Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Torture in our name: An embarrassing library of evidences

[addenda and corrections 5/7/08, 5/15/08, 6/9/08]

Nicholas Kristof’s comment about prisoner abuse in our military facilities [NYTimes 5/4/08], notably in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, prompts me to wonder how many cases we know about. Here are the cases he mentions that are not as yet published:

  • Kristof says, “On Thursday, America released Sami al-Hajj, a cameraman for Al Jazeera who had been held without charges for more than six years. … [He] was beaten…” Arrived “so frail when he arrived that he had to be carried off the plane and into an ambulance.”
  • Also: Murat Kurnaz, a German citizen of Turkish descent, has just published a memoir of his nearly five years in Guantánamo. He describes prolonged torture that included interruptions by a doctor to ensure that he was well enough for the torture to continue.”
  • Also: "Italian Trial of CIA Operatives Begins with Torture Testimony." [NYTimes 5/15/08] A Muslim cleric's wife testifies of the capture and "extraordinary rendition" of her husband to Egypt by the CIA, where he was tortured.

I went looking on the web for recent publications on torture. There are more than I thought. How many more books will have to be published before the American people internalize what has been done to other human beings in their name? None of us believes that torture is consistent with the ideals of our country and yet the practice persists -- and few voices have been raised about it. When our country realizes what has been done in its name, many of us will be tempted to feign ignorance.

The sad thing is that our country, like so many others, is enveloped in fairly sealed "information worlds.” Like people elsewhere -- many Germans during WW II, like the Serbs under Miloshivich and in fact the populations of most countries -- most Americans cannot believe that our people could have done what they did (our troops), or authorized what they authorized (e.g., John Yoo), organized what they organized (our generals), and carried out the abuses they carried out. Witness the attitude of the Serbs, many of whom to this day believe their people were not guilty of the well documented abuses during the recent wars in Yugoslavia; witness also the Iranians and the Pakistanis, who reject all accusations of abuse. In fact, they are unaware of them. What has been going on in those countries has remained invisible to the common public as many abusive practices seem to be (but are not) invisible in our country.

One of our problems is that despite the presumed superiority of our media, the American people remain informed only of those events that are presentable on TV; what we know is limited to the moving images that someone has been able to get, and essentially only those that are current, of what is happening in the world.

In chronological order, from the newest to the oldest, I list here those works documenting instances of torture perpetrated by our government. This is what I could find easily; there must be more.

  • Steven Wax. (June 3) 2008. Kafka Comes to America. Other Press.

  • Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris. 2008 [May 15]. Standard Operating Procedure. Penguin. [Reviewed, along with film of the same name, by Ian Buruma, New York Review June 26, 08, p 6,8]
  • Eric Lichtblau. 2008. Bush's Law: The Remaking of American Justice. Pantheon.
  • Philippe Sands. 2008 [May 13] Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values. Palgrave.

  • Mahvish Rukhsana Khan. 2008. My Guantánamo Diary. Public Affairs. [A pediatrician who returned to Afghanistan in 2003 to help rebuild his country was then arrested by Americans, beaten, doused with icy water and paraded around naked. Finally, after three years, officials apparently decided he was innocent and sent him home.]
  • Darius Rejali. 2007. Torture and Democracy. Princeton University. [880 pp. “the most compendious and the most rigorous treatment of the subject yet written.”]
  • Tony Lagouranis and Allen Mikaelian. 2007. Fear Up Harsh: An Army Interrogator's Dark Journey Through Iraq. NAL. [A developed version of a story widely available in the media and on the Internet. Lagouranis became a central figure to Iraq war opponents by describing his role as an army interrogator at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.]
  • Stephen F. Eisenman. 2007. The Abu Ghraib Effect. Reaktion Books. [“Scholarly, succinct, and flush with photos, Eisenman's analysis is art history at its most compelling.”]
  • Tara McKelvey. 2007. Monstering: Inside America's Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War. Basic Books. [[A]buses at Abu Ghraib, in particular the abuses visited upon women prisoners]
  • Bob Brecher. 2007. Torture and the Ticking Bomb (Blackwell Public Philosophy Series). Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Jack L. Goldsmith. 2007. The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration. Norton.
  • Joseph Margulies. 2007. Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power. Simon & Schuster
  • Alfred McCoy. 2006. A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror. Holt Metropolitan Books. [“From the start of the Cold War to the early nineteen-sixties, the C.I.A. spent billions of dollars developing psychological tools for interrogation. … [Documentation] from the Phoenix program in Vietnam—which was designed to ferret out high-level Vietcong, although of the more than twenty thousand people it killed most were civilians—to the actions of agency-trained secret police in Honduras in the nineteen-eighties, and the treatment of hooded detainees at Abu Ghraib.]
  • Tara McKelvey (Editor). 2006. One of the Guys: Women as Aggressors and Torturers. Seal Press.
  • Stephen Grey. 2006. Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program. St. Martin's.
  • Sanford Levinson (ed). 2006. Torture: A Collection. Oxford University Press, USA. [Sections on "Philosophical Considerations"; "Torture as Practiced"; "Contemporary Attempts to Abolish Torture Through Law"; and "Reflections on the Post 9-11 Debate About Legalizing Torture.]
  • Stephen Grey. 2006. Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program. St Martin’s Press.
  • Steven Miles. 2006. Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror. Random House. [ … the work of the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (known as BSCTs, or "biscuits") active in Iraq and Guantanamo: groups of psychiatrists and psychologists who used detainees' medical charts and test data to devise "physically and psychologically coercive interrogation plans" designed to break their resistance. In at least one camp in Iraq, all harsh interrogations reportedly were first approved by the medical team.]
  • Jennifer K. Harbury. 2005. Truth, Torture, and the American Way: The History and Consequences of U.S. Involvement in Torture. Beacon. [A "wink and nod" approach, sending clear signals to the Salvadoran team that the abductions, tortures, and kidnappings were to continue. ..."]
  • Dianna Ortiz.2004.Blindfold's Eyes: My Journey From Torture To Truth.Orbis.["... going through the court proceedings mirrored the situation of the torture, perhaps asserting myself and having a team of people with me to support me would be a ..."]
  • Karen J. Greenberg, Joshua L. Dratel, and Anthony Lewis (Eds). 2005. The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib. Cambridge University Press. [Bush administration officials and top military brass continue to maintain that the well-documented abuses of prisoners at Abu Ghraib were the isolated actions of a few rogue guards. … [The editors] believe the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the claimed abuses at Guantanamo are the direct result of administration policies. … [A] compilation of administration documents … clearly reveal that, at the highest levels, the Bush administration sought legal justification to circumvent both the Geneva Convention and other international accepted norms regarding the interrogation and treatment of military detainees.]
  • Karen J. Greenberg, ed. 2005. The Torture Debate in America. Cambridge University. [The documents, memoranda, and reports that comprise the material in The Torture Papers.]
  • Michael Ignatieff. 2004. The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror. Princeton University.
  • John Conroy. 2001. Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture. University of California Press. [His question: How is it that otherwise normal people can become part of the institutionalized practice of torture? … He investigates the "five torture techniques" (hooding, noise bombardment, food deprivation, sleep deprivation and forced standing against a wall) inflicted on 12 Irish prisoners in 1971; a late 1980s round-up on the West Bank of Palestinians, who were bound, gagged and beaten; and Chicago's notorious John Burge case, in which police officers systematically beat and electrocuted (on the head, chest and genitals) a man suspected (and later convicted) of killing a police officer.]
Addendum, August 5, 2008
  • Jane Mayer. 2008. The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals. New York: Doubleday. "What Woodward and Bernstein's book "All the President's Men" did to the Nixon administration, Jane Mayer's book "The Dark Side" will do to George Bush's administration: blow away, like a piece of straw, the last sliver of credibility that the few remaining supporters of George Bush desperately cling to. "We don't torture", said the President, and Jane Mayer has responded with this book, as if to say: "That is a lie"."


Ethan said...

Torture for information is a sticky issue. If a pseudo-prisoner (I call them this because no international law describes what they are or how they were catpured, yet they are not non-human "combatants") has information that could prevent a major terror attack, the Administration has two options. 1) try to get the information and try to prevent the attack or 2) not get the information and be criticized for NOT acting. That's politics. As I said, sticky issue.

Secondly, as far as memoirs and articles (by "unbiased" journalists who I'm sure have no interest in sensationalism) I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. If I was sent to Guantanamo, I sure as hell would write a book on my terrible, unmentionable experience (read with sarcasm). It sells. Who wants to buy a book that talks about three meals a day and basketball? Not to mention, you get to smear the hated Bush Administration in the process of getting a book deal! Woohoo! As I said, both sides are biased--the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Your thoughts?

Bob said...

Thanks, Ethan.
Yes, the problem we all have is that everyone has an interest. In fact, my fundamental concern is that authentic "truth" is hard to come by.
But on this issue there seems to be little doubt that torture is now, for the first time in American history, essentially authorized by the administration. Not that torture has never been practiced, but that it is now formally authorized. The hypocrisy entailed in all of this is that when little people have put into practice what has been authorized by big people they have been punished-- or if not punished, then their narratives have been disowned by those in power. Who in the administration, or even of the generals over the little people, have admitted that they have aided and abetted this behavior? My position is that the same dilemmas that this administration has claimed required torture have always existed and no previous American administration has authorized it openly because it was considered immoral. And in any case, the argument cannot bear upon those who have been held for a long time, as many of our prisoners in our prisons now have been.
Thanks for your note.