Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Torture Memos

Four Bush administration memos were released last week.

Perhaps those still in denial about whether waterboarding is "torture" may be convinced that waterboarding the same person 173 times is "torture." But probably not.

Other than that obscene number, there isn't a lot of new information contained in these memos. We already knew that the Bush administration had approved all of the techniques seen in the infamous pictures from Abu Ghraib (except the simulated electrocution, maybe.) We knew they were used not just at Abu Ghraib.

The banality of the last administration's evil revealed in these memos is beyond disturbing, though. Chilling, like we're really living in 1984's Oceania.
As part of this increased pressure phase, Zubaydah will have contact only with a new interrogation specialist, whom he has not met previously, and the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape ("SERE") training psychologist who has been involved with the interrogations since they began. This phase will likely last no more than several days but could last up to thirty days. In this phase, you would like to employ ten techniques that you believe will dislocate his expectations regarding the treatment he believes he will receive and encourage him to disclose the crucial information mentioned above. These ten techniques are: (1) attention grasp, (2) walling, (3) facial hold, (4) facial slap (insult slap), (5) cramped confinement, (6) wall standing, (7) stress positions, (8) sleep deprivation, (9) insects placed in a confinement box, and (10) the waterboard. You have informed us that the use of these techniques would be on an as-needed basis and that not all of these techniques will necessarily be used. The interrogation team would use these techniques in some combination to convince Zubaydab that the only way he can influence his surrounding environment is through cooperation. You have, however, informed us that you expect these techniques to be used in some sort of escalating fashion, culminating with the waterboard, though not necessarily ending with this technique.

Sleep deprivation may be used. You have indicated that your purpose in using this technique is to reduce the individual's ability to think on his feet and, through the discomfort associated with lack of sleep; to motivate him to cooperate: The effect of such sleep deprivation will generally remit after one or two nights of uninterrupted sleep, You have informed us that your research has revealed that, in rare instances, some individuals who are already predisposed to psychological problems may experience abnormal reactions to sleep deprivation. Even in those cases, however, reactions abate after the individual is permitted to sleep. Moreover, personnel with medical training are available to and will intervene in the unlikely event of an abnormal reaction. You have orally informed us that you would not deprive Zubaydah of sleep for more than eleven days at a time and that you have previously kept him awake for 72 hours,from which no mental or physical harm resulted.


One more, straight out of 1984:
As we understand it, you plan to inform Zubaydah that you are going to place a stinging insect into the box, but you will actually place a harmless insect in the box, such as a caterpillar.

If you do so, to ensure that you are outside the predicate act requirement, you must inform him that the insects will not have a sting that would produce death or severe pain.

If, however, you were to place the insect in the box without informing him that you are doing so, then, in order to not commit a predicate act, you should not affirmatively lead him to believe that any insect is present which has a sting that could produce severe pain or suffering or even cause death. (material redacted with black lines here) so long as you take either of the approaches we have described, the insect's placement in the box would not constitute a threat of severe physical pain or suffering to a reasonable person in his position. (Source.)

This, to borrow a word from George Bush's tiny lexicon, is EVIL. And even if you're an ends-justifies-the-means kinda guy or girl who thinks it was justified, it was transparently illegal. To take just one example, depriving a person of sleep for eleven days is OBVIOUSLY torture, by any legal definition we have.

Those responsible, from Bush and Cheney all the way down to the field agents "just following orders" should be tried and prosecuted as war criminals.

Anybody who wants to defend these memos is forever banned from using the words "textualism" or "originalism" without irony, by the way. You must admit you use abortion as a litmus test for judges rather than feigning a passion for certain methods of constitutional interpretation.