Pulls Its Punches
, 03 Dec 2011
For those new to this topic, this is a decent introduction to American torture since 2001.
However, it pulls its punches, intellectually and in terms of content.
Intellectually, it doesn't demolish the arguments for torture as decisively as it might. It gives recent torture almost no historical context (except for a useful clip from an American WWII veteran at the end, which points out that the American reputation during that war was, rightly, for humane standards of behaviour towards captured prisoners); what makes recent events so disturbing is that when Americans faced far greater threats in the last century, they did not try to legitimize torture as a way to combat them. It only begins to analyse the complex of factors which led to the torture at Guantanamo Bay, Bagram, and Abu Ghraib (including for example the fact that in Abu Ghraib some of the same soldiers who were endangering their lives on patrol and making arrests, and had little or no training in detention let alone interrogation, then guarded the prisoners whom they had taken, at night).
In terms of content, it doesn't mention the fact that, for example, the photos from Abu Ghraib are only those which were released, which were a small (and maximally innocuous) fraction of those photos and videos taken. These are now being held by the American government, and Obama has said that he will not release them, since this might endanger American lives.
Practices of American military or CIA agents in Afghanistan or Iraq which were not mentioned, or were not given sufficient emphasis, include:
spattering interrogation rooms with animal blood to make prisoners believe that the blood belonged to previous interrogatees, faked executions, men and women prisoners kept naked for days on end, prisoners photographed and filmed whilst naked and/or performing sexual acts, prisoners told that these photos and films would be released to their families and communities, prisoners photographed whilst dead, prohibition of prisoners speaking to fellow prisoners or looking at guards, on pain of beating, prisoners forced to stare into bright light for up to ten hours, prisoners kept for days in cells too small to stand upright or sit down in, prisoners kept in absolute darkness or under flashing lights, prisoners doused by ice-water and left naked in ventilated cells, prisoners forced to do push-ups with soldiers standing on their backs, prisoners chained for hours to the ceiling with their toes just scraping the floor, prisoners being allowed only two bathroom trips a day and being left soiled if they defecated or urinated on themselves whilst hanging, guards urinating on prisoners, prisoners being played a single song at top volume with the speaker inches from their head for hours on end, prisoners being forced to fellate one another, guards jumping ontop of naked prisoners arranged in a pile, men and women prisoners being raped by penises, rifles, and fluorescent lights, and infliction of electric shocks.
For documentation of these and other abuses see Mark Danner, Torture and Truth (London: Granta Books, 2005) and Joshua E.S. Phillips, None of Us Were Like This Before (London: Verso, 2010); the latter also contains helpful analysis of factors which led to the torture.
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