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Clara Gutteridge: These papers raise as many questions as they answer


The release of "top secret" torture memos by the US is welcome. But they raise far more questions than they answer and the picture remains incomplete.

Certainly, they demonstrate the extraordinary lengths Bush government lawyers went to in their efforts to legitimise barbarism. However, they only address a tiny strand of the global US detention programme – those prisoners held in the small, CIA-run prisons. They fail to mention the treatment of detainees held in prisons run by the US military, such as Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, or those sent for "proxy detention" and torture by third parties in countries like Morocco and Egypt.

Second, the memos demonstrate the extraordinary "professionalisation" of torture that has occurred under the Bush regime. The memos were drafted by top government lawyers, and the documented interrogation regime involves an on-site psychologist to monitor the responses of the victim. The torture techniques also require a medical professional to ensure that the victim doesn't actually die during interrogation, because (in the words of one of the drafters) "this would not be conducive to gathering intelligence".

Exactly how did members of the medical and psychological profession come to be involved in devising a programme aimed at breaking human beings? And how did top lawyers find themselves justifying techniques that they admit would make the reasonable person believe they are about to die?

But the final, unanswered question is that of accountability. No victim has received any kind of gesture from the Washington government, let alone help in getting back on their feet. Perhaps we should listen to those voices that have been silenced in the Dark Prisons and confined to the torture chamber. Surely, in deciding whom and how to prosecute, the decision should be theirs?

The writer is a renditions investigator for Reprieve