April 17, 2009
Almost as disturbing as reading the Bush administration's approved menu of brutal interrogation techniques is recognizing how President George W. Bush successfully shopped for government attorneys willing to render American laws meaningless by turning words inside out.
The four "torture"- memos, released Thursday, revealed not just that the stomach-turning reports about CIA interrogators abusing "war on terror"- suspects were true, but that the United States had gone from a "nation of laws"- to a "nation of legal sophistry"--where conclusions on law are politically preordained and the legal analysis is made to fit.
You have passages like this in the May 10, 2005, memo by Steven Bradbury, then acting head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel:
"Another question is whether the requirement of '-prolonged mental harm' caused by or resulting from one of the enumerated predicate acts is a separate requirement, or whether such 'prolonged mental harm' is to be presumed any time one of the predicate acts occurs."
As each phrase in the Convention Against Torture was held up to such narrow examination, the forest of criminal torture was lost in the trees of arcane legal jargon. Collectively, the memos leave a disorienting sense that any ambiguity in words can be twisted to justify almost anything.
So, a "war on terror" prisoner could not only be locked up in solitary confinement indefinitely based on the sole authority of President Bush but could be subjected to a battery of abusive and humiliating tactics, all in the name of extracting some information that purportedly would help keep the United States safe--and it would not be called "torture."
Some tactics were bizarre, like feeding detainees a liquid diet of Ensure to make "other techniques, such as sleep deprivation, more effective." The memo's sleep deprivation clause, in turn, allowed interrogators to shackle prisoners to an overhead pipe (or in some other uncomfortable position) for up to 180 hours (or seven-and-a-half days).
While shackled, the prisoner would be dressed in a diaper that "is checked regularly and changed as necessary." The memo asserted that "the use of the diaper is for sanitary and health purposes of the detainee; it is not used for the purpose of humiliating the detainee, and it is not considered to be an interrogation technique."
Beyond the painful disorientation from depriving a person of sleep while chained in a standing position for days, the Justice Department memos called for prisoners to be forced into other "stress positions" for varying periods of time to cause "the physical discomfort associated with muscle fatigue."
The detainees also could be put into small, dark boxes where they could barely move (and in the case of one detainee, Abu Zubaydah, could have an insect slipped into his box as a way of playing on his fear of bugs), according to the Aug. 1, 2002, memo.
"The duration of confinement varies based upon the size of the container," the May 10, 2005, memo added, with the smaller space (sitting only) restricted to two hours at a time and a somewhat larger box (permitting standing) limited to eight hours at a time and 18 hours a day.
Then, there were various slaps, grabs and slamming a prisoner against a "flexible" wall while his neck was in a sling "to help prevent whiplash." Prisoners also were subjected to forced nudity, sometimes in the presence of women, according to the May 10 memo.
"We understand that interrogators are trained to avoid sexual innuendo or any acts of implicit or explicit sexual degradation," the memo said. "Nevertheless, interrogators can exploit the detainee's fear of being seen naked.
"In addition, female officers involved in the interrogation process may see the detainees naked; and for purposes of our analysis, we will assume that detainees subjected to nudity as an interrogation technique are aware that they may be seen naked by females."