HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

June 18, 2007
On Tara McKelvey’s Monstering: Inside America's Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War

John R. Guthrie


I found Tara McKelvey's Monstering thought provoking; well written, interesting and well-sourced enough to write a review in hopes of expanding the readership of her work.
- J.R.G.


We do not torture!
--George W. Bush

When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said in
a rather scornful tone, it means just what
I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.


Mohammed Rahman (a pseudonym), naked except for the plastic sandbag that hooded him, was forced to run blindly back and forth so as to repeatedly collide with another prisoner. When he slowed, his inquisitor grabbed the loose fabric of the hood and knocked Rahman’s head against that of the other detainee. Rahman finally collapsed. Interrogators then surrounded him and kicked him repeatedly while laughing and joking. The blows to the kidneys proved particularly painful.

The beatings continued, with some variations. Rahman came to know his interrogators by their methodology: the one who worked with cold water - pouring it on his skin after he was dehydrated, then watching him lick the drops off. There was the woman, reminiscent of Sade’s evil Juliette, who exposed her breasts and simulated sex to entice him to talk. Then came the interrogator with a boom box and a CD of a child screaming and crying over and over, “Daddy help me. Save me!” played at top volume next to his ear.

Rahman, the father of three small children, was in "The Black Room,” a windowless room so called because all walls and ceilings were painted black. The location was Camp Namas, a facility near Baghdad’s airport staffed by both U.S. military and CIA personnel.

The information demanded of Rahman concerned those elusive “Weapons of Mass Destruction.” Eight days after US soldiers arrested Rahman, he was taken from the camp to a “nondescript location near the (Baghdad) airport” and abandoned. He managed to make his way home where he found his terrified wife and children. His elderly father was dead due to being shot in the back of the head three times at close range during the initial raid. The house, to include a precious electrical generator, was trashed.

Several days after his homecoming, an army colonel arrived with a fleet of Hummers that blocked the street. “We’re sorry for what happened,” the officer said.  “We got some bad information.” At the urging of his family Rahman showed the officer his leg. “The officer," Rahman said, “Sucked in his breath on seeing a limb so bruised and swollen so as to be near unrecognizable.”

Tara McKelvey, the author of Monstering, is a senior editor at American Prospect and a contributing editor of Marie Claire. She is also a research fellow at NYU School of Law’s Center on Law and Security. Monstering is diligently researched and documented, the writing clear and lucid. After reading this compelling work, it is difficult to dismiss such incidents as the above as being the isolated acts of a few junior enlisted personnel or something that no longer happens as some apologists maintain.

On reading Monstering, it’s not just the continued appeal to that decrepit and fatuous old canard about that non-existent ticking bomb justifying tormenting or maiming someone or beating them to death that is off-putting re the torture of others. It’s not just that torturing people is wrong; that it damages the torturer as well as the tortured. It’s not just that torture is contrary to the best in our political and religious traditions and ipso facto un-American. It is more so that it endangers our sons and daughters in the military, that it ultimately serves only the interests of those twisted souls who take pleasure in the pain of other creatures, that it also contaminates and distorts needed intelligence and is thus is so ineffably, tub-thumping, moon-howling counterproductive as to beg description.


Monstering: Inside America's Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War by Tara McKelvey. New York, Carol and Graf Publishers, 2007. 252 pp.


Link to the book description at Amazon.com


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