Everywhere I looked this week, I read about torturing suspects during interrogations. First, there was the release of the Special Prosecutor's Report on Police Torture in Chicago in the 1980's and 1990's. Although the report avoids the use of the word "torture," and focuses on only a few cases, the authors' comments at a press conference and even Mayor Daley's apology for his inaction recognized a "pattern of misconduct" involving Burge and his unit but claimed it did not emerge until years after he was first notified of possible abuses in the case of Andrew Wilson.
Torture was also in the news today in an article in the NY Times referencing the firing of Christine Axsmith, who worked as a contract employee for the CIA. Axsmith was fired for expressing her opinion that the interrogation technique of "waterboarding" -- which requires the near drowing of suspects and which has been used by the CIA on Khalid Sheik Mohammed and others -- constituted "torture" under the Geneva Conventions. Axsmith, an inveterate blogger, posted her opinion on "Covert Communications," a secret blog available only to those in the American intelligence community. To see what it is that Axsmith said, check out her other blog, econo-girl.blogspot.com
The CIA's experiments in the 1950's on mind control are the subject of a new book, BRAINWASH: The Secret History of Mind Control, by Dominic Streatfeild. After captured U.S. pilots were subjected to brutal psychological interrogations (recall the Manchurian Candidate) by Chinese authorities, the CIA wanted to make sure that it did not fall too far behind the pioneers in mind control (a Cold War competition like the "race to space"). According to Streatfeild, the CIA became obsessed with experimenting with narcotics, sleep and sensory deprivation in their efforts to see whether they could erase and implant memories and control human behavior. They tested these drugs (LSD was a favorite) on human guinea pigs, unwitting subjects like drug addicts, inmates and prostitutes, but the joke around the office at Christmas parties was don't drink the punch because it could be laced with acid. Streatfeild's book, which I have not read, also discusses the way British agents used hooding, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation and other techniques against suspected IRA members, tactics which led to worldwide condemnation and also yielded little in the way of solid intelligence. The book ends with an discussion of Abu Ghraib in an epilogue, reminding us that the many of the same techniques developed by the CIA are being used in the War on Terror.
Lastly, if you want to know more detail about the use of psychological torture in the War on Terror, I strongly recommend that you pick up Joe Margulies book Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power. I read it in a weekend and could not put it down. Margulies was one of the lead attorneys in Rasul v. Bush, one of the first cases in which the United Supreme Court sided with detainees at Guantanamo. With clarity and passion, he describes the evolution of the Administration's decision to use extreme interrogation tactics and its strained interpretation of the definition of "torture" to avoid violating the Geneva Conventions and other international prohibitions on torture. The book also works as an excellent history of the development of these tactics, focusing on the Kubark Manual, the bible of extreme interrogation, which drew on many of the findings of the CIA's postwar research into the psychology of human behavior (including, no doubt, some of the experiments described by Streitfeild). It also works as a legal thriller, describing some of the behind the scenes strategies for challenging the Administration's policies (the description of the amicus ("friend of the court") stategy is fascinating), and as a shining example of good lawyering. Margulies' account of how he prepared for his first interview with Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen (Egyptian-born) who was detained and tortured by Pakistani agents when he tried to flee Pakistan for Australia in the OCtober 2001, is a classic. After Habib was tortured by Pakistani agents, he was then sent by the U.S. to Egypt as part of the "extraordinary rendition" program, where he was subjected to even more torture, before finally arriving at Guantanamo. Knowing that his client was bound to be suspicious of an American claiming to be his lawyer, Margulies needed a way to convince Habib that he was for real. His solution -- to spend time with Habib's wife so that she could tell him some of their history together, particulary idiosyncratic events that had special meaning for the couple and would not likely be known by others. These intimate memories brought tears to Habib's eyes and cemented the trust that Margulies would need to effectively represent Habib who was eventually freed and reunited with his wife.
One final comment about torture -- more in the nature of a warning and caution. When the CIA and military interrogators come back to the United States and settle into civilian life, many will no doubt find work as interrogators on police forces around the country. One need only look at Jon Burge, who attended miltary police training school before a tour of duty in Korea and Vietnam, to see how a little bit if exposure to military training and some combat duty, can influence later-life decisions on how to interrogate suspects. We need to get laws requiring electronic recording of interrogations passed in as many states as possible to try to prevent these returning interrogators from using some of the push the envelope tactics they have been exposed to in Iraq on suspects here.