Given the grim circumstances the world faced, I’ve always been queasy about being too gung ho in criticising the bombing raids of the allies in World War Two (though the allies circumstances were less and less grim, victory more and more inevitable when some of the worst raids occured). There’s also the argument that they shortened the war, though it’s hard to see how they did in Europe when bombing industrial and military targets might have. AC Grayling takes up the challenge arguing that the bombing was deeply wrong in a podcast on the marvellous Philosophy Bites. I guess he’s right.
Meanwhile in military circumstances completely different to the dire struggle for life and liberty that was World War Two, in the most frivolously declared war the West has been engaged in, we got into torture with nary a care. Hilzoy at the Washington Monthly takes up the story (HT Brad Delong).
The Washington Monthly: A couple of other things that are missing from the torture memos:
First, the memos cite various legal precedents for the definition of torture. They are particularly fond of Mehinovic v. Vuckovic, which involved “a course of conduct that included severe beatings to the genitals, head, and other parts of the body with metal pipes and various other items; removal of teeth with pliers; kicking in the face and ribs; breaking of bones and ribs and dislocation of fingers; cutting a figure into the victim’s forehead; hanging the victim and beating him; extreme limitations of food and water; and subjection to games of ‘Russian Roulette’.” (p. 24; the details of this case are repeated on four separate occasions in this memo alone, like an incantation.) Isn’t it strange, then, that not a single one of the cases in which the United States has prosecuted people for waterboarding turns up in these memos? You’d think they might be apposite. Oddly enough, though, Steven Bradbury didn’t think to include them.
Second: As I noted last night, under the US Code, an important issue in determining whether something counts as producing “severe mental pain or suffering” is whether it produces “prolonged mental harm”. In discussing this question, especially with regard to sleep deprivation and waterboarding, Steven Bradbury spends a lot of time discussing the scientific literature on these topics. And yet, once you think about it, he had a much better source of information available to him. These memos were written in May, 2005. The CIA had been using these “methods of interrogation” for nearly three years. Moreover, the memos fall all over themselves describing the repeated psychiatric evaluations that detainees are given:
“Prior to interrogation, each detainee is evaluated by medical and psychological professionals from the CIA’s Office of Medical Services (“OMS”) to ensure that he is not likely to suffer any severe physical or mental pain or suffering as a result of interrogation.” (p. 4)
Bradbury then quotes the OMS’ guidelines:
“[T]echnique-specific advance approval is required for all “enhanced” measures, and is ‘conditional on on-site medical and psychological personnel confirming from direct detainee examination that the enhanced technique(s) is not expected to produce “physical or mental pain or suffering”‘. As a practical matter, the detainee’s physical condition must be such that these interventions will not have lasting effect, and his psychological state strong enough that no severe psychological harm will result.” (p. 4)
“Medical and psychological personnel are on-scene throughout (and, as detailed below, physically present or otherwise observing during the application of many techniques, including all techniques involving physical contact with detainees), and “[d]aily physical and psychological evaluations are continued throughout the period of [enhanced interrogation technique] use.” (p. 5; square brackets in the original.)
With all those psychological workups having been conducted on CIA detainees over a period of nearly three years, one might think that the CIA, and specifically its Office of Medical Services, would have lots of information on whether or not the techniques under discussion actually did produce any “prolonged mental harm.” And yet, strange to say, the memos don’t mention any evidence at all about the effects of these techniques on CIA detainees. It’s pretty strange that the CIA had all that data about the psychiatric effects of its interrogation techniques ready to hand, and yet no one mentions it.
Or then again, maybe not.
 This is particularly striking in the case of Abu Zubaydah, whose psychiatric condition is described at considerable length in the August 1, 2002 memo. As Emptywheel has noted, the description of Abu Zubaydah in the memos is completely different from the FBI sources quoted by Ron Suskind — they called him “certifiable”. But let’s pretend we don’t know that, and ask: given the 2002 memo’s extensive description of Abu Zubaydah, and given that he was the detainee on whom these techniques had been used the longest, wouldn’t it be natural for Bradbury to explain what dazzling psychological health he was enjoying several years after the CIA had begun using “enhanced techniques” on him?
On reflection, though, maybe using Abu Zubaydah as a poster child for the benignity of the CIA’s methods would not have been such a good idea:
“The sadistic treatment of Abu Zubayda also seems to have affected him psychologically in bizarre ways. Two sources said that he became sexually obsessive, masturbating so much his captors feared he would injure himself. One described him as acting “like a monkey at the zoo.” A physician was called in for consultation — one of many instances in which health professionals have played truly disturbing roles in this program.”