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Name: Norman Podhoretz
Position: Editor at large, Commentary magazine; one of the founding fathers, neo-conservativism; recent recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Summary of Torture-Commentary: "Another weapon in the war against the war." I found one Abu Ghraib reference from N-Pod, in his 30,000-word Aug. 2 cri du coeur World War IV: How it Started, What it Means, and Why We Have to Win. Excerpt:
On the heels of the horrendous episodes of the murder and desecration of the bodies of four American contractors in Falluja, came the revelation that Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib had been subjected to ugly mistreatment by their American captors.
Among supporters of the Bush Doctrine, these setbacks set off a great wave of defeatist gloom that was deepened by the nervous tactical shifts they produced in our military planners [...]
But it was not necessarily to be expected that the Democrats would seize just as eagerly as the radicals upon every piece of bad news as another weapon in the war against the war. Nor was it necessarily to he expected that mainstream Democratic politicians would go so far off the intellectual and moral rails as to compare the harassment and humiliation of the prisoners in Abu Ghraib—none of whom, so far as anyone then knew, was even maimed, let alone killed—to the horrendous torturing and murdering that had gone on in that same prison under Saddam Hussein or, even more outlandishly, to the Soviet gulag in which many millions of prisoners died.
Name: Rich Lowry
Position: Editor, The National Review
Summary of response: Not quite the five stages of grief; more like the Five Stages of Evasion: Buck-passing, Subject-changing, Gore-bashing, Pooh-poohing, and (premature) Bad-appling.
Buck-passing (May 11): "[I]n Abu Ghraib and its aftermath we see some of the seamy undercurrents of America magnified in a horrifying fashion—in particular, the celebration of cruelty, the ubiquity of pornography, and a cult of victimhood... The Americans sexually humiliated Iraqi prisoners, forcing them to masturbate, to wear women's underwear, and to commit (or feign committing) unnatural acts, and captured it on film. If they had done this stateside in different circumstances, they might be very rich and perhaps even up for an Adult Video Award."
Subject-changing (May 14): "If we insist on having an orgy of self-flagellation about the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib, we might as well gain something from it. That something shouldn't be a change in our interrogation tactics in the war on terror—they don't seem at fault for the perverse acts of a few MPs—but reform of the ongoing scandal that is the U.S. prison system." (I should interject that I agree wholeheartedly with Lowry's "ongoing scandal" comment.)
Gore-bashing (May 28): "The abuses at Abu Ghraib were 'the natural consequence' of Bush policy, says Gore. He all but accuses President Bush of personally dressing Iraqi detainees in women's underwear. [...] White House counsel Alberto Gonzales has been criticized for a 2002 legal memorandum in which he described parts of the Geneva Convention as 'quaint.' He was right. [...] Gore is also willing to kiss off the intelligence gained from the kind of interrogation forbidden of regular soldiers under the Geneva Convention."
Pooh-poohing (June 4): "In the wake of Abu Ghraib, critics have been pushing the Bush administration, with some success, to limit itself in the war on terror to interrogation techniques that would be lawful here in the United States. But the foundation for American values is America, and those values won't endure unless the nation withstands assaults by enemies who care nothing for Miranda rights or any other legal niceties. They have to be met in a dirty, shadowy war."
Bad-appling (June 14): "The conspiracy theorists and Bush haters who won't be satisfied until high Bush-administration officials have been implicated in the Abu Ghraib prison-abuse scandal should be asking: Which Pentagon official authorized the brutality at Pennsylvania's Fayette County Prison? Because, in a sense, that is where the scandal has its roots. That is where Army Spec. Charles Graner, the star of so many Abu Ghraib abuse photos, first got the idea of beating up prisoners, and with no evident instigation from Donald Rumsfeld."
Do these three examples prove a conservative trend? No. Besides the oft-cited example of Andrew Sullivan, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote consecutive anguished op-eds in May calling into question his own support for the Iraq War (he later recovered his nerve). Washington Post columnist George Will angrily grilled Gen. Richard Myers on ABC on May 2, and then encouraged his friend Donald Rumsfeld to resign (though "that moment's passed," Will said on ABC's "This Week" Dec. 19).
But we now know that many of the shocking images from Abu Ghraib that we've been allowed to see —the hoods, the dogs, the sexual humiliation, the photography, the beating —have occurred elsewhere in Iraq, Guantanamo, and Afghanistan; and in many instances they reflect nothing more than official United States policy. How we respond, whether conservative, libertarian, liberal or other, will tell us a lot about what we've become.