Using WikiLeaks to justify torture?
Emily Badger: Using WikiLeaks to justify torture?
13 May 11

Osama bin Laden’s death two weeks ago has prompted a bitter debate on US op-ed pages and cable TV shows over one of the major legacies of the Bush Administration: “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Defenders of the administration (and many of its former officials, who have rarely been heard from over the past two years) have emerged to insist bin Laden’s death vindicates the intelligence-gathering-at-all-costs strategy of the US War on Terror.

Obama never would have found the guy, they argue, if Bush hadn’t made the hard decisions on water-boarding and building Guantanamo Bay.

Liberals, on the other hand, have seized on bin Laden’s death as proof that the US can achieve its counter-terrorism ends without sacrificing its values in the process (he was found, after all, only after Obama had repudiated his predecessor’s dubiously legal tactics).

Enter into this debate brash former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who injected a new twist this week with an op-ed in the Washington Post. Bin Laden’s death vindicates Bush’s anti-terrorism strategy, he wrote… and we have Julian Assange to thank for proving it:

This conclusion was inadvertently reinforced recently by WikiLeaks’ illegal disclosure of more than 700 classified Defense Department files on Guantanamo Bay detainees. Their publication has harmed our security and cemented the impression among allies that America is incapable of keeping secrets. But the material also provides compelling evidence of the effectiveness of Bush administration anti-terror policies after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Those documents reveal, according to Rumsfled, that we first learned about Abbottabad at Guantanamo. They reveal that detained terrorists were chattering about a planned “nuclear hellstorm”, thus motivating the Bush Administration’s desperate actions to protect Americans. They reveal “the lengths to which military guards accommodated Muslim religious sensibilities”, and that al-Qaeda members turned on each other under questioning, and that detainees said to have been brutally interrogated in fact committed suicide.

“There was no policy of mistreatment, much less torture,” Rumsfeld writes.

Never mind that this same document cache also reveals that the US detained at Gitmo an Al Jazeera cameraman for the primary purpose of grilling him about the network’s news-gathering operation.

Julian Assange hoped that his latest gamble with the lives of intelligence professionals, military personnel and terrorist informants would embarrass the U.S. government and inhibit its ability to strike our enemies. But the WikiLeaks documents, coupled with what we know about how bin Laden’s hiding place was discovered, may be among the clearest vindications yet of the Bush administration’s policies in the struggle to protect America and the free world from more terrorist attacks. They may prove the strongest arguments for keeping open the invaluable asset that is Guantanamo Bay.

This line of thinking actually proves something else: That a large cache of documents published without context can be invoked for official propaganda just as easily as it can be used to expose official wrongdoing.

Ironically, the elastic law-enforcement powers Rumsfeld says Wikileaks has helped to justify in the post-9/11 world have made it easier for the current administration to investigate WikiLeaks itself. Computer scientist David House, a vocal member of the Bradley Manning Support Network, had his laptop confiscated at the border in November by Homeland Security agents. On Friday, the ACLU announced it was suing the government on House’s behalf for violating his First Amendment right to freedom of association and Fourth Amendment protections from unreasonable search and seizure.

“I feel like the American government has made me the target of intrusive and intimidating tactics simply because I joined a lawful group in order to stand up for what I believe is right,” House said in the ACLU’s announcement. “The search and seizure of my laptop has had a chilling effect on the activities of the Bradley Manning Support Network, by silencing once-outspoken supporters and causing donors to retreat. Our government should not be treating lawful activists like suspects.”