Journalists Who Paved the Way for Torture.

According to The New York Times, Osama bin Laden has apparently spoken again, addressing Americans in an audiotape in which he explains some of the reasons why Al Qaeda attacked the United States and talks about “injustices against the Muslim world.”

After the 2001 attacks, President Bush began considering a new set of interrogation policies for detainees, and this month Andrew Sullivan wrote an Atlantic cover story that is “an open letter to President George W. Bush,” asking him to take responsibility for the torture and abuse of prisoners. It is worth pointing out that it was not only the president who had discussed methods of torture. Other people were also weighing the possibility: Mark Bowden wrote an October 2003 Atlantic piece, “The Dark Art of Interrogation,” in which he examined the possibility of “torture lite” such as sleep deprivation, exposure to heat and cold, and other forms of mistreatment: “Although excruciating for the victim, these tactics generally leave no permanent marks and do no lasting physical harm.”

Bowden’s article was read and discussed by military interrogators, as Tony Lagouranis, who served as a specialist in Iraq in 2004 and who is quoted in Andrew Sullivan’s article, told me during an interview. In fact, the interrogators got some of their ideas from Bowden, and they used his argument in The Atlantic to justify their actions against prisoners at detention sites in Iraq.

“It seems to me he was advocating what he calls torture lite, and I think that made an impression on a lot of people,” Lagouranis explained. “The feeling was that what we had been taught about the Geneva Conventions was not going to be followed anymore. And that we would be following a new set of rules. And those rules -- that was what Bowden was talking about. I think the chief warrant officer even referenced the Bowden article.”

There is no gray area in the discussion of torture. It should not be used – period. Sullivan’s letter to Bush is admirable, but the president was not the only one who spoke of torture. Journalists did, too, and they had an impact.

--Tara McKelvey

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