Fear Up Harsh

Last week's New Yorker highlighted the 2 year efforts of Alberto J. Mora, the Navy's former general counsel, to avoid interrogation techniques like "fear up harsh"-increasing the prisoner's fear level to such extreme that he feels compelled to confess-that violate the Geneva Conventions.

You might think, from reading certain columnists who support the current list of interrogation techniques, that the Geneva Conventions are just a nice, polite kind of hand-shake formed in the old days of gentlemanly war and are no long really applicable to the modern war on terror. One recent article in The Jurist blankly dismisses the long standing policy of the United States to embrace the Geneva Conventions, not as a set of guidelines, but as the core of international humanitarian law-a fundamental law that limits the barbarity of war.

The terrorists who struck on 9/11 had no such standards to uphold, and thus nothing to lose except their underprivileged lives, but we do.
That was the point Mora made when he went public in the New Yorker with a 22-page memo documenting his long, unsuccessful struggle to keep Bush administration officials not only within the law, but also within the our long-standing tradition of fair and humane war practice.

In 2002, Mora learned that Muhammed al- Qahtani, the suspected twentieth hijacker from 9/11, had been "subjected to a hundred and sixty days of isolation in a pen perpetually flooded with artificial light. He was interrogated on forty-eight of fifty-four days, for eighteen to twenty hours at a stretch. He had been stripped naked; straddled by taunting female guards, in an exercise called "invasion of space by a female"; forced to wear women's underwear on his head, and to put on a bra; threatened by dogs; placed on a leash; and told that his mother was a whore. By December, Qahtani had been subjected to a phony kidnapping, deprived of heat, given large quantities of intravenous liquids without access to a toilet, and deprived of sleep for three days."

He went forward with the information, trying to shape a policy within the standards of the Geneva Conventions, but after two years of work, he learned that forces in the Justice Department-among them Alberto Gonzalez, now Attorney General-had essentially outmaneuvered him, producing, in Mora's words, "an extreme and virtually unlimited theory of the extent of the president's commander in chief authority."

John Yoo, a young an influential lawyer in the administration, was the author of the presiding opinion, which gives the President essential cart blanche in its dealings with prisoners of the war on terror.

That includes torture.

Mora told the New Yorker, "If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America-even those designated as 'unlawful enemy combatants.' If you make this exception, the whole Constitution crumbles."

You can't blame the administration for wanting to keep us safe, but how far will we go in the quest for a security state? Are we willing to corrupt the whole country in order to save it? As Mora pointed out in the article, if everything is permissible and nothing is prohibited, then what good is the law?

Our alarming disregard of the Geneva Conventions after the 9/11 attacks is, to me, the worst crime we have committed against ourselves as a free and open democracy since the days of Japanese internment during WWII. In allowing ourselves to commit torture on war criminals, we have negated the very values we stand for.


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