[Ppnews] The Guardian: Torture and the war on terror

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Dec 12 17:05:11 EST 2006


Routine and systematic torture is at the heart of America's war on terror

In the fight against cruelty, barbarism and
extremism, America has embraced the very evils it
claims to confront

George Monbiot
Tuesday December 12, 2006
The Guardian

After thousands of years of practice, you might
have imagined that every possible means of
inflicting pain had already been devised. But you
should never underestimate the human capacity for
invention. United States interrogators, we now
discover, have found a new way of destroying a
human being.

Last week, defence lawyers acting for José
Padilla, a US citizen detained as an "enemy
combatant", released a video showing a mission
fraught with deadly risk - taking him to the
prison dentist. A group of masked guards in riot
gear shackled his legs and hands, blindfolded him
with black-out goggles and shut off his hearing
with headphones, then marched him down the prison

Is Padilla really that dangerous? Far from it:
his warders describe him as so docile and
inactive that he could be mistaken for "a piece
of furniture". The purpose of these measures
appeared to be to sustain the regime under which
he had lived for more than three years: total
sensory deprivation. He had been kept in a
blacked-out cell, unable to see or hear anything
beyond it. Most importantly, he had had no human
contact, except for being bounced off the walls
from time to time by his interrogators. As a
result, he appears to have lost his mind. I don't
mean this metaphorically. I mean that his mind is
no longer there.

The forensic psychiatrist who examined him says
that he "does not appreciate the nature and
consequences of the proceedings against him, is
unable to render assistance to counsel, and has
impairments in reasoning as the result of a
mental illness, ie, post-traumatic stress
disorder, complicated by the neuropsychiatric
effects of prolonged isolation". José Padilla
appears to have been lobotomised: not medically,
but socially.

If this was an attempt to extract information, it
was ineffective: the authorities held him without
charge for three and half years. Then, threatened
by a supreme court ruling, they suddenly dropped
their claims that he was trying to detonate a
dirty bomb. They have now charged him with some
vague and lesser offences to do with support for
terrorism. He is unlikely to be the only person
subjected to this regime. Another "enemy
combatant", Ali al-Marri, claims to have been
subject to the same total isolation and sensory
deprivation, in the same naval prison in South
Carolina. God knows what is being done to people
who have disappeared into the CIA's foreign

That the US tortures, routinely and
systematically, while prosecuting its "war on
terror" can no longer be seriously disputed. The
Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project (DAA),
a coalition of academics and human-rights groups,
has documented the abuse or killing of 460
inmates of US military prisons in Afghanistan,
Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay. This, it says, is
necessarily a conservative figure: many cases
will remain unrecorded. The prisoners were
beaten, raped, forced to abuse themselves, forced
to maintain "stress positions", and subjected to
prolonged sleep deprivation and mock executions.

The New York Times reports that prisoners held by
the US military at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan
were made to stand for up to 13 days with their
hands chained to the ceiling, naked, hooded and
unable to sleep. The Washington Post alleges that
prisoners at the same airbase were "commonly
blindfolded and thrown into walls, bound in
painful positions, subjected to loud noises and
deprived of sleep" while kept, like Padilla and
the arrivals at Guantánamo, "in black hoods or
spray-painted goggles".

Alfred McCoy, professor of history at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison, argues that the
photographs released from the Abu Ghraib prison
in Iraq reflect standard CIA torture techniques:
"stress positions, sensory deprivation, and
sexual humiliation". The famous picture of the
hooded man standing on a box, with wires attached
to his fingers, shows two of these techniques
being used at once. Unable to see, he has no idea
how much time has passed or what might be coming
next. He stands in a classic stress position -
maintained for several hours, it causes
excruciating pain. He appears to have been told
that if he drops his arms he will be
electrocuted. What went wrong at Abu Ghraib is
that someone took photos. Everything else was
done by the book.

Neither the military nor the civilian authorities
have broken much sweat in investigating these
crimes. A few very small fish have been
imprisoned; a few others have been fined or
reduced in rank; in most cases the authorities
have either failed to investigate or failed to
prosecute. The DAA points out that no officer has
yet been held to account for torture practised by
his subordinates. US torturers appear to enjoy
impunity, until they are stupid enough to take
pictures of each other.

But Padilla's treatment also reflects another
glorious American tradition: solitary
confinement. Some 25,000 US prisoners are
currently held in isolation - a punishment only
rarely used in other democracies. In some places,
like the federal prison in Florence, Colorado,
they are kept in sound-proofed cells and might
scarcely see another human being for years on
end. They may touch or be touched by no one. Some
people have been kept in solitary confinement in
the US for more than 20 years.

At Pelican Bay in California, where 1,200 people
are held in the isolation wing, inmates are
confined to tiny cells for 22 and a half hours a
day, then released into an "exercise yard" for
"recreation". The yard consists of a concrete
well about 3.5 metres in length with walls 6
metres high and a metal grille across the sky.
The recreation consists of pacing back and forth,

The results are much as you would expect. As
National Public Radio reveals, more than 10% of
the isolation prisoners at Pelican Bay are now in
the psychiatric ward, and there's a waiting list.
Prisoners in solitary confinement, according to
Dr Henry Weinstein, a psychiatrist who studies
them, suffer from "memory loss to severe anxiety
to hallucinations to delusions ... under the
severest cases of sensory deprivation, people go
crazy." People who went in bad and dangerous come
out mad as well. The only two studies conducted
so far - in Texas and Washington state - both
show that the recidivism rates for prisoners held
in solitary confinement are worse than for those
who were allowed to mix with other prisoners. If
we were to judge the US by its penal policies, we
would perceive a strange beast: a Christian
society that believes in neither forgiveness nor

 From this delightful experiment, US interrogators
appear to have extracted a useful lesson: if you
want to erase a man's mind, deprive him of
contact with the rest of the world. This has
nothing to do with obtaining information: torture
of all kinds - physical or mental - produces the
result that people will say anything to make it
end. It is about power, and the thrilling
discovery that in the right conditions one man's
power over another is unlimited. It is an
indulgence which turns its perpetrators into
everything they claim to be confronting.

President Bush maintains that he is fighting a
war against threats to the "values of civilised
nations": terror, cruelty, barbarism and
extremism. He asked his nation's interrogators to
discover where these evils are hidden. They
should congratulate themselves. They appear to
have succeeded.




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