Sleep Deprivation

A major newpaper has an interesting story on the CIA’s use of sleep deprivation:

“Because of its effectiveness — as well as the perception that it was less objectionable than waterboarding, head-slamming or forced nudity — sleep deprivation may be seen as a tempting technique to restore.

But the Justice Department memos released last month by Obama, as well as information provided by officials familiar with the program, indicate that the method, which involves forcing chained prisoners to stand, sometimes for days on end, was more controversial within the U.S. intelligence community than was widely known.

A CIA inspector general’s report issued in 2004 was more critical of the agency’s use of sleep deprivation than it was of any other method besides waterboarding, according to officials familiar with the document, because of how the technique was applied.”

As well they should have been. The story suggests that the concerns involved the methods used to keep detainees awake:

“The prisoners had their feet shackled to the floor and their hands cuffed close to their chins, according to the Justice Department memos.

Detainees were clad only in diapers and not allowed to feed themselves. A prisoner who started to drift off to sleep would tilt over and be caught by his chains.”

But that’s not the only reason for concern. The various kinds of psychological torture, of which sleep deprivation is one, are just as disturbing as physical torture; possibly more so, since their aim is to induce regression and learned helplessness, which is a way of inflicting serious psychological damage. Keeping someone awake for long periods of time, or using sensory deprivation, isn’t awful in the obvious ways that, say, beating someone to a pulp is. But even though it does not leave visible scars, it’s profoundly wrong.


You might wonder why I didn’t link to the story above. If you want to know, it’s here. Read the last paragraph, and then check this link. — It had not previously occurred to me not to credit sources I was quoting from, so I thought I’d give it a try. And, of course, I wondered how they’d feel about the idea.