William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's.... And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake....
For Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, a Marine Corps pilot who became a Navy prosecutor, accused al-Qaeda operative Mohamedou Ould Lahi is a very personal devil.
Slahi has been identified as the individual who assembled the “Hamburg cell” of al-Qaeda, which included the hijacker believed to have piloted United Flight 175 into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
The co-pilot of United 175 on that morning was Michael Horrocks, who had been a very close friend of Couch during their days as pilots in the Marine Corps.
Of all those who lost friends and loved ones on September 11, Couch had a unique opportunity to see some measure of mortal justice done – assuming, of course, that the conventional narrative of that atrocity is reliable, and Lahi had played the role he was accused of playing. Couch was satisfied that those conditions had been met.
And yet, as the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reported last Saturday (March 31), Col. Couch, “in what he calls the toughest decision of his military career,” refused to carry out the prosecution of Slahi because he concluded that Slahi's self-incriminating statements had been extorted from him through torture.
Slahi was among the Guantanamo Bay detainees assigned to what the Pentagon called the “varsity program” -- a special program of intensive interrogation for particularly recalcitrant prisoners. As a Navy prosecutor assigned to Gitmo, Couch caught a fleeting glimpse of the Rumsfeld-approved methods in October 2003:
“Accompanied by an escort, he saw a prisoner shackled to the cell floor, rocking back and forth, mumbling as strobe lights flashed. Two men in civilian dress shut the cell door and told Col. Couch to move along. `Did you see that?' he asked his escort. The escort replied: `Yeah, it's approved'.... The treatment resembled the abuse he had been trained to resist if captured; he never expected Americans would be the ones employing it.”
Troubled to the depths of his soul by the experience, Col. Couch and his NCIS case investigator conducted an “under the table” inquiry into the methods used to extract Slahi's confession. What he found was torture.
In 2002, al-Qaeda operative Ramzi Binalshibh named Slahi – who operated an Internet cafe in Germany – as the organizer of the Hamburg cell. At the time of the 9-11 attacks, Slahi was one of the “usual suspects”: US authorities believed he had been involved in the abortive 1999 “Millennium Plot” to bomb LAX. Following 9-11, Slahi had been arrested and shipped to Jordan. After being fingered by Binalshibh, Slahi was taken to Guantanamo Bay.
“I thought, this is America, not Jordan, and they are not going to beat you,” Slahi told a detention review board.
This is true: In America – or at least in that part of Cuba under US jurisdiction – the beatings are subcontracted to foreigners, like the Arabs who seized Slahi and took him, blindfolded, on an hour-long boat ride and then, after going ashore, beat him severely in the presence of a doctor.
The methods used by American interrogators were more sophisticated; they involved “psychological torture, including death threats and intimations that his mother would be raped in custody unless he cooperated.”
The supposed threats to his mother were described to Slahi by an interrogator posing as a White House official named “Navy Captain Collins.” This interrogator gave Slahi “a forged memorandum indicating that [his] mother was being shipped to Guantanamo, and that officials had concerns about her safety as the only woman amid hundreds of male prisoners.... `Capt. Collins' told Mr. Slahi `that if he wanted to help his family he should tell them everything they wanted to know.'”
As he learned of the methods used to break Slahi, Col. Couch – a career military officer, devout Christian, and Eagle Scout – became severely disillusioned; his wife describes him as enduring sleepless nights and “Sunday night blues” as he confronted the prospect of beginning a new work week.
“He wanted to be a good soldier and yet on the other hand felt his duty to God to be the greatest duty that he had,” Bill Wilder of the Center for Christian Study, told the Wall Street Journal. Wilder, a close friend of Col. Couch, recalls: “He said more than once to me that human beings are created in the image of God, and as a result we owe them a certain amount of dignity.”
“Stuart, you need to pray about this,” Wilder advised Col. Couch.
While attending a May 2004 baptism, Couch had a moment of genuine moral clarity – not the ideological counterfeit peddled by war-intoxicated neo-cons, but the sort that comes only from reflecting on God's truth. The liturgical reading ended with the priest asking the congregation if they will “respect the dignity of every human being.”
“When I heard that, I knew I gotta get off the fence,” Col. Couch recalls. Slahi, loathsome as he may be, was a human being; God had created Slahi in His Image, whatever he may have done to disfigure it through his conduct. Furthermore, the methods used by US interrogators had “compromised our ability to prosecute him.... I had seen enough, I had heard enough, I had read enough. I said: `That's it.'”
Couch confronted Army Col. Bob Swann, at the time the chief Gitmo prosecutor, telling him that he was “morally opposed” to torture and would not participate in Slahi's prosecution.
Col. Swann (who is now retired) responded with a taunt taken directly from Collectivism 101: “What makes you think you're so much better than the rest of us?”
“That's not the issue at all!” replied Col. Couch, slamming his hand on Swann's desk. “That's not the point!”
When it became clear that Couch would not handle the prosecution, the Slahi case was reassigned. It sits dormant today, in large measure because of the issues raised by Couch. Now working as a judge in the Navy/Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, Couch expresses the hope that “there's some non-tainted evidence out there that can put [Slahi] in the hole.”
It should be recalled that a few years ago, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) was flayed by the neo-con media for observing – correctly – that the methods used by some interrogators at Gitmo bore a family resemblance to those used by agents of the Soviet Union and Cambodia's Khmer Rouge. (One of the “special methods” employed at Gitmo was waterboarding, which was used extensively by the Khmer Rouge.) Durbin was widely assailed as a “traitor” for daring to express in public essentially the same objections raised by Col. Couch.
I wouldn't expect that the same Bush-worshiping cultists would hurl the same accusation in the teeth of a career military officer who upheld his oath to the Constitution – and his duty to God – by refusing to be party to crimes committed against the individual allegedly responsible for the murder of a fellow Marine who was among his closest friends.
At this point in our nation's decline, the evil of degenerate collectivism has metastasized into the very marrow of our society. Yet even now our nation is blessed by the presence of men like Lt. Col. Stuart Couch – Christian patriots who put principle above power and popularity.
Is it possible that our nation could somehow be restored? If there is a way back from the brink of abject despotism, it is the course of Christian conscience, as demonstrated by Col. Couch. And, as we are reminded by the approach of Resurrection Sunday, miracles of this magnitude are not without precedent.