By Phillip Carter What is torture? Euphemisms like “stress position” cover a wide range of practices, from the merely uncomfortable to the wickedly cruel and painful. At Slate, we have wrestled with the definitions of abuse and torture and how best to present these morally and legally complicated terms. The taxonomy follows the legal maxim of res ipsa loquiturlet the thing speak for itself. The tactics below are listed in order from least to most severe.Direct questioning
Pride and ego
Good cop/Bad cop
Exploiting individual phobias
Mild, non-injurious physical contact
Source: FM 34-52
Description: This approach adopts the motto of Star Trek’s fictional Borg — resistance is futile. On a conventional battlefield, an interrogator might try to convince a detainee that his side has no hope, and therefore he should talk to help the U.S. win quickly so more of his buddies’ lives will be spared. At a detention facility like Guantanamo, the futility approach means making detainees think they will be held forever unless they tell the Americans what they know. As the Army’s manual puts it, “making the situation appear hopeless allows the source to rationalize his actions, especially if that action is cooperating with the interrogator.”
Physical, Psychological, or Other Effects: The futility approach itself has no effects, but detainees who actually believe their existence to be futile may become depressed to the point of suicide. Guantanamo detainees have made at least 460 attempts at self-injury and 34 suicide attempts since the camp opened in January 2002.
Locations Used: Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan
Legal Opinion: The futility approach does not itself offend the law. But it works best in conjunction with other law-breaking tactics, like the Bush administration’s decision to hold detainees indefinitely at an island outpost with little to no legal process or contact with the outside world.