Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Yes, Al Qaeda Is Still Evil

Instapundit links to this article by Don Surber, about a recently-declassified Al Queda torture manual, found at The Smoking Gun.

If you decide to click on that Smoking Gun link, well, I hope you have a strong stomach. The first few pages consist of drawings designed to illustrate various grisly torture techniques, which include drilling through hands, gouging out eyes, applying a blowtorch to the skin, and putting the victim's head in a vice. The drawings look like something done by a disturbed high school student -- the kind who ends up shooting up the school. They're almost comical, until you come to the photographs of torture devices, and the dirty little room where these sadistic thugs carried out their brutality. Worst of all are the pictures showing the scarred and burned burned flesh of surviving victims.

Don Surber is right when he points out that Amnesty International, which hasn't been exactly shy about criticizing the United States, didn't say anything about this -- and it should have. He's right that papers like the New York Times, USA Today, and the Washington Post didn't give this the coverage it deserved. He's right that something like this ought to take priority over a ginned-up story about flushing a Koran down the toilet. And yeah, Andrew Sullivan is being a bit obtuse when he says "I don't get the point" in response to this report. He even illustrates a report of al Qaeda torture with a picture of a bloody cell at Abu Gharib. As if Al Qaeda torture weren't independently worthy of reporting and condemnation absent reference to our own failings

Surber was too nice to say it, so I will: Many folks on the hate-America left have used the prisoner-mistreatment issue as a convenient club to beat the United States with. Lots of these people (not, I think, Andrew Sullivan) will hate America pretty much no matter what it does. If we put detainees up at the Ritz Carlton, some folks would say that only the Four Seasons is good enough.

But it's a club we gave to the enemies of the United States. Or, rather, a club that John Yoo, Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, and President George W. Bush gave them. No, that's not quite a fair characterization. It would be more fair to say that Yoo, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush went into the woods and identified the stoutest tree they could find. They then felled the tree, and fashioned a portion into a club, polishing it to a fine sheen with all the care and attention the Louisville Slugger company gives to its justly-famous bats. After which they gift-wrapped the club and presented it to the enemies of the United States to beat Uncle Sam about the head and shoulders.

Our leaders knew darn well -- or should have known -- that our Islamist enemies and their de facto allies in the hate-America left would take every opportunity to score propaganda points against us. So what do they do? They give our enemies valid propaganda points. Sure, the media under-reports Al Queda wickedness and over-reports ours. And sure, sometimes they're credulous about claims of American wrongdoing -- like the Koran-flushing story. But isn't that a reason to be more careful about our own conduct?

And shouldn't we hold ourselves to a higher standard? Yes, al Qaeda consists of a bunch of degenerate sadists who are twisted by religion, hate, and fanaticism. So what? Does that mean we have license to become depraved ourselves?

If nothing else, by authorizing torture -- eh, "enhanced interrogation" -- the Bush administration has undermined America's ability to condemn our enemies for their barbarity. As I pointed out when the mini hostage drama involving the British sailors captured by Iran was resolved, we had a lot less room to gripe about their relatively mild mistreatment of British sailors when our own mistreatment of at least some prisoners was worse.

President Bush should have been able to wave the Al Quada torture manual like a bloody shirt, but he couldn't -- because to do so would raise questions of waterboarding and stress positions and naked human pyramids. Sure, I'd probably choose waterboarding over being branded with a red-hot iron or one of the other al Qaeda tortures. But "America: slightly less sadistic than al Quada" isn't a motto I feel comfortable with.

Yes, the New York Times and Washington Post ought to put al Qaeda torture on the front page. Yes! A thousand times, YES. But that doesn't for one second obviate the need to stop our own government from waterboarding people, putting them naked into an ice cold cell, forcing them to stand in "stress positions" for hours on end, or engaging in other forms of torture.

And one other thing that's worth thinking about. If you accept the George W. Bush notion of War as Social Work, then presumably we are in Iraq to help them build a peaceful, stable, prosperous democratic state. I haven't done a scientific study on it, but I am pretty sure that one difference between peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic states and totalitarian hellholes is that in peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic states, security services aren't allowed to go around torturing people. Yes, it can happen, but it's not supposed to, and there is a real norm against it.

So what are we teaching the Iraqis? Remember, the Ba'ath Party took power in 1968 -- many Iraqis alive today never lived in a non-totalitarian society. Sure, we talk about liberty and due process and all that good stuff. But shouldn't we be showing them how to maintain order without using what is, after all, one of the mainstays of totalitarian states? Hasn't our acceptance of "enhanced interrogation" made it far less likely that Iraq's future government will abstain from brutality in the future?

Way to go, guys.

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