Sunday, November 4, 2007

A little matter of torture

First, from columnist Neil MacDonald:
The torture called waterboarding is a pretty violent business.
The torturer straps down the victim, feet elevated above the head, then covers the subject's face — often with cloth or cellophane — and pours water onto it. This triggers the gag reflex, persuading the mind that the body is drowning, provoking an atavistic terror. The straining and flailing against the restraint straps can sometimes break bones. If the torture is protracted, lung and brain damage can occur.
This would be the Bush administration's description of the same procedure: The detainee, an illegal combatant who may have intelligence valuable to the Worldwide Struggle Against Extremism, is restrained, and subjected to a robust interrogation. An enhanced interrogation technique is used, which for national security reasons must remain classified. But the detainee is not tortured, because the United States does not torture people.
That's not a caricature. It is a composite of actual administration jargon. And the last bit of circular logic has become the fulcrum of Washington's policies on treatment of foreign prisoners: The U.S. does not practise torture. Therefore its interrogation techniques cannot be torture, because if they were, then certain prisoners in the United States' secret prisons would have been tortured, and that cannot have been, because the U.S. does not practise torture.
By that logic, the following are not torture, either: dousing a prisoner with water and shackling him naked to the floor for extended periods in frigid temperatures; striking him on the head during questioning; manacling him in "stress" positions for prolonged periods; and inflicting sexual humiliation.
And, necessarily, the prisoners who have turned up dead in American custody after being beaten senseless, smothered in a sleeping bag or shackled to the ceiling, shrieking, as jailers using the technique of "peroneal strikes" smashed their legs into useless mush could not have been tortured.
A little over a year ago, I gave a visual of waterboarding (What waterboarding looks like), and perhaps it is an ideal time to revisit some words and imagery. Here's what I said then:
There are certainly plenty of folks who would refer to waterboarding as "torture-lite", or as not torture at all, but rather an "enhanced" interrogation technique. Heck, the technique of waterboarding might not seem that big a deal to someone who's never seen one or bothered to ask what one looks like or how it would be put into practice. If you didn't know before, now you do.

Waterboarding is one of the techniques that our government now deems acceptable as a means of gathering evidence to be used against alleged "enemy combatants" (who, now apparently can include practically anyone at Bu$hCo's whim). Getting aside from the moral issues (which in and of themselves are sufficient to say no to torture), on the practical side torture - via waterboarding or whatever - does not produce legit intelligence. It does not produce truthful confessions (follow the link to my previous post to read what a torture victim said of his experience). It is strictly a form of terror. Nothing more, nothing less.

As MDC might have said a couple decades ago, "who's the terrorist now?"
In that post I showed some pictures of waterboards that had been used by Pol Pot's regime, along with a former torture survivor's artistic portrayal of the practice of waterboarding. Here are some more visuals just to drive the point home.

Further, here's some video footage of what waterboarding involves:

As I've mentioned before, the international standards on the definition of torture are reasonably straightforward:

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Punishment or Treatment (UN General Assembly, 1984) defines torture as: "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.” Acts that would be considered torture under the above definition include a variety of methods: severe beatings, electric shock, sexual abuse and rape, prolonged solitary confinement, hard labor, near drowning, near suffocation, mutilation, hanging for prolonged periods, deprivation of basic biological needs (e.g., sleep, food, water), subjection to forced constant standing or crouching, and excessive continuous noise. Torture may also include actions inducing psychological suffering such as threats against the victim’s family or loved ones.
Torture involves violence at all levels: interpersonal, organizational, structural, and intrapersonal. The interpersonal facet is fairly obvious, as someone must be physically present to apply the torture to someone else. At the organizational level, the various civilian and military bureaucrats who draft the legal rationale for torture (e.g., John Yoo), order its use (e.g., Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales), and sign off on whatever paperwork might be involved in renditioning victims to torture sites - while themselves not directly engaging in the act of torture are indeed responsible for perpetrating it. At the structural level: members of selected out-groups are the ones most systematically targetted (all you have to do is be "different"). Intrapersonally, those directly victimized (as well as those are directly there at the torture scene) suffer permanent psychological scarring. Victims may later commit suicide while still imprisoned (as happens in places like Gitmo); torturers may turn to alcohol and drug abuse; all may show PTSD symptoms lasting well past the events themselves.

Columnist MacDonald, whose words opened this particular post, goes on to reference the recent "debate" (if we can call it that) regarding the nomination of Mukasey as Abu Gonzales' replacement as Attorney General. Mukasey himself engaged in all manner of verbal acrobatics on the topic of waterboarding that were nothing short of Orwellian. In the end, he will likely have the nomination as there are sufficient "Good Germans" in both the Republican and Democrat parties willing to go along. I can only hope that by pointing out that waterboarding as a practice is one originating with the Spanish Inquisition, and seems befitting of such notorious figures as Torquemada and Pol Pot that I might stir some faint semblance of a conscience among the more liberal of the American Exceptionalist crowd to at least actively denounce the practice as un-American and denounce those political figures who consistently go on record supporting torture and torture's perpetrators.

Naturally, my hope is faint at best, as I can imagine plenty of "respectable" liberals grumbling a bit about the behaviors of some of their Congressional representatives (e.g., Feinstein & Schumer) but go on to dutifully vote for said representatives come election time and dutifully continue donating money to their campaigns and to their party. Doing so will be counter-productive to stopping the US from torture. As it is now, we will soon be graced with yet another pro-torture AG, and the prospect that the next president (whether Democrat or Republican) will be pro-torture. For the sake of a clean conscience and for the sake of humanity, your only recourse is to stop enabling these goons. Make a clean break. Stop giving them your consent. If need be, stop traffic.

No comments:

Post a Comment