Torture: The bell tolls for us all

There are words for men like Dick Cheney, but they are not used in polite society. And calling his parentage into question will not change the legacy of moral disgrace facing the USA. Nothing, but nothing, justifies torture.

In a recent interview, the former US vice-president claimed that Osama Bin Laden would not have been tracked down and killed if it had not been for information gathered by torturing captured al-Qaida leaders. Defending what he called “enhanced interrogation” – a cowardly euphemism for torture – Cheney said it produced “phenomenal” results, dismissing the Obama administration’s investigations of its legality as “objectionable”.

Enhanced interrogation techniques were authorized by the George W. Bush administration and refer to brutality. They were used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Department of Defense to extract information from individuals captured during the “War on Terror” after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. The Obama administration stated in 2009 that it would abide by the Geneva Convention, calledl some of the techniques torture, and repudiated their use.

Enhanced interrogation techniques included:

  • Waterboarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Material is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured on, asphyxiating him.
  • Hypothermia: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50º F (10º C), while being regularly doused with cold water in order to increase the rate at which heat is lost from the body.
  • Stress positions: The prisoner is forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor, for more than 40 hours, causing the body weight to be placed on just one or two muscles.
  • Abdomen strikes: A hard, open-handed slap is dealt to the prisoner’s abdomen. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.
  • Slapping: An open-handed slap is delivered to the prisoner’s face, causing pain and triggering fear.

Other techniques being used by the US military included yelling; loud music and light control; environmental manipulation; sleep deprivation; 20-hour interrogations; controlled fear (muzzled dogs). But no imaginative person will believe that they stopped there.

Cheney insists that only a small number of men were subjected to “enhanced interrogation”, completely failing to mention extraordinary rendition –  the abduction and illegal transfer of a person by the US from one nation to another, also called “torture by proxy”. Cheney even had the effrontery to question the moral outcry against torture:

 “One of the things I’ve found most objectionable with respect to the Obama administration when they came in was the initial decision by the president and attorney general that they were going to investigate and prosecute the people in the intelligence community who had carried out this interrogation programme at our direction. I thought that was a terrible precedent to set.”

Let’s be absolutely clear: Torture is prohibited under international law and the domestic laws of most countries. It is considered to be a violation of human rights. According to the United Nations Convention Against Torture (1984) it is:

“…any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

In his Meditation XVII the priest and poet John Donne memorably wrote: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

This vision of humanity includes our response to torture. Dick Cheney has probably never read John Donne. Or perhaps he believes he is not “involved in Mankind”. Only in his own corrupt and immoral world.

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One comment on “Torture: The bell tolls for us all

  1. Erin Green says:

    Cheney et al. should end up at The Hague.

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