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Monthly Archives: March 2009

It seems like every week brings more horrible details about the use of torture on “high-value” US detainees (and a corresponding paucity of coverage of our treatment of run-of-the-mill prisoners). This Washington Post piece has a good roundup of the travesty of the torture of Abu Zubaida.

Detainee’s Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots

The application of techniques such as waterboarding — a form of simulated drowning that U.S. officials had previously deemed a crime — prompted a sudden torrent of names and facts. Abu Zubaida began unspooling the details of various al-Qaeda plots, including plans to unleash weapons of mass destruction.

This paragraph perpetuates the infuriating usage of “simulation” and
other theatrical language to describe waterboarding (my preferred
description is probably “controlled drowning,” which may imply that interrrogators have more “control” over violence than they do, but it at least doesn’t negate the drowning part). On the other hand, the piece is pretty clear about the clusterfuck this technique produced, as the prisoner stopped providing useful information and more or less broke down in multiple senses, both going crazy and making up ever more incredible stories to make it stop.

The blogger Digby has a good take on this in a discussion of “torture metrics” in which he compares Rumsfeld’s pressure for torture-based intelligence with the obsession with “body counts” of the military under Robert McNamara.


Pedro was until recently resident director of Trinity College’s human rights program in South America. He was a law student and activist in Chile’s socialist party until the coup in 1973. After arrest, torture and years of exile, he returned to Chile and was one of the initial organizers behind the re-dedication of the former torture site at Villa Grimaldi as a peace park and memorial.


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The anti-torture blog Invictus has a good analysis of this Daily Mail article about Binyam Mohamed’s account of his torture by the United States. The focus is on MI5’s complicity in his abuse, but Invictus also links Andy Worthington’s analysis, which frames the issue squarely as one of the US attempting to manufacture information–in other words, to use torture to construct an evidentiary performance from him. This passage from Invictus (emphasis added)  in particular grabbed me:

The Binyam Mohamed case is one that wakes people up, at least it has in Great Britain. (See Glenn Greenwald’s story comparing the U.S. to British coverage of the case.) But damn if I don’t know what it will take to unfreeze U.S. society on this topic. Torture remains a little understood and embarrassing subject in U.S. circles. It’s dimly recognized that if the lid were totally taken off, much of the establishment leadership in the U.S. would be revealed as culpable, or at least compromised. Hence, mainstream opinion makers are attempting to keep whatever scandals within “reasonable” limits.