Monday, January 14, 2013

An impossible question for torture apologists

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Torture (sensory deprivation)

One of the weights dragging back the discourse on accountability in torture and whether or not the U.S. actually engaged in it with Islamist suspects (hint: yes, it did) is the idea that because the CIA’s interrogators were given acrobatically-defined legal memos making exceptions for “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation, therefore, the U.S. totally never tortured any of the “enemy combatants” in its extrajudicial prisons. Many on the Right (and a few on the Left) still hold to this brazenly illogical excuse, and Paul Waldman at The American Prospect would like these defenders of the would-be indefensible to explain their rationale for why these “techniques” don’t count as torture:

Here's the question I've never heard someone like Rodriguez answer: Can you give a definition of torture that wouldn't include waterboarding, stress positions, and sleep deprivation? I have no idea what such a definition might be, and I have to imagine that if they had any idea they would have offered one. Because here's the definition of torture you'd think everyone could agree on: Torture is the infliction of extreme suffering for the purpose of extracting information or a confession. That's not too hard to understand. The point is to create such agony that the subject will do anything, including give you information he'd prefer not to give you, to make the suffering stop. That's the purpose of waterboarding, that's the purpose of sleep deprivation (which, by the way, has been described by those subjected to it in places like the Soviet gulag to be worse than any physical pain they had ever experienced), and that's the purpose of stress positions. The "enhanced" techniques that were used weren't meant to trick detainees or win them over, they were meant to make them suffer until they begged for mercy.

So to repeat: If what the Bush administration did wasn't torture, how would its apologists define the term?

Oh, I’m sure the answer is obvious: “Torture is the infliction of extreme suffering for the purpose of extracting information or a confession – except for pseudo-drowning or pushing captives to the brink of insanity, because Washington said those are okie-dokie, so there.” See? Simple.

(via Dispatches from the Culture Wars)