The Logic Behind the Script “The Removal of Clothing Is Not Nudity”

Watching the lawyers who established the torture regime a few weeks ago was particularly stunning in one respect. Jim Haynes, Dougie Feith, Jane Dalton, Diane Beaver–all of them at some point in the hearings repeated the non-sensical claim, "the removal of clothing is not nudity" (or naked).

In this video, for example, Jerrold Nadler asks Dougie Feith,

Nadler: How could you force someone to be naked and undergo a twenty hour interrogation?

Feith: It doesn’t say naked. It doesn’t say naked. This is why the words…

Nadler: Removal of clothing doesn’t mean naked?

Feith: Removal of clothing is different from naked.

Haynes repeated the mantra in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Haynes: Some conflation. Two of items for Qahtani included clothing and use of phobia. What was approved by SecDef. Widely held understanding of what was in those two categories. Use of dogs not intended to be dogs in interrogation room with detainee. Muzzled dogs in perimeter. Removal of clothing not nudity. You then jumped to dogs in room and naked people.

Jane Dalton explained that in context (remember, she’s talking about a two page memo with no footnotes) the removal of clothing is not nudity.

Dalton: If conducted with oversight. In context in which discussed. Removal of clothing not nudity, working dogs not dogs unmuzzled and snarling, stress limited to standing for four hours. When you put them together, those techniques could be consistent with domestic and intl law.

And Claire McCaskill gave Jane Dalton and Diane Beaver a short reading lesson.

McCaskill Reading memo. You understand words matter. Removal of clothing. It says Using detainee phobias such as fear of dogs. I’m trying to figure out as a lawyer, how that does not envision naked people having dogs sicced on them. How does that not occur?

Beaver When you develop a plan, if someone had said, lets sic the dogs on them. That did not happen.

McCaskill Dogs were used with naked people.

Beaver Not at Gitmo

mcCaskill Within our military. It happened/

Beaver I can’t comment..

McCaskill Ms Dalton

Dalton: Those approved for Gitmo and did not involve nudity.

McCaskill Removal of clothing. When you were discussing safeguards. Did any one talk putting in the word all. If I saw removal of clothing and I was trying to get info, how would anyone know?

Dalton General Miller said it did not involve nudity.

McCaskill there’s nothing here that would say [limit] removal of clothing. It’s not in there.

Aside from the sheer idiocy of the claim, after watching both those hearings I was haunted by the seeming formulaic quality of the claim: removal of clothing is not nudity, removal of clothing is not naked, as if the repetition of the phrase would somehow divorce the actual nakedness seen everywhere in our torture regime from the authorization for that nakedness.

But a couple of passages from Jane Mayer’s book–describing the Standard Operating Procedures that came out of the approval–make it clear that the reason why the DOD approval doesn’t specify nakedness has more to do with the institution of "learned helplessness" rather than any carelessness about language. That is, the reason why DOD doesn’t put any limits on when removal of clothing becomes nudity is because the goal is to put the interrogator in complete control of the detainee. As Mayer writes:

A secret government document, which was originally written for use in Guantanamo, gave further credence to the Bush Administration’s official use of forced nakedness as a psychological weapon. "In addition to degradation of the detainee, stripping can be used to demonstrate the omnipotence of the captor or to debilitate the detainee," it said. The document advised interrogators to "tear clothing from detainees by firmly pulling downward against buttoned buttons and seams. Tearing motions shall be downward to prevent pulling the detainee off balance." (273)

She describes how this "removal of clothing is not nudity" translated for Abu Zubaydah (which, admittedly, did not rely on the DOD SOPs):

… the CIA interrogators also announced they planned to become Zubaydah’s "God." They reportedly took his clothing as punishment, and reduced his human interaction to a single daily visit in which they would say simply, "You know what I want," and then leave. (168)

You see, the word games these monsters are playing are all about playing "god" with other human beings. It’s not the status of nudity that they’re so much interested in. It’s the process, the power, the ability to remove another human’s clothing at will.

  1. skdadl says:

    May I just register (while I still remember) the one question I wanted one of the senators to press Fine on (but no one did)? (Sorry to do this so early on, EW.)

    Both Leahy and Specter asked directly about White House influence on what was happening at DoJ, and raised eyebrows slightly when Fine responded that the only White House official interviewed was Scott Jennings. What still works away in my mind is that seminar that Jan Williams attended at the White House (25-26/146 of the report) and the document she took away from it that she passed on to Goodling, “The Thorough Process of Investigation.”

    Those facts are there in the report, but no one seems to be drawing conclusions from them. Goodling and her predecessors didn’t come from nowhere, and that document seems to me a clue that much indeed was being organized at the White House. How did these people get placed, and who was training and directing them? The senators this morning walked around the edges of those questions, but no one drove them very far.

  2. bmaz says:

    Haynes has probably never seen naked people so he just doesn’t know. Get him a National Geographic or something.

  3. AngryMan says:

    It was disappointing to see that no one could ask the obvious line of questioning:
    1) Nudity means without clothes, correct?
    2) It’s possible to remove clothes, without removing all clothes, hence not same as nudity, correct?
    3) Where did the rules indicate not to remove all clothes, or which clothes to leave on the prisoner, in order to insure that nudity was involved?
    4) Without limits in the memo, how could interrogators know how far to remove clothes?
    5) Without nudity, how would removing clothes serve to encourage prisoners to ‘cooperate’.

    While it’s obvious that the testimony was full of lies, it would be nice to pin it down in a fashion that better demonstrates the stupidity and contempt with which the witnesses view the rest of us.

    • cobernicus says:

      Thank you, AngryMan. I was about to write essentially the same post.

      If you give someone unlimited permission to “remove clothing,” does that not imply the ability to strip the suspect naked?

  4. Bionic says:

    It strikes me as more of the wink wink nudge nudge kind of protection they’ve perfected as a defence.
    That “one bad apple” of an interrogator interpreted removal of clothing to mean stripping a prisoner naked (by “firmly pulling downward against buttoned buttons and seams” no less) is not their fault. Where does it say naked?

    I believe Condi said it best “Who could have imagined…”
    It’s their standard MO. Their own hands are clean.

    If this lot goes unpunished the entire world is tainted yet again, but all Americans especially have been marked by this.

  5. glenster1111 says:

    Maybe what they mean is that by the time all of the “normal” clothes are torn off, they will have already had a hood put over their heads, which could be construed as “clothing”, so VIOLA!, they are NOT NAKED!!!!! Cool, huh?

  6. skdadl says:

    The target of torture or any abusive treatment is usually the mind, whether the body is abused or the idea is simply planted that the body could be abused, at the will of the torturer.

    Some academic goof says that that creates “learned helplessness,” whatever use that would be. Me, I think it just creates irrational panic — it sure would in me. Terror would be another relevant word. I don’t know what anyone seriously expects to learn from a mind in that state.

    (There would, of course, be a subset of torturers who are just bent on destroying a healthy human body, maybe out of feelings of revenge or frustration or who knows? Academic goofs don’t bother themselves with such details.)

  7. GregB says:

    It really churns the stomach that this has become the policy of the government that took power with the mantras about returning dignity to the office of the presidency and the party that adopted the phrase compassionate conservaitsm.

    The moral rot runs deep.


  8. BoxTurtle says:

    Well, at least they didn’t claim executive privilege.

    Boxturtle (and into the pardon queue they go)

  9. HelplessDancer says:

    Of course they connot come right out and say it is nudity. They might want to travel outside of the country someday.

  10. glenster1111 says:

    I was just taking a refresh look at some the Abu Ghraib photos, and yes, many show them ENTIRELY naked, and being closely confronted my UN-muzzled dogs. Tragic, horrific, shameful level of misconduct at the highest levels of our government. Sighhhhhhhhh….

  11. NCDem says:

    I don’t understand why more citizens don’t understand the “drive” by Bush to use torture and other physical abuses. He got away with it at Yale while in DKE fraternity. He was never punished then. It is in his DNA. I was in college at this same time and pledged a fraternity that did not “haze” its new pledges. But I also had many friends that went into fraternities where this was common practice.
    You can read more about Bush and his fraternity’s practice of using a hot coat hanger to brand a “D” on the pledge’s backside. It is only a small step from being President of DKE and hazing to President of the US and torturing humans. In 1968, then DKE President Bush argued that they had done nothing wrong. At least now he has his own lawyers to argue the case for him. You can read more on this at

  12. wwiii says:

    You see, the word games these monsters are playing are all about playing “god” with other human beings. It’s not the status of nudity that they’re so much interested in. It’s the process, the power, the ability to remove another human’s clothing at will.
    share this Share This spotlight

    From The Dark Side:

    The apparent leader of the CIA team was a former military psychologist named James Mitchell, whom the intelligence agency had hire on a contract. Oddly, given the Agency’s own dearth of experience n the area of interrogating Islamic extremists, he had no background in the Middle East or in Islamic terrorism. He spoke no Arabic and he knew next to nothing about the Muslim religion. He was himself a devout Mormon. But others present said he seemed to think he had all the answers about how to deal with Zubayda. Mitchell announced that the suspect had to be treated ‘like a dog in a cage,’ informed sources said. ‘He said it was like an experiment, when you apply electric shocks to a caged dog, after a while, he’s so diminished, he can’t resist.’

    The FBI agents, with their traditions of workinmg within the U.S. criminal legal framework, were appalled. They argued that Zubayda was not a dog, he was a human being.

    Mitchell, according to the informed sources, retorted, ‘Science is science.’ (p. 156)

    I have to say, I am having a very hard time getting through this book.

    • emptywheel says:

      Me too. A book that stands out from a long list of depressing books written about the Bush regime. Tremendous journalism. But depressing as hell.

  13. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Quelle surprise! Interrogation rules designed to grant wide discretion to abuse the tasty methods personally authorized by Don Rumsfeld and his White House colleagues. From the descriptions of Haynes, Feith, et al., one would think we have an army, and an army of contractors, that’s unable to read or follow orders. That’s considered a drawback in most military establishments. Perimeter guard dogs allowed within a canine tooth’s distance from a prisoner’s genitals? Carefully removed clothing vs. ripped from their body nakedness, both literal and psychological. Who would have thought?

    They say that a CEO creates the culture of his or her company long before they set foot in the corner office. It has nothing to do with their statements, policies or financial performance. It’s whether they “walk the talk”.

    Do they say what they mean and mean what they say? Who do they promote and what do they reward? Can they self-assess and change course, or do they blame the messenger? Do they share the wealth earned by joint efforts or tell themselves they did it all and deserve it all?

    This administration is chock full of the stereotypic bad CEO: the preening, retribution-seeking, “I did it all, but he’s to blame” type. The Congress that watches over them [sic] is exactly like the somnolent, hand-picked boards of directors that would lavishly reward the most failed executive rather than reveal his or her — and their — sins of omission and comission.

    More and better Democrats, please. Now would be fine, thanks.

  14. Neil says:

    I appreciate your ability to put this testimony in context.

    I find it as difficult to watch Feith testify as I do to watch Bush. “Removal of clothing is different from naked.” They can’t elaborate because it would illuminate the bigger picture. But you can, and you did, and we love that about you.

    So, what we have here are teachers of detainees, teaching them learned helplessness. Funny I thought we had CIA torturers punishing these folks because they may be involved in a plot to attack America, citizens and interests. I know there’s a threat but this approach is suicide. We must marginalize the extremists in their own societies. Torture in Iraq, Gitmo and Afghanistan help violent extremists expand their sphere of influence. And those Americans who do the torture, on behalf of We The People, it turns out they cannot live with themselves.

  15. yonodeler says:

    When there are no limits on rationalization, anything goes. I can now imagine the official offering-up of a rationale as crazy and egregious as any of the made-up ones below.

    “Nudity is a lifestyle choice which detainees were not at liberty to make.”

    “Appropriate uniforming of detainees is a multi-step, time-consuming process.”

    “Baring one bodily area is not the same as baring the whole body. Viewers observing the whole body and perceiving nudity are summing the parts on their own.”

  16. prostratedragon says:

    So, if I get this right, there’s value in getting these critters to admit that as a practical matter, “removal of clothing” results in the end state of “being naked,” in the same sense that, for instance, “stabbing repeatedly in the chest with a knife” results (well, pretty much always) in the end state of “being dead,” so that as in the analogy we are justified in calling the object of the actions “murder victim” and the subject “murderer,” so we are justified in calling the object of the clothing removal “naked” and the remover “torturer,” or if you will, “tormentor” —

    — but the job might not be finished until the Feiths, Haynes, etc. are confronted also with the sadism, or as EW has implied, the small-s satanism, of those acts, the continued violation of the personal space and persons of those so treated, not just the humiliating end state, but the snatching of this and that little shred of dignity as each item is denied (I understand that it is sometimes “progressive” and can occur over time, or else the restoration of underpants, etc., might be doled out as insulting little “favors.”) It’s not just that “we make you naked,” it’s how we do it, and how begrudgingly we let you be reclothed. Whatever your god, guiding spirit, or categorical imperative had been in your life up to now, I now am It.

    The lie is not just as to the end state, but as to the process and therefore, the intent behind the process.

  17. prostratedragon says:

    Just getting to Froomkin’s Jul 25 blog where he talks about the recent ACLU haul of memos. The one of Aug. 2002 looks relevant to the guidelines on nakedness that Jane Mayer found. I think EW’s already blogged these memos, but to recall a couple of passages:

    When is an action taken by a “defendent” classifiable as torture? (”Defendent” is their word, not mine. —pd)

    To violate the statute, an individual must have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering. Because specific intent is an element of the offense, the absence of specific intent negates the charge of torture.

    How may the defendent show absence of specific intent? (Presumably the prosecution will seek to show such intent, so the defendent will need to refute.)

    We have further found that if a defendant acts with the good faith belief that his actions will not cause such suffering, he has not acted with specific intent.

    Ah, the faith-based community … Now, the nature of the evidence for our good ol’ boys’ good ol’ faith must be characterized somehow. This is where I hear the braying of a lot of recent cultural debasement in the distance, roughly at right angles to the point down the road to which this line of argument kicks the can we’re chasing with them.

    So how, in turn, is good faith to be demonstrated?

    defendant acts in good faith when he has an honest belief that his actions will not result in severe pain and suffering. … Although an honest belief need not be reasonable, such a belief is easier to establish where there is a reasonable basis for it.

    My goddamn emphasis. This tsunami of bullshit lays the groundwork for the little part that I suspect is the basis in thought, if not in the exact timeline, for the insistence on using certain minimizing phrases when referring to treatment such as making or keeping prisoners naked.

    How could the honesty, if not, alas, the reasonableness, of belief that treatment to which a prisoner is subjected will not cause severe pain and suffering be put to the test? The answer is implicit here:

    “Based on the information you have provided us, we believe that those carrying out these procedures would not have the specific intent to inflict severe physical pain or suffering. …

    “Furthermore, no specific intent to cause severe mental pain or suffering appears to be present. … Prolonged mental harm is substantial mental harm of sustained duration, e.g. harm lasting months or even years after the acts were inflicted upon the prisoner.”

    “We just removed some of his clothes for a while! Henny-penny, it’s no worse than boot camp. Maybe most folks don’t like it, but who broods about it for months or years later?!” Et cetera. Any judge this side of the archangel will have trouble stemming the flood of “reasonableness” flowing from the defense counsel.

    Yes indeed, not only is “removal of clothing” diction a neutralization method for killing off the last remnants of one’s conscience, but it looks like part of the pitiful defense rhetoric we can effect from these goons if any of them ever comes to trial.