Offering an idiot’s guide to torture tactics

Published 11:10 am Friday, May 8, 2009

Let’s say that you want to torture your enemies, not because you like the barbaric practice, but solely because you want to protect your country.

There could not be a more noble cause, no more defined purpose, no more necessary step to insure the safety of the public.

Yet, in your country, as in many nations, torture is illegal. Not just by federal law, but by your history, your military code of justice, and the numerous treaties your nation has signed over generations denouncing the practice of torture.

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One no less than your founding father and first president refused torture though his enemies practiced the despicable acts against your fellow citizens.

So, how do you ignore all of this, commit torture and avoid being held criminally and morally responsible for your acts by law and history?

Not an easy task, but one that inventive, creative people can manage with a self-righteous justification and smug self assurance usually reserved for tyrants and dictators.

Step One: Say out loud, so others can hear, that this war is different from all other wars, this enemy less human.

This initial step is necessary in order to justify all that will follow. It demonizes the other and sanctifies all the steps you will take to deal with this evil.

Step Two: Create some form of legal cover, hopefully by the simple method of re-defining the meaning of language.

The initial problem of existing law and treaty must be overcome.

Now, in the case of the U.S. for example, not only do our laws stand in the way of torture, and our signature on the Geneva Conventions, but also our ratification of the 1984 Convention Against Torture (CAT) creates a potential problem for the practice of torture.

CAT states that there are “no circumstances whatsoever…that could be invoked as a justification of torture.” CAT then defines torture as “…severe pain or suffering, either mental or physical.”

Sounds impossible to get around, doesn’t it?

Not true. Given new words such as “enhanced or robust or special interrogations” one can simply say these practices are not torture at all. They are … different.

These re-definitions work to stifle debate, since one simply argues, as does ex-VP Dick Cheney, “We don’t torture.”

But there remains the legal issue, one that can result in international trial if not managed. So one could have the White House Office of Legal Council (OLC), the official legal adviser to the administration, draft words explaining how the difficult words are mitigated.

For example, on Aug. 1, 2002, the OLC issued a memo that defined torture in such a way that committing torture would be virtually impossible.

To be torture the acts would have to last months, even years, and result in death or failure of bodily functions. Thus waterboarding, and other acts previously called torture, became enhanced techniques.

Step Three: Hire torturers. This is not as easy as it sounds when there are no experienced professionals in your employment.

But here you simply employ the CIA, create secret prisons and, as an insurance policy, give the director a Medal of Freedom for his failure to anticipate 9/11, his failure to access the non-threat of Iraq, and, most importantly, his willingness to torture.

Step Four. Claim success, but note that because of security issues you cannot speak of the specifics of the great successes brought to you by torture, ahem, non-torture.

Step Five: Claim that critics of your torture were aware of it, but it didn’t happen, and if it did it was to save the nation.

Step Six: Pray no one is paying attention to these lies and crimes.

Jim Crawford is a contributing columnist for The Tribune and a former educator at Ohio University Southern.