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January 12, 2005

Comments

playing loud music to disturb sleep - not torture
playing Steely Dan for hours on end - torture

Giving someone chocolate--apparently illegal but not torture, I don't agree with the idea that you can't offer preferential treatment to elicit information.

Who says this? Because it make no sense.

I think the problem in principle with this list is that it begins with the presumption that interrogation must entail abuse of some kind. According to professional interrogators who have spoken on this topic, that is profoundly not so.

What this amounts is, not a list of "interrogation techniques", but a list of means by which it's acceptable to abuse prisoners, and I agree with the Red Cross: it is never acceptable to abuse prisoners, whether or not you use interrogation as the excuse.

But, basically, where you say something is torture, I agree: it is torture.

Messing with someone's sleep cycles in non-critical fashion--not torture, acceptable.

Did you ever define what you meant by "messing with someone's sleep cycles"? Because I can't discover what it could mean but some form of sleep deprivation, which is torture. You seem to have some other definition for it, which you've never described.

Feeding a Muslim pork--not torture, but let's talk about this one.

Would you be as certain it wasn't torture if you were reading about forcing an Orthodox Jew to eat pork? Or forcing a Catholic priest to urinate on a crucifix? Torture or not torture? I'd say torture. Though I grant you it's completely dependent on how seriously a person takes their religious beliefs - obviously to someone who doesn't care much either way, it's all meat - but then there would be no abusive effect from forcing them to eat it. But whether or not the deliberate violation of someone's deeply-held religious beliefs is torture, I think it's unacceptable.

Pretending to transport someone to another place--not torture, acceptable.

I think you're going too fast. Suppose an inmate of Guantanamo Bay has a well-justified fear that they will be tortured to death if taken to Syria. To set this person up so that they believe they have been taken to Syria is on the edge of torture in exactly the same way as any other threat to harm them or their kindred in an unacceptable fashion is: because what do you do when your bluff is called?

Attacking someone's pride--not generally torture but we should talk about the specifics.

Throwing human faeces over them? As happened to some victims in Abu Ghraib. I think this is a slippery-slope argument. Once allow the principle that deliberate humiliation is an acceptable form of prisoner abuse, and how far down will people push the boundaries?

Harming an innocent beloved by the subject--torture.
Threatening to harm an innocent beloved by the subject--I'm not sure, but what do you do if they call your bluff?

Which is why the threat to harm ought to be as unacceptable as the actual harm. Besides, we saw in Abu Ghraib, how "threatening to harm" could end up involving considerable harm.

Harming an accomplice of the subject in a non-torturous fashion--I don't know.

Again, this seems to be more of a list of "acceptable ways to abuse prisoners" than actual interrogation techniques.

Non-injury temperature controls and shifts--not torture and probably acceptable in most cases.

How far down? How far up? Any allowance for personal susceptibility to changes in temperature?

Non-harmful dietary manipulation--not torture and ought to be acceptable.

In what sense? This phrase makes no sense to me. If you mean in the sense of forcing people to eat foods religiously unacceptable to them, I think that's unacceptable, as I've said above.

Thanks for reminding us just how slippery this particular slope is. Under pressure, any kind of abuse short of torture eventually will be pushed over the line. This is why armchair exercises in what is and isn't torture are meaningless at best, and morally corrosive at worst.

Giving someone chocolate--apparently illegal but not torture, I don't agree with the idea that you can't offer preferential treatment to elicit information.

To which Fledermaus asks
Who says this? Because it make no sense.

I believe that Seb is using Heather McDonald's article as his starting point and she says

So what were these cruel and degrading practices? For one, providing a detainee an incentive for cooperation—such as a cigarette or, especially favored in Cuba, a McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich or a Twinkie unless specifically approved by the secretary of defense. In other words, if an interrogator had learned that Usama bin Ladin’s accountant loved Cadbury chocolate, and intended to enter the interrogation booth armed with a Dairy Milk Wafer to extract the name of a Saudi financier, he needed to “specifically determine that military necessity requires” the use of the Dairy Milk Wafer and send an alert to Secretary Rumsfeld that chocolate was to be deployed against an al-Qaida operative.

Yeah, right. We are supposed to believe that in January 2003, at a time when the IRC was being denied access to prisoners, the "fanatically cautious Pentagon lawyers revolted", and stopped the Secretary of Defense cold in his tracks.

Here is Marty Lederman post on Jack Balkin's blog, analyzing of the McDonald article. Anyone relying on that article should carefully consider if it is accurate. He notes

As noted above, I agree with MacDonald that the 2002 OLC Memo likely was not intended to affect interrogation policies in the military. But she is wrong to insinuate that the Pentagon was unaware of the OLC Memo, and to argue that the Memo had no effect on Pentagon policies and practices. Although I assume the Memo was originally intended for use by the CIA, the White House soon forwarded it to the Department of Defense, where huge portions of it were incorporated virtually verbatim in the DoD Working Group Report on Guantanamo interrogation techniques in early 2003 (even though the statute discussed in the OLC Memo did not even apply at Guantanamo during the period in question). Most notably, the Pentagon adopted wholesale the most indefensible and most dangerous portions of the OLC Memo—where OLC concocted unlikely criminal defenses of “necessity,” “defense of nation,” and “presidential authority,” and where OLC argued that criminal laws restricting methods of interrogation are unconstitutional to the extent they impinge upon the President’s decisions of “what methods to use to best prevail against the enemy.”

Armed with these OLC assurances of virtually no legal exposure, the DoD Working Group itself concluded that these techniques were among those that are lawful under the restrictive laws governing military interrogations: placing a hood over detainees during questioning; 20-hour interrogations; four days of sleep deprivation; forced nudity to create a “feeling of helplessness and dependence”; increasing “anxiety” through the use of dogs; quick, glancing slaps to the face or stomach; and the threat of transfer to another nation that might subject the detainee to torture or death.

Here is the IRC's report and here is Josh Marshall's discussion of various points in the memo. He says

Look further into the report and you see that the kind of "ill-treatment" they're talking about is pretty much like the stuff we've been seeing in those pictures. The fact that this only seemed to happen while most prisoners were in the interrogation phase, and then generally to the ones who Military Intelligence thought might have really choice information, tells you that this wasn't a matter of a breakdown of authority or rogue sadists (though those were probably in the mix too) but rather a matter of organized policy.

Page 12 of the IRC report lists the problematic behavior. Sad to say, it only bears the faintest resemblence to Sebastian's list.

Giving someone chocolate--apparently illegal but not torture, I don't agree with the idea that you can't offer preferential treatment to elicit information.

To which Fledermaus asks
Who says this? Because it make no sense.

I believe that Seb is using Heather McDonald's article as his starting point and she says

So what were these cruel and degrading practices? For one, providing a detainee an incentive for cooperation—such as a cigarette or, especially favored in Cuba, a McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich or a Twinkie unless specifically approved by the secretary of defense. In other words, if an interrogator had learned that Usama bin Ladin’s accountant loved Cadbury chocolate, and intended to enter the interrogation booth armed with a Dairy Milk Wafer to extract the name of a Saudi financier, he needed to “specifically determine that military necessity requires” the use of the Dairy Milk Wafer and send an alert to Secretary Rumsfeld that chocolate was to be deployed against an al-Qaida operative.

Yeah, right. We are supposed to believe that in January 2003, at a time when the IRC was being denied access to prisoners, the "fanatically cautious Pentagon lawyers revolted", and stopped the Secretary of Defense cold in his tracks.

Here is Marty Lederman post on Jack Balkin's blog, analyzing of the McDonald article. Anyone relying on that article should carefully consider if it is accurate. He notes

As noted above, I agree with MacDonald that the 2002 OLC Memo likely was not intended to affect interrogation policies in the military. But she is wrong to insinuate that the Pentagon was unaware of the OLC Memo, and to argue that the Memo had no effect on Pentagon policies and practices. Although I assume the Memo was originally intended for use by the CIA, the White House soon forwarded it to the Department of Defense, where huge portions of it were incorporated virtually verbatim in the DoD Working Group Report on Guantanamo interrogation techniques in early 2003 (even though the statute discussed in the OLC Memo did not even apply at Guantanamo during the period in question). Most notably, the Pentagon adopted wholesale the most indefensible and most dangerous portions of the OLC Memo—where OLC concocted unlikely criminal defenses of “necessity,” “defense of nation,” and “presidential authority,” and where OLC argued that criminal laws restricting methods of interrogation are unconstitutional to the extent they impinge upon the President’s decisions of “what methods to use to best prevail against the enemy.”

Armed with these OLC assurances of virtually no legal exposure, the DoD Working Group itself concluded that these techniques were among those that are lawful under the restrictive laws governing military interrogations: placing a hood over detainees during questioning; 20-hour interrogations; four days of sleep deprivation; forced nudity to create a “feeling of helplessness and dependence”; increasing “anxiety” through the use of dogs; quick, glancing slaps to the face or stomach; and the threat of transfer to another nation that might subject the detainee to torture or death.

Here is the IRC's report and here is Josh Marshall's discussion of various points in the memo. He says

Look further into the report and you see that the kind of "ill-treatment" they're talking about is pretty much like the stuff we've been seeing in those pictures. The fact that this only seemed to happen while most prisoners were in the interrogation phase, and then generally to the ones who Military Intelligence thought might have really choice information, tells you that this wasn't a matter of a breakdown of authority or rogue sadists (though those were probably in the mix too) but rather a matter of organized policy.

Page 12 of the IRC report lists the problematic behavior. Sad to say, it only bears the faintest resemblence to Sebastian's list.

Messing with someone's sleep cycles in non-critical fashion--not torture, acceptable.
I have to disagree. Most new parents will tell you that caring for fussy newborns, which involves loss of sleep, is extremely difficult, and this is for highly motivated people, right? And they know that things will get better in three to five months.
If someone starts randomly interrupting my sleep, or does not allow me to sleep at all, and I have no knowledge of when it will end, when I will be able to sleep, aside from the real physical effects (exhaustion, disorientation, hallucinations) I am quite sure I will be subject to despair. I submit that that is torture.

Listening to intelligent people attempting to justify torture:torture
Watching the administration use the constitution as toilet paper:torture
Listen ing to intelligent people attempt to define torture: torture

Rather than weigh whether or not we as a nation are scared or desperate enough to permit our military to threaten to harm someone's children, wouldn't it be better to focus on the interrogation methods proven to work, like psychology, intelligence, and cunning?

Don: AAAAGGGGHHH!!! Stop, I'll say anything, just so I don't have to listen to people try to define tortune!!!

How long do you think it will take before we start hearing about "e-torture," for example showing the prisoner a (faked) video of his daughter being beheaded, or letting him exchange E-mails with his "wife" who is really an operative trying to convince him to talk?

Sadly, technology lets us reach entirely new heights of emotional brutality.

Listen ing to intelligent people attempt to define torture: torture

Listening to people attempt to trivialize torture: torture.

Having to endure something that's a close analogue of Godwin's Law: torture.

I'm a bit confused by this post -- are we talking about what constitutes "torture", or about what interrogation techniques should be considered acceptable? I know the post says that just because something is not torture doesn't mean it's acceptable, but the list seems to leave the opposite impression.

My working definition of torture is any pain intentionally inflicted on a captive.
Captive -- the subject is in the other person's custody and unable to escape or evade the pain.

Infiltrating a prison population with moles and informers: not torture.
Verifying information the moles/informers gather by cross checking it with information from other agents in place: not torture.
Using verified information to test information given by suspect during questioning: not torture.
Telling suspect his friends/relatives want him to talk: not torture.
Telling suspect his co-conspirators have already confessed: not torture.
Telling suspect his religious leaders have denounced terrorism: not torture
Producing forged documents to 'prove' those claims: not torture.

Bugging cells, rec areas, mess halls (but NOT areas where suspects meet with lawyers and human rights monitors): not torture.

Using carrot (offers to give things like cigarettes, better food, more rec time, more family/friends' visits) and sticks (threats of solitary confinement, withdrawal of reading/rec time privileges, withdrawal of religious observance privileges): not torture.

Rousting suspect from dream-stage sleep for questioning BUT NOT so often as to induce psychosis/death: not torture.
Manipulating light/dark cycles to baffle suspect's circadian rhythms and disorient him (again, NOT to the point of inducing psychosis/death): not torture.


Edward: wouldn't it be better to focus on the interrogation methods proven to work, like psychology, intelligence, and cunning?

Of course not, Edward. Those methods work too well: and I think this problem started in Guantanamo Bay where so many prisoners were being interrogated on the presumption that they were dangerous members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban. (That was supposed to be the basic criterion for being sent to Guantanamo Bay.) In fact, it now appears that the majority of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay were innocent: or at worst, guilty of taking up arms against a foreign invader.

When there is genuine intelligence to be obtained, methods that work are obviously best.

When there is no intelligence to be obtained, because the people being questioned know nothing, methods that work will come up with the information that these supposedly highly-dangerous prisoners... know nothing.

And when "they know nothing" is politically the wrong answer, I think the military in Guantanamo Bay simply moved on to methods that would make the prisoners confess - no matter that they were confessing to nonsense.

Jes makes a good point. If you are convinced the prisoner knows something, and acceptable interrogation methods don't get any information, then there is a strong temptation to cross the line. And if the prisoner really doesn't know anything...

Anyway, I'm a little puzzled by the direction of the logic here. If the purpose is to obtain information shouldn't we start by figuring out how we best get accurate information? Anything else ought to be off limits, whether it meets our carefully hashed-out definition of torture or not. Then we can start to rule out methods that might get results, but are unacceptable.

And finally we should take the very important step of "building a fence" around the methods we rule out. That is, we should make the regulations more restrictive than is absolutely necessary, to make sure that the limits are observed.

Finally, what is that business about chocolate all about? Can that be right?

Four days without sleep? I'd be trying to kill myself by the end of day 2. If willingness to kill oneself to escape is a reasonable test for whether something is torture, then I'd agree that extreme sleep deprivation is torture.

Most of the others on Sebastian's list are classified correctly IMHO.

"wouldn't it be better to focus on the interrogation methods proven to work, like psychology, intelligence, and cunning?"

According to the Red Cross any method which is designed to break down the will of the captive and make them wholly dependent on the captor is bad. I have never seen any reference to a successful interrogation technique with a resistant captive which did not rely on the breaking down of the captive's will and making him dependent on the captor. So I don't think your formulation is a given in this debate.

As for the chocolate issue, apparently "providing a detainee an incentive for cooperation" of any sort will now require DoD approval. This includes basics such as smoking privileges or improved food access.

"And finally we should take the very important step of "building a fence" around the methods we rule out. That is, we should make the regulations more restrictive than is absolutely necessary, to make sure that the limits are observed."

I agree with this entirely. One of my typical critiques of law is that it attempts to perfectly outline our moral intuitions without taking into account the fact that there are lots of people who are almost always willing to take one but not two steps beyond the law.

"the purpose is to obtain information shouldn't we start by figuring out how we best get accurate information? Anything else ought to be off limits, whether it meets our carefully hashed-out definition of torture or not."

The issue here is a classic technocratic problem. There are lots of techniques which work differently on different people. What works for the 'average' person might not work on certain cultures, but conversely what works on some Arabs might never work on some other group. After a time you may gain insight on this particular captive which isn't easily trasferable. Maybe he hates the color purple. Perhas dressing him in purple will be effective. It isn't likely to help other people, it isn't likely to be on your list of approved methods, but it also isn't torture and should be ok to use.

The flip-side problem is that sadistic interrogators can always find new tortures, so merely outlawing specific practices will never be sufficient. The reason I haven't tried to approach a general definition is because I'm not even sure we have agreement on the broad contours yet and I wanted to explore other people's intuitions about it.


I'm going to take the liberty of re-posting, with edits, a comment I made on yesterday's thread, since the relevant discussion seems to have moved over to this thread and I didn't receive any feedback on that one.

Sebastian,
I'm generally sympathetic to your desire to have at least a rough distinction between the behavior we describe as "torture" vs lesser forms of "inhumane behavior". Clarity in language, after all, is useful. I think, however, that your initial breakdown of examples is probably weighted a little too far in favor of obvious physical torture. My personal suspicion is that you're neglecting the psychological component.

Fair disclosure, my viewpoint is affected by the fact that I'm married to someone suffering from PTSD. I get to see her wake up with nightmares in the middle of the night. I get to see her struggle daily with emotional wounds that were inflicted almost 20 years ago. Most of the treatment which produced these results was not on your "is torture" list. (Some of it was, but I don't think those incidents were responsible for all the damage.) Anyway, when I'm trying figure out what might qualify as torture, I don't just limit myself to the amount of immediate physical pain involved. I try to think about whether the subject just might be waking up with nightmares from the memories years from now.

On to more specifics. ...[removed comments concerning sleep deprivation]... The naked prisoner pyramid thing also, while certainly not the worst abuse committed, has to qualify as at least some form of sexual assault, with all the psychological ramifications thereof. If rape is generally acknowledged as a torture method, where do you draw the line for lesser forms of sexual assault?

I'd also be careful of equating "not torture" with "acceptable". "Torture" is a term with fuzzy boundaries, but it does seem to carry a sense of extreme measures. I can certainly imagine treatment which might not seem quite extreme enough to call torture, but would nevertheless be abusive and not useful, and so should not considered acceptable.

Here is my problem with this discussion:

1) I think it is actively harmful to have these conversations in a vaccuum without reference to the descriptions of actual interrogation practices in actual government reports. There are three reasons for this:

a) there is often a big difference between the vague general description of an interrogation practice and what it actually means in practice.

Compare "stress positions" & "temperature control" too:

"On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water," the FBI agent wrote on Aug. 2, 2004. "Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18 to 24 hours or more."

In one case, the agent continued, "the detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night."

I will have the "useful discussion" about the "hard questions" about what forms of "coercive interrogation" are justified that many of the right want, if they will deal in known specifics instead of bland generalities.

b) related: practices that sound acceptable on their own will be combined in practice, and may seem much more abusive. For example:
forced nudity, blindfolding/hooding, and the use of dogs to menace a suspect sound much worse in combination than on their own.

c) even if an order merely allows abuse or coercive interrogation short of torture, it may lead inevitably, predictably, or foreseeably to torture in practice. If that's true, we need to know about it.

2) Debating whether something is "torture" is basically a semantic or legal dispute. Legal disputes are important but I think the debate on human rights issues in the war on terror in general have focused a bit too much on ill-informed or half-informed legal arguments and far, far, too little on what we want our country to be doing. If you call something "abuse" while I call it "torture" or vice versa, but we both agree it is abusive and immoral and should be banned--well then. That's not worth a knock-down drag-out fight, is it?

3) In many cases, people want to have the debate over what is and is not torture to argue that there has only been abuse reported, not torture. But based on what I have read in the various reports, there have been clear incidents and/or credible allegations of what was clearly torture:
--in Abu Ghraib
--in Guantanamo
--in Bagram
--in several other locations whose names escape me
--of high level detainees held in unknown locations by the CIA
--and after extraordinary renditions.

4) with those caveats here are some things left off the list:

waterboarding

withholding of medical care

mock executions

detaining but not physically harming relatives that you know to be innocent

holding detainees without serial numbers or access to the Red Cross

use of tranquilizers or other drugs

(as far as how I would discuss it: see the January, 9 11:27 and 12:41 posts in this">http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2005/01/a_challenge_to_.html#comments">this thread.

Of course, we've established that one of the ways I would discuss things is usually "at length and in mind-numbing detail." I'm not saying that people would need to go into as many details as I do in the 12:41 the post on ghost detainees to write something useful--if I'd gone into less detail perhaps someone would have read or responded.

But in general, the more specific the better.

From icrc.org:

To give itself sufficient scope for action, the ICRC has never defined the term "torture". There are always two aspects to torture, one physical and the other psychological; they are interlinked and inseparable. The psychological effects often go far deeper than the physical effects. For instance, seeing torture inflicted on one's children or other loved ones, or even on somebody else, may prove much more traumatic than actually undergoing physical torture oneself. Torture also has a strong cultural connotation. Its significance within a given social order - and the intention behind it -varies widely. Some behaviour may be regarded as "benign" in one culture, whereas in another it may violate, for example, a religious taboo.

The ICRC has therefore decided not to adopt any of the definitions of torture formulated by the international community in recent years, although it may refer to them if it feels that doing so might help to combat the phenomenon of torture.

In any case, interrogation is much, much broader in scope than torture or even (non-torture) coercive methods.

My understanding is that in the majority of cases the most effective way to extract information is from non-coercive methods: asking clever questions from which intelligence can be gleaned even without the prisoner being aware they are giving anything away; carefully observing reactions even when there is no verbal answer; playing to the prisoner's particular weaknesses (fear, vanity); etc. These methods require a skilled interrogator, well trained in questioning and observation, able to accurately assess the subject's mental state, weaknesses, etc.

In some cases it may be fruitful to apply so called coercive methods. Torture (however defined) is bound to be the least useful of these. The goal isn't to "break down the will" of resistant captives or make them "wholly dependent" on their captors. The goal is merely to throw them mentally off balance (thus making them more susceptible to skilled questioning). Things like solitary confinement, altering sleep and meal schedules (not to effect deprivation, just the confusion of change), transfer to a different facility. These are not torture even under the broadest definition, but they are highly effective in breaking down resistance. Again, it takes a skillful application of psychology to tailor the methods properly to individual cases and personalities.

If all of these methods, properly applied, still fail, chances are the prisoner just isn't going to talk (or has nothing to talk about). Resorting to harsher coercive methods (i.e., torture: sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, violation of religious taboos, beating, burning, shocking, etc.) very likely isn't going to net anything useful. One is already dealing with either a very stubborn and discplined subject, or one who just doesn't know anything. In the former case, most forms of torture will (rightly) be interpreted as weakness and desperation and probably just reinforce the subject's recalcitrance. In the latter case, anything the subject does end up saying is obviously going to turn out to be worthless.

The apparent prevalence of torture (or at least serious abuse bordering on torture) in current US military interrogation is probably due to, at least, (1) inadequate numbers of properly trained interrogators (especially ones fluent in Arabic, etc.); (2) excessively antagonistic relationship between the prisoners and their poorly trained jailers (whatever the excuse, torture has always been less an interrogation method than a way for the torturers to vent their own frustration and fear); (3) mixed messages and inadequate supervision (if not outright encouragement) from above. Of course all three of these boil down to criminal incompetence in the chain of command...

I second (or third or fourth...) the sentiment that quibbling over a precise definition of "torture" is pointless. The question we should be asking is whether the information we are getting (if any) is worth the obvious erosion of our own moral commitment to freedom and due process - and ensuing loss of international goodwill - which even the suspicion of torture and abuse is clearly causing.

Jack Lecou
I wish I had written that. Thank you.

I have a question that may seem very very snarky, but I would really like to know the answer. Sebastian gave the example of chocolate being offered to detainees. When asked, he said

As for the chocolate issue, apparently "providing a detainee an incentive for cooperation" of any sort will now require DoD approval. This includes basics such as smoking privileges or improved food access.

Do you still believe that the question at issue is the simple offering of incentives? I've given some links taking issue with McDonald's take on the matter. As Katherine rightly notes;
practices that sound acceptable on their own will be combined in practice, and may seem much more abusive.

For example, if I keep a prisoner in a 110 degree room for 8 hours and then come in and say 'you can have this bottle of water if you tell me why you joined AQ', wouldn't that constitute torture? If not, why? And what makes you so confident that McDonald's reporting is anywhere near a neutral description of what is going on, if you still believe it is?

The link that Josh provided in an earlier thread to an interrogator's description of what his work consists of is very revealing when we try to make sense of how we ended up here.
He says he's in an armored unit, and the patch on his sleeve matches that... OK. Half a control. He says they have tanks, I ask what kind. He says T-72s. I know (or check) that unit has that type of tank. That's a better control question.

I ask how many and he says his platoon has five... DING alarm bells go off, because the Order of Battle for his army has four tanks in a platoon. I ask how long they've had four tanks. He says one week. I ask why they have four tanks, and he says the Company Commander attached himself to the unit. It all makes a certain amount of sense, so I write up the change in the OB, and go on.

So what exactly is the AQ 'order of battle'? What are we trying to get out? Do we really have any idea? Given that interrogators are trained to elicit certain facts and hone their methods to elicit those facts suggests that they are at a loss when they need to elicit different facts, especially when they don't have the necessary information.

This New Yorker piece (which is fascinating in its own right) makes a point that hints at the problem. It says

Even more important, the Army is facing an enemy whose motivation it doesn’t understand. “I don’t think there’s one single person in the Army or the intelligence community that can break down the demographics of the enemy we’re facing,” an Airborne captain named Daniel Morgan told me. “You can’t tell whether you’re dealing with a former Baathist, a common criminal, a foreign terrorist, or devout believers.”

Aggressive interrogation becomes torture when you don't have the information to separate those who know from those who don't. You withhold water from the guy in the example above when he says 'I don't know what you are talking about, I have never been an AQ member', if it is against someone you don't know is in AQ, that's torture. Thus, any talk of 'what techniques' has to be preceeded by some knowledge on our part. Unfortunately, what many people want to know is simply that their prejudices were correct.

I don't really agree with Katherine (stop the presses) about the utility of talking about torture in the abstract as a first step. In order to agree with how the legal procedures ought to work, we really have to have some idea what we are talking about.

As for the distinction between 'torture' and 'unacceptable', I tried to make clear that I thought torture was a subset of a larger group of unacceptable practices. But maybe I wasn't clear about that.

I think that torture is not the entire world of unacceptable practices, but that it reflects something special nonetheless. I think some normally unacceptable practices might be useable in limited circumstances while torture is beyond the pale. I'm not sure if that distinction makes sense so I'll have to think about it a bit more.

" In order to agree with how the legal procedures ought to work, we really have to have some idea what we are talking about."

That's exactly WHY you need to look at the reports before you make the decision as to whether a general technique is/is not torture.

"I think that torture is not the entire world of unacceptable practices, but that it reflects something special nonetheless. I think some normally unacceptable practices might be useable in limited circumstances while torture is beyond the pale."

A lot of people were assuming that, I thought they misunderstood you. If that's the case, people have a reason to get up in arms when you say something very abusive is not torture.

Here's what I think the distinction is:
1) should never, ever, ever be legally authorized in advance
2) should be legally authorized in advance only under narrowly restricted conditions.
3) should be generally authorized for use a) in the war on terror and b) outside the United States.
4) are just a perfectly fine interrogation technique--it'd be okay for cops to use them here if a suspect had waived his Fifth Amendment right to silence.

You could be signalling by calling something "torture" that it's in category 1, and by calling it "not torture" that it's in category 2, 3, or below. But then again you might not be. This makes the debate very confusing--people don't know what the stakes are, don't know whether other debaters are using the word "torture" as descriptive ("this fits within the dictionary or legal definition of torture") or normative ("this is wrong, and our country should never do it"). And dishonest debaters (not you, people like the jerks at the Corner, and I'm sure you could find a leftish example) often bob and weave between the two.

Is everything you classify as "not torture" is in category 2 or below? If so, what category? (And let's hear those restrictions for the ones in category 2.)

"The International Red Cross seems to want to ban any "system devised to break the will of the prisoners [and] make them wholly dependent on their interrogators." Frankly, I think that is ridiculous."
Consider for a moment what it would mean to you to have your will broken, to be unable to resist any command of your torturer, no matter how repulsive to you. The very word implies that the mental damage is not only severe, but to some extent permanent. The experience of those who have suffered torture bears this out---few that have been "broken" fully recover from the experience.

"But we can't entirely eviscerate interrogations either."
The goal of an interrogation is to gain information, not to cause mental damage to the interogated. In particular, the Red Cross's definition does in no way rule out interrogation.

"Therefore I would like to talk about practices which should be acceptable for interrogations."
Lies and deception, obviously. Some disorientation. Threats of punishments not cruel and unusual. Rewards or promises of rewards. That would be my list, off the top of my head.

I agree with the majority of your list, but I have some disagreements.

"Feeding a Muslim pork--not torture, but let's talk about this one."
Feeding a Muslim pork is not torture. Forcing an unwilling Muslim to eat pork is torture when the action (including his reaction and the means to make him eat) is so degrading to him as to be a cause of physical or mental damage.

"Attacking someone's pride--not generally torture but we should talk about the specifics."
Again, I think the intent of causing mental damage is the best measure. You can attack someone's pride during interrogation to make them misspeak and reveal information, and that's fine. However, attempting to "break" someone by repeatedly humiliating them is torture.

"Non-injury temperature controls and shifts--not torture and probably acceptable in most cases.
Non-harmful dietary manipulation--not torture and ought to be acceptable."

Agreed only if both mental and physical injuries are considered.

To summarise, torture is the intentional infliction of mental or physical harm to produce information.

Now, mental harm is obviously not an easy thing to measure. In practice, we know that military and other interrogators would do well to rather be safe than sorry. Once you start relaxing the definitions to just do a little, controllable, bit of damage, things almost inevitably snowball. Salon described the French experience with this phenomenon in Algeria, and I believe that the recent US experience verifies the idea. Even militaries with good training, a strong sense of professionalism and a culturual basis where torture is morally despicable are vulnerable to the very idea that using a little bit of torture is acceptable.

Torture. I'm not for torture.

Shorter Sebastian: "I'm for breaking the will of a prisoner by sustained/systematic abuse, providing certain actions are avoided that I'm too squeamish to read about in my morning paper. But I don't want to call doing that to a prisoner torture."

Hmm, it be equally fair "Shorter Jesurgislac" to say "I don't like interrogations at all but I will look silly if I explicitly admit it".

LJ: Aggressive interrogation becomes torture when you don't have the information to separate those who know from those who don't.

That's an interesting claim. What are the boundaries of this, though? I mean, presumably mutilation remains torture irrespective of our knowledge of the victim; how does this distinguishing process (whereby an act shifts categories from aggressive interrogation to torture) work?

For Slarti and Sebastian, I have a simple -- and therefore horrifically complex -- question: leaving aside all details of implementation and, if you'll pardon the pun, executions, what would you consider to be the essential character that distinguishes "torture" from "abuse" or some lesser crime? What line, bright or otherwise, needs to be crossed to merit the harsher designation? Contra LJ's idea above, I'm not interested in whether the victim's actions may have "earned" them rougher treatment; I'm trying to get a sense of the parameters underlying your meaning of the words.

Sebastian, what makes you think "interrogation" necessarily correlates with "abuse"? I assume that a military interrogator like Terry Karney knows what he's talking about when he says that interrogation, to work, doesn't involve abusing prisoners. That makes sense.

I've never said a word against interrogation. I just object to torture - and to people trying to redefine torture and American abuse of prisoners so that when Americans abuse prisoners it doesn't "count" as torture.

The problem, Jesurgislac, is that Terry Karney's version of abuse and yours aren't likely to be particularly close.

Anarch, I'm not sure where the line is exactly. Which is why I want to talk about it. I'm pretty sure permanent changes or damage are torture. I think serious levels of pain would be. I think most uncomfortable situations would not be.

The problem, Jesurgislac, is that Terry Karney's version of abuse and yours aren't likely to be particularly close.

On what basis do you say that? I just went back and re-read some of TK's posts and he's pretty damn clear that physical coersion of almost any form is worthless. If he's still floating around, I'd be happy to hear more on the subject.

Anarch, I'm not sure where the line is exactly. Which is why I want to talk about it.

Oh, I know; I was hoping, by phrasing the question more directly at the end of this discussion, to see if you had come to understand in yourself where you felt the line should be.

[I'd like to note, once again, that the necessity of this endeavour -- and it is necessary -- is perhaps the most damning commentary on this war I could have ever imagined.]

Anarch, Terry friended my livejournal a while ago: I've been thinking about putting a post together about this for a while, and who knows - he might have time to comment on it.

Sorry, Anarch, I missed the back and forth on this. you noted

LJ: Aggressive interrogation becomes torture when you don't have the information to separate those who know from those who don't.

That's an interesting claim. What are the boundaries of this, though? I mean, presumably mutilation remains torture irrespective of our knowledge of the victim; how does this distinguishing process (whereby an act shifts categories from aggressive interrogation to torture) work?

I think that you are working backwards from torture and trying to say what becomes aggressive interrogation. I'm working (I think) forward from techniques police use (or presumably use from watching various programs, I don't have first hand knowledge) and then trying to determine whether the limit needs to be moved towards more aggressive methods or back. I'm also not very clear about what should or shouldn't be (in terms of platonic categories) but it's far too easy to simply pick at Sebastian's definitions without offering anything of my own, so that was my attempt.

I would have said that the more aggressive (mental coercion) methods were appropriate in Gitmo until the revelations that troops were being trained without knowing the precise extent of charges against someone (as witnessed when the US serviceman was injured in a training exercise) and evidence of innocence seemed to be systematically ignored. Thus, almost anything that was done at Abu Grahib would fall under the rubric of torture (thus calls to 'gitmo-ize' the prison are especially meaningful/disturbing), given estimates that 70-90% of those prisoners were probably not guilty of anything. In fact, I believe it was the lack of information that led to the ramping up of these techniques, which is precisely the opposite way that these sorts of debates where a nuclear bomb is going to go off in 1 day or something. We also have testimony where interrogators were saying that they specifically requested that prisoners be released and were overruled or ignored. This suggests that virtually everything that has been done is torture, because those interrogating the prisoners didn't have sufficient knowledge to judge what they were saying.

So I would argue that the application of any kind of mental coercion without this evidence is torture. The application of physical coercion is different, but we would have to allow a hell of a lot of mental coercion before physical coercion comes into it and it seems clear to me that we come nowhere near the line where we should be considering physical coercion.

So, what I think I am saying is that the police interrogation techniques become allowable when there is a specific crime to charge someone with and a framework of information that one can use to question the person. From most accounts, it's not clear that anyone is being charged with any kind of responsibility for any particular act or that there is any kind of information that is known and utilized.

I realize that this isn't very practical, as it doesn't give a laundry list of things to do, but, as I think Katherine argues, a laundry list of techniques that does not stay well clear of the line rather than push up or even go over it is inevitably going to be abused. But in discussing what constitutes torture in interrogation, we have to realize that there is a linkage to we know before we head into the session and it appears that most of the people interrogated at Abu Grahib, and many of those at Gitmo, we have no idea what they know or what they don't, what they did or didn't do. This makes it torture, I would think.

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