Politics & Policy

Tortured Standards

Protection priorities at war.

How do you define torture?

It’s torture to hear the sound of crunching metal for a split second before the entire jet in which you’re riding explodes while penetrating a skyscraper.

It’s torture to be forced to choose between burning alive in a high-rise restaurant and leaping 107 stories to your death.

It’s torture to feel a cold blade on your neck knowing that a moment later, the steel’s temperature will be the least uncomfortable part of the experience.

It’s torture to ride in a Humvee or on a subway car and suddenly watch your foot fly through the air, all by itself, thanks to an improvised explosive device detonated by people who hate your guts just because you do not get on your hands and knees and face Mecca five times daily.

It’s torture to lie in bed, night after night, staring at the empty spot on the mattress where the love of your life used to smile at you, night after night, before being vaporized by Islamic extremists.

Members of Congress should ponder these definitions of torture as they consider an amendment by Senator John McCain (R., Ariz.) to prohibit American interrogators from engaging in “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” of terrorists in U.S. custody.

Average Americans hear “torture” and believe that our government should not pound bamboo slivers under the nails of Osama bin Laden’s acolytes. Fine. They most likely can be made to reveal their deadly secrets without resorting to anything quite so Hanoi Hilton.

But what of far-less-intrusive methods designed simply to make captives in the war on terror uncomfortable enough to share the plans and procedures of the Muslim fanatics who plot our doom, even as legislators debate how to treat them ever more mercifully?

Is it really torture to place a hood over a detainee’s head so he feels isolated and disoriented?

Is it really torture to increase the heat in his cell, so that his comfort level drops, say, to that inside the Superdome shortly after Hurricane Katrina?

Is it really torture to yell at him in Arabic or Pashtun: “Speak, you worthless, flea-bitten sack of camel droppings?” This is known officially as “attacking or insulting the ego of a detainee.” According to a declassified April 16, 2003, Pentagon memo, the Secretary of Defense must be notified before this technique can be employed against those at Guantanamo. Donald Rumsfeld also must be alerted before Guantanamites can be subjected to the “Mutt and Jeff” or “good cop/bad cop” routine that NYPD and LAPD officers probably are using on American citizens as you read these words.

Human-rights activists have criticized the U.S. for employing such “inhuman” interrogation tactics as “the false flag”–fooling a captive into thinking an American interrogator is really Egyptian or Saudi, for example. In another atrocity, some U.S. personnel have draped Israeli flags over the shoulders of Muslim-extremist detainees. The horror. The horror.

As Henrik Bering wrote in the October 18, 2004, Weekly Standard, former Guantanamo detainee Slimane Hadj Abderrahmane, a Danish national, was not thrilled with his treatment by U.S. GIs. He “claims to have been roughed up and humiliated by American soldiers in Kandahar (who he complains made fun of the size of his genitals).” If this qualifies as torture, just about every man who has shared a pitcher of beer with his pals should surrender to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The sad truth is that male jocularity often involves verbal mock-emasculation. If this offends Islamo-fascist sensibilities, the fair question to ask is: What doesn’t?

“Girls would interrogate us,” former Guantanamo detainee Khalil-ur Rahman complained to the Associated Press’ Asif Shahzad after he was repatriated to Pakistan in the fall of 2004 and freed in Lahore last June 27. “They would take off their clothes in front of us,” his ordeal continued. “They would make different poses in front of us, and they would sit on our chests…This was shameful.”

Feminists might find this degrading, but millions of men around the world pay good money to watch exotic dancers do this sort of thing every day. If a few strip-club tactics make al Qaeda killers talk, is that so wrong?

Rahman, by the way, remains embittered by his experience. “If I get a chance to fight jihad again, I will definitely go,” he said. “I will not miss it.” Perhaps he should have stayed at Gitmo.

Of course, it could be that soldiers never really mocked Abderrahmane’s manhood, nor did female CIA agents ever perform lap dances for Rahman. Al Qaeda’s training manual instructs operatives to bear false witness about their treatment in detention. Police in Manchester, England, discovered al Qaeda’s how-to guide in 2000. Chapter 18 tells terrorists how to behave if caught. “Insist on proving that torture was inflicted,” it says. “Complain of mistreatment while in prison.” Thus, these tales of “abuse” may be exactly that: Tales.

One massive contradiction ticks like a time bomb within Senator McCain’s proposal. Torture doesn’t work, he insists, because severe discomfort causes subjects to scream untruths to stop the pain. But, if a captured terrorist can point to a suitcase nuke that soon will explode, McCain explained in the November 21 Newsweek, “In such an urgent and rare instance, an interrogator might well try extreme measures to extract information that could save lives.” So, then, those ineffective techniques do work when we really need them?

Senator McCain is a decent and impressive public servant whose suffering at the hands of the Viet Cong cannot be dismissed. But his amendment would shackle the Americans who already struggle to stay one step ahead of people dedicated to slaughtering our countrymen by the thousands–as they did just over four years ago at home and continue to do nearly every day in Iraq.

Obsessing over dainty legalities could carry a steep price tag. One day, because we treated al Qaeda murderers as if they were Prussian officers, America might fail to squeeze one of these wretched killers for the clue that could have led the FBI to an atomic device hidden in Times Square. As the Shubert Theater glows in the dark, the McCain Amendment will appear to have missed the point.

Deroy Murdock is a New York-based syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.

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