Loose Canons

The Gitmo Girls

Is it kosher to use the religious beliefs of a prisoner to break down his resistance and extract information?

By 2.13.05

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Legend -- not history -- tells us that Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing quelled a Moro uprising in the Philippines in about 1911 by burying insurrectionists' bodies with slaughtered pigs. The Muslim insurgents supposedly gave up after a few such incidents, because -- according to religious law -- this would prevent their dead from reaching heaven. In the 1935 flick Lives of a Bengal Lancer, tough guy Gary Cooper threatens a Muslim prisoner with this treatment, and the man immediately breaks down, giving Coop the location where the bad guys are holding his colonel's son hostage. The question now arises: How, if at all, can we use the religious beliefs of a prisoner to break down his resistance and extract information?

We are in the first stages of another "prisoner abuse" mess. Both the Washington Post and Maureen Dowd are suffering a severe case of the vapors over revelations that female interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba terrorist detention facility are sexually taunting prisoners, aiming at Muslim religious beliefs to pressure the hard cases to break. The title of Dowd's January 30 column, "Torture Chicks Gone Wild," shows you where this argument is going. It is usually sufficient that Dowd is against something to prove we should be for it but, in this case, we need to parse it out a bit before we make a decision.

According to the February 10 Washington Post story, "female interrogators regularly violated Muslim taboos about sex and contact with women. The women rubbed their bodies against the men, wore skimpy clothes in front of them, made sexually explicit remarks and touched them provocatively." Dowd's column picked up on another point, saying that the U.S. is "allowing its female interrogators to try to make Muslim men talk in late-night sessions featuring sexual touching, displays of fake menstrual blood, and parading in miniskirt, tight T-shirt, bra and thong underwear." Which, minus the fake blood, is not a lot different from what Monica was doing with Lil' Billy in the Oval Office.

There are two issues here. First, is it beyond the pale to use a person's religious beliefs against him in interrogations? Second, are sexually aggressive interrogation techniques that stop short of sexual abuse and torture either illegal or immoral?

Start with the motivation of the terrorists. They believe that they are serving their religion by their acts. There's no use in arguing the point with them. The Koran, as they interpret it, requires holy war against the American aggressor who comes to the Middle East to destroy their religion. That is their dogma, their belief that is so deeply felt that they are eager to sacrifice their lives in its service. It is this belief that strengthens them, and makes them highly resistant to normal interrogation techniques.

We rule out torture. Our laws and the International Convention Against Torture tell us what the limits are. Nothing says we cannot attack the beliefs that the terrorists hold most dear. No one would question sending a tough black FBI agent in to question a Ku Klux Klan member harshly. Putting someone that the prisoner fears and reviles in control of the interrogation is a very good step toward shattering the prisoner's mental defenses. It's one of the best ways to succeed in an interrogation.

Mr. Jim Guirard has been fighting valiantly, and so far in vain, to get us to start calling the terrorists "mufsidoon," the Arabic word for a criminal whose crimes violate the laws of Islam. It's a better label than "jihadist" -- holy warrior -- which honors the enemy wrongly. Would it be an attack on a prisoner's religion to force him to wear a jumpsuit that had "mufsidoon" painted on the back in large letters? Of course not. It's not an attack on the religion of Islam, it's an attack on the prisoner's motivation to be a terrorist. Putting a scantily clad woman interrogator in charge of the interrogation is really no different. These aren't Muslim holy men. They're outlaws and we need to show them that we have no respect for them or their perversion of Islam.

What went on at the Abu Ghraib prison went far beyond sexual provocation. In many cases, it was sexual abuse. That is why Pvt. Lynndie England and some of her pals will be doing hard time in jail. But where do we draw the line? And how do we prevent interrogators from crossing it?

Our civilian society has become overly sensitized to sexual harassment. The career of a male boss -- civilian or military -- can be ended quickly by an incautious remark to a female subordinate. We cannot afford to allow this heightened sensitivity to control the interrogation of terrorist prisoners whose knowledge we must obtain to save lives.

Should it be forbidden for a female interrogator to rub her breasts against a prisoner and then laugh at the result? Should she be prohibited from wearing a thong in his presence and taunting his manhood? I think not. Should we require female interrogators to do these things? Certainly not.

Where the line can be drawn in interrogation of terrorist prisoners is unclear. Sexual abuse: rape, forced sexual acts of any nature, are abhorrent and must continue to be prohibited. Below that threshold, we must guard against establishing limits that are false, and can prevent successful interrogations.

TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004).

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.