Last month, representing Amnesty International in a meeting at the State Department, I listened to the new Legal Adviser Harold Koh, former Dean of the Yale Law School, describe the Obama administration as the anti-torture presidency.
That is a bold claim and the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture is the perfect moment to take a step back and review the administration’s record on this issue. Can Obama really claim to be the anti-torture president?
As far as human rights groups were concerned the Obama administration got off to a flying start with the executive orders pledging to close Guantanamo and restricting all US personnel to using interrogation techniques delineated in the 2006 Army Field Manual on Interrogations.
Unfortunately this was high point and it has been downhill all the way ever since. While the Executive Order put an apparent end to waterboarding and CIA black sites the 2006 Interrogations Field Manual is itself far from unproblematic.
There is nothing in the manual to prevent the reintroduction of the so-called “frequent flyer” technique of constantly waking and rewaking an individual after only a few minutes sleep so that no effective rest is gained at all.
In the past eight months credible reports have emerged that such techniques are still being used in US military detainee screening centers in Afghanistan. An earlier US Army field manual explicitly prohibited “abnormal sleep deprivation” as a form of “mental torture.”