Torture continues — in and by the U.S.

Over at National Public Radio, Ombudsman Alicia Shepard is taking plenty of reader/listener criticism for her defense of NPR’s refusal to call torture by its name. The issue continues to be relevant, because torture continues, in Guantanamo and in the United States.

Shepard summarizes the NPR issue neatly:

The Ombudsman’s office has received a slew of emails challenging NPR’s policy of using the words “harsh interrogation tactics” or “enhanced interrogation techniques” to describe the treatment of terrorism suspects under the Bush administration.

Some say that by not using the word “torture” NPR is serving as right-wing apologists for water-boarding and other methods of extracting information.

Shepard defends NPR policy of using terms favored by the late and unlamented Bush Administration:

It’s a no-win case for journalists. If journalists use the words “harsh interrogation techniques,” they can be seen as siding with the White House and the language that some U.S. officials, particularly in the Bush administration, prefer. If journalists use the word “torture,” then they can be accused of siding with those who are particularly and visibly still angry at the previous administration.

The point, as made by many of the commenters, is that there is no neutral ground. What you call waterboarding or prolonged sleep deprivation or hours of extreme cold or heat expresses a judgment. If you call such tactics “enhanced interrogation,” then you are accepting the position that they are something other than torture.

Shepard does make a strong argument for the journalistic maxim of “show, don’t tell,” saying:

To me, it makes more sense to describe the techniques and skip the characterization. For example, reporters could say that the U.S. military poured water down a detainee’s mouth and nostrils for 40 seconds. Or they could detail such self-explanatory techniques as forcing detainees into cramped confines crawling with insects, or forced to stand for hours along side a wall.

I’m all for a more exact, vivid and powerful description of what is being done to people in the name of my country. Let’s describe it, and let’s stop it. The job of journalism, or at least one of its jobs, is to shine the spotlight on the evil that people do, especially official people, and especially the evil that our tax dollars are paying for.

That brings me to part 2 of this post – torture today, and especially force feeding.

In Daily Kos, LithiumCola writes an extensive analysis of force feeding, from the suffragette movement in England nearly a century ago to Guantanamo today – and that means today, June 28, 2009. The practice did not end with the Bush administration.

Moreover, force feeding may also be taking place in other prison settings around the country. In Wisconsin, Judge Andrew Bissonnette ordered an end to years of force feeding inmate Warren Lilly Most significantly, Judge Bissonnette argues that the DOC cannot continue what it’s doing to Lilly because of how cruel it’s become.

While forced feeding is always “painful and dangerous,” the judge notes that for the first couple of years Lilly’s feedings took only about 10 minutes each and prompted no resistance. In February 2007, this grew to 20-30 minutes, and eventually to two hours or more. On occasion, Lilly has also been Maced and Tasered.

Bissonnette speculates that “DOC staff have intentionally tried to ratchet up the intrusiveness and the difficulty and the discomfort experienced by Mr. Lilly in carrying out his self-imposed hunger strike.”

This month’s Harpers, writes LithiumCola, reports extensively on the on-going force feeding of 30 prisoners at Guantanamo. The force feeding continues, despite the proclaimed end to torture. Harpers and LithiumCola remind readers of “Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which—by every interpretation but that of the U.S. government—clearly forbids force-feeding.”

The video of force feeding of Warren Lilly and the vivid description in Harpers of force feeding of Guantanamo prisoners are convincing evidence that force feeding is torture.

David Remes, an attorney who represents fifteen detainees at Guantánamo, wrote in an April petition to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that one of his clients, Farhan Abdul Latif, had been suffering in particular. When the nasogastric tube “is threaded though his nostril into his stomach,” it “feels like a nail going into his nostril, and like a knife going down his throat.” Latif had in recent months resorted to covering himself with his own excrement in order “to avoid force-feeding and that, when he was finally force-fed, the tube was inserted through the excrement covering his nostrils.”

Waterboarding is torture. Confining a prisoner to a small box and placing insects in the box with him is torture. Subjecting a prisoner to extremes of cold and heat in order to “break” him or her is torture. Force feeding is torture – according to Judge Bissonnette, according to the Geneva Convention, according to the Red Cross.

President Obama says that America does not torture. It’s time to stand and deliver on that commitment, by ending force feeding and all other forms of torture.

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