Friday, April 26, 2013
So the US "doesn't torture", is that right?
Even DiFi is becoming concerned and she's never been an outspoken opponent of torture*:
The Senate’s influential Intelligence Committee chairman urged the White House to renew its efforts to release cleared captives at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo on Thursday, as the prison spokesman said the hunger striking population had reached 94.
“There is a growing problem of more and more detainees on a hunger strike,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., wrote President Barack Obama’s national security advisor. She specifically asked the White House to review the files of 86 detainees already cleared for transfer by the U.S. intelligence agencies “and let me know if there are suitable places to continue to hold or resettle these detainees either in their home countries or third countries.” The White House has blamed restrictions imposed upon transfer by Congress as well as political instability in Yemen for its inability to send any captives away.
Obama, in addition, had placed an indefinite hold on release of Yemeni detainees to their homeland after the failed 2009 Christmas Eve bombing attempt of a U.S.-bound airliner by Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian man who was influenced by Yemen’s Al-Qaida of the Arabian Peninsula offshoot. Feinstein supported the freeze at that time, calling Yemen "too unstable."
“Although AQAP still has a strong presence in Yemen, I believe it would be prudent to re-visit the decision to halt transfers to Yemen,” she wrote NSA Director Thomas Donilon. Since the freeze, Yemen has a new post-Arab Spring president and Feinstein said the White House should reassess whether, “with appropriate assistance,” Yemen could securely hold detainees in its capital, Sana’a.
She cited a recent meeting with the International Red Cross who described detainee desperation at Guantánamo as “unprecedented.”
Feinstein released the letter on the same day the military said all 94 hunger strikers among the 166 captives at Guantánamo are under lockdown in solitary cells or at the prison hospital.
Whenever I hear anyone say "the United States doesn't torture" I am reminded of this famous essay by former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky which was published in the middle of the torture debate in 2005:
Why would democratically elected leaders of the United States ever want to legalize what a succession of Russian monarchs strove to abolish? Why run the risk of unleashing a fury that even Stalin had problems controlling? Why would anyone try to "improve intelligence-gathering capability" by destroying what was left of it? Frustration? Ineptitude? Ignorance? Or, has their friendship with a certain former KGB lieutenant colonel, V. Putin, rubbed off on the American leaders? I have no answer to these questions, but I do know that if Vice President Cheney is right and that some "cruel, inhumane or degrading" (CID) treatment of captives is a necessary tool for winning the war on terrorism, then the war is lost already.And he made a most important observation that also stuck with me:
Even talking about the possibility of using CID treatment sends wrong signals and encourages base instincts in those who should be consistently delivered from temptation by their superiors. As someone who has been on the receiving end of the "treatment" under discussion, let me tell you that trying to make a distinction between torture and CID techniques is ridiculous. Long gone are the days when a torturer needed the nasty-looking tools displayed in the Tower of London. A simple prison bed is deadly if you remove the mattress and force a prisoner to sleep on the iron frame night after night after night. Or how about the "Chekist's handshake" so widely practiced under Stalin -- a firm squeeze of the victim's palm with a simple pencil inserted between his fingers? Very convenient, very simple. And how would you define leaving 2,000 inmates of a labor camp without dental service for months on end? Is it CID not to treat an excruciatingly painful toothache, or is it torture?
Now it appears that sleep deprivation is "only" CID and used on Guantanamo Bay captives. Well, congratulations, comrades! It was exactly this method that the NKVD used to produce those spectacular confessions in Stalin's "show trials" of the 1930s. The henchmen called it "conveyer," when a prisoner was interrogated nonstop for a week or 10 days without a wink of sleep. At the end, the victim would sign any confession without even understanding what he had signed.
I know from my own experience that interrogation is an intensely personal confrontation, a duel of wills. It is not about revealing some secrets or making confessions, it is about self-respect and human dignity. If I break, I will not be able to look into a mirror. But if I don't, my interrogator will suffer equally. Just try to control your emotions in the heat of that battle. This is precisely why torture occurs even when it is explicitly forbidden. Now, who is going to guarantee that even the most exact definition of CID is observed under such circumstances?
But if we cannot guarantee this, then how can you force your officers and your young people in the CIA to commit acts that will scar them forever? For scarred they will be, take my word for it.
In 1971, while in Lefortovo prison in Moscow (the central KGB interrogation jail), I went on a hunger strike demanding a defense lawyer of my choice (the KGB wanted its trusted lawyer to be assigned instead). The moment was most inconvenient for my captors because my case was due in court, and they had no time to spare. So, to break me down, they started force-feeding me in a very unusual manner -- through my nostrils. About a dozen guards led me from my cell to the medical unit. There they straitjacketed me, tied me to a bed, and sat on my legs so that I would not jerk. The others held my shoulders and my head while a doctor was pushing the feeding tube into my nostril.
The feeding pipe was thick, thicker than my nostril, and would not go in. Blood came gushing out of my nose and tears down my cheeks, but they kept pushing until the cartilages cracked. I guess I would have screamed if I could, but I could not with the pipe in my throat. I could breathe neither in nor out at first; I wheezed like a drowning man -- my lungs felt ready to burst. The doctor also seemed ready to burst into tears, but she kept shoving the pipe farther and farther down. Only when it reached my stomach could I resume breathing, carefully. Then she poured some slop through a funnel into the pipe that would choke me if it came back up. They held me down for another half-hour so that the liquid was absorbed by my stomach and could not be vomited back, and then began to pull the pipe out bit by bit. . . . Grrrr. There had just been time for everything to start healing during the night when they came back in the morning and did it all over again, for 10 days, when the guards could stand it no longer. As it happened, it was a Sunday and no bosses were around.
They surrounded the doctor: "Hey, listen, let him drink it straight from the bowl, let him sip it. It'll be quicker for you, too, you silly old fool." The doctor was in tears: "Do you think I want to go to jail because of you lot? No, I can't do that. . . . " And so they stood over my body, cursing each other, with bloody bubbles coming out of my nose. On the 12th day, the authorities surrendered; they had run out of time. I had gotten my lawyer, but neither the doctor nor those guards could ever look me in the eye again.
Today, when the White House lawyers seem preoccupied with contriving a way to stem the flow of possible lawsuits from former detainees, I strongly recommend that they think about another flood of suits, from the men and women in your armed services or the CIA agents who have been or will be engaged in CID practices. Our rich experience in Russia has shown that many will become alcoholics or drug addicts, violent criminals or, at the very least, despotic and abusive fathers and mothers.For me, that essay said everything that needed to be said about torture. (If you haven't read the whole thing, I urge you to read it today.) It was published in the Washington Post and every political elite in the country no doubt read it.
And yet ... here we are 8 years later still force-feeding prisoners in Guantanamo.
This is what a force-feeding apparatus at Guantanamo looks like:
They can also be strapped to a gurney with five point restraints.
The camp's medical staff were authorized to strap captives into the restraint chair, for their force-feeding, and a period long enough afterwards to prevent the captives defeating their force-feeding by inducing vomiting.Note the plastic bag protecting the seat cushion. Guantanamo captives report they were routinely immobilized so long they could no longer control their bladder and bowels and soiled themselves.
This is a terrible, terrible policy and they have to figure out a way to stop it. It may be that Obama cannot close Guantanamo or ship some of these prisoners back to their countries (although there's some question about why the administration is not taking advantage of some loosening in that repatriation policy) but there is no reason that these men who have been improperly imprisoned should be treated with anything but kindness and dignity while they are still in custody. Obviously, that will not make up for their wrongful incarceration, but we should at least try to make them as comfortable as possible.
They should fire the commandant and hire the head of Hilton to go down there and turn the camp into a resort. Look at it this way: if the US ever gets its soul back and closes the damned place, we can sell it to a big hotel chain for profit. Isn't that the American way?
*according to Emptywheel, that's wrong. She's actually been pretty good on torture. I stand corrected.
digby 4/26/2013 09:30:00 AM