Americans can now boast that they no longer "torture" detainees, but they cannot say that detainees are not abused, or even that their treatment meets the minimum standards of humane treatment mandated by the Geneva Conventions, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (the so-called McCain amendment), United States and international law, or even Mr. Obama’s executive order.

Read that again.  Note especially what we cannot say, even one year after Obama signed an executive order in theory banning torture, or that the Army Field Manual requires "humane treatment."  It may for example limit "separation" (solitary confinement) to 30 days but a general officer can issue a waiver to extend that time and

Rest assured, there will be numerous waivers to even that minuscule requirement.

So writes Matthew Alexander, a former military interpreter, in a must-read New York Times op-edwith the same title as this posting.

The name "Matthew Alexander" is a pseudonym for the author of How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq.  He has written in opposition to torture in any form not only in the book, but in op eds as well.  And on the anniversary of Obama's executive order, he wrote again to remind us that we still have far to go.

The first thing to remember is that the Army Field Manual was itself hastily revised in light of the exposure of the abuses at Abu Ghraib, but it still allowed far too many things most should find objectionable at a minimum if not downright offensives and unacceptable.

Consider these ommissions from the manual:  it

does not explicitly prohibit stress positions, putting detainees into close confinement or environmental manipulation (other than hypothermia and "heat injury").

  Alexander notes how that leaves open the possibility of abuse.

Another illustration is that it allows limiting detainees to 4 hours of sleep per 24 hourrs, which as Alexander notes

does not meet the minimum standard of humane treatment, either in terms of American law or simple human decency.

  He reminds us that some detainees have now been at Gimo for 7 years.  Imagine applying that pattern for an extended period of time.

And then combine that with this:  Alexander notes that some interrogators believe they can interpret that languae as allowing them to interrogate the detainee for the remaining 20 hours.  That is, 4 hours sleep, 20 hours interrogation (perhaps using stress positions, close confinement, or environmenatla mainpulation).  Then start the process over again - give the detainee four hours to sleep and recommence the interrogation.

So long as the document that now governs our interrogation procedures allows such treatment of detainees, we have NOT banned torture.

Let's not parse language for loopholes.  Is not that one thing for which we heavily criticized the previous administration?  How then do we continue to tolerate it?  Alexnader writes that these things contradict the Army Field Manual's requirement that all captured personnel be "treated humanely."  that is an understatement, one he emphasizes by noting that it allows actions that no right-thinking person could consider humane.

Let me repeat that:  actions that no right-thinking person could consider humane.  

Let me parse that.  It may be that some will interpret "right-thinking" as meaning tilting towards the political right in this nation.  That is obviously not what Alexander intends, for we know they will argue with him, criticize him, demean him, perhaps as a wimp or a softie.  

We guarantee persons rights under our Constitution and Bill of Rights.  That the 8th amendment bans cruelty and inhumanity in punishment does not mean it allows it in interrogation.  Our tradition, as regular readers of this site know, goes back further in banning such actions, starting with the Commander of our Army in the Revolution, who would later become our first President.  Would that all of his successors as the nation's President would be bound not only by his examples of serving only 2 two terms and adding the words "So help me God" to the oath of office, but also by his rejection of torture and mistreatment.

Alexander warns that if we do not reform our methods, we will continue to provide our adversaries with an effective recruitment tool, perhaps their most effective tool.  

But it is more.  In his penultimate paragraph he offers a simple proposition:  

he greatest shame of the last year, perhaps, is that the argument over interrogations has shifted from debating what is legal to considering what is just "better than before." The best way to change things is to update the field manual again to bring our treatment of detainees up to the minimum standard of humane treatment.

And he concludes not only by reminds us of how our continued use of torture and mistreatment serve as an effective recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, but that we will continue

to earn the contempt of our allies and to debase our most cherished ideals.

Jefferson explained that one reason for offering the Declaration of Independence was the need to justify our separation according to a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.   Not just our allies, but also our adversaries.  That is important.  Considering that reminds us not to be locked into our own self-rationalizations.

Perhaps it should not be necessary to consider what others might think.  Perhaps we should be moral and decent enough as a nation, as persons collectively gathered into one society, that we would on that basis alone reject the kinds of mistreatment, abuse, and - yes - torture that is allowable and apparently still going on with at least the silent acquiescence of the current administration.  

We know there are those who apparently either suppress or even lack the conscience necessary to reject such methods, and consideration of a decent respect to the opinions of mankind may therefore be a useful idea to remember, at least from time time.  IT is precisely why whatever methods we use should be transparent.  It is why, contrary to what happened under the CIA before, all interrogations and anything related to them should be fully documented, including audio and visual recording, such material available for use by prosecutors and for examination by our elected representatives in the House and Senate.

Torture is not acceptable.  Not in my name, not in your name.  Never.  Never in our name.

Which is why when it comes to torture, there should be no loopholes.


Originally posted to teacherken on Thu Jan 21, 2010 at 03:24 AM PST.

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