[ by Charles Cameron — so IS is using waterboarding? meditating on copycattism as a jihadist strategy ]
Here’s the basic news, from Adam Goldman and Julie Tate, Captives held by Islamic State were waterboarded, in the Washington Post today:
At least four hostages held in Syria by the Islamic State, including an American journalist who was recently executed by the group, were waterboarded in the early part of their captivity, according to people familiar with the treatment of the kidnapped Westerners.
James Foley was among the four who were waterboarded several times by Islamic State militants who appeared to model the technique on the CIA’s use of waterboarding to interrogate suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Some have tried to downplay the implied similarity:
“ISIL is a group that routinely crucifies and beheads people,” said a U.S. official, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State. “To suggest that there is any correlation between ISIL’s brutality and past U.S. actions is ridiculous and feeds into their twisted propaganda.”
In this case, sadly, correlation is almost certainly causation, in the sense that the Qur’an permits the otherwise impermissible when one takes an action in war against enemies who have previously taken the same action against one.
And we have taken the action of waterboarding:
Three CIA detainees — Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — were waterboarded while held in secret CIA prisons. Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was waterboarded 183 times, according to a memo issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.
Others have vaguely waved their hands in the direction of the idea that what we do may rebound on us:
Critics of waterboarding have said for years that the practice endangered Americans, putting them at risk of being subjected to the same brutal treatment at the hands of the enemy.
“Waterboarding dates to the Spanish Inquisition and has been a favorite of dictators through the ages, including Pol Pot and the regime in Burma,” Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) said in an op-ed in 2008. “Condoning torture opens the door for our enemies to do the same to captured American troops in the future.”
But there’s more specificity to it than that.
I suppose I first caught on to it when Osama bin Laden said:
And as I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon, it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children.
and I was instantly reminded of Qur’an 2.194, which contains the phrase in the Pickthal version:
And one who attacketh you, attack him in like manner as he attacked you.
Yusuf Ali translates the whole verse thus:
The prohibited month for the prohibited month,- and so for all things prohibited,- there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, Transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.
But I’ve said all this before, talking about that speech of OBLs in more detail in Close reading, Synoptic- and Sembl-style, for parallels, patterns.
Finally, waterboarding is not the only procedure that our own actions have opened us up to in this sense:
François said Foley was subjected to mock executions — something suspected al-Qaeda operative Nashiri also endured while being held in a secret CIA prison, according to a report by the inspector general of the CIA. The Justice Department did not sanction mock executions.
There’s plenty of room for innovative brutality on the part of IS, even without this kind of divine sanction — but it still might be useful for us to be aware of Qur’an 2.194 when considering psssible second-order effects of our own tactics, eh?