Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Torture

Silke wote a post on Hooah Wife about McCain forcing Bush to accept his amendment making not just torture, but anything cruel, inhumand, or degrading illegal. A very interesting exchange between the two of has taken place, and I thought I would repeat some of it here, because the commenting system Greta uses does not support bold face vs italic, so it is hard do tsee who said what. Here Bold Face is what I said, italic is what Silke or someone else said.

Don said: Silke, the "Torture" ammendment never was about torture. We do not torture, and never have. McCain's torture ammendment expaned what we won't do to say we also won't do anything cruel, inhumane, or DEGRADING.

Muslims consider it degrading to see a woman in control. Does this mean we now cannot have women participating in questioning? Must all women they see be covered in burkas and must they all act in a subservent manner?

Also the fight never was that the military should conduct degrading interrogations, but must we also ban the CIA from doing something someone might find degrading?

Some say they find it degrading to be wished a Merry Christmas, and others say they find it degrading to be wished Happy Holidays and not be wished Merry Christmas. Since just about anyone can say they find just about anything degrading, do we really want to tie our integrators hands not to do anything degrading?


Silke's comment:
“We do not torture, and never have.”

I guess it all depends on your definition of torture. It appears the CIA has been authorized in its interrogations of non-POWs overseas, to take any steps short of a very narrow Department of Justice definition of “torture.” In addition, we know from the Army’s Schmidt report (which was commissioned in response to FBI allegations of abuses at Guantanamo) that some of the methods used to interrogate high-level Al Qaeda detainees include: keeping the detainee awake for 18-20 hours a day for over 50 consecutive days, forcing the detainee to crawl around on a dog leash to perform dog tricks, menacing the detainee with snarling dogs, and “waterboarding” which is a technique that involves pouring water over a person’s face to bring them to the point of drowning. If this isn’t torture, then it certainly could be considered cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. And what about our rendition policy, basically allowing countries with known records of abuse and torture to interrogate detainees formerly in our custody?

“Also the fight never was that the military should conduct degrading interrogations, but must we also ban the CIA from doing something someone might find degrading?”

I don’t think your examples of degrading treatment apply. I suppose we could go back and forth and try to agree or disagree on a list of acceptable methods of interrogation, but that’s why the McCain Amendment is so important.

The problem with the McCain ammendment is precisely that it does not define what is degrading. This opens it to interpretation and may block things it should not.
It reduces the ambiguity and eliminates the loopholes that some agencies may have been operating under. It also reaffirms our commitment that we do not torture nor do we allow cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

“Since just about anyone can say they find just about anything degrading, do we really want to tie our integrators hands not to do anything degrading?”

I’m not in favor of impeding our interrogators, just giving them clearer guidelines then what they have now.
Which this law does not do.
Don said: keeping the detainee awake for 18-20 hours a day for over 50 consecutive days

I have no problem with sleep deprivation.

forcing the detainee to crawl around on a dog leash to perform dog tricks, menacing the detainee with snarling dogs,

Those are sadistic acts done by a very few on the night shift and they are now in prison themselves

and “waterboarding” which is a technique that involves pouring water over a person’s face to bring them to the point of drowning.

Actually it involves tying the victim to a board with the head lower than the feet so that he or she is unable to move. A piece of cloth is held tightly over the face, and water is poured onto the cloth. Breathing is extremely difficult and the victim will be in fear of imminent death by asphyxiation. However, it is relatively difficult to aspirate a large amount of water since the lungs are higher than the mouth, and the victim is unlikely actually to die if this is done by skilled practitioners.

I would not want our troops doing it, but I have no problem with the CIA doing it. It successfully broke 11 of 12 top al Qaeda, usually in 15 to 30 seconds, and 2 min at the most


If this isn’t torture, then it certainly could be considered cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

It isn't torture. No physical damage is done, no organs are lost, no death occurs. And as I said I would not want our military to do it (even though they are subjected to it in their training). But I would rather have the CIA do it, and retain control of the prisoner, than having to have him turned over to interregators from another country.

And what about our rendition policy, basically allowing countries with known records of abuse and torture to interrogate detainees formerly in our custody?

I would rather retain control of the prisoners, and let the CIA do a few things, like water boarding, short of torture than turn them over for real torture.

brainhell's comment:
I would rather retain control of the prisoners [rather] than turn them over for real torture.

Don, you said before that we don't torture. Surely you're not saying we knowingly send prisoners to other countries to be tortured? How does that differ?

Don's comment:
Don, you said before that we don't torture.

We don't. Not just because it is wrong, but because it seldom gets reliable information, and our people don't want to do it.

But there are many techniques short of torture that do get results, and are much kinder than techniques used by some of our allies.


Surely you're not saying we knowingly send prisoners to other countries to be tortured?

No I am saying we sometimes send prisoners to our allies, and we cannot control what they do to them.

How does that differ?

Let us say a team of American and Pakastaini soldiers take someone prisoner. They ask "are you going to be able to get him to answer your questions." And we say "well we cant be cruel to him, or do anything he might find degrading, but we can say pretty please will you tell us what you plan",
I should have added, we can also threaten to withhold their desert if they won't tell us
and the Pakastaini says "why dont you just let us question him"


Silke's comment: Dogs were also used at Guantanamo, as documented in the Schmidt report.
They certainly have guard dogs, and Muslims dont like dogs, but I believe most of the abuses took place with the night crew in Iraq.
As for “waterboarding”, making someone feel like they are drowning sounds like torture to me, but at the very least it is definitely cruel and inhumane. And it doesn’t matter who does it, it’s wrong.
It is not torture, because it does not lead to death, just the fear of it, and it definitely gets results. I would not want our soldiers doing it (even though it is done to them during training), but I would rather let our CIA do it than have to send the prisoner to another country.
As for our rendition policy – it was specifically developed to circumvent our own laws against torture. You say we cannot control what our allies do to prisoners we send to them. That’s the whole point. But if we truly wanted to control it we just wouldn’t send them in the first place.
I agree. But we need the answers. Either we need to be able to use interrogation procedures that might be a bit cruel, or we need to let others do the interrogation using methods we cannot control. We have to have answers. These Muslims want to cut our heads off (which is a lot crueler than thinking you might drown when you are in no danger of doing so.
I was an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army for six years. From my experience (limited thought it may be) these aggressive interrogation techniques don’t work.
Did you try waterbording? It worked 11 times out of 12.
After a certain point, detainees will tell you whatever you want to hear (whether it’s true or not). The trick is to determine which lawful approach (and there are quite a few) works for each individual and let human nature do the rest. I just cannot condone some of the practices that have been used.
I don't like some of them either.
The fact that we differ so much on our definitions of “cruel, inhumane and degrading” treatment just confirms the need for the McCain amendment.
Muslims say being interrogated by a female is degrading, because a female should not be in a position of power over a male. Thus when you worked as in intelligence officer you were doing something the prisoner thought was degrading. Should McCain prevent female integrators?

6 comments:

Silke said...

“Muslims say being interrogated by a female is degrading, because a female should not be in a position of power over a male. Thus when you worked as in intelligence officer you were doing something the prisoner thought was degrading. Should McCain prevent female integrators?”

Don,

No, offensive (according to cultural beliefs) and degrading are two very different things. In 1994, the United States ratified the 1984 United Nations Convention Against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment (UNCAT). Here’s what UNCAT says:

“Torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information.

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

No State Party shall expel, return, or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

It also forbids activities which do not rise to the level of torture, but which constitute cruel or degrading treatment.”

But the Administration had previously concluded the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is not unlawful when the CIA interrogates Al Qaeda suspects outside U.S. jurisdiction. This is why the McCain amendment is so important. It eliminates that geographic loophole.

Don Singleton said...

offensive (according to cultural beliefs) and degrading are two very different things.

What is the difference? What offensive things are we allowed to do?

Here’s what UNCAT says

And here’s what UNCAT also says: "Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction."

No State Party shall expel, return, or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

So if we capture an AlQaeda in the Afganistan/Pakistan region we can't ask Afganistan or Pakistan officially expel them from the country, or send them back to their home country, or officially extradite them. We better ship him to Egypt ourselves and not involve the State government.

But the Administration had previously concluded the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is not unlawful when the CIA interrogates Al Qaeda suspects outside U.S. jurisdiction. This is why the McCain amendment is so important. It eliminates that geographic loophole.

And so we should allow AlQaeda to plan whatever they want, and not question them?

I think it would be very interesting to see what McCain would do if he was ever elected President.

Silke said...

"And so we should allow AlQaeda to plan whatever they want, and not question them?"

No, we should fully interrogate them - but in accordance with our laws.

Don Singleton said...

"And so we should allow AlQaeda to plan whatever they want, and not question them?"

No, we should fully interrogate them - but in accordance with our laws.

And if our hands are so tied by those laws that all we can do is say pretty please tell me where the bomb is hidden, and if you don't tell you are not going to get any desert with your meal, then we will all be blown up

Silke said...

Don, you’re describing an unlikely and extreme scenario. How do you know that person isn’t innocent? Odds are they are, or they at least have no knowledge of the specific attack you are trying to prevent. Even if they do know, though, the fact that you are so certain they have knowledge probably means you have some idea of what the rest of the plan is (i.e. an inside source). We cannot base our entire policy on the interrogation of detainees based on fantasy. In reality a majority of the detainees questioned have no knowledge of an attack such as you describe. And even if they did, there’s no guarantee that information would be accurate or actionable. We can do this in a smarter way, without breaking the law or sacrificing our values.

Don Singleton said...

Don, you’re describing an unlikely and extreme scenario. How do you know that person isn’t innocent? Odds are they are,

The interrogation techniques we are talking about are not conducted on everyone walking down the street. They are used on senior Al Qaeda members, and I am extremely surprised to hear that you think the odds are that they are innocent.

or they at least have no knowledge of the specific attack you are trying to prevent.

I would want to know what they have planned, not are they involved in a specific attack, and if they are not involved with that, then let them go.

Even if they do know, though, the fact that you are so certain they have knowledge probably means you have some idea of what the rest of the plan is (i.e. an inside source).

We don't have that many sources inside Al Qaeda, and specific attacks are generally planned by small cells, and only members of those cells will know the details.

We cannot base our entire policy on the interrogation of detainees based on fantasy.

I dont suggest that fantasy be a major part of our interrogation of detainees (although I did not mind it when one was reading Harry Potter to them).

I also don't suggest we base our entire interrogation policy on extreme measures, but that they are a tool that the interrogator should be able to use when necessary.


In reality a majority of the detainees questioned have no knowledge of an attack such as you describe. And even if they did, there’s no guarantee that information would be accurate or actionable. We can do this in a smarter way, without breaking the law or sacrificing our values.

How? Saying pretty please rarely works, and withholding desert is not terribly effective either.