Monday, June 13, 2005

I AM SITTING AT MY COMPUTER, trying to blog about the latest violations of human rights revealed in the log of a Guantanamo interrogator just published in Time magazine. I am finding it very difficult to write, because none of the words or sentences that come into my head feel coherent; they don't translate what I'm feeling into words. What I feel is nauseated. I feel waves of sickness washing over me, at this:

Interrogators began telling detainee how ungrateful and grumpy he was. In order to escalate the detainee's emotions, a mask was made from an MRE box with a smily face on it and placed on the detainee's head for a few moments. A latex glove was inflated and labeled the "sissy slap" glove. The glove was touched to the detainee's face periodically after explaining the terminology to him. The mask was placed back on the detainee's head. While wearing the mask, the team began dance instruction with the detainee. The detainee became agitated and began shouting.

and this:

Interrogater began by reminding the detainee about the lessons in respect and how the detainee had disrespected the interrogators. Told detainee that a dog is held in higher esteem because dogs know right from wrong and know how to protect innocent people from bad people. Began teaching the detainee lessons such as stay, come, and bark to elevate his social status up to that of a dog. Detainee became very agitated.

The detainee in these log entries is Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi national who was denied entry to the United States five weeks before 9/11; and who might have been the 20th hijacker planned for the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on that day.

These are some of the interrogation techniques used against al-Qahtani at Guantanamo:

He was interrogated for 20 hours at a time, from 4 a.m. to midnight; allowed to sleep for 4 hours and then woken and interrogated again.

Sleep deprivation is a recognized form of torture. If it continues long enough, it causes severe emotional and psychological trauma and even death.

After being given water intravenously because he refused to drink, he was refused bathroom breaks and told to urinate in his pants.

Humiliation is a recognized form of psychological torture. And this is severe humiliation.

He was forced to stand for long periods of time. He was put into solitary confinement for as long as one month. He was forced to remove all of his clothing and stand nude with his interrogators present. His facial hair was forcibly shaved (a violation of Muslim religious beliefs). He was forced to hang pictures of near-naked women over his neck (an extreme form of religious humiliation).

A senior Pentagon official told Time that the logbook is the "kind of document that was never meant to leave Gitmo."

Why, if such interrogation techniques are acceptable and appropriate? Why did Pentagon officials intend for the logbook describing these techniques to stay hidden from the public?

Dick Cheney defended the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo (in a separate AP article about the growing pressure to close Guantanamo), saying, "The important thing here to understand is that the people that are at Guantanamo are bad people."

So it's only wrong to torture good people? The morality of torture is determined by the goodness or badness of the person being tortured? Because if that's the measure being used, it's hard to imagine that any government that uses torture would view the people being tortured as "good." Right? I mean, by definition, when people are tortured, those who are committing the torture say the person being tortured is bad, or dangerous. Right?

Plus, how does Dick Cheney know that the detainees at Guantanamo are "bad people"? Have they been charged with any crime? Any of them? Have they been tried and convicted? Is there any evidence against them; and if so, where and what is it?

Because here is the thing: No one is locked up for being "bad." There is no crime called "being bad people." People are imprisoned for having committed specific acts that are against the law. So charge people like al-Qahtani with a specific crime, give him access to an attorney, schedule a trial, and if he's convicted sentence him to jail time. Otherwise, let him go.

I'm also wondering why, if the treatment described in the Gitmo interrogation logs and published in Time are not torture, then why do right-wing bloggers like Captain Ed find it necessary to describe that treatment in deceptive ways, without the context that defines these tactics as tantamount to torture?

The Time report includes mention of the terrible, inhumane methods often alleged by the righteous at Amnesty International and other self-appointed watchdogs of the American military. Readers will be excited to learn of these horror-provoking techniques that Time reveals in its exclusive:

* Standing for prolonged periods (perhaps best referred to as the Disneyland treatment)

* Shaving of facial hair

* Solitary confinement

* Pouring water on his head

* Poking a finger into his chest

* Removal of some clothing

* Puppet shows -- no, I'm not kidding

* Being in the same room as attractive women

Worst of all, the one method on which Human Rights Watch could nail the US military, is the playing of music by Christina Aguilera as a punishment for non-cooperation. Other than Michael Bolton, which I believe would be an explicit Geneva Convention violation, it's hard to imagine a crueler torture.
Being forced to stand for prolonged periods, at attention, without moving (which is the way it's done) is torture. Especially when the detainee is already weakened from weeks or months of sleep deprivation, dehydration, and physical abuse. "Prolonged periods" does not mean half an hour. It often means several hours, or more.

Shaving of facial hair is a form of religious humiliation. Wearing a beard is a religious requirement for Muslim men. If U.S. interrogators did not know the emotional significance of beards for Muslim men, they would not shave off the beards in their misguided attempts to get prisoners to talk. The whole point is that it creates psychic distress. Why would it be done otherwise? Why would it be done if it had no effect on detainees?

Pouring water on a detainee's head is done to create a feeling of suffocation.

The techniques Rumsfeld balked at included “use of a wet towel or dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation.” “Our Armed Forces are trained,” a Pentagon memo on the changes read, “to a standard of interrogation that reflects a tradition of restraint.” Nevertheless, the log shows that interrogators poured bottles of water on al-Qahtani’s head when he refused to drink. Interrogators called this game “Drink Water or Wear It.”
"Removal of some clothing" is inaccurate. Al-Qahtani was forced to remove all his clothing and stand naked in front of his interrogators.

"Puppet shows -- no, I'm not kidding" is another example of Ed's creating an impression of a benign, harmless event by leaving out all the relevant details. Here is the full description from the Time press release:

According to the log, his handlers at one point perform a puppet show “satirizing the detainee’s involvement with al-Qaeda.” He is taken to a new interrogation booth, which is decorated with pictures of 9/11 victims, American flags and red lights. He has to stand for the playing of the U.S. national anthem. His head and beard are shaved. He is returned to his original interrogation booth. A picture of a 9/11 victim is taped to his trousers. Al-Qahtani repeats that he will “not talk until he is interrogated the proper way.” At 7 a.m. on Dec. 4, after a 12-hour, all-night session, he is put to bed for a four-hour nap, TIME reports.

Kind of changes the impact a bit, doesn't it?

"Being in the same room as attractive women" is possibly the most dishonest, misleading way of describing what was done to Al-Qahtani (and what is done to many Gitmo detainees) that I have read up to now. Al-Qahtani's interrogators hung posters covered with pictures of scantily clad women over his neck; and forced him to be in close physical proximity to a woman, which is forbidden in Muslim law. Obviously, to fraternity guys like Captain Ed -- who could, without being out of step with American culture, spend every weekend getting drunk at keg parties and watching porn DVDs with his buds -- this would be a treat. To devout Muslim men, however, it's a desecration of their most deeply held religious beliefs. It would be as if Al Qaeda terrorists forced Captain Ed to watch Nick Berg being beheaded over and over and over again.

And in his heart of hearts, I think Ed knows this. If having pictures of near-naked women hung over your head were not devastatingly degrading to Muslim men, the Gitmo interrogators would not do it.

I am grateful that at least some Republicans understand that the United States should hold itself accountable to the same standards of civilized human behavior that it asks of other countries. Chuck Hagel, U.S. senator from Nebraska, spoke out against the treatment of Al-Qahtani on CNN's Late Edition:

It's not appropriate. ...It's not at all within the standards of who we are as a civilized people, what our laws are.

"If in fact we are treating prisoners this way, it's not only wrong, it's dangerous and very dumb and very shortsighted," the Nebraska Republican said.

"This is not how you win the people of the world over to our side, especially the Muslim world."

No comments: