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Mona Charen
Mona Charen
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Torture and the Democrats


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 (, 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?

To find out more about Mona Charen and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



3 Comments | Post Comment
I occasionally write for the Logansport, Indiana Pharos Tribune, who often run your columns.
But you make a mistake that puts you in line with the likes of Hannity and Rush. You conservatives
are wrong when you claim that Democrats and Liberals want to see failure in Iraq. How can you
think that any patriot wants failure and more death in any USA endeavor? It is not believable.
It makes you look false. YOU could write an article about how liberals couldn't possibly want failure,
and you'd look more in touch.
greg hildebrandt
Comment: #1
Posted by: greg hildebrandt
Mon Dec 24, 2007 11:10 AM
Ms. Charen: I call. I see your "severe doubts" and raise those by experience.
First an American soldier's experience...
"After World War II, we convicted several Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners of war. At the trial of his captors, then-Lt. Chase J. Nielsen, one of the 1942 Army Air Forces officers who flew in the Doolittle Raid and was captured by the Japanese, testified: "I was given several types of torture. . . . I was given what they call the water cure." He was asked what he felt when the Japanese soldiers poured the water. 'Well, I felt more or less like I was drowning," he replied, "just gasping between life and death.'"
Second, mine. I nearly drowned about 15 years ago. I was snorkeling off the coast in Cancun and didn't realize that the undertow had carried me out two hundred or so yards from the shore. I panicked and fought the undertow just long enough to completly wear myself out. Swallowing sea water and imagining I would never see my loved ones again I was fortunately rescued by a hotel-employed life guard. To this day I cannot stand to be in water where my feet cannot touch bottom. I break into a panic attack when I am in almost any situation with a perceived life risk. Its embarassing, but I have no control over my reaction to even the potential for drowning. I have honestly been scarred by my experience with near-drowning.
I can only imagine the mental status of those so tortured.
I am appalled that you would refer to waterboarding with such a flippant, partisan position-serving remark. And shame on you for reverting to a tactic that my children abandoned in their teens: "They hit me first!".
The America I know doesn't condone torture and doesn't inch up to the precipice of evil behavior simply because it is afraid. I am not naive enough to believe that atrocities didn't occur in WWII and such behavior has been documented in American military encounters of my lifetime, but never -to my knowledge- has torture or anything close to torture been condoned by our government at the highest levels.
To me, your argument rings hollow and I suggest that you spend 5+ years in Gitmo "getting fat" or undergo waterboarding before you trivialize such treatment from our "shining city on a hill".
Comment: #2
Posted by: Randall Anderson
Wed Dec 26, 2007 2:48 PM
Mona: You have "severe doubts as to whether waterboarding constitutes torture." Will you retain these doubts when some foreign government does it to our citizens? If someone undergoing the procedure has a pre-existing medical condition and should die during the procedure, is that OK? Waterboarding is an ancient form of torture and it has been used for centuries because asphyxiating someone with water is effective because it is so terrifying. Why do you think the US military has always banned it? I guess your partisan loyalties to the current administration are more important than a devotion to the values and ideals that make the US constitution a beacon for freedom-loving people around the world.
Secondly, why do you have so much faith in big government? Because one department from one branch of the US government tells you that they only torture the bad people, you accept it completely on faith? Do you think the government ever makes mistakes? Do you think that the checks and balances designed into our entire system are there because of the potential for mistakes? What do you think you do to someone you are torturing when they continue to fail to provide useful information? You probably torture them some more in an attempt to break them. Imagine blacking out from lack of air as they waterboard you, but you've already told them everything you know.

Here again, you demonstrate a profound lack of insight into why we are different than our enemies. It is our adherence to checks and balances, due process and rule of law that differentiates us. We do not treat our enemies in accordance to our own rules as a form of reciprocity (since our enemies do not value them): we treat our enemies in accordance to our own rules because it is the essence of what we are. When we abandon our most civilized traits, we become like our enemies. People like you who would abandon our values due to fear and/or anger constitute a far greater threat to American ideals than any suicide bomber or terrorist ever will. Your corrosive subversion of our values and partisanship lead us away from our true beliefs. Shame on you and all the political shills like you on both the left and right wing of the debate. You make us weaker.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Scott Sheriff
Sat Dec 29, 2007 8:19 AM
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