The Importance of Sleep Deprivation

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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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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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