Title 18 is a part of the US Criminal Code, specifically the felony stuff, like murder, grand theft, fraud and conspiracy. Stuff like that. What we are concerned with here is the torture section, which makes it illegal to torture people pornographically, especially prisoners, whether civilian or military (which is also covered by the Geneva Convention on the Conduct of War, 19 something or other), defining it as a Class 1 felony, punishable by pretty stiff jail sentances, like 25 years to life and a good browbeating.
All of the above are "high crimes," to use a phrase found in the US Constitution. Now, while the Constitution provides for immunity from arrest and prosecution of elected officials while they are engaged in the peoples' business, esp. while Congress is in session, they do not exempt perps from civil prosecution after an appropiate impeachment process. Now, just to lay it on a bit thicker, Article VI states that any and all treaties entered into by the United States, having been ratified, are the "law of the land." The Geneva Convention would fall into that category, i.e., the prohibition against torture of prisoners is the law of the land. Nobody disputes that. Well, almost nobody, and they're all French.
The sneaky part, our loophole, is when people start splitting hairs over definitions of torture. It would seem to me, and to most folks, I should imagine, that if you strip a guy naked and toss him in a cell and then play, say, Def Lepard at 110 decibels at him all night long, that would be torture. You don't need for his eardrums to be ruptured and his eyeballs rolling back in his head and he's gone comatose on you for there to be a diagnosis of torture. You've pretty much tortured him, and most people would agree with that, your 14-year-old son exempted, of course.
Now the guy in the street (that would be you and me) would agree that Def Lepard at 110 decibels is torture, and while no bodily organs had been "crushed," and there is no outward "physical trauma" and given some chicken soup and compassionate, in-depth psychoanalysis, our naked man could probably recover and go on to live a productive and fullfilling life, still, he had been tortured.
But in Abu Ghraib, and other places under US control, we've gone way beyond that. The details are revolting to say the least, involving dogs, genitals, photography, humiliation, electrodes, water boarding, religious harassment, etc., and don't bear repeating in a family publication, still, we are torturing people.
But Alberto Gonzales, George Bush, John Woo, John Bybee and any number of others say if we don't "crush" their "internal organs" or leave "scars," or "damage bones or tissue," it isn't torture. Mere "cruel, inhumane or degrading" doesn't cut it. Well, these guys are high-powered lawyers, passed the Bar exam and everything, and I've never been examined in a bar, except maybe that time I fell off the stool and the EMTs had to come, so I don't know ...
Gonzales and Woo are both on record as defining torture as "physical trauma" only, like they never heard of Chinese water torture. Didn't they go to the movies as kids? Everybody knows about Chinese water torture. The slow drip drip drip pause drip pause pause drip of Chinese water torture. Drive you right around the bend, that drip drip drip will. And no tissue damage! Make you spill your guts and sell out your country, that drip drip drip will. Now imagine what forcibily participating in a homoerotic dogpile with twenty sweating, naked Arabs, all genitally wired while being photographed by a smirking American female blonde would do for your morale. That ain't torture? Makes me shudder to think of it. Hmmm, come to think of it ...
Wait a minute, no no no, it's torture. Good old American improvise-on-your-feet torture. Authorized torture, condoned torture, defined as not-torture torture. Because it's all in the words, see. It ain't torture if we say it ain't, and we're in charge, it's our ball, we get to set the rules, and fuck the Geneva Convention. Even though not a single Iraqi has ever been found to be involved in 9/11, because they started shooting back when we invaded their country and we won, we get to call them terrorists and
John Woo and Alberto Gonzales said it's OK.
This originally was posted to DailyKos Thu May 26th, 2005 at 12:58:07 PDT