Published June 29, 2005
Since we have been in Manila, fourteen Filipinos have died at the hands of Abu Sayyaf Islamic terrorists. The murders hardly made the news in the United States. In that same time frame, five American soldiers and more than two dozen civilians were killed by terrorists in Iraq. In much of our media the Iraqi butchery was offered as further proof that bringing democracy to Baghdad is a futile endeavor. Absent from U.S. reporting about the atrocities in Iraq and the Philippines is the fact that the architects of the attacks cared neither about how many non-combatants were killed nor whether the perpetrators themselves survived. Yet, according to “experts” interviewed by Time magazine, the techniques used by the U.S. military to interrogate terrorists detained at Guantanamo are an “outrage on personal dignity.”
The real outrage isn’t the affront to the “dignity” of suicide terrorists being interrogated and kept alive against their will by our military at Guantanamo; the greater offense is our mainstream media’s lack of context for what transpires there – and the apparent disregard for the consequences of such revelations during a time of war.
The right of the American media to publish classified military information – such as that in Time magazine’s “exclusive” account from Guantanamo – is well established. During World War II, the Chicago Tribune divulged that the Battle of Midway had been won thanks to the code-breakers at Station Hypo in Hawaii. Though Americans fighting for their lives in the Pacific theater died because the Japanese immediately changed their JN-25 naval code, no one was ever prosecuted for revealing the secret.
Nor will anyone at Time magazine be arrested for publishing classified data on U.S. military interrogation techniques at Guantanamo. But there should be no doubt that the material detailed in the periodical is now being incorporated in the next editions of training manuals used to indoctrinate members of the Taliban, al Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf, Hizbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, et al. That begs a broader question that about the whole controversy surrounding the Guantanamo detention facility: Does our so-called mainstream media have a “death wish?”
Much of the information contained in this week’s Time magazine was apparently extrapolated from a classified “interrogation log” prepared by those observing and questioning “Detainee 063” – Mohammed al-Kahtani – a Saudi member of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda organization. Though the authors of the report quote an unnamed Pentagon source saying that the illegally-disclosed document was “never meant to leave Gitmo,” they don’t say why – or clarify the rationale for its “secret” classification. The reason for these omissions is simple: the publication reveals interrogation techniques that our enemies will now use against us, making it more difficult to extract valuable intelligence from terrorists in the future. In substance and consequence, this week’s Time magazine is little different from the 1942 “code-breakers” report in the Chicago Tribune.
Though the right of news organizations to “break” this kind of “news” is well protected by our Constitution’s First Amendment, the motive for doing so is suspect. A careful reading of this week’s story – now repeated in numerous outlets – reveals that “Detainee 063” is subjected to treatment that is barely harsher than a military boot camp: standing for prolonged periods, isolation, removal of clothing, forced shaving of facial hair, playing on “individual phobias” (such as barking dogs), “mild, non-injurious physical contact such as grabbing, poking in the chest with the finger and light pushing.” His interrogation cell has pictures of 9/11 victims, American flags and red lights. He has to stand for the playing of the U.S. National Anthem. He is subjected to “Invasion of Space by a Female.” And when he refuses to drink the water he is routinely offered and becomes severely dehydrated, his handlers take him to a hospital facility where medical personnel administer fluids intravenously. Time magazine describes all of this as a “glimpse into the darker reaches of intelligence gathering.”
Darker reaches? The “log” was classified so that our well-trained and very dedicated adversaries wouldn’t know how to beat the interrogation “system” when captured. Time claims that their story reveals how U.S. military personnel “specialize in extracting information by almost any means.” But the truth is, the means used are remarkably humane. In response to the furor created by the al-Kahtani story, Rep. Duncan Hunter observed: “The guy…is going to dine tomorrow on lemon fish with two types of vegetables, two types of fruit, and then he will be afforded his taxpayer-funded Koran, taxpayer-funded prayer beads and oil so he can pray, presumably to kill more Americans.”
Though the editors are unlikely to acknowledge it, Time magazine’s much ballyhooed story has far less to do with human rights than it does with domestic politics. The authors even admit that “the case of Detainee 063 is sure to add fire to the debate about the use of American power in the age of terrorism.” Fire indeed. One should be careful what one wishes for.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist and the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance. He also hosts "War Stories" on FNC, which airs Sunday's at 8pm ET.