Monday, April 20, 2009

Caterpillargate: The Reckoning
I Was Wrong, Episode MCXLVIII

I think I was wrong about the status of Enhanced Caterpillar Techniques. Turns out the interrogators apparently were allowed to suggest or say that the insect could sting, so long as they made it clear that this phantom sting wouldn't lead to death or severe pain or suffering.

Let me make a few guesses here:

1. Caterpillars were used as examples in the memo, but I'd be willing to be a fair amount that that's not the bug they really intended to use. I'd be willing to be that they intended to use a much more sinister-looking bug, like, say, this kind.

2. I'm also willing to bet that they weren't going to use just one. (Note: both of those are speculative.)

The image of someone sitting across the table from a single caterpillar is, admittedly, pretty funny. The image of someone stuck into a small box filled with apparently stinging insects is something else entirely.

But no matter how you slice it, this is torture.

I was also mislead by the fact that the Bybee memo suggests that they're not really sure that Zubaydah is afraid of that makes the strategy seem rather less awful...but the intentions are just as bad in either case.

I was initially mislead by the absurdity of the caterpillar image. That was a mistake.

(I should note here that I advocate torture in "ticking time-bomb" situations (that is, situations in which we know that we have the perpetrator, know that disaster is looming, and have run out of other options). But the thing to realize about those situations is: they don't really happen. If one ever should, I'll go to the mat to defend the torturers, and, in fact, I'd do the deed myself. It should go without saying that we were not in a ticking time-bomb situation after 9/11, and certainly not in the case of Zubaydah. We do have to ask, however, whether any of those involved in the torture reasonably believed that we were when they issued the relevant orders.)


Blogger lovable liberal said...

Dick Cheney would claim that, if there's a one percent chance of a ticking time bomb anywhere in the world, you have to torture. And then he'd trump up speculation into that needed one percent because, as he knew, torture is essential to keep the world safe from ... regimes that are willing to torture.

10:15 AM  
Blogger matthew christman said...

They waterboarded KSM and Zubaydah about 200 times between the two of them. That must have been one slow-assed timer on that ticking bomb.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous The Dark Avenger said...

that that's not the bug they really intended to use. I'd be willing to be that they intended to use a much more sinister-looking bug, like, say, this kind.In Biology, looks aren't everything.

There are some species of caterpillar whose sting are worse than a bee sting for the average person.

Stinging caterpillars possess hollow quill-like hairs, connected to poison sacs, that are used as defensive weapons. When these hairs are touched they break through the skin releasing the poison.
Reactions can range from a mild itching to the more severe pain, dermatitis, and even intestinal disturbances.
In Texas, the puss caterpillar is known under the name of 'asp', and from the reaction of my Texas cousin when she saw one in my presence, they are not taken lightly as a pest.

According to the Wiki, the poison has been known to cause nausea and shock-like symptoms.

They're even found in Missouri.

It's quite possible that if the prisoner were told that the poison has been known to be fatal, they might say anything after the first round of getting stung by them.

Whoever wrote the original memo had some knowledge of entomology, FWIW.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Jim Bales said...

Well, there goes the comment I was composed in my head, to type in tonight! I'm glad you had the chance to re-read the text, WS. I'll go to my conclusion ...

Consider this from someone who went through SERE training:
"As it happens, many years ago when I worked for Uncle Sam, I underwent that training myself.

Two things sustained me during that interesting time: a) The sure knowledge that it would be of limited duration (I knew the exact date the school would end), and b) the fact that I was valuable government property assured me that I wouldn’t actually be genuinely hurt.
Contrast Mr. McDonald's metal state with the captive's. The captive lacks Mr. McDonald's two sustaining facts. The captive has been placed in this coffin-sized box already, he's been slammed repeatedly against walls, he has been water boarded time and again. He has no expectation that this treatment will ever end, unless his captors tire of their sadistic fun.

Oh, and he is light-headed from lack of sleep.

Now, his captors put him in the coffin-sized box with the assurance that the insect(s) they may choose to introduce will not cause severe pain, nor will their stings kill him. Does he believe his captors? Would he reasonably feel deep mental stress waiting for the sting? Can we reasonably expect his response to be reasonable after all he has been through?

WS, you are correct, this was torture. The only questions are:

1) Will the perpetrators and enablers be brought to justice?

2) What can each of us do, individually and collectively, to see that the perpetrators are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law?

Jim Bales

6:13 PM  
Blogger lovable liberal said...

I'd go even further: The Bushists show every indication that they were canny enough to choose caterpillars as a threat that they could easily defend with afactual PR. How could Fuzzy-wuzzy possibly be torture?

12:43 AM  

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