The truth is: none of us really knows. So much of this war is kept from the people on whose behalf it is waged. Some of that is justified. Too much of it isn't. And the way in which this administration has bungled the detention and imprisonment of suspected and proven terrorists in the war could almost have been designed to erode any trust in them or the system they have constructed. The accumulated evidence certainly doesn't lead one to feel reassured. Here's a list of interrogation techniques reliably documented at U.S. detention centers in Guantanamo or Afghanistan, compiled by medical ethicist, Stephen Miles, in a forthcoming book, "Oath Betrayed." His sources are 35,000 pages of FOIAed government documents or credible witness testimony:
Beating; punching with fists; use of truncheons; kicking; slamming against walls; stretching or suspension (to tear ligaments or muscles to cause asphyxia); external electric shocks; forcing prisoners to abase and to urinate on themselves; forced masturbation; forced renunciation of religion; false confessions or accusations; applying urine and feces to prisoners; making verbal threats to a prisoner and his family; denigration of a prisoner's religion; force-feeding; induced hypothermia and exposure to extreme heat; dietary manipulation; use of sedatives; extreme sleep deprivation; mock executions; water immersion; "water-boarding"; obstruction of the prisoner's airway; chest compression; thermal burning; rape; dog bites; sexual abuse; forcing a prisoner to watch the abuse or torture of a loved one.
These practices failed in one respect for well over 100 documented human beings. They died.
The Washington Post got it right yesterday:
This political and administrative mess stems directly from Mr. Bush's decision in the weeks after Sept. 11 to take extraordinary measures against terrorism through the assertion of presidential power, rather than through legislation, court action or diplomacy. His intent was to exclude Congress, the courts and other governments from influencing or even monitoring how foreign detainees were treated. Senior officials, led by Vice President Cheney, argued that this policy would give the administration the flexibility it needed to fight the war effectively. Instead it has done the opposite: Mr. Bush's policies have deeply tarnished U.S. prestige abroad, inhibited cooperation with allies and prevented justice for al-Qaeda.
The trouble is: the architects of this policy - Cheney, Rumsfeld and Gonzales - are still in power, and unable or unwilling to reverse course and face a real accounting. And so we stagger on, with secrecy lending credibility to the worst possibilities, with abuse documented in every field of conflict, and with the international moral standing of the United States at its lowest ebb since Vietnam. There are two wars right now, it seems to me: one is against Islamist terror; and the other is to protect the constitution and the Geneva Conventions from those who would bypass them to protect us. Both wars are vital; and in some ways, as defenses of our civilization, are the same.
(Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty.)