“Respect for the rule of law is a virtue in its own right, a virtue that becomes more important . . . as the stakes increase.” So writes human-rights attorney Margulies, arguing that the Bush administration exhibits no such respect.
Margulies has adjudicated the release of wrongly imprisoned suspected combatants from the U.S. interrogation center at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Most, he writes, were Muslim men in the wrong place at the wrong time; the military has acknowledged that “as many as half the prisoners at the base had little or no intelligence value,” though they were supposedly carefully screened for just their importance in providing leads as to, say, the whereabouts of the al-Qaeda leadership. One prisoner, for instance, had a severe head wound and could barely communicate; his guards called him “half-head Bob.” It is clear from Margulies’s account that the events of Abu Ghraib are business as usual at the Cuban base; one woman interrogator, he writes, is fond of rubbing herself against Muslim prisoners at Ramadan to make them ritually unclean, of flinging fake menstrual blood at them, while other guards take apparent pleasure in urinating on the Qur’an and assuring the prisoners that they will never see home again. Those prisoners are the lucky ones; dozens have died in American custody, many tortured in frontline facilities in Afghanistan, to say nothing of the dozens who have been “extraordinarily rendered” to interrogation centers in such friendly nations as Syria and Thailand. The American military has traditionally shunned such tactics, Margulies writes, out of respect for the Geneva Convention and the idea that “to punish one man for what another has done is not an American principle.” Yet the Bush administration, assuming extraordinary powers over all aspects of government in the name of fighting terror, has made such putatively un-American behavior the norm.
Harrowing, depressing—and necessary reading for civil libertarians.