NEWS, ANALYSIS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Why America uses torture

U.S. accused of torture

The United States’s willingness to resort to harsh interrogation techniques in its so-called war on terror undermined human rights and the international ban on torture, a United Nations spokesman says.

Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on torture, said the US’s standing and importance meant it was a model to other countries which queried why they were subject to scrutiny when the US resorted to measures witnessed at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison.

Mr Nowak was speaking after releasing his finding that the use of torture was routine and widespread in Sri Lanka ,despite laws against it.

“I am very concerned about the undermining of the absolute prohibition of torture by interrogation methods themselves in Abu Grahib, in Guantanamo Bay and others, but also by rendition and the whole CIA secret places of detention. All that is really undermining the international rule of law in general and human rights but also the prohibition of torture,” said Mr Nowak. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — The renewed debate on torture that has been provoked by statements made by AG-nominee Judge Mukasey on the legitimacy of waterboarding, has resulted in numerous assertions that torture is un-American. As Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said today, “I remain very concerned that Judge Mukasey finds himself unable to state unequivocally that waterboarding is illegal and below the standards and values of the United States.”

To my mind, this is a rather weak moral argument. To say that we don’t torture because we’re American, is to imply that the majority of humanity, not being endowed with American virtue, might find the use of torture more acceptable than their high-minded stateside counterparts. But on the contrary, it is this notion that there is some intrinsic moral foundation to Americanness that is itself the great enabling force beneath a national trait that most of us would rather ignore: American hypocracy. The self-agrandizing virtue that this nation so often wants to celebrate is a mask that conceals a plethora of contradictions: that a nation that identifies itself as religious is so profoundly materialistic; that a nation that predominently identifies itself as Christian has such a strong preference for pre-Christian values; that a nation that sees itself as a moral beacon to the world has with such frequency chosen military engagement as its point of contact with the rest of the world. Americans can and do engage in torture not in spite of this being un-American, but because as Americans they find it all too easy to sustain an image of themselves that is a glaring contradiction with their actions.

If the Senate wants to assert that America will no longer condone torture, then first we need to acknowledge that the climate of fear engendered by the war on terrorism has in fact led many Americans to regard torture as an acceptable tool of national defense. And secondly, that if America wants to now change course and unequivocally renounce the use of torture, it will not be reclaiming moral high ground; it will be returning to an internationally recognized set of moral standards that for most of this decade it has chosen to ignore.

Waterboarding is torture… period

1. Waterboarding is a torture technique. Period. There is no way to gloss over it or sugarcoat it. It has no justification outside of its limited role as a training demonstrator. Our service members have to learn that the will to survive requires them accept and understand that they may be subjected to torture, but that America is better than its enemies and it is one’s duty to trust in your nation and God, endure the hardships and return home with honor.

2. Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.

Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim’s face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.

Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration –usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten with its use again and again. [complete article]

On torture, 2 messages and a high political cost

Six years after the Bush administration embraced harsh physical tactics for interrogating terrorism suspects, and two years after it reportedly dropped the most extreme of those techniques, the taint of torture clings to American counterterrorism efforts.

The administration has a standard answer to queries about its interrogation practices: 1) We do not torture, and 2) we will not say what we do, for fear of tipping off future prisoners. In effect, officials want Al Qaeda to believe that the United States does torture, while convincing the rest of the world that it does not.

But that contradictory catechism is not holding up well under the battering that American interrogation policies have received from human rights organizations, European allies and increasingly skeptical members of Congress. [complete article]

Squeezing Mukasey on torture

George W. Bush has always wielded moral clarity as a weapon, beating Democrats by declaring his high purpose and principled resolve. But in recent months, as critics have shined new light on domestic spying and harsh interrogation techniques in the morally ambiguous world of counter-terrorism, Bush has had to retreat to gray-area defenses, using tailored definitions and legalisms to dodge questioners. And now, as Democrats raise the pressure on embattled Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey to state his opinion on whether or not waterboarding constitutes torture, it is the President’s opponents who are using moral clarity against him.

Mukasey’s (and the White House’s) problems began during his Oct. 18 Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing to replace Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. At the hearing veteran Illinois Senator Dick Durbin asked Mukasey a deceptively simple question: Is waterboarding torture? Waterboarding simulates drowning, and involves constraining a person, restricting their breathing and pouring water on all or part of their face. Some version of it is widely reported to have been used by U.S. interrogators in an attempt to extract information from high-level terrorism suspects in the wake of 9/11. [complete article]

See also, Dozens of ‘ghost prisoners’ not publicly accounted for (WP) and Judgment day for the CIA? (Christopher Dickey).

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One thought on “NEWS, ANALYSIS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Why America uses torture

  1. CSI

    Many right-wing pundits believe that whatever Americans do, it isn’t torture, regardless of what “it” is. Americans can never torture, because Americans are fundamentally different from the rest of humanity. In fact, if you read The National Review, you get the impression that the only sins America has ever committed are those of being too kind, too softhearted.

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