Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 11, 2009
By: Hilzoy

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.

Hilzoy 1:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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I don't think a link was necessary. An attribution to "a news story I read online" should have been sufficient.

Posted by: anonymoose on May 11, 2009 at 1:58 AM | PERMALINK

This is fairly common behavior, the TPM crew has been slighted in the past. Have you considered organizing an attribution boycott of offenders? It seems to me that you are in a position to do something about this. Get a group to quote without attribution for a few days and link to an explanation. Provoke a response, ruffle a few feathers. Big media could use a bit more professionalism these day.

Posted by: Nat on May 11, 2009 at 2:24 AM | PERMALINK

We need to keep an eye on this, because I see a tendency of the torture crowd to say, 'okay, we won't waterboard anymore, we'll just do this other stuff that's not so bad.'

Sleep deprivation is neither mild nor, despite the claims of the CIA, 'effective'. Sleep deprivation is all that you need to get an innocent person to confess to murder. The Prince George's County Md Police Department got four false murder confessions using sleep deprivation. Not only do innocent people get locked up because authorities consider this technique 'effective', but guilty people literally get away with murder.

Posted by: JoyceH on May 11, 2009 at 4:44 AM | PERMALINK

Still not clear why. I can guess, but it's not obvious. Are you alleging they got the story from you?

Posted by: johnsturgeon on May 11, 2009 at 6:10 AM | PERMALINK

I am not 100% sure, but believe I have read in several different sources that lack of sleep (actually specifically lack of dreaming) over an extended period is fatal.

Posted by: Tom Joad on May 11, 2009 at 6:40 AM | PERMALINK

"Are you alleging they got the story from you?"

Looks pretty clear to me. Hilzoy gave Professor Horner space for an extended reply, miller at the LA times quoted Horner's statements exactly, without feeling the need to even mention Obsidian Wings or Hilzoy. Maybe miller would like it if competing news organizations quoted one of his stories with the toss off "some reporter on the West Coast says."

Posted by: Hokuto on May 11, 2009 at 7:01 AM | PERMALINK

I started to write a post based on the LA Times story, then saw an earlier one from Wired from a few weeks ago. And through the Wired story, which linked to Hilzoy, I just plain wrote a post on the chain of links.

Hilzoy deserves credit.

Posted by: Frank on May 11, 2009 at 7:08 AM | PERMALINK

Please go to the website Library Grape to see an interview about torture that George Bush gave to Al Arabiya. IT IS VERY INTERESTING.

Posted by: JS on May 11, 2009 at 7:33 AM | PERMALINK

I love that Hilzoy posts about sleep deprivation at 2 in the morning.

Posted by: K on May 11, 2009 at 7:50 AM | PERMALINK

11 days without sleep sounds pretty damn torture-y to me.

Posted by: Halfdan on May 11, 2009 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

In the Gulag Archipelago, isn't it suggested that the Stalinists, after having tried everything under the sun, eventually decide that sleep deprivation and stress positions are by far the most effective tortures?

Posted by: dob on May 11, 2009 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

And yet there is so little sympathy for security guards.

Posted by: Luther on May 11, 2009 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

You can not keep a person awake for 11 days and not suffer a secerely high casualty rate.

I have to assume they were allowed some small period fo sleep. Otherwise, there are a shitload of mass graves out there somewhere.

Posted by: soullite on May 11, 2009 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

Keeping them awake for 3 days would lead to a severely delusional state in which nothing they said could be taken to be realistically accurate. Even a day beyond that, and you get into outright hallucinations. The body would then attempt to put you into what is known as 'micro sleep', basically a forced shutdown of your conscous mind. If you were forced awake through that, your organs would begin shutting down.

Christ, this is Psychology 101 (or 201, who remembers that crap?). There's no way this is accurate. I would be like saying you forced someone under water for 3 hours, and they didn't die.

Posted by: soullite on May 11, 2009 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Seeing as that blog post is also on the Washington Monthly's site, do you think you could convince them to file a protest with the LA Times? Surely an established magazine could get through to them, even if a blogger can't.

Posted by: Chris O. on May 11, 2009 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK



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