Alfred McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madisonis the author of “A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror” and also “The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade.”
The U.S. made a pledge against torture when Congress ratified the UN Convention Against Torture in 1994 - but it was ratified with reservations that exempted the CIA’s psychological torture method. So what were the results? Although seemingly less brutal, "no touch" torture leaves deep psychological scars on both victims and interrogators. The victims often need long treatment to recover from trauma far more crippling than physical pain. The perpetrators can suffer a dangerous expansion of ego, leading to escalating cruelty and lasting emotional problems.
In the CIA's first stage, interrogators employ simple, non-violent techniques to disorient the subject. To induce temporal confusion, interrogators use hooding or sleep deprivation. To intensify disorientation, interrogators often escalate to attacks on personal identity by sexual humiliation.
Once the subject is disoriented, interrogators move on to a second stage with simple, self-inflicted discomfort such as standing for hours with arms extended. In this phase, the idea is to make victims feel responsible for their own pain and thus induce them to alleviate it by capitulating to the interrogator's power.
To be sure, torture is a violation of human rights. Have terrorists given up that right to be human? According to many critics and watchers of the Bush Administration and the war on terror the answer is yes. That answer was given by those who use torture as a method of interrogation. But that is how torure works...treat your victims as "less human" and the torturer will have power over the prisoner. A circle has thus been created. I have power because I torture, I torture because I have power. The United Nations Convention Against Torture has received new interest because of the tales coming from Abu Ghraib in Iraq. Will the U.N. adopt new anti-torture resolutions? If so, will those resolutions be effective? Probably not because someone will be exempt.