Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Serious Discussion on Interrogation and Alleged Torture

Let talk about torture. I am not allergic to the subject at all. In fact I think the subject should be thoroughly discussed and debated. But I am appalled at the how the direction and tone of the discussion. There are those who think that that the subject should be ignored. This is a wrong approach. Whether there were torture or not, or whether they were isolated acts of undisciplined individuals, or a result of government policy, we need to investigate. If there were tortures, we should remedy it immediately and do more to prevent future abuse. President Bush is right in stating with forceful clarity that the US does not tolerate torture. Therefore an investigation can vindicated our armed forces and convince the world of our virtue.

And there are those who are convinced that tortures already have occurred and that it is permeating every interrogation facility. They are convinced that it was part of the Pentagon policy. I think their conclusion is premature, emotional, and lacking in logic. It is also noticeable that none of the critics appeared to understand the science of interrogation. Not once was torture ever defined. In a discussion on Democracy Arsenal, a commenter accuse me of “fixated on what you consider the proper definition of 'torture' and ignore all other salient points.” This is the very underlining problem of the debate, that there is no definition. There can be no salient points if the very foundation of the issue is not discussed. We are discussing torture, should we at least define what torture is (as well as other associated terminology concerning interrogation)?

The argument that “I know it when I see it” has flaw since there are those who declared that listening to loud music is torture (no doubt the same people who believe that disciplining children is child abuse). Slate has a good article on torture and so does Phillip Carter. But none can clearly define torture and I cannot find a good definition of torture myself (I doubt anyone can), let first looks at the various interrogation techniques and debate from those techniques. At least we can start with some known facts.

Here is a document from the Pentagon (in Adobe Acrobat). The first part is a memo establishing a working group to study policy on interrogation (dated January 15, 2003). The second part is another memo rescinds an order allowing category II and category III techniques of interrogation (dated January 15, 2003). The third part is the study itself, I would like to direct you to page 62 of the study where it discussed the various permissible interrogation methods. These are all the techniques that were requested by interrogators on the field, but not all of them were approved, only techniques number 1 through 24 were approved. I will skip technique number 1 through 17 because are standard interrogation technique in Field Manual (FM 34-52). There should be no controversy on their uses.

Technique number 18 through 26 are considered category II. Here are the list of all of them in detail.
18. Change of Scenery Up: Removing the detainee from standard interrogation setting (generally to the location more pleasant, but no worse)

19. Change of Scenery Down: Removing the detainee from standard interrogation setting and placing him in a setting that may be less comfortable; would not constitute a substantial change in environment quality.

20. Hooding: This technique is questioning the detainee with a blindfold in place. For interrogation purpose, the blindfold is not on other than during interrogation.

21. Mild Physical Contact: Lightly touching the detainee or lightly poking the detainee in a completely non-injurious manner. This also includes softly grabbing or
shoulders to get the detainee’s attention or to comfort the detainee.

22. Dietary Manipulation: Changing the diet of the detainee; no intended deprivation of food or water; no adverse medical or cultural effect and without intend to deprive subject of food or water, e.g., hot rations to MREs.

23. Environment Manipulation: Altering the environment to create moderate discomfort (e.g., adjusting temperature or introducing an unpleasant smell). Conditions would not be such that they would injure the detainee. Detainee should be accompanied interrogator at all time.

24. Sleep Adjustment: Adjusting the sleep time of the detainee (e.g., reversing sleep cycles from night to day). This technique is NOT sleep deprivation.

25. False Flag: Convincing the detainee that individuals from country other than the United States are interrogating him.

26. Threat of Transfer: Threatening to transfer the subject to a 3rd country that the subject would likely to fear would subject him to torture or death. (The threat would not be acted upon nor would the threat include any information beyond the naming of the receiving country.)
Technique numbers 27 to 35 are category III techniques. These techniques are being considered. But as far as I know, they are not approved. I include them because they are in the process of being evaluated and they may be approved in the future.
27. Isolation: Isolating the detainee from other detainees while still complying with standards of treatment.

28. Use of Prolonged Interrogations: The continued used of a series of approach that extend over a long period of time (e.g., 20 hours per day per interrogation).

29. Forced Grooming: Forcing the detainee to shave hair or beard. (Force applied with the intention to avoid injury. Would not use force that would cause serious injury).

30. Prolong Standing: Lengthy standing in “normal” position (non-stress). This has been successful, but should never make detainee exhausted to the point of weakness or collapse. Not enforced by physical restraints. Not exceed 4 hours in 24 hours period.

31. Sleep Deprivation: Keeping the detainee awake for an extended period of time. (Allowing individual to rest briefly and then awakening him, repeatedly). Not to exceed four days in succession.

32. Physical Training: Requiring detainees to exercise (perform ordinary physical exercise actions) (e.g., running, jumping jacks); not to exceed 15 minutes in two hours period; not more than two cycles per 24 hours periods) Assists in generating compliance and fatiguing the detainees. No enforced compliance.

33. Face Slap/Stomach Slap: A quick glancing slap to the fleshy part of thecheek or the stomach. They are only effective if used once or twice together. After the second time on detainee, it will loose the shock effect. Limited to two slaps per application; no more than two application per interrogation.

34. Removal of Clothing: Potential removal of all clothing; removal to be done by military police if not agreed by subject. Creating a feeling of helplessness and dependence. This technique must be monitored to ensure the environmental conditions are such that this technique does not injure the detainee.

35. Increasing Anxiety by Use of Aversion: Introducing factors that of themselves create anxiety but do not create terror or mental trauma (e.g., simple presence of dogs without directly threatening action). This technique requires the commander to develop specific and detailed safeguards to insure detainee’s safety.
I personally see no problem with Category I and Category II techniques, and most probably agree that they are not tortures. (Of course there are always those who believe that unless the detainee is in a five star hotel, it is tortured. You know who you are). The most controversial part is Category III techniques. There is plenty of room for disagreement within the Category III techniques; whether they are tortures, abuses, or neither. But we can absolutely agree that any techniques that exceed the describe techniques above are clearly tortures. Water-boarding is torture. Physical beating is torture. The pictures at Abu Ghraib are tortures.

I will talk more about this subject on other posts. On this post, I only want to define the parameter for discussion by presenting some facts.


Blogger MaxedOutMama said...

Very interesting. I have to think it through tonight and then I will be back.

12:42 PM  
Blogger Fresh Air said...


This subject needs discussing, though I doubt you'll find any lefties, save Alan Dershowitz, who will argue about it in good faith.

As to definitions, let's just say that anything we do to our own guys in basic, special ops or SERE training is fair game. For we know that they are given the maximal non-lethal punishment to toughen them up and weed out those who can't cut it. Plus we have years of experience doing this with hundreds of thousands of recruits. Fair enough?

4:53 PM  
Anonymous Mixed Humor said...

Very interesting read and good topic for discussion Minh. I put a link to this post.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Boomr said...

You wanted a definition of torture. Here's the definition from the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (to which the US is a party):

"For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions."

Here's the US federal law definition:

"(1)'torture' means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
(2) 'severe mental pain or suffering' means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from --
(A) the intentional infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, or mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
(C) the threat of imminent death; or
(D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality...."

18 U.S.C. (United States Code) §2340. As a quick aside, this provision comes between laws on terrorism and laws on trafficking in cigarettes.

I hope it helps.

7:41 AM  
Blogger MaxedOutMama said...

Boomr, the Convention definition is pretty broad, and I believe by it a lot of prosecutorial tactics in this country proper would qualify as torture.

I am thinking specifically of such things as threatening to place charges against a spouse or a child if the target doesn't cooperate. That's not a rare tactic. And then just plea-bargaining often comes within this definition. Take the case of a person who is accused of a capital murder, and is offered a plea to save his life.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Cutler said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:07 PM  
Blogger Cutler said...

I agree with welcoming open debate, and honestly, was surprised by Dershowitz's candidness. I also agree with you that our critics have critiqued relatively benign interrogation techniques excessively.

Treating them according to the Geneva conventions in every respect is a non-starter. We will not receive informaiton from prisoners by giving them cookies and milk - and information is what is needed to defeat terrorist groups and insurgencies.

I disagree with you that even traditional torture should be removed from the table, like Den Beste I feel that limiting your own options is self-defeating. If you're interested I wrote a long and non-PC post defending torture under extreme circumstances, here:

Just FYI, I like the site, and blogrolled you.

8:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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4:51 AM  
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