“We Freely Chose To Embrace The Caricature They Had Made Of Us”

“We Freely Chose To Embrace The Caricature They Had Made Of Us”

Mark Danner has acquired a copy of the ICRC’s interviews with the fourteen “high-value” detainees who were transferred from CIA black sites to Guantanamo, and he has written about it in the NYT and (a longer version; unless noted, quotes are from this piece) in the New York Review of Books. It’s horrifying. Danner quotes George W. Bush saying: “The United States does not torture. It’s against our laws, and it’s against our values. I have not authorized it — and I will not authorize it.”

And yet, somehow, he did. From a man who had lost a leg, and who was forced to stand for two weeks, “apart [from] two or three times when I was allowed to lie down”:

“After some time being held in this position my stump began to hurt so I removed my artificial leg to relieve the pain. Of course my good leg then began to ache and soon started to give way so that I was left hanging with all my weight on my wrists. I shouted for help but at first nobody came. Finally, after about one hour a guard came and my artificial leg was given back to me and I was again placed in the standing position with my hands above my head. After that the interrogators sometimes deliberately removed my artificial leg in order to add extra stress to the position….”

This seems to have been pretty common:

“I was kept for one month in the cell in a standing position with my hands cuffed and shackled above my head and my feet cuffed and shackled to a point in the floor. Of course during this month I fell asleep on some occasions while still being held in this position. This resulted in all my weight being applied to the handcuffs around my wrist resulting in open and bleeding wounds. [Scars consistent with this allegation were visible on both wrists as well as on both ankles.] Both my feet became very swollen after one month of almost continual standing.”

But Donald Rumsfeld stands at his desk for eight hours a day, so I don’t know what these people are complaining about.

A number of detainees report some variant on this:

“Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room. It was also placed around my neck when being taken out of my cell for interrogation and was used to lead me along the corridor. It was also used to slam me against the walls of the corridor during such movements.”

Or:

“I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck, they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room.”

There’s lots more, all of it appalling. Danner’s conclusion in the NYT piece:

“From everything we know, many or all of these men deserve to be tried and punished — to be “brought to justice,” as President Bush vowed they would be. The fact that judges, military or civilian, throw out cases of prisoners who have been tortured — and have already done so at Guantanamo — means it is highly unlikely that they will be brought to justice anytime soon.

For the men who have committed great crimes, this seems to mark perhaps the most important and consequential sense in which “torture doesn’t work.” The use of torture deprives the society whose laws have been so egregiously violated of the possibility of rendering justice. Torture destroys justice. Torture in effect relinquishes this sacred right in exchange for speculative benefits whose value is, at the least, much disputed.

As I write, it is impossible to know definitively what benefits — in intelligence, in national security, in disrupting Al Qaeda — the president’s approval of use of an “alternative set of procedures” might have brought to the United States. Only a thorough investigation, which we are now promised, much belatedly, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, can determine that.

What we can say with certainty, in the wake of the Red Cross report, is that the United States tortured prisoners and that the Bush administration, including the president himself, explicitly and aggressively denied that fact. We can also say that the decision to torture, in a political war with militant Islam, harmed American interests by destroying the democratic and Constitutional reputation of the United States, undermining its liberal sympathizers in the Muslim world and helping materially in the recruitment of young Muslims to the extremist cause. By deciding to torture, we freely chose to embrace the caricature they had made of us. The consequences of this choice, legal, political and moral, now confront us. Time and elections are not enough to make them go away.”

An investigation is essential, if only to answer once and for all the question: how much actionable intelligence did we get from this, and how many wild goose chases did we send people off on? But prosecutions would be much, much better. Because our government should not be able to do this with impunity.