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Monday, November 26, 2007

A Question of Torture

Monday evening, I attended a fascinating and somewhat depressing lecture about torture delivered by University of Wisconsin historian Alfred McCoy. The local UN Association was marking International Human Rights Day a bit early (it is December 10).

McCoy focused on a psychological torture, which his research indicates is a distinctly American contribution to the practice of interrogation. Under the auspices of the CIA, the US has developed a method based on sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain that serves to break individuals.

McCoy's latest book is A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror. From the publisher comments on Powell's website:
McCoy traces the spread of these practices across the globe, from Vietnam to Iran to Central America, and argues that after 9/11, psychological torture became the weapon of choice in the CIA’s global prisons, reinforced by “rendition” of detainees to “torture-friendly” countries. Finally, McCoy shows that information extracted by coercion is worthless, making a strong case for the FBI’s legal methods of interrogation.
McCoy discussed all these concerns -- and more.

He noted, for instance, that the Bush administration has essentially operated outside both domestic and international law and that both Congress and the new Attorney General performed a farce when the former appeared to believe the latter's claim that he didn't know anything about waterboarding.

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