Daphne Eviatar notes that CIA torture took place under assurance from medical professionals that the detainees were "not likely to suffer any severe physical or mental pain or suffering as a result of interrogation.” But it's actually worse than that, the presence of doctors was vital to the legal rationale for why the techniques weren't illegal--namely that having medical professionals present meant that the interrogators could claim a "good faith belief" that they didn't mean to inflict "severe physical or mental suffering." From the August 2002 Bybee memo, which contains a list of the techniques:

To violate the statute, the individual must have the specific intent to inflict pain or suffering. Because specific intent is an element of the offense, the absence of specific intent negates the charge of torture.


First, the constant presence of personell with medical training who have the authority to stop the interrogation should it appear it is medically necessary indicates that it is not your intent to cause severe physical pain.

Ergo, throwing detainees against the wall, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, confinement in a small box, all of these things could not conceivably be considered torture because the presence of medically trained personnel, at least in part, negates the "intent" to cause severe physical or mental suffering. Never mind that the the point of torture is to extract information by causing suffering. The memos paradoxically argue that SERE training techniques developed to resist torture are not torture when inflicted on an individual during interrogation.

At any rate, the doctors were nominally there for the detainees, but they were also there for something more important from the perspective of the memo writers: They were alibis.

-- A. Serwer

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