How torture begets more torture.

The law, lawyers, and the court.
Oct. 27 2006 3:58 PM

Containing Torture

How torture begets even more torture.

(Continued from Page 1)

Clean tortures are unlike other tortures because they are calculated to prevent any kind of public expression of outrage or sympathy. They are also exceedingly hard to monitor and track, so their corrupting influence is pernicious.

Forced standing was regular fare in Stalinist prisons and German concentration camps, where there were, sometimes, specialized "standing cells." The CIA's own study of this technique showed that ankles and feet swell to twice their normal size within 24 hours. Moving becomes agony, and large blisters develop. The heart rate increases, and some prisoners faint.

Advertisement

Japan's fascist military police, the Kempeitai, routinely used hard slapping in the interrogation and punishment of Allied prisoners of war. "There can be few Allied prisoners of war," wrote Lord Russell of Liverpool, "who were not at some time slapped," adding that "a Japanese slap was something to remember." The pain and humiliation, he said, were intense. Few Allied prisoners would have been inclined to be forgiving when, in 1946, Prime Minister Tojo humbly apologized to the Allies for this particular form of torture.

Hard shaking is a well-known Israeli torture technique the Palestinians call "al-Hazz," one that doctors suspect can cause long-term brain damage. And cold rooms are well-known features of the worst days of American policing: from the nasty days of the Denver Black Hole and Chicago policing in the 1920s, to the Alabama police of the 1960s, who froze Freedom Riders in chilled cells.

Which brings us to the most notorious torture: waterboarding, or choking someone in water. In 1968, a soldier in the 1st Cavalry Division was court-martialed for waterboarding a prisoner in Vietnam. In fact, the practice was identified as a crime as early as 1901, when the Army judge advocate general court-martialed Maj. Edwin Glenn of the 5th U.S. Infantry for waterboarding, a technique he did not hesitate to call torture.

That military judge went further, anticipating (and then dismissing) a key justification President Bush and his allies use for torture today. The judge said that the defense of needing to obtain information through torture "falls completely," even when at war with "a savage or semi-civilized enemy" who conducts "his operations in violation of the rules of civilized war. This no modern State will admit for an instant."

Except, it seems, the United States in 2006.

Darius Rejali is a professor of political science and the author of Torture and Democracy, the winner of the 2007 Human Rights Best Book Award of the American Political Science Association.

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Nov. 25 2014 3:21 PM Listen to Our November Music Roundup Hot tracks for our fall playlist, exclusively for Slate Plus members.