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Obama’s Interrogation Policy and the Use of Torture in the Army Field Manual

(White House photo by Pete Souza)

(White House photo by Pete Souza)

For quite some time, I have strongly suggested that the progressive community take up the centrality of abusive interrogations, as enumerated in the Army Field Manual, most particularly, in the latter’s “Appendix M.” The failure to do so, I’ve argued, would have serious repercussions for civil liberties, not to mention the struggle for accountability over past use of torture. In my last two articles, we’ve looked at the contemporaneous use of abusive Appendix M interrogations at Guantanamo, and the issue as to whether these kinds of coercive interrogations will now be brought, with the planned transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo, to the U.S., itself.

As torture proper moves from offshore U.S. military and CIA/Special Operations prisons to the territory of the U.S. “homeland,” civil liberties activists and commentators must make their protest against the use of torture techniques in the Army Field Manual heard in the White House. The truth about the use of cruel, inhumane, and degrading interrogation techniques must drown out the obfuscatory fear-mongering from the Cheneyesque right-wing, who babble about how the AFM is inadequate for use by intelligence agencies in the “Terrorist War.”

I believe some progress has been made in the past year on this issue, and was heartened to see Stephen Rickard’s article at Huffington Post late last August. Rickard is Director at the Washington Office of the Open Society Institute. He noted that the new AFM never explicitly banned the use of the “enhanced interrogation” techniques of the old Bush administration.

It strains credulity to think this was an accident. Language in the old [1992 Army Field] Manual clearly banned wall standing and other stress positions. It was deleted [in the 2006 Manual]. The old Manual called sleep deprivation “torture.” That was deleted. Rather than banning the use of cold, the 2006 Manual only prohibits causing “hypothermia” consistent with OLC limits on using cold. The 2006 Manual prohibits “beatings … or other forms of physical pain.” But it doesn’t flatly ban assaults, which is critical because the OLC memos argue at great length that the authorized physical assaults — slapping, grabbing, walling and others — were intended to cause shock and not “pain.” The 2006 Manual does not ban using water or cramped confinement.

It strains my credulity to think that the use of torture techniques in the current Army Field Manual has not become a bigger issue than it has. But there has been a plethora of issues and leftover crises from the Bush years, such that it’s not surprising that some important causes have not yet broken through into public consciousness.

Last August, the Obama administration unveiled its new studied policy on interrogations, proclaiming that “the Army Field Manual provides appropriate guidance on interrogation for military interrogators and that no additional or different guidance was necessary for other agencies.”

But the Washington Post story by Anne Kornblut that reported on the new policy continued the legacy media’s practice of lying about what’s in the AFM:

Using the Army Field Manual means certain techniques in the gray zone between torture and legal questioning — such as playing loud music or depriving prisoners of sleep — will not be allowed. Which tactics are acceptable was an issue “looked at thoroughly,” one senior official said. Obama had already banned certain severe measures that the Bush administration had permitted, such as waterboarding.

Kornblut did reveal one telling piece of information about where all this interrogation business is headed:

Still, the Obama task force advised that the group develop a “scientific research program for interrogation” to develop new techniques and study existing ones to see whether they work.

How would such a “scientific research program” operate? Who would run it? How would such a program ethically study such questions as the efficacy of interrogations? Up until now, no one is discussing these matters, as societal disinterest or disinclination to take up these vital questions — questions made more salient because of the violent history of torture over the past nine years — prevents the issue from gaining traction in the competition for public evaluation. In addition, the inclusion of a “scientific research program for interrogation” conjures up memories of the decades-long U.S. military/CIA research program into mind control, hypnotism, use of LSD and other drugs in interrogation, and other dire practices associated with programs such as the CIA’s Artichoke and MK-ULTRA. (On January 27, author H. P. Albarelli will be the guest for FDL’s Book Salon, and available from 5 to 7pm to “converse” about these past issues. Albarelli is the author of the latest book exploring the intel world’s most famous suicide-cum-murder, A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments.)

The fight to remove Appendix M and other offending policies from the Army Field Manual goes right to the heart of the struggle against militarism. Making the problems with the AFM known is part of the campaign to secure accountability for torture; that is, we can start by stopping torture from taking place now. Progressives should demand a rescission of Appendix M and other offending portions of the Army Field Manual, as well as a complete moratorium on the use of renditions for interrogation, another policy Obama has carried over from the Bush years.

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Jeff Kaye

Jeff Kaye

Jeffrey Kaye is a retired psychologist who has worked professionally with torture victims and asylum applicants. Active in the anti-torture movement since 2006, he has his own blog, Invictus, previously wrote regularly for Firedoglake’s The Dissenter, as well as at The Guardian, Truthout, Alternet, and The Public Record. He is the author of Cover-Up at Guantanamo, a new book examining declassified files on treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo detention camp.