Questioning and discussion continues to focus on waterboarding. Alabama’s Jeff Sessions says he just doesn’t understand all this focus on waterboarding since it’s closely controlled and rarely used. The debate focuses on it for a simple reason: if Attorney General Mukasey and his sidekick Steve Bradbury can conclude that waterboarding—which is iconic torture—is lawful, then there is very little that they won’t be able to approve. In effect, the practice of waterboarding is being used to bash through the prohibition against torture altogether. But in another sense, Sessions is right. Other torture practices are far more widespread and therefore arguably still more important. I’d focus on four techniques which are plainly torture and are being used by the CIA today:That's right. The torture issue is a sly one. The administration takes two interrelated tacks: one plays out on specifically legal terrain, the other on conceptual and normative terrain. On one hand, they seek to make as precise as possible the referent of the definition of torture. The more precise or concrete the definition, the more the law might circumscribe a small area of prohibited practices, leaving vast possibilities for other techniques. If "waterboarding" is clearly defined as torture, and is thus illegal (which it is), then try "jello-boarding." The other tack is to allow some success for the administration's opponents on the question. Endless hearings on waterboarding, the slow drip of information about American use of waterboarding, the occasional outlandish claim designed to refocus the public view on a few rhetorical excesses, and a slow, delayed retreat. But then what are we left with? The acknowledgment that the US uses waterboarding? We already knew this.
• Long-time standing
• Sleep deprivation in excess of 2 days
• Psychotropic drugs
In addition to these techniques, there are the almost ubiquitous Kubark techniques, which used a combination of sensory deprivation followed by sensory overload and which can effectively turn their subject into a vegetable. The application of the first four certainly constitute criminal acts under U.S. law. The Kubark process probably does as well. And on these points, a debate has hardly even been engaged.
Friday, February 08, 2008
Scott Horton, as always, has another good piece rounding up recent US torture news. [It occurs to me that there's enough daily "torture news" and legal and rhetorical contortions about torture in the US to publish a quotidian newspaper called The Torture News]. He points out again how the "debate" continues to be framed by certain questions that the administration has an interest in maintaining.