When last we met, Gentle Reader, it was to work through a series of legal precedents and statute law; the goal of the exercise being to determine if we could or could not define waterboarding as torture.
We have the kind assistance of Professor Jeffrey Addicott, who has provided us with his written testimony from his recent appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee and a personal interview, where he walked me through some of his thinking on the matter.
Today we’re going to take a look at the precedent that he has used to reach the conclusion that waterboarding is not torture.
It’s also possible that the analysis may result in the discovery of a bit of common ground…but as I noted in Part One, it’s common ground that neither one of us might have seen coming.
To begin, a quick review from yesterday:
Dr. Addicott wants you to know that waterboarding is not torture.
He relies on the argument that since the “Five Techniques” (“Wall-standing”, “Hooding”, the application of excessive noise, sleep deprivation, and the withholding of food and water) used on Irish prisoners by the United Kingdom were found not to be torture by the European Court of Human Rights, and waterboarding is not worse than the five techniques, it logically follows that waterboarding is not torture.
Although waterboarding might be cruel, inhuman, and degrading, Dr. Addicott would remind you that legally, torture requires severe physical pain over an extended, but unspecified, period of time.
He also notes a lack of lack of legal precedent specifically defining waterboarding as torture in either US or international courts.
I asked Dr. Addicott why 18 USC § 2340 (which defines torture, in part, as “…an act…specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering” and defines “severe mental pain”, in part, as “the threat of imminent death…”) wouldn’t be the definition of torture that should apply.
His basic responses were that the alleged acts took place overseas to non-US citizens, therefore there is a jurisdictional issue; and that a lack of specificity in the statute males it unclear whether waterboarding would be torture.
Here’s how he expressed it to me:
“Those are words, those are descriptive words…that only find meaning when we have a court define what that means; that’s the whole problem with our Anglo-Saxon tradition, is that you have words that are put out in statute but what, you know, what does “severe” mean, what does “prolonged” mean, is it five minutes, is it 10 minutes…is it four drops to the head, is it three drops of water on your head, what does it mean?”
He also wants you to know that we do the same thing to our own military personnel who undergo “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape” (SERE) training, which indicates the procedure isn’t torture.
He also tells us in his written testimony that the “shock the conscience” standard should apply to define torture.
Additionally, he cites Blefare v United States (362 F.2d 870) and Leon v. Wainwright (734 F.2d 770) to suggest that coercive interrogation is already permitted under US law.
With the catch-up complete, let’s have a look at Dr. Addicott’s assertions.
Right off the bat, Dr Addicott does correctly assert that…
“…the five techniques, as applied in combination, undoubtedly amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment, although their object was the extraction of confessions, the naming of others and/or information and although they were used systematically, they did not occasion suffering of the particular intensity and cruelty implied by the word torture as so understood.
168. The Court concludes that recourse to the five techniques amounted to a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment, which practice was in breach of Article 3 (art. 3)”.
…in the opinion of the European Court of Human Rights.
However, there is precedent that declares waterboarding is torture, as another international tribunal saw things a bit differently.
You undoubtedly are aware of the Nuremberg Trials, which addressed the conduct of officials of Nazi Germany at the end of World War II. A similar process took place to bring Japanese officials to account, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Here’s what they had to say about waterboarding:
“Torture and Other Inhumane Treatment
The practice of torturing prisoners of war and civilian internees prevailed at practically all places occupied by Japanese troops, both in the occupied territories and in Japan. The Japanese indulged in this practice during the entire period of the Pacific War. Methods of torture were employed in all areas so uniformly as to indicate policy both in training and execution. Among these tortures were the water treatment [euphemism for waterboarding], burning, electric shocks, the knee spread, [page number removed] suspension, kneeling on sharp instruments and flogging.
The Japanese Military Police, the Kempetai, was most active in inflicting these tortures. Other Army and Navy units, however, used the same methods as the Kempetai. Camp guards also employed similar methods. Local police forces organized by the Kempetai in the occupied territories also applied the same methods of torture.”
Dr. Addicott feels that 18 USC § 2340 doesn’t apply because the acts took place outside the US to non-US citizens…but the statute tells us jurisdiction applies if “the alleged offender is a national of the United States”.
Conspiracy to torture is also a crime, meaning that those who ordered this behavior would also face potential legal liability, even if the person doing the torturing is not a US citizen.
So what about the argument that SERE trainees are subjected to the same treatment?
The difference, I suggest, is that there is no threat of imminent death when a trainee is waterboarded, which is what 18 USC § 2340 requires.
Can waterboarding actually carry the threat of imminent death?
I know someone who can tell us.
Dr. Allen Keller, MD is an Associate Professor at New York University and the founder and Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, which has provided care for more than 2000 torture survivors. He’s also a member of the Advisory Council of Physicians for Human Rights.
He offered this assessment in testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
“Water-boarding or mock drowning, where a prisoner is bound to an inclined board and water is poured over their face, inducing a terrifying fear of drowning clearly can result in immediate and long-term health consequences. As the prisoner gags and chokes, the terror of imminent death is pervasive, with all of the physiologic and psychological responses expected, including an intense stress response, manifested by tachycardia, rapid heart beat and gasping for breath. There is a real risk of death from actually drowning or suffering a heart attack or damage to the lungs from inhalation of water. Long term effects include panic attacks, depression and PTSD. I remind you of the patient I described earlier who would panic and gasp for breath whenever it rained even years after his abuse.”
Dr. Addicott also relies on court rulings to demonstrate that coercive methods of obtaining evidence are permissible under US law.
He points two cases for guidance. In the first, Blefare v United States (362 F.2d 870), he tells us (in written testimony) that:
“the appellants were suspected of swallowing narcotics which were lodged in their rectums or stomachs…Then, without Blefare’s consent the doctor forcefully passed a soft tube into the “nose, down the throat and into the stomach,” through which fluid flowed in order to induce vomiting. This resulted in the discovery of packets of heroin and the subsequent conviction of Blefare.
Unlike Rochin [Rochin v. California, (342 U. S. 165)], the Ninth Circuit refused to hold that the involuntary intrusion into Blefare’s stomach shocked the conscience.
While all that is true, it’s also irrelevant to the facts of the case as it appears in the record.
First, the Ninth Circuit had no reason to reach a conclusion about whether evidence was obtained from Blefare in a manner that “shocked the conscience” because the evidence that the appeal was trying to suppress did not belong to Blefare, but to his co-defendant, Donald Michel (who had voluntarily consented to the intubation that led to the recovery of the challenged evidence).
The second reason the challenged evidence was not suppressed had to do with the fact that the searches of Blefare and Michel were held to be “border searches”.
This, from Blefare:
“No question of whether there is probable cause for a search exists when the search is incidental to the crossing of an international border, for there is reason and probable cause to search every person entering the United States from a foreign country, by reason of such entry alone. That the customs authorities do not search every person crossing the border does not mean they have waived their right to do so, when they see fit…Mere suspicion has been held enough cause for a search at the border.”
Dr. Addicott also misstates the effect of Leon v. Wainwright (734 F.2d 770).
From his written testimony:
“For instance, in Leon v. Wainwright the Eleventh Circuit brushed aside the fact that police officers had used “force and threats” on kidnap suspect Jean Leon in order to get the suspect to reveal the location of his victim. When apprehended by a group of police officers in a Florida parking lot, Leon refused to reveal the location of his kidnap victim (the victim, Louis Gachelin, had been taken by gunpoint to an apartment where he was undressed and bound). In order to get the suspect to talk, police officers then physically abused Leon by twisting his arm and choking him until he revealed where the kidnap victim was being held. In speaking to the use of brutal force to get the information needed to protect the victim, the Court deemed that the action of the officers was reasonable given the immediate concern to find the victim and save his life.”
It is inaccurate to say the Court “brushed aside” the use of force and threats.
What actually happened was that the defendant confessed twice—and it was that second confession that was being challenged.
The first confession…the one taken by force…was not admitted into evidence; therefore its admissibility–and by extension, the means by which it was obtained–was not an issue to be considered by the appeals court.
This, from the ruling in Leon v Wainwright:
“Meanwhile, Leon was taken to the police station. He was questioned there by detectives who had neither been involved in the threats and use of force at the scene of his arrest nor witnessed it. After being thoroughly informed of his rights and signing a Miranda waiver form, he gave full oral and written confessions of the crime. This entire process was concluded about five hours after his arrest…
…The totality of the circumstances in this case clearly confirms the finding that the second statement was voluntary. The police, motivated by the immediate necessity of finding the victim and saving his life, used force and threats on Leon in the parking lot. Hours later, Leon was questioned at the police station by a completely different group of police officers. These officers were not even participants in the surveillance team at the parking lot. Prior to questioning him the officers meticulously explained to him his constitutional rights. He specifically waived his right to have counsel present. The necessity of saving the victim’s life, the different physical setting, the different group of questioning officers, and the meticulous explanation to appellant of his constitutional rights constituted a sufficient break in the stream of events to dissipate the effects of the first coercion. The challenged confession was properly admitted into evidence.”
There is a question of what to do if it is suspected that torture has been committed. Here is a portion of Dr. Addicott’s comment on the matter, from his written testimony.
“…those who order, approve, or engage in torture must be criminally charged. If the United States determines that waterboarding as practiced by the CIA is torture, there is no option. Under the Torture Convention violators must be prosecuted. Similarly, lawyers at the Department of Justice who approved the practice must also be prosecuted… In short, in my legal opinion, the subject waterboarding technique used on the al-Qa’eda operatives did not constitute torture and requires no binding obligation to prosecute.”
With all respect to the Professor, this looks like circular logic. To “determine” that torture occurred requires a trial, as Dr. Addicott has previously noted, yet he says here there’s no need for a trial because, by his determination, no torture occurred.
It also appears that his analysis on this point is factually inaccurate, in that there is no obligation to prosecute under either the Geneva Conventions or the Torture Convention. Here are the pertinent texts:
Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committee [sic] in any territory under its jurisdiction.”
—UN Convention Against Torture
The High Contracting Parties undertake to enact any legislation necessary to provide effective penal sanctions for persons committing, or ordering to be committed, any of the grave breaches of the present Convention defined in the following Article.
Each High Contracting Party shall be under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts. It may also, if it prefers, and in accordance with the provisions of its own legislation, hand such persons over for trial to another High Contracting Party concerned, provided such High Contracting Party has made out a prima facie case.”
—Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War
The phrase “bring such persons…before its own courts” will be a subject of controversy, so let me clear it up now. In Europe, the “court” process involves the use of “investigating magistrates” who would decide if this sort of case should or should not be brought to trial; a function that, in the US, would be handled by a Special Prosecutor or the FBI and the appropriate US Attorney, possibly through the federal grand jury process.
As you can see, there is an obligation to investigate people suspected of torture…but no mandate to prosecute every suspected offense…which means, just like in a RICO case, you can round up the lower-level “actors”, convince them to “flip” on the other co-conspirators up the chain in exchange for immunity…and then you prosecute the ringleaders.
We have spent some considerable time addressing the questions around what is and what is not torture…but now we get to an issue that makes the “torture question” irrelevant.
Remember way back in Part One when I asked you to keep that “cruel and inhuman treatment” phrase in the back of your mind?
And remember the European Court of Human Rights ruling that called the “Five Techniques” cruel and inhuman?
Well, guess what?
If a prosecutor can demonstrate that waterboarding is not torture, but merely “cruel or inhuman” (a standard that only requires “serious” mental or physical pain, not the “severe” standard required for torture)…that’s a “war crime”, as defined by the War Crimes Act of 1996 (18 USC § 2441(d)(1)(B)).
And those who commit a war crime, it turns out:
“…shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death.”
And that’s where we get to the point that Dr. Addicott and I finally reach some common ground:
Maybe torture prosecutions are bad policy.
Especially when it’s easier to prove a war crime than it is to prove torture.
Once again, we have come a long way to get here, but let’s review it all before we finish:
Dr. Addicott and I differ on where we should look for a definition of torture.
Despite the language of 18 USC § 2340, he does not feel there’s jurisdiction to prosecute under the US Code.
He does not feel waterboarding is torture, but he acknowledges that the “Five Techniques” are “cruel and inhuman”.
There is precedent in international law to draw the conclusion that waterboarding is torture which Dr. Addicott did not note in his written testimony.
Because waterboarding does create the threat of imminent death and does cause severe and long-lasting mental problems, I feel it is also torture as defined by US law.
Dr. Addicott proffers legal precedent to support his position that the use of coercive techniques does not violate US law…but when you actually examine the texts of the rulings he cites, it appears that he either misunderstands the rulings or misstates their application to this question.
He also testifies inaccurately when he asserts that all cases “determined” to be torture must be prosecuted…firstly, because of the circular logic of “determined”, and secondly, because the two pertinent texts simply don’t read the way his testimony reports they read.
But all that said, it turns out that even if waterboarding is somehow not torture…that it does not cause “severe physical or mental pain or suffering”…it appears highly likely that the technique causes “serious physical or mental pain or suffering”…which, mirabile dictu, is the legal standard for proving a war crime.
Which leads us to the one point upon which we both agree: there should be prosecutions.
Prosecute under 18 USC § 2441 or treat it like any other “organized crime” case: start inviting “parties of interest” to flip on their co-conspirators, immunize the cooperative…and if a judge and jury decides it’s the right choice, people are going to have to go to prison.
So there you go: we started out questioning how torture is defined, and we ended up at a place where, because of the War Crimes Act, that definition become less relevant, a bit of common ground might have been found, and in the search for that common ground we’ve discovered a better way to ensure that justice can be done.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I want to offer a hearty “thank you” to Dr. Addicott for taking the time to talk to me for this story. If we wish to do serious journalism, interviewing the people in the news is critical, and I very much appreciate his willingness to make himself available during the production of this pair of stories.
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