Torture American Style

Torture American Style
Each day a new puzzle piece is added to what will finally be the big picture of torture American style in the twenty-first century. As we struggle to make sense of it all, it helps to look more closely at exactly how torture has been documented.

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic, who published a Gestapo memo online, we can read about the Nazi form of "enhanced interrogation." It was called verschärfte Vernehmung, which means "enhanced" or "sharpened" interrogation. The sharpened methods were to be used only if traditional methods (i.e., asking prisoners questions) failed. They consisted of a reduced diet, a hard bed, a dark cell, sleep deprivation, exhaustion exercises, and being hit with a stick. If the interrogators wanted to hit a prisoner more than twenty times, a doctor had to be present.

The Nazis wanted to be sure that enemy soldiers who might wind up in court one day testifying against them would have no scars to reveal and nothing gruesome to report. Of course, the Nazis performed undocumented forms of torture on many, many other people -- those they knew would die before they ever got the chance to testify.

Some of the techniques outlined in the Gestapo memo are similar to those used on Guantanamo Bay prisoner Abu Zubaydah. According to a New York Times article published on April 17, 2009, Zubaydah gave his interrogators much information both before and after being subjected to sleep deprivation, a cold cell, and nudity.

Nudity brings us a notch higher on the torture scale. For documentation of nudity as an enhanced interrogation technique, we need to go forward sixty-three years to the May 30, 2005 "torture memo" written during the Bush administration. The memo divides interrogation techniques into three categories. Nudity falls into the first, which is called Conditioning Techniques. Other methods listed include the Gestapo's bland diet and sleep deprivation. The memo explains how to keep a detainee awake for a long period of time: shackle him in a standing position and diaper him. If reading this bothers you, you need not worry; the memo states that the diaper is checked frequently.

According to the memo, the above techniques will make a detainee confess in order to gain back control of his personal dignity. But we must assume that is not certain, since the memo moves on to a section entitled Corrective Techniques. These include face slapping, abdominal slapping, and facial holding. They are designed to startle the detainee, assuming that being held without habeas corpus rights and possibly stripped and/or diapered has not startled him enough already.

The final category described is Coercive Techniques. Here is where we find the mundane details of walling, water dousing, stress positions, wall standing, cramped confinement, and -- the most famous torture technique of all -- waterboarding. Walling, which consists of throwing a detainee against a flexible wall while he is wearing a neck protector to avoid whiplash, can be done twenty to thirty times during a session, to obtain "a more significant response to a question." If one wishes to argue that the Bush administration techniques were created to obtain responses that would benefit the Bush administration, that phrase alone supports the point. Simply replace "a more significant response" with "the response I want to hear."

Judging from the shameless minutiae contained in the torture memos, the Bush administration obviously did not think the recipients of their techniques would ever be testifying in court. Read the memos or choose not to read them, but whatever you do, remember that your government represents you. Ask yourself whether your government should be allowed to get away with premeditated acts of inhumanity, routinely conducted in a business-like fashion, in your name.

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