The U.S. Has a History of Using Torture





Mr. McCoy is J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006).

In April 2004, Americans were stunned when CBS broadcast those now-notorious photographs from Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, showing hooded Iraqis stripped naked while U.S. soldiers stood by smiling.  As this scandal grabbed headlines around the globe, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted that the abuses were "perpetrated by a small number of U.S. military," whom New York Times’ columnist William Safire soon branded "creeps"--a line that few in the press had reason to challenge.

When I looked at these photos, I did not see snapshots of simple brutality or a breakdown in military discipline. After more than a decade of studying the Philippine military’s torture techniques for a monograph published by Yale back 1999, I could see the tell-tale signs of the CIA’s psychological methods. For example, that iconic photo of a hooded Iraqi with fake electrical wires hanging from his extended arms  shows, not the sadism of a few “creeps,” but instead the two key trademark’s of the CIA’s psychological torture. The hood was for sensory disorientation. The arms were extended for self-inflicted pain. It was that simple; it was that obvious.

After making that argument in an op-ed for the Boston Globe two weeks after CBS published the photos, I began exploring the historical continuity, the connections, between the CIA torture research back in the 1950s and Abu Ghraib in 2004. By using the past to interrogate the present, I published a book titled A Question of Torture last January that tracks the trail of an extraordinary historical and institutional continuity through countless pages of declassified documents. The findings are disturbing and bear directly upon the ongoing bitter debate over torture that culminated in the enactment of the Military Commissions law just last October.

From 1950 to 1962, the CIA led a secret research effort to crack the code of human consciousness, a veritable Manhattan project of the mind with costs that reached a billion dollars a year. Many have heard about the most outlandish and least successful aspect of this research -- the testing of LSD on unsuspecting subjects and the tragic death of a CIA employee, Dr. Frank Olson, who jumped to his death from a New York hotel after a dose of this drug. This Agency drug testing, the focus of countless sensational press accounts and a half-dozen major books, led nowhere.

But obscure CIA-funded behavioral experiments, outsourced to the country’s leading universities, produced two key findings, both duly and dully reported in scientific journals, that contributed to the discovery of a distinctly American form of torture: psychological torture.With funding from Canada’s Defense Research Board, famed Canadian psychologist Dr. Donald O. Hebb found that he could induce a state akin to psychosis in just 48 hours. What had the doctor done—drugs, hypnosis, electroshock? No, none of the above.

For two days, student volunteers at McGill University, where Dr. Hebb was chair of Psychology, simply sat in comfortable cubicles deprived of sensory stimulation by goggles, gloves, and ear muffs. One of Hebb’s subjects, University of California-Berkeley English professor Peter Dale Scott, has described the impact of this experience in his 1992 epic poem, “Listening to the Candle”:

nothing in those weeks added up

         yet the very aimlessness

         preconditioning my mind…

of sensory deprivation

         as a paid volunteer

         in the McGill experiment

for the US Air Force

         (two CIA reps at the meeting)

         my ears sore from their earphones’

amniotic hum my eyes

         under two bulging halves of ping pong balls

         arms covered to the tips with cardboard tubes

those familiar hallucination

         I was the first to report

         as for example the string

of cut-out paper men

         emerging from a manhole

         in the side of a snow-white hill

distinctly two-dimensional

Dr. Hebb himself reported that after just two to three days of such isolation “the subject’s very identity had begun to disintegrate.”If you compare a drawing of Dr. Hebb’s student volunteers published in “Scientific American” with later photos of Guantanamo detainees, the similarity is, for good reason, striking.

During the 1950s as well, two eminent neurologists at Cornell Medical Center working for the CIA found that the KGB’s most devastating torture technique involved, not crude physical beatings, but simply forcing the victim to stand for days at time—while the legs swelled, the skin erupted in suppurating lesions, the kidneys shut down, hallucinations began. Again, it you look at those hundreds of photos from Abu Ghraib you will see repeated use of this method, now called “stress positions.”

After codification in its 1963 KUBARK manual, the CIA spent the next thirty years propagating these torture techniques within the US intelligence community and among anti-communist allies across Asia and Latin America.

Although the Agency trained military interrogators from across Latin America, our knowledge of the actual torture techniques comes from a single handbook for a Honduran training session, the CIA’s “Human Resources Exploitation Manual — 1983.” To establish control at the outset the questioner should, the CIA instructor tells his Honduran trainees, “manipulate the subject’s environment, to create unpleasant or intolerable situations, to disrupt patterns of time, space, and sensory perception.”  To effect this psychological disruption, this 1983 handbook specified techniques that seem strikingly similar to those outlined 20 years earlier in the Kubark Manual and those that would be used 20 years later at Abu Ghraib.

After the Cold War

When the Cold War came to a close, Washington resumed its advocacy of human rights, ratifying the UN Convention Against Torture in 1994 that banned the infliction of “severe” psychological and physical pain.  On the surface, the United States had apparently resolved the tension between its anti-torture principles and its torture practices.

Yet when President William Clinton sent this UN Convention to Congress for ratification in 1994, he included language drafted six years earlier by the Reagan administration—with four detailed diplomatic “reservations” focused on just one word in the convention’s 26-printed pages. That word was “mental.”

Significantly, these intricately-constructed diplomatic reservations re-defined torture, as interpreted by the United States, to exclude sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain—the very techniques the CIA had refined at such great cost. Of equal import, this definition was reproduced verbatim in domestic legislation enacted to give legal force to the UN Convention--first in Section 2340 of the US Federal Code and then in the War Crimes Act of 1996.       

Remember that obscure number--Section 2340—for, as we will see, it is the key to unlocking the meaning of the controversial Military Commissions Law enacted by the US Congress just last September.

In effect, Washington had split the UN Convention down the middle, banning physical torture but exempting psychological abuse. By failing to repudiate the CIA’s use of torture, while adopting a UN convention that condemned its practice, the United States left this contradiction buried like a political land mine ready to detonate with such phenomenal force, just 10 years later, in the Abu Ghraib scandal.    

War on Terror

Right after his public address to a shaken nation on September 11, 2001, President Bush gave his White House staff wide secret orders, saying, “I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.”

In the months that followed, Administration attorneys translated their president’s otherwise unlawful orders into U.S. policy into three controversial, neo-conservative legal doctrines: (1.) the president is above the law, (2.) torture is legally acceptable,  and  (3.) the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay is not US territory.

To focus on the single doctrine most germane to the history of psychological torture, Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee found grounds, in his now notorious August 2002 memo, for exculpating any CIA interrogators who tortured, but later claimed their intention was information instead of pain. Moreover, by parsing the UN and US definitions of torture as “severe” physical or mental pain, Bybee concluded that pain equivalent to “organ failure” was legal—effectively allowing torture right up to the point of death.

Less visibly, the administration began building a global gulag for torture at Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo, and a half-dozen additional sites worldwide. In February 2002, the White House assured the CIAthat the administration’s public pledge to abide by spirit of the Geneva Conventions did not apply to its operatives; and, significantly, it allowed the Agency ten “enhanced” interrogation methods designed by Agency psychologists that included “water boarding.”

Waterboarding

Over the past three years, this term “water boarding” has surfaced periodically in press accounts of CIA interrogation without any real understanding of psychologically devastating impact of this seemingly benign method. It has a venerable lineage, first appearing in a 1541 French judicial handbook,  where it was called “Torturae Gallicae Ordinariae” or “Standard Gallic Torture.” But it would now become, under the War on Terror, what CIA director Porter Goss called, in March 2005 congressional testimony, a “professional interrogation technique.”

There are several methods for achieving water boarding’s perverse effect of drowning in open air: most frequently, by making the victim lie prone and then constricting breathing with a wet cloth, a technique favored by both the French Inquisition and the CIA; or, alternatively, by forcing water directly and deeply into the lungs, as French paratroopers did during the Algerian War.

 After French soldiers used the technique on Henri Alleg during the Battle for Algiers in 1957, this journalist wrote a moving description that turned the French people against both torture and the Algerian War. “I tried,” Alleg wrote, “by contracting my throat, to take in as little water as possible and to resist suffocation by keeping air in my lungs for as long as I could. But I couldn’t hold on for more than a few moments. I had the impression of drowning, and a terrible agony, that of death itself, took possession of me.”

Let us think about the deeper meaning of Alleg’s sparse words--“a terrible agony, that of death itself.” As the water blocks air to the lungs, the human organism’s powerful mammalian diving reflex kicks in, and the brain is wracked by horrifically painful panic signals--death, death, death. After a few endless minutes, the victim vomits out the water, the lungs suck air, and panic subsides. And then it happens again, and again, and again--each time inscribing the searing trauma of near death in human memory. 

Guantanamo

In late 2002, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld appointed General Geoffrey Miller to command Guantanamo with wide latitude for interrogation, making this prison an ad hoc behavioral laboratory. Moving beyond the CIA’s original attack on sensory receptors universal to all humans, Guantanamo’s interrogators stiffened the psychological assault by exploring Arab “cultural sensitivity” to sexuality, gender identity, and fear of dogs. General Miller also formed Behavioral Science Consultation teams of military psychologists who probed each detainee for individual phobias, such as fear of dark or attachment to mother.

Through this total three-phase attack on sensory receptors, cultural identity, and individual psyche, Guantanamo perfected the CIA’s psychological paradigm. Significantly, after regular inspections of Guantanamo from 2002 the 2004, the Red Cross reported: “The construction of such a system…cannot be considered other than an intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment and a form of torture.”

Abu Ghraib

These enhanced interrogation policies, originally used only against top Al Qaeda operatives, soon proliferated to involve thousands of ordinary Iraqis when Baghdad erupted in a wave of terror bombings during mid 2003 that launched the resistance to the US occupation. After a visit from the Guantanamo chief General Miller in September 2003, the U.S. commander for Iraq, General Ricardo Sanchez, issued orders for sophisticated psychological torture.

As you read the following extract from those orders, please look for the defining attributes of psychological torture--specifically, sensory disorientation, self-inflicted pain, and that recent innovation, attacks on Arab cultural sensitivities.

U. Environmental Manipulation: Altering the environment to create moderate discomfort (e.g. adjusting temperatures or introducing an unpleasant smell)…

V. Sleep Adjustment: Adjusting the sleeping times of the detainee (e.g. reversing the sleeping cycles from night to day).

X. Isolation: Isolating the detainee from other detainees ... [for] 30 days.

Y. Presence of Military Working Dogs: Exploits Arab fear of dogs while maintaining security during interrogations…

AA. Yelling, Loud Music, and Light Control: Used to create fear, disorient detainee and prolong capture shock...

CC. Stress Positions: Use of physical posturing (sitting, standing, kneeling, prone, etc.

Indeed, my review of the hundreds of still-classified photos taken by soldiers at Abu Ghraib reveals, not random, idiosyncratic acts from separate, sadistic minds, but just three psychological torture techniques repeated over and over ad nauseum: hooding for sensory deprivation; short shackling, long shackling, and enforced standing for self inflicted pain; and dogs, total nudity, and sexual humiliation for that recent innovation, exploitation of Arab cultural sensitivity. It is no accident that Private Lynndie England was photographed leading an Iraqi detainee leashed like a dog.

After Abu Ghraib

Let’s look at the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal, seeing how America moved by degrees to legalization of these CIA psychological torture techniques.Confronted by public anger over detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib, the Bush White House has fought back by defending torture as a presidential prerogative. By contrast, an ad hoc civil society coalition of courts, press, and human rights groups has mobilized to stop the abuse.  

In a dramatic denouement of June 2006, the US Supreme Court decided in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that Bush’s military commissions were illegal because they did not meet the requirement, under common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, that Guantanamo detainees be tried with “all the judicial guarantees…recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.”

Then on September 6, in a dramatic bid to legalize his now-illegal policies in the aftermath of the Hamdan decision, President Bush announced he was transferring fourteen top Al Qaeda captives from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo Bay. At once both repudiating and legitimating past abuses, Bush denied that he had authorized “torture” while simultaneously defending the CIA's use of a tough “alternative set of procedures” to extract “vital information.” To allow what he called the “CIA program” to go forward, President Bush announced that he was sending legislation to Congress that would legalize the same presidential prerogatives in treating detainees that had been challenged by the Supreme Court.

At first, Bush’s bill seemed to arouse strong opposition by three Republican veterans on the Senate Armed Services Committee--Senators Graham, McCain, and Warner. But after tense, daylong negotiations inside Vice President Cheney’s Senate office on September 21, these Republican partisans reached a compromise that sailed through Congress within a week, and without any amendments, to become the Military Commissions Law 2006.

Among its many objectionable features, this law strips detainees of their habeas corpus rights, sanctions endless detention without trial, and allows the use of tortured testimony before Guantanamo’s Military Commissions. Most significantly, this law allows future CIA interrogators ample latitude for use of psychological torture by using, verbatim, the narrow definition of “severe mental pain” the U.S. first adopted back in 1994 when it ratified the UN Convention Against Torture and enacted a complementary Federal law, Section 2340 of the US code, to give force to this treaty.

The current law’s elusive definition of “severe mental pain” is concealed under Para. 950 V, Part B, Sub-Section B on page 70 of the 96-page “Military Commissions Law 2006” that reads: “Severe Mental Pain or Suffering Defined: In this section, this term ‘severe mental pain…’ has the meaning given that term in Sect. 2340 (2) of Title 18 [of the Federal code].”

And what is that definition in section 2340? This is, of course, the same highly limiting definition the US first adopted back in 1994-95 when it ratified the UN Anti-Torture Convention.

Simply put, this legislation’s highly restricted standard for severe mental suffering does not prohibit any aspect of the sophisticated torture techniques that the CIA has refined, over the past half-century, into a total assault on the human psyche.

To make this point clear, let us compare the law’s very narrow, four-part standard for “severe mental suffering” with the CIA’s psychological techniques to see which, if any, of the agency’s actual methods are banned. Under this law, Section 2340, there are only four practices that constitute, in any way, “severe mental pain,” including: drug injection; death threats; threats against another; and extreme physical pain.

In actual practice, this definition does not ban any of the dozens of CIA psychological methods developed over five decades, which include:

--First, self-inflicted pain, via enforced standing and so-called “stress positions” which are cruel contortions enforced by shackling.

 --Second, sensory disorientation through temporal and environmental manipulation exemplified sleep deprivation, protracted isolation, and extremes of heat and cold, light and dark, noise and silence, isolation and intensive interrogation.

 --Third, attacks on cultural identity through sexual humiliation and use of dogs.

 --Fourth, attacks on individual psyche by exploiting fears and phobias.

 --Fifth, hybrid methods such as water boarding.

--Sixth and most importantly, creative combinations of all these methods which otherwise might seem, individually, banal if not benign.

If you wish an analogy to make the curious exclusionary logic of this legislation perfectly clear, it would be as if US homicide law had taken a leaf from the popular board game “Clue” and defined murder as only those killings “done by Mrs. White, in the Conservatory, with the Candlestick”—thus, by its omissions, legalizing all murders done by more conventional means such as poison, pistols, rifles, knives, ropes, clubs, or bombs.

To test my critical, perhaps overly cynical assessment of this new law, let us ask whether this new law bans the most extreme of the CIA’s “enhanced” methods--water boarding. While the White House has refused comment, Vice President Cheney stated recently that using “a dunk in water” to extract information was “a no-brainer for me.” As the administration’s leader on interrogation policy, Cheney’s words make clear, despite White House denials, that water boarding is legal under the new law.

By its omissions, this legislation has effectively legalized the CIA’s right to use methods that the international community, embodied in the Red Cross and the UN Human Rights Committee, considers psychological torture.  For the first time in the 200 years since 1791 when United States ratified the Fifth Amendment banning self-incrimination, Congress has passed a law allowing coerced testimony into US courts.

The implications of this Military Commissions Law are profound and will most certainly face legal challenge. Indeed, just a few weeks ago seven retired Federal judges challenged this law before the US Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, saying that it has “one specific and fundamental flaw”: i.e., it allows the military tribunals to accept evidence obtained by torture. But when this case reaches the Supreme Court, we cannot expect that a more conservative Roberts court will overturn this law with the same ringing rhetoric that we have seen in two recent landmark decisions, Rasul v. Bush and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.

Conclusion

If this law stands, with its provisions for torture and drumhead justice, then the United States will suffer continuing damage to its moral leadership in the international community. Looking through a glass darkly into the future, Washington may try to return to that convenient contradiction that marked US policy during the Cold War: public compliance with human rights treaties and secret torture in contravention of those same diplomatic conventions.

Yet the world is no longer blind to these once-clandestine CIA methods and this attempt at secrecy will likely produce another scandal similar to Abu Ghraib. But next time our protestations of innocence will ring hollow and the damage to US prestige will be even greater.

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omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

As an Israeli and late comer to American citizenship Yehudi Amitz is anxious that his second (?)home should emulate his first and shall be no way better ,by any standard, than his first love!

That the USA public, or a significant portion of it,should NOT condone torture while Israel has been and is practicing on a daily basis, pre and post legal (?) sanctions, is totally unacceptable to Yehudi.

The very thought: that the "home" chosen for pure unmitigated financial ,worldly reasons shall morally/ethically surpass the one where his real love, faith and allegiance (?), rest is a condemnation of all that he was brought out to believe in as an ardent Zionist,( that the end justifies the means), and an absolute negation of all that he has been reiterating ever since these pages have been graced by his presence: a blind hate campaign against all that is Arab and/or Moslem.

The only substantiation he has for his fervent, explicit and implicit, apology for and defense of TORTURE is to bring up its "urgent" need to confront "jihadism" i.e. the Arabs and the Moslems.

That ,to his perverted mode of thinking and contortioned psyche , is the only way to "sell it” as a readily marketable notion to a predisposed, media conditioned audience/"market" that buys anything; if properly packaged and endlessly publicized.

Is NOT the USA a big market?!
Is Not jihadism the proper package?
Has it NOT been widely publicized?
So it will sell he joyously believes; except that some Americans, hopefully most or at least many Americans, believe that their first and only home can do better, can be better.


omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007


As an Israeli and late/recent comer to American citizenship Yehudi Amitz is anxious that his second (?)home should emulate his first and shall be no way better ,by any standard, than his first love!

That the USA public, or a significant portion of it,should NOT condone torture while Israel has been and is practicing it on a daily basis, pre and post legal (?) sanctions, is totally unacceptable to Yehudi.

The very thought: that the "home" chosen for pure unmitigated financial ,worldly reasons shall morally/ethically surpass the one where his real love, faith and allegiance (?) rest is a condemnation of all that he was brought out to believe in as an ardent Zionist( that the end justifies the means) and an absolute negation of all that he has been reiterating ever since these pages have been graced by his presence: a blind hate campaign against all that is Arab and/or Moslem.

The only substantiation he has for his fervent, explicit and implicit, apology for and defense of TORTURE is to bring up its "urgent" need to confront "jihadism" i.e. the Arabs and the Moslems.

That ,to his perverted mode of thinking and contortioned psyche , is the only way to "sell it” to the American public :as a readily marketable notion to a predisposed, media conditioned audience/"market" that buys anything if properly packaged and endlessly publicized.

Is NOT the USA a big market?!
Is Not jihadism the proper package?
Has it NOT been widely publicized?
So it will "sell" well he joyously believes; except that some Americans, hopefully most or at least many Americans, believe that their first and only home can do better, can be better.


omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

"Torture did not commence at Abu Gharib, in comparison with ages old tortures used by most of the world's nations, the "torture" at Abu Gharib were acts of "AMERICAN" kindness. "

Did the, missing, qualification "American" in your sentence above failed to appear because of typing negligence or you deem it so implict that it need not be written, Mr Clayson??


Howard C Berkowitz - 12/10/2006

I feel it appropriate to say that my opposition to torture is far less from a moral perspective, of one of "decency", and much more that there is very little reason to believe it is a reliable means of getting information.

Some of the comments in this thread seem eager to have torture for apparent vengeance, but change the subject when asked for evidence that it works. Quad erat demonstratum.


Yehudi Amitz - 12/10/2006

Give this guy a browser and he will use it in a "tonto" way.


Sergio Alejandro Méndez - 12/10/2006

Yehudi:

And you are the one talking about "kindergarden level of argumentation"? Don´t you feel ashamed (since you don´t feel ashamed at all of making the apology of torture)? Don´t you have any sense of decency?


Sergio Alejandro Méndez - 12/10/2006

Yehudi:

And you are the one talking about "kindergarden level of argumentation"? Don´t you feel ashamed (since you don´t feel ashamed at all of making the apology of torture)? Don´t you have any sense of decency?


Yehudi Amitz - 12/10/2006

Remember the Inquisition, not the one from Mel Brooks' "History of the World: Part 1" but the real one? It was an office of the Church sanctioned and organized by the highest levels of the Catholic clergy and it was quite deadly in its aim to preserve faith and and keep up the backwardness.
The Muslim Inquisition is bunches of free lancers and since there is no Muslim Church they make their own faith, which is, of course, the true one and generally condoned by the rest of the Muslims. They fight for keeping up the backwardness of the Muslim world, as well, and their killing methods are also condoned by the Muslim world in general. Muslims kill each other because their faith sanctions killings and they also prefer a world with very limited freedom of expression. I don't like this kind of behavior but this is Muslim business. When they do the same on my side of the World, liking or not liking what they do is irrelevant, the only relevant thing is to stop them, using all the instruments I have. I don't know how much your prayer helps but don't pray in the kitchen, the heat may bother your concentration.


Arnold Shcherban - 12/10/2006

That's the whole business of yours:
you would never utter a word to criticize this country,...unless for
perceived kindness or softness to its real or perceived enemies.


DeWayne Edward Benson - 12/8/2006

As a Christian not involved with Christian leaders who mislead the immature, I can say with conviction and clear conscience, I am ashamed of America and the many who condone much evil done and being done by our own government or as some call our Corp/Gov.

I have followed this Gov sanctioned torture through Pheonix, Project-X, to our present day BUBARK called 'no touch torture', although as evident is still preceded or 'softened up' with violence.

I follow the denial and intellectual dishonesty involved, such as Condolesa Rice saying "We do not torture," knowing full well that because this mentally deranged mind-set now call it "Severe Rendition," any intellectual knows Rendition is not torture, it is rendition.

As a Christian I can say I've read the book, and I know the outcome, and I believe strongly from my research (both secular and scriptural) this nation is not long before tasting the failure of their own evil system.


Yehudi Amitz - 12/8/2006

It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's Super-parrot dumping his madrasah style stool, apologetic of Arab/Muslim terrorism.


N. Friedman - 12/8/2006

Howard,

You write: "The point under discussion was freedom of expression, not terrorist threat. In the United States, by far the chilling effect on expression is from homegrown social and religious conservatives. That is distinct from major terrorist threats. Both are of concern."

I am not aware of any serious chilling effect due to religious conservatives (i.e. Christian reactionaries). I think that is basically in your head.

Of course, I am aware of religious conservatives who do not like pornography and seek to censor it, etc.. I do not think they censor the news or even seek to do so but they certainly do not want people to distribute or make smut, etc.. To judge from the Internet, they are not chilling anyone and their agenda has not advanced. But, they could someday become dangerous although at present they mostly live by the rules of our system. Anything is possible, of course, so they deserve close attention.

However, they do not tell me much about the Jihadist use of violence and threats and what that is all about.

The Jihadists appear to have something quite different in mind than do the Christian reactionaries. Jihadists kill people who say or write things they do not like and they kill people who have nothing to do with those who say and write such things. Their goal is not to make a more moral society by weeding out smut or some other allegedly immoral conduct but, instead, to force their will over non-Muslims in order to control non-Muslim societies and make them advance the Muslim agenda previously described by me - i.e. the traditional Islamic agenda to bring Islamic rule under Islamic law to the entire world.

The US, by contrast, still has the fortitude to defend free speech. Europe seems more and more to accede to Islamic demands.

An important scholarly acquaintance and pen pal of mine says Europe is moving toward what she calls a dhimmitude society. I think her analysis makes considerable sense. It is certainly a useful model.


N. Friedman - 12/8/2006

Howard,

If you have a comment for Mr. Amitz, direct it to him, not me.


Howard C Berkowitz - 12/8/2006

"Why would we make the balance between Jihadist and Christian reactionaries you suggest?"

The point under discussion was freedom of expression, not terrorist threat. In the United States, by far the chilling effect on expression is from homegrown social and religious conservatives. That is distinct from major terrorist threats. Both are of concern.

"How does that help us deal with the Jihadis?"

I would be fascinated with hearing practical solutions, even to understanding their behavior -- not sympathizing with it. So far, I hear mostly paeans to terror and suggestions of extermination.

Mr. Amitz, you might want to discuss not killing with Eric Rudolph. Timothy McVeigh also had his problems with certain opinions. On the basis of number of violent incidents as well as suppression, as distinct from the total number of casualties, I suggest both are an American problem. Other countries have other concerns.


N. Friedman - 12/8/2006

Mr Amitz,

That is mostly so although there have been exceptions. However, none have been on the level of Jihadists.


N. Friedman - 12/8/2006

Howard,

You write, with irony I think: "Governments only keep demanding things that are effective. Be still, my heart."

Well, there it goes to show that government bureaucracies are rather hard to fathom since they do things for reasons other than good sense. Yet, you think we can make serious inroads on improving the spies who are, by your admission, addicted to useless techniques, which they seem to advocate nonetheless, for reasons that make no sense. That is fine by me.

Well, I do not claim expertise on spies and spooks. That is Tom Clancy country and not really one of my interests.

I am interesting in the moral and legal dimension of all of this but the spying angle is not my bag.



Yehudi Amitz - 12/8/2006

The conservative Christians try to limit freedom of expression but they don't kill for caricatures (they did it in the past - 19th century and before). The Muslims do it now. They succeeded, through fear of death, in censoring which caricatures these newspapers will publish.


Howard C Berkowitz - 12/7/2006

"If you think torture is so useless, why do you think government spy agencies seem intent on preserving it? "

Governments only keep demanding things that are effective. Be still, my heart.

I believe the pressure to keep it comes more from "get tough" political leadership, and intelligence toadies wanting to stay in their good graces, than any demonstrated effectiveness. Why do any number of ineffective airline security measures stay in place, never going away? Could it be the desire to be seen as Doing Something (tm)?

Again, I suggest looking at the verifiable literature of police and intelligence agency interrogation, and compare and contrast the amount of information gained from torture versus developing sympathetic relationships, versus psychological pressure. Having prisoners die or drift into irrationality, from a rational standpoint, means there is no future information coming from them.

Tourison's book is excellent, and can be verified against such things as the declassified MACV "Lessons Learned" series. While the singular of data is not anecdote, I have friends in Iraq, nonsmokers, who carry cigarettes. For getting information from the Iraqi-in-the-street, they comment that courtesy, and a small gift, go far. One of the most effective full-time interrogators is extremely formal, perfectly dressed, and totally disorients prisoners by having green coffee formally served, and then offering bread and salt.

Released archives from the fUSSR organs of state security show an emphasis on torture for show trial confession, but much more slow interrogation when serious information is desired.


N. Friedman - 12/7/2006

Howard,

If you think torture is so useless, why do you think government spy agencies seem intent on preserving it? My suggestion is that the issue with torture is not so much its capacity to obtain information - as it sometimes must be effective or governments would long ago have given up on it - but its reliability. In this regard, the availability of confirmatory information is a likely use of torture by governments.


N. Friedman - 12/7/2006

Howard,

Why would we make the balance between Jihadist and Christian reactionaries you suggest? How does that help us deal with the Jihadis? How does that help us even understand the Jihadists? I do not see the parallel and, if it exists, I do not see its importance.

My view is that viewing Christian reactionary politics is interesting in its own right but juxtapositioning it against Jihadist politics and violence serves mostly to prevent serious analysis of Jihadist violence - and it is Jihadist violence that threatens to kill Americans and Europeans en masse, not Christiany loonies.

Which is to say, Mr. Amitz is exactly on point to the extent that he worries about how Jihadist have, by means of violence, coerced cooperation from Europeans, beginning with the Rushdie affair (and those who died in it) but, in a significant way, also looking back to the Munich Olympics and other Palestinian Arab terrorism that laid the groundwork for today's Jihadist. Knowing that there are Christian loonies tells me rather little about the Jihadists.



Howard C Berkowitz - 12/7/2006

Not bothering suggests you don't have any substantiation. I'm not talking about random Web links, but such things as declassified military manuals from assorted governments, serious psychological research, etc.

fUSSR Spetsnaz, for example, did have one torture technique that apparently was useful in Afghanistan and other areas of operations. It was a field technique that required capturing at least two prisoners. One would be tortured to death, as badly as possible, in front of the person with tactical information. The interrogator would calmly tell the other that they would die in any case, but giving the information would be a quick death. Ignoring any moral aspects, even then they only felt it useful for limited tactical purposes.

Open literature sources of value include Sedgwick Tourison's _Conversations with Victor Charlie_, and an abundance of declassified human intelligence sources. The fairly consistent message is that psychology is at the heart of effective interrogation. Sometimes, kindness works. Sometimes, sensory deprivation works--I find a sensory deprivation tank, for 18 hours or so, quite restful. There's an abundance of information from police experience; one Washington DC area detective, with a great reputation for valid confessions, describes himself as a salesman, convincing suspects that prison is a desirable alternative to their present circumstances.

So far, you have given the impression of one who likes torture as a means of vengeance. Go ahead. Find appreciable counterexamples from valid police or intelligence sources that torture is a useful means of corroboration.

Use Communist sources, as long as you separate the especially Asian desire to have symbolic confessions, as opposed to producing valid information.

In your example, how does one know that the information gained from torture actually corroborates? Do you keep torturing until the prisoner gives you information that agrees with other sources? How do you know that the conflicting information given under torture actually is the correct or incorrect answer?


Howard C Berkowitz - 12/7/2006

You will, I trust, give equal attention to the assorted conservative Christian groups that constantly try to restrict access to "immoral" content?


Yehudi Amitz - 12/7/2006

Sorry


Yehudi Amitz - 12/7/2006

As long as the violent Muslims censor the media channels I use, we are on a slippery slope I can't accept and if violence is needed, to counter this kind of behavior, so be it!


Yehudi Amitz - 12/7/2006

There are lots of sources about the necessity for corroboration in any information gathering, so I am not going to bother, you can search for yourself. On the other hand if your intention was to challenge my point, asking for web links the same as criticizing spelling is a loser tactic in web conversations. The times when news had to be verified by two independent sources are gone and buried, in the WWW era everything goes so even if I show you a link it may be a self serving site as 99% of the WWW.
I am talking about corroboration as the classic way to validate the value of information in any professional information gathering operation and again I said that the pressure or torture is used only when there is not enough time to get the information by using regular interrogation techniques.


N. Friedman - 12/7/2006

Mr. Amitz,

You write: 1. You talk about "soldiers" but there are soldiers only on our side. The other side in "war" (I use quotation marks because for the other side there is a jihad - which is a different beast) has no soldiers but fighters with all kinds of attributes following. When the fighters take western prisoners (few soldiers, mostly civilians) they kill them or exchange them for ransom (open or hidden ransom).

Jihad may, for example, take the form of classical war or it may take the form of razzias. Either way, it is a form of struggle by a society to extent its rule and its law over another society.

Jihad has rules defined by Shari'a - whether or not observed or not - including explicit rules regarding prisoners (e.g. killing or selling prisoners into slavery or exchanging them for their own prisoners, at the discretion of the commander [emir al-mu'minim]). Jihadists claim to take Shari'a seriously and it is certainly the case that their idea of universal rules is not the same as ours, which is a reason why there is a war.

But, I do not think it follows that mujahedīn are not soldiers. Rather, what can be said is that mujahedīn is a broader term than the word soldier but a Jihadi may certainly be an ordinary soldier - think of the janissaries -.

If you are saying that soldiers out of uniform behaving as saboteurs should be treated as they were in the old days, that may prove in time to be more defensible position than the current approach of making believe they meet the definition used today for soldiers. That is certainly a matter for debate and serious consideration.

I think you have it wrong about an Islamic reform movement, if you mean something akin to an Islamic Luther. Consider that Qutb and his ilk are the reform movement. The Salafists are the reform movement. The Deobandi movement is a reform movement. And, they all are rather akin to Luther's movement, seeking to eliminate the innovations (i.e. bida) that supposedly led Muslims astray.

Whatever it is that Muslims ought do to accept our civilization, it is not going to occur in our life time. And, as I have argued repeatedly on this website, you and I and other infidels are the least likely people to change the basic direction of Muslim society. When Muslims decide en masse that Jihadism is a dead end, they will move on from it. However, I would not count my breadth. Jihad is among history's most effective forces so, to ask a blunt question, why would Muslims give up something that has been effective? They won't.




Howard C Berkowitz - 12/7/2006

Would you mind citing some sources to verify "torture (pressure) is a useful technique if the information is properly corroborated with information gathered from other sources."


Yehudi Amitz - 12/7/2006

Corroboration is the only way to validate gathered information.
What you describe looks more as pressure than torture. Pressure and torture techniques are used when there is a time constraint but unless we are under the "ticking bomb" scenario corroboration is a must and I am sure that corroboration is used in assessing the validity of any type of information.
In conclusion, when we have little time, torture (pressure) is a useful technique if the information is properly corroborated with information gathered from other sources.


Howard C Berkowitz - 12/7/2006

Fighting threats is fine. My question to you is why you believe, aside from morality, that torture is a useful technique for gathering information.

Yes, it is very nice for vengeance and counterterror. From a utilitarian standpoint, there is very little data that indicates classic torture helps gets strategic information.

I do define torture here as is used by many medical ethics bodies, which do permit psychological pressure. Again going back to the literature of intelligence, I seriously question if putting panties on heads is anything more than idiocy in terms of actual interrogation.


Yehudi Amitz - 12/7/2006

1. You talk about "soldiers" but there are soldiers only on our side. The other side in "war" (I use quotation marks because for the other side there is a jihad - which is a different beast) has no soldiers but fighters with all kinds of attributes following. When the fighters take western prisoners (few soldiers, mostly civilians) they kill them or exchange them for ransom (open or hidden ransom).
2. I agree that torture should find its way to the dustbin of history but when the Islamic World development state is about what the Western (Christian) World was at about 1300 - 1400 CE, I believe that's quite a long time to wait before taking the garbage out! I would settle for the time when an Islamic Reform movement will begin. Till then I wouldn't lower the guard. I just read in a Hebrew newspaper about the seventh honor killing of an Arab Israeli woman (by a male relative) and they also wrote that last year were 13 such killing in Israel. There was no protest at all about these honor killing when thousands gather to protest against the police acting against violent Arabs. Israel is probably the only country where the honor killers go to prison and where statistics are kept, no such thing in Arab countries.
3. Kantian morality is based on UNIVERSAL principles as opposed to ABSOLUTE principles required by religious morality. There are no universal or absolute principles of morality. The "universality" of the Kantian moral principles was more or less limited by the boundaries of the Central Europe of the Enlightenment times. I wonder how the war will end when the jihad continues?
4. Dershowitz is a great mind and a realist. He is simply saying, we do it illegally so much that the exception to the rule becomes the rule (in the US prisons, police custody, CIA holding places etc.), so why not put it under legal rules. talking about the "slippery slope" we are already on a slippery slope because we cant view caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in our newspapers, we can't read new books critical of Islam, we can't listen or watch speeches critical of Islam made by important Western personalities. The main "moral" principle of Islam is FEAR . Do we succumb to fear or fight the Islamic Chutzpah?


N. Friedman - 12/7/2006

Mr. Amitz,

This might be a rare moment when we do not necessarily see things the same way.

In any event, I note a number of points:

1. There is certainly something to the view that reciprocity is an important consideration regarding the treatment of prisoners of war. In war, soldiers spend their time trying to kill each other so the idea that party A's prisoner should be treated humanely by party B is logically connected to the idea that party B's prisoners will be treated humanely by party A. The alternative is for soldiers to do what they do, namely, kill each other.

2. Torture is not something to pass by as just one of those things. It is a terrible thing that, along with war, ought to find its way to the dustbin of history. On the other hand, with the backdrop of killing that is war - something that is not going away anytime soon -, torture may serve to learn information that may be helpful. So, in our discussion of two, there would be at least three opinions.

3. There is, to balance against the idea of reciprocity, the notion of the rule of law and a more Kantian idea of morality. That is an important consideration since, someday, the war will end but the failure of the rule of law and moral certainty will have some impact - apparent or latent - that is not good.

4. I suppose one could follow Dershowitz's view of legalizing and, hence, controlling torture. My knowledge of how law works tells me that he, great lawyer that he may be, is nonetheless wrong and that legalizing torture would be a step on a slippery slope in which torture would, in the end, be less well controlled.


Michael Meo - 12/7/2006

It's quite true that prisoners are beaten on a routine basis in United States prisons; it is also true that police routinely beat their prisoners.

But neither fact is relevant to the question of whether the citizens of the United States support torture.

Even less relevant to the question is what the troops in Iraq would like. They are responding to direct orders to torture.

Even putting aside your rhetorical red herrings as without weight in this discussion, in my opinion the sister is in fact far better informed about the common opinion among U.S. citizens than you are, sir.


Sergio Alejandro Méndez - 12/6/2006

Mr Amitz:

Well, I am just trying to understand you, and is not my fault you don`t have a gasp on logic to even start a discusion. Shame you couldnt ilustrate us on how torturing defensless prisoners equates with "self defense".


Vernon Clayson - 12/6/2006

Ms. Pinney, there was torture before the Nazis. Have you, gentle lady, ever been afraid, hungry, tired and dirty while death is all around you. It can wear on you, perhaps kill or be killed wouldn't seem the right words in this train of opinions.


Howard C Berkowitz - 12/6/2006

"Is it not torture to watch someone burn your crops, kill your friends, brothers, wives and children before your very eyes?"

No. To broaden the definition of torture such that it covers every unpleasant experience makes the word meaningless. You describe collective punishment, and presumably killing of civilians. In and of themselves, those acts are probably violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and likely war crimes.

The Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, to a certain extent, address torture, but torture is sufficiently distinct as to have the separate United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. I would argue that the perceived need to have such a separate Convention indicates that reprisals, killing of civilians, etc., are not generally accepted as torture.


Yehudi Amitz - 12/6/2006

I am not ready to follow up at your kindergarten level. Have a nice day!


Sergio Alejandro Méndez - 12/6/2006

Well, I really need a reading comprehension class, since I don´t understand at all how torturing defenless prisoners is "sel defense". Can you ilustrate us mr Amitz?


Sergio Alejandro Méndez - 12/6/2006

Well, I really need a reading comprehension class, since I don´t understand at all how torturing defenless prisoners is "sel defense". Can you ilustrate us mr Amitz?


william f johnson - 12/6/2006

No doubt torture by the U.S. government goes way back and I mean back to the very first settlers that came to this country, the ancestors of which, are still in control today.
The method in 1610 was to feign peaceful intentions to the Powhatans, let them settle down and plant their crops and then decend upon them, burn their crops and kill as many people as possible. Is it not torture to watch someone burn your crops, kill your friends, brothers, wives and children before your very eyes?
U.S. history is repleat with such examples and as long as the ruling elite remain in power, no matter the political party to which they belong, war, torture and a complete distain for human rights will continue as it always has. Lip service to the principles of human rights works fine when the ruling class controls the media, but it changes nothing when it comes to the actions that are opposite of this lip service.


Yehudi Amitz - 12/6/2006

Our moral code allows us to act in extreme ways as a self defense action.


Sergio Alejandro Méndez - 12/6/2006

And your point is?


Vernon Clayson - 12/5/2006

Mr. Baker, if I had wanted to put "American" in that sentence, I would have. Probably strange to you but I have thoughts that do not include mocking America.


Yehudi Amitz - 12/5/2006

The World Trade Center victims are DEAD, not MORAL or IMMORAL.
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is true only if "others" follow the same principle because the verb "DO" in this sentence implies an existent being doing good to "others". The only thing dead beings can do is NOTHING.


Yehudi Amitz - 12/5/2006

Morality is always relative to groups of people exercising it, historical times, geographic places and more.
FDR was the ultimate moral relativist. He lived in a country where "southern trees bear a strange fruit" ("strange fruit" music and lyrics by Abel Meeropol under the pseudonym Lewis Allan and made famous by Billie Holiday). FDR was undisturbed by the lynching of blacks by the voting whites, in the south, as long as they reelected him and the party.
When you divide the world in "us and them", lumping me with the Bush supporters (which I am not), that's extreme moral relativism (even if it sounds absolute) because "who is not with us is against us" has been used by both sides (communists and fascists) as a justification for killing millions and today the neoprogs try to use it again.


Sergio Alejandro Méndez - 12/5/2006

Mr Yehudz:

Why reciprocity is required to act morally in your worldview? Do the wrongdoing of others justify US criminal behavior?


Sergio Alejandro Méndez - 12/5/2006

Mr Yehudz:

Why reciprocity is required to act morally in your worldview? Do the wrongdoing of others justify US criminal behavior?


Patricia L Pinney - 12/5/2006

Let's all be Nazis is your point?

Kill or be killed, no?


Patricia L Pinney - 12/5/2006


What you describe is moral relativism (as opposed to absolute morality standards) !

If moral relativism is your standard --then its implications mean the countries of the world will natural devolved to the level of the brute: Meaning: The bar will be on the floor when measuring civilization and violence.

The US justified its historical barbarity to Indians under the "eye for an eye" relative morality you invoke.

The US had a progressive Prsident (FDR) when it was victorious against the Germans and Japanese in WW II. Which is why the US raised the bar and was recognized as a moral leader in the world.

Bush has reversed this. He appears to have many admirers -- obviously yourself.



Yehudi Amitz - 12/4/2006

Beating is quite used, almost unpunished, in American prisons (by inmates and guards. The same about police work. Did anyone ask the US soldiers, baited in the Army because they are poor, what do they think about the treatment of muslim prisoners and if they believe that reciprocity is required? Does the church allow you to take confesions (I suppose you are catholic nun) in your convent, so you know what private citizens think? I don't belive your churh is suddenly so progressive.


Sister Mary Elizabeth - 12/4/2006

This comment is irrelevent. The question is whether official policy of the United States should include torture and whether the law passed by Congress which allows torture should stand. As a democratic country, the procedures of our political, military, police and justice systems should reflect the standards of our society. Torture is not part of that standard and more than is murder. the fact that both exist at many different levels is no excuse for accepting either at any level. On the whole, American citizens generally agree to that.


Oscar Chamberlain - 12/4/2006

Actually kindness does occasionally work, particularly if the target are people who are tempted to become our enemies but have not taken that final step.

More generally, retribution does not have to be soul-destroying to be effective. When we have choices--and in the case of interrogation we have many choices--we are bound by our nation's own stated ethics and its best traditions--to use the least barbarous methods available, and to not go beyond certain lines.

This article, of course, documents the worst of out traditions. The author focuses rightly on Bush's greatest crime, which was not simply the torture, but his attempt to legitimize it. In short, Bush tried to make it easier for Americans to be Barbarians by making torture a legal option.

That he succeeded to some extent is a crime.


Oscar Chamberlain - 12/4/2006

Hard as it may be for you to believe, I would want my government to stop these practices, even if others don't.

If the article had been comparing the US to other nations, then a critique of their actions would have been required.


Yehudi Amitz - 12/4/2006

Where are the scholarly studies about Muslim barbaric patterns?


Vernon Clayson - 12/4/2006

Is Mr. McCoy using his anti-American book and statements as a form of torture to prove how easily torture can be used to elicit opinions in line with his? Torture did not commence at Abu Gharib, in comparison with ages old tortures used by most of the world's nations, the "torture" at Abu Gharib were acts of kindness. We are a shining nation on a hill only to the naive who believe we should be above all forms of retribution regardless of how heinous our enemies act towards us. It's strange that he appears to believe that all Americans are at fault for individual acts of just one of us while the acts of a single individual in opposition to us is entitled to the loving and gentle concern of every single one of us. Mr. McCoy has a genteel nature that would soon change if he were to get out in the real world of soldiering and policing. No amount of kindness works in either world.


Oscar Chamberlain - 12/4/2006

So what is wrong with an American condemning barbaric actions by agents of the American government?


Yehudi Amitz - 12/4/2006

USA lives in a world where a few do the heavy lifting of fighting against terror mainly because they can't afford an education and the a few neoprogs play the role of the "moral beacon" doing the "Monday morning quarterbacking". During WWII special forces and intelligence gathering units were always voluntary but based on draft military. Today the so called "voluntary" military isn't real voluntary but it's mainly a need based bait system. The US military is overwhelmingly based on the "voluntarism" of the "have not" part of our society when the part who has enough can, undisturbed, pursue careers including positions where they can send to prison low level members of the military or criticize what they are doing while enjoying their lives under the security provided by the "voluntarism" of the unfortunates.
We live in a strange world where Saudi Arabia, China and other Human Rights abusing countries "safeguard" "Human rights" in the UN so called Human Rights commission. The same commission who without much thinking condemns Israel but can't make up its mind about millions killed or displaced in Darfur.
The neoprogs invoke the "Golden Rule" of Mosses used by Joshua of Nazareth in his Sermon on the Mount as the moral principle that should govern the behavior of the Western World, without demanding reciprocity. If the result of applying this rule is that I can't use or not use any channel of communications I want (caricatures, printed material, movies, etc.) the result will be the same as committing suicide and dead people can't convince the other side about the niceties of a "high moral ground".

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