…but our torture is OK because we’re doing it and we’re the good guys

This past week 15 British sailors were released from Iran after being captured (kidnapped) in Iraqi waters on March 23rd. During their capture several of them appeared on videotape admitting they were in Iranian waters and their capture (kidnapping) was justified. Now that they have been released they admitted they “confessed” under duress. They were isolated from each other, aggressively questioned, and subjected to what one of them called psychological intimidation. They were routinely told that they would be released if the confessed, otherwise would serve 7 years in an Iranian prison. At one point they were blindfolded and liked up against a wall; they believed they were about to be shot. They are receiving some criticism for “confessing” to crimes they didn’t commit, but to be honest I don’t blame them at all. I’ve led a pretty sheltered life and I can’t imagine enduring something like that. I’m grateful they are home.

But this raises a troubling issue for me: how do we as Americans decry the treatment these sailors endured while not acknowledging what is going on in Guantanamo? As a reminder, here are a few of the techniques used by our government (in our name) as a way of gaining information against people who have never been convicted of a crime or even had their day in court:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Forcing the person to stand or kneel for hours at a time (try this yourself)
  • Force feeding prisoners on hunger strike (ie, forcing feeding tubes down their throat without analgesics; this caused some of them to vomit blood)
  • Waterboarding (strapping someone to a board and pouring water on them or dunking them; this gives the impression of drowning)

In 2002 the Department of Justice sent a memo claiming that interrogation techniques are not considered torture unless they are “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” This allows not only waterboarding, but also mock executions and the like. If the British sailors made false confessions under the conditions they were subjected to in Iran, how can we trust confessions made by prisoners in Guantanamo who undergo much for stressful techniques for much longer (Guantanamo was opened in 2002 for enemy combatants; some of the current prisoners have been there since the beginning).

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