28 February, 2009

Torture and "enhanced interrogation techniques"

Under a 1994 UN convention, ratified by the US and 135 other countries, torture means "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted" to obtain information. Prior to the Bush administration, it was accepted (and still is for most of the world) that these techniques constitute war crimes. So what is the record?

The FBI released a report last year in which FBI officials reported 26 cases of possible mistreatment by law enforcement or military personnel at Guantánamo Bay. It said captives were chained hand and foot in a foetal position to the floor for 18 hours or more, where they urinated and defecated on themselves. In addition, they were subjected to air conditioning either turned close to freezing or turned off so that room temperatures topped 38C (100F).

The CIA confirmed that a top al-Qaida operative - Abu Zubaydah - captured in early 2002 in Pakistan, was waterboarded. In 2006, the vice-president, Dick Cheney, told a radio interviewer that waterboarding was used on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at Guantánamo. Cheney said the decision was "a no-brainer for me. But for a while there, I was criticised as being the vice-president for torture. We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in." In 2008 he admitted to 33 cases of "enhanced interrogation," including 3 cases of waterboarding.

The mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq is also well documented, including the involvement of "OGA" (other government agencies, i.e., intelligence agencies).

President Bush told ABC News that his top national security advisers in 2003 discussed and approved specific details of the CIA's methods: "I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved." Senior officials signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al-Qaida suspects - including whether they would be hit, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to waterboarding. These officials included Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, George Tenet, and John Ashcroft. Bush also vetoed a bill that would have limited all US interrogators – including the CIA – to techniques allowed in the army field manual on interrogation, which prohibits physical force against prisoners.

I'm surprised I need to remind people of some of the details. I can understand arguing that it was necessary to avoid a greater evil--although there is a strong burden of proof for any person making that claim--but I can't see how one can deny that is has happened.

According to a recent article in the New Yorker,

A former C.I.A. officer, who supports the agency’s detention and interrogation policies, said he worried that, if the full story of the C.I.A. program ever surfaced, agency personnel could face criminal prosecution. Within the agency, he said, there is a “high level of anxiety about political retribution” for the interrogation program. If congressional hearings begin, he said, “several guys expect to be thrown under the bus.” He noted that a number of C.I.A. officers have taken out professional liability insurance, to help with potential legal fees.

I can think of people--the people at the top--who are much more deserving of being "thrown under the bus." I doubt I'll see it, but it would be nice.

Q&A: Torture and 'enhanced interrogation' | World news | guardian.co.uk

UPDATE (3/1): The CIA now admits to destroying tapes of 92 interrogations.

No comments: