Sunday, May 10, 2009

Torture Techniques

When discussing the various methods of torture authorized by the Bush administration, waterboarding far and away gets the most attention. It's important to note, however, that other methods were in play, some that are every bit as nasty as the simulated drowning. President Obama promptly ordered the cessation of torture by the CIA upon taking office and it was the loss of one particular technique, sleep deprivation, that set off the most howls from CIA officials.

Keeping an individual from sleep for a period of time seems harmless enough when compared to waterboarding and driving the individual's head into a wall, but, as this Los Angeles Times story describes it, the technique is hardly benign.

From the beginning, sleep deprivation had been one of the most important elements in the CIA's interrogation program, used to help break dozens of suspected terrorists, far more than the most violent approaches. And it is among the methods the agency fought hardest to keep. ...

The prisoners had their feet shackled to the floor and their hands cuffed close to their chins, according to the Justice Department memos.

Detainees were clad only in diapers and not allowed to feed themselves. A prisoner who started to drift off to sleep would tilt over and be caught by his chains.

The memos said more than 25 of the CIA's prisoners were subjected to sleep deprivation. At one point, the agency was allowed to keep prisoners awake for as long as 11 days; the limit was later reduced to just over a week.

According to the memos, medical personnel were to make sure prisoners weren't injured. But a 2007 Red Cross report on the CIA program said detainees' wrists and ankles bore scars from their shackles.

When detainees could no longer stand, they could be laid on the prison floor with their limbs "anchored to a far point on the floor in such a manner that the arms cannot be bent or used for balance or comfort," a May 10, 2005, memo said.

"The position is sufficiently uncomfortable to detainees to deprive them of unbroken sleep, while allowing their lower limbs to recover from the effects of standing," it said.

In the Red Cross report, prisoners said they were also subjected to loud music and repetitive noise.

The CIA officials claim that this technique made the other techniques used (confinement in small boxes and face slapping) even more successful. They also claim that sleep deprivation was especially useful because it had no lasting effects, based on independent sleep deprivation studies.

One of the authors of such a study was horrified to learn that his work was being used to support torture. Yes, he admitted, there did not appear to be any long term physical damage from periods of sleep deprivation, but he also pointed out that his studies did not concern itself with long term mental damage. Further, his subjects were not being held against their will: they could leave the study at any time. Finally, the subjects were not being shackled in uncomfortable positions.

That the Bush Justice Department would use such studies to support the use of torture comes as no surprise, given the torturous logic of the memos used to justify "enhanced interrogation techniques." Nor is it surprising that the CIA continues to press for some of these techniques to be reinstated. If nothing else, such a reinstatement would imply that the prior usage was justified and perfectly acceptable.

If President Obama is at all serious about his promise to change the treatment of detainees to conform to international law, then he needs to face down the demands being made by the CIA, the FBI, and military intelligence to return sleep deprivation and the other odious techniques to acceptability. If he caves, then all of those promises of change will ring hollow.

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Anonymous PeasantParty said...

Great Post! I still have questions about where the line is drawn between the CIA and the Military. As far as I know they are two completely different operations.

So, when, where, and why did the military get involved in this type of torture? Did the Military Code of Conduct Manuals get changed for Cheney? Somebody needs to come up with some answers.

6:49 AM  

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