Torture and Criticism

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Yesterday, the New York Times reported that the Chinese government still tortures its prisoners. Hardly surprising, one might say. But notice, many defenders of the Cheney administration’s stance on interrogation tactic wouldn’t call this “torture” at all:

The authorities ban only the sort of torture, called kuxing in Chinese, that meets a narrow definition of violent punishment leaving a lasting impact, like scars or disability, Mr. Nowak said. Officials have not done enough to outlaw physical or psychological abuse that does not produce a visible injury, Mr. Nowak said.

He said his investigation showed that such techniques include hooding and blindfolding, beating by fellow prisoners, use of handcuffs and ankle fetters for long periods, exposure to extreme heat or cold, being forced to maintain awkward postures for long periods and the denial of medical treatment. Sleep deprivation, he said, is perhaps the most common violation of what he called international standards of prisoner treatment.

Way back in 2002, John Yoo wrote a memo for the White House noting that anything that falls short of causing “organ damage” or “imminent death” shouldn’t be considered torture. The Chinese Communist Party has slightly higher standards here, but only slightly. And so long as the United States sanctions the same sort of tactics for its detainees, it will have no standing whatsoever to criticize China.

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