Saturday, March 18, 2006

IT'S BEEN ABOUT THREE WEEKS since the last new report of Americans torturing terror suspects; time for another one. This latest involved an "elite Special Operations unit" known as Task Force 6-26, which subjected Iraqi detainees to horrific torture at one of Saddam Hussein's old military bases, in a room that Hussein's regime used as -- what else? -- a torture chamber. The Special Ops soldiers called it the "Black Room."

The torture started before the Abu Ghraib story broke, and continued afterward. That, and the fact that it was Special Ops soldiers, not lowly grunts, who tortured the prisoners, completely demolishes the Bush administration's "bad apples" explanation for what happened at Abu Ghraib.

In the Black Room, prisoners were beaten with rifle butts, punched in the head and the kidneys, used as targets in paintball games. They were forced to stand naked while soldiers poured cold water over them to make them feel they were drowning. One of the detainees was the son of Saddam Hussein's bodyguard in Tikrit; he told Army investigators that he was stripped naked, kicked and punched in the spine to the point of losing consciousness, kicked in the stomach until he vomited, and forced to stand in front of an air-conditioner while cold water was poured over him. Prisoners were subjected to music played over loudspeakers at eardrum-shattering volumes. They were put in plywood shacks "that reeked of urine and excrement" and so small that prisoners couldn't stand; they were forced to crouch or squat. The American soldiers gave these accommodations breezy nicknames like "Motel 6" and "Hotel California."

All of this was done in the name of getting information that could be used to prevent terrorist attacks and save lives, but critics of Task Force 6-26 say very little, if any, usable intelligence came out of the brutal interrogations.

I don't find that terribly surprising. I never have understood the mind-set of people who think kicking and punching a man in his vital organs until he faints or pouring buckets of frigid water over his naked body in front of an air-conditioner is the way to get accurate or significant information about the time of day, much less the planning of terrorist attacks.

Andrew Sullivan has his usual strong commentary on this latest example of the Bush administration's embrace of torture. He includes a photograph of what looks like a corpse covered by a large garbage bag, under the headline, "Does This Count As 'Torture'"?

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