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 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.
Technorati tags: H.R. 6166, S. 3930, Torture, USA, NKVD, War on Terror