Videotapes? Please, not videotapes!

The special unit in charge of roughing up prisoners at Guantanamo kept videotapes of every action.

The Observer reports that there is a unit called the Extreme Reaction Force at Guantanamo, whose mission is dealing with instances of prisoner recalcitrance. One Guantanamo alumnus reports having been treated rather badly (though not by Abu Ghraib standards) for what he says was no more than resisting having his cell searched for the third time in one day:

They pepper-sprayed me in the face, and I started vomiting. They pinned me down and attacked me, poking their fingers in my eyes, and forced my head into the toilet pan and flushed.

They tied me up like a beast and then they were kneeling on me, kicking and punching. Finally they dragged me out of the cell in chains, into the rec[reation] yard, and shaved my beard, my hair, my eyebrows.

No, that’s not the bad news. The bad news is that it’s all in a videotape archive, as part of SOP:

Every time the ERFs were deployed, a sixth team member recorded on digital video everything that happened.

Lieutenant Colonel Leon Sumpter, the Guantanamo Joint Task Force spokesman, confirmed this last night, saying all ERF actions were filmed so they could be ‘reviewed’ by senior officers. All the tapes are kept in an archive there, he said.

Ordering that everything be videotaped is a good way to ensure that nothing too horrible is going on. But given the description (admittedly not a neutral one) of what was routine, I doubt those tapes are going make comfortable viewing.

Am I the only one who thinks the interrogators and their superiors were just a little bit divided from reality? Put the moral question aside for the moment: how dumb did you have to be to think you could actually get with this crap in the long run? And why wasn’t Col. Sumpter under orders to refuse all questions from the press?

As Michael Walzer once said, “There is neither honor nor profit from doing evil badly.”

I’m with Kevin Drum: this could get really ugly.

We need to put the grownups back in charge, and we need to do it soon.

Afterthought: Perhaps this will teach the Bush Administration respect for environmental sustainability. If someone had only thought of RECYCLING the videotapes once they’d been reviewed …

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

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