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Monday, April 20, 2009

The American Prospect's Utopia: Perfect Worlds and Honest Terrorists

Looking for something to criticize, I came across an article at the American Prospect which compares the legal memos and a report by the International Committee of Red Cross that interviewed top level terrorist prisoners at Guantanamo. While it is a worthwhile endeavor to search out and try to stop torture (please read the entire article), especially torture by the United States government, the liberal and leftist intellectuals have come to the conclusion torture is any kind of uncomfortable or humiliating interrogation technique. Coupled with the belief that the ICRC report is accurate, the analysis by Adam Serwer comes across as insightful mixed with a very heavy dose of utopia.

Guilty, But Assumed Innocent

The first and most annoying part of this article is the constant questioning of the guilt of the high-level terrorists mentioned. Such lines as “Abu Zubayda, who was believed to be a senior member of al-Qaeda” and “Abu Zubayda, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were all considered to be high-level al-Qaeda operatives” [emphasis added] seem to me to convey that these self-proclaimed terrorists are somehow not guilty terrorists. I may be totally off-base here, but either Mr. Serwer doesn't want to proclaim guilt or doesn't believe they are guilty. Because I have respect for the American Prospect due to the fact they aren't the mudslinging celebrities of the Huffington Post or the snarky Manhattan intelligentsia of the New York Times Op-ed, I'll assume they don't want to proclaim guilt as if the terrorists are normal criminal suspects that have yet to be convicted.

The idea that captured terrorists, both admitted and suspected, are just like normal criminals is folly. I've covered this in Liberties, Rights and War:
Our enemies are citizens of other states, but their allegiance is to a network, not a nation. They come from our allies and our enemies, but they are not fighting for Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkmenistan or Iraq; they are fighting for a empire that doesn't exist and belong to a group that spans dozens of nations. The extent and the power of Al Qeada was as alien to the writers of [the] Geneva [Convention] as using planes as missiles was to our security apparatus on 9/11. The connections between nations and this group are so complex that it would be akin to trying to show a caveman how the Space Shuttle flies. Simply calling them criminals sullies the term.
Because of their civilian view of terrorism, the fact that we harshly interrogate these “criminals” makes them squeamish because they believe such treatment violates the rights that criminals in America have. But these people, these terrorists, are not normal criminals and we have not been simply chasing singular suspects around the globe with warrants and FBI helicopters. We are in a war. A war they declared 3 years before they attacked us on our own soil. A war that has never been fought before in modern times and has no modern rules despite what internationalists say. Considering that the previous international consensus on groups like Al Qeada was extra-judicial execution, I think the rulebook the United States is writing ad hoc is a tad more humane than the one the British used against pirates and other such non-state entities.

Trusting The Enemy

The report on “torture” by the ICRC interviewed over a dozen prisoners at Gimto. In the report, it detailed many different alleged abuses by the interrogators at the prison. When the report was leaked to a liberal reporter, it became a rallying flag for those who wished to prove the United States was sadistically abusing innocent people. Mr. Serwer uses the report to compare what the CIA was allowed to do and what allegedly happened to the prisoners. For people who usually don't trust the military or intelligence sectors of the government, the liberals and leftists apparently have some kind of trusting relationship with the mass murdering, civilian decapitating, misogyny promoting sectors of the Islamist movement. Throughout the article, Serwer invokes the word of the detainee to show the extent of “torture” done by the interrogators. For instance:
Abu Zubayda, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri were all considered to be high-level al-Qaeda operatives. All three were waterboarded and told the ICRC that waterboarding caused them "considerable" pain. Zubayda, who had sustained gunshot wounds to the thigh, stomach, and groin, told the ICRC that "the pressure of the straps on my wounds caused severe pain. I vomited." Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who has admitted to being the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks, also told the ICRC that he sustained injuries as he struggled against the leather straps while being waterboarded.
And there's this:
Detainees said that their legs and ankles swelled as a result of their arms being shackled in the stress position and that they were forced to defecate on themselves. Occasionally, detainees said, they were allowed to sit on a bucket to use the bathroom but were not allowed to clean themselves afterward. Only one of the detainees who experienced this agreed to have his name published.
Its no secret to those who have followed the War on Terror, or to anyone who's read any non-fiction accounts of a covert operation, that our enemies lie. Al-Qeada isn't simply a group of backwater villagers angry at America's interference in the so-called Muslim world. Its composed of expertly trained soldiers and covert agents who not only train in bomb making, coordinated assaults, kidnapping, actual sadistic torture and other violent measures, they also train in resisting interrogation and disinformation. Anyone remember the “Koran in the Toilet” story?

I don't really fault the honestly concerned liberals and leftists for their belief. Well, not as much as I would fault politicians like John Murtha or Dick Durbin, or lunatic fringe groups like MoveOn.org, Democratic Underground or Communist-run A.N.S.W.E.R.. Accounts of real torture done to real innocents by such states as China, Iran, Ba'athist Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and so forth have created a simplistic notion that if someone says they are tortured, they must be telling the truth; the state's record on human rights and agenda of the victim non-withstanding. For example, when a democracy activist in China is thrown in a secret jail for years, then leaves with a permanent limp, psychological problems and a few stories about being beaten with bamboo sticks, its likely that he was tortured by China's security apparatus, which has a long record of torture of political prisoners. Contrast that with an internationally wanted, expertly trained terrorist that is sent to a publicly acknowledged military prison, interrogated harshly and ends up giving valuable intelligence on other high level terrorists which ends up interrupting terror plots that would of killed thousands (the West Coast Plot) . Later, interviewed by an internationally respected non-profit, non-partisan medical group searching for abuses, he tells them about the horrors he endured in the captivity of the nation who has liberated countless millions from the very tyranny that the terrorist is trying to impose all over the world. Not only that, the very same country he is captive of has let go hundreds of his associates due to a lack of evidence against them, and many of those associates have ended up dead or back in prison due to returning to the violent war against the country that holds him.

I don't know about you, but even if I was totally sure the United States had been intentionally torturing prisoners (which we may have done, we won't know the full story until way after this war is over), I still wouldn't take the word of men who's very goal in life is the opposite of my beliefs. Really, who are you going to trust? The guy or gal who has the job to save your life, or the guy who's trying to enslave you or kill you to sate his perverted religious dogma?

Reality and Utopia

The morality of what we've done to the terrorist prisoners is mostly a subjective matter. From a purely objective standpoint, even if the entire ICRC report is true, the United States has barely dipped its toe in to the scum filled waters of real torture. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of nations today practice institutionalized torture in law enforcement or military matters. Few of those nations are under as much scrutiny by its own population, the populations of other nations, lawyers from other nations and lawyers from international organizations as United States. Out of the tens of thousands of prisoners that have gone through the hands of the US military a minority of them have been held for any length of time, a minority of those have been put through any harsh interrogation and minority (approximately two dozen) of those have been put under constant harsh interrogation. Out of those tens of thousands of prisoners, under a dozen have died due to abuse by interrogators or guards and those who have committed such acts have been prosecuted by the very military that employed them. Self-scrutiny is something not practiced by those interrogators employed by China or Cuba or Saudi Arabia or Egypt where its their job to beat the crap out of their prisoners and death is just an unfortunate side affect of punishing them for their real or political crimes.

I've written on this before, but it must be said again: we do not live in a perfect world. In a perfect world, we wouldn't have to capture terrorists attacking us on the battlefield and trying to explode bombs in our cities. In a perfect word, these terrorists would not keep their plots and associates secret, but tell us as soon as they're caught. In a perfect world, we would not have to come up with harsh methods that break the expert training given to these terrorists who keep their plots and associations secret. In a perfect world, the United States would be appreciated for its countless acts of kindness, heroism and friendship, and it would be scolded and forgiven for the many past instances of recklessness and short-sightedness. But this isn't a perfect world and we are imperfect people.

Adam Serwer should be commended for believing that the United States should not be torturing people. He should be admired for his passion against horrible acts of sadism against the innocent. He should have our respect for having principles. But, in light of where his spotlight is and where it isn't, Mr. Serwer should be criticized for his naivety and his ignorance. Its one thing to keep an eye on the government's treatment of prisoners; its another to hold it up to higher standards than other, crueler nations. And its a whole other universe to take the word of dogmatic religious nuts bent on creating a ideologically homogeneous world theocracy over those who are doing their damnedest to prevent those nuts from killing your countrymen.

1 comment:

James Yanke said...

Waterboarding?
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If the tables were turned, this 7th-century savage would have been chopping our heads off while making a video of it.
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Water boarding is not a near-drowning technique. The subject is never in danger of drowning. And water boarding is not torture… there is no physical harm to the subject.
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Kahlid Sheikh Mohammed is a bad guy, and US interrigators obtained valuable info from him using this technique- who cares how many times it took? It was up to him how long before he decided to cooperate, didn’t have to be this way necessarily- apparently he clung stubbornly to a bad decision, sounds like something he’d do.
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