The Legal Language of Torture

Four memos released by the Justice Department last week describe the torture techniques Bush Regime lawyers determined to be allowable. The first of these memos, dated August 2002, described 10 techniques already used by the Central Intelligence Agency in the torture of Abu Zubaydah, and concluded that these methods did not constitute torture under U.S. law.

forced feeding chair
Subsequent memos both reaffirmed the use of these 10 torture techniques, introduced 4 others, and described the “combinations” which were allowable.

As the New York Times wrote, a seperate legal opinion in May 2005 “claimed United Nations articles did not apply and, even if they did, the interrogation program did not “shock the conscience", which is, it said, "the relevant standard.”

The following examples are taken from the manuals of torture written by U.S. Department of Justice lawyers, and were compiled in the New York Times.

Conditioning techniques to wear the detainee down to a 'dependent state'

Sleep deprivation
From: Aug. 2002, May 2005 memos
“Generally, a detainee undergoing this technique is shackled in a standing position with his hands in front of his body, which prevents him from falling asleep but also allows him to move around within a two- to three-foot diameter.”
“It is clear that depriving someone of sleep does not involve severe physical pain ... Nor could sleep deprivation constitute a procedure calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses, so long as sleep deprivation (as you have informed us is your intent) is used for limited periods, before hallucinations or other profound disruptions of the senses would occur.”
Note: “Monitoring by medical personnel is important when sleep deprivation is combined with other methods because of the risk of hypothermia and “exacerbated” hallucinations”.
May 2005 memo
“A detainee may be kept nude, provided that ambient temperatures and the health of the detainee permit.”
“Although some detainees might be humiliated by this technique, especially given possible cultural sensitivities and the possibility of being seen by female officers, it cannot constitute ‘severe mental pain or suffering’ under the statute.”
Dietary manipulation
May 2005 memo
“This technique involves the substitution of commercial liquid meal replacements for normal food, presenting detainees with a bland, unappetizing, but nutritionally complete diet.”
“Although we do not equate a person who voluntarily enters a weight-loss program with a detainee subjected to dietary manipulation as an interrogation technique, we believe that it is relevant that several commercial weight-loss programs available in the United States involve similar or even greater reductions in caloric intake.”
Note: Corrective techniques are used to "correct, startle, or ... achieve another enabling objective"
Abdominal slap
May 2005 memo
“In this technique, the interrogator strikes the abdomen of the detainee with the back of his open hand. The interrogator must have no rings or other jewelry on his hand.”
“Although the abdominal slap technique might involve some minor physical pain, it cannot, as you have described it to us, be said to involve even moderate, let alone severe, physical pain or suffering.”
Note: “The abdominal slap, like other corrective techniques, can be combined with more stressful techniques, such as wall standing, water dousing and stress positions.”
Attention grasp
Aug. 2002, May 2005 memos
“This technique consists of grasping the individual with both hands, one hand on each side of the collar opening, in a controlled and quick motion.”
“The facial hold and the attention grasp involve no physical pain. In the absence of such pain it is obvious that they cannot be said to inflict severe physical pain or suffering.”
Facial slap

Aug. 2002, May 2005 memos
“The interrogator slaps the individual's face with fingers slightly spread. ... The purpose of the facial slap is to induce shock, surprise, and/or humiliation.”
“The facial slap and walling contain precautions to ensure that no pain even approaching this level results. ... The facial slap does not produce pain that is difficult to endure.”
Facial hold
Aug. 2002, May 2005 memos
“The facial hold is used to hold the head immobile. One open palm is placed on either side of the individual's face. The fingertips are kept well away from the individual's eyes.”
“The facial hold and the attention grasp involve no physical pain. In the absence of such pain it is obvious that they cannot be said to inflict severe physical pain or suffering.”
Coercive techniques “place the detainee in more physical and psychological stress”
Aug. 2002, May 2005 memos
“This effort plus the cloth produces the perception of ‘suffocation and incipient panic,’ i.e., the perception of drowning. The individual does not breathe any water into his lungs. During those 20 to 40 seconds, water is continuously applied from a height of 12 to 24 inches. ... The sensation of drowning is immediately relieved by the removal of the cloth. The procedure may then be repeated.”
“Although the subject may experience the fear or panic associated with the feeling of drowning, the waterboard does not inflict physical pain. ... Although the waterboard constitutes a threat of imminent death, prolonged mental harm must nonetheless result to violate the statutory prohibition infliction of severe mental pain or suffering. ... Indeed, you have advised us that the relief is almost immediate when the cloth is removed from the nose and mouth. In the absence of prolonged mental harm, no severe mental pain or suffering would have been inflicted, and the use of these procedures would not constitute torture within the meaning of the statute.”
Note: “Waterboarding should only be used simultaneously with two other methods: dietary manipulation and sleep deprivation”.
Wall standing
Aug. 2002, May 2005 memos
“Used to induce muscle fatigue. The individual stands about four to five feet from a wall. ... His arms are stretched out in front of him, with his fingers resting on the wall.”
“Any pain associated with muscle fatigue is not of the intensity sufficient to amount to ‘severe physical pain or suffering’ under the statute, nor, despite its discomfort, can it be said to be difficult to endure.”
Water dousing
May 2005 memo
“Cold water is poured on the detainee either from a container or from a hose without a nozzle. ... The water poured on the detainee must be potable, and the interrogators must ensure that water does not enter the detainee’s nose, mouth, or eyes.”
“Consequently, given that there is no expectation that the technique will cause severe physical pain or suffering when properly used, we conclude that the authorized use of this technique by an adequately trained interrogator could not reasonably be considered specifically intended to cause these results.”
Stress positions
Aug. 2002, May 2005 memos
“These positions are not designed to produce the pain associated with contortions or twisting of the body. ... They are designed to produce the physical discomfort associated with muscle fatigue.”
“Any pain associated with muscle fatigue is not of the intensity sufficient to amount to ‘severe physical pain or suffering’ under the statute, nor, despite its discomfort, can it be said to be difficult to endure.”
Cramped confinement
Aug. 2002, May 2005 memos
“Cramped confinement involves the placement of the individual in a confined space, the dimensions of which restrict the individual’s movement. The confined space is usually dark.”
“It may be argued that, focusing in part on the fact that the boxes will be without light, placement in these boxes would constitute a procedure designed to disrupt profoundly the senses. As we explained in our recent opinion, however, to ‘disrupt profoundly the senses’ a technique must produce an extreme effect in the subject.”
Confinement with insects
May 2005 memo
“You would like to place Zubaydah in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us that he appears to have a fear of insects.”
“You plan to inform Zubaydah that you are going to place a stinging insect into the box, but you will actually place a harmless insect in the box, such as a caterpillar. If you do so, to ensure that you are outside the predicate act requirement, you must inform him that the insects will not have a sting that would produce death or severe pain.”
Aug. 2002, May 2005 memos
The interrogator “quickly and firmly pushes the individual into the wall. ... The head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel ... to help prevent whiplash.”
“You have informed us that the sound of hitting the wall will actually be far worse than any possible injury to the individual. The use of the rolled towel around the neck also reduces any risk of injury.
While it may hurt ... any pain experienced is not of the intensity associated with serious physical injury.”
Note: Walling wears down the detainee and heightens uncertainty, but “cannot practically be used at the same times as other techniques.”