Friday, January 17, 2014

Why The Senator Who Opposed Torture, As President Says "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques"

In Obama's talk this morning he used the euphemism "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques."   What he means is torture.  This post speculates on why he uses that term.  I don't come up with a final answer (as if anyone ever does), but I wanted to think this one through a bit and maybe some people will be reminded not to be distracted by euphemisms. 

In an interview with Time magazine, Ralph Keyes, the author of  Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms, said people use euphemisms:
 "to deflect us — and maybe even themselves — about what they're doing. .  .
David Lloyd George — he was Prime Minister of Britain during World War I — once said that if we ever spoke plainly and clearly about what was going on on the battlefields, the public would demand that we bring an end to war."
The euphemism is bad enough, but at the CIA it's been shortened to EITs. 

Am I exaggerating about this being torture?

From ABC News in 2005:
"The CIA sources described a list of six "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" instituted in mid-March 2002 and used, they said, on a dozen top al Qaeda targets incarcerated in isolation at secret locations on military bases in regions from Asia to Eastern Europe. According to the sources, only a handful of CIA interrogators are trained and authorized to use the techniques:
1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.
2. Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.
3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.
4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.
5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.
6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt."
 But is that torture?   Remember, these are just the things they talked about openly. 

One of the CIA agents quoted in the story uses the word 'torture':
"It is "bad interrogation. I mean you can get anyone to confess to anything if the torture's bad enough," said former CIA officer Bob Baer." 
Judge for yourself with this example: 
"According to CIA sources, Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi, after two weeks of enhanced interrogation, made statements that were designed to tell the interrogators what they wanted to hear. Sources say Al Libbi had been subjected to each of the progressively harsher techniques in turn and finally broke after being water boarded and then left to stand naked in his cold cell overnight where he was doused with cold water at regular intervals"
The piece goes on to say the prisoner actually had no knowledge of what the interrogators wanted but made things up
  "because he was terrified of further harsh treatment"
An NBC investigative report on the movie Zero Dark Thirty which put American torture of terrorist suspects on the big screen for all to see, reports:
Working with Mitchell Jessen & Associates, the CIA soon developed a menu of 20 enhanced techniques – a list that was ultimately whittled down to 10, mainly because some of proposed techniques were considered too harsh even for terrorists.
“Not everything they proposed was part of the final menu,” said a former senior intelligence official, also speaking on condition of anonymity. “They came up with some stuff people didn’t like and were not approved. … There were legal tests. … Does it shock the conscience?  Does it lead to deep long-lasting injuries?”
I guess the question is whose conscience?  An average citizen or a psychopath?

But let's stop beating around the bush.  Here's what the UN Convention Against Torture, Part I, Article 1 says:  
For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions. 
There's no doubt that by international standards, "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" are torture.  

Why does Obama use this term?

It's depressing that the senator and presidential candidate who opposed  torture, now as president not only condones it, but he hides behind the euphemism "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques." 

I assume that his many security advisers have convinced him that certain activities are necessary, or at least have given him enough doubt that he hasn't outright banned torture.  And he's also been told, I'm sure, that he can't use the word torture or he will make the US and perhaps himself, vulnerable to international sanctions and perhaps

The US is a signatory to the UN Law Against Torture, but has a long list of official 'reservations.'  Perhaps we can call them quibbles about the meaning of 'torture.'  Thus, using Enhanced Interrogation Techniques is a way of saying that we are not using torture.  From the United Nations Treaty Collection:

       II. The Senate's advice and consent is subject to the following understandings, which shall apply to the obligations of the United States under this Convention:
       (1) (a) That with reference to article 1, the United States understands that, in order to constitute torture, an act must be specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering and that mental pain or suffering refers to prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from (1) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; (2) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality; (3) the threat of imminent death; or (4) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality.
       (b) That the United States understands that the definition of torture in article 1 is intended to apply only to acts directed against persons in the offender's custody or physical control.
       (c) That with reference to article 1 of the Convention, the United States understands that `sanctions' includes judicially-imposed sanctions and other enforcement actions authorized by United States law or by judicial interpretation of such law. Nonetheless, the United States understands that a State Party could not through its domestic sanctions defeat the object and purpose of the Convention to prohibit torture.
       (d) That with reference to article 1 of the Convention, the United States understands that the term `acquiescence' requires that the public official, prior to the activity constituting torture, have awareness of such activity and thereafter breach his legal responsibility to intervene to prevent such activity.
       (e) That with reference to article 1 of the Convention, the Unites States understands that noncompliance with applicable legal procedural standards does not per se constitute torture.
       (2) That the United States understands the phrase, `where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture,' as used in article 3 of the Convention, to mean `if it is more likely than not that he would be tortured.'
       (3) That it is the understanding of the United States that article 14 requires a State Party to provide a private right of action for damages only for acts of torture committed in territory under the jurisdiction of that State Party.
       (4) That the United States understands that international law does not prohibit the death penalty, and does not consider this Convention to restrict or prohibit the United States from applying the death penalty consistent with the Fifth, Eighth and/or Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, including any constitutional period of confinement prior to the imposition of the death penalty.
       (5) That the United States understands that this Convention shall be implemented by the United States Government to the extent that it exercises legislative and judicial jurisdiction over the matters covered by the Convention and otherwise by the state and local governments. Accordingly, in implementing articles 10-14 and 16, the United States Government shall take measures appropriate to the Federal system to the end that the competent authorities of the constituent units of the United States of America may take appropriate measures for the fulfilment of the Convention.
       III. The Senate's advice and consent is subject to the following declarations:
       (1) That the United States declares that the provisions of articles 1 through 16 of the Convention are not self-executing.
I can't imagine that the US Congress would put up with external inquiries into US torture.  They simply would refuse to comply and start withdrawing support for international organizations that tried to enforce sanctions against the US.  The US is still powerful enough to do that. 

But it would be embarrassing and it would officially lower the status of the US world wide.  I'd note that most members of Congress seem to dismiss the opinions of people who oppose what they believe.

For more on this topic, the ACLU has a number of links.

Here's also a CATO Institute comment on torture. 

[This post is evidence of my blogging addiction.  I have other things to do today, but the President's euphemism wouldn't let go of me until I wrote this.  A (bigger?) issue that will have to wait til later is the unspoken acknowledgement that what Snowden did was important.   It's not as proofed and checked as most posts.  I'll check on it again when I get my to do list done.  Your help in fisxing things is appreciated.]


  1. He knows far more as POTUS and has the responsibility of the wars he inherited as well as those he's kept us from entering! Plus, he is dealing w/terrorists both in and outside our country.

    There are many surrounding him providing facts, information and recommendations. Knowing what we see of him on a daily basis, I am sure he takes none of his decisions lightly and that they weigh on him greatly.

    President Bush and Cheney used torture ..... and, I'm sure it was done during previous wars involving the U.S. Americans truly have been very naive' and ignorant of the doings of our government and military!

    Our media and internet have disclosed information today that Americans never had access to years ago. I'm not sure it has been entirely for the good of the country, but it is our world today.

  2. When he put a tax evader in charge of the US Treasury, it was all over.

  3. Regardless of the euphemism, our government has been illegally torturing prisoners. It needs to stop. As you pointed out, torture is useless for obtaining truthful information.

    1. I'm sure that there are people, who know things, who tell what they know when they are tortured. Some who are well prepared for torture may give false info. I'd guess that it's relatively innocent people who don't know anything who are most likely to make things up to satisfy torturers.
      What's always interested me is the mentality of people who would administer torture.


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