Thursday, January 06, 2005

...Gonzales, aside from being an intimate of the sitting Republican president, is also, alas, one of those sticks-in-the-mud who thinks we shouldn't treat al Qaeda terrorists as if we had a treaty with them, and that we shouldn't accord the privileges and immunities of honorable warfare to barbarians.

That's from a National Review column by Andrew McCarthy. McCarthy thinks that if you object to Alberto Gonzales on the grounds that torture has taken place on his watch and with his blessing, your argument, taken to its logical conclusion, leads to the notion that that al-Qaeda is a nation-state with which America should sign treaties.

This is absurd, of course -- we want to forbid torture because we don't want our troops tortured, and because we want to be a moral example to the world in a war of hearts and minds; moreover, only some of the prisoners we're capturing are affiliated with al-Qaeda, or even with the Iraqi insurgency -- as Kate Zernike notes in today's New York Times,

In Iraq, 70 percent to 90 percent of those detained, according to military intelligence estimates reported by the International Committee of the Red Cross, "had been arrested by mistake." A military report on Iraqi prisons said that many detainees were held for several months for things like expressing "displeasure or ill will" toward the American occupying forces.

Nevertheless, I want to turn the tables on McCarthy. I want to take his position to its logical conclusion.

If McCarthy doesn't believe jihadis (or Iraqi insurgents, or those suspected, quite possibly erroneously, of being jihadis or Iraqi insurgents) deserve Geneva protections, shouldn't he be criticizing the Bush administration's half-measures on torture? If he thinks our policies should focus on the idea that the enemy will stop at nothing, shouldn't he be arguing that America should stop at nothing?

In December 2002, Donald Rumsfeld

approved a list of 16 [interrogation] techniques for use [at Guantanamo] in addition to the 17 methods in the Army Field Manual. He suspended those approvals the next month after some Navy lawyers complained that they were excessive and possibly illegal. But after a review, Mr. Rumsfeld issued a final policy in April 2003, approving 24 techniques, some of which needed his permission to be used.

And now the administration has backed off even from that limited list of interrogation techniques. Shouldn't this waffling make McCarthy furious?

Shouldn't he and other defenders of Gonzales and Rumsfeld and Bush be arguing that if rape rooms are what it takes to prevent another 9/11, then rape rooms we must have? Shouldn't they be saying that anything that's ever taken place in interrogations in the worst hellholes on the planet should always have been openly permitted at Guantanamo and Bagram and Abu Ghraib?

A memo to that effect was circulated within the Bush administration in 2003 -- it suggested that Bush's "commander-in chief authority" was sufficient to exonerate anyone who tortured on America's behalf. But the Bushies have wimped out and repudiated torture, and so have their defenders in the press. Why? If this is "a new kind of war," why won't they stand up proudly and say Americans should torture anyone we damn well please, using any method that strikes our fancy, however gruesome?

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