The Importance of Sleep Deprivation

Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan highlighted this passage from the 2007 OLC opinion on interrogation techniques (PDF):Andrew writes that the “interrogators seem to have had an affinity for sleep deprivation.” Indeed. That’s probably because sleep deprivation was utterly central to America’s torture program. It doesn’t sound too bad when you just say it, right? Sleep deprivation? Everyone’s pulled an all-nighter once or twice. A third of Americans don’t get enough sleep. It’s especially easy to play down sleep deprivation when you’re someone like Joe “they do it in fraternities” Scarborough. The reality of course, is totally different: fraternities don’t keep you awake for up to 11 days, standing, in shackles, in solitary confinement, in diapers, on reduced, liquid rations. They don’t kill you, either: 

In conjunction with other pressures… irregular sleep could have serious consequences. “In December 2002, two detainees were killed” while incarcerated at a facility in Bagram, Afghanistan,” according to the Senate report. “Investigators concluded that the use of stress positions and sleep deprivation combined with other mistreatment at the hands of Bagram personnel, caused or were direct contributing factors in the two homicides.”

You can learn a lot more about the CIA’s use of sleep deprivation from this Spencer Ackerman article and this Wired piece. This quote (linked by Sullivan back in 2006) from former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, who faced sleep deprivation in the Gulag, also hits home:

[A person subjected to sleep deprivation feels] wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire to sleep, to sleep just a little, not to get up, to lie, to rest, to forget … Anyone who has experienced the desire knows that not even hunger or thirst are comparable it with it.

If starving prisoners is unacceptable, how can depriving them of sleep somehow be okay?

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