The Corner

Will Mark Danner Correct?

As I noted a few weeks ago, I found the contents of the ICRC report disturbing. I was bothered most by two things — the account of detainees slammed against the wall and the frequency of waterboarding. On the walls, it appears the ICRC was wrong. As David Rivkin and Lee Casey write today in the WSJ:

An Aug. 1, 2002, memo describes the practice of “walling” — recently revealed in a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which suggested that detainees wore a “collar” used to “forcefully bang the head and body against the wall” before and during interrogation. In fact, detainees were placed with their backs to a “flexible false wall,” designed to avoid inflicting painful injury. Their shoulder blades — not head — were the point of contact, and the “collar” was used not to give additional force to a blow, but further to protect the neck.

The memo says the point was to inflict psychological uncertainty, not physical pain: “the idea is to create a sound that will make the impact seem far worse than it is and that will be far worse than any injury that might result from the action.”

On waterboarding, the ICRC was right about the frequency, so those of us who relied on that long-ago ABC News report on how the waterboarding happened (basically, everyone cracked almost immediately) were wrong. Perhaps, as Jonah suggests here, the CIA went over the line (for the countercase, read the updates), but note how diminished the torture debate has become — we’re talking about whether we tortured two guys with a method so tightly controlled it might not have been particularly effective.

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