Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Sleep Deprivation & More

I suffer from insomnia and have all my life.  So, I know something about sleep deprivation, personally, although it has never been used as an interrogation technique on me.  Sleep deprivation can cause massive weight loss or gain. It prevents the body from metabolizing glucose efficiently so that people who regularly suffer sleep deprivation are more subject to adult onset diabetes–as are those who work graveyard shifts.  As an interrogation technique, its results are mixed. People will say anything to be allowed to sleep, but the information given is often unreliable.  Former Israeli PM Menachim Begin described his interrogation by the Soviet KGB in his younger days and said that the sleep deprivation hurt him worse than deprivation of food and water.

Prolonged sleep deprivation often leads to hallucinations, headaches, anger, and the slowing of higher brain functions. (Yes, gentle readers, some of my least charitable responses to my critics on this site came at times when I was sleep deprived–not that this is a valid excuse for my sometimes unsanctified behavior.  My apologies.) 

The U.S. under Bush misused a scientific study showing no permanent harm in sleep deprivation, IF NO OTHER STRESSORS ARE PRESENT. But, as the author of that study, horrified that it had been so misused, told Congress, if you add stress, such as being detained, threatened, interrogated, then sleep deprivation causes far worse harm.

Does sleep deprivation count as torture?  Depending on how long it is used and in combination with what other techniques, it sometimes is.  But even if it is not technically torture, or is on the borderline, it clearly falls under the category of “cruel, unusual, inhumane, and degrading treatment” which is also forbidden by the same anti-torture laws.

And sleep deprivation was the mildest of the techniques described in the released torture memos.  Other tecniques included slapping (at least humiliating, and more so in certain cultures where a slap is worse than a punch; if delivered with enough force it is cruel); using a cloth around the neck to slam a head into the wall (!!); stress positions, prolonged nudity in extreme temperatures (both physical and psychological torture); small closed boxes (I  have claustrophobia, that would be horrifying!), sometimes with insects or other things of which the prisoner is afraid (specifically authorized by now-judge Bybee); people being given Qu’rans that they have been told have been soiled by urine, feces, or menses; men being smeared with a red liquid they are told is menstrual blood (psychological torture in cultures in which such is considered ritually unclean); the use of dogs to frighten detainees; etc.

Go ahead. Defend ANY of this as within U.S. or international law.  Defend any of it as moral. Anyone who claims this is moral is a sadist.

And these “interrogation methods” were authorized by people who had sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution–National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice; Attorneys General Ashcroft and Gonzales; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; White House lawyer John Yoo; Bybee of the Office of Legal Council (now a judge in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals); CIA Directors Porter Goss and George Tenet (the latter given the Medal of Freedom by Bush); Armed Services General Counsel Haynes; Vice President Richard B. Cheney; President George W. Bush.  All of them need to be investigated and prosecuted for these war crimes.

We now see why Bush wanted a special form of “military tribunal” for show trials or indefinite detention without trials.  Because, not only were many of the detainees not terrorists at all (even Bush released many picked up by mistake), but because the use of these methods would lead any civilian U.S. court, or any normal military court, to throw the case out and release the detainee/prisoner simply on the basis of the treatment. It wouldn’t matter how conservative the judge was.

There were voices of dissent within the Bush admin.:  Senior officers from ALL FOUR branches of the military protested, citing appropriate U.S. and international law; FBI Director Robert Muller forbade anyone in the FBI to have anything to do with this or to be present for any CIA interrogations–even when his job was threatened by George W. Bush. (The FBI has come a long way from the bad old days under J. Edgar Hoover.  The CIA needs just as thorough a housecleaning by new Director Leon Panetta.)

These practices are evil and defending these practices shows a degraded soul, a loss of moral coherence of the order of someone defending rape or child abuse.  If we are not outraged, we are not paying attention.


April 27, 2009 - Posted by | human rights., torture

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