News & Politics

Is Mohammad Singing?


News that captured Al Qaeda top man Khalid Shaikh Mohammad is revealing Osama bin Laden’s hideout in the wilds of northern Pakistan awakens suspicions he is being tortured—especially since U.S. officials, according to the Los Angeles Times have said they are “pushing the envelope” to make him talk. Jack Wheeler, an adventurer extraordinaire and one of the wild men of the right, yesterday proposed in The Washington Times a scheme “to make the Al Qaeda terrorist sing in an hour.” Wheeler argued that the ethics of whether to torture Mohammad “should not be an issue,” the only question being how to make him squeal in a couple of hours, not a couple of days or even weeks—maybe by breaking ribs or putting out a cigarette on his balls. Wheeler said so-called truth serum wouldn’t be any good because it might mix up Mohammad’s thinking and take too much time.

What Wheeler proposed is to fly in an MRI brain scanner to Diego Garcia, or wherever Mohammad is being held, put him under it, place him on a mechanical respirator, and inject him with a paralytic drug used by veterinarians called succinylcholine chloride, which would keep him fully conscious but immobile. Muhammad could think, remember, and talk, but he couldn’t breathe without the respirator, Wheeler said, adding, “Without the respirator, he would quickly suffocate and die.” If the MRI scanner caught Mohammad in a lie, then the interrogator would turn off the mechanical respirator, and Mohammad would slowly and painfully start to suffocate. It wouldn’t take long, said Wheeler, before Mohammad would be “singing like a full chorus of canaries.”

Officially, of course, torture is not done in the U.S. “The standard for any type of interrogation of somebody in American custody is to be humane and to follow all international laws and accords dealing with this type subject,” Bush flack Ari Fleischer said recently. In December, The Washington Post reported that “stress and duress” methods have been widely employed against Al Qaeda prisoners. A 2002 Amnesty report on torture charged that the U.S. violates rules against torture by denying access to prisoners, holding them in secret locations without access to lawyers; transfers custody to countries where torture is routine; and provides other nations with equipment to carry out torture.

“Certain forms of torture are going on right now—extreme duress, making people stand in positions, depriving them of sleep for long periods of time. We are just not defining it as torture,” Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz told NBC on Tuesday.

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