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Understanding Torture

The President of the United States George W. Bush and his National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, (“Condi” to her friend) have gone on the record emphatically stating that the United States does not employ torture as a method of obtaining information from detainees. Yet Vice President Dick Cheney recently went before Congress to try to exempt the CIA from proposed anti-torture legislation. 

What exactly is torture, and what methods do the CIA employ? According to Merriam-Webster, torture is defined as: 1 a : anguish of body or mind : AGONY b : something that causes agony or pain 2 : the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure.     One method allegedly used or not used is called “waterboarding”. Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, defines waterboarding, “In the medieval form of waterboarding, a victim was strapped to a board and tipped back or lowered into a body of water until he or she believed that drowning was imminent. The subject was then removed from the water and revived. If necessary the process was repeated.     "There are other forms of waterboarding, but all of them have in common that the victim almost drowns but is rescued or re-animated just before death occurs. The torture is designed to be both psychological and physical. The psychological effect is that the victim is led to believe that he or she is being executed. This reinforces the torturer’s control and makes the victim experience mortal fear. The physical effects are extreme pain and damage to the lungs, brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation and sometimes broken bones because of the restraints on the struggling victim.”

Recent examples of some of the other methods the CIA uses or doesn’t use were plastered in newspapers and on television last year when a soldier (Spec. Joseph Darby) stationed at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq released the infamous photos that were taken by U.S. troops. Ironically, Abu Ghraib was the same location Saddam Hussein allegedly used to torture his detainees. These included hooding the prisoners, stress positions, sleep deprivation (detainees were interrogated for up to 20 hours at a time), forcing them to remove their clothes, intimidating them with dogs, exposing them to near- freezing temperatures and dousing them with ice water, prodding them with devices called “cattle-prods”, which delivers a powerful electric shock at the push of a button. The CIA dubs these methods, “no-touch torture”. Some of them are hardly new; they were used during the Spanish Inquisition. The hooding was known then as, “masks of mockery”, the stress positions were inflicted with a mechanical device in the Inquisition known as, “the crippling stork”. The “no-touch” method of “the crippling stork” forces, through threats and intimidation, the prisoner to assume contorted positions and maintain them for hours on end.     Another favorite that may or may not be used by the CIA is a variant of the strappado, where the prisoner’s hands are chained to the ceiling and his feet are shackled, sometimes with weights attached and he’s then lifted into the air. Wikipedia defines strappado as, “a form of torture in which a victim is suspended in the air by means of a rope attached to his hands which are tied behind his back. Weights may be added to the body. A variant of strappado (the medieval inquisition name), is also known as reverse hanging or Palestinian hanging (allegedly because of its use in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) and has been reported used in the Middle East as well as by institutions that practice torture.   "There are three variants of this torture. In the first one, the victim has his arms tied behind his back; a large rope is then tied to his wrists and passed over a beam or a hook on the roof. The torturer pulls on this rope until the victim is hanging from his arms. Since he has the hands tied behind the back, this will cause very intense pain and possible dislocation of the arms. The full weight of the subject’s body is then supported by the extended and internally-rotated shoulder sockets. While the technique shows no external injuries, it can cause long-term nerve, ligament, or tendon damage. The technique typically causes brachial plexus injury, leading to seizures or paralysis in the arm.

"The second variation is similar to the first, but a series of drops is added. In addition to the damage caused by the suspension, the fall from the suspended height would cause major stress to the extended and vulnerable arms, leading to broken shoulders. It is believed that Niccolò Machiavelli, during his 1513 imprisonment after allegedly conspiring against the Medici family in Florence, was subjected to this form of strappado.

"In the third variant, the victim’s hands are tied to the front. The victim is also hung from the hands, but his ankles are tied and a heavy weight is attached to them. This will cause pain and possible damage not only to the arms, but also to the legs and hips. This variant was known as squassation.”

The CIA has two training manuals for interrogators, KUBARK (the CIA’s name for itself) Counterintelligence Interrogation-July 1963, and Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual-1983 which were obtained by the Baltimore Sun:

The KUBARK manual leans more toward hands-on, with chapters including, “The Coercive Counterintelligence Interrogation of Resistant Sources”, “Pain”, and “Debility”. But, after experience in Vietnam, it was found that the “no-touch” methods appeared to be more effective, leading to the updated 1983 manual. According to an article in Briarpatch, July/August 1998, the coercive methods that the manuals detail are arrest, detention, deprivation of sensory stimuli, threats and fear, debility, pain, heightened suggestibility and hypnosis, and the use of drugs. These measures are designed to “destroy [the subject’s] capacity for resistance” by inducing regression. “The interrogatee’s mature defenses crumble as he becomes more childlike.” The manuals emphasize isolation, disorientation and the creation of “unpleasant or intolerable situations.” Interrogatees should be arrested early in the morning, blindfolded and stripped naked. They should be held incommunicado, deprived of food or sleep and normal routines and subjected to “extremes of heat, cold and moisture.” Interrogation rooms should be dark, soundproof and without windows and toilets.

Victims of the “hands-on” methods the CIA uses or doesn’t use in Iraq have been found with electric drill marks, cigarette and/or blowtorch burns, and the old-fashioned beatings with rifle butts and other blunt objects. These methods are strictly outlawed by the Geneva Convention, but the Bush Administration, on the advice of Alberto Gonzales (who called the rules “quaint”) refused to follow the convention on suspected terrorists.

So, in the memorable words of Donald Rumsfeld, “Who knows?” Does the CIA torture or don’t they? Are we to believe our elected officials or, say, the photographic evidence released from the Abu Ghraib prisons? Or former CIA officer Bob Baer who told ABC that the CIA techniques amounted to, “bad interrogation. I mean, you can get anyone to confess to anything if the torture’s bad enough.”? Or the anonymous (for obvious reasons) CIA officers who described to ABC on the same program six techniques called, “Attention Grab, Attention Slap, Belly Slap, Long Time Standing, Cold Cell, Water Boarding.”?

December 20, 2005