Alibi V.14 No.4 • Jan 27-Feb 2, 2005 

Book Review

Pointless Torture

Guantánamo: The War on Human Rights

David Rose
New Press
hardcover
$21.95

Last March the U.S. government released five British men from Guantánamo Bay after holding them for nearly three years. In August the men filed a complaint that described a period of captivity eerily similar to that of the Iraqis in Abu Ghraib. They were punched, slapped, denied sleep, sexually humiliated, hooded and forced to watch copies of the Koran being flushed down toilets. Eventually the pressure proved too much—they gave false confessions that the British intelligence service, MI5, later showed to be untrue. Upon their return to the United Kingdom they were released by Scotland Yard without being charged.

The similarity of interrogation "methods" in Iraq and Cuba is not an accident, as David Rose reminds readers in his essential new book Guantánamo. After all, they were the brainchild of the same man: Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who arrived in Iraq in August 2003 to show American forces how to extract intelligence from prisoners. President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld lobbied for fewer restrictions on interrogation, and they got them, Rose points out, but still haven't ended up with good intelligence. The reason? So much of the information they get is a result of coercion. "It is incredible what people say under the compulsion of torture," wrote Jesuit academic Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld. As Rose relates: "[Miller] had met an inquisitor who boasted that he could wring a confession to devil-worship out of the pope himself."

Drawing on dozens of interviews with guards, prisoners and highly placed intelligence officials at Guantánamo—which, incidentally, was built by the construction arm of Dick Cheney's former company, Halliburton—Rose argues that the legal black hole into which America brought enemy combatants has actually increased the likelihood of terrorism. Why? Because the spectacle of Americans trampling on the rights of humiliated Arabs has given al Qaeda yet another powerful recruiting tool. In fact, it's so potent a symbol that many of the hostages decapitated on video in Iraq are made to wear orange jumpsuits—just like the prisoners at Guantánamo.