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Thursday, June 22, 2006

# Posted 12:03 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT IS TORTURE? Spencer Ackerman points to some disturbing evidence that high-ranking military officers have provided apalling answers to this question. Nor has the Pentagon been much help to reporters who want to know what their definition of torture is. (Hat tip: KD)
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The biggest problem is the devolution of the definition of torture.

Torture now includes sleep deprivation, loud music and no prolonged interrogation.

At some stage you have to realise that the no torture lobby is really a no information required lobby. Next we will have our people reciting the Miranda statement as they pick up suspects.
 
Davod, I would suggest that the fact that we have been torturing people is a bigger problem.

Torture as in locking them in a 4 foot x 4 foot x 20 inch cell where they cannot stand, sit, or lie down for two straight days (or even seven days), as described in David's link.

Torture as in stringing someone "up by his wrists, with a bag over his head and six broken ribs" until he died of asphyxiation.

Torture as in someone "punched in the spine until he fainted, put in front of an air-conditioner while cold water was poured on him and kicked in the stomach until he vomited."

Or when they allegedly did this to a detainee: "beat him in the head and stomach, dislocated his arms, "stepped on [his] nose until it [broke]," stuck an unloaded pistol in his mouth and fired the trigger, choked him with a rope and beat his leg with a baseball bat."

Or (allegedly) this, to a 73 year old woman: "she was beaten, had two fingers broken [and] sodomized with a stick."

There's plenty more, of course.

Concerns about defining torture too broadly are somewhat lower down on the list of problems, I'd say.
 
Davod,

Just wondering: do you even think before you react?

The one standard should be this: do you want US soldiers to be treated this way? I certainly wouldn't and anyone who advocates (or otherwise seeks to define this form of deviancy down) such treatment for his enemies while protesting brutal treatment of his side should be branded a hypocrite.

Right in the middle of your forehead would be adequate, I think.

What Blar said.
 
Randy and Blar:

You both make my point.

And I repeat, what is torture is precisely the point. Unless you can define torture then you have no argument.

You need to wake up the fact that the no-torture lobby wants no coercive interrogation.

The US has certain methods of seeking information and all would be deemed torture.

Just like most things these days the word looses meaning because every possible method of seeking information from an individual is classified as torture.

That sirs, is why the word torture has been dumbed down.

Standards. The enemy has no standards. Grow up.
 
You both make my point.

Poppycock.

As for growing up, your argument is essentially two wrongs do make a right.

That's something most people learn at age five. Apparently it passed you by.

Just like most things these days the word looses meaning because every possible method of seeking information from an individual is classified as torture.

Strawman nonsense offered without a shred of proof.

Grow up. Learn to argue like an adult.
 
My understanding is that the "file cabinet" confinement involved captured Taliban in the field where a small unit did not have the ability to guard prisoners or to move them to proper detention facilites. In that context (assuming that is true) this would not constitute abuse, and certainly not torture. Now, Formaica drew a rather arbitrary line that 2 days of using such confinement measures would be OK in that context, but 5 to 7 days would not be OK. I don't know how you do that if the same constraints continue to apply to a small unit in the field. Nevertheless, its important to never lose sight of context. Treatment like this that would clearly consitute abuse or torture if performed at a detention center, is not torture or abuse when it's a necessary means of securing prisoners in a dangerous front line situation.
 
Lycurgus, I'm not sure if I understand your argument. How is designing a cell to have an awkward shape and size necessary for securing prisoners? Are you claiming that the cells at the Special Operations outpost (described in the linked post) couldn't have been made three feet higher or three feet longer (thus allowing detainees to lie down or stand rather than maintaining an extremely uncomfortable crouch for 48 hours or more) without sacrificing the troops' ability to guard their prisoners? That seems implausible, just as it seems implausible that this cell design was chosen for practical reasons, rather than for the purpose of making detainees suffer.
 
Blar -- you get more out of that post than I do. I do not understand these "cells" to have been "designed" or constructed by special forces -- BUT if they were designed explicitly to hold prisoners, and they could have been made bigger(and I would assume this to be true), I would agree that this is entirely inappropriate. Would it be "torture"? That's beyond what I want to discuss, but I would certainly condemn it.
 
Lycurgus, I was just going by the Ackerman post and the accompanying NYTimes article, which described them as "cells" "at a Special Operations outpost". I assumed that these were the sorts of things that the military planned ahead of time. I've now taken a look at the report that Ackerman links (the relevant portions are p. 46-48), and you may be right that these "cells" weren't specially designed for holding prisoners. If they were just improvising, and holding the detainees wherever they could until they could be transferred, then that makes it a bit more understandable, but it does little to excuse the practice. If you're fighting a war, then you're going to be taking enemy forces prisoner, and you have to be prepared for that. You can't just improvize and stuff them in whatever boxes or cramped little rooms happen to be around, and you certainly shouldn't be keeping them in there for days on end, letting them out only when necessity requires it. Whether or not they constructed these cells, failed to develop a plan to keep the detainees anywhere other than these miserable little cells, and that is condemnable (I won't bother fighting over the word "torture" here). You don't treat people that way, even enemy combatants. If American POWs were held under similar conditions, I doubt we'd be excusing our enemy's conduct on the grounds that it would've been tricky for them to find something larger than a filing cabinet to keep our soldiers in while they were held for days.

It's not perfectly clear to me from the report, but it looks like the Special Operations units also held people in these cells as an interrogation technique, not just out of necessity. They "secured combative, resistant detainees in these cells for short periods of time in order to elicit tactical intelligence" (p. 47), and, if I'm reading this correctly, the length of time for one "combative or resistant" detainee is disputed as being either 7 days, 5 days, or not more than "72 continuous hours". If that's true, then it seems to be abuse even by your forgiving definition.
 
Blar -- thanks for loking at the Formica report. I did also, and I agree that it is page 47 that seems critical. The report doesn't say anything about the "provenance' of these "cells," or other alternatives that may have been available, or even the conditions that the Special Ops force was having to deal with that might explain, or condemn, their use of this confinement measure, which is what I think you and I were getting at. Unfortunately, there is too much hyperventilating going on in the blogoshpere (on all aspects of this issue) while we still lack facts that are critical to puttng this in context. I'm inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to our men and women in uniform, --but that always assumes that the command is enforcing discipline and humane standards.
 
Lycurgus, in case you're still reading these comments, I just wrote a (rather long) post that touches on your "we still lack facts" argument, among other things. Here's the short response. First of all, I think that there is ample evidence of systematic abuses, with responsibility going all the way up the chain of the command. You probably disagree, but I think that you should agree that there is at least enough evidence to be suspicious (including evidence of expansive theories of executive power and limited oversight, in addition to direct evidence of abuses).

You're right, though, that there's a lot of information about these issues that we just don't have. But that's not a reason to quiet down, and it's certainly not a reason to give the benefit of the doubt. Because that information is being hidden from us by the executive branch. They don't want oversight, they don't want the American people to know what they're doing, and they don't even want the other two branches of government to know much. You don't give the benefit of the doubt to the people who are hiding the facts from you. As Glenn Greenwald also wrote today, of course it's going to be hard to find evidence of abuse when the government is operating under a principle of secrecy.

I would hope that you want more information, more oversight, and more investigations into what is going on. We don't have those investigations because the Republicans control Congress and they believe that not investigating is less politically damaging to them than the results of the investigation would be. The way to get the information out is to change one of those two things.
 
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