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New U.S. torture tactics revealed

Posted By Philippe Khan 

Instead of scrapping abusive interrogation tactics that are being practiced not only in the CIA’s secret overseas prisons but also in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush administration is finalizing new methods that would give even wider latitude for torture techniques.

According to an article published on the New York Times last week, the new interrogation tactics are expected to prohibit water-boarding, the most used method by U.S. interrogators despite its cruelty. However, the so-called “enhanced interrogation” methods would allow prolonged stress positions, exposure to harsh elements as well as general mental and physical torture; methods that “go beyond those allowed in the military by the Army Field Manual,” according to the Times.

Apparently President Bush was forced to give orders for the new interrogation methods following critics’ fears over the use of such tactics and whether they are the best means to obtain a full and reliable intelligence debriefing of a detainee. 

The “enhanced interrogation” methods follow the passage of the Military Commission Act of 2006, which allowed indefinite detention of prisoners and sanctioned military commissions. It also modified the War Crimes Act and gave the president explicit authority to interpret the Geneva Conventions. This was done to protect U.S. officials from prosecution and pave the way for a presidential directive that would authorize the CIA to carry out methods that amount to violations of Common Article III of the Geneva Conventions. 

Philip Zelikow, former adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and currently a professor at the University of Virginia, gave an indication of what the new directive would allow. He also admitted that the Bush administration has sought, since 2002, to systematically implement a program of techniques that amount to torture in secret overseas prisons, Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Zelikow also made clear that the Bush administration applied shoddy legal reasoning to justify these new extreme measures. “The international legal strictures [including the Geneva Conventions] were interpreted so that they would not add any constraints beyond the chosen reading of American law,” he said. “Brilliant lawyers worked hard on how they could then construe the limits of vague, untested laws. They were operating so close to the frontiers of our law that, within only a couple years, the Department of Justice eventually felt obliged to offer a second legal opinion, rewiring their original views of the subject.” 

Zelikow was referring to the “torture memo” drawn up by Justice Department lawyers under the guidance of then White House Counsel and current Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The memo interpreted the term “torture” so narrowly to allow virtually any technique, while at the same time arguing that the President has the constitutional authority to order torture.

The Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Defense recently issued a report related to prisoners’ abuse that discussed torture programs adopted by the United States and illustrated how some of these methods violate Army Field Manual. Such tactics were used in Guantanamo Bay and later transferred to Iraq. 

Guantanamo grew more popular when the prisoners’ abuse scandal erupted in 2002. Torture methods such as water-boarding, cold weather exposure and death threats were authorized by the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Despite the fact that such authorization was revoked later, these techniques are still being used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Abu Gharib is another example of the U.S. abusive interrogation policies that was criticized in the Inspector General’s report which attributed such incidents to the growing violence in Iraq. “Counter resistance interrogations techniques migrated to Iraq,” the report said, “in part because operations personnel believed that traditional interrogation techniques were no longer effective for all detainees.”

According to the New York Times, the new techniques being developed by the CIA are probably derived from the Soviet Union since the military program was created during the Cold War. The military program is mostly known as SERE, “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training” and its techniques included prolonged use of stress positions, exposure to heat and cold and sleep deprivation. 

Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee are seeking to incorporate in the next intelligence authorization bill a requirement for a legal review of the CIA’s interrogation programs. Many hope that the new approach would change the tactics adopted by the Bush administration; from authorizing extreme techniques and rationalizing torture – practices that tarnished the U.S. image in the whole world and undermined its interests in Iraq and elsewhere because such techniques don’t lead to reliable intelligence. 


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