T Nation

To Torture Or Not To Torture?


Torture: It's the New American Way
By Rosa Brooks
he Los Angeles Times

Saturday 05 November 2005

'We will bury you," Nikita Khrushchev told U.S. diplomats in 1956. The conventional wisdom is that Khrushchev got it wrong: The repressive Soviet state collapsed under the weight of its own cruelties and lies while democratic America went from strength to strength, buoyed by its national commitment to liberty and justice for all.

But with this week's blockbuster report of secret CIA detention facilities in Eastern Europe, cynics may be pardoned for wondering who really won the Cold War.

According to Dana Priest, the Washington Post investigative reporter who broke the story Wednesday, it all started on Sept. 17, 2001, when President Bush signed a secret executive order authorizing the CIA to kill, capture or detain Al Qaeda operatives.

There was only one problem: The CIA didn't know where to put the people it detained. Those detainees thought to be of "high value" needed to be kept somewhere ? special. Somewhere impregnable, like Alcatraz. And somewhere secret, far from the prying eyes of reporters or Red Cross officials.

Because these high-value prisoners - so-called ghost detainees - were going to be subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques."

That's Orwell-speak for what's known in English as torture. The list of enhanced techniques is classified but reportedly includes such old favorites as "waterboarding" (feigned drowning) and feigned suffocation. Authorized techniques also may have included the "Palestinian hanging," a "stress position" in which a detainee is suspended from the ceiling or wall by his wrists, which are handcuffed behind his back.

It was this enhancement that preceded the death of Manadel Jamadi, an Iraqi who died in CIA custody at Abu Ghraib in November 2003, according to government investigative reports. When Jamadi was lowered to the ground, blood gushed from his mouth as if "a faucet had turned on," said Tony Diaz, an MP who witnessed his torture. Later, other guards posed with Jamadi's battered corpse, and the leaked photos shocked the world.

That's not the kind of publicity a freedom-loving democracy needs, so the CIA reportedly opted for secret "black sites." It's not as easy as you might think to find a spot where you can torture people in peace. Abu Ghraib is full of camera-clicking reservists, and the Marquis de Sade's castle lies in ruins. The Tower of London's dungeons still boast an excellent range of enhanced interrogation equipment, but they attract too many giggling children.

CIA operatives apparently considered uninhabited islands near Zambia's Lake Kariba, but interrogators didn't much like the idea of catching one of those nasty local diseases so prevalent in Central Africa. Marburg hemorrhagic fever? No thanks.

Thailand worked for a while, but the Thai government got cold feet when press reports outed the existence of a local CIA site. And Guantanamo's CIA interrogation facility had to be closed when the Supreme Court pointed out that Guantanamo is not a law-free zone.

Remember the flap last spring when Amnesty International called Guantanamo an American "gulag"? Maybe that's what gave the CIA the idea of locating some black sites in Eastern Europe. ("Hmm, gulag, gulag ? that reminds me of something?. Hey! Maybe there are some leftover Soviet-era detention facilities we can use for our enhanced interrogations!")

At the request of "senior U.S. officials," the Washington Post declined to identify the locations of the Eastern European black sites. But Marc Garlasco, a military analyst at Human Rights Watch, says that host countries may include Poland and Romania.

Human Rights Watch examined flight records showing that on Sept. 22, 2003, for instance, around the same time several high-value Al Qaeda detainees were transferred out of CIA facilities in Afghanistan, a CIA-linked Boeing 737 with the tail number N313P flew from Kabul to Szymany Airport in Poland.

The next day, it landed at Mihail Kogalniceanu military airfield in Romania. Released Guantanamo detainees have corroborated the use of this plane as a prisoner transport, and rights groups and journalists say witnesses also have reported seeing hooded prisoners being loaded and unloaded from the same plane at various other locations.

During the Cold War, we thought we knew what distinguished us from our Soviet bloc enemies. We did not have a gulag; we did not imprison and torture our enemies. But the war on terror has distorted our national values.

We have used some of the same tactics we once decried. The Soviet Union's legacy of terror lives on, its tactics embraced by some of our leaders. Vice President Dick Cheney continues to insist that the McCain amendment, which prohibits U.S. personnel from cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners, should not be applicable to the CIA.

Somewhere in Moscow's Novodevichyi cemetery, Khrushchev is probably laughing inside his grave.


It sucks to be on the same side as a rag like the LA Times, but it is disgusting that the country that defeated communism is now torturing enemy prisoners in Eastern European cells.


"They" hated us long before Abu Ghraib though.


And shortly after the creationi of Israel... no?


Some good background info:


Commentary: Behind the 'torture memos'
As attorney general confirmation hearings begin for Alberto Gonzales, Boalt Law School professor John Yoo defends wartime policy

By John Yoo | 4 January 2005

This commentary was written by Boalt Law School Professor John Yoo, who is also a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Yoo was deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel of the Justice Department from 2001 to 2003. He wrote this article for the San Jose Mercury News.

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to be attorney general. It comes as no surprise that he is likely to face hard questions.

As counsel to the president for the past four years, Gonzales helped develop the United States' policies in the war on terror. He demonstrated leadership and, as is often the case in perilous times, generated controversy.

He will encounter questions about the decision to deny prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Conventions to Al-Qaida and Taliban fighters and about his role in what have come to be known as "torture memos.'' As a Justice Department lawyer, I dealt with both issues ? I worked on and signed the department's memo on the Geneva Conventions and helped draft the main memo defining torture. I can explain why the administration decided that aggressive measures, though sometimes unpopular, are necessary to protect America from another terrorist attack.

Sept. 11, 2001, proved that the war against Al-Qaida cannot be won solely within the framework of the criminal law. The attacks were more than crimes ? they were acts of war. Responding to the attacks and protecting the United States from another requires a military approach to the conflict. But Al-Qaida, without regular armed forces, territory or citizens to defend, also presents unprecedented military challenges.

One of the first policy decisions in this new war concerned the Geneva Conventions ? four 1949 treaties ratified by the United States that codify many of the rules for war. After seeking the views of the Justice, State, and Defense departments, Gonzales concluded in a draft January 2002 memo to the president that Al-Qaida and the Taliban were not legally entitled to POW status. He also advised that following every provision of the conventions could hurt the United States' ability to protect itself against ruthless enemies.

Gonzales' memo agreed with the Justice Department and disagreed with the State Department, which felt the Taliban (though not Al-Qaida) qualified as POWs.

The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel ? where I worked at the time ? determined that the Geneva Conventions legally do not apply to the war on terrorism because Al-Qaida is not a nation-state and has not signed the treaties. Al-Qaida members also do not qualify as legal combatants because they hide among peaceful populations and launch surprise attacks on civilians ? violating the fundamental principle that war is waged only against combatants. Consistent American policy since at least the Reagan administration has denied terrorists the legal privileges reserved for regular armed forces.

The Taliban raised different questions because Afghanistan is a party to the Geneva Conventions, and the Taliban arguably operated as its de facto government. But the Justice Department found that the president had reasonable grounds to deny Taliban members POW status because they did not meet the conventions' requirements that lawful combatants operate under responsible command, wear distinctive insignia, and obey the laws of war. The Taliban flagrantly violated those rules, at times deliberately using civilians as human shields.

According to Gonzales' memo, the State Department argued that denying POW status to the Taliban would damage U.S. standing in the world and could undermine the standards of treatment for captured American soldiers. Gonzales also passed on the department's worry that denying POW status "could undermine U.S. military culture which emphasizes maintaining the highest standards of conduct in combat, and could introduce an element of uncertainty in the status of adversaries.''

The press has consistently misrepresented Gonzales' views and latched onto a sexy sound bite used out of context. When Gonzales said in the memo that this new war made some provisions of the Geneva Conventions "quaint,'' he referred to the requirement that POWs be given commissary privileges, monthly pay, athletic uniforms and scientific instruments. Many stories cut the quotation short, making it seem as if he had deemed the conventions themselves "quaint.''

'Obsolete' limitations

Gonzales' memo did, however, say that the terrorist threat rendered "obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners.'' Why? Because the United States needed to be able "to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians.'' Information remains the primary weapon to prevent a future Al-Qaida attack on the United States.

Gonzales also observed that denying POW status would limit the prosecution of U.S. officials under a federal law criminalizing a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions. He was concerned that some of the conventions' terms were so vague (prohibiting, for example, "outrages upon personal dignity'') that officials would be wary of taking actions necessary to respond to unpredictable developments in this new war.

The president took Gonzales' advice and denied POW status to suspected Al-Qaida and Taliban members.

Gonzales' advice raised legal and policy questions. Legally, could the president determine by himself that Al-Qaida or the Taliban were not entitled to POW status? No one doubted that he had the constitutional authority. Presidents have long been the primary interpreters of treaties on behalf of the United States, especially in the area of warfare. Federal judges have since split on the POW issue.

The other question was what standards the United States should follow as a matter of policy if the Geneva Conventions did not legally apply. Gonzales recommended that the United States should continue "its commitment to treat the detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles'' of the Geneva Conventions. Prisoners would receive adequate food, housing and medical care, and could practice their religion. Gonzales advised that as long as the president ordered humane treatment, the military would follow his orders.

Gonzales has also received criticism for a memo he requested from the Justice Department to provide the legal definition of torture. According to press reports, Gonzales made the request after the CIA had captured high-level Al-Qaida leaders and wanted clarification of the standards for interrogation under U.S. law.

Congress' role

While the definition of torture in the August 2002 memo is narrow, that was Congress' choice. When the Senate approved the U.N. Convention Against Torture in 1994, it stated its understanding of torture as an act "specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.'' The Senate defined mental pain and suffering as "prolonged mental harm'' caused by threats of severe physical harm or death to a detainee or third person, the administration of mind-altering drugs or other procedures "calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality.'' Congress adopted this definition in a 1994 law criminalizing torture committed abroad.

The Senate also made clear that it believed the treaty's requirement that nations undertake to prevent "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment'' was too vague. The Senate declared its understanding that the United States would follow only the Constitution's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

The Senate and Congress' decisions provided the basis for the Justice Department's definition of torture:

"Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death. For purely mental pain or suffering to amount to torture (under U.S. law), it must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years. . . . We conclude that the statute, taken as a whole, makes plain that it prohibits only extreme acts.''

Under this definition, interrogation methods that go beyond polite questioning but fall short of torture could include shouted questions, reduced sleep, stress positions (like standing for long periods of time), and isolation from other prisoners. The purpose of these techniques is not to inflict pain or harm, but simply to disorient.

On Thursday, the Justice Department responded to criticism from the summer, when the opinion leaked to the press. The department issued a new memo that superseded the August 2002 memo. Among other things, the new memo withdrew the statement that only pain equivalent to such harm as serious physical injury or organ failure constitutes torture and said, instead, that torture may consist of acts that fall short of provoking excruciating and agonizing pain.

Although some have called this a repudiation, the Justice Department's new opinion still generally relies on Congress' restrictive reasoning on what constitutes torture. Among other things, it reiterates that there is a difference between "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment'' and torture ? a distinction that many critics of the administration have ignored or misunderstood.

For example, according to press reports, the International Committee for the Red Cross has charged that interrogations at Guant?namo Bay, which included solitary confinement and exposing prisoners to temperature extremes and loud music, were "tantamount to torture.'' This expands torture beyond the United States' understanding when it ratified the U.N. Convention Against Torture and enacted the 1994 statute. Not only does the very text of the convention recognize the difference between cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture, but the United States clearly chose to criminalize only torture.

Abu Ghurayb abuses

Criticism of the Bush administration's legal approach to interrogation first arose in the summer after the Abu Ghurayb prison scandal, and has continued with more recent stories of FBI memos showing concern about abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Guant?namo Bay. No one condones the abuses witnessed in the Abu Ghurayb photos that are being properly handled through the military justice system. But those abuses had nothing to do with the memos defining torture ? which did not discuss the pros and cons of any interrogation tactic ? nor the decision to deny POW protections to Al-Qaida and the Taliban. Gonzales, among others, has made clear that the administration never ordered the torture of any prisoner. And as multiple investigatory commissions have now found, these incidents did not result from any official orders.

At the urging of human rights groups and other opponents of the administration's policies in the war on terrorism, Senate Democrats have promised to closely question Gonzales on these issues. I believe the hearings will show that Gonzales, who never sought to pressure or influence the Justice Department's work, appropriately sought answers to ensure compliance with the applicable law.

Asking those questions is important because we are in the midst of an unconventional war. Our only means for preventing future terrorist attacks, which could someday involve weapons of mass destruction, is to rely on intelligence that permits pre-emptive action. An American leader would be derelict if he did not seek to understand all available options in such perilous circumstances.



  • News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International *
    12 February 2001 ASA 17/003/2001 10/01

When officials from a township birth control office got a hold of Zhou Jiangxiong in May 1998, they hung him upside down, repeatedly whipped and beat him with wooden clubs, burned him with cigarette butts, branded him with soldering irons, and ripped his genitals off.

The 30-year-old farmer from Hunan province was tortured to death because the officials were trying to make him reveal the whereabouts of his wife, suspected of being pregnant without permission.

This is not an isolated incident, each year many people are tortured to death in China. Torture is widespread and systemic, committed in the full range of state institutions, from police stations to "re-education through labour" camps, as well as in people's homes, workplaces and in public, Amnesty International revealed today in a new report on torture in China. Victims of torture can be anyone from criminal suspects, political dissidents, workers and innocent bystanders to officials.

"Although the government has said it is committed to fighting torture, investigations rarely bring perpetrators to justice and investigators readily accept official denials," the organization said.

This committment is undermined by government directives during periodic "strike hard" anti-crime campaigns and political crackdowns, such as those against the Falun Gong and alleged "separatists" in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) when officials are given the green light to use every means to achieve quick results.

A growing range of officials are being cited as perpetrators of torture; tax and fine collectors, judges, prosecutors, court clerks, village and party leaders and many types of security officials.

In 2000, Shenzen media exposed a series of cases where security officials working in local businesses had beaten, tortured and even killed customers who complained about prices or were suspected of theft.

Many women have been tortured, including being raped and sexually abused, by police who accuse them of prostitution. Police have the power to issue an instant fine on suspected prostitutes and send them and their alleged clients for up to two years' detention for "custody and education". Police choose to detain and torture women in order to extract lists of alleged clients to blackmail. Many alleged prostitutes and clients have died under torture.

Alleged "vagrants" are also at risk of torture. A woman who arrived on business in Guangzhou in July 1999, had her luggage stolen and was arrested by police who believed she was a mentally-ill vagrant. She was gang raped in a hospital for sick, disabled or mentally-ill vagrants and her family had to pay "treatment fees" to have her released. Although she later identified 8-9 suspects and filed several complaints and appeals for compensation, investigations stalled until the case was reported in the media.

The torture of political dissidents remains commonplace. In the XUAR and Tibet, few political prisoners escape torture. In July 1999, ethnic Uighur Zulikar Memet denied allegations of separatist activities saying that he had been tortured to confess. He showed the court signs of torture, including missing fingernails which had been pulled out. There was no investigation. Zulikar Memet was reportedly executed on 14 June 2000.

Bogus psychiatric hospitalization is also being used to suppress dissent. Xue Jifeng, a labour activist from Henan Province, was forcibly confined in Xinxiang City Psychiatric Hospital from December 1999 - June 2000 and force fed drugs. He was released only after agreeing not to participate in politics and to stop "caring about other people's affairs."

The Chinese media has played an increasingly important role in exposing cases and contributing to a growing debate on abuse of power by police, loopholes in legal protection and the horrors of certain types of detention. However they never report allegations of torture in 'political' cases.

"Torture in China remains a major human rights concern. The range of officials resorting to it is expanding, as is the circle of victims. The government has acknowledged for many years that torture is a serious problem but has done little about it. They must now take effective action," Amnesty International said.

The report makes several recommendations to the government including; upholding zero tolerance of torture, exclude from the courts all evidence extracted under torture, ending incommunicado and arbitrary detention, ensuring detainees access to lawyers, family and medical treatment and instituting an effective complaints mechanism.

For more information on Amnesty International's Campaign Against Torture, visit www.stoptorture.org



Fahd, if you are really worried about ending torture, perhaps you can start with the land of your ancestry.


China tortures people.

So? I don't care. I never lived there.

Now get back to the topic,



FDI: China's Torture Training Camp Focuses on Falun Gong -- Woman Repeatedly Force-Fed with Human Feces

NEWS -- Dec. 18, 2003 Falun Dafa Information Center, www.faluninfo.net

Chinese authorities are sending prison and labor camp directors to the Gaoyang Forced Labor Camp and other camps like it to learn more "effective" torture methods.

LOS ANGELES (FDI) -- In the 1960s, Chinese leaders visited model communities to learn new and better agricultural and industrial methods. Today, Chinese authorities are sending prison directors from around China to study model labor camps that have reportedly been effective in "reeducating" or "transforming" Falun Gong practitioners through torture and brainwashing methods.

The Gaoyang Forced Labor Camp in China's Hebei Province is one such camp that has gained recognition for its ability to force Falun Gong practitioners to renounce their beliefs through torture. Because of its evident success, Chinese authorities are routinely sending prison and labor camp directors from around the country to Gaoyang to learn more "effective" torture methods.

In addition to the rounds of prison directors, authorities have also sent to Gaoyang many Falun Gong practitioners who have repeatedly resisted torture, evidently hoping that the more radical methods used at Gaoyang would work where others failed.

Ms. Cui Suzhen, 61, was transferred from a labor camp in Shijiazhuang City to Gaoyang because authorities were unsuccessful in forcing Ms.Cui to discontinue her practice of Falun Gong. Ms. Cui went on a hunger strike in order to protest her illegal detention and the persecution of Falun Gong in China.

According to reports from those who were held at Gaoyang, on three separate occasions the labor camp guards force-fed Ms. Cui large quantities of human excrement. The guards also continuously beat her, shocked her with electric batons, used pliers to pinch her skin and crush her nipples, and buried her in snow for extended periods of time.

Ms. Liu Haiqin, a former employee of Handan City's Bureau of Finance was transferred to Gaoyang from a labor camp in Shijiazhuang. Because she refused to sign a "transformation statement" renouncing her practice of Falun Gong, Ms. Liu was handcuffed and forced to squat for sixty hours, all the time suffering shocked by the guards with cattle prods (electric batons).

Ms. Song Jiaxian is a 39-year-old Falun Gong practitioner from Chengde. Gaoyang guards tortured her with a technique called "tying the ropes". Victims report that this torture consists of a rope wound tightly around the neck and arms while the arms are forced up behind the body making it very difficult to breathe. The pain generated from this torture is so severe and intense that victims often lose control of their bodily functions. Guards applied this torture to Ms. Song 14 times, leaving both her shoulders dislocated.

Survivors of the Labor Camp say the women's section of Gaoyang employs a variety of torture techniques on Falun Gong practitioners, including extreme sleep deprivation, electric shocks, electric shocks while the victim is submerged in water, inserting needles under their fingertips, burying them alive to the verge of suffocation, stuffing used sanitary napkins into their mouths, and hammering nails into their toes.


I would love the discuss that as well. However, as most people here live in the US, there won't be much interest,


I thought the topic was torture.

Why don't you care about China's torture, yet you are all bent out of shape regarding policies of the US in this area?

The US appears to be doing something far milder than China, and is doing it to terrorists for the sole purpose of collecting information to prevent terrorists attacks.

The US prosecutes its own when they abuse just for the fun of it.

China tortures to find out where pregnant women are so they can force abortions.

You are an incredible hypocrite. Your Blame America First tripe you post here is incredibly transparent.


Why is there a need to change the topic. If you start a thread with the above information concerning China's torturing practices, I will most likely agree with you.

I never said China can torture people while the US can't. China IS a dictatorship and undemocratic but thats besides the point. No one is discussing about China, we are talking about America.

America is supposed to be a democratics and humane society. No one should torture anyone else (not even when others are doing it).

I honestly have no clue about China and because of my ignorance I will not discuss it unless there are others who really knows their stuff.

Can we discuss the article now,



The topic is "To Torture Or Not To Torture?"

My position is if you are against torture, you should focus on one of the biggest offenders in the world, not the pissant stuff the US is doing.

However, you really don't want to discuss torture, you want another reason to attack the Bush administration. You made this obvious when you stated:

"China tortures people.

So? I don't care. I never lived there."

I don't know what is more disgusting, your ignorant attacks on US policy or your callous disregard for the suffering of others in China.


why do you have such a hard on for dissing america? i have seen like three threads started by you where you basically dissed something american. why is this?


No, he's right. Everyone knows China is a repressive dictatorship, where political and religious dissidents are jailed, tortured, or sent to concentration camps (closer to the Soviet than Nazi ones). There's no need to belabor the point, every semi-informed person should know China isn't free. Same goes for Syria, or Iran, or the Sudan, or countless other regimes around the world. Being outraged by the creeping acceptance of torture in the war on terror is a whole different issue, because we're talking about a country that is supposed to be Reagan's "city on a hill" and offer a moral example to the world, an example of liberty and freedom, not carry out the same brutality that our enemies around the world engage in. I'm NOT equating our abuses in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere to Chinese slave labor camps or Middle Eastern dungeons, but I am saying it's terrible that anyone can now even make that argument.


I posted an article and the discussion should be about the article. Maybe the title is slightly misleading but I fucked up. I should have posted "Should the US support torture".

If you want to talk about torture in China, I will support you and post some of the experience and opinion of my grandfather who used to work in a prison(which can be considered by some very anti-communist). But we have to do this in another thread.

Can you please stop trying to prevent the discussion about torture policy in USA.



I guess when he blows himself up his head will finally come out of his ass.

Good luck with that.


I am dissing the American government, its ideologies and foreign policy.

I have absolutely no problem with American people or culture (I used to go to an American International School in Hong Kong and is considered by most very American).



In my opinion the rough treatment SOME terrorists are getting is not torture.

What the Chinese do is torture.

Arguing against the useful and beneficial policies in place is either naive or politically motivated.

Most of the postings I see are of the politically motivated kind, although the argument that we should be above this sort of thing is fairly naive.

I am not going to lose one second of sleep because some murderous scum bag is being put in an uncomfortable position in order to make him talk.

If the US steps over the line I will call for an end for what we are doing, but from everything I read we are not even close to the line yet.


The policy of the USA is torture is illegal.

Your very use of the word torture is inflammatory and misleading.

Why must you use such tactics?