George W. Bush referred to the practice of torture as “enhanced interrogation.” Barack Obama said it’s “brutal” and “counterproductive.” And Donald Trump says it “absolutely works.”
1. International law won’t have it. The Convention Against Torture, adopted by the United Nations in 1984, specifies that “no State may permit or tolerate torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” It also states that “exceptional circumstances such as a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked as a justification” for such acts.
2. But even though it signed on, the US has violated the convention, using its “War on Terror” as justification during the Bush era. Obama said torture is wrong. Donald Trump has explicitly endorsed the use of it in the past.
3. The Bush administration was big on the use of torture: Following the 9/11 attacks, the George W. Bush administration used “enhanced interrogation techniques” to extract information from suspected terrorists.
It was later revealed that the techniques described as being legal by the Bush administration included waterboarding, walling, sexual humiliation, beating and sleep deprivation to the point of hallucination.
4. Information that saves — and destroys? In a speech in September 2006, Former President George W. Bush stated, “I can say that questioning the detainees in this program [enhanced interrogation techniques] has given us the information that has saved innocent lives by helping us stop new attacks here in the United States and across the world.”
5. Bush’s head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Jay Bybee, wrote a memo to describe the definition of torture. “For an act to constitute torture, it must inflict pain that is difficult to endure. Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.”
“For purely mental pain or suffering to amount to torture, it must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years.”
6. And then John Yoo weighed in: Bush’s Deputy Assistant US Attorney General of the Office of Legal Counsel, John Yoo, rejected the claims that the policy on the War on Terror detainees and the treatment they received were unlawful and violating the Geneva Conventions.
In a January 9, 2002 memorandum he states that the Geneva Conventions does not particularly define conflicts like the one in Afghanistan; therefore, they are not applicable to this situation.
7. But there was dissent at the top: In a memo he issued to the White House on January 26, 2002, Secretary of State Colin Powell states that although “on its face” alleged inapplicability of the Geneva Convention “provides maximum flexibility,” it is harmful to the welfare of the US since it would “reverse over a century of US policy and practise in supporting the Geneva Conventions and undermine the protections of the laws of war for our troops.”
8. Technically, Obama outlawed torture in 2009: In January 2009 Obama signed an executive order outlawing torture by US officials, including the CIA, and bringing interrogation methods in line with the Army Field Manual that prohibits the use of brutal torture methods.
9. Obama seemed contrite. But was he? “We tortured some folks,” Obama said during a White House news conference in February 2014.
“When we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture, we crossed a line. And that needs to be understood and accepted.”
10. The use of torture as a policy didn’t end: Obama’s efforts to prevent torture constituted progress, but the practice didn’t end under his administration.
Torture “continued [under Obama] all the time — for example, the manner in which force feeding was conducted in Guantanamo Bay was clearly torturous,” Clive Stafford Smith, a lawyer who has represented over 100 Guantanamo bay detainees said.
Several techniques in the Army Field Manual itself allows practises that could amount to torture.
“The Army Field Manual … does not explicitly prohibit stress positions, putting detainees into close confinement or environmental manipulation (other than hypothermia and “heat injury”). These omissions open a window of opportunity for abuse.” Matthew Alexander, a former US officer who uses a pseudonym, wrote in the New York Times in 2010.
11. …so the practice of it continued, under Obama: Former Guantanamo detainee Shaker Aamer said the policy continued under Obama administration. “In Guantanamo, he is still confined to a 6ft by 8ft windowless cell, forced into solitary confinement – his punishment for being ‘noncompliant'” Smith wrote in 2014. “He’s been a regular victim of brutal force-feedings, and he has been beaten by the “forcible cell extraction” team more than 300 times.”
“Primarily under Obama it was the manner of incarceration — including the solitary confinement and force feeding — rather than more mediaeval methods,” Smith said, adding that under Trump administration “It will be far worse.”
Torture, including waterboarding is currently prohibited under US law, but Trump can overturn the executive order that bans it. The then-presidential candidate said that if it were up to him, the tactic would be reinstated – and that he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”
“We have an enemy that doesn’t play by the laws. You could say laws, and they’re laughing. They’re laughing at us right now,” Trump said, referring to Daesh, during an appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation.
13. …but we don’t yet know if Trump’s administration will approve of torture in practice. The latest version of Trump’s executive order concerning the US’ controversial prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has dropped language ordering a review of whether the United States should bring back torture and reopen CIA “black sites.” That does not indicate the administration will not bring back torture.
However, the US President said he will allow his Defense Secretary James Mattis who “do[es] not necessarily agree” with him on the issue to “override” him on torture.
14. A Senate report, though, on the use of torture says interrogations were brutal—and ineffective: In 2014, A senate intelligence committee report on CIA’s interrogation and detention programmes was released. Then committee chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein said the report found that torture “regularly resulted in fabricated information.”
“During the brutal interrogations, the CIA was often unaware the information was fabricated.” Feinstein said the torture program was “morally, legally and administratively misguided” and “far more brutal than people were led to believe”.
In one of the instances, one of the detainee’s lunch, which contained hummus and pasta, and nuts was rectally infused to him, the report says. CIA interrogators threatened to hurt detainees’ children and “sexually assault” their mother, it was documented.