Thursday, September 03, 2009

Doctors Complicit in CIA Torture Programme

No surprise here: Physicians for Human Rights has released a report detailing some of the torture techniques the CIA admits to using at Guantanamo Bay, showing how doctors played a central role in this programme of abuse.

Amongst the fun and games the CIA engaged in:
  • Mock executions;
  • Denying solid foods for weeks or even months;
  • Denying access to a toilet - forcing prisoners to wear diapers - for prolonged periods of time;
  • Brandishing guns and power drills to threaten prisoners;
  • Threats to sexually assault family members and murder children;
  • "Walling" — repeatedly slamming an unresponsive detainee's head against a cell wall; and
  • Confinement in a box.
You can read the complete IPHR report here.

The activities at Gitmo torture camp, horrific as they are in their own right, fall within deeper dynamics at work in imperialist society.
  1. Torture is an unofficial but wink-wink-nudge-nudge acknowledged part of imprisonment in the united states, but the attempt to legally justify torture represents a potential to more effectively regulate, use, and institutionalize violence against prisoners in the future
  2. Culturally, violence and abuse are becoming more and more fascinating, and appealing, to large numbers of people. So long as they occur in the proper setting (to all things their place!) and come with a fig leaf of moral-legal justification. In this sense, the abuse at Gitmo both drew on - and has fed into - this deeper tendency towards brutality.
Michel Foucault, in his book Discipline and Punish, argued that the rise of prisons as the preferred form of punishment coincided with a move away from exemplary (but inconsistent) torture and towards more homogenous and scientific forms of social control. He correctly recognized that the dominant dynamic was the establishment of a surveillance society, a panopticon where all could be seen.

There can be no denying that Foucault was largely correct, but i think he underestimated the degree to which brutality and horrific violence continued on a parallel track with more and more extensive surveillance. Torture re-enters the discourse of punishment time and time again, only now with the prerequisite that its victims must first be dehumanized. Whereas in the seventeenth century public torture was used as a means to terrify the population at large, by turning the criminal who they might identify with into a spectacle of lived agony, today torture is used as a means to entrench the public perception that they - the tortured - are of a different nature than us.

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