Monday, September 21, 2009

In Case You Still Thought Torture Worked

Though I believe that the most important debate surrounding the US torture program is the moral one, the fact remains that torture simply doesn't work. The Scientific American reports today that yet another study has come out proving that torture is counterproductive to the acquisition of meaningful information.

To quote the Scientific American article:

Proponents claim that waterboarding's effective because prisoners will tell the truth to make the interrogation stop. But O’Mara says that’s not supported by scientific evidence. Harsh interrogation doesn’t motivate prisoners to tell the truth. It motivates them to talk. Because while they’re talking they’re not being waterboarded. But that doesn’t mean that what they say is true.

What’s more, prolonged extreme stress impairs memory retrieval. American Special Ops soldiers have been shown to have trouble recalling things they’d learned before being subjected to food- or sleep-deprivation as part of their training. That’s because stress hormones can compromise brain activity, especially in regions involved in memory.

The real bombshell here is that torture in not merely inneffective but that it actually impairs memory. Despite this and many, many, concurring studies, we still get lots of opinion makers leaving us such intellectual treatises as this beauty of an editorial. Remind me exactly why torture is worth the damage to our moral fiber and international reputation?

You can read the Scientific American article or listen to a podcast of it here.


Rachel Maddow covers the story in the first half of this segment:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Obama Admin. contends that Bagram Detainees have no rights

Even as the Obama administration makes platitudes about closing Guantanamo and ending the US torture program, the DOJ filed a brief on September 14th asserting that, unlike Guantanamo detainees, prisoners in Afghanistan's Bagram air base have no rights whatsoever. Nada, zip.

The briefing appears to depend on a very narrow reading of the US Supreme Court ruling in Boumediene v. Bush which firmly established habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo detainees. The ACLU says in their statement that the DOJ has missed the entire point of the Boumediene ruling, and that it obviously upheld judicial review in all cases of detention.

This filing on the part of the Obama administration is deeply disappointing. What good is phasing out Guantanamo if, as the ACLU purports, the federal government can just send the detainees to Bagram instead, where they will have even less rights. Though the Obama administration is starting to give Bagram prisoners avenues to challenge their detentions, the prisoners' lack of habeas corpus rights is morally reprehensible.

For further reading see this ABC News Blog article.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Ali Soufan Testimonial and the Truth About The Effectifeveness of Torture

This video of former FBI Interrogator Ali Soufan's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee should be required viewing for understanding the torture debate:

Ali Soufan makes two key points:

1. Key information was gleaned from Abu Zubaydah using professional and unquestionably legal FBI techniques. Once torture began, no more useful information was received.

2. The "smoking gun" argument is bogus. Torture (and especially sleep deprivation) takes time. Soufan received untarnished information from Zubaydah in the first hour using his techniques.

With this testimonial, the vast majority of the torture apologist / Dick Cheney argument is dismantled. No smoking gun can wait 180 hours for a sleep deprivation stage. The argument that torture's immorality was overshadowed by its effectiveness is shattered when its use directly caused the end of the information flow.

None of these facts can stop Cheney's fact-free media circuit, but with any luck he will begin to be challenged for his irreverence for the facts of torture's proven ineffectiveness.

Spain is Prosecuting the Bush Torture Lawyers!

Spain is going to go ahead with its exhaustive prosecution of the Bush lawyers (including Alberto Gonzales!) who constructed the argument for torture:

Spain to proceed with torture prosecution of Bush lawyers: Report

While this is unlikely to have the sway that Holder's special investigator will have in what actually happens to these men, this investigation will actually examine the legality of the entire program. The Holder investigation will only look at instances where interrogators overstepped the already outrageous bounds of the Bibey and Yoo memos.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Torture Focus

This semester I will be refocusing this blog on the torture debate in the United States. The largest reason why I am doing this is my upcoming Religious Studies course, "Religion and Politics". I plan to look specifically at Cheney, the "Bush Legacy Contract", and of course how the Obama administration defines the torture debate for themselves.

These are exciting times for the fate of human dignity, so please stay tuned!