Thursday, April 16, 2009

Insect in a Box

I predicted earlier that though I was pleased at the news that the torture memos were going to be released, I'd be "outraged all over again" once I had a chance to read them. "Outrage" seems woefully insufficient at describing how I actually feel reading the excerpts that Glenn Greenwald provides. The title of this post references one particular method of torture that was specifically approved for use on Abu Zubaydah by Jay Bybee in this memo dated August 1st, 2002 (the same day that Bybee's already infamous "torture memo" was released, the memo that establishes the general parameters of what is and is not torture under the Bush administration's legal regime.) Rather than type out the pertinent language myself, here's an image from the scanned memo:

Admire this reasoning, that essentially amounts to saying "Well, you can't put a stinging insect in there, but you can tell him that you are, but you must tell him that it's not one that will actually cause his death." The reasoning behind this is astonishing. As I said to my co-bloggers in saltier language in an email, this is something like the Miranda warning approach to torture. I haven't yet read the entire memo, but I'm sure the "predicate act" that Bybee is referring to is the one he defined in the torture memo of the same date, which equates torture with (among other things) mental pain caused by threats of imminent death. So because telling someone that you're going to put a stinging insect that might kill him in a coffin with him amounts to torture under Bybee's definition of the term, you must inform the detainee that the insect is a non-lethal stinging insect, even if what you actually intend to do is put a non-stinging insect in the box with him. So basically it's okay to lock a guy in a coffin with a bug, but you can't actually make him think he'll die from it. And this man is now a federal judge. 

The bizarro factor here is incredible. First, in the fact that anyone ever thought something as ridiculous as sticking Zubaydah in a box with a bug would be an effective way to garner information from him. No wonder the CIA didn't want these memos released; they feared that we'd be both horrified by and laughing at the ridiculous torture methods they dreamed up. Second, that anyone could ever author legal advice that essentially states that as long as you say certain magical words to the detainee, doing so isn't actually torture. 

There's more of course; I'm writing only about what I think to be the most bizarre and ridiculous aspect of these memos. But there's nothing even slightly amusing about what's in the rest of the memos, regarding waterboarding, "walling" and stress positions. Read them if you can stomach it.

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