An Interrogator On Why Torture Doesn’t Work

On May 21, our Amnesty International group co-sponsored a talk by Matthew Alexander, author of A Chair, A Brain, and A Heart: An Interrogators Mission to  Return America to the Rule of Law.


Matthew Alexander was a senior military interrogator in Iraq and led the interrogation team that gathered the intelligence that led to the successful airstrike against Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

During his talk, Alexander spoke about how rapport building techniques work, and the importance of cultural awareness. He spoke about how torture, in addition to being generally ineffective and immoral, as the torture and abuse by Americans was a major recruitment factor for those who came to Iraq from other countries to fight.

Ironically, the theory that torture works cited even by some of our elected officials seems to come from fictional characters like Jack Bauer on 24, rather than talking to real interrogators. As Alexander noted, “If you’re going to quote Jack Bauer, why not quote Superman?”

Watch the video of the talk, courtesy of Mike McCormick of KEXP and Talking Stick TV:


Ray McGovern: Accountability for Torture

On November 12 I went to hear former CIA analyst Ray McGovern speak on “Why Accountability for Torture is Crucial for Human Rights, Our Security and Our Souls,”  an event sponsored by the Washington State Religious Campaign Against Torture (WSRCAT) and co-sponsored by our local Amnesty International groups among others.

As the evening’s program notes:

Ray McGovern was a CIA analyst for 27 years. He is active in Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) and has been an outspoken critic of the flawed intelligence used to justify the Iraq war and of the use of torture.


Rep. Jim McDermott

Representative Jim McDermott spoke before Ray McGovern. McDermott was one of the few members of congress willing to speak out on the lies leading up to the Iraq War, as well as against the use of torture.

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Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern spoke of the documents now available online detailing the Bush Adminstration’s justification and use of torture, including:

The Senate Armed Services Committee Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody:

The International Committee of the Red Cross Report on the Treatment of  Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody:

The Department of Justice memos (available on the ACLU website):

and the CIA Inspector General’s Special Review of Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (September 2001 – October 2003):

Torture does not provide reliable information, so McGovern raised the question of “Why torture?”  As he noted, it’s great for getting unreliable information.  in the build up to the Iraq War, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was sent to Egypt to be waterboarded and confessed that Saddam Hussein was training  Al Qaeda operatives. This “intelligence” was used by the Bush administration to justify the war.

As Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson, former chief of staff of the Department of State during the term of Secretary of State Colin Powell revealed in May (shortly before the d:

Likewise, what I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002–well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion–its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida.

So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney’s office that their detainee “was compliant” (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP’s office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa’ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, “revealed” such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.

There in fact were no such contacts. (Incidentally, al-Libi just “committed suicide” in Libya. Interestingly, several U.S. lawyers working with tortured detainees were attempting to get the Libyan government to allow them to interview al-Libi….)

McGovern stressed to importance of speaking out, and before the question and answer session, Rob Crawford from WSRCAT came out to tell us what we could do locally, and another WSRCAT member handed out action sheets to contact members of the Obama administration and congress.

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Rob Crawford

During the q&a, someone asked about what had changed for Ray McGovern, given his 27 years in the CIA, that he was now speaking out.  Interestingly enough (and I recall Bob Baer on the Amnesty International panel in San Francisco), McGovern didn’t have a problem with what he had been doing as an analyst with the CIA, which was providing accurate intelligence information to the White House. His job, as he noted, was “to speak truth to power.” Of course, often the President for other political reasons didn’t listen.  One case he noted was Johnson’s bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam, which none of the CIA analysts thought would work.

What the problem was (and Baer said this too), was adding in the former spies to the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency, who’s mission was to provide accurate intelligence in one place.  Also, Presidents telling the CIA to start wars, which totally goes against the mission of providing objective information.

Another reason for torture that McGovern brought up in the q&a session was the intimidation factor.  Citing the case of John Walker Lindh, who was the first person tortured in “the war on terror,” McGovern raised the issue of whether they really expected to get any information from Lindh, a misguided young man who had only recently joined the Taliban?  The green light was given despite the fact of Lindh being an American citizen.  Part of the message was “Don’t mess with us,” as McGovern notes, not only to those abroad, but to those in the US who might question what they were doing.

A major change McGovern sees is that we no longer have a free media reporting on what’s happening in DC and around the world (“the fawning corporate media”, is how he refers to them). I know others have noted how even papers like the New York Times and Washington Post have become stenographers for those in power, not questioning.  On the other hand, as McGovern notes, if you know your way around the web, you can find out considerably more than was possible in the past. Information most of the American public doesn’t see.

In closing, Ray McGovern said he did see the glass as half full, and was encouraged by the steps Obama has taken in releasing documents and letting Holder investigate in the face of pressure not to. Also, that it is up to us to hold Obama and the rest of our government accountable.

Ray McGovern’s whole lecture from November 12 is currently online, thanks to Talking Stick TV, and I’ve included it above. 

I wish I could say my memory would be this good a week and a half after the event, but the truth is, I just watched it again and took notes.

Accountability for Torture Must Go to the Top

In an encouraging move, yesterday Attorney General Holder appointed a prosecutor to investigate allegations of CIA interrogation abuses, although it’s only a “preliminary” and apparently cautious one at this point.


photo: Physicians for Human Rights

According to the Washington Post:

In a statement Monday afternoon, Holder cautioned that the inquiry is far from a full-blown criminal investigation. Rather, he said, it is unknown whether indictments or prosecutions of CIA contractors and employees will follow. Lawyers involved in similar reviews said that any possible cases could take years to build because of challenges with witnesses and evidence.

Also encouraging (and disturbing for the information they contain), the Justice Department declassified and released documents related to prisoner abuse in the “war on terror”. These documents are available on the ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights websites.

However, as John Nichols notes in The Nation, “But that does not necessarily mean that an accountability moment will come. “

For that to happen, Holder — and, by extension, President Obama — must stop being so cautious about laying the groundwork for the prosecution of wrongdoings.

Accountability has to go to the top.

For it to be meaningful, the investigation can and should focus on the people who authorized the use of torture and who outlined how it should be applied. Those are high-level players in the Bush-Cheney administration, not “honorable members of the intelligence community.” The only place at which low-level CIA operatives might become targets of an investigation – or perhaps face prosecution – would be if followed their own personal agendas.

Nichols concerns echo those of Amnesty International and others.  In an AI Press release, Larry Cox says that:

“Attorney General Holder’s decision to name a prosecutor to reopen and investigate half of the cases brought to the Department of Justice because of questionable interrogation tactics is a welcome, yet incomplete, step. Any meaningful investigation would encompass both those who claimed they were following orders and those who designed and demanded that the illegal policies be implemented.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights states that:

“Responsibility for the torture program cannot be laid at the feet of a few low-level operatives. Some agents in the field  may have gone further than the limits so ghoulishly laid out by the lawyers who twisted the law to create legal cover for the program, but it is the lawyers and the officials who oversaw and approved the program who must be investigated.

“The Attorney General must appoint an independent special prosecutor with a full mandate to investigate those responsible for torture and war crimes, especially the high ranking officials who designed, justified and orchestrated the torture program. We call on the Obama administration not to tie a prosecutor’s hands but to let the investigation go as far up the chain of command as the facts lead. We must send a clear message to the rest of the world, to future officials, and to the victims of torture that justice will be served and that the rule of law has been restored.”

What is becoming clear from the documents is the amount of bureaucratic control the CIA had over the interrogation process. As described in a New York Times article:

Two 17-watt fluorescent-tube bulbs — no more, no less — illuminated each cell, 24 hours a day. White noise played constantly but was never to exceed 79 decibels. A prisoner could be doused with 41-degree water but for only 20 minutes at a stretch.

The Central Intelligence Agency’s secret interrogation program operated under strict rules, and the rules were dictated from Washington with the painstaking, eye-glazing detail beloved by any bureaucracy.

Very detailed and controlled:

Managers, doctors and lawyers not only set the program’s parameters but dictated every facet of a detainee’s daily routine, monitoring interrogations on an hour-by-hour basis. From their Washington offices, they obsessed over the smallest details: the number of calories a prisoner consumed daily (1,500); the number of hours he could be kept in a box (eight hours for the large box, two hours for the small one); the proper time when his enforced nudity should be ended and his clothes returned.

The detainee “finds himself in the complete control of Americans; the procedures he is subjected to are precise, quiet and almost clinical, ” noted one document.

There was a progression to go through.  The details weren’t just thought up by a rogue night shift.  Regarding the procedure for high value detainees (HVDs):

“The interrogators’ objective,” the background paper says, “is to transition the HVD to a point where he is participating in a predictable, reliable and sustainable manner.” The policy was to use the “least coercive measure” to achieve the goal. The harsh treatment began with the “attention slap,” and for three prisoners of the nearly 100 who passed through the program, the endpoint was waterboarding.

Waterboarding might be an excruciating procedure with deep roots in the history of torture, but for the C.I.A.’s Office of Medical Services, recordkeeping for each session of near-drowning was critical. “In order to best inform future medical judgments and recommendations, it is important that every application of the waterboard be thoroughly documented,” said medical guidelines prepared for the interrogators in December 2004.

The required records, the medical supervisors said, included “how long each application (and the entire procedure) lasted, how much water was used in the process (realizing that much splashes off), how exactly the water was applied, if a seal was achieved, if the naso- or oropharynx was filled, what sort of volume was expelled, how long was the break between applications, and how the subject looked between each treatment.”

All very chillingly clinical, as in this ACLU video, Tortured Logic:

Actually, worse though, as it turns out, our government wasn’t just justifying it, then closing their eyes; they were directing it. It’s chilling how easy former government lawyers can still defend it:

But defenders of the program say the tight rules show the government’s attempt to keep the program within the law. “Elaborate care went into figuring out the precise gradations of coercion,” said David B. Rivkin Jr., a lawyer who served in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. “Yes, it’s jarring. But it shows how both the lawyers and the nonlawyers tried to do the right thing.”

The Washington Post documents more:

As the session begins, the detainee stands naked, except for a hood covering his head. Guards shackle his arms and legs, then slip a small collar around his neck. The collar will be used later; according to CIA guidelines for interrogations, it will serve as a handle for slamming the detainee’s head against a wall.

After removing the hood, the interrogator opens with a slap across the face — to get the detainee’s attention — followed by other slaps, the guidelines state. Next comes the head-slamming, or “walling,” which can be tried once “to make a point,” or repeated again and again.

“Twenty or thirty times consecutively” is permissible, the guidelines say, “if the interrogator requires a more significant response to a question.” And if that fails, there are far harsher techniques to be tried.

Once again, the guidelines are all laid out, very clinically and all the more disturbing:

As outlined in the memo, the agency’s psychological assault on a detainee would begin immediately after his arrest. With blindfolds and earmuffs, he would be “deprived of sight and sound” during the flight to the CIA’s secret prison. He would have no human interaction, except during a medical checkup.

In the initial days of detention, an assessment interview would determine whether the captive would cooperate willingly by providing “information on actionable threats.” If no such leads were volunteered, a coercive phase would begin.

The detainee would be ushered into a world of constant bright light and high-volume “white noise” at levels up to 79 decibels, about the same volume as a passing freight train. He would be shorn, shaved, stripped of his clothes, fed a mostly liquid diet and forced to stay awake for up to 180 hours.

“Establishing this baseline state is important to demonstrate to the [detainee] that he has no control,” the memo states.

Interrogations at CIA prisons occurred in special cells outfitted on one side with a plywood wall, to prevent severe head injuries. According to the agency’s interrogation plan, the nude, hooded detainee would be placed against the wall and shackled. Then the questioning would begin.

“The interrogators remove the [detainee’s] hood and explain the situation to him, tell him that the interrogators will do what it takes to get important information,” the document states.

If there was no response, the interrogator would use an “insult slap” to immediately “correct the detainee or provide a consequence to a detainee’s response.” If there was still no response, the interrogator could use an “abdominal slap” or grab the captive by his face, the memo states.

Each failure would be met with increasingly harsher tactics. After slamming a detainee’s head against the plywood barrier multiple times, the interrogator could douse him with water; deprive him of toilet facilities and force him to wear a soiled diaper; or make him stand or kneel for long periods while shackled in a painful position. The captive could also be forced into a wooden box for up to 18 hours at a stretch.

But, apparently you can’t take this too far.  The Office of Medical Services (OMS) “raised serious concerns about the medical dangers of waterboarding.”

“Most seriously, for reasons of physical fatigue or psychological resignation, the subject may simply give up, allowing excessive filling of the airways and loss of consciousness,” the OMS warned, according to the 2005 Justice Department memo.

Time to become kinder and gentler torturers:

Such warnings, combined with congressional concerns about the CIA’s secret prisons, gradually led the agency to modify the program. The menu of enhanced interrogation techniques was reduced from about a dozen to six, according to a Justice Department memo. Gone were nudity, walling, water-dousing, stress positions, cramped confinement in boxes and waterboarding. The proposed six techniques to be kept were dietary manipulation, sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours, the facial hold, the attention grasp, the abdominal slap and the insult slap.

The CIA said those techniques were “the minimum necessary to maintain an effective program.”

While “just following orders” is no excuse for those carrying out the torture, we’ve done nothing towards true justice and accountability if only a few low level soldiers or CIA agents are prosecuted, even if they did go beyond whatever sick and warped rules of engagement were the rules of the day.

We need to go after those who planned the torture, and in detail, then set it in motion.  Those who gave the orders, not just the ones following them.

It’s hard to look at this clinically though.  This is my country.  Cold, clinical torture isn’t supposed to happen here.

Yet it did.

Tortured Confessions in Iran (& in the U.S.)

In another disturbing development, Iranian leaders have managed to torture confessions of a “conspiracy” behind the Iranian people’s popular uprising against a blatantly stolen election.  Meanwhile the U.S. still hasn’t closed Guantanamo, Obama’s administration is considering indefinite detention for those we’ve tortured (who at least this administration acknowledges we can’t fairly try), and there are even reports of torture in the form of “extraction teams” continuing since the administration change.

First, on Iran.  According to the New York Times:

Iranian leaders say they have obtained confessions from top reformist officials that they plotted to bring down the government with a “velvet” revolution. Such confessions, almost always extracted under duress, are part of an effort to recast the civil unrest set off by Iran’s disputed presidential election as a conspiracy orchestrated by foreign nations, human rights groups say.

As a human rights observer, I am not reassured about the truthfulness of confessions like this one:

Alef, a Web site of a conservative member of Parliament, referred to a video of Mohammad Ali Abtahi, who served as vice president in the reform government of former President Mohammed Khatami, as showing that he tearfully “welcomed being defrocked and has confessed to provoking people, causing tension and creating media chaos.”

or this report:

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative to the Revolutionary Guards, Mojtaba Zolnour, said in a speech Thursday that almost everyone now detained had confessed — raising the prospect that more confessions will be made public. Ayatollah Khamenei is supreme religious leader.

According to another article by the New York Times, “A high-ranking Iranian cleric said Friday that Iran planned to put some of the detained British embassy staff members on trial”  claiming that “the embassy employees had ‘made confessions’ and would be tried for their role in inciting protests after last month’s disputed presidential election.”  Authorities claim to have video showing “evidence of some embassy employees at the protests” (as were a great many other Iranians).

This BBC video also paints a chilling portrait of the repression.  TV commercials to turn in your own family and robo-calls warning you not to participate in public protests.

Of course, the US (and Britain) have a bad track record with Iran, including their support of the Shah and his repressive SAVAK security, who the CIA helped put in power in the first place.  Leading many on the American left to claim there must be American involvement, and giving the Iranian authorities a convenient scapegoat (with the same kind of “you’re either for us or against us” mentality the Bush administration tried to make popular here).

Certainly, even if there was US involvement, it couldn’t explain (nor negate) the genuine, popular uprising first over a blatantly stolen election, then over the brutal repression of the protests.

In her article Iran and Leftist Confusion on Truthout, Reese Erlich, returning from covering the Iranian elections and protests, responds to claims that the U.S. is orchestrating the uprising.

When I returned from covering the Iranian elections recently, I was surprised to find my email box filled with progressive authors, academics and bloggers bending themselves into knots about the current crisis in Iran. They cite the long history of US interference in Iran and conclude that the current unrest there must be sponsored or manipulated by the Empire.

    That comes as quite a shock to those risking their lives daily on the streets of major Iranian cities fighting for political, social and economic justice.

Some of these authors have even cited my book, “The Iran Agenda,” as a source to prove US meddling. Whoa there, pardner. Now we’re getting personal.

To the claims that President Ahmadinejad actually won the election (one that seems to me to be really stretching it, given that the New York Times reported that Iranian authorities themselves admitted “ that the number of votes recorded in 50 cities exceeded the number of eligible voters there by three million”), Erlich cites:

A study by two professors at Chatham House and the Institute of Iranian Studies at University of St. Andrews, Scotland, took a close look at the official election results and found some major discrepancies. For Ahmadinejad to have sustained his massive victory in one-third of Iran’s provinces, he would have had to carry all his supporters, all new voters, all voters previously voting centrist and about 44 percent of previous reformist voters.

Then to the assertion that “[t]he US has a long history of meddling in Iran, so it must be behind the current unrest,” Erlich notes that:

All the arguments are by analogy and implication. Neither the above two authors, nor anyone else of whom I am aware, offers one shred of evidence that the Obama administration has engineered, or even significantly influenced, the current demonstrations.

Then her observations, from being inside Iran while this was all happening.

Let’s look at what actually happened on the ground. Tens of millions of Iranians went to bed on Friday, June 12, convinced that either Mousavi had won the election outright or that there would be a runoff between him and Ahmadinejad. They woke up Saturday morning and were stunned. “It was a coup d’etat,” several friends told me. The anger cut across class lines and went well beyond Mousavi’s core base of students, intellectuals and the well-to-do.

    Within two days, hundreds of thousands of people were demonstrating peacefully in the streets of Tehran and other major cities. Could the CIA have anticipated the vote count, and on two days notice, mobilized its nefarious networks? Does the CIA even have the kind of extensive networks that would be necessary to control or even influence such a movement? That simultaneously gives the CIA too much credit and underestimates the independence of the mass movement.

    As for the charge that the CIA is providing advanced technology like Twitter, pleaaaaaase. In my commentary carried on Reuters, I point out that the vast majority of Iranians have no access to Twitter and that the demonstrations were mostly organized by cell phone and word of mouth.

Umm, you mean Twitter has been overrated by the mainstream media? ; )

Frankly, based on my observations, no one was leading the demonstrations. During the course of the week after the elections, the mass movement evolved from one protesting vote fraud into one calling for much broader freedoms. You could see it in the changing composition of the marches. There were not only upper middle class kids in tight jeans and designer sun glasses. There were growing numbers of workers and women in very conservative chadors.

    Iranian youth particularly resented President Ahmadinejad’s support for religious militia attacks on unmarried young men and women walking together and against women not covering enough hair with their hijab. Workers resented the 24 percent annual inflation that robbed them of real wage increases. Independent trade unionists were fighting for decent wages and for the right to organize.

    Some demonstrators wanted a more moderate Islamic government. Others advocated a separation of mosque and state, and a return to parliamentary democracy they had before the 1953 coup. But virtually everyone believes that Iran has the right to develop nuclear power, including enriching uranium. Iranians support the Palestinians in their fight against Israeli occupation, and they want to see the US get out of Iraq.

 So if the CIA was manipulating the demonstrators, it was doing a piss poor job.

So now Iranian authorities are torturing confessions to “prove” the demonstrations are all the work of the U.S. and other foreign nations.   Of course, this is what torture is used for – to extract forced confessions.  Which makes you wonder about the U.S. use of torture at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere.  We’re using methods that were used against American soldiers during the Korean War to extract false confessions for show trials.  Great if we wanted show trials (well, not great, but the logic would be).  Isn’t what we want real information on terrorists, so we can stop whatever they’re planning next?  Am I missing something here?

It’s not un-patriotic to question America’s use of torture, even on the Fourth of July (in fact, what better day to question it – we’re talking about our Constitution, we’re talking about what America is).  Listen to what some in the military have to say about our use of torture in this video by the ACLU (Warning: this video does contain photos from Abu Ghraib):

Torture is wrong and immoral, and must be confronted, whether it’s being done by the Iranian government or the U.S. government. It is un-American (and I’m sure the Iranian people would agree, if they could, that it is also un-Iranian).

Tortured Memos, Ignorance and Accountability

Looking at the recently declassified Justice Department memos, it’s pretty obvious there only purpose was to provide cover, using convoluted logic, describing torture, only to give excuses for why torture wasn’t torture and this conspiracy to commit torture wasn’t a conspiracy.

According to the New York Times, waterboarding was used 266 times on 2 suspects – at least 83 times against Abu Zubaydah and 183 times against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

How did all of this happen?  According to an April 21 New York Times article:

In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Some of their ignorance I find incredible.  C.I.A. Director George Tenet didn’t know the history of waterboarding, and top officials who were briefed didn’t know the U.S. had prosecuted waterboarding in war crimes trials following World War II?

Wait, there was more they didn’t know:

They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.

In addition to never having conducted a real interrogation, the psychologist’s hypothesis was questionable.

By late 2001, the agency had contracted with James E. Mitchell, a psychologist with the SERE program who had monitored many mock interrogations but had never conducted any real ones, according to colleagues. He was known for his belief that a psychological concept called “learned helplessness” was crucial to successful interrogation.

Martin Seligman, a prominent professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania who had developed the concept, said in an interview that he was puzzled by Dr. Mitchell’s notion that learned helplessness was relevant to interrogation.

“I think helplessness would make someone more dependent, less defiant and more compliant,” Dr. Seligman said, “but I do not think it would lead reliably to more truth-telling.”

No matter, apparently.

Still, forceful and brainy, Dr. Mitchell, who declined to comment for this article, became a persuasive player in high-level agency discussions about the best way to interrogate Qaeda prisoners. Eventually, along with another former SERE psychologist, Bruce Jessen, Dr. Mitchell helped persuade C.I.A. officials that Qaeda members were fundamentally different from the myriad personalities the agency routinely dealt with.

“Jim believed that people of this ilk would confess for only one reason: sheer terror,” said one C.I.A. official who had discussed the matter with Dr. Mitchell.

It’s beyond disturbing that these decisions to torture were made, and it was illegal as well as immoral.  There needs to be accountability, and an independent commission, as Amnesty International and others have called for. While I know I know it is difficult, due to the current political divide, that this is an issue that causes division is exactly why it should be examined.  There are too many people out there who believe the “ticking time bomb” theory and think that torture is alright, under certain circumstances.  In addition to the need for justice, the facts need to come out and there needs to be accountability so this will never happen again.


Music as Torture

Also on December 10, the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the British human rights organization, Reprieve, which, according to the Telegraph, represents 33 clients at Guantanamo Bay, launched the Zero dB initiative to end the use of music as torture.

The campaign urges supporters to help bring to an end the “brutal practice of music torture”. It will feature minutes of silence during concerts and festivals while a petition will call on governments and the UN to uphold their obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture.

America’s use of torture in the “war on terror” is outrageous, horrifying and disgusting in all it’s forms.  It’s particularly outrageous that the torturers can just co-opt an artist’s music for their sick game. Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name Of is one of the songs that has been used, and Tom Morello has been speaking out on the issue for some time, as noted by Andy Worthington in the Huffington Post:

Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine has been particularly outspoken in denouncing the use of music as torture. In 2006, he also spoke to Spin magazine, and explained, “The fact that our music has been co-opted in this barbaric way is really disgusting. If you’re at all familiar with ideological teachings of the band and its support for human rights, that’s really hard to stand.”

David Gray, who’s song Babylon has been used in torture has also been in the forefront against the use of music as torture, saying in the Telegraph:

“What we’re talking about here is people in a darkened room, physically inhibited by handcuffs, bags over their heads and music blaring at them,” singer-songwriter David Gray has said of the practice.

“That is torture. That is nothing but torture. It doesn’t matter what the music is – it could be Tchaikovsky’s finest or it could be Barney the Dinosaur. It really doesn’t matter, it’s going to drive you completely nuts.”

In fact, the theme from Barney has been used to torture, as well as the theme from Sesame Street.

Christopher Cerf, who wrote music for Sesame Street, told the Associated Press he was horrified to learn songs from the children’s show were used in interrogations. “I wouldn’t want my music to be a party to that.”

Trent Reznor has also spoken out on the Nine Inch Nails blog:

It’s difficult for me to imagine anything more profoundly insulting, demeaning and enraging than discovering music you’ve put your heart and soul into creating has been used for purposes of torture.
If there are any legal options that can be realistically taken they will be aggressively pursued, with any potential monetary gains donated to human rights charities.
Thank GOD this country has appeared to side with reason and we can put the Bush administration’s reign of power, greed, lawlessness and madness behind us.

Trent Reznor

There have been a few musicians, including Steve Asheim of Deicide, Stevie Benton of Drowning Pool and Jamie Hetfeld of Metallica who actually approve of the use of their music in torture; and too much apathy from the rest.

I think there are two problems that contribute to the lack of outcry from some, and outright approval or acquiescence of other musicians, whose music is being used to break people.  One, that music’s use as torture is viewed as “torture light.” The other, the belief that all, or at least most, of those locked up at places like Guantanamo are guilty and “the worse of the worse.”

Neither is true, and what our government is doing in our name is far more sinister than some people are willing to believe (which is why we need a thorough, independent, investigation once President Obama puts an end to all of this, with those responsible at the top of the Bush administration being held accountable, as Amnesty International is calling for)

As noted in a June 19 Guardian article, “the creator of Barney’s song I Love You, Bob Singleton, admits he ‘just laughed’ when he heard it was being used by interrogators”.

I would argue even the fact that Tom Morello can say repeatedly on stage, as quoted in the Huffington Post article and others, “I suggest that they level Guantánamo Bay, but they keep one small cell and they put Bush in there … and they blast some Rage Against the Machine,” highlights the problem.  Not that I probably didn’t laugh myself if he said it at the Get Out the Vote concert, and not that I haven’t heard similar from friends or people coming up to our Amnesty table (when I’ll say, of course as a member of AI, I oppose torture, or the death penalty, in all cases. . .). 

I do think the reason Tom’s fans, including, probably me, so easily laugh, however, is because we’re not taking seriously the idea that playing Rage Against the Machine music at a loud volume, non-stop would, in fact, torture and break President Bush. I also question, what would happen if Tom were to use some other suggestion of torture repeatedly each night, say of water boarding Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld.  In spite of the fact water boarding is also claimed to be “torture light,” I suspect the FBI might pay Tom a little visit (and frankly, would worry we may eventually need to file a habeas corpus petition for Tom).

Even for some of us who get that heavy metal or rap played loud all day and night could drive someone mad, the idea that something mellow like David Gray’s Babylon (or the Sesame Street or Barney themes) could have the same effect may sound crazy, or can it really drive you crazy?

Yet, as described in Vanity Fair, and quoted in the Dec. 26, 2005 (Dec. 7 online) edition of The Nation:

In a gripping Vanity Fair article, Donovan Webster searched for and found “the man in the hood” from the macabre Abu Ghraib photos. Haj Ali told Webster of being hooded, stripped, handcuffed to his cell and bombarded with a looped sample of David Gray’s “Babylon.” It was so loud, he said, “I thought my head would burst.” Webster then cued up “Babylon” on his iPod and played it for Haj Ali to confirm the song. Ali ripped the earphones off his head, and started crying. “He didn’t just well up with tears,” Webster later told me. “He broke down sobbing.”

Released former Guantanamo detainee Rahul Ahmed, whose case is documented in the film The Road to Guantanamo. talks about the use of music in torture in this clip from Reprieve:

Consider this comment in the Huffington Post by Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed:

Speaking to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, Mohamed, like Ruhal Ahmed, explained how psychological torture was worse than the physical torture he endured in Morocco, where the CIA’s proxy torturers regularly cut his penis with a razorblade. “Imagine you are given a choice,” he said. “Lose your sight or lose your mind.”

Of course, breaking down prisoners and causing them to lose their mind is exactly what these psychological techniques developed by the CIA were meant to do, as chronicled by Alfred W. McCoy on numerous occasions, including a May 29, 2004 edition of CounterPunch.

As the Dec. 2005 Nation article points out, the British also used loud noise against Irish detainees in the early 1970’s. “This was one of the so-called Five Techniques, scientifically developed interrogation practices that also included wall-standing, hooding, sleep deprivation and withholding of food and drink.”

 In his book Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, John Conroy describes the “absolute” and “unceasing” noise that the Irishmen who were first subjected to the Five Techniques endured. While the other four techniques were clearly terrifying, the noise was “an assault of such ferocity that many of the men now recall it as the worst part of the ordeal.”

The Nation article continues the parallel:

Ex-interrogators at Guantánamo’s Camp Delta described their methods to the New York Times. These included shackling detainees to the floor, cranking up the air-conditioning and forcing them to endure strobe lights with rock and rap music playing at mind-numbing volumes for unbearably long sessions. “It fried them,” one said. Another admitted that detainees returned “very wobbly. They came back to their cells and were just completely out of it.”

This is when the mind begins its rebellion against the body. After you end up “wobbly” or “fried,” a severe post-traumatic stress disorder commonly results. Patrick Shivers, one of the Irish victims of the Five Techniques, developed a lasting and severe hypersensitivity to noise to the point where he was “disturbed by the sound of a comb placed on a shelf in his bathroom.”

Ah, but these techniques are only being used against terrorists, the worse of the worse, and certainly not Americans, right?  While it still would not be OK, or effective, the fact is – wrong.  The Huffington Post cites “Donald Vance, a U.S. military contractor in Iraq, who was subjected to music torture for 76 days in 2006”:

Vance’s story demonstrates not only that the practice of using music as torture was being used as recently as 2006, but also that it was used on Americans. When his story first broke in December 2006, the New York Times reported that he “wound up as a whistle-blower, passing information to the FBI about suspicious activities at the Iraqi security firm where he worked,” but that “when American soldiers raided the company at his urging, Mr. Vance and another American who worked there were detained as suspects by the military, which was unaware that Mr. Vance was an informer.”

Speaking to the Associated Press last week, Vance, who was held at Camp Cropper, said that the use of music as torture “can make innocent men go mad,” and explained that during his imprisonment the music “was almost constant, mostly hard rock. There was a lot of Nine Inch Nails, including ‘March of the Pigs.’ I couldn’t tell you how many times I heard Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You.'” He added that the experience “sort of removes you from you. You can no longer formulate your own thoughts when you’re in an environment like that.”

Worse of the worse?  Some statistics from Amnesty International’s fact sheet on Guantanamo:  55% of the detainees are not determined to have committed hostile acts against the United States, 44% of the detainees have no definitive connection with Al Qaeda, 18% have no definitive connection with Al Qaeda or the Taliban, with only 8% (typo corrected) being characterized as al Qaeda fighters.  Prisoners are bought, with the US offering large bounties for suspected terrorists: 66% of detainees were captured by Pakistani authorities and turned over to U.S. control, 20% were captured by Northern Alliance/Afghan authorities and turned over to U.S. control, with only 8% being captured by U.S. authorities and 3% by other coalition forces.

Torture is also not effective and puts our own troops at risk, as noted in the Washington Post by Matthew Alexander, the Air Force interrogator who tracked down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, by building a rapport with the Guantanamo suspects and refusing to take part in torture.

That music has been, and maybe still is, being used as a torture method by the U.S. government is deeply disturbing.  Musicians whose work is being used in this twisted way should be outraged and speak out against it ever happening again.

Not in our name!  I hear this “Well, but what can we do?” from people when it finally starts to dawn on them what we’re doing.  Is this still America?  Is this still a democracy?  We speak out! Amnesty International, and the prisoners of conscience we defend, have made it a point of speaking out even in countries that are not alleged democracies.

Yes, I have hope now that we have elected President Obama that this will all soon end.  There must be accountability, too; along with building a consensus in America that this will never happen again.  I think those of us who believe in justice will have to push to make this happen, as moderate Democrats tend to want to not make waves.  This is too important to let pass and sweep under the rug.

America should stand for justice. It’s precisely because I love America that I find this all so appalling. 


100 Days – Closing Guantanamo and Ending Torture

Amnesty International has launched it’s 100 Days campaign, calling on President-elect Barack Obama to make human rights a priority and undo the damage done by President Bush in the name of anti-terrorism.

In the first 100 days, Amnesty International is calling on the new administration to:

  • announce a plan and date to close Guantanamo;
  • issue an executive order to ban torture and other ill-treatment, as defined under international law;
  • ensure that an independent commission to investigate abuses committed by the U.S. government in its “war on terror” is set up.

Our local Amnesty International group has had the letters to soon to be President Obama out at local events (collecting them for AI to present to him at the right moment, maybe after January 20?).  Just joking, after Barack’s in office is obvious, although even AI can barely wait for Bush to leave, can they? 

You can also take action online at:

How did it come to this? In America?

Amnesty International is not alone.  A group of retired generals and admirals are also calling for President Barack Obama to end torture “from the moment of his inauguration” according to Reuters.

“We need to remove the stain, and the stain is on us, as well as on our reputation overseas,” said retired Vice Adm. Lee Gunn, former Navy inspector general.

Gunn and about a dozen other retired generals and admirals, who are scheduled to meet Obama’s team in Washington, said they plan to offer a list of anti-torture principles, including some that could be implemented immediately.

They include making the Army Field Manual the single standard for all U.S. interrogators. The manual requires humane treatment and forbids practices such as waterboarding — a form of simulated drowning widely condemned as torture.

Other immediate steps Obama could take are revoking presidential orders allowing the CIA to use harsh treatment, giving the International Red Cross access to all prisoners held by intelligence agencies and declaring a moratorium on taking prisoners to a third country for harsh interrogations.

“If he’d just put a couple of sentences in his inaugural address, stating the new position, then everything would flow from that,” said retired Maj. Gen. Fred Haynes, whose regiment in World War Two raised the American flag on Iwo Jima.

Torture is not patriotic.  Torture is also not effective. 

Matthew Alexander, an interrogator in Iraq talks in the Washington Post about how he refused to “bend the rules” and use torture, instead going by the U.S Army Field Manual to get the information to capture Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. “We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work”, he wrote. 

Over the course of this renaissance in interrogation tactics, our attitudes changed. We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shiite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money.

As Alexander notes, not only is torture against his moral fabric and inconsistent with American principles.  “Torture and abuse cost American lives.”

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.

So we should be free from torture and excuses for torture now that we’ll have a Democrat in office, right?  Well, actually I do hold a lot of hope for Obama on this one.  He’s been very consistent against torture. What’s disturbing, is that, as the New York Times and Salon report, Senators Feinstein and Wyden have shifted their previous strong stances against torture, to one of, umm, greater flexibility.

According to the Times:

[I]n an interview on Tuesday, Mrs. Feinstein indicated that extreme cases might call for flexibility. “I think that you have to use the noncoercive standard to the greatest extent possible,” she said, raising the possibility that an imminent terrorist threat might require special measures.

Afterward, however, Mrs. Feinstein issued a statement saying: “The law must reflect a single clear standard across the government, and right now, the best choice appears to be the Army Field Manual. I recognize that there are other views, and I am willing to work with the new administration to consider them.”

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, another top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said he would consult with the C.I.A. and approve interrogation techniques that went beyond the Army Field Manual as long as they were “legal, humane and noncoercive.” But Mr. Wyden declined to say whether C.I.A. techniques ought to be made public.

Salon reports clarifying statements from he Senators’ offices.  Ron Wyden’s office claims he is against torture, but the statement is actually quite wishy-washy.

As you may or may not be aware, under current law, the Army Field Manual can be revised by the Executive Branch without prior consent from Congress. This is to allow for the possibility of incorporating other legal, humane and noncoercive interrogation techniques that might be discovered to be effective in the future. Just because the Army Field Manual is currently the best available standard for interrogation does not mean we can’t do better.

Ah, so there are “legal, humane and noncoercive interrogation techniques” yet to be invented that the Army Field Manual somehow may not allow because they’ve banned torture or, err, “coercive techniques”, so we have to allow some wiggle room.

Feinstein’s clarification is even more disturbing.  According to Salon:

Sen. Feinstein has just now issued another statement, to Time‘s Scherer, asserting — much like Wyden just did — “that she still wants a law that mandates the Field Manual as the sole interrogation standard, but that she may be willing to be talked back from that position by the Obama Administration, if it chooses to do so.”  

So, she’s willing to consider torture (or “coercive methods”) if President Obama says so?

While I would hope this will never be an issue, the correct answer, Senator, is “No.”  No torture.  Period.  Torture would still be wrong even if President Obama were to order it, or his administration were to order it.  Does Senator Feinstein really believe torture is not okay under a Republican administration, but it is under a Democratic one?!!

This is not the American I believe in.

The America I Believe In doesn’t torture people or use cruel, inhuman treatment. . .doesn’t hold people without charge, without fair trials, without hope, and without end. . .doesn’t kidnap people on the street and ship them to nations known for their brutality. . .doesn’t condone prisoner abuse and excuse high-ranking government of-cials from responsibility for that abuse. . .doesn’t justify the use of secret prisons. . . and does not rob people of their basic dignity.

I’m joining with Amnesty International USA to restore The America I Believe In.

The America I Believe In leads the world on human rights. 



Psychologists, the Military & Torture

According to Saturday’s New York Times, the American Psychological Association (APA), which has already taken a strong stand against psychologists participating in torture, “is considering whether to make any involvement in military interrogations a violation of its code of ethics.”

In looking at the actual resolution currently being voted on by APA members, however, I am surprised at the Times’ characterization.  The resolution is far more specific than that, mentioning Guantanamo, CIA “black sites” and the use of psychologists in interrogations resulting in torture at these sites, then stating:

Be it resolved that psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights[7].

This resolution is not “considering whether to make any involvement in military interrogations a violation of [the APA’s] code of ethics,” only those interrogations taking place is places where the prisoners are held (according to the Bush administration) outside of or, rather, in violation of, international law or the U.S. Constitution.

An unnamed psychologist’s involvement in the decision to confine Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad, a teenager at the time, to isolation, and the young man’s subsequent suicide attempt are cited in the article.  The psychologist involved “invoked Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the military’s equivalent of the Fifth Amendment.”

According to Amnesty International’s summary of their report on Mohammed Jawad, he was captured on December 17, 2002 in Kabul, then, after four hours of interrogation, transferred to Bagram air base. Over the next seven weeks he “was allegedly subjected to isolation, sleep deprivation, cruel use of restraints, hooding, force standing, stress positions, and physical assaults as part of the interrogation process.”

After Mohammed Jawad’s transfer to Guantanamo in early February 2003, he was interrogated repeatedly without counsel, then placed in isolation for 30 days.  AI reports that Jawad received another 30 days of isolation in September to October 2003 “on the recommendation of a psychologist with Guantanamo’s Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) who suggested that he was feigning homesickness and depression as a technique to resist interrogations.”

Mohammed Jawad attempted suicide in December 2003. Yet, “[d]espite his delicate mental well-being, in May 2004 he was subjected to sleep disruption and deprivation in the form of the euphemistically named ‘frequent flyer program’ – moved from cell to cell every few hours, day and night, over a 14 day period.”

The psychologist’s involvement is very disturbing and unethical.  He (or she) not only ignores the torture done to this young man, but sends him off to more cruel treatment in isolation, claiming he must be faking his depression, which is obviously caused by the torture in the first place.

According to the Times, the APA’s “most recent ethics amendments strongly condemn coercive techniques adopted in the Bush administration’s antiterrorism campaign.”  Actually, the APA refers to those techniques, such as “waterboarding” or the use of hoods, as torture, as does AI, not the euphemistic “coercive techniques” of the New York Times article. 

Current APA guidelines quoted by the Times as saying “. . . ‘it is consistent with the A.P.A. ethics code for psychologists to serve in consultative roles to interrogation and information-gathering processes for national-security-related purposes,’ as long as they do not participate in any of 19 coercive procedures. . .”

Note where some of these torture methods came from, and the disturbing use of the “coercive techniques” even in referring to torture used to obtain false confessions from captured U.S. soldiers during the Korean War:

How these guidelines shape behavior during interrogations is not well understood. Documents from Guantánamo made public in June suggested that at least some of the coercive methods the military has used were derived from SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, a program based on Chinese techniques used in the 1950s that produced false confessions from American prisoners.

These techniques included “prolonged constraint,” “exposure” and “sleep deprivation,” known informally as the frequent flier program.

In this kind of environment, “health professionals, bound by strong ethical imperatives to do no harm, may become calibrators of harm,” said Nathaniel Raymond of Physicians for Human Rights, which has been strongly critical of the psychological association’s position.

Physicians for Human Rights has issued a report, available online, “Break Them Down: Systematic Use of Psychological Torture by U.S. Forces”.

Other psychologists are claiming they’re doing good by being there:

Some psychologists, though appalled by these techniques, emphasize that there is a danger in opting out as well.

“There’s no doubt that the psychologist’s presence can be abused,” said Robert W. Resnick, who is in private practice in Santa Monica, Calif., “but if there’s no presence at all, then there’s no accountability, and you walk away feeling noble and righteous, but you haven’t done a damned thing.”

Ahh, safer torture, err, “coercive techniques”. . .

Let’s hope ethics win out in the end.

My Ship Liberty Sailed Away

More dark magic from the Bush administration detailed in the Washington Post this morning.

First there was the story: Memo: Laws Didn’t Apply to Interrogators detailing the Justice Department’s belief that the laws and constitution didn’t apply if the President says they didn’t. 

The Justice Department sent a legal memorandum to the Pentagon in 2003 asserting that federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes did not apply to military interrogators who questioned al-Qaeda captives because the president’s ultimate authority as commander in chief overrode such statutes.

There’s more:

The 81-page memo, which was declassified and released publicly yesterday, argues that poking, slapping or shoving detainees would not give rise to criminal liability. The document also appears to defend the use of mind-altering drugs that do not produce “an extreme effect” calculated to “cause a profound disruption of the senses or personality.”

John C. Yoo, then a deputy in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel claims in the memo “that numerous laws and treaties forbidding torture and cruel treatment should not apply to U.S. interrogations in foreign lands because of the president’s inherent wartime powers.”

He uses the “ticking time bomb” type scenario popular in television and movies to justify torture:

“If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network,” Yoo wrote. “In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch’s constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions.”

Yoo also claimed that to be considered illegal conduct in an interrogation, the act must “shock the conscience.”

“Whether conduct is conscience-shocking turns in part on whether it is without any justification,” Yoo wrote, explaining, for example, that it would have to be inspired by malice or sadism before it could be prosecuted.

More troubling:

Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, defended the memo in an e-mail yesterday, saying the Justice Department altered its opinions “for appearances’ sake.” He said his successors “ignored the Department’s long tradition in defending the President’s authority in wartime.”

“Far from inventing some novel interpretation of the Constitution,” Yoo wrote, “our legal advice to the President, in fact, was near boilerplate.”

In other words, our Presidents have been ignoring the Constitution for years, so it’s not a “novel interpretation” to allow the President to do exactly those things the Constitution was created to prevent him from doing.

This guy teaches law at Berkeley?!! Excuse me for the language, but what the hell has happened to this country? In addition to wondering whether something has happened to Berkeley’s once proud tradition to protest for social justice; shouldn’t a law professor know (and respect) the law?

Also in this morning’s Washington Post: Centers Tap Into Personal Databases:

Intelligence centers run by states across the country have access to personal information about millions of Americans, including unlisted cellphone numbers, insurance claims, driver’s license photographs and credit reports, according to a document obtained by The Washington Post.

One center also has access to top-secret data systems at the CIA, the document shows, though it’s not clear what information those systems contain.

These “fusion centers” created after the Sept. 11 attacks “use law enforcement analysts and sophisticated computer systems to compile, or fuse, disparate tips and clues and pass along the refined information to other agencies.”  So in addition to compiling factual databases on all of us, they’re adding into the mix “tips and clues”.  Feel secure yet?

Pennsylvania buys credit reports and uses face-recognition software to examine driver’s license photos, while analysts in Rhode Island have access to car-rental databases. In Maryland, authorities rely on a little-known data broker called Entersect, which claims it maintains 12 billion records about 98 percent of Americans.

In its online promotional material, Entersect calls itself “the silent partner to municipal, county, state, and federal justice agencies who access our databases every day to locate subjects, develop background information, secure information from a cellular or unlisted number, and much more.”

Ahh, and we’ve privatized spying on the American public.  A neo-con’s dream.

The list includes a wide variety of data resources along with software that finds patterns and displays links among people.

Data on everything you own or do, tips, clues, patterns, links. . . all for our own security.  Sleeping better yet?

(Blog title from a lyric in Bruce Sprinsgteen’s Livin’ In the Future.)

Former WWII POW Describes Waterboarding

Last Saturday, President Bush vetoed H.R. 2082, a bill that would have outlawed the use of waterboarding and other torture techniques by the CIA.   Amnesty International condemned the veto and called for Congress to push for investigation and accountability.

Is waterboarding torture?  Eric Lomax, a British World War II veteran who was waterboarded while a Japanese POW has no doubts what he experienced was torture, as he describes his ordeal in a London Times article:

One morning I was led out to the back of the Kempeitai building, where the simple apparatus for the historic water torture was laid out. From its availability I wondered if they used it quite often. I was laid on my back on a bench; my arms, still broken and almost useless, were placed across my chest, my face was covered by a cloth and a tap feeding a hose-pipe was turned on. It was all so simple. To encourage me to say something the senior Japanese man beat me from time to time with the branch of a tree. This did not do my arms any good at all. The interpreter, who did not seem sympathetic to the whole procedure, held my left hand. I suspected that he wanted to make sure that I remained alive.

The whole operation was a long and agonising sequence of near-drowning, choking, vomiting and muscular struggling with the water flowing with ever-changing force. To put it mildly, it was ghastly, quite the worst experience of my life. There were occasional intervals for interrogation. How long the torture lasted, I do not know. It covered a period of some days, with periods of unconsciousness and semi-consciousness. Eventually I was dumped in my cell, which was so small it offered little scope for movement. At about this time two of my colleagues were beaten to death. Their bodies were dumped in a latrine where they may well remain to this day.

Was what his Japanese captors did to Mr. Lomax torture?  Does anyone really doubt that?  Why is it being justified when America does it?  How did torture become an American value

The physical damage suffered by victims of torture can usually be repaired. But the psychological damage can never be repaired. It accompanies victims of torture throughout the rest of their lives.

Is this what we want to stand for?

In case anyone is still in doubt whether the water torture is, or is not, torture I shall refer to a Japanese Army document, which is authoritative. I have an extract from the Japanese Secret War Service Guide, headed ‘”Fundamental Rules for Interrogating War Prisoners”. This was probably issued in the Kwantung Army in Manchuria in 1938. In the list of “official” tortures item No 3 reads: “Putting the person interrogated on his back (it is advisable to raise the feet a little) and dripping water into the nose and mouth simultaneously.” A later section draws attention to the importance of minimising the disturbance caused by victims’ screams.

Is this the America you believe in?

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