Sunday, June 26, 2005

Time Magazine, Gitmo, and Detainee 063

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last few weeks, you've already heard about the story in Time magazine about "torture" at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The June 20, 2005 issue cover story describes the interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani, "Detainee 063," who is believed to be the 20th hijacker in the 9/11 murders.

We have now read the full article, thanks to our local library, and we have a question: Where's the torture? We couldn't find a single instance of torture in what the interrogators are alleged to have done to al-Qahtani. None. Nada. If the definition of "torture" is so broad to include the techniques described by Time and those practiced by Saddam's regime on a daily basis for years, the word has lost its meaning.

Among the tortures that did not occur at Gitmo: beatings; burning with cigarettes or pokers; cutting off fingers, toes, hands, feet, arms, head, etc.; poking out eyes; iron maidens; starvation (except self-induced); ... pretty much any other torture you can think of.

What did occur is clearly coercive interrogation, often including things that could not be done with ordinary criminal suspects in the US. However, according to Time, the normal interrogation techniques used by the FBI for criminal investigations were completely ineffective.

Humiliation and psychological pressures were key elements in the interrogation of al-Qahtani. While these are certainly not pleasant, they don't come close to being "torture." We'd like to see how long we could hold out against "Invasion of Space by a Female," though. He was exposed to Christina Aguilera music, but not the dreaded Linda Ronstadt song. At one point Rumsfeld specifically authorized some "harsher" measures including "poking in the chest with a finger" (no kidding), but not the "water-boarding" used to train US pilots.

Throughout the interrogation period al-Qahtani's medical condition was regularly monitored. When his health appeared to be threatened due to his refusal of food and water, interrogation was halted.

There is no reasonable doubt that al-Qahtani is al-Qaeda. He was almost certainly supposed to be the 20th hijacker, but he was turned away when he tried to enter the US in Aug., 2001. Extracting intelligence from people like this is critical, and it could save thousands of American lives. We are not going to get this information just by asking nicely. Standard criminal/military interrogation techniques are all but useless against this kind of opponent.

The Geneva Convention arguments are without merit. They don't apply to prisoners without country or uniform who deliberately attack civilians. In fact in al-Qahtani's case, as a Saudi, his fate under international law is entirely a matter between the US and Saudi Arabia. Time says in conclusion:
President Bush has said the U.S. would apply principals [sic] consistent with the Geneva Conventions to 'unlawful combatants,' subject to military necessity, at Guantanamo and elsewhere. [...] But the Geneva Conventions forbid any 'outrage on personal dignity.' [...] Then again, in the war on terrorism, the personal dignity of a fanatic trained for mass murder may be an inevitable casualty."
Amen to that last sentence. We'd even say it should be the first casualty.
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