“Once the initial barrier against the use of improper force had been breached,” then-General Counsel for the U.S. Navy Alberto Mora cautioned in the second installment of Chapter 5, “a phenomenon knows as ‘force drift’ would almost certainly come into play.”
Today we post the third installment of Chapter 5, which takes its title from Mora’s prescient warning.
“Force Drift” begins where “Marching Orders” left off: with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s January 15, 2003 memo rescinding his authorization for the abusive interrogation methods used to torture Mohamed al-Qahtani. This apparent victory for Mora and the many servicemen and women who protested the administration’s unlawful methods was short-lived: the very day the rescission memo was issued, as we see in this chapter, GTMO interrogators were drawing up plans to subject another detainee, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, to a brutal and threat-laden “Special Interrogation.”
Within weeks the administration had produced a new secret legal opinion justifying abusive interrogations that was so deeply flawed it would be withdrawn by the administration’s own lawyers within a year. By that time, Slahi had been tortured and an army specialist with a camera had documented the phenomenon of force drift as far away as Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq .
Like all the previous sections, this one, too, has its heroic dissenters — most notably Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch, a former Marine pilot who was close friends with one of the pilots on the doomed 9/11 jets and who was assigned to prosecute Slahi before the military commission in Guantánamo. His is one of the most compelling voices I’ve come across in writing this report. In his words and in his actions, he reminds us of why the way Slahi and many others are treated in this new section is wrong — not just ineffective or counterproductive, but profoundly counter to the fundamental belief, rooted for him in the tenets of Christianity and at the heart of civil law since the Enlightenment, of the essential dignity of every human being.
As he says near the end of this section:
I believe when, as a government, we adopt a policy that allows for the degradation and dehumanization of another human being, whoever they may be, whatever they may be charged with or alleged to have done, when we adopt this as an acceptable and authorized method of interrogation with that individual, we have now embarked on a slippery slope that we can easily slip down ourselves.
Force Drift, as Couch discovered, threatens all of us.