Cry Havoc, and Let Slip the Dogs of Torture

It wasn't just the naked human pyramids or the prisoner in a black hood standing on a small box with wires attached to his body. I knew the Abu Ghraib torture prison was big trouble when I first saw the pictures with the dogs. Guard dogs snarling at cowering men. Many Arabs, including Arab Iraqis, are afraid of dogs, uncomfortable in their presence, especially in a confined space. Canines are considered unclean. I learned this lesson the hard way one spring morning in Jerusalem.

I was there on a visit and friends of mine were taking care of a neighbor's inexcusably adorable dog. Walking a dog on the Israeli side of town can be okay, but to do so along the streets of East Jerusalem, where we were, among the Palestinians of the West Bank, would be insensitive at best and asking for trouble.

As a result, the inexcusably adorable dog was kept within the confines of the small school where my friends lived. One morning I took her for a walk around campus. We turned a corner and ran into a Palestinian man I knew, who was okay with the dog, but he was talking with a guy who went ballistic at the very sight. He came at me, angrily screaming in Arabic, which I don't think translated as, "How much is that doggie in the window?" Petite pooch and I beat a hasty retreat, each with our tails between our legs.

According to journalists Michael Scherer and Mark Benjamin, writing two years ago for, "Dogs arrived at Abu Ghraib on Nov. 20, 2003, and were used to abuse detainees just a few days later, according to Army reports. The use of dogs had been recommended two months earlier by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the former commander of the U.S. prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, as part of his plan to improve interrogation in Iraq, according to a Department of Defense investigation led by former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger...

"The idea of using dogs in interrogations was not an aberration. At least two other military memos referenced exploiting many Arabs' known fear of dogs."

Since the horrors of Abu Ghraib and other such detainee sites were exposed, the military has, officially at least, cleaned up its act. Interrogation techniques are limited to 19 methods described in the Army Field Manual. Prohibited are such torture techniques as dogs, waterboarding, electric shock, the use of extreme heat or cold, withholding of food or water, sexual humiliation and mock executions.

Saturday, March 8, President Bush vetoed legislation that would have required the CIA to follow the same rules, and our nation was diminished yet again.

You may find the recent acts or words of such folks as Eliot Spitzer, Barack Obama's minister and Geraldine Ferraro shameful. Theirs are puny sins measured against the havoc this veto signifies and affirms.

"The bill Congress sent me would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror," Bush said. "... This program has produced critical intelligence that has helped us prevent a number of attacks."

There's little or no evidence to back this claim up. West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee replied, "I have heard nothing to suggest that information obtained from enhanced interrogation techniques has prevented an imminent terrorist attack. And I have heard nothing that makes me think the information obtained from these techniques could not have been obtained through traditional interrogation methods used by military and law enforcement interrogators. On the other hand, I do know that coercive interrogations can lead detainees to provide false information in order to make the interrogation stop."

The current issue of The Washington Monthly is devoted to 37 brief essays gathered under the title, "No More." Of the authors, the editors note, "Some are Republicans, others are Democrats, and still others are neither."

One of them, Jack Cloonan, formerly an FBI special agent with the bureau's Osama bin Laden team, writes, "Intelligence failures had muc to do with the atrocity of September 11, but those had nothing to do with a lack of torture. Let me be clear on one crucial point: it is the terrorists whom we won over with humane methods in the 1990s who continue to provide the most reliable intelligence we have in the fight against al-Qaeda. And it is the testimony of terrorists we tortured after 9/11 who have provided the most unreliable information, such as stories about a close connection between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein."

In his essay, former President Jimmy Carter adds, "I would not have believed that in my lifetime I would feel the need to call for an unambiguous prohibition against the practice of torture by agents of the U.S. government... Tragically, the tolerance of torture by our own government is today threatening to undermine the cause of human rights and the work of those who defend these principles in the face of growing dangers."

One more reason to count the days until this administration is loading up the moving vans. White House Press Secretary Dana Perino appeared on The Daily Show last week. "The president has said he's going to sprint to the finish," Jon Stewart remarked.

Then he asked Perino, "Can you get him to run faster?"

Let loose the hounds.

Michael Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America, East and former writer with Bill Moyers, writes this weekly column for the Messenger Post Newspapers in upstate New York.

copyright 2008 Michael Winship

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.