Torture's Defenders

Last week saw the release of the Senate’s ‘torture report’. The 6,000 page, five-year, $40 million executive summary found that the CIA used enhanced interrogation techniques torture on foreign prisoners at their covert overseas ‘black sites’. The report details abusive actions taken by the CIA on detainees from 2001 through 2006. Although only 525 pages of the full report were released (the rest is classified), we know enough to be horrified at the U.S. government. Well, those of us who are opposed to torture, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

On October 21, 1994, the United States ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture And Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which means that ostensibly, the U.S. government does not condone torture.  Practically speaking though? The Senate report found that CIA officials subjected detainees to (among other things) rectal feeding and rectal rehydration (inserting anything into the rectum of another person without their consent is sexual assault)

From Physicians for Human Rights:

The Senate Torture Report revealed that CIA medical officers subjected at least five detainees to “rectal rehydration” and “rectal feeding.” The report indicates the rectal procedures were done without evidence of medical necessity, but rather as a means of behavior control. Leading medical experts denounced this practice not only as medically unwise, but as torture.

• “For all practical purposes, it’s never used. No one in the United States is hydrating anybody through their rectum. Nobody is feeding anybody through their rectum.” Thomas Burke, MD, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Attending Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital

• “In over 30 years of gastroenterology practice I never used rectal hydration. Also, rectal feeding simply doesn’t make physiologic sense. The colon cannot absorb even pureed food.” Steven Field, MD, Clinical Asst. Professor of Medicine, New York University School of Medicine

• “Contrary to the CIA’s assertions, there is no clinical indication to use rectal rehydration and feeding over oral or intravenous administration of fluids and nutrients. This is a form of sexual assault masquerading as medical treatment. In the absence of medical necessity, it is clear that the only purpose behind this humiliating and invasive procedure is to inflict physical and mental pain.” Vincent Iacopino, MD, Senior Medical Advisor, Physicians for Human Rights

threats of rape or violence against their family members:

At times, CIA officers evoked the families of detainees in order to try and break them down during interrogations, according to the report. Al-Nashiri, whose rectal feeding is described above, was told “[w]e could get your mother in here” and “[w]e can bring your family in here,” CIA records reveal; according to the report, CIA officers implied during one interrogation that Al-Nashiri’s mother would be brought to the same prison and raped in front of him. KSM, the alleged 9/11 mastermind, was told the CIA was going to kill his children if any terror plots occurred in the US while he was in custody.

At least three detainees were threatened with harm to their families, the Senate Intelligence Committee found, “to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee and a threat to ‘cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.’” With respect to KSM, detention site personnel hung a picture of his sons in his cell as a way to “[heighten] his imagination concerning where they are, who has them, [and] what is in store for them,” CIA officials said.

forcing them to endure temperature extremes:

In Guantanamo Bay the whole purpose was you were not allowed to have a routine. The broke you and destroyed you and made you as desperate as possible so you would sign anything and say anything to get out of there. The most bizarre horrible things took place there.

I can give you one story at this time. One of the detainees there, from Saudi Arabia, his mother died in 2004. So the Americans thought, Ok, we better inform this guy his mother’s died. So they took him to what were called the torture chambers…and they basically short-shackled him, which is a really uncomfortable position on the floor where your hands are underneath your feet like this and they have  ring bolted you to the floor. They turned the temperature down to the point where you’re shivering cold; it’s probably about 10 or 11 degrees and over time that gets really cold. (I know all about that, they did that to me.)

So they’ve got him chained in this really uncomfortable position, which may be uncomfortable for 10 or 15 minutes but over time it really starts to hurt. I know that because they did that to me and as the hours pass and they could leave you there sometimes for days and its very painful.

Then they started strobe lights flashing in the room and the room flashed with the strobe lights and every time the strobe lights lit up the room he could see pictures of a pornographic nature or of sick gruesome type of macabre kind of stuff and it was all over the ceiling, the walls and the floors.

One of the interrogators came up with an idea; he dressed up as the Grim Reaper and he came out of the corner and he spoke in English: “Your mother’s dead sucking Satan’s cock in hell”

Then they left him there overnight. And someone from the FBI went in there the next morning and the FBI lady – a woman – gave a statement, because she was horrified at what they’d done, and said that he’d literally pulled his hair out, it was in clumps around him.

This is not unusual, this is Guantanamo. This is probably the best way to describe the daily life in Guantanamo. This is the kind of stuff they did and to them it was really normal.

and sleep deprivation:

In the execu​tive summary, sleep deprivation is described as involving “keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads.”

One hundred and eighty hours is the equivalent of seven and a half days, and the summary also notes that sleep deprivation was “frequently concurrent” with slaps, forced nudity, and slamming detainees against walls—or “wallings,” to use the CIA term.

Abu Hudhaifa, one detainee mentioned in the report, was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation, before “being released because the CIA discovered he was likely not the person he was believed to be,” according to the summary.

Even though Amnesty International and the Committee against Torture state that long-term sleep deprivation is cruel and illegal, the report suggests that it remains both a popular and effective way to “break down the will of the detainee.”

Popular it may be, but does sleep deprivation…does any form of torture, achieve the desired goal of acquiring useful information?

Luckily there’s another good argument, as I set out in these pages back in 2010 – torture simply doesn’t work. No compelling evidence has ever been put forward to show that torture can produce reliable intelligence. Worse still, the techniques used – typically causing stress, pain, sleep deprivation, or confusion – are textbook examples of ways to screw up a person’s recollection.

The intelligence and military communities have long accepted this to be true. The Intelligence Science Board provided scientific guidance to the US intelligence community on this matter, which I quoted at the top of this article. It was evidently ignored. In my 2010 article I quoted the US Army’s Training Manual, which states:

The use of force, mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to unpleasant and inhumane treatment of any kind is prohibited by law and is neither authorized nor condoned by the US Government. Experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation. Therefore, the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.

The US Senate’s report on the CIA’s use of torture therefore tells us little we didn’t already know. Using the agency’s own records it found that torture “was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation.” In fact the CIA itself had reached the same conclusion more than a decade before, as the report pointedly notes:

… prior to the attacks of September 2001, the CIA itself determined from its own experience with coercive interrogations, that such techniques ‘do not produce intelligence,’ ‘will probably result in false answers,’ and had historically proven to be ineffective.

Despite the lack of evidence for the effectiveness of torture as a means to gather intelligence…despite the CIA itself recognizing how ineffective torture is…amazingly the defenders of torture have sprung out of the woodwork in the last week to proclaim their opposition to the torture report and their support for torturing prisoners.  Some of torture’s defenders include:

CIA Director John Brennan

CIA Director John O. Brennan on Thursday criticized Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Democrats for producing a “flawed” report on enhanced interrogation techniques that failed to interview key personnel about their decisions, offering a half-throated defense of the defunct program that he maintained had provided valuable information used to thwart terror attacks and track down terrorists.

Mr. Brennan, in a rare televised news conference from CIA headquarters, said it was “unknown and unknowable” whether crucial intelligence could have been gleaned any other way. He dubbed some techniques “abhorrent,” but the director praised agency employees for shouldering the heavy burden of keeping America safe during the years immediately following the 9/11 terror attacks.

President Obama banned the use of such coercive interrogation techniques as waterboarding in 2009 and has since described the activities as “torture” under a program largely replaced by the equally clandestine use of drones to simply kill terror suspects in several parts of the world rather than capture and question them.

Mr. Brennan stopped short of using the word “torture” Thursday, saying he would “leave to others how they might want to label those activities.”

right-wing theocrat Bryan Fischer

On his radio program yesterday, Bryan Fischer once again defended the CIA’s use of torture against terrorism suspects by arguing that the techniques utilized by the CIA do not actually constitute torture … but even if they were it would still be acceptable because terrorism suspects have no legal right not to be tortured.

As Fischer explained, foreign terrorism suspects have no constitutional rights since they are not U.S. citizens, nor do they have any rights under the Geneva Conventions, which means that the U.S. faces no legal prohibition against torturing them.

“They have absolutely no legal rights that they can claim anywhere,” Fischer said. “So whatever treatment we give them, if there is any mercy involved in it, they have no right to that; that is simply because we are a merciful people who are driven by Christian principles”

Michael Mukasey, George W. Bush’s Attorney General

Michael Mukasey, Bush’s attorney general, said the Senate panel’s investigators cherry-picked the evidence they included in the report.

The report, he said in an interview with John Catsimatidis on AM 970, is “jam-packed with untruths” and will “demoralize the CIA.”

“It’s even worse than that,” he said. “They were cherry-picking, throwing away the cherries and they printed the pits.”

FOX News’ Eric Bolling

Bolling disagreed with the report’s conclusion that the CIA’s practices constituted torture.

He said that real torture is what thousands and thousands of Americans went through during the 9/11 attacks, losing loved ones.

Bolling asserted that waterboarding, sleep deprivation and loud music, on the other hand, are not torture.

“All not torture when you compare it to what these animals did to innocent Americans and our families,” Bolling said. “I have zero sympathy for the terrorists. Let me repeat – zero sympathy.”

He said people on both sides of the aisle need to stop apologizing for keeping America safe, especially since the CIA’s procedures were “legal and effective.”

Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said in a new interview that the use of harsh interrogation techniques now widely condemned as torture might not be unconstitutional.

The 78-year-old jurist, part of the court’s conservative wing, said the there’s nothing in the constitution that prohibits harsh treatment of terror suspects.

His remarks came during an interview with a Swiss radio station that aired Thursday, the Associated Press reports. They followed the release of a Senate report the faulted the CIA for lying to the Bush White House and to Congress about the methods and their effectiveness.

former U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you, what do you say to Gul Rahman, what do you say to Sulaiman Abdula, what do you say to Khalid al-Masri? All three of these folks were detained, they had these interrogation techniques used on them. They eventually were found to be innocent. They were released, no apologies, nothing.

What do we owe them?

DICK CHENEY:

Well–

CHUCK TODD:

I mean, let me go to Gul Rahman. He was chained to the wall of his cell, doused with water, froze to death in C.I.A. custody. And it turned out it was a case of mistaken identity.

DICK CHENEY:

–right. But the problem I had is with the folks that we did release that end up back on the battlefield. Of the 600 and some people who were released out of Guantanamo, 30% roughly ended up back on the battlefield. Today we’re very concerned about ISIS. Terrible new terrorist organization.

It is headed by a man named Baghdadi. Baghdadi was in the custody of the U.S. military in Iraq in Camp Bucca. He was let go and now he’s out leading the terror attack against the United States. I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.

CHUCK TODD:

25% of the detainees though, 25% turned out to be innocent. They were released.

DICK CHENEY:

Where are you going to draw the line, Chuck? How are–

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I’m asking you.

DICK CHENEY:

–you going to know?

CHUCK TODD:

Is that too high? You’re okay with that margin for error?

DICK CHENEY:

I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. And our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States.

[–let’s stop for a minute to comprehend what Cheney says here.  He doesn’t care if innocent people are subjected to torture as long as they get information they deem useful. He believes the ends justify the means. Moreover, he’s clearly othering anyone who’s not a U.S. citizen. In his eyes, only U.S. citizens can be the victims of torture. What we do in response? That’s not torture. It’s only torture if they do it to us. This man needs to be arrested and tried for crimes against humanity.  And he’s not the only one.]

and, perhaps most shockingly, a majority of U.S. citizens

The defenders of torture seem unable to conceive of how the actions of the CIA highlight the hypocrisy of the U.S.-a nation that professes moral superiority when condemning the human rights violations of other countries.  A nation that claims to embody Enlightenment ideals and support human rights everywhere. Yeah. Right. That’s not even true on paper.

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Torture's Defenders
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