Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Wages of Fear: What the Waterboarding Debate is Really About

In the famous verse from Romans 6:23, "the wages of sin is death." For U.S. policymakers (for the entire government is now implicated in this, not just the Bush Administration), terrorism is the ultimate "sin." And if they capture you and believe or choose to believe you are a terrorist, then you, or anyone, can expect waterboarding and other forms of "enhanced interrogation" torture. Worst of all, you will certainly fear them. And that fear is debilitating over time. It breaks a person down psychologically. Of course, that is the whole point of the whole waterboarding brouhaha.

Yesterday the White House announced what we already knew in our heart of hearts was their position.

Waterboarding is legal, White House says:
WASHINGTON -- The White House said Wednesday that the widely condemned interrogation technique known as waterboarding is legal and that President Bush could authorize the CIA to resume using the simulated-drowning method under extraordinary circumstances.

The surprise assertion from the Bush administration reopened a debate that many in Washington had considered closed. Two laws passed by Congress in recent years -- as well as a Supreme Court ruling on the treatment of detainees -- were widely interpreted to have banned the CIA's use of the extreme interrogation method.

But in remarks that were greeted with disbelief by some members of Congress and human rights groups, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said that waterboarding was a legal technique that could be employed again "under certain circumstances."
The day before:
CIA Director Michael V. Hayden acknowledged that his agency used the simulated-drowning technique on Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, his lieutenant, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a suspect in the USS Cole bombing in Yemen in 2000.
Finally, today Michael Mukasey demonstrated that he can drink the kool-aid with the best of them, telling House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers that the waterboarding of past suspects in the "war on terror" will not be prosecuted because they were, at the time -- surprise! -- "authorized."

From today's Washington Post (emphases in bold are added):
In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Mukasey said that because waterboarding was part of a program approved by Justice lawyers, there is no way the department can open a criminal investigation into the practice....

"That would mean that the same department that authorized the program would now prosecute someone for taking part" in it, he said.

Mukasey's remarks were a direct rebuff to demands from many leading Democrats this week that the Justice Department open a criminal probe into the CIA's use of waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning in an attempt to force information from a prisoner.

The statements also appear to conflict with his testimony in the Senate last week, when Mukasey said on several occasions that a special U.S. attorney's probe into the CIA's destruction of videotapes could be expanded to include a probe of interrogation tactics shown on the tapes.
I'd add that the statements also appear to conflict with basic decency and humanity, but then, that's me.

Meanwhile, in a just released Time.com story:
Lawyers representing one current Guantanamo detainee tell TIME that they plan to present evidence that he was subjected to videotaped interrogation, in addition to unspecified "systematic torture" when he was held in secret CIA prisons. The lawyers, from the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based legal non-profit with a long record of advocacy for prisoners at Guantanamo, note that their client has said the videotaping occurred after his arrest in 2003.
The Guantanmo detainee in question is 27 year old Majid Khan. Arrested in Pakistan, and ultimately transferred to Guantanamo with other "high-level detainees," like Khalid Sheik Mohammad, Khan's case threatens to break through the legal restrictions of secrecy surrounding the government's "terror" prosecutions:
Khan's lawyers have said their client has gone on a hunger strike to protest the conditions of his confinment, and appears pale and gaunt. In the course of meetings with counsel and the Red Cross, Khan also handed over neatly penned, handwritten letters. Several have been made public, after heavy redactions imposed by U.S. military censors. One of Khan's messages begins: "In this letter I am going to mention some of the things I have been through." Then the next 19 lines of text are blacked out.

But Khan's private declarations to his lawyers cannot be censored, and it is those that the Intelligence Committee will hear on Friday. His allegations come at a time when Congress is considering passage of a new intelligence bill that would effectively outlaw many of the CIA's interrogation methods by forcing the Agency to use only those techniques permitted in the U.S. Army Field Manual.
While it will be good to hear evidence examined without censorship, I want to concentrate at this point on the last claim in the Time quote above.

Why Can't They Torture the Good Way?

The ACLU and other liberals (and even some Republican types, most famously GOP candidate John McCain) make a big deal out of the fact that the Army Field Manual proscribes waterboarding and other "enhanced" forms of interrogation. It's as if the AFM provides a good set of non-coercive techniques, as asserted in Senate hearings the other day.
Both Robert S. Mueller III, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers that their agencies had successfully obtained valuable intelligence from terrorism suspects without using what Mr. Mueller called the “coercive” methods of the C.I.A.

But [CIA Director] General Hayden bristled when asked about Congressional attempts to mandate that C.I.A. interrogators be required to use the more limited set of interrogation methods contained in the Army Field Manual, which is used by military interrogators.
For Hayden and his administration backers, the CIA is a special case. But then, it has been for six decades now, as the agency has engaged in assassinations, coup d'etats abroad, organized secret armies, and both researched and engaged in torture (also taught to willing overseas acolytes serving U.S. client states).

But no matter what Hayden or the ACLU says, no matter what Senators Hagel and Feinstein advocate respecting interrogation guidelines in their new intelligence bill, the Army Field Manual is not about non-coercive interrogation. The military lawyers who drafted the AFM waited to the end of the document to provide the proverbial fine print about certain "restricted" techniques, describing them in an obviously little-read "appendix" (Appendix M).

From an earlier article of mine:
Briefly, it allows for complete separation, sometimes with forced wearing of goggles and earmuffs, for up to 30 days (after which approval for more must be sought). It allows for keeping sleep to four hours a day, for 30 straight days. It allows for the use of other concurrent techniques, including "futility", "incentive", and "fear up" (It does ban "hooding").

Maybe you heard of "fear up" and "futility"? They're listed in CJTF-7 Interrogation and Counter-Resistance Policy, authored by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez in 2003:
Fear Up Harsh: Significantly increasing the fear level in a detainee [usually through invoking a detainee's phobias, if known]....

Fear Up Mild: Moderately increasing the fear level in a detainee.....

Futility: Invoking the feeling of futility of a detainee.
....What does separation or isolation do to an individual? In a review by Lawrence Hinkle Jr, written back in 1961, it was understood how debilitating this technique was, causing "disordered brain function"....
It is well known that prisoners, especially if they have not been isolated before, may develop a syndrome similar in most of its features to the "brain syndrome"... they cease to care about their utterances, dress, and cleanliness. They become dulled, apathetic, and depressed. In due time they become disoriented and confused; their memories become defective and they experience hallucinations and delusions. In these circumstances their capacity of judgment and discrimination is much impaired, and they readily succumb to their need for talk and companionship; but their ability to impart accurate information may be as much impaired as their capacity to resist an interrogator.

Classically, isolation has been used as a means of "making a man talk," simply because it is so often associated with a deterioration of thinking and behavior and is accompanied by an intense need for companionship and for talk. From the interogator's viewpoint it has seemed to be the ideal way of "breaking down" a prisoner, because, to the unsophisticated, it seems to create precisely the state that the interrogator desires... However, the effect of isolation upon the brain function of the prisoner is much like that which occurs if he is beaten, starved, or deprived of sleep.
"Physiological State of the Interrogation Subject" in The Manipulation of Human Behavior, 1961, John Wiley & Sons.
Waterboarding: Who Benefits... and How?

The administration back and forth on the subject of waterboarding can represent both fear in such circles over eventual prosecution, or a clever campaign to keep one's enemies off-guard regarding U.S. interrogation practices. Things got even murkier this very afternoon, as CIA Director Michael Hayden evidently told the House Intelligence Committee, in what must have been a busy day of hearings on Capitol Hill, that "in my own view, the view of my lawyers and the Department of Justice, it is not certain that that technique would be considered to be lawful under current statute." Of course, he also maintains it was legal back in 2002 and 2003, when they used it. Get it? Got it? Good.

The CIA as an institution is all about misdirection and secrecy. It is both their ethos and their M.O. Everything I have learned about the history and practice of torture in the U.S. leads me to believe that the public story is not the full story. While there is fear about prosecution among individual interrogators in the field, the recent obfuscatory statements and actions by administration officials points to a more ominious conclusion: the CIA wants to keep waterboarding as an option, at least in the mind of the public. This is part of a torture paradigm that is centered around Fear, not just physical abuse. The CIA, and also the Army Field Manual, center the coercive portion of their agenda around the right to induce fear, whether by threatening waterboarding of prisoners, or whatever else they may do to produce Fear Up Harsh, the better to heighten anxiety and dependency in those they interrogate (torture). That's how they use and understand torture, and the sooner we all understand that, the better.

Mukasey's statement that there would be no waterboarding prosecution may make it a red letter day for government interrogators and torturers. It goes without saying that it is a dark day for this country as a whole.

5 comments:

kraant said...

Hrrrm...

"The CIA as an institution is all about misdirection and secrecy. It is both their ethos and their M.O. Everything I have learned about the history and practice of torture in the U.S. leads me to believe that the public story is not the full story. While there is fear about prosecution among individual interrogators in the field, the recent obfuscatory statements and actions by administration officials points to a more ominious conclusion: the CIA wants to keep waterboarding as an option, at least in the mind of the public. This is part of a torture paradigm that is centered around Fear, not just physical abuse. The CIA, and also the Army Field Manual, center the coercive portion of their agenda around the right to induce fear, whether by threatening waterboarding of prisoners, or whatever else they may do to produce Fear Up Harsh, the better to heighten anxiety and dependency in those they interrogate (torture). That's how they use and understand torture, and the sooner we all understand that, the better."

Depending on how tinfoil hattish you want to go...

THE CIA AND THE MEDIA

This overview of the press coverage of these recent revelations:

Framing The Admission of Torturing as a Debate: The “Free” Press Propaganda Campaign

Could be relevant to this.

Heh...

I'm not sure it's just the CIA fear appears to be the new Discipline (in the Foucaltian sense) this new millennium...

Valtin said...

Kraant,

The Carl Bernstein/CIA/Media revelations (going back 30 years now) are not tinfoil, but real. They were amplified by findings of the Church Committee. There's no reason to believe (think Judy Miller at the NYT) this stuff isn't happening right now.

I'm also glad to see Scott Horton has picked up my emphasis on how other torture, particularly Kubark-style torture, is being overlooked. He doesn't see how the fracas over waterboarding plays into the fear-debility model of Kubark. I've written to him, but not heard back.

kraant said...

I was being sarcastic with the "tinfoil" jibe in reference to Operation Mockingbird. I know about MKULTRA, Project Bluebird, Operation Gladios et al. I guess it's just irritation about all the people who scream tinfoil and conspiracy theory at anything that involves a conspiracy, despite not understanding the terms context as it was originally articulated, "the conspiracy theory of society", from Karl Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies. The point being that a "Conspiracy Theory" is something that can't be falsified in the scientific sense as opposed to something that can't be falsified due to information that is hidden, occluded, or obscured from us.

Anyway, tinfoil is the new black.

Heh... Sorry about that.

Anyway I've picked up a couple of things you might be interested in.

Leading Psychiatrist Kenneth S. Pope Resigns From The American Psychological Association. Publishes Open Letter.

Universal Jurisdiction & Private Contractors Engaged In Torture

Oh yeah... Also. In reference to media shenanigans about "debate" on torture (as if there can be such a thing) I found this...

You know Voice of America the US Gov. state propaganda organ?

Here's their article on the recent hearings on waterboarding and other forms of torture:

US Lawmakers Continue Debate Over 'Waterboarding' Interrogation Technique

Fer fooks sake... "debate" right there in the title...

Have you considered posting on PFF? Near guaranteed front paging of posts and some really sharp tacks in the commentariat (along with some total morons it seems to attract the extremes)

Heh... The more I think about it, the more I reckon Fear is the new Discipline. Like rats that have run through the maze too many times the panopticon is losing its effectiveness. Although in a way it's a regression to the earlier stage of bodily violation as punishment, but there's just something different about the way it's being used now....

Valtin said...

Thanks, k.

I'll check all that out. I had received a copy of the Pope letter via email earlier, and had written to ask if I could publish. I never heard back, and now I know why. I suppose he's very busy right now, too, as he is/was a very prominent member of APA.

Uncle $cam said...

Just thought I'd drop by and point ya here:
MiniLuv Says Torture Has Always Been Legal...

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