El Panóptico

Tue Jul 1, 2008

A footnote in the August 2002 memo attributed to John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee regarding the distinctions between cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and torture and promulgating the interpretation that, according to the prevailing constitutional interpretation, the President in wartime was free to ignore any statutory niceties regarding these distinctions—a footnote in this memo references Kodak Eastman v. Kavlin to claim that the court there found that the arbitrary imprisonment of a Kodak employee in a difficult* prison with murderers and bribe-expectant guards did not meet the definition of “torture.”**

This infamous prison in El Paz is known as “El Panoptico.”

*From the decision:

According to Carballo, a waking nightmare followed. The San Pedro prison in downtown La Paz, the “infamous Panoptico” according to one of plaintiff’s experts, is apparently a place barely fit for the rats it houses. For eight days, Carballo was forced to stay there, sharing a filthy cell with murderers, drug dealers, and AIDS patients. Left without food, a blanket, or protection from the inmates, he was forced to bribe his way to survival. Prisoners [7] ran the prison, and murdered each other in Carballo’s presence on one occasion. Dangerous drug dealers discussed their deals in his presence, potentially making him someone who “knew too much.” Finally, Carballo was able to buy the right to live in a jail cell for \$ 5,000, but even then he had to sleep on the floor. Although the authorities eventually released him, Carballo claims that the experience left him deeply traumatized and unable to resume life as before.

**I have no special expertise in legal interpretation, but I do not see how the decision bears the interpretation that Bybee/Yoo place upon it; but we should keep in mind that the authors question whether being kicked in the stomach with steel-toed boots while being held in a prone position could be rightfully be called “torture.”