Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why Wearing A Bra is Torture

I've always been a bit confused over some aspects of what consitutes torture. The recent admission by Susan Crawford that the goverment did actually torture someone at Guantanamo. Crawford notes what happened:

"For 160 days his only contact was with the interrogators," said Crawford, who personally reviewed Qahtani’s interrogation records and other military documents. "Forty-eight of 54 consecutive days of 18-to-20-hour interrogations. Standing naked in front of a female agent. Subject to strip searches. And insults to his mother and sister."

At one point he was threatened with a military working dog named Zeus, according to a military report. Qahtani "was forced to wear a woman’s bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation" and "was told that his mother and sister were whores." With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room "and forced to perform a series of dog tricks," the report shows.

The interrogation, portions of which have been previously described by other news organizations, including The Washington Post, was so intense that Qahtani had to be hospitalized twice at Guantanamo with bradycardia, a condition in which the heart rate falls below 60 beats a minute and which in extreme cases can lead to heart failure and death. At one point Qahtani’s heart rate dropped to 35 beats per minute, the record shows.

Now at first blush, I had honest questions about how this could be torture. I mean, this wasn't waterboarding or burning someone with cigarettes. How could forcing someone to wear a bra constitute torture? The blog, Stop the ACLU regarded all of this as nothing more than hazing.

Being a curious guy, I decided to see what was found in the Army Field Manual. This is their definition of interrogation:

Interrogation is the art of questioning and examining a source to obtain the maximum amount of usable information. The goal of any interrogation is to obtain usable and reliable information, in a lawful manner and in the least amount of time, which meets intelligence requirements of any echelon of command.

It then gets down to business and tells you what torture is:

The use of force, mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to unpleasant and inhumane treatment of any kind is prohibited by law and is neither authorized nor. condoned by the US Government(emphasis mine). Experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation. Therefore, the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear. However, the use of force is not to be confused with psychological ploys, verbal trickery, or other nonviolent and noncoercive ruses used by the interrogator in questioning hesitant or uncooperative sources.

The psychological techniques and principles outlined should neither be confused with, nor construed to be synonymous with, unauthorized techniques such as brainwashing, mental torture, or any other form of mental coercion to include drugs. These techniques and principles are intended to serve as guides in obtaining the willing cooperation of a source. The absence of threats in interrogation is intentional, as their enforcement and use normally constitute violations of international law and may result in prosecution under the UCMJ.

Additionally, the inability to carry out a threat of violence or force renders an interrogator ineffective should the source challenge the threat. Consequently, from both legal and moral viewpoints, the restrictions established by international law, agreements, and customs render threats of force, violence, and deprivation useless as interrogation techniques.

Scott Payne answered my question about what can be done by interrogators by saying this:

...extreme verbal interrogation is fine: throw facts at the person, make
threats, yell and scream, force them to answer questions for hours on end,
confuse and frighten them. But beyond that, it’s hard to see what is acceptable.
Especially in the absence of clear and present danger (thereby disposing of the
24-Jack-Bauer-ticking time bomb analogy, or, as Chris Dierkes coined it, Cole’s Law).

So yes, forcing someone to wear a bra is a violation according to the Army Field Manual and does indeed constitue torture as would subjecting someone to extreme temperatures or depriving them of sleep.

On one level this does seem more in line with hazing, procedures that while embarassing are not violent. But according the Field Manual, it seems that anything that moves beyond mere words is crossing the line. The minute someone is touched, forced to do something against their will, we have gone from an interrogation to torture.

I think part of the issue here, besides the moral obtuseness of some conservatives, is that most of the general public really doesn't understand the definition of torture. We are thinking of something like applying thumbscrews to people, but I think what the Field Manual is getting at is that anything to demeans the dignity of a person is something that we must not do. So, forcing a man to wear a bra, or calling his mother a whore, is something that demeans the person and is coercive, even if it isn't physically violent.

The person involved in this case was not a nice man. He was accused of being the 20th hijacker on 9/11. Now some will say that because this guy is a bad person, or could be bad person, then it was okay to torture this person. But the Field Manual doesn't make distinctions between the innocent and the guilty. The law is pretty blind in that matter. Treat the suspect with dignity, is what the Field Manual states.

The question that will always remain with me is what made the Bush Administration think it could cross the line. What spooked them to go against past practices?

I don't know that answer.

h/t: John Schewnkler

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