Not Saussure

October 2, 2006

More on (I can’t believe it’s not) Torture; US rules closer to Stalin’s than ours?

Filed under: Books, civil liberties, usa, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 11:37 pm

Apart from the notorious waterboarding, there seems to have been little discussion of other forms of interrogation methods that are in current practice by the US or are likely to be approved by President Bush. According to Newsweek,

Scott Horton, a New York City Bar Association lawyer who has advised the Senate on the legislation, says Capitol Hill aides have told him that the CIA has sought to use the following techniques: (1) induced hypothermia; (2) long periods of forced standing; (3) sleep deprivation; (4) the “attention grab” (the forceful seizing of a suspect’s shirt); (5) the “attention slap”; (6) the “belly slap”; and (7) sound and light manipulation. Tom Malinowski, the Washington director for the group Human Rights Watch, says that Hill sources working on the legislation have described the same list to him.

A recent article by the conservative American think-tank, The Heritage Foundation, under the heading The Use of Stressful Interrogation Methods, discusses

the stress methods, such as isolation, sleep interrup­tion, and standing, authorized by the United States for use on captured al-Qaeda and Taliban members are not “torture” unless taken to a degree extreme enough to constitute severe pain and suffering. Signifi­cantly, the European Court of Human Rights itself reached this conclusion in Ireland v. United Kingdom (1978), a decision construing very similar stan­dards under EU human rights conventions.

In fact, Ireland v. United Kingdom involved Britain’s use of five stressful interrogation techniques—hood­ing, wall standing, subjection to noise, sleep depri­vation, and reduced diet—in tandem against Irish Republican Army (IRA) members. The court ruled that these methods, even when used together, did not amount to torture. It did conclude, however, that when used together, these methods constituted cruel and inhuman treatment. This decision is, of course, not binding on the United States, but it does suggest that European claims that the United States has engaged in torture are ill-founded and that the U.S. could meet international standards simply by ensuring that the stressful interrogation methods employed at Guantanamo and elsewhere are not uti­lized together as done by Britain against the IRA.

It doesn’t, though mention that the committee of inquiry chaired by Lord Parker, the Lord Chief Justice of England, to look into the affair found that ‘the use of some if not all the techniques in question would constitute criminal assaults and might also give rise to civil proceedings under English law’ nor that, as the European Court of Human Rights put it,

101. The Parker report was published on 2 March 1972. On the same day, the United Kingdom Prime Minister stated in Parliament:

“[The] Government, having reviewed the whole matter with great care and with reference to any future operations, have decided that the techniques … will not be used in future as an aid to interrogation.”

He further declared:

“The statement that I have made covers all future circumstances. If a Government did decide … that additional techniques were required for interrogation, then I think that … they would probably have to come to the House and ask for the powers to do it.”

[….]

102. At the hearing before the Court on 8 February 1977, the United Kingdom Attorney-General made the following declaration:

“The Government of the United Kingdom have considered the question of the use of the ‘five techniques’ with very great care and with particular regard to Article 3 (art. 3) of the Convention. They now give this unqualified undertaking, that the ‘five techniques’ will not in any circumstances be reintroduced as an aid to interrogation.”

In other words, the US envisages using techniques that are most certainly illegal under both our domestic law and the European Convention, and have long been recognised as such.

What, though, of Stalin’s Soviet Union? This isn’t as tendentious a question as it might seem. I’ve recently been re-reading Anne Applebaum’s classic study, Gulag: A History of the Soviet Camps, and it seems that, while the NKVD certainly at times inflicted savage beatings on suspects under interrogation, this wasn’t the normal modus operandi (it was, in fact, technically banned in 1939, though that’s not to say, of course, that beatings didn’t still go on after).

Their normal techniques, though, appear to have been sleep deprivation, forced standing and exposure to extreme cold (not difficult in Russia, at least during the winter). Anne Applebaum reproduces some graphic accounts by survivors of what this was like; the section’s too long to reproduce here, but I’ve put up an extract as a Writely page; to my mind, it’s well worth looking at. Possibly the NKVD took these techniques to greater extremes than the US Senate would think appropriate, but in effect they’ve given their blessing, it seems to me, to the standard techniques of Yakov and Beria; logically, supporters of this bill would have to take issue with Applebaum’s use of the word ‘torture’ to describe much of what went on in the cellars of the Lubyanka.

Her discussion concludes,

In the end, the interrogation’s greatest importance was the psychological mark it left on prisoners. Even before they were subjected to the long transports east, even before they arrived in their first camps, they had been at some level ‘prepared’ for their new lives as slave labourers. They already knew that they had no ordinary human rights, no right to a fair trial or even a fair hearing. They already knew that that NKVD’s power was absolute, and that the state could dispose of them as it wished. If they had confessed to a crime they had not committed, they already thought less of themselves. But even if they had not, they had been robbed of all semblance of hope, of any belief that the mistake of their arrest would soon be reversed.

The Parker Report includes a minority report, signed by Lord Gardiner, a former Lord Chancellor, who went somewhat further in his criticisms than did Lord Parker; he concludes:

The blame for this sorry story, if blame there be, must lie with those who, many years ago, decided that in emergency conditions in Colonial-type situations we should abandon our legal, well-tried and highly successful wartime interrogation methods and replace them by procedures which were secret, illegal, not morally justifiable and alien to the traditions of what I believe still to be the greatest democracy in the world.

He was, of course, quite rightly referring to us as ‘the greatest democracy in the world’; the Americans might, however, like to take note.


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24 Comments »

  1. I’ve read the Applebaum text as well as many other texts describing torture in the Gulag. The torture tactics you quoted from Newsweek are straight out of Sukhanovka. If there was ever a time to quit saying “it can’t happen here,” this would be it.

    Comment by DaveX — October 3, 2006 @ 12:46 am

  2. […] Link to “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Torture.” […]

    Pingback by Naik’s News » Torture bill: Non-allegiance to president = terrorism? — October 3, 2006 @ 2:29 am

  3. […] Link to “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Torture.” […]

    Pingback by newsBreaks.net » Torture bill: Non-allegiance to president = terrorism? — October 3, 2006 @ 8:29 am

  4. […] In den USA und im Internet wird immer noch viel über die umstrittene Detainee’s Bill und die damit verbundenen, erweiterten Rechte bezüglich der Verhörmethoden diskutiert. Laut dem Blog-Eintrag More on I can’t believe it’s not Torture; US rules closer to Stalin’s than ours? entsprechen die Verhörmethoden denen, die in Stalins Gulags angewandt wurden. Ein Gerichtsurteil aus den 70ern heranziehend zeigt er zudem noch die Illegalität, zumindest hier in Europa, auf. Andere wiederum wollen einfach Bush mit der Clinton-Methode, dem Impeachment loswerden… Und weil das alles noch nicht genug ist für die politische Landschaft der USA, gibt es jetzt auch einen Kongressabgeordneten mit Alkoholproblemen und pädophilen Neigungen. Und da wir ja alle paranoid sind, ist auf BoingBoing.net ein Blog-Eintrag, dass Foley Verbindungen zu Scientology hat oder hatte… […]

    Pingback by [doetsch.info] - Im Wendekreis des Elbfisches » Detainee Bill | E-Mail für “Alte Leute” | Tod der PKV — October 3, 2006 @ 9:20 am

  5. […] EDIT: Another article I was directed to here […]

    Pingback by Don’t Avert Your Eyes « Incompetence Inc. — October 3, 2006 @ 9:59 am

  6. during ww2, churchill wrote “the power of the executive to cast a man in prison without formulating any charge known to the law and particularly to deny him the judgement of his peers is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government, whether nazi or communist.”

    http://wakeupcall.wordpress.com/2006/09/30/the-human-rights-of-our-enemies/

    Comment by velvetacidquill — October 3, 2006 @ 10:12 am

  7. Anne Applebaum makes the point that

    ‘one of the unique aspects of the Soviet camp system [was that] its inmates arrived, most of the time, via a legal system, if not always the ordinary judicial system. No one tried and sentenced the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, but the vast majority of inmates in Soviet camps had been interrogted (however cursorily), tried (however farcically) and found guilty (even if it took less than a minute). Undoubtedly, the conviction they were acting within the law was part of what motivated those working within the security services, as well as the guards and administrators who later controlled the prisoners’ lives in the camps’.

    The forced confessions that were put before the Soviet osoboe soveschchanie — literally, ‘special commissions’ — that tried such cases were undoubtedly an important aspect of this legitimisation of the illegitimate.

    Comment by notsaussure — October 3, 2006 @ 11:03 am

  8. The fact that you are comparing Stalinism to the U.S. is beyond ridiculous. Stalin killed 50 million of his own people because he was a paranoid man who wanted to remove anyone who might be a threat to him holding power. That was KILLED, by the way, in case you missed it.

    We make a terrorist suspect stand for a long time and the world goes nuts! FINE! GO NUTS! But remember we’re safer for it.

    Believe me, if we were killing these men or we were cutting off fingers, I would cry foul. Until then, “forcefully grab their shirt.” (Are you kidding me with that?)

    When we put the saftey of a terrorist suspect above the safety of our own citizens then we have officialy gone insane.

    Comment by Rob V. — October 3, 2006 @ 3:28 pm

  9. I was obviously not trying to compare the end results; no one’s suggesting the US is comparable to the USSR in that way.

    The fact of the matter is, though, that the interrogation techiques your Senate has just approved are ones under which Stalin’s NKVD (certainly pre-1937 and post-1939) could have operated perfectly happily — sleep deprivation, stress positions and exposure to extreme temperatures in particular.

    They are also ones that are completely illegal in the UK, and which our armed services were banned from using anywhere after the abuses in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s (which, as I recall, were vigorously and rightly condemned by the US at the time). As far as I know, that ban’s never been lifted.

    I’m sure the the NKVD thought that putting the safety of terrorist suspects above the safety of their own citizens was insane, too.

    Comment by notsaussure — October 3, 2006 @ 3:49 pm

  10. I’ve got to agree with Rob V. here. This is absurd to compare totalitarian governments to that of the democratically elected U.S.

    Come on now! I believe that you hate Bush and are merely looking for any excuse to justify your hatred.

    :cool:

    Comment by Brent — October 3, 2006 @ 9:20 pm

  11. I’m not comparing the way the US treats its citizens with the way the USSR behaved. That would, as you say, be absurd.

    What I am comparing, however, are the powers the US has just given itself to treat its non-citizen detainees when it’s interrogating them, and I certainly say that those are very similar to the rules and conditions under which Stalin’s NKVD interrogated its suspects while they were in the Lubyanka. Read Anne Applebaum’s book, particularly the chapters on Arrest and on Prison, and see if you disagree.

    I don’t hate President Bush at all; he’s not my President and he’s not invaded my country, so he’s not really my problem. I can’t say I’m particularly happy with my Prime Minister for getting so closely involved with him, and I’m hardly alone in that over here.

    I don’t think some people in America realise how this looks over here; we’re talking about interrogation methods that are illegal in most of Europe — certainly in the UK — and which will make it very difficult, I think, to extradite terrorist suspects to the US in future.

    If it happens at all, it’ll almost certainly have to be on a similar basis to the one on which we deport nationals of places like Libya and Algeria to their own countries — i.e. only if we get solemn written assurances that they’ll be treated in a civilised manner. Dosn’t really put the US in good company, to my mind.

    Comment by notsaussure — October 3, 2006 @ 10:24 pm

  12. Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. (Richard Jackson)
    Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power. (Ben Franklin)
    For a wealthy, democratic nation to accept torture in this way is just plain wrong. There is no other way to describe it.

    Comment by Andrew — October 4, 2006 @ 12:19 am

  13. Perhaps we can condone sleep deprivation and other forms of torture once we can answer these questions:
    · Is torture a valid interrogation for other cultures/countries to use against my countrymen and me?
    · Is information gained under the duress of torture admissible in court? Should it be?
    · Will we only ever torture the guilty? How will we know?
    · Will there be a correlation between the number of incidents of torture and the number of terrorist acts averted or will the former outweigh the latter? Is this OK?
    · Do states become safer for their own citizens when they have the power to torture?

    Comment by dace — October 4, 2006 @ 10:25 am

  14. Interesting, and I do not think the Stalin/gulag
    comparison is at all far-fetched.

    The Heritage Foundation analysis is disingenuous. Just because Britain did at one point in the 20th century use ‘stressful interrogation techniques’ and the European Court of Human Rights allowed it, does not mean others should. And that was over 30 years ago, and Britain/the Europeans have changed their minds. Et cetera.

    Torture is meant to, and works to terrorize and control, not to extract useful information. There are reams of studies on this.

    Lord Gardiner is quite right, and there are many historical incidences of democracies which use torture in colonial situations … as an ‘exception’ to the more humane rules used at home.
    (I’m against that, but then I am against slavery and colonialism too.)

    Comment by profacero — October 4, 2006 @ 1:44 pm

  15. To Dace:

    The fact that you are calling sleep deprivation torture I think is the key to this whole argument. The worldwide media is saying we (the U.S.) are torturing our prisoners, and now it has been ingrained in everyone’s heads. But when you look at the list in notsaussure’s main post, I don’t see anything that remotely comes close to the word torture, I see interrogation. Seriously now: a belly slap? Grabbing a shirt? Sound and light manipulation? This is torture? Please.

    Comment by Rob V. — October 4, 2006 @ 2:48 pm

  16. Rob V, others can speak for themselves, obviously, but my point is that the NKVD’s standard methods of interrogating suspects and extracting confessions from them would be pretty well accommodated by this US legislation. Using them be a criminal offence in the UK and, as I understand it, in most of Europe.

    Possibly you disagree with Anne Applebaum’s characterisation of what went on in the cellars of the Lubyanka as ‘torture’. Possibly, under international law, you may even be correct, but it’s the word most of us would use in everyday speech if not in a legal definition (the European Court of Human Rights would describe it as ‘inhuman and degrading treatment’ rather than torture, which makes it illegal under another provision of the ECHR treaty).

    Incidentally, a friend of mine had to undergo something similar as part of a special resistance to interrogation techniques course when he was a Guards officer — particularly the stress positions, sleep deprivation and manipulation of sound and light (e.g. blacked out room and deafening white noise). Not at all pleasant, apparently, and not the sort of thing the British Army use on people on pain of court martial, but the sort of thing for which some soldiers had then to be prepared in case they fell into the hands of the KGB.

    Comment by notsaussure — October 4, 2006 @ 3:37 pm

  17. […] See also, if you haven’t already, More on (I can’t believe it’s not) Torture; US rules closer to Stalin’s than ours? Technorati tags: H.R. 6166, S. 3930, Torture, USA, NKVD, War on Terror Posted in usa, Blogroll, War on Terror | […]

    Pingback by I Can’t Believe It’s Not Torture! ™ « Not Saussure — October 4, 2006 @ 10:35 pm

  18. Thanks, Rob V. Since, as you correctly acknowledge, since the United States is introducing legislation to ban torture, the definition of what constitutes torture then becomes the heart of this matter. So let’s look at a couple of definitions of torture and see where we are with sleep deprivation and .

    – the deliberate, systematic, or wanton infliction of physical or mental suffering by one or more persons in an attempt to force another person to yield information or to make a confession or for any other reason;
    wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn
    – Torture is the infliction of severe physical or psychological pain as an expression of cruelty, a means of intimidation, deterrent or punishment, or as a tool for the extraction of information or confessions.
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torture
    It seems to me that sleep deprivation fits the description. Put it this way, if it was happening to me or one of my family members or one of my country’s soldiers, I would claim it was torture. And cruel. And inhumane. And probably very effective (the problem with sleep deprivation – compared, let’s say, to electric shock – is that it sounds comparatively inocuous)

    Perhaps you will say that we cannot equate the acts of terrorists with a little bit of sleep-loss aimed at protecting our fellow citizens. But this issue is not really about stripping back levels of violence against people until we achieve some form of moral equivalence it is actually about how we, as a civilised people, choose to act. Otherwise all our ethical behaviour can be rationalised via the “If I didn’t do it, someone else would have done it” and “He/she did it first” lines of argument.

    Comment by dace — October 4, 2006 @ 11:58 pm

  19. Thanks, Rob V. Since, as you correctly acknowledge, the United States is introducing legislation to ban torture, the definition of what constitutes torture then becomes the heart of this matter. So let’s look at a couple of definitions of torture and see where we are with sleep deprivation.

    – the deliberate, systematic, or wanton infliction of physical or mental suffering by one or more persons in an attempt to force another person to yield information or to make a confession or for any other reason;
    wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn
    – Torture is the infliction of severe physical or psychological pain as an expression of cruelty, a means of intimidation, deterrent or punishment, or as a tool for the extraction of information or confessions.
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torture
    It seems to me that sleep deprivation fits the description. Put it this way, if it was happening to me or one of my family members or one of my country’s soldiers, I would claim it was torture. And cruel. And inhumane. And probably very effective (the problem with sleep deprivation – compared, let’s say, to electric shock – is that it sounds comparatively inocuous)

    Perhaps you will say that we cannot equate the acts of terrorists with a little bit of sleep-loss aimed at protecting our fellow citizens. But this issue is not really about stripping back levels of violence against people until we achieve some form of moral equivalence it is actually about how we, as a civilised people, choose to act. Otherwise all our ethical behaviour can be rationalised via the “If I didn’t do it, someone else would have done it” and “He/she did it first” lines of argument.

    Comment by dace — October 5, 2006 @ 12:00 am

  20. Here’s an extract from Anne Applebaum’s book quoting an account by an American citizen, Alexander Dolgun, a US Embassy employee in Moscow who was arrested by the NKVD for spying:

    ‘Most commonly, however, prisoners were simply deprived of sleep: this deceptively simple form of torture — which seemed to require no special advance approval — was known to prisoners as being put ‘on the conveyor’, and it could last for many days, or even weeks. The method was simple: prisoners were interrogated all night, and afterwards forbidden from sleeping during the day. They were constantly awoken by guards, and threatened with punishment cells or worse if they failed to stay awake. One of the best accounts of the conveyor, and of its physical effects, is that given by the American Gulag inmate Alexander Dolgun. During his first month in Lefortovo, he was virtually deprived of any sleep at all, allowed an hour a day or less:

    “Looking back it seems that an hour is too much, it may have been not more than a few minutes some nights.”

    ‘As a result, his brain began to play tricks on him:

    ” There would be periods when I suddenly knew that I had no recollection of what had happened in the last few minutes. Drop-outs in my mind. Total erasures….
    ” Then, of course, later on, I began to experiment with sleeping upright, to see if my body could learn to hold itself erect. I thought that if that would work I might escape detection in the cells for a few minutes at a time, because the guard at the peep-hole would not think I was asleep if I was sitting upright.
    ” And so it would go on, snatching ten minutes here, half an hour there, occasionally a little longer if Sidorov called it quite before six in the morning and the guards left me alone till the wake-up call. But it was too little. Too late. I could feel myself slipping, getting looser and less disciplined every day. I dreaded going crazy almost worse — no, really worse — than dying…”‘

    Do we say that Mr Dolgun was not tortured by the NKVD? Do we say that his treatment at their hands was acceptable?

    Comment by notsaussure — October 5, 2006 @ 12:13 am

  21. If George Bush is allowed to interpret teh Geneva Convetnions as he sees fit, then who knows where it may go. Most of the US is insanely willing to allow things to occur in the name of keeping them safe. So far most in the US have been fine with the fact that people are being held without charges, something that they find totally unacceptable when it is Americans being held by Iraqis.

    Comment by Agent KGB — October 7, 2006 @ 3:50 pm

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