Yes Virginia, it is torture and it is a crime

Yes Virginia, it is torture and it is a crime

Most newspapers attempt to provide balance on their opinion pages by featuring differing points of view. The supposedly liberal New York Times has the reliably conservative David Brooks and Ross Douthat as regular columnists for instance. One might therefore think that the inclusion of Jack Kelly in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was an attempt to provide a platform for someone on the right.

In reality, it seems to be more of a secret diet plan. No thinking person could read Kelly without losing their appetite if not their lunch. In his column on Dec. 21 he managed to move beyond a willful ignoring of the facts and scientific evidence as he does with climate change. In that missive he came out as a diehard advocate for cowardice, criminality and misogyny.

The topic was supposedly about torture and how, according to the article’s headline, “Democrats fret about the comfort of terrorists.” In it, Kelly blasts the Senate Intelligence Committee for its recent release of a 524-page summary of a 6000-page, still-classified examination of how the CIA handled prisoners during the so-called war on terror. Years in the making, in part because of the obstruction of those who wanted to keep it secret, and the result of reviewing 6 million documents, the report is nonetheless considered by Kelly to be a liberal plot.

That Sen. John McCain, who experienced being tortured as a POW in Vietnam, lauded release of the report somehow escaped Kelly’s notice. McCain took to the Senate floor to point out that the practices described in the report amount to torture, produced unreliable information and “actually damaged our security interests as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.”

In his defense of the treatment given the detainees, Kelly unwittingly proves that it was torture. He cites the fact that some U.S. military personnel are waterboarded, which simulates drowning, as part of their training. He asserts this shows it is not all that bad. But those soldiers are very briefly subjected to the treatment so they know what torture is like. Not because anyone expected them not to break under such conditions, but so they know the kind of torture to which they could be subjected.

What the CIA did was not comparable to a few seconds in a training exercise. One prisoner was waterboarded by the CIA to the point where he was “completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.” Another, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, was subjected to it 183 times, and it was done so much that his abdomen swelled with water. (Of course Fox News reported that it was not 183 times. They pointed out while he had water poured on his face to simulate downing 183 times, it was only in five different torture sessions, which apparently makes it acceptable to Murdoch’s minions.) In any event, the two were given this treatment 266 times.

Mohammed was tortured this way not because he knew any information that might prevent future terrorist plots, but because the Bush administration was desperate to prove a link between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein that never existed. The authorization of the use of military force that the Congress gave the president, which was used to justify invading Iraq, was not a completely blank check. It specified that the armed forces were to be used to attack those responsible for 9/11.

Kelly also cites a couple of polls to support his case while neglecting to mention that those polls also showed that by a margin of 45 to 35 percent Americans believe waterboarding is never acceptable. Not to mention another CIA practice, rectal feeding, which 73 percent of Americans disapprove of and only 11 percent find an appropriate measure to be used by the nation that places such importance on human rights.

Kelly does not stop with his defense of torture and criminality. He goes on to assert that feminists include consensual sex in their definition of rape and that President Obama was responsible for the recent hostage taking in Sydney. And he concludes by asking rhetorically why Democrats are bringing up the subject of what the Bush administration did when it will only anger our allies and give aid and comfort to our enemies.

Why indeed would anyone in a democracy want to know what crimes have been committed in their name? Or have any idea how those crimes affected America’s standing in the world, its efforts to defeat terrorists or to understand how those actions undermine national security? Clearly if anyone is interested in the truth on this subject, John McCain is the one to whom to turn. Those putting any stock in what Kelly has to say only want their bigotry blessed and their ignorant worldview validated. There are rational voices on the right that deserve to be heard. Too bad that in this case, the Post-Gazette does not have one.

Dennis Jett, a veteran diplomat and former U.S. ambassador, is a professor of international affairs at Penn State University.