Reading the remarkably reported NYT story on the unimaginable horrors endured by the Westerners captured by ISIS makes the more harrowing scenes from this season of The Walking Dead seem tame. The sadism, the brutality, the torture, the isolation, the terrible loneliness and terror: it’s all there, a stark sign of the sheer, unbridled evil unleashed in the Iraqi and Syrian civil wars. That this despicable cruelty was visited on many who had risked their lives to help people trapped in those conflicts makes the nihilism even deeper.
And, yes, these men were tortured. They were not subject to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” And it remains an unshakable and terrible truth that what was done to them mimicked in critical features what the CIA and Special Forces did to terror suspects in US custody in the Bush-Cheney era:
At one point, their jailers arrived with a collection of orange jumpsuits. In a video, they lined up the French hostages in their brightly colored uniforms, mimicking those worn by prisoners at the United States’ facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
They also began waterboarding a select few, just as C.I.A. interrogators had treated Muslim prisoners at so-called black sites during the George W. Bush administration, former hostages and witnesses said …
The person who suffered the cruelest treatment, the former hostages said, was Mr. Foley. In addition to receiving prolonged beatings, he underwent mock executions and was repeatedly waterboarded. Meant to simulate drowning, the procedure can cause the victim to pass out.
When one of the prisoners was hauled out, the others were relieved if he came back bloodied. “It was when there was no blood,” a former cellmate said, “that we knew he had suffered something even worse.”
Prolonged beatings: check. Mock executions: check. Waterboarding: check. And how many Bush apologists are now claiming that what was done to Foley and the others was not actually torture? Where are David Addington and Cliff May and Andy McCarthy now? Where is Liz Cheney? Where is Rich Lowry? The silence is, yes, eerie.
It’s worth remembering that the unofficial slogan of “Camp Nama” in Iraq (an acronym for “Nasty-Ass Military Area“), was “No Blood No Foul.” It was run by the Special Forces and visited by General McChrystal. It’s also worth recalling the entire rationale behind the Bush era torture regime: that if no blood was shed it could not really be torture, it was just “harsh interrogation.” That very “no-blood-no-foul” idea was, of course, the way in which the Gestapo managed to torture prisoners using Verschärfte Vernehmung and then argue, when hauling their victims into courts or the press, that no harm was done.
But the torture without blood was worse, as these awful testimonies remind us. And it is simply undeniable to say that the United States can no longer condemn the torture of its own citizens in captivity on impregnable moral grounds. For these foul Jihadists are now doing to us exactly what we did to some of them. And the American torturers who did it – and the men who authorized it – have never had to take any responsibility for it at all. And never will.