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Heather Mac Donald
Heather Mac Donald responds to Andrew Sullivan’s “Lederman on Water-Boarding”

13 January 2005

The “relaxed strictures” from the DoD Working Group Report that you blame for Abu Ghraib, Andrew, were never implemented. All were rejected by Rumsfeld within twelve days of the report’s completion; they had no effect whatsoever on Abu Ghraib. The best thing that could have happened to the Iraq prisoners would have been a meticulous obedience to the interrogation rules and safeguards promulgated for either Guantánamo or Iraq. None of the abuse in Iraq could possibly have happened under the military’s policies. That abuse was a violation of the rules, not their consequence.

The Fay and Schlesinger reports provide no evidence for the proposition that the CIA’s very aggressive secret methods allegedly used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammad influenced either the interrogation rules at Iraq or the prisoner abuse.

What is your bottom line, Andrew? Are you arguing that terrorists should get the gold standard of Geneva Convention protections for lawful prisoners of war, even though terrorists violate every explicit rule and every norm in those conventions? If you dole out Geneva status to enemies who target civilians and hide their combatant status, what incentive is there for any combatant to comply with the rules? Do you believe that the traditional 16 psychological approaches that the Army has codified for lawful prisoners of war are the only methods that should ever be used for questioning detainees? I take it you regard any experimentation with non-torturous stress techniques, beyond the traditional 16, as dangerous or inherently evil. But how do you know that the original 16 are the only lawful or appropriate questioning methods? I, for one, do not object to keeping a terrorist up past his bedtime to question him, and I certainly don’t regard it as torture. I take it that you do, however. If you are making a slippery slope argument, that argument applies to any form of questioning in detention. I do not believe that cautiously and rationally modifying a policy must inevitably result in a swift fall to the most extreme abuse of that policy; allowing interrogators to shout at a terror detainee, while under supervision from commanding officers, will not mean that in a few months, the military will be boiling prisoners’ hands and peeling off the skin. You reject slippery slope arguments with regards to gay marriage, why not here, too?

For the record, I explicitly reject torture in my article.

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More by Heather Mac Donald:
Steven Banks, Reporting for Duty
De Blasio’s Policing Test
No Managers Need Apply
More . . .
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