Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Menachem Begin on Sleep Deprivation

The KGB used it on him while imprisoned in Russia. So, is it torture?
"In the head of the interrogated prisoner, a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep... Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it.

"I came across prisoners who signed what they were ordered to sign, only to get what the interrogator promised them.

"He did not promise them their liberty; he did not promise them food to sate themselves. He promised them - if they signed - uninterrupted sleep! And, having signed, there was nothing in the world that could move them to risk again such nights and such days."
Yes. Yes, it is.

One last word, from Texas Law Professor Sanford Levinson:
It is foolish to assume that "torture" need involve the rack and the screw (or even waterboarding, which the U.S. seems to be moving away from). It is enough to keep people up for almost literally inhuman lengths of time. Or would anyone seriously argue that the sleep-deprivation apparently visited on Begin "really" wasn't "torture"? If so, what would such an argument be based on, beyond basically juvenile notions--drawn from reading too much action literature--that torture is necessarily restricted to certain kinds of inflictions of pain (or inductions of psychosis) and not others?

I just love having this debate.


Josh said...

Your statement is that signs such as 'a wearied spirit', 'unsteady legs', and 'sole desires', are all proof that this is torture, and as a result, should not be committed. To reductio ad absurdum :

Some individuals, when not allowed to run in relative freedom, will go stir-crazy. This is a well-documented psychological response, and it can result in severe agoraphobia and an all-demanding desire to get out of their cell. Should a mass-murder - or even any violent offender - be allowed on a field trip to the woods?

Some rapists are so driven to that specific action that they will attempt to mutilate themselves if they can't fulfill it. I doubt you'd want to argue that.

Green Dreams said...

from the Geneva Convention:
No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.

Anonymous said...

Some individuals, when not allowed to run in relative freedom, will go stir-crazy.

I'll bet you that I can go longer in a confined space than you can go without sleep.

Sleep is essential. Freedom is desirable. People have lived their entire lives in confinement. The record for going without sleep is a little over a week. The psychological effects are well documented.

Anonymous said...

The debate over what constitutes torture is nothing but hot air. Define and categorize it and new techniques will be invented, denied, and then proven, ad infinitum.

The question is: When is torture acceptable? Not if. When.

Josh said...

I've gone eight days with minimal sleep before, less than an hour per day (the joys of college). Not a particularly unusual capability; the world record is over 11 days without any sleep.

Find me someone with even mild or moderate agoraphobia or claustrophobia that can do the same, and you'll probably have a Guinness World Record on your hands. Most agoraphobics encounter panic attacks within the first hour, and become violent not long after. Normal people might last longer, or take more confining conditions, but eight days in a coffin?

Anonymous said...

"eight days in a coffin"

We put felons into coffins now? (Before they're executed, I mean.) I knew I should have taken a prisoners clinic. "My client's a vampire! Mwa ha ha!"

Also, I thought even violent offenders were allowed out of their cells quite regularly to exercise in the prison yard. Run around in the woods, perhaps not, but I think an affinity for trees is something of a learned response; I doubt it's innate. So I'm confused as to where the routine coffining of prisoners is occuring in the American penal system.