Monday, April 20, 2009

Obama's revealing of the CIA torture memos: defining the limits between Right and Wrong, or erasing them?

Wow, this is by far the longest it's ever taken me to plan and write a blog post to date. It might end up being my longest too – who knows, I might even reach Orac's average. You know, those eight-mile-long posts that are so delicious to read you really don't even notice how you should've gone to bed eight hours ago. Etc.

One of the hot topics of the date, alongside those pesky Somalian pirates (wow, they really have some nerve, you gotta admit) or those stupid conservative tea parties that unfurled across America like a plague of the crazies, is last Thursday's President Obama's unveiling of four top-secret CIA memos regarding the torture carried out in the depths of Guantanamo Bay, memos that defined what was acceptable and what was not under American law. Specifically, the memos regarded the "appropriate" methods of "forced interrogation" – notice its pussyfooting around the term "torture" – of three particular inmates, including an Al-Qaeda second-in-command, and even the admitted master planner behind the 9/11 attacks.

You can see said memos here. (This post is gonna be long enough as it is, there's no way I'm posting those PDF images on this page.)

Now, considering the careful wordings found in said memos, some are using this to "prove" that America didn't torture its inmates, but merely subjected them to "mild" physical and psychological damages and coercion.

The four memos on CIA interrogation released by the White House last week reveal a cautious and conservative Justice Department advising a CIA that cared deeply about staying within the law. Far from "green lighting" torture -- or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees -- the memos detail the actual techniques used and the many measures taken to ensure that interrogations did not cause severe pain or degradation.

Interrogations were to be "continuously monitored" and "the interrogation team will stop the use of particular techniques or the interrogation altogether if the detainee's medical or psychological conditions indicates that the detainee might suffer significant physical or mental harm."

Ah. So just a "little" physical or mental harm is a-okay, then.

The first thing one would need to ask themselves: just what is "torture"? What actions constitute torture?

Is tying a chain to a man's neck and pulling him around forcefully to slam him into solid walls, torture?

Is strapping a man to a nearly-horizontal table, covering his face with a cloth, and pouring water over said cloth, which simulates the sensation of drowning, torture?

Is shackling an entomophobic man – someone with a horrific fear of insects – up in a tiny confined area with "stinging insects", torture?

Is forcing a man to be kept awake for up to 180 hours straight, torture?

Of course, anyone with the slightest shred of common sense – and the slightest sense of apathy – will have answered a resounding "well, DUH" to all those previous examples.

Just to be proper, let's look at the official definition of "torture", as given to us by the arguable greatest of dictionaries, dear old Merriam-Webster:

tor·ture Pronunciation: \ˈtȯr-chər\ Function: noun [Etymology redacted for length's sake] 1 a: anguish of body or mind : agony b: something that causes agony or pain 2: the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure 3: distortion or overrefinement of a meaning or an argument : straining

So there. Torture is "anguish of the body or mind". Let's apply that definition/description of torture from now on, shall we?

However, inflicting anguish to a victim's body or mind isn't enough to be classified as "torture", according to a 2002 memo. No – in addition to causing pain and torment, there apparently also had to be a level of intent behind it, for it to qualify as "torture".

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Interrogation tactics such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation and slapping did not violate laws against torture when there was no intent to cause severe pain, according to a Bush-era memo on the tactics released Thursday.

"To violate the statute, an individual must have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering," said an August 2002 memo from then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee to John Rizzo, who was acting general counsel for the CIA.

"Because specific intent is an element of the offense, the absence of specific intent negates the charge of torture. ... We have further found that if a defendant acts with the good faith belief that his actions will not cause such suffering, he has not acted with specific intent," Bybee wrote.

That's the sort of crafty weaseling and conniving bullshitting that sends a pounding headache into my head. Damn.

Let me tell you something, A.G. Bybee: bullshit. Intent has nothing to do with what constitutes torture or not. Torture is torture. Whether you wanted to cause "physical or mental anguish" to a person is irrelevant to whether you did or didn't. If you did, it's torture, plain and simple, end of story.

One common method of torture forced interrogation, is "waterboarding". Waterboarding is strapping a victim to a board that's slightly inclined downwards, covering their face with a cloth, and pouring water onto said cloth. The cloth works perfectly well at distributing the water across the entire expanse, effectively "drowning" the victim. The experience is extremely torturous to the victim, who literally feels like they're drowning. Multiple injuries can occur, either from respiratory distress, mental anguish, or even broken bones from struggling against the restraints. (Here I try not to think about what it would be like, to me, to be strapped helplessly to a board while forced to simulate drowning.) Also, the memo states that the technique "could be used for up to 40 seconds -- although the CIA orally informed Justice Department lawyers that it would likely not be used for more than 20 seconds at a time". Because if the lawyers say it isn't used for more than 20 seconds, it has to be so.

Let me ask you: what part of "feels like you're drowning", even if only for 40 seconds or 20 or whatever, is NOT "anguish of body or mind??? What part of feeling like you're stuck underwater until you asphyxiate or, well, drown, isn't cruelty by any definition?

One particular prisoner, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who claims credit for planning and masterminding the whole 9/11 disaster, was waterboarded a staggering 183 times in a single month. That's an average of over six times every day! Nooo, that's not torture!

Another prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, a high-ranking member of Al-Qaeda and close associate of Bin Laden, was put through 83 waterboardings in one month. That's about three every single day.

Another example of these "forced interrogation" methods used against suspected terrorists is the "walling" technique. This is actually unclear – previous reports usually stated that this meant strapping a chain onto a collar around a man's neck, and then swinging him forcibly and crashing him into a hard wall – hence, "walling".


In fact, detainees were placed with their backs to a "flexible false wall," designed to avoid inflicting painful injury. Their shoulder blades -- not head -- were the point of contact, and the "collar" was used not to give additional force to a blow, but further to protect the neck.

The memo says the point was to inflict psychological uncertainty, not physical pain: "the idea is to create a sound that will make the impact seem far worse than it is and that will be far worse than any injury that might result from the action."

Ah. So just as long as they believe their having their bodies shattered into bits, then all's fine. Because psychological torment isn't as bad as "actual" physical torture. Oh, and of course, nothing cruel about slamming a guy's back into a wall, anyway, to begin with.

But probably the worst, in my personal opinion, would have to be their sleep deprivation technique for coercion. You think having a sleepless night or two is hell? Guantanamo Bay-style sleep deprivation means keeping the victim forcibly awake for up to 180 hours straight. Anyone with math talents or a calculator, well point out that equals to just about 7.5 days. That's over a week.

Yes, the human body and mind can hold for about 10 days as a general rule of thumb before permanent damage, if I recall correctly. 10 days are 240 hours – 2.5 days less than the maximum 180 days allowed for forced sleep deprivation.

How would YOU be after an entire week without a second of sleep? Most people can't stay awake for 48 hours straight without dropping everything for a good slumber. (I haven't even been awake for 24 hours yet as I'm writing this, and already I'm yearning for my bed.) So tell me please: how exactly is forcing someone awake for an entire WEEK, not constitute psychological (and even physical) torture?

The four memos on CIA interrogation released by the White House last week reveal a cautious and conservative Justice Department advising a CIA that cared deeply about staying within the law. Far from "green lighting" torture -- or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees -- the memos detail the actual techniques used and the many measures taken to ensure that interrogations did not cause severe pain or degradation.

Oh, bullshit. If common sense tells us anything, it's that no organization on the planet ever really cares about the "law", and that they only reason they obey it is to not get sued or crushed by others, certainly not out of respect for what's "right" and what's "wrong". Same deal here with the CIA (Coercive Interrogation Agency?). Sure, anything can be made legal, when you pussyfoot around proper terms, such as renaming "torture" into something more acceptable – like "forced interrogations" or whatever they're being dubbed – or keeping activities that normally would be quite frowned upon, under tight wraps.

I'm sure that the estimated half of Guantanamo Bay's population who are considered to be innocent bystanders who simply got caught up in fights and wars, will be thrilled to learn that it's really not "torture". Oh, the relief.

Now, don't get me wrong. If throughout this post I sound like I'm against punishing the actual terrorists and evildoers inside Guantanamo Bay, I'm only against torture itself as a form of punishment or coercion during interrogations. Of course, beasts like the one who masterminded September 11th do need to be punished, and as harshly as we can humanely permit. Personally, I'd say throw them in solitary confinement for the rest of their horrible lives and forget all about them, throw away the keys, that's it.

There's just something about torture itself – it's so hands-on, so personal yet impersonal at the same time, it awakens such primal fears and responses in us – not to mention being inhumane in every possible manner – that it truly has no place in our so-called "civilized" society. No matter how evil the perpetrators or their deeds may be/have been. There's just no place for torture, and that's that. Torture is torture no matter what you call it or how you approach it. Inflicting large amounts of pain on a victim, either for coercion or retribution, is simply disgusting.

After all, remember the platitudes: we need to be BETTER than them, NOT sink to their level of immoral debauchery. We are better than them; how is it "better" than these beasts if we indulge in the same acts of horror towards them? I do not give a DAMN what memos or other bullshit says about the "legality" of the issue.

After all, it's a widely-known fact that torture doesn't really work all that well to begin with. Real-life isn't an episode or season of 24. Torture doesn't always work in real-life. It's the interrogation of Michael Crowe all over again: they'll just say whatever their captors want to hear to end the pain and suffering.

We are the better society, and we need to show it to these dementially retarded bastards that we will not stoop to their levels of inhumanity.


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