In a footnote to a May 10, 2005, memorandum from the Office of Legal Council, the Bush attorney general’s office argued that restricting the caloric intake of terrorist suspects to 1000 calories a day was medically safe because people in the United States were dieting along those lines voluntarily.
“While detainees subject to dietary manipulation are obviously situated differently from individuals who voluntarily engage in commercial weight-loss programs, we note that widely available commercial weight-loss programs in the United States employ diets of 1000 kcal/day for sustained periods of weeks or longer without requiring medical supervision,” read the footnote. “While we do not equate commercial weight loss programs and this interrogation technique, the fact that these calorie levels are used in the weight-loss programs, in our view, is instructive in evaluating the medical safety of the interrogation technique.”
This raises two issues for me. Firstly, how can the biggest government in the so-called “free world” be allowed to torture people like this? Secondly, and what I’m focussing on with this post, is that so many people are purposely restricting their intake to such insane levels, and therefore torturing themselves because, primarily, of the standards held by that society? (Please note that I’m not talking here about people with eating disorders, as science currently believes that genetics are largely to blame for that). Is it ignorance or denial? Have people forgotten about the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, which illustrated the disastrous effects of a severely restricted diet on the mind and body?
Part of the footnote on the memo that particularly caught my attention was that the commercial diets used in the US don’t “require” medical supervision. Compare that to some of the specific details of the torture technique:
x The detainee’s diet is comprised entirely of commercial diet drinks which are “bland, unappetising, but nutritionally complete”.
x The detainee is allowed to drink as much water as they want, with a variable (heat, movement, etc) minimum in place.
x The general guideline is 900 kcal/day + 10kcal/kg/day, multiplied by 1.2 for a sedentary person and 1.4 for a more active person. The recommended minimum intake is 1500kcal/day, but a minimum of down to 1,000kcal/day is permitted.
x Detainees are weighed weekly, and if someone loses more than 10% of their body weight, they are taken off dietary restriction.
x Detainees are under daily medical attention.
More safety measures are in place for someone who is being tortured with a low calorie diet than for a normal person on such a diet. The restriction of prisoners’ diets as a form of torture has strict and detailed safety measures in place, as in this case the aim is to weaken the mind, not reduce the body. Commercial diets suggest seeing a doctor and maintaining adequate nutrition levels, but there are no consistent external controls ensuring that this occurs. Those of us lucky enough to be living in free and prosperous societies are allowed to eat whatever we want, whenever we want. If that includes a low calorie diet, that is the individual’s choice. However, it’s also the choice of an alcoholic to drink when confronted with the desire. Things like alcohol and tobacco which have negative effects on a person’s health and life are identified as being dangerous and are treated as such with stricter rules in place for these substances. I think it’s time to do more than accept that diets can be just as damaging as alcohol and tobacco, especially when encouraged by society onto someone with a disposition to addiction or abuse. Action speaks louder than words, especially when millions and billions of dollars are spent on diets each year.