as human beings fighting for justice. If we don't stand up now, seven years into the 21st century, there will be no 22nd century," says the good Rev, and he calls on hip hop youth to step up and get involved in the struggle against torture. Inspiring words.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Another Bad Apple

Sgt. Jerrod M. Glass of the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot has been charged with abuse of abusing boots under his command. No one who's ever gone through basic training will be terribly surprised at this story of recruit torture. The abuse that US military recruits go through is designed to tear down their wills and identities. Basic training is a malfiguration of self. Sound familiar?

Wonder how long it'll take the Marine Corps to denounce Sgt. Glass as a lone ranger...

Padilla and Perverse Justice

Lindsay Beyerstein, freelance progressive journalist and author of the blog Majikthise, has just published an In These Times piece on Jose Padilla and enhanced interrogation entitled "Perverse Justice."

Many pundits hailed the August 16 conviction of Jose Padilla on conspiracy charges as a victory for civil liberties and the rule of law. The trial, according to them, proved that a suspected terrorist could be successfully prosecuted in the civilian legal system—something the government had initially insisted was impossible.

However, Padilla’s case raises troubling questions about whether there can be fair trials for detainees who have been held in military prisons for extended periods of time and subjected to coercive techniques designed to destroy their sense of agency and instill dependence and trust in their interrogators.

Read the entire article here. Good stuff.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bush Delendum Est

Wishing to provide "a broader context" for staying the course in Iraq, the Decider will shortly make a speech to Kansas City VFWers in which he'll claim that we're up to our necks in terrorists now because we cut and ran in Vietnam then. He'll say that Iraq will go to hell in a handbasket, just like Vietnam did (sic), if US military forces withdraw. And just for good measure, he'll invoke Japan as an example of a country that found its way to democracy because of US military occupation (huh?).

Sixty-four percent of Americans oppose the war. Seventy-two percent say that they'll continue to oppose it even if next month General Petraeus reports (which he won't) that the surge has been successful.
Honest to God. Why do we bother to call ourselves a democracy?

How Do I Torture Thee? Let Me Count the Ways...

Methods of Torture in the Late Twentieth & Early Twenty-First Centuries

(From Edward Peters, Torture, pp. 169-170)

I've highlighted those techniques we know have been used by US interrogators (military, criminal, civil, and intelligence) since WWII. There may be other techniques used for which we have no documentation.

Somatic Tortures

Beating: punching, kicking, striking with truncheons, rifle butts, jumping on the stomach

Falanga: beating the soles of the feet with rods

Finger torture: pencil placed between victim's fingers, which are then pressed together violently

Telephono: the torturer strikes with his flat hand at a victim's ear, imitating a telephone receiver, producing rupture of the tympanic membrane; telephono may also consist of blows delivered against a helmet worn by the victim

Electricity: probing with pointed electrodes; cattle prods; shock batons; metal grids, metal beds to which victims are tied; the dragon's chair, an electric chair used in Brazil

Burning: with lighted cigarettes, cigars, electrically heated rods, hot oil, acid, quicklime; roasting on a red-hot grill; byt he rubbing of pepper or other chemical substances upon mucous membranes, or acids and spices directly on wounds

Submarino: the submersion of the victims head in water (often filthy water) until on the brink of suffocation (US readers: sound familiar?)

Dry submarino: the victim's head is covered by a plastic bag or blanket, or the mouth and nostrils gagged until the point of suffocation is reached

Suspension in mid-air: victim is suspended with knees bent over a metal rod and tied tightly to wrists

Prolonged assumption of forced and stressful positions of body

Prolonged standing

Traction alopecia: the pulling out of hair

The forcible extraction of nails

Rape and sexual assaults

Insertion of foreign bodies into vagina or rectum

Operating Table: table to which victim is strapped, either for being forcibly stretched, or secured only below the lower back, necessitating victim's supporting his or her own weight that is off the table

Exposure to cold: submission in cold air or water

Deprivation of water: providing only soiled, salty, or soapy water

Forced consmption of spoiled or deliberately heavily spiced food

Dental torture: forced extraction of teeth

Psychological Torture

Witnessing the torture sessions of others: relatives, children

Threats made to witness the torture of others

Sham executions

Sleep deprivation

Continuous exposure to light

Solitary confinement

Incommunicado (being held without any human communication)

Total sensory deprivation

Conditions of detention


Shame-infliction: stripping naked; forced participation in or witnessing of sexual activity

Pharmacological Torture

Enforced application of psychotropic drugs

Enforced application of nerve stimulants: histamines; aminazine; trifluoro perazine-stelazine

Enforced injection of faecal matter

Enforced ingestion of sulphur or poison
Photo: Vietcong suspect being subjected to field submarino by US interrogators

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Maiden Stands Corrected

A Question for Torture Apologists

"If patriotism has to precipitate us into dishonor; if there is no precipice of inhumanity over which nations and men will not throw themselves; then why in fact do we go to so much trouble to become, or to remain, human?"

Jean-Paul Sartre, Preface to Henri Alleg's La Question

Monday, August 20, 2007

A Question for the Lawyers

Here's what puzzles me. As I've argued in an earlier post, the use of "enhanced interrogation" techniques, although approved by President Bush, violates international law, US constitutional law, and civil law. Yet the nation's legal beagles seem not to have noticed--or, if they have noticed, seem not to care very much. So torturers get impunity, and the law is ignored.

But just today, charges were dropped against Lt. Col. Stephen Jordan, commander of the Joint Interrogation Briefing Center at Abu Ghraib, who lied on at least two counts when he denied knowing what was going on at the prison. The charges were dropped on a legal technicality: nobody read Jordan his rights prior to the testimony in which he lied. In this case, the law is scrupulously followed--as it should be, by the way--and in being followed, it lets a torturer off the hook.
That's what I find puzzling. When it comes to international and constitutional law forbidding torture, we don't seem to give a damn. When it comes to a criminal suspect's Miranda rights, we follow the straight and narrow as if the entire legal system depended on it. What's the difference? Why the one, but not the other?

Torture in the News

Lead Story
Convicted "terrorist" Jose Padilla may be permanently damaged by US enhanced interrogation techniques.

Other Torture News

The Uganda Human Rights Commission orders the Ugandan government to compensate two victims of illegal detention and torture. An international legal precedent for Guantanamo suits...?

"Because of its power and global interest U.S. leaders have committed crimes as a matter of course and structural necessity. A strict application of international law would have given every U.S. president of the past 50 years Nuremberg treatment." (Edward Herman, Z Magazine, Dec.1999, p.38) Ethiopian columnist Tesfaye H.H. agrees. reports the discovery of an insurgent "torture house" near Mahmudiya A few "wire whips" and a "short handled maul" were the give-away. Sounds a bit flimsy--the Pentagon wants to document insurgent atrocities in the worst way--so the Maiden will keep an eye on whether this story develops.

In Sydney, Australia, a man named Saleh Jamal has been sentenced to a prison term for a gangland shooting. His story is unremarkable except for the account he gave during his trial of being tortured by Syrian and Lebanese authorities during an earlier imprisonment in Lebanon.

Following the revelation that American psychologists have participated in US-sponsored torture, and responding in part to an ACLU call, the 148,000-member American Psychological Association bans members from taking part in over a dozen "interrogation" techniques, but stops short of a complete ban on all techniques. The APA is the largest professional organization in the mental health field. Now, what about the American Medical Association?

Guantanamo prisoner Omar Deghayes, who also happens to be a British citizen, alleges that he and others are tortured by US guards and interrogators. Deghayes charges are made in testimony to an attorney seeking his release.

In her recent New Yorker piece on CIA torture tactics, Jane Mayer mentions an International Committee of the Red Cross report on the US interrogation of prisoners at CIA "black sites." University of Toledo law professor Benjamin Davis calls for the public release of the report.

Torturers are nothing if not inventive. The Pakistan Supreme Court has ordered an investigation into allegations that cops recently forced suspects in a robbery case to strip naked and bite one another "in a replay of traditional dog-and-bear fight — a common sport in some parts of the country."

Chicago's finest have a sorry history of torturing criminal suspects. The latest chapter revolves around allegations that James Andrews, convicted of a couple of murders in 1984, confessed under torture.

Alas. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been corrupted by the CIA. Released documents indicate that the RCMP cooperated with US authorities in the 2002 extraordinary rendition and subsequent torture of Maher Arar. Arar, a Canadian citizen, was kidnapped in New York City during a flight stop and whisked off to Syria. His lawsuit against the US was dismissed in 2006 on national security grounds.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Torture Expands

One thing that makes torture (aka "enhanced interrogation") palatable to so many of us is that it's so far away. It's done in distant (psychologically, if not geographically) places to people who are on the margins of respectable society anyway: terrorists, enemies of the state, thugs, criminals, bad people who want to hurt us.

Now, there's some truth in that. As a general rule, people who are marginalized--who are relatively unempowered socially, politically, and economically--are the most likely victims of torture. Like all general rules, this one isn't written in stone. Mainstream intellectuals and clergy, for example, were frequently targeted by fascists in Central America and Soviets in the USSR. But in large part, torture focuses on the marginalized, partly because they're easy targets, partly because it's easier to get away with torturing people about whom society-at-large doesn't give much of a shit anyway.
So far, so good--at least if you're a respectable member of society. But here's the thing: when it comes to torture, what counts as marginal is fluid. Standards shift, especially in times of war or crisis, and the class of people who are perceived as marginal and hence torturable tends to expand.
This tendency in torturing societies to widen the circle of those who may be tortured with impunity is observable, for example, in imperial Rome. Initially, the torturable class was limited to slaves charged with crimes. Then the shift occurred: slaves could be tortured both as defendants and witnesses. Then, another shift: freemen were also deemed torturable, but only when being interrogated for suspicion of treason. And then the circle expanded even more: freeman could be tortured as both defendants and witnesses in any number of criminal cases. By the fourth century, torture was a common practice, both in interrogation and in punishment.
A similar expansion occurred in Christian Europe. Although condemning torture in the late fourth century, the Church opened the door for the torture of heretics--those on the religious margins--in 1252, and the insidious expansion began again. From the mid-thirteenth to the late eighteenth century, torture was common in both criminal interrogation and punishment, and social class was no guarantee of immunity.
Torturability expands. That's the tendency. Illiterate, crazy, hate-filled "ragheads" are tortured today (we like to think). But when the torture circle widens, as it probably will (as it already has, for all we know) who'll be next? Muslim clerics? Muslim intellectuals? Anglo-Saxon dissidents? American citizens? All that's needed to qualify is to be perceived as a threat by a powerful government and a scared nation. This gets you an immediate transfer from the homeland of respectability to the hinterlands of marginality. And in that forlorn and desolate place, torture happens.
Edward Peters' Torture is a good source for the historical expansion of torture.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Silence of the Peaceniks

Here's a curious thing. Until the scandal at Abu Ghraib broke, voices denouncing torture in the US peace community were far and few between.* There was School of the Americas Watch and TASSC (God bless 'em!), but that was about it--

  • despite the fact that both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch regularly document the widespread use of torture throughout the world;
  • despite the fact that torture inevitably accompanies war, and continues after war has ended;
  • despite the fact that the malfiguration inflicted by torture is at least as grave a wrong as the destruction wrought by warfare;
  • despite the fact that torture makes no distinction between combatants and noncombatants;
  • despite the fact that torture, unlike war, has been unequivocally condemned by the UN;
  • despite the fact that no reputable ethicist or policy wonk has dared to publicly defend a "just torture" position;
  • despite the fact that torture, like war, accomplishes nothing useful or fruitful;
  • and despite the fact that the CIA has tortured or condoned torture with the tacit approval of ever US President since WWII.
Why this silence? Ignorance? Indifference?
Probably not the latter, and not quite the former. Denial might be more of an explanation. Prior to Abu Ghraib, most of us, even those most critical of US militarism, were in denial. Our vision of the US just didn't allow for the possibility that we--as opposed to the sordid little juntas and regimes we supported--actually twisted the bodies and minds of fellow humans in torture chambers. That wasn't the American way, and so it simply wasn't on the radar. Even suggesting the possibility seemed too ridiculous to take seriously. Why ruin what thin credibility the peace movement had with an already suspicious American public by making wild, chicken little allegations about torture?
Looking back--and I've been a member of the peace community that I'm criticizing for over 30 years, and so am implicated up to my eyeballs in its silence--this naivete seems incredible. The ugly facts really were there for us to see, and other nations certainly weren't as blind to them as we. But for the most part, we just couldn't or wouldn't take notice of them. Even now, too many of us in the peace community would like to keep torture as a sidebar issue. Just the other day, an acquaintance of mine worried that it was a "distraction" from the "real issue" of war--as if the two can really be separated.
But that's ridiculous. It's time for a change. It's time for the US peace community to affirm that torture is a big box item. It's time to end the silence.
*In my library, for example, I have over 1,000 volumes on just peacemaking, nonviolent conflict resolution, war and peace, and so on. Fewer than 1% of those published before 2005 even mention torture.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Marc Ash of "Truthout" Interviews Fr. Louis Vitale

Nine weeks ago I wrote about the showdown at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, between the US military and Fathers Louis Vitale and Steve Kelly. The Roman Catholic priests (Franciscan and Jesuit, respectively) were arrested for a November 2006 peaceful protest against military intelligence (sic) training, headquartered at For Huachuca, which teaches "enhanced interrogation" methods. The charge against them is federal trespassing. Their trial began in early June. They are two dangerous hombres.

Father Louis Vitale is featured in this Truthout video-interview and accompanying news story. The interview, an excellent discussion of torture techniques used by US interrogation teams, was conducted by TO Executive Director Marc Ash. The feature story was written by TO staffer Sari Gelzer.
By the way: if you don't get a good feel from the video-interview of why Fr. Vitale is a dangerous hombre who needs to be locked up, take a look at this threatening article he wrote.

Bush delendum est: Impeach The Decider

A poll by the American Research Group finds that 45% of Americans favor impeachment proceedings against The Decider, and 54% favor impeachment proceedings against the Vice (and we do mean "vice") President. Let me count the reasons: illegal and unnecessary war-making, violation of constitutional and criminal law, erosion of civil liberties, disregard for due process, etc. etc.
Bill Moyers and Constitutional expert Bill Fein discuss it all in Bill Moyers' Journal.
Thanks to Mad Melancholic Feminista for alerting me to this!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Good Resource on Torture

Born in 1918, Ella Mazel has been compiling material about torture--its meaning, purpose, technique, morality, victims, perpetrators, and consequences--for nearly half a century. Two years ago, she cyber-published the results of her work. Her book is entitled Not in My Name!: A collection of quotes on the past, present, and future of the practice of torture. It's an invaluable resource, and deserves wider recognition than it's received.
Here's one of the passages Ms. Mazel quotes. It's from George Ryley Scott's 1940 The History of Torture Throughout the Ages. It seems especially pertinent today.

"War and torture are bedmates. . . . When once a war breaks out, torture may be recognized as an inevitable concomitant. Even if the governments concerned ostensibly denounce and prohibit torture, it occurs nevertheless. There is no way in which bodies of men or individuals can be prevented from surreptitiously practising torture upon such of their enemies as fall into their power where licence to kill and maim has been freely given."

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Torturespeak and Language Rules

Language is uncanny, especially when it's manipulated by people with evil intent and uneasy consciences. In an earlier post on torturespeak, I referred to Marguerite Feitlowitz's brilliant observation that torturers rip "benign domestic nouns" from their normal contexts and appropriate them as descriptions of their own disgusting practices. Torturers in Latin America, for example, took the ordinary word "disappear" and gave it an entirely new and sinister meaning.

So torturers can demonize ordinary language. But they can also use language as a shield that hides the demonic nature of their actions. As I argued in yesterday's post, they sometimes use language that neutralizes the horror of what they do. "Torture," for example, becomes "enhanced interrogation." Once again, ordinary, benign, domestic words are appropriated. Torturers malfigure language as well as bodies and spirits.
In her Eichmann in Jerusalem, which I've referred to on several occasions in this blog, Hannah Arendt notes that the Nazis in charge of the "final solution" invented an entire lexicon of neutralization to shield their real intentions. They adopted a "language rule" (Sprachregelung) which generally banished "bald words" (or, as Feitlowitz might put it, "malignant" ones) such as "extermination," "liquidation, or even "killing," and replaced them with neutral code words: "evacuation" (Aussiedlung), "special treatment" (Sonderbehandlung), "resettlement" (Umsiedlung), "labor in the East" (Arbeitseinsatz im Osten). Arendt perceptively notes that "The net effect of this language system was not to keep these people ignorant of what they were doing, but to prevent them from equating it with their old, 'normal' knowledge of murder and lies." (Chapter VI)
This is a powerful insight. The language rule of torturers that neutralizes language is motivated by the fact that what torturers do is utterly unacceptable, both to themselves and to the public, if it's equated with the ordinary meaning of "torture." Psychotic child molesters kidnap, torture, and rape. Drunken, abusive husbands torture. Leering, scar-faced, monocle-wearing Nazi sadists torture. Saddam Hussein and Idi Amin torture. How could any nation accept, much less condone, this kind of behavior as its own? How could torturers, at least the ones who aren't completely insane, accept this as their professional description?
So a torturing nation shifts into linguistic neutralization. We don't torture. They, the enemy, the bad guys, are the ones who torture. All we do is interrogate in enhanced ways. And even if at times our interrogation can get a bit "rough," all that really means is just enough discomfort to the prisoner to persuade him to tell us what we need to know. And if things do get out of hand, and circumstances force us to publicly confess that torture, not enhanced interrogation, really took place, we have two separate modes of neutralization to fall back on. Either the torture was accidental, performed by misguided individuals and not condoned by officialdom; or the torture was tragically necessary to protect tens of thousands of Americans in the Homeland. In the first case, the torture is neutralized by reducing it the same status as child molestation: the work of a single, fucked-up loner. In the second case, the torture is neutralized by appealing, with regret, to a greater good: sometimes the noble thing to do is dirty one's hands for the good of one's country.
Curious, that we're so adept at spotting and condemning another culture's Sprachregelung, but so blind to our own. Perhaps such deception is a necessary survival tactic. But this doesn't make it any less disgusting.
Photo credit: "Book Burning," Joe Moorman.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Neutralizing the Language of Murder and Torture

The expression "collateral damage," beloved by military types, is a neutralizing reference to the act of violently killing innocent noncombatants. Sometimes the infliction of "collateral damage" is accidental, as when a so-called smart bomb lands off-target. Sometimes it's intentional, as when a military target is hit with the full knowledge that, because of their proximity, noncombatants will die. But in either case, "collateral damage" is a weasel expression designed to neutralize the brutal state of affairs to which it refers: the murder of innocent people.

The expression "enhanced interrogation," beloved by Bushite bureaucrats and pseudo-patriots, is another neutralizing term. It refers to torture: the physical and psychological abuse of persons, the malfiguration of their identities, the breaking of their wills and the collapsing of their spirits, the infliction of wounds that will cripple them for the rest of their lives. It is a weasel expression designed to neutralize the brutal state of affairs to which it refers: the intentional and orchestrated destruction of another human being.
People who use these sorts of neutralizing references have uneasy consciences. They try to hide bitter reality by covering it over with pink linguistic icing. But this kind of dissimulation is disgusting. Slain and maimed noncombatants are not accidentally damaged items. Waterboarding, sensory overload, sleep deprivation, stress positioning, isolation: these are not innocent ways of asking questions.
Verbal neutralization of horrible deeds is a sign of cultural decay, reminiscent of expressions like "final solution" and "cultural revolution."

Thursday, August 9, 2007

From the Why-Do-I-Even-Bother? Department

I use a software program that tells me the keywords used in internet searches that bring visitors to this blog as well as which posts are most heavily visited. (Don't worry: it doesn't divulge identities of visitors, although it does tell me what part of the world you come from.)

Here's the single most trafficked post in the whole blog. The most common search keywords that bring visitors to this site include "torture fucks," "torturing and fucking maidens," "sex and torture," "handcuffs shackles" and "fucks+tortures."
I could've gone all day without learning this.

Why US Torturers Get Away With It

"Enhanced interrogation"--or as Bush's legal beagle John Yoo puts it, questioning that falls short of maiming or murdering (Yoo is also the guy who opines that, if it came to it, the President has legal authority to torture a child)--is a euphemism for torture. Torture violates both constitutional and criminal law. Thus "enhanced interrogation" violates both constitutional and criminal law.
The syllogism is simple. But US torturers are getting away with torture. Nobody but a handful of underlings have been prosecuted for the Abu Ghraib debacle. Guantanamo excesses continue. The CIA continues interrogating at black sites, outsourcing its interrogations to regimes known for having their "ways of making people talk," and blithely ignoring standards of decency. All of this is done with the President's knowledge and approval--and, you can bet, with the knowledge and approval of a lot of his lieutenants in the White House, State Department, and Justice Department, as well as the intelligence and military establishments.
So why aren't Bush & Co. in jail? Can you say "legal loopholes"?

1. Military Commissions Act (2006). Since early 2002, Bush administration officials have feared that they could face legal prosecution for their approval of torture. So President Bush included a provision in the Military Commissions Act, the infamous law rushed through Congress to circumvent the US Supreme Court's decision that struck down Bush's flaunting of the Geneva Conventions, that retroactively decriminalized any act of torture committed before the end of 2005. Critics have referred to this as a "stealth pardon" granted by the legislation to both President Bush and all his associates (a unique instance of a sitting President issuing a presidential pardon for himself). Along the way, of course, it also nullified habeas corpus, granted the President the omniscience-assuming right to jail anyone he designates an enemy combatant, and continued to defend enhanced interrogation--thereby, according to Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) "setting the [human rights] clock back 800 years." As Press Secretary Tony Snow let slip in mid-October 2006, the Military Commissions Act makes Bush the "final arbiter on torture."

2. US v Verdugo-Urquidez (1990). So the Military Commissions Act decriminalizes torture committed up to the end of 2005, and President George "Final Arbiter of Torture" Bush has basically guaranteed that any subsequent torture will be decriminalized as well by not being officially recognized as torture. But can torture victims sue him and his pals for civil damages?

Under normal circumstances, individuals are unable to bring civil suits against the US government or any of its federal officials or agencies. This is the "doctrine of sovereign immunity." But one of the exceptions to immunity is constitutional violations. If the constitutional rights of an individual have been violated, they may still, despite the doctrine of sovereign immunity, file civil suit against the offending federal employee. If the employee is found guilty, damages are out of his or her pocket.

This possibility of personal liability was intended to deter federal employees from abusing their power, and it's pretty much worked with the FBI, whose legal domain is limited to domestic investigations. But the CIA (for example) legally operates outside the US. Are its employees similarly liable?

Apparently not. In US v Verdugo-Urguidez, which focused on a Drug Enforcement Agency's warrantless seizure of a Mexican drug lord's papers, the Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment doesn't apply to the search and seizure by US agents of property owned by non-resident aliens and located in foreign countries. So long as CIA agents or contractees use "enhanced interrogation" on aliens in foreign countries, they work with civil impunity. While it's true that in another decision, Rasul v Bush (2004), the Supreme Court ruled that some Guantanamo detainees had habeas corpus rights, Rasul v Bush doesn't overrule US v Verdugo-Urguidez, because the 2004 ruling was made in part on the understanding that Guantanamo, leased as it is from Cuba, is de facto US, not foreign, territory. The Court found for Rasul only because the second necessary condition of US v Verdugo-Urguidez was violated.

3. Sosa v Alvarez-Machain (2003). But wait a minute. There's always the Federal Tort Claims Act (FACTA) to fall back on, isn't there? Enacted in 1946, FACTA permits private individuals actually to sue the US itself because of actions committed by individuals working on behalf of the US. So if a US-employed CIA agent tortures you, or if the US-employed CIA agent outsources the torture to a third party, you can sue the US. FACTA allows for a waiver of sovereign immunity. Now we're getting somewhere, right?
Wrong. In Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, the Supreme Court ruled that actions carried out on foreign soil by US agents on behalf of the US government aren't subject to the FACTA waiver of immunity. Once again, CIA agents or their contractees are exempt from civil liability.
And that's how they get away with it. Despite Supreme Court rulings that torture is criminal, legal loopholes--the Military Commission Act's blanket pardon, the denial of constitutional rights to aliens on foreign soil, and the protection of US agents from civil prosecution--allow torture to continue. When you factor in the national paranoia about terrorist enemies within and without and the American public's apparent willingness to swallow the Bush Administration's disingenuous claim that enhanced interrogation isn't really torture, the outlook is bleak.
Two very good resources for exploring the legal discussions of US torture are Karen Greenberg's The Torture Debate in America and chapter 4 of Jennifer Harbury's Truth, Torture, and the American Way. Both were published prior to the Military Commissions Act. Michael Otterman's more recent American Torture discusses the latter.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Why Bush & Co. Are Criminals

"The soldiers at the bottom of the chain are taking the heat for Abu Ghraib and torture around the world, while the guys at the top who made the policies are going scott free. That's simply not right."

Scott Brody, Special Counsel, Human Rights Watch

It's genuinely astounding, this game the US government is playing with the American public. Everyone in the nation either knows or should know--the documentation is available for the asking--that "enhanced interrogation" is sanctioned by the President and all his underlings. Everyone also knows that "enhanced interrogation" is a thin euphemism for torture. Whenever a government official uses the term, it's always with a wink and a nudge. We're not really deceived by the term, and they know we're not really deceived. But so long as no one breaks the rules of this cynical game by actually uttering the torture word, so long as we all continue to make nice by loudly proclaiming that torture isn't The American Way, we can continue the charade. We can pretend that state-sponsored and public-sanctioned enhanced interrogation isn't torture, and that when torture does happen, it's the act of individual goons acting on their own.
It's time to end the game. Torture is sanctioned at the highest level, and torture is criminal. The American public is complicitous in this crime--guilty after the fact, if you will, by not denouncing torture and removing those officials responsible for it--and this complicity calls for justice. But more immediately, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George Tenet, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, and Major General Geoffrey Miller--and this is only the first echalon of felons--should be prosecuted, convicted, and punished. They are criminals. They ordered torture at Abu Ghraib. They denied their own complicity. They have continued the policy of torture since Abu Ghraib.
In doing so, they have at least violated:

1. Article VI of the United States Constitution: "This Constitution and the laws of the United States shall be made in pursuance thereof and all treaties made or which shall be made under the authority of the United States shall be the supreme law of the land. Any provision of an international treaty ratified by the United States becomes the law of the United States."

  • The US is a signatory to the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." (Art. 5)
  • The US endorses the 1949 Geneva Convention which prohibits the torture of any prisoner, whether a formal prisoner of war, a saboteur, or a resistance fighter in a civil war.
  • The US approved the 1975 UN Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture.
  • The US agreed to the 1992 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. (Art. 7) This provision is non-derogable--cannot be suspended--even "during time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation."
  • The US signed onto the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture.

2. Ashcraft v State of Tennessee (1944), in which the US Supreme Court overturned a murder conviction based on a confession extracted under torture. Chief Justice Hugo Black wrote the decision that banned coercive interrogations:

"The Constitution of the United States stands as a bar against the conviction of any individual in an American court by means of a coerced confession. There have been, and are now, certain foreign nations with governments dedicated to an opposite policy: governments which convict individuals with testimony obtained by police organizations possessed of an unrestrained power to seize persons suspected of crimes against the state, hold them in secret custody, and wring from them confessions by physical or mental torture. So long as the Constitution remains the basic law of our Republic, America will not have that kind of government."
3. Columbe v Connecticut (1961), in which the US Supreme Court reaffirmed the ban on coerced confessions and stated that "neither the body nor the mind may be twisted until it breaks."

4. Filartiga v Pena-Irala (1980), in which the Second Circuit Court ruled that "Turning to the act of torture, we have little difficulty discerning its universal renunciation in the modern practice and usage of nations."

5. Hudson v McMillian (1992), in which the US Supreme Court ruled against the sadistic disciplining of prisoners.

6. Hope v Pelzer (2002), in which the US Supreme Court ruled that the "unnecessary infliction of pain" upon prisoners is "both degrading and dangerous," and furthermore ruled that guards inflicting such pain have no legal immunity.

Why, then, aren't the multiple violations of Article VI and Supreme and Circuit Court rulings being prosecuted? Why aren't Bush & Co. behind bars? Tomorrow's post explores this question. Some previews: US v Verdugo-Urquidez, Sosa v Alvarez-Machain, and the Military Commissions Act. Oh, yeah. And public indifference.

"The official position of defendants, whether as heads of state or responsible officials in government departments, shall not be considered as freeing them from responsibility or mitigating punishment."
Nuremberg Charter, Art. 7

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Torture in the News

Top Stories

A victory for School of the Americas/Assassins Watch. The House of Representatives has approved a report accompanying the FY 2008 Defense Appropriations bill that demands the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC) release to the public the names of all students and instructors who attended the school during the fiscal years of 2005 and 2006. The directive also requires that the same information be available to the public in all future fiscal years.
In the report accompanying HR 3222, the fiscal year 2008 Defense Appropriations bill, the committee declares:

The Committee supports the mandate of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation to be a transparent and democratic institution. To promote such transparency and democratic values, the Committee directs the Institute to release to the public the names of all students and instructors at the Institute for fiscal years 2005 and 2006. The list shall include all names, including but not limited to the first, middle, and maternal and paternal surnames, rank, country of origin, courses taken or taught, and years of attendance. In all future fiscal years, this same information shall be made available and provided to the public no later than 60 days after the end of each fiscal year.


The New Yorker reports that al-Qaeda lieutenant and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was tortured at a "black site" following his 2003 capture. The CIA, of course, responds by saying "the United States does not conduct or condone torture." This and more on the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" practices in Jane Mayer's "The Black Sites."

Also in the News

The Los Angeles Times editorializes on the duplicity of the Bush Administration's denial of torture. Meanwhile, the Vero Beach Press-Journal criticizes what it calls the "sort of against torture" policy of the White House.

Bisher al-Rawi and other victims of extraordinary rendition sue Boeing, the parent company of the private airline chartered to fly al-Rawi to imprisonment and torture. The experience, says al-Rawi, was "horrific beyond words."

The Muslim Brotherhood accuses Cairo police of torturing and disappearing three of their members. The Egyptian Interior Ministry refused to comment, but Egypt has a notorious torture record, so the accusation is credible on the surface. The Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist international organization, publicly denounces violence but has been implicated in several terrorist actions. Elsewhere in Egypt, in the Nile Delta village of Tilbanah, local cops have been accused of torturing Nasr Amed Abdallah to death.

Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler denounces rape as torture in the Congo, where rape, forced amputation, murder, and lawlessness, despite a 2003 peace agreement, continue.

Torture victim Clement Abaifouta reflects on Chad's "African Pinochet," ousted dictator Hissene Habre's, reign of terror.

Azerbaijani officials announce a criminal investigation into allegations that Baku cops tortured two criminal suspects. Given Azerbaijan's poor human rights record, it's not clear how genuine the investigation will be.

A senior police official in India's Tripura district has been suspended for torturing a criminal suspect while interrogating him. "The police official pierced pins in my nail and thrust chilli powder inside my anus and penis, besides the nose. Then he beat me for the whole night using a thorny branch," Kamal Acharjee, the victim, told journalists at a hospital.

Ten years after his torture by New York City cops, Haitian immigrant Abner Louima reflects on police brutality.

Monday, August 6, 2007

We Are Hibakusha

Please take some time today, August 6, and Thursday, August 9, to remember the terrible atomic killings that took place on these dates in 1945. An estimated 140,000 people died from the blast in Hiroshima, and another 70,000 in Nagasaki.

Survivors of the blasts are called "hibakusha"--literally, "explosion-affected people." But the term could also be used to describe all survivors of military-inflicted violence, including torture victims.
It also includes all of us, who live in a world forever changed by August 6 and 9, 1945. We are all explosion-affected people. We are hibakusha.
Photo: the sunflower is the international symbol for a nuclear-free world.

"Every country has its own way of torturing people..."

When we were kids, my sister and I went through a (thankfully) short period of fighting like cats and dogs. Its physical expression never got beyond the occasional slap or pinch, because my parents quickly laid down the law: no physical contact. None. Period. Use words. Be nice.
ut my sister and I soon figured out a second-best alternative. We went through a spell of psychologically slapping each other. We deliberately bugged the hell out of one another by tauntingly getting in each other's face (but scrupulously avoiding physical touch), playing music too loudly, hiding cherished items, defacing homework, reading each other's diary, and so on. Pretty childish stuff, in the grand scheme of things, but significant for this reason: it was a premeditated assault, a deliberate infliction of pain that scrupulously stayed within the letter of the law (no physical contact!) while ruthlessly violating its spirit (be nice).

I suppose we expect this kind of behavior from kids. But we oughtn't to tolerate it from adults, and we certainly oughtn't to let our governments get away with it. Yet this is what's going on in the US today when it comes to torture. Our officials point to the genuinely horrific physical torture practiced by repressive regimes--Saddam Hussein's Iraq or Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe--and innocently insist that because we don't chop off fingers or gouge out eyes, we don't torture.
But this is innocence in the technical letter-of-the-law sense, because we do use techniques that are the grown-up analog to the juvenile psych ops my sister and I tried out on each other. The method of torture preferred by the US is one that minimizes physical contact and focuses instead on psychological abuse--a beating, as it were, that leaves no telltale bruises. As Rustam Akhmiarov, a Russian detainee who spent some time as a Guantanamo detainee said, "Every country has its own way of torturing people. In Russia, they beat you up; they break you straight away. But the Americans had their own way, which is to make you go mad over a period of time. Every day they thought of new ways to make you feel worse."
I've discussed torture US-style several times in previous posts (for example, here, here, here, here, and here). There's absolutely no doubt that detainees are being subjected to psychological abuse--sleep deprivation, auditory overload, isolation, anxiety-inducing threats, and so on--in addition to "mild" physical abuse such as waterboarding and hooding (not to mention the out-sourcing of physical torture to governments that do lop off fingers and gouge eyes). President Bush admitted as much last month in his Executive Order concerning acceptable interrogation techniques; the admission was repeated by his Director of Intelligence Mike McConnell; and the practice was infamously defended by The Decider in his September 2006 White House speech announcing the formation of military commissions to try detainees.* So more verification of the US practice of psychological torture isn't necessary.
What's intriguing is how the government--and, apparently, many US citizens as well--is able to rationalize this abuse of prisoners as "nontorturous." In any other context, we'd readily acknowledge that the deliberate attempt to inflict psychological pain on another human being is cruel and outside the law. But when it comes to the "interrogation" of detainees, we insist otherwise. If we're not actually smacking them around, we're not torturing them. Our hands are clean, our consciences are clear, our motives are righteous.
If our blows are invisible, they're not really blows: this is the logic of torture US-style. It's a strategy adopted by children on the one hand or people with uneasy consciences on the other.
*From The Decider's September 2006 White House speech: "We knew that Zubaydah had more information that could save innocent lives, but he stopped talking. As his questioning proceeded, it became clear that he had received training on how to resist interrogation. And so the CIA used an alternative set of procedures. These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful. I cannot describe the specific methods used -- I think you understand why -- if I did, it would help the terrorists learn how to resist questioning, and to keep information from us that we need to prevent new attacks on our country. But I can say the procedures were tough, and they were safe, and lawful, and necessary."

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Until Next Week...

Dear Friends: The Maiden is traveling, and will post no new messages until early next week.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Torture, Ticking Time Bombs, and the Part of the Report that WAS Read

A clumsy way to do ethics is to take the worst case scenario and use it as raw material from which to manufacture ethical strategies. I remember one or two (thankfully, not more) of my ethics professors doing this in my college days. Your mother is being attacked by a crazed rapist. You have a gun in your hand. What ought you to do? or You have the opportunity to assassinate Hitler. Should you go for it?

Worst case scenarios (or thought experiments, as the professional philosophers like to call them) are bad ways of doing ethics for the obvious reason that they're so unlikely. I suppose it's possible that someone could try to rape your mother in front of your eyes, or that you might have the opportunity to assassinate a meglomaniac dictator, but the chances are against it. So why use such scenarios as test cases? Far better to generate ethical principles and moral strategies from realworld scenarios.

Much of the torture debate in North America (but not so much elsewhere) either explicitly assumes or has in the back of its mind a worst case scenario: the ticking time bomb. A weapon of mass destruction has been planted in Manhattan or Los Angeles. Authorities have captured the terrorist who knows the WMD's precise location and the exact time of its detonation. May they torture him to save hundreds of thousands of lives? Put in less Hollywoodish terms, the scenario is one that stresses urgency: may we torture someone to prevent an imminent disaster from befalling innocent people?

History has shown that this is an unlikely situation. There is no known actual ticking bomb torture case. These sorts of things may happen on shows like "24," but not in real life. The intelligence that interrogatory torture obtains is generally (a) unreliable, (2) small change of little importance, or (3) already known for the most part by the torturers. And as this blog has documented over and over, most torture isn't interrogatory anyway. Its purpose is to punish, to intimidate, and to assert authority. It's these types of situations, not improbable ticking bomb scenarios, that ought to be the test cases when debating the ethics of torture.

Now, I raise this obvious point because the 2004 Schlesinger Report on torture, which I introduced in an earlier post, discusses torture and morality exclusively in terms of the ticking bomb scenario in a brief Appendix H. The analysis is astoundingly simplistic. "Most cases for permitting harsh treatment of detainees on moral grounds begins with variants of the 'ticking time bomb' scenario," write the Report's authors. The reader's expectation is that this is a preliminary to taking a different, more fruitful approach. But the expectation is quickly disappointed, because the authors slide right into a strangely coy justification of torture from a ticking bomb perspective--as if no other torture scenarios either exist or are worth considering.

In a stressful ticking bomb scenario, the Report continues, it's understandable that military personnel would be tempted to use torture. But "a morally consistent approach...would be recognize there are occasions when violating norms is understandable but not necessarily correct." So if a soldier indeed does step over the line, he or she must do the honorable thing and turn themselves in to their superiors.

Huh? What this amounts to is: if you torture, be sure to do the right thing afterwards. What about doing the torture itself?! Here it is: military professionals much "accept the reality" that in some situations "morally appropriate methods to preserve...lives may not be obvious." "The tension between military necessity and our values will remain."

So, it appears that the prevention of torture isn't a priority for the Schlesinger Report, perhaps because it thinks of torture only as a desperate attempt to forestall absolute calamity. The problem, of course, is that "absolute calamity" is a relative term, and what seems calamitous to one interrogator may not at all seem so to another. The give-away is the Report's use of the term "military necessity." This is a weasel expression that can be used to justify nearly anything.

Perhaps the most ominous line in the whole Report is this: "National security is an obligation of the state, and therefore the work of interrogators carries a moral justification." But it's not entirely clear if this means that interrogators ought not to torture because such behavior would reflect badly on the state, or if torture is ethically permissible because interrogators are working to preserve the state. Given that the Report identifies the necessity for torture with ticking bomb scenarios, thereby implying that torture only occurs in situations of immediate and horrible urgency, the latter interpretation seems most appropriate.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Torture, Moral Disengagement, and the Report That Wasn't Read

I've been re-reading the Schlesinger Report lately.

You remember the Report, right? It came out in August 2004, and was a document submitted by "The Independent Panel to Review Department of Defense Detention Operations." This panel, commissioned by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was chaired by ex-Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger (an old pal of Rummy). Also on the panel were ex-Secretary of Defense Harold Brown (ditto), Republican hawk and Rumsfeld advisor Tillie Fowler, and retired Air Force general and Desert Storm veteran Charles Horner. (With four military insiders like these, the "independent" part of "Independent Panel" obviously is loosely-defined.)
The Independent Panel's charge was to "provide independent professional advice on detainee abuses [at Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, and Afghanistan], what caused them and what actions should be taken to preclude their repetition." Its final report pretty much repeats the Bush Administration's line: abuses are the actions of lone rangers, not the consequences of policy.
Nothing much new or interesting there.
What is interesting are two appendices to the report: Appendix G, "Psychological Stresses [contributing to torture]" and Appendix H, "Ethical Issues [of torture]." Study of the first appendix suggests that administrative officials have astoundingly little self-insight. Study of the second one suggests that they flunked Ethics 101.
Let's look at Appendix G today, and save Appendix H for tomorrow.
In Appendix G, the Report's authors appeal to social psychologist Phillip Zimbardo's famous Stanford Prison Experiment as well as one of Albert Bandura's studies of moral disengagement to come up with a list of behaviors that discourage "normal self-regulatory mechanisms" and encourage "abusive treatment and similar immoral behaviors."
Two of these behaviors are especially descriptive of persons who actually perform torture: displacement of responsibility ("I was just following orders") and diffusion of responsibility (groupthink). But the other five are descriptive of apparatchiks who give the orders to torture but don't actually participate: moral justification (torture is justifiable if it serves a social good); euphemistic language (avoid "torture"; substitute benign expressions like "enhanced interrogation"); advantageous comparison (torture really isn't so bad compared to what terrorists do) ; disregard consequences of actions (minimize torture by attributing it to lone rangers and bad apples, not policy); and attribution of blame (torture victims are terrorists, and bring their suffering on themselves).
These behaviors create moral disengagement by downplaying torture on the one hand--using euphemistic substitutes, pointing the finger, if a public scandal erupts, at bad apples, making lop-sided comparisons between torture and terrorism--and emphasizing its importance on the other by creating a climate of crisis--torture is necessary to protect the common good, the horrible plans of terrorists have to be discovered before they can be carried out, and so on. This much is easy to understand. You don't need to have studied social psychology to see how this kind of thinking and speaking creates moral distance between "us" and "them."
What's truly incredible, though, is how the current administration, despite the caution about morally disengaging behavior in one of its own officially commissioned reports, continues to indulge in such behavior. In just the last ten days, with the publication of the new Executive Order on interrogation of detainees, President Bush and the White House have insisted that the US doesn't "torture," but only "interrogates," thereby also implying that any "torture" that takes place must be the behavior of bad apples; insinuated that enhanced interrogation--not "torture," mind you--is necessary to protect US citizens from 9/11-like attacks; and stirred up anger and fear by emphasizing the brutality and determination of the "enemy," thereby suggesting that US interrogation tactics are really pretty tame in comparison. We're the good guys--so good that even when we interrogate in ways that might appear torturous, we're not. Besides, they're the bad guys--so even if we do torture them (which we don't, by the way), they deserve it, because they'd do worse to us if they could.
Appendix G of the Schlesinger Report concludes with the warning that this kind of rhetoric, if tolerated, carries a "higher risk of moral disengagement on the part of those in power and, in turn, are likely to lead to abusive behaviors."
Did anyone in the White House actually read the Report?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Torture, US-Style: Slip-Ups in Mike McConnell's "Meet the Press" Interview

You'd think a National Intelligence Director would be a little more discrete. But the revelations about torture that Mike McConnell let slip last Sunday on "Meet the Press" are such that he's probably had his lips sewn shut this week. Or at least he might've, if the US public gave a shit about what he said. So far, there's been remarkably little flap, and almost all of it comes from the marginalized independent media that don't reach especially large audiences anyway. Yet McConnell said several things that ought to be red flags. None of them is brandnew information, true. But the fact that they were confirmed on national television by the US intelligence czar is sobering.
Admiral McConnell, who after all is new on the job and so not yet adept in spin, was asked by "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert to comment on The Decider's "new" policy on torture. Here's the pertinent section of the interview (the entire transcript can be read here):

MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about the executive order the president issued about enhanced interrogation measures. What does that allow a CIA-held target—what kind of measures can they use to get information from them?
Admiral McCONNELL: Well, Tim, as you know, I can’t discuss specific measures. A variety of reasons for that. One, if I, if I announce what the specific measures are, it would, it would aid those who want to resist those measures, measures to train to understand them and so on. So I won’t be too specific. Let, let me, let me go back to a higher calling in this context. The United States does not engage in torture. President’s been very clear about that. This executive order spells it out. There are means and methods to conduct interrogation that will result in information that we need. And what I would highlight, I was, I was concerned and worried and quite frankly appalled by Abu Ghraib. My view was America risked losing the moral high ground. And so I focused on this when I came back. What I can report to you is that was an aberration. The people who were responsible for the atrocities at Abu Ghraib have been held accountable, and, and they’re serving a sentence for that. That is not the program the CIA was administering. It is not the program that the president approved in the recent executive order.
MR. RUSSERT: But by the use of the term “enhanced interrogation measures,” there clearly are things that are used to elicit information. Have we eliminated waterboarding? Can you confirm that?
Admiral McCONNELL: I would rather not be specific on eliminating exactly what the techniques are with regard to any, any specific. When I was in a situation where Ihad to sign off, as a member of the process, my name to this executive order, I sat down with those who had been trained to do it, the doctors who monitor it, understanding that no one is subjected to torture. They’re, they’re treated in a way that they have adequate diet, not exposed to heat or cold. They’re not abused in any way. But I did understand, when exposed to the techniques, how they work and why they work, all under medical supervision. And one of the things that’s very important, I think, for the American public to know, in the history of this program, it’s been fewer than 100 people. And so this, this is a program where we capture someone known to be a terrorist, we need information that they possess, and it has saved countless lives. Because, because they believe these techniques might involve torture and they don’t understand them, they tend to speak to us, talk to us in very—a very candid way.
MR. RUSSERT: Does this new executive order allow measures that if were used against a U.S. citizen who was apprehended by the enemy would be troubling to the American people?
Admiral McCONNELL: I can report to you that it’s not torture.
MR. RUSSERT: How do you fine—define torture?
Admiral McCONNELL: Well, torture is—an attempt to define torture in the, in the executive order, it gives examples: mutilation or murder or rape or physical pain, those kinds of things. Let me just leave it by saying the, the techniques work, it’s not torture. They’re not subjected to heat or cold, but it is effective. And it’s a psychological approach to causing someone to have uncertainty and in a situation where they will feel compelled to talk to you about what you’re asking about.
MR. RUSSERT: And we would find it acceptable if a U.S. citizen experienced the same kind of enhanced interrogation measures?
Admiral McCONNELL: Tim, it’s not torture. I would not want a U.S. citizen to go through the process, but it is not torture, and there would be no permanent damage to that citizen.
Now, take a look at some of the extraordinary assertions/admissions in the transcript.

  • What isn't said by McConnell is much more revealing than what is said. He can't discuss specific interrogatory techniques--he won't even deny, when asked pointblank, that waterboarding is one of them--but he asks viewers to accept on trust that the US government follows a "higher calling" and so doesn't torture. Enhanced interrogation, the going euphemism, doesn't include, per The Decider's newest Executive Order, murder (whoever said that murder was a torture technique, anyway?), mutilation, rape, or physical pain (this an benignly stretched version of the Executive Order's "cruel or inhuman treatment"), sexual degradation, or religious denigration. But McConnell knows, The Decider knows, and Jane and John Q. Citizen know, that there's a lot of space in between these categories for some down-and-dirty torture. So there's a unsettling coyness to McConnell's remarks. His claim of clean hands is transparently false, and he doesn't seem to care.
  • Perhaps he doesn't care in part because at least some US torture is terroristic, as he let slip. State-sponsored torture generally comes in two varieties: interrogatory and terroristic. The purpose of the first is, obviously, to gather intelligence. The purpose of the second is to terrorize potential dissenters or enemies with the threat of torture: If you cross us, this is what we'll do to you. That the US uses torture as a terroristic deterrent comes across clearly in McConnell's remarks: torture doesn't work unless not-yet-captured detainees are convinced that horrible things will be done to them unless they cooperate.
  • McConnell insists that whenever the US government appears to get caught torturing, it's really a few bad apples, like the ones at Abu Ghraib, who are responsible. Does anyone really believe this anymore? Yet apparently the US government works under the assumption that a lie told often enough becomes truth.
  • McConnell admits that the US practices "white torture," the brutal psychological malfiguration favored by nations like Iran, and speaks as if this is a humane alternative to old-fashioned physical torture. Something sinister seems to be going on with the administration's latest understanding of torture: if you don't physically touch 'em, it ain't torture. This isn't to say that there's not one helluva lot of physical touching going on--waterboarding, for example--but the denial that white torture techniques are real torture is alarming, bespeaking either egregious stupidity or equally egregious malevolence.
  • McConnell says on more than one occasion that torture is practiced under "medical supervision." Extraordinary! Medical doctors, who presumably have taken the Hippocratic Oath to "do no harm," are overseeing the abuse of prisoners. When German doctors or Chilean doctors or Russian doctors similarly supervised torture, the US denounced them as monsters. Why isn't McConnell's admission front page headlines across the nation? Why has it gone almost unnoticed?
  • Finally, McConnell admits that even interrogatory torture is more often a fishing expedition than a focused intelligence-gathering. There's a big difference between the two. In the latter, the torturer goes after the answer to a specific question. Theoretically, at least, when the answer is gotten, the torture ends. But torture as a fishing expedition has no specific goal. The torturer inflicts pain just to see what might bob up to the surface. Since there's no focused goal, there's no anticipated end to the torture. Prisoners can be fished again and again and again. Detainees held at Gitmo are such fish.