Sunday, March 15, 2009

The only thing they didn't try was the iron maiden

Just read Mark Danner's revelations about the ICRC report on the torture of Abu Zubaydah, Khaled Shaik Mohammed, and other high-value prisoners at various CIA black sites, appearing in the op-ed in Sunday's New York Times. For the full-length story, see the New York Review of Books. Here's a sample:

Two black wooden boxes were brought into the room outside my cell. One was tall, slightly higher than me and narrow. Measuring perhaps in area [3 1/2 by 2 1/2 feet by 6 1/2 feet high]. The other was shorter, perhaps only [3 1/2 feet] in height. I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck, they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room. I was also repeatedly slapped in the face....
I was then put into the tall black box for what I think was about one and a half to two hours. The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside.... They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.

I wish I could think of something original to say. I wish these revelations would inspire some new feeling, some brilliant conclusion. But I just keep repeating to myself what I've thought all along: And we're supposed to be a highly civilized country? These "techniques" were applied by experienced interrogators. What would beginners have tried? Meanwhile, instructions were emanating from the highest offices of our land to these hell-holes.

What's it like, I wonder, leaning back in your swivel chair and speaking decisively into the receiver...or bending provocatively toward the speaker phone:
"Yes, go ahead, bash his forehead against the wall....no, wait, better cover the wall with plywood first. The cement could crack his skull or something....He's still not talking? OK, time to try stuffing his ass into that little box....Oh, and KSM, did you shove him that suppository?"

Or maybe it was all handled in code. You know, to provide plausible deniability. "I told you to give him a hard time, not administer the nose wash."

Danner makes it clear that these prisoners are not nice people.
The planners and perpetrators of mass killings, they have blood on their hands. There are tough cases out there, people who hate us, and we have to treat them in kind.

No, we don't.

How can leaving someone cold and naked for a month possibly, seriously be considered an interrogation method? Shutting them up in a box? Subjecting them to waterboarding, sensory deprivation, stress positions, terrorizing them with dogs, smearing red stuff on them and making them think it's menstrual blood? This is not interrogation. It's vengeance.

OK, I don't have what it takes.

And I'm glad.


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