Is torture in transit? (image via Spectacle Productions)

Is torture in transit? (image via Spectacle Productions)

My last article reintroduced the topic of abuse and torture as being used in the current version of the Army Field Manual (AFM), and particular in its infamous “Appendix M.” From time to time, the implications of actually using the AFM has theatened to break through the right-wing monopoly of discussion about government interrogation policy. Consider this exchange, last May, between NBC’s Chuck Todd and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs:

Q What is he going to say to those who make the argument, which has been made, he’s actually just changing rhetoric, he’s not changing policy that much? With Guantanamo, you’re essentially calling for a way of moving Guantanamo. You’re just changing the name.

MR. GIBBS: Well, ask that question of some of our severe detractors on this and see if you get agreement on that. I actually don’t think that’s the case. I think what the — the decision that the President made on military commissions is something that’s envisioned that’s much different than what was passed in Congress and signed by the President in late September and early October in 2006.

I think, as we’ve talked about here, enhanced interrogation techniques are something that this President has outlawed as part of the actions of this administration. I don’t think those are –

Q Yet the fine print, there’s open to interpretation about what different techniques could be used.

MR. GIBBS: How so?

Q In the argument that there’s definitely some words in there that one could interpret that it’s –

MR. GIBBS: Chuck, I don’t think you’re — let me understand — I don’t think you’re intimating that the Army Field Manual would allow one to do –

Q There have been some interpretations that there are –

MR. GIBBS: I can assure you that’s not how the Army interprets the Army Field Manual, and I assume that generals in the Army and the military that are in charge of ensuring that the procedures of the military are in line with the laws of this country — I don’t think you’re intimating that people in the Army are inferring different things about their own field manual, because I know that’s not the case.

Gibbs appears to think that the military can be trusted to ensure “the procedures of the military are in line with the laws of this country,” eviscerating the idea of Congressional oversight. What Todd calls “fine print” in the Army Field Manual — “open to interpretation” — others have called torture or abuse.

The President of the National Lawyers Guild Marjorie Cohn has stated that portions of the AFM protocol, especially the use of isolation and prolonged sleep deprivation, constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is illegal under the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the U.N. Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Hina Shamsi, an attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, has stated that portions of the AFM are “deeply problematic” and “would likely violate the War Crimes Act and Geneva,” and at the very least “leave the door open for legal liability.” Physicians for Human Rights and the Constitution Project have publicly called for the removal of problematic and abusive techniques from the AFM.

The Center for Constitutional Rights wrote last year:

Appendix M of the Army Field Manual… allows the use of techniques such as prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and inducing fear and humiliation of prisoners. These techniques, especially when used in combination as permitted by the AFM, constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and in some cases, torture. These techniques have caused documented, long-lasting psychological and physical harm and were condemned by a bipartisan congressional report released last month, as well as by the Bush-appointed head of the military commissions at Guantanamo.

“In some cases, torture.” As bmaz pointed out almost exactly one year ago, when Guantanamo Convening Authority judge Susan Crawford dismissed charges against Guantanamo prisoner Mohamed al-Qahtani, telling Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that the U.S. tortured al-Qahtani:

Crawford has exposed to bright sunlight the lie that is Barack Obama’s, and other politicians’, simple minded reliance on the Army Field Manual as cover for their torture reform credentials. Interrogators can stay completely within the Army manual and still be engaging in clear, unequivocal torture under national and international norms, laws and conventions.

Now — all delays due to 23-year-old would-be bombers aside — Obama is set to transfer the Guantanamo regime to a nearly abandoned, rural Illinois prison. Will that include the transfer of Appendix M interrogations, and other abusive elements of the AFM protocol? These are questions we need to be asking. Or will progressive bloggers hope that Chuck Todd carries their fire for them?

Next: Obama’s Interrogation Policy and the Use of Torture in the Army Field Manual