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The American Torture Regime

Larry Siems, leader of the team that produced The Torture Report, a book put out by the ACLU, has read some 140,000 formerly classified documents on torture, released after a successful ACLU lawsuit. He reports on the reality of the American torture regime:

Our highest government officials, up to and including President Bush, broke international and U.S. laws banning torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Worse, they made their subordinates in the military and civilian intelligence services break those laws for them.

When the men and women they asked to break those laws protested, knowing they could be prosecuted for torture, they pretended to rewrite the law. They commissioned legal opinions they said would shield those who carried out the abuses from being hauled into court, as the torture ban requires. “The law has been changed,” detainees around the world were told. “No rules apply.”

Then they tortured. They tortured men at military bases and detention centers in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Guantánamo, and in U.S. Navy bases on American soil; they tortured men in secret CIA prisons set up across the globe specifically to terrorize and torture prisoners; they sent many more to countries with notoriously abusive regimes and asked them to do the torturing. At least twice, after the torturers themselves concluded there was no point to further abuse, Washington ordered that the prisoners be tortured some more.

They tortured innocent people. They tortured people who may have been guilty of terrorism-related crimes, but they ruined any chance of prosecuting them because of the torture. They tortured people when the torture had nothing to do with imminent threats: They tortured based on bad information they had extracted from others through torture; they tortured to hide their mistakes and to get confessions; they tortured sometimes just to break people, pure and simple.
And they conspired to cover up their crimes. They did this from the start, by creating secret facilities and secrecy regimes to keep what they were doing from the American people and the world. They did it by suppressing and then destroying evidence, including videotapes of the torture.

And two consecutive presidents, one from each party, have dutifully worked to prevent any justice for the victims and any accountability for the torturers and those who ordered the torture. And yet those presidents still talk about human rights and the rule of law as though we actually believed in those things.

Comments

  1. says

    It’s reading things like this, that make even a rational person think that tit-for-tat retaliation is the only way to deal with some people. Like to waterboard people? Your turn. Obviously, these cowards understand fear and pain – since they are willing to (via their minions) inflict it on others. It seems to me that the only way someone like Dick Cheney would realize it’s wrong would be when it was his mind that was exploding with fear as water trickled into his lungs.

    BTW, if any of you haven’t read the “I waterboard” posting on The Straight Dope: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=448717

  2. Brownian says

    And yet those presidents still talk about human rights and the rule of law as though we actually believed in those things.

    Speaking as a non-American, it is a black stain on your nation’s reputation, to be sure. We could probably wean ourselves off of oil if we installed little dynamos in people’s eyes to capture the eyeroll energy expended when American politicians talk about justice and liberty.

  3. Brownian says

    From Marcus’ link:

    Once, while training as a lifeguard I swam laps without breathing until I passed out, so that I could know my limits.

    I’d always understood that holding one’s breath until one passes out is physiologically impossible. Maybe the writer meant the combination of shallow breathing and exertion caused him to pass out.

  4. says

    I propose a new legal defense for anyone accused of a violent crime. It’s called the “Obama defense.” It goes something like this: “Judge, I stand accused of torturing and murdering a dozen people. I hereby request dismissal of this case based on my right to ‘look forward, do not look backward'”

    Past crimes, no matter how heinous, are essentially pardoned when the Obama defense is used. Said accused is now free to make lots of cash on the lecture circuit and writing memoirs, perhaps titled “Decision Points” or “In My Time” or some variation thereof.

  5. amadan says

    It’s one of those irregular verbs:

    I use enhanced interrogation techniques.

    You do what it takes to get the bad guys.

    He tortures.

  6. says

    I’d always understood that holding one’s breath until one passes out is physiologically impossible. Maybe the writer meant the combination of shallow breathing and exertion caused him to pass out.

    I have little trouble believing that part of the story. I have come close to it myself. I wouldn’t want to do it because I have no desire to drown and because I would see no point in it. I just like swimming laps underwater and have taken it to the point of feeling very light headed and tingly.

  7. naturalcynic says

    I’d always understood that holding one’s breath until one passes out is physiologically impossible. Maybe the writer meant the combination of shallow breathing and exertion caused him to pass out.

    It is physiologically possible. If you do not have your face submerged, you will momentarily black out, open your mouth and resume breathing and rapidly regain consciousness. A self-correcting problem. However, if your face is submerged and youy lose consciousness, you have progressed into the process called drowning. Loss of consciousness will cause a small amount of water to enter the mouth, triggering laryngospasm, shutting off the airway and allowing the water to enter the digestive tract. The laryngospasm soon may relax, allowing water into the lungs.
    Loss of consciousness occurs due to hypoxia while the physiological drive to breathe is controlled by hypercapnia [increasing pCO2], so hyperventilating will not increase blood concentration of oxygen [pO2], since the blood is already saturated, but will increase [slightly] the amount of O2 in the lungs by flushing out spaces that are not usually used for gas exchange, while reducing the lung pCO2. Thus, you might reduce your blood O2 to the point of unconsciousness before you produce enough CO2 to give you an overwhelming drive to breathe. It has nearly happened to me in my lifeguarding days – getting very close to blacking out swimming underwater.

  8. says

    I’d always understood that holding one’s breath until one passes out is physiologically impossible.

    It seems to make sense at first, but when you think about it, you can imagine ways to put yourself in a situation where it might be possible. If I were already light-headed and dove to the bottom of a swimming pool, my higher brain’s intent could overrule my body’s response by gaming the situation. I know a guy who does deep dives (mixed gas stuff) and he’s also said he can hold his breath until he passes out then starts breathing again. Since he’s bugfuck nuts, maybe it’s only something you can do if you’re bugfuck nuts?

  9. says

    Loss of consciousness occurs due to hypoxia while the physiological drive to breathe is controlled by hypercapnia [increasing pCO2], so hyperventilating will not increase blood concentration of oxygen [pO2], since the blood is already saturated, but will increase [slightly] the amount of O2 in the lungs by flushing out spaces that are not usually used for gas exchange, while reducing the lung pCO2. Thus, you might reduce your blood O2 to the point of unconsciousness before you produce enough CO2 to give you an overwhelming drive to breathe. It has nearly happened to me in my lifeguarding days – getting very close to blacking out swimming underwater.

    Yup, this is exactly the way it’s done. You hyperventilate for a couple of minutes before you try swimming underwater. Without doing this you find that you have a very strong need to take a breath very quickly. If you do do this you, however, you do risk pushing yourself too far and inadvertently getting close to loss of consciousness.

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