Monday, January 26, 2009

Leaving wiggle room on torture

Remember Dubya: We do not torture!

Now, it seems, there is more continuity than change in the Obama administration approach to enhanced interrogation techniques. First, we had the Director of National Intelligence nominee refusing to acknowledge waterboarding as torture and Attorney-General-designate Eric Holder calling the Army Interrogation Manual a good start for detailing interrogation techniques.

The problem is that a good start implies using that manual only as a foundation, beyond which CIA and other intelligence agencies intend to go with certain classified methods.

Here's what Jeffrey Kaye notes is being left out of coverage of this issue:

Not long ago, I wrote about what was included in Appendix M, which purports to introduce the single technique of "separation." In fact, the Appendix M includes instructions regarding solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and, in combination with other procedures included in the Army Field Manual, amounted to a re-introduction of the psychological torture techniques practiced at Guantanamo, and taught by Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape, or SERE psychologists and other personnel at the Cuban base and elsewhere.

The rewrite of the Army Field Manual included other seemingly minor changes. It introduced dubious procedures, such as the "False Flag" technique, wherein interrogators could pretend they were from another country. It also redefined the meaning of "Fear Up," a procedure meant to exploit a prisoner's existing fears under imprisonment. Now, interrogators could create "new" fears. The AFM rewrite was a masterpiece of subterfuge and double talk, which could only have been issued from the offices of Rumsfeld and Cambone.

Speaking in a 2006 interview, a Pentagon spokesman provided (probably) unintended insight into how both the military and intelligence communities intend to interpret any regulations. Asked a technical question about the distinction between complete sensory deprivation and depriving prisoners of light for prolonged terms, the General said:

It does not make it prohibited. And it would have to be weighed in the context of the overall environment.

In other words: Anything not explicitly prohibited can be considered to be permitted.

Aside from the fact that torture is a stain on our honor, as one friend of mine recently put it, virtually all the research in the field shows again and again that torture does not work in terms of consistently acquiring useful intelligence.

So the Obama administration needs to make--as Dana Garrett might say--a distinction with a difference from the policies of the Bush administration.

And President Obama's supporters need to hold his feet to the fire. Well, maybe not, but you get the idea.

1 comment:

Delaware Watch said...

I can imagine that someone can come up w/ a new interrogation technique that doesn't involve torture but, say, the use of a clever deception.

Now does it follow that because there is an openness to new interrogation techniques that you are entitled to the conclusion that those techniques must be torturous? Obviously not.