Critics of the Bush administration are doing handsprings over the release of detailed memos that outline the interrogation techniques used by the CIA on captured terrorist suspects. We now know about such techniques as “dietary manipulation,” “attention grasp,” “walling,” “facial hold,” “facial slap,” “cramped confinement,” “wall standing,” “stress positions,” “sleep deprivation,” “insects placed in confinement box,” and the infamous “waterboarding.” This is the anti-Bush crowd’s Holy Grail, the virtual confession of horrific misdeeds. BUSH LIED!!!!! BUSH TORTURED!!!!! and all the rest.
But between the evidence and the conclusion lies a great gap that critics cheerfully leap over: do these techniques constitute “torture?”
Oh, absolutely, they’re unpleasant. I wouldn’t want to undergo any of them. But do they constitute “torture?”
The problem with leaping to that conclusion is that while “torture” is an ancient word with many associations and definitions, only one really matters in this context: United States law. And the law seems pretty clear: no, they do not constitute “torture.”
One of the key elements of the law is the word “intent,” and intent is a terribly difficult thing to prove. One often has to infer intent from circumstantial evidence, and in this case there is a great deal of that showing the interrogators desperately wanted to remain within the letter of the law:
• They repeatedly sought out legal advice from the Justice Department on interpreting the laws.
• They had medically-trained personnel on hand who could veto or end any interrogation techniques that they thought ran the risk of causing serious injury or lasting harm.
• They thoroughly documented their techniques, including how they considered them legal under the letter of the law.
These are the actions of people trying to meet the demands of their superiors while obeying the letter of the law.
For millennia human beings have been finding new and inventive and horrific ways to inflict pain and suffering on each other. Genuine torturers would look at the techniques plied by our CIA against these terrorist suspects and laugh in derision.
If there were violations of U.S. laws regarding torture the documents released this week don’t show it at all. On the contrary, they add to the evidence that the U.S. interrogators acted responsibly.