Tortured to Death


It's hard to keep up with all the news on the torture front, but this article from The Denver Post is a must-read. An excerpt:

Brutal interrogation techniques by U.S. military personnel are being investigated in connection with the deaths of at least five Iraqi prisoners in war-zone detention camps, Pentagon documents obtained by The Denver Post show.

The deaths include the killing in November of a high-level Iraqi general who was shoved into a sleeping bag and suffocated, according to the Pentagon report. The documents contradict an earlier Defense Department statement that said the general died "of natural causes" during an interrogation. Pentagon officials declined to comment on the new disclosure.

Another Iraqi military officer, records show, was asphyxiated after being gagged, his hands tied to the top of his cell door. Another detainee died "while undergoing stress technique interrogation," involving smothering and "chest compressions," according to the documents….

No criminal punishments have been announced in the interrogation deaths, even though three deaths occurred last year.

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  1. A Denver paper has a scoop??? There’ll be dancing in the streets of Larimer Square tonight!!! (Bummer it’s gotta be such BAD news….)

  2. Yeah, but the terrorists are savage insects who cut off people’s heads. When our boys kill prisoners, they kill them humanely.

  3. “the general died ‘of natural causes’ during an interrogation.”

    I wonder how hard it was for someone to keep a straight face when they were writing that little gem.

  4. War is harsh, trainwreck, but if you can’t tell the difference between these deaths and Berg getting hacked up, then I’d rather not know you.

  5. Fred,

    There’s differences in any two phenomena, otherwise they wouldn’t be two distinct phenomena. So what?


    Stuffed into a sleeping bag. Sounds so…womb-like!

  6. Fred said: “War is harsh, trainwreck, but if you can’t tell the difference between these deaths and Berg getting hacked up, then I’d rather not know you.”

    Is the difference who they were? Because by all accounts I’ve heard a lot of Iraqis imprisoned by the US military are innocent. Is it the method of killing? Because from what I understand asphyxiation isn’t exactly the most humane way to die, and god knows what “chest compressions” means. Someone doesn’t have to have their head sawed off on film for the killing to be unjustifiable and cruel.

  7. Hey, no big deal. Same stuff as a frat initiation, right?

  8. stories like this make me proud to be an American! because it is so clear that we are the good guys. I just cannot understand why the rest of the world cannot see it

  9. If you aren’t doing anything wrong then you won’t be tortured to death by government employees.

    So be good!

  10. See, I would call these allegations of actual torture. The Abu Ghraib photos, though everyone refers to them as “torture”, were humiliation. I think there is a very definite difference, although many people don’t seem to grasp the difference between being hooked up to fake electrodes and hooked up to real ones.

    I hope that allegations of real torture are pursued as hard as the media-frenzy driven prosecutions of the idiots at Abu Ghraib.

  11. I double-posted earlier in this thread, but apparently my double-post has been deleted. I’m not in the tiniest bit disappointed that my double-posting was deleted, but I am curious whether there’s now a moderator deleting double posts.

    However, the response to my double post was kind of cute. Too bad it was deleted. Then again, deleting the double post would have removed all context.

  12. Gosh, I didn’t know war is harsh, Fred. I want my cakewalk back.

    fyodor your mind works in sick and twisted ways.

  13. Fred,

    So torturing people to death is much better than simply beheading them? What in the Hell is your point?

    First our government attacks Iraq on a bogus pretext, and now this ongoing disgrace!

    Our government is continuing to bring shame on the mostly good people of our country and the responsibility for these crimes looks to be “up command”:

    If we want our government to stop committing torture and murder using our money, we should demand that the troops be brought home now.

    It’s really WAY past time for our government to leave Iraq because, what reasonably expected result could possibly justify the further expected (even greater in light of this growing torture scandal) loss of American life?

    Contact congress and tell them:

  14. R.C. Dean, you sound like a broken record.

    Torture is a legal term, not subject to your interpretation. So, SFTU.

  15. R.C.,

    Are you saying that you don’t consider forced sodomy with glow sticks and regular beatings to be torture?

  16. Ooops, I meant STFU!


    Killing a prisoner is bad enough, Did this moron have to give the thumbs-up next to his body?

  18. thoreau: I delete double posts when I see them, and have been doing so since this blog was started. The fact that you didn’t realize anyone was doing this demonstrates how inconsistent my “moderation” is. (Also, I can only do this in the threads I start myself.)

    I agree that the response was cute. Unfortunately, I had already pressed the delete button when it went up. Deleting, like posting, sometimes takes a few minutes to go through.

  19. Jesse-

    Thanks for the explanation.

  20. trainwreck,

    I think maybe you’re being a little too harsh with R.C. Dean’s comments here. He’s wrong about the Abu Ghraib torture but he does want to prosecute this torture. That’s progress, is it not?

  21. R.C. Dean,

    “I think there is a very definite difference, although many people don’t seem to grasp the difference between being hooked up to fake electrodes and hooked up to real ones.”

    Can you tell us the difference then? Is it that a death was involved? Is it that some sort of physical harm was involved?

  22. Look at this! Look at this depravity!

    An autopsy has determined that he was beaten to death. Maybe you’ll you shed a tear for him as I did, but we should all cry river for what this is doing to our republic.

  23. Well, I based on the latest news —

    — I think it’s safe to assume that anything described in the Taguba report is documented in photographs and/or video, and that we will eventually see all of these.

    Just remember that the Rodney King video resulted in $1 billion dollars in damage and 53 deaths — and it’s not a question of how many people are supportive of or indifferent to the practices documented, but the extent of the outrage of those who don’t see justice served for what was recorded.

  24. R.C.,

    You write that “These photographs are almost universally described as depicting torture.”

    List five articles or news items from major media sources — let’s say U.S. sources — that describe the events in the photographs as “torture.”

    Rumsfeld won that fight — the papers and news networks changed it to “abuse.” For now. Maybe only until today.

  25. I think I’m in agreement with RC on this one. Yes, the things that I’ve heard described by the captives has been torture, the pictures themselves do not show any. The acts depicted in the pictures aren’t acceptable and the people should be punished. But do they really deserve the ‘toture’ label?

    But arguing semantics isn’t allowed anymore, I guess. God forbid we have degrees of violation. Since I’m sure this will degreade to a semantics argument, from the MW dictionary:

    1 a : anguish of body or mind : AGONY b : something that causes agony or pain
    2 : the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure
    3 : distortion or overrefinement of a meaning or an argument : STRAINING

    I’m gonna have to go with #2 for my definition of torture. Thus, the humiliating positions that the men were put in do not count. The beatings that were handed out to make them submissive enough to be put in those positions WOULD count (assuming none of them were eager to do so).

  26. You know what? FUCK the bastards! I just don’t care any more. Let’s be as cruel and ruthless as possible, in order to achieve our objectives, and then let’s get the hell out! Then we can leave these backwater clods to murder each other in the ensuing power struggle. And when they start bleating for assistance from the outside world we can look ’em straight in the eyes and say, “FUCK OFF!”

  27. A Different Sean,

    “I’m gonna have to go with #2 for my definition of torture.”

    You’ve yet to explain why this is the case; and, well, neither has R.C. Dean (or Shannon Love for that matter). You continue to claim that torture requires some act of physical cruelty; yet not once have either of you struck up the courage to explain why that is the case. Until you can come up with a principled rationale for making this distinction, I’m going to simply discount your statements. BTW, more intoning that its “obvious” or that its “self-evident” is not an argument.

  28. Something is very wrong. Does anyone remember the British sci-fi series “Blake’s Seven’, where the rebels were trying to overthrow the evil empire? Weren’t we suposed to identify with the rebels?

  29. You continue to claim that torture requires some act of physical cruelty; yet not once have either of you struck up the courage to explain why that is the case.

    Umm, because that is the commonly accepted definition of the word, perhaps, and if we define torture down to include “mere” acts of humiliation, then we have robbed ourselves of an important distinction. I think it is important that we reserve some distinction between the bad (humiliation) and the horrific (castration without anesthesia, amputations of limbs, systematized rape, real electrocution, real beatings, real, if you will, torture).

    I mean, really, would you rather be hooked up to fake electrodes and photographed, or hooked up to real electrodes and electrocuted? Are you people really incapable of grasping the difference? Do you really believe we should treat someone who actually electrocutes people exactly the same as someone who only pretends to do so? This is just surreal.

    You will note that I referred only to the photographs in Abu Ghraib. The other allegations of real abuse may describe actual torture. As an aside, I would point out that in all the photos of nude Iraqi prisoners that I have seen, I have not seen any wounds or bruising that would indicate they have been beaten.

  30. I want everyone to stop talking about these pictures. Now. That’s a direct order.

  31. This guy was beaten to death!:

    More pictures of our tax dollars at work, One shows a guard punching a prisoner:

  32. I think Temporarily Insane has distilled what the President hopes to do next.

    Sean, Dean — We’ll see the videos of what was required to get them into those pyramids, and soon enough we’ll see the sodomy and rape videos.

    And we’ll see similar things from Afghanistan as well.

    If it takes photographs and videotapes to prove that something actually happened — if folks like Sean and Dean really don’t believe anything happened unless it’s documented in photographs and films (you’ve got good company in the Holocaust deniers) — well, in this case you’re going to get the evidence that a hell of a lot happened.

    All together, we’ve seen less than 20 of THOUSANDS of videotapes and photographs.

    We’ll be talking about abuse, torture, whatever you want to call it — done in our name, on our dime — for a long time.

    The glowstick will be Bush’s cigar.

  33. R.C. Dean,

    “Umm, because that is the commonly accepted definition of the word, perhaps, and if we define torture down to include ‘mere’ acts of humiliation, then we have robbed ourselves of an important distinction.”

    Torture includes attacks which are psychological in nature (indeed, if you ever look at some of the documents that came out of the School of the Americas, you will note that one aspect of torture listed in those materials is psychological in nature). Again, please explain to me why torture must be physical in nature (with simply repeating again that its self-evident).

  34. R.C. Dean, etc. continue to argue that its self-evident that only physical acts can amount to torture; I keep on asking them for a principled reason for their distinction; and in response they babble on about it being self-evident, or that there is some “accepted definition.”

  35. Well, I was hoping someone would like to address the issues that Dean and I are bringing up, but I guess there are too many strawmen that are more fun to argue against.


    Yes, I believe that torture requires some sort of physical harm. It may not show (e.g., the device in Princess Bride), and I believe that forcing someone into a painful position for hours is included. However, I do believe in preserving a distinction between the different types of abuse. The burden of rationalization isn’t solely on my camp, either. Would you please explain why ‘toture’ should include mental torment?

    FG and Eazy,

    I haven’t made or seen any comments denying what has happened. I believe Dean and I just want to preserve the distinction between the abuse in the photos and true ‘torture’. The acts reported by the prisoners (beatings, etc.) would be torture. The photos show only humiliation and intimidation.
    (“We’ll see the videos of what was required to get them into those pyramids…,” yes, and when we do we will witness true torture, I’m sure. Do you not realize that this point was taken from my post?)

    I think the main problem I have with all of this is the reduction of the language. We only have ‘torture’ to describe bad things done to prisoners. Truthfully, do you not want to be able to distinguish between a) standing nude with a girl pointing and laughing at your genitals and b) having a nightstick forcibly shoved into your anus? If you use ‘torture’ to describe (a), what word can you use to describe (b)? ‘Doubleplus Torture’?

  36. Gary – I (and Different Sean) have given principled reasons for sticking to a definition of torture that requires physical harm.

    Neither of us have denied that allegations of actual torture have been made that may well prove out. However, the current media frenzy involves photographs that do not depict physical harm. Characterizing them as torture elides an important distinction, making it seem as if hooking someone up to fake electrodes is no different than hooking them up to real electrodes and electrocuting them.

    No one has yet answered my question about whether you believe this is a real difference. If you think it is a real difference, then I wonder why you are willing to use exactly the same term to describe two things that are really quite different.

  37. From the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War:
    “No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.”
    So clearly, under international law, torture need not be physical (else why would they specify “mental torture”?).

    Interestingly, it also states that tobacco use must be permitted in POW camps. And yet, they can ban it in entire U.S. cities… but that’s another matter entirely.

  38. However, the current media frenzy involves photographs that do not depict physical harm.

    Isn’t this kind of academic? The topic moved beyond those photographs the day the Teguba report — which included descriptions of physical abuse — was leaked. That was weeks ago.

  39. From Amy, “..may be inflicted on prisoners of war..”. Are these people prisoners of war?
    PS Thanks Amy for the research. /R

  40. Dean,

    Yes, there is a substantial difference between real and simulated electrodes.

    But if the prisoner has, say, a heart attack because he believes those electrodes are real, then there is no difference.

    Let’s keep an eye on how these prisoners died.

    Do you think that’s real shit smeared all over the prisoner in today’s new photo?

  41. Amy, thanks for the reference to the Geneva Convention, which one notes does distinguish between physical and mental torture. I don’t know if any of the folks in AG are or were protected by the Convention, by the way. If any were uniformed members of Saddam’s army, then they would be protected. Others, not so much.

    Still not sure what amounts to mental torture, but whatever.

    Jesse, I know that there are allegations and descriptions of physical abuse out there, but the media feeding frenzy and political fallout are all driven by the photographs. These photographs are almost universally described as depicting torture, when I don’t think they do. Sure, its an academic/semantic point, to a point, but call me a pedant for thinking that it is pretty revealing of a number of things, and not unimportant in the long run.

    The term genocide has been considerably diluted since the Holocaust, and I think it is no coincidence that the resolve for “never again” has been similarly diluted.

  42. P.S. There was a wing of the prison for female detainees and a wing for juveniles — we haven’t seen anything close to the worst yet.

  43. Honestly, what the hell is wrong with these people! What the fuck did they think they were doing?!? Did they go temporarily insane?!? Jesus.

  44. R.C.: I’m happy to make the distinction you’re making, as long as the point is not to excuse non-physical torture but to point out gradations of abuse. To the extent that media are still focusing on those original photographs, I’m less interested in arguing over what the pictures depict than in pointing out the parts of the story that weren’t captured in those photos. There are still people who think this is about seven isolated grunts who humiliated prisoners but never roughed them up. At this point that view just doesn’t hold any water.

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