Monday, May 17, 2004

The Torturer's Art

Darius Rejali -- an associate professor of political science at Reed College and the author of Torture and Modernity: Self, Society and State in Modern Iran (Westview, 1994) among many other publications -- shows that the technique of forced standing, which has proven valuable to torturers because it leaves few marks, has a long history:
Forced to stand on a box with wires attached to your fingers, toes and penis all night long. Just something that Spec. Sabrina Harman dreamed up in Abu Ghraib prison? Think again.

This torture is well known to intelligence agencies worldwide. The CIA documented the effects of forced standing 40 years ago. And the technique is valued because it leaves few marks, and so no evidence.

Forced standing was a prescribed field punishment in West European armies in the early 20th century. The British Army called it Field Punishment No. 1, though the soldiers referred to it as "the crucifixion." The French Legionnaires called it "the Silo."

By the 1920s, forced standing was a routine police torture in America. In 1931, the National Commission on Lawless Enforcement of the Law found numerous American police departments using forced standing to coerce confessions.

In the 1930s, Stalin's NKVD also famously used forced standing to coerce seemingly voluntary confessions for show trials. The Gestapo used forced standing as a routine punishment in many concentration camps. It even created small narrow "standing cells," Stehzelle, where prisoners had to stand all night.

In 1956, the CIA commissioned two experts, Harold Wolff and Lawrence Hinkle, who described the effects of forced standing. The ankles and feet swell to twice their normal size within 24 hours. Moving becomes agony. Large blisters develop. The heart rate increases, and some faint. The kidneys eventually shut down. ("A Long-Standing Trick of the Torturer's Art," The Seattle Times, May 14, 2004)
The entire article by Rejali is worth reading. Most importantly, Rejali says that, while the torture of forced standing is "well known to intelligence agencies worldwide," its impacts and parameters are "not common knowledge" (May 14, 2004), a significant fact that serves as circumstantial evidence that Abu Ghraib torture was not the doing of a few rogue reservists -- it was prescribed by the CIA and military intelligence officers trained in the art of torture. (However, such circumstantial evidence may no longer be necessary after what's revealed in Seymour M. Hersh's article [also worth reading in full] "The Gray Zone": "The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq" [The New Yorker, May 24, 2004]).

N.B. "Soldiers trained in stealth torture take these techniques back into civilian life as policemen and private security personnel. It takes years to uncover the subsequent damage. The American style of electric torture in Vietnam appeared in Arkansas prisons in the 1960s and Chicago squad rooms in the 1970s and 1980s" (May 14, 2004), says Rejali, reminding us of yet another link between wars abroad and at home.

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