The Feces Continues to Hit the Fan

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To judge from some of the comments readers have been posting on this blog, the early response to Seymour Hersh's new charges has been to ignore the reporting and attack the reporter. But now Newsweek is independently echoing his central contention:

The Bush administration created a bold legal framework to justify this system of interrogation, according to internal government memos obtained by NEWSWEEK. What started as a carefully thought-out, if aggressive, policy of interrogation in a covert war—designed mainly for use by a handful of CIA professionals—evolved into ever-more ungoverned tactics that ended up in the hands of untrained MPs in a big, hot war. Originally, Geneva Conventions protections were stripped only from Qaeda and Taliban prisoners. But later Rumsfeld himself, impressed by the success of techniques used against Qaeda suspects at Guantanamo Bay, seemingly set in motion a process that led to their use in Iraq, even though that war was supposed to have been governed by the Geneva Conventions. Ultimately, reservist MPs, like those at Abu Ghraib, were drawn into a system in which fear and humiliation were used to break prisoners' resistance to interrogation.

Update: A reader calling himself "Matt XIV" directs us to yet another damning article, this one in the Washington Post. As blogger Matthew Yglesias notes, the Post piece "directly contradicts the claim put out in the DOD's rebuttal of the Hersh story to the effect that Undersecretary Cambone was not involved in the interrogations. They have this, moreover, from Pentagon sources rather than CIA people who might just be engaged in a turf fight."

NEXT: The Gray Zone

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  1. Two separate news reports! It must be true. Once Al-Jazeera is in we can wrap this up.

    To be honest, before, I thought this was just GI’s messing around, but if turns out this sort of interrogation works, then let’s continue it. I’m not saying we should use it everywhere, but if it can garner valuable information and save lives, we’d be fools not to.

  2. Before we willfully violate the Geneva Conventions any further, shouldn’t we wait for evidence, any evidence, that this type of interrogation works? There are a lot of experts in the field who don’t think it does.

  3. what i find curious in all of this is the extent to which the two sides are talking past each other, without ever finding any common ground. for example, those who defend the use of more forceful methods of interrogation consistently ignore the army’s own admission that up to ninety percent of those at abu ghraib are innocent. one may be able to justify various methods of torture and near-torture against terrorists, but against some random fellow pulled out of a taxi at a road-block? that’s no way to win hearts and minds – if we’re still in that business, which with all the ‘war of civilisations’ rhetoric bubbling up, seems somewhat doubtful. (the same objection applies to gitmo too, since many of those picked up in afghanistan were not captured by u.s. troops but by local ‘allies’ – who got a five thousand dollar bonus per head.)

  4. Jesse, altho I did criticize Hersh — and have encountered many critics with good credentials who find reason to fault some of his reporting –I said I was merely skeptical and was withholding opinion until further developments. With the Newsweek piece, my skepticism recedes. As it discusses, and as a point that has bothered me, the relative sophistication of some of the exotic torture techniques displayed in the Abu Ghraib photos demands an explanation. It does not stand to reason that a bunch of reservists from Bum-fuck Apalachia came up with all of these “techniques” on their own.

    As one who is a hawk in the matter of finding and destroying murderous Islamic zealots and the states who aid and abet them, I am beyond disheartened. If this matter diverts us from that effort, as it well may, I can only be depressed and frightened.

    As for your comments Marty: such methods are,in my view, legit when chasing the Al Qaeda in Afghanistan or anywhere else; they have information on when where and who among innocent Westerners are to die next, and I approve of doing it what it takes to make them spill it. If it prevents the next Nick Berg event, I accept the necessity.

    But, civilized people do not torture conventional war detainees, and at Abu Ghraib you had a mixture of common criminals, people caught up in sweeps who had done nothing at all, and some insurgents. This was, moreover, a conventional war setting. None of those people, to my knowledge, were suspected of knowing when the next airplanes were going to crash into our buildings, or the next decapitation was due.

    Simply tossing out the Geneva Conventions as “quaint” is horrifying. Doing so puts soldiers everywhere at risk, not least of which American POWs now and in the future. These revelations are truly devestating. I’m so disheartened I think I must go do yardwork.

    –Mona–

  5. Simply tossing out the Geneva Conventions as “quaint” is horrifying.

    In effect they are naught but quaint little guidelines. Every country ignores and breaks them to little fanfare. The problems arise when private policy conflicts with the public face. In this instance, we’ve got an “enlightened” democracy that shouldn’t be abusing prisoners, vs. a pantheon of anachronistic and superstitious tribal societies for whom beheading is as commonplace as a baby dressed as a suicide bomber.

    You all know the public outcry is chiefly political in motivation, and that what went on at Abu Ghraib when compared to prisoner abuses around the world was hardly even of note except for the deep insult it levied against Muslims with respect to the specific cultural sensitivities: nudity, homosexuality, women, bare feet, and let’s not forget being chained by Christians and Jews.

    I’m sure in a few months Hersh will be telling us that Bush, Rummy, Blair, and the pope were meeting scretly to discuss exactly what kind of leash Pfc. England would be using in the photoshoot. To a “journalist” like Hersh, the constant, global apathy in policy towards the Geneva Conventions can be parlayed into the sense that America owns the patent on such violations. It’s simply not true, but why should that keep him from chasing his Pulitzer?

    post hoc ergo propter hoc.

  6. Les and Marty,

    It doesn’t matter if it works or not. That’s like doing a cost/benefit analysis on slavery. I don’t care if slavery is the most effective business model known to man. Slavery is fundamentally incompatible with a free and just society, so it’s got to go.

    Torture is also fundamentally incompatible with a free and just society.

  7. Ken,

    I agree with you 100%, despite my misleading post. And I wish more Republicans were as intellectually honest as you. Democrats, too.

  8. Thank you, Ken! I’m glad somebody else brought that up before I had to. I was getting worried.

  9. “…a pantheon of anachronistic and superstitious tribal societies for whom beheading is as commonplace as a baby dressed as a suicide bomber.”

    Even if you assume that Beheading was commonplace during the Saddam Hussein regime, it was considered barbaric by the Iraqi people even then. I’ve never heard of a baby dressed as a sucide bomber in Iraq.

    “…what went on at Abu Ghraib when compared to prisoner abuses around the world was hardly even of note except for the deep insult it levied against Muslims with respect to the specific cultural sensitivities…”

    God forbid that you are ever tortured this way, but if you are, I hope that someone comforts you with this curious fact.

    “To a “journalist” like Hersh, the constant, global apathy in policy towards the Geneva Conventions can be parlayed into the sense that America owns the patent on such violations. It’s simply not true, but why should that keep him from chasing his Pulitzer?”

    Petitio Principii

  10. I agree with upholding the Geneva Conventions and my feelings about this whole mess largely relfect those Ken Shultz posted in the thread below re: why he is not planning to vote for Bush.

    That said, torture is not always wrong. If the FBI captured some depraved Islamic zealot who had computer records showing he knew when and where water supplies in several American cities were due to be fatally contaminated in the next day or two — and knowing fear of prosecution and execution did not exist for this creature — I would hope the FBI would make him hurt until he spat it out. I would hope they’d make him believe that if he lied the pain he would then face would be indescribable.

    It’s that, or a lot of dead American men, women anc children. Such hypotheticals do have some real world applications. But Abu Ghraib is NOT one of them.

    –Mona–

  11. Don’t confuse attacking the messenger with attacking the message. Hersh is doing his job; that’s great. But his is only one of many voices offering quite different takes on a complicated subject. And nobody questions that he, as all reporters, has a certain agenda (whether it’s a Pulitzer Prize or simply satisfying his editors that he can draw lots of readers).

    Rather than simply taking Hersh’s word for it, let’s try to find out (by reading and listening to everyone who talks about it and then weighing the reported “facts”) what really happened with this gang of lunatics assigned to the Abu Ghraib prison.

  12. Everyone keeps calling this torture. Most of what I’ve seen so far isn’t torture, it’s humiliation. Let me say directly to Ken Schulz if ever I’m threatened with “torture” I pray this is what happens to me.

    There are many different levels of interrogation, including threats, deprivation, etc. Prison, at best, is not a pleasant place, and offering better treatment for cooperation is not wrong. There are even the many tricks cops legally use on suspects in the U.S. Not everything bad that’s done to captives should be lumped under “torture.”

  13. Let’s see: we give the government special power to do heinous things in the name of good, fully expecting that terrible power to be used sparingly and judiciously, by elite, highly trained and disciplined operatives. But, over time, the power is made available to more and more lower-echelon people, in more and more commonplace situations, to serve more and more routine purposes. Eventually, the special power becomes standard operating procedure, and people simply get used to the everyday occurrences of what once would have been considered gross and disgusting abuse of power.

    Does this not sum up the usual, expected evolution of ANY special tool we give to government?

    As it was taught to me, the point of the Constitution — and of any Republic, before or since — was to strictly limit both a) the power and b) the scope of government. This was to prevent where possible and impede where not the well-understood and practically inevitable progression above. Whatever power you give the government WILL be abused. The only way to minimize this is to minimize the power, and minimize the number of circumstances that can legitimately invite the use of the power.

    Until people connect the dots and understand why respecting and enforcing such strictures is necessary to reducing the likelihood of Abu Ghraib incidents, this kind of thing will continue to happen, ever more frequently. Just pay attention, as I have been paying attention over these past three decades, and you will see it. The question is, what will you do help wean our nation away from its addiction to the steroid-like effects of the accumulation and abuse of power?

    Faced with the opportunity to have “absolute power” in our young nation, as a North American “king,” George Washington wisely walked away. He, and we, were all the better for it. Can the US, having ascended to the top as Washington did, now back away from the temptation to be King of the World? Can we prosper, and watch others prosper, without having to call the tune? I think that living up to Washington’s example will be the US challenge of the 21st century, a challenge that we must accept and meet, if we are to survive as a free nation. To judge from the past several years, we don’t seem to be doing so well.

  14. I’d argue with the previous post, except, as far as I can tell, it has nothing to do with anything, and doesn’t even make sense on its own terms.

  15. Fred,

    You don’t consider beatings and forced sodomy with glow sticks to be torture?

  16. Hersh (to me at least) has drawn from enough varied sources to show Rumsfeld is culpable to a large degree. However, I find his spin about the Geneva Convention irrelevant–and if that is attacking the messenger, so be it. The Geneva Convention does not protect American military personnel from abuses–all post 1945 conflicts involving the US were with states or groups that couldn’t care less about it–and to put in the quote that Rumsfeld has lowered the bar for the world is a farce. And he glides over the JAG statement that the US has had an exemplary record (re Geneva Convention) for the past 50 years–until Rumsfeld. I am sure some of his own writings over the past three decades or more would contradict that claim. The valid point is, should any one under US custody, civilian or military, in US territory or beyond, be subject to such treatment? As only one voter I say hell no, but that is based on what our own internal standard should be.

  17. “… approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda….”

    So Rumsfeld is actually doing something (“secret operations”) against the terrorists, unlike previous administrations. Good!

    And Seymor Hirsh is doing his best to thwart it.

    Some commenters here also believe that Iraq is a terrorist free zone, so such operations are unnecessary there ?

  18. Jacob,

    I think the issue isn’t whether or not Rumsfeld is fighting terrorism (he certainly is), but HOW he’s chosen to fight it (possibly corruptly and, in my opinion, definitely incompetently). To suggest that Hersh is against fighting terrorism is to miss the entire point of his articles and this discussion.

    And who here thinks there are no terrorists in Iraq? Could you show me a post where someone says that?

  19. It really takes a peculiar kind of mentality to go about trying to win a war of this kind in this way.

    rst wrote:

    In effect they [Geneva Conventions] are naught but quaint little guidelines. Every country ignores and breaks them to little fanfare.

    I love when Americans carry on about the ineffectiveness of world institutions and conventions, when America’s own attitude makes them this way.

    You all know the public outcry is chiefly political in motivation, and that what went on at Abu Ghraib when compared to prisoner abuses around the world was hardly even of note except for the deep insult it levied against Muslims with respect to the specific cultural sensitivities.

    Wrong. It was an insult to *my* cultural sensitivities and pretty much those of the entire world. I’d say pretty much everyone but the most boneheaded fratboy warhawk can admit this.

    The bottom line is, moral superiority was our last justification for being in Iraq. No WMDs, no imminent threat, no special links to Al-Qaida.

    Our last leg is gone. People like Marty and rst remind me of the black knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. What are you going to do now huh? Ideologically bleed on me?

  20. You asked if we would cooperate in your efforts to find WMD, but I don’t think we’ll be very keen. We’ve already got one, you see? Now go, or I shall taunt you a second time!

  21. Are you sure you’ve got one?

  22. Oh yes, it’s very nice. Now go! Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelled of elderberries!

  23. I think at this point I think a lot of hawks (myself included) are going to turn hard on the Bush administration, because, as Pavel points out, without the proimise of bringing a decent government to Iraq, there are no arguments left.

    Let me be the first to wishfully think that the GOP might somehow ditch Bush for somebody, well, anybody, else. Kerry is a weak enough opponent that a switch at this point wouldn’t be fatal, Bush hasn’t held true to the conservative ideology on a lot of issues, there are plenty of other Republicans that are sufficiently agressive on terrorism and supportive of the objectives in Iraq while objecting to this administration’s means, and the GOP’s moral credibility won’t be permanently stained by these abuses. Plenty of good reasons for the Republicans to give Bush the ax.

    But they won’t – because criticism of “our guy” is praise for “their guy” and we can’t have that.

  24. This situation, as I read it, is as follows: this brigadier general is placed in command of a military prison in the middle of a guerrilla war with inadequate resources even to keep track of all the prisoners the poorly trained occupation forces were dumping on her. The Pentagon then foists off on her some anonymous “experts,” some of them apparently operating under aliases, to “help” with interrogations.

    These people are beyond her control, legally, and begin to order around the MPs under her command, encouraging them to bully and abuse the prisoners, while they themselves commit war crimes behind closed doors, out of sight of the brigadier, to whom they do not answer. They answer to this dude in the Pentagon who has never commanded troops nor held a post in the Defense Department before last year.

    When the feces hits the ventilator, the brigadier is relieved and sent to prepare her defense in what the Pentagon hopes will be a quick, quiet show trial. Granted, she never should have let these bozos take over her prison without getting orders, in writing, and carefully documenting their activities and sending it up the chain of command, but her real “crime” was to trust the Pentagon. For that she will be crucified.

    Is it so surprising that the Army is outraged? Is it so surprising that the general officers are openly plotting against Rumsfeld? Should anyone be shocked that secret interrogation practices and policies are now being leaked all over the place? It’s not just the CIA lashing out at Rumsfeld in a turf war: the civilians at the DoD have been running wild for years, and they tried to set the uniformed personnel up to take the fall for it. Not going to happen.

  25. You guys are thinking at most 2 steps ahead. The administration is thinking more like 5 steps ahead in this chess game against the Islamo-fascists.

    The first thing to realize is that their ultimate goal is the creation of a worldwide Islamic theocracy and the death of anybody who doesn’t share this goal. You can’t defeat people who have big plans just by thinking small and limiting your goals to swatting whatever fly happens to have launched the most recent attack.

    Iraq was an interesting first target (after Afghanistan) because the terrorists didn’t see it coming. Obviously we had to invade Afghanistan first, just to show that we wouldn’t tolerate any more attacks on America. The terrorists had gotten bold after 8 years of Clinton. But once we had shown that we’ll mete out immediate retribution for any attack, we had to go from defense to offense. And we picked Iraq.

    Why Iraq? The doves on this forum have pointed out that Al Qaeda wasn’t very active in Iraq, or at least not the parts controlled by Saddam. They’ve also pointed out that Al Qaeda was an enemy of Saddam. And all that is true. Al Qaeda was kept in check by Saddam. But as we’ve learned after invading Iraq, there are a lot of fundamentalist nutballs who hate the West running around in Iraq. At some point Hussein’s regime was going to crumble, and if it hadn’t been done by the US then these people would have picked up the pieces themselves and created an even worse situation than we already had. We had to invade Iraq to make sure that the regime fell on our terms rather than the terms of the mullahs.

    If you think about it, we didn’t just liberate Iraq from the Baathists. We also prevented it from falling into the hands of the even more dangerous religious terrorists. That’s a win for our President. And it’s a point that most hawks on this forum aren’t making. We aren’t just transforming a region, we’re pre-emptively denying the Islamo-fascists the chance to conquer Iraq.

    Now we have a chance to build a free and secular society in the middle of terrorist country. We’ve denied the Islamo-fascists a prize that they were gunning for. And we have soldiers stationed in the heart of terrorist country. The wimpy liberals might think this is a distraction from finding Osama, but in the grand chess game this is sheer brilliance.

    God bless our President for thinking ahead so brilliantly.

  26. That this debate about Abu Ghraib has devolved into an argument about WHETHER we should torture, about whether or not it is evil or merely “ineffective,” is a sign of just how far our civilization has degenerated, just in my lifetime.

  27. Pavel,

    Are you stating that if the US public had a much higher opinion of the actual effectiveness of the Geneva Convention, the Japanese, North Koreans, North Vietnamese, Lebanese, Somalis, Serbians, and Iraqis, just to name a few countries which have mistreated US prisoners in the last 60 or so years, would have all followed the Geneva Convention? I love it when the moral failure of other independent states to follow any humane guideline is laid on the US. Try to sell that to the American public. Beside the media, most Americans I know have a) not tried to excuse the behavior at Abu Ghraib, and b) are disturbed at the behavior because it doesn’t live up to our own standards–or much more correctly, what US standards SHOULD be but obviously are not. As far as offending the entire world–there are only two groups that matter in this scandal–the Americans and the Iraqis. If the US can through some miracle satisfy the majority of Iraqis that the injustices at the prison have been halted and that the soldiers and interrogators–and anybody else responsible–have been brought to justice, it won’t matter much what the media, or the UN, or world opinion believes.

  28. what’s wrong with torture?

  29. Jesse, I wouldn’t lose too much sleep worrying about the comments of the Freeper losers who visit here. It doesn’t matter what the topic is, if it could reflect badly on The Leader, they will set out to destroy through personal attacks whomever discloses such information. Think of them as sort of an “intellectual” (sic) SS.

    If you want to see them in their mouth-breathing natural state, check out Lucianne Goldberg’s crackhouse for hate-rants; it brings back memories of the good ol’ “Klinton” days.

  30. University of Miami law professor Michael Froomkin read DoD spokesman Di Rita’s statement through lawyer glasses and he’s not sure the “denial” really was a denial at all:

    http://www.discourse.net/archives/2004/05/denial_or_nondenial_denial.html

  31. The ends sometimes DO justify the means, dependent on the ends and the means. To argue otherwise is to lock yourself in an ivory tower and have your enemies cement the door closed behind you.

    Do I think torture is reprehensible? Of course.

    Do I think prisoners at Abu Ghraib had information that warranted such ridiculous and frankly goofy methods? No.

    But I also think that if you believe allowing someone to kill innocent people is preferable to torturing information out of the enemy, it would be a bad idea to leave me alone in their cell with them and (as “Pulp Fiction’s” Marcellus Wallace might say) “a pair of plyers and a blowtorch.”

  32. Rummie’s and Condi’s smell like elderberries.

    The Pope did it by beatifying them.

  33. Torture is a good thing.

  34. At times like these, cliches and piety all rear their heads. Before I proceed, and if I have not made it clear, I fully embrace the Geneva Conventions as applied to uniformed combatants. I do not apply them to scattered (but organized) Islamic religious nuts who seek to bathe in the blood of Americans and who, when caught, may know when the next atrocity is to occur, where, and how. Geneva Conventions SHOULD apply to Iraqi POWs.

    The fact is, the ends do justify the means, and have always done so. We in the U.S. do not deter moving violations on our roads with the death penalty because that means of deterence is disproportionate to the ends sought to be secured. Assuming (as I do not) that the death penalty deterred murder, it would be justified. (And further assuming a high probability of not convicting an innocent, which I again do not assume.)

    Any of those wringing their hands over torture, I submit, would apply it in the proverbial New York minute in any number of circumstances. For example: a former business associate is angry with you. He feels you have stolen all his money and destroyed his life. He is sitting in your living room and smilingly informing you that he has buried your children alive in a woods, with about 30 minutes of oxygen left.

    You have the means of overpowering him. He doesn’t care if he is prosecuted and executed, for he feels he has nothing left to live for, but he will die happy relishing your anguish. Pain would give him incentive to reveal where your children are buried.

    Please. You know what you would do. The ends do justify the means.

    –Mona–

  35. Mona,

    I think anyone would. But until the government (the lying and incompetent government) can convince me that it’s the only possible solution to an impending and certain death (as in your scenario), I’ll not grant them the license. They haven’t earned that kind of trust.

  36. Mona-

    I’ve actually given this some thought. Here are the criteria that I would use for torture:

    1) There had better be darn good reason to think there’s a ticking clock before a bunch of people die. I’ll let other people codify the details of “darn good reason to believe”, but I think you get the gist.

    2) There had better be darn good reason to believe that the person in question had knowledge that could foil this attack. See disclaimers in #2.

    3) The people who make the decision to torture should be subject to a full review with full 20/20 hindsight. Notice how I put the burden on the people who make the decision rather than the people who follow the orders.

    And if that disclaimer about full 20/20 hindsight discourages some people from using torture, well, given the margins of error in the other 2 criteria, anybody who doesn’t have the confidence to stake his career on the information probably shouldn’t cross that line and torture somebody.

  37. Echoing Les to Mona,
    Government has never earned any kind of trust.

    Going 90 miles an hour down the slippery slope our government got us into is not the time to debate your legal points.

    Certainly not the time to say the ends justify the means.

  38. Les, thoreau and Ruthless: all good points, and keep in mind I was responding to general codemnations of torture per se under *any* circumstances, when the fact is, there are occasions when it is justified. Did they apply in Afghanistan? I think so, where the Al Qaeda is concerend.

    We have not had another event such as 9-11 on our soil. What if Bush et al. could and did announce that Plots A, B and C to perpetrate some additional atrocity(s) were foiled by the methods the CIA brought to bear with their techniques?

    I’m a libertarian, not an anarchist. I am as deeply suspicious of govt as anyone else here. But, I accept that the govt properly engages in the common defense. If torturing Al Qaeda operatives saved me and mine from biological warfare, blown up trains, or whatever else those religious zealots had in mind, I’m not going to fault the govt functionaries who carried it out.

    But Abu Ghraib is another matter entirely. If Rumsfeld wants to defend it, he should. If it is defensible, then Lynndie England and her colleagues do not deserve to go down. If it is not, many above them need to go as well.

    –Mona–

  39. Good to see some Reasonable posts for once.

    thoreau said:

    The people who make the decision to torture should be subject to a full review with full 20/20 hindsight. Notice how I put the burden on the people who make the decision rather than the people who follow the orders.

    The question is, how would this be different from what is happening now? What’s interesting about these articles is that they highlight a systemic problem that goes all the way up to the president. It’s as if no one actually made the decision, and the torture was an epiphenomenon of some mindless process. But I suppose that’s typical. All chiefs and no indians unless the shit hits the fan. Then it’s all indians and no chiefs.

    The water is getting hot, and the scum is rising to the top. But is it going to get ladled out? Probably not until November, and only if we’re lucky.

  40. Mona,

    I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. BUT! (knew that was coming, didn’t you?)

    You said, “I accept that the govt properly engages in the common defense.”

    I think it’s important to know that the govt properly engages in the common defense. The problem for me is that I can’t think of a time in the last 50 years that our government hasn’t engaged in the common defense IMproperly.

    While it’s done a remarkable job in many areas, it has, at the same time, repeatedly engaged in in dishonest, needlessly destructive, and illegal activities in the name of the common defense.

    I could live with that if our government would ever have the integrity to at least admit that it has, from time to time, done dishonest, needlessly destructive, and illegal things in the name of the common defense.

    For me, it’s like a guy who lost his family because he used to hit his wife and kids. Before I think he can ever be trusted again, he has to at least admit that he used to hit his wife and kids.

  41. Mona, the government’s apologized before, recognized evil done in its name. There’s no reason it couldn’t do it now. Except, of course, it would open itself up to all kinds of legitimate legal claims.

    I don’t know if we could have won the Cold War without the threat of Star Wars and increased military spending, but I’m sure we could have won it without helping dictators manage murderous regimes or supplying the bullets we knew would be used to gun down women and children. Maybe that’s the extent of my faith. But I do believe it.

    Like I said, I think the government’s done some great things in terms of security and I expect the government to keep us reasonably safe and secure. I have great respect for those who strive to do so.

    But that doesn’t mean I’m going to trust the government to know when it’s ethically sound to torture someone.

  42. “The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home”
    James Madison

    History is replete with examples of the same abuse governments inflict on captured foreign enemies, as happened at Abu Ghraib and also at Guantanamo,

    http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,1217973,00.html

    later being visited upon dissent at home. Sometimes I’m hopeful that it won’t happen here because of our republic’s legal commitment to individual rights but, the government ignored that commitment in the case of these foreigners.

    Shed a tear for the foreign victims of our government’s abuse. Cry a river for what it’s doing to our precious republic….

    Tell congress, in the name of our liberty, to stop this madness and stop it now!

    http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/

  43. No specific commentary from us about any of MONA’s posts, except to say that she sure musta been energized by all that yard work…This is the most I’ve seen her post in a single Thread here since we last bitched Ashcroft out for arresting medical marijuana patients….

    O2PAB

  44. Mona,

    You said, “I agree that past support,including that for Saddam, is troubling. But look, we forged an alliance with Stalin in WWII, out of sheer necessity. Hitler and Japan were the bigger problems, then. Do we indict ourselves as deserving 9-11 for every such pragmatic alliance?”

    I would never argue that we “deserved” 9/11. That’s important. Anyone who would doesn’t deserve to be listened to.

    And our alliance with the Soviets in WW2 was very different from our alliances with various facist dictatorships during the Cold War. We never deliberately or directly helped the Soviet govt. oppress its people for our own political advantage.

    “Do we rule out that as time passes it becomes clear that an ally is now an enemy? Do we pay never-ending penance for a prior alliance that seemed wise at the time?

    What standard of perfection and foresight is reasonable?”

    No one, especially me, expects perfection. I think some standards for proper common defense might include not overthrowing democratically elected governments, not providing arms and military assistance to governments with active programs of torture and murder for its dissidents. Things like that.

    We, the people, should never have to pay a “never-ending penance” for the mistakes of our government. But we should be allowed to wonder which mistakes they made that might have factored into to desire of some to wage war on us. This doesn’t excuse those who would commit acts of terrorism. It just serves as another tool with which we can examine the problem.

  45. Mona:

    ” Muslim nutjobs think we are the Great Satan and want us dead. Who among us, as individuals, could respond to 9-11 or prevent a reprise of same? To my mind, this is where reality tests who is a libertarian fantasist and who is a libertarian realist.”

    Libertarian realists know that it was our government’s hyper-interventionist foreign policy, vis a vis the Mid-east, that brought on 9/11 and that this approach needlessly makes us targets of these “nutjobs”, as you call them.

  46. Check out today’s (Monday 5/17) NY Post editorial re Seymour Hersh’s story:

    http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/editorial/24184.htm

  47. Rick Barton writes: >>Libertarian realists know that it was our government’s hyper-interventionist foreign policy, vis a vis the Mid-east, that brought on 9/11 and that this approach needlessly makes us targets of these “nutjobs”, as you call them.

  48. Mona,

    Are you the columnist; Mona Cheren, if I may inquire?

  49. No Rick Barton: Mona ChAren is conservative and Jewish; I am libertarian and Irish-Catholic by birth. We are, however, both brunette and pretty, save my mole is on my right elbow.

    –Mona– nee Mona Walsh

  50. Mona:

    “No bad actions in the world occur but for “foreign entanglements.” This is where I part company from Libertarians.”

    Come on you’re bashing straw-men! The point is that our government’s expansive Mid-east policy led to 9/11, not all of the “bad actions in the world”.

  51. Mona,

    Thank you for dispelling that notion. I thought I noticed perhaps a similarity in views and writing style. My bad, as they say.

  52. Indeed, I certainly don’t blame the U.S. for every bad thing and I don’t think the U.S. usually acts worse than most governments would in similar circumstances.

    But what is wrong with examining an incident like 9/11 and asking what factors contributed to its occurance? Isn’t it practical to just wonder if our foreign policy (some of which is successful and benevolent, some of which is neither) might have increased the chances of our being attacked? Maybe the answer is “yes” and maybe it’s “no.” I think there are valid arguments on both sides.

  53. Les asks:”But what is wrong with examining an incident like 9/11 and asking what factors contributed to its occurance? Isn’t it practical to just wonder if our foreign policy (some of which is successful and benevolent, some of which is neither) might have increased the chances of our being attacked? Maybe the answer is “yes” and maybe it’s “no.” I think there are valid arguments on both sides.”

    I agree that past support,including that for Saddam, is troubling. But look, we forged an alliance with Stalin in WWII, out of sheer necessity. Hitler and Japan were the bigger problems, then. Do we indict ourselves as deserving 9-11 for every such pragmatic alliance? Do we rule out that as time passes it becomes clear that an ally is now an enemy? Do we pay never-ending penance for a prior alliance that seemed wise at the time?

    What standard of perfection and foresight is reasonable?

    –Mona–

  54. SteveinClearwater posts: “No specific commentary from us about any of MONA’s posts, except to say that she sure musta been energized by all that yard work…This is the most I’ve seen her post in a single Thread here since we last bitched Ashcroft out for arresting medical marijuana patients….”

    Yeah, you dope fiends are all commies. No one who objects to the war on (people who use) drugs is kosher. Communists, all of ’em. Why give me an opportunity to reveal the truth, hmm? Maybe…Satan?

    –Mona–

  55. Captain says, “I’d argue with the previous post, except, as far as I can tell, it has nothing to do with anything, and doesn’t even make sense on its own terms.” Captain appears to be talking about MY post, although I don’t quite understand how the Captain can fail to get traction for an argument, while implying an understanding of my post’s “own terms” that is sufficient to assert that no sense is made relative to them. Your attempt at a glib dismissal would have more punch, if it were not self-cancelling, Captain.

    To make it plain to Captain and any like-minded folk here: The behavior we saw in Abu Ghraib conforms to a very obvious, signature pattern that you can observe in almost all government activities. The pattern plays out in its most extreme form in wartime because so much power is at play, and so few restrictions are in place for using that power. But you’ll see the same pattern, over and over, in large and small forms, everywhere government is in a position to call the shots in people’s lives.

    The people who founded this country knew this pattern well. They also knew that war was one of the end-results of the proliferation of this pattern, just as they knew that war, in turn, always provides much more opportunity for the pattern to continue to play out. They tried to set down rules that would keep government from getting too big and powerful, something they knew could happen if we gave too much power to the government and/or allowed government power to be used in too many different circumstances. But the only way the rules could be effective, would be if the people understood them and enforced them, holding strictly accountable the government and any of its officials who dared to step beyond the lines drawn in the sand.

    Some people want to cast Abu Ghraib as a problem in itself, but it is just a symptom. The problem is that the federal government has too much power, and controls too many resources. Smart money says the government’s power WILL be abused and its resources WILL be squandered. History has shown us little else. When the government has enough power and resources to support a projection of that might into a foreign nation, it WILL project its might; the people in those other places will naturally resist the domination, whether it comes as an inflow of dollars and pop-culture, or troops and bullets. At that point, we can either try to “soften them up,” or we can walk away.

    I mentioned President Washington because he is iconic as an example of someone who rose to the peak of greatness but found it within himself to avoid going too far — indeed, to proceed with some measure of humility. On the campaign trail in 2000, candidate Bush spoke of a “humble” foreign policy; I thought he was onto something there, but has the reality delivered by President Bush been anything close to “humble”? I don’t think so. In the 21st Century, the US needs to be a nation that people in other nations respect for two reasons: we strive (and are seen to strive) to do the right thing; and we retaliate, justly and decisively, for any attack. After Abu Ghraib, what has been going on in Iraq cannot possibly any longer be described as “just retaliation,” if it ever could.

    I think that we’ll have the best chance of giving the people of world those two reasons for respecting us, and perhaps several more, if we redouble our efforts to minimize the scope and power of our government. As the first and most important step to that end: we have to reestablish the chains of the constitution, to bind the federal government from foreign and domestic mischief. That’s a tall order, and we can argue about how much farther to go after that big job is done. Of course, we can’t even get started, unless we can give up the illusions of empire and our status as “sole world superpower,” just as Washington turned his back on the illusions of royalty and dictatorial power in his day. Can we do it? If not, I predict many more Abu Ghraibs in our future, so we should probably get used to them, in order to avoid sounding so shocked and horrified at learning that the near-absolute power that we have allowed our government to acquire has corrupted, near-absolutely.

  56. Uh yeah, thanks for that?

    A New York Post editorial?

  57. Welcome back.

  58. You know, I don’t disagree that the Federal government has too much power.

    But what the fuck does that have to do with Abu Ghraib? In a concrete way?

    Any government that could have invaded Iraq would have been susceptible to this kind of self-sabotage. Unless you’re going to lobby for a government so lacking in power that it couldn’t manage a war and occupation, I don’t think you can use Abu Ghraib as an excellent example of why we have to shrink the government.

    I mean, it might help, but there’s no reason to have that much faith in it.

    Well, maybe it would help. Fuck I want to see the Federal government shrink, even knowing that it probably wouldn’t prevent stuff like this.

  59. Hmm…, Looks like there’s two Freds on this H&R thingy. Guess I’ll have to go back to being Fred Gillete.

    I’m not going to quibble over the definitions of the words torture and humiliation. Let’s just say the acts in that prison were a major, terrible variance from the values Americans think they stand, live and die for.

  60. Originally, Geneva Conventions protections were stripped only from Qaeda and Taliban prisoners.

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. They never applied. The Geneva Convention only applies to lawful combatants of warring states. AQ neither employs lawful combatants nor is a state, so it is doubly disqualified. The Taliban was, arguably, a warring state, but most of its combatants were not lawful (no uniforms, used human shields, etc.). The Geneva Convention, by its terms, does not protect AQ and did not protect most of the Taliban fighters.

    The question about whether we should have pretended that it did by extending its protections to them is, at least, debatable. No one who has (a) studied the Convention and (b)lacks an axe to grind will seriously argue that the US has violated the Geneva Convention with respect to either the AQ or Taliban fighters.

    Many of Saddam’s soldiers, though, are covered by the Convention. What happened at AG is a violation of the Convention. Interestingly enough, the release of more photos and the repeated broadcast of the existing photos is also a violation. Fascinating, isn’t it, that the very same folks who howl about bogus violations on the one hand are clamoring for additional violations on the other.

  61. It appears to me that Hersh is intentionally conflating three separate chains of command – the MPs, the Military Intelligence Brigade, and the special forces operators.

    The MPs had operational control of the prison until January. This included control of 2,000 – 4,000 common criminals, plus up to several hundred terror group or informal militia detainees. While Brigadier General Karpinski says she lost control and had no resources,the first of her troops to plead guilty to abusing prisoners, SPC Jeremy Sivits, thought she was in control. He stated that the actions he was involved in were unsanctioned, and not commanded by anybody – that “there would have been hell to pay” if the chain of command found out about it because they “always try to do the right thing.” Nevermind that an Army leader is never permitted to evade responsibility for subordinates – isn’t it funny how she is saying that she had no control and therefore no responsibility for her troops, when one of the lowest ranking of them was pretty sure that she did? Gee, I wonder why there is a discrepancy here? You don’t suppose a general would be playing politics to evade responsibility? Nahhhhh, couldn’t happen.

    Then there is the MI Brigade. If they wanted to use any of the tactics for interrogation on the list of controlled measures – naked questioning, sleep deprivation, segregation – they had to submit a written request through Gen. Sanchez headquarters. They did this 25 times – which indicates that they knew the rules, and there was policy and procedures in place to prevent abuse. Most of the 15 requests were denied by Gen. Sanchez. Hmmmm… so if any interrogators were involved in the dog attack, the sexual abuse and the beatings, it was in fact a violation of command policy, and unsanctioned by the command on the ground.

    Then there are the special forces operators. Hersh makes it sound as if they moved into Abu Ghraib, set up shop, and started beating on the prisoners and making the MPs do the same. But then Hersh also says that there were only about 200 such special forces operators world wide with such authorization, and that they were spread out all over the world, including at Gitmo, Afghanistan and elsewhere. BG Karpinski seems to be aware of their limited nature – she referred to them in the Taguba report as “ghosts”. Even assuming the “ghosts” had a disproportionate authority, it’s hard to believe that a couple dozen secret squirrels, most likely of senior enlisted rank, had the ability to overrule a Brigadier General, or to overpower her and the 4,000 or so military police in her brigade.

    Finally, this brings me around to the Geneva Conventions.. The “no torture” clauses of the Conventions forbid any duress or coercion in questioning. If you interpret this leterally, which nobody except Human Rights Watch and people speaking ignorantly or politically grandstanding do, it means in essence that you may not question anyone captured. Nobody in a position of national leadership anywhere in the world do so, excepting nations that never go to war. The other nations, that get involved in these messes, interpret the Conventions with more laxity, defining torture as things that would permanently damage or injure the persons questioned. Moreover, the Third Convention’s no torture clause, which everybody cites, only applies to soldiers. It doesn’t apply to guerillas and other civilians captured on a battlefield, waving a rifle or RPG around. The Fourth Convention applies to the civilians, but it protects “innocent civilians”, not the unlawful combatants caught waging war.

    The goal of Hersh, and the probable eventual result, is that U.S. human intelligence efforts will be badly degraded, by adhering to an unattainable standard of niceness that idealists insist is the world norm. The utter inability of the mass media to express these fairly simple facts in anything like a coherent anaylsis is disappointing, even though it isn’t surprising.

    And funny enough, this is coming not three weeks after the 9/11 Commission spent a week raking George Tenet and John Ashcroft over the coals for inadequate aggressiveness and poor quality human intelligence efforts against terrorists.

  62. Hi Larry. Thanks for making a sincere point. I’ll try to respond in kind. You said, “Any government that could have invaded Iraq would have been susceptible to this kind of self-sabotage. Unless you’re going to lobby for a government so lacking in power that it couldn’t manage a war and occupation, I don’t think you can use Abu Ghraib as an excellent example of why we have to shrink the government.”

    I completely agree with your first sentence in the above quote. I also didn’t pose Abu Ghraib as an “excellent example” of why we need smaller government, only as the logical-end-point symptom of the larger problem. My point being: AG was terrible, but as long as we allow the larger problem to exist, we’ll see a lot of terrible things; conversely, by “fixing” AG, if that is even possible, we won’t even get close to fixing the problem that will generate more AGs — too much time and effort spent on AG will simply be wasted if we don’t go for the bigger problem.

    As to your point of whether I am lobbying for a government that is too small to manage a war and occupation, that’s a tricky one. I want a military that is sufficient to defend the country but insufficient to be deployed around the world routinely or on any but the most dire and well-substantiated pretexts. Obviously, any standing army that could adequately defend the country could also be used in a foreign war and occupation (but at the cost of leaving all or part of the nation undefended — a risk that our leaders would probably not often take in times of real danger). If our force were only barely sufficient to provide defense, however — and that’s still a fairly large military — maybe that would hobble the country’s ability to go around the world and make mischief, at least reducing the probability of future AG incidents.

    We need to increase the motivation of our leaders to give proper consideration to as many of the angles as time permits before going to war; I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone these days who will agree that there was enough debate about either the War on Terror or the Iraq War before we jumped in. If the government were smaller and the military were commensurately reduced, this could force our leaders to think a little harder before getting us in the soup. There is no doubt that, whenever the US is attacked or clearly in danger, patriotic Americans will come forward to defend the nation. It has happened every time before. So the big concern is whether or not the standing force we keep between wars is large enough and deployed unwisely enough to get us into real trouble.

  63. Les writes “For me, it’s like a guy who lost his family because he used to hit his wife and kids. Before I think he can ever be trusted again, he has to at least admit that he used to hit his wife and kids.”

    You are unlikely ever to see that. Officials change every few yrs, and there is no one individual appointed to assume responsibility, unlike the case of the guy who beats his family.

    (As an aside, I do think Reagan did the right thing for us by spending on defense and Star Wars, and thus bankrupting the USSR. A won Cold War, even via taxation, beats any kind of hot war.)

    But we have no choice: we need a common defense. Muslim nutjobs think we are the Great Satan and want us dead. Who among us, as individuals, could respond to 9-11 or prevent a reprise of same? To my mind, this is where reality tests who is a libertarian fantasist and who is a libertarian realist.

    The globe is now small. I want to be able to travel again without fear. And to know that, say, the Sears Tower is not about to blow. Give me an option other than the govt for providing me that security, and I’ll listen.

    –Mona–

  64. “The water is getting hot, and the scum is rising to the top. But is it going to get ladled out? Probably not until November, and only if we’re lucky.”

    I suspect the effect of this scandal on the President?s reelection campaign is already much bigger than most people realize, and, from here, it looks like it?s just going to get worse. So I?m still betting that Rumsfeld resigns before November.

    We?ll see.

  65. I don’t think it’s fair to condemn the whole program because of a single slip-up.

  66. Privatize National Security!

    Create a market where companies compete to stop you from being blown to bits!

  67. “I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone these days who will agree that there was enough debate about either the War on Terror or the Iraq War before we jumped in.” –James Merritt

    How about Ahmed Chalabi?

  68. “Libertarian realists know that it was our government’s hyper-interventionist foreign policy, vis a vis the Mid-east, that brought on 9/11 and that this approach needlessly makes us targets of these “nutjobs”, as you call them.”

    No, libertarian realists realize that terrorists hate us because we are wealthy and powerful infidels, while they, the true belivers, remain stuck in a bypassed culture.

  69. “And our alliance with the Soviets in WW2 was very different from our alliances with various facist dictatorships during the Cold War. We never deliberately or directly helped the Soviet govt. oppress its people for our own political advantage.”

    We did sell out Eastern Europe to the Reds, although granted, I don’t see that it was any way to our advantage, political or otherwise.

    Frankly, when it came to supporting the likes of the Shah and Batista, I believe it was a mistake to end our support for these “fascist dictatorships”. The alternative has proven to be not just contrary to US interests, but to the interests of the Iranian and Cuban people, as well as many people in neighboring countries.

  70. “Frankly, when it came to supporting the likes of the Shah and Batista, I believe it was a mistake to end our support for these “fascist dictatorships”. The alternative has proven to be not just contrary to US interests, but to the interests of the Iranian and Cuban people, as well as many people in neighboring countries.”

    It’s relevent that Cuba and Iran went the way they did after their people had been brutally oppressed for decades with our assistance. I don’t think that continuing to assist in that repression would have been good for anyone.

    Certainly, with American ingenuity, we could have found a way to fight communism and extremism without propping up dictators who regularly managed dissidents with torture and murder.

    “No, libertarian realists realize that terrorists hate us because we are wealthy and powerful infidels, while they, the true belivers, remain stuck in a bypassed culture.”

    This remains an interesting and thoroughly undemonstrated theory. It simplifies complex motivations while removing any responsibility for failed and thoughtless U.S. foreign policies.

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