I never cease to be amazed by the language that the writer George Orwell warned about decades ago in his novel “1984,” of politicians using language to distort the truth.
War seems to heighten this doublespeak—for example, “collateral damage,” to refer to civilians caught in the crossfire.
Now we have “enhanced interrogation,” replacing an earlier “coercive interrogation,” a euphemism for torture. I became aware of this term only this week, after the US Senate released a “Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” revealing extensive use of this “enhanced interrogation” involving 119 detainees, all held on suspicion of being Islamist terrorists.
The released report is a “brief” version, running to more than 500 pages, but it is damning enough, with the US Senate committee concluding that the torture methods used were “cruel, inhuman and degrading” and that the evidence is “overwhelming and incontrovertible.” A full report, with some 6,700 pages, remains classified information.
Breaking the spirit
The report describes various combinations of physical and psychological torture, from waterboarding (forcing large amounts of water into the mouth) to sleep deprivation, from exposure to extreme cold to prolonged constraint of the body in all kinds of contortions (such as the fetal position). “Rectal feeding” was another grotesque method, where food is forced into the rectum of detainees who refuse to eat. The method is used not so much out of concern for the detainees as to further humiliate them, with risks of damage to the intestinal tract and rectal bleeding.
The British newspaper Guardian describes the report as something that seems to have come from the Marquis de Sade, the aristocrat whose family name is the root of the word “sadist,” or someone who enjoys inflicting pain on others.
The term “enhanced interrogation” seems to date back to 2002 and is a clear attempt to get around laws and international treaties banning torture. Other euphemisms that have been used are “stress and duress” and “torture light.” While the physical torment is mild compared to older methods like electrocution, the emphasis is psychological, intended to break the detainee’s spirit.
The CIA outsourced the work to two firms, with psychologists paid large fees (up to $1,800 a session) for the interrogation. With such large financial remuneration, it was not surprising that these psychologists and the CIA operatives involved all reported favorable results from the interrogation.
The US Senate committee investigated these claims and found something that had already been observed many years back by the US military: Torture can backfire, forcing the detainee to give wrong and unreliable information. Our Philippine military and police should read the report through so they’ll understand not only the futility of torture but also how some of our own decisions concerning international terrorism may have been based on wrong information obtained through torture and sent to us by the CIA.
The US Senate report covers the period 2001-2009, with the investigating committee’s chair, Sen. Diane Feinstein, pointing out in her introduction that these were years when Americans were dealing with their fears of more terrorist attacks following the attack on 9/11 (Sept. 11, 2001).
Feinstein does write: “Nevertheless, such pressure, fear, and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper, or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations…”
Water cure and history
The problem is that enhanced interrogation has a long history, even if it wasn’t called by that euphemism. Reading the report, I felt almost a sense of déjà vu, remembering previous exposés of torture used by the CIA and the US military. Waterboarding can be traced back to the water cure, probably first used by the US military during the Philippine-American War at the turn of the 20th century.
In the 1960s and the 1970s, there was the Vietnam War, where many of the methods we read about in the US Senate report were used against suspected Vietcong (communists and communist sympathizers). Also, throughout that
period, the Americans trained the police and the military in many countries to use such methods. The Philippines and 25 other countries, mainly in Asia and Latin America, are listed in an Amnesty International report of countries close to the United States and benefiting from military support. We received military aid amounting to $805 million from the end of World War II to 1975, and 15,245 of our police and military received training from the Americans.
A School of the Americas was particularly notorious for training Latin American police and military from developing countries to fight insurgents. From the 1970s to the early 1990s, much was said of the “national security doctrine,” where a fight against communists or other enemies of the state was used to justify military strategies that used low-intensity warfare directed at communities, and brutal torture targeting individual detainees.
In the last decade, the US government has justified torture as a way to save people from more terrorist attacks. While it criticizes other countries about their human rights records, it turns out that it has been using some of the most barbaric methods itself.
Detainees targeted for enhanced interrogation are transferred to jails outside the United States, so the CIA would not violate its own US prohibitions. The Guardian newspaper has a map showing the countries that were known to host this enhanced interrogation. The Philippines was not among those identified.
What’s striking about the CIA’s enhanced interrogation is the way it targets non-Americans. But note how in recent weeks there has been a spate of reports on American police brutality directed at African-Americans, from outright shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, to the case in New York City where a man died while in a policeman’s chokehold.
Racism, then, seems to make brutality so much easier for American police and military.
If our military and police learned to use torture methods from Americans, they should now learn from this US Senate report to recognize that torture does not lead to useful information. Our police have been known to use torture to hasten a confession, which then leads to wrongful conviction. I shudder to think of how many people were even executed, or sentenced to life imprisonment, based on confessions of “guilt” obtained through torture.
By whatever name you call it, torture is inhumanity, and enhanced interrogation is enhanced inhumanity.
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