I know that the War on Terror is serious business. I know that there are some pretty bad people housed in Guantanamo. I know that the detainees are trained to lie about abuse. I know that, in general, the detainees are treated extremely well, with many gaining weight. I know that we need to use some sort of stern measures to interrogate these detainees. I know they hate us.
I know all of that, and I have supported this administration. I supported Guantanamo Bay at first, thinking that we would be able to work out a sensible long-term policy later on. And I really want to keep supporting this administration.
But, if you will, I am stuck at the moment:
On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more.
It isn’t right. And that doesn’t factor in Abu Ghraib and the 108 deaths while in our custody, and the rest of the stuff we know about and don’t (heaven forbid) know about.
I know, I know. These are bad people, we need ‘stern’ measures, we have to be tough, etc., etc., ad nauseum.
It still ain’t right. In fact, it is flat out wrong.
As Andrew Olmsted stated:
I don’t know where the line should be drawn for interrogation. I think that playing Christina Aguilera is well on the safe side of the line and that letting people sit in their own wastes is on the wrong side of the line, but that still leaves plenty of gray area. We pay Congress to serve as our representatives in this type of argument; it is incumbent on them to sit down and actually start asking the hard question: how far are we prepared to go to get information out of captured enemy combatants? The discussion probably should take place behind closed doors, since it’s unwise to tell the enemy precisely where the line is, but the line does need to be drawn and enforced. And if the people we have in Congress now are incapable of acting like adults and holding such a discussion, then it’s time we tossed them out on their ear and try again.
And that is going to require being honest and open about what is going on. It is going to require more than listening to the echo chamber as they link approvingly to websites that call Dick Durbin an example of the ‘pussification of America’. Or when, in the middle of broadsides against Andrew Sullivan in which they pretend to ‘want a conversation,’ they cite emails that state things like:
Israel and the USA have fallen into the last category due to the efforts of the left in both countries, the good guys no longer know themselves. We were not divided in WW2 and we won. If Andrew and Irwin were around 60 years ago America would have lost.
Charming, and just another page out of the playbook- toe the company line or have your patriotism, dedication to the cause, and character slandered.
The current policy needs to be revisited. Everything isn’t A-OK. And I am not saying that because I hate this administration or want to just cause trouble for Bush. In one of the best posts I have seen in a while, Greg Djerejian discusses some of the many reasons we need to address these issues:
Also worth noting, of course, in an era of non-stop Internet feeds and 24 hour cable, acts of abuse, felony abuse and torture quickly becomes fodder for our enemies. Perhaps Lileks would have preferred that, as the saying goes–what happens in Abu Ghraib; stays in Abu Ghraib. But as Rumsfeld has awkwardly expressed himself, when he was seemingly dumbfounded that people, you know, have cameras and can jpeg shots of soldiers flashing the thumbs up next to murdered detainees (cool!)–shots that go around the world mighty quickly–well, a big part of this war is going to be making sure such public relations debacles don’t occur. One way to help ensure it doesn’t is not to have free-ranging improvisation going on in Bagram, in Abu Ghraib, in Gitmo, in other detention centers. We need cohesive top-down directives on what is and isn’t permissible. We need real accountability beyond the party line about a few-bad-eggs-on-the-night-crew-at-Abu-Ghraib bullshit (oh, and Colonel Karpinski too, how could I forget?!?). We desparately need some real leadership on this issue (Where are the Wise Men who would step in and intervene as in yester-year? To0 busy making money in Manhattan or just plain extinct, I guess)…
But our basic values, not least that we will not countenance the torture of detainees in American detention, must be abided by. This must be a red-line for all thinking conservatives. The President says this is our policy. That torture will not be tolerated. But how can we know for sure this is the case now? The dismal record of these past years provides little comfort or confidence on this score, alas. At the end of the day, a not insignificant part of our national greatness stems from America being the ‘gold standard’ in its respect for its fellow man, in its role as ultimate guarantor of democratic liberties in the international system, on, yes, the standards governing the detention of our detainees and POWs. Sober wisdom and our better angels must prevail as we move forward towards what will doubtless be a difficult, troubled decade ahead. There will likely be more chaos and bloodshed on our shores. What will we do when, say, there is a WMD attack that kills 12,000 in Tulsa or San Diego or Peoria in 2009? Round up the Muslims in our midst and place them in pens governed by Lileks-compliant standards of detainee treatment? No, better that we standardize the rules and have a top-tier, bipartisan outside commission thoroughly look at America’s detention facilities and policies from the bottom-up, the inside-out. There’s simply too much rot that has been accumulated these past years. And the bright sunlight of judicious, wholly unbiased and serious scrutiny is needed to disinfect it. This will help America re-gain its footing as undisputed avatar of the rule of law and standard-bearer of human rights on the world stage. We owe this to ourselves, to our country, to our grandchildren. It’s the right way. And it’s not a joke. It’s deadly serious.
He is right, this is deadly serious (and you really must read his whole piece– I have excerpted but a wee portion of it). But in today’s idiotic political climate, if you listen to the apologista and the blowhards, Gregory is but another soft-on-terror, therapy loving, root-cause looking, siding with the terrorists every time, America hating, Bush-loathing weenie who “doesn’t get it.”
I want a policy that I can whole-heartedly support, one that doesn’t degrade our nation while dehumanizing our detainees and doing irreparable damage to our international standing. A policy that isn’t counter-productive, and one that makes us safer while preserving our values. One that places a primacy on intelligence gathering, not sadism and excuse-making. A policy that doesn’t throw our military physicians into an ethical breach (h/t Crooks and Liars). A policy that doesn’t ask our soldiers and sailors and Marines to do things we would never want done to them were they in captivity.
Look, President Bush, his cabinet, Congress- I don’t have all the answers, and some might say I don’t have any. I don’t know where exactly the line should be drawn and what treatment is stern and what is legally abuse and what is legally torture. I do, however, have a real firm grip on what is disgusting and indefensible- but I do really want to help, and I really want to be supportive. So does Greg. So do a lot of really good people all over the country, on both sides of the ever-widening partisan divide. But you have to help us out. You have to do more than just tell me to shut up and go along. You have to do more than just call half the country traitors and accuse them of wanting to help terrorists at every opportunity.
In short, you have to lead. Why is that so hard to fathom?