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Review: Torture Team by Phillipe Sands 
7th-Nov-2010 03:34 pm
Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American ValuesTorture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values by Philippe Sands

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not an easy book to read. It's a very detailed account of how aggressive new interrogation techniques came to be used on prisoners at Guantanamo and the chain of legal advice that led to those new interrogation techniques being deemed not to be torture. It shifts repeatedly from technical legal reasoning to presenting excerpts from interrogation law, with occasional digressions through the bureaucratic doublespeak of Bush administration officials trying to cover their asses. It's a fascinating look at how organizations that are supposed to have safeguards in place against the use of torture can be subverted, but bits of it will do your head in. (I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when Sands confirmed that, yes, the TV series 24 seems to have had a non-trivial influence on the interrogation techniques adopted.)

Being a lawyer who specializes in international law, Sands spends a lot of careful analysis on whether the interrogation techniques adopted by the Bush administration constituted torture or were in violation of the Geneva convention. While the ins and outs of legal reasoning are interesting, I might have preferred a book that focused more on the evidence of the complete lack of efficacy of these techniques. Because, sadly, I think that many Americans who need to be convinced that this kind of stuff is Not Okay wouldn't be terribly persuaded by technical arguments based on international law, but might be persuaded by the notion that it doesn't work.

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