Sunday, November 13, 2005

Hussein Committed Torture; the U.S. Commits "Lesser Abuses"

If you want to know just how degraded the concept of human rights has become in the United States, take a look at Andrew Sullivan's post responding to the Wall Street Journal's op-ed sanctioning the practice of waterboarding against detainees in U.S. custody.

The WSJ's premise is that when Saddam Hussein cut off prisoners' limbs, that was torture, which means that merely tying detainees to boards and submerging them in water to induce the sensation of drowning is a "lesser abuse" that is not comparable to Saddam's evildoing.

Andrew quotes this paragraph from the op-ed:

As for "torture," it is simply perverse to conflate the amputations and electrocutions Saddam once inflicted at Abu Ghraib with the lesser abuses committed by rogue American soldiers there, much less with any authorized U.S. interrogation techniques. No one has yet come up with any evidence that anyone in the U.S. military or government has officially sanctioned anything close to "torture." The "stress positions" that have been allowed (such as wearing a hood, exposure to heat and cold, and the rarely authorized "waterboarding," which induces a feeling of suffocation) are all psychological techniques designed to break a detainee.

Andrew rightly points out that the WSJ is allowing Saddam Hussein to define what the U.S. should consider to be torture:

Notice that the gold-standard for American conduct is now set by Saddam Hussein! And "water-boarding" is merely a "psychological technique" that "induces a feeling of suffocation." No physical coercion at all - unless you mean being tied to a plank and near-drowned.

And in a second post, Andrew quotes from an e-mail sent him by a reader who thinks that Andrew did not convey the horrors of waterboarding strongly enough:

If anything, the now standard description of water-boarding understates the cruelty of the method. Those who were subjected to this method by South American security forces report that "they had been held under water until they had in fact begun to drown and lost consciousness, only to be revived by their torturers and submerged again. It is one of their worst memories" (Jennifer Harbury, 'Truth, Torture, and the American Way," pp. 15-16). As you note, the French used it in Algeria (there is a vivid depiction in the movie "The Battle of Algiers"). The United States used it heavily in the Philippines a hundred years ago; they called it "the water cure." The person who probably knows the most about this is Darius Rejali, a professor at Reed College and author of a new history of torture, soon to be published by Princeton University Press.

I want to add that the WSJ opinion piece also perpetuates the dishonest and disingenuous justification for the Bush administration's designation of detainees in the war on terror as "enemy combatants" rather than "prisoners of war." Their editorialist writes...

The Geneva Conventions are very strict about which detainees qualify for the protections of "prisoner of war" status: They must, for example, have fought in uniform and shown some respect for the laws of war, such as avoiding attacks on civilians.

...ignoring the fact that the United Nations is supposed to decide whether detainees qualify as prisoners of war. In unilaterally deciding that individuals captured in the war on terror were "enemy combatants" and therefore not qualified for protection under the Geneva Conventions' guidelines for the treatment of prisoners of war, the Bush administration assumed an authority it did not have under international law. It's highly unlikely the WSJ editors did not know this; they just chose to ignore it -- as did the White House.

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