Abu Ghraib

By now, if you’re interested enough in news to be reading this, you’ve read about the crimes committed in Iraqi prisons by Coalition troops. While guarding Iraqi prisoners, they abused them.

I don’t know enough yet to know the extent of or all the facts around the abuse, but I do know enough to know that abuse happened, and that those in charge at various levels were somewhere between supportive or ignorant.

So, you’re asking, what the hell is a post about this doing on Winds of Change on a Good News Saturday?

Because to me, the news is good news.

The news isn’t that people were abused. I’m sorry, but that happens everywhere and has happened throughout human history. As a species, we’re pretty cruel.

In many societies, though, cruelty is the norm. It is not only expected, but those who practice it well are rewarded.

In our society, they are shamed, and fired, and arrested.I feel much the same way about this as I did about the revelation that the kids who were arrested for a brutal rape of the ‘Central Park Jogger’ after a night of ‘wilding’ in Central Park were found innocent. I’m sad – sad that the rape happened, sad that the wrong people were charged and convicted of it. But I’m proud, and glad, too.

Because in this society, the least of us – poor children who turned brutal, Iraqi prisoners of war – have rights too, and there is someone out here who will defend those rights. And those defenders don’t wind up in gulags or standing against blood-spattered walls, but on the front page of the New York Times.

…none of this changes the fact that I’m proud because we live in a society where we are willing to face up to and admit our mistakes. To correct them where possible. No politically connected prosecutor was able to bury the confession or prevent the DNA testing that ultimately appears to have exonerated them. I’m thrilled that we have been able to take the fruits of our technology and apply them, fairly and objectively to support the interests of people who would normally be beneath consideration. I’m excited because I believe that these tools…the technology and the open legal system…that are the product of this society will be used in the future to prevent bad things from happening…like convicting the wrong people of horrible crimes.

I’m interested in why our three reactions are so disparate, and it cuts to one of my significant core issues, the alienation of many of us from our society and the overt disgust with all the instruments of government. In other words, the collapse of legitimacy.

I’m interested in why it is, when we correct the injustices of the past, and devise tools to ensure that it will be difficult to make the same mistakes again, we are dwelling on the “Oh, no, we were so bad” rather than the “we’re getting better”. See, I think that real liberalism…the kind that builds schools and water systems and improves people’s lives…comes from a belief in progress.

We aren’t perfect. No one is or ever will be…to quote William Goldman, “Life is pain, Highness! Anyone who says differently is selling something.” But we can either keep trying to get there or sit on the floor dwelling on our shortcomings. Which one would you rather do, and why?

70 thoughts on “Abu Ghraib”

  1. I agree this is good news (long run, of course). We can now show the true difference between the US and ME/Iraq. During Saddam’s rule, such people (US guards) would have been killed themselves because they left the prisoners alive. The UCMJ will now move into action, and all participants will be spending many years as guests at Leavenworth, and the verdicts will be announced for the world to see.

    Lord Worfin
    (fka Phil Winsor)

  2. Interesting that for us abuse that makes front page of the papers and gains the public rebuke of the President is taking some pictures of them in humiliating situations.

    Not, say, by setting their bodies on fire and dragging them through the streets.

    Still waiting on the Arab street’s outrage on that.

    Still, I think it is a stretch, here, to call it good news. It was a bad thing and it made us look bad, when we are busy trying to be the good guys.

    And I think the freeing of the wilding boys wasn’t good news, either – read this.

    I think you might have missed the boat on Good News Saturday.

  3. I’ll post my reply after sundown on Saturday. Where is this blog hosted anyhow, and what time is sundown? :)

    – Josh

  4. Wow, I don’t know what to make of this strain for a silver lining. You must be an incredibly optimistic fellow. Somehow I don’t think any reaction but outrage is appropriate, no matter what the ‘blessing’ you may find in a quirky ‘crimes means there can be justice’ kind of way. I would rather do away with justice altogether if it and crime must go hand-in-hand, but then you could accuse me of optimism as well.

    It is only for the victims to make such triumphant expressions of justice; something tells me they won’t. It’s distasteful — no, disgusting — for anyone else to glorify torture and humiliation.

  5. You might be interested in this Human Rights Watch report on conditions in American prisons, and if you’re honorable, alter your statement that:

    In many societies, though, cruelty is the norm. It is not only expected, but those who practice it well are rewarded.

    In our society, they are shamed, and fired, and arrested.

    Because, well, obviously, they are not, and we’ve got a few systemic problems going on here. People are abused all over the world in prisons, including in the good ol’ U S of A. That’s freedom, baby!


  6. From Mr. Hersh, in the New Yorker:

    As the international furor grew, senior military officers, and President Bush, insisted that the actions of a few did not reflect the conduct of the military as a whole. Taguba’s report, however, amounts to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. The picture he draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority.

    The mistreatment at Abu Ghraib may have done little to further American intelligence, however. Willie J. Rowell, who served for thirty-six years as a C.I.D. agent, told me that the use of force or humiliation with prisoners is invariably counterproductive. “They’ll tell you what you want to hear, truth or no truth,” Rowell said. “‘You can flog me until I tell you what I know you want me to say.’ You don’t get righteous information.”

    Under the fourth Geneva convention, an occupying power can jail civilians who pose an “imperative” security threat, but it must establish a regular procedure for insuring that only civilians who remain a genuine security threat be kept imprisoned. Prisoners have the right to appeal any internment decision and have their cases reviewed. Human Rights Watch complained to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that civilians in Iraq remained in custody month after month with no charges brought against them. Abu Ghraib had become, in effect, another Guantánamo.

    As the photographs from Abu Ghraib make clear, these detentions have had enormous consequences: for the imprisoned civilian Iraqis, many of whom had nothing to do with the growing insurgency; for the integrity of the Army; and for the United States’ reputation in the world.

    You call this GOOD NEWS???

  7. I’m not surprised, and I don’t think it’s an isolated few that are making the rest look bad. If the guilty have any excuse for their actions it would be that the whole process of serving in the military, especially at war time, is very dehumanizing. This kind of act is almost inevitable. If Bush had served in a war he would know that.

  8. I read the Hersh report,and my heart just sank and sank.The scale,the depravity of abuse at Abu Ghraib was apparently even worse,and more widespread,than the early news reports had indicated.

    I thought I’d never have to write these words:The US Army,at the Abu Ghraib,acted like Gestapo.Like GPU.Like Saddam’s Mukhabarat.Rumsfeld should just resign immediately,and there ought to be a Congressional investigation to the matter.

    None of which will save the occupation from disaster – for what it’s worth now.The war is lost – get used to it.

  9. I think A.L.’s search for a silver lining is a little over the top, but damn, people. The wanton revelling in doom and gloom above is just nauseating.

    Yeah, from the reports I’ve seen, this was an institutional failure, since I don’t see how just a few bad apples could have accomplished what happened without several more people turning a blind eye. The U.S. Military Justice system is going to have some investigating and prosecuting to do.

    But using this event to opportunistically call for things like Rumsfeld’s resignation (Jussi), or a Congressional investigation during an ELECTION YEAR (Jussi, Stirling) is just debased political gamesmanship. Stupid comments like Dave’s sniping at Bush in Vietnam, or Jussi’s outrageous claim that the war is lost are similarly not helpful. Grow up, trolls.

  10. I also plan to make a post sometime after “Good News Saturday” ends at 8 PM CDT (U.S.) I am not Jewish but respect and admire the concept of “Good News Saturday,” an idea based on the Jewish sabbath, but one which also offers special opportunities for reflection and commentary not found elsewhere.

  11. A couple of points:
    (1) It is indeed good that these vicious thugs, *our* vicious thugs, will be held accountable. This reflects well on our system. However, it appears from early reports that one of the factors that enabled these thugs to feel confident that they would not be held accountable was a lack of oversight. I suggest that a major cause of that lack was a sense of moral superiority, a sense that our side doesn’t engage in thuggishness: it’s against our character. Clearly we *do* have thugs, and we must be on constant watch lest the thuggishness on our side be unleashed. Maybe this will wake up the large number of people on our side who haven’t grasped the simply notion that coming from a country with a good system of government does not necessarily make one a good person.

    (2) This is a major propaganda hit for our side. This war is not just being fought in the streets of Falluja and Najaf, it’s being fought in the minds of 1.2 billion muslims. On that battlefield we just took a tactical nuke. These thugs have done something that gives aid and comfort to the enemy, that will lead through complex and indirect chains of causality to the death of Americans and their allies. Well done, assholes. Sadly, they will not be given the public hanging their deeds warrant.

  12. It is good news that evil doers are being brought to justice.

    It will be even better news if the American prison system is held to such scrutiny.

    One need only look at the California prison cover ups to see that something is rotten in America.

    Did I mention drug prohibition?

    There are real problems in America. Instead of reveling in the alpha male fight (pro anti Bush) why not address real problems?

    Did I mention the drug war?

  13. > In our society, they are shamed, and fired, and arrested.

    I don’t agree. I don’t think the Arab world will agree, either.

    Amnesty International published a report describing this torture on June 30, 2003. Knowing that Amnesty’s modus operandi is to use letter-writing campaigns, it seems inevitable that the president, many of the congressmen, and many of the president’s advisors must have received letters notifying them of the existence of torture.

    In all likelihood, similar notifications probably reached the President via the chain of command. We don’t know this for sure, though. The only thing we know for sure is that the Amnesty report was disseminated on June 30, 2003. Therefore, even if there was a complete breakdown in the passing of information up the chain of command, the information would have reached the President via nonmilitary channels.

    I do not know why the torture continued after this. I can list some possibilities: perhaps the president chose not to investigate, or perhaps he did investigate but chose not to issue the order to desist, or perhaps he did issue the order to desist but the military is not responsive to his orders. I do not know if any of these explanations is the right one.

    Whichever explanation is right, the fact remains: the President was notified, yet the wrongdoers were not punished, in fact, they were not even forced to stop. They were allowed to continue for a full year. It took a full-blown media scandal including a photo-expose in order to finally trigger action on this.

    I do not think that the Arab world will see this as a sign of our integrity.

  14. Josh,

    You are flat wrong on the facts. Amnesty’s charges had absolutely nothing to do with situation at Abu Ghraib, and was properly ignored because Amnesty was just doing their usual grandstanding. Moreover, the problems documented here were dealt with internally in _January_. In other words, publicizing these pictures this weekend did _nothing_ to fix this problem, because it had already been recognized and engaged by the military. Are you aware of any specific allegations by a credible source that this is an on-going problem?

    Apparantly, one of the soldiers in the pictures was a Brigadier General (!!!), which confirms my assumption that the rot went pretty high to be allowed to continue. I am appalled that someone with this kind of moral defect could be promoted to that rank.

  15. “Our Saturday posts to this blog will always be about good news, from spiritual wisdom to scientific progress and the acts of good and decent people the world over.”

    But it’s none of my business to evaluate what I think meets this criteria. Those who sweat and pay the toll for running the joint rightly make those decisions.

    I am not a Liberal, bleeding heart or otherwise. I read the linked article, also by by A.L., and found no answer to the concerns (puzzled? baffled?) experienced in reading this one. No luck. Think I’ll try to forget I ever read it.

    Consider this a non-reply (non-post?).

  16. Jussi Hämäläinen,

    We had an early warning of this with the California prison crisis. This crisis got covered up by the California Democrats who depend on prison guard votes.

    Now can some one tell me why the level of morality (reative to fixing problems) is better in the military than in the Democrat government of California? I thought the Democrats were on the side of the abused.

    The evil military is taking many hits for cleaning up its problems. What about the evil Attny. General of Calif. ?


    My take: thte drug war has coarsened us in a way that no one notices. Just like the Germans of 1933-45 failed to notice the camps for Jews.

    The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. There is no one paying any attention to our broken criminal justice system. We cannot keep our liberties that way.

    We are in more danger from our own indifference than we are from a billion Islamic fascists.


    For a place to start try:


    BTW the above came out on 16 Jan of 04.

    also google:

    California prison system

  17. I must just see the world oddly.

    Every day – hell, every hour – things much worse than what happened in Abu Ghraib happen here in Los Angeles. Prisoners are brutalized, police officer abuse their authority, women are raped, beaten or murdered, children are abused.

    Now as far as I can tell, those – awful – things don’t define this city, any more than dog droppings define Paris.

    They are an aspect of it; and the issue isn’t whether they happen – they have, are, and will – but whether they are central to the nature of our society (could we get along without them) and how much effort and success do we have in stopping them, and in catching and punishing those who do them.

    One thing that I believe about the anti-Western Left is that they have, for whatever historic reason, chosen these elements of Western society as defining it.

    I think they do so as a way of validating their rejection of it; and I think that they do so – as did Jussi in his comment above – in complete and total ignorance of history and of what truly brutal and amoral societies are like.

    This isn’t a “well, our guards only killed 3 guys, and the NKVD killed 300, so we’re 100 times better” (although there’s an element of that which must be considered). It’s the simple fact that our guards who murder or torture run the risk of joining their charges in jail. That we have a process – which works more often than not – to discover, investigate, and resolve these issues. We don’t ‘accept’ that innocent kids went to jail for a rape they turned out not to have committed. We investigate it, fix it, and try to improve our systems so it doesn’t happen again.

    That’s a damn good thing. That’s good news.


  18. When I first read about this story, I had a reaction like Armed Liberal’s. To someone who grew up in the Vietnam Era, where acts like My Lai and the tiger cages were just the most extreme (known) examples of excess in a morally degraded enterprise, the performance of the army here seems exemplary.

    Now, after reading the New Yorker [LINK], I’m not so sure. The problem seems endemic to the interrogation squads, which are apparently composed of CIA types and “contractors” who aren’t part of the military chain of command, aren’t subject to the UCMJ, and probably aren’t going to be punished as criminals. (The tin hat crowd at Billmon speculates we’re using Israelis, for their language skills, and Israel only recently gave up authorized torture of detainees, let alone what happens surreptitiously. This time, maybe the tin hats are on to something. And maybe Daily Kos’s opinion of these mercenaries isn’t so far off.) So our military has clean hands, but our government doesn’t.

    We’re no longer in a war for hearts and minds and democracy. We’re in a war of colonial occupation, at this point, mostly because we probably don’t have much better to do.

    [Aside: the mutilation of the mercenaries’ bodies in Falluja was in fact condemned, even if the killings were not. See HERE.]

  19. Andrew Lazarus: Your link to “New Yorker article” is wrong. It’s the same as one to USA Today on a (one) remark of a (one) cleric in Falluja.

    Are you referring to:


    as your link for comment about being “endemic to the interrogation squads?” (authored by noted war correspondant Seymour M. Hersh)

    As Harry Carey (deceased), beloved announcer for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs, would say: “Holy Kos.”

    Am pleased to learn we’re at least consistent in our (mis) treatment of prisoners (“endemic”) as opposed to sort of winging it and making up ethics on the fly (as it were) based on some statistical formula.

    Actually I see no reason why we can’t compare the number of rapes and shooting deaths in Watts with those in Baltimore and Chicago. And having done that, we should be able to construct an ethical system for acceptable numbers of similar wrongful acts in Baghdad to determine our moral temperature.

    The change from the generic description of “contractor” to the more popular (in some quarters) term, “mercenary,” is noted, although some say that most of these (overpaid) chaps spend their time guarding new school construction sites (or shower facilities for femaie soldiers).


    (See entries for May 1, April 29, among others, which also include heretofore unknown stories of Army female reservists behaving in unacceptable ways to Iraqi children who proposition them, tales of sexism and other violations of approved ethical conduct. Other stories about “mercenaries” and shower facilities precede the brief mention on April 29. Operators of humane shelters for cats may also be interested in this LJ.)

    “Holy Cow!” Does “someone who grew up in the Vietnam era” mean your were thirteen at war’s end or ?? I agree that watching the CBS News with Walter Cronkite was considered to be tramautic for many children and mom or dad turned off the family TV set during dinner (although many unfortunately just left it on).


  20. A.L.,

    I think my point went right over you. This kind of stuff is epidemic in our prison systems and is being covered up and citizens in general are ignoring what is going on. Now the bad stuff doesn’t happen to every one. There are prisons for the torturable class and country clubs(comparitively) for the rest.

    Read “Our Man in Havana” by Greene for a good exposition on the torturable classes. It is the same every where.

    We are not being vigilant about this suff. We are pretending to be good Germans “the bad stuff only happens to a few and they are Jews”. Our rationale in America is: “the bad stuff only happens to a few and they are criminals”.


    by Graham Greene

    The Cast of Characters:

    Captain Segura of the Cuban Police
    Mr. Wormold is a vacuum cleaner salesman and British Agent

    They are playing checkers.


    Captain Segura:
    “You claimed to have recruited Engineer Cifuentes. Of course that was absurd. I know him well. Perhaps they shot at him to make the cable sound more convincing. Perhaps they wrote it because they wanted to get rid of you. Or perhaps they are more credulous than I am.”

    Mr. Wormold:
    “What an extraordinary story.” He moved a piece. “How are you so certain that Cifuentes is not my agent?”

    Captain Segura:
    “By the way you play checkers, Mr. Wormold, and because I interrogated Cifuentes.

    Mr. Wormold:
    “Did you torture him?”

    Captain Segura:
    Captain Segura laughed. “No. He doesn’t belong to the torturable class.”

    Mr. Wormold:
    “I didn’t know there were class-distinctions in torture.”

    Captain Segura:
    “Dear Mr. Wormold, surely you realize there are people who expect to be tortured and others who would be outraged by the idea. One never tortures except by a kind of mutual agreement.”

    Mr. Wormold:
    “There’s torture and torture. When they broke up Dr.Hasselbacher’s laboratory they were torturing…?”

    Captain Segura:
    “One can never tell what amateurs may do. The police had no concern in that. Dr. Hasselbacher does not belong to the torturable class.”

    Mr. Wormold:
    “Who does?”

    Captain Segura:
    “The poor in my own country, in any Latin American country. The poor of Central Europe and the Orient. Of course in your welfare states you have no poor, so you are untorturable. In Cuba the police can deal as harshly as they like with emigres from Latin America and the Baltic States, but not with visitors from your country or Scandinavia. It is an instinctive matter on both sides. Catholics are more torturable than Protestants, just as they are more criminal.
    You see, I was right to make that king, and now I shall huff you for the last time.”

    Mr. Wormold:
    “You always win, don’t you? That’s an interesting theory of yours.”

    Captain Segura:
    “One reason why the West hates the great Communist states is that they don’t recognize class-distinctions. Sometimes they torture the wrong people. So too of course did Hitler and
    shocked the world. Nobody cares what goes on in our prisons, or the prisons of Lisbon or Caracas, but Hitler was too promiscuous. It was rather as though in your country a chauffeur had slept with a peeress.”

    Mr. Wormold:
    “We’re not shocked by that any longer.”

    Captain Segura:
    “It is a great danger for everyone when what is shocking changes.”

  22. Simon:

    Actually, no – I just think you’re not correct. I have a very good idea of what goes on in prisons, both because one of my good friends was a Los Angeles Sheriff (guards in the jail system, among other things), and another is in the D.A.’s office specifically tasked investigating prison conditions in the county jails.

    I certainly don’t believe that U.S. prisons and jails are ‘garden spots'; but I also have some comparative data (from both of them, who have studied these things, and from time living in France) that suggests that conditions in jails worldwide are pretty crappy.

    Your point?


  23. We are being given a golden opportunity to clean up our criminal justice system. Before it causes us graver harm.

    My bet is that the warning will not be taken.

    As in hydraulics – great dams seldom give way without numerous warning signs.

    The aftermath of the drug war may come close to destroying us. The sooner we get it behind us the better.

    You see there are starting to be leakages. The rot can no longer be completely confined.

  24. A.L.,

    Well compared to the way the rest of the world treats its prisoners Abu Ghraib is but a minor blemish. What is all the fuss about? No one was killed or permanently injured.

    The fuss AL is that however good Abu Ghraib is compared to the rest it is not how Americans see themselves.

    The same is true of American prisons. It is damn ugly. And I understand you are from Calif. which has one of the worst prison systems in America. Your government at the behest of its citizens is doing its best to sweep the problem under the rug. I’m sure your help in the matter is greatly appriciated.

    This IS like Vietnam A.L. Racism in America at the time of that war was mild and declining (relatively) yet it was a big hole in our morale.

    The problem always comes not from relative goodness or badness. It is how self image compares to reality.

    Well any way. I do not expect America to take this opportunity to correct the problems with our system of justice. Which means the hit when it comes will be bigger. Ah well.

    Any place our system doesn’t match our ideals our enemies will use it against us. I’m sure that you are right and it is nothing to worry about. I sleep sounder at night knowing America is ignoring major functional problems. Thank you for easing my mind.

    Perhaps you need to change your name to Armed and Only Somewhat Liberal. Kinda hard on the merchandising though. And not too snappy as a slogan.

    Did I mention the 1/2 million prisoners of the drug prohibition in America who do not even belong in prison?


    has the drug war aspect of Americas prison system.


    talks about over crowding in Calif. prisons.


    talks about various judge’s takes on the state of our justice system.

    A.L. despite what your friends think the Justice system in America is in a state of collapse. I discussed this with a local DA in my town and she said that drug cases were driving every thing else out of the system including justice. I can’t imagine things being better in Calif.

    What do you call a state where the jailers have a strangle hold on state government? A fine example?

    Compare Abu Ghraib to Corcoran. Corcoran is much worse. No systematic problem here. No sir ree. The newspapers are all telling lies. It is not systemic. Just a few bad apples. etc.

    So the question is do we do surgery before or after the appendix explodes? You say wait. I say the outcome will be better if the circumstances are better controlled.

    In the real world it looks like your theory will be tested and mine will not. We shall see.

  25. Steve is correct about the link: I intended Hersh’s article in the New Yorker (which link he pasted in). I was 17 at the end of the Vietnam War, which means I missed having to register for the draft by four months. No one in the last cohort of registrants was actually drafted, but it was sure on our minds.

    Facts have overtaken one of M. Simon’s claims: the New Yorker article alleges two prisoners at Abu Ghraib died during interrogation. I expect the number to grow under investigation.

  26. > Amnesty’s charges had absolutely nothing to do with situation at Abu Ghraib


    That looks pretty specific to me. I do see the words “Abu Ghraib” in there more than a few times.

    > and was properly ignored because Amnesty was just doing their usual grandstanding.

    And yet, they were right. Go figure. I’m not sure what you mean by “properly ignored,” since it seems that price of ignoring this report may be our last shred of credibility in the Arab world.

    > publicizing these pictures this weekend did nothing to fix this problem, because it had already been recognized and engaged by the military.

    You’re right, they did stop the torture before the pictures came out. My mistake.

    Nonetheless, it took them six months from the time it was first reported to the time the practice was stopped. Furthermore, a total of ten months have passed since it was reported, and we have yet to see anybody in jail. Worse, it looks like the government had planned to only punish the six guys at the bottom of the heirarchy. I think my point remains: I don’t think the Arab world will perceive this as “aggressively seeking out and punishing the evildoers.”

  27. Sam Barnes wrote

    In other words, publicizing these pictures this weekend did nothing to fix this problem, because it had already been recognized and engaged by the military.

    Here is a partial list of nothing.

    1. Prevented any sort of cover-up, just in case the military had this in mind (which I don’t think they did).
    2. These pictures would probably have been released in foreign publications, and the stories of the victims most certainly would be. The photos show that these accusations would be true, and saved us the embarrassment of defending the perpetrators with accusations of photo-doctoring, exaggerations, etc.
    3. To the extent that the torture appears to have been directed by the CIA, various other alphabet agencies, and by “contractors”, not all of whom may have been American, the photographs bring front and center the predictable crisis engendered by empowering people outside any chain of command or stucture of responsibility. The contractor/translator who revived Saddam’s rape room practice—where is he to be charged? Fallujah Criminal Court? Without these shocking photos, very little would have happened to correct the (lack of) structure that makes abuse simply inevitable. (Methinks the uniformed military might be pleased with this outcome.)
  28. I’m not going to spend very much time arguing on this one because of finals studies, but I just wanted to make 2 points.


    I believe the commander of the prison in question is among those being investigated/charged, so I wouldn’t say that it’s just the small fry who are getting nabbed on this one.

    Andrew Lazarus:

    With regard to point #3, and I’m hoping that I’m misinterpreting you on this one, are you saying that the “uniformed military” actually wants to keep a system in place in which these types of abuses occur?

  29. Joseph, I did read your post, which was thoughtful.

    I guess we continue to differ in one core area and some smaller ones; I assume that – as in any human activity in which hundreds, much less hundreds of thousands of people are involved – someone is doing something wrong.

    Maybe I just read too much Hamilton as a kid; who knows. On one hand I have a bright and optimistic view of human nature, and on the other I have a pretty grim and realistic view of human fallibility.

    I assume that in an activity like that in Iraq a bunch of bad things will happen; people will die in accidents, commanders will make mistakes and as a consequence their troops or inncoent civilians will unnecessarily die, weak people will abuse or kill others, women will be abused and raped.

    That’s just what happens in any population of large numbers of people. It’s far worse when they are in combat, and probably worse still when they are involved in a guerrilla war (lots of literature on the fear that morphs into hatred for the population that shelters the fighters).

    That is, for me, as much the cost of war – as it has been for all wars through human histiory – as is fuel, ammunition, and bandages.

    So I just can’t be shocked by this; it’s as though you told me that – in a tone of shock and dismay – the war consumed millions of gallons of fuel!! I know that, and I assume that everyone knows that. That may be a mistake on my part, and it’s something I’m thinking about a bit right now.

    There is another issue; I think that many people are mixing two issues in one here.

    One of them is the out-of-control of several assholes who were guards.

    Another is the interrogation techniques that are/were being used on prisoners, that may have involved duress, humiliation, and other ‘soft’ techniques (soft as opposed to beating and physically torturing them).

    I’m torn on this between a sdeep belief that we cannot deprive anyone of dignity and keep our own, and a belief that as soon as we start offering prisoners of war public defenders and hold their charges to the kind of evidentiary and procedural standards to which we hold law enforcement here, we may as well just bring the troops home (note: I know this is somewhat – but only somewhat – hyperbolic.)

    I need to wrestle wit hthis, which probably means write something about it.

    In fact, I think I’l see if I can thread all of this into an argument and see if any greater clarity comes to me.

    Thanks to everyone for that-


  30. I dare call it treason.

    Again, these people have committed treason. They have given aid and comfort to the enemy. Already the photos and descriptions of these despicable acts are being used against us. In addition, this kind of thing makes it more difficult for us to get useful information in the future. I repeat, these people have committed treason, and should be charged as such.

    These actions are not what the U.S. stands for. We can try to repair the damage by concluding these investigations as swiftly as possible, and get on with a televised trial. From what I can tell, conviction is a foregone conclusion. But I fear that some of the damage to U.S. intrests is permanent.

    Some of these “people” will no doubt try to cut deals. The prosecutors shoud not accept any deals from anyone, and I really don’t care if it makes the case more difficult to handle. I say hang them out to dry with maximum penalties for treason and other charges.

    This is a bad day for the U.S. I am outraged and angry that this was allowed to go on. And I sincerely hope that we will take this to heart and clean up our own prison systems.

    I dare call it treason. Who else joins me?

  31. A.L. has got his face buried in the sand. Maybe he would feel different if he were simulating oral sex at gunpoint but why bother imagining such things?

  32. > Again, these people have committed treason.

    Yes, but *who* committed treason?

    Ever since 9/11, I’ve gotten the impression that the population of the United States as a whole had become undecided about whether or not it was ok to torture a suspected terrorist. I’ve also gotten the sense that the administration shared this view. So imagine this set of circumstances:

    * The President orders the use of “mild torture in certain important cases.”

    * A General interprets “mild torture” to mean sleep deprivation, food deprivation, and psychological measures. He comes up with the idea that forced nudity would be a good psychological measure. He interprets “important cases” as “people with suspected links to terrorism.”

    * A couple of guys at the bottom of the heirarchy, ordered to force nudity, add a few embellishments like forcing the nude people to simulate sex acts. They interpret “people with suspected links to terrorism” as “anyone arrested in Iraq.”

    Who’s the traitor?

  33. A.L.

    Thank you. In truth, we differ only slightly; as a relativist, I accept and expect that war brings out the beast in the best of us. I also accept and expect that in any endeavor in which thousands of people are involved there is going to be a fairly consistent percentage of bad actors in the mix.

    My problem is that so often we “good guys” see the bad eggs amongst us as being only aberrations and that we have nothing to learn as a society when the miscreants are exposed. Another problem is that it makes it very hard, if not impossible, to rebuke repressive regimes regarding systemic abuse of human rights when our own “aberrant” behavior becomes so publicly repugnant.

    Of course, the latter problem is much more of an issue with me as a visiting professor of “Media & Foreign Policy” at the China Foreign Affairs University–I mean, it’s tough to explain to students studying to enter the Chinese central government why we must hold China’s feet to the fire over its human rights record when “representatives” of the American “way” are caught so red-handed doing much the same.

    I am very glad that this next week is the May Day holiday, and I have a whole week off to prepare my answers.

    Again, thank you for your kind response.

  34. Note that I’m not suggesting that the three steps listed above are the exact steps that occurred. I’m suggesting that this could have been an institutional problem, with responsbility diffused throughout the organization. In which case, the responsibility is largely with the people who set the tone and character of the organization as a whole.

  35. Josh, all you give us is

    “Ever since 9/11, I’ve gotten the impression that the population of the United States as a whole had become undecided about whether or not it was ok to torture a suspected terrorist. I’ve also gotten the sense that the administration shared this view. So imagine this set of circumstances…”

    These impressions, sensations, and imaginations are yours, not mine. You know quite well who I am referring to as traitors.

    I am not sure you are interested in a thoughtful approach to the questions you raise, but others who are interested may want to check out the following.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/02/magazine/02TERROR.html (The author makes some good points that address what Josh and others are complaining about. Unlike Josh, he makes some concrete suggestions.)

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0300101538/qid=1083527439/sr=1-4/ref=sr_1_4/002-9307756-6568856?v=glance&s=books (Has the famous “torture warrants” chapter)

    Concrete ideas for constraining and curbing powers of government officials in the Congress, Judiciary, and the Executive branches are what we need.

  36. Joseph-

    I’l suggest that from my point of view, there are two ‘themes’ that I would use in making the judgement about where the U.S. actions stand relative to those of others.

    First, simply, is to note that this is a dead-on applictaion of ‘the perfect is the enemy of the good’. We will never attain perfection in the application of force, nor in the ways that we deal with those forcibly detained – in war or by law enforcement. We can do a good job of it, and continue to work to do a better job of it – in part by making sure there are severe consequences for those who step over the line.

    Next is the simple question of whether the brutality is ‘institutional'; could you imagien the institution surviving without it? I cannot imagine a Stalinst state without gulags; I cannot imagine Stalinst gulags without unspeakable levels of brutality (which would make Abu Ghraib look like a frat party).

    I can, very easily, our society functioning differently. But James Fallows once pointed out that in all societies – including ours – everything we do that is regulated or subject to laws is ultimately done at the point of a gun.


  37. A.L.

    Yes, BUT the ‘bad is the enemy of the good’ and when you say the bad is the good, and deride dissenters as perfectionists, you’re missing the point. There was nothing good about what happened to those people. Nothing at all.

    You also miss the fact that our prison conditions, indeed our ‘justice’ system is barbaric compared to those of other industrialized nations worth comparing to. Comparing us to the Soviet Union or your evil regime of the day hardly does America justice.

    Anyway, the common saying is ‘better is the enemy of the good’ not ‘perfection…’ But I happen to think better is good. You would too if you had been one of the victims, or indeed, one of the future Americans who will suffer indirectly from this highly publicized crime. The effects remain to be seen, but to see what happened as anything but ‘bad news’ is sad, really sad.

  38. Not to be too provocative, but I would ask yourself if your sister or mother being raped is ‘good news’ since our justice system would quickly punish the perpetrator of the crime, thus serving as an example to all. ‘Good news’ indeed.

  39. No, Dan, I meant the other way around, that the uniformed military would be glad to see this incident as a way of reining in the contractors. I don’t think it’s far-fetched to suspect that anti-contractor leaks will be coming from the military; it seems to have already started with an attorney for the low-level muscle-brained guards. Who are they gonna give up in their plea bargains?

  40. SoY –

    This is getting stupid. No, crime (including the crimes commited by out guards in Iraq) is not good news. What’s good news is that we live in a society that punishes criminals and makes some effort to make redress to those they harm.

    I’d think that was obvious, but my yet be surprised.


  41. A.L., well, I guess that’s good news any day. Why are you mentioning it regarding the specific atrocities aired from Abu Ghraib? Somehow I doubt many share your vast perspective, and personally, I find it hardly relevant. Any individual may be more but not less than he is. To sweep the crimes done to him under the carpet of “people have always been and always will be abused” is not enough outrage to me. Those crimes were in no way necessary and are blatantly abhorrent to our nature, to our values and to our policies. That you can sit by and say, well, you gotta look at the good side smacks of ignorance and a spoiled nature.

    I’ve said enough. I’ve had it with this thread.

    How in the world do you not tear yourself apart from hypocrisy? — did you not condemn Kos for the same feelings you are expressing yourself?

    Imagine if he shrugged and said, well that’s human nature for ya! Why should we expect better from the Iraqis, indeed from ourselves?


  42. Agree.

    There are so many layers of disaster on this that it has no business being anywhere near the words “good news”.

    I am beyond horrified at the reactions presented that include those similar to yours “we are still better then them”, to revenge “they do much worse to us”, to just mindlessly hateful comments in many other blogs.

    This is a disaster. To the silent iraqi majority that to some extent was still holding onto the hope that america would deliver on its promise of democracy and a better life, who believed all of OUR promises and media hype. This is the tactical nuke that broke the camels back. Chances our, the iraqis few iraqis who would defend the US to their friends, who would present a moderate viewpoint to their families were just silenced. And that silence will soon translate to deaths for all parties.

    You need to look at the timing on this. Again, Iraqis were listening / watching us kill their brothers, and sisters in fallujah, now we have pictures of them being pissed on, piled on top of eachother naked, and beaten to death by americans (in a prison that was previously an infamous location of torture etc under saddam – the symbolism is powerful).

    The apparent glee of the americans instantly translates to what it largely is – a hatred for arabs. A point that is lost on most of us, but won’t be to them.

    Further, the may 30th deadline will only be a symbolic transfer of power.

    If you haven’t seen the real pictures please look at: http://www.thememoryhole.org/war/iraqis_tortured/

    But the truth is, the emotional impact of those pictures counts more then news of 400 new civilian casualties. The damage this has done to our cause in the middle east is tremendous, the damage this has done to our national security is massive.

    There is nothing we can do to mitigate the damage aside from allowing an iraqi court to punish those involved (…).

    The amount of blood on those gloved hands…

  43. A.L.

    There are merits to your suggestions regarding how to explain aberrant behavior coming from within an institution that is at its core principles “good” and that is always striving for the “perfect” while knowing full well that it is impossible to attain.

    I will mull them over and see how they play with my students next week. However, on the paraphrased quote about what comes from “the point of a gun” I will be careful. My students know well a much more famous quote regarding what “comes from the barrel of a gun” from their former “Great Helmsman,” Mao Zedong.

    I do appreciate your attempt at objectivity and relativism on an otherwise emotional issue that lends itself more to reactionary and knee-jerk sentiments as evidenced by much of the commentary in this thread.

  44. Andrew L.,

    I guess the deaths make Abu G. equal to Corcoran.

    Still California is covering up Corcoran and the military is exposing and bringing to justice the miscreants involved in Abu G.

    So which is more moral on this subject California or the U.S. Army?

    Which is more committed to justice?

  45. Nick,

    You are right that this is a disaster.

    My point is that it is home grown. The bad attitude towards prisoners is part of the American jailer ethic. That is what needs fixing. That is the problem no one wants to see. The connection to what is done in America.

    It is the Stanley Millgram problem. It is cultural. Which means not only changing the rules but changing attitudes. Very hard.

    And we wonder why Iraqis have so much trouble changing their attitudes to conform to the modern world? It is human nature to resist change, even good change, because all change is painful.

  46. M. Simon: the military appears to be much better in this respect than the California guards and their union. The ramifications of Abu Ghraib for our prospects in the war are, however, more serious than the fallout from Corcoran.

  47. Andrew,

    You are correct.

    My point is that our failings at home cannot be ignored because they will follow us where ever we go.

    More reason than ever to clean up the mess caused by drug prohibition.

    My guess is that it will be ignored. My guess is that it will have to hurt us more before we notice.

  48. There was a discussion about Little Green Footballs here a while ago was there not?

    If anyone wants an example of what happens when you don’t clamp down on inciting racism or hate, we have no better instance than to look at Abu Ghraib. These things need to be nipped in the bud. People cannot be trusted as “rugged individuals” to keep their head on straight in stressful environments. It’s not human nature, now or ever, to keep a calm head under all circumstances and built-up prejudice can easily rear its ugly head resulting in unnecessary tragedy.

    Do not forget: condemn all hate where you see it.

  49. This is so good I’m reposting it in its entirety right here. Read on for the ‘good news’ coming out of the American prison system. That rape culture is homegrown!

    So, for all of you who strenously opposed the war, could you explain to me how you don’t fit in column C? Or, if that’s unfair, how about this: Did you feel anything like what you’re feeling now back when the Mother of all Bloodthirsty Dictators was feeding his political opponents into plastic shredders or sending his rape squads after their female relatives?

    Yes, I felt it. And I took and take action by contributing to Amnesty International globally and Men Against Violence stateside. And by NOT having voted for the GOPers, the Rummys, the Neocons who gave Saddam the WMD technology in the 1980s in the first place; voting in opposition to the Iran-Contra affair as well. Basically, I feel pretty good about voting against the party that helped make the monster named Hussein. And I’m looking forward to voting the GOP out of office in every election possible.

    I love the way people bring up the rape rooms in Iraq, ignoring the “rape rooms” across America. Have you noticed the rape statistics in America? It may not be state-sanctioned rape, unless you, of course, include systematic prison abuses; America is arrogant to cast stones at other cultures when we are guilty as hell here at home. In a study conducted by the Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, using a definition of rape that includes forced vaginal, oral, and anal intercourse, the survey found that 1 in 6 American women had experienced an attempted rape or a completed rape. At the time they were raped: 22% were under the age of twelve; 54% were under the age of eighteen; 83% were under the age of twenty-five. Source: Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women, Department of Justice, 1998

    “According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report,

    “62.2 of every 100,000 females were victims of forcible rape in 2001 compared to 62.7 in the previous year.” The report notes, “Of the total rapes reported for 2001, 90 percent were classified as rapes and the remainder were attempts.”

    “Furthermore, according to Lara Stemple, executive director of Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR), ” the FBI explicitly defines ‘forcible rape’ as the rape of females only. “It’s just blatantly discriminatory against men,” she said. And, she said there is no conclusive nationwide data pertaining to forcible prison rape that exists.

    “According to Stemple, the FBI’s failure to account for the male victims of forcible rape is a clear example of how government ignores the daily human rights violations that prisoners endure throughout the term of their incarceration.

    “We have two million people in prison in the U.S. and one out of ten men in prison say that they’ve been raped,” she said. “By just completely ignoring that, we’re not really getting an accurate view of exactly what is going on in terms of all violent crime.”

    And don’t get me started on the epidemic child abuse in America. We need to clean up our own culture of violence before we think we’re bastions of democratic peace and light for the Arab world. It’s scandalous; the meanness in America.

    And I’m part of the growing majority that certainly does not feel safer, more protected from terrorist attacks than four years ago, especially now that Iraq is FUBAR.

    -Apollo 13,

  50. Jenny: There’s more. One has to wonder how much of the mind set allowing this kind of abuse can directly be laid at the administration’s making the nation and the military believe Sadaam and Iraq was responsible for 9/11?

  51. Brad: I beleive that is not the case. In fact, the current administration has not laid the blame for 9/11 on Iraq, but on ALL supporters and purveyors of terrorism, of which Iraq is a big part.

    One of the Left’s fair-haired boys, Richard Clarke believes that Iraq was behind the first WTC attack in 1993.

    If this problem is “structural” how come there haven’t been vastly more incidents?

    “Abuse”?? Give me a break!! I put up with worse “abuse” in USMC boot camp than anything I’ve seen so far from Abu Ghraib, although I agree it was worng, and the perps (all of them) should spend lots of time in the federal pen thinking about their stupidity.

  52. Well I guess Auschwitz and its likenesses were good news since it allowed us to be the liberators that we were. Good God, I am never coming to this site again.

  53. Apollo 13 (or is it 14)?

    While I agree with you that Fallujah and Najaf approach the term FUBAR, I see no evidence that the entire country deserves the approbation.

  54. Let’s make EXPLICIT Armed Liberal’s definition of GOOD NEWS, shall we?

    •  Punching, slapping and kicking detainees; jumping on their naked feet.

    •  Videotaping and photographing naked male and female detainees.

    •  Forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit positions for photographing.

    •  Forcing detainees to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time.

    •  Forcing naked male detainees to wear women’s underwear.

    •  Forcing groups of male detainees to masturbate themselves while being photographed and videotaped.

    •  Arranging naked male detainees in a pile and then jumping on them.

    •  Positioning a naked detainee on a box [of meals ready to eat], with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes and penis to simulate electric torture.

    •  Writing “I am a Rapest” (sic) on the leg of a detainee alleged to have forcibly raped a 15-year-old fellow detainee, and then photographing him naked.

    •  Placing a dog chain or strap around a naked detainee’s neck and having a female soldier pose for a picture.

    •  A male MP [military police] guard having sex with a female detainee.

    •  Using military working dogs (without muzzles) to intimidate and frighten detainees, and in at least one case biting and severely injuring a detainee.

    •  Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees.

    •  Threatening detainees with a charged 9-millimeter pistol.

    •  Pouring cold water on naked detainees.

    •  Beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair.

    •  Threatening male detainees with rape.

    •  Allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of
    a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell.

    •  Sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broomstick.

    I don’t know anything more un-American than congratulating ourselves for the utter dehumanization of other beings. This is not justice.

    The ends don’t justify the means, gentlemen. For what profit is there to accomplish one’s objectives while losing one’s soul?

  55. Gee, Righteous Bob, I guess you’ve never read the desk blotter at an urban police station. You’d doubtless faint.

    I explictly said that my point was not that the actions were good – but that our actions in uncovering them (in response to a single moral actor who exposed the abuse) and in (apparently) dealing with the guilty were good news, because they represent the self-correcting nature of our system.

    Please try reading the whole post before you respond…


  56. All the Americans are now seen as the war criminals. You claimed to fight for IRAQI FREEDOM, for democratic rule, without civil rights abuse. Now you have removed all the doubts that the world had about your causes for fights. It appeared that it was all bullshit. I know that not all of you were abusing the prisoners, but you must realise that in the public’s opinion you will remain as criminals. But even worse is that women did that. That female looked like an animal.
    Remember that-you have already lost the war ( pseudo stabilisation mission) in the field and in peoples opinion.

  57. Ale, the world’s opinion? Would that have been the same so-called “world’s opinion” that was happy to leave Saddam Hussein in power in Iraq? Do you have no sense of hypocrisy at all?

    While the prisoner abuse problem is quite disturbing, it had nothing to do with the pace of establishment of Iraqi democracy and self-rule.

  58. Hipocrisy is a good term, but referring to what American soldiers did. Please, do not forget that they went there to free the Iraqis and give them civil rights and peace. Meanwhile they humiliated, demeaned them. As for the world’s opinion- not only the world who was against intervention in Iraq but most probably all the people that have seen that. Do you think that it could not reflect in societies’ point of view?

  59. A.L.,

    I thought this was a political blog? What’s the point of such self-congratulation?

    “Karl Rove, the president’s chief political adviser, has told one Bush adviser that he believes that it will take a generation for the United States to live this scandal down in the Arab world….”

    You call that good news? Methinks you’re a little off your rocker. Get a grip, man.

    – Righteous Bob

  60. A.L.,

    Methinks also that your post would not have included the words ‘good news’ if those pictures showed captured Americans being forced to strip and simulate sex acts.

    Somehow I don’t think you would be placated by the idea that “it wasn’t a cover-up situation.”

    Is there a racist element to your reaction? You might want to think about that.

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