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Heather Mac Donald
A further response to Sullivan

14 January 2005

Throwing around the word “torture” may make for a warm glow of self-righteousness, but it doesn’t mean that one has grappled with the facts. Mr. Sullivan continues to insist that the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse was the result of administration interrogation policies. Specifically, he claims that “torture techniques from Gitmo . . . migrated to Iraq.” It would be illuminating to learn which “torture techniques from Gitmo” Mr. Sullivan is referring to.

HAS HE READ THE INTERROGATION RULES? Here are the non-conventional interrogation techniques that were approved for Gitmo:

--Change of Scenery Up: Removing the detainee from the standard interrogation setting (generally to a location more pleasant, but no worse).

--Change of Scenery Down: Removing the detainee from the standard interrogation setting and placing him in a setting that may be less comfortable; would not constitute a substantial change in environmental quality.

--Dietary Manipulation: Changing the Diet of a detainee; no intended deprivation of food or water; no adverse medical or cultural effect and without intent to deprive subject of food or water, e.g., hot rations to MREs [meals ready to eat].

--Environmental Manipulation: Altering the environment to create moderate discomfort (e.g., adjusting temperature or introducing an unpleasant smell). Conditions would not be such that they would injure the detainee. Detainee would be accompanied by interrogator at all times.

--Sleep Adjustment: Adjusting the sleeping times of the detainee (e.g., reversing sleep cycles from night to day.) This technique is NOT sleep deprivation.

--False Flag: Convincing the detainee that individuals from a country other than the United States are interrogating him.

--Isolation: Isolating the detainee from other detainees while still complying with basic standards of treatment. [Caution: The use of isolation as an interrogation technique requires detailed implementation instructions, including specific guidelines regarding the length of isolation, medical and psychological review, and approval for extension of the length of isolation by the appropriate chain of command. This technique is not known to have been generally used for interrogation purposes for longer than 30 days. Those nations that believe detainees are subject to POW protections may view use of this technique as inconsistent with the requirements of Geneva III.]

All those techniques required a specific interrogation plan, the presence or availability of qualified medical personnel, appropriate supervision, and senior approval. They were developed because Al Qaida’s financiers and explosives experts, among other operatives, had been trained to resist conventional interrogation methods and were giving up no information vital to protect against the next terrorist attack.

I presume Mr. Sullivan regards putting someone on vacuum-sealed food rather than hot meals “torture,” even though millions of soldiers and backpackers suffer such alleged severe abuse all the time. Ditto having to sleep during one’s usual waking time and stay awake during one’s usual sleep time, even though thousands of intercontinental travelers voluntarily subject themselves to such abuse. Being fooled into believing that one is being interrogated by a Saudi also might qualify for “torture” in Mr. Sullivan’s world view, even though police detectives routinely use deception against common criminals without violating the Convention Against Torture.

THE TRUTH: Mr. Sullivan keeps himself safely distant from the law as well as from the facts. The following definitions of torture were provided by the Senate and Justice Department officials in codifying the Convention Against Torture: “Torture is understood to be that barbaric cruelty which lies at the top of the pyramid of human rights misconduct.” “The term ‘torture,’ in U.S. and international usage, is usually reserved for extreme, deliberate and unusually cruel practices, for example, sustained systematic beating, application of electric currents to sensitive parts of the body, and tying up or hanging in positions that cause extreme pain.” Presumably, Mr. Sullivan regards removing someone from the standard interrogation booth to a “less comfortable setting that would not constitute a substantial change in environmental quality” “barbaric cruelty” tantamount to “systematic beating.”

Mr. Sullivan also refuses to disclose which of the sadistic behaviors engaged in by Charles Graner and his pathetic colleagues he finds authorized by the Gitmo interrogation rules. Try as I may, I find no license in the Gitmo interrogation policy for punching detainees, jumping on them, beating them with batons, compelling masturbation, and forcing prisoners into naked dog piles. Had the Abu Ghraib guards followed the Guantánamo rules, the abuse would never have happened.

The Fay and Schlesinger reports chronicle the “confusing and inconsistent interrogation technique policies” that circulated in the chaos of the Iraqi war zone. That churning “confused Army and civilian Interrogators at Abu Ghraib.” But the interrogation policy that was finally developed gave no sanction to the abuse of prisoners. The Abu Ghraib rules read as follows:

Safeguards: The approaches must always be humane and lawful, detainees will NEVER be touched in a malicious or unwanted manner. The Geneva Conventions apply within CJTF-7 [the U.S. counterinsurgency forces operating in post-Saddam Iraq].

The following techniques require the commanding general’s approval; all requests must be submitted in writing:

    Change of scenery down
    Dietary manipulation (monitored by med [medical team])
    Environmental manipulation
    Sleep adjustment (reverse schedule)
    Isolation for more than 30 days
    Presence of mil [military] working dogs
    Sleep management (72 hrs max)
    Sensory deprivation (72 hrs max)
    Stress position (no longer than 45 minutes)

    Everyone is responsible for ensuring compliance to the IROE
    [Interrogation Rules of Engagement]
    Violations must be reported immediately to the officer in charge.

Nothing in those rules permits assaults on prisoners or sadistic humiliation.

Far from “pretending” that the abuse at Abu Ghraib never happened, a remarkable accusation, I explicitly condemn it in my article. The assaults resulted from the shameful breakdown of military order in the prison, and the Pentagon’s refusal to send enough troops to respond to the insurgency. As the avalanche of prisoners taken in the street fighting overwhelmed the inadequate contingent of guards and officers at Abu Ghraib, order within the ranks broke down as thoroughly as order in the operation of the prison itself. Soldiers talked back to their superiors, refused to wear uniforms, operated prostitution and bootlegging rings, engaged in rampant and public sexual misbehavior, covered the facilities with graffiti, and indulged in drinking binges while on duty. No one knew who was in command. The guards’ sadistic and sexualized treatment of prisoners was just an extension of the chaos they were already wallowing in with no restraint from above. Had the guards followed the rules for detainee treatment, the abuse would never have happened.

THE BOTTOM LINE: What is ultimately at stake in this debate is the validity of the administration’s decision not to confer Geneva Convention prisoner of war status on terrorists. Mr. Sullivan refuses to explain why he thinks that terrorists who aim to massacre as many civilians as possible, hide in the civilian population, and fail to carry arms openly or wear uniforms, should be granted status as lawful combatants. Nor does he explain how such a decision would lead to a safer, more law-abiding world. To the contrary, by destroying any incentive to comply with the laws of war, a decision to confer POW status on terrorists would lead to world anarchy, as the New York Times and the Washington Post recognized in 1987 when they applauded the Reagan administration’s refusal to confer law combatant status on terrorists. Mr. Sullivan, apparently, disagrees. It would be interesting to learn why.

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More by Heather Mac Donald:
Prosecution Gets Smart
New York City’s Crime Disease
De Blasio’s Policing Dilemma
More . . .
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