Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sweet Land of Liberty

I weep that this proud symbol has come to represent a nation that tortures

Two and a half years ago, I wrote a post decrying the practice of torture by the Bush administration. Way back in 2005 I participated in a letter-writing campaign and wrote a letter to then President Bush protesting water boarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques.” I received a response from the White House, full of fluff and, well, hot air. Here is a portion of the reply:

"The President has repeatedly affirmed that he does not condone torture in any circumstances, and he has also directed our military personnel to treat all detainees in their custody humanely. American personnel are also required to comply with all applicable United States laws, including the Constitution, Federal statues, and our treaty obligations."

The response itself enraged me to the point that I wrote the above-mentioned post. 2005 seems like a long time ago. We now have Obama as our president, and still the war in Iraq and Afghanistan drags on. We are supposed to be making America safer, yet I can’t help but feel that we’re making America less safe as our fighting and drone attacks kill many innocent people. I can’t help but thinking about all the investments we could be making in our educational system or our healthcare system or our infrastructure with the money we spend on wars, creating jobs while improving our country.

And then an article appeared in the Los Angeles Times that described a report prepared by a group called Physicians for Human Rights. The report is the accumulation of analyzing public U.S. government documents dealing with the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody during the Bush Administration. You can read the full 30-page report here. Apparently, a strange catch-22 situation presented itself to the legal and administrative authorities of the Bush Administration. Here it is:

The well-known Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (John Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel) redefined torture by establishing legal thresholds for torture acts such as water boarding, stress positions, prolonged isolation, and sleep deprivation. These acts of torture were deemed legal as long as interrogators did not cross the threshold for “severe physical and mental pain.”

Well, okay, that sounds mighty fine. So, how do you make sure that you don’t cross the threshold for “severe physical and mental pain?” Easy. You get some physicians, medical doctors (you know, those people who study many, many years to learn to heal the sick and above all do no harm?) and you have these physicians monitor the enhanced interrogation sessions and as soon as you’ve crossed the threshold, then you stop!

Well, no, you can’t do that. Because then you’ve crossed the threshold and now you’ve committed a crime—torture.

Okay, here’s another tactic. You get some physicians, medical doctors (you know, those people who study many, many years to learn to heal the sick and above all do no harm?) and you monitor each session very carefully. You keep accurate data. You can measure physical and psychological impact of the interrogator’s “enhanced” interrogation techniques and as you collect data, you can provide a clear basis for a legal defense against possible torture charges. This medical monitoring demonstrates to all clear-thinking, freedom-loving people a distinct lack of intent to cause harm to the subjects, uh, detainees.

Well, this well-thought-out plan to protect interrogators from violating any torture laws, the very foundations of the supposed defense (the medical monitoring), effectively violates “well-established legal and ethical codes” protecting prisoners (or anyone actually) against human experimentation. Quoting the PHR report: “This current report provides evidence that in additional to medical complicity of torture, health professionals participated in research and experimentation on detainees in U.S. custody.”

Hey, do you know what one tidbit of torture information they found out? (This is really useful stuff, so pay attention!) If you administer a water boarding session, you should use salt water instead of fresh water. Fresh water increases the risk of hyponatremia, a condition of low sodium levels in the blood (too much water, not enough salt), which can lead to brain edema and herniation, coma, and death. Now, how did they figure that out?

Are you sick yet?