- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2005

“Sure, a few may come back to haunt us,” wrote New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in arguing to close down the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Who are the “few” that Mr. Friedman is thinking of, and what exactly does he mean by haunting? Perhaps the case of Mohammed al Qahtani, a Guantanamo detainee profiled in the current issue of Time magazine, offers insight.

From a Guantanamo logbook, Time reports that interrogators did a number of unpleasant things to al Qahtani to get him to talk. These included shaving his beard, stripping him naked, ordering him to bark like a dog, depriving him of sleep — to the music of Christina Aguilera, no less — and violating his “personal space” with a vulgar female interrogator.

Interrogators also showed al Qahtani gruesome images of September 11 and asked him to write letters of apology to the victims’ families. Al Qahtani is the so-called 20th hijacker of September 11. To those offended by the “torture” techniques — and judging by the outrage coming from Capitol Hill, this comprises a growing body — we urge them to remember that bloody day. We remind them that al Qahtani was almost a part of it — the flying bombs, the incinerated bodies, the deaths of 2,973 Americans. When Mr. Friedman says that “sure, a few may come back to haunt us,” it’s remarkably grotesque.

It’s unfortunate that lawmakers need to be reminded of any of this. Facing Democratic calls for closing down Guantanamo, some Republicans are running for the hills. One of the latest voices for closing down Guantanamo is Sen. Mel Martinez, who said, “[Guantanamo has] become an icon for bad stories, and at some point you wonder the cost-benefit ratio.” Broken down, what Mr. Martinez means is that the symbol of Guantanamo is inciting more otherwise moderate Muslims to embrace fanaticism, while at the same time tarnishing America’s image in the Western world. Neither argument persuades. Even worse, they belie a naive understanding of our enemies and our allies.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi underscored this naivete when she remarked that closing Guantanamo would give America “a clean slate in the Muslim world.” That would be quite a trick. Radical Muslims hated us before September 11. There was no prison camp at Guantanamo when the ayatollah’s seized American hostages in Iran. Islamist hatred of the West didn’t begin with Guantanamo and it won’t end at Guantanamo. Closing it down would do nothing to stem the grievances Islamist terrorists hold against the West.

The Western media has bought this idea nonetheless. Some of this is easily explained as anti-Americanism run amok. In particular, European newspapers have never acknowledged the legitimacy of the war on terror. Any evidence that undermines the United States’ effort is published with little or no careful examination or testing.

The American media is far more culpable. Behind the facade of “protecting America’s image,” Newsweek and the New York Times feign moral indignation at the desecration of a book. Most of the instances of Koran desecration was done by the prisoners themselves. For every example of a guard accidentally urinating on a Koran, Americans hear little about the guard who stepped on a Koran and apologized. The Los Angeles Times reported these incidents, disclosed by Brig. Gen. Jay Hood’s in-depth investigation, under the headline: “Pentagon: Koran Defiled.”

This is a propaganda war and the United States is losing. It must counter the enemy and other critics with a moral resolve that defined the weeks following September 11. Contrary to what President Bush told Fox News, most Americans don’t need to be assured first “that these prisoners are being treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.” The first thing Americans should be assured of is that interrogators are getting valuable information from the detained terrorists. Americans want to know that after being subjected to Miss Aguilera’s crooning, al Qahtani sang his own tune. He told interrogators about the location of al Qaeda camps and his meetings with Osama bin Laden.

Enough already. Keep Guantanamo open, for the safety of the world.

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