The NYT And Torture: The Double Standard Deepens

John F Burns pens a wonderful obit today on the remarkable British spy in France, Eileen Nearne, in 1944 who was tortured by the Nazis. Somehow, Bill Keller let the following paragraph slip through the copy-edit cracks:

As she related in postwar debriefings, documented in Britain’s National Archives, the Gestapo tortured her beating her, stripping her naked, then submerging her repeatedly in a bath of ice-cold water until she began to black out from lack of oxygen.

"Tortured"? Doesn't that break the NYT rule that such techniques are only referred to as "harsh interrogation techniques"? Has the policy changed? Or are we seeing an explicit decision by its editors to use different terms for exactly the same things when used by the US, rather than by the Nazis? You think I'm exaggerating? Here is an eye-witness account of Camp Nama, under the direct command of General Stanley McChrystal, where mere suspects - people not even caught red-handed as Ms Nearne was by the Nazis - were imprisoned and tortured:

[The suspect] was stripped naked, put in the mud and sprayed with the hose, with very cold hoses, in February. At night it was very cold. They sprayed the cold hose and he was completely naked in the mud, you know, and everything. [Then] he was taken out of the mud and put next to an air conditioner. It was extremely cold, freezing, and he was put back in the mud and sprayed. This happened all night. Everybody knew about it. People walked in, the sergeant major and so forth, everybody knew what was going on, and I was just one of them, kind of walking back and forth seeing [that] this is how they do things.

Here is more of an interview with a soldier who was at the Camp, whose chilling motto was "No Blood, No Foul."

Jeff explained that the colonel told them that he "had this directly from General McChrystal and the Pentagon that there's no way that the Red Cross could get in." Jeff did not question the colonel further on how these assurances were given to those in command in CampNama. He explained that they were told: "they just don't have access, and they won't have access, and they never will. This facility was completely closed off to anybody investigating. Even Army investigators." Jeff said that he did see Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. Joint Special Operations forces in Iraq, visiting the Nama facility on several occasions. "I saw him a couple of times. I know what he looks like."

This all took place in Iraq, which even the Bush administration said was subject to Geneva Rules. (For more details on this, see the NYT story here, where, of course, the t-word is forbidden, and HRW's report here.) But it is also important to note that hypothermia - the Nazi Verschaerfte Vernehmung ("enhanced interrogation") technique of cold baths, dowsing with cold water, use of ice cold hoses, and air-conditioners - was a specifically approved technique by president Bush and vice-president Cheney. At Camp Nama, two prisoners were tortured to death by these methods. In other instances, these deaths by hypothermia torture were covered up:

Among the death certificates issued for prisoners who died while being held for interrogation at Abu Ghraib, one cited by Dr. Steven Miles claimed a 63-year-old prisoner had died of “cardiovascular disease and a buildup of fluid around his heart.” But Miles noted that the certificate failed to mention that the old man had been stripped naked, continually soaked in cold water, and kept outside in 40-degree cold for three days before cardiac arrest.

The use of hypothermia as a torture technique was not restricted to Camp Nama under General McChrystal's direct command, a man who has never taken responsibility for the war crimes under his watch. In Gitmo itself, directly monitored by the White House, al-Qahtani was frozen near to death. Here is what was done to him, under the direct orders of the war criminal George W Bush:

For eleven days, beginning November 23, al-Qahtani was interrogated for twenty hours each day by interrogators working in shifts. He was kept awake with music, yelling, loud white noise or brief opportunities to stand. He then was subjected to eighty hours of nearly continuous interrogation until what was intended to be a 24-hour “recuperation.” This recuperation was entirely occupied by a hospitalization for hypothermia that had resulted from deliberately abusive use of an air conditioner. Army investigators reported that al-Qahtani’s body temperature had been cooled to 95 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit (35 to 36.1 degrees Celsius) and that his heart rate had slowed to thirty-five beats per minute. While hospitalized, his electrolytes were corrected and an ultrasound did not find venous thrombosis as a cause for the swelling of his leg. The prisoner slept through most of the 42-hour hospitalization after which he was hooded, shackled, put on a litter and taken by ambulance to an interrogation room for twelve more days of interrogation, punctuated by a few brief naps.

My italic. As my essay in The Atlantic noted here, an Army interrogator, Tony Lagouranis, described the technique as it evolved in Iraq and Afghanistan:

We used hypothermia a lot. It was very cold up in Mosul at that time, so weit was also raining a lotso we would keep the prisoner outside, and they would have a polyester jumpsuit on and they would be wet and cold, and freezing. But we weren’t inducing hypothermia with ice water like the [Navy] SEALs were. But, you know, maybe the SEALs were doing it better than we were, because they were actually even controlling it with the [rectal] thermometer, but we weren’t doing that.

Lagouranis did not witness the Navy SEALs’ technique himself. But the maintenance of cold cells at Gitmo, and elsewhere, shows how high up the authorization went.

Some want to claim that equating the torture techniques used by the Bush administration with those used by the Nazis is unforgivable hyperbole. Sadly, it isn't. It's indisputable fact. And one man responsible for it, Stanley McChrystal, was rewarded with promotion and now teaches at Yale. And another man who twisted the law to make it happen, John Yoo, teaches at Berkeley.

The US in 1948 prosecuted German soldiers for using hypothermia techniques, and sentenced its practitioners to death. One wonders: why, if the Geneva Conventions mean anything, is Stanley McChrystal, who bears legal and command authority for everything committed under his command, not in jail? And why are not Bush and Cheney on trial at the Hague? And why does Obama hold the Geneva Conventions in such contempt that he too insists on violating their clear and pressing legal obligation to investigate and prosecute all such war criminals, whoever they are?

He took an oath to enforce the laws of the land. He is violating that oath, thereby subverting both the Constitution and the rule of law.