“We do not torture.”
That’s a line that will go down with Nixon’s “I am not a crook.” For years we were told by the Bush administration that our country abides by the Geneva Conventions and treat prisoners of war fairly. Meanwhile, we watched as John Ashcroft penned memos stating that interrogation techniques are not torture if “they do not cause organ failure or death.” Over the last month we have watched memos come out explaining exactly what we did that fell short of organ failure.
So what exactly are these torture memos? The Obama administration released several memos outlining approved policies by the CIA and the Department of Defense for new “enhanced” interrogation techniques. These techniques include sleep deprivation for weeks on end, stress positions, nudity, induced fear and water boarding. We have put a man in a black room, placed a spotlight on him, hooded his head, striped him completely naked and placed shackles on his arms and legs, leaving him there for 12 hours. Induced fear includes placing the detainee in a room with barking dogs for hours.
Where did these techniques come from? According to the Senate Armed Services Committee report on the torture memos, the techniques came from a U.S. military program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. SERE was created to help prepare our soldiers for abuse they may receive from captors who did not follow the Geneva Conventions. Several of these methods came directly from torture techniques developed by the Chinese in the Korean War for the purpose of eliciting false confessions. SERE was not meant as a means of obtaining information from our detainees, it was intended only to prepare soldiers for torture techniques they may face. Still, in November of 2002, Donald Rumsfeld ignored these original intentions and authorized the use of these techniques offensively.
Our military branches held the strict view that these techniques were not legal. The Air Force believed the “techniques described may be subject to challenge as failing to meet the requirements outlined in the military order to treat detainees humanely.” According to the Armed Services Committee report, the chief of the Army’s International and Operational Law Division wrote that techniques like stress positions, deprivation of light and auditory stimuli, and use of phobias to induce stress “crosses the line of ‘humane’ treatment,” would “likely be considered maltreatment” under military law, and “may violate the torture statute.” The Marine Corps stated these techniques “arguably violate federal law, and would expose our service members to possible prosecution.”
When the pictures of torture in Abu Ghraib became public, Rumsfeld and Bush came out and stated that those performing the acts were a “few bad apples.” These memos have shown the opposite: that these techniques came from the top down, not the bottom up.
It is clear that Obama released this information not to “harm our reputation” as Fox News would like you to believe, but to send a message to the rest of the world that this administration will not tolerate torture. These techniques only fuel the enemy’s recruitment efforts. By releasing these memos, we have only confirmed what the terrorists already knew. By speaking honestly about the techniques, the Obama administration can come out and say the United States will no longer torture in a credible manner.
But now the question becomes, what do we do next? For now, a discussion on the issues is necessary, but in a time for change, we need to give Obama breathing room to deal with health care, the environment and immigration. Until then, we should keep the words of Gen. Petraeus in our minds:
“What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight … is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect. While we are warriors, we are also all human beings.”