Saturday, July 23, 2005

Orwell sighs

The ACLU has been trying to get public access to the visual records--the photos and videotapes--of our torture of Iraqi prisoners. The government, of course, does not want to release these records. The government originally argued that our version of torture was not a violation of the Geneva Conventions, but then argued that to release the evidence of torture to the public _would_ be a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

In other words, waterboarding and siccing dogs on naked prisoners is not torture, and hence not a breach of the law or our treaty obligations, but letting the public see what we are doing is a human rights violation.

Sometimes its almost impossible to anticipate the degradation of language and thought this administration is capable of.

Apparently there are some thousands of these documents, according to the New York Times. The judge in the case has ordered the release of 87 photos and 4 videos. In doing so he rejected the government's strange and sudden concern for, um, human rights.

Good for him.

So what is the response of the government? Defiance. They are refusing to turn over the court-ordered materials.
In the letter sent Thursday, Sean Lane, an assistant United States attorney, said that the government was withholding the photographs because they "could result in harm to individuals," and that it would outline the reasons in a sealed brief to the court.

We are expected to believe, as Americans, that Mr. Lane's actions have nothing to do with the political fortunes of George Bush, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld.

If these materials do get eventually released, what are the chances that it will be on a Friday afternoon in the middle of an important breaking news story? Quite high, I think. (I do find myself hoping, optimist that I am, that that news story will be the resignation of Rove and Libby over the Plame affair. I can dream.)

Jane Mayer has written an article in the New Yorker on the genesis of our torture chambers. I haven't read it yet, but apparently she believes it sprang from a perversion of cold war psychological research intended to help American prisoners resist torture. This research led to a military program called SERE, or Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape. Some of the behavioral scientists involved in this program used their knowledge of how to resist "coercive interrogation" to actually scientifically refine and improve on existing coercive interrogation methods--or, as we say in English, dream up more useful torture techniques. Those techniques (as we now know) range from physical torture, like waterboarding, to sleep deprivation, food deprivation, exposure to extreme heat and cold, hooding, loud and continuous noise, sexual humiliation, and manipulation of religion (e.g., "tell me who your leader is or I'll piss on the Koran.") The overriding goal was to create complete fear and uncertainty.

The use of these methods was first approved by Donald Rumsfeld's office, according to Ms Mayer, and pioneered at Guantanamo. Prior to that, interrogation was governed by the US Code of Military Justice. Then General Geoffrey Miller, the first commander of the Guantanamo prison, was sent to Iraq, to oversee the application of the same methods there.

So it was systematic. The only aberrations may have been that some interrogators were so dehumanized by their job that they went beyond the carefully calibrated techniques the psychologists had designed. Thus, they occasionally beat prisoners to death. A fundamental flaw in these careful calibrations is that they are perfectly designed to turn our interrogators into good Nazis, and it is not really surprising that they have worked as designed.

No comments: