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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Saturday, January 29, 2005


Tipping Points and Presumptions

posted by Charles Bird at Saturday, January 29, 2005 permalink View blog reactions
For the most part, I have defended the practice of denying the detainees at Guantanamo Bay prisoner-of-war status, and I still stand by it. What I can't tolerate, however, is the mistreatment of those detainees. The stated policy is that, while these men do not merit POW classification under the Geneva Conventions, they would be treated humanely. Over the months, many allegations have come out about the treatment of detainees. Some released detainees said they were treated reasonably well. Others have made harsh claims, bordering on the outlandish. When this piece by the Mirror came out, I dismissed it. To me, it still remains implausible that "a diet of foul water and food up to 10 years out-of-date left inmates malnourished". However, one of the claims that I ridiculed in the Mirror was this:

Prisoners who had never seen an "unveiled" woman before would be forced to watch as the hookers touched their own naked bodies.

The men would return distraught. One said an American girl had smeared menstrual blood across his face in an act of humiliation.

Jamal said: "I knew of this happening about 10 times. It always seemed to be those who were very young or known to be particularly religious who would be taken away.

"I would joke with the other British lads, 'Bring them to us - we'll have them'. It made us laugh. But the Americans obviously knew we wouldn't be shocked by seeing Western women, so they didn't bother.

"It was a profoundly disturbing experience for these men. They would refuse to speak about what had happened. It would take perhaps four weeks for them to tell a friend - and we would shout it out around the whole block."

Now, however, this once outlandish claim is not so outlandish.

Female interrogators tried to break Muslim detainees at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay by sexual touching, wearing a miniskirt and thong underwear and in one case smearing a Saudi man's face with fake menstrual blood, according to an insider's written account.

The source for this story is a 29-year old Army sergeant who is a non-Muslim American. This report, in addition to earlier statements by FBI agents, tells me one thing: I've been chumped. Detainees have not been treated humanely. Those officials at Gitmo who have stated that detainees were treated humanely have either lied or were duped.

Quite frankly, this flat out ticks me off. My position on torture and mistreatment of detainees/prisoners is pretty similar to von's (also here) at Obsidian Wings: There's no reason for it, except for ticking time bomb/battlefield situations. Application of "stress techniques" is also highly troublesome, because it's too easy to take them too far. The humane treatment of detainees and prisoners is a conservative position, and conservatives should call out the Bush administration when credible charges of mistreatment occur. There are going to be more and more reports coming out on this debacle. It's time to clean house at Guantanamo. Those responsible for this mistreatment should have their asses fired. If that includes Rumsfeld, then so be it.

The AP story on female interrogators was a tipping point for me. Why? Because when FBI agents make reports such as these, it's time to take notice. When an Army sergeant with no apparent axe to grind writes of mistreatment, it's time to take notice. When I carry the presumption of the official line--that the treatment of detainees is humane--and later get chumped by it, it's time to get pissed off. Today, for me, the presumption that the American government treats detainees humanely no longer applies, it's a sad day when my government has lost that presumption. When more allegations emerge, and they will, they have to be treated seriously. Clean house now.


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Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.