That’s right, The Contrarian has the answers. One caveat — I won’t be examining the legality of “enhanced interrogation,” but rather attempting to resolve the issue of what constitutes torture. Because I’m frankly fucking sick of all the focus on waterboarding.
Now for a bit of history.
Back in the 1950s, our fledgling foreign intelligence agency thought it prudent to push the barriers of what constitutes a personality or sense of “self.” The idea was that one’s individual ego made one less likely to stay mum if captured and harshly interrogated by an enemy agent. CIA knew the Soviets employed severe tactics on domestic agitators, and the “overt” reason for such American intelligence programs, while still secret, was to psychologically immunize US soldiers to this kind of treatment. The real reason was to figure out how to create programmable assassins. No joke.
Of course, the drunken louts in Clandestine Services had no clue about clinical psychology, and their early experiments were anything but scientific. Realizing this, they enlisted a motley crew of actual MDs, hospital administrators and prison wardens to test a battery of techniques (stolen from the Soviets, of course) on unwitting American “undesirables” like convicts, college students and enlisted men.
You’ve no doubt heard about the LSD trials, so we’ll skip that.
CIA and its Nazi-esque mad scientists designed a program, codenamed ARTICHOKE, that applied a range of psychological and physical shocks in attempt to wipe clean the human mind to be reprogrammed from the ground up by the good doctors and intelligence “professionals.” ARTICHOKE beget the notorious MKULTRA, which some of you conspiracy geeks have surely heard of. Here’s what went down at that psych-ops party:
Sleep-inducing pharmaceuticals meant nighty-night for literally weeks. This was followed by high-levels of stimulation: bright and/or flashing lights, loud music and sleep deprivation for another fiendish amount of time. Total sensory withdrawal was also applied: black rooms, cardboard around the limbs so the subject couldn’t feel their own body, hoods, and sound-blocking headgear were standard. Meals were delivered at random hours, and the only human interaction an individual had was with their handler, who obviously kept conversation to a minimum.
Once the sensory deprivation rounds were completed, the subject was once again blasted with stimulus, the result of which was total disorientation and confusion. Rinse and repeat.
If the individual still exhibited a funtional will, high doses electro-shock were applied. (Abu Ghraib, anyone?)
The outcomes of such treatment were remarkably consistent. CIA’s little funhouse led to the utter breakdown of the subject — infantile regression and schizophrenic tendencies were among the most common results. Sadly, many of the effects were permanent.
The experimenters were successful at “unmaking” a person, but building them back up was found to be impossible. The quest for a programmable soldier/agent was abandoned, but the the tests were hardly a waste. The techniques were compiled in a covert CIA interrogation manual, codenamed KUBARK, which has been kicking around in one form or another for decades. Of course, they added a few tricks to the bag, including stress positions, ethnic/religious humiliation and waterboarding, but the basis for the manual was the ARTICHOKE/MKULTRA trials.
And KUBARK is exactly what modern interrogators use as their torture playbook in the War on Terror. With black sites and no right to trial for captured “combaants” (many of whom are just citizens sold down the river for quick cash by tribal rivals), CIA was free, under high-level directive, to inflict these abuses without any oversight.
So the next time you hear the talking heads blathering about whether waterboarding is or isn’t “torture,” keep in mind that it’s just one facet of a systematic program of traumatic maltreatment.
And God Bless America.