Tuesday, November 30, 2004
A lot of noise, very little substance: Today's New York Times has a much-touted article (it was teased earlier in the day on Drudge) on prisoner "abuse" at Guantanamo.
Let me start out by pointing out what the Times fails to note. All of the individuals incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay were captured on the battlefield bearing arms against the United States. They are members of either the Taliban -- a brutal, fundamentalist Islamic regime that tourtured, murdered and oppressed the people of Afghanistan -- or they are members of the al Qaeda terrorist organization, that has declared war on the United States.
The Times article begins with the direct quote from a "confidential" Red Cross that says government interrogators have used techniques "tantamount to torture." That phrase being burdensome to the narrative, it is the last time the Times will use the qualifiers "tantamount to."
The team of humanitarian workers, which included experienced medical personnel, also asserted that some doctors and other medical workers at Guantánamo were participating in planning for interrogations, in what the report called "a flagrant violation of medical ethics."
There are two ways to take this revelation: one makes sense; and the other is the way the Times and its "source" choose to take it.
The implication from the alleged Red Cross report (I'm a little wary of this kind of reporting without seeing exactly what the Times has -- make a PDF of it and put it online) is that doctors and/or nurses and/or medics are instructing interrogators how to cause pain and discomfort in an effort to get information from the captured terrorists. Does anyone actually believe that interrogators need input from doctors on how to cause pain? They can read books or just make a call to the Mossad.
More likely (and common sensical) is that the medical professionals are putting limits on the interrogators. The Times article points out that many of the detainees had pre-existing medical conditions -- such consultations could be for the detainees' benefit.
Doctors and medical personnel conveyed information about prisoners' mental health and vulnerabilities to interrogators, the report said, sometimes directly, but usually through a group called the Behavioral Science Consultation Team, or B.S.C.T. The team, known informally as Biscuit, is composed of psychologists and psychological workers who advise the interrogators, the report said.
The horror! We have shrinks telling interrogators how to hurt terrorists feelings and make them feel sad. We've got al Qaeda terrorists in Iraq kidnapping, murdering and beheading innocents, and the A1 New York Times front page complaint is that we're making terrorists feel a little depressed and failing to provide them with Prozac. Of course, electric shocks have been shown to be useful in treating depression, but we'd probably get in even more trouble if we started on that.
It was the first time that the Red Cross, which has been conducting visits to Guantánamo since January 2002, asserted in such strong terms that the treatment of detainees, both physical and psychological, amounted to torture. The report said that another confidential report in January 2003, which has never been disclosed, raised questions of whether "psychological torture" was taking place.
First it's torture, and then it's "raised questions of whether" prisoners feelings are being hurt. It doesn't sound particularly concrete.
The Red Cross said publicly 13 months ago that the system of keeping detainees indefinitely without allowing them to know their fates was unacceptable and would lead to mental health problems.
Yep, definitely not enough Prozac. How 'bout this: if we find out you're not part of al Qaeda, we'll let you go. If you turn out to be part of al Qaeda we make sure you die of lead poisoning.
The report of the June visit said investigators had found a system devised to break the will of the prisoners at Guantánamo, who now number about 550, and make them wholly dependent on their interrogators through "humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions." Investigators said that the methods used were increasingly "more refined and repressive" than learned about on previous visits.
Isn't breaking their will kinda the point of interrogation? Reminder again: These guys are terrorists. Breaking their will? What a tragedy. (/sarcasm off)
"The construction of such a system, whose stated purpose is the production of intelligence, cannot be considered other than an intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment and a form of torture," the report said. It said that in addition to the exposure to loud and persistent noise and music and to prolonged cold, detainees were subjected to "some beatings." The report did not say how many of the detainees were subjected to such treatment.
When most people hear of "torture" they think of those videos we captured after going into Iraq of Saddam's henchmen throwing people off of three story buildings, chopping off hands, cutting out tongues and dumping people into shredders. What the Red Cross complains about is very nearly insane.
If any beatings did occur, that may be wrong and should be investigated. However, if it is just a case of some prisoner lunging and attacking one of our soldiers and he earns a few bruises for his trouble, then color me unsympathetic.
The report from the June visit said the Red Cross team found a far greater incidence of mental illness produced by stress than did American medical authorities, much of it caused by prolonged solitary confinement. It said the medical files of detainees were "literally open" to interrogators.
The report said the Biscuit team met regularly with the medical staff to discuss the medical situations of detainees. At other times, interrogators sometimes went directly to members of the medical staff to learn about detainees' conditions, it said.
Why is this a big issue? Once again, this makes more sense as being a proactive limit in what sort of pain/discomfort interrogators can use on terrorists rather than a roadmap for causing more pain. One doesn't need access to medical records to determine how to cause more pain.
The Pentagon also said the medical care given detainees was first-rate. Although the Red Cross criticized the lack of confidentiality, it agreed in the report that the medical care was of high quality.
That's the crux of it. The Red Cross is concerned about the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship for terrorists.
Last month, military guards, intelligence agents and others described in interviews with The Times a range of procedures that they said were highly abusive occurring over a long period, as well as rewards for prisoners who cooperated with interrogators. The people who worked at Camp Delta, the main prison facility, said that one regular procedure was making uncooperative prisoners strip to their underwear, having them sit in a chair while shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and forcing them to endure strobe lights and loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers, while the air-conditioning was turned up to maximum levels.
If this is the worst the torture is, then we're doing something wrong. Underwear, air conditioning, flashing lights and rap music? We're not even pulling out fingernails or breaking toes? I'm disappointed.
This story has been vastly overplayed. With a skeptical eye, this story would get about 6 inches on page A29. It gets the front page because it makes the Bush administration and the U.S. military look bad. This sort of "reporting" is why the American public is so distrustful of what the mainstream media reports.