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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Torturous definitions of detainee "torture"

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

While reading those controversial, recently declassified memos that provide the Bush administration's legal justification for "torturing" terrorist detainees, I wondered why they had left out one called "On the Rocks."

My high school Spanish teacher imposed that particular type of torture on miscreants who failed to accurately conjugate estar or who were languidly gazing out the classroom window, picturing the beauties over at St. Scholastica. Rare was the student who at least once a semester didn't spend at least five minutes kneeling on his knuckles (the "rocks").

Ha, you say, that doesn't sound so bad, and certainly not as bad as the horrors the evil Bush administration inflicted on terrorists. To which I'd ask: Which horrors? Judging by the condemnations issuing forth from the American Civil Liberties Union and other professional rebukers, you'd think that our government had been jamming bamboo sticks under fingernails.

Too bad few of those who have railed against America's "crimes against humanity" have actually read the memos. What they would have found are variations of "On the Rocks." Here are some:

* A one-time face slap, but only with spread fingers and an open palm, being careful not to hurt the poor dear.

* Nudity, with "ambient temperature" at least 68 degrees, but not before fellow detainees, because that might embarrass him.

* Something called "flicking," which means dipping your hand in water and "propelling droplets" at the detainee's face.

* An "abdominal slap" that the interrogators carefully deliver above the navel and below the sternum from no more than 18 inches away. (No fists or rings on fingers allowed.)

* Of course, there's the infamous "water boarding," in which the detainee is made to feel like he is drowning, but he knows better (thanks to the disclosure of the technique). "A single application of water may not last more than 40 seconds" and the number of individual applications of water lasting 10 seconds or longer may not exceed six."

And so forth. You get the idea.

Only lawyers could have written all this and if you got through only one of the memos, you'd quickly realize that they bulged with caveats, qualifications, exceptions and conditions, all designed for one purpose: to protect the detainee from injury and even, in some cases, pain. If this is the kind of torture that we're wringing our hands over, then the memos reveal to the world that when it comes to interrogating captured enemy combatants, we're pussycats. It also reveals to our enemies that they really don't need to worry about real, honest-to-God torture at American hands.

Is another country as finicky as America when it comes to protecting the "rights" of its sworn and unrepentant enemies? Is any country as masochistic as America when it comes to flogging itself for its perceived flaws. Does any other county have as many loudmouths who would exploit such critical questions for their cheap political value?

So, where to from here? Prosecute Bush administration lawyers for providing requested legal opinions? If so, how many lawyers will sign up to give President Barack Obama their honest opinions about controversial policies? I'd love to see their memos redefining the limits of "enhanced interrogation" as envisioned by Obama and his brain, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel: "Interrogations can only be conducted over three cups of tea in the presidential suite at the Drake Hotel. Care must be taken that the tea is not too tepid or too hot to cause discomfort to the detainee's lips. Interrogators who fall short of this standard will be shot."

For comments posted on the Tribune web site, go here. You are invited to join the discussion.


Dennis Newport said...

Love the jogging back and forth between complete trivialization and resistance to guilt feelings about becoming more like Chile in the 70s. How about something a little more reasonable, like admitting that simulated drowning is indeed torturous? I literally am dumbfounded by all the prevarication and retreating into neo-con lala land around this whole subject. There was such unanimity around Clinton's sexual practices with young women being about the rule of law and lying, but when it comes to simply seeing something for what it simply is, all bets are off. I guess there are different rules for neo-cons and the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

There is a very simple answer to this question, one posed by Kathleen Parker recently: If you have to ask, it is. Just because your high school spanish teacher was a sadist doesn't mean we need to be. I had nuns torture me in school, as well.

The reason the legal opinions "bulged with caveats, qualifications, exceptions and conditions" had nothing to do with the safety of the prisoners (quit calling them detainees). It left the higher ups, including Bush and Cheney, with plausible deniability ("We told them not to be so rough!"). I don't think it's going to work for them.

The lawyers should not be prosecuted, as they didn't and couldn't order anything be done. They should be dealt with by the legal profession if they committed any kind of malpractice. Only the lawyers can answer that one.

As for Rahm Emanuel being our President's "brain", that's ridiculous. Mr. Obama has a very good brain and uses it to it's fullest every day. Just because George Bush outsourced his political thinking to Karl Rove and everything else to the Prince of Darkness, don't think our current President does.

Your statement, "It also reveals to our enemies that they really don't need to worry about real, honest-to-God torture at American hands.", is very telling about the mindset of the right wingers. Our enemies shouldn't fear torture at our hands... we don't do that and the world should know it.

Lastly, our enemies from WWII were prosecuted for waterboarding. For Christ's sake (no pun intended), it originated with the Inquisition. Do you think anything they did wasn't torture?

Dennis Byrne... said...

For those who think wingnuts are all on the right, here is one from the left wing. It is not atypical of the ravings that I receive.

"while reading your simpleminded column,i kept wondering...why is the constitution such a joke to your clan? why is the rule of law such a funny concept to you? why are treaties the US has committed to irrelevant to clowns like you? why do have such utter contempt for american ideals and the american track record on things like torture? why are you gleeful now that we have joined-in writing- a fraternity which includes the likes of north korea,burma,saudi arabia,laos,morocco,libya,uzbekistan,cuba,china,maylasia,syria and others....i know why--because you are just another smirking punk of a right wing coward. you've never served your country and the american way of life and ideals are repugnant to you. you would have had an honored seat at the Wannsee Conference. and by the way,you little shit-under torture of ANY kind,you would soil yourself and admit to the lindbergh kidnapping in about 2 minutes. now,if you really believe the garbage you wrote ,write a column defending those few enlisted soldiers involved in the abu ghraib scandal who were screwed over and abandoned by AWOL bush and "the duke of derferment" cheney. you won't--you've never done anything in life that takes any guts. least your species is fading quickly(quickly? i mean "at light speed") into regional oblivion. just ask arlen specter.

Anonymous said...

Hey hows about you and me get together and I do a little water boarding on you. Then you can write another column about how easy it was---

Gregory A Daniels said...

So If waterboarding is not torture why did the CIA find it necessary to destroy their torture tapes. Ps I used to like reading your stories before the Fascist took over and you said nothing.