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January 25, 2009


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Questions need to be asked now -- loudly and directly -- about the ongoing treatment of prisoners at Bagram.

How many prisoners are held, and where? Who has access to the names and locations? How much access does the Red Cross have? Who else has access? Who commands the prisons? Are interrogations conducted by the military, or is the Other Government Agency involved?

Everyone seems to assume that all the abuse at Bagram and the Salt Pit (and whatever other hell holes we've used or constructed) ended some time ago. On what basis?

Nearly all advances to the "paperless office" of the future are made by people who commit injustices.

Shredder technology grew by leaps and bounds during the Reagan Administration.

Try being a whistle-blower in the government or in a corporation. Your whistle will be confiscated and disappear into files which will, in turn, disappear.

The "whistle" database will be corrupted.

All organizations handle "disgruntled" individuals like the Mafia handles squealers.

Nell: On what basis?

On the basis that Obama wanted Gates to continue as Secretary of Defense, and if Obama supporters didn't assume that all torture by the US military just stopped on or before Rumsfeld's departure, there's a real big problem, isn't there: because the man Obama wants as Secretary of Defense is someone who is implicated in the Bush regime's torture of prisoners. So, torture of prisoners in the last two years must be ignored: Bob Gates is in.

//48. Military records show that Mohammed was subjected to the "frequent flyer" program from May 7 to May 20, 2004. Over that fourteen-day period, Mohammed was forcibly moved from cell to cell 112 times, on an average of about once every three hours, and prevented from sleeping. Mohammed's medical records indicate that significant health effects he suffered during this time include blood in his urine, bodily pain, and a weight loss of 10% from April 2004 to May 2004."//

Three weeks ago, my wife adopted a day old goat that was rejected by its mother. She has been bottle feeding it every three hours or so since that time - probably 150 times. My wife has lost sleep and weight and gotten a cold during that time. She also has gone to town and forgot why she is there. Is she being tortured?

My goat story is not an attempt to justify the treatment of Jawad. It seems like the conditions surrounding the confession Jawad gave should invalidate the confession as evidence against him.

d'd'd'dave, when I gave birth to my first child I had some pretty serious perineal tears. Does that mean that if an American soldier was captured by Taliban fighters, and they shoved something into this penis hard enough to cause his urethra to tear open, that wouldn't be torture?

Part of the cause of this is operating an organization where everyone is there for a year at a time. People come and go and the records fall apart. Also, since no one is in charge for very long, no one sets up the process to function over long periodcs of time.

The same thing has happened in operations centers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the organization is constantly changing, no one have a very long memory.

Don't let the actual actions taken by Obama since taking office disturb your hypothesis based convictions.


Sd, that may well be the most ridiculous comment I have ever read.

Parenthetically, d'd'd'dave, if you had at some point in the past three weeks helped your wife out by spelling her a little, you wouldn't have to ask "Is sleep deprivation torture?" because you'd know from personal experience that it is.

Oh, and dave, in a way it is torture, but self-inflicted. However, I am sure that you are taking over some of the feedings for her so that she isn't impacted so much. Plus I am sure this hasn't been preceded by your hitting her in the head and tossing her down stairs.

Three weeks ago, my wife adopted a day old goat that was rejected by its mother. She has been bottle feeding it every three hours or so since that time - probably 150 times. My wife has lost sleep and weight and gotten a cold during that time. She also has gone to town and forgot why she is there. Is she being tortured?

First, Dave, why aren't you helping your wife so that she isn't being tortured by this regimen.

And, choosing to participate in a regimen that could cause such effects is far, far different than being forced into such a regimen. Having multitudes of armed, dangerous men force you into such behavior, where you not only don't know when or if it will end, but not knowing what else they may do, would be much, more more psychologically damaging to the detainees.

In sum, it appears that you, and other torture apologists who make similar arguments, don't understand the difference between consensual sex and rape.

Dave reminds us that many torture apologists (Rumsfeld, Limbaugh) have trouble with the concept of consent. (Also, I seriously doubt his wife hasn't slept for longer than 3 hours during the entire 3 weeks.)

"My wife has lost sleep and weight and gotten a cold during that time. She also has gone to town and forgot why she is there. Is she being tortured?"

No. But let's kidnap her, hood her, lock her in a cell where she can't communicate with anyone, and not tell you this has happened, and then submit her to involuntary sleep deprivation -- which we called "torture" when it was done by the Gestapo and the KGB -- and then see how she and you feel about it.


[...] a 1956 article, “Communist Interrogation,” in The Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, recently turned up by the Intelligence Science Board, which advises the spy agencies. Written by doctors working as Defense Department consultants, Lawrence E. Hinkle Jr. and Harold G. Wolff [...] The article describes basic Soviet N.K.V.D. (later K.G.B.) methods: isolation in a small cell; constant light; sleep deprivation; cold or heat; reduced food rations. Soviets denied such treatment was torture, just as American officials have in recent years:

The effects of isolation, anxiety, fatigue, lack of sleep, uncomfortable temperatures, and chronic hunger produce disturbances of mood, attitudes and behavior in nearly all prisoners. The living organism cannot entirely withstand such assaults. The Communists do not look upon these assaults as “torture.” But all of them produce great discomfort, and lead to serious disturbances of many bodily processes; there is no reason to differentiate them from any other form of torture.

Interrogators looked for ways to increase the pressure, including “stress positions”:

Another [technique] widely used is that of requiring the prisoner to stand throughout the interrogation session or to maintain some other physical position which becomes painful. This, like other features of the KGB procedure, is a form of physical torture, in spite of the fact that the prisoners and KGB officers alike do not ordinarily perceive it as such. Any fixed position which is maintained over a long period of time ultimately produces excruciating pain.

Overt brutality was discouraged, as it was at American facilities:

The KGB hardly ever uses manacles or chains, and rarely resorts to physical beatings. The actual physical beating is, of course, repugnant to overt Communist principles and is contrary to K.G.B. regulations.


Prisoners are tried before “military tribunals,” which are not public courts. Those present are only the interrogator, the state prosecutor, the prisoner, the judges, a few stenographers, and perhaps a few officers of the court.

I guess you don't know much about KGB methods. Did you think this was fine when applied to Soviet dissidents and Western spies?

I gather you've never read The Gulag Archipelago. That, or you sympathized with, and made excuses for, the NKVD/KGB.

If you haven't read it, I recommend it.

Read Page 98, and get back to us, please. Then page 100, 103, 109, and 111-115. They're all available from the link I've just given you. Go, tell us how fine this is, please. Tell us why you want the U.S. to use KGB techniques of torture, and why you want us to excuse these methods if used on U.S. troops or agents. Or your wife.

I look forward to your response.

Crap. I tried to hit "edit," and accidentally hit "post." Sorry.

Yes. I do help with the goat. It is the cutest thing in the world. You should all get one.


Jay C:

Apparently, with the new blog software an admin has to close tags. All the commentariat's sundry invocations will do naught.

J. Michael: Don't let the actual actions taken by Obama since taking office disturb your hypothesis based convictions.

Sadly, Bob Gates as Secretary of Defense is not a hypothesis.

The hypothesis-based conviction that Gates is not implicated in the torture of US prisoners is evidently undisturbable.

John Miller,

What is ridiculous about pointing out that at least six and maybe more different attorneys have been assigned that file and that each one only had it for a year or less. How does an organization function where each person comes in, set up their own way of doing things, and then leaves after a year? That means there has been six bosses who have had six different ways of doing things.

How does an organization function where each person comes in, set up their own way of doing things, and then leaves after a year?

Um, if the US military really lacks the most basic structures needed to provide institutional memory, then I don't think we should be entrusting it with sharpened sticks, much less nuclear weapons.

This isn't a particularly hard problem. Getting institutions to work despite staff turnover is something that many organizations have figured out. The notion that the US military lacks such basic institutional competency simply defies belief.


What other organizations have 100% turnover every 12 months?

What other organizations have 100% turnover every 12 months?

Can you explain how 100% staff turnover per year prevents officers from assembling a case file? I mean, this seems pretty simple: when you do a chunk of work, it goes into the case file. If that chunk of work takes longer than a year, then your intermediate reports go into the case file so that your successor can pick up where you left off.

Can you tell me why the military can be trusted with nuclear weapons when staff turnover makes it institutionally incapable of managing something as simple as a case file?

"My goat story is not an attempt to justify the treatment of Jawad."

Ok. So it's an attempt to trivialize the reality of torture? Or are you going to insist that it's motivated by a comment of Jes' to be made several hours in the future? (see part 1).

I would actually like to get a goat (and chickens), but that's not likely at the moment. Enjoy. And you seem to be succeeding in getting ours . . .


No, that is inexcusable. I am just interested in other similarly situated organizations that have solved continuity.

Jes, you have never established that Gates approved of the torture regime. You have never pointed to any evidence that he is opposed to stopping it. You certainly haven't provided the slightest evidence that he will be, in any way, an impediment to Obama stopping the torture regime.

The torture policies were installed before Gates got there. It was very clear that the people above Gates, in the White House, insisted that they continue. Gates approval or disapproval of them had no bearing on whether they continued.

Yes, all you have is a hypothesis on the question of whether Obama intends to stop the torture regime. You don't have any support for it whatsoever. To continue to hold this hypothesis, you have to ignore all of the executive orders Obama has issued.

If you would like to answer a different question, you might be on more solid ground. If the question is whether or not Robert Gates should bear any responsibility for past crimes of torture, it is certainly possible to support the idea that he should. I think that that's a pretty complicated issue, and depends a lot upon the internal discussions and actions of the administration that we might never really know about. A simple answer is possible though.

However, it has nothing to do with the claims you are currently making. If you want to support those, tell me why I should think that Robert Gates is, in any way, likely to ignore all of those executive orders, or why Obama doesn't really mean them. Citing a past policy that Gates didn't really control doesn't cut it.

Gary is on much firmer ground making an issue of the possible appointment of Dennis Blair to an intelligence position. To me, that is worrisome, though not because I think it demonstrates that Obama isn't serious about stopping torture. It's more along the lines of wondering how his administration is going to operate, given that he is appointing someone with a history of violating the orders he was given.

Two things. The first is where do people get the idea of 100% turnover every 12 months? That isn't happening.

Secondly, I am currently working on 32 specific projects. If I left work tomorrow, there wouldn't be a single hesitation in any of them going on. That really is the marvel fo the computer age. It is all there. For it not to be has absolutely nothing to do with turnover, or institutional memory or anything except either blatant incompetence, a blatant disregard for record keeping, or a purposeful deliberate policy of making sure there weren't adequate and accurate records. (Personally, I think it is a combination of all three.)

Jes, you have never established that Gates approved of the torture regime.

J. Michael, in a court of law, should it come to that, it will be up to the prosecutor to prove that Gates knew that US soldiers were torturing prisoners; and if he can show reasonable evidence that he was in fact ignorant of what US soldiers were doing to prisoners, then he's probably not criminally liable: whether his ignorance makes him unfit to be Secretary of Defense will be a separate matter. But this is not a court of law. Gates either made no effort to find out if the practice of US soldiers torturing prisoners had in fact ended, or - aware that US soldiers were still torturing prisoners - he made no effort to stop it.

Either way, not a good choice for Secretary of Defense - assuming that Obama does, in fact, intend to root out torture supporters from the top down.

"Yes. I do help with the goat."

In other words, your claim that your wife has not slept more than three hours straight for three weeks straight is untrue?

"Two things. The first is where do people get the idea of 100% turnover every 12 months? That isn't happening."

What is the turnover?

I have a feeling the wife is keeping dave away from the goat.

I have a feeling the wife is keeping dave away from the goat.

*raises eyebrow*

A case of My Pet Goat, perhaps?

"I have a feeling the wife is keeping dave away from the goat."

Are you sure the goat is not planned as a surrogate?

d'd'd'dave: don't let people get your goat.

John Miller,

Gitmo is a one year unaccompanied tour. That means that you serve a year and move on. Having reservist doing the work means that someone comes from a civil job, works a year, and then goes back to their civil job (barring tour dogs).

The military has a huge problem with continuity but in other assigned, people are assigned for more than a year (3 years or more).

Also, since GITMO is ad hoc, it is a little different than following established procedures for handling nuclear weapons or driving a nuclear submarine.

//In other words, your claim that your wife has not slept more than three hours straight for three weeks straight is untrue?//

No. When the goat wakes up we all wake up because it screams for food. But only one of us gets up to feed it.

Meanwhile, al Qaeda is rattled.

[...] That was just a warm-up. In the weeks since, the terrorist group has unleashed a stream of verbal tirades against Barack Obama, each more venomous than the last. Obama has been called a "hypocrite," a "killer" of innocents, an "enemy of Muslims." He was even blamed for the Israeli military assault on Gaza, which began and ended before he took office.

"He kills your brothers and sisters in Gaza mercilessly and without affection," an al-Qaeda spokesman declared in a grainy Internet video this month.

The torrent of hateful words is part of what terrorism experts now believe is a deliberate, even desperate, propaganda campaign against a president who appears to have gotten under al-Qaeda's skin. The departure of George W. Bush deprived al-Qaeda of a polarizing American leader who reliably drove recruits and donations to the terrorist group.

With Obama, al-Qaeda faces an entirely new challenge, experts say: a U.S. president who campaigned to end the Iraq war and to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and who polls show is well liked throughout the Muslim world.

Whether the pro-Obama sentiment will last remains to be seen. On Friday, the new administration signaled that it intends to continue at least one of Bush's controversial counterterrorism policies: allowing CIA missile strikes on alleged terrorist hideouts in Pakistan's autonomous tribal region.

But for now, the change in Washington appears to have rattled al-Qaeda's leaders, some of whom are scrambling to convince the faithful that Obama and Bush are essentially the same.

"They're highly uncertain about what they're getting in this new adversary," said Paul Pillar, a former CIA counterterrorism official who lectures on national security at Georgetown University. "For al-Qaeda, as a matter of image and tone, George W. Bush had been a near-perfect foil."

Al-Qaeda's rhetorical swipes at Obama date to the weeks before the election, when commentators on Web sites associated with the group debated which of the two major presidential candidates would be better for the jihadist movement. While opinions differed, a consensus view supported Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) as the man most likely to continue Bush administration policies and, it was hoped, drive the United States more deeply into a prolonged guerrilla war.

Soon after the vote, the attacks turned personal -- and insulting. In his Nov. 16 video message, Zawahiri denounced Obama as "the direct opposite of honorable black Americans" such as Malcolm X. He then used the term "house Negro," implying that Obama is merely a servant carrying out the orders of powerful whites.

Since then, as Obama has begun moving to reverse controversial Bush administration policies, the verbal attacks have become sharper, more frequent and more clearly aimed at Muslim audiences.

I'm sure the willing can deny all this as made-up "smears," to be sure.

Gates either made no effort to find out if the practice of US soldiers torturing prisoners had in fact ended, or - aware that US soldiers were still torturing prisoners - he made no effort to stop it.

Actually, you don't know this. You certainly have never presented any evidence of it. All you are doing is assuming that, because Gates was SecDef, he must have approved of the torture. We do know that the orders to continue torturing came from above Gates. Whether he approved of it or not, it would have continued. Whether he made efforts to stop it or not is something that is not public information.

As I said, you can assign Gates moral blame for continuing to hold the position. However, that is the only thing that we know of. Everything else is your assumption. You have zero information that Gates is, in any way, an impediment to ending torture. You have burrowed into this idea like a tick, and don't let any other information that comes to light affect your assumption in any way. You prefer to believe that everyone involved is lying about wanting to stop torture. Fine. That's your prerogative. It falls far short of being convincing.

All things considered, I think that what we do know about Obama's statements, and the executive orders that he is issued, provide a lot more useful information about his intentions than does assumptions about what Robert Gates did or did not do as a part of the Bush administration.

You are accusing people of very serious moral failings, without anything in the way of support.

WRT 12-month appointments and lack of institutional memory, I have to side with those who think these might well be factors in the failure of file-keeping.

I spent two years in the US Army and most of the rest of my adult life in universities, and I can assure you that (1) there are institutions where a complete 12-month turnover is routine [e.g., the US Army in Vietnam], and (2) even where there isn't, the departure of certain knowledgeable individuals can lead to a loss of continuity, and, indeed, of the files themselves. People literally don't know where they are. (In a storage closet just off the former secretary's office, as it turns out.)

It happens. It shouldn't, but it happens. And those who proclaim, "If I left tomorrow, everything would go on smoothly, just as if I were here," may thank their lucky stars for having led a peculiarly sheltered (and blessed?) life. Have you never searched in vain for documents that ought to exist, but don't? I have. Have you ever forged documents that ought to exist, but don't? I have - when I was in the US Army.

I am also reminded of my research on the Spanish colonial bureaucracy in the Philippines, which was, at times, inept beyond all belief and comprehension. I was finding in the 1970s little slips of papers in the archives saying "I borrowed this document," dated in the 1870s - and nothing more. The document has simply gone . . .

Or the case of an honest woman in a Philippine village who had returned some money to the government, which, in due course (and you can trace the course in the documents themselves), recommended that she be given a prize for her virtue, with the note that for the moral effect to be real, this should be done urgently. The next comment - moving this recommendation along - is dated 14 years later.

In short, it is by no means unreasonable to assume that much of the problem with the absence of files is due to turnover and Third World standards of record-keeping.

IF, that is, you are willing to assume that elements of the American government have in fact fallen to Third World standards.

And I, alas, am willing to assume that.

Um, dr ngo, I'm really confused as to what you think the lawyers prosecuting Gitmo detainees are doing all day. Apparently, there is no paperwork in the detainee files. This is not an isolated problem with one detainee but rather is the norm. So what exactly happens when someone interrogates a detainee? They write a report, right? And that report never makes it into the detainee's file? What exactly do the prosecutors do all day if they're not producing a work product that is archived in the detainees' files?

I mean, many of these prosecutors have prosecuted people before: they're all attorneys so they're all at least somewhat familiar with what goes into a prosecution. We're not talking about a bunch of random 18 year old draftees stuck in the middle of nowhere doing things they've never trained for, but rather skilled professionals doing fairly standardized work.

If we can't trust the US military to do as good a job prosecuting people as the worst cash-strapped inner city district attorney's office, then...that's just sad. For a trillion dollars a year, you'd expect better.

The Talking Dog, a lawyer who has done a series of interviews since fall of 2001 with lawyers and others involved in terrorism, detention, and torture cases, makes the same contention as I did in the first 'there are no files' thread:

The reason that the Government's "evidence" is "in disarray" is because if it were well-organized, it would be obvious to all that it is, as the courageous Col. Stephen Abraham called it, "garbage".

It's not incompetence; it's intentional.

Turbulence: I don't know what the lawyers do all day (IANAL), but a clue to the problem may lie in your passive-voice construction "that is archived in the detainees' files."

Buried in that phrase are the assumptions that: (1) there is a functioning system of files, and (2) someone is actually "archiving" materials in those files, regularly and systematically.

These assumptions *ought* to be sound, but it is my apprehension that perhaps they are not. Perhaps no one designed and organized such a system (or perhaps two or three competing systems were designed, and both exist, with some items winding up in each - I've seen this happen with library catalogs). Or perhaps no one is clearly charged with the responsibility of archiving the files (as opposed to "someone ought to do this"), or whoever is charged with that task has other duties that s/he finds more important (so they keep slipping to the bottom of the "to-do" stack), or the knowledge of how the filing system was supposed to work has vanished with the departure of the original Clerk In Charge, so the current filer is doing God Knows What with the files. As I say, if you have not encountered one of these scenarios in your life you must be fortunate indeed.

As for your last paragraph, I agree absolutely. It is just sad. And for $1 trillion total (not a year, surely?), one ought to expect better . . . if one were not an aging and cynical historian.


Point of curiosity (for the kitten, not T). When I posted my previous comment, it was *not* in italics in preview (unsurprisingly) but also when I first looked at it after posting! (Surprisingly, under the circumstances.) Now it has been italicized, like everything else.

My question is: WTF?

My avatar of kittenhood sometimes fails to see italics when others do. On my computer, nothing is in italics after 1:35pm. Is it in italics for the rest of you?

yes, all in italics, from "The Gulag Archipelago" in the post at 1:34pm yesterday up through yours just now.

hilzoy, in Firefox the italics persist despite commenters closing the tag. In Internet Explorer, the commenter-closing technique appears to end the italics.

If an admin makes the correction, then it seems to have the desired effect in both IE and Firefox.

Is that better, Nell?

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