Perhaps the most chilling aspect of the memos is their intimation that medical professionals conducted a form of research on the detainees, clearly without their consent. "In order to best inform future medical judgments and recommendations, it is important that every application of the waterboard be thoroughly documented," one memo reads. The documentation included not only how long the procedure lasted, how much water was used and how it was poured, but also "if the naso- or oropharynx was filled, what sort of volume was expelled....and how the subject looked between each treatment." Special instructions were also issued with regard to documenting experience with sleep deprivation, and "regular reporting on medical and psychological experiences with the use of these techniques on detainees" was required.
The memos describe the techniques in highly precise and clinical detail, befitting a medical textbook. During water boarding, in which a physician and psychologist were to be present at all times, "the detainee is monitored to ensure that he does not develop respiratory distress. If the detainee is not breathing freely after the cloth is removed from his face, he is immediately moved to a vertical position in order to clear the water from his mouth, nose and nasopharynx." Side effects including vomiting, aspiration and throat spasm that could cut off breathing were each addressed: "In the event of such spasms...if necessary, the intervening physician would perform a tracheotomy."
While physician assistants could be present when most "enhanced" techniques were applied, "use of the waterboard requires the presence of a physician," one memo said, quoting the OMS Guidelines.
Joseph Mengele would be so proud!
Yes, I know, that's three posts in one week on the torture scandal. But it cannot be emphasized enough, in my opinion. We live in a country where a sitting U.S. President was impeached in 1998 because he lied about getting a blow job from a lowly intern. I think we'd all agree that what we're dealing with now just might be something a little more worthy of such intense public scorn. What we have now is a situation where an executive branch unilaterally defied international law and the US Constitution by designing and codifying a program, yes a program, of torture, kept it secret, justified it with bad faith legal arguments from hacks like Jay Bybee, and then lied about it when the harrowing details began to leak out ("the United States does not torture!"). And even now Dick Cheney has the gall to go on Fox News with Sean Hannity and sneer in his condescending way about how President Obama has put us in danger by rescinding the illegal torture policies he now unabashedly claims "prevented any more terrorist attacks on American soil since 2001".
But that's not the point, you see. Leaving aside all teleologic arguments for the justification of torture (and if there are documented cases of the effectiveness of torture in this program, I also want to know to what degree torture could be expected to be effective, i.e. was it 80% effective, 20%, 0.2%, and did we have to waterboard detainees 100 times or 10 before they coughed up the goods, it all needs to be exposed in all its gory detail because if you're going to implicate me as an American in this heinous, pre-meditated torture policy, I deserve to know what I'm buying into) leaving aside all that (those arguments are weak anyway), the point of the matter is that what Bush/Cheney did was I-L-L-E-G-A-L. It's very simple. We live according to a rule of law in this country. No matter who you are, breaking the law has consequences. Bill Clinton wasn't impeached because he cheated on his wife or some other such personal moralistic conundrum. He was impeached because he lied in a deposition about his relations with Lewinsky. Think about that. And, based on Obama's initial response, it seems the perpetrators of easily the most appalling American scandal in at least thirty years will go unpunished. We can't let that happen. We cannot afford to sweep this under the rug. Our collective national conscience is at stake.