Wednesday, December 07, 2005

It's not torture, it's enhanced interrogation

Our government having redefined as "permissible" certain practices considered to be torture under international law, these practices are thus...not torture. Why? Because we say so. What's odd about the previous sentence? Apparently, nothing is odd about it at all, in a country whose president says we don't torture but under whose enhanced but definitionally mild interrogation techniques an alarming number of prisoners have breathed their last.

Explicitly included in the redefined-as-not-torture practices are waterboarding, which as everyone now knows is immersing the victim's head in water long enough to convince him that he is going to be drowned, placing the victim's body in "stressful" physical positions (how does this differ from putting someone on the rack in a medieval dungeon, one wonders?) and sleep deprivation. Presumably other practices forbidden by the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, which we are signatory to, are also redefined as not-torture.

Practices considered to be torture in a simpler time, such as beating, burning, boiling, subjecting to dog attack, dislocating limbs, breaking bones, rape, severe electrical shock, etc, are, presumably, still considered beyond the pale--except that representatives of our government have been caught doing all these things to our captives, other than boiling them. For that, we must outsource to our sometime friends in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, who are rumored to do boiling. (But we can't trust rumors, unless they are documented with photos or videotape, like the still unreleased extra-gruesome Abu Ghraib stuff, which the Defense Department considers to be classified. Keeping them secret, according to the Defense Department, is crucial to national security.)

This leads me to the subject of rendition, which is forbidden by the quaint Geneva Conventions that do not apply to us in the post-quaint era of prisoner interrogation, a non-applicabililty that was fortuitously discovered in the legal offices of the White House itself by the man who is now the Attorney General.

Rendition, often carried out in such a way as to resemble kidnapping (from which it can be distinguished by its having been defined by our Secretary of State as "not kidnapping"), raises an interesting question.

That question is, why do we do "renditions"? (Where did this bizarre term come from, anyway? Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's? Render unto Uzbekistan whoever Caesar wants boiled?)

It seems to me that if we have all these post-quaint, formerly forbidden practices at our disposal, then the governments we turn our prisoners over to must have some sterner interrogation procedures still available to them.

It follows rather logically, that if we ourselves have edged over into what used to be torture in our now-permitted interrogation practices, then the interrogation practices we turn the difficult prisoners over to must be, well, beyond our expanded zone of the permissible, i.e., still torture. Right? Otherwise, what conceivable reason could we have for turning over our captives to Egypt or Jordan for interrogation? Surely it must be that these governments go even further than we are prepared to go, in exploring innovative interrogation techniques. And since we have explored them right up to a newly defined edge of torture, beyond that must be clearly in the realm of non-deniability, torture-wise.

And we do go pretty far ourselves. Some 86 prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan are known to have died under our enhanced interrogation. Twenty six of these fatalities are being "investigated" (ha, what a laugh! except it's not funny) as homicides. Presumably those other 60 were accidental deaths.

But if we have accidentally interrogated 60 prisoners to death, then our not-torture must be pretty strong stuff. (Accidentally interrogated to death! How long will it take Secretary Rice to tell us that accidental interrogation-to-death is unfortunate but necessary in the War on Terror, permissible under revised guidelines?)

One prisoner at Abu Ghraib, who was allegedly interrogated by the CIA, had several ribs broken and was then strung up so he could not breath. So he accidentally died.

Given the frequency of such accidents, I don't really much want to think about what the Egyptians and the Jordanians and the hooded individuals employed in officially nonexistent CIA prisons around the globe do while questioning their captives. Or I should say, _our_ captives, on loan for questioning to these friendly democracies (or to our own officially non-existent prison facilities in places we refuse to divulge.)

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