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Editorial Reflections

Torture report calls us to free prisoners, make powerful care

As Senator John McCain said in his Senate speech in favor of releasing the Senate Intelligence Committee report on use of torture by the Central Intelligence Agency, “The entire world already knows that we waterboarded prisoners.  It knows we subjected prisoners to various other types of degrading treatment ... Those practices haven’t been a secret for a decade.”

Judging by the flurry of flak heading his way, we might think that putting it down on paper was the crime.  Others dismissed the report.  One commentator called it a travesty.   A quibbler-critic dismissed both the senator and the report.  He said there was no torture because there were no physical scars on the prisoners.

The senator’s interpretation of why there has been such a fuss: The real secret has been that torture doesn’t work.

“I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners produces more bad than good intelligence.  I know victims of torture offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it,” he said in his Senate speech.  He once told an interviewer that he had given an interrogator the names of the line of a football team as high-level officials. 

In a prison, where rights of prisoners were prominently displayed where prisoners could read them, by-the-manual interrogation yielded solid information. The humane way prisoners were treated contrasted radically with the way their commanders had told them they would be treated.

Then the EIT people took over.   Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, the euphemism for Torture 101, is now referred to by its initials by some spokesmen.

My husband, Jim Minard, was a research psychologist for more than 40 years.  His main areas of research were sleep and perception.  He is familiar with research cited in support of these techniques.  In his opinion, the research has been misinterpreted and misused.

A number of types of deprivation have been used: social, sensory and sleep.  Food was also misused. Deprivation does not make memory sharper.  If anything, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, social deprivation and food deprivation skew perception and promote disorientation. 

On the surface, deprive a person of sleep and he thinks about sleep.  A conscientious objector we knew said illustrated magazine articles about food were the most popular reading matter among subjects of a starvation study he was in during World War II.

However, reactions to these types of deprivation are also highly individual and unpredictable.

In his speech, Senator McCain affirmed our right as citizens to know what is being done in our name.  “We also have the responsibility to know,” he said.

What do we do with this responsibility?

Do we, along with the senator, “know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored.”

Inspired by a Christmas poem by theologian Howard Thurman, hymnodist Jim Strathdee points us toward ongoing tasks, because when the angel song is done, the star is no longer in the sky and the shepherds and Magi have gone home, “the work of Christmas is begun.”  Another verse calls us “to free the prisoner from all chains, to make the powerful care, to rebuild the nations with strength of good will, to see God’s children everywhere.”

Nancy Minard - Contributing Editor

Copyright © January 2015 - The Fig Tree