Before the United States permitted a terrifying way of interrogating prisoners, government lawyers and intelligence officials assured themselves of one crucial outcome. They knew that the methods inflicted on terrorism suspects would be painful, shocking and far beyond what the country had ever accepted. But none of it, they concluded, would cause long lasting psychological harm.
Fifteen years later, it is clear they were wrong.
How the story has changed, from “we don’t torture,” to “well maybe a little, but it yields great intelligence,” to “we don’t do it in horrific ways anymore,” to “we didn’t know that it would hurt.”
I will go right to the punch line, in case you don’t want to read further: all that the United States torturers needed to do to realize the certainty of “long lasting psychological harm” is to have a sit down with John McCain. Talk about someone with permanent and obvious psychological harm!
In all seriousness, you would think that VA hospitals would have thousands of records from prisoners of war, covering this general topic. Even more fundamentally, what kind of creature must you be…well, now I am getting into the longer version of the story.
Permanent headaches, disturbed sleep, nightmares, rage triggered by memories of torture, paranoia, depression. Shocking, I know, but “Some emerged with the same symptoms as American prisoners of war who were brutalized decades earlier by some of the world’s cruelest regimes.”
You think? This wasn’t predictable? Of course it was, and the torturers knew it and condoned it anyway. Will you read this in the so-called investigative report? (Hint: no.)
The United States government has never studied the long-term psychological effects of the extraordinary interrogation practices it embraced.
Is this conceivable? The US government never studied the long term psychological effects of American former POWs being treated in VA hospitals? This is both an indictment of the VA (a low bar, I admit) and an indictment of those who authorized the torture (an even lower bar). Does the Times challenge this assertion? (Hint: no.)
It is not conceivable. Dr. Stephen N. Xenakis, a former military psychiatrist and retired brigadier general, offers some perspective:
General Xenakis had seen such anxiety before, decades earlier, as a young psychiatrist at Letterman Army Medical Center in California. It was often the first stop for American prisoners of war after they left Vietnam. The doctor recalled the men, who had endured horrific abuses, suffering panic attacks, headaches and psychotic episodes.
I guess no one else in the military noticed this before the torture was authorized. Is this what the Times believes? (Hint: yes.)
…General Xenakis delved into research on the effects of abusive practices. He found decades of papers on the issue — science that had not been considered when the government began crafting new interrogation policies after Sept. 11.
The research covered Vietnam, Korea and World War Two. Does anyone believe that somehow the US government forgot that Americans were tortured during these wars? This voluminous research was unknown to the government before they decided unfathomable torture was the way to go? Does the Times challenge this? (Hint: no.)
Instead, the government worked hard to find some study that demonstrated that torture had no more long-lasting psychological effects than eating an ice-cream cone:
Instead, the government relied on data from a training program to resist enemy interrogators, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape.
A training program? Over the weight of tens of thousands of Americans subject to torture. The wise men behind this theory?
Two veteran SERE psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, worked with the C.I.A. and the Pentagon to help develop interrogation tactics.
If there is justice, one day they will be tried for war crimes. For now, these modern-day disciples of Dr. Mengele merely have to face being sued in US Federal Court by some of their victims. Employees of the same government that employs those who authorized and committed the torture are going to determine the fate of these lawsuits. How will that turn out?
Of course, to be fair to all sides, the Times notes:
Researchers caution that it can be difficult to determine cause and effect with mental illness. Some prisoners of the C.I.A. and the military had underlying psychological problems that may have made them more susceptible to long-term difficulties…
Because, having your head stuck in a toilet, having rabid dogs in your cell, being sodomized and threatened with rape, being subjected to blaring music 24 hours a days, being deprived of sleep for days on end, forced nudity, wearing diapers, sexual taunts, mock executions, threats to harm their children and rape members of their family – all for months and years on end…these would not effect a “normal” person.
…Libyans said they were treated better by Colonel Qaddafi’s jailers than by the C.I.A.
Maybe this is why Qaddafi had to be taken out.
What has the Times accomplished with this report? Is it news that victims of torture suffer long term psychological effects? This is the entirety of the examination by the Times. Congratulations for reaching this conclusion, Captain Obvious. Dozens of interviews and hundreds of hours of research were not necessary to conclude this.
Investigate the criminals behind these actions; write an editorial recommending a war-crimes trial in an international (or better, non-empire-aligned Middle-Eastern) court for those involved. That would be newsworthy – therefore such an investigation and editorial is inherently something that the Times will no longer consider.