The Washington Post's Support For Torture

by Andrew

In the latest release from those in the Bush administration and CIA who authorized and supported America's torture of prisoners of war, we get the following story today in the Washington Post. It details that Khaled Sheikh Mohammed gave up a wealth of information in the period after he was tortured by Cheney and Bush via the CIA. It does not and cannot prove that his information could not have been procured by legal or ethical interrogation methods. But what is interesting to me is the Washington Post's editorial and institutional position in favor of not calling waterboarding and sleep deprivation what they have always been called in every court of law and every society including the US in recent times: torture. They refuse to use the word "torture" for an act that is memorialized in Cambodia's museum of torture. That's how deeply the Washington Post is enmeshed in the pro-torture forces in Washington. The refusal to use this word is a clear, political act by the Post in defense of the Bush administration's torture and abuse policies. It places the Washington Post as an adjunct to the Bush-Cheney policy of torturing thousands of prisoners across every theater of war and across the globe.

For example, here's a classic couple of sentences where you have to strain to avoid the t-word:

Over a few weeks, he was subjected to an escalating series of coercive methods, culminating in 7 1/2 days of sleep deprivation, while diapered and shackled, and 183 instances of waterboarding. After the month-long torment, he was never waterboarded again.

"Coercive methods". "Torment". Notice something missing? Now read the piece stripped of its Orwellian newspeak:

Over a few weeks, he was subjected to an escalating series of brutal torture sessions - he was shackled naked to maintain a stress position for a month, the shackles cutting into his wrists and forcing his feet to swell painfully, culminating in 7 1/2 days of sleep deprivation, subjected to days and nights of loud noise and bright lights, while diapered and shackled, and 183 instances of waterboarding. After the month-long torture, he was not waterboarded again.

Now just imagine that we heard news that the soldier still captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan - mysteriously absent from the media since he went AWOL - had been subjected to these techniques. Do you believe that the Washington Post would not use the word "torture" to describe them? Of course they would. They have described John McCain's experience in Vietnam as torture, and yet what he endured was nothing like as brutal as what was done to KSM. Now check out the macho swaggering of Reuel Marc Berecht in the WSJ today, and Cheney's grandstanding on Fox tomorrow, and you see what the hard right, which now includes the Washington Post (having purged their only opinion columnist prepared to speak truth to torture power, Dan Froomkin), is doing.

And look at the cloak of anonymity given to "one former U.S. official with detailed knowledge of how the interrogations were carried out." This Bushie is the main force in the piece arguing - by inference, not provable data - that torture worked. Why is he given anonymity, especially since he is describing war crimes he and others conspired to commit? The WaPo explains: "he requested anonymity because the events are still classified." What? He is analyzing a document that has been declassified. There is absolutely no reason for the Post to give him anonymity, except to promote the neoconservative project of torture as the core means for the war against terrorism.

The fight for America to remain a torturing nation is resilient. It's what the neocons believe in: the torture of terror suspects, especially Arab or Muslim ones, even if there is no imminent threat of a WMD (and the interrogations found that al Qaeda was nowhere near a nuclear capacity). The Post omits but for one quote the fact that many regarded many of his claims after being tortured as being false. Here's how the WaPo deals with this dynamic: "Not all of it was accurate, but it was quite extensive." They omit KSM's statement to the International Red Cross that he gave large amounts of disinformation as well. And look at what the report said it discovered through torture:

Mohammed told interrogators that after the Sept. 11 attacks, his "overriding priority" was to strike the United States, but that he "realized that a follow-on attack would be difficult because of security measures." Most of the plots, as a result, were "opportunistic and limited," according to the summary.

So the US became a torturing nation to avoid plots that were "opportunistic and limited." Remember how the chief intellectual architect of the torture apparatus, Charles Krauthammer, defended torture solely in the case of ticking time bomb? There were no ticking time bombs, but the US used torture anyway. The lone hypothetical became instantly a rationale for torturing and abusing anyone for any reason suspected of being a terrorist. The rare exception became an ongoing government program of torture, absent any imminent threat of the scale that Krauthammer used to defend an elite cadre of professional torturers.

The fight must go on, as it must against the forces resisting every other kind of change in Washington, change that the American people insisted upon last fall. And the more vulnerable many neocons sense Obama is in the polls, the more furiously they will go about playing the Dolchstoss card, accusing the president of allying with terrorists to kill the American people. After the next attack, they will not blame al Qaeda, they will blame Obama. And they will do all they can to restore torture as the pre-eminent form of interrogation for the leader of the free world. This is the threat we face. Electing Obama was just the start of restoring the US as a nation governed by the rule and core moral decency. We are learning that more acutely with every day that passes.