Terry Karney (pecunium) wrote,
Terry Karney

Long nights

I am not sure that reading Whiskey and Water by Elizabeth Bear was the best thing to be doing last night, after I got done with reading, and writing, about the memos the Obama adminstration released yesterday. Strange dreams.

But I read them, all 80 pages of 'em.

I was beginning to wonder at myself. It wasn’t until I was deep into the third memo (which is a detailing of the various “techniques” being used, and the rationalisations for them being legal, that I really started to be disgusted. It was the detailing of how sleep deprivation was to be enforced which got me. I can’t imagine doing that to someone. I just can’t.

Part of that is years of being intimate with torture. There is no way to be a good interrogator and not look into torture. To be a good interrogator one has to be curious, and torture is the uncle we don’t like to talk about; because he’s a little off.

It’s not that I’ve not walked right up to that line. In some example exercises I came right up to it. And I stopped the event. The subject was willing, and I wasn’t going to do anything which caused permanent physical, or mental, harm, but if I’d done it, I’d have been on the other side of the lines I’d drawn. It was tempting, seductively so. If I’d done it, he’d have talked. He was getting ready to cry. I hadn’t touched him. I hadn’t even fixed him to the chair (which probably made it worse, he could move, but he couldn’t get away). I had absolute power over him (insofar as the LT would have let me go, which; it turns out, was further than I was willing to let me go).

Torture has a long history, some of it is as object lesson (Henry VIII didn’t arrange for people to suffer in their dying because it was useful in collecting information. There was the one whom he promised he wouldn’t cut down to draw and quarter until his was dead, then he hanged him in a cage; letting him die over the course of days; true to his word, but still a terrible vengeance), some of it was because “higher principles” were at stake (the Inquisition was saving souls; the cost of bodies was a small price to pay).

Some of it was really subtle. The Inquisition has become infamous for its tortures (many of which were recounted in Protestant pamphlets... no ax to grind there). There are a couple of parallels to the present. Only the truly resistant, whom the inquisitor was certain were hiding something were, to be tortured (compare this to the third memo which says, "Far from being constitutionally arbitrary the interrogation techniques at issue here are employed by the CIA only as reasonably deemed necessary to protect against grave threats to United States interests, a determination that is made at CIA headquarters, with input from the on scene interrogation team, pursuant to careful screening procedures that ensure the techniques will be used as little as possible on as few detainees as possible. Since they also claimed these techniques are only used on a detainee who, until time of capture, we have reason to believe: (1) is a senior member of al-Qaeda or an al-Qaeda associated terrorist group (Jemaah Islamiyyah, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, al Zarqawi Group, etc,); (2) has knowledge of imminent terrorist threats against the USA, its military forces, its citizens and organizations, or its allies; or that has had direct involvement in planning and preparing terrorist actions against the USA or its allies, or assisting the al-Qaeda leadership in planning and preparing such terrorist actions; and (3) if released, constitutes a clear 'and continuing threat to the USA or its allies." i.e. to say they only use these things when they have enough knowledge to know this is a “ticking bomb” situation)

The first torture was showing the instruments. Letting the subject ponder the pains they were to face the next day. That was considered torture. It was, legally, counted as torture. None of this pretending that only things which leave permanent mental scars or are excructiatingly painful, or which have as their primary intent the causing of pain. Nope. Making someone think about being twisted, burned, half-drowned, all counted at torture. In that the Inquisition was more honest, and fair, than we pretend to be today.

And a confession gained by way of torture wasn’t admissible in the Canon Courts. It had to be repeated in front of the judge. Given that recanting was grounds for more torture it’s interesting how many people did recant. That’s why the church was reluctant to use it.

All of this is known to me. I’ve read of all sorts of tortures. Some of what finally got to me was the clinical nature of the reports. It was banal. It was no different, in the tone, than reading a memo on the best way to arrange for an easement to allow someone to get from the highway to the beach. It was the evil of small minds. They were asked a question (can we find a theory which makes it legal to call this, “not-torture”) and they answered it, and ignored the greater questions (should we find a theory which makes it legal to call it, “not-torture).

The saving grace in this mess is the military lawyers, pretty much, refused to go along. They protested the torture, and when they faced “evidence” collected from torture, they refused to use it.

This shit can’t be allowed to stand. We have to haul it out into the light. In the second memo they admit that not less than 25 prisoners were subjected to those techniques. Sleep dep, “dousing” (where water, as cold as 41°F is sprayed on a naked prisoner, in a room as cold as 64°F), slaps, grabs, being bounced off walls, confinement in small containers, “stress positions” and all the rest, are done for 1-3 hours at time, 2-3 times a day (well, apart from the sleep dep, that could be done for 180 hours; just over a week, in the finally approved forms), and the topper, waterboarding, could be done for up to twelve minutes of total drowning time.

We admit we did it. We know it happened. We know people did those things. We know other people sanctioned them.

And we know they are wrong. The actions of those who did the approving are those of people who know they were wrong. Classifying something Top Secret/NOFORN is not the sort of thing which ends up on legal theories, as a general rule.

I, as someone who did that job for 16 years, who taught it for 14, I want to see prosecutions. I want trials. I hope for convictions. I say this knowing that I know people who were involved in interrogations which used these techniques.

I say this knowing that I like some of the people who may have used some of these techniques. I don’t think all of them evil. I think some of them young and misguided. I think the people who drafted these memos are evil. I think the people who asked for these memos are evil. I think they deserve a lot more grief than I think they are going to get.

In a perfect world, they would go to prison, and the folks at the bottom would get a serious evaluation, and sentences reflective of both the limited scope of action they had; the poor guidance should be mitigating (they were told it was legal, and in keeping with the Geneva Conventions). A ton of community service, and a sealed record (or an expungement) is in order for some.

Others... those who did things which led to death... lock ‘em up.

We need to do this. For ourselves, and for those who were wronged. We have a lot of innocent people who were called, “the worst of the worst,” and treated in ways we wouldn’t treat animals. They aren’t going to be so willing to forgive and forget. We have to make amends.
Tags: justice, military, torture
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