“Terrorists are cowards. Torturers are, too.”

Former Gitmo prosecutor Morris Davis makes, in really powerful fashion, a point I’ve been contemplating: how does Hillary Clinton get off criticizing the torture of Syrian teenager Hamza Ali al-Khateeb or Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad when we have done nothing to hold those who tortured Mohammed al-Qahtani accountable? (h/t Michelle Shephard)

In the fall of 2005, when I was chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, I sat down for a lengthy discussion with a veteran member of the prosecution team, a Marine Corps officer with an extensive background in criminal prosecution. We discussed a case that caused him concern, one he said he was not comfortable prosecuting. After describing some of the specifics of the detainee’s treatment at Guantanamo, which was documented in official records, the prosecutor said: “Sir, they fucked with him and they fucked with him until now he’s as crazy as a shit-house rat.” In an interview with Bob Woodward published in the Washington Post in January 2009, Susan Crawford, the Bush administration official who supervised the military commissions, explained why she refused to send the same case to trial when it reached her desk in the spring of 2008. “We tortured Qahtani,” she said, “His treatment met the legal definition of torture.”

The alleged torture of Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, Syed Saleem Shahzad, and Mohammed al Qahtani by government agents that signed the Convention Against Torture begs the question, is a law that is ignored worth the paper it is written on?

If we want to criticize others for their crimes, Davis argues, then we need to practice what we preach.

Who decides which obligations are truly obligatory and which means go too far to ever justify the ends? Chemical weapons may have been a fast and convenient way to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda in the rugged Tora Bora region in late 2001 and may have killed Bin Laden a decade earlier, but is effectiveness, or that it might work, or that others do it justification to violate the Chemical Weapons Convention prohibitions and commit a war crime? If the standard is the United States decides ad hoc which commitments it will honor and which it will not then it should be honest and repudiate those it considers non-binding and the sense to stop the hypocritical criticism of others that fail to live up to its “do as we say, not as we do” example. On the other hand, if the United States means what it says about the rule of law, it has to demonstrate that it practices what it purports to preach.

And he ends by calling on decent people to reclaim our national moral compass.

Do decent human beings have the temerity to stand up and insist the law be enforced? Does the United States have the integrity to lead by example, or has the government engaging in torture become as accepted as government official lying when the truth is inconvenient? We need to find our moral compass.

Go read it.

  1. MaryCh says:

    In the wee ray of sunshine department:

    On Amy Goodman this morning Seymour Hersh said that he was impressed with willingness of the senior Defense Intelligence Agency folks he’s talked with recently to resist politicization of their work, a la Cheney’s leaning on the CIA.

    It was a minor point in a discussion of Iran’s nuclear program, but I’ll take my good news on that front where I can find it.

  2. harpie says:

    From the Davis/Dershowitz interview Davis to links at his article:

    Dershowitz [3:12]: I am not in favor of [torture], but I understand why many Americans would be in favor of it. What I’m not in favor of completely is denying the reality that these work; that when we apply The Constitution we give up efficiency and effectiveness. What the Col. is suggesting is there’s a free lunch. You can comply completely with the highest standards of all of these rules and you have no loss of efficiency. That is simply a false statement.


    • BoxTurtle says:

      May his bones bleach in the sun.

      Boxturtle (We must destroy the constitution in order to save it)

      • harpie says:

        and PJEvans @7,


        Dershowitz must have missed the 2011 Day of Remembrance at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum where [according to Davis’ article] Justice Stephen Breyer said:

        “we need only look around today’s world to understand that rights, rules, the obligations that the law sets forth; all of them are no more powerful than the human will to enforce them.”

  3. harpie says:

    It looks like we won’t “find our moral compass” any time soon [saw this @Jeff Kaye’s Blog]:

    As Poland’s Legacy of CIA Torture Erupts, Europe’s Human Rights Court Must Act; Amrit Singh; Open Society Foundations; 5/31/11

    1] Obama visits Poland.

    2] Prosecutor heading black site investigation is removed from his job.

    3] …and:

    […] On Tuesday, the Polish media additionally reported that Jozef Pinior, a Polish member of the European Parliament, has confirmed the existence of a document signed by [former PM Leszek ] Miller regulating the functioning of the secret CIA prison at Stare Kiejkuty. The document, according to Pinior, included establishing what should be done “if a dead body of one of the persons held there should appear.”

    […”should appear!?”…]

    4] That’s where Abd-al Rahim al-Nahsiri was tortured, and now he’s facing a MC and the death penalty.

  4. tremoluxman says:

    Yeah, but what about the ‘ticking time-bomb scenario’? If your third cousin was being held by Tasmanian Freedom Fighters with a bomb strapped to his chest, wouldn’t you slap the shit out of the nearest Tasmanian to find out how to disarm it? They’re all in it together, dontcha know. That’ll show ’em how much we love the Constitution if we’re willing to butt-fuck it to get the truth.

  5. Jeff Kaye says:

    Bravo, Morris Davis (and EW for further reporting that story).

    The State Dept (along with DoJ/FBI) is itself implicated in torture and rendition. And fairly recently, too, in Uganda. Full story to come…

  6. bluedot12 says:

    This just might be Obamas greatest failing and one that is remembered long beyond him, no action at all.

  7. tjbs says:

    Torture/ Murder/ Treason

    Time’s up for the live feed, psycho-sexual torture w/ condi/dick/george doing the circle thing.

    F-ing Pigs

  8. OldFatGuy says:

    “Terrorists are cowards. Torturers are, too.”


    But in fairness, the American people are cowards too for not being out in the streets demanding this cowardly and illegal behaviour being committed in our name STOP.

    Plenty of blame to go around.

    Next year is a Presidential election year. We know that Obama tortures and beleives he can assassinate American citizens. We don’t know, but it’s probably fair to guess, that whatever Republican nominee runs against Obama agrees with those things. So anyone that votes for EITHER of them is just as accountable, and just as cowardly, as the torturers.

  9. workingclass says:

    Anyone who is resisting American aggression is not a coward. The Empire is as cruel as it is powerful.

  10. DaveMoore says:

    Moe Davis is a total hypocrite. While employed at the Library of Congress, I also ran the LCPA Veterans Forum on my own time and at me own expense. After bringing in 50 different speakers like Jim Webb, WWII pilots as well as Peg Mullen and family of KIA, I arranged for Lynndie England as well as her prosecutor (at different dates). Out of nowhere, Davis emailed to say HE viewed her as “inappropriate” and that I needed to cancel. Telling him both sides were going to be heard and that he should tell England to her face what he thought of her got nowhere. I also reminded him I was a combat Vietnam veteran and paratrooper, whereas he served 25 years without getting his hair mussed. (Since he complained about not getting a medal I offered to give him one of my Bronze Stars.) I also turned his threatening emails over to the Capitol Police. Davis then posted on right wing websites, calling me a “veterans without honor” and never pointing out both sides were being presented–a first. The Library cancelled the event over threats of violence instigated by Davis. Since I know Davis for the liar and coward (e.g. volunteer for infantry like I did) he really is, for him to preach about “setting examples” is truly rich. When Khomeini issued a fatwa and called for violence against Salman Rushdie, Americans were rightly horrified. Before people extoll the virtues of Davis and his “brave stance,” they need to take a closer look at this guy.

    • Morris Davis says:

      Here is the link to a piece I wrote that was published in Small Wars Journal that Mr. Moore characterizes as threatening and posted on a right wing website. Here is some later coverage of the whole episode in Small Wars Journal and the Washington Times and the Seattle Times. Readers can decide for themselves how they want to characterize it. The only threat I ever made was not to attend the Lynndie England event. I do not know if others made more serious threats. I did not encourage anyone to do so and if they did they should be held accountable.

      The point I wanted to make … and that later spun out of control … is that a dishonorably discharged soldier who is famous for being the most infamous torturer in U.S. history should not be honored with a speaking engagement at the Library of Congress. Feel free to take a closer look at me as Mr. Moore suggests and I believe you will find that my opposition to torture has been consistent and leveled at everyone from Lynndie England to Dick Cheney to Barack Obama to Bashar al-Assad.

      • DaveMoore says:

        Moe: You still can’t help lying about this. Nobody was being “honored” as you state. Does “60 minutes” honor people they invite? In fact, you were quite aware that her prosecutor was scheduled to speak three months later. You also falsely state she never apologized, when the court-martial records show otherwise. I actually would have appreciated you questioning her at the event, but you preferred to act out and make false claims–even slandering me as a “veteran without honor.” I notice you had nothing to say about that little statement of yours in your reply. As a Vietnam Veteran, I am quite used to people like you, who never put your life on the line in an unpopular war, insulting me for no reason. I actually find you a rather sad and pathetic individual, who can only feel good about yourself by putting disabled vets like me down. For the record, I think Lynndie was a bad soldier, but her behavior should have opened the door to a more frank discussion of why she was in the military. Had we seen her and questioned her, and had we then had the opportunity to ask these questions to her prosecutor, my Veterans Forum would have gone a long way to start that discussion. You just aren’t big enough to admit you made a mistake and certainly aren’t man enough to apologize. You also fail to acknowledge that the Bill of Rights is not multiple choice. Had you supported Lynndie’s right to speak but openly disagreed with her excuses, I would have supported you. Speaking about your behavior with the Veterans Forum, you can’t start a fight and then claim innocence when somebody gets hurt. After I left the Library, nobody–including you–organized cards and gifts to wounded soldiers every Christmas. I am such a dishonorable soldier, right?

        • Morris Davis says:


          As I said when we had this debate 2 years ago and as I will say again now, I believe Ms. England served her sentence and is entitled to get on with her life, and she has the right to say whatever she wants to say. What I thought was wrong was giving a dishonorably discharged former soldier who earned fame through torture the Library of Congress as a venue to promote her biography. As you know, the proposed LOC event was one stop on what was supposed to be a national book promotion tour intended to improve her image, or that was how it was reported in the news media. I believe there is a difference in promoting a book through an appearance at Barnes and Noble and an appearance at the Library of Congress, and I believe it is an honor to be invited to speak at the LOC, one that 99 percent of Americans and 99 percent of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who served honorably and did not engage in torture do not get. The answer for how you get to Carnegie Hall is you practice. The answer for how you get to speak at the Library of Congress should not be you torture.

  11. transparait says:

    Yes, hilarity and torture don’t really look right together, luck of the draw I guess. Looked at this guys story. No wonder the guy’s nuts, the people who tortured him look nuts too.

    “1115: Detainee taken to bathroom and walked 10 minutes. Offered water – refused. Interrogators began telling detainee how ungrateful and grumpy he was. In order to escalate the detainee’s emotions, a mask was made from an MRE box with a smiley face on it and placed on the detainee’s head for a few moments. A latex glove was inflated and labeled the “sissy slap” glove. This glove was touched to the detainee’s face periodically after explaining the terminology to him. The mask was placed back on the detainee’s head. While wearing the mask, the team began dance instruction with the detainee. The detainee became agitated and began shouting. The mask was removed and detainee was allowed to sit. Detainee shouted and addressed lead as “the oldest Christian here” and wanted to know why lead allowed the detainee to be treated this way.

    1300: Detainee taken to bathroom and walked 10 minutes.

    1320: Detainee offered food and water – refused. Detainee was unresponsive for remainder of session. Afghanistan / Taliban themes run for remainder of session.

    1430: Detainee taken to bathroom and walked 10 minutes.

    1500: Detainee offered water – refused.

    1510: Corpsman changed bandages on ankles, checked vitals – O.K.

    1530: Detainee taken to bathroom and walked 10 minutes.

    1600: Corpsman checks vitals and starts IV. Detainee given three bags of IV.

    1745: Detainee taken to bathroom and walked 10 minutes.

    1800: Detainee was unresponsive.

    1833: Detainee was allowed to sleep.

    1925: The detainee was awakened by interrogation team. He was offered food and water but he refused.

    1945: The interrogation team and detainee watched the video “Operation Enduring Freedom”.

    2120: Detainee was sent to the latrine. Offered water but he refused.

    2200: Detainee exercised for good health and circulation. Medical representative took detainee’s vital signs and removed the IV housing unit from the detainee’s arm. The detainee’s pulse rate was low (38) and his blood pressure was high (144/90). Detainee complained of having a boil on his left leg, just below his knee. The medical representative looked at the his leg and phoned the doctor. The doctor instructed the corpsman to recheck the detainee’s vitals in one hour.

    2300: Detainee refused water and food. He was taken to the latrine and exercised in order to assist in improving the detainee’s vital signs.

    2345: The medical representative rechecked the detainee’s vital signs. The detainee’s blood pressure had improved but it was still high (138/80) and his pulse rate had improved but it remained low (42). The corpsman called the doctor to provide an update and the doctor said operations could continue since there had been no significant change. It was noted that historically the detainee’s pulse sometimes drops into the 40’s in the evenings.”


  12. jasmine311 says:

    It’s been widely perceived that soldiers like England were following explicit orders from their superiors, an important point of view that’s been suppressed in the mainstream media. So I think she may have had a message that needed to be heard, regardless of her actions.

    • rugger9 says:

      Following orders isn’t a defense under the Conventions. We also didn’t buy it in any of the other prosecutions over the years of our enemies, so England isn’t absolved at all here.

      However, it appears the goat locker [Army version] was seriously deficient in knowing what their troops were up to, and I find it extremely hard to believe that the top sergeant, the command master sergeant, the platoon, company, brigade, battalion, and division officers [generals too], were all so unaware of the activity that they couldn’t be prosecuted. Unfortunately for these individuals, one of the principles of command is that you must be aware of your troops’ activities at all times because YOU are responsible for their conduct. That has been driven home in several USN court martials (like the HMAS Melbourne), and I’m sure the Army has as well.

      The senior staff has escaped accountability, which means that the actions which endanger future US prisoners were condoned for a perceived short-term gain [and nothing useful was found from these sessions anyway, that we already know.

      If we don’t prosecute, we own it, and when we see Allen West [who was forced to retire due to detainee abuse and torture, staining his commission and everyone else’s] being lionized as he is, in Congress instead of Ft Leavenworth making little rocks out of big ones, it tells the world what our standards are. We will pay dearly for that in the future.

  13. EternalVigilance says:

    “If we want to criticize others for their crimes, Davis argues, then we need to practice what we preach get ourselves elected.”