Letting It Slide

I hardly know what to say about these new revelations about Guantanamo. I wrote many posts about it last summer in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal and it was clear then that we were torturing with impunity. These FBI memos revealed by the ACLU add new details to what was already known and reveal that there was dissent within the government at least at the lower levels that was ignored.

The New York Times has found quite a few people willing to talk, off the record, about what went on down there. If we had a real government the congress would immediately call for hearings and offer immunity to anyone who could speak to these issues. But torture is so 2004, so there will be no further outcry, I'm sure.

The information from the various sources frequently matched, providing corroboration of the use of specific procedures, which included prolonged sleep deprivation and shackling prisoners in uncomfortable positions for many hours. One F.B.I. agent wrote his superiors that he saw such restraining techniques several times. In the most gruesome of the bureau memorandums, he recounted observing a detainee who had been shackled overnight in a hot cell, soiled himself and pulled out tufts of hair in misery.

Military officials who participated in the practices said in October that prisoners had been tormented by being chained to a low chair for hours with bright flashing lights in their eyes and audio tapes played loudly next to their ears, including songs by Lil' Kim and Rage Against the Machine and rap performances by Eminem.

In a recent interview, another former official added new details, saying that many interrogators used a different audio tape on prisoners, a mix of babies crying and the television commercial for Meow Mix in which the jingle consists of repetition of the word "meow."

The people who spoke about what they saw or whose duties made them aware of what was occurring said they had different reasons for granting interviews. Some said they objected to the methods, others said they objected to what they regarded as a chaotic and badly run system, while others offered no reason. They all declined to be identified by name, some saying they feared retaliation.

None of these recent stories get into one of the more important aspects of this story which is that a great many of those who were shipped off to Gitmo from Afghanistan in the early days of the war had no intelligence value whatsoever. This was because they were "bought" from the Northern Alliance for $5,000 based on a warlord's word that they were Taliban or al Qaeda. Nobody knows how many of these people are or were being held down there, but it's clear that there were many.

They did, apparently, capture at least one allegedly "high value" target whom they proceded to torture in various inventive ways, including forced enemas:

None of the approved techniques, however, covered some of what people have now said occurred. Mr. Kahtani was, for example, forcibly given an enema, officials said, which was used because it was uncomfortable and degrading.

Pentagon spokesmen said the procedure was medically necessary because Mr. Kahtani was dehydrated after an especially difficult interrogation session. Another official, told of the use of the enema, said, however, "I bet they said he was dehydrated," adding that that was the justification whenever an enema was used as a coercive technique, as it had been on several detainees.

Then again, the boys might have just been blowing off some steam.

This month a majority of the Senate, including many Democrats, will undoubtedly confirm the architect of our torture policy for the highest law enforcement office in the land. They issued new "guidelines" just last week in which they rescinded the finding that torture must consist of pain akin to organ failure so everything's fine now. It's time to look to the future. And it's very likely that we are going to eventually put a war criminal and a soiler of the Bill of Rights on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Left unaddressed in the new memo was the monarch's limitless power in wartime:

The 17-page memo does not address two of the most controversial assertions in the first memo: that Bush, as commander in chief in wartime, had authority superseding anti-torture laws and that U.S. personnel had legal defenses against criminal liability in such cases.

Levin said those issues need not be considered because they "would be inconsistent with the president’s unequivocal directive that United States personnel not engage in torture."

The president said he doesn't condone torture and he meant it. He says what he is and he is what he says. One might make the leap, however, to infer that he does still believe that he has unnlimited power to shred the constitution into little pieces and flush it down the toilet at will when you read this:

Administration officials are preparing long-range plans for indefinitely imprisoning suspected terrorists whom they do not want to set free or turn over to courts in the United States or other countries, according to intelligence, defense and diplomatic officials.

The Pentagon and the CIA have asked the White House to decide on a more permanent approach for potentially lifetime detentions, including for hundreds of people now in military and CIA custody . The outcome of the review, which also involves the State Department, would also affect those expected to be captured in the course of future counterterrorism operations.

If this is true, you have to wonder why a garden variety murder suspect should be allowed due process either. Really, why should we have to let a gang member have a lawyer and access to the courts? Why should a rape suspect from last week be any different than an Afghan driver whom somebody claimed chauffered Osama bin Laden around in 1999? If the criteria is that we can't take a chance that these people, "whom the government does not have enough evidence to charge in courts" might harm Americans in the future then isn't our entire system of justice completely superfluous? And who exactly is supposed to stop the executive branch from deciding that very thing?

(Of course, my friend The Talking Dog would be the first to remind us that the Supreme Court has already pretty much held that this is legal under Padilla, so there's no real surprise. The worst thing that would happen is that lawyers will run out of "erroneous" jurisdictions in which to file.)

It was always supposed to be that the checks and balances of the branches of government and the press would restrain such impulses and that the mob mentality would be balanced by thoughtful, learned citizens of good will who would raise the roof at such affrontery to democratic values. It's not working. As long as the press believes that the Scott Peterson trial is more important to cover than these grievous assaults on the constitution then most of the country won't care. And as long as the political opposition continues to validate them by voting to elevate war criminals to high office the entire nation will be implicated in the crime.

If fellows like Peter Beinert have their way, those of us not purged from the left will be forced to goosestep along in the name of fighting the most horrible scourge the world has ever known --- since communism, anyway, lo those many (15) years ago. Joshua Zeitz points out in this week-end's TNR that unrepentant hawkishness has rarely resulted in more liberalism at home. Indeed, it usually results in the opposite:

Beinart asserts that cold-war liberals found special strength for their civil rights program in the "linkage between freedom at home and freedom abroad," a link that the Wallacites could never have drawn, given their tolerance of communism. Fighting the Soviets and advancing civil rights weren't mutually exclusive, Beinart maintains; they were mutually reinforcing.

And perhaps they could have been. But in practice, the opposite was usually true: Having purged the Wallacites from their coalition, liberals lost their most strident advocates for racial justice. And more often that not, mainstream liberals urged civil rights activists to subordinate their interests to the more pressing need for national unity in the face of Soviet aggression. Far from neatly and conveniently reinforcing each other, the two great moral struggles of the time frequently seemed locked in a zero-sum game.

It will be even worse this time out because the left isn't actually excusing islamic fundamentalism --- indeed we are the last people to embrace an authoritarian theocratic worldview. The problem isn't that the left is pacifist in the war on terror. It's that it's pacifist in the war on liberalism and that's coming from both within and without.

The old saw about "the terrorists have won" is a cliche to be sure. But that doesn't mean it's not true. Bin Laden doesn't have to invade with an army or even terrorize us further with bombings and terrorist attacks. His job is done. We are now fully engaged in destroying ourselves.