April 21, 2009

MOVEON.SLATE:

Over It: America's quick recovery from its torture program suggests it wasn't a torture program in the first place. (Dahlia Lithwick, April 17, 2009, Slate)

Laced like cynical poison through the four newly released Justice Department torture memos is the logic of quick healing: Eleven days of sleep deprivation is not illegal torture so long as the prisoner gets to sleep it off later. Writes then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee: "The effect of such sleep deprivation will generally remit after one or two nights of uninterrupted sleep." In that same memo we learn that water-boarding is also not illegal torture because the simulated drowning lasts only 20 to 40 seconds, and thus, "the waterboard is simply a controlled acute episode, lacking the connotation of a protracted period of time generally given to suffering." By the same token, "walling" (i.e., slamming someone into a wall) isn't torture either because "the head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel that provides a c-collar effect to help prevent whiplash."

In sum, argue the memos, it isn't torture if you can get over it.


Indeed, liberal democracies have a long history of innovating humane means of torture that minimize lasting harm. If we succeed and if the end is to obtain otherwise inaccessible information about immediate threats then there really isn't any more coherent an argument against such torture than there would be against imprisonment and interrogation itself.


MORE:
The Case for the ‘Torture Memos’: Rightly considered, the memos should be a source of pride. (Rich Lowry, 4/21/09, National Review)

Rightly considered, the memos should be a source of pride. They represent a nation of laws struggling to defend itself against a savage, lawless enemy while adhering to its legal commitments and norms. Most societies throughout human history wouldn’t have bothered.

The memos cite conduct that is indisputably torture from a court case involving Serbs abusing Muslims in Bosnia: “severe beatings to the genitals, head, and other parts of the body with metal pipes and various other items; removal of teeth with pliers; kicking in the face and ribs; breaking of bones and ribs and dislocation of fingers; cutting a figure into the victim’s forehead; hanging the victim and beating him; extreme limitations of food and water; and subjection to games of ‘Russian roulette.’ ”

In contrast, we carefully parsed each of our techniques to ensure it wouldn’t cause “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” This touchingly legalistic exercise at times took on a comic aspect. We could put a caterpillar in a box with a detainee afraid of stinging insects, Abu Zubaydah, so long as we didn’t falsely tell him the caterpillar was a threat to sting. We could put detainees in diapers so long as “the diaper is checked regularly and changed as needed to prevent skin irritation.”


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Posted by Orrin Judd at April 21, 2009 10:28 AM
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