Feature

Torture

Playing by al Qaida’s rules.

The discovery of a torture manual at an al Qaida safe house in Iraq last week was hardly a surprise, said Don Surber in the Charleston, W.Va., Daily Mail, and neither was the way the U.S. media underplayed the story. This grisly document, complete with diagrams, instructs jihadists on how to use 'œdrills, irons, vises, and other devices to mutilate their captives.' Given the recent media outrage over the U.S. military's allegedly insensitive treatment of detainees, you might logically think that such dramatic evidence of 'œtrue torture' would warrant front'“page coverage. Guess again. Neither The Washington Post nor The New York Times'”which ran 29 stories on the allegation that a guard at Guantánamo Bay flushed an inmate's Koran down the toilet'”even mentioned the torture manual. The message is clear: It's no big thing if the enemy engages in 'œeye removal, blowtorching skin, and horrors I won't go into.' But if the U.S. is even accused of abusing prisoners, it's an international outrage.

This may come as a shock, said Glenn Greenwald in Salon.com, but the U.S. has historically held itself to a slightly higher standard of behavior than mass'“murdering terrorist organizations. That's why it is big news when a nation that sees itself as a beacon of democracy engages in tactics that violate the norms of civilization. Somehow, this rather obvious distinction is entirely lost on the 'œneoconservatives and other Bush followers' who are now arguing that it's perfectly acceptable'”indeed, morally required'”to torture any suspected terrorist we believe has useful information. Their justification? It's the same one you can hear from any third'“grader caught breaking the rules: 'œAl Qaida does it, too.'

But it wasn't al Qaida that taught the Bush administration how to treat prisoners, said Scott Shane in The New York Times. It was the KGB, according to documents just unearthed by investigators for the Senate Armed Services Committee. To force confessions from political prisoners and captured spies, the KGB used sleep deprivation, stress positions, and waterboarding; in recent years, the Pentagon and CIA studied those techniques and applied them to captured al Qaida terrorists. Naturally, the KGB's Soviet masters always 'œdenied such treatment was torture, just as American officials have in recent years.' The Nazis shared that view, said Andrew Sullivan in Theatlanticonline.com. In fact, the very term 'œenhanced interrogation''”the Bush administration's euphemism of choice'”was coined in 1937 by the Gestapo, which insisted that it never tortured anyone. It just found clever new ways to make people talk. Sound familiar?

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