America's Problem - How Torture Came Down From The Top
August 27, 2004 8:03 AM   Subscribe

How Torture Came Down From the Top  The latest official reports on the prisoner abuse scandal contain a classic Washington contradiction. Their headlines proclaim that no official policy mandated or allowed the torture of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that no officials above the rank of colonel deserve prosecution or formal punishment. But buried in their hundreds of pages of detail, for anyone who cares to read them, is a clear and meticulous account of how decisions made by President Bush, his top political aides and senior military commanders led directly to those searing images of naked prisoners being menaced with guard dogs.    (More Inside)
posted by y2karl (24 comments total)
...At least 34 US officers, including the two most senior figures in US military intelligence at Abu Ghraib, are implicated in at least 44 cases of recorded abuse over a period of at least six months, they found. Some of them took place during interrogations. "There were a few instances where torture was being used," General Fay told a press conference this week. The causes of the culture of abuse were many, he said. They ranged from "morally corrupt soldiers and civilians" to lack of discipline at several levels and "a failure or lack of leadership by multiple echelons". Mr Schlesinger goes even further: "institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels" was involved, he found. The context of everything that happened at Abu Ghraib was the Pentagon's strategic error of assuming "benign stability" in post-invasion Iraq. The failure to anticipate a major insurgency, and to adapt when it occurred, were fundamental. The reports stop short of placing direct responsibility at the feet of the highest officials involved in Iraq strategy. But the cumulative effect of the two reports points clearly in that direction. It was not just individuals who failed. It was a system. Those who are in charge of that system cannot escape responsibility for abuses that debase not just the US but its allies, including Britain. But it is not just Donald Rumsfeld or George Bush who need to look into their souls. The same goes for a lot of Americans, and a lot of American men in particular. A Pew Center poll last week showed that 43% of all Americans, 48% of American men, 54% of American men aged under 50, and 58% of people intending to vote for Mr Bush in November believe that torture of suspected terrorists can "often or sometimes" be justified. The things that happened in Abu Ghraib happened because individual Americans broke the law. But they also happened because too many Americans are prepared to look in the other direction or even actively support such abuses. America is a society with a problem. That problem erupted in Abu Ghraib. America has begun to address it. But it must not slacken off now.

America's Problem.

Iraqi Teens Abused at Abu Ghraib, Report Finds
Army links top officers to prisoner abuse in Iraq
Top Pentagon Leaders Faulted in Prison Abuse
Iraq prison probe faults spy unit
A Trail of 'Major Failures' Leads to Defense Secretary's Office
Bush and justice: Foot soldiers always take the fall.
posted by y2karl at 8:04 AM on August 27, 2004

I blame y2karl for prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.
posted by angry modem at 8:28 AM on August 27, 2004

Troops are easy mark
Blame for prisoner abuse has been misdirected; fault belongs to those at the top
by Slate's Dahlia Lithwick
posted by matteo at 8:32 AM on August 27, 2004

from Lithwick's piece:

The report faults ambiguous interrogation mandates, an inadequate postwar plan, poor training and a lack of oversight. It notes that much of this confusion stemmed from the Bush administration posture that the Geneva Conventions applied only where the president saw fit, and that the definition of "interrogation" was up for grabs at Guantanamo Bay, thus possibly at Abu Ghraib.
Or you can put your ear right up to the horse's mouth, where -- even before the Schlesinger report -- Rumsfeld owned the blame. "These events occurred on my watch. As secretary of defense, I am accountable for them, and I take full responsibility," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee last May. But we live in an era when such words are intended to signify simultaneous culpability and absolution.

posted by matteo at 8:35 AM on August 27, 2004

Will the popular opinion in this country see these "tough" tactics as the evidence of the administration's strong defense policy or will we see more of a lean towards calling these heads on the hypocracy of stamping out violent totalitarians through violent totalitarian means?
posted by dorcas at 9:24 AM on August 27, 2004

This puts into relief a particular issue: the Bush Administration itself represents a complete and total failure of leadership and accountability. Why isn't Kerry making this the centerpiece of his campaign?
posted by psmealey at 9:33 AM on August 27, 2004

because he's too busy getting beaten to a pulp by a team of draft-dodgers who were smart enough to hire a bunch of thugs to accomplish the mission. it's 1988 all over again.
posted by matteo at 9:49 AM on August 27, 2004

Hi guys, nice thread. Who's got the lube?
posted by angry modem at 10:16 AM on August 27, 2004

the Abu Ghraib rapists do, hopefully
posted by matteo at 10:22 AM on August 27, 2004

4 months ago: Bush Knew! Rumsfeld Ordered It! Cambone Ran the Whole Torture Apparatus from under Rummy's Desk!

Today: Ambiguous interrogation mandates, an inadequate postwar plan, poor training and a lack of oversight... Bush was Negligent! Rummy Should've known! Cambone was incompetent!

Make up your minds.
posted by techgnollogic at 11:11 AM on August 27, 2004

techngno - sounds like some "dozens weapons of mass destruction related program activities" doesn't it?
posted by zpousman at 11:16 AM on August 27, 2004

Make up your minds

techgnollogic, I know how much the words "Abu Ghraib", the child rapes and tortures disturb our resident John Birchers, and I am sorry about that. anyway: that was Lithwick's opinion, you know.
the world has made up its mind quite a bit at this point, you'll notice that if you quit gathering your "news" from Fox and LGF.
here's the scoop:
the USA committed war crimes in Iraq and possibly in Guantanamo, and Rumsfeld's willing torturers turned the "War On Terror" into a worldwide laughingstock. somebody (not simply low-level thugs like Lynndie England, of course) should be deported to the Hague for a nice trial (no torture chambers in Holland, don't worry). Holland's a civilized nation, you know

posted by matteo at 12:40 PM on August 27, 2004

"Make up your minds."

They won't.... because it doesn't really matter. When your main platform is "anyone but this guy" the reasosn don't seem to be important - just grab any accusation you can find and fire away.

Honestly? At this point the most salient thing about getting rid of Bush for me might be that the hysterical hatred of him is leaving a lot of fertile ground for the tinfoil hat crowd to really build up a head of steam.

Not that I think Kerry woudl change much, but it will take them a little while to change their tune so they can shift the blame to him from Bush. Too many oprganizations have finally found the wedge they were looking for to really try and split the US now - and Keryy will only slow it down some.
posted by soulhuntre at 12:42 PM on August 27, 2004

Didn't Sy hersh establish all this months ago?
posted by euphorb at 12:50 PM on August 27, 2004

"Make up your minds."

Classic false dilemma. zzzz...
posted by soyjoy at 1:28 PM on August 27, 2004

"Make up your minds."

This thread highlights what I love most about the Bush/Iraq War supporters.

1) Someone comes up with broad and exacting evidence for gross dereliction of duty, with fingers pointing directly at top officials.

2) Someone on the right pulls a made up lefty stereotype out of their butt.

3) They use this made up item to show how the left is hypocritical.

4) Other Bush supporters pile on and parade the "hypocrisy" around the town square.

The vastness of the intellectual vacuum these people must live in is stupefying. Do you think they wonder, even for a second, if starting their argument by making something up might be a problem? Do Bushies coming along later with a hearty, "good one dude" have an ounce of critical thinking in their heads?

For those on the right, I put it to you - Does this really make sense to you? We and y2karl can't "make up our minds" because we present evidence that doesn't exactly match something we never said. A report 100% vindicates what we've been saying for months, and we can't make up our minds about what exactly?

"When your main platform is "anyone but this guy" the reasosn don't seem to be important"

My mouth is open in disbelief at this point. Seriously. You think this way? We spend years enumerating the reason why we think "anyone but Bush". Thousands of comments. Easily searchable. Broken down by user even. And because of something a fellow conservative totally made up, you decide all those reasons should just vanish. Poof!!!! Logic be gone!!! Abracadabra!!!

Will someone please, in clear, simple terms even my liberal mind can grasp, explain to me why I shouldn't think soulhuntre and techgnollogic aren't stupid?
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:55 PM on August 27, 2004

I think you meant "...are stupid."

Too much free-range granola, y6.
posted by soyjoy at 2:23 PM on August 27, 2004

Just waving a red cape in front of reklaw. Rather than the double negative, I concidered misspelling "intellectual". But that seemed to obvious.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:28 PM on August 27, 2004

Will someone please, in clear, simple terms even my liberal mind can grasp, explain to me why I shouldn't think soulhuntre and techgnollogic aren't stupid?

Well, good to see the arguement hasn't gotten......stupid, or anything.
posted by dhoyt at 2:29 PM on August 27, 2004

Ladies and gentlemen of the supposed jury, Kerry's supporters would certainly want you to believe that he earned his medals in battle 30 years ago. And they make a good case. Hell, I almost felt pride in our armed forces myself!
But ladies and gentlemen of this supposed democracy, I have one final thing I want you to consider: This [pointing to a picture of Chewbacca] is Chewbacca. Chewbacca is a Wookiee from the planet Kashyyyk, but Chewbacca lives on the planet Endor. Now, think about that. That does not make sense! Why would a Wookiee—an eight foot tall Wookiee—want to live on Endor with a bunch of two foot tall Ewoks? That does not make sense!
But more important, you have to ask yourself, what does this have to do with this case? Nothing. Ladies and gentlemen, it has nothing to do with this case! It does not make sense!
Look at me, I'm a lawyer defending a major douchebag, and I'm talkin' about Chewbacca. Does that make sense? Ladies and gentlemen, I am not making any sense. None of this makes sense!
And so you have to remember, when you're in that jury room deliberating and conjugating the Emancipation Proclamation... does it make sense? No! Ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, it does not make sense.
If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit! The defense rests.

Look at the monkey! Look at the silly monkey!
posted by longbaugh at 12:08 AM on August 28, 2004

y2karl: What you've specified doesn't seem to be a contradiction. If you're keen to know why I arrived at that, let me know.
posted by ed\26h at 3:46 AM on August 28, 2004

Rumsfeld Denies Abuses Occurred at Interrogations

In his first comments on the two major investigative reports issued this week at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Thursday mischaracterized one of their central findings about the American military's treatment of Iraqi prisoners by saying there was no evidence that prisoners had been abused during interrogations.

The reports, one by a panel Mr. Rumsfeld had appointed and one by three Army generals, made clear that some abuses occurred during interrogations, that others were intended to soften up prisoners who were to be questioned, and that many intelligence personnel involved in the interrogations were implicated in the abuses. The reports were issued Tuesday and Wednesday.

But on Thursday, in an interview with a radio station in Phoenix, Mr. Rumsfeld, who was traveling outside Washington this week, said, "I have not seen anything thus far that says that the people abused were abused in the process of interrogating them or for interrogation purposes." A transcript of the interview was posted on the Pentagon's Web site on Friday. Mr. Rumsfeld repeated the assertion a few hours later at a news conference in Phoenix, adding that "all of the press, all of the television thus far that tried to link the abuse that took place to interrogation techniques in Iraq has not yet been demonstrated." After an aide slipped him a note during the news conference, however, Mr. Rumsfeld corrected himself, noting that an inquiry by three Army generals had, in fact, found "two or three" cases of abuse during interrogations or the interrogations process. In fact, however, the Army inquiry found that 13 of 44 instances of abuse involved interrogations or the interrogation process, an Army spokeswoman said. The report itself explicitly describes the extent to which each abuse involved interrogations...

Mr. Rumsfeld also misstated an important finding of an independent panel he appointed and is led by James R. Schlesinger, a former defense secretary, saying in the interview with KTAR radio, "The interesting thing about the Schlesinger panel is their conclusion that, in fact, the abuses seem not to have anything to do with interrogation at all..."

While acknowledging his accountability, Mr. Rumsfeld said Thursday that he could not watch over the millions of people who work in or for the Defense Department. "Needless to say, if you are in Washington, D.C., you can't know what's going on the midnight shift in one of those many prisons around the world." He added, "What happened shouldn't have happened."

Mr. Rumsfeld insisted that while the abuses "were a terrible thing to have happened," the military has responded quickly and thoroughly to the allegations. So far, four major reports into aspects of the misconduct have been released. Four more are pending. "We keep learning more all the time," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "It's a bit of a discovery process."

Don't Stop At Rumsfeld: Blame for Abu Ghraib goes higher

"The abuses were not just the failure of some individuals to follow known standards, and they are more than the failure of a few leaders to enforce proper discipline," the Schlesinger panel said. "There is both institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels." Actually, at the highest level.

Bush set the stage for abuse in February 2002 when he declared that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to al-Qaida prisoners and the Taliban were unlawful combatants unqualified for prisoner of war status. When the man at the top says the rules don't apply, abusive excesses are a predictable result.

Rumsfeld approved stronger interrogation techniques in December 2002 that migrated to Abu Ghraib, which was by then "seriously overcrowded and under-resourced."

With 50,000 prisoners in all and 300 allegations of abuse, it's clear that most were not mistreated. But Bush's insistence that his word is law in the war on terrorists has cost the nation a big chunk of the moral high ground.

posted by y2karl at 3:27 PM on August 28, 2004

We can't expect anything to happen with this crowd in power. And it's not even being covered.
posted by amberglow at 3:30 PM on August 28, 2004

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