Al-Qaida does it, too

Bush followers wonder why it is news that the U.S. uses torture, but not news that al-Qaida does.

By Glenn Greenwald
June 1, 2007 4:40PM (UTC)
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Last week, the U.S. military -- in what it called an "al-Qaeda safe house in Iraq" -- found "an assortment of crude drawings depicting torture methods like 'blowtorch to the skin' and 'eye removal.'" That prompted The Wall St. Journal's James Taranto to say this last Friday:

Blogger Don Surber of the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail examines big-media coverage of the documents:
Where did USA Today play the torture book story?

Not on Page One.

Where did the New York Times play it?

Not on Page One. . . .

Whether intentional or not, the message is clear: The United States must be above even false reports of torture, while the enemy is allowed to promote eye removal, blowtorching skin and horrors I won't go into.

We also checked the blogs of Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Greenwald, among the most hysterical accusers of America in the "torture" debate, and here is what they have had to say about the al Qaeda documents: .

"Silence is complicity, you know," notes Glenn Reynolds.

Indeed.

The thought of replying to Taranto's "point" never even occurred to me. Taranto is baffled -- and thinks he has discovered a highly revealing disparity -- because it is news that the United States tortures people, whereas it is not news that Al Qaeda tortures people. What is there even to say about that? Why take up readers' time responding to an "argument" that, completely on its own, provokes equal amounts of disgust and scornful laughter?

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But now this "Al-Qaeda-does-it-too" song has become a little cause cC(lC(bre among our brave, pro-torture, right-wing warrior class. This "idea" -- that something sinister is going on because the media reported America's torture so extensively but is giving little coverage to Al Qaeda's torture manuals -- is now spreading rapidly among Bush followers. That has led Newsbusters and Brent Bozell's Media Research Center to launch a full-fledged campaign. They are issuing statements like this:

The elite media's liberal bias is abundantly clear in this case. U.S. soldiers raided several al-Qaeda safe houses in Iraq and discovered stacks of evidence about how al-Qaeda tortures its victims. The tools, the drawings, and the photos are gruesome and clearly show what type of enemy the U.S. is facing.

Yet most of the liberal media are deliberately silent. This is the same self-righteous liberal media that ran more than 6,000 stories and countless photos of Abu Ghraib and the abuse of prisoners there by several U.S. soldiers. Where are they now? Why will they not show the American people what al-Qaeda is actually doing in Iraq right now? Whose side are they on?

A ranting like that -- notwithstanding how widespread it has become among torture advocates in the U.S. -- merits nothing more than this succinct though perfectly thorough response from John Cole from last night. But the "Al-Qaeda-does-it-too" outburst does illustrate a noteworthy point.

It is easy sometimes to lose sight of how extreme a period this is in America's history, how profoundly our national character has been degraded and how fundamentally our country's core has changed over the last six years. If you haven't already read Andrew Sullivan's superb and dispassionate analysis of the Gestapo's "VerschC$rfte Vernehmung" manual (German for "enhanced interrogation"), I encourage you to do so.

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That post has prompted all of the predictable cliches in reply -- he's being hysterical, violating Godwin's Law, comparing Bush to Hitler, etc. etc. -- but Sullivan actually does very little in that post other than matter-of-factly highlight the glaring similarities between the Gestapo guidelines regulating its use of techniques such as hypothermia and waterboarding (for which some Gestapo defendants were convicted and sentenced to death at a 1948 war crimes trial) and our own. As Sullivan documents, virtually every Yoo-ian torture defense offered today is identical to the ones advanced by those German war crime defendants in an unsuccessful attempt to defend their use of "enhanced interrogation" techniques.

Peggy Noonan's Wall St. Journal column today claims that immigration is merely the breaking point between "political conservatives" and the Bush administration. "Conservatives," she claims, have long been alienated by numerous policies of the administration which they endured for the Good of the Cause, and purports to list such policies as follows:

For almost three years, arguably longer, conservative Bush supporters have felt like sufferers of battered wife syndrome. You don't like endless gushing spending, the kind that assumes a high and unstoppable affluence will always exist, and the tax receipts will always flow in? Too bad! You don't like expanding governmental authority and power? Too bad. You think the war was wrong or is wrong? Too bad.

The idea that there were more than a tiny handful of conservatives who thought "the war was wrong" is absurd on its face, but Noonan's claim that conservatives objected to "expanding governmental authority and power" is so false that it does not belong in any newspaper, not even on The Wall St. Journal Editorial Page. What rank revisionism that is.

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To the extent that the "conservative base" has split with the President at all on the question of "expanding governmental authority and power," it has been on the ground that they think he has not expanded such power and authority enough. They crave more.

The "conservative base" in the last GOP presidential debate reserved their cheers for Mitt Romeny's moronic call to "double Guantanamo," and for Tom Tancredo's yearning for Jack Bauer. The more enthusiastically a candidate defended torture and lawless detentions, the louder the cheers were. The "conservative base" favors torture, and arbitrary detention powers, and oversight-less surveillance -- even beyond what the Bush administration has embraced.

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Just yesterday, Democratic Senators Feinstein and Whitehouse introduced a proposal before the Senate Intelligence Committee "barring spending on interrogation techniques that go beyond the Army Field Manual, which bans physical pressure or pain," except where the President certifies "that an individual has information about a specific and imminent threat." Every Republican on the Committee voted against it, and it failed when Democrat Bill Nelson joined the Republicans.

We have become a country that justifies whatever we do -- no matter how far it transgresses moral, ethical and legal limits -- by resorting to the third-grader mentality that "Al Qaeda does it, too." Here is Norman Podhoretz-disciple Joshua Muravchik at the Commentary Magazine blog last week, scoffing at a new Amnesty International report documenting American violations of human rights:

Today, it may be that some U.S. actions in the war on terror are questionable or blameworthy. But such derogations are trivial in comparison with what is at issue between us and the terrorists. No one genuinely devoted to human rights can be blind to this. Those who ignore it are using the lingo of human rights to pursue some other agenda.

Sure, we do some "questionable or blameworthy" things. But what's a little torture and lawless detention when we're trying to win the Epic, Existence-Threatening, Unprecedentedly-Dangerous War against Islamic Extremists? Besides, Terrorists do it, too, so how can we not:

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It is so, too, because the regimes that succor terrorists are themselves among the world's most repressive and because the jihadists and other radicals who carry out terrorism aim to become rulers themselves. If they succeed, they will show their subjects no more mercy than they do their victims today.

The reason that it is news that the U.S. tortures, but not news that Al Qaeda does, is because Al Qaeda is a barbaric and savage terrorist group which operates with no limits, whereas the U.S. is supposed to be something different than that. Isn't it amazing that one even needs to point that out?

But neoconservatives and other Bush followers do not recognize that distinction and do not believe in it. They see an equivalency between the U.S. and Al Qaeda -- since they do it, we are justified in doing it. And thus, based on that equivalency, they demand that the media treat stories of torture from the U.S. and Al Qaeda exactly the same, as though they are equally newsworthy.

And with that twisted equivalency bolted into place, they have dragged our country on a path where that premise is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our own interrogation methods are reverse-engineered from the most brutal and barbaric countries and groups on the planet. And the policies and practices we have adopted over the last six years embody everything which this country, for decades, vocally deplored. But all of that happened because of this "belief" -- which is really just a self-justifying rationalization -- that we not only have the right to be, but that we must be, exactly like Al Qaeda, do what they do, in order to defeat them.

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That is what leads to such indescribably inane though revealing protests: "Hey, you reported that the U.S. tortures, so why aren't you reporting that Al Qaeda does? Whose side are you on?" That is the rancid depth to which our public discourse and our national standards have descended, and those who brought it to that point have designs on dragging it far lower still.


Glenn Greenwald

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