Saturday, February 13, 2016

Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 4

Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 4

Isaiah 58

Thus says the LORD:
If you remove from your midst oppression,
false accusation and malicious speech;
If you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday…


As I re-read this poem today, I’m reminded of the dual difficulty it presents: that of telling traumatic stories, and of listening to them. The Iraqi who testified to what happened says that he had nothing to gain materially from telling this story, and that he wasn’t even supposed to tell it, but he tells it anyway, even as it returns him to the experience of total humiliation. His voice is difficult to hear because to hear it means that we enter into his experience of suffocating debasement. It also necessitates that we recognize that those who did this to him were Americans. In some strange way, we are the indirect authors of his pain. In today’s readings, Isaiah exhorts us to remove oppression from our midst, but the layers that separate us from this man are so manifold, so visibly invisible, it is difficult to know precisely how.

Two simple ways to begin this process of conscientization. One way is to remember, to remember something that has not been included our collective memory, but nonetheless involves us. For example, today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Al Amiriyah Attack, in which 400 Iraqi civilians (mostly women and children) in a Baghdad bomb shelter were killed by U.S. missile attacks during the Persian Gulf War. Dima Yassine was ten minutes from the bombing, and could smell the burned flesh for days afterward.

What would it mean to remember Al Amiriyah—or The Move bombing in Philadelphia, for example—as clearly as the San Bernadino attacks or even 9/11?

The second way, specifically related to the content of this poem, is to scrutinize current U.S. policy regarding interrogation. My colleague, the ethicist Paul Lauritzen, wrote a deeply thoughtful examination of U.S. policies of interrogation, particularly the Bush Administration’s employment of the Orwellian-sounding “enhanced interrogation.” In The Ethics of Interrogation, Lauritzen attempts to create a moral framework to guide U.S. interrogation policy, differentiating between coercive interrogation (which he believes is legal and moral) and abusive interrogation. The key, for him, regards the question of whether interrogation acknowledges and maintains the dignity of the one under interrogation. One might hasten to add, with Isaiah in mind, the interrogator’s own potential loss of dignity.

Here it is useful to be concrete. Suppose we turn to the techniques set out in Army Field Manual 34-52, the 1992 Army document that spells out guidelines for “intelligence interrogation” and to the ten enhanced interrogation techniques that the classified Bybee memorandum addressed in August 2002. How should these various techniques be classified?  We can begin with FM 34-52. The manual covers interrogation in great detail, with chapters on everything from the general mission of military intelligence units and the structure of such units to the handling of documents produced through intelligence operations, including interrogation. Chapter three of the manual covers the actual techniques of interrogation. It identifies roughly a dozen general interrogation strategies, with some variations within each category. The categories are: direct, incentive, emotional, fear, pride and ego, futility, we know all, file and dossier, establish your identity, repetition, rapid fire, silence, and change of scene.

The coercive nature of all interrogation can be seen in the fact that even in the most innocuous of these techniques, namely, a direct approach in which the interrogator simply asks for the information he wants, the subject being interrogated is powerless and vulnerable. The detainee does not necessarily know where he is; he does not know what will happen if he refuses to answer; and even if he answers questions truthfully, he may not be believed. Nevertheless, not all techniques are the same. Asking a detainee a direct question is very different from what the manual refers to as a “Fear-Up (Harsh)” approach. According to the manual, “in this [Fear-Up (Harsh)] approach, the interrogator behaves in an overpowering manner with a loud and threatening voice. The interrogator may even feel the need to throw objects across the room to heighten the source’s implanted feelings of fear . . . This technique is to convince the source he does indeed have something to fear; that he has no option but to cooperate.”

The fact that questioning a detainee is coercive and may be harsh, however, does not mean it is morally or legally prohibited. Indeed, all the techniques set out in FM 34-52 are approved by the military, in part because they do not violate Geneva Conventions or the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The Preface to the manual is clear about the necessity of restraint. “These principles and techniques of interrogation,” the manual reads, “are to be used within the constraints established by the following”:
·       The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)
·       Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field of August 12, 1949, hereinafter referred to as GWS
·       Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of August 12, 1949, hereinafter referred to as GPW
·       Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of August 12, 1949, hereinafter referred to as GC.

Article three, which is common to all three of these Conventions, provides an indication of the basis upon which interrogations are to be judged. It reads:
(1)   Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed 'hors de combat' by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons: (a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; (b) taking of hostages; (c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment; (d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.
From this and other articles in the conventions, it is clear that the standard that is to guide the treatment of prisoners is one that safeguards the dignity and humanity of prisoners. Prisoners should not be degraded; they should not be treated cruelly; and they should not be physically or emotionally abused.

--Paul Lauritzen is Professor of Religious Ethics at John Carroll University in Cleveland. He is the author or editor of 5 books, including The Ethics of Interrogation (2013), and has published extensively on issues in bioethics, human rights, and religious ethics. He is the past coeditor of the Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics and is currently an associate editor with the Journal of Religious Ethics.

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