GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — Abdullah M. was missing a leg when he got to Gitmo. In due course, he was fitted with a prosthetic leg and given occupational therapy to teach him how to use it. In the Orwellian inversion that dominates “world opinion” and requires us to prove we’re the good guys, he was interrogated and — after convincing our guys that he really wasn’t a terrorist fanatic — released and repatriated to Afghanistan. Now sought for involvement in the kidnapping of Chinese engineers and a bombing of the Islamabad Marriott, Abdullah is walking around on the artificial leg we evil Americans paid for.
Last Tuesday, in the company of Gen. Jay Hood, the Gitmo Joint Task Force commander, I and several other military analysts spent the day inside the terrorist detention camps and interrogation facilities, talked to a lot of intel people and soldiers, and saw about all there is to see at Gitmo.
What I saw made me proud and disgusted: proud at how our guys and gals are dealing with some of the world’s worst; disgusted at the Fonda-Durbins of the world who want the world to believe that Gitmo is Auschwitz and terrorists are some oppressed minority.
As Gen. Hood explained, the mission of the Gitmo facility is twofold. First, to interrogate and obtain useful information from the terrorists held there. Second, to keep the dangerous ones from returning to terrorism, as so many of them openly say they want to do. There are about 520 of them. Many of them are just common thugs; foot soldiers in the terrorist gangs. With only a few exceptions — notably those who reside in Gitmo’s equivalent of a psycho ward — they are cold, hard cases well trained in murder and in resisting interrogation. Mostly Afghani, Saudi, and Yemeni, they average in age at about 32, are fit, strong men who are proud to dedicate their lives to terrorism and look forward to the day they can go back to their chosen work. While observing one interrogation of a typical detainee — a Saudi man in his mid-thirties — some of the intel people who deal with him nearly every day told me how he contemptuously, and frequently, proclaims his eagerness to get back to killing Westerners.
They are divided into separate mini-camps. Those who follow camp rules, basic stuff such as “don’t throw feces on the guards,” get to wear white uniforms and live in a semi-communal environment. In the minimum-security camp, I saw groups playing soccer and volleyball. One guy was jogging around in his issue slip-on sneakers. Others, who are less cooperative, get fewer privileges. Medium security camp inmates wear tan uniforms and are kept in cells, allowed out often to exercise. Everything is done in ways calculated to respect Islam.
Inmates’ Korans — in the medium security camps, hung from the steel mesh walls in surgical masks — are accompanied, in every cell and exercise area I saw throughout Gitmo, by little black arrows painted on bunks and floors, showing the direction of Mecca. Many prayer rugs were in evidence, as were chess sets, playing cards, and — in the minimum-security camp — prescription sports glasses. In the maximum-security building, the Korans sit in the narrow windowsills. Interrogators will even interrupt interrogation sessions to allow detainees to pray. One interrogation I observed passed through the 4:30 p.m. call to prayer. The detainee, engaged in conversation with his interrogator, ignored the call and kept talking. To these faux-religious thugs, Islam is apparently less important than a cold Diet Coke.
The common belief among the terrorists, fed by reports apparently conveyed to some by their lawyers, is that political pressure will soon result in our having to close Gitmo and let them go. (Note to Messrs. Durbin, Kennedy, the New York Times, et al.: Please shut up. You are making the interrogators’ job much harder than it already is.) Because they believe we’ll close Gitmo, many of the detainees resist years of interrogation.
A large bunch of the detainees, about 100 of them, are smarter, better trained, and very knowledgeable of what their pals want to do to. They are the terrorist varsity, the high-value detainees. Up against them, and their ilk, are some of America’s finest.
I DON’T KNOW THE NAMES of the soldiers: I didn’t ask, and they didn’t volunteer. No one — other than the few top guys, including General Hood, his deputy, and the command sergeant major — wears nametags. If the others’ names were visible to inmates, they and their families would be at risk. That goes double for the intel crew. Like every soldier I’ve ever met, they had to bitch a little. The two enlisted guys I lunched with at the “Cafe Caribe” — a chow hall that will never be mistaken for The Ritz — were from towns in Texas and Washington state. The Texan wanted to be home with his infant son. His pal from Washington wondered why the hell was so much detail about the camp on the Internet. “How can you have OPSEC” — operational security — “when the whole world can see so much?” he asked.
They tried to do what every soldier is expected to do: shrug off the political floggings inflicted on them and their commanders every day. They meant well, but they couldn’t b.s. this old b.s.’er. When someone compares Gitmo to a Nazi death camp, they take it personally. They know it’s idiocy, but it still hurts. Their motto is, “honor bound to defend freedom,” and they take that personally, too. There are no prisoner abuses at Gitmo. It’s a matter of pride among them. The chow is okay, they said, but mail is really slow. It takes almost three weeks for mail to get to them. The Texan — who is assigned to the psycho ward — had another concern. “These guys have hepatitis, TB and who knows what other diseases. When they throw feces on us they can give us a disease we can’t get over.” The medical crew looks after them, and the terrorists, very well. The terrorists can’t seem to make up their minds about it, though. Some, like a man who’s had surgery for a serious cardiac condition, refuse further treatment.
The guards move a lot of prisoners: to and from the hospital, to and from interrogation and even between camps. The intel crew is as organized as I’ve seen any military operation, and that says a lot. The head of one Interrogation Control Element toured us around “gold block,” a hall along which are a number of interrogation rooms. The rooms are all the same: stark white, with a small table and a few folding chairs. There’s a steel ring in the floor, to which the detainees are attached by one or both leg irons. We observed a few interrogations there. The ICE boss disagreed with what I’d been told before. The intel crews don’t feel downtrodden or unreasonably constrained by regulations. They’re succeeding, and they take pride in the results they’re getting.
There are a bunch of FBI investigations going on right now that are propelled by intelligence garnered from the Gitmo detainees. It’s not just possible — it’s a dead-bang certainty — that terrorist attacks in the United States are being thwarted by the patience and skill of the Gitmo crew. And as the FBI benefits, so do the combatant commanders. The operational military levy requests on Gitmo several times a week, and are often answered with information they can apply on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. And elsewhere.
TO ANYONE WITH OPEN eyes, it must be clear that we are treating these hard-core terrorists humanely, and that our interrogators — men and women, military and civilian — should be praised, not scorned. Investigation after investigation has showed that there is no torture at Gitmo. But the outrageous and disgusting characterizations of what we are doing at Gitmo continue.
On Friday, a New York Times editorial said, “Surely no one can approve turning an American soldier into a pseudo-lap-dancer or having another smear fake menstrual blood on an Arab man. These practices are as degrading to the women as they are to the prisoners. They violate American moral values — and they seem pointless….Does anyone in the military believe that a cold-blooded terrorist who has withstood months of physical and psychological abuse will crack because a woman runs her fingers through his hair suggestively or watches him disrobe? If devout Muslims become terrorists because they believe Western civilization is depraved, does it make sense to try to unnerve them by having Western women behave like trollops?” First they’re all Nazis or Cambodian murderers; now the gals are whores.
I’ve met a few of these gals, and I can tell you they are smart, tough, and are accomplishing things other people can’t. They aren’t “behaving like trollops,” but like the dedicated intel professionals they are. I — and a lot of people who are, fortunately, in control of what they do — approve because they are acting within the rules, and producing results. There are no whores at Gitmo, but there are intellectual whores in Congress and at the Times.
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