You nudge him awake with the barrel of a rifle. He says nothing, just stands in compliance, shivering in his underwear. You give him a pair of orange coveralls. He puts them on. You shackle his wrists, then his ankles. Heavy boots for his feet, foam plugs in his ears, a hood over his head. You bag his hands in layers of thick fabric, bound tightly with tape. He says nothing, but his breath is uneven.
As you push him back against a wall, you have a chair brought in for yourself. He stand, you sit. After an hour, coffee is brought in for you. When he slumps, you shove him roughly back against the wall. If he slumps too frequently, you bring your gun up against his exposed throat. He can feel that. He stands up nicely.
On the fifth hour, while you’re having your meal, he urinates inside of his coveralls. You can see it as it saturates the fabric.
You turn on the bright, artificial lights in his holding cell. After two hours, you turn them off again. You continue—off, on, off, on—at random intervals. He asks you what time of day it is. You don’ tell him. Sometimes, you serve him two meals within an hour of one another. Sometimes, you wait eight hours. He keeps asking what time it is, what the date is. You don’t tell him. He asks for a blanket. You don’t give him one. He asks to see his family. You don’t answer. He asks to see a judge. You don’t answer.
After a few weeks, he stops asking for things, but you can still hear him talking—quietly—to no one in particular.
When he refuses to eat, you put him in the restraint chair for force-feeding. When he throws up on himself, you make him remove his clothes and lay down on the concrete floor with his face in the vomit. When he doesn’t remain perfectly still, or when he makes any noise, you bring out the dogs. When he tries to cover himself, you get the female guards to point at him, to taunt him, to straddle him and tell him that his mother and grandmother are whores. When he is uncooperative or insubordinate, you put him on a leash and make him wear women’s undergarments. When he falls asleep, you blast him with shatteringly loud pop music. When he asks to go to the toilet, you make him wait until he messes himself, then you force him to roll around in it while you take pictures of him.
You and your cohorts do this for twelve, sixteen, twenty hours at a time.
On the fiftieth day, you have him strapped to an inclined board, with his feet higher than his head. You explain to him that he is going to be executed. He whimpers. You lower his head into a tank of frigid water as he blubbers incoherently and jerks at the restraints.
You watch him carefully, making sure that he doesn’t drown, but getting him as close as possible before raising the board. He passes out more than once. Each time, you revive him and then dunk him again. Then you do it again. Then you do it again.
He begins to confess to impossible, nonsensical plots. He asks for you to kill him. He asks to be allowed to kill himself. You do neither.
You wonder how much longer it will be until he gives you some real information.
You can do a lot to a person—you can utterly destroy a person—all without leaving a single visible mark. Torturers have their techniques, and you have yours. Hooding, exploitation of phobias, stress positions, sensory deprivation1—you can do all of these things, and still you are not a torturer.
So do not worry. You will not be held accountable. You will not be punished. You are not a torturer. Not according to your superiors, and not according to your leaders.
But be warned: history—as well as your victims—may judge you more harshly.
1 Unites Sates Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave formal, written approval for all of these techniques, along with others normally proscribed by the Army Field Manual, in a December 2002 internal memo.