Just Above Sunset
May 9, 2004 - Responsibility and blame and all that sort of thing...

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Rumsfeld and his crew testified all day Friday about the business with how we treated those prisoners – the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib?  It has been in the news.  You probably noticed. 

I didn’t watch much of all this testimony.  What I did see seems to be arguments about whether this business was a few bad apples in bushels of bushels of noble and true Americans (Rumsfeld and crew) – an aberration – or whether there is something wrong in the whole chain of command, or even the basic premises of the war (the left side of the Democratic party). 

I suspect the latter is true. 

Here is Yale Law professor Jack Balkin -


The Administration, and particularly Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, have been cavalier about American obligations under international law, including the Geneva Convention.  International law and transparency, we are told, are unnecessary because, unlike all of the other countries in the world, we are Americans, and we naturally believe in human rights and the rule of law.  We need no special incentives to be good.  But if history teaches us anything, it is that when governments, no matter how well they think of themselves, decide to free themselves from constraints, they become unconstrained, and when they refuse to make themselves accountable, they abuse their power.  The only thing that has been lacking until now has been the proof of what everyone should already have known: that unchecked power leads to hubris, hubris leads to corruption, and corruption leads to violations of human rights. 

Americans are proud of their devotion to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.  But these cannot exist without institutional preconditions: they cannot exist if government officials insist on complete secrecy, mock international covenants, and refuse to allow their actions to be tested and constrained by law. 

This Administration wanted secrecy.  It wanted to be free of legal constraint.  It wanted to do whatever it wanted whenever it wanted without ever having to be called to account for it. 

Now it is reaping what it has sown. 


Yeah, well, there are other views. 

Who is at fault?  Media Matters has a review of who might be to blame. 

Women are really to blame.  That’s the view of Ann Coulter and Linda Chavez. 



I think the other point that no one is making about the abuse photos is just the disproportionate number of women involved, including a girl general running the entire operation. 

I mean, this is lesson, you know, one million and 47 on why women shouldn't be in the military. 

In addition to not being able to carry even a medium-sized backpack, women are too vicious. 

[FOX News Channel, Hannity & Colmes, May 5]


And Linda Chavez, syndicated columnist and FOX News Channel political analyst?  From her TOWNHALL column you get this -


But one factor that may have contributed -- but which I doubt investigators will want to even consider -- is whether the presence of women in the unit actually encouraged more misbehavior, especially of the sexual nature that the pictures reveal. 


TOWNHALL is a website run by The Heritage Foundation. 

But really – it must be the Feminists

George Neumayr, managing editor of The American Spectator, gives us this:


The image of that female guard, smoking away as she joins gleefully in the disgraceful melee like one of the guys, is a cultural outgrowth of a feminist culture which encourages female barbarians.  GI Janes are kicking around patriarchal Muslims in Iraq?  This is [Feminist Majority Foundation president] Eleanor Smeal's vision come to life.  Had Thelma and Louise gone off to Iraq -- and sexually humiliated some of Saddam Hussein's soldiers as payback for abuse to Jessica Lynch a few cities back -- the radical feminists could make a sequel.  ... 

Feminists are good at creating a culture that produces "equal-opportunity abusers," Donnelly says.  What happened at Abu Ghraib is also happening in feminist America, she adds, pointing to an Associated Press article from last month on a "disturbing trend around the country.  Girls are turning to violence more often and with terrifying intensity." ... 

Perhaps in the eyes of feminists this isn't a crisis but a potential social program and these girls deserve ROTC credits. 


Huh?  I don’t get it. 

Cal Thomas, syndicated columnist and host of FOX News Channel's After Hours with Cal Thomas says it’s the damned Muslims!  


Some Arab commentators are repeating the myth that the West has, once again, humiliated Muslims.  If there has been humiliation, it isn't the fault of the West.  It is Muslims' fault.  They took trillions of dollars in oil money, and instead of building a culture dedicated to elevating their people, including women, they have squandered it on agendas and adventures that had the opposite result. 


Well, possibly. 

The there is James Taranto, editor of The Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.com which comes to me every day by email here is Hollywood.  He blames – hold your breath!   - The Academic Left!  

This is his point -


[T]he New York Times profiles some of the soldiers implicated in abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, and to be honest, they sound like a bunch of losers.  ... 

[I]ncreasing the quality of military recruits would probably help avoid future Abu Ghraibs.  One constructive step toward that end would be for elite universities to drop antimilitary policies, so that the military would have an easier time signing up the best and brightest young Americans. 

Many academic institutions have barred ROTC or military recruiters from campus for left-wing political reasons--first as a protest against the Vietnam War, and later over the Clinton-era "don't ask, don't tell" law.  Whatever the merits of these positions, it's time the academic left showed some patriotic responsibility and acknowledged that the defense of the country--which includes the defense of their own academic freedom--is more important than the issue du jour.


So if the ROTC booths were reopened at Yale, Harvard and Princeton then the guards at the dusty Baghdad prison would have been thoughtful, intellectual sorts, quoting Latin – and thus none of this would have happened? 

I’m not buying that. 

The best explanation I’ve found so far comes from “Digby” at Hullabaloo and it goes like this:

Good Riddance


I think that the single most egregious mistake that Bush has made in his presidency (among many egregious mistakes) is continuously asserting that we are "better" as a people than "the enemy," whom they have never adequately defined.  His vaunted "moral clarity" continues to be nothing more that a puerile appeal to emotion that has done much more harm than good.  Historically, nations have always done this, but in this age of global media, it is a very bad idea.  It's much too easy for pictures and words to make their way around the world in seconds to contradict such assertions and destroy our credibility.  As Bush himself says repeatedly, "it's a different kinda war" and indeed it is.  It is much more a war of ideas than a war of military conquest.  If there was ever a time when we needed someone with highly developed communication skills, it was now.  Unfortunately, we were saddled with someone who speaks in the most simplistic terms possible and it is blowing back on us now. 

Immediately after 9/11, Bush's braintrust framed this War On Terrorism as between "good 'n evil," "us 'n them" --- exactly as bin Laden did.  Instead of using reason, strength and good will to continue the solidarity the world felt toward America after 9/11, we reacted like a hurt child, lashing out with inchoate rage at virtually everyone, all the while screaming about our superior characters.  (We even went after the Europeans for Christ's sake.)

Had we emphasized our institutions and traditions rather than our alleged goodness, we might be able to get past this awful moment of Abu Ghreib by showcasing a system that resists brute power and religious judgments of character in favor of blind justice.  Their scramble now to investigate and fact-find again completely rings hollow because we rested our entire argument on the character of Americans in contrast to everyone else.  Our credibility is in shreds. 

There were essentially three stated reasons for invading Iraq.  The first was because Saddam had WMD.  The second was because Saddam had ties to terrorists.  The third was because Saddam tortured and terrorized his own people. 

There are no WMD.  There never were any terrorist ties.  And by consciously undermanning the "liberation" we created the circumstances that have led to sweeps of innocent Iraqi people who are then dragged into a prison system with no due process and are systematically tortured --- by us, not Saddam.  No decent person can believe that it is moral to "pre-emptively" invade a country and do such things in the name of liberation and our superior "goodness" as a people. 

Now, I'm not saying that Americans are a bad people.  We're just people, comprising the full range of human character from saint to psychopath.  So are the Iraqis and so is every other tribe.  That is why we have government in the first place.  It's hard to tell who's bad or good and it's not enough to simply assert that one group is and one isn't.  We need systems and institutions to sort these things out in the most perfect way we can find and those systems and institutions are imperfect indeed.  If we ever had a strength in America, a source of pride and superiority, it was that we put our trust in the rule of law not men. 

And that is precisely the opposite of what our president has been saying.  He's said "trust us" because we are good.  We don't need to provide any explanations or adhere to any laws, treaties or agreements because the character of our people doesn't require it.  And that is why these pictures are being greeted around the world with both horror and glee.  The president of the United States has been holding out the moral superiority of the American people as justification for flouting all laws and conventions and we've just been slapped in the face with the truth.  Americans are capable of being just as depraved as anyone else.  (I would have thought that anyone over the age of 10 would already know this, but apparently not.)

Once Bush is removed from office maybe we can drop this simpleminded drivel and start speaking to the world like adults again.  Fewer self-righteous sermons about being "called to bring freedom to the world" and more talk about the rule of law would be a breath of fresh air.  I have a feeling we might find that people around the world are more willing to cooperate if our president doesn't constantly lecture them about our superior moral character and instead leads on the basis of reason, law and justice.  In the war of ideas, the latter is where the real firepower exists.


Oh drat!   I did so want to know I was morally superior. 

Yeah, well, the cost of thinking that way is too high…

Could it be the responsibility goes all the was  to the top?


George Paine comments:

Salon.com is reporting that a report compiled by the Committee on International Law of the New York City Bar Association has found that the American military's treatment of detainees and prisoners of war in Afghanistan, Cuba and Iraq violates international law — and the compilers of the report say that the techniques employed by interrogators at prisons such as Abu Ghraib were "sanctioned by Pentagon political appointees."


Joe Conason of Salon reports that Scott Horton, a partner at Patterson, Belknap, Webb and Tyler and chair of the Committee on International Law was told by "senior" members of the Judge Advocate General Corps that high ranking political appointees were behind the abuse.  Says Conason:


Indeed, Horton says that the JAG officers specifically warned him that Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J.  Feith,one of the most powerful political appointees in the Pentagon, had significantly weakened the military's rules and regulations governing prisoners of war.  The officers told Horton that Feith and the Defense Department's general counsel, William J.  Haynes II, were creating "an atmosphere of legal ambiguity" that would allow mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Douglas Feith, President Bush's Undersecretary of Defense for Policy — and number three man at the Pentagon — reporetdly summed up Protocol One of the Geneva Conventions of 1977 as "law in the service of terrorism".


In the past, Conason writes, all interrogations conducted by military personnel were monitored by a member of the Judge Advocate General corps from behind a two-way mirror.  All interrogations were monitored, and the JAG officer was "emplowered to stop any misconduct".  But senior Pentagon officials removed that requirement.  Not only did JAG officers no longer monitor interrogations, but private military contractors were allowed to conduct interrogations.


Horton says "The Uniform Code of Military Justice, which governs the conduct of officers and soldiers, does not apply to civilian contractors.  They were free to do whatever they wanted to do, with impunity, including homicide."


In fact, the BBC reports that in today's hearings on the Hill Donald Rumsfeld reluctantly admitted that two private companies were involved in interrogations at Abu Ghraib.


The International Committee for the Red Cross — an organization that monitors conditions in prisons and POW camps but rarely makes public statements about the conditions — says that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was "widespread".  The Financial Times is one of many that carries a Reuters story stating that the ICRC observed "widespread abuse". 


Pierre Kraehenbuehl, director of operations for the ICRC, says that "Our findings do not allow us to conclude that what we were dealing with at Abu Ghraib were isolated acts of individual members of coalition forces.  What we have described is a pattern and a broad system."


Now Donald Rumsfeld says that the worst is yet to come.... Rumsfeld goes on, saying "Beyond abuse of prisoners, there are other photos that depict incidents of physical violence towards prisoners, acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman..."


This is institutional.  This sadism, this cruelty, this inhumanity.  It is institutional.  It is a result of a message from the top.  It is a result of rhetoric about good and evil.  It is a result of painting people as "evil".  It is a result of politicians and political appointees bragging about how the "gloves have come off".  It is a result of talk about how "everything's changed".  It is a crisis of leadership, alright: a crisis of the White House, a crisis of the Pentagon E Ring.


… There are war criminals in our midst, in our leadership.  There are war criminals in the Pentagon's E-Ring.  There are war criminals in Langley, Virginia at CIA Headquarters.  Military Intelligence today, right now, this moment, is home to war criminals.  There are quite possibly war criminals in the White House, men like Cofer Black who say "[Interrogations is a highly classified area, but I have to say that all you need to know: There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11.  After 9/11 the gloves came off."


As an American I am ashamed, I am angry, I am furious.  American soldiers have taken America itself and dragged it through the mud.  My nation has been dragged through the mud and deposited at the gates of Hell.  Sadists have been allowed to run amok, videotaping and photographing their terrible deeds without fear.  They, at the direction of Military Intelligence, at the direction of the Central Intelligence Agency, tortured people and photographed and videotaped their crimes.


Were they not afraid of what would happen if their photographic evidence was ever uncovered?  Were they not afraid of what would happen if someone higher in the chain of command caught wind of the happens in Cell Block 1A of Abu Ghraib? 


Clearly they were not afraid.  Clearly they were not worried.  They freely videotaped and photographed their dirty deeds.  They used them as screensavers on their laptop computers.  They passed them around to their friends, laughing.


These men and women, these "American heroes" have done more to harm America's position in the world than any single group of people in the history of this nation.

Overwrought?  Yeah, this is.


But a little recent history, from the April 19, 2002 edition of The Christian Science Monitor

A proposal including prison inspections is set for a vote today, but Washington says it conflicts with US law. 
Peter Ford - Staff writer

PARIS - The United States has aligned itself with some of its fiercest and least democratic enemies in opposing efforts to strengthen an international treaty that outlaws torture, according to diplomatic sources. 

Washington has found itself on the same side as Cuba, Libya, and Syria, among other states, in trying to block a proposal before the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva designed to give more teeth to the Convention Against Torture. 

US diplomats insist they are not opposed to beefing up the 1987 UN convention, to which Washington is a party, but say they disagree with the international prison-inspection regime being proposed by their Latin American and European allies. 

… Washington has opposed the idea since it was first raised 10 years ago, arguing that the fourth amendment to the US Constitution prohibiting "unreasonable searches and seizures" meant it could not allow foreign prison inspectors to go where they pleased.   "As a matter of principle, unrestricted authority granted to a visiting mechanism is incompatible with the need for checks and balances" argues Steve Solomon, head of the US delegation.



And here’s something from Ambassador Joe Wilson whose book came out two weeks ago - that one on how the Vice President’s office got ticked at him for forcing the administration to admit the “Saddam tried to buy enriched uranium in Africa” story was a steaming crock… so they exposed his wife as a secret CIA agent and ended her career and blew her cover and all that.   They got the right-side CNN commentator and Chicago columnist, Robert Novak, to reveal it all - payback is so very sweet.   Oh well, Novak is not so bad.  He helped punish the family someone deeply un-American.


Well, Wilson used to be a Republican.   And he was station chief in Baghdad at the time of the first Iraq war.   And the president’s father wrote him a glowing commendation at the time.


Joe Conason interviews Wilson who comments on responsibility as seen by the Republicans now in power.

Conason: What's the difference in the GOP from when you were growing up? 

Wilson: If you're fiscally responsible, this is not your party.  If you believe in a moderate foreign policy characterized by alliances, free trade and the ability to operate in an international environment, this is not your party.  If you believe in limited federal government, this is not your party.  If you believe that the government should stay out of your bedroom, this is very definitely not your party.  In fact, I would argue that unless you believe in the American imperium, imposed on the world by force, or unless you believe in the literal interpretation of the Book of Revelations, this is not your party.

Well, we put these guys in office. 


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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