Dispatches from the Creation Wars

We know the Bush apologists claim that the use of stress positions, sleep deprivation, waterboarding and the like isn’t torture when done by Americans, but what if it’s done to Americans? We have always treated it as torture in the past, but now we may get a current example after two journalists were arrested and imprisoned in North Korea. Spencer Ackerman, who will be a guest on my radio show on Thursday, asks the relevant questions:

The North Korean regime will indict two American journalists from Current TV who had been reporting on North Korean refugees in China. After holding them for the past five weeks, they’ll be charged with “illegal entry” into North Korea and the perpetration of “hostile acts” against the paranoid Communist nation. What happens in North Korean jails? Why, the sort of things that the Bush administration said were legal to perform on detainees in U.S. custody. Is it torture then, Mr. Cheney?

Take a look at the most recent State Department human rights report on North Korea, updated in February. Under the section forthrightly titled “Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” it lists that among other tortures, the North Koreans prefer “prolonged periods of exposure to the elements”; “confinement for up to several weeks in small ‘punishment cells’ in which prisoners were unable to stand upright or lie down”; “being forced to kneel or sit immobilized for long periods”; and “being forced to stand up and sit down to the point of collapse.” If these aren’t exactly the “confinement box” or “stress positions” or the “cold cell,” they’re close cousins. Shall we get into a debate about whether stripping someone naked and placing him in a cell chilled to 50 degrees and dousing him with cold water is materially different than “prolonged periods of exposure to the elements”?

And I wonder how this sounds in Korean: “With respect to physical pain, we have concluded that ‘severe pain’ within the meaning of Section 2340 is pain that is difficult for the individual to endure and is of an intensity akin to the pain accompanying serious physical injury. … We conclude that none of these proposed techniques inflicts such pain. … Section 2340 defines severe mental pain or suffering as ‘the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from’ one of several predicate acts [such as]… (1) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; (2) the application or threatened administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality; (3) the threat of imminent death; or (4) the threat that any of the preceding acts will be done to another person. … [I]f the methods that you have described do not either in and of themselves constitute one of these acts or as a course of conduct fulfill the predicate act requirement, the prohibition has not been violated.” After all, the SERE techniques that formed the basis for the CIA interrogation regimen emerged from “Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean war,” says the Senate Armed Services Committee, so we’re coming close to full circle here.

Has Kim Jong-Il written his thank-you note to Dick Cheney yet?

Excellent questions, all.