Section cover, Washington Monthly (Jan/Feb/Mar 2008)

The title sums it up, and in the world we once thought we lived in, nothing more would need to be said. But such is not our world any longer, and a great deal needs to be said, as often as possible. In this cause, the Washington Monthly has performed a great service by devoting a 26-page section (pdf version here) of its latest issue to a simple proposition: that the use of torture by the United States must stop. Its contributors include former congressman Bob Barr, former NSC advisor Rand Beers, terrorism expert Peter Bergen, former president Jimmy Carter, Marine Corps Brig. General (ret.) Steve Cheney, National Association of Evangelicals VP Richard Cizik, former supreme commander of NATO General Wesley Clark, senators Chris Dodd, Carl Levin, Dick Lugar, and Chuck Hagel, former U.S. Navy judge advocate general John Hutson, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and former presidential special counsel Ted Sorensen. From the introduction:

In the wake of September 11, the United States became a nation that practiced torture. Astonishingly-despite the repudiation of torture by experts and the revelations of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib-we remain one. As we go to press, President George W. Bush stands poised to veto a measure that would end all use of torture by the United States. His move, we suspect, will provoke only limited outcry. What once was shocking is now ordinary.

On paper, the list of practices declared legal by the Department of Justice for use on detainees in Guantanamo Bay and other locations has a somewhat bloodless quality-sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced standing, sensory deprivation, nudity, extremes of heat or cold. But such bland terms mask great suffering. Sleep deprivation eventually leads to hallucinations and psychosis. (Menachem Begin, former prime minister of Israel, experienced sleep deprivation at the hands of the KGB and would later assert that “anyone who has experienced this desire [to sleep] knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it.”) Stress positions entail ordeals such as being shackled by the wrists, suspended from the ceiling, with arms spread out and feet barely touching the ground. Forced standing, a technique often used in North Korean prisons, involves remaining erect and completely still, producing an excruciating combination of physical and psychological pain, as ankles swell, blisters erupt on the skin, and, in time, kidneys break down. Sensory deprivation-being deprived of sight, sound, and touch-can produce psychotic symptoms in as little as twenty-four hours. The agony of severe and prolonged exposure to temperature extremes and the humiliation of forced nudity speak for themselves.

And yes, President George Bush did veto the measure, as predicted.


4 thoughts on “Stop.

  1. The practices the U.S. have employed, and continue to employ,
    and continue to employ, in the name of national security, are deplorable. I look forward to a new president whoever he or she is, as long as the next president isn’t a cruel and vengeful person.

  2. “In the wake of September 11, the United States became a nation that practiced torture. Astonishingly-despite the repudiation of torture by experts and the revelations of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib-we remain one.”

    Me again.

    I find the claim that the US practiced torture after Sept 11 dubious. Wasn’t there something called “Cold War” once ? WW2 ? WW1 ?

  3. Steve: Agreed. I look forward to the next president too. But don’t be overly hopeful that torture will instantly disappear in 2009, whatever the party affiliation of the next president, and whatever his or her personality. There are some deep-rooted interests that now support the practice, and strong pressure will be exerted (particularly on a Democratic president) to continue it — not least by raising the spectre of being tarred as the president who allowed another terror attack to take place because he or she “allowed terrorists to enjoy their human rights” (as the sneering charge might go).

    LH: Do you mean to say that you don’t believe the US began for the first time to practice torture after Sept. 11? That may be so — in Vietnam, probably; in World War II, much less if at all — but there is a world of difference between a state crime committed in the shadows, and a state crime committed in the open and legitimized by the legislature, the courts, and public opinion. The one corrupts a particular organization or administration; the other corrupts the soul of the nation itself. There will always be evil men. Whether a polity punishes or rewards them is what determines the course of history.

  4. Ian -> I could not agree more. Yes, I meant to say any group or individual practicing torture, regardless of whether or not it is legitimized.

    For that matter, the death penalty is never much talked about with regards to the consequences on the soul of the nation, as you say. We only hear about the immorality of murder, and I think we know how the proponents respond to that.

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