The Magazine

Torturing the Evidence

From the January 24, 2005 issue: The truth about the doctors at Guantanamo.

Jan 24, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 18 • By HEATHER MAC DONALD
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Without question, some war on terror detainees have been abused, some have even died in custody. But that abuse was in violation of official policy, not pursuant to it. The goal of detainee operations has always been humane treatment; the bureaucracy that quickly evolved in Guantanamo Bay and the Pentagon to guard against abuse was mind-boggling in its complexity. That oversight mechanism broke down completely in Abu Ghraib, under the pressures of the Iraqi insurgency, to the eternal shame of the military.

But it would be a grave mistake to make Abu Ghraib the symbol for interrogation in the war on terror. This is exactly what administration critics are doing, however--and successfully. The real agenda behind the media's torture narrative, which holds that the abuse of detainees was systemic and the inevitable result of denying Geneva Convention coverage to terrorists, is to delegitimate interrogation. Bloche and Marks object to any participation of doctors in crafting interrogation plans. That objection would be understandable if torture were involved. But keeping a terror suspect up past his bedtime for questioning is not torture.

For the moment, gathering intelligence from detainees remains a legal concomitant of the war on terror. If military doctors have monitored and possibly helped craft lawful interrogation plans, they are committing no war crimes but are serving their country with honor.

Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. Her article "How to Interrogate Terrorists" appears in its latest issue.