Friday, April 30, 2004

From blog correspondent Lee Penn
Outrage at American torture of Iraqi prisoners
LP: The authorities are shocked, shocked:

"Six soldiers now face court martial and jail. One allegedly boasted that the captives "broke within hours". Seven others, including a general, are suspended from duty and may be disciplined. Shocked Army spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said: "I can't make excuses for this. We're appalled. These photos are dismaying."

One of the accused gave a classic utilitarian defense of his actions:

"He allegedly boasted in an email to his family: "We had a very high rate with our styles of getting them to talk. They ended up breaking within hours."

When called to account for his deeds, he played dumb:

"Yesterday Frederick said he would deny abuse, claiming he was not shown Geneva Convention rules on how to treat captives."

Note, as well, that at least one of the tormentors in the photos is a woman soldier. A woman officer, Brig. Gen. Karpinski, is under investigation, as well. A great triumph for feminism!

It's a good thing that after the publicity hit, the military perps will be called to account. But what is being done where there is no publicity?

Also, note that what is being done to the prisoners is humiliation and degradation, and what a writer for Atlantic Monthly calls "torture lite," or "coercion," or "physical pressure".

This is a long article; go read the whole thing.


"Then there are methods that, some people argue, fall short of torture. Called "torture lite," these include sleep deprivation, exposure to heat or cold, the use of drugs to cause confusion, rough treatment (slapping, shoving, or shaking), forcing a prisoner to stand for days at a time or to sit in uncomfortable positions, and playing on his fears for himself and his family. Although excruciating for the victim, these tactics generally leave no permanent marks and do no lasting physical harm.

The Geneva Convention makes no distinction: it bans any mistreatment of prisoners. But some nations that are otherwise committed to ending brutality have employed torture lite under what they feel are justifiable circumstances. In 1987 Israel attempted to codify a distinction between torture, which was banned, and "moderate physical pressure," which was permitted in special cases. Indeed, some police officers, soldiers, and intelligence agents who abhor "severe" methods believe that banning all forms of physical pressure would be dangerously naive. Few support the use of physical pressure to extract confessions, especially because victims will often say anything (to the point of falsely incriminating themselves) to put an end to pain. But many veteran interrogators believe that the use of such methods to extract information is justified if it could save lives,”whether by forcing an enemy soldier to reveal his army's battlefield positions or forcing terrorists to betray the details of ongoing plots. As these interrogators see it, the well-being of the captive must be weighed against the lives that might be saved by forcing him to talk. A method that produces life-saving information without doing lasting harm to anyone is not just preferable; it appears to be morally sound. Hereafter I will use "torture" to mean the more severe traditional outrages, and "coercion" to refer to torture lite, or moderate physical pressure."

The Atlantic Monthly author gives a nod of approval to "coercion":

"Torture is a crime against humanity, but coercion is an issue that is rightly handled with a wink, or even a touch of hypocrisy; it should be banned but also quietly practiced. Those who protest coercive methods will exaggerate their horrors, which is good: it generates a useful climate of fear. It is wise of the President to reiterate U.S. support for international agreements banning torture, and it is wise for American interrogators to employ whatever coercive methods work. It is also smart not to discuss the matter with anyone.

If interrogators step over the line from coercion to outright torture, they should be held personally responsible. But no interrogator is ever going to be prosecuted for keeping Khalid Sheikh Mohammed awake, cold, alone, and uncomfortable. Nor should he be."

The Soviet interrogators who used the "conveyor" (round-the-clock interrogration, blinding light, forcing prisoners to stand in awkward positions for long periods of time, etc.) on the prominent Great Purge defendants in 1937-1938 are nodding their approval.

Kyrie, eleison. [End.]

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