Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

US: Bush torture memos released

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The document describes in detail the correct way to waterboard a prisoner: the interrogator lays him down at a 15 degree angle, smothers his face with a wet cloth, and pours water continually onto the cloth, making it impossible to breathe.

If the detainee struggles, the memo calmly states, the interrogator can cup his hands around the prisoner’s nose and mouth to suffocate him. The treatment continues sporadically for up to two hours, with doctors standing by to ensure the victim does not actually die, but simply experiences “a sensation of drowning” that will “cause fear and panic.”

The words sound like something from a Nazi interrogation manual. In fact, they come from memos written by the U.S. Justice Department and recently declassified by the Obama Administration. The memos seek to justify the CIA’s use of what the media euphemistically calls “harsh interrogation techniques”- in other words, torture.

The memos endorse such gruesome techniques as keeping detainees awake for 11 days straight, shackled and chained to the ceiling, and dousing them with frigid water. They approve slamming a prisoner into a wall as many as 30 times “to wear down the detainee and to shock or surprise the detainee.”

By stripping a suspect naked, the memos recommend, “interrogators can exploit the detainee’s fear of being seen naked” and “clothing can be provided as an instant reward for cooperation.”

These memos were used to justify, for example, the waterboarding of accused Al Qaeda operative Abu Zabaydah 83 times at a secret CIA prison. And the same vicious disregard for human life has led to outright killings of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The United States once prosecuted Japanese interrogators for war crimes after they used similar methods during World War II. Incredibly, the Obama Administration has announced it will not take legal action against CIA torturers, saying they were “relying in good faith on legal advice.” Nor is any action planned against the top Bush Administration officials in the Justice Department and White House who authorized this program.

But as Michael Ratner, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, pointed out in the New York Times, “Torture is torture and all the legal window dressing in the world cannot hide its essence: the infliction of pain and suffering on human beings.”

The lack of consequences for the torturers and the Justice Department lawyers who enabled them (who might be disbarred but will likely escape prosecution), not to mention Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush and Co., shows the hollowness of the ruling class’s insistence on the rule of law.

Apparently, the rule of law applies when it comes to workers who cross the border illegally or go on strike, but brutal CIA henchmen can be let off the hook because they received some bad advice.

Democratic leaders’ refusal to hold torturers accountable underlines the hollowness of Obama’s promise of change. Genuine change will only be achieved through building a massive, politically independent movement of ordinary working people that puts human needs – and human rights! – above the profits and imperialist ambitions of US big business.

By SP reporters


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