By Terry Canaan
January 16, 2009
Let’s start out with a few quotes.
I think on the left wing of the Democratic Party there are some people who believe that we really tortured.
It’s torture. It’s a means of extracting information that I didn’t even believe these people probably had. It’s a means of making their lives more miserable.
—Chris Arendt, formerly stationed at Guantanamo
We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case [for prosecution].
—Susan J. Crawford, convening authority of military commissions
Some on the left may think “we really tortured” Dick, but those in the know do, too. We’ve gotten to the point where simple denial isn’t going to be good enough. “We don’t torture” doesn’t wash when everyone knows we do. When cases are thrown out of court because the accused was tortured, then there was torture. When people who work in the prisons say they saw torture, then there was torture. When people coming out of those prisons say they were tortured, then there was torture.
At this point, denial isn’t just useless, but it’s insulting to everyone’s intelligence — the denier’s included. There was torture.
Front page on the Washington Post yesterday was the article “Detainee Tortured, Says U.S. Official.” It kind of gives the impression that someone was tortured — namely, accused would-be 20th 9/11 hijacker Mohammed al-Qahtani. The finding was made by Bush-appointee Susan J. Crawford, who oversees the trials — such as they are — of Guantanamo detainees. According to the report, “Crawford, a retired judge who served as general counsel for the Army during the Reagan administration and as Pentagon inspector general when Dick Cheney was secretary of defense, is the first senior Bush administration official responsible for reviewing practices at Guantanamo to publicly state that a detainee was tortured.”
Hey Dick, that doesn’t sound much like “the left wing of the Democratic Party,” does it? Sounds more like a principled conservative with respect for the rule of law. The Post piece lays out the specifics.
“For 160 days his only contact was with the interrogators,” said Crawford, who personally reviewed Qahtani’s interrogation records and other military documents. “Forty-eight of 54 consecutive days of 18-to-20-hour interrogations. Standing naked in front of a female agent. Subject to strip searches. And insults to his mother and sister.”
At one point he was threatened with a military working dog named Zeus, according to a military report. Qahtani “was forced to wear a woman’s bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation” and “was told that his mother and sister were whores.” With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room “and forced to perform a series of dog tricks,” the report shows.
The interrogation, portions of which have been previously described by other news organizations, including the Washington Post, was so intense that Qahtani had to be hospitalized twice at Guantanamo with bradycardia, a condition in which the heart rate falls below 60 beats a minute and which in extreme cases can lead to heart failure and death. At one point Qahtani’s heart rate dropped to 35 beats per minute, the record shows.
When your interrogation is so harmful to you that you need to be hospitalized, you kind of think that this might qualify as torture. Asked for comment, the White House took Dick’s lead — deny the obvious. “Let me just make sure it’s clear — and I’ll say it on the record one more time — that it has never been the policy of this president or this administration to torture,” spokesperson Dana Perino told the Associated Press.
AP also got a comment from the Pentagon:
“We have always taken allegations of abuse seriously,” [Pentagon spokesman Bryan] Whitman said. “We investigate all allegations, all credible allegations, of abuse,” and have done some dozen investigations of interrogation methods, Whitman said.
And the Pentagon did investigate Qahtani’s case in 2005. US generals Randall Schmidt and John Furlow looked into it. The Schmidt-Furlow report documented everything that Crawford mentions in the WaPo piece, as well as “twice reducing his body temperature to 92-97 degrees Fahrenheit.” The dog tricks, the insults, the humiliations were all laid out, yet Schmidt-Furlow found it was all “legally permissible under the existing guidance,” that it didn’t “rise to the level of prohibited inhumane treatment,” but warned that if overdone, it would be abusive — “the cumulative effect being degrading and abusive treatment,” the two fine generals wrote.
Wait a second, making a guy where women’s underwear and forcing him to perform dog tricks is only degrading if you do it too often? Really? What’s the number of times that goes too far? How often can you humiliate someone before it becomes degrading? And aren’t “humiliating” and “degrading” pretty much synonymous? Schmidt and Furlow apparently left logic to reach conclusions they wanted to reach.
But someone out there is reading this and thinking, “Qahtani deserved it.” Here’s a question for you, what other crimes do you think people should be punished for before they’re tried? What if you had to pay a fine first, then go to court to see if you got your money back? Would that seem fair or just to you?
Somehow, I doubt it. If it had turned out that Qahtani was innocent, how would you pay him back for nearly killing him twice anyway? When punishment precedes trial, justice is impossible.
Yes, there may be some people out there who believe we really did torture, Vice President Cheney. And those people may actually believe that torture isn’t just wrong, but un-American, unjust, and illogical.
Those people are what you call “realists.”