Tantamount To Torture - Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantánamo
November 30, 2004 7:50 AM   Subscribe

Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantánamo   The International Committee of the Red Cross has charged in confidential reports to the United States government that the American military has intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion "tantamount to torture" on prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The finding that the handling of prisoners detained and interrogated at Guantánamo amounted to torture came after a visit by a Red Cross inspection team that spent most of last June in Guantánamo. The team of humanitarian workers, which included experienced medical personnel, also asserted that some doctors and other medical workers at Guantánamo were participating in planning for interrogations, in what the report called "a flagrant violation of medical ethics." Doctors and medical personnel conveyed information about prisoners' mental health and vulnerabilities to interrogators, the report said, sometimes directly, but usually through a group called the Behavioral Science Consultation Team, or B.S.C.T. The team, known informally as Biscuit, is composed of psychologists and psychological workers who advise the interrogators, the report said. From the Red Cross : The ICRC's work at Guantanamo Bay  -  Related: From Association of the Bar of the City of New York, a pdf: Torture by Proxy: International and Domestic Law Applicable to Extraordinary Renditions-- Representative Edward J.] Markey pledges battle on rendition practice
posted by y2karl (80 comments total)
I'm shocked. Shocked to find gambling here.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:54 AM on November 30, 2004

posted by crusiera at 8:05 AM on November 30, 2004

Who the hell cares? Do you understand that gays are trying to MARRY here? Jesus spoke much more about homosexuality than torturing Muslims.
posted by gramcracker at 8:09 AM on November 30, 2004

Man, I sure am glad I live in a Christian nation that has the moral authority to comba.... oh who the hell am I kidding?

How absurd does this shit have to get before people wake the hell up?
posted by Yellowbeard at 8:12 AM on November 30, 2004

People would have to be awake enough to pay attention first before they could wake the hell up. :(

(people == "general john q. public")
posted by cavalier at 8:20 AM on November 30, 2004

what gramcracker said. it's irrelevant, at this point, karl. thanks for the links and everything, it's the usual first-rate job. but America doesn't care, Mr. "Geneva is obsolete" Gonzales is Attorney General now. torture and war crimes are officially cool: that's the new "mandate", you know
posted by matteo at 8:23 AM on November 30, 2004

Using psychologists to guide interrogation is torture and abuse (yes, I know other things are charged as well)?

That happens all the time on [i]Law & Order[/i]. Not that [i]L&O[/i] is reality, but rather to say that I've seen it represented hundreds of times and it never even occured to me to consider it problematic or unethical.

And has doctor/patient confidentiality ever been thought to hold in POW situations? Not saying it shouldn't, just that I'd never heard it did.
posted by obfusciatrist at 8:28 AM on November 30, 2004

And has doctor/patient confidentiality ever been thought to hold in POW situations? Not saying it shouldn't, just that I'd never heard it did.

Wow. Have the detainees in Guantánamo been awarded POW status finally?
posted by john-paul at 8:37 AM on November 30, 2004

You want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.
posted by mfbridges at 8:39 AM on November 30, 2004

What's the story here? Isn't the Red Cross another fly by night conspiracy nut organization? What's this New York Times, too?
posted by Peter H at 8:43 AM on November 30, 2004

You want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.

You want truth? You can't handle the truth!
posted by Juicylicious at 8:50 AM on November 30, 2004

The report said that such "apparent integration of access to medical care within the system of coercion" meant that inmates were not cooperating with doctors. Inmates learn from their interrogators that they have knowledge of their medical histories and the result is that the prisoners no longer trust the doctors.

posted by fadeout at 8:51 AM on November 30, 2004

Well, yeah, this would be an outrage, simply an outrage, if the majority of American people actually gave a shit.

Oh, did we mention how moral we are lately? We did? Oh, good.
posted by Reverend Mykeru at 8:53 AM on November 30, 2004

Oh yes, and did I mention that the majority of detainees in Abu Graib and Gitmo aren't actually guilty of anything?

Oh, sorry, that would only be relevant to people who take their morality with *nuance*, unlike us.
posted by Reverend Mykeru at 8:56 AM on November 30, 2004

No, I am not saying that it is ok since I saw it on TV. I am saying it doesn't strike me as inherently bad that "psychologists and psychological workers" are advising interrogators or that interrogators are aware of the medical history of the detainees.

If they're being tortured, that is bad. Regardless of whether doctors are involved. But interrogation that is something beyond "please tell me" "no" "please tell me" isn't torture, and using information from doctors for more efficient interrogation (if isn't torturous interrogation) doesn't bother me.

In other words "they're torturing people" is terrible if true. "doctors are involved!" strikes me as irrelevant.

I'm just asking if doctor/patient confidentiality in these situations has been codified or generally recognized prior to this conflict.
posted by obfusciatrist at 8:56 AM on November 30, 2004

"Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons, be they free or slaves.

What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep to myself, holding such things shameful to be spoken about."

From the classical version of the Hippocratic Oath. Pretty unequivocal, really.
posted by Len at 9:05 AM on November 30, 2004

I don't mind this so much because it's just happening in Cuba, not America. And it's not like these people we're torturing are innocent. After all, why else would they be in terrorist jail? Besides, torture is only those physical acts that result in organ failure, loss of limbs, that sort of thing, so all this "tantamount to torture" talk is just nonsense. And I bet there is a lot less ass raping in Gitmo than there is at Rikers. That's got to be good for something.
posted by effwerd at 9:08 AM on November 30, 2004

Doctors can be an indirect tool of torture by withhold pain killers, for example, until a subject becomes more cooperative.
posted by dr_dank at 9:08 AM on November 30, 2004

For the first few months, I think such actions were justified, in order to obtain anti-terror information.
This far out though, especially those there for 2 years or so... such action is not indicated.
They should be treated as human beings.
Maybe we should for them to drink Lonestar beer, though. :-)
posted by dancingbaptist at 9:11 AM on November 30, 2004

British soldiers do it to themselves.
posted by nthdegx at 9:11 AM on November 30, 2004

Len: Yeah but wasn't this Hippocrates from really Old Europe somewhere... Whadda you expect?
posted by talos at 9:11 AM on November 30, 2004

I'm just asking if doctor/patient confidentiality in these situations has been codified or generally recognized prior to this conflict.

The ICRC says it should be, but a (n admittedly brief) google search shows nothing that actually codifies it.

Obfuciatrist, the IRIC isn't complaining about the presence of psychologists. It's complaint is that records it believes should be confidential are being used to elicit further information from prisoners.

The mere presence of psychologists doesn't represent abuse. It's one thing have a psychologist on hand to advise you on the best way to elicit answers from a reticent prisoner, if no torture is involved. If interrogators used the prisoners' medical records to increase their level of discomfort/ pain/ what-have-you, that's something entirely different.

Yeah, I think torture is going on down there, but it's pretty important to recognize that in any situation, there's going to be an interrogation of some sort, and to say that having psychologists on hand is torture is a little bit ridiculous (which I believe was your point).
posted by asnowballschance at 9:17 AM on November 30, 2004

And it's not like these people we're torturing are innocent

First off, last time I checked terrorists don't get the luxury of our "innocent until proven guilty" system, so we have no idea if the they are innocent or guilty. Even then does that excuse torture?
posted by litghost at 9:23 AM on November 30, 2004

Peter H. -- Yes. ICRC is a pretty nutty organization. It is stunning that, based on international regimes that are more than seven decades old, we have delegated to a bunch of Swiss nationals the interpretation of some of the most important conventions and treaties in existence.

I suppose it's possible that the Swiss (unlike most Old Europeans) are not infected with reflexive anti-American bias. You'd never guess by the ICRC's selective complaints about the treatment of, for example, Saddam Hussein, as opposed to U.S. POWs during the wars in Vietnam, Korea, and the First Gulf War.

The ICRC should have zero credibility. And their new line of complaints -- torture? no tantamount to torture, see? It's like torture, without being torture -- just reinforces that point.
posted by esquire at 9:28 AM on November 30, 2004

For clarification:

The report of the June visit said investigators had found a system devised to break the will of the prisoners at Guantánamo, who now number about 550, and make them wholly dependent on their interrogators through "humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions." Investigators said that the methods used were increasingly "more refined and repressive" than learned about on previous visits.

"The construction of such a system, whose stated purpose is the production of intelligence, cannot be considered other than an intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment and a form of torture," the report said. It said that in addition to the exposure to loud and persistent noise and music and to prolonged cold, detainees were subjected to "some beatings." The report did not say how many of the detainees were subjected to such treatment...

The issue of whether torture at Guantánamo was condoned or encouraged has been a problem before for the Bush administration.

In February 2002, President Bush ordered that the prisoners at Guantánamo be treated "humanely and, to the extent appropriate with military necessity, in a manner consistent with" the Geneva Conventions. That statement masked a roiling legal discussion within the administration as government lawyers wrote a series of memorandums, many of which seemed to justify harsh and coercive treatment.

A month after Mr. Bush's public statement, a team of administration lawyers accepted a view first advocated by the Justice Department that the president had wide powers in authorizing coercive treatment of detainees. The legal team in a memorandum concluded that Mr. Bush was not bound by either the international Convention Against Torture or a federal antitorture statute because he had the authority to protect the nation from terrorism.

That document provides tightly constructed definitions of torture. For example, if an interrogator "knows that severe pain will result from his actions, if causing such harm is not his objective, he lacks the requisite specific intent even though the defendant did not act in good faith," it said. "Instead, a defendant is guilty of torture only if he acts with the express purpose of inflicting severe pain or suffering on a person within his control."

posted by y2karl at 9:31 AM on November 30, 2004

To refuse to call what took place in Abu Ghraib -- and what has taken place elsewhere in Iraq and in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay -- by its true name, torture, is as outrageous as the refusal to call the Rwandan genocide a genocide. Here is one of the definitions of torture contained in a convention to which the United States is a signatory: ''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.'' (The definition comes from the 1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Similar definitions have existed for some time in customary law and in treaties, starting with Article 3 -- common to the four Geneva conventions of 1949 -- and many recent human rights conventions.) The 1984 convention declares, ''No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.'' And all covenants on torture specify that it includes treatment intended to humiliate the victim, like leaving prisoners naked in cells and corridors...

The charges against most of the people detained in the prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan being nonexistent -- the Red Cross reports that 70 to 90 percent of those being held seem to have committed no crime other than simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, caught up in some sweep of ''suspects'' -- the principal justification for holding them is ''interrogation.'' Interrogation about what? About anything. Whatever the detainee might know. If interrogation is the point of detaining prisoners indefinitely, then physical coercion, humiliation and torture become inevitable.

Remember: we are not talking about that rarest of cases, the ''ticking time bomb'' situation, which is sometimes used as a limiting case that justifies torture of prisoners who have knowledge of an imminent attack. This is general or nonspecific information-gathering, authorized by American military and civilian administrators to learn more of a shadowy empire of evildoers about whom Americans know virtually nothing, in countries about which they are singularly ignorant: in principle, any information at all might be useful. An interrogation that produced no information (whatever information might consist of) would count as a failure. All the more justification for preparing prisoners to talk. Softening them up, stressing them out -- these are the euphemisms for the bestial practices in American prisons where suspected terrorists are being held...

Regarding the Torture of Others
posted by y2karl at 9:44 AM on November 30, 2004

What dancingbaptist said.

Also - Americans know this is happening. They know these men having been charged with anything, and many may be innocent. They know we'll torture them if we can get away with it. And on balance they're fine with it.

9/11 really pissed us off beyond rationality and made normally caring Americans develop a dead zone in their heart for individuals related to Al Qaeda. Torturing Iraqis pisses us off. Torturing members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, not so much.

This will take decades to heal. And while I'm happy folks here are willing to fight the good fight and keep the administration honest, I also don't personally care if we torture Al Qaeda members to try and track down other cells. Am I proud of that sentiment? Hell no. I'm ashamed of it, as I should be. But it's the reality our society is stuck in right now.

While I think Bush is a bumbler and a fool when it comes to prosecuting the War On Terror™, I also don't have any sympathy for those who fought for Al Qaeda. Even if they were just dumb kids stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So, thank you y2karl for shining a light on this stuff, but Americans are already awake about it. It's just that 9/11 eliminated the possibility we'd ever get worked up over these people getting tortured. Sad but true.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:45 AM on November 30, 2004

torture? no tantamount to torture, see? It's like torture, without being torture -- just reinforces that point.

Your statement is correct, but not I suspect, in the way you mean. No, its unlike torture in the classic definition in that it doesn't involve direct physical abuse, yet it still leaves the victim fucked up, both physically and mentally, so effectively its the same thing. That anyone can be so dumb as to not understand that is astonishing.

Who would you suggest is more credible than the Red Cross? You? The American justice system?
posted by biffa at 9:54 AM on November 30, 2004

It's just that 9/11 eliminated the possibility we'd ever get worked up over these people getting tortured. Sad but true.

But who are these people exactly? You assume they actually are in any way related to Al-Qaeda at all... as I understood it some were just local taxi drivers etc.

Because the US offered cash rewards for capturing Al-qaeda millitants to Northern Alliance groups, some just hauled people in pretty much at random. No doubt some are millitants, but there has been no process to establish that at all, and considering it could have easily been done that's quite suggestive of the possibility that in a lot of cases the US doesn't have a leg to stand on.
posted by comraderaoul at 9:59 AM on November 30, 2004

The ICRC should have zero credibility...
posted by esquire at 5:28 PM GMT on November 30

Frankly, the ICRC is one of the most respected NGOs in the world, often just as respected as the UN. To the world outside the American bubble they have more credibility than the USA could ever dream of, and rightly so.
posted by comraderaoul at 10:02 AM on November 30, 2004

Crimedown says "It is well-documented, despite Russia’s obsession with secrecy, that the Russians have been trying to exterminate the Chechens for centuries. They have tried ethnic cleansing, torture, murder, rape, relocation of more than 300,000 Chechens plus tens of thousands of their neighbours. They have annihilated entire towns and villages and resorted to outright war and President Putin’s accusation that he gave them "autonomy" recently is disingenuous. Russian-style autonomy is not freedom, it is not democracy and it was withdrawn immediately Putin decided Chechnya wished to develop characteristics of which he disapproved." and in a letter to Dubyah
. The dumbing down of morals is not the way
posted by Cancergiggles at 10:03 AM on November 30, 2004

Released Detainees from Guantanamo Release 150 Page Report on Abuses-- [pdf] Composite Statement: Detention In Guatanamo And Iraq
posted by y2karl at 10:08 AM on November 30, 2004

It's not the actions themselves which are shocking to anybody with even a passing acquaintance with the US' extra-territorial human rights record, but rather the lack of even a half-hearted atempt to cover it up.
We know there's a bully in the playground, but when he stops giving a shit what anybody else thinks about him, that's scary.
posted by signal at 10:22 AM on November 30, 2004

For the first few months, I think such actions were justified, in order to obtain anti-terror information.
This far out though, especially those there for 2 years or so... such action is not indicated.

i was just wondering what the exact cutoff for torture is. is there a formula? by my rough calculations y = 0.261x, where y = number of days torture is permissible and x = number of people killed. this is probably grossly oversimplified, so i'm just asking for a little clarification. oh, and i'm guessing there's a different formula for other countries, right?
posted by blendor at 10:29 AM on November 30, 2004

Not quite 0, XQUZYPHYR. I mean, Richard Reid was a high-profile case of someone convicted of terrorism after pleading guilty.

That number of 0 is a bit misleading. Many have been charged with different crimes, deported, or pleaded guilty. Show me how many failed trials there have been for Terrorism, and it would be close to zero as well (with the overturned Detroit verdict for example). From what I can gather, that number is what originated from a look at how many jury trials had completed with a conviction without a plea for terrorism. Those a narrow way to look at it.
posted by shawnj at 10:34 AM on November 30, 2004

And it's not like these people we're torturing are innocent

First off, last time I checked terrorists don't get the luxury of our "innocent until proven guilty" system, so we have no idea if the they are innocent or guilty. Even then does that excuse torture?

Um, [post + /sardonicism] Being in Cuba doesn't exuse torture either.
posted by effwerd at 10:34 AM on November 30, 2004

er "that is a narrow way"
posted by shawnj at 10:35 AM on November 30, 2004

Another one from the awkward questions department: When (if ever) will it be OK to let these people go?

I mean, are we just going to hold onto them forever? Did we ever have a plan for when, or under what circumstances, we might let them go? Or (and this is really what I'd expect to find out, given the way things seem to be done in the Vulcan-Bushite regime) did we just play it by the set of our pants, and not bother to think about that little detail?
posted by lodurr at 11:07 AM on November 30, 2004

lodurr, I doubt these people will ever be released in the next decade, sincerely. Remember, Bush has political capital now, and he intends to use it.
posted by Peter H at 11:29 AM on November 30, 2004

Concentration camps are for non-combatants. Since the detainees at Gitmo are considered combatants, it follows that it wouldn't be called a concentration camp. Concentration camps are used to herd large numbers of civilians, and while I do believe that a considerable number of the Gitmo detainees may be civilians, they aren't classified as such.

Then again, they're not classified as POWs either, so it can't be called a POW camp. I guess temporary detention center will have to do for now.
posted by shawnj at 11:56 AM on November 30, 2004

Show me how many failed trials there have been for Terrorism, and it would be close to zero as well

Doesn't this actually reinforce the point? With so many people locked up for terrorism by the USA, there aren't any significant numbers of terrorism trials, either successful or failed.
posted by biffa at 12:12 PM on November 30, 2004

Not really, actually. Most of them are either tried for other crimes, plead guilty, or are deported. Add to that the glacial speed of setting up trials for any complicated crime in this country, and it's no wonder that there are very few trials *for terrorism*.
posted by shawnj at 12:28 PM on November 30, 2004

So, thank you y2karl for shining a light on this stuff, but Americans are already awake about it. It's just that 9/11 eliminated the possibility we'd ever get worked up over these people getting tortured. Sad but true.

y6y6y6, you raise an excellent point. I have only two questions about this, though.

1. Are they really al-Qa'ida fighters? We picked them up in Afghanistan, yes, but in Iraq we later found that 70% - 90% of our prisoners were arrested "by mistake", and we are still holding children as young as 10. Yes, these are both in Iraq, not Guantanamo Bay, but it certainly would seem to raise doubts. While I share your equivocation on whether or not terrorists "deserve it," there is the open question of whether or not the people in question are terrorists at all, or even vaguely associated with terrorists.

2. Taking for granted that terrorists do in fact deserve what they get, and assuming for the sake of argument that at least the majority of our prisoners really are associated with al-Qa'ida in some way, what does torture accomplish? We know the obvious negative impact immediately, of course; we have greatly helped al-Qa'ida by proving bin Ladin's condemnations of the United States absolutely right, and ensured another generation of terrorists will continue the endless cycle of violence and tragedy. But, some argue, for that we obtain valuable intelligence. However, it used to be common knowledge that torture is unreliable, because people will tell you what you want to hear to make the hurting stop--whether it's true or not. Any information you do get from a torture victim should be tossed out as unreliable and untrustworthy.

Consider the way simple intimidation worked in the Red Scare with McCarthyism. You bring in a group and scare them into naming names; to save their own skin, they just name people they know, whether they're guilty or not. Those people are rounded up, and the process repeats, but with each iteration we move further and further from the group we're looking for as each group increasingly approaches a simple, useless, random sample. You will find similar outcomes with the Inquisition, and anywhere else that torture was relied upon for extracting information. That's how we learned how unreliable it is.

I would say that, ethically, torture is never a good thing. At most, it may be a necessary evil. But in practical terms, and setting aside all moral arguments, there is no situation I can think of where torture is necessary, which is something we all seem to take for granted. In all cases, it hurts, rather than helps, your goals. Maybe even more than being wrong, for the United States to engage in torture is stupid.
posted by jefgodesky at 12:35 PM on November 30, 2004

Oops, meant to link "you raise an excellent point" to your comment, not your profile. My bad....
posted by jefgodesky at 12:36 PM on November 30, 2004

I wanted to add something regarding the involvement of physicians with this alleged torture.

While the Hippocratic Oath is fun to haul out, it isn't exactly a binding document these days. It does, after all, prohibit abortion and requires giving money to former med school teachers who've fallen on hard times, and to teach their offspring for free (!)

Confidentiality is not necessarily applicable here. This pertains mainly if you have a doctor-patient relationship. It does not pertain, for example, when the doctor is explicitly working for a third party. For example, if you file an insurance claim, saying that you slipped and fell and can't walk, the insurance company may pay a doctor to examine you and report back to the insurance company. The patient may get upset when the doctor reports the patient is 'faking it', but the doctor is NOT there to look out for the patient's best interests, but rather the insurance company's. Likewise, the doctors here are apparently looking out for the government's interests, not the prisoners, and therefore the prisoners cannot expect confidentiality, as this is not 'their doctor' (i.e. no doctor-patient relationship has been established). If the doctor misrepresented the relationship to the prisoner, this would be unethical, I believe.

But a larger question of ethics comes into play when we ask, why is a physician, who has been trained to heal, involved in torture. Even if he is not torturing, to be involved even peripherally would seen to taint the profession. Many doctors look askance at their colleagues who participate in executions (even to the extent of declaring them 'fit to die'.)

On another note, I am sad that the leader of a country which pioneered so many of the precepts of civil liberties is acting like this. I will take the streetcar over to the American consulate in Toronto this afternoon to add my (physician's) voice to the chorus of disapproval about Bush.
posted by kevinsp8 at 12:36 PM on November 30, 2004

Keeps going through my head.....

Torture is not as useful as other interrogation techniques and ultimately self-defeating (morality aside - extreme long term stress garbles usefull intelligence).

Morality aside, that is. What is intended here I have no idea. It's certainly not a move towards victory.

Someone made the decision to - if not initiate this - than to allow it.

What is it they have in mind? What is the goal?

Anyone in that kind of leadership position should have years of history not to mention intelligence experience or access to it to tell them that this has not worked in the past.

But again, perhaps we're assuming a goal that '"they" are not pursuing.

But I can't see what could possibly be....
posted by Smedleyman at 12:55 PM on November 30, 2004

Confidentiality is not necessarily applicable here. This pertains mainly if you have a doctor-patient relationship. It does not pertain, for example, when the doctor is explicitly working for a third party.

Similarly, standard caregiver/patient confidentiality doesn't apply in cases when a caregiver believes that the patient is likely to harm others. In that case, the caregiver is legally and ethically bound to take steps to ensure that the patient does not harm others, up to and including involuntary admission to a medical or psychiatric facility and police involvement.

Clearly the people in charge at Gitmo think the detainees at are likely to harm others, and as such the caregiver/patient confidentiality agreement is irrelevant. Whether the people in charge are correct in any sense of the word is beyond my ken.
posted by jesourie at 1:31 PM on November 30, 2004

But again, perhaps we're assuming a goal that '"they" are not pursuing.

But I can't see what could possibly be....

Unless the goal really is to engulf the entire planet in global war and hasten the Apolcalypse. There's too much circumstantial evidence in favor of this theory to discard it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:35 PM on November 30, 2004

I should add that I see a huge difference between detaining someone because you feel they may harm others and actively using their medical conditions and histories to extract information from them while they're detained. The former is done as a way to maintain public safety; the latter seems to me to be an egregious violation of medical ethics.
posted by jesourie at 1:48 PM on November 30, 2004

Similarly, standard caregiver/patient confidentiality doesn't apply in cases when a caregiver believes that the patient is likely to harm others.

Interesting point. However, the immediacy of the threat has to be considered. If one of these prisoners for some reason showed up in an emergency room in Ontario, you could detain them if you thought they were an 'immediate' threat to someone else (which I interpret as a specific, credible danger in the near future), as opposed to 'generally dangerous'. If you see a patient who poses no immediate specific danger to anyone, but you figure *someday* is going to hurt someone (e.g. they have anger control issues, have hurt people before, they like to go to bars and drink, they are devotes of Al Qaeda, etc.), you cannot legally detain him or breach confidentiality.
posted by kevinsp8 at 1:52 PM on November 30, 2004

the immediacy of the threat has to be considered

Oh, absolutely, and I agree with the line you draw separating the immediately dangerous person from someone who may be dangerous some day in the future but isn't assembling Molotov cocktails right that second.

I think the people who are running things at Guantanamo consider the detainees to be members of the "immediate danger" group. I can't speak to the accuracy of that, but if they do think that way, it follows that they aren't according detainees confidentiality rights.
posted by jesourie at 2:22 PM on November 30, 2004

In regards to the usefulness of torture as a practical tool, it doesn't seem that the fact that the information obtained could be unreliable means that the information or method is useless strategically. I'm not defending the practice, I'm just responding to questions raised in previous posts here.

The information at its face would be useless, yes. But it could be made useful if you could get it verified, for instance passing the information on to a security organization who can determine if it is true or not.

The practice is disgusting, but it seems unreasonable to say that it has no practical use.
posted by Sangermaine at 3:28 PM on November 30, 2004

No joke: Int'l Red Cross Hates America
posted by muckster at 3:42 PM on November 30, 2004

(i would be very surprised if anybody with half a brain was at all surprised by this)

i haven't read all the comments, but this is actually very bad for the ICRC, even if it was a leak of a confidential internal document.

the ICRC relies heavily on a strong principle of confidentiality & impartiality...if regimes that abuse human rights fear that the ICRC is going to report on their activities, then their staff will naturally be denied access to the people most in need of their services.

although the "tantamount to torture" activities are to be condemned, i personally condemn whoever leaked this report.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:54 PM on November 30, 2004

The problem does not seem to be that the American people don't care, but rather that they care about as much as people here. i.e. enough to whine about it online, and then go back to whatever they were doing.
Unless you are actively doing something about this situation, blaming everybody else for being uncaring is just silly.
posted by nightchrome at 5:17 PM on November 30, 2004

So what's your plan, nightchrome? How do we fix it?
posted by jesourie at 5:23 PM on November 30, 2004

if regimes that abuse human rights fear that the ICRC is going to report on their activities, then their staff will naturally be denied access to the people most in need of their services.

Um, from the link--

The report was distributed to lawyers at the White House, Pentagon and State Department and to the commander of the detention facility at Guantánamo, Gen. Jay W. Hood. The New York Times recently obtained a memorandum, based on the report, that quotes from it in detail and lists its major findings.

Somehow, to my eyes, the phrasing there would suggest another source.
Or two.
posted by y2karl at 5:54 PM on November 30, 2004

y2karl: yeh...it was apparently a leak, which is why i condemned the leaker/s (within the ICRC, the administration, or both).

for good measure, i am going to condemn the NYT as well, for prejudicing the ability of the ICRC to do its job elsewhere, regardless of the newsworthiness of the story.

one saving grace, tho: at least the ICRC was reporting to the govt in question. still, it may prove bad for the organisation.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:05 PM on November 30, 2004

Covering our rhetorical ass, are we?
posted by y2karl at 6:35 PM on November 30, 2004

Covering our rhetorical ass, are we?

well, the phrasing *was* quite deliberate, eg:

if regimes that abuse human rights fear that the ICRC is going to report on their activities

ie it doesn't really matter who leaked the memo if some tinpot dictator gains the perception that the ICRC may not be 100% trustworthy.

my rhetorical ass is normally covered ten steps ahead ;-)
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:49 PM on November 30, 2004

Number of people convicted of terrorism offenses by the United States government since September 11, 2001: 0

Yeah, but to convict someone, you'd have to but them on trial first, which means they get a lawyer and treated like human beings.

Arguably, the number of people *punished* by the U.S. for terrorist offenses is quite high. And so is the number of people punished (and possibly tortured) for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
posted by sour cream at 8:01 PM on November 30, 2004

On a related topic:

The civilians who remained in the city throughout the US attack are in the worst situation of all. The Red Cross estimates that at least 800 civilians died in the US assault, a "low" estimate based on interviews of refugees and residents still trapped in the city who have access to mobile phones. These people have described the US use of cluster bombs and, horribly, the spraying of white phosphorus, a banned chemical weapon that burns like napalm.

Thanksgiving In Iraq

The revelation that napalm was used in the war against Iraq, while the Pentagon denied it, has outraged opponents of the war.

"Most of the world understands that napalm and incendiaries are a horrible, horrible weapon," said Robert Musil, director of the organisation Physicians for Social Responsibility. "It takes up an awful lot of medical resources. It creates horrible wounds." Mr Musil said denial of its use "fits a pattern of deception [by the US administration]".

The Pentagon said it had not tried to deceive. It drew a distinction between traditional napalm, first invented in 1942, and the weapons dropped in Iraq, which it calls Mark 77 firebombs. They weigh 510lbs, and consist of 44lbs of polystyrene-like gel and 63 gallons of jet fuel.

Officials said that if journalists had asked about the firebombs their use would have been confirmed. A spokesman admitted they were "remarkably similar" to napalm but said they caused less environmental damage.

But John Pike, director of the military studies group GlobalSecurity.Org, said: "You can call it something other than napalm but it is still napalm. It has been reformulated in the sense that they now use a different petroleum distillate, but that is it. The US is the only country that has used napalm for a long time. I am not aware of any other country that uses it." Marines returning from Iraq chose to call the firebombs "napalm".

US admits it used napalm bombs in Iraq

In the Pacific Theater, however, the prevalence of close-combat operations against the Japanese in prepared defenses forced American units in the field to develop effective flame tactics. As a result, thoroughly trained, properly led provisional flamethrower units were developed in the field by the infantry and engineers of the Army and Marines. Indeed, the Marines stated that manpacked flamethrowers were responsible for breaching the Japanese defenses on Tarawa in November 1943. When some soft-hearted Americans protested the use of flame weapons, General George C. Marshall stood up for the lives of American citizens serving on the line in combat and stated, "Vehement protests I am receiving against our use of flame throwers don't indicate an understanding of the meaning of our dead on... Tarawa." American armored flamethrowers (fabricated in workshops on Hawaii using Sherman tanks) made their Pacific debut on Iwo Jima, where the first eight proved their worth. By the time the attack on Okinawa was launched, the 713th Armored Flamethrower Battalion had been formed with 54 flame tanks. The battalion was credited with 4,788 kills, with no losses of its own. As one magazine summed it up, "There are few arguments about fire; it saves U.S. lives and kills Japs."

Although the U.S. military continued to use flamethrowers in Korea and Vietnam, these highly useful weapons were recently relegated to war stock (if not retired), apparently for reasons of "political correctness." Indeed, flamethrower tactics were dropped from U.S. field manuals when FM 20-33, Combat Flame Operations, was superseded by FM 3-11, Flame Field Expedients, in 1990. Given the increased likelihood of having to conduct operations on urban terrain in the near future, it is a shame that a modern-day General Marshall did not stand up for the good of the American soldier and defend the retention of these useful weapons.

Flame On! U.S. Incendiary Weapons, 1918-1945 - book review
Engineer: The Professional Bulletin for Army Engineers April, 2000
posted by y2karl at 9:42 PM on November 30, 2004

jesourie: I don't know. I didn't say I had a solution, I said that whining about it and then going about your business is not a solution. Also, I'm not American, so I'm not really all that concerned.
posted by nightchrome at 10:14 PM on November 30, 2004

Not to mention cluster bombs, y2karl, which are just plain cruel and were used on Vietnamese civilians [one graphic image] to great effect.

Saw a film on these weapons of mass destruction this summer at the Anthology Film Archives this summer in NYC. Soul-hurting stuff.

Also: we've talked about torture recently in MeFi (don't know how to link to other FPP's, though)
posted by faux ami at 2:19 AM on December 1, 2004

So, all that stuff about how we'll protect one innocent at the cost of letting the guilty go free; defending the rights of the minority; providing counsel for the accused; being a bastion and beacon for the oppressed and threatened...

Seriously, does all this go out the window when the country is under duress? Does that mean that it wasn't true when the country wasn't under duress?
posted by faux ami at 2:24 AM on December 1, 2004

It's a lot easier to talk of your beliefs than it is to live by them.
posted by nightchrome at 2:28 AM on December 1, 2004

Most of them are either tried for other crimes, plead guilty, or are deported.

Does anyone have any information as to what crimes they're tried for? (Especially given that they were largely picked up outside US jurisdiction). Have numbers at Guantanamo been declining significantly?
posted by biffa at 4:26 AM on December 1, 2004

Does that mean that it wasn't true when the country wasn't under duress?

Not inherently. But the truth of the matter is that "all that stuff" is only ever true at any time because a sufficient number of us not only agree that it is, but then act as thought it is.

It's especially important that those of us who are legally empowered to act on behalf of the state, behave as though all that stuff is true.
posted by lodurr at 5:35 AM on December 1, 2004

AFAIK 'Al Qaida' (sp.) was a concept invented by the FBI which was used to prosecute Bin Laden in absentia under the same laws used to prosecute mafia and drugs gangs. There needed to be a 'gang' with membership to use these laws. Bin Laden only started saying he was a member after 11 Sept 2001. It is a convenient way to sound important (I am the leader of the organisation that the US government fears most), if that is what you want.
Al qaida means the network or base, AFAIK. You would have thought that the Jihadists might have a more important sounding name, like the Undefeateable Holy Muslim Jihad Army of the World, or something, if they had come up with it themselves.
I have been fooled by this game of spin myself, forgetting for a moment that the US intelligence agencies are more often than not the creators of the conspiracies that they fight as their raison d'etre.
The members of Al Qaida captured in Afghanistan were mostly provided by the Northern Alliance, who were paid ($10,000?) for each person they handed over. A convenient way of erradicating their enemies/anyone who didn't pay them enough.
Oh, and torture's bad, mkay. Sorry everyone.
posted by asok at 6:32 AM on December 1, 2004

On another related topic:

U.S. Generals in Iraq Were Told of Abuse Early, Inquiry Finds

A confidential report to Army generals in Iraq in December 2003 warned that members of an elite military and CIA task force were abusing detainees, a finding delivered more than a month before Army investigators received the photographs from Abu Ghraib prison that touched off investigations into prisoner mistreatment.

The report, which was not released publicly and was recently obtained by The Washington Post, concluded that some U.S. arrest and detention practices at the time could "technically" be illegal. It also said coalition fighters could be feeding the Iraqi insurgency by "making gratuitous enemies" as they conducted sweeps netting hundreds of detainees who probably did not belong in prison and holding them for months at a time.

The investigation, by retired Col. Stuart A. Herrington, also found that members of Task Force 121 -- a joint Special Operations and CIA mission searching for weapons of mass destruction and high-value targets including Saddam Hussein -- had been abusing detainees throughout Iraq and had been using a secret interrogation facility to hide their activities.

posted by y2karl at 7:59 AM on December 1, 2004

Also, I'm not American, so I'm not really all that concerned.

You're concerned enough to chastize us for "[whining] about it online, and then [going] back to whatever they were doing," but because you're a citizen of another country, you aren't really all that concerned about the torture itself?

I don't know what to make of that.
posted by jesourie at 9:42 AM on December 1, 2004

Asok: Al Qaeda did actually exist as a concept and a self-identified affiliation well before 9/11/2001. The name was used to describe a unification of interests that brought together Bin Laden's network of connections (which, I believe you're right, did amount basically to a glorified address book and not a criminal network) with the street muscle of operational terrorist and activist networks (most notably the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which was Zawahiri's org).

If what you're trying to express is that Al Qaeda isn't like a crime family, then I think you have a point. But it is a real organization, and has been for a long time. The thing that makes it so difficult to grok -- and hence to fight -- for folks like the Bushites (and a lot of others, to be fair) is that it's a real, voluntary association based on common interest -- not a coercive membership scenario like SPECTRE or Shining Path.
posted by lodurr at 10:22 AM on December 1, 2004

Going back to the Abu Ghraib comparison, which do you think is more disturbing -- Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo?

I found the level of sadism to be pretty surprising at Abu Ghraib and very emotionally upsetting. But it's more understandable in context, because again you had undermanned troops in a war situation being given this command to sort of soften up the prisoners for interrogation.

But Guantánamo has come to symbolize in international law circles or even diplomatic circles, this attempt by the U.S. to set up law-free zones. So I think Guantánamo is maybe the scarier of the two precedents. Abu Ghraib will leave a searing image, but it was more flowing from the war, whereas Guantánamo is clearly something where the secretary of defense has said these people are going to be held until they need to be held. That this is a war on terror and we don't know how long it will last. So the prospect of sort of indefinite detention, holding people without even keeping a register, is very ominous. If you look at all the United Nations guidelines on the treatment of prisoners, the first thing you're supposed to do is you're supposed to keep a register -- a name of all the prisoners and when they were taken in and what they're going to be charged with. It's just something you've got to have in order to prevent abuse.

If you go to a country like Uzbekistan that has serious human rights problems, they have prisons full of people and Amnesty International is always going in and saying you need to have register, you can't just detain people without charges, you can't detain people indefinitely. And their response is, well, it's state security. These are terrorists. Well, we're starting to sound like them.

Is it possible, following this damning report, that the Bush administration will try to block the Red Cross from visiting Guantánamo in the future?

I think the administration could say, "Look, if Geneva law does not apply, then we don't want the Red Cross there.

Is that a plausible scenario?

I think it's very plausible, I do. Four years ago I never would have said that. I think now almost everything's plausible. I'm sure it's being discussed right now.

And if the U.S. did deny the Red Cross entrée to prison camps, what league would that put us in?

That would put us alongside North Korea.

More coldblooded than Abu Ghraib
posted by y2karl at 12:00 PM on December 1, 2004

muckster, that rush limbaugh article is simply amazing. I can't believe I used to think he was smart, even if I was 14 at the time.

But, no, lo and behold, when there's abuse at G'itmo, when the people committing these atrocities around the world are in our prisons, we become the bad guys.

This is sarcasm!?!? YES! When WE do it WE are the bad guys.

"One regular procedure was making uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair while shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers while air-conditioning was turned up to maximum levels." Folks, that happens every night in New York City at any club you go into, except the underwear. I mean, this is absurd.

Well, the underwear, and the BOLTING TO THE FLOOR and the fact that's it's FORCED.

there were frequent complaints by prisons in 2003 that some of the female interrogates baited their subjects with sexual overtones." This just confirms everything I've always said. The bad guys get all the girls! How many of you guys out there have to beg for these kinds of sexual overtones out there in your daily lives?

Yes, I often beg to be put in jails with no recourse in order to have people attempt to psychologically manipulate me with their sexuality. And with all that begging, it still hasn't happened. Hopefully, I won't have to wait too long at the rate this administration is going.
How detached from reality do you have to be in order to even insinuate that these things would be enjoyable?

posted by nTeleKy at 12:43 PM on December 1, 2004

(heading off topic): y2karl...good to see Uzbekistan get a mention...human-rights abusing friend of the US & UK...with bucketloads of oil...like Equatorial Guinea..."evil dictators the world over will see what happened to Saddam & tremble"...yeh...right...
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:35 PM on December 1, 2004

As Sangermaine pointed out it is true, there are benefits to using torture as an interrogation tool.
(You are correct, I should have gone further to point out my reasoning and this is not a response directed at you of course, but just an outline as to why torture might be 'bad'.)

Benefits from torture are outweighed by the downsides and there are usually other methods of coercion, manipulation etc.
One of the practical problems is - it's akin to playing poker where you not only don't know how many cards the opponent is holding, but you don't know what the stakes are.
He might know nothing, he might know something crucial.
So time becomes important. And it is important you control time, because if he thinks he has a chance to get away from the interrogation at some point he will hold out until then, or try to, all the while misleading you and stalling, etc.
So we keep him indefinitely.
The level of pain then becomes a concern.
Does he know anything? That would require shaking him up a bit, not too much - he might be "innocent."
Does he know a few things, enough to subject him to directly administered physical pain?
Does he know enough information of a timely nature that we can go to the waterboard and genital mutilation? Can we leave marks? If we begin cutting chunks off of him we're not ever going to let him go (not as an American torturer). Of course, the subject would know this and this becomes another facet of the psychological struggle.
How far the torturer can push vs. how well the subject can hide what he knows.
Of course he may know nothing, but any torturer can't assume that.
And that is where the practical side gets bound up. If the objective is to extract information and the subject sees other being tortured who he knows know nothing, what is the incentive for him to talk?

Again - if the objective is to extract information.

Perhaps it is, but I don't see that here. You want someone to talk you isolate them. Even cops know that.
At Gitmo and Abu Graib the subjects are/were in groups.
Cops ostensibly beat confessions out of people to serve justice, protect the innocent, punish the guilty, etc. etc.
(When they do. Usually they use much more effective techniques )

One can torture for the same reasons.

While one might derive information from a session of torture, one must have a pretty good idea of what information one wants and who might have it in the first place.
If, again as a practical matter, the objective is to extract information.

But as to that. I would not use torture under any circumstance since it is self-destructive morally.
(much like Winston Smith saying he would do anything to destroy Big Brother including throwing acid in the face of a child).

Once torture or any act becomes fair game to achieve one's goal, it becomes a simple matter of might vs. might.
And you destroy the values you espouse.
If, that is, you espouse any value other than power for power's sake.

Torture may be disgusting, but disgust can be overcome.
However it's not mere squeamishness or even human empathy that makes torture abhorrent, it is that it destroys the torturer and those who use him. Their hypocrisy becomes manifest.
It is as objectionable as cannibalism.
Unlike cannibalism however it ultimately has no redeeming qualities (you may live if you are starving) and so is unpardonable.
Any gains you make are sullied and destroy any good end you seek with it.

Is 'slapping a guy around a little' worth that? (Bearing in mind the other questions raised here - who judges when that is appropriate? What if it's the wrong guy? Etc.)

Or is it better to outthink one's enemy?

Again - depends on the goals.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:08 PM on December 1, 2004

jesourie: I'm more concerned with things I can personally affect, such as pressuring people who can make a difference in these political matters to stop being so apathetic.
The problem is that many of those people would rather argue with me online than go offline and do something to stop their government from torturing others.
posted by nightchrome at 4:31 PM on December 1, 2004

ComradeRaoul -- very persuasive argument: ICRC is respected at UN and beyond America. My response: is not. Your response: is too. Glad we settled that.
posted by esquire at 6:28 AM on December 2, 2004

esquire: is too!!!

seriously, the idea that the ICRC is not respected internationally is probably one of the most ridiculous ideas i have ever heard emanating from (presumably) the american bubbleverse.

what outrageous claim are you gonna make for an encore? mother teresa was a whore? amnesty international is linked with al-qaida?
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:41 PM on December 2, 2004

Actually, if I recall correctly, there was some controversy over the fact that Mother Theresa supported dictatorships, accepted stolen money, kept charitable funds for herself, campaigned against the idea of divorce, campaigned against birth-control in India despite the population problems, and on numerous occasions stated she believed that human suffering was a good thing.
Nothing about her being a whore though.
posted by nightchrome at 6:43 PM on December 2, 2004

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