Just listening to Jess Bravin or Stuart Couch talk about torture at Gitmo is harrowing enough, and I hope no one regardless of his/her ideological leanings is jaded enough not to be moved emotionally by these accounts of how “justice” is practiced in citizens’ names.
And so, over the subsequent eight or nine months, it became clear that this information—that what had been done to Slahi amounted to torture. Specifically, he had been subjected to a mock execution. He had sensory deprivation. He had environmental manipulation; that is, you know, cell is too cold, or the cell is too hot. He, at one point, was taken off of the island and driven around in a boat to make him believe that he was being transferred to a foreign country for interrogation. He was presented with a ruse that the United States had taken custody of his mother and his brother and that they were being brought to Guantánamo. It was on a letter with fake letterhead from the State Department, I believe it was. And in the letter, there was a discussion that his mother would be the only female detainee held at Guantánamo and concerns for her safety.
So, any one of these individual things, I don’t believe, as a legal matter, rose to the level of torture, until I got evidence of an email between one of the officers responsible for the—for the guards that were guarding Slahi and a military psychologist. And there was this discussion over this email about the fact that Slahi was experiencing hallucinations. And then—and the psychologist, as she was giving her opinion as to this concern raised, it was clear to me that she was aware that the circumstances of Slahi’s detention had been set up to such a point where he would experience these types of mental breakdown.
Yet, what is even more intellectually intriguing is the way historical and legal precedents and bureaucratic infighting have come together, to create the military commissions. Couch argues that the torture practices he observed at Gitmo resembled SERE training. Bravin recounts how an ad hoc decision by FDR became a proposal in the second Bush administration for an executive branch court, and then how executive intelligence and law enforcement agencies fought to influence its implementation. SCOTUS also became involved. Finally, the Obama administration put its imprimatur on what would become the current military commissions.
It’s another reminder, posited by Keohane and Nye in the complex interdependence school of thought, that the reforms any one of us countenance have to endure a meat grinder of organizational infighting, individual conscience, and constitutional interpretation.