Sunday, January 03, 2010

A curious pro-torture argument

Mark Noonan argues that because 58% of people in a Rasmussen poll think the Christmas Day terrorist should be waterboarded, waterboarding isn't torture:

Ok, liberals, you claimed that we needed to elect Obama in order to remove the stain of the evil Chimpy McSmirk BusHitler - including his heinous “waterboarding”, which you on the left actually consider to be torture. What say you to a strong majority of your fellow Americans figuring that we should go right ahead and do it? Are we all evil, too?
All evil, no. Blind to an evil? .... yes. I find it curious that Noonan seems to consider it inconceivable that a majority of Americans could agree that an evil practice is not evil. Cracking open a history book should dispel that notion; or for that matter, a book of basic logic.

The thing I find truly remarkable is how Noonan completely inverts reality and accuses "liberals" of doing precisely what he himself is doing.

Or is there any chance you out there will realize that the whole waterboarding issue was manufactured? You know - liberal leaders needed something to get your juices up about - get you donating, get you willing to back Democrats, that sort of thing - and so worked up a physically harmless but rather effective interrogation technique as if it were something right out of the Nazi/Communist play book.
In reality, waterboarding has been recognized as a quintessential torture since at least the Inquisition. It has been prosecuted in the United States at various legal levels as torture, including at the state level when it was used in the Jim Crow South to elicit false confessions from blacks. It wasn't until the Bush administration declared waterboarding a harmless, effective interrogation method that it magically became so for authoritarian followers like Noonan.

"As if it were something right out of the Nazi/Communist [sic] play book."

Ok, first. Why the slash in between Nazi and Communist, as if both forms of totalitarianism are some kind of unitary evil. Secondly, and more importantly, there is no as if to it. Calling your torture "enhanced interrogation" is something that Nazis did.

George Orwell would have been impressed by the phrase “enhanced interrogation technique”. By relying on it, the White House spokesman last week was able to say with a straight face that the administration strongly opposed torture and that “any procedures they use are tough, safe, necessary and lawful”.

So is “enhanced interrogation” torture? One way to answer this question is to examine history. The phrase has a lineage. Verschärfte Verneh-mung, enhanced or intensified interrogation, was the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the “third degree”. It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation.

The United States prosecuted it as a war crime in Norway in 1948. The victims were not in uniform – they were part of the Norwegian insurgency against the German occupation – and the Nazis argued, just as Cheney has done, that this put them outside base-line protections (subsequently formalised by the Geneva conventions).

The Nazis even argued that “the acts of torture in no case resulted in death. Most of the injuries inflicted were slight and did not result in permanent disablement”. This argument is almost verbatim that made by John Yoo, the Bush administration’s house lawyer, who now sits comfortably at the Washington think tank, the American Enterprise Institute.
And the reverse-engineered torture techniques that the Bush administration approved as "enhanced interrogation" did literally come from a Communist play book!

The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of “coercive management techniques” for possible use on prisoners, including “sleep deprivation,” “prolonged constraint,” and “exposure.”

What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.

The recycled chart is the latest and most vivid evidence of the way Communist interrogation methods that the United States long described as torture became the basis for interrogations both by the military at the base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Ignoring Noonan's inability to consider the damaging long-term psychologocial effects that can result from being drowned repeatedly, let's consider his belief that waterboarding is phsyically harmless. Once again, he's wrong.

It seems pretty obvious that waterboarding can cause emotional trauma, but does it threaten a person's physical health?

No doubt about it, says Allen Keller, an associate professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine (who, it should be noted, testified that waterboarding is a form of torture before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2007). During waterboarding, some of this water can flow through the nostrils and into the lungs, Keller explains. Water in the lungs, especially if it's dirty, can cause potentially deadly pneumonia or pleuritis, an inflammation of the lung lining.

Waterboarding could also cause hypoxia, a condition in which the body is not getting enough oxygen, either because the victim is holding his or her breath or inhaling water -- and inadequate oxygen supplies can lead to deadly organ failure, Keller adds.

But don't underestimate how tightly intertwined the physical and psychological experiences of waterboarding are, Keller notes. Since it mimics the terrifying sensation of drowning, it triggers the release of stress hormones called catecholamines that can cause heart rate and blood pressure to soar, potentially setting the stage for heart attack in a person with underlying heart disease, he says.

But even healthy people can die from sheer terror, as Martin A. Samuels, chairman of the neurology department at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston told earlier this year. The sudden outpouring of stress hormones can cause the heart to beat abnormally, hampering its ability to deliver blood to the body.
There's also the matter of waterboarding itself being part of a larger pattern of disregard for American and international law prohibiting the mistreatment of prisoners. A disregard that has resulted in persons being "interrogated" to death in multiple instances.

Finally, the bit about waterboading's effectiveness at yielding information. Wrong again.


Grung_e_Gene said...

This is an excellent point-by-point refutation of pro-Torture rationales. But, while it's getting almost pointless because Pro-Torture advocates won't listen to reason, that doesn't mean you should stop.

Keep up the well researched posts.

Nick said...

"And let me say this, with respect to those who wish to harm us, I believe that our Constitution and laws exist to protect this nation - they do not grant rights and privileges to enemies in wartime. In dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them"

I'm trying to figure out how this rationale is wrong. I would like someone's take on it please! I don't give the name of who said it because I don't want any preconceived notions of what answer you should provide.

Hume's Ghost said...

Here you go, Nick.