About eighteen months ago, I was invited to a small dinner at the home of the German Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington, Peter Gottwald, who is a very good guy by the way but not someone who seems to enjoy debate around his dinner table.
I don’t remember what the occasion was but there were some other alumni of German-American young leaders programs including a person whose name I cannot mention who works in the White House as a close advisor to the President, and in my view, keeping the President out of jail. My friend is non-partisan and a very thoughtful policy guy who really disdains the loaded partisanship that surrounds him.
But that night at dinner, Guantanamo came up, and I had just read what the American Civil Liberties Union had compiled in the early days on Guantanamo — and it sounded even then like a disaster. One of the other guests brought up the detention facility, and two or three others quickly chimed in that the ACLU and other reports were sensationalizing matters. My friend then said he had been down there, had a look, and was convinced that the detainees were being treated humanely and had somewhat “luxurious” facilities as far as being prisoners went.
I am not going to divulge the identity of this person who works in the White House. I’m learning a few things from Hersh. But I know that this individual reads this blog, and I want to remind him of this dinner conversation at Gottwald’s home. The whole evening became rather heated (sort of like the comment sections on this blog) because I wouldn’t accept at face value the public assurances from the Pentagon that the human rights of detainees were being carefully protected.
Even though the Germans and many other embassies in town had problems with Bush administration policy, it was clear to me that the dinner party circuit was dominated by those sympathetic to Bush and unwilling to question the legitimacy of our actions. Since the foreign embassies could not make public pronouncements at odds with their governments and needed to have linkages into conservative circles, particularly inside the administration, these dinners became enclaves of transatlantic consensus-building that nothing the administration was doing was nearly as bad or reprehensible as NGOs and the media were alleging.
I would like my friend in the White House to figure out how to deal with the fact that he was either seriously misled by the authorities at Guantanamo, or (and I hate to say this) he misled those of us at that dinner party.
I’m inclined to think it was the former — which means he has to come to terms about deception between a branch of the government — in this case, the Pentagon — and the Executive Office of the President.
Because these grafs in today’s column by Bob Herbert puts that entire Peter Gottwald-hosted dinner in a new light:
During the whole time we were at Guantanamo,” said Shafiq Rasul, “we were at a high level of fear. When we first got there the level was sky-high. At the beginning we were terrified that we might be killed at any minute. The guards would say to us, ‘We could kill you at any time.’ They would say, ‘The world doesn’t know you’re here. Nobody knows you’re here. All they know is that you’re missing, and we could kill you and no one would know.'”
The horror stories from the scandalous interrogation camp that the United States is operating at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are coming to light with increased frequency. At some point the whole shameful tale of this exercise in extreme human degradation will be told. For the time being we have to piece together what we can from a variety of accounts that have escaped the government’s obsessively reinforced barriers of secrecy.
We know that people were kept in cells that in some cases were the equivalent of animal cages, and that some detainees, disoriented and despairing, have been shackled like slaves and left to soil themselves with their own urine and feces. Detainees are frequently kicked, punched, beaten and sexually humiliated. Extremely long periods of psychologically damaging isolation are routine.
This is all being done in the name of fighting terror. But the best evidence seems to show that many of the people rounded up and dumped without formal charges into Guantanamo had nothing to do with terror. They just happened to be unfortunate enough to get caught in one of Uncle Sam’s depressingly indiscriminate sweeps. Which is what happened to Shafiq Rasul, who was released from Guantanamo about a year ago. His story is instructive, and has not been told widely enough.
I am not posting this to embarrass a friend, but some major contradictions that we run into inside this political and policy frenzy require attention on occasion.
All I can say publicly is that it was clear to me at the time of this dinner that someone close to the President had investigated matters at Guantanamo and had found nothing amiss and reported this informally to others. He didn’t have to tell us a word, and he’s the kind of person who is discreet but not deceptive.
I think if I was in his shoes, I would not be sleeping well.
— Steve Clemons