A reader writes:
I've never seen you reference this before and so I'm not sure you're aware of it, but the sensory deprivation of prisoners was used by the United States before with those who were charged with conspiring with John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. You can rather readily Google this information via Wikipedia and other articles on the assassination, treatment of the conspirators and, most notably - and regrettably, since we're related - the actions of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.
The actual hoods used were sufficiently sadistic - putting physical around-the-clock pressure on the eyes and ears, since they were hooded all of the time - that there were concerns that some of the prisoners were driven mad. It was Stanton who pushed for harsh treatment and military commissions and a rather weak-but-new President, Andrew Johnson, who pushed in the other direction.
Intriguingly, Johnson is the one who has been consigned to obloquy: he tried to treat prisoners, and the South generally, the way Lincoln likely would have, but his motives were too mixed up with sympathy for the racism of the South for him to receive any moral benefit from his approach.
On the other hand, Stanton was confirmed to be a Supreme Court Justice (dying before he could actually join the Court).
The use of hooding in this case certainly seems to me to be an example of gratuitous abuse - stigmatizing, dehumanizing and revenge-driven - that is founded on a particularly emotional crime against the state. In my view, that's what history's judgment will be on the Bush administration and its largely superfluous acts of sadism against already defenseless prisoners.
Images taken from a resource site by the University of Missouri - Kansas City.
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