I don’t like Sen. Dianne Feinstein. She’s a gun-control zealot. In fact, I’d argue that she gives former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg a run for his money as the number one gun-grabber in the country. That said, not everything she says I disagree with. Perhaps this is a case of the broken clock theory; you know, that it’s right two times a day? Point being, Feinstein is right about torture, especially in light of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA-enhanced interrogations during the peak years of the War on Terror.
Feinstein chairs the aforementioned Senate committee that compiled the report. In an article published in the Los Angeles Times, she spoke succinctly but effectively about the problems with torture.
“Torture goes against the very soul of our country,” said Feinstein. “We are a democracy, established on the rule of law.”
“We’re not perfect and there are some dark patches in our past, but what makes us special is that we recognize these evils, we come to grips with them and we fix them,” continued the California Democrat.
If you don’t like what Feinstein had to say because you don’t like her politics, her views on guns, or her party affiliation, then consider what John McCain had to say about the report. The Arizona Republican, who is no stranger to torture himself as a former POW during the Vietnam conflict, called the report, “a thorough and thoughtful study of practices that I believe not only failed their purpose—to secure actionable intelligence to prevent further attacks on the U.S. and our allies—but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.”
Below are some of the more gruesome, stomach-turning details of the report, transcribed by USA Today:
•Sleep deprivation: “According to CIA records, Abu Ja’far al-Iraqi was subjected to nudity, dietary manipulation, insult slaps, abdominal slaps … stress positions and water dousing with 44-degree Fahrenheit water for 18 minutes. He was shackled in the standing position for 54 hours as part of sleep deprivation and experienced swelling in his lower legs requiring blood thinner and spiral ace bandages. He was moved to a sitting position, and his sleep deprivation was extended to 78 hours. After the swelling subsided, he was provided with more blood thinner and was returned to the standing position.
“The sleep deprivation was extended to 102 hours. After four hours of sleep, Abu Ja’far al-Iraqi was subjected to an additional 52 hours of sleep deprivation, after which CIA headquarters informed interrogators that eight hours was the minimum rest period between sleep deprivation sessions exceeding 48 hours.”
•Transport by plane: “Detainees transported by the CIA by aircraft were typically hooded with their hands and feet shackled. The detainees wore large headsets to eliminate their ability to hear, and these headsets were typically affixed to a detainee’s head with duct tape that ran the circumference of the detainee’s head.
“CIA detainees were placed in diapers and not permitted to use the lavatory on the aircraft. Depending on the aircraft, detainees were either strapped into seats during the flights, or laid down and strapped to the floor of the plane horizontally like cargo.”
•Stress positions: “The Office of Inspector General later described additional allegations of unauthorized techniques used against (Abd al-Rahim) al-Nashiri by [CIA OFFICER 2] and other interrogators, including slapping al-Nashiri multiple times on the back of the head during interrogations; implying that his mother would be brought before him and sexually abused; blowing cigar smoke in al-Nashiri’s face; giving al-Nashiri a forced bath using a stiff brush; and using improvised stress positions that caused cuts and bruises resulting in the intervention of a medical officer, who was concerned that al-Nashiri’s shoulders would be dislocated using the stress positions.”
•Nudity: In November 2002, a CIA officer “ordered that Gul Rahman be shackled to the wall of his cell in a position that required the detainee to rest on the bare concrete floor. Rahman was wearing only a sweatshirt, as [CIA OFFICER 1] had ordered that Rahman’s clothing be removed when he had been judged to be uncooperative during an earlier interrogation.
“The next day, the guards found Gul Rahman’s dead body. An internal CIA review and autopsy assessed that Rahman likely died from hypothermia — in part from having been forced to sit on the bare concrete floor without pants.”
•Waterboarding: According to the report, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — often described as the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks — was waterboarded at least 183 times. This is a technique that simulates drowning, in which the detainee is strapped to a board while water is poured in his mouth and nose.
“During these sessions, KSM ingested a significant amount of water. CIA records state that KSM’s ‘abdomen was somewhat distended, and he expressed water when the abdomen was pressed.’ KSM’s gastric contents were so diluted by water that the medical officer present was ‘not concerned about regurgitated gastric acid damaging KSM’s esophagus.’ The officer was, however, concerned about water intoxication and dilution of electrolytes and requested that the interrogators use saline in future waterboarding sessions. The medical officer later wrote … that KSM was ‘ingesting and aspiration [sic] a LOT of water’ and that ‘[i]n the new technique we are basically doing a series of near drownings.’ “
•Rectal Feeding/hydration: Detainees who refused food or drink were forced to ingest food or water rectally. According to the report, a CIA officer “provided a description of the procedure, writing that ‘[r]egarding the rectal tube, if you place it and open up the IV tubing, the flow will self-regulate, sloshing up the large intestines.’
“Referencing the experience of the medical officer who subjected KSM to rectal rehydration, the officer wrote that, ‘[w]hat I infer is that you get a tube up as far as you can, then open the IV wide. No need to squeeze the bag — let gravity do the work.’ “
Another case describes forcing Ensure into a detainee rectally, and in a third instance, “Majid Khan’s ‘lunch tray,’ consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins was ‘pureed’ and rectally infused.”
Sure, it’s not like the U.S. government was going medieval on these folks, there was no rack, iron maiden, spanish tickler, breaking wheel, thumbscrew, knee splitter, pear of anguish, etc. (for details on what these devices are, click here), but the treatment of these captives was far from humane. Yes, they’re bad people. Arguably, the worst of the worst. Many probably deserve the death penalty — which I support so long as it is done in a quick, relatively painless fashion — but torture? No one deserves torture.
See, the moral dilemma with torture is that everyone suffers. Obviously, the one being tortured undergoes great psychological and physical suffering. But what about the torturer? The society that is complicit in the practice of torture? Don’t they ultimately suffer as well by losing sight of their humanity?
What differentiates us from animals is that we are sentient creatures — most of us are at least — equipped with a conscience. A moral compass. A capacity to empathize with others. We intuitively know right from wrong. And we have the free will, the agency to make the right decision. Yet, when we torture our fellow man, we are engaging in behavior that makes us less human. And the less human we become, the more barbaric we behave. Think of Hitler’s Germany, Mao’s China, or Stalin’s Russia — all societies that freely embraced torture. Do we want to regress to standards of human indecency set by despotic regimes? I don’t think so.
If you reject the moral argument, you have to consider the practical one, which is the problem with torture is that it begets more torture. If we torture our prisoners then those who have American POWs won’t think twice about torturing our troops (in fact, one can argue that it incentives the maltreatment of American POWs). It creates a vicious cycle that just leads to more unnecessary pain and suffering. Of course, studies also suggest that torture as a means to extract information is unreliable. Meaning, the perceived good torture does to get actionable intelligence from captives who are reluctant to share information is greatly exaggerated. As it turns out, torture doesn’t do us any good.
When you look inward and reflect, what do the better angels of your nature tell you about torture? Do you support it?