Courtesy of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a list of "things that government officials could do to an American citizen and still claim later that they didn't know they were "torturing" that citizen."
Lowering the Bar explains:
Prolonged isolation; Deprivation of light; Exposure to prolonged periods of light and/or darkness; Extreme variations in temperature; Sleep adjustment; Threats of severe physical abuse; Death threats; Administration of psychotropic drugs; Shackling and manacling for hours at a time; Use of "stress" positions; Noxious fumes that caused pain to eyes and nose; Withholding of any mattress, pillow, sheet or blanket; Forced grooming; Suspension of showers; Removal of religious items; Constant surveillance; Incommunicado detention, including denial of all contact with family and legal counsel for a 21-month period; Interference with religious observance; and Denial of medical care for serious and potentially life-threatening ailments, including chest pain and difficulty breathing, as well as for treatment of the chronic, extreme pain caused by being forced to endure stress positions, resulting in severe and continuing mental and physical harm, pain, and profound disruption of the senses and personality.
The legal issue was whether John Yoo should be entitled to "qualified immunity" in a case brought by Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen detained as an "enemy combatant." "Qualified immunity" is a doctrine that bars claims against government officials if, at the time they acted, it was not "sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would have understood that what he or she was doing violated the plaintiff's rights." The idea is to try to preserve some freedom of action for officials who have to act in areas where the law may not always be clear. If it applies, no lawsuit.
So, next question: do you think a "reasonable official" in 2001-03, when John Yoo was in the government, should have understood that doing those things to an American citizen -- one who, by the way, had not been convicted of or even charged with a crime -- violated that citizen's rights?