The Face of Torture

Torture has been very difficult for me to get my arms around. In spite of the relatively clear definitions of torture there are these odd words that appear in the definition like “prolonged.” How long is prolonged? And, as a friend of mine pointed out, being put in jail will surely cause mental suffering. Is that torture? I guess my answer is that society decides what is torture and what isn’t. We’ve decided that it is not acceptable to slap prisoners.

One of the problems in this “war on terror” is that we allowed the Bush administration to label terrorists as enemy combatants. We were allowed to dehumanize people who were captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Once you dehumanize someone, it becomes much easier to torture.

If I have some time later on this afternoon, I hope to provide more clarity. Scott Horton, who has been on my radio show several times, has an excellent post on one of the extremes of torture —

In a recent television appearance, one of the nation’s foremost retired military leaders, General Barry McCaffrey, said: “We should never, as a policy, maltreat people under our control, detainees. We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.” The fact of dozens of homicides is frankly acknowledged in discussions with military and intelligence experts, but the press seems to regard the subject as taboo.

Writing at the Daily Beast, John Sifton takes us on a tour of the deaths that resulted from the Bush Administration’s torture policies. The Bush Justice Department knew about these homicides and did nothing. Here’s one that resulted from a formally approved practice that Capt. Ian Fishback described as “smoking a PUC,” a person under control, or prisoner:

in December 2003, a 44-year-old Iraqi man named Abu Malik Kenami died in a U.S. detention facility in Mosul, Iraq. As reported by Human Rights First, U.S. military personnel who examined Kenami when he first arrived at the facility determined that he had no preexisting medical conditions. Once in custody, as a disciplinary measure for talking, Kenami was forced to perform extreme amounts of exercise—a technique used across Afghanistan and Iraq. Then his hands were bound behind his back with plastic handcuffs, he was hooded, and forced to lie in an overcrowded cell. Kenami was found dead the morning after his arrest, still bound and hooded. No autopsy was conducted; no official cause of death was determined. After the Abu Ghraib scandal, a review of Kenami’s death was launched, and Army reviewers criticized the initial criminal investigation for failing to conduct an autopsy; interview interrogators, medics, or detainees present at the scene of the death; and collect physical evidence. To date, however, the Army has taken no known action in the case.

more of Scott’s post.