The bellicosity was missing, but the spirit of Col. Nathan Jessup was alive and well at last week’s Senate Armed Services Committee’ hearing. The purpose of the hearing was to determine the origin of policies which legitimized the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Torture at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba? Yeah, Jessup was definitely there. The hearing was spurred by revelations of previously classified documents which confirmed that the torture of those imprisoned by the military was not the spontaneous act of a few demented junior enlistees. The paper trail led all the way back to the White House, and the resulting program of abuse and torture led retired General Antonio Taguba, who investigated similar abuses at Abu Ghraib to conclude that the Bush Administration had engaged in "a systematic regime of torture."
During eight hours of questioning, various defense department personnel subjected the Committee to their own form of torture. Speaking in acronyms, half truths and passing-the-buck replies, the DOD witnesses spun in circles those seeking to get to the bottom — or should we say the top — of the torture scandal. "I’m sorry Senator you would have to ask BEEBOP Command within Central One at SIXPACK REDRIVE." Huh? Oh yeah, let’s not forget this timeless gem: I’m sorry Senator, I am trying very hard to answer your question, but that was six years ago and I really have no recollection of that." In listening to the Senators’ incredulous follow-ups you had the clear impression that they had no idea what the heck these witnesses were talking about. It was the DOD’s version of the hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil monkeys.
Predictably, lawyers from the Department of Defense expressed indignation at the Senators’ suggestions that they may have crossed any lines. In Jessup-like fashion they deviated from direct questions in part to avoid answering them and in part to provide long lectures about terrorism, terrorists and the need to defend the country through the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques." The implication was clear. The determination of how badly detainees can be abused is a matter of national security and only the military — not some namby-pamby Senators or U.S citizens — are smart enough to make that decision.
Taguba has concluded that "There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account." "Taguba! You make me puke! You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!" No, and frankly, neither can the rest of us.
June 23, 2008