Solitary confinement and the language of torture: A Message from CCDBR President Bob Clarke

Posted on November 12, 2012

From CCDBR President Bob Clarke:
At the Nov. 8  Northwestern Medical School showing of the new documentary “Doctors on the Dark Side,”   Dr. Frank Summers (a leader of the fight to get the American Psychological Association to prohibit participation in torture by psychologists) made the intriguing suggestion that we replace the term “solitary confinement” with the more telling and accurate one “sensory deprivation,” to convey the element of torture inherent in the practice.
During the film presentation and following discussion, I noted several other examples of how the language we use (or have imposed on us) distorts our understanding of the realities of torture.  Here are a few of these Orwellian euphemisms:
1. “behavioral science consultants” –  refers to torture advisers, often health care professionals, who have, for example, “guided” torture at Guantanamo by monitoring proceedings in an adjoining room and issuing directions to interrogators to exploit the phobias or other “weaknesses” of torture victims.
2. “confinement boxes” – the coffin-like containers into which Afghan detainees were stuffed for hours (their use was stopped only because the CIA/military “behavioral consultants” concluded that victims could exploit them as “safe havens” for relief from even more severe torture.)
3.  the CIA’s “Office of Medical Services,” which has employed health-care professionals to develop and participate in torture practices.
4.  “Camp Justice,” the most notorious torture center at Guantanamo.
5.  the famous “enhanced interrogation techniques” to refer to the most extreme forms of torture; indeed even “waterboarding” is a euphemism for what used to be called “Chinese water torture.”
6.  “Dr. Geneva,” one of the pseudomyms used by military doctors at Guantanamo and other U.S. torture centers (who knew that they never use their real names?  I wonder why.)  This particular name seems to have been cynically assigned by an admirer of the Bush decision to disregard Geneva Convention protections of POWs.
7.  “Intensified assisted feeding,” the illegal force-feeding of hunger strikers for up to four hours at a time, deliberately “intensified” by denial of lubricant or lozenges, leaving tubes in noses for days, forcing victims to endure feeding in a “torture chair” rather then lying down.  The “protocol” for this torture includes using six-man screaming swat teams to drag hunger strikers from their cells to the torture chairs.
Another detail provided by Summers:  when some army psychologists who examined PTSD victims among military personnel in Iraq refused orders to alter their reports of symptoms, they were “strapped to gurneys” and flown to Frankfurt for dishonorable discharges.  One can imagine the treatment of any one who resisted orders to abuse detainees.  Or of anyone who dares to blow the whistle on war crimes – e.g. Bradley Manning.  (Keep in mind that refusing an illegal order is nominally required under military law.)
Other participants in the meeting noted that in the notorious Justice Department “torture memos,” which CIA and others used as “legal cover,” the presence of medical personnel in the torture process was repeatedly cited to “prove” that it could not have been torture. (This was not a defense allowed in the trial of Nazi doctors at Nuremberg.)