a mouthpiece of depravity duly rewarded

You’ll be pleased to learn that John Yoo, the notorious author of the Bush administration’s ‘torture memos’, has just been made a regular columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His appointment comes as we learn more about what his interrogation recommendations actually meant. For instance, sleep deprivation — big joke, yes? Why, a lot of people miss out on sleep all the time! That nice Philip Ruddock said keeping prisoners awake wasn’t torture — and he was a member of Amnesty International! Well, here, via Firedoglake, is a description of what CIA-style sleep deprivation actually entailed:

John Helgerson’s 2004 CIA Inspector General report on the Company’s interrogations found “sleep deprivation” more problematic than any other technique, except waterboarding, was “because of how it was applied.” Stephen Bradbury describes “sleep deprivation” in his May 10, 2005 memo. Up until now, the media has focused on the outrageous time limits: up to 180 hours of continuous wakefulness (over 7 full days), down from 240 hours earlier in the CIA), but the duration was only the half of it:

The primary method of sleep deprivation involves the use of shackling to keep the detainee awake. In this method, the detainee is standing and is handcuffed, and the handcuffs are attached by a length of chain to the ceiling. The detainee’s hands are shackled in front of his body, so that the detainee has approximately a two- to three-foot diameter of movement. The detainee’s feet are shackled to a bolt in the floor. Due care is taken to ensure that the shackles are neither too loose nor too tight for physical safety. We understand from discussions with OMS [CIA Office of Medical Services] that the shackling does not result in any significant physical pain for the subject. The detainee’s hands are generally between the level of his heart and his chin. In some cases, the detainee’s hands may be raised above the level of his head, but only for a period of up to two hours. All of the detainee’s weight is borne by his legs and feet during standing sleep deprivation. You have informed us that the detainee is not allowed to hang from ‘or’ support his body weight with the shackles. Rather, we understand that the shackles are only used as a passive means to keep the detainee standing and thus to prevent him from falling asleep; should the detainee begin to fall asleep, he will lose his balance and awaken, either because of the sensation of losing his balance or because of the restraining tension of the shackles. The use of this passive means for keeping the detainee awake avoids the need for using means that would require interaction with the detainee and might pose a danger of physical harm.

Shackled in forced positions with limited movement, mostly forced to stand for hours or days on end, and kept awake, these techniques amount to forced standing, forced positioning, limitation of movement (hence a form of kinesthetic deprivation), and disorientation (fear of falling). Yet there is more. The prisoner is often if not usually nude, save for a diaper, which is reportedly changed often enough not to cause a rash, but certainly humiliating and meant to induce shame. Meals are fed to the prisoner by hand, which is also humiliating, but these meals are not food as we might think of it, but “bland, unappetizing” “commercial liquid meal replacements” containing 1500 calories maximum per day. (The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a minimum of 1800 calories per day for men, 1200 for women. In other words, these prisoners are slowly starving. The restricted diet is to be discontinued if a prisoner were to lose ten percent of their body weight. By way of comparison, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM), loss of five percent or more body weight in a given period is a telling sign of clinical depression.)

The fellow responsible for instructing interrogators as to how tight to keep the shackles on detainees enduring 180 hours of wakefulness will now be paid to lecture the good citizens of Philadelphia on the issues of the day. Way to prevent the collapse of the newspaper industry!

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

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  1. When I was young and an active agitator we used to say “No peace without justice”. I thought it was a kind of moral imperative but now I understand it is a simple fact about how the world works. There will be no peace in the world until the people actually responsible for degrading all of us with this behaviour are bought to account.

  2. This reminds me of, of all things, an episode of Law & Order in which they spent the whole episode trying to get a (fictional) doctor who did something similar, to go to trial for the murder of an Afghan man who ended up dying of a heart attack. They failed but she did lose her job so there was some sense of ‘justice’. I was struck, at the time, that a crappy formulaic show like that was making a vigorous and moving argument for notions of responsibility when most news media and politicians were dodging it.

  3. Yes. We already know that at least a hundred people have died under interrogation in Iraq and Afghanistan. If some oil-producing country had a record like that, all the pundits would be talking about regime change.

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