Straight talk on Gitmo, 'torture'

Last year many Americans decided to support a change in presidential administration at least partly because they believed that the United States government was running an abusive prison at Guantanamo Bay and torturing suspected Islamic terrorists. The case for both horror stories was shaky at best, and now we have an eminent biographer to thank for demolishing them once and for all. Arthur Herman, whose subjects have ranged from Winston Churchill and Mohandas Gandhi to the Scottish Enlightenment and Sen. Joseph McCarthy, has written "The Gitmo Myth and the Torture Canard" for Commentary, a monthly publication of the American Jewish Committee. In 13 densely packed pages Herman manages to discredit the liberal fantasy that has tried to pass itself off as a serious critique of the Bush Administration’s policies for dealing with America’s enemies.

President Barack Obama still has not closed the Guantanamo prison, partly because it has been no simple task to transfer dangerous men to other facilities and doubtless from the knowledge that no abuse ever took place there. The success of the campaign owes more than anything else to the efforts of the misnamed Center for Constitutional Rights, headed by Michael Ratner, which disseminated misinformation repeatedly.

In fact, only three persons were ever water boarded, a technique that falls short of torture, while the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point found that 73 percent of the detainees were a "demonstrated threat" to Americans.

It is well to remember, Herman writes, that "the detention facility was created in the wake of a declaration by Congress in September 2001 that ‘all necessary and appropriate force’ should be used ‘against those nations, organizations, or persons’ [emphasis added] responsible for the attacks of September ll."

No one had to read secret documents to learn that Gitmo inmates were accorded every courtesy (and then some) to accommodate their religious and cultural needs during their long confinement. They were so well fed they gained weight. Meanwhile, some tried to commit suicide while others threw human urine and excrement at prison guards.

Those supposedly torture-rationalizing memos written by John Yoo (for which service to his country congressional Democrats would like him prosecuted) were actually written to spell out limits so that the understandable zeal with which Central Intelligence Agency officers interrogated terrorists was tempered by constitutional and legal guidelines. As Herman observes, those memos were better characterized as anti torture, rather than pro torture.

In any case, the waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques were not used until after the memos were written. And when they were used they yielded high value information, particularly the plot to blow up airliners flying out of Los Angeles.

And remember the Abu Ghraib controversy? There was never any doubt that those abuses were entirely the work of the "night shift," as the Schlesinger Committee report concluded, not attributable to any high official of the Bush Administration, as was so often alleged. The least temperate critics were the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, who said that Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein’s torture chambers had reopened under American management, and Sen. Dick Durbin, who compared Abu Ghraib to Stalin’s Gulag Archipelago and Pol Pot’s death camps in Cambodia.

Unfortunately, the propaganda campaign influenced the federal courts, which ruled that detainees were entitled to due process rights, thereby second guessing the military judgment that men bearing arms on a battle field were necessarily enemies of the United States. Nearly 400 men have been released, Herman reports, at least 18 of which returned to the battlefield and 43 are listed as "suspected" of going back to the fight. In fact, one killed a judge in Afghanistan.

Now Attorney General Eric Holder is investigating whether CIA officers who interrogated suspects are guilty of violating the law, ignoring the fact that these men were (and are) at war with the very idea of the rule of law and therefore out of its protection.

We are in danger, in fact, of abandoning the war on terror, returning to the disastrous policy of the Clinton Administration, which treated terrorism as a nuisance rather than the full-fledged adversary of civilization that it is.

It is more than a little ironic that the same persons who are so solicitous of the nonexistent constitutional rights of our enemies have so little trouble making blank paper of the Constitution when it comes to governing American citizens who desire only to raise decent families and engage in honest commercial enterprise.