Torture and the Democrats

Mona Charen

12/21/2007 12:01:00 AM - Mona Charen

It didn't get a lot of attention, but in mid-December, U.S. forces in Iraq discovered an al Qaeda torture center north of Baghdad. Muqdadiya is about 60 miles north of the capital. American soldiers found a blood-spattered room where chains still hung on the gory walls. A metal bed frame was still connected to an electric shock generator. The Americans also found bloody knives and swords. Outside, the bodies of 26 people were buried in common graves.

That al Qaeda has made rape, torture and murder its calling card in Iraq is not news. Michael Yon (michaelyon-online.com), among others, has reported the atrocities committed by al Qaeda in Iraq, and even the major media have at last come to acknowledge that Sunni leaders -- disgusted by the atrocities they have witnessed -- have teamed up with the Americans to defeat al Qaeda. It was Iraqi locals who pointed the U.S. patrol to the torture house in Muqdadiya.

Last May, according to The Smoking Gun website, U.S. troops unearthed an even more grisly site, an al Qaeda torture chamber in Baghdad itself. When they entered, the soldiers found an Iraqi man suspended from the ceiling by chains. The room contained torture implements including hammers, whips, meat cleavers and wire cutters as well as a crude torture manual, displaying various methods of inflicting unbearable pain. These included using a blowtorch on the skin, gouging out eyes, using an electric drill to cut through a hand, and many more.

It's useful to be reminded of what real torture looks like when the Democrats in Washington are working themselves into a characteristic froth about the CIA and the destroyed interrogation tapes. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., declared that for "the past six years, the Bush administration has run roughshod over our ideals and the rule of law." It reminded him of nothing so much as the "18-and-a-half-minute gap on the tapes of Richard Nixon." Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., smells "obstruction of justice."

So now we will have an inquiry into whether the CIA has violated the law by destroying tapes it was under no obligation to make in the first place; concerning an interrogation technique that at the very worst (according to most reliable reports) involved making three notorious terrorists think, for a few seconds, that they were drowning.

I have severe doubts as to whether waterboarding constitutes torture. But I am certain that the unceasing attention it receives and the eagerness of many Democrats to indict the Bush administration has done more damage to America's image than anything the CIA has done. I say this for two reasons:

1) When Democrats talk of coverup and torture, we know they're referring to waterboarding, but the world doesn't know that. People in the Middle East and elsewhere naturally assume that torture is torture -- the kind that al Qaeda was grimly practicing in Muqdadiya and elsewhere. And the more dark insinuations that issue from Capitol Hill and the New York Times, etc., the more certain the rest of the world is that we are doing similar things. I was recently invited, for example, by the Oxford Union in England to debate (for the affirmative) the proposition "Resolved: This House Would Torture to Save Lives." I declined but counter-offered on David Frum's advice to debate "Resolved: This House Believes Terrorists Deserve the Full Protection of the Geneva Conventions." I await their reply.

2) The unending controversy about waterboarding has completely obscured the reality of what is going on at Guantanamo, where inmates are gaining weight on the culturally sensitive diet, having surgeries to repair old injuries, reading their Korans and praying on the U.S.-supplied prayer mats, and conferring with their lawyers while troops of journalists, politicians and human rights activists parade by.

All of this comes against the backdrop of Iraq, where at long last the violence has been contained, al Qaeda is in retreat, and refugees are returning home. If present trends continue, Iraq will not be the failure and disaster for the United States our enemies were hoping for. Could it be that the Democrats too are disappointed, and are seeking in the CIA story another way to undermine the progress?