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The ugly stain of torture

Fri, Feb 29th, 2008
Posted in Commentary

Morris Davis, a bird colonel in the Air Force, and until October the chief prosecutor in Guantanamo Cuba, related the story of Tom Ahern in the New York Times ten days ago. According to Davis, Ahern was the Tehran station chief during the Iran hostage crisis. He was taken captive and abused by the principal Iranian interrogator. Just before the release of the hostages the interrogator approached Ahern and said the abuse he had suffered was inconsistent with the teachings of Islam. The interrogator offered to let Ahern abuse him in the same manner, apparently to reach some form of atonement. Davis reports Ahern looked at the interrogator and said, "We don't do stuff like that."

After Attorney General Michael Mukasey and CIA head Michael Hayden testified recently to Congress, the best we can now say is, we don't do stuff like that very often. Or maybe, we don't do stuff like that unless we think it's important. Maybe, we don't do stuff like that unless we don't know what else to do.

I find the discussion, in this, my country, about the legality of methods of interrogation that have been described as torture for the last 500 years the most disturbing thing involved with the Iraq invasion. Not since the Inquisition has simulate drowning been admitted to be a state policy. Mukasey and Hayden pinned that on us before a congressional committee.

After Abu Gharaib and the Mukasey and Hayden testimony, not only admitting we tortured, but saying we will do it again if we think we need to, Canada put us on a list of countries that torture. In their declaration they specifically mentioned Guantanamo.

Later Stephen Bradbury, who had written the legal opinion that apparently the CIA and Pentagon relied on as declaring simulated drowning legal, before a House subcommittee said the only similarity to the Inquisition method and ours, was they both used water. M.S. Lederman, a law professor at Georgetown University, calls this defense of our more benign use of the method "chilling" and "obscene". I agree.

Dan Froomkin, Harvard professor writing for the Washington Post on-line, has many times challenged the administration to describe verifiable cases where information derived from torture has prevented attacks or been benefit to the country without receiving a reply.

Abu Zubaida is the administration's poster child for torture. He is supposed to be the mastermind of all that has gone wrong. A high mucky-muck in the al Quaida chain of command. Ron Suskind, in his book The One Percent Doctrine claims Abu Zubaida was and is nothing more than a glorified travel agent for al Quaida and is and was mentally ill when captured. After torture he claimed al Quaida was plotting to target shopping malls, banks, sports arenas, water systems and nuclear plants. He would have admitted to the Lindberg kidnapping if asked, apparently. Now his attorneys are wondering if he has enough grasp of reality to participate in his own defense.

Morris Davis points out in the 1991 Kuwait liberation tens of thousand of Iraqis surrendered. We had a total of 150 combat fatalities and reached Baghdad in four days. If the Iraqis had felt surrender might have ended up with torture does anyone think they might not have stood and fought causing increased casualties?

The press and broadcast media have been complicit in this charade as well. Torture is routinely referred to as "aggressive interrogation", "harsh interrogation", "rough interrogation". I've even seen "rough tactics" used.

Perhaps if we stopped letting others define the debate and called the practice what it is, torture, some semblance of sanity would reappear.

There probably are bad and dangerous people in Guantanamo. I won't condemn them to death for I cannot give them life if I were to make a mistake. I'll leave that to others. We should not reduce ourselves to their level.

We have alienated our allies and friends with these bizarre definitions of torture and by excusing the inexcusable with the unintelligible. Invading a sovereign nation preemptively that did not have the physical ability, as a nation, to attack us will eventually be forgiven. Saddam was a horrible man and tyrant. There were at the same time many other horrible dictators and tyrants. Will other small countries now worry we may attack them and if resisted be faced with torture?

Will our allies be reluctant in the future to stand on the same battlefield with us knowing if they are captured their U.S. ally in the past has tortured captives? Might they not worry they would be subject to torture?

How many generations will it take for the memory to fade? How do we erase the stain?

Robert Sauer, of Preston, is a regular Journal contributor. He can be reached at

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