"Do You Pray to Allah?"

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"Do you pray to Allah?" one [U.S. soldier] asked. "I said yes. They said, '[Expletive] you. And [expletive] him.' One of them said, 'You are not getting out of here health[y], you are getting out of here handicapped. And he said to me, 'Are you married?' I said, 'Yes.' They said, 'If your wife saw you like this, she will be disappointed.' One of them said, 'But if I saw her now she would not be disappointed now because I would rape her.' "

That's from today's Washington Post, in a story about how prisoners were treated at Abu Ghraib. It doesn't make for light reading:

Previously secret sworn statements by detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq describe in raw detail abuse that goes well beyond what has been made public, adding allegations of prisoners being ridden like animals, sexually fondled by female soldiers and forced to retrieve their food from toilets.

The fresh allegations of prison abuse are contained in statements taken from 13 detainees shortly after a soldier reported the incidents to military investigators in mid-January. The detainees said they were savagely beaten and repeatedly humiliated sexually by American soldiers working on the night shift at Tier 1A in Abu Ghraib during the holy month of Ramadan, according to copies of the statements obtained by The Washington Post.

The Post story is here. It is not clear from the Post account whether the prisoners involved in these accounts were suspected of any sort of serious involvement with the insurgency, al Qaeda, etc.

I continue to think (hope) that a thorough and public investigation of the prisoner abuses may mitigate the worst damage done by the scandal. But that may be becoming a ridiculous hope.

Indeed, for all the gasps drawn after Seymour Hersh's New Yorker piece about the creation of a super-secret interrogation team, I think most people–in America and elsewhere–are not in the end troubled by the existence of such a squad per se, if its activities are very tightly circumscribed and directed only at known, top al Qaeda suspects such Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It's the idea that the same sort of coercion–and outright torture–is being used indiscriminately on a more-general prison population to absolutely no particular intelligence or military purpose.

Mark Bowden's haunting story in the Atlantic last fall, "The Dark Art of Interrogation," rightly a finalist for a National Magazine Award in the public interest category, asked the difficult moral question, "Many veteran interrogators believe that the use of such methods [i.e. methods that contravene the Geneva Conventions] to extract information is justified if it could save lives….It may be clear that coercion is sometimes the right choice, but how does one allow it yet still control it?" What we may be learning is that there is no good answer to that question.

NEXT: Goody Two Shoes

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  1. But you have to admit, the only people who are complaining about “the outrage,” the only people who are saying what happened was no big deal, identify themselves as conservatives (which is not to imply that conservatives are more politically motivated than liberals, we all know they’re not). And of course that doesn’t mean that Rumsfeld and Bush et al approved what happened.

    But, like Gonzalez, a lot of people who should resign or get fired are shrugging their shoulders and pointing fingers, which has been the typical reaction from everyone who’s made major mistakes regarding Iraq. One would think the party of “personal responsibility” wouldn’t be represented by so many pussies. I know, that’s crass, by I’m FRUSTRATED, dagnabit!

  2. “National soul destroying”

    Well put, I agree. I hope this doesn’t sound wrong, but in a dark corner of my id, I can sort of imagine that the abusers felt they were doing Good. The were sure their victims were Bad Guys. They had the approval and encouragement of, at least, military intelligence officers. They were told they were doing a good job. They probably felt that their work was helping to secure victory and deliver democracy (how quaint that sounds) to the Iraqis. The victims deserved whatever they got.

    I sort of understand how they could think that, even if I think it’s twisted and morally degenerate.

    But today, I saw soldiers posing over DEAD BODIES, with big grins and thumbs-up signs. Dead bodies. You cannot blackmail or coerce a dead body with compromising photos. There is no utility to taking such photos. There is only – how to put this? – genuine and sincere pleasure that their victims had been murdered. A Kodak moment.

    That’s a level of depravity and moral insanity I cannot begin to comprehend.

    My Lai was the previous trough of our national shame. That was a massacre, and probably more died there than in Iraqi prisons. But I don’t recall Vietnam soldiers snapping photos of the dead bodies and posing next to them with big smiles and extended thumbs.

    The fact that snapshots were taken adds another layer of incomprehensibility.

  3. Slippery Pete,

    BTW I voted for lil georges ole man, and any other number of repubs over the years, so I am unaware of any overt anti-conservative feelings. I distrust politicans on principal-Dem or Repub.

    I think you are wrong though about your “Occam’s razor and all”. It seems to me, based on history, news accounts, evidence presented, military organization, etc….that the most obvious explanation is that this is a top down problem. The rather unsurprising and predictable outcome of the policies that we have reason to believe were supported. Lack of faith in the rule of law etc. I understand you would disagree, but my reading of history, my watching of the general disregard for the rule of law in this administration has led me here.

    It seems to me that the least likely belief is that this is random and isolated and not representative of a new attitude held at the top. And that this could happen without encouragement is pretty bizarre. I know too many folks in the military, I have to many family members who have served honorably. I just can’t even (personally) conceive that this is all just some great big accident.

    Pete you say ?The fact that snapshots were taken adds another layer of incomprehensibility.? But I guess that?s my point. If you read history, if you look at the administration wanting to detain American citizens without judicial review, if you look at the whole build up, the false intelligence, the shift away from our core beliefs. It is not accidental. It is not surprising. It is what happens when we travel the road our president wants us to. To me, the map the president has laid out leads exactly here. To me none of this is a surprise. It is not the war that bothers me, only the way we have fought it. Deceit, and shadow actions. It didn?t have to be this way. This is the way G Bush chooses, and this particular way is so very, very predictable. Others have traveled down this way. And come here too. I too am horrified. But not surprised. And this from someone who supported Gulf I. I am tired of excuses. Very tired. And afraid.
    Unfortunately I can comprehend all of this. I?ve seen it. I?ve read about it. I know all of this. The sickening inevitably of it.

  4. ok, those are some sick fuckers.

    This doesn’t make me feel ashamed on a grand scale though. I’m certainly ashamed of the soldiers/officers, and were my government to look the other way (like some of the more enlightened ones enjoy doing) then of it as well. I am usually ashamed of that clusterfuck anyway. But for all the inundation of “shame on you evil Americans” bullshit I have yet to see something that could possibly make me personally feel ashamed for my country as a whole. Prison abuse is too common across the entire world for me to take these images to heart on the level I suspect most lefties would prefer. It doesn’t demonstrate anything more than that the beat goes on and we are nothing special. Is that really news to you?

    Prisoner abuse was already illegal. The soldiers knew it when they signed on, and whether the government “let them get away with it” is irrelevant. I wouldn’t think you need to check with the chain of command as to whether it’s kosher to rape some kid in the ass. If you can’t conduct yourself as an adult within the law then you don’t belong serving in the military or even walking free. Throw them in Leavenworth and let us normal people move on with our lives.

  5. Skep –

    I’m probably protesting too much. I actually agree with your entire last post. When I spoke of incompetence, I meant on part of the administration, not the GIs (though they’re imcompetent too, and more).

    I do not believe that Bush or Rummy understood or agreed with the atrocities that took place in that prison. I don’t think that was their intention. But you are correct: At a minimum, they established a culture that probably contributed to, or made possible, these abuses. They are contemptuous of international standards of human rights, of our treaty obligations, of other countries. They engage in endless special pleading (whereby previously unallowable actions become ok because terrorism is such a unique threat). There’s no accountability for anything. Add insufficient troop levels to the mix, and it’s easy to see how this might have happened.

    We need to let the investigations conclude, but I agree with your last post completely.

  6. You know this seems like the perfect basis for a story on how Americans are improving prison conditions in the Arab world.

    Then we could run a story on American prisons and prison rape.

    ==============================================

    The problem for me is not how bad the Iraqi prisons are now that Americans are running them. The problem is that they are no worse than American Prisons. Corcoran? Pelican Bay?

  7. So what happened in Iraqi prisons was soul destroying?

    OK.

    Stuff like this has been going on in American prisons for years under the Repubs and the Dems. Where is/was the outcry?

    Ah. Yes. No pictures.

  8. RST:
    “I wouldn’t think you need to check with the chain of command as to whether it’s kosher to rape some kid in the ass.”

    The problem is if a soldier refuse orders, they are faced with this:

    “Soldier who deserted Iraqi unit to protest found guilty”

    http://www.cnn.com/2004/LAW/05/21/antiwar.soldier.ap/index.html

  9. JDM, how many civilized, responsible, bourgeois Germans do you think committed atrocities in the 40s?

    The defense of “those are sociopaths/trailer trash/fill in Other here,” and the related efforts to deny that there was any complicity higher up, look pretty, uh, defensive. It could be you or me doing those things, given the right circumstances. Don’t kid yourself.

  10. “JDM, how many civilized, responsible, bourgeois Germans do you think committed atrocities in the 40s?”

    Many. What’s your point?

    “The defense of “those are sociopaths/trailer trash/fill in Other here,” and the related efforts to deny that there was any complicity higher up, look pretty, uh, defensive.”

    Who are you arguing with? Maybe you just have extremely poor reading comprehension skills. My point is that the fact that these soldiers are taking particular delight in posing with dead bodies and torture victims actually implicates people higher up?

    “It could be you or me doing those things, given the right circumstances. Don’t kid yourself.”

    Ok, I won’t. Nor would I do those things. Nor does it matter. There are a signifigant number of people who, at the time they join the military, would not do those things, even after training. Whether there was some brainwashing scheme you could concoct that might make those same people do this is moot.

  11. errr… Put a period where that last question mark is. Always repunctuate after editing.

  12. No no, question mark works. “What are you arguing with? My point…?” That’s correct.

    And I’m arguing with your implication that the soldiers had to be abnormal to end up doing those things. You seem so confident that you’re better than them. Such lack of self-awareness must be nice.

  13. Joe –

    I disagree with you completely. It’s true that it’s easy to say “I’d never do that” from the comfort of a Barcalounger.

    But what you’re saying is just another way of saying nobody’s responsible for anything. If anybody would have done the same thing in those circumstances, then nobody’s guilty of anything. Which is BS, my friend. They ARE guilty, which means they had some choice in the matter. (Or vice versa.)

    The military requires that illegal orders be refused. That usually causes a lot of trouble for those ignoring illegal orders, but life’s tough sometimes. Those soldiers surely broke countless laws and behaved atrociously. Not everybody in their shoes would have done the same thing.

    We’re all CAPABLE of brutality, but that doesn’t mean we’re all always predestined to behave that way. We have some choice in the matter. That’s a position I’d expect libertarians to embrace.

  14. Women do not belong in men’s prisons nor do men belong in woman’s prisons. Once you violate a fundamental common sense law, everything else is up for grabs. Now just who made prison guarding co-ed?

  15. “But what you’re saying is just another way of saying nobody’s responsible for anything.”

    No, it’s not. The simplilstic insistence by you and your ilk that any recognition of any degree of social influence is a denial of free will lies at the heart of libertarianism’s intellectual failure.

    The socialization aspect of the crime may mitigate and explain it, but does not excuse it. It is this insistence that the enlisted personnels’ free wills alone are to blame that lets guilty parties – the superiors who either let it happened, condoned it, or orderred it – go free.

  16. Let’s blame it on the women! That’s it! Nothing gets ’em wet like seeing an Iraqi’s testicles lit up like a Glo-Stik, eh?

  17. These pictures rival Maplethorpe’s for homoerotic undertones. Presence of women, my ass.

  18. Your certainty that everyone who undergoes boot camp and a year of military service is capable of enjoying the torture and murder of defensless prisoners is sad. What’s sadder is that you believe you would know what greater self awareness on my part would yield, in spite of the fact that you don’t even seem to be reading my posts.

    Just to be clear, you were trying to argue with (in addition to anything else):

    “the related efforts to deny that there was any complicity higher up”

    It’s right there in black and white.

  19. Let’s blame it on the women! That’s it! Nothing gets ’em wet like seeing an Iraqi’s testicles lit up like a Glo-Stik, eh?

  20. Walter Wallis: Women do not belong in men’s prisons nor do men belong in woman’s prisons. Once you violate a fundamental common sense law, everything else is up for grabs. Now just who made prison guarding co-ed?

    Who made our military co-ed?

  21. “Your certainty that everyone who undergoes boot camp and a year of military service is capable of enjoying the torture and murder of defensless prisoners is sad.”

    Going to boot camp, as Americans know it, is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for that to occur. It would take much more than that.

    And what I’m arguing with is not the quote you provided, but the repeated attempts in your 12:54 post to blame the problem on “weak peronalities,” which you clearly consider to be different and less than your own. The certainty of one’s own goodness (and that of one’s cause) is a necessary step towards being able to do such things and be proud of them, because the actions of a good person MUST be good. Look at the faces in the photos – not wicked, mischevious grins, but confident pride in a job well done. I bet those people knew they’d never do anything evil, too.

  22. Speaking of soul-destroying, why does it take so damn long to post things here? I’m on a T1 and it’s taking me 5 minutes or more to get through when I post.

  23. “what I’m arguing with is not the quote you provided, but the repeated attempts in your 12:54 post to blame the problem on “weak peronalities,” which you clearly consider to be different and less than your own.”

    There is no attempt in my post to blame it on anything but the people who gave the order. I would blame the soldiers as well, but I haven’t said anything about that here.

    Even if I am evil (for Christ’s sake I’m practically a Repbulican, so I must be) it makes no difference to my argument. Unless they could trust practically every soldier in the army to do what they asked, they must have had some selection criterea.

    “Look at the faces in the photos – not wicked, mischevious grins, but confident pride in a job well done.”

    There’s really is nothing to say to that. You’re just getting nutty now.

    “I bet those people knew they’d never do anything evil, too.”

    Again, so what? Some would not have done anything evil in the same circumstances. Not all soldiers lived the same lives as these up until the point they signed up, and I don’t believe these were put through extensive brain washing beyond normal service.

  24. Slippery Pete: But what you’re saying is just another way of saying nobody’s responsible for anything.

    Joe: No, it’s not. The simplistic insistence by you and your ilk that any recognition of any degree of social influence is a denial of free will lies at the heart of libertarianism’s intellectual failure.

    The socialization aspect of the crime may mitigate and explain it, but does not excuse it. It is this insistence that the enlisted personnels’ free wills alone are to blame that lets guilty parties – the superiors who either let it happened, condoned it, or ordered it – go free.

    In other words, if the person who teaches you how to drive teaches you that RED LIGHT means GO and GREEN LIGHT means STOP that it is really their fault when you cause an accident as much as it is yours?

  25. To whomever called me a libertarian:

    Retract that! I’m no such thing. 95% of my time on H&R is spent making “propeller-head” jokes at the expense of libertarians.

    Of course social environments can influence individual behavior, but in most cases they don’t excuse egregious moral failures like the ones documented in the Abu Ghraib pictures. That was my only point, and I think it’s a pretty unremarkable position to stake out.

  26. All you who want Bush and Rumsfeld fired for this should also demand that the Governor and all of their staff of your state be fired, you can’t deny rape and torture and murder don’t happen in your state and county prisons. Get a grip folks.

  27. JDM, why did you raise the matter of the soldiers having weak personalities, if not to explain how a person could do such a thing?

    ‘”Look at the faces in the photos – not wicked, mischevious grins, but confident pride in a job well done.”

    ‘There’s really is nothing to say to that. You’re just getting nutty now.’ Wow, so your lack of emotional intelligence extends to bafflement at the emotional states of others. I’m not really too surprised, to tell the truth. I’m sure the discussion of such matters leaves you with nothing to say.

    “I don’t believe these were put through extensive brain washing beyond normal service.”

    Nor do I, but so what? The people who took part in the Stanford Prison Experiment didn’t undergo any brainwashing, either. Nor did the volunteers who went ahead and administered “electric shocks” to howling strangers who gave incorrect answers in another famous experiment. I never raised the issue of brainwashing, because it is not only irrelevant to my point, but the opposite of what I’m saying. Human beings, put in situations of power and stress, with a social group that operates in certain ways, are capable of anything. It’s no coincidence that the whistleblower was a newbie, and it’s no surprise the Sivits, removed from the situation, quickly regained his moral judgement.

    Serpant,

    If someone were teaching Drivers Ed students to go on red, yes, I’d say they bear some of the responsibility for the carnage that ensues. You wouldn’t? Is there maybe a better example to make your point, because I don’t think that one worked.

  28. It was with a real sense of disbelief that I watched this country foolishly march off to war. Now I really find it hard to believe that anyone could defend these tortures for any reason, especially considering the fact that most of these prisoners were probably not quilty of anything. They certainly did not get a fair and speedy trial. I guess this country has “jumped the shark”. The raving-loon right could not have messed things up any worse if they tried. It is sad… really, to watch this spectical. I have lost almost all respect for the USA. Our beloved country transformed into a neo-fascist, reactionary haven for the rich and a vast resevoir of anti-intelectual mouth breathers who show open distain for the founding priciples of freedom. Bring democracy to Iraq? What a laugh! The vast majority of Iraqi’s want US out now. But we have no intention of leaving. Watch as we write a new chapter of Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly”. I do not recognize the country I live in. Shame, shame, shame!!!

  29. I figure almost everyone involved has probably told themselves at one time or another that what they’re doing is the right thing. Some of them probably have streaks in their personality that lead them to behave anti-socially and violently. Only some of them, though.

    I doubt that anyone in command would have approved of the worst of the allegation – torture, and ill-treatment of detainees with a likely 70%-90% rate of innocence.

    However, there is evidence to support the conclusion that the President, his Defense secretary, and the deputy and undersecretaries of Defense have some combination of the following:

    – ideological beliefs that they are reluctant to question

    – a lack of awareness of the consequences of certain policy decisions

    – a degraded interest in researching alternate paths to a particular outcome

    Well, something like that. I’m still trying to distill this.

  30. Not all of the shock experiment subjects continued. Not all people behave the same way in the same situations. I know that’s inconvenient for your world view, but it’s a simple fact.

    “JDM, why did you raise the matter of the soldiers having weak personalities, if not to explain how a person could do such a thing?”

    I’ve explained it more than once, but you just aren’t going to get it.

    As for your claim that my emotional intelligence is low because I don’t see the “pride in a job well done” in the expressions of the torturers, I didn’t say that. You’re just nuts to me for two reasons – because your need to fit the predetermined emotion of pride to the pictures so they fit with your absurd worldview, where all people are merely clay, is so obvious, and two, because it would not make one whit of difference to my argument whether they are proud or not. Suppose they are proud. So what? Not everyone would be. Incidentally, my vote is for gallows humor.

    You’ve hijacked the whole thread to propound a patently ridiculous notion of human behavior. Only a zealot idealogue would question the idea that if you are going to ask people to torture someone for you, you have to be careful who you ask, or you’re going to get found out.

    At this point I’m going to retroactively invoke Goodwin’s law and depart the thread.

  31. “I remember a time when even conservatives did not beleive in torture. Guess that time is gone.”
    –Skeptikos

    That’s what happens to moral absolutes in an age of perpetual war–even to the moral absolutes held by the alleged guardians of moral absolutism, the so-called “conservatives.”

    Thucydides pointed out the same phenomenon in Athenian society 2400 years ago: the moral relativism, the end justifying the means, the belief that, as Thrasymachus said, “justice is the will of the stronger.” Or as Acton summed it up, power tends to corrupt. Victor Davis Hanson, it seems, liked those Athenians for a reason. We’re currently starring in our own version of the Melian Dialogue.

  32. Good observation Kevin.

    Iraq is our Sicily.

  33. Seeing people on the tube here in London and
    looking at the pictures of smiling Americans
    giving the thumbs up in front of a dead Iraqi
    prisoner is the first time I have ever been
    embarrassed to be an American while travelling
    in Europe.

    The bad management of this is truly pathetic.
    Putting amateur soldiers in the position to
    do this sort of thing, and then allowing them
    to take and ciruclate pictures is so beyond the
    realm of even military stupidity and incompetence
    that it just boggles the mind.

    Let this be a lesson to conservatives who rail
    against the post office but someone imagine we’ll
    get better service from the military.

    Jeff

  34. The suggestion of a utilitarian justification (“to save lives”) for torture is extremely disturbing. There are limited circumstances in which someone can justifiably be treated in ways that normally are beyond the pale (I’d see no problem with disassembling Bin Laden with a nailclipper), but the action needs to be commensurate with what the person in question has done, not just with what can be gained.

  35. The last paragraph of that article in the post pretty much sums it up doesn’t it:

    “Do you believe in anything?” he said the soldier asked. “I said to him, ‘I believe in Allah.’ So he said, “But I believe in torture and I will torture you.’ ”

    I remember a time when even conservatives did not beleive in torture. Guess that time is gone.

  36. No wonder the admin is afraid of the ICC.

  37. The problem is if a soldier refuse orders, they are faced with this:

    “Soldier who refused order to rape prisoner in ass found guilty”

    nah dude I just don’t see it.

    It is this insistence that the enlisted personnels’ free wills alone are to blame that lets guilty parties – the superiors who either let it happened, condoned it, or orderred it – go free

    Where do terrorists get their money? If you buy drugs, some of it might come from you…

  38. “and then allowing them
    to take and ciruclate pictures is so beyond the
    realm of even military stupidity and incompetence”

    Yeah, just like Rumsfield said, damn those digital cameras. The cameras should be on trial not the commanders.

  39. In more positive news, it appears that Andy Kaufman might have faked his death!!! 🙂 Though highly skeptical, I would love for this to be true.

    http://andykaufmanreturns.blogspot.com/

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2004/05/14/ftkauf14.xml

  40. joe,

    It should be noted that the ICC only functions when a state’s own domestic courts aren’t functioning.

  41. I for one am getting really fucking sick of all those poses with big smiles and cocky “thumbs up”. These dickheads should be forced to walk around for the rest of their lives with those thumbs up their..

  42. Seriously though, can you Imagine winning this war against Islamo-Fascists with our rules and regulations. Me says fight terror with terror!!

  43. Just to be clear in response to the cleverly-
    named “anon” …. I am, like Nick, willing to
    accept some amount of coercion (though people
    should not be being killed, as seems to be the
    case) for the upper 1 or 2 percent of the
    distribution of nastiness. But it should be
    very tightly controlled and done by professionals,
    not guys and gals fresh in the from the trailer
    park and on loan from their clerical positions.

    This is really, really poor and, in my view,
    heads should roll all the way up to Rumsfeld.
    This is not just to show the Arabs that we are
    serious but to set the tone for the future that
    this level of incompetence in military operations
    has consequences beyond having to say you are
    sorry.

    Jeff

    P.S. Is it me or has there been almost no press
    coverage in the U.S. of the fact that the
    British abuse photos turned out to be fakes?

  44. Skeptikos,

    “I remember a time when even conservatives did not beleive in torture. Guess that time is gone.”

    I have news for you. Most, if not all, conservatives (this one included) still oppose torture. Dershowitz likes torture fine, and last I checked, he is no conservative.

    This prison scandal pisses me off on many levels, and all responsible heads should roll. I don’t care how high up the chain of command this goes. If Rumsfield approved this, he should go. Same with Dubya.

  45. “I remember a time when even conservatives did not beleive in torture. Guess that time is gone.”

    No it hasn’t, Skeptikos. Our tax money is being used to finance this savagery. We must demand that that our military be brought home from Iraq and ALL US military personal guilty of these crimes be punished. This includes those “up command” that authorized these crimes against the Iraqi people.

    We should never rest until all US military personal involved are brought to justice. And, the number of those involved looks to be substantial. These US soldiers are disgusting criminals and their crimes shame us all!

    Post these where ever you can. This guy was beaten to death:

    http://www.antiwar.com/news/?articleid=2444

    More pictures of our tax dollars at work:

    http://www.antiwar.com/news/?articleid=2444

  46. “This is not just to show the Arabs that we are
    serious but to set the tone for the future that
    this level of incompetence in military operations
    has consequences beyond having to say you are
    sorry.”

    If the stories about Rumsfeld approving the widening of the use of these kinds of tactics are true, Bush has to go, and Rumsfeld should go to prison. It becomes the duty of the electorate to send the same message to any future presidents that Bush needs to send to Rumsfeld.

    Someone, somewhere had to know that entrusting torture to the likes of the sociopathic trailer trash that is given prison guard duty would result in people being tortured to death for nothing, it’s hard to see how that information wouldn’t have made it up the ladder.

  47. I heard and interesting point of view on NPR this morning.

    One of those interviewed was a JAG officer on his way to teach military justice at West Point.

    He said that torture is, on the whole, usually unjustified and ineffective. The exception is a “ticking bomb” situation where the urgency of the situation would justify extreme measures that might be effective.

    However, he felt that torture (as opposed to coersive methods) of all forms should still be illegal.

    His rationale was that by keeping the methods illegal – even under the “ticking bomb scenario – those that employed torture would do so knowing it was illegal and use torture knowing that they would have to explain it and justify it after the fact. The situational use would be provided its own controls.

    Even if you don’t agree, it’s an interesting notion.

  48. madpad,

    That’s a fairly typical opinion actually, and I’ve seen it mentioned in innumerable articles on this issue.

  49. JDM, I don’t believe for a second that the soldiers implicated are particularly sociopathic, or came up with this stuff on their own. Group pressure and reinforcement for respected authorities can lead entirely normal people to do quite savage things.

  50. Skeptikos –

    You wrote:

    “I remember a time when even conservatives did not beleive in torture. Guess that time is gone.”

    What gave you the impression that the soldiers in question were conservatives? We still don’t know to what degree torture (by whatever euphemism) was encouraged or authorized in the chain of command. Or even if there was a chain of command. Or whether rank incompetence is to blame. Or lack of manning. Or all of these things. My theory – I’ll go out on a limb – is that we’re being led by the biggest bunch of arrogant incompetents the White House has ever seen.

    In theory, and in VERY strictly controlled circumstances, I could support limited “coercion” (torture). Probably to my shame, but there it is.

    In PRACTICE, it is abundantly clear that human nature and politics simply will not permit torture under limited and strictly controlled circumstances. It’s unstable and tends to veer toward outrageous abuses (Abu Ghraib and who knows where else) or total prohibition (most of the rest of the civilized world). Once you cross that line into “coercion”, what’s holding you back?

    Publicly, torture must always be denied. The “sophisticated” take on torture is that we should exercise benevolent hypocrisy – publicly condemning it, privately practicing it to a limited degree.

    The problems with this:

    1. The abuses inevitably come to light. When they do, we destroy whatever moral credibility and leadership we ever had. We give a free pass to every tinhorn dictator to boil dissidents in Canola oil.

    2. The information gained through torture is unreliable.

    3. There is no process for distinguishing between legitimate suspects and innocents caught up in a dragnet. In Abu Ghraib, the Army estimates that 75-90% of detainees are totally innocent. It’s fine to suggest – as somebody above did – that he has know problem roughing up the top 1 or 2%. But how do you know? If that’s the policy, then there should be a STRICT two-step process: First, an objective finding of fact that somebody’s a legitimate suspect, and only THEN may we proceed with the fishhooks and pliers. If you let the torturers make the first determination, you’ve already fallen down the rabbit hole.

    4. Because torture must be conducted in secret, there’s no oversight. Human nature being imperfect, most torturers will rapidly lose control of themselves, and there’s nothing to counter that tendency because, officially, it should never have happened to begin with. How do you discipline a soldier for crushing a prisoner to death without admitting that “moderate compression” was okey dokey? You can’t, if you want to keep your job. So nobody gets disciplined.

  51. madpad,
    That’s precisely why I don’t support “torture warrants” because you would be forced to justify getting the warrant, not the actual torture. No jury will convict you if you are trying to prevent a nuke from going off in NYC.

  52. Slippery Pete,

    I didn’t think the soldiers were conservative. I thought the president was. I could have sworn he was the commander and chief. I could have sworn he was saying things like “trust me”. I could have sworn that, for instance he was asking to be trusted to detain american citizens without judicial review. I could have sworn that the commander was responsible for what his troops do.

    Nah….I musta been wrong. Guess the buck don’t stop there.

  53. Skep –

    I could have sworn that the investigations into how far up the chain of command direct responsibility goes, haven’t been completed and published yet. I must be wrong – please post the link.

    The chain of command ultimately has responsibility – yes. There, blame comes in two flavors: Errors of omission and errors of commission.

    When you say that conservatives favor torture, you’re automatically assuming that politicians (including Bush) approved or knowingly permitted this. You have NO basis for this. It’s possible that will turn out to be the truth, but at this point the charge is totally baseless.

    A more likely explanation is that they are arrogant and incompetent and did not exercise sufficient oversight. Either way, responsibilities lies with the chain of command, to one degree or another. The rub is to find out whether the problem was negligence or malfeasance.

    So, you’re just making assumptions because you don’t like conservatives. But it’s just an assumption. Don’t kid yourself.

  54. What about the Alberto Gonzales memo, Pete?

    Ideas have consequences.

  55. Alberto Gonzalez isn’t in the chain of command, Joe. You need to understand what I’m saying. I’m NOT saying the chain didn’t approve of this. Maybe it did.

    What I’m saying is that – Occam’s razor and all – the simplest explanation (in the absence of a COMPLETED report) is rank incompetence. We have abundant evidence of incompetence here. That’s a sufficient explanation.

    If it turns out to go beyond that – fine. Throw the book at them. It’s entirely possible. But it’s premature and unfair to jump to conclusions about something so horrific. The investigations are under way.

    BTW – Gonzalez should be fired for that memo.

  56. joe,

    Some, or even most soldiers raised in a modern western country, would act the way these did in the same situation, some would not. If this is a higher level decision, and it almost certainly is, I would be surprised to find out that particularly weak personalities were *not* hand selected for the job. This doesn’t have to mean at an individual level, and my assumption is that it wasn’t, but was more likely categorical. Do you think they’d risk whistle blowers? Judging by the national soul destroying grins on their faces in those pictures, someone, somewhere, checked up on these soldiers personalities, and did their job too well.

  57. The story linked to, two posts up, reports that the inmates were also forced to eat pork. This indicates a premeditation of these crimes by those further up command.

  58. To Kevin Carson,

    You reference both Thrasymachus, and Lord Acton. You are my hero.

    Really.

  59. Phil,

    “Worse” like what? Do you believe that soldiers who believe that they are part of an illegal or immoral war should fight in that war despite their convictions (pardon the pun)?

  60. Is it any imaginations that more and more Europeans are becomming anti-American?

  61. qwefrwe, fuck the Europeans.
    joe & slippery & snake, It sure wasn’t me who made the military or the jails co-ed. Ask Hillary, patron sainte of gender disventure. Those responsible for co-ed jails would insist on the constitutional right to walk through an oil refinery with a lit cigarette.
    Anyone who served knows that illegal orders just don’t work because of the many avenues soldiers have to dispute an illegal order.
    And in case I didn’t mention it, fuck Europeans.

  62. The problem is if a soldier refuse orders, they are faced with this:

    “Soldier who deserted Iraqi unit to protest found guilty”

    http://www.cnn.com/2004/LAW/05/21/antiwar.soldier.ap/index.html

    This is the biggest, smelliest red herring I’ve ever seen. The soldier in that story came home on furlough, decided he didn’t want to go back, and then decided — well after the horse had left the barn — that he was suddenly a conscientious objector. To tie this into refusing to rape a prison detainee, or something of that order, is utter bullshit. This guy deserted — he even admits he deserted, and even admits why — and deserves his conviction. (And, frankly, worse.)

  63. joe:

    “The simplistic insistence…that any recognition of any degree of social influence is a denial of free will lies at the heart of libertarianism’s intellectual failure.”

    How do you think that libertarianism is intellectually failed? I don’t know of any libertarians who would contend that social influence and free will are mutually exclusive. Even social influence is the result of individuals making free choices.

    For an action that is not a response to coercion, an honest answer to the question, “Why did you take that action?” is “Because I chose to”.

    For actions that ARE a response to coercion, an honest answer to the question, “Why did you take that action?” is “I wanted to preserve my life, liberty, property” (or some combination thereof).
    Note that chosen actions are not ALWAYS excused in every scenario where an action is a result of coercion.

    Each of us is responsible for our individual actions since we are the ONES who chose to take them.

    And of course if persons “up command” ordered that these crimes be committed, they should be dealt with quite severely for making the choice to misuse their authority.

  64. I meant to say: “Note that chosen actions are not ALWAYS ethically excused in every scenario where an action is a ressponse to coercion.”

  65. “Worse” like more than a year in jail, and a dishonorable discharge rather than a bad-conduct discharge. The guy’s a fucking deserter, and not only that, a deserter who tried to change the rules mid-game (“I’m suddenly a conscientious objector!”) and who used his desertion to speak politically against his employer.

    Soldiers are not in the armed forces to make policy or decide which wars they will and will not fight. If you don’t want to fight, stay out of the goddamned army. It’s not like any of them were drafted. So yes, I do believe that they should fight regardless of their personal politics, or find another career path.

    The justness of a war is a matter for the President, the Congress, and the world community, not for some E-4 who decided he suddenly made a mistake.

  66. “So yes, I do believe that they should fight regardless of their personal politics, or find another career path.”

    But what if they lose the desire to kill whoever they’re ordered to kill by a used car salesman of a president (Republican OR Democrat)? What if they evolve a degree and type of individuality (as the young often do) that makes them not want to kill? Should they really be forced to fight? I think someone like that would be a poor fighter. Poor enough to endanger the lives of their fellow soldiers and innocent civilians.

    Certainly, you’re not against re-assigning such an individual to a non-combat position? Why would we want to discourage poor fighters from removing themselves from situations where the lives of U.S. soldiers and innocent civilians could be put at increased risk?

    And I have to say that if my employer planned to put me in jail because I’d decided that they were not competent enough to decide who I should kill, I would speak against them politically as well. I don’t think loyalty is as important as an individual’s conscious sense of morality.

  67. But what if they lose the desire to kill whoever they’re ordered to kill by a used car salesman of a president (Republican OR Democrat)? What if they evolve a degree and type of individuality (as the young often do) that makes them not want to kill?

    They should turn themselves in to their commanding officer or the MPs and accept a court-martial for derelection of duty or for desertion.

    Certainly, you’re not against re-assigning such an individual to a non-combat position?

    “Hey, Steve decided he didn’t want to fight any more, and they put him to work in the motor pool. Maybe I should go do the same thing . . . ” You can see where that leads us. Once again, if you don’t want to have to shoot at people, stay out of the military. I stayed out, and amazingly, I’ve never had to shoot anyone.

    If you’re going to voluntarily join up, then decide halfway through your stint, “I don’t want to do this anymore,” then accept the legal consequences. It’s really that simple.

  68. I don’t disagree that a person should take responsibility for changing their mind after having signed up, should even have to pay back the cost of training them (hmmm, that would mean that President Bush would owe the National Guard nearly a million dollars). I just think imprisoning that person is a pointlessly harsh and outdated consequence.

  69. rst,

    I bought some aspirin. What kind of profit did the the Islamic Crusade make from that?

    Oh. You mean the other kind of drugs. The ones with government price supports. Wouldn’t it be simpler to end the government price supports?

  70. http://davidsonpress.com/islam/index.htm

    read the truth about the islam in a online comic

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