Guest Blogged by Arlen Parsa
At his confirmation hearings this past week, Bush's Attorney General nominee Mike Mukasey was asked by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) if he considered waterboarding a form of torture. Here's an exchange the two had:
SEN. WHITEHOUSE: If it’s torture. That’s a massive hedge. I mean, it either is or it isn’t. Do you have an opinion on whether waterboarding…is constitutional?
MUKASEY: If it amounts to torture, it is not constitutional.
SEN. WHITEHOUSE: I’m very disappointed in that answer. I think it is purely semantic.
MUKASEY: I’m sorry.
Mukasey's refusal to categorize waterboarding as torture is troubling to say the least...
In a classified memo released after the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal, Donald Rumsfeld and other high-level officials signed off on dozens of controversial interrogation techniques, many of which are explicitly banned as war crimes under the legally binding UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT). Among the techniques referenced was waterboarding:
Download the full memo here (780kb PDF). The Department of Defense only refers to waterboarding in the most sterile and clinical terms, but it's worth understanding how waterboarding actually works, in real life practice.
STEP 2: The end of the board with the victim's feet tied to it is elevated so that their head is at the floor and their feet are several feet above them
STEP 3: A piece of wet plastic or fabric is used to constrain the air flow to the victim's nose and mouth
STEP 4: Cold water is poured all over the victim's body, head and face, creating a simulation of drowning which can sometimes result in permanent brain and lung damage or even death
STEP 5: The victim is made to believe that they are drowning (i.e. a form of simulated execution, explicitly banned under UNCAT), and that their interrogators will not stop until they admit guilt of their supposed crimes
An early form of waterboarding was originally invented during the Spanish Inquisition and it has been used by the Khmer Rouge. After World War II, the US captured a Japanese officer and convicted him of war crimes after they discovered he had waterboarded an American civilian. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for using the exact same interrogation technique that high-level Bush Administration officials like ex-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Mukasey's predecessor Alberto Gonzales have personally signed off on.
If Musakey can't call a spade a spade, and can't call torture torture, he is not fit for the job of the top law enforcement official in the country.