If all the moral, ethical and practical considerations against torture that I have examined in the various posts are inconclusive, I’ve now been sent an article from the highly specialist journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences that examines in medical terms how stress resulting from torture or enhanced interrogation techniques so impair the memory of the tortured as to make the information gained unreliable. Not, of course, that Cheney would accept the argument…
Torturing the brain – On the folk psychology and folk neurobiology motivating ‘enhanced and coercive interrogation techniques’. Shane O’Mara, September 24, 2009. Trends in Cognitive Sciences
Conclusion to article as follows:
In sum, coercive interrogations involving extreme stress are unlikely to facilitate the release of veridical information from long-term memory, given our current cognitive neurobiological knowledge. On the contrary, these techniques cause severe, repeated and prolonged stress, which compromises brain tissue supporting memory and executive function. The fact that the detrimental effects of these techniques on the brain are not visible to the naked eye makes them no less real.
Garzón aviva la causa de Guantánamo. El juez desoye al fiscal y apremia a Estados Unidos para que aporte información. Acepta otras tres acusaciones populares (Público.es).
What a tangled web: the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, the Dirty War in Argentina, property scams and political corruption in Marbella, the political violence of Henry Kissinger, the atrocities of Pinochet, the abuses at Guantánamo, and the Bush Six: Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, Douglas Feith, William Haynes II, Jay Bybee, and David Addington…
These diverse episodes of history all come together in a dance macabre under the direction of Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón.
This may be now slightly old news, but it’s such a complex and ever-changing story that a little history gives it some grounding. Who is Garzón?
Garzón, battle-scarred Spanish judge, has in his time filed charges of genocide against Argentine military officers over the disappearance of Spanish citizens during Argentina’s 1976-1983 ‘Dirty War’, resulting in convictions.
His investigations led to the conviction of a Spanish PSOE minister under Felipe González, as head of the GAL clandestine counter-terrorism organisation (death squads clumsily fighting ETA).
His investigations have also led to the conviction of ETA terrorists.
He investigated the larger-than-life gangster and Marbella property developer-cum-mayor Jesús Gil.
He led investigations into extra judiciary executions during Franco’s regime, and directed the exhumation of unmarked mass graves, one of them believed to have contained the remains of García Lorca.
Along with certain Chileans, Garzón has repeatedly declared his interest in prosecuting Henry Kissinger for his involvement (direction) in setting up Operation Condor, the international intelligence-sharing network (or terror organisation) initiated in the Southern Cone in 1975.
He has investigated Islamic terrorists operating in Spain, as well as major drug traffickers.
He is probably best known as the investigating magistrate who issued the precedent-setting arrest warrant for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (and dear friend of Thatcher’s) in 1998 while he was undergoing treatment in a London hospital.
He has now publicly opened filed criminal charges against officials of the Bush administration.
Spanish court opens investigation of Guantánamo torture allegations (Guardian, 29/04/09).
Spanish Judge Resumes Torture Case Against Six Senior Bush Lawyers (Andy Worthington in HuffPost 08/09/09)
Now, this filing came only a few weeks after Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy called for a thorough investigation, proposing “a truth and reconciliation commission”, which was applauded by hundreds of individuals and organisations, such as Human Rights First.
Similarly, Ricardo Sanchez, former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq who retired over the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, back in June, called ‘for a truth commission to investigate Bush-era policies behind the abuse and controversial interrogations of detainees.’ (CNN, 02/06/09) “Until America can really understand what has happened and look at it objectively and truthfully, we will still continue to be mired in the past,” Sanchez said. “We’ve got to learn the lessons and never go this way again.” (CNN)
The wonderful response of Republican Senator Arlen Specter to Leahy says it all:
“If every administration started to re-examine what every prior administration did, there would be no end to it. This is not Latin America.” (CNN Transcripts)
A Truth Commission…
Pinochet and Chile. Argentina. El Salvador. Guatemala. Panama. Peru…
Good grief, these places are full of Hispanics! They’re not like us…
Is this the biggest insult that could be made to a US politician? Kissinger must have felt the same just before the possible criminal charges against him were sidelined by 11th September 2001. It’s one thing to train those mustachioed Latins in the use of torture (see School of the Americas), it’s quite another thing to be likened to one.
Will Eric Holder lead a full investigation into the CIA abuses? Will it go all the way up the chain of command? Will it lead to prosecutions? Why is Obama so reluctant ‘to look back’?
Garzón was unable to extradite Pinochet. Maybe he’ll have better luck this time…
For those pressed for time, here is Andy’s poignant conclusion:
The upshot of all this is disastrous for those who hoped that President Obama would not only accept, but would positively embrace the opportunity to return to the laws that existed regarding the capture and detention of prisoners, before they were so comprehensively dismissed by the Bush administration. Far from reassuring the world that there are only two acceptable methods for holding people in detention — either as criminal suspects, to be put forward for trials in federal court, or as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions — Obama has chosen instead to continue to operate outside the law, implementing Guantánamo-style tribunals at Bagram, and acknowledging that he wants the US courts to remain excluded because he is using Bagram as a prison for terror suspects “rendered” from around the world.
To gauge quite how disastrous this news is, imagine how former Vice President Dick Cheney is responding to it. Yes, that is indeed a smile playing over the lips of the architect of America’s wholesale flight from the law in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. “I told you so,” he mutters contentedly …
Astonishing stuff. Torture doesn’t bother Cheney in the least, but investigations into torture are an abomination, that set a terrible, terrible precedent. The irony of his claims is stark, even down to his use of the same expressions that have been used by critics of torture when referring to torture:
To investigate the Bush Administration’s use of torture is ‘a terrible decision’.
To criticise torture is unconstitutional.
The Intel men ‘put their lives at risk’.
The investigations have ‘a very, very devastating, I think, effect on morale inside the intelligence community’.
‘it’s clearly a political move’.
And lastly, all this investigation ‘offends the hell out of me, frankly, Chris […] that will do great damage long term to our capacity to be able to have people take on difficult jobs, make difficult decisions’.
The transcript of the whole Cheney interview with Chris Wallace on “FOX News Sunday” is available here.
By paralleling the language of the torture critics, the logical conclusion to Cheney’s arguments would be to ask whether investigation into the use of torture does or does not constitute torture.
One must not underestimate the power that Cheney still wields in the US media (esp. Fox) and his ability to scaremonger a gullible and easily-scared public. Having repeatedly stated that Obama’s policies could bring about massive terrorist attacks on US soil, he and his daughter regularly defend the act of waterboarding as being merely enhanced interrogation, and not torture.
I recently re-read Henri Alleg’s account of being tortured by the French military during the Algerian war in the late 50s. He describes, but doesn’t use the same name, the very process of waterboarding, which comes between bouts of electrocution via electrodes on his fingers, tongue and penis:
“Together they picked up the plank to which I was still attached and carried me into the kitchen. Once there, they rested the top of the plank, where my head was, against the sink. Two or three Paras held the other end. […] Lo__ fixed a rubber tube to the metal tap which shone just above my face. He wrapped my head in a rag, while De___ said to him: “Put a wedge in his mouth.” With the rag already over my face, Lo__ held my nose. He tried to jam a piece of wood between my lips in such a way that I could not close my mouth or spit out the tube.
When everything was ready, he said to me: “When you want to talk, all you have to do is move your fingers.” And he turned on the tap. The rag was soaked rapidly. Water flowed everywhere: in my mouth, in my nose, all over my face. But for a while I could still breathe in some small gulps of air. I tried, by contracting my throat, to take in as little water as possible and to resist suffocation by keeping air in my lungs for as long as I could. But I couldn’t hold on for more than a few moments. I had the impression of drowning, and a terrible agony, that of death itself, took possession of me. In spite of myself, all the muscles of my body struggled uselessly to save me from suffocation. In spite of myself, the fingers of both my hands shook uncontrollably. “That’s it! He’s going to talk,” said a voice.
The water stopped running and they took away the rag. I was able to breathe. In the gloom, I saw the lieutenants and the captain, who, with a cigarette between his lips, was hitting my stomach with his fist to make me throw out the water I had swallowed. Befuddled by the air I was breathing, I hardly felt the blows. “Well, then?” I remained silent. “He’s playing games with us! Put his head under again!”
This time I clenched my fists, forcing the nails into my palm. I had decided I was not going to move my fingers again. It was better to die of asphyxiation right away. I feared to undergo again that terrible moment when I had felt myself losing consciousness, while at the same time I was fighting with all my might not to die. I did not move my hands, but three times I again experienced this insupportable agony. In extremis, they let me get my breath back while I threw up the water.
The last time, I lost consciousness.
From: Alleg, Henri, “The Question,” pp. 48-50, trans. John Calder (London: John Calder, Ltd. 1958.)
To this horrifying account of the brutal technique of ‘the water cure’ (as it was known in mediaeval times), Cheney would surely simply remark – “that ain’t torture”. His loving and dutiful daughter Liz, meanwhile, casually remarks: “Waterboarding isn’t torture.” (crooksandliars.com)
Former wrestler Jesse Ventura, who a) served in Vietnam and b) was waterboarded as part of his Navy Seal training, remarks that not only is waterboarding real, and not simulated, drowning, but that it is without question torture. He also argues that it is ineffective, as the victim simply says what he believes will make the torture stop:
VENTURA: It’s drowning. It gives you the complete sensation that you are drowning. It is no good, because you — I’ll put it to you this way, you give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I’ll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders. (Crooksandliars)
Even John McCain has returned to his pre-candidacy form to denounce the practice:
Other practices of enhanced interrogation that have recently been declassified from the CIA archives are:
• Threats of execution, using semi-automatic handguns and power drills
• Threats to kill detainee and his children
• Threats to rape detainee's wife and children in front of him
• Restricting the detainee's carotid artery
• Hitting detainee with the butt end of a rifle
• Blowing smoke in detainee's face for five minutes
Cheney and Slavoj Žižek strangely both share the opinion that the debate on torture should be closed – Cheney because torture works and is thus ‘a no-brainer’, Žižek because torture is repugnant and to discuss its possible use is as outrageous as debating the merits of rape.
Either way, the problem is not going away, and is causing tremendous ripples across the US television debates – unlike in the UK where the matter of torture by proxy and the complicity of the MI5 is being ignored by the press in the hope that it will disappear.