Commentary: Torture did more harm

This editorial appeared in The Anchorage Daily News.

As President Bush heads out the door, two key U.S. officials are admitting what no amount of lawyerly hairsplitting by the Bush administration could disguise: In the fight against terrorism, our country has resorted to torture. Attorney general nominee Eric Holder was asked at his Senate confirmation hearing if waterboarding is torture. Unlike President Bush's attorneys general, he did not duck the question or equivocate. He stated the obvious: Yes, waterboarding is torture.

There is no other way to describe it. Interrogators restrain a victim and pour water down the mouth or nose, so he can't breathe. Often called "simulated" drowning, there is nothing simulated about the physical and mental agony it inflicts.

Waterboarding uses water to suffocate a person. Just because the suffocation stops short of death doesn't make it acceptable behavior by a supposedly civilized nation.

The Bush administration has admitted to the use of waterboarding on at least three "high value" suspects.

The other admission of torture comes from the country's top military justice official at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. Appointed by the Bush administration in 2007, Susan Crawford told the Washington Post she decided not to bring Mohammed al-Qahtani up for trial by military tribunal because he had been "tortured."

"His treatment met the legal definition of torture," Crawford said. "And that's why I did not refer the case."

Al-Qahtani suffered five months of isolation from anyone but his interrogators. He was subject to marathon questioning – on 48 of 54 consecutive days, 18 to 20 hours a day. He had to stand naked in front of a female interrogator. He was threatened with an attack by a dog. He was forced to wear a bra and put a thong on his head. Twice he had to be hospitalized when his heartbeat dropped to dangerously low levels.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Anchorage Daily News.

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