God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen - Jars of Clay - listen now

Saturday, November 12, 2005


An excellent opinion column in the Wall Street Journal. In "A 'Tortured' Debate" the WSJ postulates that "a ban on aggressive interrogation would amount to unilateral disarmament in the war on terror." I think they're right. Some snipets:
If Osama bin Laden is alive and looking for signs of flagging U.S. will to fight the war on terror, he need look no further than our national debate about interrogating his compatriots and others who would do us harm.

We aren't saying that there haven't been abuses--probably hundreds of them--of detainees in the war on terror. But there have also been more than 70,000 detainees. In other words, the rate of prisoner abuse compares favorably with the U.S. civilian detention system, and it is better than the rate in earlier conflicts such as Vietnam and even World War II. Alleged abuses have been routinely investigated, and punished when warranted in courts-martial that have revealed a military willing and able to police its own.

Two persistent sources of confusion in this debate have been misreadings of the Geneva Conventions and sloppy (or willfully distorted) use of the word "torture." The Geneva Conventions are very strict about which detainees qualify for the protections of "prisoner of war" status: They must, for example, have fought in uniform and shown some respect for the laws of war, such as avoiding attacks on civilians.

What's more, any form of manipulation, including positive reinforcements such as better rations, are forbidden when it comes to interrogating legitimate POWs. Recognizing guerrillas and terrorists as POWs would be a form of unilateral disarmament, and, worse, would legitimize their behavior. The U.S. was respecting, not skirting, international law when it refused to classify them as such.

As for "torture," it is simply perverse to conflate the amputations and electrocutions Saddam once inflicted at Abu Ghraib with the lesser abuses committed by rogue American soldiers there, much less with any authorized U.S. interrogation techniques. No one has yet come up with any evidence that anyone in the U.S. military or government has officially sanctioned anything close to "torture." The "stress positions" that have been allowed (such as wearing a hood, exposure to heat and cold, and the rarely authorized "waterboarding," which induces a feeling of suffocation) are all psychological techniques designed to break a detainee.

That such "torture" demagoguery can be successfully challenged was demonstrated earlier this year, when Amnesty International was forced to back down from its odious comparison of U.S. detention facilities to the Soviet gulag. We wish the Administration directly challenged its Congressional critics. The American people are wise enough to understand that we can't win the war on terror without good intelligence, and that there won't be good intelligence without aggressive interrogations.


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