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A 2005 Warning to 2009 AG Holder: Prosecute Torturers

Before the Bradbury memo on May 30, 2005, and before the Bradbury memo on May 10, 2005, and before the other Bradbury memo on May 10, 2005, there was the testimony of Douglas A. Johnson, executive director of the Center for the Victims of Torture, at the January 5, 2005 confirmation hearings of Alberto Gonzales to be Attorney General.

First, let’s let Johnson introduce himself:

The Center for Victims of Torture was established in 1985 as the first specialized institution in the United States to provide rehabilitation to victims of government-sponsored torture and to work for the abolition of torture. As CVT’s Executive Director for 16 years, I offer to you our expertise and experience about the realities of torture.

Sounds like someone who might be worth listening to, if you were going to write legal memos on the line between interrogation and torture, and the usefulness of what is obtained through such tactics. Johnson testified about the physical, mental, and social toll torture exacts on its victims, based on their experience with "more than 7500 people from 80 different nations." Indeed, torture’s effects go beyond the harm to the individual and infect entire communities (emphasis added):

We know that torture can profoundly damage relationships between family members and between the victim and their community. This level of trauma affects future generations, as we see higher rates of suicide and depression among the children of survivors. Torture is said to be one of the most effective weapons against democracy as survivors usually break ties with their community and retreat from public life.

Speaking of the Bybee memo of August 1, 2002 and other documents known at the time, Johnson went on:

The White House Counsel memoranda are replete with legal errors, political miscalculations, and moral lapses. They disregard the human suffering caused by torture and inhumane treatment. They are based on faulty premises, even fantasies, about the benefits/payoffs of torture. What is striking about all of these memoranda is the lack of recognition of the physical and psychological damage of torture and inhumane treatment. The assumption behind the memoranda, particularly the Bybee memorandum and the later report by the Working Group on Interrogation, is that some form of physical and mental coercion is necessary to get information to protect the American people from terrorism. These are unproven assumptions based on anecdotes from agencies with little transparency. But they have been popularized in the American media by endless repetition of what is called the “ticking time bomb” scenario.

Indeed, BushCo apologist David Rivkin was still trumpeting this nonsense on Fox yesterday. But instead of unproven assumptions and assertions by lawyers, Johnson pointed to eight broad lessons CVT has learned about torture through treating its victims:

1. Torture does not yield reliable information.
2. Torture does not yield information quickly.
3. Torture will not be used only against the guilty.
4. Torture has a corrupting effect on the perpetrator.
5. Torture has never been confined to narrow conditions.
6. Psychological torture results in long-term damage.
7. Stress and duress techniques are forms of torture.
8. We cannot use torture and still retain the moral high ground.

(CVT explains these eight myths more fully here at their website.)

Despite this testimony from the head of one of the most prestigious medical facilities for the treatment of torture, Bradbury and his colleagues persisted in perpetuating these myths to justify their use by others. (Scientists whose work they misrepresented are not at all happy about that.)

But if Johnson’s testimony was a warning to the Bush DOJ that went unheeded, his testimony also serves as a warning to the Obama administration:

In global human rights campaigns against torture, one key focal point is the minister of justice or attorney general, who has three important roles: (1) to establish policies and procedures that diminish the incentive to use torture, such as regulating the role that confessions play in the overall administration of justice; (2) to prosecute or sanction torturers or persons who ill-treat detainees, and (3) to eliminate both the reality and the appearance of impunity among interrogators.

Attorney General Holder, are you listening?

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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