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The Wikileaks Effect: UK Guardian Reveals British Interrogation Manuals Authorize Torture

As the controversies over the Iraq logs released by Wikileaks last Friday escalate, with the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture calling on Barack Obama to initiate an investigation into the war crimes revealed in the documents’ release, not least U.S. connivance with wide-scale Iraqi torture, it is not surprising that other leakers and whistleblowers are wanting to get in on the act.

The story reported here also comes on the same sad day that Omar Khadr, after years of torture and solitary imprisonment in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo, locked away at age 15 for eight years, pleaded guilty to “terrorism” and multiple murders — including crimes for which he had never been charged — in a show trial confession engineered by the Pentagon. More will be written on this later.

The UK Guardian is reporting that secret training materials used by the British military in recent years include actions and behaviors that are clearly abusive and outside the treatment of prisoners mandated by the Geneva conventions. The article emphasizes the use of humiliation and sensory deprivation as primary tools of the British interrogator. Even “recent training material [say] blindfolds, earmuffs and plastic handcuffs are essential equipment for military interrogators.”

The story comes from the magnificent Iab Cobain, who has been on fire of late:

The British military has been training interrogators in techniques that include threats, sensory deprivation and enforced nakedness in an apparent breach of the Geneva conventions, the Guardian has discovered.

Training materials drawn up secretly in recent years tell interrogators they should aim to provoke humiliation, insecurity, disorientation, exhaustion, anxiety and fear in the prisoners they are questioning, and suggest ways in which this can be achieved….

Prisoners should be “conditioned” before questioning, with conditioning defined as the combined effects of self-induced pressure and “system-induced pressure”. Harsh questioning – or “harshing” – in which an interrogator puts his face close to the prisoner, screaming, swearing and making threats, is recommended as a means to provoke “anxiety/fear”. Other useful responses include “insecurity”, “disorientation” and “humiliation”.

The training material recommends that after a prisoner’s clothes are removed, the interrogator ensures he is searched behind his foreskin and that his buttocks are spread. This is part of the conditioning process, rather than as a security measure. One section of the training course is entitled “positional asphyxiation – signs and symptoms”.

Well, I think readers can get the idea, and should definitely read the entire story at the UK Guardian. The actions of the British military are consistent with the charges of torture in the torture-killing of Iraqi hotel receptionist Baha Mousa in Basra in 2003, and of other atrocities committed by British troops. It is also redolent of the torture of IRA prisoners in Northern Irish prisons run by the British in the 1970s and 1980s. (Here’s a link to the diary of a famous hunger striker from another era, Bobby Sands.) The newly revealed British techniques are also similar to those in the U.S. Army’s Army Field Manual on Interrogation, which has a special appendix that describes the use of isolation, forms of sensory deprivation and sleep deprivation, and combines them with techniques that rely on threats and even possible use of drugs in the main portion of the manual. Abuse of prisoners linked to the Army Field Manual was recently the subject of a report by the George Soros-supported Open Society Foundations.

Between the U.S. crimes most recently revealed, and these admissions of British torture — and if not “torture,” a word most terrifically massaged these days, certainly cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, outlawed by the world — we have a veritable concatenation of horrific messages, all of which add up to one huge conclusion: the leaders of the United States and the United Kingdom are war criminals, and the political machinery of these countries allow precious little, outside of creaky and corrupt electoral processes for the people of these countries to do much about it. And maybe that’s why we don’t see much outward protest yet… as if the entire rotten edifice, weakened by economic chicanery and greed in high places, and rent through with generations of lies, might totter over entirely if too much truth, too much protest were made.

In any case, for those who thought that the Wikileaks tempest might blow straight into a teapot, the latest revelations show that the Iraq logs might only be the beginning, that the military and civilian governments of these countries are full of disgusted patriots tired of serving amoral and criminal regimes. Who knows, maybe even the U.S. press might awake and do its duty. That might be hoping too much, but one never knows.

The British revelations should put new pressures upon a supposed British investigation into torture that was announced last July. As Amnesty International and eight British NGOs wrote in September to the putative head of this British inquiry, Sir Peter Gibson (PDF):

A sufficiently empowered and transparent inquiry could discharge the United Kingdom’s duty to effectively investigate damaging allegations of knowledge and/or involvement by state actors or agents in the torture, ill-treatment or rendition of individuals that have arisen in the last decade. Such an inquiry could also play an important role in clarifying how involvement in torture, ill- treatment or rendition might be prevented in the future.

It is incumbent on governments to promptly and effectively investigate all allegations of torture and other related human rights abuses.

It is time for such an inquiry in the United States. Who will call for it? Who will organize it? How can we keep such an investigation prompt, independent, thorough, transparent and subject to public inquiry and oversight? Even more important, what will happen if we don’t have such an inquiry, if the torture regime, which is obviously out of control and still in existence, continues?

I think everyone knows the answer to that, and with a shudder, rejects it. We must not let cowardice and fear and confusion prevent us from pursuing the terrible chore history has thrown upon us. We need a far-reaching societal discussion of these issues, and we need it now.

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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.