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(UPDATED) Institutionalizing immorality
Posted by: mcq on Friday, September 22, 2006

It looks like the Bush administration got what it wanted out of the short-lived Republican rebellion. The compromise, concerning "interrogation techniques" can be found here [pdf]. A good comparison of what was proposed by McCain, et. al., Bush and the final language can be found here.

There is a lot about this I still need to study and understand. There is a lot more reading for me to do. However, in terms of techniques approved for use, but primarily waterboarding, I still fail to see how such a technique doesn't rise to this level:
“(A) TORTURE.—The act of a person who commits, or conspires or attempts to commit, an act specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control for the purpose of obtaining information or a confession, punishment, intimidation, coercion, or any reason based on discrimination of any kind.
That's the definition of torture within the compromise which I cite above.

US law defines it thusly:
" US law defines it as, "...the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from..." (1) intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; (2) the administration or threatened administration of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality; (3) threat of imminent death; or (4) a threat to do those things to a third person.
The technique is explained here.

Understanding the technique, and what it is supposed to make the person undergoing it believe, I find it hard to see how it avoids "severe ... mental pain or suffering", or isn't understood by the victim to be a "threat of imminent death".

I can't imagine anymore severe mental pain or suffering than being convinced you're going to die. In that regard, why is this any less of a problem than a fake firing squad, which is outlawed under the GC, because it is considered a form of torture for the "severe mental pain and suffering" it produces.

But far more interesting is the fact that this isn't some new technique with moral or legal gray areas. It is a technique we've firmly rejected previously:
Water boarding was designated as illegal by U.S. generals in Vietnam 40 years ago. A photograph that appeared in The Washington Post of a U.S. soldier involved in water boarding a North Vietnamese prisoner in 1968 led to that soldier's severe punishment.
In fact, we've understood that waterboarding was unacceptable for almost a century:
Earlier in 1901, the United States had taken a similar stand against water boarding during the Spanish-American War when an Army major was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for water boarding an insurgent in the Philippines.
16 days ago, the Department of Defense released a Army Field Manual, Human Intelligence Collection Operations which, according to Wikipedia, expressly "prohibits the use of waterboarding by U.S. military personnel."

Yet now, suddenly, it is acceptable and legally rationalized, with proponents claiming it is necessary to win the war on terror, when, in the past we've punished the very same technique because we considered it "illegal" and, in fact, torture.

The times change, but principle remains the same, and I find it difficult to find acceptable now what we've institutionally identified as torture in the past and, in fact, punished our own people for doing.

Definitions can be tuned up and legal and moral rationalizations written until the paperwork supports the technique. All very legal and all very neat. We can all pat ourselves on the back and tell each other what good boys and girls we are because according to that paperwork and law, we don't torture people. But will the principle actually be satisfied, or are we, in fact, rationalizing immorality?

On first blush, I think it is the latter, and as such can't support this compromise as long as waterboading is an approved and "legal" interrogation technique.

UPDATE: While it is still not clear, I've heard McCain say waterboarding won't be allowed and here is a paragraph from the Charlotte Observer written by Margaret Talev:
Graham said he believed the compromise would prohibit simulated drowning, or "water-boarding" as a CIA interrogation technique. But Graham didn't rule out other aggressive techniques such as sleep deprivation or playing loud music. He said the legislation wouldn't spell out which "alternative interrogation techniques" are permitted and which are prohibited.
OTOH, CIA Director Michael Hayden has refused, to this point, to acknowledge that water boarding has been or will be prohibited.
 
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Comments
What does this caveat actually mean??
(other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions)
And how do we define "prolonged" in the following:
...the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from...
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://
in terms of techniques approved for use, but primarily waterboarding
Where is this information located?
 
Written By: JWG
URL: http://
The times change, but principle remains the same, and I find it difficult to find acceptable now what we’ve institutionally identified as torture in the past
Then accept thousands dying in the L.A. library tower bombing that was thwarted by water-boarding Khalid-Sheik Mohammad, the man directly responsible for 2,996 innocent Americans murdered.

If it is the case that a terror attack is imminent, and the only way to stop it is to tortue a terrorist for information, then it would be immoral not to do it.

The only difficult question to ask is, how imminent is the attack, and how involved is the detainee. To me, that is the only moral grey area, not necessarily the techniques themselves.
 
Written By: Jimmy the Dhimmi
URL: http://moorejack.ytmnd.com/
But is the inducing fear actually mentally painful? You’re assuming it is.

Fear is a survival tool granted by God and/or natural evolution. It’s the primary tool of all terrorists. So, is the use of fear at the individual level a reasonable tool in a fight to prevent mass fear and loss of life?
 
Written By: RiverRat
URL: http://
Where is this information located?
Sorry about that ... link added in post.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://qando.net
I do believe this is the finest post you have ever written, McQ.

Because I agree with it 100%

Do you think now that waterboarding is ’OK’ the relatives of those punished in your post may deserve a timely presidential pardon?
 
Written By: Rick D.
URL: http://goplobby.org
I have to point out that its use by the defense department was what was made illegal, and which the defense department again made clear is illegal.

The CIA is not part of the Defense Department.

I think the question still remains, are terrorists prisoners of war, or something else?

If they are something else, what rules apply to them?

If my recollection is correct, Special Forces troops caught out of uniform, can be treated as spies, not prisoners of war.
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://
I’ve got to hand it to the Democrats. The strategy of allowing the Republicans to "thrash out" their differences on the treatment and prosecution of detainees has played out exactly as planned...for the Republicans. Don’t let anyone convince you that you can go to the well too often...that is if you are a Republican and your opponent is a fully inept Democratic Party.

Amidst a trend of favorable polling data and a firestorm of speeches by the President to refocus the voting public on their fear of terrorism, the Democrats stood in the background for the past two weeks and watched what the GOP will call the difficult work of creating legislation that preserves our commitment to civil liberties while at the same time providing our determined President with the essential tools needed to pursue those who seek to kill us all.

OK, perhaps I’m being too harsh. There is a possibility that in the past two weeks the Democrats were able to devise their sixth iteration of a campaign slogan and strategy to roll out with less than 50 days to the election. Perhaps they could call it "Fifty States, Fifty Days...But Never Fifty Percent"! It’s catchy, it’s succinct, and it may well be accurate come November 8th. Arrgghh!

Read more here:

www.thoughttheater.com
 
Written By: Daniel DiRito
URL: http://www.thoughttheater.com
McQ, I’m not sure if I agree or not. What you’ve written sounds reasonable, but how does the fact that our own people are water-boarded as part of their training fit into the definition? Apparently, the context in which the water-boarding takes place doesn’t affect the result.

Our people "break" in seconds too... Even with the foreknowledge that it’s all just an exercise and they won’t die and it’s fake, etc. etc.

Brian Ross’s reporting on CIA water-boarding is specific in that our toughest trainees only last under a minute before they have to stop. They all admired Khalid Shaikh Mohammed because he lasted two minutes being water-boarded.

Apparently, this tactic triggers an unconscious panic reflex that occurs whether you are intellectually prepared (whether you believe it’s "real") or not.

Are we then torturing our own people as part of their training? If not, then what is the difference?
 
Written By: Fyro
URL: http://
Are we then torturing our own people as part of their training? If not, then what is the difference?

Isn’t that obvious? The difference is that in one case the person is voluntarily submitting to the practice and in the other he isn’t. That makes all the difference in the world. It’s the difference between sex and rape.

If I subject myself to harsh conditions to test my will or to prepare myself to withstand enemy torture, I’m doing that out of my own free will for my own purposes. That’s totally different in every conceivable moral dimension.
 
Written By: Anonymous Liberal
URL: http://www.anonymousliberal.com
I’ve been trying to find the article by Miniter, about his trip to Guantanamo, describing the horrible conditions there. Prisoners must have 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, get 3 halal meals a day, pray 5 times a day, can be "interviewed" for only 2 hours at a time, there are about 1000 lawyers for the 400 or 500 prisoners, they can freely send and recieve mail - which cannot be opened or censored, ...

Does it really make sense for the US to be the only country in the world subject to the Geneva convention? (Yes, I know that France and Germany would almost certainly comply, but those are not the people we’re at war with.)

On the one hand, I agree that we should follow a higher standard, but limiting our methods to two hours of "pretty please" a day is ludicrous.

 
Written By: ZZMike
URL: http://www.rigoletto.com/blogger.html
MKULTRA where are you!? Please get here and DEMAND that Q&O stop carrying water for the Bush administration!

 
Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
I can’t imagine anymore severe mental pain or suffering than being convinced you’re going to die.
Then you must be suffering every d*mned day. Are you immortal?
 
Written By: Mark A. Flacy
URL: http://
This is the best lead post I’ve seen in a long time. It’s clear in its reasoning all the way through.
I particularly appreciated that it avoiced emotional elements such as revenge (they do it, so why shouldn’t we do it). After all, WE have to decide what kind of people we are; letting the enemy define our morality for us is allowing them to destroy ourselves from within.

A lead administration argument has been the difficult scenario in which a detainee is felt to have vital informaiton about an imminent threat. If a nuclear device is set to go off in minutes; it would be darn hard for any interrogator to brush up on the law before deciding on a course of action. That’s why it is important to pre-set guidelinges for what to do in such emergencies. Perhaps a hotline to a very superior superior?

Even here, torture should not be the knee-jerk reaction. What the torturee wants is for his suffering to stop, but he can stop it with false information as well as good informaion. So, if a nuclear device is set to go off in L,A, and he is a dedicated and well prepared enemy, he might say that there are explosives planted in a Miami shopping mall. Before his lie could be exposed, BOOM! in L.A.

If we say torture is immoral in Iran, then it should be immoral in the US.

This compromise legislation is very suspicious, especially as it seems to give Bush special powers to interpret the law in any way he wants. This is from early reports, though. Not everything is clear.

 
Written By: Laime
URL: http://
Isn’t that obvious? The difference is that in one case the person is voluntarily submitting to the practice and in the other he isn’t. That makes all the difference in the world. It’s the difference between sex and rape.

It’s not obvious. I don’t know the details of these training programs that employ water-boarding as a training technique, but I imagine that the exercise involves creating a situation that resembles a "real-world" scenario as closely as possible.

The subject is probably being given information that he’s supposed to guard for as long as he can. I imagine the subject may not even be aware that the water-boarding treatment is coming.

I admit I’m guessing. The training may be very mild compared to the treatment inflicted on detainees, but I doubt it. The trainees may not be able end the exercise whenever they like — in fact, having that ability would defeat the purpose of the training altogether as they could end the exercise before they gave up the information they guard.

Using a rape analogy, it seems to me that it would be more analogous to tell a woman, "we’re beginning your self-defense training today," and then surprising her by perpetrating an actual rape so she can know "what it feels like".

The results are the same. Apparently, the process that the voluntary subject submits to is equivalent to the process forced on a terror detainee in regard to the level of duress inflicted.

They both suffer the same amount of fear, panic, emotional distress, etc. They both eventually "break" and give up the information they are supposed to guard.

So, in my mind, the question will stand until it’s made clear that the process we use in training is somehow less severe than the process inflicted upon detainees. Are we torturing our own trainees?
 
Written By: Fyro
URL: http://
They both suffer the same amount of fear, panic, emotional distress, etc. They both eventually "break" and give up the information they are supposed to guard.
And what "prolonged mental harm" occurs from this fear, panic and emotional distress...

Are we sending out mentally harmed soldiers out into the world?
 
Written By: Keith_Indy
URL: http://
Are we then torturing our own people as part of their training? If not, then what is the difference?
Knowing it is training and knowing there is no intent to kill or injure. They are better prepared by knowing it is going to happen.

Ask any grad of SERE training and he knew it was coming well before he ever attended.

Now consider being snatched, jailed, slapped around, deprived of sleep, etc. Now do waterboarding.

Whole different context. Whole different perception. Completely different reaction, mentally.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
I disagree with McQ but will defend to the death his being protected by information gained by waterboarding terrorists....
 
Written By: steve sturm
URL: www.thoughtsonline.blogspot.com
I have to point out that its use by the defense department was what was made illegal, and which the defense department again made clear is illegal.

The CIA is not part of the Defense Department.
See post title ... this isn’t about "legality". A country can make anything legal.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
And what "prolonged mental harm" occurs from this fear, panic and emotional distress...

Are we sending out mentally harmed soldiers out into the world?
Not in the context in which they experience the waterboarding, no. It is something they know they will experience and know they must endure. They also know no one is trying to kill them and that it is part of the training they must undergo.

Not so with a prisoner who finds himself in an extremely hostile environment, in a "secret prison" no one knows exists and in the hands of people he believes will kill him if necessary to get information.

Like I said ... an entirely different context and perception which will work on the mind in a completely different way (especially if proceeded by treatment that reinforces the fear of dying).

 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
McQ,

Thanks for responding. I still don’t understand the distinction.

Why do the trainees "break" if they do not experience the same level of fear?

I thought the point of this exercise was to demonstrate that the panic felt is an involuntary reflex. It doesn’t matter how intellectually prepared a trainee is, they still panic on an instinctive level and break.

I don’t see how this experience of trainees is more mild than that of detainees. Certainly the trainees are less fearful in advance of this procedure and maybe even after it, but during the procedure itself, don’t our trainees have the exact same experience as a detainee?
 
Written By: Fyro
URL: http://
I DEMAND MKULTRA CHASTISES Q&O FOR THEIR UNFLINCHING SUPPORT OF THE BUSH ADMINISTATION! SYCOPHANTS!

 
Written By: Unknown
URL: http://
Why do the trainees "break" if they do not experience the same level of fear?
Because it is very intense, painful and causes a panic attack even if you know what to expect. They ’break’ to get it over with knowing full well there’s no penalty for breaking.
I thought the point of this exercise was to demonstrate that the panic felt is an involuntary reflex. It doesn’t matter how intellectually prepared a trainee is, they still panic on an instinctive level and break.
Correct. But the trainee knows he isn’t going to die and that there is no intent to really harm him.

A prisoner has no such understanding. Don’t forget waterboarding doesn’t take place in a vacuum. There is a whole process designed to break the prisoner leading up to it. That’s why I’ve stressed context and perception and the fact that they’re completely different in the case of a trainee and a prisoner.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Not to worry. Waterboarding will be removed from any US training as soon as some former trainee decides that he/she has suffered compensable severe and permanent mental trauma, pain and suffering, etc., and sues.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
I do believe this is the finest post you have ever written, McQ.

Because I agree with it 100%
Heh ... all my posts are fine, Rick ... it’s just the percentage with which you have a problem.
Do you think now that waterboarding is ’OK’ the relatives of those punished in your post may deserve a timely presidential pardon?
Well it’s not clear waterboarding is "OK". Let me be clear here: I’m stating that if it is "OK" then I’m not "OK" with the compromise.

But, one way we’ll know if it’s "OK" is if a couple of presidential pardons do go out.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Are you immortal?
Heck yeah. I’m going to live forever.

So far so good.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Great post, McQ.

A few further points:

#1. It’s pretty sad, isn’t it, the amount of subterfuge being used here? Instead of that clear debate we’re supposed to be having, no one’s even sure what this bill really does. Why is George Bush having this important moral debate in September 2006, when he’s years to do it? He’s daring the Democrats to stonewall it or vote against it, so he can run ads proclaiming that the Democrats are jeopradizing national security by "not giving the president the tools he needs to fight the war on terror" - by which he means, torture techniques.

#2. Don’t forget about long-term stress positions and long-term induced hypothermia. I’ve never experienced waterboarding, but these always seem more debilitating and painful than waterboarding to me, just a personal estimation.


#3. We’ll always be able to torture in the 1-in-1000 scenario where some massive attack depends on finding out where Khalid Shiekh Mohammed hid the nuclear bomb. No court in America would convict, few if any prosecutors would prosecute, and the guy in question will be a hero. That doesn’t mean it should be legal. Because it will then be used whenever deemed expedient.

#4: Pisses me off that the Democrats laid back on this. Now is the time. They’d better stand up. Harry Reid has reportedly promised prominent bloggers that this bill is dead until post-November. I’m skeptical, but I can hope.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
Fear is a survival tool granted by God and/or natural evolution. It’s the primary tool of all terrorists. So, is the use of fear at the individual level a reasonable tool in a fight to prevent mass fear and loss of life?

This is an interesting point. Obviously, on some level governments use fear of punishment to enforce behavior.

For me, this may be why fear-based waterboarding doesn’t seem as bad as pain-based 40-hour stress positions (of which crucifixtion was one of the earliest types)

On the other hand, there is a level of fear which causes a man’s mind to be permanently broken, irreparably damaged. You can "fear up" someone to the point of them becoming a vegetable.

A lot of right-wing blogs rail against the people arguging against torture by quoting provisions I don’t have much of a problem with, such as slaps, sensory disorientation and fear, and focusing attention on them, rather on some more extreme techniques that are also out there being debated.

 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
Let’s not get lost in legalisms. We’re up against hundreds of millions of psychopathic butchers who are intelligent enough to use our legal system to trap us like rats. We need to use any and all means necessary to eviscerate the throat cutters. And even some that are unnecessary, but fun. It’s not advisable to defend the throat cutters, however surreptitiously, by using legalisms. It’s time to get on board the train, or get left back at the station with Mohammed.
 
Written By: R LaBonte
URL: http://WWW.WEBDATASYSTEMS.COM/BEEBLOG
"We need to use any and all means necessary
to eviscerate the throat cutters. And even
some that are unnecessary, but fun."

This is a great argument to NOT resort to torture. It’s obviously just sooo appealing to those loose cannons who can think of torture as fun. We don’t need another Abu Graib, thank you.

 
Written By: Laime
URL: http://
"...as pain-based 40-hour stress positions (of which crucifixtion was one of the earliest types).

Funny, I always thought crucifixion was an execution position rather than a stress position. I guess that explains the resurection of Jesus. So much for the Easter holiday.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Funny, I always thought crucifixion was an execution position rather than a stress position.
It’s a stress position that the occupant is forced to hold until the act of holding it kills him, thus making it an execution as well.

The nails are optional. The fundamental pain and suffering of crucifixion comes from your forcibly secured hands being made to hold the weight of your entire body for extended period of time. Wikipedia:
Experiments by Frederick Zugibe have revealed that, when suspended with arms at 60° to 70° from the vertical, test subjects had no difficulty breathing, only rapidly-increasing discomfort and pain. This would correspond to the Roman use of crucifixion as a prolonged, agonizing, humiliating death. Zugibe claims that the breaking of the crucified victim’s legs to hasten death, mentioned in the Gospel accounts, was done in order to cause severe traumatic shock or death by fat embolism, and only as a coup de grace. Crucifixion on a single pole with no transom, with hands affixed over one’s head, would precipitate rapid asphyxiation if no block was provided to stand on, or once the legs were broken.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
It isn’t merely that fear is a genetically inherited survival tool, it’s the fear of suffering prolonged pain, injury, or death in particular that moves us most. I believe that most Americans understand torture to be the inflicting of pain or physical injury (and thus triggering our instinctive fear) to coerce or punish for any number of reasons. The fear is derivative here, derived from the inflicting of pain. Pain. Injury. This is where the line is drawn for most of us, and it’s a humane, rational line.

The implications of which, for me anyway, makes the use of stress positions far more troublesome than waterboarding, It is not torture to freak somebody out, or offend their superstitions, or embarass them, or confuse them. It is torture to beat them or physically abuse them in any way: to have dogs bite them; starving them, or forcing them to kneel upright on hard surfaces until they swoon with pain.

I personally think we should eschew all other techniques and go with a straight program of sodium pentathol.

yours/
peter.

 
Written By: Peter Jackson
URL: http://www.liberalcapitalist.com

 
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