Friday, July 15, 2005

Abuse Is Humane Treatment

The term "Orwellian" is so routinely used to describe the degradation of common meaning in public discourse that it's lost much of its rhetorical oomph. But if ever it were appropriate to invoke that hoary adjective, perhaps now's the time. Recall the Ministry of Truth in "1984": "WAR IS PEACE; FREEDOM IS SLAVERY; IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH," right? Well, would you believe...

So says Marty Lederman in this must read analysis of the recent military led investigation into the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay referred to as the Schmidt Report (hat tip to Katherine via the Armchair Generalist). Lederman provides some background.

As I've discussed several times on this blog—most recently here and here—on February 7, 2002, the President issued a directive requiring the Armed Forces to treat al Qaeda and Taliban detainees "humanely." (This obligation does not extend to the CIA, which is free to treat detainees inhumanely.) Yet it has been increasingly difficult to square that directive with what we now know about the interrogation techniques that the Department of Defense subsequently approved for use at Guantanamo and elsewhere.[...]

The Schmidt Summary explains in great detail that certain interrogation techniques approved and employed at GTMO...were "abusive" and "degrading," and further reveals that the interrogation of another "high-value" detainee included unlawful threats against the lives of the detainee and his family. And yet then the Report somehow, and without any explanation whatsoever, concludes that all treatment at GTMO was "humane"—indeed, that the investigators found "no evidence" of any "inhumane treatment" at Guantanamo!

Abusive and degrading...yet humane. Speaks volumes, doesn't it?
Predictably, Bush supporters are going to point to the tactics employed and argue about legalistic definitions of torture. I expect to hear many of them equating the techniques described as akin to "frat hazing" as Rush Limbaugh has done, and Tucker Carlson and his panel did last night on his MSNBC show The Situation. The question remains, however, whether we as a nation want to make such a distinction between torture and everything else - such that we condemn torture but not abusive and degrading treatment - and then contort ourselves into logical circles in order to explain away what is obvious to most as the inhumane. I argue that torture should not be the only tactic that we reject. As a matter of fact, there is, ostensibly, legal support for my argument. Or at least there was.

That is not, however, the most alarming thing about the Schmidt Report. More disturbing still is the Report's repeated assertions that the techniques in question—which included, for example, having female interrogators physically seduce and taunt a Muslim detainee; forcing him to wear a bra and placing a thong on his head during interrogation; tying him to a leash, leading him around the room and forcing him to perform a series of dog tricks; stripping him naked; and pouring water on his head during interrogation 17 times—are not only "humane," but also are authorized by Army Field Manual 34-52. Field Manual 34-52 has, since the 1960's, defined the interrogation techniques that are acceptable within the military even for POWs who are entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions. [...]

...Field Manual 34-52 has, since the 1960's, defined the interrogation techniques that are acceptable within the military even for POWs who are entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions. Until now, the debate over the Bush Administration's interrogation policies has been about whether and why it was permissible for the Administration to go far beyond Manual 34-52 in its coercive treatment of detainees. But if, as the Schmidt Report concludes, the techniques used at GTMO are authorized by the Army Field Manual itself, it then follows that the military may use those techniques on any detainees, including POWs, anywhere in the world, in any conflict. Accordingly, by virtue of the Schmidt Report itself, this is not simply about al-Qahtani and other high-level detainees, nor about what is permissible at Guantanamo. Rather, it presages a radical transformation of what is deemed acceptable, lawful treatment of U.S. military detainees across the board — an erosion of the Geneva-based standards that have been the basis for the military's training and practices for the last few decades.
Which says nothing of the normative implications, the price we will pay, to paraphrase the Armchair Generalist, in moral and world leadership terms. And even that leaves aside the question of whether or not such morally dubious actions actually work. Andrew Sullivan connects the dots in the Schmidt Report, draws the obvious conclusion and appeals to America's wayward moral compass.

Maybe you still remember the shock of seeing the photographs of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. More gruesome images are on their way, and may well be released within a month. What we saw - the use of barking dogs, people shackled to the floor, sexual abuse, a man dragged around on a leash like a dog, simulation of gay sex, references and threats to relatives - was indeed shocking. But we were emphatically told by the administration that none of this was policy, that all of it was dreamed up by some nutjobs on the night shift who got their ideas from bad television or their own demented psyches. When some of us pointed out that there was clear evidence that some of these techniques were authorized, that, indeed, the commander of Guantanamo Bay, had been sent to Abu Ghraib to "Gitmoize" it, we were told we were slandering the troops and the administration.[...]

"[W]e now know that almost every one of the Abu Ghraib techniques was practised and innovated at Guantanamo. These were not improvised out of nowhere. They were what the report calls 'the creative application of authorized interrogation techniques,' and the interrogators 'believed they were acting within existing guidance'....The kind of techniques used in Abu Ghraib—sexual humiliation, hooding, use of dogs, tying prisoners up in 'stress positions,' mandatory nudity, humiliating prisoners for their religious faith, even the famous Lynndie England leash—were all developed at Guantanamo Bay under the strictest of supervision. What we were told were just frat-guy, crazy techniques on the night shift had been deployed by the best trained, most tightly controlled, most professional interrogation center we have. The Schmidt report argues that, while some of this was out of bounds, it was only because of some extra creativity, not because the techniques themselves were illicit, or unauthorized by Rumsfeld and Bush."
I wish I could say I was shocked. Maybe my mode of thinking is too "quaint" for this brave new America, but I must confess to harboring a belief that we can and should strive for something better, more noble. If you want to be the city on the hill, the exemplar to the world (and I believe in many ways we are and/or should be), you have to actually lead by example. This is a craven abrogation of the duty to lead.

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