One of the eeriest aspects of the Bush administration's conduct of the war on terror has been the inversion of previously held assumptions about the meaning of the West. We fought a war to end torture; we then occupied Saddam's own torture prison and tortured people there. We fought a war to bring democracy to the Middle East and to show Arabs and Muslims how superior it is as a system; we then spawned chaos, civil war and genocide to brand democracy as a nightmare for an entire generation of Muslims and Arabs. But I recall one moment when I felt most secure about our rationale for the war: we liberated a prison full of children who had been targeted by the monster, Saddam. If ending a regime that jailed children was not right, what was?
Except now we know that the U.S. has itself detained, imprisoned and interrogated children. The young sons of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed were detained, and used as a lever in the torturing him. We don't know what was done to them, but one fellow prisoner has claimed that they were mistreated. We do know that KSM was told they were detained, a flagrant violation of international and domestic law. The CIA reassured us four years ago that it would not harm the kids (who were nine and seven when captured):
"We are handling them with kid gloves. After all, they are only little children," said one official, "but we need to know as much about their father’s recent activities as possible. We have child psychologists on hand at all times and they are given the best of care."
But, of course, we don't know what happened to them if they were released, what they said, if anything, and how their detention was used against KSM. Ron Suskind did some reporting:
At the darkest moment we threatened grievous injury to his children if he did not cooperate. His response was quite clear: "That's fine. You can do what you want to my children, and they will find a better place with Allah."
The CIA conceded:
"His sons are important to him. The promise of their release and their return to Pakistan may be the psychological lever we need to break him."
We do know that, in principle, the Bush administration is prepared to torture the children of terrorists, because the chief architect of their detention policy, AEI's resident war-criminal John Yoo, was quite explicit:
"Cassel: If the president deems that he's got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person's child, there is no law that can stop him?
Yoo: No treaty
Cassel: Also no law by Congress -- that is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo...
Yoo: I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that..."
Michael van der Galien is trying to find out what happened to them. I tend to think that even Bush's CIA would not abuse children, apart from imprisoning them for the crimes of their father. But I have learned the bad way that Bush and Cheney cannot be trusted with the humane tradition of American warfare. These children belong, like many others, in the black hole of the Bush-Cheney torture and detention regime, beyond the reach of the law, treaties or civilization. Just as Cheney likes it.