Via an article on CiF, the manual “Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual” on psychological torture techniques, used by the CIA to train the Contras in Nicaragua in 1984. Read also the National Security Archive page for some background about the documents. What’s startling is the handwritten corrections on the manuscript, part of a sort of PR campaign:
The 1983 manual as declassified included numerous revisions made by CIA apparently in July 1984 in the wake of public revelations about a CIA “assassination” manual used by the Nicaraguan contras. The revisions added a full page following the table of contents labeled “Prohibition against use of force,” and overwrote in hand-printed letters most of the manual’s references to “coercive techniques.” For example, the 1983 sentence on the second page of the introduction read “While we do not stress the use of coercive techniques, we do want to make you aware of them and the proper way to use them.” The 1984 revisions overwrote “do not stress” with the word “deplore” and replaced the phrase “the proper way to use them” with the phrase “so that you may avoid them.”
The US Congress has passed the Military Commissions Act, effectively legalising torture. Their technique is basically to redefine what they are doing as not-torture, a time honoured technique of repressive governments. (The Strijdom government who created Apartheid in South Africa pulled off the trick by basically getting a whole lot of stooge judges to reinterpet “you may not disenfranchise all the black people” to mean “you may disenfrachise them”.)
Much of the discussion of this Act focusses on the nitty gritty details of their definitions of torture, and what they mean. For example, about whether or not “waterboarding” counts as torture. This discussion is very important, particularly in highlighting what it is exactly they propose to do in the most graphic way possible, so that people understand it. But, it seems to me that a crucial point has been missed. However you define torture, if you are allowed to do something to someone that makes them give up their most cherished secrets against their will and their strongest beliefs, then you must be doing something so horrible to them that the pain involved is worse than going against everything you believe. This level of pain must be considered torture.
In other words, if “interrogation techniques” are to be effective, they must count as torture. If they weren’t torture, they wouldn’t work.