Monday, July 21, 2008

Believe Me, That's Not Torture

Christopher Hitchens, a former columnist at the The Nation and a socialist turned neo-con-supporter of the US war in Iraq, had an innovative idea. “What more can be added to the debate over US interrogation methods, and whether waterboarding is torture?” he asks in Vanity Fair magazine.

The answer? “Try firsthand experience.” Hitchens, 59, allowed American practitioners of the technique to try it on him. He lasted a few seconds before begging for the procedure to end. A video of his experience can be found on Vanity Fair’s website.

Believe me, it's torture. . . If waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture . . . I had only a very slight encounter [with the waterboarding technique] but I still wish that my experience were the only way in which the words “waterboard” and “American” could be mentioned in the same (gasping and sobbing) breath.” 

We all wish that. Unlike others on the internet (or, ‘blogosphere’) we are not as concerned with how close the extremely controlled experience Hitchens underwent tacked what a ‘real’ waterboarding session would have been like (probably not very – the victim in a real procedure doesn’t get a chance to stop the procedure whenever he wants, is subject to interrogation in other ways, is likely already in bad health due to his detention, and his returned to the squalid and isolated conditions of a dark and dank cell, not a comfortable office where he can write about his experiences. 

We’ll criticize along a different tack. The whole article seems to suggest, to those who do not know better, the lie that waterboarding is the maximum ebb of what could Hitchen’s terms as America’s foray into the “frontier” of torture. Sadly, such an assumption could not be more wrong.

To pull just one report out of a constellation of examples, we might consider the complaint filed in the case of Mohammed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., a case currently on appeal to the Ninth Circuit. In Mohammed, five plaintiffs were illegally kidnapped by the CIA, and the CIA feeling that waterboarding alone would be insufficient for these rogues (several of whom have already been released due to lack of evidence, as it turns out – while others still await cognizable charges and due process in captivity), decided to have them extraordinarily rendered to nations that would be happy to do the CIA’s dirty work for them and pass on whatever information. (For a similar case, see El Masri v. Tenet).  The defendant, Jeppesen, is a subsidiary of Boeing that arranged the extraordinary rendition transfer. 

Below are some excerpts from the amended complaint. Let Hitchens be thankful he did not sample and write on this kind of torture practiced by America:

105. While being interrogated, Mr. Britel was kept handcuffed and blindfolded and then beaten severely on all parts of his body. He was threatened with worse torture, including cutting of his genitals and a technique routinely used in Morocco called “bottle torture,” whereby a bottle is forced into the detainee’s anus. Threats were also made by his interrogators against his wife and sisters. [Mr. Britel was later released without being charged; he was also threatened with castration, see the original complaint]. 

And it gets worse:

70. Mr. Mohamed [pictured above] was subjected to severe physical and psychological torture. He was routinely beaten, suffering broken bones and, on occasion, loss of consciousness. His clothes were cut off with a scalpel and the same scalpel was then used to make incisions on his body, including his penis. A hot stinging liquid was then poured into open wounds on his penis where he had been cut. He was frequently threatened with rape, electrocution, and death.

71. Mr. Mohamed was handcuffed, fitted with earphones, and forced to listen to extremely loud music day and night, sometimes interrupting his sleep for forty-eight hours at a time. He was placed in a damp, moldy room with open sewage for a month at a time. He believed his food to be drugged, but when he refused to eat he was forcibly hooked up to two different IVs. These IVs alternated pumping different substances into his body, the combination of which forced him to undergo painful withdrawal symptoms. In the end, Mr. Mohamed decided to return to eating solid food.   [He had tried to mount a hunger strike; Mr. Mohamed remains incarcerated at Guatanamo. He was charged under President Bush’s military order, but those charges dropped when they were ruled unconstitutional as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.] 

It goes on for fifty pages or so. [ACLU bios of Mr. Mohammed and Britel; also plaintiffs al-Rawi, Agiza, Bashmilah]

Hitchens is right to point out what a gruesome procedure waterboarding is: “It doesn’t stimulate torture, it *is* torture.” But to imply that this is as far as the US has ventured in torture arena is unfortunate. US is capable, and has done far worse. And, as Hitchens points out:

If we allow [forms of torture] and justify [them], then we cannot complain if it is employed in the future by other regimes on captive U.S. citizens. [Torturing terror suspects] is a method of putting American citizens in harms way. 

Indeed. What the CIA and the Bush Administration have done is not only a blatant violation of both US and International Law, but also a disgrace to this country and all of its principles. 

NEXT TIME: How the American government has attempted, and so far succeeded, to deny the plaintiffs in cases like Jeppesen and El Masri due process and meaningful access to a remedy. 

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