Bush’s torture goes far beyond waterboarding

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Apparently, the Bush administration isn’t just waterboarding its detainees; it’s doing much, much more. I can’t hope this book will get enough press because the American people are completely apathetic, but this is a travesty. Does it take the British press to raise this issue?

Jane Mayer’s new book, The Dark Side, reveals in greater detail the utter depravity of the Bush administration’s official policy of torture. Mayer’s long investigation makes clear that the tactics employed by the CIA on suspected al-Qaida terrorists do not exist in some grey area protected by the euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques”. They are unquestionably torture. It is all the more shocking then that John McCain, knowing all that he does about torture past and present, would sacrifice his considerable personal credibility and vote to preserve the CIA’s ability to torture detainees.

Waterboarding has been the focus of attention since confirmation from the agency’s director, Michael Hayden, that it had been used on at least three al-Qaida detainees. The ancient technique that forces water into the lungs of a subject but stops just before he dies had previously been prosecuted by the United States as a war crime but now found its way into the “enhanced interrogation” programme authorised by the justice department and employed by the CIA. Hayden and attorney general Michael Mukasey said waterboarding was not currently being used but categorically did not rule out its use in the future.

That would be troubling enough, but what Mayer’s book makes clear is that waterboarding was only a small part of the CIA’s torture programme. In fact, even detainees that were subjected to waterboarding did not think it was the worst technique they had to endure. That was reserved for stress positions. These were often employed differently but included being shackled to the ceiling of their cells, forcing all the weight of their body onto their shoulders as they were suspended upright for eight hours. One detainee was locked in a box half his size for hours at a time. Most of them were deprived of sleep and bombarded with loud music and noises for 24 hours.

There has always been a troubling level of indifference to these activities, because these are al-Qaida terrorists responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans. Rage and anger is understandable, but I hope people inclined toward this viewpoint appreciate that one of the principle divisions between us and our enemies is that we hold ourselves to a higher standard, we take our humanity more seriously and we intend to live up to our moral obligations. The United States should not torture prisoners in its captivity, no matter how grave their crimes.
The Guardian, 15 Jul 2008

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