The Torture Right

Earlier this week, a story ran in Harper’s about an incident in Gitmo. It took me a few days to get time to read it. My commentary after the break. If you don’t care about the torture issue, you can skip this.

Just to summarize the article: In 2006, three prisoners died in Gitmo. While their deaths were classified as suicides, the heavily redacted official report was, to say the least, incredible:

According to the NCIS, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell’s eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated. The NCIS report also proposes that the three prisoners, who were held in non-adjoining cells, carried out each of these actions almost simultaneously.

What’s changed recently is that four soldiers, notably decorated and respected Sergeant Joe Hickman, have gone on the record about the incident, disputing the official version of events and detailing the efforts made to keep it quiet.

The article describes a secret compound nicknamed “Camp No” (now identified on satellite photos). Prisoners were shuttled in an out in a paddy wagon. Screams were heard. Hickman testifies that on the night those men died, he saw the paddy wagon shuttling forth and nurses and guards told him that three detainees had died from being beaten and having rags stuffed down their throats. Another prisoner testifies to having experienced this torture himself. After a dubious investigation, their beaten bodies were returned to their families with the necks cut out to prevent further medical investigation.

How much of this do I believe? The idea that these guys were killed in Gitmo is credible, given that up to a hundred detainees have died from abuse and given the first hand testimony of such beatings compiled in The Dark Side. The initial evasive and contradictory response to Horton’s article lends of lot of credence to the story. The cover-up, I think, has a less sinister explanation: ass-covering compounded by the unwillingness of investigators to believe that our military was capable of such things. They had good reason to believe that: until Bush, our military wasn’t capable of such things. Not on an official level, at least.

Now who were these three men? Two of the three were snatched off the streets for bounties, another for living in a house once used by terrorists. It’s very likely that they had nothing to do with terrorism. In fact, two were going to be released.

“But Mike!” you say, “Bush isn’t President any more. That’s all in the past!” No, it’s not. The GOP and the conservative punditsphere still refuses to acknowledge any this. They continue to promulgate the myth that what happened at Gitmo wasn’t torture; that no one was really harmed; that it was only used in the most extreme cases; that it was all the work of a few bad apples; that it’s all a liberal plot. We have here a credible portrayal of three innocent men who died after being “interrogated” — a story that was replicated dozens of times in the War on Terror; a story that has its echo in the hundreds of men like Fouad al-Rabiah, who was tortured long after they knew he was innocent.

Even an “enhanced interrogation” supporter should be appalled by this. If these techniques were supposed to be confined to the “worst of the worst”, a conscientious EIT supporter would demand accountability. And no, I don’t mean an Abu Ghraib-style whitewash in which a few low-level grunts are cut loose. If this story is complete bullshit, it should be easy to prove, no?

For me, this is why you don’t go the “enhanced interrogation” route in the first place. This is why you don’t let the beast loose. This is why you draw bright lines between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Because torture spreads, it metastisizes, it intensifies until it ends with three innocent men with their throats cut out. Jane Meyer’s book is relentless on this subject, documenting, from primary documents, how the torture regime got more and more out of control, with harsher methods, an expanding group of those who were allowed to be tortured, an expanding group of those who were allowed to torture and expanding group of reasons to torture. Techniques were debuted, then ramped up, then combined.

Now that Scott Brown has won election in Massachusetts, the pro-torture Right is only going to be encouraged. Thiessen, in particular, has been on the attack. This is their vision for America: sending mutilated bodies back to grieving families in the vain hope that somehow, somewhere, it will keep us safe. This vision is sustained by lies about the efficacy of torture, lies about the reality of torture, and outright denial of its scope. They deliberately and cynically conflate armed conflict on a battlefield with the treatment of defenseless prisoners, the guilt of whom is dubious at best. It’s a thicket of falsehood so thick, it immediately derails any conversation on the subject. I spend half the time beating down misinformation about straight-forward things like Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention.

That’s why this story is important, and why it’s being completely ignored by the torture apologists. Because if this story is true, this isn’t “water being dripped up the nose” of KSM or whatever ear-covering euphemism they’re using this week. This is unambiguous barbarism.

We can not allow this cancer to continue as the GOP rebuilds. I can put up with the fundamentalists, I can put with the anti-abortion zealouts, I can up with the economically ignorant. But how can the Party of Reagan embrace the torture and killing of innocent people in a feeble-minded pursuit of “security”?

Update: Connor Friersdorf points out that the torture regime is a greater threat to liberty than any socialism you can imagine. I happen to agree.