Lunch can sometimes be a big deal in Washington. Lunch is where alliances are struck, deals are made, and sometimes where foes become more or less friends over a shrimp cocktail or a chicken salad at the Palm. But if Karl Rove invites you to lunch, be sure you get to pick the restaurant.
Mr. Rove, a personable fellow who was deputy chief of staff in George W. Bush’s White House and is sometimes credited with being the genius of George W.’s success, turns out to be a big fan of “rectal feeding,” as used by the CIA to persuade terror suspects to spill their secrets. Rectal feeding consists of tubes inserted you know where so unhappy things can be dispatched to a dark destination on the alimentary canal, sort of like eastbound barge traffic on the old C&O.
Rectal feeding has become big since the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee released their report on the way the CIA has conducted its interrogations of suspects in the continuing war with radical Islam in the Middle East. Rectal feeding was one of the methods the CIA bureaucrats called, with admirable delicacy and daintiness, considering the subject matter, “enhanced interrogation tactics.” Defenders of the program take the euphemy a step further, using the acronym “EIT.” (Alphabet soup is a traditional delicacy in Washington.)
Nevertheless, the discussion of EITs is not as savory as some of its proponents insist it is. “Let’s get the rectal feedings [out of the discussion],” Mr. Rove told “Fox News Sunday.” And why not? “There are in this report nine references on 14 pages to rectal feeding. In four of those five it is discussed as being a result of a hunger strike.
“The principal tests were, do they involve severe and prolonged mental pain or suffering? In each instance, these procedures were carefully designed so they would not pass those barriers.” He said the enhanced techniques were designed to not inflict permanent damage. Old-time cops knew how to apply the rubber hose, too, making sure to leave no telltale marks to betray them at the arraignment.
Everyone in official Washington has been to a lunch or a dinner where it seemed like torture that would never end. Mr. Rove has no doubt been to many of these, so he knows whereof he speaks. He might even on occasion have preferred to take his entree in this alternate feeding method. Or he might not. Few hostesses, in any event, offer the option.
The attempt by some defenders of the CIA program, eager to portray such “feeding” as a medical procedure, is refuted by medical scientists. Where was Hippocrates? Gone and forgotten, apparently.
“There is no such thing as rectal feeding,” Steven Miles, professor of bioethics at the University of Minnesota Medical School, tells The Washington Post. “It can’t be physiologically done; the colon does not have a lining on it that can absorb nutrients. This thing is not any kind of medical procedure, it’s purely an instrument of causing extreme pain.” And if it’s forced feeding as a humanitarian procedure, the CIA interrogators were doing it at the wrong end.
With a bow to Hippocrates, the author of the oath that all physicians take to do no harm to their patients, the American Medical Association said at the end of the week that “the participation of physicians in torture and coercive interrogation is a violation of core ethical values.” Indeed, having a doctor present, as if to bless the interrogation, is akin to furnishing an executioner who swabs a vein with alcohol to prevent infection before he administers the poison needle.
From the transcripts and emails included in the report by Senate Democrats — who compiled everything without participation by Republicans — it’s clear that the CIA recruited doctors who were there only to enable harsh treatment. “[They’re] the ones who are dedicated to maximizing the benefit in a safe manner and keeping everyone’s butt out of trouble.”
This is a dreary chapter in the war against barbarians, who for their part deserve every punishment they get. America is entitled to use every means necessary to protect itself, even punishing and killing innocents. That’s the nature of war.
The legitimate argument is over what is necessary, and the CIA and its enablers confused necessary with convenience. Even the most eloquent defenders of the program concede that “mistakes were made.” The interrogators knew that what they were doing and how they did it was wrong. That’s why such care was taken to keep everything out of sight, and to “keep everyone’s butt out of trouble.” Whatever the torture produced, that’s why nobody is proud of it.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.