Friday, June 03, 2005

Clash Of The Pundits

In my post yesterday, I took a glance at how some of the more principled denizens of the Conserva-sphere were handling the Amnesty International gulag-flap as well as the issue of detainee torture, rape and murder in general. Today I want to cast a glance at conservative pundit land - what James Wolcott might call attack poodleville. In particular, two recent columns by two separate pundits provide for an interesting contrast in hacktacularity.

First, and by all means foremost, is right leaning but reasonable Anne Applebaum with an honest appraisal of the situation in Guantanamo Bay and abroad, especially in relation to the Newsweek mini-scandal and related media firestorm (via publius). Her point is a valid one, and one that makes all the hand wringing about Newsweek and Amnesty International seem like the empty show of political theater that it is.

Now, it is possible that no interrogator at Guantanamo Bay ever flushed pages of the Koran down the toilet, as the now-retracted Newsweek story reported -- although several former Guantanamo detainees have alleged just that. It is also possible that Newsweek reporters relied too much on an uncertain source, or that the magazine confused the story with (confirmed) reports that prisoners themselves used Korans to block toilets as a form of protest.

But surely the larger point is not the story itself but that it was so eminently plausible, in Pakistan, Afghanistan and everywhere else. And it was plausible precisely because interrogation techniques designed to be offensive to Muslims were used in Iraq and Guantanamo, as administration and military officials have also confirmed. For example:

· Dogs. Military interrogators deployed them specifically because they knew Muslims consider dogs unclean. In a memo signed by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez in September 2003, and available online, the then-commander in Iraq actually approved using the technique to "exploit Arab fear of dogs."

· Nudity. We know (and the Muslim world knows) from the Abu Ghraib photographs that nudity has been used to humiliate Muslim men. More important, we know that nudity was also approved as an interrogation technique by Donald Rumsfeld himself. He signed off on a November 2002 policy memo, later revised but also available online, that specifically listed "removal of clothing" as a permissible, "category II" interrogation technique, along with "removal of facial hair," also a technique designed to offend Muslims who wear beards.

· Sexual harassment. The military's investigation of U.S. detention and interrogation practices, led by Vice Adm. Albert T. Church III, stated that at Guantanamo there were "two female interrogators who, on their own initiative, touched and spoke to detainees in a sexually suggestive manner in order to incur stress based on the detainees' religious beliefs." Although the report said both had been reprimanded, there is no doubt, again, that the tactic was designed for men whose religion prohibits them from having contact with women other than their wives.

· Fake menstrual blood. When former detainees began claiming that they had been smeared with menstrual blood intended to make them "unclean" and therefore unable to pray, their lawyers initially dismissed the story as implausible. But the story has been confirmed by Army Sgt. Erik Saar, a former Guantanamo translator, who told the Associated Press that in a forthcoming book he will describe a female interrogator who smeared a prisoner with red ink, claimed it was menstrual blood and left, saying, "Have a fun night in your cell without any water to clean yourself."

There is no question that these were tactics designed to offend, no question that they were put in place after 2001 and no question that many considered them justified. Since the Afghan invasion, public supporters of "exceptional" interrogation methods have argued that in the special, unusual case of the war on terrorism, we may have to suspend our fussy legality, ignore our high ideals and resort to some unpleasant tactics that our military had never used. Opponents of these methods, among them some of the military's own interrogation experts, have argued, on the contrary, that "special methods" are not only ineffective but counterproductive: They might actually inspire Muslim terrorists instead of helping to defeat them. They might also make it easier, say, for fanatics in Jalalabad to use two lines of a magazine article to incite riots.
Good point. When viewed in a list format, it becomes hard to deny that there was a consistent pattern of using Islam as a lever to get recalcitrant detainees to speak - or so was the plan at least for some. Perhaps this was part of a tactic known as Pride and Ego Down, a term used by a civilian Defense Department employee in sworn statements given to Pentagon investigators last summer. Recounting a conversation with an Abu Ghraib interrogator:

"I gave him examples of approaches including Pride and Ego Down where an interrogator [in Afghanistan] took a Koran, threw it on the floor and stepped on it ...
No matter the ultimate source of this questionable strategy which unwisely utilizes religion as a weapon, you can imagine my shock and awe when I came across a recent column in the June 2 edition of the New York Post by conservative hack Michelle Malkin, dubiously entitled, The Truth About Guantanamo Bay, with the subtitle, An Excess of Sensitivity (note: the NY Post did not put this column up online, and the subtitle does not appear in the linked mirror). Let that sink in for a moment. An Excess of Sensitivity. The biggest flaw in our stewardship of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, according to Malkin, is actually too much sensitivity to Islam.

Amazing. Malkin goes on to cite one of the same sources Anne Applebaum relies on, but to different ends:

Erik Saar, who served as an army sergeant at Gitmo for six months and co-authored a negative, tell-all book about his experience titled "Inside the Wire," inadvertently provides us more firsthand details showing just how restrained, and sensitive to Islam - to a fault, I believe - the officials at the detention facility have been. [emphasis added]
Nevermind Saar's story about the fake menstrual blood incident, or the other examples Applebaum points to, because Saar also tells of halal meals, the provision of a prayer mat, cap and Koran, calls to prayer five times a day and an arrow painted in each cell pointing to Mecca. Well then, I'd say on balance we're being too sensitive to the religious proclivities of these captives. To a fault in fact. Malkin's advice to Rumsfeld and Bush: get tough on these Muslims already and stop pampering their every religious whim. These are the views, she would have us believe, of the true and patriotic Americans - not those treasonous "liberals" who carry on about human rights, due process and have such soft stomachs when it comes to torture. Malkin's final salvo:

Guantanamo Bay will not be the death of this country. The unseriousness and hypocrisy of the terrorist-abetting Left is a far greater threat.
Really? I think Malkin's recipe for human rights and the rule of law would make a pretty interesting omelette.

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