Boot Camp as Torture
Max Boot argues that those overly concerned about “torture” have apparently never been to boot camp:
HOLD THE PRESSES. I’ve discovered that the use of torture by the U.S. government is far more pervasive than previously believed. There are major facilities all over the country where thousands of men and women who have not committed any crime are held for prolonged periods while subjected to physical and psychological coercion that violates every tenet of the Geneva Convention.
They are routinely made to stand for long periods in uncomfortable positions. They are made to walk for hours while wearing heavy loads on their backs. They are bullied by martinets who get in their faces and yell insults at them. They are hit and often knocked down with clubs known as pugil sticks. They are denied sleep for more than a day at a time. They are forced to inhale tear gas. They are prevented from seeing friends or family. Some are traumatized by this treatment. Others are injured. A few even die.
Should Amnesty International or the International Committee of the Red Cross want to investigate these human-rights abuses, they could visit Parris Island, S.C., Camp Pendleton, Calif., Ft. Benning, Ga., Ft. Jackson, S.C., and other bases where the Army and Marines train recruits. It’s worth keeping in mind how roughly the U.S. government treats its own defenders before we get too worked up over the treatment of captured terrorists.
It’s an amusing point but, as Kevin Drum observes, rather strained. As with comparisons to fraternity initiations, pointing out ways in which acceptable things are unlike unacceptable things obscures the ways they are different.
For one thing, military recruits and fraternity pledges undergo their rituals willingly.
More importantly, the approved techniques employed on prisoners goes well beyond those used in tolerated “weeding out” rituals.
1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.
2. Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.
3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.
4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.
5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.
6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.
Mild variations of the some of these techniques are used in hazing rituals and certainly, military training often involves being cold and wet but that’s because combat operations often take place in cold, rainy conditions. In the case of the military, such rigorous training is carefully monitored by trained professionals who have the well being of the recruit in highest regard. In the case of college initiations, they’re often handled by immature sadists and the subject of increasing controversy.
Further, as Boot admits later in the article, much harsher techniques have been used in some cases–and not just by the amateurs at Abu Ghraib.
Update: Glenn Reynolds has an excellent roundup of articles on the subject. His argument that we should be precise and discriminating in the use of the emotionally charged term “torture” is right, although we both agree that things that fall short of that standard may still be morally questionable and counterproductive.
This OpinionJournal op-ed is worth reading as well.
Torture: A Bad Idea
ItÃ¢€™s the Torture, Stupid
Senate Compromise on Detainee Rights, Torture
Canadian Court Allows Bush Torture Prosecution
U.K. to Deport Islamist Radicals, Possibly Even Citizens
Another Prison Torture Scandal
Guantanamo: Torture or No Torture?
Truth Extraction: Honey Beats Vinegar
In Defense of Rendition